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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Sunday Morning at an Empty Fish Market

May.26.16

Sunday Morning at an Empty Fish Market

by Jonathan Lipfriend

Fish stew at the Howrah Fish Market

It’s 20 past 6 in the morning and I am wandering the aisles of an empty fish market, the smell so overpowering that I am breathing solely through my mouth. The few men I meet in the deserted aisles ogle me as they pile boxes of ice or de-scale dead-eyed herring. The Howrah Fish Market is the largest and busiest fresh fish market in the Kolkata area, but apparently not on a Sunday morning.

The almost unbearable aroma slowly becomes the norm as I wander around aimlessly. The rationale had been to arrive as early as possible in the hope of seeing the market at its most majestic. While looking around at the empty stalls I manage to step in a puddle, and immediately recoil as I feel the ice-cold fish remains lap against my flip flopped foot.

I turn a corner and almost crash into a smiling, middle-aged man who, somewhat unexpectedly, grabs me by the hand and leads me through the maze of piled boxes. Awhad takes me to his shop and proudly presents me, like a trophy, to his younger brother Subodh.

Our conversation is little more than sign language but it’s peaceful watching them go about their morning chores. Awhad descales, chops, and slices a fish I don’t recognize. The smell of ginger, garlic, and chilli rises up to replace the fish as Subodh smashes spices into a paste. Feeling a little intrusive, I get up to say goodbye and leave them to their breakfast but they make themselves very clear: I can’t leave until I’ve tasted their stew. I follow Subodh up the rickety ladder leading to their home. For some reason their humble quarters, somewhere between a tree-house and a ship’s cabin, make me feel instantly at home. Awhad follows us up, nonchalantly balancing the pot of stew on a towel on his head.

As the stew is served a bottle of spirits materializes from beneath a shirt. Big grins all round. The stew is spicy, fragrant and unbelievably fresh, the miracle cure to the diabolical taste of the unknown spirits.

Emerging from the market at 8.30am, unexpectedly inebriated, I found Kolkata had well and truly awoken. I wobbled my way back to the bus station cowering beneath the Howrah Bridge, contemplating whether I had indeed succeeded, or drastically failed, to see the market at its most majestic.

Inhaling the Yeasty Scent of a Dying Art

May.25.16

Inhaling the Yeasty Scent of a Dying Art

by Prathap Nair

Baking bread in Berlin

After weighing a chunk of dough on an ancient scale, Fred Kühnel throws it to me over the kitchen counter of his bakery, dusted with flour. His assistants in checkered long pants and aprons pushed racks of little brötchens in and out of the ovens. The aroma of yeast and baking bread lingers in the kitchen, filling the morning air with the smell of breakfast. “Knead it slowly and shape it, dust it if you need,” he says.

While most of the city is still wriggling under its sheets, I am at a bakery in the Botanischer Garten neighborhood in the south of Berlin, dusting my hands with rye flour over 90s American pop music streaming out of the radio.

Bakeries like Kühnel have almost vanished from the urban landscape in Berlin, where the appreciation for bread is declining and chains are taking over the void left by family bakers who baked for generations. According to Kühnel’s own estimation, there are only approximately around 20 traditional bakers like him left in Berlin. The sourdough starter (sauerteig) at Kühnel’s is over a hundred years old, started when the bakery opened its door to customers in 1895.

As far as breakfasts go, this is as close as I will get to baking bread. My imprecise sense of proportions and heedlessness towards measured steps ensure my failure. Unlike other forms of cooking, bread baking demands a dedication to perfection I sorely lack. My attempts so far have been unsatisfactory at best – brick-like loaves that are heavy and dense without palatable texture.

I knead two chunks, dust them in flour and drop them in the loaf pans lined up for baking. Despite the presence of five other bakeries, most of them chains, in the vicinity, Kühnel’s customer base isn’t collapsing. On Sundays there is usually a queue outside the bakery. “People buy bread from different places these days. They like one particular bread from our bakery and other from another one. It stabilizes the business, not take it away from me,” he says.

Baking is hard, physical labor and interest among the younger generation is diminishing. Kühnel starts at 1.00 in the morning and baking in the kitchen goes on till 10.30 a.m. His bakery produces 15 different types of bread and 25 varieties of brötchen and they are periodically shifted to the display case in his bakery to be sold fresh every day. Left over bread from the previous day is shredded and added to the flour, adding another level of complexity to the bread’s taste.

As soon as my bread is ready, Künhel slips it into a special paper bag lined with butter paper supplied to maintain the freshness of the bread. The bread needs cooling down before it can be sliced. I take the train back, clutching my loaf in my hand, inhaling the ripeness of the yeasty bread and its mocha brown outer crust.

At home, I make coffee and slice the bread before serving myself two slices with a tiny portion of butter. Despite my poor kneading skills, the bread turned out to be more or less shapely, albeit with a broken crust that looks like parched earth. The hundred-year-old sourdough has done its job; each slice sunk into my teeth and each bite revealed the complex taste German bread is so famous for. A fleeting taste of a dying art being kept alive by passionate bakers like Kühnel.

Straying from the Path to Freedom for a Little Piece of Paradise

May.24.16

Straying from the Path to Freedom for a Little Piece of Paradise

by Olga Kovalenko

Tea and sweets in an Indian ashram

Rishikesh, in the North of India is known as the world capital of yoga. It was along my travel route and seemed like the right place to try a bit of the ashram life. I leafed through my guidebook and chose a respectable and affordable institution located on a hill on the outskirts of Rishikesh, in the middle of a forest filled with frolicking monkeys and chirping birds.

As I was climbing toward it, I imagined all kinds of wonders: yogi who breathe fire, starve to death, sleep in caves, and chase nirvana 24/7. When I entered the gates, my jaw dropped: instead of a cave, I saw something similar to a mellow hotel with a curfew and no Internet.

There were little houses scattered among lawns and clumps of trees. Every student was allocated one such house: a tidy, cool, small space supplied with all the basics. Yoga and meditation were practiced two times a day. We were provided with breakfast (after a 5:30am wake-up call and yoga session), lunch, 5 o’clock tea, and a snack. We had access to a library stacked with English-language books on spirituality and some British classics. In our free time we could sprawl on a lawn and chat, read or nap.

At the time when I arrived, there were around 15 people living in the ashram, some of them already weeks into this scheduled life of meditation. They looked satisfied.

The food in the ashram was vegan, but surprisingly tasty. There was even tea with milk and spices. The only thing that lacked was Indian sweets, a favorite of mine. I couldn’t imagine my breakfast without tea accompanied by a piece of something sugary and delicious, like my favorite burfi. I spent the meditation hours dreaming about those little milky slabs with cashews and pistachios spiced with cardamom or coconut. A diligent yogi would call this sweet-less situation a perfect set up for conquering the desires of the body. But I wasn’t a diligent yogi and I called it hell.

I was suffering quietly for a few days and almost resigned to a life without burfi, when I met A., an Indian girl from Delhi and my new neighbor. She knocked on my door one day and asked if I wanted to listen to music. Music was prohibited in the ashram, but nobody paid attention as long as it was kept indoors and at a low volume. And so we listened to music and talked, among other things, about food.

“Why don’t we go to the downtown?” asked A. “If we have any important things to do, we are allowed to go out for a few hours, right after breakfast.” Burfi sounded important enough to me, but the gatekeeper didn’t need to know about it.

Going out of a quiet ashram was like jumping into a roaring sea. We made our way through a crowd of shouting rickshaw drivers, vendors peddling their merchandise, beggars asking for alms toward a pastry shop. After a long and thorough examination of its showcase, we got a bag of almond and mango burfi and a few pieces of pistachio ones. Using our time-out to the fullest, we went to check our e-mails and spent the rest of our free time in the Internet café, drinking tea, munching on the burfi and reading the news stream. A diligent yogi would call it straying from the path to freedom. But I called it a perfect breakfast and a little piece of paradise.

Grading Shakespeare Papers in a Pancake House

May.23.16

Grading Shakespeare Papers in a Pancake House

by Susan Harlan

Flapjacks in Maggie Valley, North Carolina

“So what have you got there?” my waitress asks, turning over the coffee mug on my table.

“Papers to grade,” I say.

“Hmm. Coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

It’s the end of the academic year, and a stack of Shakespeare papers divides me from the summer. They must be graded, and I have come to Joey’s Pancake House to accomplish this. The small mountain town of Maggie Valley isn’t far from Asheville, but it’s a different kind of place. The town’s visitors are mostly bikers (of the motorcycle variety). Dinner isn’t farm-to-table; it’s bloody prime rib and potato. Breakfast is pancakes.

A pancake house is a perfect place to work, particularly on a rainy May day. The constant movement of people, the clanging of dishes, the bright lights, the endless coffee. I spend a lot of time in libraries, and they can be too silent. If you shift in your chair or rummage around for a pen, you disturb the universe. But this isn’t the case in a pancake house, a place so comfortable that its name assures you that you’re home. It’s a house, but with pancakes.

Joey’s opened in 1966 and replaced its sign just before its 50th anniversary. The old sign proclaimed JOEY’S PANCAKE HOUSE on a slightly yellowed and weathered background. Below, “& Restaurant” was rendered in cursive, as an afterthought. First, Joey’s is a pancake house, and then it is a restaurant. The new sign is similar, but it depicts a stack of syrupy pancakes and notes, “Since 1966.” The old sign was the past; the new sign looks back on the past.

The dining room feels timeless, or perhaps just out of time, with its wagon wheel chandeliers, wood paneling, green gingham window valances, and green padded booths. In an adjacent waiting room, people read over posters for spring festivals and visiting preachers.

My table is set with everything I could need: a caddy of Smucker’s Concord Grape and Strawberry Jelly packets, salt and pepper, sugar, syrup (two bottles), and a small dish of disposable white plastic creamers. The menu is printed on a paper placemat. Pancake house menus are plenitude embodied: eggs and omelets, French toast, waffles, breakfast meats, and starches – grits, hash browns, toast, and biscuits. Plain pancakes or pancakes with strawberries, blueberries, pecans, bananas, chocolate chips, or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Seemingly endless options.

Joey’s pancakes are pancakes of the South. There are pancake houses all over the country, but I didn’t have much experience with them until I moved to North Carolina, so to me, they are the South. My father made buckwheat pancakes when I was growing up, but these were healthy, California pancakes. They weren’t topped with a scoop of whipped butter.

My breakfast arrives on heavy, unbreakable diner dishes, cross-hatched by countless knives and forks: pancakes, two eggs over-medium, and a slab of ham. I set one of the eggs on top of the pancakes and puncture the yoke with my fork. And I read through my stack of papers, endeavoring to write legible comments and then placing each finished paper on another stack. When I accidentally spill coffee on one, I write an arrow next to the brown splotch and scribble, Oops sorry coffee. The stack of finished papers grows.

Customers pay at the cash register at Joey’s. I buy a mug, too – something to take home. When I walk back to my table to leave a tip, I see that it has already been cleared and reset, with new, spotless paper placemat menus. A paper placemat menu is only yours: you drip egg yolk and syrup on it, and then it is thrown away.

I survey the parking lot, trying to remember where my car is before I run out into the rain. Down the street, a large plastic bear stands guard in front of a souvenir shop, reared up on his hind legs, his mouth open and his paws outstretched. I pass him as I drive out of town, and it feels a little like driving into summer.

Feeling Like Yourself Again

May.20.16

Feeling Like Yourself Again

by Clementine Wallop

Lassi for the Pregnant in Jodhpur

It’s a late, late breakfast. The reason isn’t a long and lazy supper or too many cocktails on a roof the previous night. The reason is that I’m carrying a baby who is making me wretchedly, reliably sick several times a day and leaving me depleted, nauseous and not at all hungry.

Avoid spicy and fried foods, my pregnancy app says. Like some bad joke, it tells me this just as we’re landing in India. At mealtimes my husband is in clover, scarfing down curry after kebab and dosa after samosa. I am usually the first to the table, the queen of restaurant research, the last person to shy away from a new taste or a snack story to tell, but here I am off my game. Little makes me feel unlike myself like not wanting food. I shun intricately spiced dishes, gag at the thought of meat, manage a few weak spoonfuls of rice between periods spent on the bathroom floor, my head on the cold tiles. The woman who ate scorpions and drank fermented horse milk seems a long way away.

But here we are in Jodhpur and word is there’s a lassi we must try. I picture it and don’t immediately feel sick so we’re good to go. We hammer along in a sky blue tuk tuk that matches the city buildings, push and honk our way through hypercolor crowds out buying powders and water pistols for Holi. I focus hard on not being sick, though there’s no horizon to look towards for steadiness in the chaos of Jodhpur’s streets. By the clock tower there’s the lassi stop with open sides and a counter where a man with a fine mustache is ladling out plastic beakers of pale yellow whipped yoghurt. We find some space in the corner of the restaurant; we are dull in a room of ruby and rose saris. I spoon some lassi up tentatively. It’s spiced: black dots of cardamom, a taste of flowers, a smack of saffron. Next to me people are using oily fingers to pull apart snacks of curling green chillies that have been dough-dunked and deep fried. It would be appealing usually but today my limit is the lassi. I keep spooning. It’s sweet sweet sweet, cutting through the metallic taste in my mouth and the disappointment of my recent diet. I continue, I scrape the cup out. I feel soothed and settled.

A waiter comes, swinging a metal cup holder stuffed with twelve more lassis he’s passing around the busy room. He looks at me, waves the holder, makes a questioning face: ‘you want another?’

For the first time in some time, I consider it.

When Breakfast Has Eight Legs

May.18.16

When Breakfast Has Eight Legs

by Brady Ng

Eating tarantulas in Phumi Khna

Beads of sweat roll down the man’s lean torso, their paths interrupted by a scar decades old. Jam Wai used to hunt the Khmer Rouge, but these days he lives a quiet life in a bamboo hut along Cambodia’s Route 67. In the past few years, he even picked up a new trade. His prey now has eight legs, or six. They are tarantulas and scorpions, and he sells them to restaurants and streetside vendors who serve them as food.

Jam Wai’s gear is minimal: a trowel attached to a wooden pole, its edge sharpened; a bamboo cage, carried by his son, who joins him on hunts; a twig, snapped off from any nearby tree; his bare hands.

The May heat scorches the fallow rice fields, and the rains are late. Tarantulas and scorpions burrow beneath loose dirt to escape the heat until dusk falls. Jam Wai sends his children ahead to scout for nests. It doesn’t take long before our trek brings us to the first few.
He examines a mound, determines that there is, in fact, something below. He raises his trowel-staff, aiming the sharp edge at his concealed prey. He has a couple feet of dirt to get through. A few hard strokes remove earth, then he slows down to dig with precision. Going too deep too quickly would only damage the prize.

He kneels to continue digging with his bare hands. The tarantula, sensing an opening to escape this new threat, makes a run for it, but Jam Wai already has it pinned down with the twig.
He picks it up, grabs his trowel, and presses the tarantula’s head against the bladed end. A slow, hard press shaves off the arachnid’s fangs, which Jam Wai tosses into the brush. Its only means of defense removed, the tarantula cowers in Jam Wai’s palm. Venom pools in his weathered flesh. There’s enough to kill two or three people. The spider shrinks. It’s in pain and fear.
Some say Cambodians eat insects because the Khmer Rouge devastated the country in the mid-1970s, causing widespread famine, and foraging insects for food was the only way to survive. But the fact is that various insects—crickets, silkworms, water bugs, scorpions, tarantulas, and more—have been part of Khmer cuisine for generations. Red ants almost taste like cumin, and are used to flavor beef. Black beetles and locusts are fried and served with garlic. Termite eggs are cooked into salty, sour soup.

Normally, a day of hunting, with help, can yield over 100 spiders and scorpions. But Jam Wai is aware of the dangers of over-hunting. From December to February, he takes a break to let the bugs regrow their population. During that period, he works on a dragonfruit farm to supplement his income.

We continue the trek, and Jam Wai gathers a few more tarantulas, called a-ping in Khmer, as well as a handful of scorpions, their stingers sliced off in the same manner. When we return to his hut, the bugs are dunked into a basin of well water and cleaned. Then they are seasoned and lowered into a pool of cooking oil heated over coals. Sliced garlic sends pleasant smells through the woods nearby.

Jam Wai enjoys the trade. One of his clients is Bugs Cafe, a hip restaurant in Siem Reap that combines the traditional use of insects in Khmer cooking with French and other recipes. The restaurant’s chef, Seiha Soeun, accompanies us, and explains how he himself was a little apprehensive about cooking bugs at first. But once he tried a few dishes—bug burgers, tarantula tempura, stir-fried silkworms—he became hooked.

Breakfast is served. Scorpions are bitter but tarantulas are fleshy and kind of taste like chicken. They’re all great. I stick a few more in my mouth, tossing aside only the pincers.

She Despised the Flavor of Short Cuts

May.16.16

She Despised the Flavor of Short Cuts

by Kim Green

Handmade Bánh canh in Cambodia

As my second trip to Cambodia approached, I craved noodles for breakfast. I’d gone there the first time to interview Chantha, a successful social entrepreneur and 50-something survivor of the wars and revolutions that cut short the carefree part of her childhood before she was ten years old. We were planning to co-write her memoir. But in interviews, the stories came with difficulty, and through many tears.

Sharing meals loosened her memories, especially during our early-morning soup stops on roadtrips together. I came to love those pit stops. We slurped fat noodles and sweet iced coffee while memories of breakfasts with her parents in Battambang in the 1960s percolated to the surface—same damn dish every day, she grinned. “I didn’t like the Chinese noodle soup,” she said, “but I was a child. I had no choice.” Now, that same damn soup conjures school mornings with her mom.

By age 24, Chantha’s entire family was gone. Alone in communist Saigon, she eked by on rations, then spent the next decade in Thai refugee camps, boiling skeletal chickens over jury-rigged kerosene burners. What sustained her through the years of narrowed hope and meager fare was the memory of sumptuous dishes her mother taught her to prepare. She returned to ruined Cambodia and scraped out a new life with her young family—in part, by reviving her mom’s recipes.

On my second visit, I figured, more research was needed—often (I hoped) in the form of noodles. I stayed at Chantha’s house this time, and her history unfurled in the steam and aromas of resurrected recipes. My favorite: bánh canh, a thick Vietnamese soup with noodles made from rice flour.

Late one morning, as dust and moto noise streams into her kitchen from a busy Phnom Penh street, she teaches me to make the dough. “You need strong hands,” she says, adding hot water to the squeaky flour and letting me mash it with my fingers.

The way her mother made it, she explains, was much more labor-intensive. “Now I make it faster, so less special,” says Chantha, as she pats the dough into ovals and instructs me to cut it into thick noodles with scissors. “My mother would never—“ she adds, shaking her head.

We are doing it wrong. Her mother consumed a whole day in this process, rolling each noodle by hand into a perfect cylinder—no scissors allowed. To Chantha’s mom, the best dishes were the ones that required the most effort, and she despised the flavor of short cuts.

Chantha chops up a chicken, sautés it with garlic, and makes a broth, then adds the noodles—which thicken the soup to a glutinous creaminess. We top with fried garlic, chopped scallions, cilantro, black pepper, fire-red chili, and fried dough from a street vendor. In ecstasies, I slurp down one, then another bowlful. Eating takes a fraction of the time spent cooking.

I don’t know many people back home who would consider making fresh noodles, by any method, an easy way out. To me, the soup is splendid; it tastes of Chantha’s careful handiwork and her great affection for the people she feeds.

I write down the recipe in my notes under the heading, “Bánh canh: How (and WHY) to make it”—to remind me, once I get home, that making something as perfect as you can, as an act of love, is generally worth the effort.

The Gloriously Sweet and Spicy Breakfast Pillow

May.13.16

The Gloriously Sweet and Spicy Breakfast Pillow

by Nick Pachelli

After surviving the type of severe turbulence that comes with flying into Albuquerque in the spring, I wobbled through the airport flanked by jars of red and green chile. A clear blue sky engulfed the desert outside, where a patchwork of chamisa bushes and tumbleweeds rustled around the tarmac.

When I visit Albuquerque, I always seek out the same food: enchiladas and burritos “christmas”—smothered in red and green chile—and sopapillas with red chile. I must have eaten thousands of sopapillas between the years of 1991 and 2009, and a couple hundred since then, when I left Albuquerque for California.

The sopapilla is a somewhat plain option, but with a satisfyingly sweet flavor and a bready, pretzel-like texture. The New Mexican version, its wheat flour and masa harina leavened with butter, is a 200-year-old adaption of Spanish fry bread and a chubby, less crunchy cousin to the sopaipa and cachanga of Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. It comes in either a square or triangular shape, and is served with honey, butter, and the occasional side of red or green chile.

There’s a hypnotic quality to watching sopapillas being made. The dough is rolled out into perfect squares, hand-slapped to invigorate the wheat flour and masa harina mix, and placed in the hot oil. It swims around the pool with a low gurgle and expands into small, golden pillows before being transferred to a red wireframe basket.

Everyone in New Mexico eats sopapillas—the kids drench them in honey, the adults stuff them with chile and ground beef. Hot, crunchy carbohydrates covered in stuff both sweet and savory: there’s no way not to love them. (In gluttonous fashion, they’re made in a seven-pound variety for eating challenges across the city.)

I opt for my “sopa and red” at El Camino Dining Room, the 1940s-themed diner with whitewashed adobe walls and a red chile recipe that hasn’t changed since the place opened in 1950. It’s one of the few eateries in the city that retains its neon Route 66 theme. With the local mailman, farmer, and clay potter taking their morning java at the counter and chatting with the owners about the past week, the place retains its status as a local treasure.

While I waited, I scanned the menu and gazed outside at the motor motel across the street with the vintage 1960s sign that reads, “Vacancy… Color TV.” The smell of simmering red chile with its oniony undercurrent pulsed through my section. A few minutes later, my sopa and red landed on the table.

The result was wonderfully nostalgic and spicier than I remembered. The red chile came in a small bowl and the sopapillas landed on the table in a cloud of steam—crispy and flaky on top and tender at the seam. I tore a corner off one and dipped the open edge into the red chile, swirling it around and catching the scent of garlic steaming off the soggy dough. There could be no better breakfast bite on a windy Albuquerque morning.

To Remain Loyal, Embrace Change

May.12.16

To Remain Loyal, Embrace Change

by Shraddha Uchil

Sheera in Mumbai

It’s early in the morning, way too early for me to be up. But here I am, walking down the street, in desperate need of breakfast. On my right is a temple where the morning pooja is in full swing, the sounds of a hundred cymbals clanging away in harmony. Outside the temple, hawkers urge me to buy garlands of flowers for the idol. I politely decline and walk faster, eager to get to my destination before the whole neighborhood descends on it.

I’m headed to Ram Ashraya, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Udupi restaurant in a Mumbai suburb called Matunga, which has long been home to a large community of South Indians, thus earning itself the name “mini Madras.” When you’re in Matunga, you’re transported away from the hurried, brash Mumbai, and into a world that could very well be author RK Narayan’s fictional South Indian town of Malgudi, albeit with a dash of cosmopolitan flavor.

For over 70 years, Ram Ashraya’s kitchen has been churning out crisp, buttery dosas and fluffy idlis doused in sambhar for its loyal patrons.

I remember the first time I visited Ram Ashraya. It was four years ago, when I was a newbie in this big bad city called Mumbai, and when eating out on weekends still meant frequenting inexpensive joints that wouldn’t burn a hole in my pocket. The fragrance of strong filter coffee hung in the air, enticing all those walking past. It clearly worked, because standing with me was a swarm of people determined to get a table inside. I persevered, and a half hour later I was seated. Thus began a love affair with a breakfast treat.

I don’t visit as often as I used to, but when I do, even the hour-long wait on weekends can’t deter me.

This time, I’m in luck: the restaurant isn’t as crowded as usual, so I pull up a chair at a tiny two-seater table. Ram Ashraya is a no-frills eatery. You enter, eat, pay, leave. They don’t have the time to brandish fancy menus or give you more attention than necessary. Instead, the waiter rattles off the names of dishes available on that day, the name of each dish merging with the next, giving you something that sounds like “IdliSambharMysoreMasalaDosaMysoreSadaMeduVada.”

If you’re familiar with the routine, you understand Waiterspeak. And if you’re anything like me, you don’t much care for it. You already know what you’re here for: the sheera.

This breakfast offering is also referred to as kesari bhath (saffron rice) in northern Karnataka, which is where Ram Ashraya’s version was perfected. The dish is essentially sweetened, ghee-laden semolina studded with raisins and cashew nuts. But the cooks at Ram Ashraya take this Udupi menu staple to another level. Walk in before 10 am, and you’ll be served the former kind. However, arrive when the clock strikes 10: 01 am and you’re introduced to a whole new world of flavored sheera, from the not-too-uncommon pineapple to the outlandish mango, strawberry, and butterscotch. What’s even more surprising, however, is the ease with which the people residing in the locality have adapted to, nay, embraced this innovation, including the orthodox South Indians who would rather give up their Carnatic music than veer from tradition.

With this thought in my mind, I devour the contents of the two plates before me, one a banana sheera and the other, guava, the flavors of the day. As I’m walking out, I realize why everyone keeps coming back: because change, after all, is the only constant.

Rainy Day Sandwiches No. 12 & 35

May.11.16

Rainy Day Sandwiches No. 12 & 35

by Tom Taylor

Soy Milk in Taiwan

When my plane touched down in Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport, the rain was coming down steadily. The wet tarmac glistened in the the airport’s panoply of lights, while an army of poncho-wearing ground staff guided our plane to its gate. Because I was arriving from the relentless hell-heat of southern Vietnam, this was all a welcome sight. After several weeks spent coated in a perma-glaze of sweat, the notion of a cool, rainy night was undeniably appealing.

By the time my third night in Taiwan had rolled around, however, the rain hadn’t let up. This soggy trend continued into my fourth night, by which time I’d arrived in the country’s center city, Taichung. By this point, I was beginning to miss the ceaseless sunshine of Vietnam.

For a traveler, though, the show must go on—even in the rain—for every day spent inside is a day deprived of new experiences. And so, on my first morning in the waterlogged city of Taichung, I put on a sweater, some ratty jeans, and a pair of Converse—the closest thing to rain gear I had in my bag—and set out in search of breakfast. Because a good friend of mine was an English teacher in the city, this first meal of the day was thankfully not a difficult thing to find.

I rendezvoused with my friend at a restaurant called Lai Lai, on the corner of Xitun and Wenxin Roads, which he told me was one of his favorite breakfast spots. Given that the line to the restaurant’s counter spilled out onto the rain-soaked sidewalk, it was clearly a favorite among locals, too.

While we waited in line, I scanned the menu board above the counter, trying, without success, to make some sense of an indistinguishable clutter of Chinese characters. As it turns out, however, these efforts were pointless, as my friend had already decided what we’d be eating. Relying on the impressive amount of Mandarin he’d picked up in the eight months he’d lived in Taichung, he placed our order with the cook, who flipped omelets and fried eggs on a steaming grill. A minute or two later, we paid up and were handed our trays.

I still wasn’t sure what I’d be eating.

The answer, as it turns out, was a Taiwanese egg sandwich, accompanied by a tall glass of frothy soy milk. The sandwich was wonderfully simple: a small omelet, seasoned with snippets of green onion and black pepper, and wrapped in a flaky, sesame-seed-sprinkled Chinese flatbread called shaobing. Each sandwich came in a small, transparent plastic bag, which I instinctively tried to remove. My friend, however, stopped me to recommend that I eat the sandwich from the bag to help mitigate the inevitable flaky mess. So, heeding his advice, I dug in, pulling the bag back with each warm, crunchy bite and washing each bite down with a sip of sweet soy milk.

Outside, the rain continued to come down in sheets, as waves of umbrella-toting locals shuffled off on their morning errands. As the steam rose from sandwich, and the smell of fresh bread and fried eggs filled the air, I thought to myself that there could be no better breakfast on such a soggy morning.

In the Land Where You Can Go Anywhere and the Food Is Good

May.10.16

In the Land Where You Can Go Anywhere and the Food Is Good

by Calvin Godfrey

Nasi Ulam in Penang

I got to the Palau Tikus market at roughly 6:30 am to find that “Madame Khaw” hadn’t shown up yet. After a curious cup of milk coffee and half an hour of dumb stumbling through crates of vegetables and icey-eyed fish, Khaw’s bicycle-mounted restaurant sailed up onto the market’s northwestern sidewalk.

A small, round woman hopped down onto the pavement and set to work. A tiny brass abacus dangled from round her neck as she leaned forward and to pull plastic off metal bowls overflowing with technicolor curries, stewed snails, and chicken feet, delicately fried and braised until the meat fell off the bone.

Khaw had cooked a whole wedding feast in her apartment and brought it out for breakfast.

Khaw flipped on a small fan jerry-rigged to a motorbike battery, dropped a stool at her side and passed me pieces of lompok pork roll, pickled eggplant, chili-soaked cucumber. The flavors here had an intimacy; the food one only finds at a grandmother’s house.

My heart nearly seized when she filled a plastic container with nasi ulam—heavenly rice tossed with slivered herbs and pungent rhizomes.

One person who’d failed to find her at the market heard that Khaw had emigrated to Canada to live with her daughter.

“Ha, no!” Khaw said. “I was just visiting my sister in Vancouver! She took me on a holiday to Miami. The beach was beautiful, but there’s nothing there. The food … was nothing. No spice.”

Khaw found Disney World equal parts big and boring.

“Four days and nothing to see there. And too hot!”

Khaw, who insisted I call her “Dolly,” couldn’t imagine leaving the island.

“I like Penang,” she said. “Because I can go anywhere and eat and I know it’s going to be good—the taste is going to be right.”

A Perfect Breakfast, Nourishing and Unpretentious

May.09.16

A Perfect Breakfast, Nourishing and Unpretentious

by Jodi Bosin

Eggs in Japan

The schedules of businesses on the island had proved to be unpredictable. A phrase about “island time” comes to mind, though no one here bothered to use an adage to excuse unpunctuality. On Naoshima, an island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, life is so serene it doesn’t even matter.

One of the so-called “art islands,” Naoshima is a surreal place, filled with sculptures, gorgeous museums designed by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, and a series of artist-renovated homes called the Art House Project.

I like long mornings, so I’d set out for a bakery that allegedly opened at 8 am, where I’d planned to spend a few hours before the Art Houses opened. Upon arriving around 8:30 I found it closed, with no activity inside and no indication of when it would be open. It didn’t make sense to walk back to my hostel, so I resigned myself to wandering. I saw a sign for a supermarket and made my way over but it, too, was closed. I began to lose hope for breakfast redemption.

Then I noticed a friendly wooden sign that said “open” in front of a house near the supermarket. I couldn’t see inside, but it seemed promising. I passed through the threshold, took off my shoes, and entered a café that seemed to be inside someone’s living room. The space was bright and filled with wooden tables. On the shelves sat an array of lovely vases, lamps, ceramic bowls, magazines, jars of preserved fruit, and flowers. A family of four sat on cushions at one of the tables, having breakfast. A TV was on in a corner, tuned to a Japanese cooking show in which an old woman was showing a young woman how to make the components of a meal. Attached to the main room was an average looking kitchen, cluttered with knick-knacks, piles of paper, and notes on the refrigerator, endearingly incongruous with the café atmosphere beside it.

I took a seat, and a kind-looking woman with graying hair in a ski vest and slippers came over with a menu. It wasn’t in English, but I gathered that the only choice was the breakfast set so I ordered it, accustomed by now to getting set meals without needing to know what they contained.

Soon after, she brought out a large black tray artfully arranged with coffee, thick buttered toast, a salad with the tasty miso dressing that seemed ubiquitous, yogurt with a kiwi sauce, and an egg with some salt. Like all the eggs that had graced the many bowls of ramen I’d had in Japan, this one was perfectly soft boiled, its yolk a bright, beautiful orange. The meal was simple and nourishing, unpretentious but somehow perfect.

Afterward I lingered awhile, in no hurry and at peace. Normally the sound of a TV would bother me, but I didn’t mind it. The family had left and it was just me in the sunlit space. The owner worked in her kitchen, washing vegetables, talking on the phone, unperturbed by my prolonged presence, a guest in her home. When ten o’clock arrived, I took my leave of the chance encounter and stumbled back out into the sunshine.

A Good Piece of Bread Can Remind You Who You Are

May.06.16

A Good Piece of Bread Can Remind You Who You Are

by Anuradha Sengupta

Pois in Goa

“I am a Barbie girl, in my Barbie world…”

A beat-up music system is belting out the 90s hit. It is early morning. I am at St Rita, a bakery in Aldona, North Goa. Established in 1964, it is the only remaining bakery with a traditional earthen oven in the area. I am here to pick up some fresh-off-the-oven local breads for breakfast. I am here on a holiday, staying with my cousin.

Bread is a staple at most meals here and comes in many shapes and sizes, as evidenced by the preparations at the bakery. The workers move with ballet-like precision. Palm-sized circles of dough are being rolled out and arranged on stone slabs, dusted with wheat bran, placed on wooden trays, stacked on shelves and left to rise. In one room, prepped dough rounds are being placed deftly into the oven with a long-handled wooden paddle. Some of the dough rounds are snipped with scissors, spread into squares, and baked into butterfly-shaped katre paos. Others are rolled into long cylindrical forms and made into circular ring-like shapes; these are the hard-crusted konkons, a teatime favorite. Small rectangle-shaped dough will be made into pao, small loaves which are buttered for breakfast, used to mop up curries, and wrapped around fritters, much like hot dog buns.

In a couple of hours, the breads will be delivered across the neighborhood via bicycles mounted with baskets covered in blue tarp. Meanwhile, I pick up an assortment from the first batch and head home, inhaling the aroma of freshly baked wheat laced with toddy.

Goa is the only state in India where baked bread is a big thing. Mornings in Goa begin with the ritual purchase of the day’s supply of breads from the poder, an adaptation of the Portuguese pãdeiro, or baker. The Portuguese invaders brought bread to Goa. It was their missionaries who trained locals how to bake bread, albeit using local materials, lacing the bread not with yeast, but with local fermented liquor.

I spent a year in Goa sometime in early 2000, working on an AIDS awareness project. My memories of Goa are punctuated by culinary experiences: of vindaloos and sorpotels, of xacutis and cafreals, and of crusty, chewy warm breads. My favorite was the poi: pita-like wholewheat circles which I’d stuff with cucumber, tomatoes, herbs, and crumbly cheese made in the hills of Kodai. These pockets were wholesome and convenient snacks for busy days in the field interviewing locals about their sex lives. I must have eaten thousands of poi then, and at least a few hundred more on my trips back.

This time, too, my stay has been filled with encounters with pois and paos. On my last day, I have the most divine brunch of chorizo-pao and garlicky, olive-oil drizzled poi with a beetroot salad at Black Sheep Bistro, a new-ish restaurant in Panjim. The chef says he gets the bread from a bakery similar to St Rita, with a wood-fired oven. “It’s just around the corner,” he tells me. He probably recognizes a major fan of all things bread, for he whips out his phone and begins to show photos he has clicked of the bakery. He has just returned from a stretch outside Goa. “Food evokes the past,” he says. “You bite into a poi, and it reminds you of who you are.”

You Can’t Rush Perfection in Life or in Pancakes

May.05.16

You Can’t Rush Perfection in Life or in Pancakes

by Jodi Bosin

Congyoubing in Shanghai

I knew it when I saw it, a phenomenon I’d come to rely on in searching for local food stands in Shanghai. In theory, the place had a name and address, but none of that was evident, so I wandered around the intersection until I spotted a small alley with a line of people and the smell of scallions. This must be the place.

I approached the line and peered past the crowd into the small window set in a stone wall. In the shadowy space an ancient man stood hunched over a griddle, in the midst of the methodical process of preparing congyoubing, scallion pancakes. Further back was a table of mixing bowls filled with scallion-speckled dough and a door that led into a darkened room. He worked very slowly. After mixing the dough, he placed piles of it in neat rows on the griddle, flattening the ones in the middle. He watched them closely, flipping and rearranging them, while the piles on the edges warmed and waited their turn. Scallion pancakes come in many forms, but these were very particular; small and thick, like none I’d seen before. They took awhile to cook through due to their proportions. When the pancakes were sufficiently done, he slid the griddle over to reveal an old-looking oven underneath, a stone circle with a fire in the middle. He placed the pancakes around the edges and slid the griddle over to let them cook.

The whole process probably took about 20 minutes, his movements deliberate and plodding, the crowd restless. Some even abandoned the line, perhaps late for work, but I had nowhere else to be. His progress was almost painful to watch. He seemed way too old to be working, and he was bent over at an alarming angle, his back clearly in terrible shape. I felt a mixture of pity, compassion, and impatience. As he waited for the pancakes to cook he chatted with some of the customers. To my dismay, in spite of the alarming appearance of his health, he lit a cigarette, which he smoked in slow motion, the way he did everything else.

After an eternity, he finally deemed the batch ready, reaching into the fire to remove each congyoubing and handing out the requested amounts to the fortunate patrons who made the cut this time. I took my fresh, oily treasure, wrapped in a piece of brown paper, out into the drizzling morning. The exterior was crunchy and the inside hearty and warm, the perfect antidote for a dreary day. But the acquisition of the breakfast felt like more than something to eat. It was the completion of a small quest, an expedition to a dragon’s lair, an encounter with the mythical.

A Breakfaster First and a Traveler Second

May.04.16

A Breakfaster First and a Traveler Second

by Brent Crane

Roti in Kuala Lumpur

The roti man was both an abuser and a creator. In his ancient storefront, he pulverized the dough, stretched the dough, pulled the dough, and, finally, when it was stretched thin and face-sized, he let it brown and crisp on his griddle.

Middle-aged and black-mustached, the cook was the master roti maker of Kuala Lumpur’s Old Train Station. At least that is what it appeared to me, a clueless wanderer and first timer in this historic landmark; a newbie to the whole city, for that matter. And here I was, leaving on my second day for greener, less populated pastures: Penang, an island four hours north by bullet train.

“My train leaves in twenty minutes,” I said to the roti man as a sort of passive warning. I was running late but the roti had trapped me. It did not faze him.

“No problem sir. Something to drink? Coffee? Iced. Yes, sir. Please sit, sir.”

I did as the roti man said. I am a breakfaster first and traveler second.

At 9 am, the open-air dining area was moderately full, Malays and Indians sitting alone or in groups, commuters and travelers all of them, because we were in a train station.

There was the roar of the trains coming and going below and, periodically, a stream of passengers—Malays, Tamils, Indians, Han Chinese, Hakka Chinese, the whole Malaysian rainbow—passing through the ticket gate, which was right there by my table.

I approached the dark-skinned, mustached Indian ticket attendant, a Hulk. I handed him my ticket. With the clock ticking and the roti cooking, I needed reassurance that I was in the right place.

“Coming just on that platform, sir,” he said and pointed one barrel-sized arm down the stairs. I looked at my watch. Ten minutes to arrival.

My iced coffee came as soon as I sat back down, Malay style, white coffee, made with robusta beans roasted in butter and delivered to me by a man with a tough face in a tropical island shirt. I sipped it through a straw as I took in the surrounds. One hundred and six years old, the station is a marvel of colonial architecture.

The station is white and airy, with diamond cutout window patterns and Mughal-inspired spires, a masterful melding of east and west. Through the windows, I could see to the abandoned tracks below overgrown with grass and other weeds, with rusty, hulking lorries waiting in vain for their next ride.

My roti arrived, perfectly charred and with a small bowl of dipping sauce, a chili curry with chicken bits and bay leaves. I tore apart the roti with a fork and spoon, using the spoon as a knife. Pain from the chili woke me up just as much as the caffeine.

Fifty cents later, I am walking past the Hulk and down to my platform through the ancient station. The train was punctual, a giant white snake, new to this world and looking suspiciously out of place in this fading vestige of colonialism. It was part of the new Malaysia: efficient, shiny, and right on time. I stepped inside, into a brave new world of AC, plush seats, and sliding-glass doors opened with a button. My stomach full and mouth burning, I was off to Penang at high speed.

Longing for Cream and Jam Early in the Morning

May.03.16

Longing for Cream and Jam Early in the Morning

by Pedestrian

Sarshir in Khuzestan

Soft boil an egg left for you by one of the hens in the garden. Pour yourself a cup of tea. Spread some sarshir (cream) or kareyeh gavmish (butter) on a warm, fresh piece of bread that smells of toasted cumin and sesame seeds. Then add some morabayeh albaloo (tart cherry jam) to the spread and roll it into a small sandwich. The cream is thick but soft, the golden orange egg yolk is bursting with flavor, the tart cherry jam is sweet and piquant, adding texture to the richness of the butter or cream. Take a bite from the bread, and sip some tea to wash it down. Welcome to breakfast in Iran’s south west Khuzestan province.

Across Khuzestan, breakfast comes by way of the female water buffalo. The mighty creatures bask in the cool, crisp waters of the Shatt Al Arab River. Their keepers, the marsh Arabs who live along the Shatt, sell their water buffalo milk to chefs in the cities, who in turn use it as the main ingredient in breakfast foods like shirberenj, ferni, and sarshir. To get used to the sweet, luscious taste of water buffalo dairy is to forevermore shun everything that comes in a package at the supermarket. Even the best cow’s milk tastes like “chalk” compared to water buffalo milk, Abdullah, who has been keeping water buffalo for nearly 40 years, tells me. A native of Khuzestan who is far from home will live the rest of their days longing for an early-morning gav mish (water buffalo) breakfast.

Sarshir is cream eaten with jam or honey and lavash or taftoon flat bread, which used to be baked at home but is now increasingly bought at the neighborhood bakery. Ferni, enjoyed both hot and cold, is made with milk and rice flour, a soft, sweet desert enjoyed for breakfast or Ramadan sehur. Plenty of local carrot or albaloo jam is topped on shirberenj before eating, a thick rice pudding made with whole rice and water buffalo milk. There must always be an early riser in the household to step out and buy these foods, since shops open after morning prayer and close soon after sunrise.

If you walk the streets during those hours, you will find people waiting by a door, copper bowls or pots in hand. These are eager customers who have come to purchase their morning meal. The foods are cooked by at least one dairy chef in the neighborhood, in his home, and sold at the front door. Their door will open again in the evening, before the maghrib (sunset) prayer, by which time the water buffalo are sound asleep.

Life Is Good When Breakfast Is Plentiful

May.02.16

Life Is Good When Breakfast Is Plentiful

by Bonnie Lei

Dopuh Nweh in Yangon

Ya ba de. Pronounced in a Burmese drawl, it’s a mix between the Beatles crooning Let it Be and Pumba and Timon bopping to Hakuna Matata. That’s alright, no worries, life is good, life flows on. For a country transitioning between military junta rule and nascent democracy, the phrase encompasses both resiliency during decades of oppression and hope and optimism for the future. For me, ya ba de is a life philosophy I have adopted for embracing the delightful and sometimes challenging quirks of living in Yangon.

I’m jarred awake by the yelping alley dogs. My phone, and with it my morning alarm, had died when the electricity cut off. Ya ba de! I’m a few minutes late to work, but I can grab breakfast on the go.

I squeeze sardine-style onto the rickety public bus. As the vehicle huffs its way through infamous Pyay Road traffic, I perch on a wooden plank between redolent armpits. Ya ba de! I get to practice conversational Burmese while using local transport, and the money I save can be spent on food.

And 30 minutes later, I am pushed off the still moving bus into one of Yangon’s finest wet markets. In an early-bird society that regularly wakes before dawn, the crowds have already thinned by now. But to my eyes, the narrow walkways are still crammed full of shoppers and vendors. I respectfully elbow my way through the throngs.

My first stop is to visit my a daws, aunties who present a variety of tea sweets in bamboo baskets. Today’s choices include sticky rice doughnuts—crackly sugar crust giving way to mochi-like chew—and puffy brown sugar pancakes griddled to order over coals. I hesitate, debating which to indulge in. Who am I kidding? Ya ba de! I take one of each.

Even before I walk 10 paces, all that are left of the sweets are crumbs. Properly fortified, I am now ready to bargain for whichever fruit is in season. Currently, it is plump little mango plums, harbingers of the bigger mangos which will ripen in a few weeks’ time. These baby versions have a puckery tartness to them, balanced usually in local recipes with sugar and chili powder. I like to pop them as is, the acidic zing my alternative to caffeine. How about 500 kyats for 10? Ya ba de! An all-natural waker-upper for less than 50 cents.

Next, I cross the railway tracks to my favorite roadside Shan noodle shop. The nyi ma lays, little sisters, recognize me, and ask if I want “the usual.” Ya ba de! My favorite Myanmar noodle dish, dopuh nweh. Uncongealed Shan tofu serves as a creamy chickpea sauce that slumps around sticky rice noodles, curried pork, and peanuts. It is the perfect comfort food. The secret ingredient found only at this shop is their homemade carrot pickles, added as you like tableside. For me, that means generous heaping spoonfuls, greedily nibbled until the fermented goodness gives me the kick I need to hightail it the rest of the way to the office.

Ya ba de! Life is delicious. Life is good.

Waiting in Limbo for Visas, Money, Tickets, and Job Offers

Apr.29.16

Waiting in Limbo for Visas, Money, Tickets, and Job Offers

by Olga Kovalenko

Nescafé in Hanoi

When I got out of a train in Hanoi, I had around 20 bucks in my pocket. It was enough for a taxi downtown and some modest meals until I could get money transferred to my bank account. Back in Ho Chi Minh, I was tipped off about an affordable hostel located in the middle of the Hanoi Old Quarter, near the Hoàn Kiếm Lake. I could reach lots of sights by foot and diversify my diet, which for the last two days consisted of plain baguettes.

The hostel was tucked between unremarkable buildings in a back alley. I walked a few times past it before I saw the sign. When I asked about room rates at the reception, a young guy with matted hair waved in a relaxed way: “You can pay now, can pay later, it’s okay.” But what lured me to stay there, in the end, was free breakfast with unlimited coffee.

When I dropped my bag in a dormitory and got on the rooftop to break my baguette fast of the last two days, I discovered that I wasn’t the only smart face on that ship. One by one, sleepy and disheveled, other travelers climbed up the stairs and sat around the table that occupied the whole terrace.

Emilio, an Italian with perfect English and a PhD in history, had worked in the hills of the North Vietnam, cooking at a small restaurant, and was now waiting for his visa extension. There was also a student from the Czech Republic, two Brits taking a break from their jobs, and an English-language teacher from the U.S. All of them waiting for visas, tickets or new job offers.

Emilio squinted at his breakfast—a freshly fried omelet stuck between two pieces of soft, white bread—and dug into it.

“Bread-omelet, too?” the reception guy asked me.

“Just bread is fine, I’m vegan,” I said and sighed. Bread again.

The bread was soft and crunchy. Despite its plain taste, I liked it. It reminded me of Europe and home. Josh, a huge American in his forties, was also reminiscing about home. But he was better off here, he said.

The Brits found Vietnam amazing and tirelessly explored. “We were in that underground eatery yesterday, trying the snake,” they said. “We also got some of that poop-coffee.” The Old Quarter was full of shops advertising weasel coffee, which alluded to the famous and extremely expensive Indonesian coffee—kopi luwak—processed by civets. The weasel coffee was a chemical imitation of kopi luwak sold at a much cheaper price. On the rooftop, we were served a more banal sort of coffee: Nescafé.

Every morning, we emptied one pot after another, chatting, gossiping, and discussing our plans until the hostel management started ignoring our demands for refills. But by the time we were denied the next pot it was already midday and we dispersed on our daily activities, to be united next morning again.

In a few days, I got my money transfer and was ready to move on. Emilio got his extension, Josh found a new job with housing. The Brits and the Czech student exhausted all the sightseeing potential of Hanoi, but we stayed and stayed. “One more day,” I said. “I don’t wanna leave you guys,” said one of the Brits. And so we stayed a bit more, gathering around our bread-omelet with coffee every day until it was time to leave or ask for more visa extensions.

When I think of Hanoi now, I don’t remember those places of interest that I visited every day. But I remember that tiny rooftop and free Nescafé with bread as if it were yesterday.

There’s No Shame in a Breakfast That Sends You Back to Bed

Apr.28.16

There’s No Shame in a Breakfast That Sends You Back to Bed

by Christopher English

Bombas in Barcelona

Breakfasting in Barcelona can initially appear an underwhelming proposition for the uninitiated. Many succumb to poor renditions of the Catalan classic, pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato). It is an exquisitely simple pleasure when properly executed, though hugely underwhelming when prepared with little love. Coffee is universally available but rarely inspiring. However, the Catalans have a slightly clandestine culinary card up their sleeves when seeking their morning sustenance: esmorzars de forquilla (fork breakfasts) are intended to sustain throughout a day of heavy work, or, in my case, a day of heavy walk.

Though it had been on my to-do-list as a dinner destination for some time, I initially encountered La Cova Fumada by chance. During a stay in the La Ribera district, I went for a wander though the streets of the nearby neighborhood of La Barceloneta, sporting a slightly fuddled head from the previous evening’s excessive natural wine consumption in the outstanding Bar Brutal. Using an age-old signifier when seeking good food, I trailed a group of old men through an unmarked facade and took a solo seat next to an open kitchen.

Above a cacophony of Catalan conversation, my order was taken. Glancing at the surrounding tables there seemed only one option to drink and a carafe of the house red was promptly delivered to my table. Blood sausage came grilled, sliced into thick rounds and accompanied by a bowl of buttery chickpeas. Squid simply seared on la plancha and dressed with a little picada of oil, garlic, and parsley came next. Artichokes arrived fried, exposing their crispy innards. Next, the signature dish of the house, said to be invented in the 1950s by the grandmother of the current proprietors. The much celebrated bombas appeared: small spheres of minced meat and mashed potato housed in breadcrumbs and deep-fried, crowned with a cover of potent ailoli and a cap of fiery rust-colored sauce. Since I was already introducing garlic into my system at such an early hour, I ordered a round of the toasted bread, generously smeared with more of the same.

The two gentlemen next to me were clearly construction workers and I surreptitiously watched in awe as they consumed plate after plate, washed down with copious glasses of wine. Whether they were just staring work or just finishing I was uncertain, but either way, surely little of consequence was to be achieved after such a breakfast, neither by them nor I.

To conclude the feast, a fluro-green shot of the traditional digestif, hierbas, was offered as a parting gift from the house. It lacked the herbaceous intensity of the Balearic incarnation with which I was more familiar, but certainly not the potency. It was 9:43 am. Shot downed, bill paid, and sunglasses donned, I walked out into the morning sunlight, vowing to veer from the powerful lure of my pension and the bed that was beckoning me back a mere hour or so after I had left it.

Photo: Movimiento Mediterráneo

A Familiar Meal, from Cape Town to Glasgow to the American South

Apr.27.16

A Familiar Meal, from Cape Town to Glasgow to the American South

by Alexa van Sickle

Mealie Meal in Cape Town

One of my favorite movies growing up was My Cousin Vinny. Spoiler alert: unlikely New York lawyer Joe Pesci cracks a murder trial on the question of how long it takes Southerners to make fresh—not instant—grits in the morning. In my ignorance, I pictured grits as some kind of edible creature, like tiny shrimp. I hadn’t realized I had been eating grits at my grandmother’s house in Cape Town every Christmas.

Because grits are similar to what my South African relatives call mealie meal: a ground maize flour that, mixed with different proportions of water, produces a stodgy porridge, or a more solid “pap.” There are hundreds of names for this staple around Africa and beyond, but the term I learned first is a jolly distortion of milho, because Portuguese traders brought the maize from the Americas to Africa. (A “mealie” is a pleasing local term for corn-on-the cob.) Mealie meal often fortifies savory dishes, and grits come with cheese or shrimp. But around South Africa’s Western Cape, it’s common to sweeten this culinary blank slate with sugar, honey, and milk for breakfast, which is how I was weaned onto it in the 1980s, armed with a large spoon and a sweet tooth.

It was only the presence of this local porridge (and the revered Mrs Ball’s Chutney) that could place my grandmother’s first-generation breakfast table—decked out with lime marmalade, tea, eggs, and marmite—in the Cape rather than, say, London, Bootle, or even Glasgow, where her mother was born. True, the Brits who make their way abroad have a certain reputation for clinging to their peculiar routines, hemisphere be damned, but their roots weren’t that deep. Her mother’s family had emigrated from the grey west coast of Scotland to the dry heat of Durban. My grandmother absorbed plenty of earnest Scottish attributes, but otherwise rebelled against her strict Presbyterian background. (Secular to the end, her final wishes were that we forego a funeral in favor of a Pimms-fuelled party, and scatter her ashes—illegally—around Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and St James’ Beach. We complied.)

I was young when she died. So I learned the milestones of her life in South Africa only afterwards: driving an ambulance for the Red Cross in Durban during the war; hanging out with Roald Dahl, who was in East Africa with the King’s Africa Rifles; protesting against the National Party’s repugnant apartheid laws with the Black Sash movement.

These days, we make it back around once a decade. My mother left Cape Town in the 1960s to follow science studies to Heidelberg, then Vienna, and would never return for good. My aunt and her family returned several years ago, after some decades abroad that started in pre-Revolutionary Iran and ended in Wimbledon. My uncle’s three daughters never left. And now when we return and eat at their tables in Cape Town or Johannesburg, there is far more than just mealie meal to represent the continent they made their home.

Photo: Aleph500Adam/Commons

A Humble Reminder of a City and Safe Haven

Apr.26.16

A Humble Reminder of a City and Safe Haven

by Kirsten O'Regan

Bougatsa in Thessaloniki

I don’t usually eat much pastry. Croissants (even Parisian ones) leave me cold, strudel doesn’t appeal; I generally favor a crustless quiche. But if you’re in Thessaloniki and you’re not eating at least one pie a day—ideally one pie per meal—then you’re doing it wrong. Pastry proliferates across Greece’s second city. Glass cases of pies, oozing unctuous fillings from between crackling sheaves of filo, tempt passers-by on each corner. Spirals and slabs, triangular wedges and bulging half-moons; soft mouthfuls of spinach, feta, leek, onion securely encased in bronzed layers of butter and flour. Any one of those will make a serviceable—nay, sumptuous—lunch. Only bougatsa will do for breakfast.

The name itself dances on the tongue like an onomatopoeic expression of joy: an exclamation of surprise elegantly sling-shotting itself forward, through twanging consonants, into the satisfied sigh of the final vowel. Boo-gat-saaaaahhh. Peer in the cabinet. It doesn’t look like much, especially at this stage: a flat, flaking slab of filo. Even when prepared—one generous square sliced deftly into many smaller squares (a raised eyebrow from the mezzaluna-wielding assistant, and the arch enquiry, “only one portion?”), the resulting golden rubble softened by a swift squall of icing sugar and cinnamon—its bland, burnished exterior remains deceptive. Take a bite. That flaxen façade hides moist inner layers, lovingly clasping a voluptuous semolina-custard core.

I eat my first helping of bougatsa (a still-warm clutch of bite-size morsels; mellow vanilla filling bolstered and balanced by the salt-flecked crunch of the filo) by hand from the packet, sitting at the top of a small flight of stairs that cuts irreverently through a section of Thessaloniki’s Byzantine walls. Elderly Greek women, passing warily, witness my al fresco gluttony with mild consternation.

Below, the town tumbles to the edge of the Thermaic Gulf, across which hover the snow-shrouded slopes of Mt Olympos. This location—at the foot of the Balkans, on the watery intersection between east and west—has historically rendered the city a place of sanctuary and exchange. Amongst the concrete apartment blocks of the modern centre nestle the bones of bygone eras: austere outcrops of Byzantine churches; the odd, tatterdemalion Ottoman mosque; an all-but-forgotten 1920s synagogue, lonely remnant of a once-flourishing Sephardic community.

Northern Greece’s bougatsa, like its buildings, is a product of the diverse milieu—Jewish, Christian, Muslim—that characterized Thessaloniki up until the mid 20th century. Salonica has long been a city of refuge; while under Ottoman rule, the city opened its arms to exiles from east and west. Sephardic Jews, expelled from Western Europe by Ferdinand and Isabella’s anti-Semitic decrees, surged into the city from the late 15th century. In the early 1900s, Judeo-Spanish-speaking Jews made up almost half the city’s entire population; the remainder was a heterogeneous mix of Greeks, Slavs, Ottoman Turks, Circassians, Armenians, Russian Ashkenazim, Georgians, Kurds.

Bougatsa likely joined this cosmopolitan brew from the east—it may even be a modern iteration of the Byzantine “santé bougatsa,” described by 17th century traveller Evliya Çelebi as a sweet pie sprinkled with sugar and sold by street vendors in Stamboul. A descendant of that ancient sweetmeat, legend has it, was carried into Thessaloniki by the flood of Greeks who poured into the country in the early years of the 20th century: Orthodox Christians driven from the Ottoman Empire as the power of the Sublime Porte imploded.

Reports of that mass migration could just as accurately depict the refugee crisis that currently grips the region. Ernest Hemingway, writing in the Toronto Star in 1922, described “exhausted, staggering men, women and children, blankets over their heads, walking blindly along in the rain beside their worldly goods.” Many of the displaced settled in Salonica, filling a vacuum left by the city’s Muslims, who had set sail for Turkey. They brought with them a rich culinary tradition, and, perhaps, a recipe for semolina-custard pie. Bougatsa is a humble reminder of the city’s historic role as safe-haven, at a time when Greece is yet again at the forefront of a historic exodus.

An object lesson in tolerance (however fragile or conditional), maybe—but the pastry is also a powerful trigger for more primal reveries. Like Proust’s madeleine, bougatsa is a repository of personal, as well as collective, memory. Crunching through my portion, sitting on sun-warmed stone in the crook of the ancient walls of an unfamiliar town, I am transported back to my own childhood: the melk tert my mother used to make. A South African specialty, that pie—egg custard in a shortcrust shell—owes its milky, cinnamon-sprinkled charm to an equally unlikely confluence of cultures: the Cape’s distinctive combination of lactose-loving Dutch settlers and their spice-savvy Javanese slaves.

People move, this pre-noon pie-induced reverie reminds me—whether by choice or necessity, out of force or free will—and food moves with them: out of history, into the hard-won, hybrid present.

The Pride of Eating a Really Bony Fish Successfully

Apr.25.16

The Pride of Eating a Really Bony Fish Successfully

by Charline Jao

Bento in Taiwan

Jet-lagged and drowsy, my mother called out from her room that my aunt dropped off a bento from San Jing (三井) that I could eat for breakfast. This was exciting. San Jing is the place for Japanese food in Taiwan. I don’t mean that in a popular way, but in a fancy way. The same way that many New Yorkers rarely make the trek to the Empire State Building or visit “New York must-eats” from tourist guides, people in Taipei rarely go to San Jing unless they’re there to entertain special guests or to celebrate a big occasion. I looked at the hostile fish which snagged my gaze, and it felt like having birthday cake on a regular, birthday-less Thursday.

I’ve heard that ayu, or sweetfish, are native to Taiwan’s Xindian River, but other sources tell me that the species was actually introduced from Japan. Japanese occupation led to a great amount of Japanese influence on Taiwanese culture. I heard remnants of this in the musical combination of enka and C-pop my mom was blaring from her room, the architecture within the capital city, and the many Japanese restaurants we’d always visit for sashimi, tonkatsu, and ramen.

Visiting Taiwan as an ex-pat every year, I’m always met with a copious amount of Taiwanese food, much of it fish. My mother always told me eating fish would make me smarter, a better thinker, and generally healthier. With her and my other relatives picturing barrages of horribly greasy and cheese-smothered meals in America, they were determined to restore my contaminated ABC (American Born Chinese) body to one full of Taiwanese sweetfish, noodles, and soymilk—lots and lots of soymilk. Truthfully, after being suddenly confronted with the task of managing my own diet at college, this was a welcome break.

I snap a photo of it and send it to a friend. “This fish is mad at me.”

“What did you do?” he replied.

I responded with a silly Facebook sticker. Digging messily into the grilled fish, I saw that it was extra special because the insides were full of eggs. After breaking into the crisp skin and soft meat with a pair of chopsticks I choked on a few small bones: the ayu’s final revenge.

Its twisted body—a result of the chef’s skewer—makes it look like the fish is still swimming, something I never understood. Why would you want your food to still look vaguely alive? I’m reminded of this ongoing joke Taiwanese people have about foreigners: the westerner goes into an Asian restaurant and orders a fish. They yell out in fear when the meal arrives. Why? Because they’re so used to eating fillets that they don’t know fish have heads and tails which we, the non-wasteful group, gladly devour. It’s a meticulous and frustrating process to eat the ayu clean, but when you do, it really feels like you’ve worked for the meal. That sense of accomplishment itself is worth a few bones.

You Don’t Have to Be Famous to Chug a Cup of Wiggly Tofu

Apr.21.16

You Don’t Have to Be Famous to Chug a Cup of Wiggly Tofu

by Shirin Bhandari

Taho in the Philippines

“Ta-ho! Taah-hooo…Tahooooo…” A street vendor outside our college at the University of the Philippines would shout. It is peddled in a distinct way. The name called out repetitively in a full and rising inflection to catch your attention. For years, every single morning it was my breakfast of choice. Before the first class of the day I’d rush out onto the road to grab a warm cup of taho without fail.

My life as an art student pretty much revolved around paint. Whatever money was leftover went to food. There was a need for something nourishing, fast and cheap. The long-standing joke amongst friends was to never have Taho again after graduation once we became rich and famous. The paint fumes can make one delusional, apparently.

The Philippine snack consists of soft and silky tofu, brown sugar syrup, and tapioca pearls. Its origins can be traced back to the Chinese douhua, which is soybean pudding eaten savory or sweet. Through trade, the Chinese have influenced local Filipino cuisine for centuries.

It is prepared before dawn and stored in two aluminum buckets that hang from each end of a bamboo stick. A vendor balances it on his back, or perhaps use a bicycle for ease. The larger bucket holds the tofu base. The smaller container keeps the brown syrup (arnibal) and sago (tapioca pearls). The men follow routes around town very early in the morning until late afternoon. They are a particularly common sight throughout the country.

The white wiggly tofu is served in a clear plastic cup, either small or large. It is normal for customers in residential areas to bring out their own cups to be filled along the sidewalk. Using a flat, wide, metal scoop, the surface of the curd is skimmed of any excess water. A thin, metal ladle is used to spoon the tapioca pearls and syrup, which are then mixed gently with the tofu.

The only way taho junkies consume it is by slurping it straight out from the cup in one slow gulp. Spoons are not an option and straws are for phonies. The warm bean curd squirts in your mouth. The mush mixed with the starchy translucent sago and amber syrup creates quite a sugar rush. For a few extra pesos, you can dictate your proportions: light to corrosively sweet, all depending on the type of morning or day it will be.

A decade has passed. I have transitioned into consuming taho while hungover every Sunday morning outside a church. I never became famous.

Variations on a Fish Soup Theme

Apr.20.16

Variations on a Fish Soup Theme

by Ailsa Ross

Fish Soup in Northern Greece

During my second year at Edinburgh uni, 19 and desperate to grab vast chunks of the world, I spent my nights Googling endless variations of “how to travel the world for free.”

Through a European temp agency, I scored a job as a waitress/bartender at a hotel in a small beach town in northern Greece.

Pay wasn’t great. Many of my compatriots weren’t too keen on working for the equivalent of a Mars bar an hour, even with room and board included, even with the Mediterranean a ten-minute walk down a hill from the staff “accommodation,” a half-built house surrounded by a yard filled with discarded bricks and barbed wire.

I didn’t care.

I was in Greece. The girl who couldn’t answer a phone or look anyone in the eye a year ago was living in Greece, on an adventure, working with clever Slovakian and Czech girls, handsome Albanians, peacocking Macedonian boys, and—my new best friend—a silicon-enhanced Colombian rollerskating champion, Daniela.

We did everything together, Daniela and I, until she found a rich Greek boyfriend named Nico, quit working at the hotel, and moved into a flat up the road.

Catching up on the beach a couple of weeks after she’d left work, I moaned to Daniela about the boys getting the best shifts, the cheap work shoes I had to glue back together every night, the fighting between staff. “I want to quit,” I said.

“Hey, if you’re serious,” said Daniela, “I can get you a job at Cheers! It’s Nico’s cousin’s bar. Then you’ll have your days free and we can run around the coast eating at different tavernas each day. Nico can pay.” She laughed.

“Sold,” I said. “God, you’re so lucky Daniela. Did he get you that dress, too?”

“He did, but I’m not lucky. The more a man buys for me, the more he thinks he’s buying me. Trust me, keep going with your education. That way you can buy all your own things, and no one can believe they have power or control over you.”

Two days later, I was pouring drinks at Cheers! It had been decided that I’d stay at the family home of Yannis, one of the co-owners.

He explained, “At the house it’s me, my mum, and my grandma. They don’t speak English, and you can barely string ten words of Greek together, but they’re kind and you seem kind. They’re looking forward to having you.”

Late next morning, having slept for the first time at Yannis’s house and feeling shy, I tiptoed downstairs to a huge spread, and practically fell back from the warmth of the “kalimeras”—“good mornings”—from the mum and grandma.

I watched the family use their forks and spoons to take the whole fish from their soup bowls, then deftly pull the meat from the bones, tossing the best bits back in the broth.

I tried to copy, and instead spun fish from my plate all over the lacy white tablecloth. Everyone laughed.

“Having trouble?” asked Yannis. “Here, let me help you.”

“Efharisto”—“Thank you”—I whispered, cringing.

Tucking into my newly-prepped bowl of soup was one of the best food experiences I’ve ever had.

“What is this called?” I asked Yannis.

He translated for his mum and grandma and said, “It’s just fish, Ailsa. It’s just…fish soup. You’ve never had such a thing before?”

“At home, sure, but it doesn’t taste like this. We make it with milk, and smoked fish, and black pepper.”

“Sounds good.”

“It is.” Both soups taste of care, and love, and family.

Later that day, I called my mum from the village payphone. “I’m ready to come home,” I said. “I love you. I’m lonely. I’m ready to come home.”

Photo: Jules/Commons

If You Want to Put Ketchup on Raw Fish for Breakfast, You Do You

Apr.19.16

If You Want to Put Ketchup on Raw Fish for Breakfast, You Do You

by Kiki Aranita

Poke on the Big Island

We have run out of things to do on the Big Island. Or rather, we have run out of stomach real estate. Plate lunches, saimin, and every single kind of mochi available at Two Ladies’ Kitchen have done us in. “Please, no more big food,” I tell Chris. We drive around Hilo, looking for the smallest breakfast available. I spot a yellow banner announcing $1 Spam Musubis outside Poke to Your Taste, where a too-small banner reading “Poke to Your Taste” insufficiently covers another sign that probably also reads “Poke to Your Taste” (there was a “po” sticking out) but I’m just guessing here.

I get a little foil box with rice, shrimp, and undressed cubes of fresh ahi and bring it over to a condiment table, where there are a couple different kinds of chopped onions, bottles of shoyu, mayonnaise, and ketchup (no idea). There are plastic spoons sticking out of little containers of furikake and toasted sesame seeds. I find that it’s sort of a weird and wonderful thing to assemble my own breakfast poke. I tell others to trust me when it comes to making poke. Ahi costs us too much in Philadelphia, but I’ll make ahi poke for you, if you insist. I’ll also make ahi poke as a special order for customers of Poi Dog Philly, the sort-of Hawaiian food truck I co-own, but they’ll have to purchase it by the quart and we don’t make any money on it. This is poke as public service.

Trust me, I know how much alaea salt to put in your poke. I know how many macadamia nuts to crush to make a substitute for inamona, the kukui nut condiment that flavors many a poke, and how much diced onion is too much diced onion. Here, I can prove to myself that I am indeed trustworthy.

The poke trend that seems to be sweeping American coastal cities makes me more than a bit uncomfortable, especially when businesses insist on adding a diacritic acute to the “e” in poke. Language can be marvelous in its fluidity, but we lose things if we aren’t mindful. I fear for poke going the way of bruschetta and tuna going the way of silphium. May a species not die in our bellies, à la the emperor Nero, who supposedly consumed the very last stalk of silphium, and may we not lose sense of the origins of a dish. Yet I’m happy to see people making fishless poke. Poke doesn’t have to be made with fish; the dish is more about the act of cutting.

Poke to Your Taste and new mainland poke chains have only customization in common. Poke to Your Taste could not feel more humble and like my grandma’s kitchen with its jalousie windows (there’s even the same rice cooker as she had, the big one for family gatherings that was decorated with pink flowers). Adding the amount of salt that I like, a couple teaspoons of diced sweet onion, a sprinkle of green onion, a squirt of sriracha mayo and some furikake on my rice, I put together a breakfast that tastes like home to me.

The Divine Breakfast for the Unapologetic and Reckless

Apr.18.16

The Divine Breakfast for the Unapologetic and Reckless

by Sharanya Deepak

Kachori Sabzi in Banaras

It is 11 am, we have overslept, and I stumble out of the car into Kachori Gali, excited but also a little scared. Dining in Banaras is not an easy task. Banarasis are known for excess affection, short tempers, and unlimited servings. The oldest city in the country is indulgent with their cuisine.

Everything is fried, sugar coated, and almost every place is an all-you-can-eat.

“You’ll be fine,” my friend grins at me. I can’t be so sure. Kachori sabzi is Varanasi’s favorite breakfast. A kachori is flaky, fried bread usually served with stuffing, but is eaten differently in every part of the country. Here in Banaras, kachoris are eaten as a part of a two-piece breakfast, and they will tell you it’s the best way. The dough is spiced and rolled into small breads, deep fried and fluffy. For breakfast, it is served hot with sabzi: usually a curry of pumpkins and potatoes.

As I exit the car, I am greeted by two tall men who recognize me from when I was fifteen years old. I came here a lot as a kid, in sweltering summers, hiding behind my father and refusing to eat. “Should I sit inside?” I ask nervously, and before he can answer, I know I have made my first mistake. “INSIDE? Why would we put you inside, where no one can see!” he roars at me, smiling widely. I apologize. He tells me I must eat ten kachoris at least, and I whimper in agreement.

Ram Bhandar Kachori wala is one of the many breakfast merchants on this street. Kachori Gali, literally meaning the Street of Kachoris, can be trusted with any of its vendors, but my family has stayed loyal to him for years. The man is surrounded by his sons, all recognizable by the same strong jaw. How many, they ask me. Three, I say. And they laugh.

It is soon 11:30 am and I am on my fourth kachori. I believe I have had enough. Heads not vigorously as I beg and plead to not be fed more. “It’s been ten years!” one of the other men says, and I say no, it’s been two. And there it is, another mistake. If Banarasis hate anything, it’s the reduction of exaggerations. I apologize again, and know I’m going to have to eat more.

Kachori sabzi is usually followed by jalebas, which are the traditional jalebi but bigger. Jalebis, flour rolled into circular shapes, deep fried and coated with sugar and saffron, is a beloved sweet throughout the north of India. Jalebas are the same, but bigger. Jalebas can go tragically wrong, but the ones here are perfect. I stare at the jaleba before actually eating it and get desperately sentimental to no one’s surprise but everyone’s amusement. I tell the men at Ram Bhandar about the indulgence of this city and how I fell in love with it as a kid.

It is through their cuisine that you can tell Banarasis are boundless. They are unapologetic, reckless, and poetic. Mixing pumpkins, flour, and fried dessert into perfection is not a feat that can be ignored. I eat four more kachoris. By now I cannot even stand, but there is applause. They are pleased. I am ecstatic. This breakfast, like the air in the holiest city in the world, is simply divine.

Here Is the Glorious Cheese-Covered Krispy Kreme of Your Dreams

Apr.15.16

Here Is the Glorious Cheese-Covered Krispy Kreme of Your Dreams

by Angela Wu

Donuts in Bangkok

To travel thousands of miles and eat a Krispy Kreme donut for breakfast—at the mall, of all places—felt almost embarrassing. I can’t count how many Krispy Kreme donuts I’ve eaten in my life, and I don’t think I want to know. But I’d never had a donut covered with grated cheese. That’s how I found myself ordering a “Butter Cheese” donut at the fanciest mall I’ve ever seen, a gleaming white complex decorated with lush greenery on Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Road.

The outside of the EmQuartier mall looks like a swirling Apple Store, except for the waterfall decorated with peacocks. Approach from the SkyTrain station, and you’ll walk in on a red carpet. I was street-level and sweaty. I was here because a blast of air conditioning had whisked me off the street. Now, I was standing in the food court, staring at a familiar donut display case.

The “Butter Cheese” donut came on a plate, with a small silver fork. It was early enough that there was no one around to judge me for eating a donut, with a fork, at the mall, in a city of spectacular street food. There was also no one but me to appreciate that this donut was covered in cheese. The stiff shavings looked like they belonged on a frozen pizza. I took a bite.

Butter and cheese taste surprisingly neutral. I was glad I tried it, but it looked more interesting than it tasted. What I appreciated more was air conditioning, so I spent the rest of the day at the mall, wandering from the grocery store to the rooftop garden. It’s just too hot to hang out elsewhere, agreed two students I met on a patio facing the waterfall.

“You don’t have much to do, if you don’t go to the malls!” one of them said. “You have school all day, and then if you want to watch a movie, look around, do some shopping, eat, chill, whatever…you go to the mall.”

“You wouldn’t, like, go to the park to chill, because it’s too hot,” her friend explained. They looked at each other. “Yeah, we basically just live in the mall.”

I soon replaced Krispy Kreme with the little balls of fried dough sold by street vendors. But I kept going back to the malls. In steaming hot Bangkok, malls function like a network of air-conditioned oases that could cool and entertain you for days. It’s not just air conditioning I was after, though. Travel guides encourage you to “get lost” exploring a new city, but I think it’s good to know that you can also “get lost” at the mall. Literally, if you’re in one of Bangkok’s sprawling mega malls.

Here, there are malls for vitamins and cheap cell phones. And there are malls for Louis Vuitton and Prada. There are food courts and restaurants and movie theaters at the mall, but also gardens, ice skating rinks, and aquariums. There’s also an airport-themed mall, where each floor represents a city, and San Francisco inexplicably gets two floors. That week, I went to all of them, got lost, and loved it.

A Flaky, Oily, Meaty Hangover Cure

Apr.14.16

A Flaky, Oily, Meaty Hangover Cure

by Cher Tan

Burek in Montenegro

First thing in the morning, and we were departing the beautiful solace of Montenegro.

Montenegro is what I’d consider the “pocket rocket” of locales. A part of a state union with Serbia until 2006, you can traverse its entire length in an afternoon. Up until three days ago, we were in Kotor, near the border of Croatia, and barely an hour and a half later we had arrived in the nation’s capital, Podgorica.

And now we were leaving, minds still fresh with memories of Marko and his fellow metalheads, whom we’d met on the street purely by coincidence. We had spent the night prior fusing common threads—politics, metal bands we like, our mutual affection for 90s Australian TV show Heartbreak High (it had been imported to ex-Yugoslavia)—and drinking cheap, local wine; five liters in what looked like a plastic oil container bought for €5 from a convenience store window shielded by a screen. The wine was mixed with Pepsi for effect. The hangover the next day was brutal.

Trudging into the train station bleary-eyed, sustenance was of importance. We were sick of the pizzas, pastas, and burgers we found ourselves gravitating to in our short time in Montenegro, as we started to become travel-weary and longed for the comforts of home. There was only a single food stall in a dim corner of the station, and we caught the shopkeeper’s eye as he looked over at us with interest.

The stall had one small, heated showcase, filled to the brim with what looked like pastries. It was difficult to discern what was in them. “Burek,” the shopkeeper said as he noted our curiosity. “Very good and fresh! Meat, or spinach and cheese.”

We got two each at €1 a pop, then sat down at the café facing the tracks to wait for our train. Unfurling the burek from its paper bag, its crust so oily the oil had partially soaked through, it had already left stains on the bag. Our Turkish coffees arrived, and the first bite that accompanied it was delightful: the meat, freshly cooked and piping hot, melted in my mouth as it coalesced with the filo pastry skin. The burek was light and airy, yet packed a punch within. My mouth felt like it was in contact with something that was a cross between a sausage roll and an apple strudel. And even that wasn’t quite right. It evidently belonged in a league of its own. As bite after (flaky, oily, and meaty) bite ensued, the further away my hangover felt.

Our train was two hours late. We got two more. When the old Soviet-era train eventually made its slow, mechanical presence felt, we got on with one final burek each in our hands. Later on, I would learn that burek dates back to the Ottoman empire, its modern-day presence serving as a remnant of a regime that no longer exists. Croatian burek varies from Montenegrin burek, which differs from Bulgarian burek, and so on.

As the train wound down valleys and mountains away from Montenegro, the burek would stoke cravings that could not be satiated for months to come.

Eating a Messy Pastry on the Sidewalk in a City Where People Don’t Do That

Apr.13.16

Eating a Messy Pastry on the Sidewalk in a City Where People Don’t Do That

by Stephanie d'Arc Taylor

Sfoliatelle Riccia in Naples

When you approached the Pasticceria Pintauro onto Naples’s Via Toledo, you smelled the aroma of butter emanating from the tiny, table-less bakery from a block away. The pastries, shell-shaped flakes filled with a perfumed but not sweet mixture of orange-flavored almond paste and ricotta cheese, are now hot in their paper bag, sweating through parchment squares. Sfoliatelle riccia.

This is not New York; you can’t just strut down the street chewing with your mouth open like you’re John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. People are already looking at you with curiosity as you stand uncertainly outside the shop, calculating how quickly you can get to an appropriately private place to commune with your breakfast against how long it will take for the crispy layers to turn cold and damp.

Let them look. For the traveller in Naples, there’s no better place to eat a Pintauro sfoliatella than on the sidewalk outside the shop, as classy Neopolitans brush by you in their puffy (yet strangely sleek) nylon jackets and well-cut suits on the pedestrian street where everyone is supposed to keep moving.

In today’s maze of borders, refugees, and “one in one out,” sfoliatelle is a thought experiment, as well as a pinnacle of Neopolitan confectionery. As the result of a melding of Arab, Greek, and Italian culinary traditions, it’s comforting—but slightly facile—to imagine the pastry as proof that in the past, people and ideas moved easily between various corners of the Mediterranean.

Much of what we think of today as Italian food comes from the Arab (also known as Saracen) sailors, engineers, and farmers that invaded and settled in Sicily and southern Italy beginning in the 9th century. Pasta wouldn’t have been invented without the hard, durable wheat developed and imported by the Arabs; the eggplant was once known in Italian as radice araba, or Arab root.

Sfoliatelle is undeniably an example of how Arab and Italian cooks blended their own traditions together to create something new. The almond, introduced to Italy by the Greeks, was first combined with sugar cane and used in confectionery by the Arabs. Saracen traders also brought citrus fruits like lemon and orange to European shores for the first time (the orange makes its first appearance in European records in 1002, as a gift to a Norman prince from an Arab).

But it wasn’t as sweet as “you’re new, let’s bake together.” Violence and religious persecution were hallmarks of the Saracen period in Italy. Some scholars think that many Arab-Italian sweets were developed and preserved by women of the Saracen harems banished to mountain convents after their courts were violently disbanded. Lucera, an Arab colony in Puglia, was founded after the Norman king Frederick II relocated Sicilian Arabs in response to religious riots. The town’s main cathedral now stands on the site of a mosque that was torn down during the Crusades (after all the Arab Muslims in town who refused to convert were massacred).

The news tells us that it hasn’t gotten any easier to assimilate, or welcome new people with open arms. Sometimes ideas clash violently. We can’t hope that groups of people, traumatized and fearful, will come together as smoothly as almond paste and ricotta. But we can challenge our ideas about difference while eating a messy pastry on the sidewalk in a city where people don’t do that.

For Real, Bread Is the Best Thing Ever

Apr.12.16

For Real, Bread Is the Best Thing Ever

by Swati Sanyal Tarafdar

Bread in Kolkata

Cooking is a skill I acquired early in life, and I made whimsical use of my mom’s kitchen while still in school, much to her exasperation. Books on international cuisine weren’t easily accessible, and a couple of half-baked food shows on Indian national television were all I had. Hence, when I traveled and lived outside India, my love for various kinds of food and cuisines only deepened. The one ubiquitous item I totally and completely fell for was the bread. Not just the white ones, but all kinds of rustic and whole grain loaves: peasant breads, potato and rye, multigrain, whole wheat, sourdough, black Austrian breads, magical German breads, ciabatta and foccacia, French loaves, even little pretzels and cinnamon buns.

I was quite fond of the white-flour loaves and roadside pavs available at home in Kolkata, India. But now, my excitement knew no bounds. Much to my country folks’ disgust, I would eat breads slathered with butter, pate´, shrimp spread, avocado, honey, you name it, thrice a day. I would have them sandwiched, toasted, dipped in goulash, or scraping the sides of a pasta bowl. And I still wouldn’t have enough. I explored and was totally head over heels over the fantastic varieties of bread that came with their idiosyncratic typicalities from each region, each locale, and each kitchen. I was mystified by the ways one can create such a wide range of distinct flavors with the same set of ingredients.

I wanted to bake these goodies in my home kitchen. All my German and Hungarian friends baked their breads in their tiny kitchens as we did chapattis in ours. With a lot of enthusiasm, I started my bread baking. I bought books, read bakers’ blogs, watched tutorials on YouTube, and when these failed, tried sneaking inside a bakery as an apprentice.

No part of these exercises in baking was easy and no doubt, most of my bread baking drills ended in disappointments. The loaf wouldn’t look like a loaf or the baguette like a baguette, the braids of the challah wouldn’t come together, the crust would be golden but the inside would be soggy, or it would sound hollow when tapped but would be difficult to cut open.

I ran through troubleshooting tips in popular food blogs, bought myself a kitchen balance, an oven thermometer, and even stalked a respected baker. I fed my yeasts and hovered over my seed cultures, starters, and bigas for days and at inhuman hours, fought the darn leuconostoc with military vigor, and finally resigned myslef to the fact that bread baking, indeed, is rocket science and best left to the chemists.

Yet, soft and fluffy 100 percent whole wheat loaves sprinkled with sunflower seeds, or a pretty, no knead, Jewish bread kept haunting me. So I kept trying.

Until I broke a piece from the first-ever crisp, hollow sounding, handsome looking loaf that came out of my OTG (oven-toaster-grill) in my Indian kitchen, a couple of months back. The trick might have been hiding in that fresh yeast that I hunted out from an obscure market area in a second-tier Indian city. Or maybe the Indian-style buttermilk that I used with the dough. Hallelujah!

I was ecstatic and showed the loaves around to whomever bothered to glance, and then placed myself on the couch and relished warm pieces of it dipped in butter to my heart’s content. A few bites later, I realized three more minutes in the oven would have made it perfect. Nevertheless, divinely aromatic, home baked, healthy multigrain loaves are no more an elusive dream for me. I can bake them in my kitchen, anytime.

Photo credit: Ben Ostrowsky

Sometimes You Just Want to Lay Down and Cover Your Body With Bread

Apr.11.16

Sometimes You Just Want to Lay Down and Cover Your Body With Bread

by Mark Wetzler

Cordero Asado on Chiloe

I arrive at the farm, located just outside Queilen on the grand island of Chiloe in southern Chile, sometime after noon. I say farm, but really it’s just where Pablo and Marcela live. They have sheep and pigs and chickens and a garden, but it’s not a farm in the traditional sense of the word.

The guests are already there. There’s Alejandro, an Argentinian living in Santiago who will consume several liters of wine throughout the day; another older man from Santiago who speaks excellent English; and a woman who might be French who after lunch will immediately flee to an adjacent bedroom to take a siesta.

The occasion is brunch.

The occasion is cordero asado.

Marcela shows me her “workshop,” which is actually a bakery. It smells so strongly of freshly-baked bread that I can’t breathe deeply enough to take it in, and want to curl up right there on the floor and take a nap, a piece of bread in my hand, a piece of bread in my mouth, my body covered in bread.

Outside, Pablo is spit-roasting a lamb that came from their flock. The flames dance and lick at the meat as Pablo slowly rotates it over the embers. And then there’s Clara, too. How could I forget Clara! Clara is Pablo’s mother. Later that night she grabs a cigarette from the cigarette drawer and heads to the porch, exclaiming, “Let’s get a little bit intoxicated.”

Clara might be the wisest woman I’ve ever met. She’s made a living her whole life doing drawings of fish and birds for biology journals. She shows me some of them: exquisite renditions of guppies and Magellanic Oystercatchers that leave me enchanted.

Brunch is a lively affair of Coke Zero and loud conversation. I eat about 16 bread rolls, each covered in more butter than the next, and my arteries start to groan. Alejandro has drunk a gallon and a half of wine but seems as lucid as a newborn baby. Marcela is a gracious hostess. The feast on the table abounds. There’s brussels sprouts and pebre (a kind of pico de gallo), fresh lettuce, new potatoes, old potatoes, native potatoes, and fresh bread, succulent bread, nourishing bread. And the lamb, of course. This feast is biblical. We are the apostles, though I’m not exactly sure what is the center of our adulation.

Later that day, after many convivial hours around the table, our voices dim in accordance with the dimming light of the evening. We have coffee and Camembert and also a kind of bread pudding. Doña Clara talks about growing up in France and then moving to Mexico and then back to Chile. I could listen to this woman talk all night. Everything she says is completely unselfconscious. She’s completely in the moment with her Coke Zero and mountain of lamb and after-dinner cigarette.

“I don’t eat vegetables,” she says.

That night I stand on the balcony of the cabin on the beach where I’m staying next to the main house, looking up at the stars. The Milky Way is throbbing. Despite general confusion and bombardment in my bowels I know I’ll sleep well tonight. I have to. I’m on a farm.

A Surprisingly Serene Brunch in Between Parking Lots

Apr.07.16

A Surprisingly Serene Brunch in Between Parking Lots

by Linda Givetash

Irio in Nairobi

I wasn’t sure what to expect for brunch from an informal Kenyan eatery with no name. Research told me a typical Kenyan breakfast consists of uji, chapatti or mandazi—porridge, flatbread or doughnut—and a cup of chai. But it was already late in the morning when I approached the restaurant with my two friends, and we had no guarantee what would be on the menu.

Under the shade of a few trees, five women dressed in brightly colored skirts took turns chopping vegetables, stirring pots, and seating customers at a makeshift dining space. This restaurant couldn’t be more unlike the fine dining venues at Nairobi’s infamous Westgate Mall across the street.

A cluster of massive pots—some of which held about five gallons of liquid— were boiling aggressively over open fires. There was no breakfast in sight, apart from fried eggs, as lunch items were already being prepared.

Not wanting boiled fish or boring eggs, we consulted the staff to determine a brunch-appropriate alternative, deciding on cowpea stew, chapatti, and irio.

We took a seat at one of several handmade picnic tables where only four or five other customers were scattered. The venue was surprisingly serene despite being sandwiched between two busy mall parking lots.

One of the staff, armed with three plastic bowls, delivered a stew that resembled green lentils more than cowpeas. I asked what type of bean was used, but not speaking Swahili, I could only understand the description of “green beans.” After a taste test, the consensus among my friends was that the stew was made of lentils.

I’ve never had lentils for breakfast. Being a vegetarian, they’re my usual go-to for a hearty dinner on a cold day. I was surprised to discover the stew—flavored with only salt, pepper, onions and tomatoes—a satisfying breakfast.

A plate of three chapattis was brought over to us by a man who was kneading, frying, and stacking the cooked dough with the speed and efficiency of an assembly line.

The greasy chapatti was a welcomed comfort food and perfect for scooping up the stew. A plate of irio—mashed potatoes laced with kale and kernels of maize—also complemented the stew. While the individual dishes were rather bland, the combined flavors and textures were perfect for breakfast. Spicy peri peri (peppers) were also offered to give the meal a kick.

We leisurely finished off our meals, enjoying the breeze and sunshine. It cost less than $4 to feed all three of us and we were left so full that lunch wouldn’t be necessary. Given that a single cup of coffee at the fancy mall across the street goes for nearly the same price, the idea of ever again choosing a pricey Western brunch over the open-air eatery seemed ludicrous. If we arrive early enough, we have mandazi to look forward to.

An Especially Important Meal If You Have Just Crawled Out of a Slow Cooker

Apr.06.16

An Especially Important Meal If You Have Just Crawled Out of a Slow Cooker

by Tom Taylor

Croissants in Ho Chi Minh City

I have always found that my appetite suffers when it’s hot. The hotter the day, the less I feel like eating. When I returned to the relentless heat of Ho Chi Minh City from the nearby beach town of Vũng Tàu, where I picked up a full-body, tomato-red sunburn, this was truer than ever.

On my first morning back in Ho Chi Minh, I woke up feeling raw and depleted. Despite my body’s calls for calories, however, I had almost no urge to eat. But being an avid believer in the old “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” adage—particularly for those who look like they just crawled out of a slow cooker—I showered, got dressed, and set out in search of food.

As I navigated the city’s hectic streets, dodging scooters and waving away street hustlers selling everything from sunglasses to cigarettes to motorbike rides to maree-wanna, I ran through a list of breakfast options, eager to come up with something that would go down easily. Any variation of the classic Western breakfast—eggs, bacon, sausage, et cetera—seemed entirely too heavy. Vietnamese dishes like pho or xôi (a steamed rice dish), meanwhile, struck me as too hot. And so, having narrowed down the choices, I wandered into ABC Bakery & Café, a backpacker favorite on Pham Ngu Lao Street in the city’s tourist riddled District 1. This turned out to be the perfect choice.

The bakery’s shelves were lined with dozens of freshly-baked treats: donuts, éclairs, muffins, cookies, croissants, and more. They also offered slices of Hawaiian pizza and baguette sandwiches, though neither appealed to me at the time of my visit. After some deliberation, I grabbed a butter croissant, though I would hesitate to call it a croissant, because it was not crescent-shaped. I also ordered an iced coffee, a staple of Vietnamese mornings and a must-try for any visiting coffee lover. It all cost just 55,000 Vietnamese Dong—less than $2.50 USD.

A few minutes later, I was enjoying my purchases in the air conditioning of the café’s upstairs dining area, as a strange but endearing playlist of Disney songs played through the overhead speakers. First, Let It Go, then Reflections, then Can You Feel the Love Tonight, then I stopped paying attention.

The croissant’s flakey exterior pulled away in perfect strips to reveal a delicious, doughy interior. The coffee, which I ordered with condensed milk, despite my preference for coffee that doesn’t taste like dessert, was cold and sweet. Before long, all that was left on my plate were a few crumbs, and I was sipping the last drops from a condensation-coated glass, feeling entirely revivified and ready for another day in Vietnam’s largest city—sunburn and all.

Fish Face in the Morning Is Worth a Little Effort

Apr.05.16

Fish Face in the Morning Is Worth a Little Effort

by Aaron Wytze Wilson

Milkfish Soup in Tainan

“Why would you want to go to Wuming? It’s really gone downhill in the last couple years.”

We’re on our way to eat milkfish soup in the southern Taiwan city of Tainan when our taxi driver asks us quizzically about our breakfast shop of choice. A pang of anxiety washes over me. How could this be? Every Chinese-language food blog gave Wuming glowing reviews.

“It used to be the best,” says the driver “but the taste has really changed since it passed to the second and third generation. A-Tang is the best now.”

I should have asked a local in town right from the get go. The people of Tainan are known for being picky eaters, like our shrewd taxi driver.

Tainan has eaten milkfish since the city’s founding nearly four hundred years ago, and is one of the region’s primary staple food items. It often seems like the people of Tainan have developed extra-sensory sensitivity for picking out the freshest milkfish, as well as a finicky attitude to anything but the most perfectly prepared.

Tainan is the only city in Taiwan that eats milkfish for breakfast, and the people claim they’ve historically eaten the dish in the morning in order to prepare for a long day working the sugar cane and rice fields.

Just like Taiwan’s other oddball breakfast eatery, beef soup shops, there are a sundry of dedicated milkfish breakfast joints found throughout the city.

As the taxi pulls up to our internet-approved milkfish eatery, we’re surprised to find the inside-lights dimmed, and the front door shuttered. “Sorry,” says a woman beating a floor mat with a broom outside the shop, “we don’t open until nine in the morning.”

“We’re saved!” I whispered to my partner. We then hop back in the taxi and take up the driver’s suggestion.

“It looks like you and A-Tang were destined to be together after all!” chuckled the driver.

It could be said that destiny brought the humble milkfish to the city of Tainan as well. It was likely introduced to Taiwan by the Dutch East India company, who may have brought the salt-water fish along with them from their base of operations in Jakarta, Indonesia.

How the fish got its name in the local language is also wrapped in the city’s history. It’s believed that the fish got its name from a rebel Chinese naval commander named Koxinga. One day, Koxinga was enjoying a hearty serving of milkfish soup after a long naval campaign to expel the Dutch from Taiwan. He enjoyed his serving of milkfish stew so much, he exclaimed excitedly to his man-servant, “What fish is this?” or “siánn‑mih-hî?”

Unfortunately, Koxinga’s man-servant didn’t understand his thick Hokkien accent, and thought he was giving a name to the fish: “sat‑ba̍k‑hî.” The story has stuck since, leaving the milkfish with a gaffe of a name.

Taiwan’s obsession with milkfish is made all the more unique by it’s East Asian neighbors’ reluctance to embrace it. The fish is incredibly difficult to fillet, having more bones than most people can bear. For those willing to endure the de-boning, they should expect fish meat that has a tender but firm texture. Milkfish has a relatively high fat content, with a mild flavor. Most milkfish joints in Tainan are experienced with deboning the fish, and our order at A-Tang was completely bone-free.

My partner and I decide to order milkfish skin served in soup, along with pieces of stomach meat served alongside oily breadsticks. There are dozens of other ways milkfish can be served, and I hear a woman behind me ordering a fresh cut of milkfish head in her soup. “The meat around the eyes and face is really delicious,” says my partner.

As I begin eating, I’m amazed by how delicate and soft the milkfish skin is. It’s no wonder it hasn’t left the Tainan breakfast table in over three centuries.

Photo: Angel Wong

A Mom Is a Mom and Can Never Be a Facebook Friend

Apr.04.16

A Mom Is a Mom and Can Never Be a Facebook Friend

by Savera Z John

Appams and Shtew

Easter breakfast at home is always appams and shtew. It’s extra special on Easter day: after 40 days of Lent, of no-meat days, the delectable goat meat shtew is the perfect meat fix and indulgence.

Appams remind me of my tipsy aunts. Growing up, appam batter was always fermented with toddy. The aunts would take swigs of the toddy, to check its strength and taste. There was a special joy in seeing righteous aunts acting silly. A spirited argument would follow, on who makes the tastiest appams. They all agreed that Ammini’s appams were the best.

Appams are notoriously difficult to get right. The batter is prepared by grinding soaked rice with coconut milk, adding a roux and toddy (or yeast), hand beating the batter and leaving it to rise overnight. No using ready-to-cook powders.

On Easter, after church, we would rush home hungry. A ladle of batter would be poured into the heavy appam chatti (wok) and swirled around. Would the appam stick or come off the chatti? Would it have a lacy edge and a spongy middle? Would the edge be wafer thin with just a hint of crunch?

It was a moment of reckoning.

A disaster? There would be a frantic rush to salvage the batter by adding egg whites, baking soda, coconut milk, or even coconut water? A total disaster? Sigh. We would end up eating bread with shtew.

The perfect appam? Get ready to eat a meal fit for the gods.

We say shtew, you say stew. My Syrian Christian community would pronounce it thus. My aunts did, too, and my grandmother before that. Could a shtew be a stew? Could meat gently simmered in coconut milk and delicately spiced be called a stew? To complicate it further, we call goat meat ‘mutton’ in India. So ‘mutton shtew’ is a misnomer and a mispronounced dish.

With the appam, the shtew-stew has to be goat meat. It is a marriage made in heaven and no chicken is allowed to break it.

Ammini can’t make her appams anymore. She rues the fact that her daughters don’t make it like she does. First extract of coconut milk, second extract, third … who has the time, they tell her. They do their own thing.

She reads her daughter’s Facebook status: “Made awesome appams like my mom’s. Love you ma!”

100 “likes” and 50 “aww” and “awesome” comments.

Ammini: “Where is the photograph? I hope you didn’t use the ready-to-cook powder and make it on a non-stick appam chatti.”

Gosh! How embarrassing. I need to unfriend my mom. A mom is a mom and can never be a Facebook friend.

But she does make the most awesome appams and shtew.

Breakfast Is Best at 40,000 Feet

Apr.01.16

Breakfast Is Best at 40,000 Feet

by Christopher McLackland

Industrial Goodness in the Cockpit

During my normal workweek as a pilot, I receive a standard airline wake-up call at 3:30 am on average.

My airline generally provides decent hotels who offer quiet rooms and an expansive breakfast buffet on the house. However, the freshly cooked omelets, the bacon, the haggis (when in Scotland), the flaky croissants, are available when the buffet opens at 7 am. In the typically bastardly ways of fine print, the hotel slips a caveat into the crew information that “early departing crew will be provided with a continental breakfast option.”

In Hamburg, we receive one roll and one piece of questionable salami per person. In Billund, we get Nescafé and last night’s cheese and crackers. In Venice, the superbly tuxedoed waiter prepares fresh cappuccino and double espressos to accompany a buffet so pitiful it defeats description. In Budapest, it is a cling-wrapped bread roll best used as a weapon. Suffice to say, it’s not worth it.

Nowadays, I pack my bags the night before, lay out my uniform precisely to allow for maximum dressing speed, and request a wake-up call for thirty minutes before pickup. I skip the continental swill and load myself into the bus at the last possible second.

While admittedly jaded from the several hundred flights I do every year, breakfast in the air still thrills me. Matt Goulding’s paean to airline food describes it best: at 6 am, I also “shake with anticipation at the smell from the galley.” A plate of rubbery Spanish tortilla, crispy hash browns, and salsa keeps me going. The distinctly un-flaky, preservative-infused croissant smeared with butter and jam puts a smile on my face and revives my ability to speak. I might even be able to have a conversation with my colleague as I smear another breakfast roll with dill-infused cream cheese (shelf life: one year) and top it with smoked salmon.

By this point, the sun is usually starting to rise, and the view is spectacular. It is time for coffee, contemplation, and contentment at skipping hotel breakfast.

Airline coffee has a shaky reputation, which is deserved. The canisters are rarely cleaned, and the water from the on-board tanks is, to put it charitably, “potable.” It won’t make you sick, but that’s about it. However, there is a secret brewing method that involves cleaning the canister, feeding the pot with bottled water, and positioning the grounds in a particular way. Give it five minutes, and you have something that looks and tastes like coffee.

My indecipherable welcome aboard address changes to a clear and ebullient arrival speech that undoubtedly annoys some of my sleepy passengers. After my plastic tray of industrial goodness, I might just be able to last until Rome this afternoon. An apertivo at Freni e Frizioni is calling me, if I can drag my crew away from the grotty bar next to our hotel. And pickup tomorrow is, mercifully, at 9 am.


The author is writing under a pseudonym.

A Dream-Like Jet Lagged Meal Interrupted by a Monster

Mar.31.16

A Dream-Like Jet Lagged Meal Interrupted by a Monster

by Laurie Woolever

Squid in Kanazawa

Through some combination of naiveté and denial, I believed I’d overcome my jet lag just three days after leaving New York, but it persists: I am wide awake, and hungry for breakfast, at 2 am, after a few hours of super-deep sleep in a business hotel in Kanazawa, Japan. There are worse fates.

Kanazawa is a city of just under half a million people, situated at the foot of the Tateyama mountain range and just inland from the base of the Noto Peninsula that curves into the Sea of Japan. The shinkansen (bullet train) line from Tokyo that once terminated in Nagano began running to and from Kanazawa in April 2015; for now, this city remains largely unexplored by foreign tourists, though they—we—are slowly starting to arrive.

Yesterday was Shunbun no Hi, the vernal equinox, a public holiday in Japan; at lunchtime, the 300-year-old, seafood-intensive Omi-cho market was packed with families snacking on oysters the size of a grown man’s hand, steamed snow crab legs, uni in the shell, and megaprawns. Now, after hours, there’s a high concentration of drunk, young, cigarette-smoking life on the wide avenues and tiny back alleys that intersect outside my hotel as I walk to Lawson, the nearest konbini.

It’s reliably over-lit, staffed by unwavering professionals, and crammed with things like “fish and almonds”—a bag of slivered blanched nuts mixed with tiny dried silvery fish—and packages of chewy, semi-dehydrated squid rings coated in spicy grated roe. I have already tried, and loved, both of these snacks, but I want something more recognizably meal-like, so I choose a cold container of sliced raw squid seasoned with spicy roe, a skewer of juicy grilled and glazed chicken thigh, and a salty egg salad sandwich on crustless white bread.

Back in my hotel room, I brew a cup of green tea and happily consume the meal that I hope will convince mind and body to let me sleep for a few hours. I turn on the TV, seeking further narcotic effect, but there’s that fucking garbage monster, Donald Trump, a dream-stealer, a waking nightmare. I may never actually sleep again.

A Simple, Soothing Breakfast Unlike Any Other

Mar.30.16

A Simple, Soothing Breakfast Unlike Any Other

by Dara Bramson

Coconut in Vientiane

I haven’t spoken for four days. Under the weight of my bulging backpack, my final moments of silence are spent walking gingerly down 309 brick steps from the golden pagoda above.

Up at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, 3,500 feet above sea level overlooking Chiang Mai, words and wealth are irrelevant; consumption is subsistence, not pleasure. Down at the market, capitalism is once again at my fingertips. Steps between worlds.

Wafts of spicy curry hover around me as I walk through the crowded market toward the food section, past vendors chopping vegetables and stacking fruit. Even after days of two humble (albeit surprisingly tasty) meals per day, a hearty dish is not calling to me. I beeline for my beloved breakfast: coconut.

I point, pay 30 THB (less than $1 USD), and hold my breath as a young Thai woman lifts a machete to hack open my meal in her bare hands. The cool, sweet liquid is vivid on my tongue, and I feel like I finally understand the word quench. I glide my finger between the stiff shell and soft meat, savoring the smooth texture as much as the taste. It was bliss, and the only meal my body handled gracefully while recalibrating that week.

I fell in love with coconut while living in Bangkok years earlier. My strict nightly ritual included visiting the local market for two bulging plastic bags of cloudy water and a straw for the next morning. Walking home, the swishing fluid in my palms always evoked a childhood memory: driving home from the pet store with my best friend, each of us holding our own colorful beta fish.

In Southeast Asia, I began to understand that the complex history of coconuts transcended my naïve predilection. At my first Thai cooking class, we met our teacher at a local market, where she led us to a vendor whose loud, powerful shredder ground the course skin and meat into a giant plastic bag. Hours later, I massaged a cheesecloth full of shavings into warm water for soon-to-be milk, a core element of the dishes we would cook. “It takes time,” she admitted, while laughing at my sore fingers, emphasizing how integral coconut is to regional cuisine.

Before I began traveling in the region, coconut was the oil that migrated between my kitchen and bathroom; the occasional can of milk serving as a base for mediocre curries. Once I was there, however, coconut was comfort; gentle, soothing, healthy, and safe when alternatives appeared questionable. The all-in-one, nutrient-rich fruit-nut-seed became a staple in my diet, a far cry from the nasty bottled coconut water that I deem sacrilege. Now, ask me what victory is. I’ll tell you the story of opening a coconut from the backyard of my childhood home, days after landing from Saigon.

It’s True, “Fried Oil Ghost” Is a Great Name for a Snack

Mar.29.16

It’s True, “Fried Oil Ghost” Is a Great Name for a Snack

by Kiki Aranita

Yauhjagwai in Wan Chai

At breakfast in Wan Chai, I order milk tea, pork meatball jook—porridge—and cheung fun—a rice noodle roll—stuffed with ground beef. I know I won’t be able to finish everything. The jook is there for me to dip my yauhjagwai into. I love jook but I love yauhjagwai more. It’s youtiao in Mandarin, or “oil stick.” The Cantonese name, yauhjagwai or “fried oil ghost” is much better, so let’s call it that.

I’ve looked for yauhjagwai and found it all around Asia, piled up in baskets in the sunshine of Yangon, alongside my morning soy milk in Taipei, called quay and crammed in massive plastic bags in Hanoi, intended for dipping into pho. I don’t always need the pho or the soy milk.

When I moved to New York for college, my Hong Kong friends and I looked for yauhjagwai in Chinatown. We found many, but they never tasted the way they do at home. They were always drier, staler, and sadder. I bought sticks from Cantonese barbecue places, dim sum restaurants, and also those packaged ones you can find in refrigerated sections, and they all sent me into fits of heaving, unbearable homesickness. Yauhjagwai is supposed to be crisp (but not crunchy) on the outside with just a bit of chew on the inside. Air pockets in the dough are good.

The ones in Hong Kong are the length of my forearm. The sticks are found in pairs, conjoined twins stuck together that will slick your fingers with oil during sundering. Don’t get them too late in the day. They can’t be resuscitated.

My uncles frown at me as I whip out my phone to take a photo of my breakfast. Auntie Mary comes to my defense against the disapproval. “The camera eats first. The camera always eats first,” she says.

The congee is perfect. Silky, the way it should be, and seasoned enough to make condiments optional, though a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil never does any harm. When I make jook for myself at home, I’ll add turmeric, to force an extra pinch of health into my body. This pure white jook thus seems a little sinful to me in its perfection.

If I weren’t so fixated on yauhjagwai, this jook would have been the ultimate luxury. I mistook a pot of oatmeal for jook at Auntie May’s house, which caused me great distress. I dislike oatmeal. Auntie May eats it like jook and she puts ground black sesame seeds into it, a sort of Chinese tahini, which she insists keeps one’s hair black because her mother, my Popo, said this was so. I ate the ground black sesame seeds plain and oatmeal-less, by the spoonful, and met my other aunts and uncles for breakfast.

Auntie Mary looks at me doubtfully when I order zha leung, which is yauhjagwai wrapped in a giant rice noodle the way cheung fun is folded around meat and dressed with hoisin sauce and sesame seeds, but I polish it off, dipping some pieces into jook. Starch on starch on starch. I like more croutons in my salad than leafy greens and more yauhjagwai in my jook than well, jook. When the yauhjagwai is this good, jook is only a condiment to me.

Uncle Douglas, whom I call Da Jojo or Big Uncle in Chinese, the only one I always address in Chinese, stares intently at me during my yauhjagwai consumption (he usually ignores me). He says next time I come back, to tell the waitresses that I am his niece. “Remind them about me. You will get a discount.” My aunts all laugh. “No, they will charge her double!” one says.

Screw the Rules, Eat at the Indian Restaurant Inside the Gas Station

Mar.28.16

Screw the Rules, Eat at the Indian Restaurant Inside the Gas Station

by Jordan White

Chicken Korma in Nebraska

Of all the general life rules—don’t take candy from a stranger, look both ways before you cross the street, never wear white socks with black shoes—perhaps the most universally accepted is this: never, ever eat at the ethnic restaurant inside of a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

Twenty-four miles outside of Kearney, Nebraska, on the I-80 exit for Overton (a village of 588 people) rests a Shell gas station, somewhat worn and weathered. The dust has dulled the once sunshine-yellow of the awnings into something resembling an intense mustard. Just below the sign advertising the price of gas is a gravel-battered sign that reads, “Indian food. Exit now.”

At first, we were only too happy to adhere to the rule. This was just supposed to be a quick fill up and pit stop for me and my girlfriend on our way to see the sandhill crane migration in Kearney. Then a single card sowed the seed of intrigue.

Hanging on the community board just inside the station was a letter from a family from Chicago, praising Jay Bros as the best Indian food they’d ever had. They said they had tried Indian restaurants all over North America, from Chicago to Washington D.C. to New York to Toronto. All of them paled in comparison to the humble gas station. There were no newspaper clippings or Zagat reviews. Just that single, simple card.

I got back in the car and we drove the quick half hour to Kearney to see the cranes. They were beautiful, striking. Tens of thousands of cranes descended upon unbloomed fields, feeding and dancing. Their song, a melodic chirp, was constant and inescapable. Yet, for all of their hypnotic beauty, they couldn’t force Jay Bros from my mind.

Tales abound of awful experiences at shady restaurants, of food poisoning and mystery meat and food that only barely qualifies as such. But there are just as many tales of pleasant surprises, like the hole in the wall that serves a life-changing sandwich. Jay Bros had all the ingredients to be one or the other, and I needed to find out which one it was. After a final push from Kristen, we decided we’d go to Jay Bros for a late breakfast on our way back to Denver the next day.

We pulled up to the restaurant, anxious and eager. As soon as the owner—Harry, who’s from just outside of Mumbai, as I’d later learn—saw us walking towards the restaurant part of the building, he motioned for us to take a seat, placing menus in front of us as we did. We ordered some naan, vegetable samosas, chicken tikka masala, and chicken korma. Not a typical breakfast platter, but, when in Overton…

Whatever hesitancy still remained was quickly washed away at first bite. The tikka masala was perfectly balanced: the tomato didn’t overpower the dish, and the cream floated through the mouth. The korma had only the slightest hint of peanut, waiting to be discovered rather than standing in the spotlight. Unlike some restaurants, which give you mountains of food, the portions here were just enough to satisfy both hunger and curiosity.

A life lived solely by the rules is muted and dull. There are times where we must throw caution to the wind, say to hell with the rules, and take the plunge headfirst. Food is often the perfect window into these opportunities, a gateway drug into the unexpected. Maybe we end up worse for the wear, but at least we tried.

Egg and Noodles Sounds Good, But You Lost Us With the French Toast

Mar.25.16

Egg and Noodles Sounds Good, But You Lost Us With the French Toast

by Kiki Aranita

Vermicelli in Old Bagan

Surveying the breakfast buffet at the hotel in Old Bagan, I pick at the only things not covered in flies: rice vermicelli, a freshly fried egg, and a piece of French toast. I skip the crusty pot of congee and its little bowls of condiments altogether, though I really wanted congee this morning. It would have been some semblance of home in Burma, where not a lot makes sense to me.

Burma bewilders me, with its missing sidewalks and the occasional abandoned shotgun propped against a pillar at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (who abandons a shotgun in a public place?). And there’s the obsession with crisp, never-creased Euro and American bills: withdrawing cash from Wells Fargo before I departed, I had to tell the tellers to give me bills with which you could cut soft-boiled eggs. They looked at me as though I had three heads. I have also never been more grateful for the new bills in the lai see packets I received from relatives in Hong Kong at Chinese New Year, where I stopped on the way to Yangon.

There are two ancient pagodas behind me and the Ayeyarwaddy river stretches out in front of my breakfast table. No one tells you to not touch the pagodas in Bagan. There are no guards. No one there to tell you not to do things. I’m tempted to tell off people climbing up precipitous walls outside pagodas, to tell people running their hands over wall paintings to stop, but it feels futile, sort of like scolding someone else’s children.

A bowl of congee would be nice. But on the buffet, I can hardly see the diced hardboiled eggs in the bowl beneath the quivering black sheath of flies. The staff is gracious and attentive, but their languid waving arms cannot prevent the flies from descending. The coffee is bitter and terrible, idling and evaporating in a pot on a warmer, accompanied by a bowl of sugar and packets of cornstarch-based creamer.

Every meal I’ve had in this country has been glorious, until this one.

But as I start eating, I decide that a fried egg with a runny yolk, noodles, and French toast are the perfect breakfast, and the views in front and back of me make for a perfect day. I turn away from my plate for a second and take a step toward the pagodas. A dozen or so crows descend upon my table, swatting each other while trying to get at French toast scraps. I abandon breakfast.

Escaping the crows and the flies, I go back to the temples, leaving my shoes at the gate. The pagodas are small, but the golden Buddha figures inside are well tended to. Since these temples are on the hotel’s property, there are gates surrounding them, which is a greater attempt at preservation than I saw elsewhere in Bagan. Carpets cover limestone floors. Fruits, flower garlands, prayer beads, and bottles filled with sona flowers and water are laid out on chairs and low tables that serve as makeshift altars.

Two weeks after I’ve left Bagan, I read news of a ban going into place, prohibiting visitors from climbing pagodas. Then a couple days after that, another notice is quickly issued, reporting backpedaling on the ban.

Burmese Curries and Skijoring Is a Really Specific Combination

Mar.24.16

Burmese Curries and Skijoring Is a Really Specific Combination

by Carol Patterson

Breakfast Samosas in Canada

Few chefs have 98 dogs, but for Russell Donald they are as critical to business as his Burmese grandmother’s curry recipes. Donald fell in love with dogsledding and moved to Canada from the United Kingdom in 1988, bringing along his love of curries.

Now he runs dog sleds on the trails in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and runs The Mad Dog Café & Market with his wife, Dawn. “We’re not an Indian restaurant, but Indian food is our specialty,” explained Russell as I perused the chalkboard menu. Eating breakfast in a place called Dead Man’s Flats and served by an Englishman who claims to be mad (about dogs and curries) may sound risky. In fact, it’s a delicious way to start a visit to Banff National Park or Kananaskis Country. The café is a short drive to either park and you can dogsled before or after you eat.

Luna, the café mascot—an aloof Alaskan husky with one blue eye and one brown eye—had already headed to the trailhead when I tucked into my breakfast samosas and tomato chutney. The smell of curries wafting from the kitchen had my senses screaming “comfort food” as I bit into the lightly browned pastry. The flavors of eggs, bacon, sausage, and onion danced on my taste buds as Russell explained what it is like to cook for human customers and also feed nearly 100 dogs. “I used to go to the market to set up, then go feed the dogs, then run back to work at the market and then go back to the dogs. It was nuts!” he laughed. Now, the business has more staff, so Dawn has added menu items and Russell has attempted to set a world record for skijoring: being pulled on cross-country skis by a team of twelve sled dogs.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to try a breakfast Nanini—tomato chutney, eggs, cheese, bacon, and banana peppers wrapped in naan bread—as I rushed to layer on my winter clothes to go dogsledding. Driving up a narrow gravel road to the frozen Spray Lakes, I found Luna and twenty of her canine friends waiting to run with the excitement of a football team seconds before the ball is snapped.

Our guide led in the first sled with seven dogs and two passengers. Zaboo—the 9-year-old Huskie leading our group—looked over his shoulder, his pink tongue lolling out the side of his mouth as he settled into a steady run over the crusty spring snow. His gaze seemed to say this old dog knew all the tricks and I didn’t have much to offer except ballast. I travelled in the middle sled, trusting my team would follow Zaboo since my skill with haw and gee—left and right in dog-speak—was limited.

The sky was the color of a bluebird and the snow sparkled as we slid by. Pine smells drifted from the thick forest and the wind tickled my ears. I imagined what it had been like for early explorers who faced craggy peaks and tangled forests without snow machines or automobiles. Dog sleds could have helped winter travel but it is unlikely anyone was snacking on samosas.

Where the Salsa Is Fresh and the Huevos Come With Weenies

Mar.23.16

Where the Salsa Is Fresh and the Huevos Come With Weenies

by Carolina A. Miranda

Huevos con Weenie in L.A.

The conventional wisdom on Ciro’s Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles is that you get the flautas. These are the thin, crispy tubes of corn tortilla stuffed with shredded beef and presented in a veritable pond of guacamole. Ciro’s flautas are well-documented on Instagram and Yelp. They have been duly analyzed and deconstructed on Chowhound. And they have been lauded, on more than one occasion, by L.A.’s Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic, Jonathan Gold.

I am indeed an ardent fan of the flautas, along with the huevos rancheros, and the chorizo con huevo (a good hangover resurrection food). But the item on the menu that always grabs my attention—for its alliteration, its aesthetics, and the sheer nostalgia it induces whenever I see it on the menu in all-caps Times New Roman—is HUEVOS CON WEENIE. Eggs scrambled with hot dog.

As a kid, there were two food items in my mother’s refrigerator that could turn a trivial portion of leftovers into a meal. The first was an egg. The second was pan-grilled sausage. And by sausage, naturally, I mean a wiener: an industrially extruded cylinder of animal parts in some resplendent shade of pink.

A fried egg could transform a plate of white rice into a meal. A sausage could make up for an arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) that had already had all the pollo picked out of it. Put huevos and weenies together and you had the ultimate dinner of last ingredients.

At Ciro’s, a small, family-run diner that has been dishing up breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles since 1972, the huevos con weenie do not disappoint. Partly, this is because this bountiful breakfast platter arrives with rice, beans, tortillas, and the restaurant’s legendary avocado salsa, the latter spilling out of its black plastic mortar. And partly because they simply taste familiar, soft and salty, tucked into tortillas with mounds of beans and salsa.

But I also like the huevos con weenie because they are so resolutely of this place. Ciro’s isn’t the kind of spot you go to on an impossible foodie quest for some rare taco from the mountains of Durango. The menu is simple. And the décor is straight out of the tía handbook of interior design: wood-paneled walls and Mexican blankets capped with a stellar jukebox that plays oldies.

Ciro’s isn’t about being out. It’s about being at home, where the salsa is always fresh and the huevos con weenie are always on the menu.

Milk, Bread, Butter, Chocolate

Mar.22.16

Milk, Bread, Butter, Chocolate

by Marcia DeSanctis

Chocolat Toast in Bayonne

It was one of my more notable detours in a lifetime of impractical diversions on the road. Last summer, I took a long side trip on the way from Lourdes to the airport in Biarritz and stopped in Bayonne, a riverside city in the Pays Basque, just inland from the glittering beaches of the Atlantic coast. Good sense would have dictated that I fly out of Pau, which was much closer. Plus, I was not eager to pass through hordes of chi-chi vacationers inching through traffic on the Côte Basque, of which Biarritz was the de facto capital.

But this was no ordinary deviation, late as I was for the 8 pm flight to Paris. I could anticipate the regret, the what-ifs, the self-recriminations that were all but certain to cascade over me if, because of some foolish airplane reservation, I lost my chance to pull over for Chocolat Toast at Cazenave.

Every great food city has its emblematic dish: Singapore has chili crab, New Orleans has beignets, Brussels has moules frites. The singular aspect of Chocolat Toast, though, is that this signature, utterly Bayonnais concoction is served only at Cazenave, a family-owned shop on the rue Port Neuf.

It’s construction is simple: a cup of foamy hot chocolate as thick as Greek yogurt with a stalagmite of whipped cream on the side, two slices of buttered brioche toast and a generous pitcher of ice water (presumably to cut the blood fats swirling around after ingesting this achingly rich combination). Served at breakfast, at l’heure du thé, or right before closing time to post-miracle pilgrims from Lourdes craving the earth’s most glorious comfort food and who give no damns about missing their flight, the Chocolat Toast ritual is perhaps the sole obligation of the visitor to Bayonne. “People often stop here because it’s a tradition, which is both because of Cazenave itself and also because of the history of chocolate in Bayonne,” says owner Pantxoa Bimboire.

As his name indicates, he is a child of the Basque country, whose grandmother had been a waitress at the salon de thé in the rear of the chocolate shop and who, in 1930, convinced her husband to sell his jewelry store and buy Cazenave. Even then, a tray laden with Chocolat Toast was the iconic dish of this small city on the banks of the Nive and Adour Rivers, the ancestral home of the cocoa bean in France, which had journeyed there from Spain.

While he was decimating the local population, the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés saw economic value in the drink the Aztecs called xocolatl, which revved Emperor Montezuma’s troops for battle. Cortés appropriated Mexico’s cacao plantations, and in 1524, the first beans arrived in Spain. Soon the addition of sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon rendered sweet flavor to the medicinal liquid brew and the drink became all the rage throughout Europe’s royal courts.

But in Spain, the chocolate trade was run chiefly by Sephardic Jews, and during the Inquisition, they were forced to flee for Portugal. Again, they were swiftly expelled before finding refuge in the Saint-Esprit quarter of Bayonne, where they brought the tools and know-how of the cocoa trade to France. Soon, another ignoble chapter: In 1761, an ordinance created by Catholic chocolatiers barred Jews from working in the chocolate industry. The Bordeaux parliament annulled this decree in 1767 and by 1854, there were 34 chocolate makers in Bayonne. This is the year that Cazenave opened its doors in the storefront where it remains today.

The shop window is perhaps a testament to Pantxoa Bimboire’s heritage, with plaques of chocolate wrapped in elegant, gem-hued paper. Normally, I’d stop to swoon over the stylish packaging, but it was late that July afternoon, and I had two hours until my plane’s departure. I made my way through the store to the salon de thé. Lined with smoky, century-old mirrors, the tea-room is suffused with Belle Époque glamor, the kind unfortunate restaurateurs in the New World try, pathetically, to fake. To further the sensation of sitting in a jewel box, the room sits under a stained glass dome, milky white and gold, installed in the 19th century.

What is most unchanging is the dish I crave, nearly always, since my first visit to Bayonne thirty years ago. There is nothing terribly complicated about the recipe. Yes, the chocolate tablets from Costa Rica or Venezuela are now organic, but the hot milk poured over them are still from cows who pasture in the lush Pays Basque, as is the cream for the dense Chantilly. The brioche toast is sliced from a special golden loaf, created by a local baker only for Cazenave. Most unusually, the foam that provides a tantalizing lid to the sweet hot chocolate is still whipped by hand using a wooded mousseuse—beater—fashioned from boxwood. “It will always be the same, because this is the heritage of Bayonne,” says Bimboire, who will soon hand over the store to the fourth generation.

And, I learn, it is somehow my heritage, too. This summer day, in this tearoom, making a beeline for what will sustain me: milk, bread, butter, chocolate, comfort.

Why You’d Want a Picture of a Bunch of Eggs Is Not a Bad Question

Mar.21.16

Why You’d Want a Picture of a Bunch of Eggs Is Not a Bad Question

by Luke Pyenson

Brekkie on the Great Ocean Road

The Princetown General Store and Café looked pretty promising. That is, my party and I were confident it would fulfill the promise of some type of breakfast in this desolate small town along Australia’s Great Ocean Road. It seemed like the only place in town to eat, but I didn’t understand why. Princetown lies just next to Port Campbell, home of The Twelve Apostles, a group of spectacular limestone cliffs rising from the sea that are visited by over one million tourists per year.

In any case, figuring it had to be a good thing that the area hadn’t become over-developed, we entered the General Store intent on encountering the type of “brekkie” that might adequately prepare us for visiting one of the Southern Hemisphere’s most impressive natural wonders.

Australia is a land awash in over-the-top breakfast propositions, cheffy creations that go far beyond the humble and delicious avocado toast. Days earlier in Melbourne, I had eaten at cafes whose menus read like a cross between Ottolenghi’s shopping lists and Dominique Ansel’s press releases. Harissa, labne, and dukkah comfortably coexisted with salted caramel, chocolate ganache-filled hotcakes, and all manner of flavored mascarpones. That’s not the type of thing we were up against in Princetown.

Inside the General Store, the interior decor was appropriately sparse: a few shelves stocked between one and two items each of staple dry goods. (If Vegemite is neither dry nor good, is it still a dry good? Discuss.) There was also a display rack holding brochures advertising local attractions. There were no avocados. Beyond a small counter there was a porch-like seating area and a picnic table overlooking the Gellibrand River.

Approaching the counter, we were met by the owner, Sharyn, and her son, looking frankly quite bored and a little surprised to have customers. I ordered a pretty typical fry-up (eggs, bacon, griddled tomatoes, and toast) and went out to the picnic table, passing the small kitchen area on my way. After a little while, the scent of bacon, as it is wont to do, began to waft outside, taunting me to go back in and take a photo of Sharyn making our breakfasts.

I’m not comfortable taking photos of people without asking, and I’m often too timid to ask. In this case, I had a feeling Sharyn might be a tough customer, but the photogenic scene unfolding in this rural Australian kitchen was, unexpectedly, a photographer’s dream. Each element of the fry-up was standing out in bright contrast to the black flattop griddle, steam was rising and fogging up the window, and Sharyn was presiding over the peaceful ritual with an unwavering concentration. I asked her if I could take some photos. Her response was something like, “Okay, but why would you want to?”

I could sense that Sharyn wasn’t wild about having her photo taken, so I took just one of her before focusing in on the eggs, bacon, tomatoes, and bread. I don’t think they cared.

Longing to Return to a Place You’ve Never Been

Mar.17.16

Longing to Return to a Place You’ve Never Been

by Dara Bramson

Lahpet in Phnom Penh

The faint aroma of stewing curry leads the way, reassurance that I’m not lost. As soon as I walk into Irrawaddi Myanmar Gallery Restaurant—Phnom Penh’s only Burmese eatery—I meet the owner’s eyes. She greets me with a smile, one that indicates she recognizes me, reinforced when she leads me to “my” table. It’s my third time here this week—today at breakfast time rather than dinner, though my order won’t change.

After weeks traveling alone with little intimate human contact, her graciousness fills a void as if I was enveloped by her soft embrace. Ceremoniously, she asks for my order and we both smirk slightly, ready to play the game.

“Lahpet, khayan thee hnut, and lapea yea with…”

“…no sugar!” she interrupts, as we giggle.

Moments later, a warm vegetable broth is in front of me, drops of oil and slices of soft onion floating about. Somehow—despite my permanent sweat marks from the enduring, sticky heat—this is soothing and not repellent. Mostly, the soup is a distraction from my anticipation for what brought me here in the first place: tea.

I first tried Burmese food in 2014, during a research trip to the Thai border district Mae Sot, a 10-minute drive east from the nearest Burmese trade town. When I wasn’t drinking tea, I was eating tea; the latter a custom of few countries in the world. (This was a treat for me as a tea-lover who is often ostracized for not drinking coffee.)

At the main market, I bought packets of sugary, clay-orange tea mix and strolled on the adjacent sidewalk. From there I could see Burma—renamed Myanmar in 1989 by the military junta—beyond a messy no-man’s-land; a jumble of trees and trash surrounding empty, dusty pathways, occasionally occupied by humans or mangy dogs. Robed monks walked past me and bilingual warning signs; vendors stood behind haphazard barbed wire or sat in makeshift wooden booths selling cigarettes and sex paraphernalia, eating and drinking tea.

Though I never set foot in Burma, the impressions of its people and flavors lingered. What’s the word for wanting to return to a place you’ve never been? The closest I’ve come since were restaurants in San Francisco, Seattle, Chiang Mai, and now, Phnom Penh.

My eggplant dish is gone. I return to three final bites of salad, an explosive combination of fermented green tea leaves, crunchy nuts and seeds, fresh tomatoes, a cocktail of pastes and oils, and a few critical splashes of pungent fish sauce, a condiment akin to an ugly dress that looks great when you put it on. By now, the restaurant is buzzing and every table is feasting on Burma’s national dish. I’m tempted to order another but remember the forthcoming beverage.

Even as a former British colony, Burmese tea culture is distinctly Burmese. Teahouses are gathering places, where customers sit around low tables and tea masters know their preferences—more or less strong, milky, sweet—and where government spies clandestinely monitor patrons for conversations considered subversive. While I wait, I read Finding George Orwell in Burma, in which Emma Larkin traces the imperial policeman-turned-author’s years in Burma from 1922 to 1927.

My tea arrives. It’s perfectly milky, without sugar.

Dumplings Made of Meat, Flour, and Not Much Else

Mar.16.16

Dumplings Made of Meat, Flour, and Not Much Else

by Helen Wright

Khuushuur in Ulaanbaatar

It’s 9 am in Ulaanbaatar and my host mum Uka is chopping meat on the small kitchen table. The blade of the knife slices through the frozen mutton and thumps the wooden chopping board below.

I’ve just got up and am nursing a cup of dissolvable antibiotics and orange squash. Through the window at the end of the kitchen I can see the brown smog swirling around the buildings; it’s that air pollution which has given me a dose of conjunctivitis and a hacking cough. In the winter months, the city has one of the highest levels of air pollution in the world.

Uka, who has just come back from a yoga class, is making khuushuur—fried dumplings—for us to take on a picnic later today. I’ve been staying with her for almost a month and she wants to show me there is more to Mongolia than that capital city.

She takes out lumps of icy sheep meat from the freezer and defrosts them in the oven. The mutton is left over from the Lunar New Year festival, Tsagaan Sar, two weeks ago, and we’ve been struggling to eat it all since. The sheep’s head, stomach, and bones are outside in bags, frozen at -20 degrees, on the balcony. The winter weather is far more effective—and the balcony much bigger—than Uka’s freezer.

She shakes a large amount of flour into a bowl, adds water, then kneads the mixture into dough. She pushes it around the pink pearlescent plastic bowl with her hands before dividing it into six lumps. She rolls each dough ball out with a rolling pin and spoons the filling of chopped mutton and cabbage into the center. Then she folds the dough over on itself and crimps the edges to make it hold. At the end she has too much meat left and makes a giant dumpling we nickname “the fat one” while giggling.

By the stove, her 14-year-old daughter is already frying the first batch. When they have turned brown on both sides she transfers them to a plastic container on the worktop, where they send up spirals of steam.

Uka and her daughter leave the kitchen to get changed and I’m told to help myself to the golden parcels for breakfast.

I take my first bite: the dough is tough but tasty, the meat tender and the cabbage soft. The fat from the meat spills out, runs down my hand and onto the tabletop.

Dumplings made of meat, flour, and not much else have been eaten for centuries in Mongolia, a country which traditionally can’t grow much produce because of the harsh winters, which can drop to -40 and lower.

We drive 60 miles west through valleys lined with snow-covered mountains along good roads, bad roads, and finally no roads at all to a Buddhist temple. The sky is blue and clear, the snow so white it makes the clouds look grey. The golden roofs of the temples gleam in the sunlight. I’m made to climb through a rock called “mother’s womb” to get reborn.

It’s wonderful to be able breath in clean air again.

Later, driving home, we pull up by the side of the road and eat our picnic. I’m sitting in the passengers seat in the front of the car and through the windscreen all I can see is white and blue.

The dumplings are still warm and just as delicious, but this time the view is much better.

Comfort Food for Early Risers and Late-Night Partiers

Mar.15.16

Comfort Food for Early Risers and Late-Night Partiers

by Jasper Teow

Teochew porridge in Singapore

I was seated at a local kopitiam (coffee shop) in a slightly questionable neighborhood. It has the requisite tissue-strewn greasy floor tiles, and the jarring crackle of once chart-topping mandopop hits blasts in the background. I’m sitting under the vulgar protrusion of flickering fluorescence that is its signboard, once upon a time serving to differentiate the shop from its rivals down the street, now serving merely to allude passers-by to its dwindling existence.

My watch reads 3 am. A group of six saunter in, fresh from a night of drunken revelry at the nearby clubs. The men are middle-aged, jaded. The ladies are supplying forced laughter and faked flattery, and are wearing revealing party dresses as fleshy as they are flashy. They take their place on flimsy plastic stools, ordering up a second, maybe third, round of drinks. The chosen one of the group ambles to the counter, shouting out orders like a seasoned professional, without stopping to look at what’s on display. Perhaps everything looks alike with beer goggles on.

To them, this is supper. A reward for their work on the dance floor, fuel for further shenanigans. The night is still young.

My watch reads 3:30 am. A frail, elderly man in a cleaner’s uniform takes his seat in a corner, observing the earlier group over the rim of his kopi mug. He waits for the group to finish ordering before hobbling up to inspect the offerings on display, estimating the cost of different permutations of dishes and whether it fits within his limited budget. After settling on his optimal combination, he points to indicate his choices, ordering without a word.

To him, this is breakfast. A necessity to last through the long day ahead, fuel to grind through his double shift washing toilets at the nearby 24-hour shopping mall. The day’s just begun.

The selected dishes arrive, ranging from the simple—boiled peanuts, salted duck eggs, stir-fried greens—to the more elaborate—plump steamed squid, chilli smothered clams, fatty meats stewed for hours on end, and braised tofu—all accompanied by steaming, piping bowls of plain porridge. Much has been said about comfort food being a great equalizer, and just for a moment, I could see the food in question, teochew porridge, as just that. The moment the thud of bowls on tables signals the arrival of the food, everyone in the kopitiam—no matter his or her financial situation, state of mind, or lot in life—halts all conversation, and just for that moment, everyone focuses instead on executing the scoop-soup-slurp-burp process of consuming teochew porridge, exhaling in quiet satisfaction with the repeat of each cycle.

It is a dish of juxtapositions. On one hand, you have over-boiled rice. Plain, bland, and oft described by locals as “sick people food.” However, any semblance of the ordinary is instantly dispelled by the accompanying dishes, often liberally spiced, heavily oiled, lavishly salted, or intensely pickled. Not to forget the imperative condiments, taucheo (fermented soybeans) and a potent blend of vinegar, garlic, and pounded chillis. Teochew porridge excites, but at the same time, it comforts.

The elderly man downs his last scoop of porridge water and lets out a soft sigh, acknowledging the long day ahead. He takes one more furtive look at the group of six, now finished with their meal, before shuffling out of his seat and onto the dimly lit street.

Finding the Breakfast You Didn’t Know You Were Meant to Eat

Mar.14.16

Finding the Breakfast You Didn’t Know You Were Meant to Eat

by Raksha Vasudevan

Rolexes in Uganda

The sweetest surprise of moving to Uganda has been re-discovering the breakfasts of my south Indian childhood.

Since the late 19th century, when Indian workers were brought over by British colonialists to help build the Uganda-Kenya railway, certain Indian dishes have become so assimilated into local cuisine that they are now considered Ugandan by all measures.

The chapatti is a good example. Long bus journeys are thankfully broken up by vendors crowding around the vehicles, hawking chapatti, samosas, and bhajji (vegetable fritters), still warm from deep frying. The chapatti is also critical to the rolex, the ubiquitous Ugandan street food and ideal breakfast: an egg fried quick-quick on a sizzling round black stove, garnished with tomatoes, onion, peppers, cabbage, and if you’re lucky, avocado, all folded into a chapatti. The perfect portable breakfast on a hungover Saturday (or jam-packed Monday that leaves no time for lunch).

Ugandan soil also yields giant, deformed-looking jackfruit and sunrise-colored mangos in copious quantities. As a child in Madras, I remember their sticky juices leaking down my chin as I gobbled up the flesh so fast that my mother would worry about me choking. Later, growing up in Canada, I would sometimes splurge on a mango, only to be inevitably disappointed, the taste of the imported fruit a mere shadow of its freshly plucked cousin. Fortunately, the Ugandan equivalents are as fleshily sweet as any I remember having in India.

These familiar foods were unexpectedly comforting as I tried to find my footing in a foreign land. But it was when I visited one of Kampala’s oldest Indian restaurants that something clicked, that feeling of forces beyond your comprehension bringing you to a place that you did not even know you were supposed to be. I had expected the north Indian dishes available in most Indian restaurants in North America: butter chicken, paneer tikka, naan. But it was their south Indian menu, with dishes perfect for breakfast or tiffin (light midday meal), that almost brought tears to my eyes: mysore masala dosa (spongy dosa with a red chutney and potato stuffing), uttapam (vegetable pancake made from rice flour and dal), idli (soft white steamed lentil rice cakes) with sambar (lentil-based vegetable gravy), mango pickle, and coconut chutney. And, incredibly, the desserts displayed behind the glass counter held pal kova, my favorite sweet, the one that would wake me in the middle of the night in Madras, compelling me to creep into the kitchen like a thief and steal a few pieces, shivering with illicit delight.

The entire meal tasted—felt—like home.

The melding of Ugandan and Indian cuisine remains rather one-sided, at least to my foreign eyes: Indian dishes have been absorbed into local food culture, but only a few Indian restaurants serve any version of matoke and beans, or posho with g-nut (grounded peanut) sauce. Maybe such fusion is next, or maybe not. Maybe like in any healthy relationship, the cuisines are meant to co-exist, sometimes mingling, doing things together, but living out their own stories.

From the Land That Brought You Vegemite, a New Breakfast Treat

Mar.09.16

From the Land That Brought You Vegemite, a New Breakfast Treat

by Patricia Rey Mallén

Avocado on Raisin Bread in Sydney

There I am, once again. Eyes wide open, thoughts a-fluttering, not a hint of sleepiness. Even though is 4:30 am, and I am in bed. A bed miles away from the one I slept in the night before.

Oh, jet lag. You unrelenting son of a bitch.

(In Spanish, jet lag is male. English has been my working language on and off for over seven years, but some habits die hard.)

After a decade on the road, I thought it would get easier. It has not.

My very first experience with severe jet lag was, as it is for many Europeans, in Australia. I was 21, a senior in college, about to embark on a year abroad in Sydney.

I could barely remember when my infatuation with Australia started. I had dreamed about the land down under for so long. I was so ready to take it all in, if only I could get some sleep.

Luckily for me, I was introduced to the Aussie remedy nice and early, when I woke my landlord at 5:45 one morning in a jet-lagged haze a few days after I landed. The poor guy opened the door after a few knocks, all bleary-eyed and messy-haired, and invited me in.

While I rambled on about something or other, he brewed some coffee and brought me something to eat: smashed avocado on raisin toast. He had yet to utter a word.

I absentmindedly took a bite, not even processing that I had never had avocados before, and that the bread had raisins in it, not minding to even pause my chattering. He stopped me cold with the first words he had said to me: “Do you like it?” The clock marked a little past 6 am.

The question made me think about what I was eating for the first time. Did I like it? I usually had toast for breakfast, but it was plain, white bread with butter on it. Simple flavors.

This was salty and sweet and creamy and crunchy all at once, as if the food gods had decided to throw it all together and let me choose the taste quality that I enjoyed the most. I slowly chewed it for a few seconds, pondering.

“You know what, I actually do,” I said. It wasn’t a lie.

“It’s an Aussie thing. Avocado is nature’s butter,” he said. “You’ll have this plenty other times.”

I would come to learn during my stay that Australians take breakfast seriously. In the years since my first visit, I have found that Australia is the unofficial breakfast destination, with travel and food bloggers singing the beauty of brekkie.

In the upcoming months I would munch on blueberry bread with butter, not only eat but love Vegemite with cheese on toast, and learn to make flat whites during a stint as a barista at a local coffee shop.

I would even have raisin toast with simple butter a few times, but smashed avocado won every time. It always managed to bring me back to that first week, even when I finally got used to eat it at a less extreme breakfast hour.

My year in Australia kicked off my nomadic life, and ten years since I cried of happiness upon seeing the Opera House from the plane, I still think about Sydney on a daily basis.

I find glimpses of the country here and there, in every coffee shop offering flat whites and fellow travelers who generously spare a spread of their Vegemite. Avocado toast has remained a godsend in every new batch of blurry first days after I land somewhere several time zones over, and I have tried to replicate the dish all around the world whenever I find myself unable to sleep at 4 am – including whenever I am back in Spain, to my parent’s bewilderment.

Closest I’ve come is Mexico, which I now call home, and where I have reached a compromise. Avocados are indeed better, but I’ve had to learn to make do with five-grain bread. Raisin toast is, simply, nowhere to be found.

A Slice of Heaven’s Garden and Bad Coffee

Mar.08.16

A Slice of Heaven’s Garden and Bad Coffee

by Rebecca Holland

Harisa in Irbid

It was a late night in June of 2010 when I arrived in Irbid, Jordan, the country’s second-largest city, which sits just south of the Syrian border. The air was warm and heavy with the scent of sand, citrus, cardamom, and cigarette smoke. Scents that on following trips caused a flood of memories and comfort, but on this first foray out of the United States was so very foreign.

Soon, Irbid turned familiar, thanks in large part to a Nescafe stand and a friendly baker. Every morning at 7am I would walk a mile to Irbid University, taking in the hazy sunrise, chaotic traffic, and intense heat, even in the early morning.

There were about a dozen Nescafe stands on that walk, but I always stopped at the one just outside my apartment, where a man named Muhammad served steaming paper cups of instant coffee flavored with cardamom. I would stand, sipping a cup, half asleep, while Muhammad drilled me on Arabic phrases, correcting my pronunciation over and over until he deemed it acceptable. Then he would hand over a second cup for the road.

Though I grew used to the bitter, weak coffee, saved only by the aromatic cardamom, I remained bewildered by Nescafe’s popularity throughout Jordan. Instant coffee accounts for more than 40 percent of coffee in the Middle East, compared to barely 10 percent in North America. Nescafe stands dot the streets of Jordan, lighting up in the night and even popping up along major highways. I tried to find out why, receiving answers from “It’s the best, no?” to “who knows why we do anything, but it’s delicious,” and most often, “we love our Nescafe as much as we love our hummus.” End of story, and after a few months I loved it, too.

A crumbled strip of sidewalk and a hectic roundabout later I arrived at Alahandra Sweets, where Ahmad, a talkative older man with a limp and a toothy grin, would be waiting with a slice of harisa. The dense, sweet semolina and honey cake drenches napkins with its sugary moisture. It looks almost too sweet, but the addition of geranium gives it a floral, lighter flavor as it dissolves in your mouth. Hala, Ahmad’s sister, once called it “a slice of heaven’s garden.” Her laugh filled the little shop, echoing as she wove her way through the trays of kunafa and spinning shelves of baklava, working efficiently to serve the morning rush. Meanwhile, Ahmad offered tea and told me about his time in Alabama, which he adored—”They call it sweet home for a reason, yes?”—and about how he wished he had children. Hala would stop her rushing to present a bowl of pistachios, or maybe dates or oranges, depending on the day.

Hospitality is a hallmark of Jordanian culture, drawn from the traditions of the nomadic Bedouin group, which prizes karam, or generosity, as one of man’s most honorable virtues. It is not uncommon for foreigners to hear “welcome to Jordan” again and again, shouted from cars or storefronts, or to be invited into someone’s home for tea, even if they’ve just met. The warmth will surprise you, then pull you in.

On my last day in Irbid, Muhammad gave me strict instructions to practice Arabic every day, and Ahmad and Hala smothered me with hugs and pushed a box of sweets into my hands.

Though Jordan is filled with wonders from the ancient city of Petra to the Roman Ruins at Jerash, the strangeness of floating in the Dead Sea and the glorious night sky at Wadi Rum, it’s these three people, and these two breakfast rituals on a not very special street in an often overlooked city, that have remained in my mind.

Photo: Osamah.w

How Do You Say “Starbucks Sucks” in Mandarin?

Mar.07.16

How Do You Say “Starbucks Sucks” in Mandarin?

by Ketti Wilhelm

Espresso in Suzhou

It’s a typical gray winter weekday, and I’m wandering the streets of my new neighborhood, increasingly desperate, as I have been since I arrived in this city, for a quiet place with caffeine and a little space to work. In most directions from my apartment, the smog-choked streets offer little other than noodle shops and mini-marts, difficult places to write.

I’ve just moved to a new city in China: the sprawling, far eastern metropolis of Suzhou, just inland of Shanghai. After wandering in a different direction this morning, and lingering a little longer at the shop windows whose signs I couldn’t read, I’ve had a stroke of luck and found a good coffee shop.

The place is called 36th Story, but its owner tells me everyone just calls it “Max’s place.” He’s free to talk to me because, at 11 in the morning, I’m his only customer. In the last few years, coffee has become hugely popular in this tea-loving country, but mostly as a pricey trend for those who are hip to the Western world, rather than as a morning habit. And here, the hip only drink coffee in the afternoon.

This is Max Wang’s third coffee shop in this ancient but essentially boring city. He kept building new ones because he needed more space, and his customers have followed him to each new location. This one is spacious – unafraid, like the industrial suburb it inhabits, to take up as much space as it wants.

Max tells me he serves more espresso than tea, and his sugary specialty recipes—blending such flavors as peach, rose, blue curaçao, and mango with espresso—are the secret to his success.

The corporate world has also caught on to the goldmine potential that is China’s new taste for coffee. A Starbucks just opened down the street, kitty-corner from Max’s place. There’s already a Costa Coffee a block away in the other direction. But those uniform, corporate-branded, Western-style shops feel out of place here in messy China. While Max’s place is undeniably a coffee shop, not a tea shop, its character is still undeniably Chinese.

In a few ways, Max’s shop would seem at home anywhere in the world. He entices customers with wifi and a mostly English-language R&B playlist that varies from soothing to sappy-sweet.

But the similarities end there. Max’s menu board is all in Chinese, which is surprisingly rare for a coffee shop in China, as most shops are foreign, corporate ones, and English writing carries definite cachet, even in places where the customers can’t read it. As I take my seat after ordering a simple flat white, I have to shoo away a pair of cats (two of the seven whom Max allows free range in the shop) and find a new place for the giant teddy bear on my chair. (China has an endless appetite for cutesy decorations, and almost every seat comes decorated with a pastel stuffed animal the size of a kindergartener.) Instead of Western toilets, the bathrooms here have squat toilets (or ceramic holes in the floor) which are the norm in China, but are not to be found in any Starbucks or Costa on the planet. And when my drink arrives, it comes with a glass of warm lemon water, which is continually refilled by a nervous waitress who tells me she speaks no English.

I ask Max if he’s worried about the new Starbucks. He chuckles, looking shy but confident, and says no.

“It’s hard for me to explain in English,” he says. “Starbucks is a machine. That machine is only good for Starbucks. But here, people are more important.”

The Tantalizing Spicy Sourness of Potato Mash Dipped in Tamarind Water

Mar.04.16

The Tantalizing Spicy Sourness of Potato Mash Dipped in Tamarind Water

by Swati Sanyal Tarafdar

Phuchka in Kolkata

The underground metro train surfaced and came to a screeching halt before heaving out exhausted, sweating passengers from its air-conditioned interiors. In less than a moment, the ball of humanity poured into the staircases and escalators, molten lava-like, and was eventually thrown out into the open. The momentary relief from the stale, enclosed space doesn’t really last. Calcutta (or Kolkata) summers are usually hot, humid, and stinking of sweat, and this day was not much different from the ones I spent here growing up, sixteen years back.

Sixteen years ago, my friends and I would be returning from our college, and there would be a hurry to reach home, seize something to eat, and go on for evening classes or hobby courses. The enormous crowd from the metro station would be pushing us in the general direction like a great stream of water, just like today. We would keep going, until suddenly a thought would strike. Phuchka!

Phuchka stalls are found all over Kolkata, in every nook and corner. Years ago, the stalls would open in the late afternoons and go on, undeterred, until the last customer went home content. Today, it is also a late breakfast item. From the streets of Kolkata, phuchka have made their way into boutique restaurants and five star ones, and are served at all times.

I spread out my limbs to find balance and then elbow away from the homeward mass, towards a less-used outlet. The cobbled square just outside the gateway is lined with huge glass boxes containing crisp, yellowish balls the size of lemons. Phuchka.

The man on the other side of the box, the phuchkawalla, is almost hidden by his cart load of goodies. He is not the same man who served me and my friends sixteen years back, but I go ahead and watch him work. Like the typical phuchkawalla, he is smashing potatoes in a large, ancient aluminum plate, adding to it coarsely powdered black salt, tangy spices, chopped coriander, and finely sliced chilies with singular concentration. The crowd is still thin, so he takes his time kneading the mass of smashed potato in, say, 32 different ways. Finally, he scrapes his hand on the sides of the plate and looks up at the faces collected around him with pride and satisfaction, almost like a ringmaster before presenting his best act to the crowd. Then starts his magic.

“How many will you have?” My childhood phuchka seller would almost throw a challenge with a glint in his eyes and a sideways smile. This seller hands over tiny, disposable bowls to the motley audience circling his cart and I notice it’s not plastic. In swift movements, he reaches inside the glass box, takes out one phuchka at a time, deftly makes a hole in it with his left thumb, takes a small round of the carefully prepared potato mash, and shoves it into the irregular opening. Finally, he dips the whole thing in a clay pot containing tamarind water and serves the dripping, still-crisp round of endless flavors to the first customer. The act has not changed at all. The whole process takes him 15 seconds.

Sixteen years back, the taste of phuchka was always that of freedom and recklessness, considering family elders forbade us to have this unhygienic roadside snack. The crispness of the flour shell and the tantalizing spicy sourness of the potato mash dipped in tamarind water cannot completely define the taste of this simple dish. It was the characteristic aftertaste that remained on the tongue long after, the aroma of the bowl made of dried sal (shorea robusta) leaves, the way one’s mouth started watering when remembering them much later, as well as the familiarity that developed gradually with the phuchkawalla, establishing a lifelong bond.

One will find at least one or two stalls selling Kolkata or Bengali phuchka in almost every Indian city. This particular variety is much different than its distant variants, panipuri or golgappa, which are made of durum wheat, have grams for filling, and are accompanied with sweet sauces. Kolkata phuchka tastes of chilli, of tamarind, of full-bodied potato mash, corianders, and of reminiscence. I look at my septuagenarian neighbor relishing a mouthful, and smile happily.

My Small Drunk Greek Breakfast

Mar.03.16

My Small Drunk Greek Breakfast

by Sarah Souli

Tsipuro and Toursi in Ioannina

Yannis doesn’t speak any English and I don’t speak any Greek. This had been true the entire time I was staying at my friend Nikos’ house in Ioannina, but our linguistic differences had been bridged by a cushy buffer of translation and the fact that for most of the day, Yannis was churning out Marxist-Socialist theories at the university he worked at. Mornings thus far has been a solo cup of coffee before heading out of the house.

But this Saturday, Nikos had to run some errands with his mother. Did he want me to wake up his brother Stratis, who could act as a translator for me and his father? That seemed unfair; Stratis had come home late just a few hours prior, and besides, at this point in my life, I had eaten breakfast in stranger situations.

I dressed and headed downstairs, where Yannis was already sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of tsipuro and a plate of toursi. Tsipuro is a 45 percent alcohol made from grapes. Toursi are pickles. Yannis makes both himself.

Did I mention it was no later than 10 am?

“Sarah!” Yannis said, his arms outstretched.

“Yanni!” I replied. “Kalimera!”

“Café?” he asked.

“Ne,” I said, nodding my head and taking a seat at the table.

Yannis mounded a spoonful of ground coffee into the espresso machine and sat next to me as the water sputtered. A minute of silence passed as we both tried to string together a sentence. He managed first.

“You … like Ioannina?” he asked.

“Ne,” I said. “Poli … um … poli …” I fluttered my hands around my face in what I hoped was a convincing mime of “your city is very beautiful and I very much enjoy the well-preserved historic artifacts!”

Yannis nodded gravely and handed me my coffee. I took a sip as I contemplated the fact that we had both exhausted our repertoire of the other person’s language and not five minutes had gone by. We sat quietly for a while longer as I drank my espresso, prolonging the time I was occupied and thus could not be expected to communicate.

We looked at each other and smiled, shrugging our shoulders as if to say “Welp, these next three hours should go by quickly.”

Yannis, being the older and more experienced of us, realized it actually wouldn’t without a bit of help. Which is how, at 10:30 am, I found myself being offered a shot of tsipuro on an empty stomach by a sixty-four-year-old political science professor.

Though tsipuro is the preferred beverage of choice in Ioannina, and Greeks do seem to drink it all day long, this seemed like a particularly early hour to start drinking. Still, when a Greek offers you a beverage, you must drink it: you’re sharing a moment, and it would be rude to refuse. Yannis ferments his own tsipuro in a plastic barrel in his basement. A framed portrait of a Lenin solemnly looks over the barrel.

“Yammas!” we cheered, clinking glasses. Yannis motioned with his fork at the glass dish of toursi.

Toursi is a traditional accompaniment to tsipuro. Yannis marinates a mix of chopped vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, onions) in olive oil, white wine vinegar and salt. The vegetables sit on the kitchen counter overnight; they pickle while retaining their crunch.

My first food of the day was a piece of carrot, which turned my mouth sour. I sipped my tsipuro, and reached for my notebook and pen. Breakfast was the perfect time to learn the Greek alphabet and teach the English one. Yannis and I sat huddled over the notebook for the next few hours, forking toursi and drinking tsipuro. We ran out of letters and graduated to household objects, pointing at a chair (karekla), an orange (portokali), the table (trapezi). I was nursing another coffee and learning the word for sofa (kanapes) when the door opened.

“All good?” Nikos asked.

Yannis and I looked at each other. “Poli kala,” I said, smiling. It was, after all, a very good breakfast.

Photo: Phso2/Commons

An Ideal Breakfast Sandwich on the Aegean

Mar.02.16

An Ideal Breakfast Sandwich on the Aegean

by Julia Kitlinski-Hong

Ayvalık tostu in İzmir

A traditional Turkish breakfast is an elaborate affair, with many small dishes and countless cups of tea. Tost, which consists of two toasted pieces of bread with soft white cheese, sucuk (spiced sausage) and tomato in the middle, is the opposite. Quick and easy, it is ideal sustenance for an early morning road trip to the coast.

As a newly minted English teacher in İzmir, escaping to the beach town of Çeşme was a common weekend ritual that I learned to embrace. It was a reason to leave behind the weight of the week’s lesson plans and the uncertainty of moving to a new country.

As the week came to an end, the city streets would begin to empty as a majority of its inhabitants left for the cooler shores of the Aegean. The nearby neighborhood of Bostanlı, which usually hummed with nighttime activity, was deserted, with only the thick summer air to fill the leftover silence.

My boyfriend and I learned to leave early in the morning to avoid the tangle of traffic that clogged the main arteries out of İzmir later on in the day. Our bribe for waking up early was a hearty breakfast sandwich at a roadside cafe that served as fuel for the journey ahead.

Our destination was Süt Evi (Milk House), an hour outside of Izmir. A laughing cartoon cow that served as its mascot made it a welcome sight among the other drab roadside eateries and car repair shops.

Joining all the other blurry-eyed patrons in a spacious, generously air-conditioned room, our menus were quickly placed in front of us. Brightly colored pictures of each item helped make up for my elementary grasp of Turkish.

Though in truth, a menu was just a formality, as I had my order ready on the tip of my tongue: Ayvalık tostu with cheese and sucuk, hold the tomatoes.

As we waited, tulip-shaped glasses of the customary Turkish tea were placed on our table. I drank the familiar amber liquid as the scent of toasted bread and melted cheese drifted around us from the surrounding tables. My stomach rumbled in response.

Time seemed to stretch on as we waited for our sandwiches to come. Finally, they arrived. Toasted ovals of perfection that kept the savory goodness of the molten cheese and spiced sausage hidden away under a deceivingly simple toasted bread exterior. The crunch of bread punctuated the silence between us as we inhaled our sandwiches. Soon all that was left were a few rogue crumbs on and around our empty plates.

Full, we stumbled out into the sunlight, to head once more to the sea. The beach was calling.

There’s Only One Flavor of Ice Cream to Have for Breakfast

Mar.01.16

There’s Only One Flavor of Ice Cream to Have for Breakfast

by Juliette Lyons

Dulce de Leche in Buenos Aires

It was just before twelve and I hadn’t yet eaten, so I suppose it was breakfast. No clouds were out and the air was humid. After spending half an hour strolling through the heavenly chaos that is El Mercado de las Pulgas on the edge of Buenos Aires’ Palermo and Chacarita neighborhoods, I decided to stop at the next empanadería to break my night’s fast.

I didn’t need to walk far.

I read the neon sign across the road and just like that, my sweet tooth awoke and my craving for meat wrapped in pastry was a long-lost memory.

I’d never been to an ice cream parlor like this one before, a traditional heladería, brought from across the Atlantic by Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. I stepped into the 1930s-style parlor and discreetly approached the only customer, an old man who looked to be in his late seventies, perhaps even eighties, to take a look at which flavor had dragged him to this parlor before noon. I walked to the counter where a man was ready to take my order and asked if that was dulce de leche—caramel with an Argentine twist, a national pride—slowly melting in the old man’s wafer cone.

“No, amor,” the man told me. “It’s super dulce de leche.” I looked up at the menu board hung behind them. The list was endless. But tucked between the dulce de leche and the dulce de leche granizado, there it was: the super dulce de leche.

I asked what the difference was between the three, trying to sound as Argentine as my fresh-off-the-boat accent would let me. He explained that granizado has with chocolate chips while super has dollops of actual dulce de leche stirred into the ice cream. “We make the best one in town,” he said. Chamuyo, please. I’ve heard that one before. He continued, “How long have you been here?”

“A few months.”

“Oh, you’ll be coming back. Just like him.” he pointed to the old man. “We have been around for seventy years and he has been coming here for the super dulce de leche since he was a child. You need to try it.”

Super it was. The loyal viejo couldn’t have been wrong for that many years. The metal lid came off the tub and the ice cream man dug his arm deep into the freezer, gently filling up my polystyrene quarter-kilo bowl with creamy scoops of bronze brown. Three plunges into the freezer later, my bowl was full and placed on the scales. “Listo,” he said, wiping the edges of the bowl with a towel and delicately sellotaping the lid on.

I thanked him and sat on the bench outside. On that summer’s morning I couldn’t have followed better advice than starting the hot and humid day with super dulce de leche. The man behind the counter was right. A chamuyero—smooth talker—he was not. He really does have the finest scoop in the city.

Less Insipid Scrambled Eggs Designed for the Indian Palate

Feb.26.16

Less Insipid Scrambled Eggs Designed for the Indian Palate

by Rohini Kapur

Akuri in Mumbai

I’m at Café Military in the heart of downtown Mumbai on a weekday morning. It is 10 am and only two tables are occupied, each with a gentleman, engrossed in the morning’s newspaper. One of them is sipping on a bottle of London Pilsner beer.

We pick our table at the other end of the café near the cashier, a stern-looking man who is likely to get annoyed if you don’t tender exact change. The waiter doesn’t hand us a menu: the single sheet of paper is right on our table, first laminated in clear plastic, then held in place by a piece of glass that serves as our tabletop. We peek through the glass to see what’s on offer for breakfast. I order akuri, a typical Parsi breakfast dish, and ask if I need to order bread with that. It comes with a “lot of bread,” the waiter assures me.

While my friend and I wait for our food, we both agree that we’ve stepped back in time. This Irani café could be the setting for a 1970s Hindi film, an unemployed young man with little to his name seated at this table, mulling over the woman of his dreams, hatching plans to make money, while ordering one cup of masala chai after another. There’s very little that seems to have changed in the café, and it’s close to what it looked 30, maybe 40, years ago. The old wooden tables are placed close to each other, and the walls are almost devoid of colour. Small paintings of erstwhile Mumbai adorn the walls, alternating with mirrors to create the illusion of space. Old-fashioned tube lights hang from the ceiling while stand and ceiling fans whirl gently. The red-and-white checkered tablecloth has been replaced with green-and-white.

The akuri arrives fairly quickly, filling up a bright yellow plastic quarter-plate. The rather large side of thickly-sliced baguette fills up another. The eggs are rather yellow, obviously laced with turmeric. I spot chopped green chillies, the classic Indian way to heat up a dish.

“Akuri is essentially scrambled eggs,” my Parsi sister-in-law had once told me. “But with some additional ingredients like onions, tomatoes, and spices.” I’ve never been a fan of scrambled eggs, their taste and texture too insipid for my Indian palate. But akuri? Oh, akuri is different.

My akuri is super soft and lightly mashed. It packs in flavor. Chopped onions add bite, tomatoes lend a hint of tartness, and fresh coriander leaves with some Indian spices bring the touch of piquancy that are absent from typical scrambled eggs. At last, scrambled eggs that look good and taste great. The slight toughness of the freshly-baked bread is a perfect complement to the akuri. This is a breakfast dish I could come back to often.

Café Military is one of the several Irani restaurants that dot the old part of Mumbai. Iranian Zoroastrians (or Iranis, for short) first migrated to India in the 19th century from Persia (now Iran), and started restaurants in Bombay (now Mumbai), primarily catering to low-income workers. Today, they keep costs low by focusing on inexpensive food rather than inviting décor or elegant service. While they were mostly popular for snacks like brun maska (buttered buns) and baked goods (puffs and cakes), some of them also serve typical Parsi fare, like dhansak (mutton curry), lagan nu custard (desserts of eggs, milk and custard) and akuri, among others.

As an intrinsic part of the city’s food culture, Irani restaurants have long fed retired folks like the beer-ordering man at Café Military, college students, office clerks, errand boys, and foodies seeking nostalgia. Unfortunately, their unwillingness to adapt to 21st century realities, stiff competition from ubiquitous street vendors, and rising costs are threatening the survival of Irani restaurants. Several have shut shop already. For the few that live on, survival is perhaps a constant battle. But, like the city of Mumbai, a business survives by being aggressive and street-smart. Nostalgia-seeking customers aren’t enough.

But while the remaining Irani restaurants endure, I’d like a plate of akuri for breakfast, please.

Photo: Ewan-M/Commons

Sea Urchin and White Wine: The Best Breakfast Imaginable?

Feb.25.16

Sea Urchin and White Wine: The Best Breakfast Imaginable?

by Andrea Ratuski

Oursins in Carry-le-Rouet

We were told to arrive early at Carry-le-Rouet for the annual Oursinade, or sea urchin festival. Lucky we did, because we were able to nab a spot at one of the tables that line the port of this pretty town. So, oursins for breakfast it was.

One wonders how anyone could have imagined that this prickly black ball found in the Mediterranean (and elsewhere) would be edible. Once cut open—carefully— the green sludge is removed, revealing five slim, orange ovals of roe. Better to let professionals do this part. While I guarded our place at the table, my husband went in search of a dozen, then another dozen, then one more. Scraped out with a tiny spoon, the creamy roe slithers down the throat and tastes of the briny sea.

And how does a sea urchin go down first thing in the morning? Well, better with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet!

Carry-le-Rouet is situated in a picturesque bay on the aptly-named Côte Bleue, or Blue Coast, just west of Marseille. All manner of sailboats and fishing vessels bob in the marina.

It was back in 1952, so the story goes, that the fishermen of the town decided to give the mayor, Jean-Baptiste Grimaldi, his weight in sea urchins as a gift. Given how lightweight they are, that would have amounted to rather a lot of sea urchins.

This evolved into a festival, held in the town every February, when sea urchins are in season, and it has now grown so popular that this year it is being held on all four Sundays of the month. Sea urchins are still harvested by hand, according to traditional methods.

On a sunny Sunday, throngs of people descend on this tiny town, where stand after stand offers heaving buckets of the delicacy. For those in need of a bit of variety, there are also oysters from Bouzigues, shrimp, sautéed squid, and paella.

We linger at our table, not willing to give up our precious spot. This gives us the chance to meet a ton of people, including a large family from Avignon with a newborn baby, some lovebirds from further down the coast, and even a couple who have driven 500 miles from La Rochelle, on the west coast of France, just for a salty taste of the south.

We finally relinquish our coveted spot and stroll by the masses of people camped out on the rocks with their platters of sea urchins and bottles of white wine. Then we take a leisurely stroll on the coastal walk to soak in the sunshine and all that blue.

By 2 pm, there’s not a single oursin to be had.

You Will Know British Holiday-Makers By Their Painfully Silent Breakfasts

Feb.24.16

You Will Know British Holiday-Makers By Their Painfully Silent Breakfasts

by Clementine Wallop

Tea and Toast in the BnB

In these small rooms we keep silence. These rooms of deep reds and dark wood, of little light and heavy curtains. We are British, and it is morning at the bed and breakfast.

Why are we silent as our tea arrives, is poured, is milked and sugared? Why do we only speak to apologize as the teaspoon clatters back too heavily on the flower-patterned saucer or the edge of our broadsheet falls into the raspberry jam?

It’s our national awkwardness, carried around as surely as wet weather clothes and unnecessarily good manners. It’s our uncertainty about how to fill a silence that we mostly decide to solve by leaving only silence and no fill.

We are not unfriendly, we are unnoisy. We are not unhappy, we are unsure. If you walk into a room of us, you’ll find us a silent refectory of weekenders, contemplating breakfast without conversation between our tables set for two.

The breakfast room of a B and B is too small to talk in without being heard, without giving away the state secrets that are our thoughts on the day’s news, our car parking spots, our next stops on the road.

So you will know us, the British holiday makers, by the nature of our quiet, our plans for the day that we whisper so as not to annoy anyone else’s boiled eggs and soldiers. Our eggs we will have ordered with a string of pleases, thank yous, and sorrys for things we haven’t done that wouldn’t have been rude even if we had done them.

We will know you, you world travelers, by your easy conversation, your loudness, your declarations that the B and B is cute and quaint, by the amount we can learn about you while we sit shuffling our newspapers and trying not to let our knives squeak on the plate as we cut our bacon.

You may not know it, but we are dreading you speaking to us, asking us where we’re from and if we’ve seen the castle yet or where we had dinner last night because you found a great little place. If you do speak to us, we reply politely with as few words as possible. Otherwise you will have but one sentence out of us as we put our knives and forks together, stand and push in our chairs.

“Have a good day,” we’ll say. And we nod and we walk out.

A Crunchy, Salty, Sweet and Spicy Fried Thing Is One of Life’s Great Pleasures

Feb.23.16

A Crunchy, Salty, Sweet and Spicy Fried Thing Is One of Life’s Great Pleasures

by Sasha Surandran

Banana Fritters in Kuala Lumpur

Comfort food comes in many forms. For me, it comes in the shape of the humble banana fritter, served hot from the wok. If you love the combination of crunchy and sweet, one bite of a deep-fried piece of banana fritter will have you… oh, who are we kidding? Nobody stops at one bite.

Growing up in Malaysia, regardless of how much you earned or whether you lived in town or a little village, a tea break around 3 pm was mandatory, served with fritters or other kuih (tea-time snacks). Fritters were sometimes fried at home, but usually bought from vendors who tended little wooden carts just down the road. A few pieces were usually enough to tide you over until dinner.

Today, little stalls selling banana fritters and other popular tea-time snacks such as fried tapioca and jackfruit, curry puffs, fish crackers, and more, can be found all over the country. In fact, one of the best things about a Malaysian road trip, if you avoid the ubiquitous highways that tear through the country, is the food lined up along the trunk roads. Local fruits, fresh coconut water, and, of course, fried food galore are just a few of the temptations that will have you waylaid.

Thankfully, hidden amid the office blocks and condominiums of the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, fans of all things fried can still find street vendors deep frying bananas and fish crackers—best eaten piping hot from the wok and best avoided when rubbery and cold—along the cobbled pavements and in front of grim ‘no hawking’ signboards. These vendors offer a taste of simpler times, and most importantly, you can get a few pieces for one Malaysian ringgit.

Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to find that sweet spot that only a deep-fried banana fritter can touch. Street vendors are slowly disappearing from the streets. With crackdowns initiated by city authorities on vendors without licenses, as well as ongoing gentrification, the humble purveyor of banana fritters may not be just down the road anymore. The changing appetites of urban dwellers also mean that deep-fried fritters, though delicious, are kept for special occasions rather than a regular affair. Will the day come when there will be no more street vendors plying their greasy fare by the homogenous high-rises of KL?

But there’s always hope. To take a photo for this story, I walked down the road from my office in one of the business districts earmarked for further development. A new mass-transit station was being built nearby. There were a few street vendors set up that day, and I made my way to a new push-cart with the words Pisang Goreng Johor (banana fritters from the Malaysian state of Johor) in bright red letters. The vendor was a young woman and she had just put out a batch fresh from the wok. After I placed my order, I asked if I could snap a photo of her wares. She smiled and asked if I would be posting it on Instagram.

As I walked back to the office with my greasy paper bag, I snuck a piece, dipped it in the chili & soy sauce concoction that made it authentically ‘Johor’, and ate it. It was crunchy, salty, and sweet, the piquancy of the chili a delightful addition. Simple pleasures.

For a Super Vigorous Morning Try Raw Beef for Breakfast

Feb.22.16

For a Super Vigorous Morning Try Raw Beef for Breakfast

by Aaron Wytze Wilson

Beef Soup in Tainan

When I first arrive at Ah Cun’s Beef Soup shop, I almost can’t believe my eyes. There’s no line. Mind you, it’s the Lunar New Year, Taiwan’s most important holiday, and everyone has likely returned to their hometown to spend time with family. It’s also seven in the morning, which may seem like an unusual time of the day to encounter a line for beef soup.

But not for Ah-Cun’s. Not for the Southern Taiwanese city of Tainan. The city is well known for its habit of eating beef soup at early hours. At Ah-Cun, Tainan’s most famous beef soup shop, customers begin to appear as early as four in the morning, when freshly slaughtered beef from Tainan’s Shanhua District is delivered to the shop.

I grab one of the metal stools at an outside table and ask the laoban, Mandarin for “boss,” to give me a bowl of beef soup. He plops a bowl of long leathery strips of raw beef halfway cooked in a soup broth down in front of me, along with a small dipping bowl with ginger slices and soy paste to marinate the beef. The experience of eating fresh beef in the early morning is similar to eating fresh tuna at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market; the earlier you arrive, the fresher and more tender the meat.

But when I ask people in Tainan why they eat beef soup in the morning, I’m left with more questions than answers. Chao youjingshen a! is the answer I usually get, which means “super vigorous!” It’s an extra dose of energy before you head off to work.

Then why doesn’t anyone else in Taiwan eat it for breakfast?

Moreover, Taiwan historically doesn’t have a history of beef consumption. Before Taiwan’s industrialization in the 20th century, the island was primarily an agricultural society, and a cow was far more valuable alive helping out in the fields than in a bowl of beef broth. Taiwan’s farmers respected their bovine friends so much that they received a proper burial after their passing.

Beef-soup enthusiast Chang Chia-chun, who has extensively researched Tainan’s peculiar breakfast habits, points to a seemingly unlikely culprit: Japan.

Taiwan was formerly Japan’s first overseas colony, and the island was heavily influenced by cultural trends occurring on the Japanese mainland. One of those trends was picking up Western eating habits, which meant beef consumption. “Tainan’s first bowl of beef soup was likely served at Tainan’s then 5-star hotel, the Four Seasons Inn,” said Chang in a recent interview.

But details are still light on how beef soup made it from Japanese colonial boutique hotels to tiny street-side shops on the side of the road, much less on how it became a breakfast dining habit. Nevertheless, shops like Tainan’s Ah-Cun have thrived on the morning beef soup trade. I ask the boss for his theory on the people of Tainan’s love of morning beef soup. He replies: “Chao youjingshen a!” Indeed, super vigorous.

When Breakfast Becomes Dinner and Then Breakfast Again

Feb.19.16

When Breakfast Becomes Dinner and Then Breakfast Again

by Giulia Pines

Head Cheese and Bread in Trier

Germans don’t do extravagance. They don’t go in for excess. So when invited into a German’s home for breakfast, it may come as a shock to see the entire table covered, without an inch to spare. There’ll be sliced meats and cheeses, hard-boiled eggs and jars of spreads, plus at least three different types of bread and several kinds of crusty rolls. It isn’t just how much is on the table that’s surprising; it’s the fact that this may be almost exactly what you had for dinner the night before.

Due to an odd obsession with sleeping soundly, and the conviction that this might have to do with one’s dietary health, Germans have been perfecting what they call Abendbrot—a light evening meal of bread adorned with something—for years, reserving the hotter, heavier, and larger meal for lunchtime. How this came to pass in one of the world’s most productive countries remains a mystery, considering the fact that these larger midday meals hit the stomach like a hot stone, and that Germany has no real siesta to speak of.

But back to breakfast, which you can now see is really the same as dinner. Germans don’t like to make a show of abundance, yet breakfast with guests is the one time of day they’ll choose to show off. I’d been living in Berlin for over a year when I first encountered this breakfast excess, but it wasn’t in the German capital where I was given my initiation. Sure, Berlin restaurants are well-known for their brunch spreads, but, Berlin being a haven for those living on the cheap, those lured in by promises of “all-you-can-eat for €10 per person” are often met with the telltale sliminess reserved for cold cuts just taken out of their supermarket packaging, the slight giveaway crustiness of sliced cheese that has sat too long in plastic.

No, I was in Trier, a pretty little city about as far southwest as you could go without hitting Luxembourg, and I was staying with a family who had a Metzger (butcher), a Bäcker (baker) and a Biokäserei (organic cheese-maker) all within reach. And so the table was covered in breads accompanied by half-full jars of homemade jams, each with its very own little jam spoon. Some, no doubt, made from berries picked at their own family Dacha just out of town. I was at last getting the chance to sample three kinds of sausage alongside head cheese, Schwarzwald or black forest ham, and liverwurst in its casing, plus Edamer (Edam), Bergkäse (mountain cheese) and Gouda all artfully laid out on a plate. Even the hard-boiled eggs were there, nestled inside an enormous eggwarmer in the shape of a quietly satisfied mother hen. I could predict the uneaten eggs would end up sliced and on the dinner table by evening. I could also pick out the slices of uneaten bread we’d been rude enough to leave on our plates the night before. No matter, anything we didn’t eat for breakfast could be recycled for Abendbrot once more.

What I didn’t see on the breakfast table were pickled pearl onions and garlic slices, cornichons and sun-dried tomatoes in oil; really anything that might leave a suspicious stink on the tongue. The night before had been a rollicking good time, with local riesling followed by whiskey followed by rounds of cards and sing-alongs with the extended, somewhat tipsy family. The morning’s Abendbrot was decidedly less enthralling, and yet the two were essentially the same meal.

At once I saw through the cornucopia of the breakfast table to the essential frugality and reserve of the German lifestyle lying beneath, but I wasn’t about to point that out to the kindly woman expectantly pulling out a chair and pouring my coffee. Because when Germans finally break their all-time favorite rule against indulgence—or at least, believe they’re breaking it—they should be, well, indulged.

Photo: nayrb7

A Morning Bowl of Soup That Makes Cold Days Worthwhile

Feb.18.16

A Morning Bowl of Soup That Makes Cold Days Worthwhile

by Lucy Sexton

Bun Rieu Cua in Hanoi

As winter settles upon Hanoi, a penetrating, damp coldness seeps in, keeping bed sheets, clothes, and bones perpetually short of dry. The historic trading city is damp by nature, leapfrogging across several rivers, lakes, and ponds that constitute the marshy Red River Delta.

Like the eroding and resettling of sediment along its tapering riverbanks, the city both crumbles and rebuilds itself everyday. This constant state of activity makes a hot and hearty breakfast a necessity of life.

Bun rieu cua, a sour tomato and crab-paste noodle soup eaten in the first half of the day, is perhaps the heartiest of all.

Each layer of this breakfast soup takes something from its cold, watery environment and turns it into weapon to fight the evils of Hanoi winter.

Bà già, the grandma who ladles the soup at my favorite bun rieu spot, a bustling little shop on the corner of a narrow alley, must start the simmering process while the sky is still dark.

Pork bones, tomatoes, and crab juice simmer for hours to make the base broth. The soul of the soup comes from paddy crabs found in rice paddies and surrounding watery lands.

The crabs are crushed, bone and all, into a nutritious cure-all. Strained, the liquid makes the broth while the calcium rich paste is made more pungent and sweet with fish sauce, shallots, and egg.

Bà già says she adds tamarind, fish sauce, and a litany of ingredients spoken so quickly in Vietnamese they flew past my ears. A polite way to keep a chef’s secrets.

Later, she delicately adds crab paste to the top of the broth. It quickly cooks as it floats upon the eternally bubbling pot.

When I order, she flash cooks chewy bun rice noodles in a single-portion sized strainer, adroitly spills them into my bowl and piles on my regular additions.

First, tiny steamed snails—ốc—likely pulled from Westlake, the biggest lake in Hanoi, which still serves as a productive, albeit somewhat polluted, fishing grounds for locals.

Then cubes of fried tofu she quickly heats up again atop the broth.

Sometimes I agree to the deep purple, congealed pigs blood—huyết—for extra stores of energy, as if crab, snails, and tofu aren’t already enough protein.

She fills the bowl to the brim with the tomato broth and adds a dollop of caramelized shallots, something I’ve never seen in any other bun rieu.

At the wobbling table covered in a peeling formica laminate, one of the shop boys plops down the steaming bowl and a bowl of shredded lettuce, banana flower, mint variants, bean sprouts, and my favorite, split ITALrau muongITAL stems. I’m heavy handed with my greens; they add a fresh crunch that ensures this soup doesn’t miss out on a single flavor, texture or nutritional group.

For me, this soup represents the best of Hanoi: industrious like its chefs, entertaining with every flavor on the spectrum, and so hearty you may start to love the wet and grey winter skies.

Why the Coffee Sucks in One of the World’s Best Coffee-Growing Nations

Feb.17.16

Why the Coffee Sucks in One of the World’s Best Coffee-Growing Nations

by Mark Wetzler

Coffee in Marsella

I’m sitting outside a cafe in Marsella, Colombia—a small town located in the middle of Colombia’s “eje cafetero,” or “coffee axis”—trying to figure out why Colombian coffee is so bad.

It shouldn’t be. If I were to get out of my chair and sprint in any direction for two minutes I’d soon find myself wading through rows and rows of leafy, verdant coffee plants, some of the most renowned arabica plants in the world. And yet order a coffee in 99 percent of establishments in Colombia, like the one I’m at right now, and the result is the same: a product that vaguely resembles what you know to be coffee but tastes more like battery acid.

Further north, in the town of Fredonia, an hour and a half south of Medellin, I get a little insight as to why this is. I talk to Richard, a twenty-something Fredonita whose family owns Cafe Don Chucho and has 30,000 plants in the neighboring hills. Richard is fighting a difficult fight; he’s trying to bring coffee culture to Fredonia, a tiny town built on a mountainside whose main modes of transportation include horseback and heavy-duty Toyota Land Cruisers.

“The old people, they’re not going to change,” explains Richard. “They’re happy with the way tinto tastes. It’s what they know. But the younger generation is starting to get more interested in the way coffee could be.”

The tinto Richard is talking about is essentially what Colombian coffee culture has always been. It’s made in a colossal silver cylinder drip machine, filtered several times and heated and reheated throughout the day. What’s more, often times it’s not even Colombian; it’s imported pre-ground from Vietnam. When I ask Richard if it wouldn’t be cheaper to use local coffee, he looks sheepish. “Actually, probably yes,” he says. “But again, this is the way they’ve always done things. It’s the system they’re used to.”

In the capital of Bogotá, just 143 miles away as the crow flies but nine hours by bus, this system is starting to change. The following week I check out cafe and bakery Arbol del Pan, a perfect example of the advancing coffee culture in Colombia. The americano I order tastes fresh-roasted, fresh-ground, and properly prepared.

Arbol del Pan gets their coffee from Vereda Central, a local roaster whose employee, Santiago, sheds valuable light on the Colombian coffee situation.

“In the 70s and 80s, the norm became exporting the best beans and using the pasilla“—beans damaged by bugs and other elements—”for local coffee. Then came Oma and Juan Valdez (Colombian coffee chains) who started using healthy beans, but still not the best. And now you have places like Arbol del Pan that only use premium-quality, single-origin beans.”

Why would a farmer sell them in his home country when he can get a much higher price abroad? And, of course, there’s also the matter of tradition. “People are used to their tinto and and they’re used to paying 800-1000 pesos”—about 30 cents USD—”for it,” Santiago says, echoing Richard’s statements. “Why would they pay more?”

In Bogotá, however, people are starting to pay more. People are willing to shell out a few extra pesos for a locally-sourced, high-quality product. This isn’t surprising, being in the capital, but I wonder what will become of Richard and his coffee shop back in Fredonia. Due to the longstanding tinto tradition, Richard is fighting an uphill battle. And in Fredonia, as well as in most of Colombia, the hills are steep.

You Can Blow a Shocking Amount of Money on Room Service for Breakfast

Feb.16.16

You Can Blow a Shocking Amount of Money on Room Service for Breakfast

by Jesse Dart

Granola at the Waldorf-Astoria

The flight to JFK from London felt short, almost like a commute: smooth and simple, no fuss. In New York, it was cold and the car ride into Manhattan was eerily slow. “There’s always traffic, every day, every hour, it never stops,” said the driver.

I was staying at the Waldorf Astoria; not the kind of hotel I’m used to, but this was a trip that was being paid for by others. There were a few of us in town for an event, all in the same hotel, same schedule, same restaurants and food. It was all very planned out and routine. I got an email when I arrived: “Everything is taken care of, including breakfast, so help yourself to room service if you like, or there is a breakfast served each morning downstairs.” I only thought of room service for the rest of the day.

I can’t remember exactly my first experience with room service in a hotel. It was probably during one of our family vacations to Las Vegas when I was about 12 or 13. My parents never thought that Vegas was the wrong place to take my sister and I and on those trips. I learned more about life than in five years in the Midwest. Room service is an institution in Vegas. As a young, naive kid who liked to eat, I soon realize that there was this entire world of hotel breakfasts: huge buffets of steaming pancakes, sausage, bacon, and eggs that didn’t seem to exist anywhere else. I’m sure it did, but everything seemed so surreal in Vegas in 1993. Since then, I’ve realized that getting breakfast at a hotel is usually a great idea because it’s hard to get breakfast wrong. Almost anyone can cook eggs, bacon, pancakes, or toast. If anything is bad, it’s normally the coffee.

I took full advantage of the room service on offer at the Waldorf and took great pride in placing my order the night before. The operator repeated my order back to me:

“That’s granola with yogurt and fruit, orange juice, and coffee, Mr. Dart?”

“Yes, that’s right, at 7:00 am”

“No problem sir, it will be with you then. Have a good night’s sleep.”

It was terribly simple; it’s easy to spend a ridiculous amount of money on breakfast in your room. The prices are never friendly, made for desperation or laziness, I think, or those with expense accounts. I was trying to be good and not order the huge stack of pancakes, waffles, or anything with hollandaise sauce.

In the morning the doorbell to the room woke me up, the first hotel room I’ve stayed in with a doorbell.

“Sir, it’s your breakfast,” said the waiter.

Pulling a robe on over my pajamas, I opened the door to the white-gloved waiter.

“Good morning,” he said. “Should I just leave it here for you?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“Shall I pour the coffee for you, sir?”

He unwrapped the granola and the out of season melon and berries, arranged like a painting.

The whole scene was so short it was over in a blink of an eye, but it was performed with a graciousness that reminded me that being a waiter is an art. It was as refined a service as you can find. It was a simple pleasure, a little luxury that made me feel like a king for a day.

If You’ve Never Had a Soju Hangover You May Not Understand This Breakfast

Feb.12.16

If You’ve Never Had a Soju Hangover You May Not Understand This Breakfast

by Tom Taylor

Three-Minute Ramen in Daejeon

I found myself in Daejeon, South Korea on the tail end of a liquor-fueled, 17-country odyssey across Europe and Asia. It would be the last city I explored before heading back home to Ottawa.

By the time I arrived in Daejeon, my funds were running quite low, as is generally the case at the conclusion of a long trip. The time had unfortunately come for belt-tightening, unless I was prepared to starve until I boarded my flight home. So whiskey gave way to soju and beer in big plastic bottles, and dinners out were replaced by spicy beef jerky and cellophane-wrapped, triangle-shaped kimbap.

On one of my last mornings in Daejeon, I woke up feeling truly haggard. I’d consumed far too much soju the night before, and was tender with all the internal bruises one typically feels after a run-in with Korea’s most popular alcoholic beverage. After spending several minutes mired in my sleeping bag trying to make peace with my hangover, my depleted body’s screams for sustenance became too loud to ignore and I ambled out into the Daejeon morning in search of breakfast. Hell-bent on stretching the remaining contents of my bank account, I decided to see what I could find to eat in a nearby 7-Eleven.

As my childhood neighborhood’s only seller of Pokémon cards, the 7-Eleven had been a staple of my youth. As it turns out, however, the 7-Elevens in South Korea are quite different from the ones I was used to. The most notable difference, of course, is that in South Korea, the store’s shelves are packed with beer, wine, and liquor; a fantasy at best in the Canadian province of Ontario, where regressive liquor legislation limits the sale of alcohol to just a few stores. Another key difference between the Canadian 7-Elevens I knew and the one I wandered into in Daejeon that morning was the inclusion of a small dining area. Running along the front window of the store was a counter where customers could sit and enjoy their purchases.

So, after meandering the brightly-lit aisles of the store and shakily deciding on a bowl of three-minute ramen and a can of Let’s Be coffee, I took a seat to eat my breakfast which, I can proudly say, cost me just a few dollars. The ramen was good and hot; soothing to my soju-tortured stomach and just spicy enough to help me sweat out some of the alcohol. The coffee—or coffee imposter—was as thick and vile as pond water. It was, however, rich in caffeine, which is precisely what I needed on that bleary-eyed, South Korean morning.

I swapped mouthfuls of steaming ramen with reluctant slurps of canned coffee, watching through the window as patient parents shepherded their children to school and briefcase-toting businesspeople made their walks to work. A few short days later, I’d be back to the normal routines of my life.

The Kahi Abides

Feb.11.16

The Kahi Abides

by Campbell MacDiarmid

Pastries in Kirkuk

Rain doesn’t fall often in Kirkuk. One might accordingly expect a torrential downpour to dissuade most from heading out early on a winter weekend morning. If there’s one dish that will compel a man to navigate cold, flooded streets before Friday prayers, however, it’s kahi, the pastry treat that is Kirkuk’s signature breakfast. At least, so Abdullah tells me in the taxi ride from Erbil.

We’re heading an hour south from the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region on a reporting trip to one of Iraq’s most contested cities. Situated geographically between the Zagros Mountains and the lowlands of Mesopotamia, the historic city of Kirkuk sits at the crossroads of many different cultures. Turkmen, Kurds, Arabs, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and other minorities all call the city of some million people home. Who was there first (and should rule today) is disputed. More recently, the stakes were raised with the discovery of oil under Kirkuk; vast reserves that promised riches but delivered conflict.

Until the summer of 2014, the federal government in Baghdad controlled Kirkuk, but when the Iraqi army fled ahead of an advance by Islamic State militants, the Kurds, many of whom had long claimed the city as their Jerusalem, sent in their peshmerga fighters. The Kurds defended Kirkuk from the extremists and retain control today.

The issue of who—or what—is authentically Kirkuki is therefore as sticky as a syrup-soaked pastry. It’s a question I’ve come to ask. But before we start working, Abdullah, our fixer, is adamant we eat kahi. And if you’re going to eat kahi, Snunu is the place to get it.

Five traffic officers blow their whistles shrilly outside the bakery. I assume they are attempting to thin the traffic jammed in the pot-holed street until Abdullah tells me they are renting out the limited parking spaces. Rain from the roof cascades in a waterfall over the entrance, and inside the tile floor is slick and the warm air heavy with the scent of rosewater syrup. In the back, a man works frantically to shuttle folded pastry in and out of a gas-fired oven before it burns. The crisp sheets are quickly sliced on trays by another man, who completes the dish by ladling over hot syrup and a dollop of geymer, a kind of heavy cream. Men queue at the counter to order takeout and more stand at benches around the walls, hunched over steaming plates, eating in silence.

Such is the renown of Snunu (which means swallow bird in Arabic) that in 2010, during the American occupation of Iraq, soldiers of the U.S. 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, would stop by on patrol to sample the breakfast that was said to be better than pancakes or waffles or even French toast sticks.

It’s the kind of dish that develops its own mythology. One tradition is for the mother of a new bride to bring kahi to the home of her new son-in-law the morning after the wedding.

Kahi is said to be a legacy of Iraq’s Jewish community, another minority which once called Kirkuk home. On the festival of Shavuot, when Jews commemorate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, Babylonian Jews would celebrate with kahi.

For hundreds of years, a community of some 200 Jewish families lived in Kirkuk’s citadel. Their population peaked some time in the 1940s, after Kirkuk became the center of Iraq’s petroleum industry. The 1947 census recorded 2,350 Jews in the city, but after the formation of the state of Israel increasingly persecuted Jews gradually left Iraq. By 1957, the census recorded just 123 Jews left in the city. Today there are none. Their synagogue and homes are rubble—like the rest of the citadel—and Kirkukis picnic among the ruins.

But the kahi abides. Although, like most things in Kirkuk, its origins are contested if not entirely lost to history. As Iraqi food historian Nawal Nasrallah points out, “It is a very popular pastry, and everybody—regardless of ethnicity or religion—has been eating it for centuries.”

Her research into medieval Arabic cookbooks reveals numerous recipes for pastries, flattened into sheets, folded, fried or baked, and drenched in syrup. In modern-day Egypt, the popular fateer is similar. “But it is true, kahi did have a special place in the lives and festivities of the Iraqi Jews,” says Nasrallah, who has authored books on Iraqi cuisine.

We eat our kahi and leave satisfied. Back in the street, the rain has stopped and the officers still run their parking racket. There are more pedestrians now and street vendors display plastic belts and cigarette lighters shaped like pistols. Abdullah stops to admire a tray of lethal-looking folding knives, but we’re late to our first meeting and I step out into traffic past the policemen, fueled by a winning combination of sweet carbohydrate and just enough grease.

I won’t find answers today to the big questions about Kirkuk. But everyone—whatever their background—will agree that kahi has a special place in the city.

Breakfasting in the Noodle Shop Where the Tet Offensive Was Planned

Feb.10.16

Breakfasting in the Noodle Shop Where the Tet Offensive Was Planned

by Wes Grover

Pho in Saigon

The first time I ate at Pho Binh, a modest noodle shop in one of Saigon’s working-class neighborhoods, I was unaware of its ties to the Viet Cong. Back when the eatery was frequented by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, there weren’t any plaques on the walls honoring Comrade Ngo Van Toai, the original owner, for his service. Other than that, Pho Binh, which ironically translates to “peace noodles,” appears much as it did during the war.

I was living down a drab little alley nearby and, out of convenience more than anything, Pho Binh became my go-to spot for a bowl of pho bo (noodle soup with beef) for breakfast. The soup is pretty much the same as you’ll find anywhere else in the city, and if you didn’t know any better, so too is the setting. It’s a family business, often with children playing with action figures at one of the tables while older relatives work a steaming vat of broth by the entrance.

Around my third or fourth time here, I noticed the plaques and photographs of Ngo Toai and asked about their significance (or rather, pointed with an inquisitive look on my face to convey interest and curiosity as best I could). That’s when Minh Nguyen, one of the family elders, led me up a dark staircase in the back to a large room with a few wooden chairs, tables, and a display case holding 25 medals. It was here, I learned, that while U.S. soldiers dined downstairs back in January 1968, a secret group of North Vietnamese, known as the City Rangers, planned one of the bloodiest attacks of the war: The Tet Offensive.

Tet is a celebration of the Lunar New Year, regarded as Vietnam’s most important holiday. Typically a time of ceasefire during the war, in 1968 the North Vietnamese saw an opportunity to bring the battle to Saigon, hoping to inspire an uprising. Until then, combat had largely remained in the countryside.

Minh was not in Saigon at the time of the seige, though he knows the family story well and, through broken English, his deliberate body language tells that this is not just a place of family pride, but national honor. A month before the strike, Ngo Toai, who operated the restaurant as a front for the North Vietnamese, was simply told to gather enough food to last 200 people for a month. As the City Rangers orchestrated the siege on strategic locations throughout the city, including the U.S. Embassy, soldiers of the 6th Subdivision of the People’s Army of Vietnam began arriving at Pho Binh under the guise that a large family was reuniting for Tet.

Though ultimately the uprising did not succeed in Saigon, the ramifications of the two violent weeks that ensued changed the scope of the conflict. The South was forced to bring reinforcements into the city, leaving the countryside vulnerable, while journalists in Saigon captured images that would permanently sway U.S. public opinion against the war. As for Ngo Toai, he was arrested soon after, tortured, and imprisoned on Con Dao Island, where he would remain until the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 and finally be recognized for his duty. Ngo passed away in 2009.

During the offensive, Minh was in Da Nang, a coastal city about 500 miles north, where shrapnel from a U.S. B52 bomber left him hospitalized for a year. Rolling up the leg of his army green pants, he shows me the scars that remain 48 years later. He then assures me with a genuine embrace, “Today, Vietnam and America are friends.”

Mardi Gras the Czech Way

Feb.09.16

Mardi Gras the Czech Way

by Morgan Childs

Slivovice in Děbolín

A doughnut does not a sustaining breakfast make, but a doughnut and a swig of moonshine is a different story. It’s Masopust, the Lenten Carnival season, and at 8 am in the local pub in Děbolín we knock back the first shots of the day, paint our faces, and layer our costumes over our coats.

The snow is as deep and as dense as packed brown sugar and rolls into the distance without end like a scene out of Doctor Zhivago. There are forty some-odd houses in this town, and the plan is to hit them all—sing a song, do a dance, take a shot—fueled by greasy jelly doughnuts, mayonnaise sandwiches, and glugs of slivovice, a crystal-clear liquor that doubles as a paint solvent, distilled from local plums and resurrected in unmarked bottles from the back of the villagers’ freezers. Na zdraví, we say, clinking glasses: “To your health.”

I have to wonder what the Czechs are letting go of when they celebrate their medieval Mardi Gras, because it’s not as if they hold something back the rest of the year. It isn’t, after all, as though theirs were a diet of kale and quinoa rather than cracklings and cream, of lard and fried cheeses and pork knuckle and potatoes twelve ways. As if their perfect pilsners weren’t their national treasure, their president not notorious for appearing inebriated before a crowd; as if my GP hadn’t prescribed a pint or two as a daily digestif. As if, in the land of pork and pleasure, there weren’t enough opportunities for revelry.

“The Czech Republic has made you an alcoholic,” my friend Honza teased recently over the third just-one-last drink of the night, a cocktail he’d brought with him from Moravia: beer, red wine, potato rum, Communist-knockoff Coke. Overkill, to be sure, but that’s part of the point.

And Honza’s right. Drinking it all in day after day, one’s senses get a little stunned by the dirty aroma of burning coal, the film-noir smog in the street, the pinup-girl curves of the river. Those sickly-sweet Necco-candy-colored facades on the buildings. The amber pilsners, capped with four fingers of foam like giant pill bottles choked with cotton balls. After one too many, I opt for a hair of the dog. Na zdraví, I tell Honza, stumbling over the words. Bottoms up.

If Breakfast Is Your Only Meal for the Day, Make It Count

Feb.08.16

If Breakfast Is Your Only Meal for the Day, Make It Count

by Lorena Rios

Guajolota in D.F.

I arrived in Mexico City after two years in Cairo, from the belly of one beast to another.

Mexicans are not all that different from Egyptians. We laugh mostly at the expense of others and our main pastime is teasing each other until we forget what it is we were doing. Our governments operate under the semblance of democracy while seething with corruption, and our cities’ infrastructure turns old and derelict a little too fast. There is one thing, however, that Mexicans do differently; breakfast.

Mexico has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, and in the city of 21.2 million, Mexico’s greasy diet and guilty pleasures are proudly on display. Tacos, tortas, carnitas (pork barbecue), asados (meat stews), sopes, quesadillas, pan dulce, emanate an aroma like no other. But the concoction that caught my attention was not the massive pots of pork stew; it was the guajolota, a tamale in a sandwich. I left the house at 7 am to witness Mexico’s middle and working class rise from their slumber. I was after a guajolota and champurrado—a chocolate-based hot drink made from corn flour—for breakfast. This idyllic breakfast is popular among the thousands of industrious men and women who seek to have a cheap, calorific breakfast that will satiate them until lunchtime. Around 8 million people ride the subway every day. Groggy men and women jump into already full cars and thrust themselves against the masses inside, pressing against each other compliantly.

I follow the crowd obediently; careful not to disrupt the mechanic flow that animates the city so early in the morning. Women around me began applying makeup on the platform and inside the cars. Within minutes they have curled their eyelashes with a spoon, applied eyeliner with a surgeon´s steady pulse, added mascara, foundation, and blush. Back in the streets, food stands and carts sit on street corners, some encompassing entire blocks. People eat sitting down, standing up, or on the ago. After an hour of public transport and hunting for my tamale sandwich, I finally spot one. The guajolota stand is one of the most inconspicuous in the street-breakfast buffet. It doesn’t captivate you the same way a taco stand does; neither does the smell entrap you like that of carnitas. A tin pot for the champurrado, a cooler that keeps the tamales warm, and a pile of bread is all that lures the eye.

Undeterred, I ordered a guajolota filled with mole and a chocolate champurrado, aware that I was eating around 800 calories—half the day´s calorie intake— in a single meal for less than $3 USD. I painstakingly finished my guajolota and instead of going to work like everyone else, I rode the metro back home with the certainty that I would not eat until the next morning, but regretting nothing.

The Unlikely Origin Story of a Breakfast Paradise

Feb.05.16

The Unlikely Origin Story of a Breakfast Paradise

by Chryselle D’Silva Dia

Chole Bhature in Mumbai

Our Sunday mornings were once defined by three Cs: church, community, and chole.

Growing up, every Sunday after Mass and all its associated rituals had concluded, our family piled into our spacious, white Ambassador car and headed to an unremarkable Sindhi restaurant in Chembur Camp. This was a former army barracks used to resettle refugees after India’s Partition in 1947, which was now a residential area. We joined other zealous devotees for plates of steaming hot ragda pattice (a potato patty dunked in a tangy pea gravy and served with an assortment of sweet and spicy chutneys) and chole bhature (chickpeas in a spicy gravy served with a large, fluffy, deep-fried bread).

The Partition of British India into India and Pakistan resulted in an exodus of millions of people to both countries. The Sindhis fled from Sindh (now in Pakistan) and settled in pockets around independent India. One of these was in Chembur, the heart of industrialized Bombay. This is where the Sindhis made their home and healed their wounds; they also brought to us the most finger-licking food around.

Several decades after the little army barracks welcomed families running away from this crisis, we stood on the steps of the restaurant, warmed by the heat of the gas stoves placed right at the entrance. We watched, entranced, as the pattice turned golden brown on the large tavas and the chole was dished out in small, round, dried-leaf bowls. We rarely ate there; the company of truck drivers and assorted men staring at teenage girls was not deemed good enough company. Women rarely stayed to eat at the restaurant; that has changed now with a swanky renovation and the gentrification of the area in general.

The memory of that Sunday morning treat lingers. I have not found a place that replicates that peculiar tangy taste of that chole, with its dark gravy tantalizing the corners of my mouth. Perhaps it is the taste of nostalgia, of a childhood that was lost too soon. My father passed away long ago, too early at 46, his sudden death changing our lives in more ways than we could imagine. It took us a while to return to our Sunday ritual: it felt too much like a celebration and we three siblings, part-orphaned, could not bring ourselves to give in to that thrill, that sense of hungry expectation as you wait for your food to be packed and handed over to you.

The joy had been taken out of Sunday mornings.

My family now lives in the other end of this city that has enough people to be a country in its own right. Yet, if any one goes to Chembur, now all posh and trendy, they stop and bring home a bit of this delectable goodness. ‘Camp’ is now famous for more than its vintage connections to Bollywood and for the row of Sindhi and Punjabi restaurants that serve everything from deep-fried sweets to lamb kebabs roasting over an open coal fire. But that chole remains the breakfast of my dreams.

The Ultimate Everyday Luxury

Feb.04.16

The Ultimate Everyday Luxury

by Chris Newens

Croissants in Paris

The croissant is the ubiquitous, unassuming foot soldier of patisserie, the breakfast staple that lines the front rank of bakery displays from Paris to Patagonia. Often overlooked, frequently underappreciated, but a good one is the least expensive that true luxury can get. They are also fiendishly laborious to make. From scratch, we’re talking a 10- to 14-hour process: pastry and butter continuously folded over one another then chilled, until through some sorcery the heavy essence of butter is moulded into a form that can be bronzed into a honeycomb of air and light.

Enter Pauline, the unassuming boulangerie that opened just over a year ago immediately opposite my Paris apartment. I still remember the slow summer of its construction, my girlfriend and I languidly watching the bakery take shape outside our window, joking with one another about how good it might turn out to be. Neither of us really expected much—our place is only in the unfashionable 19th arrondissement, after all—but there’s always going to be some magic that accompanies the construction of a new bakery, and it was nice to imagine.

An aside here about Parisian boulangeries: their quality varies and at times they can seem as numerous as stars in the sky. Before Pauline opened, there were six within a five-minute walk of my front door. Six! I’ve often wondered if there even exists a route across Paris that does not pass a bakery entrance: either there is not, or if there is, it invites so many loops and switchbacks that it would take months to complete. So it was no small thing that immediately on opening it was clear to me that Pauline shopped the best croissants in the capital.

A disclaimer: I have in no way been put up to say this. I don’t know anyone who works in Pauline beyond basic “bonjour” pleasantries. I haven’t even mentioned to them my absolute admiration of their craft. It is simply a fact, and one that’s been echoed by every other person I’ve introduced to the patisserie, Pauline’s croissants are phenomenal. They are the perfect symphony of texture and taste: flaky though never dry, doughy though never too moist, a finely tuned balance between savory and sweet.

But who am I to make this statement? France takes its baked goods as seriously as other countries take war, and there are, after all, competitions for this kind of thing. The official holder of 2015’s “Best Croissant in Paris Award” is one Benjamin Turquier. He shops his prize-winners in the 3rd Arrondissement, which, in the good name of fairness, I’ve recently tried.

Now, I’m not going to say that Turquier’s croissants are not also delicious. They have an almost biscuity crust and a rich butter flavor that tastes like the rural past. Like Pauline’s, they represent one of the closest things to a work of art that one could ever hope to buy for a euro. And yet on a certain level, Turquier’s could never be quite as good as the ones I bought in my local. For croissants are not, nor do they aspire to be, a three-Michelin Star experience. That is to say, no matter the individual croissant’s inherent quality, it should never on its own be “worth the trip.”

The essence of the best croissants lies in their quotidian-ness. They are the ultimate daily luxury, best enjoyed from an establishment less than five minutes from your door. And if that establishment’s croissants can go toe-to-toe with the very best the rest of the world has to offer, so much the better.

A Full Stomach Is No Reason to Skip a Meal in the Philippines

Feb.03.16

A Full Stomach Is No Reason to Skip a Meal in the Philippines

by Kiki Aranita

Sinanglao in Vigan

We thought we were on our way to breakfast when our friend Camille led us into 9 Sisters’ Longanisa & Bagnet in Vigan. One man stirred an enormous wok mounted upon a wide, brick oven, heated from below by a pile of burning sticks. He deposited the bagnet—deep-fried pork belly—after it endured boiling and two rounds of deep-frying, onto a pile of newspapers for another man wearing rubber slippers to tend to. It had crisp, bubbled-up skin and it darkened the newspapers with dripping oil. The slippered man cut us little bite-sized pieces of bagnet and giggled at our delight. Skinny dogs gazed at us mournfully. A row of pork skin hung behind them, drying like tiny washcloths on a laundry line, while a curtain of longanisa sausage links obscured ladies stuffing the sausages by hand at a low table. Everyone was friendly and sweet, graciously answering all our questions until we inquired about what spices they used in their longanisa. Everyone went quiet.

Nobody was hungry after 9 Sisters’. However, as was often the case, a full stomach never seemed to be a sufficient reason to forego a meal or snack in the Philippines, so once again, we were heading to breakfast. Camille had promised us tocino—fatty bacon—for our first meal of the day, but she also stopped to pick up little plastic baggies of chicharron. Under Camille’s wing, we were always heading to get something to eat and on the way, we made numerous stops for other things to eat. We were in the Philippines looking for inspiration, dishes that would make our food truck back in Philadelphia more interesting. Camille over-delivered and we overate. Camille’s husband Melo had barely driven another fifty feet when she stopped him again. There were red plastic stools and picnic tables covered in oilcloth set up, tricycles parked, mopeds planted in the gravel, and the scent of stewed beef wafting through the air. “Let’s get sinanglao. It’s like the Ilocano version of siningang,” she explained.

Everything felt familiar to me in Vigan, but nothing was exactly what I had tasted before. I thought I understood Filipino food. I grew up in Hawaii, eating plenty of it. Now I see that’s sort of like saying, I belong in this family, but I’m a second cousin, thrice removed. I know you, but I don’t. In the Philippines—and in the province of Ilocos Sur in particular—I am off-center. Not lechon kawali but bagnet. Not dinuguan but dinardaraan. Not sinigang but sinanglao.

The sinanglao—an offal stew—gathering looked like an extremely well organized picnic, as many restaurants in Vigan do, with plastic tables and chairs spilling out onto the pavement.

Ladies in aprons and hairnets ladled soft slices of beef, cubes of coagulated blood, kidney, and sour broth into chipped porcelain bowls from cauldrons set upon makeshift, propane-powered stoves. We handed over a few pesos and bought plates of white rice to sink, chunk by chunk, into our sinanglao. We sprinkled peppery cane vinegar and green bile into our stews from little glass bottles and we dug in with spoons and forks. It was steamy, tart, and delicious.

“What is this place?” I asked Camille, expecting her to name some restaurant.

“Oh, this is just the post office,” she laughed.

Eating Tomatoes on Cereal Does Make a Certain Amount of Sense

Feb.02.16

Eating Tomatoes on Cereal Does Make a Certain Amount of Sense

by Cara Strickland

Frosted Flakes in Jeonju

When I was nineteen, I traveled to South Korea with several others from my Tae Kwon Do school, eager to soak up the culture that had birthed our sport. Although we stayed in fancy hotels (one had a pillow menu with varying scents and degrees of softness), my favorite part of the trip was our stay in Jeonju (our master’s hometown) where we were hosted by families.

As we arrived, a group of children watched us through the windows of our tour bus with barely contained excitement. One girl jumped up and down, unable to contain herself. She turned out to be part of “my” family, eager to show my roommate and I the sights.

Our host mother didn’t speak English, so most of our communication was brokered by the eldest of their three daughters, Ha-Neul. She was twelve. In my journal from those days, I wrote: “You start by taking off your shoes and after that there were very few moments when I wasn’t eating.”

We went out to dinner at TGI Fridays, bringing in our own Pizza Hut pizzas as appetizers. The boxes were tied with a red ribbon. No one batted an eye at our contraband. Throughout our stay, after each bite of pizza with pureed sweet potato and sweet pickles, kimchi, or slurp of green-tea ice cream, Ha-Neul would pause and look searchingly into my eyes, “Delicious?” she would ask, emphasizing each syllable. I would nod and smile, “Delicious.”

One morning, I watched the two older girls eating fried eggs with chopsticks, cutting them precisely and getting them from plate to mouth without a single slip. The kitchen was small, but there was room for a large appliance that looked like a chest freezer. Ha-Neul told me that it was specially made to store kimchi.

Instead of eggs, my host mother poured us generous bowls of Frosted Flakes, opening the box with a flourish. Then, she cut several cherry tomatoes in half and sprinkled them on top of the dry cereal before pouring on the milk. I looked at her wonderingly, and then at my roommate. Ha-Neul looked at us both expectantly. She gestured to the box, the one with Korean characters and large strawberries on it, clearly an intended taste of home, then she pointed to the cherry tomatoes atop my cereal and again at the strawberries. I smiled at her, and took a bite. Before I’d finished chewing, she asked, “Delicious?” I repeated her word back to her, still puzzling over the flavors in my mouth.

Later, at home again in the U.S., I did a little research. It turns out that many Korean people treat tomatoes as fruits, especially cherry tomatoes. You will find them as an ingredient in fruit salads, in patbingsu (a Korean shaved ice dessert), or dusted with sugar and eaten out of one’s hand like a grape.

As a college student with regular access to Frosted Flakes from a dispenser and cherry tomatoes from the salad bar, I would occasionally recreate this particularly memorable breakfast. In trying to give a familiar taste to those who had been traveling, my host family unintentionally created a beautiful blend of our two cultures, and it was indeed delicious.

The Best Pretty Good Chilaquiles in Oaxaca

Jan.29.16

The Best Pretty Good Chilaquiles in Oaxaca

by Meredith Bethune

Chilaquiles in Southern Mexico

All roads converge on the zócalo in Oaxaca, the tree-shaded main plaza flanked by a Spanish cathedral and dotted with benches. As a child, my mother and I spent a few weeks there each year for ten years. The zócalo was our destination every single day. We’d stroll down the sloping pedestrian thoroughfare of Alcala towards the town square and browse the handicrafts, marvel at the daily firecracker show, or watch a demonstration.

We’d also get coffee, but always at the same café, which had the best cappuccinos. I liked pouring a cascade of sugar onto the spoon and dunking it into the frothy milk cap. I did it three times in a row while vendors stopped at the tables to sell weavings, carved wooden bookmarks, and chewing gum.

I recently returned to the southern Mexican city with my parents for the first time in 15 years. Of course, we headed straight to the zócalo on our first morning back in Oaxaca. That café on the southeast corner that had remained nameless in my memories was still there. I could see now that it was called Del Jardin.

I immediately recognized one of the waiters. After so many years, the lines on his chiseled face were deeper, the bags under his eyes slightly heavier, but it was indeed him. We sat down at an empty table overlooking the zócalo, and the plastic-laminated menus felt familiar in my hands. Various vendors passed our table to sell the customary items. I can’t say I recognized the street performer that day, but the lilting melody of his marimba provided a pleasant musical accompaniment to all the activity on the zócalo.

I knew exactly what I wanted. There were many old favorite foods I planned to eat in Oaxaca, but that morning I yearned only for a heaving plate of chilaquiles: the simple Mexican breakfast of day old tortillas drenched in tangy red or green sauce. It arrived piled high with sliced white onions, queso fresco, and sour cream.

Most Mexican dishes are highly regional. But chilaquiles are a national dish, according to Diana Kennedy’s classic book The Art of Mexican Cooking. There’s one exception: the green sauce version apparently hails from Michoacan, which lies more than 400 miles north of Oaxaca along the Pacific coast. Kennedy’s standard red chilaquiles recipe looks similar to what I ate in Oaxaca that day: corn tortillas dried overnight tossed in a red sauce of tomatoes, chiles, and garlic cloves, served with the requisite toppings. The sauce was tangy and rich with a subtle piquant kick. They were served just slightly warmer than room temperature.

The side of beans, though, were all Oaxaca. I was first introduced to those smoky, porky, and runny refried black beans as a kid. Black beans reign supreme in southern Mexico. The pinto bean is a rare sighting there.

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’ve eaten lots of chilaquiles as an adult, and Del Jardin doesn’t make the absolute best version. I’ve also had much better cappuccinos, and I no longer take them so sweet. But, over the course of that week in Oaxaca, we enjoyed many more meals, coffees, and a few beers at Del Jardin. We also got well-acquainted with the musical stylings of the marimba man, too.

Hopscotching Through the Lands of Pork and No Pork

Jan.27.16

Hopscotching Through the Lands of Pork and No Pork

by Emily Ding

Pork saksang in Sumatra

It wasn’t morning, but it was, in the most straightforward sense of the word, breakfast.

I was in Langsa, a city a few hours’ drive north of Medan in Aceh. I had come to visit the Rohingya refugees, Myanmar’s largest Muslim minority fleeing religious and ethnic discrimination in Rakhine State, at shelters that had sprouted up along the coast in the wake of last year’s Southeast Asian boat crisis. Their intended destination had been Malaysia, but due to the vagaries of border controls and the weather, they had ended up here. Nevertheless, it was a welcome respite for them. Aceh is the only province allowed to enforce sharia law by the Indonesian government in a historical concession of partial autonomy to separatists, and here, the Rohingyas could practice their religious customs freely—unlike in Rakhine State, where mosques have been closed or burned down.

By the same token, I had run into logistical hiccups immediately upon arriving in Langsa. I was traveling with a male photographer friend, and we were not allowed to share a room because we weren’t married to each other; in one guesthouse, I wasn’t even permitted a room to myself and had to leave because I was unmarried. “There was an incident here, sometime ago, and you don’t have a husband to protect you,” was all the young male receptionist would go by way of explanation, and apologized profusely for being the cause of any inconvenience. I had also come in the middle of Ramadan, which meant that I couldn’t eat or drink in public during fasting hours, since most of the restaurants were Muslim establishments. I am ethnically Chinese and irreligious, but in Muslim-majority Langsa, flying in the face of local customs would have drawn too much unwanted attention, and, possibly, repercussions.

I ended up finishing my assignment earlier than I’d expected, and with a few days to spare, decided to head south to Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world. The journey took a whole day, and I started getting hungry on the shared taxi over from a connection in Medan. Mindful of my Muslim companions, however, I refrained from bringing out the biscuits I had packed with me.

Sometime in the evening, but before sunset, the driver pulled the car over and my travel companions started to climb out. When I remained in my seat, the driver asked, “Are you Muslim?”

“No,” I said, as it started to dawn on me that he hadn’t taken my appearance for granted. Back home in Malaysia, a Malay, or someone who looks Malay, like myself, is usually presumed to be Muslim. In Indonesia, you could be Muslim, Hindu or Christian, and it would be hard to tell.

“Come on then,” the driver said, ushering me out, while a young Muslim man stayed in the car to wait.

We walked to a roadside grill covered in sizzling pork, and only pork, done many different ways. My companions ordered the panggang: grilled pork with crispy skin and oozing fat, thrown in with tomatoes and cucumbers and doused with a squeeze of lime and chilli, served with pork broth on the side. I went for the saksang, a curry of diced pork (sometimes substituted with dog meat) that left a tartness on my tongue from the spices. I cleaned up my plate with little effort, since it was both breakfast and dinner for me.

We had moved into the territory of the Batak people, who are generally Christian. Pork was back on the menu, and breakfast would be served in the morning.

Revisiting a Favorite Breakfast Half a Century Later

Jan.26.16

Revisiting a Favorite Breakfast Half a Century Later

by Nooraini Mydin

Nasi kandar in Penang

It is quite a joy when your favorite childhood food tastes the same 50 years later. That is the case with the nasi kandar from my favorite stall. Nasi kandar is a breakfast dish that is unique to Penang, Malaysia’s culinary capital. It is served drenched in a dark beef curry mixed with a fish curry sauce, a match made in heaven. I prefer it with a chunk of beef or two, half a boiled egg, and a couple of bindi (okra).

As I tuck into my nasi kandar breakfast, I am transported back to my childhood when on Sunday mornings, my father would have the nasi kandar delivered to our house. I remember secretly lifting the lid on the tiffin carrier to see the rice, half white and half in tones light to dark brown from the sauce, and nestled underneath, the delicious beef chunks emitting the rich aroma of spices.

Nasi kandar was traditionally pedaled by a hawker carrying the rice and curry in baskets balanced on a pole (kandar). He would usually sell takeaway but those desperate to eat in can perch on a stool and savor the delight right away.

My favorite stall has no name and is perched on the corner of a Chinese coffee shop on Jelutong Road. “The one opposite the Perak Road Police station,” I would hear people shout as directions.

I like to sit and watch the guys serving up the takeaway orders to the queue snaking down to the road. The packer takes the order, a complicated affair as each customer orders a few packs and each with a different combination. “One rice with two beef, half an egg and two bindi, one rice, fish, whole egg, half rice, one beef, half egg and one bindi…” With a powerful memory he passes each order to another guy, who passes it on to the man who dishes it up. The dish is passed to the assistant who throws its contents onto the first layer of a stack of plastic sheets lining a greaseproof paper. The packer flips it this way and that and binds it with a rubber band. By then the next order is ready to be packed.

The stall opens from dawn to 10 am or when they run out of food. The first callers are men returning from dawn prayers at the Jelutong mosque and bleary-eyed factory workers fresh off the night shift, followed by people heading to work, joggers back from a run, and schoolchildren buying a takeaway.

It is a spectacular show when the fresh food is delivered to the stall from the owner’s house, a short distance away, bringing an old tradition to life as they carry the gigantic rice and curry pots on a pole, dodging the heavy morning traffic.

Photo: Amrufm

Sometimes a Boring Breakfast Is the Best Breakfast of All

Jan.25.16

Sometimes a Boring Breakfast Is the Best Breakfast of All

by Linda Givetash

Espresso in Kigali

Leaning back into a pile of cushions while sipping a perfectly rich Americano, I felt at home. Months of living in chaotic Kampala suddenly became a distant memory, even though I was only a few hours away.

Traveling to Kigali was like being transported to another world. Pristine roads lined by streetlights and sidewalks connected the city’s neighborhoods, which sprawled across rolling green hills. Vendors selling SIM cards in the city center were unaggressive as they solicited me from at least arm-distance away. The nights were quiet except for the sound of rain hitting tin roofs and cement walkways. Having become accustomed to the exact opposite urban arrangement in Kampala, Kigali seemed a mirage.

I found Inzora Rooftop Café tucked away at the back of Ikirezi Bookstore—easy to miss from the road—on my last morning in Kigali. A friend who had visited the city a few weeks earlier tipped me off about the Kacyiru neighborhood café but with a limited description.

Inzora’s menu was very simple: a number of espresso-based drinks, teas, smoothies, and a handful of baked goods. Not yet having my morning caffeine fix, I ordered quickly and made myself at home. The seating area was spread out against floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a lush ravine. A soundtrack of typical café jazz and local folk songs played as I waited for my order.

I was giddy from the sight of my meal as the waitress placed it in front of me minutes later. The Americano was strong enough to be the perfect wake-up, yet not too strong to need milk and sugar. And even better, the drink was made from medium-dark roasted Huye Mountain beans farmed less than three hours away.

A fruit smoothie of fresh strawberry, mango, and pineapple along with a raisin oatmeal cookie made for the breakfast I was craving. This was certainly not the milky chai and chapatti I had spent months sampling across East Africa. Although delicious, the Indian-inspired breakfast eventually left me craving my old comforts of coffee and cereal in Vancouver. While I was still thousands of miles away from home, the humdrum breakfast left me feeling transported, banishing my homesickness. Sometimes we all need a getaway to the familiar.

Packing All the Delightful Energy of Spain Into a Single Meal

Jan.21.16

Packing All the Delightful Energy of Spain Into a Single Meal

by Ira de Reuver

Churros Con Choco in Spain

Ferry Horns or Sheep Horns?

The melodious crowing of roosters encouraged me to rise early at my temporary casa on the Spanish coast. I start packing, hearing the horns of the ocean steamers traveling through the air from the harbor of Malaga. Or is it my imagination? It could just be the excitement and anticipation about my upcoming trip by ferry to Melilla, from where I plan to continue on a road trip into Morocco.

With a light stride I descend the hill via a labyrinth of small, winding roads guarded by colorful potted plants, while the early morning sky opens up with the promise of a sunny day. I reach a local churreria that I spotted the day before and I sit down with only one thing on my mind: eating churros con choco.

I settled myself next to a table where two love birds in their seventies flirt, all the while laughing, teasing, and planting small kisses on each others’ cheeks. Locals carry bags filled with fresh vegetables and groceries, cheerfully making a stop at the diner to indulge in this traditional sweetness.

There are few things more typically Spanish than churros con choco. The piped stripes of deep-fried dough are made of a mixture of flour, a pinch of salt, and some oil. The hot cup of choco needs no explanation.

The origin of churros is not clear, it is said that the Portuguese brought the art of making churros to Europe after exploring China in the 16th century; some say it was during the 1920s that churros were coupled with chocolate.

Another theory is that Spanish shepherds invented churros centuries ago, as high up in the mountains freshly baked goods were not available. So the shepherds came up with a cylindrical daily staple, which could easily be fried in a pan over an open fire. They named the fritter after Navajo-Churro sheep, as the horns of these sheep look similar to the fried pastry.

While I dip my churro in a mug of thick, sweet, and delicious hot chocolate, time passes slowly. An energetic nurse arrives with her elderly patient in a wheelchair. A man takes a seat with his puppy. A grandmother walking past with her two grandchildren is forced to stop, as the children want to play with the enthusiastic puppy. Passersby are chatting and singing, while a salesman is showing all the customers a basket filled with fresh salmon for sale. Hombre! a man shouts when he spots a friend on the other side of the road and happily invites him to join for a churro con choco.

All the delightful energy of Spain comes together in this small churreria, where customers from all walks of life begin their day with churro con choco, as do I.

Pretzels: the Bagels of Philadelphia

Jan.19.16

Pretzels: the Bagels of Philadelphia

by Sarah Grey

Pretzels in Philadelphia

“Fresh! Hot! Pretzels!”

It’s 7:30 am in Philadelphia, and there’s a pretzel seller touting his wares under my window. Here in Fishtown, on the banks of the Delaware River, things have been changing quickly: the brick rowhouses that housed fishermen, Irish immigrants, and brewery workers a century ago are being renovated and flipped faster than you can say “gentrification.” Between the hip coffeehouses, galleries, and warehouse lofts, though, longtime Fishtowners carry on the old traditions, like selling hot soft pretzels carried on a stick first thing in the morning.

And is there any Philadelphia tradition more beloved than soft pretzels? You can find them on just about every corner in Center City, though every Philly native you ask will point you toward a different bakery (there are at least a dozen). The prominence of pretzels is part of Pennsylvania’s German heritage, which goes back four centuries. The central and eastern parts of the state are famous for their Amish and Mennonite residents, many of whom speak “Pennsylvania Dutch,” a German dialect that’s evolved on its own since it was imported to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. (“Dutch” is a misnomer; it’s actually a corruption of Deutsch, or German.)

Pretzels are popular all over the U.S., of course, but here in Philly, they’re breakfast. New Yorkers bring bagels to work and Southerners bring Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but here, if you want to make friends at the office, you swing by Furfari’s Soft Pretzels on Frankford Avenue (or wherever your secret spot is) and pick up a dozen soft pretzels still warm from the oven. You’ll even find their fresh pretzels sold inside the local elementary schools first thing in the morning, with a line of children clutching quarters stretching down the hall from the pretzel cart.

The iconic Philly breakfast pretzels aren’t the wide-open twists you find at every Auntie Anne’s: they’re dense and squat, very nearly rectangular. They come in a cardboard box still connected, with a little container of mustard on the side. When you tear one away, a little puff of steam tells you how fresh it is. They’re also dirt-cheap: think fifty cents apiece.

Furfari’s pretzels have been the same since the bakery opened in 1954: elemental, conjured from the simplest interplay of salt and flour and water. A little yeast, maybe a hint of sugar, some egg wash to burnish the top and make the salt stick. They get more chewy as they cool, but the clean, yeasty flavor always plays well with coffee for a quick rush of morning carbs.

At the Mennonite-owned Miller’s Twist in the Reading Terminal Market, on the other hand, it’s all about butter. Here tourists watch women in T-shirts and women in bonnets roll the dough for a wider, richer pretzel with less chew, one that leaves your fingers slick. They’re delicious on their own, but Miller’s has locked down the Reading Market breakfast game by combining pretzel dough with a breakfast sandwich. Pretzel wraps stuff the buttery dough with egg and cheese, sausage, or even the glorious grease-and-Cheez-Wiz mixture that Philadelphians just call “cheesesteak.”

There’s debate about how much butter is too much, but you’re unlikely to go wrong if you show up early with a salt-shedding armload of pretzels and mustard. And if the pretzel-seller disturbs your sleep? Get up and run outside like a kid chasing the ice-cream truck. That’s how we do it in Philly.

Settling Into a Routine of Killer Fish for Breakfast

Jan.19.16

Settling Into a Routine of Killer Fish for Breakfast

by Emily Ding

Piranha in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve

We found three of them one morning, twisting to swim free of the net we’d drawn, like a curtain, along the opening of the river cove the night before.

It was the eighth day of my ten-day canoe journey in Peru’s Northern Amazon, and this was the first time we’d caught piranhas. On the makeshift grill of our hut on stilts, half swallowed up by the swollen river this rainy season, my guide, Santiago, and his wife, Maritza, made quick work of the red- and yellow-bellied creatures. But even grilled to a crisp and served on porcelain plates with boiled plantains and potatoes, they still looked menacing. Everyone expects the taste of piranha to live up to its fearsome reputation, but it tastes like the fish we commonly eat and is surprisingly tender. It just has bigger teeth, which give it that pugnacious underbite, and which we admired before tucking in.

Later, Santiago showed me a C-shaped scar on his calf. “A piranha bit me once when I was wading around in the river. A piece of my flesh came loose,” he said.

I wanted to know: Did the piranhas swarm toward him? Are they really attracted to blood? Are they really carnivores?

“It’s not like in the movies,” Santiago said, laughing.

However, that’s not to say Santiago doesn’t believe in any of the tales surrounding this area. As a Cocama tribesman who has lived all his life in the jungle, he believes completely and seriously in Chullachaqui, the shapeshifting spiritual guardian of the Amazon animal kingdom. During long days on the river when there was nothing to do but paddle and talk, Santiago would tell me many seemingly impossible stories.

There was the giant caiman—25 feet long—which sent a big wave through the river and flipped a canoe into its mouth with its tail, or the local man who battled a jaguar with his bare hands and lost a leg, or the Pozo Galicia, a water well at least 100 feet deep that harbors the most monstrous creatures in the Amazon, including the anaconda. But as soon as I asked about the possible perils in us seeking out caimans, or about the mewling sound I heard in the middle of the night (which Santiago informed me was a baby puma, which meant mama puma was near), or the fact that we had no line of communication to the tour agency’s headquarters were something unfortunate to happen, I would be placated with the assurance that, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”

Of course, it was just ten days. And in those ten days, we had settled into something of a routine, which is not a word I would have ever used to describe the Amazon when it existed only in my imagination. We would wake up by dawn every morning, have breakfast, load up the canoe and spend most of the day paddling to our next stop, taking our lunch in between. When we arrived, we would set up camp, have dinner, and get to bed at about the same hour the frogs start their croaking symphony. And we ate fish every day for breakfast and lunch—the heaviest meals of the day here.

In retrospect, however, and in light of those stories that have stuck with me, I’ve started to see these routines more as rituals: an adherence to a certain invisible order.

In any case, mealtimes were never dull. How could they be, with piranha on the menu? Santiago and Maritza had also taught me the many ways to eat a fish here: grilled, fried, as soup, as stew, or wrapped in jungle leaves for extra fragrance—always thrown in with the local comeno seasoning, or ajinomoto, partly to offset the zing of the fish, which we would rub in salt when we caught them to keep them fresh. All in all, the worst thing to happen to me in the Amazon were the dozens of mosquito bites covering my body.

Eating Local in an Occupied Land

Jan.15.16

Eating Local in an Occupied Land

by Adam Rasgon

Zeit Wa Za’atar in Beit Jala

The topographical nature of Palestine and Israel is fourfold: the western coastal plains, the central foothills, the eastern rugged mountains, and the arid Jordan valley. Hosh Yasmin, an organic farm located in the Makrour Valley, sits at the heart of the rugged mountains, overlooking groves of olive trees and Jerusalem to its north and Beit Jala and Bethlehem to its south.

I travel to Hosh Yasmin from Jerusalem on a white and blue bus that mainly serves local Palestinians and tourists headed to Bethlehem. After a fifteen-minute ride and a pass through a checkpoint, the bus stops in front of an Israeli army base bordering the Palestinian town of Beit Jala. I get off the bus and walk in the opposite direction down a narrow road, just wide enough to fit a single car. A wooden sign and pyramid-like structure appear in the distance, marking the entrance to the farm.

When I arrive at the farm, Mazen, the owner, kindly greets me in Arabic, “ahlan wa sahlan.” He surveys the different outdoor seating options and directs me to a table just above his grove of olive trees. He then promptly brings me a cup of tea made from sage, mint, thyme, lavender, and other herbs grown on the farm. I sip my tea and take in the breathtaking landscape around me. I feel the hilltop winds blow past my face and barely hear the cars passing along the road in the valley below.

Gradually Mazen brings out each breakfast dish, which he has carefully prepared with organic ingredients from his farm and the surrounding villages. He first brings arguably the two most famous Palestinian staples, zeit wa za’atar, olive oil and za’atar. Eating utensils are discouraged here, so I dip homemade wheat bread into the thick and opaque olive oil—unique to Beit Jala because of its white soil—and then the za’atar, a heavenly combination.

He then brings foul, a pasty fava bean dip native to Palestine and other parts of the Middle East. Unlike the traditional dark-brown foul, Mazen has created a light-brown foul, easier on the stomach and filled with flavor. He explains that he soaks the fava beans for three days, boils and smashes them, and then infuses them with local herbs, green pepper, lemon, and tahini, giving it a lighter color. I sample the foul and its different flavors coalesce into one sharp and rich taste of deliciousness.

Next Mazen brings qalayet bandoura, an oily tomato dish common among Palestinian villagers. He prepares this dish by first sautéing garlic, onion, and green pepper and then adding chopped tomatoes and spices. For good measure, he douses the dish in olive oil. The aromatic smell of garlic wafts through the air. Breakfast at Hosh Yasmin is an excursion into the culinary roots of the Palestinian society: both the great food and the tradition of exceptional hospitality.

Being a Family Means Sharing Acquired Tastes

Jan.14.16

Being a Family Means Sharing Acquired Tastes

by Ndéla Faye

Chereh in Doudam

“I’d really like to try a traditional Serer breakfast,” I say one day, nostalgically remembering the strange and exciting taste of chereh from my childhood.

My family look at me, clearly amused: most people now just have bread and coffee for breakfast, but my aunt is honoring me by agreeing to prepare the traditional breakfast. “Ah, so you are a true Serer if you like Serer couscous,” they tease me. Chereh, a thick, grainy millet porridge, familiarly known as “Serer couscous,” is usually served with fermented milk or cream and sugar as a breakfast cereal, but today I am getting a special treat and getting mine with fish, potato, and a spicy fish broth to accompany it.

I’m in my ancestral village of Doudam, where my family has lived for the past 800 years. It’s about 60 miles inland from Dakar. The Serer represent the third-largest ethnic group in Senegal, and my family’s history can be traced back to the Faye kingdom of Sine-Saloum in the 14th century.

My aunts and cousins are sitting in a circle, gutting and cleaning the fish one of my uncles has just caught from the nearby lake using his own traps. The traps, hand-woven from dried palm-tree leaves, seem to have been very successful overnight. “The fish might be small, but they’re very tasty,” he grins. My family are almost completely self-sufficient: their main income comes from growing and selling peanuts, tomatoes, and millet.

Making breakfast, like all meals, is a family affair that requires everyone’s involvement. Children are running around, coaxed every now and again to help carry something or bring something from the back room. The kitchen is small and crammed, so most things happen outside the kitchen, in the courtyard.

My aunt sets a large bowl of chereh in front of me. As I take my first bite of the dish, the memory of the taste hits me like a ton of bricks: the chereh bears a semblance to smooth sand in my mouth and it has a nutty, almost bitter taste to it. Each diner creates their own little hole in the bowl, where a generous portion of the fish sauce is poured. “Definitely an acquired taste,” I think to myself as I keep scooping more food into my mouth. My family laugh at me.

The rhythmic noise of women pounding millet with a heavy, wooden pestle to remove the hull of the grain starts again outside. Every now and again, they hoist the heavy wooden stick high up in the air and see how many claps they can do, before the pestle falls back into their firm grip. Wanting to prove my Serer-ness some more, I go over to help, but the only thing I seem able to do is provide entertainment for the children who are watching me attempting to lift the pestle. I barely manage to lift it a few inches from the giant mortar. I admit my defeat and happily watch my family chattering and fussing around the yard, preparing the next meal of the day.

A Communal Breakfast That Is Sugary, Warm, and Filling

Jan.12.16

A Communal Breakfast That Is Sugary, Warm, and Filling

by Charlotte Allan

Mealie Pap in Kaokoland

He drives me there himself in the end. He says he would have lent me a car, but he wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow his instructions.

I pull a face. Try me.

Ok, turn left six miles before you reach Angola, then right at the tree, drive 150 feet, see the rock, don’t turn there but take a right at the next one.

All right then. We set off together at dawn, bouncing along with sleep in our eyes listening to the only CD in the car: Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour. I brood to the music, medicating my morning melancholia and hunger pangs with peanuts and a small carton of supernaturally orange Exotic Juice. It’s the tail end of the dry season in Kaokoland and all of life looks extinguished; ragged palms loom through the dust like fronded quotation marks waiting for something to appear in between.

When we zig-zag past a rock into a dry forested area I wouldn’t have found myself, he points through the glade. Peaked rondavels sit behind a wooden fence. We head over with our gift of maize for the morning meal of mealie pap, a corn porridge.

Himba women from Namibia’s Herero people live here. Their braided hair is beautifully colored with smooth red mud, which sprout at the ends into fans of fluffy black hair. Their skin is dyed with heavily scented ochre; powdered leaves mixed with butter to protect the skin from the sun.

A beautiful girl leads me over to the fire and her hut, where her mother is starting to prepare the breakfast. On a circular metal platter, a metal pot is balanced on large stones while twigs are lit underneath. Goat milk and the white, powdered maize are added to a metal pot and stirred with a wooden stick until it ploufs and puffs like creamy rice.

I’m invited to join the women in the family; the men eat separately. We dig in from a plastic bowl with our fingers. The pap is sugary, warm, and filling. On the sidelines, a ten-year-old boy appears to have developed a crush on me. He gives me dreamy looks as he fiddles with his braid.

When it’s time to leave, the beautiful girl follows me into the forest and examines my hair between her fingers. It’s clean, but looking at her elaborate locks, I think I’ll make more of an effort next time. She smiles at me before padding back through the glade.

My guide and I get back in the car. Sam Smith picks up where he left off. We turn right at the tree, left at the rock, and swerve out onto the red earth before heading north towards Angola.

The Breakfast Staple That Transcends All Borders

Jan.11.16

The Breakfast Staple That Transcends All Borders

by Akinyi Ochieng

Bofrot in Accra

Across Africa and its diaspora, certain recipes and techniques stretch across borders. The most famous diasporic staple is likely West Africa’s okra stew, which shares similarities with New Orleans’ gumbo and caruru in Brazil’s Bahia, the hub of the Afro-Brazilian culture. But less well-noted are African and diasporic variations of fritters.

Louisiana has its beignets. Kenya, its mandazi. In Ghana, the fried dough of choice is bofrot, also called togbei, or “goat’s balls” in Ga, the language of one of the ethnic groups native to the Accra region.

Each morning, in the congested Accra traffic, street vendors weave in and out of the treacherous maze of cars selling on-the-go snacks. Boxes filled with bofrot and other pastries are balanced precariously on their heads. Drivers and passengers crammed in trotros, the local form of public transport, dive into their pockets in search of a few coins to exchange with hawkers before traffic begins moving again.

But you can’t get your bofrot from just anyone. A tried-and-true bofrot connoisseur, I find the bofrot sold on the street to be soggy after sitting too long. I prefer to purchase mine from a lovely lady named Ama, who starts deep frying the delicious round doughnuts each morning in Osu, Accra’s hustling, bustling “Times Square.” By now, Ama and I have a steady rhythm. Rolling down the car window in the morning, I’m always greeted with a warm smile and a raspy voice saying “εte sεn? One cedi?”

For the equivalent of twenty-five cents, I get two warm bofrot. Not the healthiest of foods, I (regretfully) indulge sparingly, just two or three times a week. While a popular breakfast snack, alongside other popular go-to’s like kooko (maize porridge) or kye bom (fried egg and bread), bofrot is also a staple at parties and weddings. As a sweet finger-food, it stands out in a culture dominated by salty and savory dishes.

Some Ghanaian friends tell me that traditionalists use palm wine in place of yeast, which gives it a distinctive taste. An uncle with a sweet tooth advises rolling the bofrot in powdered sugar to make it sweeter. As I perform my own gastronomic experiments at home, I dip the bofrot in a passion fruit glaze and delight in the sweet-and-tart taste.

Growing up, I was accustomed to bofrot’s Kenyan cousin, mandazi, which often features coconut milk and spices like ginger and cardamom and is frequently cut into triangles. Mandazi is more dense, with a consistency similar to cake rather than a beignet. Less sweet than bofrot, mandazi are often served with chai tea, a nod to Kenya’s fusion of Indian and African culture.

Different regions call for twists that alter the texture and taste, but the core components to diasporic dough always follow the simple formula: flour, yeast, sugar, water. The omnipresence of such a simple snack across the globe ensures that a piece of home is never too far away. A Kenyan-American in Ghana, my bi-weekly trip to Ama’s bofrot stand cures even the worst bout of homesickness.

Photo: OMGGhana

The Indian Meal That Is a National Sentiment, a Political Rebellion, and a Piece of History

Jan.08.16

The Indian Meal That Is a National Sentiment, a Political Rebellion, and a Piece of History

by Sharanya Deepak

Nihari in Old Delhi

“South Africa, Japan, Croatia, everyone wants some of my brain!” my chef for the morning roars as he puts a big piece of brain on a plate.

“I’m Hindu,” I grin at him, meaning I shouldn’t be indulging. “You’re still here!” he roars again. I know then I have something to prove. Nihari—beef stew—is a typical dish in northern India, and to Delhi. It is one of the oldest foods of the Indian subcontinent, and one of the few eaten on both sides of the border with Pakistan. The meat is cooked for over 16 hours in a large pot and served with a layer of ghee (saturated butter) and a garnish of minced chillies, garlic, and ginger. Nihari is served with light, dry bread—khmeri roti—made in deep ovens by the hundreds. I ask if he uses tomatoes, and he chuckles at me and tells me he’d need all of Spain’s tomatoes to feed his customers.

It is 6:30 am, but my lethargy vanishes when I smell the food. People hustle into lines, and I am tutted at because of my camera, and I remember the last time I was here as a teenager. Drunk and stumbling, we had stayed up till dawn and driven across New Delhi to confirm the myth of Haji Noora Nihari, the best beef in the world. After endless snapping at each other and reckless sleeping at the wheel, we had arrived to find that stewed meat can end all hostilities. Nihari puts everyone on the same page. Drunk teenagers, nonreligious Hindus, relentless imams, and young liberal Muslims unite over plates of slow-cooked meat.

Haji Noora is a tiny shop near one of many of Delhi’s incomplete highways. As everyone waits, noses are covered to avoid the ubiquitous dust. It is a sort of pilgrimage, a struggle, and everyone stands together in silent resolve. Noora makes two batches of nihari each day. The more sought after, decadent pot goes on at noon for the next morning, cooking for 18 hours. When we arrive, the shop seems overstaffed, but once service starts, they begin to work like a well-trained army. My cheerful server is companion to a sullen, bearded old man whom they call Chacha—Delhi slang for uncle. Chacha is irate, skeptical, but I see him stifle a grin when his workers throw dough at each other and curse. There is a bond that is similar to kinship among the people who live in Old Delhi. These men live today but are anchored in the past thousand years. Chacha announces that the pot is now only half full. There is nervous shuffling from the diners on the floor.

Today, under the rule of a government slowly but steadily tending towards manic Hindu fundamentalism, nihari is symbolic of Delhi’s history. It is layered, indulgent, complex, like the hearts that beat within the city.

“That is Shahjahan’s sleeve you’re eating,” Chacha says to me, acknowledging me for the first time in two hours. I am pleased with this; Shahjahan is Indian history’s audacious bad boy and my favorite emperor. Poet, cynic, ultimate lover, Delhi often invokes Shahjahan in times of profound decadence. As I am seated on the floor, delirious, full to the brim, I feel like I have travelled in time. Deathly pollution, financial woes, all vanish for half an hour. Nihari becomes to me what it is to all Delhiites: not a meal, but a national sentiment, a political rebellion, and a piece of history, all packed into one. The pot is now empty, and I think I can see Shahjahan, sleeveless, nod at me from the porch.

Sometimes You Need to Go Where Everybody Knows Your Order

Jan.07.16

Sometimes You Need to Go Where Everybody Knows Your Order

by Nooraini Mydin

Roti Canai in Kuala Lumpur

It was my last day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, after a year’s stay. My friend Kamisah and her husband Shahrum dropped by the condominium to share my last Malaysian breakfast. We walk to my favorite mamak shop, as the 24-hour Indian restaurants are called. The word “mamak” comes from the Tamil word for uncle. An apt word for a place that has become a second home to me.

We looked for the best table and end up walking through the restaurant to a table outside to enjoy the fresh air. Before I could even sit down, my teh tarik arrived, to our delightful surprise. I was happy and sad at once. It felt like the line from Cheers: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” The boys at Bestari didn’t know my name, but I am so touched that they know what I like.

Teh tarik (pulled tea) is the milky tea that is poured from an enamel mug held high above into a glass several times to cool it down and also give it a layer of froth. It is the essential accompaniment to the national staple of Malaysia, the roti canai (pronounced chanai). Here, they know exactly how I like my teh tarik and roti. I am a bit fussy with my food. The teh tarik is usually made with condensed milk, so it is too sweet. I got them to make mine with evaporated milk, and just the right amount. The roti has to be garing: crispy.

I glanced towards the counter where the mamak is throwing a piece of dough in the air a few times before folding it and throwing it on the griddle. As he looks up I put up three fingers and he nods. I give him the thumbs up.

The roti canai came within a short time, crispy as expected, with a small dish of curry sauce. That’s all you need. The best way to enjoy this pancake, which hails from South India, is to use your fingers. Take a small piece, dip it in the curry and savor every morsel.

Roti canai is not just food. It is a culture. It represents different things to different people. It is an elixir when you’re feeling tired or stressed. Sitting at that table anticipating the arrival of your roti is as relaxing as putting the kettle on back in England. At the start of the day, it gives you energy. Friendships are forged over a roti like the English do over a cuppa. The English Premier League and the World Cup are usually watched in a mamak shop with a roti and a teh tarik. And in the wee hours of the morning, when the pubs are closed, you can pop into the mamak’s for a hot roti and teh tarik to sober up. For the impoverished backpacker spending a year out traveling east, the roti canai is cheap food, at less than US $1.

For those new to Malaysia it is a delightful spectacle to see the mamak flipping the dough in the air to lighten it. You need a fast camera to catch the flying roti. Competitions are held to crown the king of roti canai flipping. The last king has now found a vocation in a roti canai joint in Australia, flipping his way into many a Facebook post.

A Stranger at Home in a Strange Land

Jan.06.16

A Stranger at Home in a Strange Land

by Elana Berkowitz

Naan in Dhaka

When I married into a Russian-Bangladeshi family based in Dhaka a few years ago, I feared we might not have much in common. My anxieties proved unfounded: at a minimum, we all share a deep fear of leaving the house hungry, even if we are only going to get breakfast. So we pre-game.

When my husband and I make our annual visit, we start the morning with an astringent, pinkish tea made from dried flowers that my in-laws call “Sudanese Rose,” but which is also called karkade, hibiscus, or, in the tribal hill country, tok—”sour” in Bangla. With the tea, we’ll snack on some slices of cheese, homemade olive and tamarind pickle, dry biscuits, and leftover salad dressed with lime and the pungent heat of mustard oil. The whole room is filled with the incense-like tang of mosquito coils burning in clay pots.

Dhaka’s 15+ million people are crammed into around 125 square miles, making it denser (and more exhausting) than almost any other city on earth. My in-laws moved past the edge of Dhaka after decades in the heart of the city, whose sprawl moves so rapidly that it seems to undulate.

The new digs mean we get to take a morning constitutional every day when we go for breakfast in a nearby village. We set out while the sun is still low, picking our way through a dusty construction site for an impressive 100-foot-wide road and then down a smaller road marked with farm plots of nascent rice shoots.

It’s still cool so I’m bundled in a sweater and down vest. Climate change has led to more extreme winters here in a place where many live in insufficient housing without any insulation or cold weather clothing; dozens of people routinely die of cold each year in a country where winters rarely go below 40F. People pass us in the road with their heads wrapped, toothache-style, in plaid scarves that seemingly half the country owns along with layer upon layer of insufficient t-shirts with improbable slogans from local factories (“Old is the New” “Party Time Pancakes”).

We arrive in the neighboring village—which consists of one narrow main drag of about twenty shops—and take low metal stools at a small, partially open-air roadside spot. Most Bangladeshis have simple rice for breakfast. We’re having a pricier but still typical option: parathas fresh from the griddle, a scallion egg omelet, daal, and a spiced vegetable mash. Instead of paratha, I opt for roti naan without oil or butter, hot from the clay oven. All of this is downed with multiple rounds of tea, always with condensed milk.

Bangladesh has fewer tourists than almost every other country on earth save hot spots like North Korea and Vanuatu. As a visitor and the very rare white guest ambling through their village on the outskirts of Dhaka, I’m a minor celebrity. The attentiveness of our waiter is intense; he flings the next puffed, browned naan right on top of the half-finished one I had begun just a moment earlier. Every few minutes, someone strolls by trying to seem quite busy doing something else while actually snapping a selfie with me somewhere in the frame. I speak pretty much two words of Bangla: “acha” (OK) and “dhonnobad” (thank you) so I basically just say that over and over again and smile broadly.

Each time I come to Dhaka I feel like I’m looking in at a different world I’ll never understand; each time, however, it begins to feel a bit more familiar as well, like how my breakfast order now rolls off my tongue.

Back home, my mother-in-law and I huddle in the kitchen with the two teenage girls who work for her, shelling an enormous, slouching sack of peas. We put on another pot of hibiscus tea.

Take Heart From the Kitchen-Sink Audacity of the True Bricolage

Jan.05.16

Take Heart From the Kitchen-Sink Audacity of the True Bricolage

by Mark Hay

Panenkoeken in Paramaribo

When K and I arrived in Paramaribo, Suriname, we were existentially hot and hangry. For two weeks prior, we’d been in the heart of Guyana, scrambling up slick and steaming jungle hills, bathing in rocky streams, and desperately trying not to piss on/off the bullet ants that seemingly flocked to our dugout latrine. We’d come to Paramaribo (via a bumpy Cessna Caravan), because we’d heard it was more cosmopolitan and relaxed than Guyana’s Georgetown, and we needed some R&R. But more than that, we realized while stepping out onto the short Zorg en Hoop airstrip on the western fringe of town, we needed to eat something that wasn’t the generous yet monotonous porridge, sausages, and greasy bakes we’d been living on for days. Having read that Suriname still had a flare for its Dutch colonizers’ well-known pastries, we resolved to find and indulge in the decadence of a Pannekoeken Huis, a purveyor of the Dutch massive quasi-crepe creations.

We found one almost immediately, just off the mellow bend of the Suriname River. The menu instantly blew my mind. Not only was I presented with the most diverse selection of panenkoeken that I’d ever seen in my life—dozens, hundreds of varieties—but many of them were diverse fusions I’d never dared to dream. Joyfully haphazard blends of local Amerindian, African, Indian, Javanese, Chinese, Dutch, and other European ingredients, the list read like Dada poetry made from clippings of every international cookbook in your local Barnes & Noble.

I settled (almost necessarily arbitrarily) on the sateh kip met pinda samba and within minutes found myself staring with wide-eyed, slack-jawed glee at a foot-wide round of dough smothered in rough tears of chicken coated in chunky peanut sauce and spice and drizzled with honey.

Usually when I visit a nation touted for its diversity and fusion traditions, I am disappointed. Case in point: Guyana. The country bills itself as the nation of six races: African, Amerindian, Creole-Brazilian, Chinese, European, and Indian. But rather than some huge mélange, you’d be hard-pressed not to notice how segregated it feels. While not outright racist and repressive, the nation’s politics are tribal, communities are distinct, and fusion foods are muted and rare, the work of a few inventive young chefs, in comparison to the flat, monotone, universal local fare.

And this isn’t just a Guyana thing. The world over, cultural blending happens. But it’s often overblown in service of the rhetoric of unity, often to mask continued tensions, exclusions, and separation between peoples (which affect some races more than others). This trend should be old hat to Americans, used to the distance between the myth of the melting pot and our lived reality.

But now and then you find places that just feel different. You see more people from different backgrounds congregating naturally and effortlessly on the streets. You notice the neighborhoods aren’t so monochrome. You hear the hybridization of their tongues. Walking around Paramaribo I felt a bit of that at least: not a complete, blameless, and successful post-racial reality, but a mingled diversity that felt more honest and casual.

You don’t just feel that on the streets. You taste it in the food. Rather than haute fusion, you find these crazy mash-ups of flavors and phrases. You find dishes wantonly cobbled together with the casual delight and abandon I suspect one can only achieve when fully fluent in multiple food cultures. It’s less fusion than crazy gumbo. It’s fascinating, raw, and truly novel. It’s fucking chicken satay on a fucking Dutch pancake covered in fucking honey. You eat it and it makes you smile at the kitchen sink audacity that went into it. Then it knocks you out cold. Because, heavy.

I loved that sateh pannenkoek. It was far from the best meal I’ve ever eaten, but it hit the spot and it put a stupid grin on my face. It was the first signal of the calm and promise I’d find over my few days of rest in Paramaribo. I’m sure Suriname has its tensions. I’m sure not all of its cuisine is as mixed and charming as what I managed to find in a brief stint there. In fact, I know it. But anytime you find an honest bricolage, it’s some kind of signal worth celebrating. I’d go back to Suriname just for that pancake, or more dishes like it. And I’m always, when traveling, hoping I’ll stumble across something equally batshit to sink my teeth into and to love as well.

A Historic International Agreement Demands Oysters and Wine for Breakfast

Jan.04.16

A Historic International Agreement Demands Oysters and Wine for Breakfast

by Nastasya Tay

Oysters in the Marché Bastille

In Paris, oysters are a celebration: for a party, for a Joyeux Noël, a bonne année. Half of the huîtres eaten every year in France—Europe’s largest producer and consumer of them—are ingested between Christmas and the coming of the New Year.

The year was coming to an end; a very long 2015 indeed. Endings of things are worth a pause, a commemoration. This time, it needed a celebration.

I didn’t think I would cry. I got up from the floor, next to two grey-suited men embracing, and looked around in the plenary dark. On enormous ceiling-hung screens, U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres was pumping her fists in the air, eyes brimming over.

In the overflow hall, 195 countries were on their feet in a roar of joy, a flood of relief: all trying to take smartphone photographs and applaud at the same time. Translation headsets fell to the floor. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gave a thumbs up. People held hands, raised them aloft. Everywhere, exhausted negotiators were openly sobbing.

Cross-legged on the carpet, I exhaled. And between the cheering and blurry laptop words, my breath came in heaving hiccups as history happened around me in each hug, each sigh, on each wet cheek.

It’s been such a long road since the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, I managed to say on the radio, in tumbling words: all these years, those fights and late nights and justified cynicism, and now, we’ve done it, even though no one thought we could. We’ve finally managed to agree.

There was a party; organized by activists, attended by all. In a club in downtown Paris, with sticky floors and beer in plastic pint cups, people who hadn’t slept in days chose not to sleep for one more night. As we got off the bus, Parisian pedestrians shouted their congratulations.

Christiana came, proud daughter in tow. Golf-shirted U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern did the YMCA and took selfies with sweaty young ladies. The head of the E.U. delegation, Luxembourg’s environment minister, shook her hair loose, dancing nose-to-nose and hip-to-hip with a man in tight jeans. We danced ’til sunrise and emerged into a new world.

I’d been dreaming of this breakfast for days.

We meet at the Marché Bastille, round the corner from the tacky fun fair, past the rows of polyester hats and clothes sold in cellophane packets. There are only four of us, despite promises from a dozen; others are in hotel beds, draped with laptops and sleep.

There have been other meals, after other negotiations, in other places: Cancun, Durban, Doha. Sometimes, there isn’t a chance for a goodbye; mostly, no cause for celebration. This time, in the 11th arrondissement, we’ll linger.

I’m late. I find them already eating, pressed up against a turquoise trestle table in a throng of coats. Emmett from PRI has found a bottle of something white with a vague hint of chardonnay. He produces another plastic cup.

There are nests of kelp draped over plastic, scattered with calcified debris. From the laminated Tarifs Dégustation, I choose the Spéciales over the Huîtres Fines.

Last week’s discovery of the Thalassa stall at the marché had come too late: there was only time for last orders—a single oyster—said écailleur Louis, before the police came to chase them away. I asked for a pied de cheval, the size of my palm.

“You’re not sleeping alone tonight, are you?” Louis had asked me, entirely seriously.

It was an order deemed serious enough by Osman, a Senegalese engineer, replete with enormous cigar and jaunty chapeau, for an invitation to their weekly oyster party.

Today, écailleur Louis is multitasking, shucking knife in one hand, bottle of muscadet in the other.

He assembles a cluster of happiness. The huîtres spéciales are sweeter than the Fines with their hint of iodine; raised off the coast of Normandy with the flavors of the Channel filtering through their bodies. Naturally spawned in April, they are now beautifully fat.

I prod with a terrifyingly sharp, candy-pink plastic shucking knife, trying not to cut my tongue while scraping the oyster into my mouth, adductor muscles and all. They are masculine, metallic, sea sweet, with a taste of noisette on the tongue.

Osman brings us bread spread thickly with butter. There are crabs, too, boiled, cold; perfect in their simplicity. Louis turns one upside down for me, bashes it against the table until it falls apart. Emmett cracks the legs with his teeth. I scrape the tomalley with the side of my thumb, and lick. Podcast producer Helen is picking from a plastic bag of tiny steamed mussels, fat and juicy and brimming over.

The turquoise plastic foldout table is a mélange of salt-sweet. There is something honest, almost primal, in its purity. It is a celebration of contrasts, gentle and extreme, a place to eat to honour the coming together of everything that’s been before. A place for new beginnings.

There is oyster brine on my coat, running down the inside of my sleeve. It makes the webbing between my fingers sticky.

I hold out the oyster shell. Louis upends the bottle of muscadet into the brine and grins. I sip as the salt and sweet swirl together. It tastes like tears.

The Sweet Evidence of a City’s Long History

Dec.28.15

The Sweet Evidence of a City’s Long History

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Tourte de Blettes in Nice

I had signed up for a food tour my first morning in Nice and was late to the rendezvous point at Opera Plage. I had skipped breakfast and coffee and was still blinking in the dazzling morning light that comes off the Cote d’Azur, afraid I had missed it. Turned out the few other participants were even later than me.

When we finally rolled out, leaving the brilliant blue water behind us to walk into the old town, it was already 11 am. “But first things first: breakfast!” Gustaf, our Swedish-French guide, flourished a Tupperware from his bag, offering us a mysterious baked item.

My stomach was growling, so I eagerly grabbed the pastry and put it in my mouth where it melted in a sweet, zesty mess, powdered sugar trailing down my peacoat. Only later did Gustaf reveal its contents: Swiss chard, pine nuts, raisins, parmesan, and a pastry dough made with olive oil. The name: tourte de blettes.

In this arid land, Swiss chard has always grown easily and has probably been used in cooking since ancient times. Here, people couldn’t raise cows due to a lack of grass, so there are none of the rich creams or butter of much classic French cuisine; thus the olive oil.

These factors, as well as the many different cultures that passed through over the centuries, created brilliant concoctions such as—along with the Swiss chard tart—socca, a chickpea flat bread, and the pissaladière, a caramelized onion and anchovy tart. Simpler foods based on vegetables, olive oil, and legumes from a Provence that is pretty wild compared to the culinary hauteur of Paris. In keeping with its distinct food, Nice has its own language (Niçard) and its own anthem, which sounds like a ballad of the sun and sea.

I returned to Multari, the café/bakery that specializes in both the sweet and savory versions of the tourte de blettes, and bought several more to take home to freeze. On my last morning, I ate a whole one washed down with a café crème and fresh-squeezed orange juice, sitting outside, consuming delicious evidence of the crossroad city’s rich history.

Eating a Meal Among Naked Strangers

Dec.24.15

Eating a Meal Among Naked Strangers

by Tom Taylor

Eggs and Sausage in Ottawa

In the east end of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, there is a gentleman’s club called The NuDen. You’ll find it perched on the shoulder of St. Laurent Boulevard, inside a small strip mall that looks like it was probably intended for clothing retail or casual dining. Yet, sharing walls with both a sex toy boutique and a members-only swingers bar, The NuDen is part of an unassuming hub for hedonism. Where better to eat the most important meal of the day?

I’d been hearing for some time that the club, which sits miles outside the downtown core, served all-day, all-night breakfast. So, one day, after bribing a friend into accompanying me, I hopped on an eastbound bus to check it out.

Inside, The NuDen could be any strip joint in any city. The place is soaked in a perpetual, purple glow. Bass-heavy music thumps through overhead speakers from open to close. Beautiful girls meander from table to table, flirting here and there in hopes of cashing in on a private dance. But, alas, I was there for breakfast.

I asked my server for a menu. I could tell by her reaction that this wasn’t a common request, but a few minutes later I was scanning a laminated page, struggling to read its contents in the dark of the bar. I considered the pancakes as a girl called “Sasha Love” scaled the pole, and the Western omelet as she slid back down it. Finally, however, I decided on the traditional breakfast: eggs how you like them, sausage or bacon, home fries, and toast. A few minutes later, my meal sat in front of me on the sticky tabletop.

It was a classic, rough-and-ready breakfast; one that could have just as easily emerged from the kitchen of a downtown diner or a highway truck stop. The eggs, scrambled, were warm and pillowy. The sausage had assuredly come from a freezer, but pleased the taste buds with a barky crunch and a hint of maple. The home fries came in dice-sized cubes and were accompanied by minced onions. And finally, the toast was slathered in a layer of butter—or some distant cousin of butter—that glowed brightly in the black lights over head. I forked it all down and, in the absence of coffee, punctuated bites with swallows of cheap Canadian beer.

When we were finished our breakfasts, I took a look around. We were certainly the only people eating in the place. The classic restaurant clinks of cutlery on dish ware were entirely absent, replaced by sporadic whistles from the shadowy crowd, who sat in groups around small tables or in leather recliners against the wall.

Slowly, the reality of having eaten a meal among naked strangers and their horny admirers began to dawn on my friend and I. We decided it was time to go and walked outside: our stomachs full, and our eyes struggling to adjust to the light of midday.

What to Eat When You’re Trapped in a Parking Lot on the Road to Ulaanbaatar

Dec.23.15

What to Eat When You’re Trapped in a Parking Lot on the Road to Ulaanbaatar

by Britany Robinson

Dumplings at the Russian-Mongolian Border

Cutting through the hardened dough of dumplings requires some concentrated care. Too much pressure on the fork edge and the pocket could rupture suddenly, sending steaming hot oil in unpredictable directions.

Despite the culinary hazard, these meaty florets were my greatest source of comfort for five long days at the border between Russia and Mongolia.

I was driving from London to Ulaanbaatar with two friends and a stream of fellow rally drivers. We were well-versed in the logistical tangoes required at border crossings, but when the uniformed men ushered us into a fenced parking lot, rather than an office building, our preparation failed us. We were told we could sleep in the lot. No additional information was offered.

The next morning, we unfolded creaky limbs from our compact car, each of us groaning with muscle ache and hunger.

When we inquired about food—we were just about out of peanuts and Pringles—a guard opened a small door in the fence and pointed to a ramshackle house about twenty yards away.

A Mongolian woman with giant sunglasses and a shower cap framing a heart shaped face ushered us in with a smile. A long table was set up in the front room, spread with a floral cloth and silverware.

A younger woman sat at a kitchen table, meticulously rolling dough and wrapping little mounds of meat. Her son and daughter, around eight and four years of age, played tag around the table. They giggled and flashed gap-toothed smiles when they caught our eyes.

Minutes later, we were each presented with a large plate, packed with dumplings.

The steam rose to my cold cheeks with a kiss of misty warmth. I inhaled the savory scent, then approached my plate with mild trepidation. Once I’d discovered the proper angle and force with which to puncture the encasement, I began to methodically inhale every last one.

Puncture, ooze, slice, stab, chomp. Puncture, ooze, slice, stab, chomp.

These pockets of dough—perfectly fried with just a hint of browned crisp, concealing flavorful, juicy meat—were just what my travel companions and I required for the days that followed.

For five days, we were confined to that concrete parking lot as paperwork was shuffled aimlessly in a room we never saw. Every morning, we were allowed to escape briefly and fill up on dumplings. Every afternoon, we tried to obtain information from the guards who would march through our asphalt camp, requesting cigarettes but refusing information. By evening, we’d be frustrated and cold, eventually sleeping fitfully in frosty cars.

We were in Mongolia, but not. We were surrounded by Mongolians, but the border patrols were cold and usually wordless.

The Mongolian family, with grandma in her shower cap, ushering us in for yet another plateful of dumplings, the kids squealing at her feet, was a comforting source of reality. There was a vast country—sights and sounds and people and places we’d yet to experience—waiting to be encountered. But for now, we had this.

On the fifth morning, a border official entered the kitchen as I prepared to stab a dumpling with my fork. I recognized him as one of the few who marched through the parking lot each day. Now, his gait was relaxed.

He stooped down and opened his arms to the two little faces that peaked out from beneath the long table. They stormed his embrace with relentless laughter. He smiled at them, then looked up, and smiled at us.

I wanted to ask him for answers. I wanted to ask when we would be allowed to go. But he posed a question first.

“Good?” he asked, pointing to my dumplings.

Yes. They were delicious.

That afternoon, our paperwork was cleared. We were free to enter Mongolia.

But before we continued toward the golden hills, sparkling in the distance like endless rising suns, we stopped just twenty yards beyond the parking lot. We would need a belly full of dumplings to face the road ahead

Start Your Day The French-Canadian Way With Spreadable Pork

Dec.22.15

Start Your Day The French-Canadian Way With Spreadable Pork

by Alexis Steinman

Cretons in Quebec City

Leave it to the province known for pork pie (tourtiére), pig-trotter stew, and pig-centric chefs (see: Martin Picard) to have spreadable pork for breakfast.

I first encountered cretons a mile high in the sky, while flipping through Air Canada’s in-flight magazine, En Route. The food-focused issue had an illustrated guide to Canada’s corner-store classics. The yellow and white container of Cretons Gaspésien resembled a tub of Land O’Lakes; yet, when I read the product description (“spiced, breaded pork spread”) I realized this was definitely not butter.

Cretons have been part of Quebec’s petit-déjeuner since the province’s beginning. As the French set up shop in their new territory, they brought their food traditions across the Atlantic. Hence, cretons resemblance to rillettes, French potted pork. Cretons were also probably influenced by First Nation peoples, Canada’s indigenous population, who had perfected meat preservation methods to survive the harsh winters. Also known as cortons or gortons, cretons popularity extends throughout the area formerly known as New France, including Northern Maine and the Maritime provinces.

Quebec cuisine leans toward comfort fare. In this region shaped by farming and lengthy winters, hearty, homemade food is integral to the daily diet. The abundance of pigs—over 7 million at last count—makes the prospect of eating pork three times a day a reality, not just a dream. Especially popular in rural areas, cretons fortify farmers and factory workers for their physically laborious days. They’re also delicious as a midnight snack.

Cretons recipes are as varied as the snowflakes that cover la belle province. The essentials include pork, onion, breadcrumbs, and spices, a fluctuating mix of nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. Like ‘nduja sans spice or rillettes creamier cousin, cretons are nonetheless not as gourmet as the two aforementioned porks. Case in point: they are also known as pork scrap. However, my first taste of cretons was decidedly fancy: room service at Quebec City’s famous Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel.

After reading about cretons in flight, I vowed to seek some out once landing in Quebec City. I assumed I’d score a tub at a local deli, but when ordering my breakfast room service that night—as I’m tempted to do when bunking in luxe lodgings—I was surprised, and delighted, to find cretons on the menu.

The pork spread came in a rectangular slab; I could see why some say cretons are meatloaf-esque. In spite of its pale color and cat-food-like texture, the cretons tasted sublime. They were porky without being heavy, creamy, buttery, and easy to spread on my whole-grain toast. I even slathered them on a croissant, for breakfast in bed in a sumptuous robe calls for acts of indulgence.

I never got to taste the tubbed version; plans to pack some for the trip home were thwarted when a shopping spree at a local butcher left my suitcase stuffed to capacity. My guess is that homemade is better. Then again, there’s nothing like a jar of Nutella.

The Breakfast of Choice in a Nation of Hangover Experts

Dec.21.15

The Breakfast of Choice in a Nation of Hangover Experts

by Matthew Crawford

Sulguk in Seoul

An entire boulevard had been blocked off near COEX Mall and a mainsail-size screen set up for South Korea’s World Cup game against Nigeria. Though the match didn’t start until 3:30 am, when it would be beamed in from Durban, South Africa, thousands had already gathered in anticipation. Vendors kept us well supplied with cans of beer, and as the alcohol flowed, a continuous stream of male revelers filed into the garden of a swank office tower to relieve themselves.

In an attempt to blend in, I had put on a South Korea jersey—red with a tiger on it—but I had no cause for concern. The crowd was well behaved, even when Nigeria evened up the score in the second half. It was hard to imagine a less hooliganistic crowd of soccer supporters.

When the match ended in a tie, at 2-2, the sky was already turning pale blue-gray. The crowd dispersed in all directions, and I shuffled off with my girlfriend, Eun-jeong, to an all-night restaurant.

“Have you tried sulguk before?” she asked, and I admitted I hadn’t. The name means “alcohol stew,” she explained, because it helps with hangovers. When the steaming-hot witches’ brew arrived on the table, it was swimming with a potpourri of pork: head meat, intestines, and thickly sliced blood sausage. Chopped spring onion and crushed perilla seed added texture to the milky white broth. The cauldron it was served in looked large enough to feed a small party of drinkers, and we used a ladle to fill our smaller plastic bowls.

Eun-jeong ordered a bottle of soju, which seemed like an appropriate pairing with alcohol stew. Though unaccustomed to having hard alcohol for breakfast, I soon got into the rhythm of chasing bitter shots of soju with spoonfuls of hot broth.

In a country where hangover stews fill a sizable culinary niche, morning-after tonics occupy entire shelves of convenience store refrigerators, and drinking in public is widely tolerated, this was a perfectly normal way to end the night, or begin the new day.

The restaurant was still busy when we staggered out into the sunshine. I had a flight to catch later that morning and was hoping that my breakfast of sulguk would save me from a crippling hangover. Surely I could trust in the wisdom of centuries of Korean drinkers, couldn’t I?

If You Have the Option to Eat Cookie Dough for Breakfast, Take It

Dec.16.15

If You Have the Option to Eat Cookie Dough for Breakfast, Take It

by Emma Ellis

Boortsog in Khatgal

Food in Mongolia is utilitarian. Forty percent of Mongolians are nomadic herders who work long hours outdoors even when the temperature falls to -40 Fahrenheit. Their survival depends on a hearty, calorie rich diet and, for the most part, that is where their relationship with food ends. When you become accustomed to it, Mongolian food has a potroast-y charm. In the beginning, it can feel like a lot to handle.

Shortly after I sat down for my first meal in Khatgal, a tiny town on the shores of Lake Khuvsgul in northern Mongolia, a young English teacher scooped a glistening white glob onto her spoon.

“Pet,” she said, grinning.

I smiled back. “Fat.”

She nodded and repeated, “Fat.” She spooned the chunk into her mouth and chewed happily. In Mongolia, the fat that other cultures might trim away is the best part of the meat.

I looked down at the fat swimming in my own bowl with a mild trepidation I tried to keep to myself. Hospitality is of enormous importance in Mongolian culture. I had already vowed to myself that I would eat everything put in front of me and never express squeamishness of any kind. I figured that would be rude at best and xenophobic at worst.

But after about a week and a half of eating the classic Mongolian meal—fatty meat and vegetable soup followed by a plate of rice, carrot salad, niislel salat (potato salad), and fatty gulyash—three times a day, I found myself leaving a stray fat chunk here and there and hoping like hell that no one noticed. But even though fat was still a problem for me, I was pleased to find myself enjoying the creamy salads and the endless bowls of salty, buttery sootei tsai (milk tea).

Then, one morning, the town patriarch, Serdam, a middle aged man with large “monk’s ears,” sat beside me and suggested that I eat a plate full of boortsog (fried dough) and a bowl of a strange yellow paste with raisins in it. The boortsog was flaky and the porridge was rich and sweet and nutty. At the time, it seemed like the most delicious thing I’d ever put in my mouth.

When I asked Serdam what it was, he just said “It’s something from childhood.”

Others explained that it was just butter, flour, sugar, and raisins. A classic children’s porridge that is basically raw cookie dough. As it turns out, despite my best efforts, my hosts had noticed me struggling to eat the fatty meats and soups and were now feeding me as they would a Mongolian baby.

Eating it, I found myself torn between stung pride and warmth for the people showing me such care. About one thing I was absolutely unconflicted: if you have the option to eat cookie dough for breakfast, you should always, always take it.

Spam Fried Rice Omelets Prove That Hawaii Is Truly Paradise

Dec.15.15

Spam Fried Rice Omelets Prove That Hawaii Is Truly Paradise

by Kiki Aranita

Omelets in Waipahu

I go to Rocky’s Coffee Shop in Waipahu for their fried rice omelet and to check on my grandpa’s oil painting of Waipahu Depot Road circa 1930, which hangs on a wall. For the most part, Waipahu still looks like an old plantation town and the painting could depict the road stretching along the sugar mill today, but for its rickety black cars and lack of a strip club called Club Blossom. The old Hawaii-ness of Waipahu will likely change drastically once they’ve finished building the rail that will run through it from Kapolei to Ala Moana. But right now, walk outside Rocky’s, make a left at the corner, face the sugar mill smokestack, and you will be gazing at the more or less the same scene that my Grandpa Ralph painted.

The omelet consists of an improbably thin sheet of pale yellow egg wrapped around a fluffy pile of (most of the time) Spam fried rice. Sometimes, like today, the meat is diced Portuguese sausage. The waitress will perch on the wooden slats behind the counter, which look like they belong under an Ikea mattress, and ask you if you want green onions. Rocky’s has not yet made it into the era of rubber kitchen mats. The cook will season your rice with a squirt of shoyu from a cleaned and repurposed pancake syrup bottle.

The omelet is intimidatingly large. I always have to bring someone and force them share it with me, even if they want something else, just as my wispy, 65-pound, former plantation beauty queen grandma used to do to me when I’d spend long, lazy months in Waipahu between college semesters. She would order this enormous omelet, take her sliver of a share, and pile the rest on my plate, along with some of the hot cakes from Grandpa’s plate. I never got to order my own thing, and now I never want anything else from Rocky’s. You can decorate yours with shoyu, ketchup, or Tabasco, but I like mine plain.

The omelet often eludes me when I’m back in Hawaii. I’m always late or it happens to be a Sunday or a Thursday. Rocky’s is only open 4:30 am to noon and never Sundays or Thursdays.

Rocky’s also serves teri hamburgers, banana pancakes, and loco moco. This is local food, a distinction that takes on a very different meaning in Hawaii from the rest of the country. This is the stuff my father grew up on, alongside sweet rice cakes, Filipino stews, and saimin. My dad tells the same stories whenever we go to Rocky’s: how Grandma worked in the notions department of the old Arakawa store, which used to be across the street, and how Rocky’s made the best hamburger in the world when he was ten, but it cost a whole dollar, so it was much too expensive.

I’m terribly proud that Grandpa’s painting hangs on the wall at Rocky’s, although there isn’t anything besides the letters REA (for Ralph Epefanio Aranita) in a corner that indicates he painted it. He had walked into Rocky’s one day with the painting tucked under his arm. My dad claims that Grandpa lent the painting to Rocky’s, so in theory I could reclaim it. “But it belongs here, somehow,” he admits.

For several years, there was a tiny placard placed under it that seemed to announce the painting’s origins but actually read, “Grilled English Muffin, $3.50” (which seems like a lot of money for an English muffin, given that you can get a full Rocky’s breakfast with meat, two eggs and rice for $6.30. Unless your meat option is a full can of Vienna sausage, which will set you back $7.30). The one time I announced to a waitress that it was my grandpa’s painting, she responded, “What? I don’t know who gave dat. What you like eat already?”

The Next Bite Is Never Better Than the Last

Dec.14.15

The Next Bite Is Never Better Than the Last

by Katie Salisbury

Tarta de Almendra in San Sebastián

Tell people you’re sojourning through Spain and Basque country, and all they want to talk about is the great food. It’s true. The pintxos, the Basque version of tapas, are amazing. I never thought baby eel on baguette (which looks like a heap of writhing white worms) would leave me wanting more.

But what to eat the next morning when you’re hungover from a night of €1 pintxos washed down with too many glasses of tinto?

In search of breakfast one morning, I decide to stroll into a café in San Sebastián. And by morning, I mean 10:45 am. Luckily, the Spanish are on the same schedule as me.

I survey the breakfast pintxos (fried eggs and jamón ibérico on baguette) that remain untouched and then turn my attention to the assortment of croissants, bollos, and tartas set out on the other side of the counter.

Too many choices. The man behind the bar senses my anxiety.

“Que es el desayuno vasco más típico de aquí?” I ask, in my barely audible, high-school Spanish.

He shrugs while searching for a suitable answer, then points at a large yellow tart covered in chopped almonds where a fly has just landed.

“Tarta de almendra, este es muy típico de aqui.”

He heats up a slice for me in the microwave and I find a seat facing the sidewalk where I can people watch. The Spanish usually drink coffee, but I don’t, so he brings me a cup of tea along with the warm tart.

The moment before the first bite is like a small prayer of gratitude: everything in the world feels just right. I’ve got my notebook and pen, my Lipton’s teabag steeping in hot water, and my authentic Basque breakfast sitting before me, waiting to be savored.

I take a bite. My tongue mulls it over. The texture is somewhere between a custard and the mealy texture of marzipan. “It’s rich!” I think, because it kind of tastes like butter. But the crunch of the stale almonds, which are chopped to a size usually reserved for McDonald’s fudge sundaes, is a little repulsive. In spite of its butteriness, the tart has very little flavor and not nearly enough sugar for my sweet-tooth. The crust is the only bright spot. It’s hard to fuck-up crust.

I don’t force my fork down until I realize I’m three quarters of the way toward polishing the whole thing off. I’ve caught myself doing this before: you make a miscalculation and order something truly awful, so you keep eating, optimistically or foolishly hoping that the next bite will be miraculously better than the last. It never is.

But the sidewalk traffic is picking up, so I shift my attention. School kids on a field trip pass by with their lunch pails. A man stops by for a glass of wine (because it’s never too early to start drinking in Spain). The abuelitas are in the back, gossiping over coffee and enjoying the bliss of retirement. A father pushing a stroller stops in for a quick bite. The café owner comes out from behind the bar to throw a scrap of ham to a neighbor’s dog.

I ate many breakfasts after that revolting tart that were satisfyingly delicious and hardly Basque: fried churros sprinkled with sugar and a cup of thick hot chocolate, croissants and various pastries, scrambled eggs and chorizo with fresh-squeezed orange juice. It’s what everyone else was eating, anyway.

At the end of my time in Spain I had finally grasped this truth: breakfast, as in most places, is a humble affair in Basque country, a region where a cream-filled bun and a cup of café con leche are easily overshadowed by the surplus of Michelin-starred restaurants.

When you live someplace long enough, you stop seeing authentic and inauthentic. All you care about is good. Which is why, if you ever happen to stop at Café Santana in San Sebastián, don’t get the tarta de almendra.

Just Another Day Walking With a Caravan of Elephants

Dec.11.15

Just Another Day Walking With a Caravan of Elephants

by Tara Rice

Rice and Beef in Sayaboury

You wake up pretty early when you’re camping in Laos with a caravan of elephants.

I had traveled halfway around the world and spent countless hours in planes, buses, cars, and tuk-tuks to meet the Elephant Caravan in Sayaboury, where I was going to walk for a couple days alongside the giants to photograph their splendor and raise awareness for their conservation. The Asian elephant is endangered in Laos and the likelihood of them disappearing completely in the next 30-40 years grows larger every day.

By the time I reached the caravan, their numbers were growing rapidly, somewhere around 40 mouths to feed by November 15th (midway through the nearly two-month trek to Luang Prabang from Paklay). Many of these mouths were walking anywhere from 7-12 miles a day in the baking 100 degree Fahrenheit heat, requiring quick and hearty food a minimum of three times a day. Given the remote location and the lack of cooking facilities (or any facilities for that matter) this was quite the undertaking. The team of cooks rose well before the sun came up to make sure there was enough sustenance for the whole team to make it through the day.

On the third morning, I heard the generator crank up in the pre-dawn darkness and slid out of my tent. By the light of one or two fluorescent tubes, the women were preparing loads and loads of sticky rice, lovingly tossing it in baskets made of bamboo until it was cooked to perfection, then wrapping large packets of it in plastic wrap for easy grab-and-go consumption. A man was hacking away at a large cut of meat on the stump of a tree, making cubes of beef that would be simmered in oil and ginger to eat with the rice. Chilis ground into a wonderful spicy—very spicy—paste would accompany the simple meal, sating everyone but the elephants (who were in the forest grazing, not to worry) for their long day.

As the milky sun peeked through the mist, the crew laid down a few large, colorful mats for everyone to sit down on together. I stirred Nescafe powder into my cup of hot water and looked on as the mahouts, biologists, conservationists, educators, and performers emerged from their tents with the sun and knelt down to tear open the carefully packaged sticky rice, sharing communal plates of beef and carefully squeezing their rice into the perfect vehicle for the beef/chili combination to make it into their bellies. Another day begins.

The Secret History of Somali Breakfasts in Harlem

Dec.10.15

The Secret History of Somali Breakfasts in Harlem

by Rajiv Golla

Malab iyo Malawaax on 116th St.

Safari, located on West 116th St. in Harlem, proudly stands as the only Somali restaurant in New York City today. The shaah (tea), a staple of the African Horn nation, is brewed with enough ginger to make you wince and enough cardamom to make you sneeze. And served alongside Malab iyo Malawaax, a crepe-style flatbread smeared with honey and butter, it represents a traditional Somali breakfast. Though it sits on the dessert menu at Safari, it can also be served with suqaar—beef or liver cooked in a savory soup—a staple of the local diet.

The stretch of Harlem on which Safari sits is traditionally known as Le Petit Senegal, and plays host to recently arrived Malians, Guineans, and Ivorians. But under the dashiki-ed mannequins and international calling posters that line the storefronts on 116th lies a deeper history of African influence, one that Safari struggles to keep alive in Harlem’s current ethnic landscape.

Coming over on Italian cargo ships as coal men in the early 1900s, Somalis settled in the Bowery before moving up to Harlem as subway lines were laid, in part by Somalis themselves. This community represented the first African immigrant group and the first Islamic group in the United States.

The voyage was harsh, taking 18 months from Somalia to New York around the southern tip of Africa. Women did not often make the journey and the community slowly dissolved into its surroundings. It was not until the 1950s that the Harlem Somali heyday was in full swing, precipitated in part by the harsh regime under Siad Barre and growing numbers of foreign-transfer students. The space that Safari currently occupies was, in the 1950s, a popular tea and smoke joint frequented by Somali immigrants. And just next door was the community center that, depending on the day, served as a place to pray or play cards.

1991 saw the collapse of the Somali state as Siad Barre’s dictatorship gave way to Islamic fundamentalism and clan warfare. Refugees began flowing into the U.S. and settled in the new Somali hubs of Toronto and Minneapolis. The arrival of West Africans coincided with the exodus of Somalis and the vacancies were quickly filled, leaving little trace of the neighborhood’s previous occupants.

The delis once run by Somalis were taken over by Yemenis. The markets and clothing stores were bought out by West Africans. The last remaining Somali establishments struggled to survive through the turn of the century, the last store closing in 2008. Very little of the Somali story was captured in text, much less in photographs. Aside from the handful of Somalis still in Harlem, the only remaining testament to the story is Safari, serving forth this history one breakfast at a time.

The Correct Way to Eat Grapes for Breakfast

Dec.09.15

The Correct Way to Eat Grapes for Breakfast

by Angelica Calabrese

Grapes in Salento

When I arrived at 7:30 am, Oronzino, his brother, his father, and a few other white-haired Italian contadini had already been harvesting for over an hour. I followed the men into the rows of grapevine, stooping slightly beneath the hanging bundles of golden grapes.

The night before, planning the final vendemmia, or grape harvest, on a stiff couch in his bare living room, Oronzino had seemed out of place. He was a middle-aged farmer with strong, weathered hands and crow’s feet deep from decades of sunlight and warm smiles; his home was in the vineyards. In the early morning light, his quiet liveliness animated the thin air. There was work to do.

He handed me a pair of clippers, showing me how to cup my left hand underneath the bunch of dangling grapes with care and snip the vine with my right. Oronzino moved through the grapevine with precision, snipping and slinging bunches of grapes into the plastic buckets. He had been growing and selling grapes for his whole life. I, on the other hand, had not. Clumsy from lack of practice, I fumbled and missed the buckets, grapes crashing to the ground.

We were working in the fields just outside of Campi Salentina, a small town a few miles outside of Lecce. This area of Italy, deep in the “heel of the boot,” is usually referred to as Salento, though it’s technically in Puglia. We were harvesting Malvasia bianca, a round, juicy white grape found throughout the Mediterranean and used in a variety of different local wines.

It had been a particularly good year for the grapes, with intense heat and little rain, Oronzino explained. “They’re all sugar,” he said, tossing a handful of the round, golden-green globes into his mouth. He handed me the rest of the bunch. “Try some,” he encouraged.

I plucked a grape, just slightly larger than a blueberry, from the stem with my fingertips and popped it into my mouth. My enjoyment of the burst of sweet, bright juice was interrupted by Oronzino’s father, a stooped and deeply-wrinkled old man who had worked the land for all his life: “You don’t eat it like that, with your hand!” he called out disparagingly. “You eat it like this,” he said, bending his white-haired head towards a large bundle in his left hand, snapping the grapes off with his teeth.

I laughed and followed his suggestion, biting a mouthful of grapes straight from the vine. They were sweet from the sun, light and juicy and delightful. I took another bite, straight from the cluster I held in my hands. It felt rogue, munching away at a cluster of grapes as if it were an apple. But so, so satisfying.

Until I realized that Oronzino and his father were already feet ahead of me, nimbly clipping and tossing their way down the row of the vineyard. I tossed the half-eaten bunch of grapes into the plastic bin and hurried back to work.

Oronzino liked to pause beneath the arched leaves of the grapevines for a mouthful of grapes every once in a while. “On days when we harvest,” he told me, “I never eat breakfast. All I need is the grapes. They’re like candy, or even better.” And they were. When his wife arrived at the vineyard at 10 am with a pitcher of warm, sweet espresso and store-bought chocolate tarts, no one ate them.

Within a few years, Oronzino plans to raze these plants to the ground and replant the vineyards with a new kind of vine, one that can be harvested with efficient machinery instead of skilled fingertips. The cost of handpicking his grapes is getting too high, he explained. It’s not worth it anymore.

I like to think that before he guns the engine on his hulking machine, he’ll take a moment in the quiet morning to wander through the vineyard with his clippers, snipping with his right hand and collecting the bunch of grapes in his left. He’ll bring the grapes to his face and take a big bite straight off the vine, with an easy, unassuming grace. I like to think that Oronzino’s home will still be among the dappled leaves of the grapevine. I like to think that he won’t succumb to his wife’s mid-morning store-bought chocolate tarts for breakfast.

Looking on Brunch and Cultural Identity With Suspicion

Dec.07.15

Looking on Brunch and Cultural Identity With Suspicion

by Alexander Theodosiou

Koupes in London

I’ve always looked upon brunch with distrust. The prospect of losing one of the day’s meals arouses doubts and misgivings. But my hand was forced by social convention, and so I accepted my friend’s invitation. I’d been asked to bring a dish, and on a typically grey London day, I arrived holding a plate of something far more common to warmer climes.

“What are those you’ve brought?” asked my host.

“They’re called koupes,” I replied. “They’re a savory snack, like a kind of fried meat croquette. They’re very popular in Cyprus.”

“Oh, is your family from Cyprus?” asked someone whose acquaintance I’d just made. I responded in the affirmative, and soon the quasi-meal was under way. Though a little incongruous with the other food at the table, the koupes went down a storm. The golden-brown bulgur wheat and flour carapace has, after an initial crunch, a satisfying give that yields to the umami of a sautéed pork mince and onion filling, brightened by fresh green shreds of parsley and rounded by the warmth of cinnamon. In short, koupes—best fresh but delicious cold—are indulgent, addictive, and gratifying. I urged all the guests, after taking a bite from one end of their pointed cylinders, to hold it vertically and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice onto its exposed contents to enliven them with a citric zing, something I do after every bite.

The guest who’d inquired about my heritage soon reverted the conversation after taking a bite from her koupa, as if the novel experience had conjured new curiosity.

“So, are you Greek or Turkish Cypriot then?” she asked, also wanting to clarify, it seemed, from which community the food she’d just sampled hailed. It’s a question I’ve grown accustomed to, and one that’s almost unavoidable, even from people who aren’t au fait with Cyprus’ complicated history. Cyprus—a unified and independent state from 1960, but for centuries a thriving petri dish of various influences and peoples from across Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East—has been partitioned since 1974, with Turkey still occupying just over a third of the country through the thinly veiled guise of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state unrecognized and deemed illegal by international law. While the reasons for this partition are varied, from a macroscopic perspective, the picturesque island’s strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean made it victim to the realpolitik of far greater powers during the tense, underhand maneuvering of the Cold War.

“Greek Cypriot,” I replied with knee-jerk haste. The speed at which I made clear my heritage on this occasion, and the myopia to which I too was apparently victim, shocked me. The ubiquity of koupes/içli köfte/kibbeh across not only Cyprus, but the whole Middle East, are an example of food exposing the folly of politically enforced differences. It got me thinking about the nature of Cypriot identity today.

The physical partition of the island, effectively separating the two communities, has polarized the beliefs of many, and served to strengthen community-wide characteristics along ethno-cultural lines (Greek or Turkish), even among the diaspora. Consequently, it’s very difficult for someone to fully regard themselves as Cypriot first, and Greek or Turkish second, because there’s a lack of shared physical space in which to allow any nascent sentiments of inclusive nationalism to develop. Concurrently, the partition has facilitated the development of a kind of cultural confusion that exacerbates the problem. Far from Cyprus representing proxy nationalist wrangling between Greece and Turkey, many are fiercely proud of their Cypriot nationality or heritage. It’s puzzlingly common for Greek Cypriots to reject Greece, and yet define their Cypriot character predominantly by its “Greekness.”

People would probably keep quiet at such gatherings if the issue were as infamous as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: not quite a topic for light-hearted conversation. I do, however, feel irked that so many people, even many Cypriots, don’t know or care about what has really unfolded in Cyprus. The occasion illustrated this perfectly: a group in carefree mood waxing lyrical about food from a place they knew so little about.

Thankfully, the conversation bobbed along smoothly in another direction, avoiding the treacherous rapids of the Cyprus issue, but I thought, looking at the final koupa, how tragic it is that the factionalism that has infested Cypriot culture in recent decades has infiltrated as far as the cuisine. I had zealously claimed the dish to my own narrowly defined community, but in truth, strong similarities exist in the food across not only Cyprus, but the wider region, and the homely koupa—in all its differing guises and nomenclature—could well represent a serendipitous metaphor for reconciliation and solidarity.

Instead of coming away with a full stomach and a smile, I left, brow heavy, contemplating on how such an innocent query could touch upon such deep-running issues and have me questioning my own cultural identity. My suspicions regarding brunch, then, were confirmed.

The Impeccable Crunch of Breakfast in the Hills

Dec.04.15

The Impeccable Crunch of Breakfast in the Hills

by Khorshed Deboo

Himachali Gachcha in Shimla

A stroll down the pedestrian-friendly Mall Road in Shimla on a chilly October morning comes with its own set of rewards. In the distance, the crests of the mountains are slowly emerging from a thick blanket of mist, while close by, the hints of soft sunlight falling through the wisps of the leaves of the deodar trees make for some enthralling sights.

Once one has soaked up these striking vistas, one cannot help but notice that breakfast seems to be a serious affair here. Nattily dressed men—both young and old—throng the legendary Indian Coffee House down the Mall Road. Others make a beeline for the 70-plus-years-old paratha shops that dot the steps leading to the Lower Bazaar. Strollers take a break to enjoy the just-off-the-griddle kachoris and tikkis, watchful of the monkeys that lurk around. There is an air of congenial repartee, and everybody seems to be having a good time.

Walking towards the post office, I come across a vendor selling what at first glance, appears as a knoll of nuts and dried fruit—akin to debris—all covered with a flimsy piece of net. The vendor, a wizened old man, stands at the cusp of the gentrified stretch of The Ridge and the comparatively chaotic Lakkar Bazaar, on the eastern end.

Upon asking, he tells me it is the traditional Himachali gachcha, a light eat that essentially doubles as breakfast when had with tea. In Hindi, gachcha literally means “cluster.” It is a mixture of pieces of broken walnuts, groundnuts, cashews, and dates, all dry-roasted, crushed, and then mixed in hot sugar syrup so that the blend acquires a slightly sticky yet grainy consistency, until all the fragments clump together to form a cluster, as the name suggests.

If you haven’t eaten it, think what a rustic and coarser—albeit fresher—variant of a factory-made, packaged granola bar would taste like. The gachcha has a slight hint of smokiness that adds to, rather than vies with, its sweet-salty flavor. On rummaging through the mixture, I also come across a few stray slivers of freshly grated coconut. Pair the gachcha with a steaming hot cup of tea from the several itinerant vendors down The Ridge, and you’ve got yourself a breakfast that is an almost perfect foil to the cold.

The vendor sells the gachcha at a mere 20 rupees for three and a half ounces, weighing it on a battered pair of scales before wrapping it in little newspaper bags. My package is made from the front page of the local Hindi daily, Shimla Kesari; the headline heralds the news of last evening’s rather momentary and fleeting snowfall in Shimla and the neighboring towns. While the vedor tells me the walnuts and groundnuts are sourced in bulk quantities from the agricultural tracts of the Mandi region, about 100 miles from Shimla, the remaining ingredients are bought from the local market.

I revisit the vendor during the same week, before leaving for Bombay, and
bring back home about two pounds of this underrated find. It retains its impeccable crunch even after a month, and certainly tastes of a holiday well spent in the hills.

Eating Peru in One Sandwich

Dec.03.15

Eating Peru in One Sandwich

by Jack Aldrich

Sánguche Criollo in Peru

My time in Peru was marked by a heady blend of the mundane and the magnificent: the former, the daily grind and banal cubicles of my month-long internship, the latter, the thrill of the exotic surroundings and my first time on the continent. In my off hours I sat wrapped in the low slung hammock of my hostel’s courtyard and the balmy heat of a January summer.

In emails and Skype calls home, I fielded breathless inquiries from well-meaning but frustrating friends. “Have you visited Cusco, Machu Picchu?” “Seen the Nazca lines?” “What about the desert? I’ve heard you can sandboard there.” The truth is, in thirty days I never once stepped foot outside a capital city most tourists have historically treated as a two-days-at-most stopover. My job was demanding, and the infrastructure less conducive to the easy weekend jaunts I took for granted during my study abroad in Europe.

But I came to appreciate this, despite my wanderlust, for the silver lining to my confinement was the extent to which I was able to discover the city, and uncover within its streets, people, and cuisine microcosmic shades of Peru’s kaleidoscopic diversity.

Across three distinct topographical regions (the coast, the highlands, and the rainforest), Peru counts among its citizens Aymara and Quechua speaking Amerindians; descendants of different waves of German, Italian, Croatian, and French immigrants; Afro-Peruvians whose ancestors arrived via the colonial slave trade; children who grew up conversing as easily in Spanish as their parents’ Japanese or Chinese; and every combination in between. From this inebriating brew has emerged one of the world’s finest gastronomies, enough to change the equation and now drive tourists to Lima simply to eat.

On weekend mornings I would walk the broad boulevards of posh Miraflores, passing internationally renowned restaurants in search of more simple fare. On a given day, it could be ceviche, fresh from the Pacific, or chifa, Peru’s popular homegrown remix of Chinese food. But a favorite was always a sánguche criollo, or “creole sandwich,” consumed at Larcomar, Lima’s famous open-air shopping mall.

Built directly into the cliffs that mark Lima’s urban coastline, it was as bizarre as it was beautiful to dine there while watching a procession of paragliders soar closely overhead. But though I should have been looking up, I was more interested in looking down at the colors on my plate: the burnt orange of the yams, the greens and pinks of the bright salsa criolla, and the earthy rust of the pounded steak held gently between a light roll. A variant of the butifarra sandwich (a Peruvian staple), my sánguche would always arrive with the requisite set of yellow, orange, and green ají sauces, spicy condiments made varyingly of coriander, tomato, local peppers, and onion.

There, between bites of a sandwich in a city I never left, my restlessness dissipated, and I felt the totality of Peru represented in the diverse and nuanced flavors of the dish. In that instant I felt transported to each and every unvisited part of the country, from the foggy peaks of Machu Picchu to the sandy edges of the Atacama.

The Translucent Pearls of Breakfast Wisdom

Dec.02.15

The Translucent Pearls of Breakfast Wisdom

by Prathap Nair

Sabudana Khichdi in Mumbai

Stirring the wok with a wooden spatula and maintaining a low flame on my stove, I see the tapioca pearls of my sabudana khichdi (stir-fried, savory tapioca pearls) slowly turning translucent. I have just added the coarse, ground mixture of peanut powder and chillies into the wok that the pearls and the shallow fried potatoes are catching. In a minute, I will turn down the flame, add the chopped cilantro, and squeeze in half a lemon and some salt to complete the dish before spooning it onto my breakfast plate for a light breakfast.

It wasn’t always this easy. The first time I attempted making sabudana khichdi, I ended up with an ingloriously lumpy mess of sticky tapioca pearls in the pan, indicating breakfast tomfoolery. The ostensibly simple recipe is equally tricky to follow and success lies in its soaking. I’d soon enough learn that sabudana needs to be soaked in just enough water so the pearls are not completely immersed in it. They soak up the water and swell in size by the next morning, when they need to be fluffed up with a fork to separate them and keep them from getting clumpy.

For a religious Hindu, particularly in the Western Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, sabudana is staple food during the auspicious fast days, called vrat. Made from cassava root, these tiny balls are not grain and hence allowed for consumption while fasting. They are made into vadas (deep fried patties) as an evening snack, kheer as an after dinner dessert, and even gruel that aids to cope with digestive issues.

But none of these dishes are as significant as the Maharashtrian specialty sabudana khichdi. When made right, sabudana is feathery light and translucent. It is starchy, however, because tapioca and potatoes are high sources of carbohydrates that allow a fasting Hindu to get through the day. Made from soaking sabudana overnight, a process that fluffs up the pearls and makes them translucent while exposed to heat, sabudana khichdi has also found recognition as diet food.

It is somehow perplexing that the major producer of sabudana, the state of Tamil Nadu in India, is not its major consumer. The only known dish made out of sabudana in Tamil Nadu is the kheer, a sugary dessert made by boiling the pearls with milk and sugar. The love for rice as staple grain in Tamil Nadu trumps the popularity of pseudo-grains like sabudana, where idli (steamed rice cakes) and dosa (savory pancakes), made with fermented batter of rice and black Bengal gram, rule the roost in breakfast tables.

Albeit hailing from the land of idlis and dosas, my breakfast table, however, is a culinary potpourri of experimentation where breakfast dishes from various regions commingle. From being a sabudana khichdi novice, I have come a long way in perfecting the recipe.