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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

Jan.20.17

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

by Candy Moo

Coffee and Donuts in Miami

Not that long ago, rows upon rows of abandoned warehouses made up Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. Now it’s a haven of street art, galleries, and bars, and the area has become what most of Miami is not: walkable.

Tucked in the backstreets away from the foot traffic of 2nd Avenue is The Salty Donut, a coffee and donut shop peddling flavors like Nutella, Maple Bacon, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch—endless options of oversized doughy goodness.

I dragged my mother along for her first Wynwood experience. I wanted a Cocoa Puff latte and box of donuts for my family. As I tasted the soggy, chocolatey puffs in the latte, I thought of summer camp and PBS reruns of Arthur. My mom’s first bite into a Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cannoli neutralized her accusing glare in my direction. She’s not usually one for sweets or alcohol, but the whiskey caramel and RumChata white chocolate erased all protest.

As it turns out, we had chosen a special day to visit the Salty Donut: they were unveiling a highly coveted new product. The newest donut on the menu was an even bigger hit of nostalgia: a Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon roll wrapped carefully in the arms of a brioche donut, topped with caramelized pecans. Deep down south in Homestead, FL, Knaus Berry Farm is a well-known strawberry farm where families can pick their own produce. Together with fresh strawberry smoothies, their cinnamon buns are a staple for any South Florida native.

Biting into my Knaus Berry Farm Sticky Bun Donut, I recalled a time when the sun was high overhead as I ran, clad in overalls, through the strawberry rows. With this donut and another sip of my sugar cereal-latte, I was in memory lane heaven.

Sitting at the communal table, I glanced at the never-ending line filing out the door. There were people clad in army uniforms, women clutching papers and chatting on their cellphones, and others holding expensive cameras with long lenses and eager expressions, everyone yearning for a mid-day sweet treat.

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

Jan.19.17

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

by Susan Shain

Tamales in Oaxaca City

Every morning, her smooth face, her fresh white apron, and her metal cart stand vigilant in the Zócalo, the central square. Her name is Rosario, and for the past eight years, she’s dutifully guarded this post from 6:30-10:30 a.m., seven days a week.

Unlike other vendors, she doesn’t need to hawk her services; for her, patrons jostle, anxiously awaiting their breakfast of tamales. I am one of them.

These heavenly wedges consist of masa (corn dough) and lard, plus meat (in this case, chicken) and sauce (in this case, delicious), wrapped and steamed in either a corn husk or a banana leaf. Or they’re placed snugly inside a bolillo (bread roll) to create a torta de tamal, a simple but filling carb-on-carb delight.

Rosario offers three sauces: mole—decadent, with more than a dozen spices and chilis; salsa verde—spicy and tomatillo-based; or rajas—made with strips of roasted poblano peppers. I choose the mole because I always choose the mole. Oaxaca is famous for no less than seven varieties of mole. Rosario usually uses coloradito or rojo. The sauce is reddish-brown and rich, with hints of chocolate and cinnamon.

Protesters, another of Oaxaca’s specialties, march behind us. Shoe shiners loudly settle their stools. Wheels rattle, birds sing, but none of it distracts me or my fellow tamale pilgrims from our goal.

Rosario grabs a bolillo and scoops out the innards, making room for what really matters: one of the more than 150 tamales she labored over for hours yesterday afternoon. Then she reaches into the cart. As she puts together my order, deftly removing the leaf before depositing the tamale into the roll, she is unwrapping the best kind of gift—the kind you can eat. Steam pours off the mélange of corn and chicken and bread and sauce, floating away into the cool highland air.

Hurry up, I tell myself as I shuffle my coins, trying to determine which combination will get me the torta de tamal the fastest. But Rosario doesn’t even notice the delay. She’s already taking the next eager customer’s order. Finally, I find the right coins: the equivalent of 60 cents.

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

Jan.16.17

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

by Rebecca High

Avocado Toast in North Dakota

California worships the avocado. It might be the perfect fruit: hearty and delicious, sweet and savory, firm and soft, always in season.

But the catch is that in California, one pound of avocados needs around 80 gallons of water to grow, and California’s drought has turned the fruit goopy brown or bitterly hard. “Guacapocalypse,” as people call it, is naturally distressing for Californians. Some shops and cafés have pledged not to serve avocado—and the ever-popular brunch staple, avocado toast—until the water shortage ends. The greater implications of the drought, of course, are far more alarming.

I joined several hundred self-described Water Protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota. We were protesting against an oil pipeline being constructed under a river, potentially polluting the area’s drinking water. I met Katie and Genie, grandmothers from California who told stories of their days in Greenpeace 40 years ago. We shared an interest in garden produce and in protecting clean water sources.

After sunrise on my last chilly morning at Standing Rock, I stopped by Katie and Genie’s camp to say goodbye. Katie pushed a hot Mason jar full of tea into my hands as Genie looked at me conspiratorially over tinted glasses. “Let’s make avocado toast!” She pulled two avocados seemingly out of nowhere and winked. I marveled as she sliced the avocados, then deftly pulled small slices of wheat bread out of a bag and placed them in a pan on low heat. These women spent days freezing in North Dakota fields, and preserved these perfect avocados to share with me.

When the bread started smoking, Genie scooped avocado generously over it, spritzed it with vinegar, and handed me the first piece. I was hungry from days of protein bars. The bread was hot and crisped around the edges. The avocado was somehow perfectly ripe and sweet, even though Genie told me she bought it a week earlier at a market in Santa Cruz. The vinegar was piquant on my lips. It was the most simple, yet most satisfying avocado toast I’d ever had, and I thanked them for their gift.

The Best Lebanese Bread in Salt Lake City

Jan.13.17

The Best Lebanese Bread in Salt Lake City

by Haley Gray

Man’oushe in Salt Lake City

Moudi Sbeity’s favorite dish to serve friends, family, and customers is man’oushe. Supple dough is baked in a wide-mouthed oven like flatbread. Bubbling, salty cheese, a tangy herb blend with olive oil, or a spiced ground-meat mixture are spread over of top thin disks of dough, baking into the bread as truly as the flour and yeast.

Man’oushe is to Lebanese what the bagel is to New Yorkers: filling, cheap, and ubiquitous. It’s most often consumed for breakfast (but is by no means off-limits for afternoon hunger pains). The dish is a mundane thing in Sbeity’s mother country, sure, but only because it is so deeply intertwined with daily life. Sbeity likes sharing this part of his home.

But one doesn’t go to Laziz Kitchen in Salt Lake City for just-another-day kind of breakfast. We’re here to brunch. And though there are three man’oushe options on the menu, my two friends and I only go for one. I’d order them all, but one serving of man’oushe will apparently set you back $9 state-side. The forces of supply and demand, I suppose.

Laziz Kitchen, the brainchild of Sbeity and his husband, the aptly-named Salt Lake City Councilman Derek Kitchen, is immaculately designed. The space is clean and cohesive: a carefully chosen color palate leans on generous use of white spaces with pops of green and gold.

We order a sampling of the most tempting items. In addition to the essential za’atar man’oushe, we split the muhamara, a savory and luscious red pepper and walnut dip made with pomegranate molasses; a satiating fried cauliflower wrap dressed in cool, creamy tarator sauce and rich tahini; spiced labneh (the rich yoghurt is my personal favorite for dipping pita); and artfully herbed fried potatoes.

To create his thoughtful menu, Sbeity flew his mother in from Beirut and hired a kitchen staff of all Middle Eastern refugees, of which there are many in Salt Lake City. He and his mother trained the cooks together before she returned to Lebanon.

Sbeity says his particular staff makes the food better, because they already possess the lexicon of cooking techniques and tastes that his dishes need.

I tend to agree: as each element of the doughy man’oushe spreads over my tongue—the warm, bready base; the herby za’atar’s roasted sesame seeds and bright, citrusy sumac; the fresh, flavorful olive oil—they intertwine in a way not easily achieved by unpracticed hands. Nine bucks well-spent.

Bold Move Ordering Two Cheese-Drenched Breakfasts Before an Hours-Long Bus Ride

Jan.12.17

Bold Move Ordering Two Cheese-Drenched Breakfasts Before an Hours-Long Bus Ride

by Sabrina Toppa

Huevos Rancheros in Los Angeles

My inaugural trip to Los Angeles—and to the West Coast—unexpectedly led me to an empty cluster of shops in downtown L.A. on a Saturday morning, hungry for anything resembling breakfast. I was about to catch the long-distance Megabus service departing for San Francisco, and I had only 30 minutes to find anything suitably filling before I had to be at Patsaouras Transit Plaza.

Every place was closed except a nostalgic diner near Skid Row, playing jazzy, upbeat music, and surprisingly overflowing with ebullient patrons. The waitress ushered us into a booth, elbow-to-elbow with strangers rapt in conversation.

The menu ranged from huevos rancheros to vegan ranchero, with fried tofu as the primary protein. Guests could also order ham, leek, and Fontina cheese egg scrambles, or the so-called Hangover Helper: scrambled eggs with Italian sausages, pepper jack cheese, avocado, salsa, and bacon. There were also more traditional options like fluffy French toast drizzled with saccharine syrup.

The atmosphere evoked the American diners of the past. I scarfed down a hearty scramble of eggs mixed with spinach, roasted garlic, and goat cheese. The breakfast was further carbified with a warm bowl of polenta.

I also had the huevos rancheros: eggs sitting on corn tortillas layered with beans, salsa, crema, avocado, and my favorite cheese, pepper jack. The medley was rich, flavorful, and filling. It felt like the right thing to eat when leaving Southern California. Eggs are my preferred breakfast protein, especially alongside buttery strips of avocado, jalapeño-laced cheese, and a filling portion of beans, and it helped me immeasurably on the long journey northward.

You Don’t Know Bone Broth Until You’ve Had Goat Bone Broth

Jan.10.17

You Don’t Know Bone Broth Until You’ve Had Goat Bone Broth

by Audrey Harris

Barbacoa in Ixmiquilpan

“The barbacoa from Hidalgo is lo más rico in all of Mexico,” my boyfriend Albert says. It is a winter’s evening, and we are sitting on an outdoor terrace at a mountaintop hotel overlooking the caves of Tolantongo in the state of Hidalgo, drinking cafés con leche and playing chess. Just as the cold threatens to drive us inside, a huge bonfire is lit in the large round fire pit on the terrace. I assume it’s for warmth, but I soon learn that they build a fire there every Saturday night for cooking barbacoa.

We all watch with growing interest as a group of men poke at the fire until it burns down to smoldering embers. Then they pull out huge, water-dampened, green maguey leaves. One flaps them up into the air like a matador’s cape and then tosses it to a companion who slaps them to the ground in a well-rehearsed ritual, before they lay them over the coals in an intricate circular pattern. The leaves, which resemble banana leaves but are thicker and more fibrous, have been scratched on one side to extract aguamiel, the key ingredient in pulque. Onto the leaves, they lay huge sides of goat meat, ribs and all, which they salt liberally before covering everything with another layer of maguey. They tuck a blanket over the leaves before heaping a pile of dark, wet earth on top, which they tamp down into a neat plateau. Upon inquiring, we are informed that the barbacoa will be ready by 8 a.m. the next day.

Having run out of pesos—the hotel only accepts cash—we hike up the mountain the next morning to catch a microbus back to Ixmiquilpan, the dawn light just peaking over the canyons. Albert has barbacoa on his mind, so after disembarking we head toward the central market. Albert follows his nose until we arrive at a bustling open-air restaurant with an orange awning bearing the name Barbacoa Carlitos, along with an illustration of a baby goat.

Before we can reach our seats at one of the white wooden communal tables, a waitress offers us large pottery bowls of hot consomé. It is excellent: a clear, flavorful goat bone broth bearing chunks of fresh carrot, potato, and a swirling constellation of finely diced onion, finished with a squeeze of lime that lends it a delicious tang. In short order, the barbacoa arrives. The soft corn tortillas on our plates each bear a cigar-shaped roll of velvety meat pearled with white fat. Copying our neighbors, I clutch a taco in one fist and spoon up the consomé with the other.

After paying our tab of 150 pesos (roughly $3.75 each), we take our leave and walk down the dusty streets of Ixmiquilpan, bathed in rosy pink light. I proclaim our barbacoa the food of the Gods and speculate aloud about the possibility of transporting a pound of the meat back home, before deciding that it will never pass through customs. “The food of the Gods isn’t going to the United States,” Albert says, and I let him have the last word.

Stay Warm, New Yorkers. Eat Dumplings.

Jan.09.17

Stay Warm, New Yorkers. Eat Dumplings.

by An Uong

Dumplings in Flushing

New Yorkers have acquired an impressive array of tricks to handle the winter months. Mine is eating a dozen lamb and chive dumplings at Tian Jin Dumpling House, an unassuming stall tucked away into a basement food court in Flushing, Queens. As January turns the city into a landscape of skeletal trees and snow-lined streets, the only solace left is the promise of these dumplings.

The Chinatown in Flushing, Queens is one of many in New York City, but in recent years, it has become its own rich community. Second in size only to the Chinatown in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Flushing sits at the end of the seven train, in a borough that speaks well over 100 different languages. When the train pulls into its last stop at Main Street, passengers spill out in a mass of thick coats and winter hats. Most walk towards the grocery stores with metal carts in tow.

I walk alongside these market-goers, pulling my coat closer around my body to keep the cold air from seeping through. It does anyway. Though I have been to the dumpling stall more times than I can count, I find myself walking by the food court’s entrance without noticing it, then backtracking a few moments later when I catch a whiff of the spices. The basement’s steps descend into a maze of vendors, where dining space is scarce. The available spaces come in the form of plastic stools and aluminum card tables. Among the overwhelming displays of signage is Tian Jin’s bright red banner, marking its spot in the food court with pictures of dumplings and a list of filling combinations. Though my personal favorite is lamb and chives, there are other versions, everything from pork and cabbage to shrimp and ginger.

Within minutes of ordering, a plate of dumplings arrives, along with vinegar and chili oil for dipping. The translucent shells reveal a marbling of colors underneath. Each dumpling is a pocket of savory warmth, the softness of the dough giving way to a dense filling that blooms with flavor in every bite.

As I eat them, I think of my mom, who spends hours carefully pinching at the seams of her own handmade dumplings when I visit my home in Los Angeles. In my parents’ living room, the television blares Vietnamese music as I do my part by scooping balls of filling into the wrappers before handing them to my mom. From time to time I add too much. My mom smiles at me knowingly as she pinches off a piece of the filling, returning it to the bowl before folding the wrapper into itself.

At Tian Jin, the dumplings are eaten alongside others looking to escape the bitter cold, if only temporarily. But there is more to them than their filling warmth. Flushing is a neighborhood whose residents are connected by foods from faraway homes. My home, a small apartment in Los Angeles, comes to life in my memory when I am handed a plate of dumplings in Flushing. Elbow to elbow, puffy winter jackets and all, there is a comfort in this shared experience.

Battle Lines Drawn in the Great Australian Smashed Avo Affair

Jan.06.17

Battle Lines Drawn in the Great Australian Smashed Avo Affair

by Madeleine D'Este

Smashed Avocado in Melbourne

Melburnians love their cafés. Coffee is serious business and going out for breakfast is a regular habit. They also love property and talking about housing. Prime-time television is dominated by renovation reality shows, housing prices are a national obsession, and owning your own home is the Great Australian Dream. But who would have thought that the worlds of property and brunch would collide?

It all started with the humble smashed ‘avo’ (Australians also love an abbreviation). Avocado on toast is a café-menu staple in Melbourne, and is spreading across the world. I usually like my smashed avo simple, but this morning it was pimped up with alfalfa sprouts, poached egg, pomegranate seeds, coriander oil, pine nuts, and a tomato relish.

Recently, a baby-boomer columnist went on a rant about hipster cafés—with their milk crate seating, loud music, and small menu font. But the point that caused the most controversy was his claim that smashed avocado toast—at AUS$22 ($16) a pop—was the reason millennials were still renting. He advised them to stop eating out and whinging about house prices and start saving for a deposit. He suggested they stay home and make their own avocado on toast. He kicked off inter-generational warfare; baby boomers versus millennials. The millennials retaliated online with posts, tweets, and articles. Cafés dropped their smashed avo prices in solidarity with their customers. The smashed avo affair was even mentioned in an Australian Senate hearing.

Some commentators delighted in correcting the columnist’s math. Even foregoing smashed avo a couple of times a week, they said, would not amount to a house deposit in inner city Melbourne. The suburb in which I’m eating my smashed avo has a median house price of AUS$875,000 (over 10 times the average Australian salary). Melbourne has one of the lowest housing affordability rates in the world, and prices keep on rising.

When I asked the café owner for his thoughts on the matter, he mentioned that people spending money on drinking, smoking, and gambling was probably more of a problem than people spending money on smashed avo. But of course, he would say that.

A Pretentious Brunch to Cure the Homesick Australian

Jan.05.17

A Pretentious Brunch to Cure the Homesick Australian

by Tania Braukamper

Bengali Eggs in Amsterdam

It’s impossible to adequately describe or define Australian cuisine. That’s
possibly because such a thing doesn’t really exist, beyond Vegemite and Lamingtons—the sponge cakes that are, outside of Australia, either despised or unknown.

Nevertheless, I miss it. I miss how you can go anywhere in my home city of Melbourne and order an overpriced, wholesome, incredibly delicious dish that’s really just a fancy version of some other cuisine. I miss walking into a café with full confidence that my flat white can be made with some organic almond milk.

I miss sitting down to peruse the typewriter-font menus, bursting with inventive adjectives that serve not only to tantalize, but to justify the hefty price tags of the dishes. In their pages, strawberries are macerated, nuts candied, raisins drunken, halloumi molten, and avocado most certainly smashed.

While visiting Amsterdam for a weekend with my sister I happen to spot a café in the cool De Pijp district called Little Collins. I immediately know it must be run by Australians, and that I must visit. How do I know it’s Australian? Because Little Collins is the name of a charming street in Melbourne’s central business district, and because Australians love opening up cafés in hip corners of the world. Put two and two together and that little name is a promise of all the almond milk and smashed avocado a homesick Melbourne girl could want.

We saunter into the café on a Sunday morning and, sure enough, are met with a soundtrack of Tame Impala and brash Aussie accents. I opt for the Bengali Eggs, a skillet dish of spiced chickpeas with baked eggs, roasted peppers, coriander, feta and yoghurt, served with a devastatingly flaky house-made flat bread. The bread turns out to be the best part. The egg dish is good, though not the tastiest I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve no idea how faithful it is to the actual Bengali dish from which it borrows its name and flavors (but isn’t that the point of Australian cuisine?) And yet, its a welcome taste of home. This is what Melbourne café fare is all about.

One more almond milk flat white later and I’m ready to go. But not before I take one last, longing look at the nectarous language on the hip-looking menu.

Why Can’t Every Day Start With Kindness and Injera?

Jan.04.17

Why Can’t Every Day Start With Kindness and Injera?

by Tracy Denholm

Chicken Awadhi in Virginia

Leaving work at 3:30 a.m. is never ideal, but it does summon a mighty hunger when waking up early on four hours of sleep. Craving anything other than wonderful American grease, my visiting Seattle friend and I gravitated towards the food of one of the Washington D.C. area’s largest ethnic groups: Ethiopian.

A flow of Ethiopian immigrants to the D.C. area kicked off thanks to the 1974 revolution and, in a rare show of positive action from Congress, was enabled further by the Refugee Act of 1980 and the Diversity Visa Act of 1990. Their impact is seen on a daily basis via grocery stores, public art, fashion stores, houses of worship, hookah lounges, a large proportion of the taxi fleets who actually know the city sans GPS. Also, crucially for us on a crisp autumn morning, there are incredible restaurants.

We headed to Alexandria, VA, towards the only Ethiopian place for miles that was open at 7 a.m.—or so we thought. Arriving at a closed establishment with watering mouths and stomachs powerfully rumbling for injera was heartbreaking, until the owner arrived with her young daughter. Totally prepared to plead, we started to speak but she cut us off. “If my sons came home hungry, I would make sure they had food; please come in and have a real homemade breakfast!”

We plopped down in a sleek, small dining room area and naturally chose to open the bar with a victory breakfast beer to celebrate our host’s kindness before she disappeared into the kitchen. Two St. George beers, readily available throughout the D.C. area and Addis Ababa, went down great while we waited for the Ethiopian coffee to be prepared. The owner’s daughter brought out the coffee and turned on her morning Netflix above the bar while we examined some of the artwork scattered on the walls. “No need for menus, I know what to do. Do you like spicy?” the owner yelled through the kitchen window. “Very spicy please!” we both echoed.

Stomachs rumbling, out came the huge steaming tray, stacked high with injera on the side. The collard greens were soaked with niter, Ethiopian clarified butter, with a perfect cut of cardamom. The cabbage’s cumin and turmeric duo showed us we had been missing out on our whole lives. The arrival of two more St. George beers interrupted the feast for a split second. The beef tibs were spicy enough to heat our mouths, but just shy of being painful, thanks to our host’s mercy and the cardamom, clove, and fenugreek that rounded it out.

The best dish, however, and the most plentiful, was what the owned called chicken awadhi, although it was different to the versions I’d had in India. I don’t even know what was in it aside from spice, chicken, and the kindness of an Ethiopian mother for two strangers.

Yes, Yes, to This Man Arguing That You Should Have Wine With Your Breakfast Pizza

Jan.03.17

Yes, Yes, to This Man Arguing That You Should Have Wine With Your Breakfast Pizza

by Luciana Squadrilli

Pizza Fritta in Naples

Whenever I get the chance to spend some time in Naples—where I was born around 40 years ago, and where pizza has flourished over the last four centuries at least—there is only one thing I crave more than a margherita pizza: breakfast.

Nowhere else in Italy—or abroad for that matter—can I find the intense, strong, single shot espresso and the soft, substantial sweet brioche to go with it. Yet, I recently discovered a tradition I had missed out on: pizza fritta for breakfast.

Neapolitan fried pizza is massive, awesome, and irresistible. Back in the 50s, it was made and sold by working-class Neapolitan women right out of their humble houses to supplement the meager family income, using cheap ingredients and a makeshift booth. This is also how La Masardona—named for the nickname of the founder, grandmother to Enzo Piccirillo—started out. Like many places in the old part of the town, it only sells stuffed fried pizza, and opens as early at 7 a.m.

Today the Piccirillo family owns a comfortable restaurant opposite the booth’s original location, and another venue in Ibiza, but they still make fried pizza the way grandma taught them. Two overlapping disks of dough are spread to contain a generous amount of delicious filling, which, in the traditional recipe—featured as completo on the menu, kind of a Neapolitan Full Monty—is made with ricotta cheese, pork scratchings, smoked mozzarella cheese, and basil and pepper, with or without tomato sauce. The two dough pieces are then sealed so that the filling won’t slip out when it’s fried.

As we hit La Masardona around 7.30 a.m., the “kitchen” is already busy. At the marble counter, Enzo’s sons Salvatore and Cristiano Piccirillo make the pizzas, and their aunt, a sweet-looking blond lady, fries them. At this time of the day, people don’t yet need to take a number and line up, but the staff are rarely at rest. Many traders from the nearby fish market come here to ease out the cold and tiredness, joined by staff from the nearby hospital in search of a rewarding break after the overnight shift. Many tourists are also led here by travel guides and articles to experience this lesser-known Neapolitan tradition.

As we indulge on a completo senza pomodoro, the smaller-size pizza called battilocchio—a single plate of dough with half the filling, folded in a crescent shape—using our hands and a considerable number of paper napkins, Enzo tells me about the early morning clientele and the pizza fritta tradition.

“To locals, having breakfast with a pizza fritta is totally normal, some even drink a beer with it,” he says. “Yet, many foreign tourists ask for cappuccino. We try to explain them that we don’t serve coffee or hot drinks at any time of the day, and that it is not the right choice with pizza. We suggest a glass of Marsala, the fortified wine traditionally paired to pizza fritta in Naples, instead. Now, that’s an authentic Neapolitan experience!”

Photo by: Alessandra Farinelli

Everything Tastes Better with Illicit Tabasco Sauce

Jan.02.17

Everything Tastes Better with Illicit Tabasco Sauce

by Adam Nace

Scrambled Eggs in Havana

In the course of our pre-departure due diligence, we noted that there was a market across the street from our apartment in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. Further research revealed that this was one of the better markets in the city and that the various offerings would be diverse, fresh, and plentiful.

I was the earliest to rise on our first morning. Motivated and determined, I marched out the door and climbed the stairs to the market. It was 9 a.m. and things were in full swing. Hawkers barked from all directions in clipped, musical Spanish that both beckoned and intimidated. The smell of fresh produce and cigar smoke hung heavy in the bustling space. I did one full loop of the interior of the market to get the lay of the land and a second loop to plan my attack.

I steeled myself for my third trip through the gauntlet when I saw a man exit an adjacent garage carrying a pallet of eggs. With huevos now in play, the morning’s menu shifted from fruit salad to veggie scramble.

The egg vendor was busy with other customers as I approached, so I set myself to the task of selecting 18 of his finest from the many scattered cartons. When it came time to pay for “dieciocho huevos,” I confidently thrust a 20 CUC note in his direction. My currency was roundly refused. Later, I learned that most local markets only accept Cuban pesos (CUP) instead of the tourist currency, the convertible peso (CUC). In that moment, I was stuck.

The egg man immediately moved on to the next customer. I turned to flee from my embarrassment and felt a tap on my shoulder. A youngish looking fellow led me to the side of the counter and extracted a wad of cash from his pocket. He gestured at the 20 CUC note still in my hand and began to peel bills from his bundle. As he counted off the last note, we made the exchange. Not about to leave me hanging, my new friend summoned the vendor back from the fray and helped me settle my bill of 20 CUP (about 80 cents).

Muchas gracias,” I shouted after the samaritan as he set back to whatever business had brought him to the market. Breakfast was back on! Reinvigorated and armed with a pocket full of cash, I moved among the merchants and investigated their produce. I loaded up on bell peppers, garlic, and tiny onions. I also bought sliced pineapple and green-skinned oranges.

Back at the apartment, I found some cooking oil and fired up the gas burner. I whipped six eggs into a froth and poured them over a bed of lightly sautéed veggies. A few minutes later, I divvied up the scramble and fruits between three plates and served breakfast al fresco on the patio. The bottle of Tabasco that had eluded so many TSA agents was the final ingredient.

Go On And Gloat Over Your Giant Croissant, Austrians, You Earned It

Dec.29.16

Go On And Gloat Over Your Giant Croissant, Austrians, You Earned It

by Alexa van Sickle

Brioche Kipferl in Vienna

The first morning after the Christmas holidays, my local bakery is bustling, as the Viennese emerge, blinking, from four days of festive hibernation to buy more groceries and some marzipan pigs for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

I am celebrating the almost-end of the worst geopolitical year in my living memory, and my first day back in Austria since Dec. 4, when the far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer was roundly defeated in the country’s second 2016 presidential election. So for breakfast I order the largest, most obscenely shiny brioche Kipferl, studded with sugar chunks like a spray of rough-cut diamonds.

There is plenty of good news in this second election result (in addition to, you know, simply not electing Europe’s first far-right head of state since 1945.) This sleepy district where I was born and am now wolfing down a sweet croissant went 70-30 percent for Independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen, and this time he won every single one of Vienna’s 23 districts. The December result was a far more decisive victory (53.8 percent to 46.2 percent) over the Freedom Party candidate; in May, Van Der Bellen won by only 31,000 votes. More good news: the anti-immigrant Freedom Party had hoped Trump’s election would give them a boost by normalizing their cause. But fortunately, Austrians had the sane reaction to Trump’s post-election horror show, and elected the candidate that stood for the opposite of Trump’s values.

But my favorite part of all this is that Austria’s second 2016 presidential election was the stage for a slap in the face for Nigel Farage.

Farage—the former leader of the Euroskeptic, anti-immigrant U.K. Independence Party, and the original Mr. Brexit—was a malign specter haunting global affairs in 2016. Whether in the U.K., Italy, France, the U.S., or Austria, he sniffed out political turmoil and materialized as a lie-spouting talking head, opportunistically trying to shoehorn himself and his xenophobic, fear-mongering vision into a broader, global relevancy.

The truth is that Farage is, technically, a political non-entity. He is not popular at home; he has tried and failed seven times to win a seat in the British Parliament. His Brexit campaign (which was separate from the official ‘Vote Leave’ organization because they wanted nothing to do with him) was a buffet of shameless lies, and his classless, gloating rant to the European Parliament in Brussels after the Brexit vote (sample quote: “You’re not laughing now, are you?”) was, as The Guardian’s Marina Hyde put it, “like watching the live abortion of Churchill’s oratorial legacy.”

So allow me my own gloating rant that Austria was the battlefield where Farage’s weapons finally blew up in his face. He assumed, in his anti-Brussels one-track worldview, that Austria’s presidential elections were a referendum on the E.U. The irony is that it wasn’t—until he made it so. A couple of days before the election, Farage said on Fox News—falsely—that Norbert Hofer would hold a referendum on leaving the E.U. This was not on the campaign table; Hofer and his party are well aware that a majority of Austrians want to stay in the E.U. (and that Brexit has been a disaster). Hofer called Farage’s intervention a “crass misjudgement” and told him to fuck off out of Austria’s affairs. (Well, that was the gist.)

It’s hard to say if Farage’s big mouth cost Hofer the election. Some in the Freedom Party certainly blame him: it seems some right-leaning voters broke late for Van Der Bellen over the E.U. issue after Farage’s babbling. If so, I am in the peculiar position of being thankful for Farage’s usually toxic combination of attention-seeking and ignorance. Regardless, this small public rebuke (and hopefully, the beginning of the end of Farage’s political moment in the sun) is good news too.

So thank you, Nigel. And fuck you. I toast you with my sugary Kipferl. As the Austrians say, have a good rutsch (“slide”) into the New Year.

A Small Political Thaw Anywhere Is a Victory For Us All This Year

Dec.28.16

A Small Political Thaw Anywhere Is a Victory For Us All This Year

by Katherine Long

Osh in Dushanbe

The past year has been a grim one for the post-Soviet nation of Tajikistan. The president has seized more or less absolute, lifelong power; the only legitimate political opposition has been driven into exile; the economy’s been hit by a recession; and protections against warrantless search and seizure have been abolished. In comparison, America’s bad year seems almost picayune.

After a night of alcohol-fueled commiseration over the current, dismal state of affairs—and what are sure to be dismal-er times ahead—there is no better hangover cure than a plate of Central Asia’s soul food: osh, a succulent-sweet dish of rice, carrots, and beef or lamb, stewed for hours over an open fire and served with pickled vegetables, tangy yogurt, bread fresh from the oven, and a big pot of sweet lemon tea.

The dispute over where to get the best osh in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, is heated and partisan, but today I am in Oshi Khoja Rasul, a legendary oshkhona in a quiet residential street in the heart of the city. Here, the beef dissolves in your mouth after the first bite. The bread is yeasty and dense under its glazed crust. Muted winter sunlight filters through the branches of the plum tree in the courtyard into the low-ceilinged interior, with a wood stove heating cauldron-sized pots of tea, and age-stained carved wooden columns and paneling.

Traditionally, osh isn’t a breakfast food, but even Dushanbinci know that it certainly makes a great brunch, and by 11:30 a.m., Oshi Khoja Rasul is so full that patrons wend their way around the snug central hall looking for a seat, any empty seat, at the communal tables. I end up sharing with two taxi drivers.

I’ve come here today in honor of what may the only piece of good news Tajiks have heard all year: for the first time in 24 years, flights between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will resume. The announcement came as the Tajik and Uzbek governments began to renew (some of) the diplomatic ties that were broken after the fall of the Soviet Union 25 years ago, potentially including an end to the strict visa regime separating the two countries. It’s a momentous occasion around these parts. No one really knows how many Tajik nationals are ethnically Uzbek, and vice versa, but it’s certainly a large number, and plenty of people in both countries have family on the other side of the border.

Osh is another—particularly delicious—cross-border linkage between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Three weeks ago, UNESCO declared osh part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, awarding the honor to both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—a diplomatic move, considering both countries claim to have invented osh, and to have the best osh chefs.

Oshi Khoja Rasul is one of the many oshkhonas in Tajikistan owned and staffed by Uzbeks—a symbol of the indelible ties between the people of the two countries, regardless of any inflammatory rhetoric from their governments. And here, as day laborers and businesspeople alike mop up the last grains of rice from their plates with a crust of bread, mix pickled carrots with their yogurt, fill their neighbors’ teacups and pass the salt along the table, all that’s visible is the quiet pleasure of a meal heartily enjoyed in good company.

We Are the Free, the Proud, the Donut Eaters of Detroit

Dec.27.16

We Are the Free, the Proud, the Donut Eaters of Detroit

by Michael Snyder

Kefir in Hamtramck

In July, I went to Detroit to report a story on the food businesses at the heart of that city’s vibrant Arab community.

The story was important to me. I’d returned to the U.S. a few months earlier after nearly five years living in India, a country where Muslims—180 million of them, about 14 percent of the national population—are consistently treated as second-class citizens, more so since 2014 when the Hindu Nationalist party swept the country’s elections in the largest democratic event in history. I returned home in the midst of this hideous election to a climate of Islamophobia in the U.S. that was discomfiting in its familiarity.

I wanted to do something, so, being a food writer, I pitched a story on the Arab-American food businesses in Dearborn, Michigan (essentially a suburb of Detroit) and the crucial role they’d played not just in resuscitating that city’s commercial life but also in providing jobs and community for immigrants and refugees from a region that the U.S. has played such a singular role in destabilizing.

While in Dearborn, I heard about another small city called Hamtramck, a tiny municipality within the sprawl of northern Detroit, which, earlier that year, became the first American city to elect a majority-Muslim city council. “News” outlets like Breitbart predictably cried apocalypse with the smug horror of soothsayers whose prophecies have come to pass just a little sooner than expected. Locals, as far as I can tell, barely batted an eye.

Though once a predominantly Polish enclave, Hamtramck has, in recent years, become a heterogeneous mix of Catholic Poles, Bangladeshis and Yemenis. One acquaintance described it to me as “America’s Model City.” Another told me that I had to go one morning for donuts and kefir—a fermented milk drink—at a place called The Family Donut Shop on Conant Street.

So the following Sunday I drove out to Hamtramck. Conant Street, the main commercial drag, isn’t a particularly pretty place, just a long stretch of asphalt lined with one-story buildings in brick or faded siding, each girded with its own little parking lot. There are Bengali grocers and Yemeni Café’s and Polish bars. Signs are written in four languages with three different scripts. A shop called Hookah Town sits less than a block from Our Lady Queen of Apostles Church and the John J Skupny Funeral Home. A few yards from there, in a low-slung building painted a dim shade of peach, was the Family Donut Shop.

I walked in and took a seat on a chromium stool. The walls were covered, floor to ceiling, in faux wood. It might have been 1970 in there. At one end of the bar, a group of older Bangladeshi gentlemen stood chatting happily over a basket of donuts (in South Asia, Bengalis are known, above all, for loving sweets and long philosophical chats). On the stool to my left, a young Yemeni guy pulled apart a wedge of borek, a type of cheese-filled flatbread or pastry common to the Arab and Turkic worlds, while sipping weak American coffee from a Styrofoam cup. Working the counter was a young woman in a pretty, robin’s-egg blue hijab, who asked what I wanted, with a broad smile and broader vowels.

I asked for a cinnamon swirl donut and a cup of kefir. “You want what?” she asked, the smile fading a little, eyebrow cocked. I repeated my order, less confidently this time, explaining what I was looking for and noting, for the first time, that it was nowhere to be found on the menu bolted to the wall. The Yemeni guy next to me chuckled quietly. “So you mean… yogurt?” she asked. I nodded and smiled and she looked at me like I was off-balance but brought over a cup anyway, cold and sour and surprisingly good with the too-sweet donut. It is, after all, a free country.

The Pre-Emptive Hangover Solution You Never Knew You Needed

Dec.22.16

The Pre-Emptive Hangover Solution You Never Knew You Needed

by Jake Emen

Tuna in Tokyo

Six of us are barreling down a private road on the back of a tiny turret truck—an odd hybrid with the size and zip of a golf cart, but with a small flatbed pallet for hauling goods around a warehouse—holding on for dear life as the driver zooms around, bringing us to the inner sanctum of Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, home to a globally renowned tuna auction each morning.

This is where the world’s finest chefs and sushi restaurants, as well as their trusted shoppers, come to stock up on the latest prized catches from the sea. A frenzied whirlwind of activity commences within, as buyers grade and inspect the stock and then bid to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per fish.

The auction itself is highly restricted, with only a few dozen passes handed out to the public each morning, and lines forming for a chance at admission as early as 2 or 3 a.m.

It’s around 5 a.m., which means we’re late. It’s not as if we slept in. We’ve been up all night, and spent a bit too much time downing Suntory highballs and singing karaoke across town, pushing back our planned ETA to Tsukiji.

Thankfully, our marvelous guide/do-it-all-fixer Mori-san was on the case for us. She dutifully stood in line for auction passes in our stead, and managed to arrange that little truck ride over to our intended destination by having us hand a cell phone off to the first person we could find. Who knows what she said, but the guy pointed to his truck, invited us to hop on, and then drove off before we were even safely aboard, half of the crew nearly tumbling right off.

Even with Mori-san’s help, though, only one of us gets to check out the actual auction: she snagged the last remaining ticket. A thrilling round-robin rock, paper, scissors tournament is held to select who gets to see the auction. For the rest, there is only one task: to indulge in some of the world’s freshest and finest sushi at the market’s shops and stalls.

Yet, even in the morning hubbub of Tsukiji, many of the shops aren’t yet open. After some meandering around, though, we find an inviting destination and begin ordering up a breakfast feast. Amazingly fresh and sweet uni in massive mounds. Tuna so lavishly marbled with fat that it looks more like raw, high-grade wagyu beef. Salmon and shrimp and soul-warming miso soup to wash it down and send us off to bed.

Who said that breakfast needed to come after you wake up, anyway?

After just a few hours of sleep following a night of hard drinking, I wake up feeling just fine. World-class sushi from the Tsukiji market at 6 a.m.—it’s the preemptive hangover solution you never knew you needed.

Sugar Is OK But Milk Is a Pollutant: A Coffee Debate

Dec.20.16

Sugar Is OK But Milk Is a Pollutant: A Coffee Debate

by Barbara Wanjala

Macchiato in Addis Ababa

A couple of years ago I went to Legahar in the middle of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to find out whether the old French-built railroad would take me to Djibouti Ville, the capital of neighboring Djibouti.

The name Legahar is derived from la gare, the French word for train station. The two nations’ flags fluttered atop the quaint, dilapidated, pale yellow building. In fractured Amharic I struggled to explain my quest, but was informed that alas, the trains linking the two cities no longer ran. I was invited to visit the museum instead, where I stumbled upon an unexpected but highly informative coffee section amid the gare memorabilia.

Coffee is Ethiopia’s gift to the world. The legend goes something like this. Around A.D. 800, in the country’s southwest, a goatherd named Kaldi noticed that the berries of a certain shrub made his goats dance, so he, too, tried some. Finding himself thrilled in more ways than one, he gamboled his way to the nearby monastery to share his discovery where the outraged abbot denounced the berries as things of the devil and summarily flung them into a fire. A pleasant aroma emanated from the embers, prompting the curiosity of the monks. They gathered the roasted berries and proceeded to brew what was presumably the world’s first cup of coffee. That night, they found themselves “uncannily alert to divine inspiration,” according to a board on a wall of the gare museum bearing the title “The African Origins of Coffee.”

My taxi driver, Getachew, outlined the finer points of buna brewing and consumption as we sat in his ramshackle blue Lada. Buna is the Amharic word for coffee. The coffee beans have to be freshly roasted, ground via pestle and mortar, then boiled and served ba jebena, in a clay jar. Sugar is permissible, but Getachew the purist looked at me as if I had stabbed him in the heart when I ‘polluted’ my buna with wetet: milk. He strongly disapproved of my preference for machine-brewed, milk-infused coffee. Only the macchiato—stained with a miserly drop of wetet—met with his approval.

I sat in the Legahar cafe and sipped my robust macchiato. Musing on these architectural and culinary vestiges of European imperialist incursion, I wondered what the forthcoming shiny new Chinese-built trains would bring.

A Drink for Those Whose Hearts Aren’t Cold Enough

Dec.19.16

A Drink for Those Whose Hearts Aren’t Cold Enough

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Jigarthanda in Madurai

Some people have called it a heart attack in a glass. They are terribly unkind. I prefer to think of it as heaven in a glass. How else would you describe a concoction of almond resin, sarsaparilla syrup, cold milk, sugar, finely chopped dried fruit and nuts, topped with a generous scoop of ice cream?

One summer morning in the temple town of Madurai in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, I headed out with a friend. The plan was to have a street-side breakfast of idlis (steamed rice and lentil cakes), accompanied by a piquant chutney of coconut and chili, and chase it down with jigarthanda. After all, I couldn’t really visit Madurai and not have the “heart cooler” (the literal meaning of jigarthanda). Nobody can.

While jigarthanda is today considered a local Madurai beverage, it has an interesting history. Thanks to its name, which is a combination of two Hindi words (the language of the state is Tamil, not Hindi), it’s thought that Mughal rulers brought it to India several centuries ago, and that it slowly made its way down to Madurai.

In this swelteringly hot city, it is so strongly associated with cooling properties that it has come to be known as ‘jil jil jigarthanda’ in the more popular outlets (‘jil’ being a local corruption of the word ‘chill’).

While jigarthanda is popular in these parts, it’s a little more under-the-radar than its famous north Indian cousin, falooda, which food historians claim started life in Mughal emperor Jehangir’s court.

My plate of idlis was delightful. But then came the jigarthanda. The man behind the counter filled up the glasses with practiced ease. Somewhere between vanilla and light chocolatey in color, thick and inviting, the jigarthanda beckoned to me.

I took a tentative sip, and my world immediately turned into a happier place. This was an explosion of tastes and textures: the sweetness of the syrup and ice cream, the crunchiness of the nuts and the chewiness of the jelly-like almond resin. My friend and I drank it in almost one gulp. Then we looked at each other. Another one?

By the time I gestured to the shop assistant, he had already prepared two more glasses for us. A second round seemed to be par for the course here. This time, I sipped slowly, savoring the flavors, feeling like a kid in a candy store. I knew I was going to have to skip lunch that day, but who was complaining?

The Levantine Answer to Chilaquiles

Dec.16.16

The Levantine Answer to Chilaquiles

by Kirsten O'Reagan

Fatteh in Beirut

Abu Hassan’s—a bustling restaurant turning out no-nonsense Levantine classics on one of the main avenues running through Bourj Hammoud, Beirut’s Armenian quarter—is open 24/7.

On this particular Saturday, the tables in the dining room are laden with plates of foul, msabaha and spiced eggplant, pitchers of water, and baskets of hot flatbread. Later on, perhaps, hungover revelers—exhausted from a night out in Beirut’s legendary clubs, or the bars packing neighborhoods just west of here—will arrive seeking fried eggs and a miracle, but for now the tables are filled with groups of men speaking softly, rhythmically tearing off strips of khubz to scoop up hummus and labneh.

On the day I arrived in Beirut, my Lebanese host insisted I try Abu Hassan’s fatteh—a dish I had never heard of. Months after that initial recommendation, on the day I’m scheduled to leave Beirut, I finally make it to this table, hungry from a brisk run in the Horsh (the city’s only sizeable park, which straddles the “green line,” the civil war-era no-man’s land between Christian East and Muslim West) in the crisp, clear weather following the first storm of the winter.

Waiters rush around carrying platters of fresh mint, quartered onions, sliced tomatoes, and assorted pickles. Water is poured into plastic cups. The menu—a small laminated card—offers a dozen or so dishes, five of which are variations on the fatteh theme. Derived from the Arabic “fettfet” (to make crumbs or to break into pieces), fatteh is always built on a base of torn and toasted flatbread, studded with boiled chickpeas. Over this foundation, a sauce, with ingredients that vary from kitchen to kitchen, is poured—softening the bread and chickpeas into a velvety mush. At Abu Hassan’s, that sauce might be based on tahini or yoghurt or olive oil. We opt for the house style, Fatteh Abu Hassan, that makes use of all three.

The dish arrives in a deep bowl, like a pale soup crowned with roasted cashews. Green-gold glugs of olive oil are set against the creamy yoghurt, off-white with tahini and flecked with herbs. An exploratory plastic spoon sinks effortlessly into the mix, through the tender layers of bread. The mellow tang of garlic and clarity of lemon offset the unctuous sauce, while the cashews’ crunch enlivens the spongy bread and nutty, tender chickpeas.

Here are the staple flavors of the region, yes, but transformed into a breakfast of champions, the ultimate comfort food—a Levantine version of poutine or chilaquiles.

Our fried eggs and hummus are all but set aside as we spoon up warm, viscous dollops of fatteh, shoveling it into flatbread pockets or eating it as is. Around us, the dining room hums with quiet satisfaction. Lunch will not be necessary.

There Is Some Serious New York City Bagel Blasphemy Going on Here

Dec.15.16

There Is Some Serious New York City Bagel Blasphemy Going on Here

by Patrick Sauer

Smoked trout bagel in Montana

We are on a family vacation back in my home state of Montana, staying in the once-humble, now-booming mountain resort of Big Sky. On our first night in early July, I walk across the golf course from our condo to the Hungry Moose Market & Deli to stock up on Moose Drool, a delicious brown ale I haven’t found in Brooklyn. While perusing the store, I check out the menu and there it is, the $6.50 breakfast deliverance. The smoked trout bagel.

The next morning, I jaunt back to the Hungry Moose for this breakfast, loading up for a 6.6-mile round-trip hike to Beehive Basin. While one could create the same menu item at New York’s famed smoked-fish purveyor Russ & Daughters, but in nearly 20 years of calling New York home, I’d never had one.

“This is our version of the New York City bagel with lox. We use trout because it’s so synonymous with our Montana rivers,” says Jackie Robin, who, along with husband Mark, opened the first iteration of the Hungry Moose, a simple veggie stand, in 1994. “The bagel itself is a strange one, more of a soft bread that comes from Blue Moon Bakery, and we jazz it up with our house-made herbed cream cheese, a tomato, and an onion.”

The bagel is dense; it has to be to hold the thick chunks of meaty fish. Leave the thin-sliced salmon for city folk; this is a fortification for those headed out for a day on the river, the slopes, or to tool about the national forests. I am alone at the outdoor tables, sipping coffee in the cool mountain air offset by the brilliant all-encompassing sunlight that will soon beat down upon us as we climb. It is quiet in the center of Big Sky, the Independence Day revelers yet to materialize. It is a gem of a morning at the Hungry Moose. The bagel is beyond perfect.

Five days later, after a night of overindulging on the Moose Drool, the walk across the green to the Hungry Moose seems to take as long as the trek to Beehive Basin. The air is too cold, the sun too oppressive, the coffee too jittery, and the Advil is not doing its damn job. There is but one hope of reclaiming myself.

The smoked trout bagel sets me right. Teach a man to fish, and you have to go find a fly rod, get a license, drive to the Yellowstone River. Give a man a fish bagel, and the center begins to hold.

The Pure Satisfaction of Sating a Breakfast Craving

Dec.14.16

The Pure Satisfaction of Sating a Breakfast Craving

by James Murren

Machaca con huevos in Baja California

Outside of the window behind my left shoulder, a group of men wearing cowboy hats mix and pour cement. To my left, a family enjoys fresh farmer’s cheese—queso fresco—on triangles of house-made tortillas.

A couple of times, they pick up a small spoon from a clay bowl and add a little salsa to the top of the cheese cube. I turn to my bride of 14 years and say, “It kind of feels like being back home.” We both grew up in smallholder farming families.

I tear off another piece of soft, corn tortilla and add a forkful of machaca con huevos to it, folding the tortilla over in a bite-sized bundle of breakfast deliciousness. When I woke a couple of hours earlier, I had the Sonoran dish front and center on my mind. The plate now on the table before me in La Cocina De Doña Esthela is satisfying every craving that I had. It’s a perfect combination of serranos, chile verde, dried and stringy beef jerky, and eggs from the farm. Add I simply could not ask for anything better than the runny, refried beans seasoned with lard.

“ A B C D E F G … “ A girl, about age five, recites in perfect English to a man who appears to be her grandpa sitting across the table. His smile fills his face.

“ … H I J K … L M N O P …” She continues on, dark eyes looking past Grandpa to the woman making tortillas over at the large wood stove.

“ … Q R S … “ His smile is still there. Other family members, seven in all, converse while looking over the menu. It is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. Perhaps part of the family took advantage of the holiday time off to come back down across the border to visit their loved ones.

“ … T U V …” She sits up higher in her chair, and then she reaches across the table for Grandpa’s hands. His hands reach hers on his side of the table.

“ … W X Y Zeee … “ I have a swallow of Café De Olla, and the cinnamon dances across my palate.

“Now I know my ABCs … “ Grandpa lets go of her hands and raises his, offering her a soft round of applause as she completes the lesson.

My wife finishes up her huevos a la Mexicana while I eat the final bites of cheese. The waitress stops by and asks if we need anything else. We ask for the check.

Driving away, I tell my wife that I did not expect when we pulled up to the humble restaurant that I would leave it feeling like I had a little family time on Thanksgiving Day.

If You’re Braving Traffic for Brunch You Should at Least Get a Bloody Mary Out Of It

Dec.13.16

If You’re Braving Traffic for Brunch You Should at Least Get a Bloody Mary Out Of It

by Richie Koch

Eggs in Bamako

Brunch is a decadent meal. It is breakfast with the added benefit of sleeping in. It is socially acceptable drinks before noon. But Bamako is not (at least on my pay scale) a decadent city. It is hot. It is dusty. I have yet to see a single person carry a toy dog in a Gucci purse.

I have lived in Bamako for nine months with my girlfriend. Weekend mornings are typically my turn to cook. I enjoy whipping up breakfast and I typically do it late, sometimes with an Irish coffee. While this may sound brunch-like, in my opinion, labor goes against the very essence of brunch.

We had heard there was a bed-and-breakfast that did brunches in Bamako, but it was on the other side of the city and, as a rule, we try to avoid braving Bamako’s traffic any time before noon. Yet here I was, in a rattling taxi, listening to my girlfriend direct the taxi driver. The drive up to Comme Chez Soi did not inspire confidence. The unpaved streets had craters, unattended donkeys wandered aimlessly, and a muscular guard in a too-tight T-shirt stood near a nondescript door.

Upon stepping through the threshold, I was greeted by a lush green that almost hurt my eyes. Tall trees provided shade and kept out the noise of the city. We climbed the stairs to the open-air restaurant. The tables were plain wood and the dining area was clean, well lit, and decorated with numerous Malian statues. A few feet from our table, a band played jazzy blues.

I ordered the “Eggs Benedict au saumon fumé” and an iced coffee. When our plates arrived, I saw I had chosen wisely. The usual English muffin had been swapped in favor of lightly toasted slices of baguette. The crust still crackled, and the bread retained just a slightly chewy sweetness which offset the briny tang of the salmon and the creamy hollandaise sauce. The egg was poached to perfection; the yolk did not so much run as casually stroll after I cut into it. The only ingredients in my iced coffee were ice, cream, sugar, and a shot of espresso, letting the quality of the coffee shine through. I ordered another, with a Bloody Mary to counteract the extra caffeine.

After each song, the band members chit-chatted with us while they sipped their drinks and dragged on their cigarettes. I felt sated, pampered, a true epicurean. I decided to help myself to some apple crumble.

Sauerkraut and Ramen, Together At Last

Dec.12.16

Sauerkraut and Ramen, Together At Last

by Cher Tan

Ramen in Yokohama

I had come to Yokohama mostly for noodles. On the surface, the city, compared to Tokyo, seemed sleepier, grayer, less fervent, and I was only going to be here for six hours, tops. What else to do besides visit the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum?

I wasn’t a ramen fanatic. But noodles were a different beast altogether. They were a staple in my Chinese upbringing, and continue to be. The fact that I could slurp noodles—something I secretly love but have been told all my life was extremely rude—with wild abandon in Japan without the bat of an eyelid was something to delight in. And a ramen museum could only unlock more possibilities.

Ramen came to Japan via China. When Japan opened up its ports in 1859, interpreters from China came, which resulted in the formation of foreign settlements where Chinese restaurants lined the streets. Ramen was adapted from the Chinese lamian noodle. The difference is in the soup stock, or dashi: ramen dashi is never used for anything other than ramen.

At the Ramen Museum, one is immediately transported to 1958 Shōwa Period Japan, a hat-tip to the year the world’s first instant ramen was invented. With nine different hole-in-the-wall ramen shops, each specializing in one type of ramen, it was difficult to choose. Curious about the fusion styles, I decided to start with a German limited-edition pop-up.

Presented with a choice between a full-size bowl of ramen, or a half-size sample, I opted for the latter; there were many more noodles to try. Muku Zweite, the German shop that was only going to be at the Museum for a year and a half, served a German-inspired tonkotsu syoyu (pork bone/soy sauce) ramen. Imagine thick, straight noodles not unlike a fine spaghetti, and roughly-cut pork belly that melts in your mouth. Slightly oily like the Yokohama-originated liekei, the broth also had a delectable smoky aftertaste, with bits of sauerkraut floating around in the mix.

I moved on. Ramen is categorized into four types: shoyu, miso, shio, and tonkotsu, which are then further split into regional types. Miso was next on the list. Sumire claims to be the “most famous miso ramen shop in Japan.” This ramen had a slightly hard (yet very chewy), curvy, Hokkaido-style egg noodle that allowed the broth to take center stage. The miso was rich and fragrant, swimming with scallions and crunchy bamboo shoots. The cacophony of slurps was pleasing to the ears, people eating almost in tandem with one another, united in a love for ramen.

The museum allowed multiple entries on one ticket. I knew where I was going for lunch.

A Tunafish-Muffin Sandwich Is Some Next Level Thinking

Dec.09.16

A Tunafish-Muffin Sandwich Is Some Next Level Thinking

by Frances Katz

Matzah brei in New York

It’s 11:30 on a windy morning in November, and I’m a little bit giddy. In my new fall booties with warm socks, sweater, jacket and nice wooly scarf, I am waiting in line for a matzah brei sandwich from the Matzahbrei stall, perched at one end of the Bryant Park Winter Village.

Having matzah brei in the winter from an outdoor food stall feels like cheating, but cheating on what, exactly, I couldn’t tell you. Although I’ve only ever had it in a relative’s kitchen, the people behind Matzahbrei think that’s just not right. They’re hoping to make the Jewish dish—traditionally eaten at Passover to commemorate the Israelites’ flight from Egypt—more accessible to non-denominational 21st-century diners year-round.

Typically, matzah brei makes a breakfast appearance when what we really crave are pancakes. Large squares of matzah are broken into bite-sized pieces, soaked in water and drained. Then it’s mixed with beaten eggs and fried until the eggs are scrambled and the matzah is kind of crispy. There are many variations to this basic recipe: you can add cinnamon sugar and top it with butter and maple syrup. My family prefers a savory version, with onions and lox. Either way, it’s a delicious, crunchy, eggy, holiday dish that takes the edge off the whole, “no bread, no cookies, no fun,” aspect of Passover, when leavened foods are prohibited.

The idea of using matzah brei as a sandwich component brings back fond memories. My aunt used to pour the mixture into muffin cups and bake them into the most amazing muffins I have ever had in my life. She would make a sandwich of sorts by splitting them open and filling them with tuna salad for Passover lunches. This is the only holiday dish I have ever made myself. It’s that good.

And now, there’s also Matzahbrei to make matzah brei sandwiches for me. They serve three different types of vegetarian sandwiches. I decide to try the Monica: mushrooms, gruyere cheese, spinach and dijon mustard. It tastes like everything and nothing I’ve ever had before—familiar and exotic at the same time. I’m tempted to get another one, maybe the Xavier with avocado and peach mango salsa to take home for a dinner, but it’s early in the season and they’ll be here not just for the eight days of Passover, but for several months. I can come back anytime.

A Breakfast Worthy of an International Incident

Dec.08.16

A Breakfast Worthy of an International Incident

by Monique Jaques

Pupusas in El Salvador

A week after landing in El Salvador, we arrived in the cheesy mecca of pupusas: Olocuilta, a small village north of San Salvador, and the birthplace of the Salvadorian breakfast staple.

Inside pupuserías, balls of corn dough are made to order and packed with beans and cheese and other fillings before being thrown on the griddle by the pupusa-makers, who are overwhelmingly women. The dough is cooked until golden brown, wrapped in wax paper, and served in plastic baskets. Served off the griddle, the often too-hot pupusas will burn your fingers and mouth. Each bite is filled with an unforgettable blend of cheese and beans, or cheese and chicharrón, or a number of other combinations, sometimes involving carrots, potatoes, or even crab. They’re served with curtido, a spicy version of coleslaw with chilies.

My Salvadorian friends teased me about wanting to eat pupusas all the time. Though it’s traditionally a breakfast food, its rising popularity has made it an all-day staple, but most locals will only eat them in the morning and evening. Most pupuserías close or slow down in the afternoon.

A pupusería is a tight ship. Every person has a specific task. Some take orders and clean the tables, while others run the griddle, expertly turning each pupusa at just the right time. Others pack the pupusas with fillings. Each punch of the dough makes a resounding smack as the air leaves and the flavor settles. In Olocuilta, the pupuserías are arranged in a circle, known as the Pupusadrome. Every year, the stalls here band together to make the world’s largest pupusa, in a bid to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Naturally, the origins of such a beloved dish are disputed. In 2013, talks for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) stalled while El Salvador and Honduras debated which country could rightfully claim this culinary delight, because both wanted to make it an exclusive export. After two days of this, archeologists were brought in to settle the matter. They sided with the Salvadorians, who are descended from the indigenous Pipil tribe believed to have first created pupusas. Honduras had to concede.

Recently, the snack has migrated north to several U.S. cities. But nothing can replace the sights and smells of El Salvador’s original Pupusadrome.

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

We Are United in Our Love of Well-Baked Carbs

Dec.07.16

We Are United in Our Love of Well-Baked Carbs

by Alexandra Buskie

Bagels in Montreal

You can smell the bagel shop from around the corner: sweet honey, wood-fired dough, and buttery, toasted sesame seeds waft from across the block.

There are two rival bagel shops in Montreal: Fairmount and St. Viateur. They are around the corner from each other in the city’s Jewish quarter, Mile End. Thankfully I have a half-hour walk to get there, otherwise it would be bagel time every morning. Both bakeries are open 24 hours a day, meaning that more than once I have found myself drunkenly popping in for a midnight snack after a night out, simultaneously picking up breakfast for the next day’s hangover. Today, it’s a quiet morning walk in warm autumn weather.

There is almost always a queue in the crowded bakery. It’s tiny and most of the space is taken up by crates of freshly packaged bagels ready for delivery to supermarkets across the city. Just behind the counter, I can see recently shaped dough poaching in honeyed water, flaming brick ovens and piles of hot bagels mounting up on one side of the kitchen. As I wait, I hear the orders of my fellow bagel eaters come in varying accents in French and English. Coming from a small, predominantly Christian town in northeast Scotland, I can’t help but get a thrill from buying Jewish bagels in North America, in French.

Canada seems to have avoided the populism and rejection of fact-based politics seen across Europe and the U.S. this past year. It has welcomed over 30,000 Syrian refugees. They also let me in as a permanent resident this week. Looking at the rest of the queue, the diversity of people waiting patiently is remarkable. We may prefer one bagel shop over another, but we are united in our love for well-baked carbs.

I order my “demie douzaine de sésame” and squeeze back out onto the sunlit street. I am partial to smoked salmon and cream cheese, but when they are this fresh the bagels don’t need anything. I always eat at least one on the way home. Crunchy sesame seeds, slightly crispy dough on the outside, soft and chewy in the center. I tell myself that I think I prefer Fairmont over St. Viateur due to the extra sweetness of the dough. But perhaps I should just go round the corner and make sure…

Photo by: M. Rehemtulla

Baby Octopus, Not Waiting in Line, and Other Guilty Pleasures

Dec.06.16

Baby Octopus, Not Waiting in Line, and Other Guilty Pleasures

by James Murren

Ceviche tostadas in Baja California

Every time I order a taco de pulpo, I think, poor baby octopus, and tell myself that I will stop ordering them. But then I take that first bite and realize that this will be one of my life’s guilty pleasures. I do give thanks to the baby octopus. It never feels like I have absolved anything, though.

The other problem I have is that I keep adding on new guilty-eating pleasures. On this trip it was the tostada de caracol—sea snail on a toasted tortilla—at Sabina Bandera’s brick-and-mortar place, spun off from her legendary seafood taco cart, La Guerrerense. Sure, I could order it out on the street and sit on the curb, but when she has a new, bright-and-cheery place with clean tables to sit down at, why not use it?

Sopa de Caracol—sea snail soup—on the north coast of Honduras was a favorite during my Peace Corps days. Caracol ceviche, fresh slices of sea heaven, is a current favorite, and I did not share one bite with my wife. Pulpo and caracol happily mingling in my belly, I reached next for the scallop ceviche tostada, the scallops sitting on top of a creamy bed of fish ceviche. She asked if I would like to have a taste of her fish taco. No thanks, I said. She later suggested that she has had better tacos, but when it came to the tostadas, she stated matter-of-factly that she wanted more.

As we finished up our seafood brunch, one of the staff members walked in carrying a large canvas photo of Anthony Bourdain and Doña Sabina Bandera standing in front of the new shop. She showed it to some of the others and they reacted with excitement.

We finished off our aguas de tamarindo and walked out into the small courtyard. No one else had come inside for a bite to eat. Walking around the front façade, we could see the line at the famous food cart on the corner. We crossed the street and soon heard a tourist saying, “This is the best place for fresh seafood tacos. It’s been on TV shows and people blog about it.”

I thought about telling the people in line that they could walk across the street and order the same food for the same price and not have to wait. Then I thought, why bother? Let them figure it out on their own. Or, maybe they wanted to have the street-corner food cart experience. To each their own.

Ah, Back to the Old Coffee Vs. Alcohol Debate

Dec.05.16

Ah, Back to the Old Coffee Vs. Alcohol Debate

by Olga Kovalenko

Coffee in Salento

“I’m meeting some friends for a coffee tomorrow,” Gabriele said on the phone. “Want to join us for breakfast?”

I was staying in Salento, in the south of the Apulia region—the heel of Italy’s boot. Gabriele was a friend of a friend, and he took me under his wing. I think he felt sorry for me, a woman traveling alone, on a tight budget, without a vehicle. There wasn’t much to do in the village I was staying in, and without a car it was hard to get around. Without Gabriele’s help, I would have spent my vacation sunbathing in olive groves.

I had been told that life in Apulia was simple, lived in villages instead of big cities, centered on food, wine, music, dancing, good company, and coffee. “You catch up with your friends in one village, party in another, have a coffee here, a beer there,” Gabriele said. “Life is great in Salento.”

Life in the countryside had appealed to me. During my first two days in the village, I enjoyed having my cappuccino and cornetto at a cozy local bar. I enjoyed listening to people talk in a strange mix of Greek and Italian, and I liked hearing the peal of church bells. I also liked Salento’s specialty iced coffee: a lightly sugared espresso poured over ice cubes and served in a whisky glass—perfect for hot summer days. Then I noticed that I was the only woman in all-male bars, and also the only foreigner. I felt lonely, and decided that a village vacation wasn’t my cup of coffee, after all.

“One needs a car here, or a scooter,” Gabriele said when he picked me up next morning, “Otherwise you drink coffee at home, like old ladies do.” Villages in Salento tended to be more conservative than towns, I was told, so women usually met for coffee and drinks in their homes, while the men went out.

For breakfast, we drove to a popular beach, Torre dell’Orso, a seven-mile drive from my village. Every weekend Gabriele’s friends met at a local pasticceria, Dentoni. They arrived from different villages and chatted over breakfast before going to the beach. It was a bit cold for swimming that day, so we discussed plans for the night, sitting at a table lavishly laden with coffee and sweets. “Try a pasticciotto,” Marianna said, “It’s a bit too rich for my taste, but it’s a famous treat of the region.” Pasticciotto dough is traditionally made with lard, and the one I dug into had warm, smooth, and devilishly sweet custard inside its crust.

We all met again later that evening for a coffee in the village of Melendugno. Then, when we sat in a bar much later that night, after hopping from one village to another in search of snacks, drinks, and parties, it was coffee again. “We just like coffee,” Marianne said. “It keeps you awake. I love it much more than alcohol.”

Half Pancake, Half Hash Browns Sounds Promising

Dec.02.16

Half Pancake, Half Hash Browns Sounds Promising

by Heiko Niebur

Pickert in Lippe

When I was visiting my parents recently in the countryside of western Germany, we got into an argument at breakfast about how the region lacks a distinctive dish, and therefore a culinary identity. I was adamant that most places have that one thing they are well known for, like the wines of the Rhine region or the dumplings of the south, but that we do not. Then, to prove her point, my mom left the table and returned a few minutes later with a pack of freshly made Pickert from the local butcher shop.

Pickert is part pancake, part hash browns—heavy on the cake part. Its name derives from the Low German word pecken, which means to stick something together: the dough is very gluey. Take some grated potatoes, flour, milk, eggs, a pinch of salt, and even some raisins—although some might argue that’s not traditional—and throw it all together with a little yeast. Pan-fry it and cut into pieces, then cut the pieces open in the middle and top the steaming and still moist insides with amber-colored sugar beet syrup, or a spread of Leberwurst (liver sausage). Add generous amounts of butter. That morning, I had one of each as I pondered my ignorance and forgetfulness.

The rural region of Lippe is in the eastern corner of North-Rhine Westphalia. People here are fiercely proud of the story of a local tribal lord, Hermann the Etruscan, whose troops defeated three Roman legions in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, halting the Roman advance into Germania. A large copper statue at the edge of the forest near Detmold commemorates this victory.

Still, life here is humble, and focused on the local. So are Pickert ingredients: The sugar beets for the syrup are grown here. The Leberwurst is usually made by the butcher next door. The rest are staples in every household. Originally poor man’s fare, Pickert has recently become well-known as a regional specialty just as young people seem to be abandoning it. For me, it conjures images of childhood and gray, misty mornings when my mom drove me slowly to kindergarten, often stuck behind a big tractor filled top to bottom with beets.

Good Breakfast Habits I Picked Up in Ireland

Dec.01.16

Good Breakfast Habits I Picked Up in Ireland

by Gina Zammit

Oat biscuits in Ireland

Oatmeal. Maybe it’s not the most glamorous, tasty, or desirable breakfast. Bacon-and-egg enthusiasts might dismiss it as gruel-like. But for the Irish, it’s an important part of the cultural fabric, and a form of self-care.

Oats have a love affair with Ireland. They thrive in the temperate climate and have a high tolerance for heavy rain, making this island, particularly the eastern coast, a perfect growing region. Many traditional Irish dishes contain the popular cereal grain: black pudding, oat bread, muesli, oatmeal stout, and, of course, oatmeal cookies.

During a visit to the countryside home of the Flahavans this summer, I sampled the family matriarch Mary’s take on oat biscuits: simple, delicious, and slightly sweet, crumbly cookies served with Irish black tea. What started as a table full of strangers more closely resembled a holiday gathering by the end our meal, and during my time with the family, I felt welcomed into their tight-knit clann (as the Irish spell it).

The Flanavans live in the town of Kilmacthomas, just across from their 230-year-old family oat factory. Most of the extended family is involved with the business, run by chairman John Flahavan and his children. John is a jolly, slender man who enjoys driving his vintage Ford Model A through the rolling green landscape. During our drive, we visited the oat fields and spoke with a formerly oat-averse farmer who started eating porridge daily for health reasons and now no longer needs his cholesterol medication. We also stopped at a local spa, where I learned about oats’ other healing properties: alleviating dry skin and soothing chicken pox.

Oats are so much more than a humble grain, and eating oatmeal is a responsible, nourishing breakfast choice. Since returning home, oatmeal has become my preferred breakfast.

When in Doubt, Eat Where the Truck Drivers Eat

Nov.30.16

When in Doubt, Eat Where the Truck Drivers Eat

by Shirin Bhandari

Silog in Manila

After a recent move to the northern side of Manila, I felt anxious about leaving my regular silog haunt. It was a source of comfort before starting a long day, or nursing an epic hangover from the night before.

Silog is portmanteau of the words sinangag (fried rice) and itlog (egg). This Philippine breakfast has three components: fried rice, a sunny-side-up egg, and your choice of salty, cured meat. Not everyone can function on such a high-carb, high-protein, oil-infused breakfast, but if you’ve lived here long enough it’s a great, quick, go-to meal any time of day.

Tapsilog is the classic silog, which was served on the busy streets of Manila in the 1980s. Tapa is a cured meat; mainly beef, marinated with salt and spices. In time, vendors across the country came up with their own variations. Some used pork, horse meat, or fish.

I walked a few minutes into town along unfamiliar surroundings. Eat where the truck drivers eat, I said to myself. Food is served hot and to go. Eventually I found a shack with bright green walls and a giant tarpaulin bearing the words: “Tapsilog. Longsilog. Tocilog. Hotsilog. Baconsilog. Spamsilog…”

A diminutive lady handed me a sticky, laminated menu with the same content.

“What’ll you have?” she asked, her head barely reaching the top of the glass counter.

I settled for Tocilog, with local Tocino. This meat is similar to the Spanish bacon it’s named after, but actually tastes more like Chinese-style char siu pork. The Tocino glistened on my plate. The large cup of fried rice came with extra bits of chewy garlic and a runny egg, and enough oil to keep me going for the rest of the day.

I had a long menu to get through, but this was a promising start.

A Culinary Middle Finger to the President-Elect

Nov.29.16

A Culinary Middle Finger to the President-Elect

by Sara Nasser

Shawarma in Istanbul

After Donald J. Trump won the presidency, a full 24 hours after a Twitter troll became the de facto leader-of-the-world in waiting, I mourned his ugly victory the only way I knew how: kabsa, shawarma, hummus.

I went through the motions with a bunch of young Americans in Istanbul, our voices strained, our eyes watery, our emotions running high as we licked our plates clean. Bite, chomp, stew, digest, vent, repeat. It was our form of protest, a culinary middle finger to a man who’d won by demonizing everything we ever cared about, everything that surrounded us now. What better way to say ‘Not My President’ than by chowing down on some Syrian food?

We went to Al Rayan, a Syrian joint tucked away in a side street jutting off of Istiklal Avenue. To find the place, you orient yourself between Hüseyin Ağa Camii (Istiklal’s only mosque, built in the 1590s by a eunuch-turned-statesman) and the Demiroren (a glitzy, multi-storied mall). Between the Ottoman and the post-modern, past the pedestrian thoroughfare filled with ice cream sellers, street musicians, and TOMA vans, runs Atif Yilmaz Sokak—a street studded with restaurants from the Levant. Tarboush is popular; there’s a Palestinian place as well. We ended up choosing Al Rayan because the Syrian-American in the group suggested that it was the best of the lot.

There were four of us, three of us women. Some of us had Muslim backgrounds and immigrant parents. I am an immigrant to the United States. We tried to console each other at the dinner table, our own Venn diagram of who Donald J. Trump hated the most. We ordered more than we thought we could handle, telling ourselves that we could always take it home. We had kabsa, a mound of spiced yellow rice with cashews strewn about, and chicken shaved from the rotisserie spinning right next to us, its warmth and its smell intensifying our hunger. There were two whole plates of shawarma, rolled, crisped and cut into pieces, better for dipping into the garlic mayonnaise sauce. The sauce is so addictive I slather it on everything, even the carrots, cabbage, and tomatoes thrown in for complimentary nutrition. That night, Syrian food was our soul food.

We finished everything, washing it down with our Diet Cokes. How could this have happened? We asked each other, dazed and afraid. More than 60 million of our fellow citizens had just voted to reject the most fundamental aspects of ourselves. Our layered identities, once a point of pride, part of our life’s work abroad, were now bruised and battered, and celebrated no more.

Wiping away the tears, I realized I was naive about how I saw myself. “I’ve met real Americans,” an oud seller once told me in Istanbul, eyeing me up and down. I’ve known that look my whole life.

A Steaming Cup of Grainy, Bitter, Oily Chocolate

Nov.28.16

A Steaming Cup of Grainy, Bitter, Oily Chocolate

by Lindsay Gasik

Tsokolate in Mindanao

We drink it black, sipping slowly. It’s not coffee, but the steaming liquid is thick, grainy, and bitter. I’m starting to feel pleasantly, mildly buzzed.

I ask for another cup. On the other side of the counter, an old woman in a hairnet and apron drops a round coin of pure cocoa, called tablea, into a cast-iron pitcher. She flicks on the single burner, glowing blue in the dim cave-like light of the market building, and while the water warms slides a plate of puto maya on heavy white and blue china to me. Although the cold, gummy rice is sweet and salty, the perfect complement to the hot, oily drink, I’m not hungry. I have appetite only for chocolate.

I’m visiting Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippines, which grows 75 percent of Philippine cocoa. The statistic that gets more attention is the island’s demographic—20 percent of the population is Muslim in a nation overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived here in the 16th century, after a hundred years battling the Moors, they were dismayed to find a powerful Islamic Sultanate. Spaniards called them Moros, and set about spreading Catholicism and, inadvertently, the drinking chocolate called sikwate in the local dialect, but known nationally as tsokolate.

According to Historia de Filipinas by Gaspar de San Augustin, the introduction of cocoa to the Philippines can be credited to Father Bartolome Brabo, a Jesuit missionary who received a shipment of beans from a Mexican convent in 1670. Chocolate was so associated with Spanish priests that a Philippine parable, made famous in the 1886 novel Noli Me Tangere, involves the dangers of accepting different kinds of drinking chocolate from a priest.

Monasteries became centers of cocoa production, processing the beans into tablea and oil for lighting homes and city streets. When I glance up from slurping the gritty grounds at the bottom of my mug, the gleam from a lacquer Jesus-on-the-cross catches my eye.

Philippines has long exported the raw cocoa beans, but recently the national government endorsed assistance programs to encourage making gourmet-grade tsokolate for the world market, and not just these comfy little breakfast counters.

The woman uses a wooden mallet called a batirol to whip the steaming liquid into foam and refills my mug. I add a teaspoon of dark brown sugar from the little bowl on the counter, cutting the bitterness.

A Love Affair With Empanada Is Uncomplicated and Always Fulfilling

Nov.23.16

A Love Affair With Empanada Is Uncomplicated and Always Fulfilling

by Gavin Donnelly

Tinto and Empanadas in Medellín

I stared down longingly into my second empty cup of tinto, the black coffee served all over Colombia, always steaming hot in a short, plastic cup with at least two packets of sugar. It was early, and the City of Eternal Spring was still waking up, as was I, but the waiting area across from the emergency room where I found myself on this morning was bustling with activity.

I was seated in a row of hard plastic chairs, wedged between a pile of wheelchairs on one side and gurneys on the other. I silently observed as doctors greeted each other in passing with fist-bumps, orderlies stood conversing amongst themselves until called to wheel a patient from one wing to another, and a man with his hands clasped in front of his face paced anxiously around the room. I was waiting with heavy eyelids for my girlfriend, who had awoken me while it was still dark that morning, barely able to utter a sound due to her resurgent tonsillitis. Hence, the trip to the emergency room and my urgent need for as much tinto as I could drink.

I picked up my empty coffee cup and walked out into the first rays of the day’s sun, and made my way towards one of the many vendors stands lining the block outside of the hospital to refill my cup.

As I handed over some pesos and dumped sugar into my fresh cup of tinto, I became aware of my growling stomach and realized I was going to need more than coffee before I headed back to the hospital. When I looked up and down the sidewalk and my gaze landed on a woman selling empanadas, the decision was easy.

My love affair with empanadas was uncomplicated and always fulfilling, the ideal relationship. Empanadas are a stuffed bread or pastry found throughout Latin America, either deep-fried or baked depending on the country, and filled with (more) carbs or protein. Even in Colombia, where the external appearance of empanadas doesn’t vary much, I wasn’t always sure what I would find inside one of the hot, deep-fried pockets of deliciousness. Like tinto, you don’t have to go far to find empanadas in Colombia, and you can pretty much be sure that they will be available any time of day.

I ordered an empanada filled with rice and ground beef and stood eating it in front of the small cart, as is customary, dousing it with a fresh spoonful of aji picante—Colombia’s signature hot sauce—after every bite. I repeated the process with a second before making my way back to the hospital, tinto in hand, past all the pedestrians headed the opposite way to the metro station to begin their days.

The Sharp Twinge of Straying from Snack Loyalties

Nov.22.16

The Sharp Twinge of Straying from Snack Loyalties

by Shirin Mehrotra

Khasta-bada in Lucknow

It’s a day after Diwali, and an early morning craving for khasta-bada breakfast takes us to Aminabad, the heart of Lucknow. Khasta are deep-fried orbs of dough stuffed with lentil; a bada is a fritter made with lentils and spices.

The city usually runs at a slow pace, even more so after a few days of festivities. The only thing that can get the Lakhnawis out of their homes early in the morning is the promise of a hearty breakfast—especially khasta, for those who like their carbs deep-fried. There’s a deep pleasure in devouring hot, crispy, and flaky khastas with pasty white peas, spicy fried potatoes, and sliced onions. A green chili on top completes this culinary gem.

Every area in Lucknow has a favorite haunt for this snack, but my family’s loyalties lie with Durga Khasta Corner, a small shop on the corner of Latoush Road. There are no frills here; no separate kitchen, no tables or benches, and no counter. The hungry patrons crowd in front of the shop, where a man managing orders takes money and orders and hands over hot khasta and bada, all served on a dried leaf.

On this particular day post-Diwali, we arrive at Durga for our morning pilgrimage only to find the shop shut for the festival. But when you’ve driven 10 miles for khasta-bada, there’s no way you’re going home without eating some. So we head to Rattilal’s, a stone’s throw away. It’s sacrilegious, but we do it.

Rattilal’s is an equally popular khasta-bada joint which, like Durga, started as a small shop in the corner of the street. Over the years it has expanded to a larger shop with shiny counter, bigger staff, and a huge display of mithai (Indian sweets). We proceed to the khasta counter and order one with white peas and two kinds of potatoes, spicy and non-spicy, none of which have the fiery zing of Durga’s. With every bite of the slightly flattened and not-so-flaky khasta, we feel the sharp twinge of straying from our loyalties.

As we wash our hands post the meal, my father starts a conversation with a fellow customer about the disappointing khasta. Our new friend remarks that they would never have come here had Durga not been closed. Over shared loyalty and love for the perfect flavor, two strangers form a deep bond.

A Most Triumphant Hubbub

Nov.21.16

A Most Triumphant Hubbub

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Coque Eggs in Paris

I visited Paris one week after the November 13th attacks. Many people expressed apprehension before I left. When I returned, one of my friends asked, “Was it grim?” But it wasn’t at all. It really, really wasn’t.

The city never seemed more exquisite, in fact. That first Sunday morning as I walked around, the sun was shining and putting halos on everything. I had just come out of the Église St. Germain de Pres, the oldest church in Paris, and the pigeons flew up before my feet like in a perfume ad. The sun was throwing itself against the wall across the square as if to say, “Love me!”

I was hungry. My day had started earlier than usual because I had traveled from a later time zone, and I was ready for breakfast. I wanted to go to Les Éditeurs, a favorite café in the neighborhood, but it wasn’t open until noon. So I went to Café de Flore.

This is not a place I would normally choose. Of course, I had been on my first visit to Paris years earlier, for the literary history and because one should go at least once. But it seemed too overexposed, too overpriced, too Bobo. Still, it was open that morning. I had passed it on my way to the church, and it was arrestingly beautiful. The sun was lighting up the façade, and people dining on the terrace looked like a row of saints.

So I took a dainty faux-marble table inside by the window and ordered a pot of café crème and two eggs “coques” which means that they are boiled in their own shells for a prescribed amount of time.

The eggs came. I tapped the shells, lopped off the tops, and scooped out the molten gold inside. Then I broke the bread—and oh, the bread. It should not even be called bread—it is something quite different. So sweet and sour and crunchy.

Sopping up the eggs with the bread, drinking the coffee, feeling the sun pour through the window, watching the people arrive and depart and walk by: handsome elderly couples, skinny kids on mini-Segways, toddlers wearing hoods with fur that framed their heads. A family sat near me with children who wore round tortoise-shell glasses and ordered jus d’oranges. The waiter was perfect in his part: precise, efficient, a little gruff, very elegant.

I strolled in the Jardin du Luxembourg afterwards. Clouds floated by like bonbons, toy sail boats bobbed in the water. Joggers with fit rear ends went past the Orangery while pensioners dozed in the pea-green chairs. One couple had put their chairs together and were making out. Everywhere was love and joy and defiance.

Truly, Paris on a sunny winter’s day is a cut jewel. But none of this is to say the city wasn’t grieving. Earlier on my walk, I had turned down one lane where the sun hadn’t reached, Rue Férou. There I’d found Rimbaud’s poem “Le Bateau Ivre” carved in full on a wall. It is a poem that already expresses mourning, but a more recent graffiti mark—one word spray-painted across the poem in red—told of recent tragedy: “Sad.”

I am not religious person, but I went into one more church that morning, St. Sulpice, raising in my thoughts everything that I love and value in this world, all that is and always will be Paris.

The Full English in Andalusia

The Full English in Andalusia

by Nathan Thornburgh

Black Pudding in the White-Walled Towns

It is, of course, an abomination. To walk into a café in southern Spain on a sere and cloudless morning, under the least English skies on earth, and order the Full Breakfast. There is little about the white towns of Andalusia that would seem to call out for back bacon, black pudding, or baked beans. This part of Spain is desert, North Africa in a mirror. Monty may have girded himself to fight the Nazis at Alamein by taking down the Full English in his field tent every morning, but it still seems like a fundamental mismatch of climate and menu. The Andalusian palate tends toward something lighter: coffee and toast with jam or a touch of lard. The local analogue to the Full English, the chorizo-spiked plato alpujarreño, isn’t breakfast at all, but lunch.

And yet.

I can’t even remember which of these villages they were—Alcalá or Arcos, Véjer or Grazalema—but I’ve slid through many of them on extended road trips through southern Spain. Nearly all seemed to have some café or hostal with a fry-up on the menu. It can seem off-putting; your goal was Cádiz, not Kent. But the British are so numerous—more than 300,000 of them throughout Spain—and their breakfast arguments so compelling that I began to enjoy the association. Eventually it became Pavlovian: show me a picture of a white-walled hill fortress under a blazing sun and I can practically smell the mushrooms frying.

There’s an old joke about the Brits who moved to Spain because they were sick of all the immigrants in the U.K., and there’s too much lazy grousing about the pace of life (and waitstaff) in Spain. But far from the beer-swilling holiday goons on the shore, the expats in the hills are easy enough to like. They have diverse reasons for having left the U.K., but share certain joys that come from having found somewhere infinitely cheaper and less grim than their homeland. They remind me, more than anything, of the Minnesotan and Canadian snowbirds I grew up with in the Florida Keys.

I think about them now, in the world of Brexit. Many are trudging back to the U.K., worried about pensions and health coverage. I would still go to Málaga if there wasn’t a single Wayne Rooney fan left, but I’d miss their breakfasts fiercely.

Photo by: Lesamourai

The Ethereal Breakfasts of a Bygone Era

The Ethereal Breakfasts of a Bygone Era

by Ignacio Peyró

Meringues at El Riojano

El Riojano is nothing if not baroque. Their meringues—the pastel tones, the ethereal consistency—would not be out of place in a Rococo hall graced by Marie Antoinette. Or we could instead order the so-called “saint’s bones” (huesos de santo), cylindrical marzipan sweets made to celebrate the memory of the dead. But between life and the grave, between the meringues and the saint’s bones, I, of course order the meringues, although in the end it doesn’t matter: of all the goodies in this place, none will be saved from the condemnation of the World Health Organization.

El Riojano’s is the debris of a “piccolo mondo antico” in the center of Madrid, where the stores once belonged to families and not to franchises and had mahogany windows and not plastic counters. Without a doubt, this packaging of another time will scare away a few tourists in a country better known for its noisy tapas bars than for its tea rooms. But the reverent window display of El Riojano remains as it always has, a recollection of 1855, when the bakery was founded, and above all a memory of the preferences of the Spanish monarchy during the years of the very sweet-toothed Maria Cristina of Habsburg. It was she herself who sent the palace craftsmen to carve the Italian marble and to build the Cuban wood that still adorns their display cases.

The last decades have lost the oh-so-madrileña Sunday morning custom of going from the church to the confectionery. The consumption of pastries has been steadily declining in the last decades: dietary concern, strict municipal regulations, and the difficulty of being a baker have conspired to end an urban tradition that already belongs to another era. Even preferences have changed: who today doesn’t prefer, say, a donut to one of those sugar-coated pastries found in the zarzuelas—Spanish operettas—of the 19th century?

However, the bakery persists for now. After a stroll through the Puerta del Sol, an assortment of meringues in El Riojano is still able to brighten up the morning and provide the necessary calories for the day.

The Best Breakfast for the Hungover and the On-The-Go

The Best Breakfast for the Hungover and the On-The-Go

by Laura Marie

Pan con Tomate in Madrid

I can only focus on one thing at a time as I walk the stone streets on a bright Saturday morning in Malasaña. It’s not the drinking culture of Madrid that makes the mornings hard: it’s the sheer lateness of the hours, and the way my friends think that we should stay out until the Metro opens and then go eat pasta. I ended up napping on someone’s couch while the spaghetti boiled and everyone else feasted.

Now, however, it’s almost 11 a.m., cafés are open, and I need to be awake because something in me compels me to relish all mornings, no matter how little I’ve slept. And I know, whether it’s a trendy new café covered in neon-colored paint or an old bar with haunches of ham hanging from the rafters, that there will be pan tumaca.

Pan tumaca, or pan con tomate, or some other variant on “tomato toast,” comes from Catalonia, but has been adopted as a life-giving breakfast food in various parts of Spain. It’s light, and can be consumed standing-up by on-the-go Spaniards alongside a quick espresso. I, however, like to sit alone at a table and savor every morsel. Today, I order it at a historic café.

My cortado arrives first, smooth and milky and always somehow the same no matter where I order it. I take greedy sips of milk and espresso from the stylized glass and metal cup, not so much hungover as lightheaded with lack of sleep. The toast comes afterwards: an almost-too-crunchy baguette that would become stale if kept a few more hours. The tomato is triturado—crushed—giving it a substance and thickness somewhere between diced and sauce. They don’t spread the toast for me. Instead, they set a slightly sticky bottle of olive oil next to the little dish of tomato and let me go nuts. I ask for salt.

The sensations meld: tang from the tomato, crunch from the baguette, smoothness from the olive oil, and the brightness of the salt. The dish happens to contain many ingredients that help cure a hangover, but for me it’s also something close to a constant in a city forever throwing me off-balance.

They Can Take Our Cafés But Not Our Cafés Con Leche

They Can Take Our Cafés But Not Our Cafés Con Leche

by Marta Valdivieso

Café con leche in Madrid

I pass through the Puerta del Sol, which marks the center of the city, at 8:30 a.m., when Plaza Mayor is almost deserted; there are some beggars and a group of Japanese tourists. Usually, this place is full of tourists, mimes, mariachis, preachers and, at this time of year, Christmas stalls.

I can imagine a time when the buildings were all filled with cafés, the first modern bars, or expensive shops stocked with imported goods. This was the center of cultural, political, and economic life in Madrid. Today, it is tourism, trade, and cheap entertainment. No longer are there cafés in the square; only a historic pastry shop and a couple of fast-food joints.

I walk into the El Fontan cafeteria and order a coffee and buttered toast. This nondescript breakfast has a long history. It became a Madrid institution in the second half of the 19th century, when cafés played a big part in the literary and political life of the capital.

When Josep Pla, a well-known Catalan journalist, came to the capital in 1921, he was struck by the locals’ love for coffee. He observed that there was no more satisfied citizen in the world than a Madrileño after drinking a café con leche.

The classic version is the “half-and-half” (half coffee, half milk). Today, everything can be a little more complicated; without even taking into account the type of milk or sweetener, coffees can be short or long, hot or mild, in a glass or in a cup. Each option has staunch supporters and detractors.

The café con leche is traditionally accompanied by toasted bread, to be buttered and dipped into the cup. This was a standard breakfast across all social classes, but for some people the “coffee with half” became a lunch and dinner staple too if they had nothing else to eat.

My breakfast arrives quickly. Through the windows, I see the offices in a block of buildings that once represented the economic power and modernity of the city, now little more than a façade. In a few months, this block will be a shopping center and a luxury hotel.

As an adoptive daughter of Madrid who has lived in the city for nearly 10 years, I have my own traditions with café con leche. Always in a cup, half-and-half, hot, no sugar. I prefer toast with butter, although it has always seemed messy to dip it into the coffee.

Winter has just arrived in the city, and a café con leche remains as comforting as Pla found it a century ago.

Breakfast Like a King, Lunch Like a Prince, Eat Dinner Like a Beggar

Breakfast Like a King, Lunch Like a Prince, Eat Dinner Like a Beggar

by Jeff Koehler

Tortillas in Barcelona

Breakfast, lamented Josep Pla, Catalunya’s greatest culinary writer, was usually escarransits—puny. “Here, in general, one breakfasts with a cup of black coffee or a coffee with milk and a toast.” He was specifically referring to the region’s larger towns and cities, including Barcelona, where I live.

Pla contrasted these inadequate repasts with another sort that consisted of more than a quick hit of caffeine and calories, the kind he called esmorzar de forquilla, breakfast with a fork: grilled fresh sausages and white beans, pigs’ feet with turnips, or one of the many stews—rabbit with snails, pork knuckle with wild mushrooms—slow-cooked in a terracotta cassola. Alongside came oblong slices of toasted country bread rubbed with tomato and drenched in olive oil and a porró of rough wine from the local cooperative. If there was coffee it arrived as a finale with a shot of brandy or rum in it.

The tradition of such hearty fare comes from Catalunya’s rural interior, but also around markets. Country folk would come in from their farmsteads early, finish the brunt of their business by 9:00 or 10:00 am, and be ready for a substantial meal.

My own days begin as early (but certainly less strenuously) as a farmer’s, and after a couple of hours at my desk, I am ready for breakfast.

Today is one of those mornings when the body, not to mention the soul, craves more nourishment than a croissant or even toast slathered in marmalade could offer, and I head to Can Ravell, one of Barcelona’s old-school spots that continue to satisfy such fortifying, late-morning cravings.

Opened in 1929 and still run by the founder’s son, Josep Ravell, this slender neighborhood deli-cum-restaurant sits beside one of the city’s fine covered food markets, the art nouveau Mercat de La Concepció.

Through the heavy door, I pass high shelves jammed with tins of bonito del norte tuna, mussels in escabeche marinade, smoked paprika, cured legs of jamón ibérico dangling from the ceiling, and a curving glass case crowded with wedges of aged Manchego, Cabrales cured in dank mountain caves, and dozens of other cheeses.

I take a seat at one of the two long, marble tables in the back room lined with wines and spirits.

Josep ambles over, and, after chatting about Pla for a moment, offers some breakfast suggestions. I skip my favorites—cua de vaca (oxtail stew slow-cooked all night) and Can Ravell’s legendary cannelons (stuffed cannelloni)—and opt for a salt-cod egg tortilla.

The season’s first pressing of arbequina olive oil has just arrived, and Josep brings a bottle of it along with some bread. Unfiltered, sprightly yellowish-green, and more muddy than simply opaque, the oil exudes the vibrant and fruity flavors of the field, not the factory.

The has been replenished by time the chef carries out the tortilla on a long, rectangular plate. A wrap of whisked egg envelopes tender hunks of cod and garlic confit. On top sits a pair of fire-roasted and hand-peeled piquillo red peppers. Juices are already pooling along the plate. I take a hunk of bread and mop these up before cutting into the tortilla itself.

Esmorzar com un rei, dinar com un príncep i sopar com un captaire,” goes a popular Catalan refrain. “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and eat dinner like a beggar.”

With a solid start to that equation, I pass through La Concepció market on my way home and pick up the makings of a prince’s lunch and a beggar’s dinner.

In the meantime, though, back to my desk.

Sometimes a Biscuit Is Just a Biscuit

Nov.11.16

Sometimes a Biscuit Is Just a Biscuit

by Julia Wallace

Tea and biscuits in Sittwe

Getting here is hard. I need permits upon permits, photocopied and handed out to guards like candy. I need to be brought in by a Rakhine—a member of the dominant ethnic group in this state, where sectarian tensions have been simmering for years, sometimes erupting into violence. The Rakhine fixer who brings me is a soft-spoken man whose cell phone constantly bleats an eerie rendition of the opening bars of “Hotel California.”

We enter through a military checkpoint. Then a police checkpoint. Finally, we stop. “Hotel California” starts up again. A young man slides into the car: my translator. He’s a cocky, eager kid who keeps a smartphone tucked into his longyi. He is also an IDP, an internally displaced person, who has been living here for the past four years, since deadly riots between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims drove more than 100,000 Rohingya from their homes and into camps they cannot leave. I ask if there’s somewhere we can go to talk about our work. He takes me to a shack. It takes a minute before I realize it’s a tea shop.

Of course. That’s where you go to talk in Myanmar: there’s a tea shop on every corner, with men in longyis hunched low over the tables, arguing or reading the newspaper or arguing over the newspaper, sipping milk-sweetened brew out of tiny mugs, chewing betel and spitting out the remains in blood-red gobs. This one isn’t much more than a tarp-lined roof held up by bamboo poles, but there are the same low tables, the same haphazard array of old posters and an out-of-tune plastic clock. The men in longyis, though, are sprawled around listlessly, free of many of the obligations of daily life but also the pleasures: making one’s own way, stealing a moment from a busy day for a cup of tea.

“Some people have work, but mostly they have no work, so they just sit,” the translator says. Those who have a few cents to spare can do their sitting here, in this shop, and watch an Indian movie on a generator-powered television. The obvious thing for us to do is also sit, and order tea. With it, unbidden, come a few dry biscuits. I am reluctant to even take a bite, but they are unexpectedly good: sweet with a salty tang, a bit nutty. The more nibbles I take, the better it tastes, and the better it seems to go with the tea, until I almost forget about the privations of the setting.

“Is this a traditional Rohingya food?” I ask.

My translator, understandably, finds my queries somewhat beside the point.
“It’s just a biscuit,” he says.

If There’s One Thing We Can All Agree on It’s That Nutella Is Delicious

Nov.10.16

If There’s One Thing We Can All Agree on It’s That Nutella Is Delicious

by Coral Sisk

Nutella in Italy

“Baba, what’s Nutella?” my seven-year-old self asked my Iranian father during breakfast, scrunching my face as I read the jar. I was about to learn that chocolate for breakfast was totally acceptable, and would become rather disappointed on mornings when it was absent.

Growing up, I spent each week on a cultural teeter-totter. Weekdays at school, I navigated tables full of strange cafeteria foods on clunky plastic trays. But on weekends, I headed to Baba’s house, where the days were punctuated by strong Persian flavors: juicy, skewered kebabs, saffron and sumac, fava beans with dill, and stewed lamb with herbs and dried limes.

Each Sunday night, I headed back to Mom’s house with a little more Persian soul. Weekdays turned to a shade of American gray, with no Persian music or foreign languages to marvel at. Breakfast went from warm lavash flatbread with butter and honey or Nutella to overly sweetened, processed American cereals. Nutella in Iranian food culture is relatively new, but it’s been quickly adopted; the combination of chocolate and hazelnut is a score for the Iranian sweet-toothed palate. While not quite a breakfast staple the way it is in some European countries, it’s common to find chocolate hazelnut spreads like Nutella at the breakfast table, along with the butter, honey and sour cherry jam, fruit and cheese that come with Persian bread and Ceylon bergamot tea.

Fast-forward to college, when I was studying Italian, intending to eventually move to Italy. On a study abroad trip I lived with a host family in Rome, fooling myself into thinking I was prepared for Italian life just because I spoke a few words. I was wrong.

The Italians’ strict set of culinary rituals was at times dizzying. Cappuccino only in the morning! Cereal is okay at breakfast, but it’s nothing like the sugary stuff with which I grew up. Eggs at breakfast? Never! Butter? Used sparingly, but not on toast. Salad and pasta never go on the same plate.

After a semester with a host family, I went to Perugia to take a linguistics course. Making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich turned me into a freak show with my Italian flatmates. Mixing these items together was so strange to them that they called over their friends to witness the culinary debauchery I had created. I didn’t understand the Italians’ rigid relationship with flavors and their judgment towards my palate. Those Iranian breakfasts with Baba were the one thing that helped me navigate the world of Italian food customs: Nutella on bread is ok for breakfast.

Perhaps the Most European Bagel Ever

Nov.09.16

Perhaps the Most European Bagel Ever

by Natalie Kennedy

Bagels in Bruges

There is a right way and a wrong way to eat a bagel.

To begin with, a bagel (regardless of its provenance) shall be cut no less than once and no more than twice. It is the first cut, slicing the bagel horizontally into equal halves, that is the most important. These halves form the foundation for whatever the bagel is to become.

The second cut is most often a matter of taste, though it’s occasionally a matter of necessity. This neat bisecting of the round halves makes the bagel more manageable.

It was this second-cut kind of bagel that was placed in front of me on a dainty china plate in Bruges.

Bruges had never really been on my radar, but as I finished up a Friday evening meeting, I found myself unenthused about the idea of a weekend in Brussels. Hailing a cab, I was soon on the first train heading north.

Walking away from the station, I soon encountered cobblestone streets and little brick houses ripped from a fairy tale. The meandering canals and warmly lit cafés that define the city are the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway. I suddenly realized that I had chosen to explore a city famous for charming lanes and romantic corners alone. I also realized that in a country famous for waffles, I wanted a bagel.

The next morning, determined to beat the crowds of couples that would soon jam the medieval alleys, I set out before the sun had a chance to fully rise and went in search of sustenance. A perfect line of Belgian bicycles parked outside of Sanseveria Bagelsalon beckoned me inside. Skimming the menu quickly, while trying to seem as inconspicuous as possible at a small corner table, I settled on the Harvey. Speck, egg, cream cheese, arugula, and a lashing of black pepper. The most European bagel I could imagine.

Sitting down to eat alone in public sharpens flavors. There is no companion to distract you from the act of consumption. At a table for one, the only place to focus is on the bagel. On the crisped speck, salty and substantial, unmistakably meat rather than crackling. On the slow dribbling of the fried egg, as the sunny yoke combines with the pork to send umami alarm bells across your taste buds. With each bite, you have the clarity to notice how the arugula cuts through it all, adding to the pleasure. The cream cheese is a non-negotiable touch of comfort in a bagel.

The right way to eat a bagel is alone, I realized. If you happen to be in Bruges, so much the better.

A Light Breakfast for Those Seeking Enlightenment

Nov.08.16

A Light Breakfast for Those Seeking Enlightenment

by Sabrina Toppa

Nattō in Kathmandu

On a set of small plates, I am served Japanese hakumai (white rice), miso soup, and a teriyaki chicken hamburger. Next to this appears a small bowl of nattō, a fermented soybean-based dish that leaves thin, translucent strings webbed all over the plate. Natto is a bit slimy, yet apparently it is vitamin-rich, and a close cousin of Nepal’s own kinema, a pungent soy-based dish that can function as a side dish, soup, or dip in eastern Nepal. Like nattō, it’s an acquired taste.

This is breakfast in Hotel Kaze Darbar, a hotel geared towards the Himalayan country’s Japanese tourist market, which is surprisingly large, thanks to Japan’s interest in Nepal’s Buddhist heritage. (Buddhism came to Japan in the sixth century.) All across Kathmandu, vehicles carry the sign “Buddha was born in Nepal,” referring to Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini, southern Nepal, which swells with pilgrims hungry for spiritual proximity to the Enlightened One. In 2015, Japan’s generosity to earthquake-stricken Nepal helped resuscitate its tourism-dependent economy, enabling the city to rebuild roads.

With more than 25,000 Buddhist temples in Japan expected to shutter in the next 25 years, Nepal has emerged as a destination for those seeking a spiritual lift or a reprieve from Japan’s punishing work culture. This partly explains the appeal of a place like Kaze Darbar, which serves small Japanese plates, offering rolled omelets in the form of tamagoyaki, or bite-sized portions of vegetables (kobachi).

The name of the hotel, Kaze Darbar, is a fusion: “Kaze” is a Japanese word for wind or breeze, and “Darbar” is a name for a royal palace in Nepal. Although the most ostentatious palaces erected by Nepal’s monarchs boasted neoclassical or baroque white-plastered exteriors, Kaze Darbar’s cherry-colored design and terracotta-tiled roofs are a break from that tradition. Its courtyards largely remain placid and empty, save for the limber men and women meditating before noon, waiting for their light breakfast of Japanese egg rolls, tsukemono (pickles), and tofu.

Photo by: Byron Gray

No Quick Fixes, No Ready Mixes

Nov.07.16

No Quick Fixes, No Ready Mixes

by Revati Upadhya

Idlis in South India

In South India we take our breakfasts very seriously. They’re a full-on operation of wholesome carb-heavy, savory preparations, almost always served warm.

Breakfast in our home was never just about nourishment and sustenance. It was an event with which to start the day. And the variety was staggering: from dosas (savory lentil crepes) to poha (a stir fry of delicately spiced flattened rice) to upma (semolina lightly seasoned with curry leaves, ginger, and fresh green chilies) to my favorite, idlis (steamed rice dumplings).

Made from a thick batter of lentils and rice, ground down and left to ferment while the elements do their thing to lend a natural fluffiness to an otherwise slimy mix, making idlis for breakfast is a production that begins more than 24 hours before eating it. A whole lot of measuring, mixing, and waiting goes into the scene that would welcome us at the breakfast table. Mornings that began with the enticing aroma of mildly fermented batter steaming in my mother’s trusty pressure cooker, listening for the reassuring sound of the food processor whirring as a medley of coriander, coconut, and spices came together to make chutney, were the best kind of mornings.

Preparing idlis is an act of slow, deliberate waiting. And we enjoyed the wait as we caught up with each other, sharing conversation and laughter around the table. It was the memory of that anticipation that eventually became my undoing when I moved away.

Suddenly, mornings were no longer about gently scooping idlis out of their molds and stacking them into a casserole. In a new city where I was still teaching myself to cook, breakfast had turned into a quick and dirty affair. Something I grabbed on-the-go, invariably cold, sweet, and stodgy. Cereal that had stayed in the bowl too long, a banana eaten hurriedly, or a handful of nuts munched on disinterestedly.

It was a mundane Sunday morning that broke the warm breakfast dry spell. Overcome by waves of nostalgia for a hot meal to begin the day, I longed to recreate not just a warm, nourishing breakfast of idlis and chutney, but also to revisit the warmth of sitting together with my family. I longed for the comfort of late beginnings, bolstered by the puffy goodness of each bite of idli, drenched in thick, grainy coconut and coriander chutney. I finally started cooking idlis that morning.

It’s the kind of goodness and satisfaction you can’t get from anything instant. No quick fixes, no ready mixes. A warm breakfast of idlis was suddenly more than breakfast. It was a reminder to slow down, to wait for the moment, and to enjoy the process.

We Are Now Craving Marlin Biryani, Which Is Not an Easy Itch to Scratch

Nov.03.16

We Are Now Craving Marlin Biryani, Which Is Not an Easy Itch to Scratch

by Jesse Lewis

Biryani in Mauritius

“You like biryani? Spices, basmati rice, roast chicken. Only the best,” says Muslim Patene, the Bhandari, or biryani master, at his hawker stall in the back of the market in Flacq, a town on the northeast coast of Mauritius.

All over Mauritius people eat biryani: a rice dish made from long-
grained basmati rice, meat, potatoes, and spices. It was traditionally a Muslim dish created for celebrations, but its popularity transcends religious and ethnic boundaries in multicultural Mauritius.

But how did this South Indian dish reach this island? There’s a clue in the name for biryani chefs in Mauritius: Bhandari was the name for a cook in a crew of Lascars (South Asian sailors or soldiers) on British Navy ships in the colonial era, which stopped in Mauritius to bring indentured labor to work in sugar plantations.

The biryani’s origins are traced back to North India’s conquering Mughal emperors, who brought the dish to South India, along with their chefs. According to historians, it was originally conceived as a grand, luxurious dish for the thousands of guests at the royal court on special occasions. To make these huge quantities of biryani, Mughal chefs invented a special pot in which to cook it, called a deg. These conical pots have a large bottom and narrow neck, so that steam condenses and rolls down the curved slope back into the food, enriching it with flavor.

Muslim says it takes them seven or eight hours to prepare these huge degs of biryani. While everyone else is tucked in bed, the family starts cooking in the predawn darkness. Most Bhandaris across Mauritius serve chicken or beef biryani, but Muslim’s family also serve vegetarian and fish versions. I usually order marlin biryani with an icy bottle of Coke. Each time I return, the portions seem to get bigger as the crew get to know me as a regular.

Heaping piles of basmati rice infused with spices, whole pods of cardamom and splinters of cinnamon bark hide cuts of roast meat, along with the obligatory potato. Then of course there are the condiments: pickled radishes and onions, a dab of spicy green chili paste, homemade tomato chutney, and sweet tamarind sauce lumpy with black seeds. The flavors are both exciting and comforting.

Sitting at a plastic stool at one of the white linoleum tables behind Muslim’s cramped stall, Hindi pop music plays and local shoppers come and go in the market beyond. Sharing my table, everyone is digging in, indulging in this luxurious meal conceived by royalty, but enjoyed by the masses.

The Father of the American Diner Breakfast

Nov.01.16

The Father of the American Diner Breakfast

by Kyle Bell

A Full English Breakfast in London

Late September, our first morning in London, we awoke to overcast skies and drizzle, floating in a river with fluorescent green algae, geese, and run-down canal barges. Surprisingly, we were still dry and lively after the previous night’s journey. Our guest bed on a squat, sturdy, and well-waterproofed Churchill-era naval repair ship-turned-houseboat was easily among the oddest places we had slept during our cross-continental, couch-jumping honeymoon.

This antique was kept ship-shape and bachelor-padded by a worldly friend-of-a-friend who gave us reason to smile after such a long, tiring slog. He pointed us to the marina’s sole establishment, a canal-side hole-in the wall serving a Full English Breakfast.

Loaded with fried and fatty deliciousness to keep out the chill, the Full English Breakfast is most definitely the father of our favorite meal, the American diner breakfast. It was a bridge between cultures on this final weekend of our journey, and for that we loved it instantly.

The “Full Monty” is widely available, often around the clock, and full of staple foods more filling than nutritious. Fried eggs, back bacon, rashers, fried potatoes, and baked beans glisten in shades of fat-tanned ochre and mahogany. Stewed mushrooms and a bright red, grilled tomato lend a farm-fresh cheer. Pale buttered toast sits separately because it won’t fit on the overstuffed plate. It is a sepia-toned, all-English feast with none of the exotic bright bananas and oranges we take for granted at our table back home.

We tucked in to our overflowing bounty. The salt, lard, eggs, bread, and potatoes brought us back to life and released the tension in our limbs from the previous night’s hours of trekking to reach this secluded locale. Blessed with the perfect meal at the exact moment we needed it, we gazed out the doorway of the small cafe—built into what appeared to be the local rowing club’s flood-prone ground floor—at rain-slicked green grass, passing dog-walkers, and cyclists. We melted into our chairs and sat, satiated and comfy, feeling right with the world.

The British seem to have a complex about their love of a good “fry-up” that is unjustified for such a welcoming meal. It’s too greasy, too low-class, a sign of an obesity epidemic. It’s the British Big Mac. Yet, even Prince William is caught in the tabloids getting a helping. The Full English is loved and shamed and knows no bounds of class or creed. It’s British soul food that makes strangers feel at home.

The Universal Pleasures of Indulgent Road-Trip Food

Oct.31.16

The Universal Pleasures of Indulgent Road-Trip Food

by Pankti Mehta Kadakia

Vada Pav on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway

I’m battling a heady mixture: a pumping, long-drive playlist and increasing deliriousness from a too-early morning. It’s been an hour of playing DJ in the front seat, making strategic selections to keep the driver, my husband, alert. There’s chirpy chatter coming from the back, where our friends are discussing their darkest theories for the next season of Game of Thrones.

With dragons and dungeons swimming across my sleepy mind, the music gets gloomier. But just before my husband can dart a sharp look at me, here we are: the pit stop that punctuates the road trip from sweltering Mumbai to the breezy hills of Lonavala, Khandala, and Pune. Shree Datta Snacks is a highway institution for local Maharashtrian snacks, smack in the middle of the speedy expressway.

Sure, you can get vada pav—a deep-fried potato patty with spices, wrapped in bread—at the corner of every street in Mumbai, and across Lonavala, Khandala or Pune for that matter. But the one at Datta holds not just the magic of perfectly powdered chutney, but also the promise of a great weekend away from the city.

We had the satisfaction of beating rush-hour traffic that morning, but the story once we got to Shree Datta Snacks was quite different. The roads had somehow brought hundreds of weekend revelers to this bland room. At Datta, particularly on a rainy weekend like this one, you’re always jostling outstretched arms, all trying to hand their tokens to the guy taking orders behind the counter. Like most old-school dining spaces in Mumbai, there are no lines here, just a mass of hungry people crowding at the counter, pushing their way forward, barking to shout over the next person. I try, I fail. I hand the token to taller, louder friends.

Phew. The food here comes in trays fashioned out of cardboard, a quick fix, like everything about the space. It’s a large room, dimly lit, hastily painted. A few bar-stool-shaped tables are the only furniture, and are just large enough to hold a couple of the cardboard trays. What’s in the trays is also a quick fix, from a menu designed to serve a rolling, on-the-go crowd.

I start tearing the delicate pav—bread—apart through the middle, to smother the mushy batata-vada, potato fritter. A generous stuffing of the dry red chutney, and the ensemble is complete. The bread now swaddles a searing yellow ball, the fiery chutney signals the first adventure of the weekend. I’m zapped awake. We finish with a shot of sugared-up chai for the road. The playlist gets louder, faster, happier. Soon, the hills appear in the distance.

Don’t Mess with Czech-Texan Breakfast Food

Oct.28.16

Don’t Mess with Czech-Texan Breakfast Food

by Abby Johnston

Kolache in Texas

“I’ll have a kolache.”

“A croissant?” the woman at the mid-Missouri donut shop attempted to clarify.

“No, a kolache.” We went back and forth in a similar fashion a few more times before the I realized that the next few years of graduate school would be void of the Texas breakfast staple.

So I learned to make my own. I lovingly recreated the subtly sweet, fluffy dough, which would soon be tightly wrapped around a juicy cut of kielbasa. Jalapeños and sharp cheddar tucked inside are optional accoutrements for some, but not me. So in they went. I served them up to my new friends, and was horrified when they declared: “Oh, it’s like pigs in a blanket.” To compare the heavenly combination of thick-cut sausage, melted cheese and a small kick of a pickled pepper to pre-packaged croissants and cocktail weenies (best enjoyed while drunk) was an abomination.

My fascination and now fully developed appreciation for the art of kolaches continued when I moved back to Texas, where the savory pastries are part of the morning routine. But even here there is confusion. Ask a Czech-Texan, the people who originally brought kolaches to the Lone Star State, about the sausage roll, and they’ll tell you that it isn’t a kolache at all.

In the Czech tradition, what Texans colloquially refer to as the kolache is actually a klobasnek. A kolache, meanwhile, shares the yeasty bread and heritage of the klobasnek, but is topped with a saccharine fruit compote nestled into an indention in the dough, then topped with chunks of butter coated in sugar and flour. It’s a similarly decadent and delicious morning treat, but its popularity pales in comparison to its savory counterpart.

How did that misnomer of one of the state’s most beloved breakfast foods occur? Maybe klobasnek was too difficult to pronounce in Texas parlance. Maybe a simple labeling error spread to bakeries around the state. Whatever happened, it causes no small amount of confusion for the common Texan and indignation from Czech-Texans, a proud group settled throughout Central Texas.

It doesn’t make any sense. A lot of things in life don’t make sense. But I like to keep my mornings simple and save the big questions for lunch. I’ll have one of each, please.

A Breakfast to Banish the Indignities of Modern Travel

Oct.27.16

A Breakfast to Banish the Indignities of Modern Travel

by Didi Kader

Biscuits in Atlanta

Our plane landed in Atlanta after an overbooked cross-country flight. I felt like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz as I reached for my bag. I hadn’t moved in six hours because I make it a point to stay seated on an airplane. Unbuckling my seatbelt and navigating over strangers, wailing babies, flight attendants, and crushed pretzels to reach the airplane’s stinking bathroom, and then pee while four people hover outside the accordion door, is one of the greater indignities of modern flight. I sit stoically at 36,000 feet, willing my bladder to contain itself.

At the airport I rode two trains and fast-walked to the car rental counter ahead of other people. I looked at my watch. It was past midnight, and the friends I was staying with were waiting up for me. I texted “In the car rental line!” and shuffled my bags ahead as the line moved.

“We’ve got a minivan—that’s all we can give you at the rate you paid,” the guy at the counter said. But I had booked a compact car, I explained. He looked at me and shrugged a shoulder. He didn’t even bother to shrug both shoulders. I alternated between sympathy for this man’s graveyard shift and irritation that he could, if he wanted to, give me another car. I reminded myself that traveling in an airplane and renting a car remain a rare privilege and that I should be happy right now. This is how people have fun, I kept telling myself.

“I took a moral stand on car rentals and I’m going to another counter.” I texted my friends, this time with a hard period and no exclamation point. I dug through my bag and found the remnants of blue corn chips in a bag. My stomach was jet-lagged and made whining sounds, still on another time zone.

I arrived at my friends’ home next to a Baptist church after 1 a.m. My brain and my belly were warring, both of them depleted and tired. My brain won and I fell asleep.

The next morning we went out for a Southern breakfast at The Flying Biscuit. I ordered a biscuit with eggs and gravy and subbed in fruit for the side of grits. When the waitress slid my breakfast in front of me, I finally relaxed. This green plate felt like home, a safe and sure thing I could depend on. The biscuit was fluffy and the gravy was a comforting shade of milky white, speckled with spicy black pepper and bits of chicken.

I finished off the last bit of biscuit and we paid our bill. The sun was bright and poured through the oak trees that lined the street. A plane descended toward the airport as we walked, and in my mind I rooted for the passengers—you’re almost there.

Being Thankful for Small Mercies and Semolina

Oct.26.16

Being Thankful for Small Mercies and Semolina

by Jency Samuel

Upma in Chennai

I quite enjoyed the sound of water lapping against the compound wall as vehicles passed by. It had been raining on and off for a month, and the latest spell flooded our streets. I was not unduly worried when the rainwater started inching up the pathway to the rear of our house.

But then a power failure woke us up in the middle of the night, and we found about 15 inches of water inside the house. It was the flood of December 2015, which engulfed the southern Indian city of Chennai and made news internationally.

No power meant no water. We moved to my sister’s apartment. Five days later, when the water subsided and power supply was restored, my husband and I came back early in the morning to clean the house. Lopsided wooden furniture, scattered wet clothes, books on muddied floors, cockroaches, and an unbearable stench greeted us.

Midway through the cleaning, when I felt hunger pangs, I went into the kitchen to make breakfast. There was absolutely nothing. Because I cook out of necessity, I don’t stock up on anything except essentials. Without power, the dosa batter in the fridge had fermented into a yucky, smelly mess. The wheat flour was full of fungus. The shops had run out of supplies because supply trucks could not enter the marooned city.

I panicked. Already I was tired from the cleaning, which was extremely difficult and time-consuming. And I am the kind who will literally faint if I skip a meal. Counting on the wheat flour, I had not brought anything from my sister’s house. Then my husband rummaged in the kitchen and found a pack of semolina, or broken wheat middlings.

Upma made with semolina, or rawa, as it’s called locally, was not a favorite food of mine. Simple and easy to make, many rustle it up when guests come unannounced. Though some add vegetables, what my husband made that day was its plainest version, with just a sprig of curry leaves picked from our neighbor’s tree for seasoning. With no ingredients to make chutney, we ate the upma with sugar.

It wasn’t the grandest of breakfasts, but it was delicious. I never thought that I would cry over food. But I did, over my upma. We had been so fortunate; we had not been displaced by the floods—or worse. With a simple breakfast my attitude changed. I no longer think “ugh” when I think of upma, or gripe about inconveniences. I am thankful for small mercies.

A Brief Introduction to Waffle House Hash Browns

Oct.25.16

A Brief Introduction to Waffle House Hash Browns

by Andrew Durant

Hash Browns in Pensacola

WAFFLE HOUSE. Those ubiquitous yellow-and-black block letters that populate the landscape of American highways are a beacon to those who want to order steak and eggs before dawn without being judged.

Both an exhilarating freedom and a paralyzing dread take hold when you face the prospect of ordering at a restaurant where everything on the menu is available 24 hours a day. Will I regret eating this patty melt at 9 a.m.? What will sustain me more after a night of revelry: a pecan waffle slathered with margarine and imbued with the essence of high-fructose pancake syrup, or a plate of scrambled eggs garnished with two limp slices of pale-orange pasteurized cheese product?

Despite the menu’s vast possibilities, it’s the hash browns that stand alone as the symbol of America’s unofficial diner. Waffle House claims to have served over 1.8 billion orders of hash browns, surpassing even the number of cups of coffee. They come with staggering amounts of topping combinations, ranging from diced tomatoes to a heaping ladle of chili. Mine are always scattered, well done, smothered with onions, and finished off with a double portion of pickled jalapeños that have some char from the griddle. The misguided among you can keep your American cheese and grilled mushrooms.

On a warm, late-summer morning my breakfast arrives, a pile of hash browns dominating the plate. It’s impossible to resist diving in immediately, always aiming for the perfect mouthful: crispy yet slightly greasy, salty and spicy, with a perfect acidic bite to round things out. Their accompaniment this morning is a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on Texas toast, but it’s clear where the real star power lies.

The hash browns are woven into the fabric of Waffle House so deeply that it still astonishes me to hear someone opt for grits instead, despite my affection for creamy cornmeal porridge. (Pro tip: Waffle House does not excel in seasoning their grits, in my experience.)

There’s a comfort in knowing that whether you’re staring down the indomitable traffic on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, pulling off a dusty highway just a few dozen miles from the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, or admiring the lush farmland in upstate New York, those hash browns are always there for you, just the way you like them.

One Person’s Day of Rest Is Another’s Early Morning

Oct.24.16

One Person’s Day of Rest Is Another’s Early Morning

by Samuel Patterson

Hummus in Jerusalem

West Jerusalem is shuttered on Saturdays, the Jewish day of rest. Finding a meal on Shabbat would be difficult; getting around would be, too. The city had been locked down the day before, when world leaders and dignitaries from 70 countries had descended on Jerusalem for the funeral of Shimon Peres. The following day, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, would start, shutting the city down for another 48 hours.

To eat was to scramble among limited options, but the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City was waking up from its day of rest, prayer, and reflection just as the Jewish Quarter was going to sleep.

I walked east for 20 minutes, past Hasidic Jews going to synagogue, underneath the Damascus Gate and into the Muslim Quarter. Men hawked knick-knacks and women wearing abayas presented bushels of grapes on the smoothed-out pedestrian walkway, their efforts wasted on uninterested passersby.

I moved quickly, hungry for the famous hummus at Abu Shukri. Twenty yards from the Via Dolorosa and the fifth Station of the Cross—where Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross—sits this hole-in-the-stone hummus joint, run by three generations of the same branch of one magnificent hummus-making family.

Ordering was simple. I spoke neither Hebrew nor Arabic, and knew of nothing to order besides hummus. So it was one hummus and a Coke. They’d been cooking for hours before opening at 9 a.m., so within a minute of ordering, I had two plates and two soft, warm, pieces of pita in front of me.

The first plate is for toppings: slices of onion, tomato, and pickle and two falafel balls straight out of the fryer, the grease leaving residue on the plate. I had come for the second plate: a ceramic dish of Arab-style hummus.

Into a base of ground chickpeas, at Abu Shukri’s they ladle in tahini and add bits of parsley that marble the color. Resting on top are whole chickpeas and olive oil pooling in odd shapes. A basil garnish and some spices finish the dish. Over and over, I dunked pita into the bowl with ever-changing combinations of toppings.

With a bottle of water added to the bill I was out 30 shekels, less than eight dollars, and within 20 minutes I walked out, leaving the detritus of a meal behind me to venture back into the Old City.

The California Burrito Is a Comforting Abomination

Oct.21.16

The California Burrito Is a Comforting Abomination

by Jason Avant

Burritos in San Diego

I knew it would be shitty but I went anyway. The online surf forecast called for a massive, rising tide; all of the local breaks would be swamped out—that is to say, the sheer volume of incoming tidal water would overwhelm whatever swell happened to be working—and there would be no waves, or none that could be enjoyed. But I went anyway.

I paddled around for an hour or so, enough to get a bit of exercise and work up an appetite. Most of surfing is not surfing, I’ve found. I emerged hungry and in a foul mood. There was only one thing for it, and I hadn’t eaten that thing in… Jesus, at least 15 years. Ten a.m., and the local Roberto’s, San Diego county’s ubiquitous taco shop (with at least 64 locations), would be open.

San Diegans are insufferable snobs when it comes to Mexican food. We (justifiably) stake our claim on the fish taco, our bars make the best margaritas, and we will simply not discuss the matter with anyone who feels that beans or rice or (gag) lettuce belong in a burrito. Taquerias are for San Francisco and New York poseurs; we have Taco Shops. But San Diego bears a secret shame. The city is home to the terrible, beautiful California Burrito.

Most San Diegans credit Santana’s, a small taco-shop chain that later rebranded itself as something called “Fresh MXN,” as the first place to put the California Burrito on the menu, sometime back in the 80s. Nearly every taco shop in the county serves them. The thing starts off with promise: the base components are a flour tortilla, with carne asada (basically, grilled steak). And then things go terribly wrong. Shredded cheddar is added. Then comes a dollop of sour cream. And then the final outrage: French fries. No salsa; you need to add your own, and Cholula is the only choice. And “need” is very literal; the California Burrito is a throat-clogging, dry, starchy, lactose-laden horror that wouldn’t be out of place on an Applebee’s menu.

And yet. There’s a reason why the California Burrito reigns supreme. It’s the perfect post-surf meal, precisely because it’s so bad. There are few things more exhausting than a great surf session. Your back, arms, and chest are constantly working; the cold water only causes you to burn more calories. Come out of the ocean after spending a few hours fighting everything that Neptune throws at you and you need a serious recovery meal. Protein for your shredded muscles and fat for depleted energy. In my 20s, when (thanks to youth and hours spent in the ocean) I had the metabolism to do so, I practically lived on California Burritos.

And there are few things more depressing than a terrible surf session; the older I get, the fewer opportunities for good surf I’ll find, and there the value of the Cali Burrito as comfort food cannot be understated. Eating it reminded me of the days when I couldn’t give less of a rat’s ass about my own mortality.

I sat on the hood of my car, making my way through the soggy potatoes and the greasy cheese and the carne asada as chewy as a huarache sandal, watching the surfboard-strapped cars zipping up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, all looking for waves that weren’t there today. Well. I’d need to work off the burrito. I now had an excuse to paddle out tomorrow.

Beignets for Breakfast Are No Breakfast At All

Oct.19.16

Beignets for Breakfast Are No Breakfast At All

by Cara Parks

Drago’s oysters in New Orleans

In New Orleans, crowds flock to Café du Monde for powdered-sugar coated beignets: airy rectangles of dough served fresh from the fryer alongside milky chicory coffee.

Bully for them, but that’s not the kind of morning I was having, and by morning, I mean early afternoon. After a long day of working and a longer night of drinking the day before, the last thing I wanted was a long line and a sweet snack. I needed butter and beer and seafood and to sit somewhere dark and cool.

“Meet me downstairs in 10, we’re going to Drago’s,” my friend said on the phone. While I had been packing and sending off hangover-inflected emails, she’d been dragged onstage for a panel at the local film festival to sit in front of dozens of listeners with a handful of queasy, sweating film professionals. The adult portion of the day was now over. It was time for breakfast.

Drago’s has been a New Orleans institution since Drago and Klara Cvitanovich opened the seafood restaurant in 1969. Still family-owned today, it continues churning out what are among the best charbroiled oysters in the Crescent City. Fat Gulf oysters are drenched in a sauce of butter, garlic and herbs, then covered in parmesan and Romano cheese. These umami bombs are then cooked through on the grill, briefly braised in their own liquor.

A dozen became two dozen, which quickly became three dozen as we sat in the cavernous dining room, which looks more like a corporate sports bar than an oyster destination. “I judge the quality of a wedding by whether or not they get the Drago’s truck to come out and serve oysters,” said a local woman at our table. Despite their richness, they’re deceptively easy to eat; each golden oyster can be taken down in a single blissful bite, washed down by sips of bitter IPA. Hunks of crusty rolls are provided to sop up the garlicky butter left behind.

As we ate, we swapped stories of visiting New Orleans. One woman reminisced about waking up after a particularly drunken evening to find her face and chest covered in white powder. Panicked, she thought she’d indulged in a more debauched night than she’d reckoned for while in a drunken fugue state; careful investigation quickly showed that she’d actually indulged in a more prosaic binge of beignets. Beignets, she mused. That’s what we need now. We finished the last of our oysters and walked outside to wander in the blinding sunshine.

Breakfast in a Slightly Macabre Shrine to Princess Diana

Oct.18.16

Breakfast in a Slightly Macabre Shrine to Princess Diana

by Alexa van Sickle

Kibbe in Notting Hill

Princess Diana died in a Paris car accident almost 20 years ago, but any visitor to London can see that she’s not forgotten. There are Diana postcards, paper masks, mugs, tea towels—and of course, the public life of her grown sons, Prince Harry and Prince William (now the Duke of Cambridge) and William’s wife, Kate Middleton, a tabloid mainstay who endures daily comparisons to William’s late mother, favorable and unfavorable.

National obsession aside, Diana is also popular with tourists. For Diana pilgrims, there is the official memorial park and playground—and its large wooden pirate ship—in Kensington Gardens. But Café Diana, nearby on Bayswater Road, offers a more personal echo of her life. Iraqi Abdul Basit opened the cafe in 1989. The story goes that he had not come up with a name for it yet when he spotted Princess Diana walking out of the park’s gate opposite and thought, “Why not? Café Diana.” Only a few days later, she stopped in to congratulate him on his business, and soon became a regular, and a friend. Kensington Palace, where she lived, was only few minutes’ walk away, and she would come in with her sons and have coffee and croissants, or would wave to the café owners as she walked past.

Café Diana is what Brits call a “caff”: an unpretentious spot, somewhere between a café and a greasy spoon. It serves a Full English Breakfast and baked beans on toast, but also hummus, halloumi, sheesh kebabs. I stop in one afternoon for breakfast after an assignment involving a 5 a.m. visit to a fish market.

Over my plate of kibbe and salad, the manager, Fouad Fattah, tells me that about half their clientele are regulars, and half tourists who come for the Diana experience (many German, French, and American). While I eat, some policemen stop in and order coffees to go. A German family takes selfies, then say they want to return for breakfast the next day and ask Fattah whether they need to make a reservation. (They don’t.)

The café’s first photo, a black-and-white shot signed in gold marker, was an early gift from Diana. It was only after she died, on August 31, 1997, that the café become a shrine of sorts. The walls are now covered in blown-up portraits from her press shoots, newspaper clippings, photos of her smiling sons on skis, and some more personal touches. One is a letter from Diana to the owners, on Kensington Palace letterhead, thanking them for flowers they had sent for her birthday. The letter is dated July 1, 1997—just eight weeks before her death.

“The people who come in ask a lot of questions. What did she eat? Where did she sit? What was she like? What did she talk about?” Fattah tells me. They often bring gifts. He also says that many families who come in tell their kids the story of Diana, and what happened to her. Some explain she was killed in an accident, some say there was foul play.

Fattah himself isn’t sure. “It she was killed, it’s hard to know for sure. I think we might only know in 10, 20 years what really happened.”

There Is No Journey Too Arduous For a Solid Cup of Coffee

Oct.17.16

There Is No Journey Too Arduous For a Solid Cup of Coffee

by Mel Hattie

Bosanska kafa in Bosnia

It’s late morning when we pass a huddle of sheep by the side of the road and turn the last rocky corner into Lukomir, Bosnia’s highest-altitude and most remote village. It’s tucked into the side of the Bjelašnica Mountain, home to semi-nomadic Bosniak sheep herders. It’s accessible via a ten-mile hike or by truck on crumbling switchbacks—except in the winter, when the only way to access it is on skis. It’s a cluster of small stone houses: short, squat, and steep to protect from snow.

Off the main road is a mosque with a white minaret and an emerald roof. A sheer cliff with an 870-yard drop marks the end of the village. According to legend, a dragon once lived in this canyon. On this ledge, there also sits what is probably Bosnia’s most remote outhouse.

As we admire the view, a short old woman in a white kerchief appears and tells us to come to her one-room house. “I am the café,” she says.

We enter and remove our boots, as is customary. Sevda welcomes us and wastes no time in preparing the instruments of bosanska kafa: Bosnian coffee. An entrepreneur, she also lays out several pairs of hand-knit mittens for us to purchase. Outside of sheep herding, the village doesn’t have much of an economy.

Sevda heats water on the stove. She pulls out a tin and adds coffee grounds to the hot water in her džezva—a copper pot with a flared base. As the sandy mixture heats on the stove, a caramel-brown foam starts to swirl up from the grounds in the bottom. This is the good stuff: the crema.

Sevda places tiny porcelain cups in front of us, and a dish of sugar. She puts a spoonful of the crema into each cup. Then goes back around and tops them up with coffee from the džezva.

We begin to drink. Bosanska kafa feels like a stew. It’s hot, thick and meant to wake you up. It took me a few tries to learn that you do not drink the last mouthful of your Bosnian coffee. It’s just sediment, and tastes awful.

As l sip my kafa, Sevda shows us a picture of two men on her wall: her family that have left to look for work in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital. It’s hard to convince young people to stay and herd sheep when just 30 miles northeast, the city offers opportunities and modern comforts.

On the hillside outside her window, carved, white stećci—medieval tombstones—wink at us in the sunlight.

A Sweet Dish, Best Served Savory

Oct.14.16

A Sweet Dish, Best Served Savory

by Jency Samuel

Ven Pongal in Chennai

“Pongal for table eight,” I heard the waiter holler into the kitchen.

Table eight was the one next to mine. Waiting for my order of dosa—an Indian crispy pancake—I decided that I would eat pongal the next morning. Just thinking of the sweet dish made with rice, mung beans, and jaggery (a kind of cane sugar) sent my taste buds into a tingle. But I was in for a shock when the pongal was served at the next table. It was not what I expected. To me, pongal was brown, sweet, and had to glisten with an ample measure of ghee—clarified butter.

I scanned the huge menu board on the wall. I figured out that it must be ven pongal, meaning white pongal, apparently a savory dish.

I was new to Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu state. As the only working woman staying in a student hostel, I had to fend for myself when the students left for semester holidays.

When I was growing up, my father’s job required travel that brought us to small towns and villages, where eating out was not an option. We grew up on home-cooked food, and ven pongal had not featured in my mother’s menu. But in Chennai, I noticed that ven pongal was a beloved staple in all the eateries I visited. Still, I had trouble getting myself to try this iteration of my beloved sweet.

After I got married, I was out with my husband while he devoured ven pongal served with coconut chutney and sambar. He’d take a spoonful of ven pongal, dip it into the chutney, then dip it into sambar and pop it in his mouth. Seeing him go at it with gusto, I tried one spoonful, and soon I was doing the dip, dip routine. It was simply a savory version of the pongal I knew. It, too, featured rice and mung beans, but with a heavy sprinkle of black pepper and cumin—and of course, dollops of ghee. It was delicious. The sprinkle of ghee-fried cashews added a delightful crunch. I was instantly hooked.

“Pongal for table six,” the waiter hollers into the kitchen. That’s my table.

Sometimes You Just Want a Big Bowl of Slop to Start the Day

Oct.13.16

Sometimes You Just Want a Big Bowl of Slop to Start the Day

by Carolyne Whelan

Oatmeal and Coffee on the Great Divide Route

There was a brief break in rain, but the clouds were still looming when we set up camp in a marshy aspen field full of cow patties somewhere on Storm King Mountain. By the time we washed dishes after dinner and began our evening bedtime rituals, we were already fantasizing about breakfast. My two friends and I lay in our sleeping bags listening to the rain against our tents and tarp, and imagined the concoction we knew awaited us at sunrise.

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route took us from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico over six weeks and 2700 miles. Breakfast was always roughly the same, a comforting constant during a time when each day brought new challenges and scenery. For lunch we ate whatever snacks we could pick up at convenience stores as we passed through towns, and dinner was a communal feast combining what we carried in our rations: typically, an uninspired minute-rice concoction, made slightly better with a square of what we dubbed “night chocolate.”

But breakfast was always the hearty reliable staple: coffee and oatmeal. As the sun rose, we clicked on the small stove and stared impatiently as the water boiled and our eyes gained focus. We had the foresight to mail ourselves packages every 750 miles, and had a steady stream of the lifeblood we needed to survive in the wilderness. With over 60 miles to ride each day, we still supplemented with whatever coffee we could find. But on those sparkling early mornings, we had gourmet coffee. Unable to wait, we poured the grounds right into the boiled water and filtered cup by cup as we constructed our carbs.

Our recipe changed over time as we rode up and down mountains along North America’s great ridge, but the heart of it remained the same. We spread our breakfast offerings on the table and chose what fit the mood and the ride ahead. Packets of instant: maybe walnuts, or apple cinnamon, or the trusted plain. Peanut butter. Protein powder. Trail mix, seeds, and dates. In the week after each mail pick-up, we added dehydrated delectables like goji berry powder, powdered coconut milk, or protein powder to the oatmeal. It turned into a thick, rich slop. For one brief, beautiful moment every day, we felt full and satisfied.

Photo by: Meghan Dinneen

Warm Gloop is a An Underrated Soup Topping

Oct.12.16

Warm Gloop is a An Underrated Soup Topping

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Tohu Nuway in Myanmar

It was a pleasant winter morning in Nyaung Shwe, the small town in the Shan region in eastern Myanmar. Even at that early hour, there were people milling around on the narrow lanes. Many of them were travelers on their way to Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s most popular tourist destinations.

The others, locals all, were sitting on wobbly plastic chairs clustered around plastic tables inside small shacks. These roadside cafés were not just makeshift breakfast joints, but also served a serious purpose as social hubs. This was where locals caught up with news—in the form of the printed word or in the form of gossip—over their morning soup.

I was also headed to one of those, following my guide Aye, who assured me that it was the most popular. I had eschewed the usual bland fare served at my resort for a local breakfast of tohu nuway soup, special to the Shan region.

When I had first read the description for Shan tohu nuway, it didn’t sound too promising. A soup with tofu? Blah, even if it is Burmese tofu. But blogs by seasoned travelers said it was a must-have, and who was I to argue?

It was also a vegetarian dish, a blessing I would usually grab with both hands and warm words of thanks. Myanmar, I discovered, has a wide repertoire of vegetarian dishes, perhaps because it is culturally closer to South Asia (think Nepalese lentil curries and Sri Lankan coconut gravies) than Southeast Asia. Meals had been easy thus far, with Myanmar’s incredible range of salads, from the very quirky and tasty fermented tea leaf salad to the more sedate ones with green tomato or avocado. But I was a bit unsure about this breakfast soup.

In any case, the tohu nuway soup turned out to be absolutely delicious, the tofu made of mashed chickpea and served as a warm gloop. The texture of this tofu was creamy and silky, very unlike the crumbly soy tofu that I tend to avoid. My first spoonful was tentative, suspicious; but after that, it was all over in a quick and undignified flash of slurps. It was a sublime marriage of tastes and textures.

The tohu paste, I discovered, is kept warm and poured over a watery soup of flash-boiled noodles. It is then further topped with all manner of delicious and crunchy things, including roasted garlic, pounded peanuts, toasted sesame, cabbage, and parsley.

But it was the final addition, a crunchy chili paste, that really made my subcontinental palate sing. And made me go back for more the next morning.

The Many Traditions of the Traditional Romanian Breakfast

Oct.10.16

The Many Traditions of the Traditional Romanian Breakfast

by Monica Suma

Telemea in Romania

As we say in Romania, love comes from the heart, but passes through the stomach. But more so than that, for a born and bred Romanian, hearty home-cooked food is a way of life. It is for me, despite having lived abroad for the past 11 years. I still crave my grandmother’s ciorbă (a sour soup consisting of vegetables and meat), her poale-n brâu (small pies) and sarmale (cabbage rolls filled with rice and meat).

Thanks to a rich, diverse cuisine, largely stemming from centuries old traditions, there isn’t any one typical Romanian breakfast. This varies from one region to the next, especially when comparing rural to urban areas.

The Holy Grail to Romanian food, mamaliga—or polenta, as it’s known in the West—is often served for breakfast in the countryside, where people still eat traditionally. However, most Romanians today skip this breakfast and have it as a side dish instead. In urban areas, pastries and pies are a more modern, on-the-go breakfast, anything from merdenele (pastries with cheese) to covrigi (the hot-off-the-oven, crisp Romanian pretzels; I’ll take two, please).

There is common ground, however, thanks to the unique confluence of cultures that history brought to Romania, including Hungarian, Slavic, Turkish and Greek influences. We are Balkan yet Latin, speaking a romance language in a hotbed of Russian and Slavic neighbors.

Across the nation, we all agree on a spread of bread, butter, and jam served alongside a healthy portion of eggs. Now add to that vegetables—tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers—and an assortment of mezeluri (cold cuts) such as parizer (similar to mortadella), ham, and salam de Sibiu (Sibiu salami made of pork).

But to further Romania-fy this breakfast, a few additional ingredients are mandatory. Turkish-style coffee, compliments of centuries of strife under sporadic Ottoman rule; eggplant salad, similar to baba ganoush, an undisputed Romanian cuisine staple; and telemea made out of cow or sheep’s milk, similar to the Greek feta cheese, only more pungent. Accompanying the plate, almost always, are fried smoked sausages, a spicy extra bite that complements the rest.

And luckily for us, in a country that is still predominantly rural, where farmers tend to their livestock and ride horse-and-buggies carrying hay, enjoying these items straight from the garden is still a reality.

Keep Our Nation Safe for the All-Day Brunching Contingent

Oct.07.16

Keep Our Nation Safe for the All-Day Brunching Contingent

by Alexa van Sickle

Brunch in Vienna

“Since when do Austrians line up for anything?” an Austrian friend said to me, puzzled and displeased, as we grabbed a couple of plates and eyed the thick but orderly crowd around the buffet table at one of our usual brunch spots.

Change comes slowly to Vienna. But eventually, brunch came here too. Of course, Vienna’s legendary coffee houses had always served breakfast: coffee and croissants, bread rolls and jam, cold cuts, and maybe, a scrambled concoction they’d call “ham and eggs”. But whatever it was, it was definitely breakfast, not brunch.

The origins of brunch in Vienna are murky. Around 20 years ago, the Hilton and the Intercontinental hotels started holding an international breakfast buffet on Sundays. Some notable city center restaurants offered upscale weekend breakfast feasts, but brunch as a serious pastime wasn’t widespread.

Then, not much longer than five years ago—well after brunch had commandeered a good chunk of the rest of the world’s weekends—it started popping up in neighborhood restaurants, cafes, and bars. But not the eggs benedict and bottomless mimosa menu of New York, London, or Sydney; Vienna’s brunches tend to be languid, buffet-powered affairs, filling the considerable gap between the classic coffee house frühstuck and the posh hotel spreads. Our place, this time around, had tables piled high with local fare (croissants, rolls, brioche, charcuterie, cucumber salad); random international dishes (couscous salad, pasta, guacamole, and acai bowls); plus a generous dessert selection. (And because some global forces are irresistible, even the land of pork and floury cake now offers vegan and gluten-free options.) Now, Vienna has some serious brunch game. Haas & Haas’s international breakfast buffet has dim sum. There’s a shrine to muesli. Meierei im Stadtpark serves veal lung, goulash, and eggs with shaved goose liver.

Brunch in Vienna hasn’t just expanded the weekend breakfast palate. People heading to long Sunday brunches has brought some life into its neighborhoods on a day when the city still mostly shuts down. On my way to our buffet, I walked down a melancholy street in the autumn drizzle. There was no traffic and all its stores were shuttered, but there was a warm buzz coming from a dark beer hall serving “breakfast until 5 pm.” Best of all, brunch in Vienna doesn’t involve a clipboard-wielding hostess corralling you to wait outside for your whole party to arrive. Not yet, anyway. But as brunch spots and tables have become busier, it’s also become necessary to reserve—and occasionally, to line up at the buffet.

Lining up is one thing. My Vienna-dwelling friends were far more unsettled by the worrying development that for the first time, our table came with a two-hour time limit. No longer, at least not in this joint, could we sit for hours, grazing at the buffet, ordering coffee after coffee, perhaps switching to wine in the evening—the way these things have always been done in Vienna, where it’s your right to consume almost limitless space and time with your order.

Where will this madness end?

Wait, Who Is the Guy Raising Chickens in This Town Famous for Its Chicken-Eating Bear?

Oct.06.16

Wait, Who Is the Guy Raising Chickens in This Town Famous for Its Chicken-Eating Bear?

by Olga Kovalenko

Bear’s Bread in Abruzzo

We came to Scanno, a town in Abruzzo’s L’Aquila province, by chance. On the map, the area looked mountainous, wooded, and remote: just what we needed after an arduous vacation on crowded Italian beaches. Our hosts—Maria and her two sons—lived near Lago di Scanno, the lake to the town’s north.

As soon as we arrived, they served us tiny cups of Italian coffee and asked whether we wanted to see a bear. “There is a bear living in the area,” said Paolo. “It killed 89 chickens in a farmer’s coop the other day,” he added enthusiastically, whipping out his phone to show us pictures of the bear and its haul.

The lakeside area was famous for its resident Marsican brown bear, Gemma. It’s one of only 30 or so of this subspecies left, found only in Abruzzo National Park. According to our hosts, Gemma has lived between Scanno and the nearby village of Villalago for 24 years. “She’s not dangerous,” Paolo said. “She wears a radio collar and eats only rabbits and chickens.”

When we heard strange roars late in the afternoon, we were sure it was Gemma. We walked along the lake, but saw no sign of her, although the roars still rang out, keeping us in suspense. “Maybe it’s just cows,” my husband said. I thought it might be a lynx or a wild boar. But all we saw that day were some large sheepdogs guarding some horses and a few deer grazing calmly by the road.

As a consolation after our failure to spot the notorious bear, we decided to follow our hosts’ advice and try the local treat, pan dell’ orso, or “bear’s bread.” In years past, when local shepherds moved their herds to warmer parts of the mountains in the autumn, they took with them all kinds of food, including sweet pastries made of flour, almonds, and honey. According to legend, one night a big bear entered their camp, but ate only the pastries—which became an Abruzzo specialty, named after the mountains’ wild residents.

Our hosts sent us to a local pasticceria (named, naturally, Pan dell’ Orso) to sample this local delicacy. Because it’s popular with tourists and locals alike, the barista knew what we had come for as soon as we came in. As it rained outside, we huddled in a corner with our cappuccinos and a small dome of bear’s bread glazed with dark chocolate—the classic version. It also comes with white chocolate glazing, or with whole almonds.

For the full bear experience, we ordered a scoop of pan dell’ orso gelato, made with almonds, chocolate, and cinnamon. But we never saw the real bear.

And Now You Know Where to Get Your Croissants in Kathmandu

Oct.04.16

And Now You Know Where to Get Your Croissants in Kathmandu

by Marco Ferrarese

Pastroes in Nepal

Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is not a party town. By 9 p.m. most lights are off and people are drifting off to sleep. By 5:30 a.m., the streets are packed with humans, bikes, carts, dogs, cars, and the occasional goat. At 9 a.m., many Nepalis share a national breakfast of daal baat, a staple dish of rice, hot lentils, and pickled vegetables.

A hefty portion of daal baat is too heavy a breakfast for the expatriates and visitors holed up in Thamel, Kathmandu’s traveller district. Here, hundreds of identical shops sell counterfeit goods and imitation mountain-climbing gear that looks so convincing it’s hard to believe it’s a rip-off. Among the North Face fakes, pseudo-French bakeries and European-themed cafes serve croissants, fresh pastries, muesli, and other Western comfort foods that keep tourists coming, happy to buy a comforting taste of home despite Thamel’s inflated prices.

But just 10 minutes’ walk south, towards Durbar Square, is Chhetrapati chowk. Past the main Chhetrapati roundabaout, along a road filled with shops, street dogs, and bicycle-pulled carts, there’s a small Newari-style Hindu temple. To the left of the temple, the orange sign of the hole-in-the-wall Fresh & Baked bakery welcomes visitors to a land of delicious pastries that cost a fraction of Thamel prices. Piles of cinnamon rolls, Danish pastries, chocolate-covered croissants, muffins, and sponge cakes tempt customers from behind glass. Twenty Nepali rupees (18 cents) for a pastry is a steal.

Fresh & Baked is always full of young locals. They wear tight jeans and t-shirts, forgoing Kathmandu’s traditional Newari hats in favor of international brand logos. This generation of Western-influenced, 21st-century Nepalese consumers come here for a bite of globalization—a sweet diversion from the daal baat diet.

It’s usually bustling. Customers battle for a free stool in the tiny, orange-tinted room that serves as a rudimentary café. From a hole in the shop’s front wall, they watch cycle rickshaws zooming past while a few holy cows roam along a road drenched in post-monsoon mud while they eat their croissants; not a bad way to start the day.

That’s It, We’re All Going to Vienna to Drink Coffee and Sit Out This Madness

Sep.28.16

That’s It, We’re All Going to Vienna to Drink Coffee and Sit Out This Madness

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Coffee in Vienna

This winter, I took a train to Vienna and spent several days visiting its cafés. Typically, I would wake up, amble to a coffee house, and linger over a mélange. Sometimes, the morning would bend toward the afternoon. It was easy to spend hours inside a place like Café Sperl and not notice the time. I read my book, perused the papers, and sipped my coffee, emerging as invigorated as if I had eaten my fill at a breakfast buffet.

These Old World urban temples seem to offer space and time in spades, something so rare these days. The soaring rooms make you feel like you’re just part of the scenery, in a comforting way. You are never cramped or pushed up against other customers. In Vienna, I learned the word Gemütlichkeit. The word sounds like a broken washing machine, but it actually refers to a space where people can be themselves: a refuge of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer.

Inside these coffee palaces—some of which, like Café Griensteidl, have scarcely changed in 200 years—you feel like you can put the world on pause as you watch the morning light shift through ecru curtains.

I had come from Istanbul, and the bond between the two cities and coffee was not lost on me. Had it not been for the Ottoman siege over 300 years ago, coffee would not have arrived here as early as it did. The Turks were repelled from the city’s gates in 1683, leaving behind several bags of mysterious beans. Nobody knew what they were—except for one man who had spent time in Arabia, who recognized their aroma and saved them from the fire. So, the legend goes, Vienna’s glorious coffee houses were born.

Today, they are listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, though they seemed quite tangible to me. The marble tabletops, the tiled floors, the sheen on the wood bar, the porcelain coffee cups: all spoke of a very concrete and all but bygone world.

The waiters are mostly men of a certain age, tall, in snappy bowties. They never hurry, but swish your order to your table with a solemn mien that seems to convey deep respect for your choice to be there. Newspapers are bound on long, wooden holders. I had forgotten that reading an actual newspaper was such a tactile experience: the rustling of the big pages, the ink that stains your fingertips.

Babette Tischleder writes in her book The Literary Life of Things about the durability of objects, and how culture is dependent on the context and continuity of things in order to exist. There is wonder in the relationship between human lives and the material world that often outlasts us. It is this reification inside Vienna’s cafes that makes them so remarkable but not museum-like: they are still functioning as they ever have, with people coming and going, smoking, eating, and talking.

The Cruel Fate of Being Tired of Pizza in Naples

Sep.26.16

The Cruel Fate of Being Tired of Pizza in Naples

by Sara Nasser

Pappadum in Naples

I arrived searching for pizza, as you’re supposed to do in Naples. But by day five traveling through Campania, I’d had my fill of pasta, flatbreads, and variations of dough stretched, fried, baked and boiled, slathered with tomato and cheese. My tongue craved something spicy. I missed the curries and masalas of my youth. I had a reverse Proustian experience; with every charred piece of crust and tomato sauce baring its seeds, I craved the opposite: dosas with a rainbow assortment of chutney, butter chicken that made your eyes water, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, and stews with as many spices as there were letters of the alphabet. And in that precise moment as my mouth salivated for those flavors I had but once a year (if I was lucky), the curvy typeface of a Dravidian script screamed at me, leaping from the peeling posters taped to the lampposts, garbage cans and walls of Napoli.

I’d spent my childhood in Madras, and left when I was eight years old. Over the years I’d forgotten the sounds of the city’s native Tamil and my rigorous instruction in Hindi. I Americanized myself, shed all vestiges of my Indian accent. The curly roundedness of Indian languages in my mind ceded territory to the pointed edges of a Latin script. My mother’s cooking (spice mixtures crushed in her palm, dough pounded by her fists) was my last visceral connection to the memories of my youth. And for reasons unexplained but all too clear to me, I never learned to cook her food.

So imagine my surprise, as I walked the streets of Napoli, staring at a script that looked like Tamil. Was it Tamil? I couldn’t even remember. I took a picture of a poster advertising something about Jesus. There was another for Euro Disney. I Googled “Dravidian languages” and pulled up a chart to compare the scripts. I held the screen close to the poster and tried to match the writing. It turned out to be Sinhalese.

I walked around the neighborhood some more: there was garbage, graffiti, and every so often a beautiful Baroque church, and a Madonna and a dying Jesus would silence my thoughts for a moment. Wandering, I spotted a grocery store with a sign reading N.D.K. Asien Food.

A steady stream of South Asian families went in and out. I saw massive bags of rice. The shelves were lined with cheese, boxes of pasta, bottles of olive oil, and packets of curry, instant dosa mixes, Chindian noodles and coconut oil. I live in Istanbul, where these goods were rarer than gold. I wanted to take everything back. Buy the lentils, the roasted Madras curry powder, the blocks of paneer, I said to myself. I paced about the shop, marveling at the packaging like a crazy person, and the families just browsed, as if it was so ordinary to find the foodstuffs of home in Napoli.

I settled on a packet of pappadum. As much as I wanted to get the biryani mix and the dosa batter, I realized that it would go to waste. I never learned how to feed myself with the things I craved. But pappadum was easy. I would fry it for three minutes, crunch the spiced lentil wafer, and be done with it.

Photo by: Biswarup Ganguly

The History of Delicious, Delicious Bubble Tea

Sep.23.16

The History of Delicious, Delicious Bubble Tea

by Thei Zervaki

Bubble tea in Taichung

It was hot and humid in the streets of Taichung, but the air conditioning in Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House cooled me. On the second floor, there was a table laid with silver teapots, whisks, shakers, measuring cups, ice- cube containers, a bowl of syrup, glasses, tapioca pearls, and oversized straws: all the tools for making bubble tea. I had come here to learn how to make the famous Taiwanese drink at its birthplace.

Our instructor, Chiang, was a 20-something brunette. “Thirty years ago, nobody drank iced tea,” she said. “Hot tea was the signature drink in Taiwan, made in a tea pot, and served in small cups.” In 1983, Chun Shui Tang’s owner went to Japan and discovered iced coffee, mixed with a shaker. He started serving Chinese tea cold using the same method.

Chiang filled the shaker with ice and added syrup. In the beginning, the iced tea was made by shaking strong tea and syrup together, resulting in a foamy, bubbly tea, served in a glass with a straw. They named it boba, which in Chinese means both “bubbles” and “big.”

After the history lesson, it was time to make my own boba. Following Chiang’s instructions, I started by mixing tea and powdered milk in a cup, stirring in one direction to create air bubbles on top. I added the milk-tea mixture to the shaker filled with ice and syrup. Shaking the boba can be tricky: you have to put one hand on top of the shaker, then the other on its body, and keep shaking it at a 45-degree angle. “The faster you shake, the better,” Chiang said. It’s ready when an ice coating forms on the outside.

To finish, I added two tablespoons of cooked tapioca pearls and stirred. It wasn’t until 1987 that tapioca pearls—a common dessert ingredient in Asia—were added to the drink. One of the teahouse’s employees put some in her tea for fun during a staff meeting. The result was so popular with the rest of the staff they decided to sell it to customers, and the rest is history.

With my oversized straw, I tasted the tea, milk, and bubbles. I would have preferred it less sweet, but perhaps the sweetness is part of its charm, along with the large pearls and ice cubes. Drinking boba is a pleasingly visual and tactile experience: you can see the pearls in the glass, and it’s a drink that you not only sip, but chew.

Blood for Breakfast Is Wasted on the Young

Sep.22.16

Blood for Breakfast Is Wasted on the Young

by Katie MacLeod

Black Pudding in the Outer Hebrides

Never tell an 8-year-old what they’re really eating, especially when their breakfast involves a mix of pig’s blood, oatmeal, beef suet, and onion.

In the islands of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, Stornoway Black Pudding is a traditional breakfast ingredient that, over the years, has evolved from rural island staple to in-demand delicacy, with the same E.U.-protected status as Champagne, Roquefort, and Parma ham.

Horrified at the thought of blood in my food, I didn’t touch another Stornoway Black Pudding for 20 years. By the time I was brave enough to try again, it was too late: I was preparing to move to the other side of the world, to a country where the marag dhubh, as we call it in Gaelic, is banned.

Returning home to the Outer Hebrides after 18 months in New York City meant rediscovering the marag dhubh I had abandoned years before. Where once I had barely noticed it, now it seemed as if black pudding was everywhere, on menus up and down the spinal chain of islands.

Of course, I saw it in Stornoway, the small harbor town that gives the breakfast item its name. I paused in one of the town butchers, admiring the fat lengths of marag hanging on the back wall where they swayed slightly above the counter tops. The debate about which butcher produces the best marag dhubh is a contentious one, even within the same family: one person might prefer Willie John’s, another Charlie Barley’s or maybe MacLeod and MacLeod.

Stornoway Black Pudding now accompanies everything from burgers to freshly caught scallops, but I learned that it’s still best for breakfast. After a road trip through the length of the Outer Hebrides, my family and I were circling our last destination in the car, looking for sustenance after an early morning arrival on the ferry. We found it at Barra Airport, which at times is used more frequently as a café than an airport, given the tidal nature of its white-sand beach runway. With no intention of getting on a plane, I placed my order: Stornoway Black Pudding, bacon, and potato scone on a roll, a classic combination.

Served without the skin that holds it together in the frying pan, the slice of marag was firm enough to retain its circular shape, but just crumbly enough to yield to a generous bite. Its strong peppery taste—a clue about which Stornoway butcher it came from—paired perfectly with the salty bacon rasher, the crispy, fried potato scone, and the fluffy, white bread roll.

My 8-year-old self would have been horrified, but I was in my element: the blood-infused breakfast combination was everything I had hoped it would be. I didn’t see the plane land while I ate my breakfast, but I didn’t mind: my taste buds were making up for lost time, after all.

Drown Your Weather Sorrows in Thick Hot Chocolate

Sep.21.16

Drown Your Weather Sorrows in Thick Hot Chocolate

by Jess Jacutan

Bodbod kabog in Dumaguete

The weather forecast announced there would be a typhoon in the next three days. A super-typhoon, in fact. But this warning was not unusual in the Philippines, a country where almost 20 tropical storms pass each year, around half of them making landfall.

In the seaport city of Dumaguete, people were unfazed. The relaxed university town at the edge of Visayas province was our jumping-off point for the beaches of Siquijor Island, and I was worried that the next day’s boat trips would be cancelled due to inclement weather. Yet Saturday night passed without incident. Locals and tourists filled the bars along the harbor, despite a downpour so thick you couldn’t see 10 feet ahead. It didn’t stop until we woke to a bright Sunday morning. We furtively watched grey clouds on the horizon as we hailed a tricycle.

“Where?” The driver asked. “Bodbod kabog?” I replied uncertainly—a local delicacy, not a destination. He drove us to Dumaguete’s public market. Bodbod kabog, a close cousin to the more popular Filipino rice cake suman, is Dumaguete’s quintessential breakfast: a sticky-sweet log of millet seeds and coconut milk steamed in banana leaf. It’s nutty, chewy, and creamy all at once.

At 6 am, the market was bustling. There were more motorcycles than people, being driven by teenagers and grandmothers alike, deftly maneuvering between vendors and shoppers. The faint smell of fish dissipated as we walked past stalls of dry goods. Eventually, the stalls gave way to bustling counters piled high with bodbod kabog.

Vendors cheerfully called out to us, singsong voices rising and falling in a noisy din. We were overwhelmed by the sudden attention until one elderly lady, smiling behind her crowded counter, silently beckoned us closer. We bought two bodbod kabog for 12 pesos—roughly 12 cents.

The best (and only) accompaniment to bodbod is tsokolate—Filipino hot chocolate—made with local blocks of cacao. Tsokolate is either thick or watery, and it’s often the latter. This is a truth so well-known that our national hero, Jose Rizal, wrote about it in his 1886 novel, Noli Me Tangere: A town mayor tells some visiting Spaniards that if they go to see the parish priest and he orders the servant to make them a cup of tsokolate eh (thick), they should stay without fear, but if he tells the servant to make them a cup of tsokolate ah (watery), they should take their hats and run.

The elderly lady’s tsokolate was delightfully eh, approaching the consistency and smoothness of churro dip. I swirled the bodbod in it out of instinct. She approved this gesture by slyly adding another to my plate.

We stayed long after we settled our bill, listening to fellow diners chat the morning away, determined to face the impending storm with as much nonchalance as they were. Turns out they had it right: it didn’t rain once until our flight back home to Manila.

Insert Your Own Joke Here About Cops and Pork Products, Thanks

Sep.20.16

Insert Your Own Joke Here About Cops and Pork Products, Thanks

by Brent Crane

Noodle Soup in Chiang Mai

For reasons unclear, I departed from my guesthouse to visit Wat Umong forest temple without first eating breakfast, which is always a poor decision. For me, breakfast is fuel, and there I was, running out on empty.

Wat Umong is a 700-year-old temple complex at the base of the Doi Suthep mountain, the 5,500-foot peak that towers over Thailand’s second city. To get there I had to circumnavigate the 17th-century wall around the Old Town, and then head up a number of busy roads on my moped. But an empty stomach always leads to a weak mind and I fudged the directions. I took a turn too early and ended up on a traffic-heavy street. That was only the beginning of my troubles. Driving slowly, I noticed a roadblock ahead with traffic police and a number of bemused looking Japanese tourists standing by a motorbike. I tried to act casual as I passed, but a cop whistled and gestured me in.

I pulled up and before I could say, “What seems to be the problem, officer?” he said, “License.” He wore an egg-white helmet with white gloves and a maroon sash across his chest. His uniform looked royal.

“I don’t have one,” I said.

“You need.” He reached down and twisted the key on my bike, shutting off the engine. He walked away and soon came back with a thick notepad. He opened it and displayed it to me. A litany of offenses were listed in English and Chinese: driving without a helmet, driving with too many passengers, driving while intoxicated. With his gloved finger, he pointed at mine: driving without a license. Next to it was the fine, 500 baht, or about $14. I handed it over.

“You can drive. One day,” he said. “Go!”

I buzzed off. I rode down the highway for a while and took an exit towards the mountains. There was a dingy eatery on the side of the road and I stopped there for a bowl of noodle soup. The soup came with chunks of white pork, fried garlic, thin egg noodles, green onion, fish balls and crispy bits of fried pork skin, which I decided should accompany every bowl of noodle soup anywhere. The chef wore a funny white hat, and her smiling hospitality warmed me after my chilly encounter.

The One Redeeming Factor of a Long Commute and Not Enough Time

Sep.19.16

The One Redeeming Factor of a Long Commute and Not Enough Time

by Craig Sauers

Ketchup on Bread in Bangkok

The bun is stuffed with pork floss that pokes through its surface like coarse hair that just can’t be tamed. There are raisins inside it, too. Lines of faux mayo provide an artful touch.

There’s bacon wrapped around cocktail weenies on sticks. There’s a slice of pizza that’s really just a piece of bread topped with corn, ham, and ketchup. There are crab sticks inside salad rolls made of translucent rice paper. They come with flavored salad cream (i.e. the same faux mayo, but laced with wasabi paste or sweet chili sauce). There are rows of sandwiches with their crusts cut off, soft triangles packaged in plastic—red pork, fish, pork floss and egg, boiled hot dog and salad cream, mackerel, tuna, and what could possibly be roe. There are mystery meatballs slathered in a gooey brown sauce of unknown provenance.

Breakfast in Bangkok mirrors the on-the-go morning ritual in other metropolises around the world. A growing lower-middle class—much of it young and freshly graduated—commutes to the city center every morning with the BTS sky train, the well-known steel worm inching along tracks above Sukhumvit and Silom Roads. The sky train has a daily ridership of something like 600,000. Between 8 am and 9 am, heaving masses alight at busy stations in the CBD, and it’s these clock-punching people who often don’t have time for a traditional sit-down breakfast, like jok (rice porridge) or khai luak, a soft-boiled egg served in a kind of shot glass that usually accompanies Thai tea or old-style coffee called gafae bolan.

A young chef named Poupée, who owns a popular Anglo-driven restaurant called Burgers & Bangers, told me that Thai people have always liked flavor combinations that seem odd to Western palates, like crab stick and salad cream. She added that the adoption of foreign items, like bread and lettuce and even the sushi roll, is associated with prestige. The fusion breakfast items provide an aura of privilege.

So, from Monday to Friday we see crab-stick crepes instead of rice and curry, chicken puffs instead of porridge. A good number of Bangkok’s workers look forward to these morning meals, and we can all appreciate a breakfast truly enjoyed.

Not Even the Death of a Dictator Can Stop the Mighty Breakfast Buffet

Sep.16.16

Not Even the Death of a Dictator Can Stop the Mighty Breakfast Buffet

by Tracy Denholm

Buffet in Almaty

As I finished my morning run down Kabanbai Batyr Street on fumes, I passed a noticeably increased police presence near the gun-toting sports stores and the entrance to my hotel, the Rixos Almaty. Neighboring Uzbekistan’s long-time president, Islam Karimov, had officially, and unexpectedly, been declared dead, and any sort of regional disruption was met with order-keeping precautions. Kazakhstan had a few terror incidents this summer, so the security beef-up was expected, even en route to the opulent Rixos Almaty breakfast.

The morning meal in Almaty varies according to where you eat it, and with whom, but the Rixos puts meat, dairy, and grain-laden Kazakh food front and center, representing Turkish, Russian, and Iranian influences. (It may be worth taking a day off from vegetarianism to sample the full range.) I snagged an outside table next to one of Almaty’s gorgeous parks and marched up to the spread, stomach rumbling.

Plate One: Horse meat, lamb-filled samsas, and tvorog cheese.
Bowl One: Sliced apples, plums, grapefruit, oranges, and peaches.
Cup One: Heavy black tea.

I sat down and dug into round one of breakfast, while the TV blared news about Karimov’s funeral in his hometown of Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The opening salvo was a tour of the region’s traditional nomadic fare, high-energy foods that could be easily transported. Cooked horse tastes like power, and it is delicious. Samsas are flaky, meat-filled pastries that range in size from one-biters to boxer’s fist. Tvorog is originally Russian but has become a Kazakh staple. It’s like cottage cheese, but more solid, and saltier. The tea is necessary to wash it all down. The fruit bowl capped it off. I was particularly excited about the apples, since they’re my favorite fruit, and originated in Central Asia. (‘Almaty’ is derived from the Kazakh word for apple.) I finished the plate and went for round two as the table chatter around me sent the name Karimov echoing in all directions, in multiple languages.

Plate Two: Bulgur wheat, smoked salmon, and black bread.
Bowl Two: Almonds, cashews, raisins, apricots, and honeycomb straight from the hive.
Cup Two: Apple juice.

I’m a sucker for heavy grain, so I covered my plate in bulgur wheat, with smoked salmon layered on top. I would struggle to find another combination that tugs at my heartstrings so thoroughly. The bowl of dried fruit and nuts complemented the heavy flavors and texture well, and honeycomb slathered on black bread, washed down with apple juice, made a perfect breakfast dessert. I was stuffed. Hearty and opulent was the perfect start to a day in this rising city, wedged between the mountains and the steppes, with the death of a regional strongman looming large.

You’re Making Something Special When People Are Willing to Overlook the Dead Bodies

Sep.15.16

You’re Making Something Special When People Are Willing to Overlook the Dead Bodies

by Marco Ferrarese

Lassi in Varanasi

“Rama is real! Rama is real!” groups of men chant as they rush down the alley, carrying dead bodies over their shoulders. On the ground, cakes of fresh cow dung mix with trickles of black, muddy water and the torn paper cups of a hundred sweet chais. I’m standing on a corner of Varanasi Old Town near the Manikarnika burning ghat, India’s holiest cremation site.

Here, all day long, dozens of Indian families pass every few minutes, carrying dead bodies on their shoulders covered in shimmering silk. They keep walking to the ghat on their mission, disregarding the wandering holy cows, the piles of dung, and the line of people who come to this busy junction for a very different reason: to have breakfast, in the form of a cup of Varanasi’s best lassi. I’m one of the latter. And I’m hungry.

Blue Lassi, an 80-year-old, family-run establishment, witnesses the steady march of the dead from two nicely decorated, international-traveller-oriented holes in the wall along the front and back of the alley. Blue Lassi is easy to find, because there are dozens of colorful hand-painted directions to this Lonely Planet-approved spot all over the Old Town’s alleys. The father and his son take turns sitting on the concrete cube next to the steps out front, twirling a stick into an aluminum pot and dishing up the fruity blend that always pleases the travelers waiting inside. It’s 80 rupees for the banana-topped lassi, up to about 160 for the chocolate and almond sprinkle: a swing between $1 and $2.5.

Next to Blue Lassi, there’s an even smaller hole in the wall: Real Lassi, which has rave reviews scribbled in Korean, English, Chinese, Spanish, and Hebrew on its tattered walls, dishes up the “real” stuff at 30 rupees, a fraction of Blue Lassi’s foreigner-oriented prices. The lassis are less creamy, come without fruit toppings, and—in the traditional Indian style—have slices of fresh curd skin floating on the surface. Babu, the young manager, pours three spoonfuls of sugar into each one.

“Trust me, Real and Blue Lassi are not competitors. We complement each other,” Babu says as another body is carried past us down to the sacred river. I’m not used to eating this close to the dead, but Babu’s lassi is so delicious that despite the somber parade, I finish my first cup in minutes, and order another. Whether you like Blue or Real, these lassis are the best way to kickstart another day in Varanasi.

I Like My Cheesecake Like I Like My People: Bitter

Sep.14.16

I Like My Cheesecake Like I Like My People: Bitter

by Ashley Dobson

Coffee and Cake in Kaiserslautern

“Regular coffee and a slice of cheesecake, please. Danke.”

My waiter gives me a puzzled look, but nods and heads back behind the counter.

The look wasn’t for speaking English in Germany. They’ve come to expect that in this U.S. military-dominated town in the southern part of the country. In fact, they usually prefer it to my butchered pronunciation and slow speech pattern as I grasp for words in German.

The strange look was for ordering cake at 9 am.

Kaffee und Kuchen—coffee and cake—has been a tradition in Germany for more than a century. It is typically a weekly get-together with family or friends, and traditionally takes place from 3 pm to 5 pm.

But for this American expat, German cake is just too good to limit to a two-hour period once a week. It’s become my favorite breakfast out and every delicious bite is beyond worth the strange looks.

My waiter, who has since introduced himself as Moe, brings over my cake and coffee. Before leaving it on the table, he asks if I am sure I know what I am in for because German cheesecake is not like American cheesecake.

What he doesn’t know is just how well-versed in German cheesecakes I am. He seems to be under the mistaken impression that having cake for breakfast is a one-off, a special occasion treat. As my growing thighs can attest, that is not the case.

But I allow him the chance to explain, just in case I learn something new.
Moe tells me that when he went to New York he couldn’t finish the cheesecake he tried. It was far too sweet. German cheesecake is better because it is a little more bitter, he says.

“Like our people,” he jokes.

“More bitter than New York? Are you sure you went to the right place?” I tease back before taking a heaping bite of the perfectly airy dessert.

A lady at the next table leans over to me.

“He’s right, you know. German cheesecake is better,” she says with a smile before whispering the secret behind the cake.

She tells me that it’s because they use quark—a fresh cheese made from sour milk—instead of cream cheese and because it’s almost always a recipe that’s been passed down for generations.

Something about ordering cake at 9 am lets people know that you are the kind of person that is open to conversation with strangers in the morning. Needless to say, I’m a fan of the Kaffee und Kuchen tradition, no matter what time of day I make it happen.

It rolls my favorite things into one: delectable desserts, coffee, and the chance to strike up conversation. It gives me an excuse to slow down, appreciate my life, make new friends, catch up with old ones, and stuff my face with a sugary creation.

I can’t think of a better way to start my day.

Deliciously Complex, With a Hint of Dead Baby Bee

Sep.13.16

Deliciously Complex, With a Hint of Dead Baby Bee

by Zac Crellin

Honey in Ethiopia

The town of Lalibela in Ethiopia is famous for its World Heritage-listed, rock-hewn churches. It’s named after King Lalibela, whose visions of a New Jerusalem inspired him to commission the churches during the 12th and 13th centuries. When King Lalibela was born he was swarmed by bees, which is why his name translates as: “the bees recognize his sovereignty.” It’s only fitting, then, that the region takes pride in its honey.

Bilbila Giyorgis is another rock-hewn church a few valleys away from Lalibela. The semi-monolithic church is much older and less-ornate than the ones at Lalibela. Constructed around the 5th century, its façade isn’t intricate and it lacks interior decorations. A single, crude painting of St. George’s horse lies where other churches have vivid frescos. But also unlike the churches at Lalibela, Bilbila Giyrogis has the bees.

Much like King Lalibela’s auspicious birth, five swarms of bees settled inside Bilbila Giyorgis shortly after it was built. The same colony of bees that took up residency in the church’s rocky crevices has been tended to by successive generations of priests to the present day. Their work has become a labour of love, and their technique has been perfected to an art form, as you’d expect for a tradition spanning millennia. The hives are hard to see, and my eye struggled to adjust from the glare outside to the church’s dim interior. Instead, they were given away by their steady hum, the sound of bees at work.

The honey is only collected annually, around Ethiopian New Year, which falls on September 11 or 12. It’s appreciated by the community for its medicinal value, owing to the hive’s location in a church. These healing powers are said to apply to skin, abdominal, and psychological conditions.

I wasn’t seeking any antidotes for these ailments, but the priest was still kind enough to give me a taste of the holy honey. Before even trying it, it was clear that this was not any ordinary honey—it was opaque, its texture was firm and it had all sorts of unusual shapes suspended in its fluid. The taste, similarly, was gritty, floral, and totally unique. While eating, I found myself spitting out beeswax, honeycomb, and dead baby bees. Perhaps I would need the honey’s curative properties after all. With the next mouthful, it tasted sweet but not sugary, and granular but not crunchy. It’s a flavor that can’t ever be forgotten: so distinct, powerful, and complex at the same time.

The honey is not refined in any way; it’s consumed unchanged from as it was in the hive, and unchanged from how it was collected 1,500 years ago.

It’s not perfect, but rather deliciously imperfect. The world’s best honey hasn’t been fine-tuned in a kitchen or lab—it’s collected by hand by priests in Ethiopia.

A Very Thorough Sampling of Penis-Shaped Cakes in the Name of Journalism

Sep.12.16

A Very Thorough Sampling of Penis-Shaped Cakes in the Name of Journalism

by Tania Braukamper

Doces falicos in Amarante

The birds are annoyingly chirpy in Amarante, given the uncompromising sleeplessness of the night before. The small city in Portugal’s north is celebrating its patron saint, São Gonçalo, who is associated with marriage and fertility and various other things, but I’m now fairly certain sleep is not one of them.

A DJ booth right below me is still pumping out a stream of bad Kizomba tracks at 6 a.m. At 8 a.m., a deafening percussion of fireworks signals a new day of festivities. I wake convinced someone is firing off a shotgun right next to my head.

So here I am, bleary-eyed and pretty sure that sugar and caffeine are the only viable breakfast options. In Amarante, the land of São Gonçalo, that means doces falicos. Phallic cakes.

If I’m honest, these penis-shaped pastries are ninety percent the reason I came here. These days they’re available from some bakeries all year round, but during the festas—Portugal’s traditional festivals—the fertility and marriage traditions reach full momentum. Young men and women exchange these cakes as romantic overtures or tokens of affection, and they’re given to unmarried women as good luck charms; a petition to the saint to help them net a suitable husband. I have no interest in marriage, or belief in superstitions, but this bizarre tradition is one I want to see and photograph first hand.

My AirBnB apartment happens to be right above a sweet shop called Confeitaria Tinoca, also run by my hosts. I head groggily downstairs and buy one of the cakes as my breakfast. The older lady serving me selects a particularly generous member from the bottom of the pile—”Um grande. Muito grande,” she nods—and I’m not sure whether she senses my urgent need for sugar, or assumes I’m particularly lacking in the relationship department. Either way, I’m too tired to do anything but appreciate the gesture.

I take my penis pastry upstairs, make a strong cup of tea and sit outside on my balcony listening to the obscene joviality of the birds and the gleeful running of the river. Where to start… ball or tip? Not a question you regularly ask at breakfast time.

I end up eating four doces falicos in Amarante—all in the name of journalism—and the ones from Tinoca are by far the best. The cakes from the street vendors are a little too anatomically correct for comfort and streaked suggestively with dried white frosting. Some are also rock hard (make of that what you will). Tinoca’s, meanwhile, are cartoonishly round. They’re soft and fluffy and melt-in-the-mouth buttery with a just-generous-enough coating of diaphanous white icing that breaks apart flirtatiously at the touch.

I could eat them every day. If the cakes do as they advertise it might result in more marriages than Elizabeth Taylor. But who’s to say it wouldn’t be worth it?

Apple Pie Still Seems Like Sort of an Odd Choice

Sep.08.16

Apple Pie Still Seems Like Sort of an Odd Choice

by Sabrina Toppa

Apple Pie in Cameron Highlands

In the late 1800s, a preeminent British land surveyor, Sir William Cameron, arrived from the cooler latitudes of the British Empire to the Malaysian land mass, eager to chart a new territory. He traveled to one of Malaysia’s most desirable regions, the Cameron Highlands, which still bears his name. In Malay, the entire territory is known as Tanah Tinggi Cameron, a rolling expanse of verdant hills in Pahang, the largest state in peninsular Malaysia.

Long lauded as one of the cooler spots of a tropical country, I saw Cameron Highlands as a thrilling respite from the soaring temperatures and humidity of Kuala Lumpur. In the capital, I often desired a greater connection to nature. Upon landing in Cameron, modern sojourners can marvel at the indigenous Rafflesia flower (touted as the largest flower in the world), hike to Robinson Waterfall, take in panoramic views of the forested hills, or ascend Gunung Irau, one of Malaysia’s tallest mountains outside of Sabah or Sarawak. Today, visitors inhale cool air, pick strawberries, and swill tea.

It would be remiss of any visitor to skip the brew from one of Malaysia’s largest tea manufacturers, the BOH tea company, which set up shop during the Great Depression, converting the area’s wild jungle into emerald-hued stepped terrain. Watching the overabundance of greenery deepen in color after the rain, I wasted no time at a roadside viewpoint café tucking into apple pie.

Apple pie is, ultimately, not uniquely Malaysian. However, given that a Briton lent his name to this region, finding foreign imports here strikes me as a modern inevitability. From the Tudor-style architecture of the town’s buildings to the Chinese steamboat restaurants serving the ravenous hordes of visitors, Cameron Highlands is a place converging on multiple axes of cultural identity, yet it retains the charms of Malaysia’s finest hospitality. Today, it has emerged as a wayfaring station hospitable to the globe’s wanderers. To me, a lattice-woven pastry of Western European provenance signaled Malaysia’s integration of many different gastronomic treasures into a sweeping national menu.

Love Is Love and Breakfast Is Breakfast

Sep.06.16

Love Is Love and Breakfast Is Breakfast

by Yvette Tan

Gumbo in Baguio

Some friends were attending a pride march in the mountainous Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines, and I tagged along. We were five altogether. Two were LGBT activists, one was in the closet and had brought his foreign boyfriend with him for an out-of-town romp. It was also my closeted friend’s first pride march.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast being constructed by a gay couple who were looking to make it a retirement community for bears, big gay men. They also ran a Southern diner, which has been hailed as one of the best restaurants in the city. The chef was a ginger who grew up in Arkansas. He and his Filipino-American husband chose Baguio as their home because of the cool weather, fresh produce, and proximity to facilities like hospitals.

There was a thrumming in the air on the morning of the march, an excitement that that was almost palpable, seeming to run through the small city. But first thing was first: a hearty breakfast to fuel us for the long walk. Okay, it wasn’t really a long walk, but we were going through hilly roads and all of us were out of shape.

The diner offered a list of Southern favorites, many of them straight from the chef’s childhood: Southern fried chicken, biscuits and sausage gravy, his mother’s sweet tea. I opted for biscuits and gumbo, a weird combination, but one that spoke to my breakfast-loving self: flaky, buttery biscuits that I got to smother in butter and jam, paired with rich, substantial stew. In any case, no one judged me for my food pairing.

Afterwards, we waited to join the festivities.

The person who enjoyed the parade the most was my closeted friend. He had never seen so many queer people, all of them proud of who they were. He held hands with his boyfriend out in the open and smiled at passers-by who gathered to watch the celebrations. He even got a hug from a Christian group that stood with signs apologizing for the way their Christian brethren treated LGBTs. As the parade went on, I realized what it was that ran through the mountains that day, the energy that the march engendered: it was the feeling of solidarity, of brother and sisterhood and everything in between, of marchers and watchers existing side by side, for a few hours, without prejudice, a reminder of how far we’ve come, and of how far we have yet to go. Because while we’ve come to a point where LGBTs can hold a parade without being molested, we hope to get to a point where such a parade would not be needed at all, a point where people like my friend, still in the closet to this day, need not worry about how his family and friends might see him.

Breakfast was the most important meal that day, not only because it gave us energy, but because it cemented us as friends, as a community that supported each other in our private lives, and, on that day, in public as well.

That Is One Badass Noodle Soup Lady

Sep.01.16

That Is One Badass Noodle Soup Lady

by Cindy Fan

Bun bo in Vietnam

In Vietnam, the police are universally reviled. Get stopped on the road by a cop and you’ll be losing a lot of money that day. The police are to be avoided, tiptoed around, and if you’re unlucky and are pulled over, you definitely don’t draw their ire because that “fine” could always be much worse.

I was especially wary of the country’s uniformed power while in Buon Ma Thuot, the largest city in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, a region heavily contested during the war; it’s been touchy ever since. In 2001, anti-government protests by 20,000 ethnic minorities on land rights and religious freedom were brutally suppressed. The government blamed overseas opposition groups for fueling the unrest, so foreign travel to the Central Highlands has been tightly restricted and monitored ever since, which is a bit of a challenge when you write Vietnam travel guides for a living.

But when it’s 6 a.m. and you’re smack in the middle of Buon Ma Thuot’s impressively ugly center, already sweating badly while perched on a plastic stool slurping up a mediocre bowl of bun bo beef noodle soup, and you’re watching the city’s sunrise hustle, a whirling zoetrope of vendors and traffic, motorbikes transporting a seemingly impossible load of cargo, livestock or people, avoiding the scrutiny of a paranoid Communist government is a distant thought.

Vietnam is always in motion but for a brief moment every morning, you can suspend yourself in a bun bo shop and ruminate. I liked the humorless grit of this city, a sprawl of bland, low-rise concrete built after the city was obliterated in the war. These days the region makes its money from growing coffee. Drink that stuff at your own risk. For me, Vietnamese coffee is gastrointestinal napalm, mercilessly sending all contents raging through my internal plumbing. Like I said, in Vietnam everything moves, for better or for worse.

I was fishing out the last strands of rice noodles when the driver and car I had hired for the day pulled up in front of the shop. I paid the lady, climbed into the backseat and we were about to leave when, suddenly, there they were, two policemen blocking the car. One officer, just a boy fresh out of academy, bore a scowl on his pimpled brow as if an idling car was a serious felony; the other was an older fellow and he could barely contain a smirk that foretold of an upcoming payday. There was no stopping allowed here.

But instead of getting out of the car and tactfully trying to wiggle out of trouble, as is the norm, the driver power-locked the doors, hurled some choice words, and refused to budge. Refused. He had reached his breaking point. The cops knocked on the windows. They tried the doors. They angrily paced in front shouting. The driver silently stared ahead and gripped the steering wheel tighter, as if bracing himself for impact. I sat frozen and wide-eyed, not knowing what to do.

That’s when I saw her, the noodle soup lady marching across the road, her red apron strapped to her like armour. A short, sturdy woman, she went right up to the po-po and let them have it.

“She’s my customer,” she said. “They were only stopped for a second.”

The cops remained unmoved and waved her off, like swatting a dogged fly.

“You let her go!” she shouted. “You let her go now!”

Then all the vendors left their sidewalk carts, they streamed out of their shops and surrounded the car. Within seconds there were 40 people between me and the police, an intense standoff. This kind of public opposition to the authorities is almost unheard of in Vietnam. The crowd crossed their arms and jeered; they, too, had had enough. The younger officer shifted uncomfortably. His forehead glistened with sweat. The other officer muttered something to the crowd.

They strolled to their motorbikes and hightailed it.

The vendors drifted back to their carts, the noodle soup lady returned to her world of doling out beef broth and the driver and I carried on our way.

One moment you are alone and anonymous, the next you’re an accidental revolutionary and the world comes to a standstill: it’s unnatural and you can feel it happen, the unpleasant sinking-stopping feeling like being in an arriving elevator. Then reality takes you back into the current.

One thing is for sure: that bun bo was the best damn noodle soup I’ve ever had.

Delicious, Delicious Bunny for Breakfast

Aug.31.16

Delicious, Delicious Bunny for Breakfast

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Bunny Chow in Durban

“Do you want to go out for a bunny tomorrow morning?” asked my friend in Durban, keen on showing me a slice of local life. I was appalled for a moment, imagining fluffy little rabbits being roasted for a meal. “Bunny chow,” he explained with a laugh, seeing the look on my face.

“But never call it bunny chow in Durban, it immediately marks you out as an outsider,” he added.

Well, of course I wanted to try the bunny chow. As a vegetarian, I had been seeing people tuck into all kinds of exotic meats, from ostrich to wildebeest, while I quietly picked at my salads. So I was delighted to finally get a chance to try a vegetarian snack, and Durban’s signature dish, at that.

The bunny chow is a simple dish at heart, a hollowed half loaf of bread, filled with a spicy curry of chicken, mutton, or vegetables and kidney beans. It is a hot favorite among both locals and visitors, and found everywhere in the city.

The origins of this dish are unknown, with many theories floating around. The most popular one is that it was created by and for the community of Indian laborers working in the sugarcane plantations of Kwazulu Natal (a South African region, of which Durban is the largest city).

Thousands of Indians migrated to South Africa in the mid 19th century in search of work, and Durban today has the largest Indian diaspora anywhere in the world.

When the plantation workers found it difficult to manage an elaborate lunch during their quick midday break, a clever housewife hit upon the idea for this one-dish meal of bread and curry that can be eaten without cutlery. The name itself is believed to have originated from the Hindi word for someone from the trading community, ‘bania.’

And so that mild winter morning, we headed to Oriental Restaurant, known to be one of the best bunny places in town. Located inside the buzzing Workshop shopping mall, the café had an unassuming façade, basically an open counter with plastic tables lined up on the corridor outside.

Seeing my great curiosity about the dish, the manager invited me into the kitchen to see how it is made. It was a neat assembly line process, with people clearly practiced in their task: cut, scoop, fill, garnish and serve.

And then it was time for me to taste my bunny with the vegetables and kidney beans filling. Soft, warm and messy, this is a dish best suited for eating with the hands, and that was what I did. By the time I ate, the curry—generously seasoned with Indian masalas—had soaked into the bread, making it all the more flavorful.

As for me, it was love at first bite. It was the familiar taste of home, with a faint tinge of the exotic; what was not to love? And in that single bite, I understood the kind of charm the bunny chow has held for subsequent generations of Indian immigrants.

Poll: How Hungover Would You Need to Be to Try a Vegemite Cure?

Aug.30.16

Poll: How Hungover Would You Need to Be to Try a Vegemite Cure?

by Jordan Tew

Vegemite in Australia

“Would you like me to get you something?” my colleague asked, her concern almost masking her amusement. I groaned, barely lifting my head off the desk. ‘You need coffee and a toastie,” she decided. I was in no state to protest, having made the mistake of overindulging the evening before. It was an act I later learned that, as a graduate lawyer, was unofficially overlooked only if you somehow slumped yourself back into your chair the following morning.

A brown paper bag was dropped onto my desk a few moments later with a gentle thump, coffee cup in tow. I cradled the coffee gratefully with both hands, gently slurping the contents.

With my curiosity eventually outweighing my desire to remain parallel to the table, I poked my nose into the bag. I pulled out the toasted Turkish bread and took a bite. It was exactly what I needed. The salty bitterness and umami of the Vegemite cutting through the buttery crunch of the toast. How could something that had only ever previously registered on my culinary radar as a gimmick food for international visitors suddenly be so appropriate and… right?

Vegemite divides people. You either hate it or love it; there is rarely an indifference to that dark, thick spread. At university, local students encouraged and baited their international counterparts to try a spoonful of the paste straight from the jar. “Yeah go on, it’s how we all do it, I’ll show you,” years of childhood consumption giving them the acquired taste required to pull off such a daring act. We were setting them up for failure, laughing as they inevitably grimaced at the overload of saltiness. Aside from being typically Australian in humor, it only built the folklore of Vegemite with outsiders (scarred by their experience) remaining bewildered as to what Australians could see in the black mush.

Though similarities in taste and appearance can be drawn with British brands Marmite and Bovril, Vegemite has sealed itself as the quintessential Aussie icon. Its cultural significance was compounded by the infamous Australian band Men at Work’s song “Down Under,” in which the narrator—upon chancing a meeting with a man from Brussels—enquires diplomatically “do you speak-a my language?” only for the Belgian to smile and give him a Vegemite sandwich.

I chuckled to myself in reminiscence as I polished off the toast. Finally, feeling like something resembling a human again, I swept up the crumbs and began the daily grind.

We’d Take a Cuban Cigar Soaked in Rum and Honey If Anyone’s Offering

Aug.29.16

We’d Take a Cuban Cigar Soaked in Rum and Honey If Anyone’s Offering

by Megan Frye

Fruit in Viñales, Cuba

The small town of Viñales is in Cuba’s westernmost province, Pinar del Río, where tobacco fields form a lush green skirt around the rugged, bubbling mountains that jut out of the red earth.

My father and I are staying in a wooden cabin that is modest but clean. Under the thatched palm roof, I’ve come to worship a revolving fan as a deity providing reprieve from the hounding heat.

Around us are the small cabins of the extended family of José Luis, a farmer from the Viñales Valley.

During the night, chirping tree frogs give way to the crowing of one very dominant rooster that in turn sets off a cacophony of birds, cows, and chatter that carries on throughout the day.

It’s 8 a.m. and we’re already sweating. Men in long-sleeve shirts, straw hats, blue jeans, and high rubber boots are already out guiding teams of oxen across the fields, braving the humidity.

Chickens, kittens, and family members mill about. One of José Luis’s sons hobbles by with a stitched and bandaged knee, the result of an early-morning machete accident.

China, José Luis’s wife, sets breakfast out for us on their patio attached to the main house on the farm. First to hit the table is a yellow thermos of coffee: thick, bitter, caffeinated and grown in the shade provided by banana trees on the ample property. A second thermos keeps warm the buttery milk, taken from their cows just a few hours earlier. A platter of fruit holds bananas (which grow here year-round), mangoes (freshly in season) and pineapple (from a plant a few feet from our table). There is also white bread and a guava marmalade.

China has a gentle smile and friendly eyes that squint in the perpetual sun. She asks us, “todo bien?” as she drops off a plate of fried eggs from the free-ranging hens that run around the farm. We’re stuffed to the brim as she brings us a platter of pungent, white cheese and cured salami cut into perfect triangles.

The freshness of the foods is what sets them apart. Everything tastes vaguely familiar, but pumped up to the highest degree of flavor. The bananas have a sweet punch, the mango is firm yet juicy, and the pineapple turns to liquid on my tongue. I feel, for the first time in a long time, like I am eating real food.

As we complete the generous presentation of the farm’s yield, José Luis approaches from the fields, loosely holding onto a cigar. He offers me one; I don’t typically smoke tobacco but … what the hell? I immediately taste sweetness.

“It’s the campesino secret,” he says. “We douse the dried leaves in rum, honey and cinnamon. You won’t find that in the stores.”

We’re smoking his reserves of the May harvest. He points to a triangular structure across the field. Known as a secador and made by weaving palms into its wooden skeleton, it is filled with drying tobacco leaves during the harvest. Government officials visit each independent farmer’s land to purchase the dried leaves whole at the price dictated by the powers that be. The campesinos are required to sell 90 percent of their harvest to the government, keeping the rest for their own private use or to sell. The government then takes the leaves to rolling houses, which employ mostly women, to create the cigars sold in government-regulated tobacco shops in tourist zones.

I puff the cigar as the heat intensifies and the flies begin buzzing with even more fervor.

“You have a nice place,” I tell José Luis.

With a smile, his eyebrows twitch as he takes a long toke of his cigar.

“I used to work for other people, on another farm. Every day my boss would be ordering me around; I had to do everything as I was told. Now, I still do it all, but I do it all for my family.”

We sit for another minute in silence, when suddenly he jumps up off the ground where he’s been resting, kisses me on the cheek and with his lanky jog, runs to greet a neighbor passing by on his horse.

The day’s work won’t be finished until well after sunset. And while there’s always work to be done, it appears there’s also always time to stop for a puff of tobacco and good conversation.

Always a Surprise When the Horse Meat Is Raw

Aug.26.16

Always a Surprise When the Horse Meat Is Raw

by Aaron Gilbreath

Uma in Osaka

It was 10 in the morning when Rebekah and I searched for breakfast in Osaka’s narrow alleys on the first day of our honeymoon. We passed workers stacking yellow Asahi crates into the backs of trucks and men unloading vegetables, and slipped into a promisingly cramped corner joint.

Except for one woman, every bit of counter was taken by men. They stood. They drank beer. They stared into space while sucking on cigarettes like it was their only source of oxygen. Despite the smoke, the place was bright and festive, filled with sunlight and laughter.

“Irrashaimase!” called one of two bartenders. He motioned us toward a gap where we could squeeze in. The bar had no chairs or stools, just one long counter that wrapped around a small central kitchen, and a few tiny table tops suspended from the wall. Who needs to sit where you’re just popping in for a beer or three? It reminded Rebekah of coffee shops in Italy.

A man in a fur-lined hat, apparently oblivious to the summer heat, nodded hello at us. The lone woman said good morning. A group of three men on the other side laughed red-faced laughs, leaning on each other’s shoulders and smacking each other’s backs. Two fought over the check, but the bigger guy won.

Rebekah whispered, “Are the bars as friendly in Tokyo?” Probably many, I whispered back, but on average, not like this. Osaka has a different heart.

The English menu included a fraction of what the wooden panels on the wall offered in Katakana. We pointed and ordered the Japanese names we knew: maguro, croquette, ikayaki, age-dashi, and the bartender brought a bottle of Kirin Stout. He thought Rebekah said ‘dark,’ not ‘draft.’ It tasted better than most Japanese mass market beer, though. Lesson learned: Order dark.

A man in a suit came in, read the newspaper, drowned a beer, then left. He spent most of his time folding and refolding the paper to take up less space and keep it close to his face.

When the waiter set a bowl of red meat in front of a diner, I asked what it was. “Uma,” the diner said.

The waiter looked at him and looked at me. “Uma, eto─” He searched for the English word, then brayed, clicked his tongue and moved his hands like he was trotting.

“Oh,” I said, “horse!”

“Yes, yes,” the men said, “horse.”

I held up one finger. “I’ll have one, onegai shimas.” The diner flashed a thumbs up. Two old timers across the counter stared at me and nodded.

The weathered man next to me muttered one word in Japanese, over and over, trying to tell me something maybe about what I’d done, or what I could expect of the taste, but I couldn’t understand, and when I leaned close and tried to follow up, he just muttered the same word. Finally, his eyes drifted downward as he picked at age-dashi.

The horse arrived quickly, with a tiny raw quail egg on top meant to be mixed in. It was tasty, like beef soaked in shoyu, garlic and onion, but more novel than remarkable. It was also raw, which I didn’t expect.

Damn Simple, Dirt Cheap, and Irresistible

Aug.25.16

Damn Simple, Dirt Cheap, and Irresistible

by Marco Ferrarese

Tibetan Bread with Jam in Nako

It’s 6:30 a.m. and the chill of high-altitude dawn invades a mom-and-pop restaurant below Loveonn’s Hotel in Nako. Armed with a beanie and a fleece jacket, I’m waiting below posters featuring Lhasa’s Potala Palace, Nepal’s Annapurna mountain range, a smiling Dalai Lama, and a cheeky infant with “this is beauty” scribbled in big serif fonts around his head.

Outside, the main street of Nako—a medieval stone village curled around a 12,000-foot high sacred lake about 20 miles west of the Tibetan border in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh—is still slumbering. But the Nepali family that mans the restaurant are early risers, and they are already warming up their kitchen to earn today’s first Indian rupees with my breakfast. Tibetan bread: such an exotic name for nothing more than a hot, round piece of flat bread.

I pick it out of the breakfast section of a one-page, laminated and misspelled menu, between the evergreen egg omelette and Israeli shakshuka. Tibetan bread is so irresistible because it’s damn simple, not as greasy as most other Indian breakfasts, and dirt cheap (only 50 Indian rupees, slightly more than 50 cents). It’s perfect for this morning, as I’m heading out to a stupa-flecked mountain to climb an five-mile path that should get me to a mysterious “Tibet View Point.” Tibet: I’ll have a peek on the forbidden part of China from a soaring 13, 000 feet in the air. The globalizing strawberry jam that comes with the bread may not sound super authentic, but it will certainly help me stock up on the calories I need.

This corner of Upper Kinnaur is nestled right below the Buddhist Spiti Valley, and thrives by exporting thousands of pounds of green beans to the lower valleys of Himachal Pradesh. Between the 15th and 17th century, it was at the confluence of the kingdoms of Ladakh, Central Tibet, Bashahr and the Guge of West Tibet. Today, Nako sits right across one of the world’s most uncertain borderlands, at the top of the high-altitude table where Asian superpowers China and India have been arm-wrestling since the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959. Beautiful ancient Tibetan paintings don the walls of a simple monastery where a young monk performs a one-man puja every evening at 6 p.m.

It’s here and along the Spiti Valley to the northeast that a mash-up of Tibetans, Nepali, and Hindus gather in the summer, exploiting the tourist season and earning for the harsh, desolate winter ahead. Maybe the Tibetan bread with jam is the region’s simple answer to intruders, a welcome and a farewell that symbolizes the blend of tradition and trickling tourism-induced globalization.

“Enjoy your food,” says the Nepali daughter who, speaking English, is always sent out of the kitchen by mom and dad to take care of foreigners. Last night she saw me shudder in a gush of cold wind, typical even in August. “In October we close everything and go back to Lumbini,” she said. “It’s too cold here to do anything here.”

But right now, my Tibetan bread steams from the plate she places before me, melting a smutter of strawberry jam into reddish liquid. My fingers enjoy the fresh-off-the-pan warmth of the bread’s surface, its semi-burnt bumps and thick outer crust. As I rip it in half from top the bottom, the heat inside steams upwards, fogging my glasses. Still visually challenged, I cut a chunk of jello-jam and use a knife to douse it inside the warm bun before taking my first hungry bite.

It’s a sensorial overload, a mix of crunchy hot and chemically-sweetened nothingness that’s also the farthest thing from strawberry I’ve ever tasted. I lift up my gaze as I keep munching, and the Dalai Lama is still smiling from the opposite wall. I’m lucky, because by mixing the mystic bread with such globalized profanity I still haven’t broken the calm surface of his ocean of compassion.

Photo by: Sumita Roy Dutta

Perhaps It Is Time to Reconsider the Danish

Aug.24.16

Perhaps It Is Time to Reconsider the Danish

by Hanady Kader

Pastries in Seattle

People around the world obsess about French bakeries: the croissants, the macarons. But in Seattle, a city with a long history of Nordic immigration, Scandinavian bakeries dominate. The Danish is certainly the most well-known Scandinavian baked good, and arguably one of the most popular breakfast items in the world.

The Danish is not only a breakfast pastry; it is a living history lesson fraught with buttery, flaky drama. The pastry known as the Danish did not originate in Denmark. In fact, the pastry’s name in the Danish language is wienerbrød, or Viennese bread, which hints at its origins.

When Danish bakers went on strike in the 1850s, bakers from other parts of Europe were brought in to keep up the work. The Austrian bakers new to town introduced a buttered, layered dough to make pastries filled with fruits, custards and nuts. The strike in Denmark ended, but the smash hit pastry stayed.

The Danish eventually made it to bakery cases around the world, and it has even been caught in the crosshairs of an international political crisis. In 2006, the BBC reported that the Iranian confectioners’ union had renamed the Danish pastry ‘Roses of the Prophet Mohammad’ after cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad were published in a Danish newspaper.

The re-branding campaign by the Iranian confectioners’ union did not stick—not in Seattle, anyway. Here, it is called the Danish, and it is damn good. Byen Bakeri makes a version that is generous in fluff, crispness, and flavor. On a recent morning the case was full of Danish pastry options: cream cheese and almond, cherry, raspberry, blueberry, marionberry, lingonberry, apple, and peach.

My eyes landed on a leaf-shaped cherry Danish that barely fit into the to-go pastry sheath. There is a lot going on in this breakfast—a sweetened and whipped cream-cheese base, a jammy filling with softened cherries, a spray of crumble, a band of icing, and, most importantly, magnificent Danish pastry dough. Any one of these features could go wrong and ruin the whole thing, like an out of tune clarinet in a symphony. But not this Danish. It is in tasty breakfast equilibrium.

A bite reveals the layered magic that makes Danish pastry dough so special thanks to a process called lamination. The baker folds butter into the dough to form thin layers, with a light and flaky outcome.

I had cut the Danish in half to share or save for later, so I busied myself with a cup of coffee for a bit. As I got up to leave table, I started to tuck the pastry into my purse and took one more look. What the hell was I saving the other half for? Some other sunny Seattle morning that was hardly a sure thing in the land of rain? No. I would finish this here and now. I sat back down while morning drivers and cyclists headed downtown to work, finishing my piece of sweet breakfast history.

Coffee, Cigarettes, Coffee, More Cigarettes, More Coffee, Alcohol, and Cigarettes

Aug.23.16

Coffee, Cigarettes, Coffee, More Cigarettes, More Coffee, Alcohol, and Cigarettes

by Valerie Stimac

Freddo espresso in Greece

In the weeks before departing for a four-month trip to Europe, I tried to wean myself off coffee. I didn’t want to be dependent on finding coffee each morning or risk the blazing withdrawal headache. Though I’ve been to Europe before, I feared the worst: a continent devoid of consistent ways to get my caffeine fix.

The first country on our itinerary was Greece and as it turned out, I had nothing to fear. Over the course of seven days sailing among the Ionian islands west of the mainland, I became a devout crusader in search of only one drink: the freddo espresso.

Giorgos, a skipper on a neighboring boat, explained that Greeks survive each day on a diet of “coffee, cigarettes, coffee, more cigarettes, more coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes.” An exaggeration, but not much of one. The freddo espresso is the primary coffee drink I saw consumed, a concoction perfect for summer, for sailing, for curing the raging headache after a 4am beach party for the third night in a row.

A freddo espresso is surprisingly simple: a single or double shot of espresso (depending on the headache) poured over ice and mixed with sugar using a handheld or standing mixer. Blended to create a frothy head, most people drink it straight; I cut mine with milk to ease myself back into coffee.

From the first sip, it was love, and by the third morning, I was the first above deck and wandering each port to find my fix. From the corner bakery in Vathy to the portside cafe of Fiskardo where boats knocked together an arm’s length away, every coffee shop makes freddo espresso, and nearly everybody drinks it.

Most importantly, a freddo espresso isn’t part of the morning meal: it is the morning meal. Not once did I see someone eating pastries, yogurt, or eggs alongside it, and I never considered committing so grave a mistake myself. When the freddo espresso were finished each day, only then would lunch be a topic of consideration.

Whether in port or anchored in a natural harbor, you could tell who was awake by how many freddo espresso crowded the wooden table in the main cabin of our yacht. From the first rays of blazing sun, the heat made plastic cups of icy freddo espresso sweat. As we sailed, empty freddo espresso cups would catch the wind and fly backwards toward the sea. We all became adept at catching them before they became small buoys in the pristine blue. No doubt the fish would have enjoyed the sugared film dried into each cup at the start of their day, too.

You Know the Breakfast Is Good When You Don’t Even Care About the Peyote Part

Aug.22.16

You Know the Breakfast Is Good When You Don’t Even Care About the Peyote Part

by Ferron Salniker

Corundas in Patzcuaro

The entrance to Patzcuaro’s basilica is lined with nutritional supplements, the ailments they cure scribbled on bright, neon paper and taped to the stone courtyard walls. The basilica is dedicated to Patzcuaro’s patron saint, Our Lady of Health, and people make pilgrimages here to pray for medical miracles. A long time ago, I bought a lighter with her on it, which I thought was ironic when I used it to light a joint at home. As we pass by, the signs make me anxious and I try to think of possible future health problems I should pray for in advance.

But hunger comes to mind first. It’s 11 a.m. and my mom is taking me to her favorite corunda stand for breakfast, right in front of the basilica. Corundas are Michoacan’s staple tamales: unlike most tamales you see in the U.S., these are pyramid-shaped and wrapped in corn leaves, not the husks. I haven’t had one since my parents lived here over a decade ago. This is my first visit with them on their annual summer trip back.

The owner’s daughter, Clara, is manning the stand today, a picnic table covered in a Christmas-themed oilcloth. We order a large corunda and she picks it out of a tall pot, unwrapping it and covering it in a bright, tangy tomatillo salsa and cream. It’s creamy, a little spicy, salty, filled with a spongy cheese and mild green peppers, and the dough melts in my mouth. We also order the guava atole, a thick, corn-based drink stained pink from fresh guava. She has cinnamon, tamarind, and chocolate flavors, too.

Patzcuaro is 7,000 feet above sea-level and the basilica is perched on a hill overlooking a lake that looks silver in the cold mornings and brown when you get up close. The rain clouds hover behind us, and the breeze smells like exhaust and mountains. Across the way, vendors hawk moringa supplements for cholesterol, diabetes, and bad circulation. Mamey juice for cysts, cancerous tumors, ulcers, internal bruises, and prostate inflammation. There’s arnica with peyote and arnica with marijuana, and bags with their sides rolled down that look like nests filled with herbs and sticks.

Michoacán is a state known for its agricultural bounty and indigenous cooking traditions. Tortillas are made with heirloom corn, avocado orchards hug the highways, and cooking with market ingredients is the norm. I watch Clara buy bright green corn leaves from a man carrying them around on his back. Breakfast reminds me of a cookbook I have at home called Decolonize Your Diet. It offers recipes using mostly heritage crops in Mexico, encouraging ancestral cooking as a source of protection from modern disease. It’s about good food, not as a replacement to modern medicine, but as essential to healing.

After we eat, I pressure my mom to try some of the arnica with marijuana salve on her wrist, mostly for fun. It’s an unnatural, chemical yellow, giving off whiffs of some kind of plastic version of eucalyptus. Up close, a few of the other products look equally artificial. The signs say they heal everything, but I just want another corunda.

There Is So Much Swedish Going on Here

Aug.19.16

There Is So Much Swedish Going on Here

by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Filmjölk in Sweden

In many ways, the typical Swedish breakfast is a reflection of a Nordic culture deeply rooted in rugged minimalism.

Just like layered clothing worn on cold winter days, Swedish design borrows from a layering concept where each piece serves as a building block that can be mixed and matched with other design elements. This not only keeps each element simple and minimalist, but it also makes it practical because each piece can stand on its own as well as work within a larger framework. This building-block concept is why IKEA remains a popular brand worldwide. It is also reflected in a classic Swedish breakfast spread.

The two building blocks are slices of a carbohydrate such as crisp bread or multigrain bread, and dairy such as a bowl of vanilla yogurt or, more commonly, filmjölk (“fil”). Fil is made from fermented milk, has a runnier consistency than yogurt, and is much more sour.

From these basic elements, the breakfast is built up: bread is topped with everything from slices of cheese, cold cuts like ham, and bell peppers to liver pâté, sweet dill pickles, and boiled eggs with cheap caviar squeezed out of a tube. The dairy is usually topped with muesli and fresh berries.

And, of course, a mug of strong coffee is mandatory. Thankfully, breakfast is easier to assemble than a typical IKEA purchase.

Today in She Said It, Not Us: “Turkish Food Is a Disaster”

Aug.18.16

Today in She Said It, Not Us: “Turkish Food Is a Disaster”

by Sara Nasser

A Spread in Istanbul

“Turkish food is a disaster,” an innkeeper in Bethlehem once told me. I’ve been living in Istanbul for a year, and my experience with its cuisine has ranged from bemused confusion to anthropological fascination. There’s pizza with ketchup and mayo, fries inside baked potatoes. I’ll never forget choco-doner, true to its name: a rotating hunk of chocolate on a spit shaved and served on a crepe.

The innkeeper’s words ring true to me, especially on the subject of Turkish breakfasts. There’s the salty cheese: tulum, kaşar, beyaz, to name a few. There’s pink salami; halal, of course. There’s bal kaymak (honey with cream), pekmez (a fruity syrup mixed with tahini), various jams and Nutella, along with cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives, all presented alongside a basket full of bread. The flavors work until they don’t. It’s all colorful and confusing, like my time in Istanbul.

Since the failed coup attempt, I’ve been going to Taksim Square to observe the celebrations there. The first night, I saw it packed in a way I’d never seen before: people climbed up Ataturk’s statue taking selfies and poured into Istiklal and Gezi Park. Some flashed the number four in memory of the massacre in Egypt’s Rabia Square. I’ll never forget the image of an elderly woman in black—her scarf tight around her chin, revealing only her nose and spectacles—waving a Turkish flag furiously, its staff towering over her short frame. She’d parked herself by a white van blaring the soundtrack for the night: REH-CEP TAY-YIP ER-DO-GAN, the speakers roared. She waved along, never missing a beat. When one arm tired, she switched to the other.

A week later, the main opposition party held their rally and by the look of it, a different crowd had arrived in the square. I saw rainbow flags, Turkish flags, signs calling for barış (peace). There was no mention of the president. I talked to a woman with spiky red hair about why she’d chosen to come that particular day. She didn’t hesitate, saying that she felt comfortable for the first time because “different” kinds of people were represented, people like her. The last time she’d been in Taksim was three years ago during the Gezi Park protests. This time she’d come for democracy, she said.

I’ve seen various pockets of Istanbul society begin to claim their piece of Taksim Square after years of absence. I can’t help but reflect on my time in the city: eating Syrian food in the conservative Fatih district, grabbing drinks in my neighborhood, Ortakoy, where you can find a church, a mosque, and a synagogue within blocks of each other. It’s hard not to feel warm and fuzzy when faced with such diversity. But sometimes I’m painfully aware of my place, and of those who might feel unwelcome because of a headscarf or a miniskirt, depending on the neighborhood. I’m reminded of the Turkish breakfast. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. It’s a scrumptious mess of a meal.

An Austere Breakfast That’s a Curiosity for Some, a Necessity for Others

Aug.17.16

An Austere Breakfast That’s a Curiosity for Some, a Necessity for Others

by Barbara Wanjala

Kangumu in Nairobi

I see him standing by the side of the road, swathed in layers of clothing to ward off the morning chill. He keeps a watchful eye on the plastic bucket by his feet. It is sealed shut but transparent, and you can see that it is packed to the brim with kangumu. Day is about to break, and the morning trek to work has began.

Men and women stride resolutely towards their destinations in the emerging light, alone or in pairs, silently or engaged in animated conversation. Occasionally, someone darts towards the kangumu-seller and makes a purchase. I approach him. He greets me cheerfully and opens his bucket, wraps a plastic bag around his hand, dips into the bucket and with flourish, hands me a cold, hard kangumu.

A popular Kenyan comedian once described kangumu as the male version of mandazi. I can see why he came to this problematic comparison between these two types of deep-fried dough. Mandazi tend to be triangular in shape, their golden brown exterior easily torn apart by fingers to reveal a light, porous, white interior. Kangumu are a darker brown, and beneath their crunchy exoskeleton lies an inner core of hard, chewy, white dough. Whereas mandazi are soft and airy, kangumu are hard and dense. One of life’s greatest culinary disappointments is biting into a tantalizing mandazi only to find an inside that is more air than substance. Thus, in the quest for satiety, the kangumu, un-lightened and unsoftened by leavening agents, wins out.

Ngumu means hard in Swahili, and the ka- prefix denotes smallness. Literally, therefore, kangumu means a small, hard thing. Kangumu are hard to chew, but they are also a cheap and filling recourse for many with strained finances. As such, someone on Twitter shakes his virtual head at “yo yo” relatives and friends who think that eating kangumu is an adventure. It occurs to me that I am one of these yo yo’s, breakfasting on kangumu out of hobbyism rather than hunger.

In his childhood memoir Ake, Wole Soyinka describes guguru ati epa, a popular Nigerian popcorn-and-peanut street snack, as the friend and sustainer of workers during the critical countdown to payday. A handful of guguru washed down with a liquid accompaniment, and hunger was staved off for the rest of the working day. Kangumu is usually washed down with strungi: strong, black tea. Milkless and sometimes sugarless, strungi seems a fittingly austere accompaniment. I ponder over no-frills sustenance, over the difference between necessity and indulgence.

I stumble across a Kenyan catchphrase, an exhortation to fortitude: kaa ngumu kama kangumu. Stand firm like a kangumu. The kangumu-seller, bravely bearing the elements every morning to offer friendship and sustenance to workers on their way to work, becomes the embodiment of fortitude in my mind.

Battling the Numbing Chill of Abstraction, One Breakfast at a Time

Aug.16.16

Battling the Numbing Chill of Abstraction, One Breakfast at a Time

by Kun Liu

Baozi in Beijing

For a city like Beijing, whose fame and significance can only grow, its western part has maintained a posture of ease and cool-headedness. Whereas eastern Beijing is now carpeted with post-modern architecture, expat-run bars and restaurants, and the flow of bankers and businessmen, the western part of the city remains largely the same as it was before China opened its doors in 1979. Here, military compounds are scattered about and government buildings stand next to each other; together, they house people who make perhaps the most important decisions in this giant nation.

A radio-show host myself, working for the country’s national broadcaster, I live in western Beijing on a quiet block. Every weekday, my morning starts in a small vegetable market opposite my apartment block among cries of vendors and the steady bargaining voices of grey-haired couples. These elderly couples, whose middle-aged children often struggle for balance between family and a rising career, come to help with daily chores.

Hasty as my weekday morning is, I take pleasure in breakfasting from a family vendor at the market that sells baozi, or steamed buns with fillings. Making the food in a small room behind their food stand, the family provides fresh baozi that are so popular that people sometimes have to wait for the next batch to be taken from the stove, surrounded by steam and mist.

Different from the traditional salted fillings such as meat, tofu or vegetables that I grow up with, this vendor expands my baozi palate: there’s minced a red-bean filling that is sweet, and a seasoned vegetable filling that can be spicy. All the different fillings come together perfectly with the soft and spongy bun.

They come presented with other refreshments as well: eggs boiled with salted tea leaves, or porridge, among others. Together, they wake me up for a rather intense newsroom day.

There are times I exchange small talk with the family. Over time, I learned that they are originally from the big agricultural Henan province in central China. It’s been thirteen years since they rented out their farmland and came to Beijing for their share of China’s economic boom. The owner, a man in his fifties with a coarse but welcoming voice, is the most talkative person in the family.

Just this past week, I noticed they had hired new staff. When I asked the family about it, they told me that business is booming and they are arranging two working shifts to handle everything. There’s a degree of comfort and warmth to me in these short conversations: their story is familiar to me as someone who also migrated from a rural home to the big city, not knowing how the future would look. Sometimes on my show, when we report abstract statistics about urbanization in China, I think about those morning conversations in the vegetable market.

We’re Happy to Brave a Storm at Sea for a Bucket of Scallops, Thanks

Aug.15.16

We’re Happy to Brave a Storm at Sea for a Bucket of Scallops, Thanks

by Yvette Tan

Scallops on Sand Bar

Two friends and I traveled to Iloilo, a Philippine province whose northeastern-most town, Carles, is one of two jump-off points to Las Islas de Gigantes, a remote island chain gaining popularity as a tourist destination. Our plan was to eat, sunbathe, and swim on every island our motorized banca (outrigger canoe) could reach.

We left the resort for the port at 5 am, and an hour later, were on our way. We reached the first island—a sandbar called, well, Sand Bar—two hours later, just in time for breakfast.

We headed to the lone structure on the island where our boatman said we could find scallops, Sand Bar’s specialty. The guy manning the shack directed us to one of the boats on the shore. Beside it, resting in the water, was a net full of scallops; the catch of the day.

“How much?” my friend asked. Scallops weren’t cheap in Manila, where we come from, costing hundreds of pesos for a few pieces in a restaurant.

“One peso per piece.”

That’s about 20 cents each. My friend ordered a hundred pesos (about two dollars) worth. The guy grabbed fistfuls of the tiny shells and dumped them into a pot. We were pretty sure there were more than a hundred pieces in there. He took them back to the shack to boil while we waited in the eating area, a bunch of tables and chairs covered by a lean-to made from leaves and branches to keep out the sun and wind.

The man returned a few minutes later with the cooked scallops in a green plastic basket. We picked at them excitedly, eating them straight from the still warm shells. The tiny pieces of flesh were sweet and slightly briny, tasting of the sea.

At the side of the lean-to were a few liquor bottles that contained condiments—soy sauce, fish sauce, and a couple of types of vinegar—ready for the mixing. We mixed some soy sauce and vinegar—the Filipino go-to sauce—in a saucer to dip the scallops in but really, they tasted better unadorned. We weren’t sure at first how three women could finish a basket of shellfish but by the end of the meal, we realized that we shouldn’t have worried; in the middle of the table stood a mountain of empty scallop shells.

We docked on two more islands before the weather caught up with us and our guide told us, with some alarm in his voice, that we had to leave for the mainland right then because there was a storm brewing, and we would have to sail into it.

The boatmen had lowered the sails of our banca so that we could travel faster, which meant that we were soaked through. They loaned us a sheet of plastic, flimsy cover against the elements, though it did a fair enough job of keeping away the wind and cold. It was another two hours of sailing back to shore. The rain let up temporarily about halfway through our journey. A friend said to look out at the water. What we saw were calm waves undulating softly. They looked like sand, and, strangely, like the strips of cloth actors wave across a stage when they want to simulate a body of water.

“This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” she said.

Everyone agreed.

And then, finally and not soon enough, we were ashore, drenched and shivering, the rain still falling in sheets. We waited another 30 minutes until the rain stopped before heading back to Iloilo City where, we agreed, that our next breakfast should be at the hotel buffet.

A Breakfast That Actually Does Sound Worth the Hike

Aug.12.16

A Breakfast That Actually Does Sound Worth the Hike

by Stuart Denison

Adassi in Tehran

If there’s one thing that you’ll notice immediately about Tehran, it’s the picturesque mountain-range backdrop provided by the Alborz, whose 16,000-foot peaks loom high over the city below. In winter, you can ski there, and need proper snow gear to make the ascent on foot. In the height of the summer months, however, with the center of town sweltering, the mountain valleys offer some much-needed respite from the heat, traffic, and pollution.

A series of well-established cafes and eateries line the lower reaches of the most popular and accessible routes, ranging from luxurious traditional sofrekhane restaurants and some of the city’s most-loved kebab joints (lower down) to simpler fare for serious trekkers and day hikers further up. It is here that I’m aiming to reach, early one weekday morning, in search of a plain, filling dish of adassi, the heart-warming breakfast of climbers.

Over the years, the sprawl of Tehran has extended all the way up into the foothills of the mountains, which means that, unlike many other cities, there’s no need to leave town to reach the hiking trails. I take the earliest metro service north to Tajrish Square, then a five-minute taxi ride later, I’m standing at the gates of Darband.

The path, which follows the twists and turns of a rushing stream, starts out well-paved and easy on the legs, so even families with young children and the elderly can enjoy the scenery. After a couple of miles, the gradient increases and the shops and restaurants get smaller and more spaced out. Supplies have to be brought up by mule, which means there is plenty of traffic on the trail, even at this early hour. The air is cool and welcoming, with the sky bright but the sun not yet risen above the rock walls towering above the sides of the valley.

After an hour of walking, I find what I’m looking for: a friendly, tree-lined, riverside restaurant, nestled in a niche of open space between two imposing crevices. There are no seats, just wide divans, the traditional Persian carpeted and cushioned platforms for eating, relaxing, and sleeping. Removing my shoes and settling in, I order adassi and chai (tea) and listen to the rushing water below and the birdsong from the trees above.

The tray arrives minutes later, steaming in the morning air, and I eagerly tuck in, my appetite roused from the hike. The ingredients can vary, but usually include brown lentils, onions, diced potato, and spices, creating a rich, thick, warming broth. The original recipe takes true dedication, since the chef must get up and start cooking well before dawn, simmering the adassi slowly for several hours in a huge cauldron, traditionally over an open fire. It is eaten with bread—here, the sturdy workman’s barbari—and together, they’re enough to fuel a day’s labor or, in my case, an escape up to the higher slopes.

There, you have the reward of seeing Tehran unrolled like a patterned carpet beneath you, stretching almost to the horizon, with the haze below reminding you of the worthwhile effort you’ve made to clear your lungs, exercise your body, refresh your mind, and earn your breakfast.

No Matter Where You Go, People Appreciate a Good Testicle Pun

Aug.11.16

No Matter Where You Go, People Appreciate a Good Testicle Pun

by Rob Armstrong

Man Bread in Malaysia

The cheap plastic seat flexes under me as I transfer the weight of my forearms from the thin, aluminum-veneered wood of the restaurant table. I lean back and listen as a heavy-set Indian Malaysian man recalls my order from the previous day. “Roti jantan, mutton curry and kopi O ais, boss?” I concur, he wobbles his head, drops into Tamil and bellows my order to both ends of the small open air restaurant, arms punching the air with dramatic punctuation. I marvel at the variety of languages in our brief conversation; French, stolen by the English and passed on during colonial times, the native Bahasa Malaysia, and finally Tamil, originating from southern India where the restaurateurs’ family was likely plucked by colonial England to work in the rubber plantations of what was then known as British Malaya. The significance of the history that has led to exchanges like this goes unacknowledged by the mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese patrons, who all share a common Malaysian identity and a sense of amusement at the mention of roti jantan, aka “man bread.”

The restaurant occupies a small corner lot in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s industrial district. Chairs and tables sprawl out to the roadside over a patchwork of chipped and faded apricot tiles that transition into the dark mats of grease and soot that hide under counters and anywhere else that foot traffic is rare. Purple walls support a once-white celling that has faded over the years to a dirty yellow that matches the color of the dusty fans that wobble silently overhead. At one end of the restaurant, a man expertly whips balls of dough into increasingly complicated curves until it is stretched to transparency before laying it out on the blackened circular hotplate in front of him. At the opposite end of the restaurant, another man pauses mid-Bollywood song just long enough to stab at half a dozen cans of Malaysia’s favorite drink additive, sweetened condensed milk, with what looks like a large screwdriver. He uses it to pry the tops off in one smooth motion before continuing to sing.

As I wash my hands at a sink that is plumbed into the wall via a cacophony of mismatched fittings and hoses and secured via a length of twisted electrical wiring a small group of Bangladeshi workers appear. Ducking under the fabric awning that keeps the hazy morning sunlight at bay, they filter between the tables and chairs in silence, their faces a mix of resignation and exhaustion. When two police officers enter from the back alley shortly afterwards, the mood of the foreign workers makes sense; stories abound of police officers laying in wait for foreign workers, who are often illegally in the country, in order to fleece them of a day of wages before letting them go on their way. The two groups entering this place at nearly the same time is no coincidence.

My order, deposited in front of me with a ceremonial head wobble, distracts me from the discomfort of having both the police and their victims under the same roof. The iced coffee is thick and bitter enough that no reasonable amount of sugar will make it palatable, but the caffeine it contains makes it a necessary evil. The mutton curry, on the other hand, a deep earthy-orange gravy, filled with cubes of melt-in-your-mouth goat, onion, and potato could stand on its own merits. Apart from the large curls of cinnamon and semi-submerged kaffir lime leaves, the mix of spices blend so perfectly its next to impossible to differentiate one from the other. The roti jantan, crispy on the outside while elastic on the inside, is ideal for soaking up the thick curry. Two eggs folded into the unleavened bread provide it with both its spongy, full-bodied texture and its ability to bring smiles to the faces of all but the most prudish of Malaysians, for whom eggs are synonymous with testicles, hence the name man bread.

As I tear pieces of the flatbread off with my fingers and let it soak up the flavors of the curry, I wonder how many other small, unassuming roadside food stalls throughout the world have similar scenes playing out within them. Perhaps all we really need to do to get an insight into a nation is sit, eat, and open our eyes.

Who Cares About the Bus When There Are 24-Hour Snacks?

Aug.10.16

Who Cares About the Bus When There Are 24-Hour Snacks?

by Andrew Wong

Pastizzi in Malta

The sun is coming at us from all angles at the bus junction in Rabat. Pristine buildings of pale limestone, each sporting an overhanging machicolation, refract the light onto every bus shelter in the center of the plaza.

When traveling to Malta, you’ll hear about the Knights of St. John, the cerulean waters of the Blue Lagoon, and the island’s past as a British colony. What you won’t hear about is the tardy bus system, so unfailingly late that you’re never sure if the bus that shows up is the 12:15 bus running 25 minutes behind schedule or the 12:45 running 5 minutes ahead.

That said, you will be amazed by the systematic tango that plays out as these city buses charge their way through the island’s provincial roads as local traffic cooperatively shifts into reverse. From the port of Cirkewwa in the north down to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, the Maltese bus system will get you to where you need to go; just don’t be surprised if it’s an hour later than you were expecting. I try to attune myself to island time.

We’ve been waiting for thirty minutes at the Rabat interchange that snuggles up against the walled city of Mdina. The sun intensifies and hopes of municipal transport are quickly evaporating. Island time, I say to myself.

What does one do to pass “island time”? Kick back and eat, of course. And the place you go for a snack in Rabat is Crystal Palace.

Bored looking pensioners seated along this local joint’s benches can’t be bothered to make eye contact as I walk in. A shelf littered with trays of gum and chocolate bars lines the back of the shop. To my right, a Marlboro dispenser, and to my left, the ajar oven loaded with stacks of pastizzi and qassatat. A simple, laminated sheet of paper spells out the menu: pastizzi tal-irkotta, tal-pizelli, tat-tiġieġ and qassatat tal-incova.

It’s an order of the former two (stuffed with ricotta and stuffed with peas) and a coffee to-go for this bus vagabond today. A twirl of the spoon to mix the Nescafé and milk, and we’re off.

Back into the sun, the pastizzi glisten as they meet the morning rays. The phyllo snaps like a firecracker as I chomp into the ricotta fella. The individual sheets of the wrapper flake, shatter, and fall to the sidewalk. The ricotta is light on the palate and lends a hint of sweetness to this otherwise savoury breakfast bite. Pea pastizzi, it’s your turn. This congruent oyster shell of a pastry reveals a mushy pea filling with a contrast of black pepper that dances delectably on the palate. I wash it down with my mild Nescafé and all is good in the world.

That is, until we get back to the bus bay to discover that we’ve missed the bus. Island time, I say to myself. But who’s counting? These pastizzi guys are open 24 hours. Back we go.

A Wild Pastry Born of Smoke and Char

Aug.09.16

A Wild Pastry Born of Smoke and Char

by Nomi Abeliovich

Kürtőskalács in Budapest

I had known of the Kürtőskalács, the Hungarian spit cake, prior to visiting Budapest. Traditionally grilled to perfection over cinders until a crisp and smoky caramel shell envelops the sweet, yeast-dough pastry, I knew getting my hands on one during my short stay would be a priority.

It is the middle of summer and in downtown Budapest the aroma of sewage seems to rise up from the sun-cooked asphalt. The air is still, hot, and dry. Across the city, restaurant menus offer dead-of-winter dishes alongside seasonal specialties despite the ridiculous heat wave. So what if the tarmac is melting? It is always a good time to enjoy a heart-warming bowl of goulash, chicken paprikash or Pörkölt stew.

But the Kürtőskalács is nowhere to be found.

It turns out the elusive cake is traditionally made during the winter time or in fairs and festive markets. Thus, the best chance of stumbling upon the hollow cake is tracking down one of the bakeries scattered throughout the city specializing in the domesticated version. The hollow logs, uniform is size and shape, coated in various toppings, wrapped in cellophane and tied in a pretty ribbon, are a far cry from the untamed version of the pastry I am after; a product of char and smoke baked out in the wild, anywhere, anytime. Resigned to defeat, I walk out of the bakery empty handed, letting go of any further thoughts of cake.

The sun was already brutally hot by the time we got off at the last stop of the cogwheel train line. It was our last day in Budapest and we were somewhere in suburbia, the city no longer visible beyond the tree-covered hills. There, by the side of a road leading to nowhere, a woman and her elderly mother set up shop and erected a portable grill.

The coals were still working to a gray ash when I placed the order for a spit cake. The nomadic baker pulled out a ribbon of dough from a plastic box and spun it around a skewered wooden log. She covered it in sugar, placed it over the hot coals and tended to it, using one hand to turn the skewer and the other to hold a flat fan with which she skillfully controlled the temperature and smoke levels. Each cake is made to order and with us being the only customers on a lazy Sunday morning, an awkward silence built during the long minutes of anticipation as we all watched the sugar crystals slowly build up to their melting point. When the cake was ready, it was freed from the log with one swift gesture, compressed into shape, placed in a plastic bag, and handed over to me, still steaming. Willing to wait no more, I tore off a piece from the blistering hot dough and took a bite.

A Visit to the Last of the Snake Kings

Aug.08.16

A Visit to the Last of the Snake Kings

by Brady Ng

Snake Soup in Wan Chai

I remember walking home from school and cutting through the wet market. It was routine. I was 10 or 12, quick on my feet and always ready to dodge the warm, crimson spray from butchers’ blocks so that my uniform wouldn’t be ruined. There would be a tongue here, some guts there, split carcasses on meat hooks, blood in the gutter. Voices were loud and tempers were often hot. Within the frenetic marketplace activity, something else captured my fascination. In wire cages, they coiled, hissed, measured. Their tongues flicked in a gestural language. When approached, they stared back, eye to eye, snout to nose. Once in a while, a leathered men in a stained wife-beater would grab one from captivity, toy with it, and even let me touch it. “It’s not venomous,” he would assure me, before pointing to scars and bite marks, impressions left by past missteps.

The snakes end up in soup.

It is an ancient recipe, at least 2,200 years old according to some historical accounts. Originally a stew for barbarians, it was dressed up and became popular in the nineteenth century. Being able to gather the ingredients from varied sources—two or three breeds of snakes, chrysanthemum leaves, lemon leaves, fungus, and a bevy of spices—required wealth and connections, or favor from above. It was reserved for the dynastic elite, and a mythology was created around snake stew: it warms winters, it nourishes blood, it boosts qi, it makes you young again.

Now, logistical hurdles of the past can be easily overcome. The snakes are from farms in Malaysia and Indonesia, the fungus and mushrooms are from mainland China, the fish maw, too, and the ginger is from South Asia. All of that, and more, goes in a stainless steel tank and is slow-cooked overnight. Snake kings, as the soup-makers call themselves, are keepers of a tradition that is slowly fading away.

If you’re wondering, snake soup really does taste like chicken.

Snake-king soup rooms were once much more common. In Wan Chai, only one remains in a largely gentrified neighborhood, still slinging out bowls of thick broth to regulars, though summers are slow. Nearby, peers and competitors have shuttered their shops, replaced by hipster sandwich joints, poke stands, wine bars, and tapas restaurants more suited for the young expat crowd that has taken up residence in old walk-up tenements.

Elders who have witnessed decades of change in Wan Chai still stop by the last snake-soup restaurant in the district’s wet market. They stand by the entrance and exchange neighborhood gossip with the couple who run the shop. Arthritis and other ailments prevent them from using the store’s plastic stools, so a few take small orders to go in lidded styrofoam bowls. Service apartment towers and other new developments encircle the wet market already. Likely, these soup-makers will soon be gone, too.

It’s an age-old debate: is gentrification necessarily a zero-sum game? I don’t know, though I do wonder whether, in a few years, the Wan Chai I knew will only be recalled in framed photographs on museum walls.

If You’d Like Seething Jealousy for Breakfast, This One’s for You

Aug.05.16

If You’d Like Seething Jealousy for Breakfast, This One’s for You

by Carolyn B. Heller

Ma’a Tahiti in French Polynesia

Four men in baggy surfers’ shorts drag a tarp from a smoldering underground pit the size of a double grave. They carefully peel off a layer of damp leaves and, after wrapping rags around their hands, lift up a slab of corrugated metal. Wielding a thick, wooden pole, one of the men digs into the pit and, using the pole as a lever, pries a blackened cage out of the earth.

Inside this smoking metal crate is our breakfast.

My husband Alan and I are on the island of Huahine in French Polynesia, waiting for the Sunday morning meal at Chez Tara. At this beachside eatery on the island’s southern tip, a leisurely hour’s drive from Fare, Huahine’s only real town, we’re going to dig into ma’a Tahiti, a traditional Polynesian feast cooked in an underground oven.

Every Sunday at 3 o’clock in the morning, staff at Chez Tara light the coals in the outdoor cooking pit. About an hour later, when the coals are hot, they begin layering other foods into the cage that serves as the underground grill. There’s pork and chicken. Several platter-sized whole fish. Taro, plantains, manioc, breadfruit, and papaya, all wrapped up in packets of green banana leaves.

At 11am, staff open the oven and begin unwrapping the foods, piling each item onto a bowl or platter. Inside the adjacent thatch-roofed restaurant, each dish is laid out on what quickly becomes a jam-packed buffet table, staffed by aunties wearing flowing dresses and colorful flower leis.

We start with an appetizer of poisson cru, the ceviche-like raw fish dish that’s ubiquitous across French Polynesia. As we line up and hold out our plates, each server dips her spoon into a bowl heaped with something stewy, meaty, or starchy, from stewed pork to a creamy spinach-like green that we learn is fafa, made from taro leaves.

We take our plates outside under the palm trees to the communal tables covered with flower-printed cloths and sit with our feet in the sand. We sip local Hinano beer, nibble our way through our breakfast, and chat with our tablemates in a mixture of French and English. Then we listen as two men settle into plastic chairs with their ukuleles and begin to strum and sing.

For dessert, we return to the buffet table for fresh fruit—mango, papaya, melon—and another Tahitian specialty, called po’e, which resembles a fruit pudding. Papaya or banana is roasted in banana leaves in the underground oven until it melts into a vividly colored goo. It’s dumped into a bowl filled with coconut milk, then stirred and pounded until the fruit begins to soften. The result is a sweet, sticky, almost caramelized fruit mash, glistening with coconut milk; a tropical comfort food.

Alan and I linger after our breakfast, as the sea laps onto the beach below. When your meal takes seven hours to roast in a hole in the ground on a remote South Pacific island, you feel like you should take your time to digest and appreciate it.

Besides, we’re thousands of miles from home and at least four or five hours from supper.

The Land Where Chillies Are Given the Status They Deserve

Aug.04.16

The Land Where Chillies Are Given the Status They Deserve

by Kavita Kanan Chandra

Ema Datshi in Bhutan

Our guide in Bhutan, Yeshey, told us that if we didn’t taste the national dish ema datshi, it would be like we hadn’t visited the Himalayan Kingdom at all. In the Dzongkha language, “ema” means “chillies” and “datshi” is “cheese.” Just two basic ingredients, in tune with the simplicity of its Buddhist inhabitants. The resultant dish is high on heat and could add a punch to any meal.

The local haat (open market) in the town of Paro was flooded with chillies. Vegetable sellers sat behind heaps of red, fat chillies; slim, green ones; powdered, crushed, and sliced chillies.

In Bhutan, chillies are rightly accorded the status of a vegetable rather than a mere seasoning. The dried ones are stored for use in winter months. In rural homes, people dry the chillies over earthen chullahs (mud stoves) in their kitchens. During the cold and gloomy stretch of Himalayan winter, they enliven the kitchen with a dash of crimson. The piquancy of chillies keep them energized during the cold months. During summers, it is the freshly plucked, ripe chillies that are commonly used to make ema datshi. Even young children love it, having been initiated early on, thus habituated to its heat.

I had been having a great time in Bhutan and loved their love for all things natural. The landscape was lush and green, with terraced rice fields and forested hills. Glacial rivers meandered through its valleys and the unpolluted air was a welcome change from India’s metros. There were no fast-food chains and exploring a cuisine that was exotic even to an Indian living next door gave rise to many pleasant surprises. Hardly any spice is used, but the fresh, organic produce is delicious. Red rice, meat, green vegetables, mushrooms, cheese, and chillies are common. Most varieties of chillies were so hot that the scorching summer heat of India’s plains paled in comparison.

But my search for authentic ema datshi continued for several days. Most touristy restaurants tamper with the original dish, adding slices of onions and tomatoes. The excuse was to make it palatable for tastebuds unused to heat. They also replace the homemade fermented cheese with processed cheese from India. The closest I got was during a lunch at the cafeteria of the Taktsang Monastery. The monastery is perched at the edge of a cliff more than 10,000 feet above Paro. However, my local acquaintance, Tashi, dismissed it because it lacked the sourness of fermented cheese.

So the morning I left, I pestered the hotel cook to make a small portion of ema datshi just like his mother would. Though usually eaten at lunch or dinner, I had the most sour, hot, pungent, and tear-inducing ema datshi for breakfast, accompanied with several glasses of water.

Tracing a Breakfast Lineage Through Time and Across Continents

Aug.03.16

Tracing a Breakfast Lineage Through Time and Across Continents

by Ishay Govender-Ypma

Sour Porridge in South Africa

It’s 6:00 a.m. and the pots are bubbling on the wood fire outside. My grandmother—wiry, agile, clad in a faded cotton sari—sits on the red stoep, veranda, in the smallholding in Verulam, north of Durban. Here, indentured laborers who sailed from the port in Madras worked the once-dense sugarcane plantations, her forebears and mine.

In her hands, she cradles an enamel mug of cooled sour porridge flecked with spring onions. From behind a pillar I watch her savor this peace. Before the visiting grandchildren wake up and descend upon the dusty backyard, before her daughters push through the warren-like bedrooms with their questions and chatter. Before the sons who need their lunch tins and cups of tea, she drinks her breakfast of fermented mealie meal (maize flour) gruel. Some mornings, she adds chopped raw onions, and I smell it on her breath when I leave my hiding post and squat close to her.

My mother has a similar memory of my Ayah, her mother, drinking sour porridge in the unrelenting summer heat, managing her brood of 12 children and orchestrating simple meals from the staples of the day. “They had so many to feed, so much of manual labor. The refreshing sour porridge gave her an energy boost,” my mother tells me.

In South Africa, eating plain mealie pap or porridge for breakfast is a common cross-cultural affair. With sugar and milk and a little butter if you can afford it, it’s a staple that’s endured well beyond the introduction of American cereals and Nutella on toast. It’s inexpensive, stretches far and when fermented, introduces a host of health benefits.

South Indian sour porridge, though prepared with the same main ingredient as the traditional fermented drink amaRehwu (spellings vary across ethnic groups) beloved by the late Nelson Mandela, is different. Associated with the Tamil Mariamman prayers for fertility, harvest and health, it’s a nutritious gruel soured without the use of yeast and is flavored with spring onions. Or in the case of my father and grandfathers, pickled green chilies.

South Indians drank a similar workman’s drink called neeragaram, made from fermented leftover rice, which indentured laborers in South Africa had very little access to. However, that drink has essentially disappeared into obscurity. Historian A R Venkatachalapathy attributes the rise of Tamil Nadu’s coffee culture to the decline of neeragaram among laborers. However, coffee drinking did not catch on with the South Indians in South Africa and sour porridge made with maize has endured, marked now by its significance in religious ceremonies.

I think of my Ayah offering me a sip, me turning my nose up at the tart oniony porridge, but knowing, instinctively, that this would become a moment I’d recall for years after her passing.

Sometimes You Just Need an Intestines Sandwich to Start the Day Right

Aug.02.16

Sometimes You Just Need an Intestines Sandwich to Start the Day Right

by Natalie Kennedy

Offal in Rome

There is something intensely unnerving about living in Rome but working in a cubicle. The textured green walls of my Monday to Friday seem deeply at odds with the crumbling ochre palazzi of the Eternal City a few miles down the road.

Working in an office means that I miss the traditional Roman markets that close by 2 pm. Saturdays, when I can manage to make myself presentable in the early hours, are the only day I have to stop for a caffè at the small tabaccheria by the ex-slaughterhouse (ex-mattatoio) and wander slowly through the Testaccio market.

Until very recently, Testaccio was a solidly working class neighborhood. The rapidly gentrifying district is my adopted home in Rome, where we live in a building that was originally constructed as public housing for the families who worked a few blocks away at Europe’s largest meatpacking factory.

Roman cuisine has been deeply influenced by this corner of the city. In the late 1800s, the slaughterhouse workers were paid their regular wages plus offal. Unable to afford more delectable cuts of meat, the Testaccini took home the quinto quarto: the fifth quarter. Back in the unadorned buildings, surrounding internal communal courtyards, the families transformed tripe, cartilage, and oxtail into slowly cooked, richly satisfying meals.

Today, the ex-mattatoio is completely decommissioned and the slaughtering floors are being slowly reclaimed by urban renewal. The complex is now home to a contemporary art museum, a motley farmer’s market, and an admittedly low-key Michelin-starred restaurant.

Testaccio’s beloved fresh market is changing as well. For nearly 100 years, it was located in the center of the neighborhood and slightly resembled a tarp-covered shantytown. In 2012, it moved several streets over to a new white-and-orange building that felt large and empty.

Then Sergio Esposito moved in and opened a small sandwich stall in the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio. Having spent most of his career as a butcher, Sergio’s panini are portable versions of Roman classics: tripe, boiled beef, and even carbonara, slathered on bread and eaten on the go.

A typical Roman breakfast consists of a previously frozen pastry (cornetto) and a slightly burnt coffee. But even after six years in Italy, I can’t shake my American affinity for the occasional large and meat-heavy breakfast.

Moving slowly towards the market stalls, Sergio spots me and begins to uncover his Saturday offerings.

“Trippa?” he asks hopefully.

I stare at the tomato-stewed intestines, but as the immovable heat of summer simmers over the market, tripe feels like a bit of a stretch at 9 am.

We negotiate the appropriate morning meat choice and settle jointly on ITALsalsicciaITAL, sausage.

Con broccoletti,” Sergio insists, as he ladles out some au jus to soften the bread and spreads a layer of mashed Romanesco broccoli across the bun.

The plastic wrapped sandwich is consumed immediately, standing and dripping on the market floor. It is a fortifying meal, and enough to keep me fueled for a day of dodging motorini and remembering exactly why I made the move to Rome in the first place.

For Breakfast, Most of the Time, We Are Screwed

Aug.01.16

For Breakfast, Most of the Time, We Are Screwed

by Kiki Aranita

Kalua Pig in Philly

Lunch, I have covered.

I make myself mini portions of the plate lunches we serve on our Hawaiian-ish food truck, Poi Dog Philly, but only after the rush. A scoop of rice, an extra-big scoops of mac salad, some cabbage we pickled in rice vinegar, two days ago, a little pinch of kalua pig that tastes like home (and sometimes makes me cry). All piled onto a little paper boat that Chris douses with his homemade chili pepper water.

If a spam musubi gets squished, I’ll eat that. We barter food with other vendors, but not until the end of service. It’s inconsiderate and bad food-trucker manners to initiate trades prior to noon, during the lunch rush or whenever there’s a line of customers.

For breakfast, most of the time, we are screwed. Running out the door early in the morning, maybe there’s time for a protein shake. Summer months are physically lean months for us. It’s too hot to eat. I’m too tired to eat. I’m too busy to eat. My hair smells too much like a deep fryer for me to eat. I’m too fed up by being around food all day to eat.

Though Philly has a rapidly burgeoning food scene, the small stretch of Center City that plays host to food trucks like Poi Dog is pretty desolate. We vend regularly during the week at LOVE Park, which is within reasonable scampering distance of a 7-11 and a Dunkin’ Donuts.

I field a lot of questions from first timers. What’s furry cake (furikake)? What do these words mean? What does everything mean? What is a Poi Dog? Can I get one? Do you sell hot sausage? (Or cigarettes, gyros, chicken cheesesteaks, beer, French fries, rolling papers). Responding to questions is more exhausting than lifting things, scrubbing dishes, standing in the heat and wielding tongs for hours on end. I need to eat breakfast or I’ll fall over.

Chris goes to Dunkin’ Donuts soon after we set up (he walks faster than I do) and picks me up a small coffee, milk and one sugar, a little paper sleeve of hash browns that I eat with the pickled red cabbage and togarashi-yuzu mayo we serve on our Mochi Nori Fried Chicken (I hate ketchup). He also brings me a chocolate-glazed sprinkle donut.

This cheered-up, dressed-up (but still a little bit sad) breakfast keeps me alert and keeps me nice. So come by the cart, chat with me, ask me what everything means, and I will make you a plate lunch.

The Case for Deep-Frying All Breakfast Foods

Jul.29.16

The Case for Deep-Frying All Breakfast Foods

by Evangeline Neve

Malpuwas in Nepal

“There’s this breakfast place in Patan. It has no name. A local place. Do you want to go tomorrow morning?”

I’m not an early riser. But a local eatery with no name? Those are my favorite places of all. They are hard to find because they seem so ubiquitous to locals that most people don’t even think to tell you they exist. Prajjwal lives in the area and guides me and Sajana. We follow him down alleys, then into a tiny square courtyard. No sign, a few plastic chairs outside. It doesn’t look like much.

Inside the dim interior are huge woks filled with oil, from which emerge the items that are the main breakfast draw here. As a table empties we claim it.

On the old plastic table, among the names that have been scratched on it, is the phrase Fuck Earthquake. It’s not yet a year, after all, since the devastation of April 25th.

The food arrives in threes. Three small, steel bowls with a soupy curry of some sort. A plate with three alu chops on it, and three malpuwas, both of which are the reason for this place’s fame. It’s what everyone is eating. This is not beautiful food, but oh, how good. The alu chop—thick slices of boiled potato covered in a spiced batter and fried—is good, but the pea curry is outstanding: rich, tangy and spicy. I inhale my serving and want more. The malpuwa, however, is a revelation. I’m not generally a fan of Nepali sweets—most are too sugary for my liking. However, I’ve never had one like this before, hot and fresh. It’s something between a donut and a pancake: light, crunchy, and delicious. Tea arrives and we have another malpuwa because they’re just so damn good. I can tell that Prajjwal is pleased that Sajana and I like them.

The eating part is over quickly. This is not fancy food to linger over, and besides, someone else could probably use the seats. Tables of students are making way for laborers and young women dressed for the office. Before we leave I ask owner Ramesh Rajkarnikar how long they’ve been open. “Since my grandfather’s time,” he says, which conveys more than a date could about the history of the place. He confirms it has no name, they don’t need it.

Outside, Prajjwal points out a smear, a spray-painted red symbol by the door. “It got a red tag,” he says. “That means it should be demolished and rebuilt because of earthquake damage.” We look around, then at each other again. It looks solid enough, but what do we know? What is obvious is that no one cares and that most likely, this place will remain exactly as is.

We wander back to our scooters, dodging passersby, happy and satisfied.

Introducing Your New Summer Hangover Game Plan

Jul.28.16

Introducing Your New Summer Hangover Game Plan

by Valerio Farris

Helados York in Valparaiso

The late afternoon sun beamed through the open window and onto my face. I pried my eyes open and reached for my phone to check the time: 3:30 in the afternoon. I looked at the faces of the other sleeping bodies around me. Some were familiar, others not so much.

The room was a pseudo-hotel for transitory visitors, kids making their way through Valparaiso, Chile, the gritty port town an hour outside of Santiago. They were all here for the weekend in search of late nights, good music, and endless carretes—parties. A Chilean friend of mine had offered me refuge in this tiny bedroom apartment with him and his friends. I wove my way across a floor strewn with bodies, comatose and recovering from the piscolas they had enjoyed, ad infinitum, the night before, and walked out into the labyrinthine chaos of the city. A mural of a grandma seemed to cluck her tongue at me as I walked past, chiding me for the debauchery I had taken part in the night before.

Summer in Valpo, as the locals call it, is warm and crowded. Tourists ascend and crowd the cerros, the hills upon which the colorful city teeters, in search of snapshot worthy street art. Main plazas fill with itinerant merchants, accompanied by heavy backpacks, handmade jewelry, and small paintings. And the students who usually fill the city’s universities wait out the heat indoors, preparing for the night to meet up with friends and start the festivities.

I check my pockets and feel the cold bite of three Chilean peso coins against my fingers. I spy a woman rolling a cooler across the Plaza Anibal Pinto as a bead of sweat drips down my sticky spine. Ice cream for breakfast it is then.

I flag her down and show her my meager funds. She, without hesitation, recommends a York Popsicle. She points to one of the hills that dot the crest upon which Valpo is built and explains that these popsicles are made every morning in a factory right up there. I grab a coconut and a mango and thank her before she continues on her way, shouting, “Helado fresco, Helados York en todos sabores…

I break open the plastic and grab the wooden popsicle stick. The cold, milky coconut chills my tongue and soothes my pounding headache. I brace myself for the twenty-minute uphill walk back to the room full of sleeping twenty-somethings. The stark white of the coconut milk is a welcome contrast to the corrugated metal walls of porteño houses, painted in pastel blues and deep oranges. As I reach the end of the popsicle and feel the rough scratch of the wood against my tongue, I realize I have no idea how to get back to my friend’s house. I sit down on a curb to stare at a large-scale, black-and-white mural of a backpacker only to realize that the mango popsicle is nothing but juice in the front pocket of my jeans.

The Place to Go When You Want to Eat in a Grandma’s Bathroom

Jul.27.16

The Place to Go When You Want to Eat in a Grandma’s Bathroom

by Ollie Peart

Scones at Edith’s House

London’s a busy place; a staggering 8.5 million people crammed into slightly more than 600 square miles.

Sometimes, when things are getting a little too hectic, I need to escape the cosmopolitan, iPhone-swiping hoards of urban zombies for a more relaxed place. When I need that hit of warming nostalgia when embroiled in the colossal bullshit of London, I head to Edith’s House.

Based in Crouch End in the north London borough of Haringey, Edith’s House is a café disguised as a grandmother’s house for the masses. As we sat down, I couldn’t help but feel I was in someone’s house. We walked passed a retro-fitted kitchen and into a dining room complete with family photos of bygone times.

It’s the kind of place where you can’t simply sit down, order, and eat. You have to get up and have a look around. It’s like a museum full of knick-knacks that will uncover some dusty old memory from the back of your mind, like those pink and blue curlers your Nana used to use or that familiar bit of embroidered “art” that never moved from the front hall.

One of the more quirky tables is designed to look like a bathroom. Never before has the idea of eating in an environment where people usually take a dump been more appealing. The aroma wasn’t intestinal leftovers, but potpourri and whatever the color pink smells like. It was lovely.

It’s testament to the effort and work that has gone into making this place so aesthetically perfect that I am only just getting to the food, which is as warming and wonderfully charming as the place itself. The scones are a must. I had a pea and mint one with cream cheese and smoked salmon, all served up on suitably grandma-esque crockery. Also, give the avocado on toast with poached eggs a go.

The food here is great, and so is the coffee. But you don’t come here for that. Edith is London’s grandma. When your own grandma is just a bit too far away for a last minute visit, Edith does the job just fine.

Photo: Courtesy of Edith’s House

Everything You Need to Know About Breakfast Before the 2016 Olympics

Jul.26.16

Everything You Need to Know About Breakfast Before the 2016 Olympics

by Donna Bowater

Tapioca Caboquinho in Manaus

Breakfast was included at my hotel in Manaus in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, but it didn’t matter. I knew where I’d be starting my day come Sunday morning.

I was there to follow the Olympic torch relay as it reached the rainforest city on its way to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games.

And with temperatures pushing 90 degrees Fahrenheit, I knew it was going to be a long, sweaty day of criss-crossing Manaus in the heavy Amazonian heat with torchbearers running past the city’s landmarks.

So while the streets were still calm and cool, I headed out to the Eduardo Ribeiro Sunday market for breakfast. At 7am, the market was still setting up. Traders wheeled their wares down the roads while others unloaded. The weekly fair takes places in the shadows of one of the most famous attractions in Manaus, the opulent Teatro Amazonas, or Manaus Opera House.

Behind its salmon-pink walls, market stalls snake down the streets for several blocks, selling handmade soaps scented with Amazonian fruits and arts and crafts, mainly to tourists.

But for me, one of the best draws of the region is its food, and in particular its “café regional,” or local breakfast.

Several canteen-style stalls pitch up at the start of the market and invite you to take a coffee, a juice, and a tapioca with them. While tapioca—the flour made from manioc root—is readily available all over Brazil and normally served in the form of a crepe, the fillings in the Amazon make it distinctive.

A tapioca caboquinho comes with grilled cheese, grilled banana, and shavings of tucumã, the fruit of a native palm that is full of vitamin C. The ingredients are thrown together on a hot plate and put inside the powdery white tapioca pancake.

The combination of a buttery tapioca crepe, salty cheese, sweet banana, and the squash-like crunch of slightly bitter tucumã ticks all the boxes for me and is equally as good on a sandwich, or the famous X-Caboquinho. I paired it with a typically sweet, milky coffee and an Amazonian juice. I chose tangy, orange taperebá, which is also known as cajá and is brilliantly refreshing, but just as good is cupuaçu, another local fruit that is both creamy and sharp at the same time.

Café regional might be best taken at one of the many restaurants on the outskirts at the city, where the tapiocas are huge and come with Brazil nuts, and there’s also the Amazonian superfruit açaí, manioc cake, and pamonha, a kind of steamed corn dumpling.

But sitting at a plastic table with a wipedown cover as the city warmed up and the market started to bustle was good enough for me. The first time was a luxury but now, this breakfast is a comforting reminder of the gems to be found in the Amazon.

Visiting a Place of Death That Teems With Life

Jul.25.16

Visiting a Place of Death That Teems With Life

by Brady Ng

Sweets in Kōya-san

Starting in Osaka, the train shoots south, crosses rice paddies, decelerates, and slowly winds through mountains blanketed by cedars and hydrangeas. Hardcore hikers hop off at periodic stops to conquer the countryside for a few hours on a weekend morning. They stride with pride and purpose as the rest of us pull away. A mother leading her son’s Cub Scout troop tells the kids to peek out the window, and mentions something about adventure. Indeed, it is. At the terminus, one of the steepest cable car rides in Japan takes us higher. Reaching Mount Kōya takes time, or effort, or both.

In the early 800s, Kūkai, a monk and the son of a wealthy Japanese family, boarded a boat and sailed west. His goal was to learn a more colorful strain of Buddhism than what was practiced by his peers. Tang Dynasty China possessed the answers he sought, so he traveled there, soaked up local culture, found a master, studied hard, wrote a lot of poetry, honed his calligraphy skills, and then went home.

Kūkai didn’t return to Japan empty-handed. He brought with him scriptures, artifacts, relics, treasures, and most importantly, knowledge. It took a few years for Kūkai’s “new” version of Buddhism to take off, but once it did, he left an imprint on Japanese culture that is still felt today. Kyoto was his headquarters, but his remains are now in Kōya-san, 90 miles away, in the center of a mandala that covers all of Japan.

I pick up a few snacks to fuel my journey: yakimochi, amazake-manjyu, the like. They’re common sweet treats that could be found anywhere in Japan. On the roads that connect 120 temples, cyclists clad in neon tights zip by as pilgrims in white robes and conical straw hats find their own way. A dozen or so motorcycles rumble over, as foreigners on meditation retreats sit unperturbed on tatami mats. Later on, they will be served a lunch of tofu prepared in many ways.

The legends say Kūkai himself greets those who cross the bridge leading to his mausoleum. People stop to bring their hands together and bow before entering the graveyard that surrounds the grand master’s final resting place. Feudal warlords and samurai warriors lie there. A sandstone grave marker broadcasts cries from hell if you listen hard enough. One statue is permanently moist, sweating as it experiences the pain and suffering of humanity. Everything is covered in moss, everything breathes. Birds cry in the mist. This place of death teems with life.

Past the graves, past the trees, past the contemplation lies Kūkai’s mausoleum. Devotees plant lit incense, say a prayer, then use their palms to push the smoke onto their scalps, their arms, their skin until it clings. Ten thousand lanterns are kept eternally lit.

If Japan’s urban experience has been engineered to perfection, then places like Kōya must have been sculpted by something else, something supernatural, guiding the hands of Kūkai and his successors. Even the faithless lose themselves in rolling hills and whispered prayers as they search for mystery in hushes of cedar groves and the pale blue glow of hydrangeas.

Dispelling Misconceptions, One Meal at a Time

Jul.22.16

Dispelling Misconceptions, One Meal at a Time

by Ilan Ben Zion

Stuffed Cabbage in Jaffa

The muezzin’s plaintive cry had barely sounded before the family pounced on the food. Since their arrival in the hour before sunset, the aromas of Myassar Abu Shehata Seri’s outdoor kitchen tormented the weary fasters. Although I had eaten before making my way to Jaffa, I, too, was famished from watching her cook.

It was one of the last few days of Ramadan and Seri had invited me to join her family for iftar, the break-fast meal at sundown. Like at the Purim feast, Muslims consider hosting guests and family for the meal a mitzvah, and it was my honor and privilege to sample Seri’s exquisite Jaffa food.

Jaffa, which served as the principle seaport in historic Palestine for centuries, has a culinary tradition which differs from that of the hinterland. Arabs of the Galilee concoct dishes rich with greens, such as mallow, tumble thistle, and jute, and laden with beef or lamb. Stuffed vegetables and meat are a staple. Jaffa’s cuisine, on the other hand, features abundant spices and a profusion of seafood.

Seri spearheaded the Arab culinary scene in Jaffa, starting with selling prepared food at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center. She moved on to hosting cooking workshops and recently published a Jaffa cookbook, covering everything from pickles to soup to desserts and garnished with anecdotes and photos of her hometown. “Recipes and tales” is bilingual, catering to both Hebrew and Arabic speakers, and she plans to launch an edition in English and Arabic as well.

Wearing a long blue robe and black headscarf, Seri welcomed me into her home not far from the old city on the Mediterranean. In the sweltering humid heat of late June, she’d moved her kitchen into the courtyard, with a gas cooktop, oven, sinks, and counters in the open air.

Accompanied by one of her seven siblings and her niece, Seri was already cooking by the time I arrived. A platter of green bell peppers stuffed with fragrant spiced rice cooked with ground beef, lamb, chickpeas, and tomato was ready to go in the oven. Brilliant green broad beans were simmering in a tomato sauce and cabbage was boiling, soon to be stuffed with rice. Her mother watched Egyptian soap operas on a flat screen television in the corner while plucking purslane leaves for a salad, her three-year-old great-granddaughter snacking on carrot sticks at her feet.

“I learned to cook from my mother when I was 13,” she said, taking a momentary respite from cooking. Though her specialties are the foods she grew up with, her curiosity has driven her to explore other cuisines. “I cook cholent, kreplach, Iraqi kubbeh, anything,” she said, rattling off a slew of traditional Jewish dishes. Her mission, she said, was to teach Israelis that Arab food “isn’t just hummus and fava beans.”

Ramadan, she explained, was in some ways similar to Shabbat for Jews. “Just like with Jews, for Shabbat they make special food,” she set, checking up on a pot of artichokes and lamb. “That’s how it is with us for Ramadan.” The difference is that it’s every day for a month. For that reason, Arab news outlets always publish articles on how not to gain weight during the holy month.

As the courtyard filled with Seri’s extended family, a massive table was set and the dishes laid out in all their aromatic glory. The family sat down. Minutes of idle chatter filled out the last few minutes of the fast. It was like the final moments before the end of Yom Kippur.

After hours of anticipation, with the sun dipping behind the Mediterranean, the call to prayer rang out from a nearby mosque. Two dozen hands immediately descended upon the platters of roasted chicken with spiced rice, lamb and beans simmered in tomato sauce, and tender bulgur with chickpeas and carrots.

Ismail, Seri’s nephew who studied at the University of California, eyeballed the heap of stuffed cabbage prepared by his grandmother as the whole clan sat down.

“Bro, you can either talk or eat up, but I can’t guarantee there will be anything left,” he said when I tried to make polite conversation.

Taking his lead, I lunged at the stuffed cabbage first. The leaf dissolved in my mouth and the rich rice followed suit. The roasted chicken thigh was juicy and smoky at the same time, the mountain of rice imbued with the holiday warmth of nutmeg and allspice. Although I was already sodden with perspiration from the sultry coastal air, I slurped some of the chicken soup with cracked wheat; it was an elixir to cure all ills, far heartier than American chicken noodle.

For dessert, slices of ice cold watermelon and mixed nuts were just the start. Seri and her sister both prepared traditional holiday shortbread cookies filled with a date paste known alternatively as ka’ak or ma’amoul. To say they’re addictive does them injustice.

On the way back to Jerusalem, I had much to digest. Seri’s meal dispelled my misconception that Ramadan was like Jewish fasts, just a month long. It was more celebratory than mournful, as Judaism’s fasts tend to be, and unlike Tisha B’Av or the Fast of Esther for example, it’s observed by secular and religious alike.

What I was certain of was that I needed more material for my research and that it was another 11 months until Ramadan.

Photo: Jean & Nathalie

How to Survive the Nightmare of Not Being Able to Eat on Vacation

Jul.21.16

How to Survive the Nightmare of Not Being Able to Eat on Vacation

by Claire Margine

Congee in Chiang Mai

The plan for Chiang Mai was puffed donuts fried in open tins, the creamy flesh of a whole fish, plates piled with slippery noodles studded with basil and hot peppers. The plan was markets and stalls, cafes and restaurants.

The plan was scrapped almost immediately after an unexpected day trip to the emergency room. The plan transformed into dry spaghetti nights and bare toast mornings, devoured with the slow chew of the hungry mind and the busted stomach.

My sole souvenir from a month of backpacking was a stomach bug, vicious and leggy, running rampant in my body. In the hospital waiting room my mind flooded with misty flashbacks of tap water on a toothbrush, the haphazardly rinsed skin of a raw pear rubbed on my sunscreen and grime smeared t-shirt. I trekked back to the hotel with a purse full of stomach pills and strict orders from the doctor: “Nothing spicy. Nothing colorful. Nothing interesting. Simple foods—and not much of them.”

I was too weak to leave the hotel, taking each colorless meal in the restaurant. For days I watched a dining room full of people munch the crisp cheeks of fried fish, spear velvety mango and sticky coconut rice with fork tines, slurp sunny yellow khao soi, full of curry and noodles and fat. My husband’s plate was a tapestry of unattainable desires, slathered in curry paste and raw herbs.

It was the opposite of what you want to do in a new place: Stay in bed. Peel the paint off the walls with your endless gaze. Plain toast. Water. Pills. Repeat. In a week I exhausted bread, rice, and noodles. In lurid detail, I pictured microwaved oatmeal quivering in a bowl, dusted with cinnamon, a pinch of salt. I dreamt of a handful of dry cornflakes, consumed in my faraway kitchen, where I could cook plain foods made just how I liked. Pallid and drained, with rumbly guts and a sharpened mind, my appetite began to negotiate. If I went home a few weeks early, I could get better, maybe. I could get full, definitely. I began to look at flights.

Shimmering under a bog of steam, congee arrived one morning to temporarily banish dry toast and depression. Pearlescent and salty, full of texture and heft, it waited in a crockpot at a hotel breakfast buffet. I had never liked congee before, but suddenly it was a beacon of hope, each bite soothing my stomach’s endless twitch, smoothing the wrinkles in my tense heart with its porridge-y tendrils.

Pale geckos slunk across the walls while green-eyed cats with ornately striped fur watched them, hunting. Tuk tuks sputtered and chugged outside, the rosy grey light of early morning flooding the sky. I dipped my spoon again and again. I refilled my bowl. Here was something new enough to chase away the rot of homesickness edging my insides, something solid enough to push me forward. The congee never returned, but I stayed.