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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

What, You’ve Never Had Bright Red Foam on Your Drinkable Oatmeal Before?

Sep.21.17

What, You’ve Never Had Bright Red Foam on Your Drinkable Oatmeal Before?

by Allegra Ben-Amotz

Atole rojo in Oaxaca

It was my first time with a tour group. I’d come to Cuajimoloyas, in the northern highlands of Oaxaca, to forage for wild mushrooms during Mexico’s rainy season. Instead of navigating the forests alone, I joined a band of women and their local guide, a man named Celestino, for the town’s yearly Regional Wild Mushroom Festival.

We’d spent the previous day hunting, trying to collect the greatest variety of edible and non-edible toadstools. We woke up early the next morning for the announcement of the winning team by the fairgrounds at the base of the mountain.

I’d packed poorly for the July chill, and wandered the booths proffering various mushroom-based dishes in search of something to warm my bones. I spotted Celestino huddled under a tent, blowing on his hands as he waited for his breakfast. He was having atole, a traditional corn-based beverage thats something like a drinkable oatmeal. It sounded perfect. I ordered my own and we waited at the sole vinyl-covered table under the tent, elbow-to-elbow with an elderly Mexican couple.

When Celestino’s aunt, the woman running the booth, brought over two brown ceramic bowls brimming with bright red foam, I tried to tell her this was not what we’d ordered. “You’ve never had atole rojo before?” Celestino asked. “It’s for special occasions.”

Flavored with a powder of toasted corn, cacao beans, and brick-red achiote paste, the atole was steamed and then frothed on top to create a crown of festive bubbles. I dunked a strip of pan criollo (rich, eggy local bread) into the biggest bubble on top, tasting the icy foam. Celestino held his bowl in his hands, slurping it like a mug of coffee. I followed suit: the bowl was hot to the touch, the initial chill of the top layer giving way to an earthy, slightly-sweet molten drink.

Celestino poked my side. “That’s us, second place!” he said, and I heard the judges repeating our names. We went up to accept our prize, still clutching mugs of our celebratory atole in our hands.

Breakfast in Kashmir is So Good, They Have it Twice

Sep.19.17

Breakfast in Kashmir is So Good, They Have it Twice

by Sophia Ann French

Czot in Kashmir

It was my first time on a houseboat and my first trip to Kashmir. Standing on the deck of the boat, I was excited to start working on my first film when Ajaz, the owner of the houseboat, brought me a cup of tea. It was the first time I tasted Kashmiri nun chai. We Indians love our chai with milk, sugar, and, at times, I add a dash of cardamom seeds to make a Mumbai-style masala chai, but nun chai wasn’t like any other tea I’ve had. It was pink, and salty. (It’s usually served with milk, but I had it without.) I took a reluctant sip and was surprised to enjoy the unusual flavor. Over the three months we spent in Kashmir, nun chai became a staple at every breakfast.

The union of bread with tea is an age-old tradition, and a Kashmiri breakfast pairs the savory tea with fresh-baked loaves from a kandar waz—these bakeries are found in every neighborhood across the valley and the bread is baked in a wood-fired, clay tandoor. On the first morning, Ajaz served us czot and lavasa. Czot is made by mixing refined white flour with water and kneading pieces of dough into thin rectangles. The kandar makes impressions on each piece with his fingertips before putting it into the oven, so the bread has ridges across the surface. I’d smear dollops of butter across its auburn crust and dunk it in nun chai. Lavasa is an unleavened flat bread with a blistery surface. I didn’t enjoy its stretchy texture when dipped in tea, so a Kashmiri colleague made me a delicious roll by stuffing the lavasa with barbecued meat and chickpeas.

The Kashmiris love their bread and chai so much they have it twice every morning. The film’s crew would leave for reconnaissance soon after breakfast, but I stayed back on the houseboat to interview the locals about militancy in Kashmir. The valley has been disputed territory between India and Pakistan for decades. Kashmiris who cross the border into Pakistan and return to India to fight are called militants. Ajaz, like many young Kashmiris, didn’t go the militant way, but is caught between the crossfire between the militants and the Indian army.

In the middle of his interview, Ajaz excused himself for a few minutes and returned with a tray of the pink tea and bakarkhani, a round bread that looks like puffed pastry. It’s brown and crispy on the outside with soft fluffy layers on the inside. I’d never seen this at breakfast, and Ajaz explained that the Kashmiris have specific breads for specific times. Bakarkhani and nun chai became part of our 10 a.m. ritual, when Ajaz and I ruminated over the differences between Kashmir’s past—when it was a center for Sufism and Shaivism—and its fraught present.

If Nothing Else, This Experimental Utopia Has a Pretty Good Café

Sep.18.17

If Nothing Else, This Experimental Utopia Has a Pretty Good Café

by Ranjini Rao

Bagels in Auroville

With the blaze of the August sun in our eyes and yet a lightness to our step in Pondicherry, India’s beloved, dreamy beach town, and an erstwhile French colony, we set out for Auroville to have breakfast at the Auroville Bakery Café.

Our host—a dear friend who had grown up talking, breathing, and eating all things French in Pondy—had raved enough about it for us to want to sample the food there.

Auroville is an ambitious utopian living experiment, courtesy of the vision of philosopher-guru Sri Aurobindo and his colleague Mirra Alfassa, aka The Mother. Founded in 1968, it was designed as a village-for-all, governed by multicultural harmony, where people from all over the world are welcome.

The foundation for the bakery was laid by an Austrian banker, Otto, who moved to Auroville in the 80s and collaborated with bakers in the area for a while. The café in the back is a recent addition to the bakery, we were informed. The bakery was created by several eager hands, trying and testing recipes ranging from brioche to knackebrots to provide an excellent patisserie for Aurovilleans in the 90s.

The café’s newest crew—a German, a Ukrainian, a handful of Indians, and a couple of French nationals—came aboard in the 2000s, and decided to offer beverages, too. They started the café out small, with a few vibrant chairs and tables assembled under the trees in the backyard garden, but they were determined to serve big, satisfying breakfasts.

The menu was handwritten on an overused blackboard, and didn’t seem too exciting at first. But on closer inspection, we saw the items of which we’re sadly deprived in Bangalore: bagels with cheese, salads loaded with proteins, fresh fruit platters, wholewheat sandwiches with fresh cheese, quiches, tarts, croissants.

We ordered a bagel with cheese, a fresh fruit platter, and a grilled vegetable and cheese sandwich to share, plus juice, tea, and coffees.

The bread in the sandwich was a far cry from the supermarket variety to which we’re accustomed, which is softened and aerated with additives. This bread was crusty, substantial, with a nutty, earthy taste. The cheese was fresh, thick-cut, and refreshingly light on sourness and saltiness, unlike the aged cheeses sold outside, preserved with chemicals. It was a delicious morning.

A Delicious Breakfast Ruined by Reality

Sep.15.17

A Delicious Breakfast Ruined by Reality

by Corinne Redfern

Barbati in Bangladesh

It’s our third day of reporting in Jessore, and we’re starving. A tightly-bound team of four, we’re supposed to be covering child marriage—a weighty topic that’s reduced our sleep and raised our stress levels—and our stomachs are the ones suffering for it.

Somehow I’ve taken to subsisting on peanut butter scooped out of the jar with the end of a pen. The roadside café near our hotel doesn’t appeal—five men hover on the steps outside and stare. But our fixer is insistent: it’s time to find food. Plus it’s shaded, and there appears to be tea.

Female foreigners don’t come here often, we learn. The proprietor, Mahmoud, nervously knots and unknots the front of his navy-blue lunghi as we help ourselves to the pots of food: shoveling saucers full of rice onto wet stainless steel plates and drowning everything in heavily-spiced daal.

The food is good; hot and heavy. But it feels like we’re getting in the way. We push our chairs back to leave, and relief flushes Mahmoud’s face.

Less than 24 hours later and we’re back. It’s barely morning, but the day’s interviews are already going awry and we need to regroup. Today, Mahmoud is waiting. As we elbow our way to reach a space at the back, the 66-year-old stands beaming before producing a red plastic lunchbox from behind his back. A handmade paper bag follows; unwrapped to reveal eight flour-soft pathiri folded in four. Water is procured and ceremoniously poured.

He told his wife about us last night, Mahmoud explains, lunghi-knot intact as he checks the table arrangement one last time, and finally lifts the red plastic lid to reveal a hot, spiced pile of green beans and garlic. So she made us a breakfast of barbati, just in case we were still in town.

They were worried, he adds, in case yesterday’s food wasn’t good enough. That day, he hadn’t known we were coming. He hadn’t had time to prepare.
We try to send compliments back to the chef, but Mahmoud insists he could have cooked the barbati himself. It’s just a matter of heating salt, garlic, turmeric and onions, dicing potato and chopping up yard-long beans; stirring the ingredients with water until they soften and the spices find their way under the skins.

After all, he should know. He’d taught his wife the recipe himself two decades earlier, although she’s improved on it since, and won’t tell him what’s changed. How old was she when you married her, we ask, mouths full and distracted. It’s only as our breakfast digests that it dawns on us he answered “ten.”

Photo by: Rds26/Wikipedia Commons

Battle Lines Drawn in Philly’s Cookie Wars

Sep.14.17

Battle Lines Drawn in Philly’s Cookie Wars

by Gina Zammit

Spiced Wafers in Philadelphia

Like jack-o’-lanterns on Halloween, another black-and-orange tradition arrives each fall in Philadelphia. Spiced wafers from two dueling companies, Ivins and Sweetzels, appear on store shelves in late August.

These curious cookies have rabid local fans, outselling even Oreos throughout their autumn reign. But, come the first signs of peppermint sticks and jolly Saint Nick, which, sadly, increasingly encroaches on the fall season, just as mysteriously as they arrived, they disappear.

Spiced wafers are best compared to ginger snaps, although there are distinct differences. Containing a mix of autumnal spices including ginger, cinnamon, allspice, molasses, and cloves, these tough cookies have a more complex flavor than traditional ginger snaps. The wafers are baked three times longer than most cookie varieties, achieving a hard, but not rock-solid, texture, “born to be dunked.” They are best served alongside another fall favorite, apple cider (preferably from the local Bauman’s Cider Company), with a cold glass of milk, or spicy tea.

Although the cookies are confined to the greater Philly area, including parts of southern New Jersey, there is a fierce rivalry between the brands’ devotees. Sweetzels supporters favor the less spicy, sweeter version, while Ivins fans prefer the longer-lasting kick of allspice, and a cookie lighter on the molasses. But despite their loyal followings, the cookies’ origins are somewhat mysterious.

Sweetzels’ website proudly proclaims that “The Old Black & Orange Magic is Back!” and a “Philadelphia original since 1910!” Sweetzels were originally produced by the Tritzel Baking Company, which was based in the Philly suburb of Landsdale. Along with the cookies (Sweetzels), the company also manufactured potato chips (Chipzels) and Pretzels. Eventually, the company shuttered in 1965, was bought by the Borzillo family, and is now located in Nooristown in Montgomery County.

However, tracking down information on Ivins proved to be more challenging, so I went directly to the source. Danielle D’Elia, Communications & Government Relations Manager for the supermarket chain, Acme Markets, and Nina Borzillo, daughter of Sweetzels owner Robert D. Borzillo, both helped enlighten me.

Public information about Ivins is a little harder to discover, because it’s a proprietary brand of Acme Markets. But it didn’t start out that way.

According to Acme’s company records, Ivins Baking Company was originally located on Broad Street in Philadelphia. They sold their “penny cookies” at Acme Markets for a number of years, until the company closed its doors sometime around the 1960s. Acme Markets quickly swooped in on that opportunity and purchased both the company name and the recipe. Although the spiced wafers are no longer produced in Pennsylvania, they’re sold today at all 178 Acme locations and remain unchanged from the original recipe. (Sweetzels, on the other hand, are sold at most other stores, but not at Acme Markets.)

The wafers are rumored to have come from a German ginger-snap recipe, modified to its current version during the colonial era. Now, they are the essence of autumn in Philadelphia and a staple at tailgating events. Or, as Nina Borzillo prefers, with morning coffee.

Where Eating Only Two Rounds of Breakfast is the Height of Rudeness

Sep.12.17

Where Eating Only Two Rounds of Breakfast is the Height of Rudeness

by Joanna Lobo

Ghee roast dosa in Chembur

I am at a table with three strangers. We don’t talk; our mouths are busy shoveling down idlis, wadas, and upma. The only sounds we make come from the cracking of a crisp dosa, and the slurp of hot filter coffee.

A waiter hovers, ready to refill our bowls with ladles of fragrant sambhar. The thin and tangy vegetable stew coats the idlis (steamed lentil rice cakes) on my plate, giving them an orange tint. In another bowl, the soup-like rasam, made with tamarind juice, tomato, chilies, and spices, soaks through the medu wada (crisp fritters made with urad dal), softening them up. I wipe both dishes clean, resisting the urge to lick my fingers.

In Mumbai, there’s cheap and then there’s “lunch home” cheap. Mani’s Lunch Home, or Mani’s, falls in the latter category. Nothing on their menu costs over 150 rupees. The 80-year-old institution serves simple, homely, vegetarian South Indian food. Last year, it shut down its Matunga outlet and moved to the eastern suburbs of Chembur.

I visit the new digs for a late breakfast. It takes time getting used to the white walls, metal chairs, and air-conditioned interiors. The old Mani’s felt like a friend’s dining room, warm and inviting. Here, under the glare of white lights, the four of us sharing a table are extremely conscious of each other. We sit properly, without fidgeting. But once our orders arrive, all propriety is forgotten, and we dig in.

My ghee roast dosa is paper thin and crumbles as I break into it, revealing a mound of masala (boiled potatoes with onion and tempered with mustard and curry leaves). In between bites, I pour the filter coffee from the stainless steel tumbler into the cup, cool it, and take small sips. It is milky and sweet enough to jolt me awake.

Eating at a lunch home is a lesson in portion control. I barely wipe the last drop of sambhar from the plate, when a hand materializes out of nowhere and fills it up. After two rounds, I feebly wave the waiter away. He is understandably surprised. Whoever says no to extra, and free, servings?

By now, I’m regretting all the food I’ve ordered. I can’t finish it all. My fellow diners have finished up, paid and left. They know their limits. They also know that you don’t waste time at a lunch home; you eat as quickly as you can and leave, making way for other hungry diners.

As I pay the bill, the owner, K.S. Narayanaswamy, walks over for feedback. I am full of praise, but he isn’t convinced. He saw me wave away extra helpings. “You didn’t finish your paper dosa,” he says, accusingly. I sheepishly apologize, promising to return and do justice to everything I order.

Flour Water: Delicious or Not So Much?

Sep.11.17

Flour Water: Delicious or Not So Much?

by Anuj Agrawal

Sattu in Calcutta

The Calcutta air is still cool in the early mornings; summer is a few weeks away. The morning walkers are beginning to gather around their favorite stall, waiting for freshly fried kachoris (bread) and aloo sabji (potato curry). Their banter is fun and loud, old friends sipping sweetened tea from cups made of earth.

But this is not what I am after. Not right now.

I am looking for a glass of sattu, or roasted gram flour mixed with water and churned into this delicious concoction that fills my stomach and cools my mind. Extremely popular in the eastern state of Bihar, sattu must have wound its way through the city’s migrant population.

I don’t have to look too hard to find the sattu man. In this city, my heart’s desires are almost always fulfilled.

Often potbellied, the sattu man is usually found at the intersection of tiny lanes, standing or sitting next to a stall covered with light brown sattu. The sattu itself comes either loose or in plastic, branded packets. The choice is yours, and once you make it, all you do is stand back and watch.

It’s worth watching. The sattu is measured on a balancing scale, and then slid into this metal churning pot. Next comes the water from an earthen pot; one glass of water, then a little more. And then the man will churn, and churn, adding some salt, cut green chillies, and diced onions into the pot. If you are lucky, you will also get a dollop of green chutney and some freshly squeezed lime.

When he feels it is ready, he pours me a glass, and I take a sip, or two, of the brown, powdery drink. I feel the bite of the onion and the chilies floating on the surface, and that subtle tang of lime. The sattu itself tastes, well, a bit dry, and slightly sour.

I take another sip, feeling the sattu rush to my belly, filling it, cooling it. I pause and take a look around.

A rickshaw-puller will join me soon, an old customer who knows what he wants. Nearby two old men on an old wooden bench continue to smoke their cigarettes and share a newspaper. On the other side of the road, the bread omelet shops begin to sizzle as the bright yellow taxis fill up the city’s streets.

I’m almost done now; there is still some sattu remaining at the bottom of my glass. I stick my glass out, and the sattu man dips into the earthen pot, and pours a little water into my glass. I twirl my glass, watch it swirl, and then gulp it down.

The air is no longer cool, and the sun no longer friendly. Soon, I will be sweating in the warm, humid air. But right now, I don’t care.

Is This the Syrup We’ve Been Waiting For?

Sep.07.17

Is This the Syrup We’ve Been Waiting For?

by Laura Marie

Hickory syrup in Indiana

My drive to work in Indiana is mostly flat, mostly corn and soybeans, mostly uninterrupted. So when one of my co-workers mentions she’s made a locally foraged syrup, similar to maple but different, using the local hickory trees, I’m ready for it: I’m ready for change.

The bottle she gives me is lighter in color than most maple syrup; she explains that rather than tapping trees and letting sap drip out, foragers in Indiana collect naturally shed shagbark from hickory trees and steep it in a simple syrup—the sweetness comes from regular table sugar, but the thick, smoky, tree flavor comes from the hickory bark.

The syrup begins as fallen bark, which needs to be scrubbed to remove external dirt and growing things, like moss and lichen, to get it ready for use. Through a careful process, the bark is “toasted” long enough to raise a sharp spicy scent without cooking long enough to char, which makes the syrup more carbon than smoke-flavored.

The resulting toasted bark must be carefully monitored as it steeps in the thick sweet syrup. Most hickory syrup contains only the extracts of the hickory bark, sugar, and water, so there is no masking impurities or burnt bits.

I grew up with maple as a flavor for many different things, and with the sweet blandness of the curvy bottle labeled “breakfast syrup.” The lighter color of the hickory syrup seems pretty innocuous on my table as my husband and I sit down to a pile of pancakes each. This particular batch of syrup is sweetness-forward, like so many, but the undertones are more like a mineral than the recognizable maple. There’s something a bit nutty in there too, which is no wonder given that shagbark hickory nuts are actually a forager favorite; mild and buttery.

Hickory syrup hasn’t gained as much of a following, perhaps because it doesn’t have quite the dramatic origin tale of maple; after all, there is something magical in the spile hammered into the tree, with thin drops of sap filling a bucket in the cold winter air. Hickory syrup’s origin story, like so much of Indiana, is humble and functional. The result, however, is delicious. It’s used for everything from glazes on meat and veggies with a little balsamic, to a delicious congealed layer atop a bowl of ice cream.

For me, it’s a perfect way to sweeten my cup of black coffee this morning; after all, I work this hard to get locally roasted beans, and hickory adds a lovely background floral taste to the cup, subtle but notable.

Sticky drops cling to my lips and coat my teeth as I finish the pancake, and I add more butter and more syrup to the rest of the stack, while thinking of other foraged offerings of the nearby forests that I haven’t yet found. In a heartland that has become known for certain kinds of uniformity, I’ll happily champion a flavor that stands on its own.

The Laksa Origin Debate, Borneo Edition

Sep.06.17

The Laksa Origin Debate, Borneo Edition

by Steven Crook

Laksa in Sarawak

I had done a bit of research about Sarawak laksa before arriving. Not that I was any the wiser. Depending on who you believe, the most authentic pastes have 20, 30, 36 or even more components, among them garlic and lemongrass, as well as various spices.

It’s often said the first laksa vendor in Sarawak—a Malaysian state on the northwest coast of Borneo—was a Cantonese man who moved to Kuching from Indonesia at the end of World War II. He gave or sold his recipe to a Cantonese lady, who may or may not have passed it to a Mr. Tan who, in the 1960s, made a fortune selling factory-made “Swallow” brand laksa paste. None of these creation myths mention the other forms of laksa eaten in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Mr. Tan’s product—and those of the imitators which soon appeared (one called itself “Eagle,” another “Parrot”)—made preparing laksa at home a great deal quicker and less laborious. Inevitably, it was a huge hit among Sarawakians living far from their home state.

I had done less research about politics. But it seems many in Sarawak are unhappy with their place in the Malaysian federation. A common complaint is that the tax dollars spent in Sarawak are tightly controlled by the authorities in “KL” (Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia), and that the Sarawakians themselves aren’t always consulted. A former chief minister has said the relationship should be rebalanced, so the 2.6 million people in Sarawak can feel like partners in the national project, rather than servants of “West Malaysian colonialists.”

I knew nothing about any of this before arriving. But after a few days of reading the English-language Borneo Post (in which many articles referenced “MA63,” the London agreement of 1963 that supposedly guaranteed Sarawak and Sabah considerable autonomy within Malaysia), and asking questions so lopsided I was sure to get a response (“What would Sarawak do without all those subsidies from KL?”), the resentment was clear.

Still, few Sarawakians want full independence. But if they did break away, they agree at least that laksa would be their national dish.

Between our first morning in Kuching and the day we flew out, we sampled laksa whenever we were in the mood, which is to say almost every day.

Every serving seemed authentically sour yet creamy, and each bowl was deeply satisfying. Just enough rice noodles, just enough shredded chicken, and just enough of the omelet strips. Some bean sprouts here, a few leafy greens there. Two prawns laid head-to-tail, like the Taoist yin-yang symbol. Even the very last bowl, served by bored caterers under hospital-style lighting in Kuching’s little airport, went down a treat.

How to Resist Colonialism and Instant Coffee

Sep.01.17

How to Resist Colonialism and Instant Coffee

by Angelica Calabrese

Café Touba in Senegal

“Baye Fall kheweul!” The calls soar across the sands, summoning us to breakfast. As I greet everyone gathered on the breakfast mat with “Salaam aleykum,” then ask if they slept well, my friend pours me a steaming cup of Café Touba. I bring the mug to my lips; the coffee smells of clove and pepper, dark-roasted and sweet. “Nanga def?” she asks. How are you? “Maangi fi rekk,” I respond–I am here. I take a sip.

Café Touba is Senegal’s signature coffee, a blend of roasted coffee beans with djar, or grains of selim, a pepper common in West African cooking. Traditionally served with at least a few spoonfuls of sugar, the coffee is a sweet, aromatic, distinctly Senegalese drink. Here, in this Baye Fall daara, or Islamic spiritual community, it’s homemade, and served all day long.

Café Touba is associated with the Mouride brotherhood, in particular the Baye Fall sect. The religious leader Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba founded the brotherhood in the early 20th century, preaching hard work and submission to God’s will. Bamba also emphasized peaceful resistance against French colonial rule, encouraging people to follow traditional African and Islamic values, rather than those imposed by the French.

Fearful of his growing popularity, the colonial administration exiled Bamba to Gabon, where he is said to have discovered djar and started to brew his signature spiced coffee. When he returned to Senegal, he served the coffee to his followers in the city of Touba. Today, Café Touba addicts can find their fix almost anywhere in Senegal, usually for a few cents at a breakfast shop, or from a young boy wheeling his portable coffee shop through the streets. In Mbacke Kadior, they produce the coffee themselves, washing, cleaning, roasting, and grinding the beans and the pepper.

Over the course of the day, we cross paths with people preparing the coffee. We watch them wash the raw beans, loosening a few last pesky husks. Later, they sit in the shade of a small tree and hand-pluck small stones and rotten beans from a wide basin of sun-dried beans. We join them, sifting the pale coffee beans through our fingers, searching for small, rust-colored pebbles. It is a labor of love, like many forms of work done in the daara; a kind of spiritual practice or meditation. Maangi fi rekk: I am here only.

Café Touba is a quiet but forceful resistance against imports such as Nestlé’s instant coffee and powdered milk, and a reminder of history, faith, and culture. It’s generously distributed each morning, and, well-caffeinated, the community disperses; some build new huts, some weed peanut fields, others prepare lunch. We are here, they seem to say; and we, too, will resist.

How to Make Curdled Milk on Toast Sound Appetizing

Aug.31.17

How to Make Curdled Milk on Toast Sound Appetizing

by Hannah Griffin

Urum in Mongolia

It’s my fifth morning in Mongolia, and I silently welcome a respite from meat.
I’m sitting on a low stool at a table in a nomadic family’s kitchen tent in the arid Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Yurts—or gers—dot the wide, dusty valley every kilometer or so, and hundreds of goats and sheep rip short grasses and shrubs from the earth.

I think back on my first few meals. There were the large mutton-filled patties called khuushuur, and the platter of tender goat intestines piled high, and then the rich minced beef dumplings. And the night before, a stew of goat, carrot, onions, and potatoes simmering on a pressure cooker over the fire. The father made me back 20 paces away when he took off the lid, just in case.

All were delicious, but the lighter breakfast the mother is preparing this morning will be a nice break. In the summer, they cook meals in in this tent, because cooking makes the round, intimate ger too warm.

Cups of milky tea are placed on the table to start, and the smell of the fire just outside the tent wafts inside. I’m sitting with Zoe, a 25-year-old Mongolian woman. Her parents are family friends of the family I’m staying with, visiting for the weekend from Ulaanbaatar.

A bowl of urum lands on the table. The night before, the family’s 14-year-old daughter milked the cows. The milk was then gently simmered in a large pot. Once a thick layer of skin had formed on the milk, it was scooped off. Urum is a kind of clotted cream, pale yellow with an uneven texture, resembling scrambled eggs that haven’t been stirred quite enough.

Zoe and I take turns slowly spreading urum across pieces of cinnamon-brown, warm fried bread. I eat a few bites, enjoying the surprising coldness of the cream on a morning that’s already hot at 8 a.m. Zoe stops me, and urges me to sprinkle white sugar evenly over the surface.

As we eat, Zoe tells me about her life in Los Angeles, where she has been studying business for the last few years. She is home for a brief summer holiday and she misses Mongolia, especially the food. She says one day she may like to work in tourism, splitting her time between the U.S. and her home country.

We finish our tea, and the family’s young children begin to file into the tent, ready for their own breakfast of urum and fried bread. Our cups of tea are refilled. Tiny brown calves wander past the tent opening, their lovely white eyelashes bright.

A Dispatch from a Dying Island Where Cookies Are Made to Last

Aug.30.17

A Dispatch from a Dying Island Where Cookies Are Made to Last

by Jesse Dart

Buranei on Burano

It’s morning on Burano, and the sound of a spinning washing machine woke me. Mornings here are made for cleaning; washing clothes, sweeping the front step, mopping the floor; the sound of metal drying racks being opened in the courtyards.

I stepped out of the front door into the sun. I needed to get going before the vaporettos full of tourists started their assault. On my way to the bakery, there was the scent of laundry soap in the street. Houses here are in every shade of the rainbow: pink, blue, green, red, orange, yellow, purple. Front doors are covered in cloth that lets in the breeze and keeps out prying eyes.

Burano is a village trapped on an island, and it has two main problems. First, it’s highly Instragram-able, which attracts a constant stream of tourists from the main islands of Venice. They disgorge into the streets and proceed to snap photos of the daily lives of the people who live there. Imagine if your front door was constantly photographed. Every flower-covered terrace, each and every corner: #burano.

The second is that most of the residents are older, and the island is at risk of dying out. Young people head elsewhere for jobs, and, as one lady told us “the cinema.” Like many small islands (and towns), it can be boring. The lagoon used to support a fleet of fishermen; most of whom lived on Burano, but the industry is just a shell of what it once was. Locals fondly remember the past, the lagoon full of fish and a quiet island before it was a tourist destination.

All over the island, vendisi signs hang in windows. Our neighbor says, “Do you know someone who might want to buy my mom’s house? It’s been for sale for four years.” Many of the houses are older and in need of renovation—a costly effort on an island. Yet, there are still a few, mostly foreign buyers, with energetic spirits and deep pockets.

The main drag of the island is where all the action happens. The restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops are all here. Both of the most popular bakeries are called Palmisano, a common surname on the island. Both offer the standard cornetto filled with jam, but the local specialty is the buranei. Shaped into a ring or an S, they are the classic local cookies and, this being Italy, cookies are perfectly acceptable for breakfast. I buy four, at one euro each, and walk back home where my wife has prepared a table with some juice, coffee, and a few pieces of sliced fruit.

A mixture of flour, butter, sugar, eggs and maybe a splash of grappa or rum, these cookies are simple. Their dryness is a testament to the typical foods
you find around fishermen: made to last.

Evening. The clothes racks have been replaced with chairs, where neighbors sit and discuss the day’s news. Kids chase a cat and play with a soccer ball. Old men fill the locals bars for a drink. Some nights, the scent of buranei being baked fills the square with a sugary scent.

Come to Where the Flavor Is. Come to Yak Country.

Aug.29.17

Come to Where the Flavor Is. Come to Yak Country.

by Zac Crellin

Chhurpi in Nepal

As you ascend the Nepali Himalayas, dense forest gives way to barren, snowy valleys. With this change of environment comes a change of livestock: buffalo are replaced with yaks.

One town at the edge of buffalo country is Bhratang. In an effort to be scrupulous, we always cross-checked our sometimes-hyperbolic guidebook with our trekking map. Both sources said that the town was moderately sized and had tourist accommodation. Bhratang seemed like the perfect stop on our journey around the Annapurna Circuit.

It began to snow around mid-day, which was exiting for us—an easily-impressed Australian family who’d never seen snow fall from the sky. But the snow soon worsened, and before long the entire valley was white. Tall trees were covered in dense powder while riverbanks began to sparkle.

Nevertheless, we weren’t far from Bhratang, where beds and boilers awaited. Except they didn’t. When we finally came across what looked like a teahouse, we were turned away. Instead, we were told to walk to the next town, which was half an hour away. It had just gone dark but we had no choice.

We soon realized we’d been duped; the next village, Dhukur Pokhari, was two hours away in a different valley. We walked through the night with our headlamps faintly illuminating the snow falling before our eyes. Through darkness and delirium, we came across a teahouse run by an elderly couple and their adult son, whose hospitality helped us recover overnight.

After eating dal bhat for days on end, I was stunned to awake to the first real dairy we’d seen for days: chhurpi, a local cheese made from yak’s milk. I immediately asked for a whole plate and devoured it at once. The sharp, creamy taste was incredibly refreshing.

Already a firm, dense cheese, chhurpi is also eaten with the rind on, our hosts explained. In a part of the world where agriculture is difficult and dairy is a luxury, no part of the cheese goes to waste. But it works, and that’s what chhurpi is all about—gnawing on blocks of milky goodness. As it moistens in the mouth, each piece becomes softer and chewier. According to our hosts, a block should be enough for hours of chewing. We were done in 30 minutes.

Over breakfast we asked why we were turned away from Bhratang last night. The son explained that a local businessman recently bought all the land in the village and turned it into an orchard. But the silver lining for us was that we were forced to cross into yak country, with a tangy yak-cheese breakfast to match.

With chhurpi in my belly, the previous night’s fatigue and disorientation were now a distant memory. The chewiness was almost therapeutic, like a stress ball for the mouth, only tastier. I ordered another plate, which disappeared just as quickly. With the snow passed and the sky now clear, it was time to head off. I ordered a final block for the road ahead.

Living on the Edge and Eating a Whole Different Type of Bread for Breakfast

Aug.28.17

Living on the Edge and Eating a Whole Different Type of Bread for Breakfast

by Luciana Squadrilli

Focaccia in Monterosso

The first thing on my mind as I wake up in Monterosso, the lovely seaside village in the Cinque Terre National Park, is the trek through scenic terraced vineyards and spectacular cliffs overlooking the sea that awaits me. Breakfast, usually my first thought, is this time a close second. Then I sit at one of the outdoor tables of the café in the small square, mulling the options: should I go for the classic Italian option with an espresso and a cornetto (our croissant) or will I be tempted by some local specialty?

Then, I see the lady at the table next to me dunking a piece of plain focaccia in her cappuccino. I look again; is she a foreigner? I’m sure I heard her speaking perfect Italian. An expat, maybe? No Italian would ever drink a cappuccino with pizza (or any other savory food, with few exceptions), unless they were living abroad. Our country might be divided from North to South on multiple issues, including our regional culinary traditions, but we all agree on this. This is even truer in Naples, my home city—and most importantly, the home city of pizza margherita. I thought this delicious local focaccia—thick and soft, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil—would be no exception.

A bit surprised, I go and take a look inside: maybe they have run out of sweet options? There are plenty of pastries in there, but the counter also boasts several rows of freshly baked focaccia. When I finally decide to ask the waiter for an explanation, he says, “This is our typical breakfast, you should try it.” I hesitate. I’ve tasted fried spiders, foul-smelling fruit, and quite a lot of nose-to-tail; would I really back out of this?

I do a quick search online, and find a blog post dedicated to this local habit, explaining its pleasures to the uninitiated visitor. I discover a few things: first of all, if you really want to stick to tradition you should order a latte, but a cappuccino will do just as well; the piece of focaccia—literally, a striscia, or strip— should not be too big, so that it can fit into the cup; it should be dunked just long enough to wet the bread, but not long enough to make it mushy; finally, this breakfast requires time and attention. It’s not something you do in rush standing at the counter.

This latter point appeals to me, so I decide to give it a try. I follow the blog instructions and taste my (not too) soaked focaccia: it tastes good, not sweet nor salty or unpleasantly unbalanced, and not too oily. It actually reminds me of my childhood breakfasts, when I used to dunk the stale, rustic bread they bake in Naples—yes, bread is allowed—in a light milky coffee. I end up liking this local breakfast. I’d be happy to have it anytime I return to this part of Italy, in the same way I’d have pho for breakfast in Vietnam.

A Moment of Road-Trip Culinary Grace From a Merciful God

Aug.25.17

A Moment of Road-Trip Culinary Grace From a Merciful God

by Maddy Robinson

Pelmeni in Kyrgyzstan

“So what time do you think we’ll be getting into Osh?”

As soon as the words left his mouth, I knew it was the wrong question to ask. Our taxi driver eyed my boyfriend beadily in the rear-view mirror and said in a labored drawl, “There’s only one person who knows when we’ll be arriving.” He raised a hand, pointing dramatically towards the roof of his Chevy.

Our man then launched into a speech clearly reserved for those impatient foreigners who, for want of adventure and USD$40, decide to take the day-long drive between Bishkek and Osh rather than the hour-long flight. Setting off at dawn from the capital, for the first four hours of daylight we careened along Kyrgyzstan’s mountainous highways, past yurt-studded pastures and perilous canyons.

“If I drive fast, it takes longer, if I go slow—God has other plans,” he intoned with evident relish.

These divine interventions appeared to manifest themselves in the form of random government tolls (“Ech, keeping tabs on us… what is this, Uzbekistan?!”) and unhurried herds of goats, which appeared at intervals along the road. We nodded along awkwardly in the brief period of silence that followed his exhortations, before he exclaimed brightly, “Anyway, where shall we stop to eat?”

Before we had the chance to question whether there even was a place to eat this high up, let alone a choice, he suggested the Halal Pelmennaya. From St. Petersburg to Samarkand, the staple of Soviet cuisine that is pelmeni is usually served slippery, anaemic and, in my regrettably ample experience, filled with whatever cheap gristly meat is available. However, we’d missed breakfast, and neither of us had any desire to set him off again.

We soon pulled up at the gargantuan ‘Golden Beehive,’ which looks more like a ski chalet crossed with a mosque than a roadside diner. On the menu was one dish, and one dish only—though it did come in handy ‘Man,’ ‘Woman,’ and ‘Child’-sized portions. Taking our places at a tapchan, that glorious Central Asian picnic table/bed hybrid just right for post-lunch siestas, we awaited our food. There was an impressive view, and the peace of the cloudy valley was punctuated only by the chatter of road-weary travelers and the clink of teapots on ceramic bowls.

Hungry as I was, there was no mistaking the marked difference between my past encounters and the silky, lamb-filled pillows that arrived in oniony broth a few moments later. The driver poured us some strong green tea and handed around a pot of adjika, chili-garlic sauce that found its way across the desert from the Caucasus at some point in history. This, combined with the ever-so-Russian tradition of piling on the sour cream, was enough to make me an unrepentant convert. Whatever delays our cabbie’s God sent our way over the next eight hours in that sweaty Chevrolet, at least he afforded us this one, delicious act of mercy.

The Problem With Traveling Alone Is That You Can’t Possibly Eat Enough Dim Sum

Aug.24.17

The Problem With Traveling Alone Is That You Can’t Possibly Eat Enough Dim Sum

by Josh Freedman

Dim Sum in Guangzhou

The problem with traveling alone in Guangzhou is that a single individual cannot possibly consume enough dim sum. A friend offered recommendations for dim sum restaurants in the city, but I was missing the most crucial ingredient: other people.

Uncle Johnny took one look at my recommendations and tossed them aside. “These are tourist places,” he said as we chatted late into the evening at a hostel downtown. I did not know whether Uncle Johnny, an acerbic 40-something man wearing bright yellow Crocs and a cargo khaki shoulder bag, had a real name: everyone knew him simply as Uncle Johnny. What I did know was that he and I needed to eat dim sum together. I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: if he brought me to his favorite dim sum restaurant, I would foot the bill.

“Tell me exactly how much you want to spend,” he responded, “and I will order accordingly.”

Our team of four—Uncle Johnny, myself, and two young Chinese tourists from the hostel—entered the restaurant the next morning and immediately lowered the average age by a factor of two. Across our banquet-sized table, an elderly man with large glasses sat alone, playing with his phone and gorging on a pineapple bun the size of a deep-dish pizza. Other tables around us were filled with groups of retirees, chatting and drinking endless amounts of diluted pu’er tea. Dim sum restaurants in Guangzhou serve as de facto community centers, in which anyone can while away the mornings protected from the tropical heat outdoors.

I requested an approximate bill of 150 yuan, or just over USD$20. Uncle Johnny took charge, and the bamboo steamers appeared in bunches: shrimp dumplings, spring rolls with taro, spare ribs, turnip cakes, chicken feet, shao mai, and more. “If you ordered this at the restaurants on your list, you’d pay at least three times the price,” Uncle Johnny made sure to tell me as the empty steamers disappeared one by one.

Uncle Johnny rose from his chair without saying a word and waddled toward the cashier’s counter. It was obvious: he was going to try to pay the bill. I flew out of my chair to run after him. He opened a payments app on his phone; I grabbed him and yanked him backward. “What are you doing?” I yelled. He shrugged me off with a casual, “You’re the guest!”—in China, the guest should never pay. But a deal is a deal, and no upstanding American can simply renege on an agreement. I pulled out my wallet just as one of our other dining mates came over, realizing that he, too, should try to pay the bill in the name of Chinese hospitality.

The woman at the cash register stared blankly as the three of us physically jostled to give up our money. I pushed Uncle Johnny aside, ignored the half-hearted efforts of our other friend, and handed over cash to complete the payment just ahead of their outstretched arms. Uncle Johnny walked away, shaking his head, while I waited for change.

The final bill was 150 yuan, just as Uncle Johnny had promised. I could leave Guangzhou satisfied: we had both held up our end of the bargain.

Order the Cheesy Carbs and Other Advice for Long Distance Relationships

Aug.23.17

Order the Cheesy Carbs and Other Advice for Long Distance Relationships

by Rituparna Roy

Cheese toast on the Deccan Queen Express

In 2007, I landed a job in Pune, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. The city remains special to me in many ways. It was there that I got my first journalism break, made lifelong friends, and met my husband.

He was a Bombay boy, and ours was a long-distance relationship. We’d visit each other every other weekend. Since Pune-Mumbai road travel could take up to five hours, I’d take a fast train, with the hope of getting one precious extra hour. There were several trains carrying passengers between the two cities. But my favorite was the iconic Deccan Queen Express.

The Deccan Queen Express was introduced in 1930 to ferry the British from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Poona (now Pune) on weekends. It is also one of the first trains to have a sit-down dining car. The 120-mile distance took three hours. It has a loyal following among office-goers: it’s punctual, has clean coaches, and the best breakfast.

Minutes after the train pulled out of Pune at 7:15 a.m. sharp, the catering staff came to take orders, without any pen and paper. I would ask, “Breakfast main kya milega?”—What is there for breakfast? The uniformed man absent-mindedly blurted out the menu: baked beans on toast, chicken and vegetable cutlets, omelets and toast, fish and chips, sandwiches, sabudana vadas (sago fritters) and cheese toast. I would opt for the cheese toast, the most popular item on the menu. The same chap would come back 15-20 minutes later with several orders at a time, and returned just before we left the train to settle the bill.

Now, the cheese toast on the Deccan Queen is not two slices of bread slathered with cheese inside and toasted. You cannot even see the cheese until you take a bite. Once I couldn’t resist and asked for the recipe. But the waiter told me: “Woh toh chef ko malum hain.” Only the chef knows it.

The taste is consistent. The subtle flavor of Amul processed cheese (India’s oldest and favorite dairy brand). The chickpea flour gives it a good crunch. Dripping with oil, I let my arteries clog with every bite. Served hot with ketchup, I enjoyed this greasy cheese toast on my morning trips to Mumbai, as the landscape changed outside my window and the train chugged across the sun-kissed, lush green mountain ranges of the Western Ghats.

When the train pulled in at the majestic Victoria Terminus in Mumbai around 10:25 a.m., I looked for someone waiting in the crowd.

Maybe soon I’ll take a trip to Pune, only to travel back to Mumbai on the Deccan Queen. With my better half, of course.

The Coffee Stand With a Light That Never Goes Out

Aug.22.17

The Coffee Stand With a Light That Never Goes Out

by Wes Grover

Coffee in Saigon

A full moon hangs low over the city as I drive across the Saigon Bridge at 4:30 a.m. on a Monday, headed to an unnamed coffee shop in Phu Nhuan District. Neon lights flicker on along the road as the buzz of motorbikes builds in the air. Saigon is waking up. I will pass countless cafés and coffee vendors on my way, but at the one I am headed to, the lights have not yet gone out from the previous day. They’ve been burning for the past 50 years.

Pulling into the narrow alley at 330 Phan Dinh Phung, tiny plastic stools hug the walls outside of the hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Old men amble around smoking cigarettes and reading the local paper, while a young, bleary-eyed couple sits propped up against each other, fighting off sleep with a couple of cà phê sữa đá: iced coffee with condensed milk.

Within the brightly lit shop, which contains two tables, a coffee grinder, and a stainless-steel stovetop over a charcoal fire, a man filters coffee through a stocking-like cloth amidst the soot-covered walls, the same way his parents have long been doing here and his grandparents before them.

In Vietnam, coffee is both a national pride and pastime. The ubiquitous method of preparation is through a metal filter that produces the liquid, drop by dawdling drop. At no other time in my year of living in and traveling throughout the country have I seen this method of brewing coffee in a pot over a fire before pouring it through a piece of cloth. This is, as it turns out, the remnant of a bygone era that draws devoted drinkers for its smooth, rich flavor.

Later in the day, I come back during Pham Ngoc Tuyet’s shift. She is the matriarch of the family, in her mid-60s, and the mother of the smiling man. A petit woman of pure, frenetic energy.

In between filtering and whisking condensed milk into cups, Tuyet shares that her parents started the business out of a street cart 60 years ago. Ten years later, they moved the operation into their current locale and haven’t closed for a day since then.

Out of a sense of obligation to customers, some of whom are fourth-generation patrons of her shop, Tuyet says they simply cannot close. Not for Tet Holiday, also known as the Lunar New Year, which brings Saigon to a standstill as millions flock to their families in the countryside. Not for rainy season floods. And not even during wartime.

With the latter in mind, I inquire about the Tet Offensive in 1968, one of the few occasions that brought fighting into the city. Tuyet’s husband, Con, perks up from the corner where he’s been diligently opening can after can of condensed milk for the better part of an hour.

“We were unaffected by it,” he says earnestly, and leaves it at that, returning his attention to the cans in front of him.

Everything That Powdered Chocolate Milk Toast Promises to Be

Aug.16.17

Everything That Powdered Chocolate Milk Toast Promises to Be

by Harini Sriram

Milo toast in Singapore

When I was a school kid, Milo was my favorite drink. The Australian malt-and-chocolate powder mix had somehow permeated the local market at the laid-back coastal town in India in which I grew up, and it was quite the rage among my friends.

But in my home, we were set in our ways; anything new was viewed with skepticism. We were not allowed to have coffee all through school, so I had to be content with other health drinks like Complan, Bournvita, Maltova, and Boost, all of which promised to turn kids into super tall, supremely intelligent creatures who could crack complex arithmetic problems in nanoseconds. Occasionally, I’d have a glass of chilled milk with Milo at home and feel like such a rebel.

I was in Singapore recently and discovered that Milo toast is a breakfast option. This was a revelation to me, and as someone who hadn’t had a sip of the drink for more than 10 years, the idea of biting into crunchy toast dusted with Milo seemed like fun. So, one morning, at Toast Box in Bugis Junction, we ordered two plates of Milo toast and two cups of steaming hot kopi (coffee). The perfectly buttered toast was cut into bite-sized squares with generous sprinklings of Milo, topped with condensed milk. It was everything Milo toast promised to be.

I used to love eating Milo straight out of the tin, and this simple breakfast brought back truckloads of memories: of school, home, family, friends I’d lost touch with, and flavors that linger. And of course, nostalgia. Sitting in a café, thousands of miles away from home, it made me crave a simpler life, filled with the flavors of my childhood. Yet I also felt at home, munching on Milo toast in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Who Needs Sausage and Eggs When There Are Fried-Milk Pancakes?

Aug.14.17

Who Needs Sausage and Eggs When There Are Fried-Milk Pancakes?

by Rituparna Roy

Malpuas in Pushkar

It is a cold December morning when we step out of our hostel in Pushkar to grab some breakfast. The Hindu temple town three hours from Jaipur is strictly vegetarian, so eggs and sausages are off the menu. In any case, after stuffing our faces with kachoris (deep-fried lentil pastry) and jalebis (Indian sweet pretzels) throughout our trip in Rajasthan, we weren’t missing omelets at all.

We walk through the lanes of Sadar Bazar, past shops selling colorful Rajasthani jewelery and leheriya dupattas (tie-dye stoles), dodging people and cows.

Stomachs growling, when we reach Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar near Gau Ghat it is bit past 9 a.m. “Two plates of kachoris, please,” we say, and dive into Rajasthan’s favorite breakfast. The kick from the spicy lentil filling, and the promise of a hot and sweet chutney that follows with every bite have us smiling.

A craving for something sweet keeps us going, and the sweet shops of Pushkar know how to satiate. A typical scene is that of a man sitting next to two huge iron woks—one with hot ghee or clarified butter to fry things and another with sugar syrup to soak those things fried. We were staring at Pushkar’s best-kept secret—its malpuas. These small pancakes are made with a batter comprised of rabdi (milk that has been reduced on low heat for hours), khoya (thickened and dried milk) and plain flour. After being deep-fried, they’re soaked in a cardamom-scented sugar syrup.

We have eaten malpuas all our lives. During Holi (the Indian festival of colors), at high-end restaurants, and during Ramadan on the streets of Mumbai. But nothing I had tasted so far came close to what I ate now. Deep-fried in the fattiest oil and soaked in the sweetest syrup, it was a recipe for death.

Aur ek khayenge? Kuch nahi hoga. Yeh desi ghee hain.” (Do you want to eat one more? Don’t worry, it’s made of homely clarified butter), says the bespectacled man. We oblige.

Over the next couple of days, we walk up and down the bazaar, past Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar and its happy sweet-maker. Each time all it takes is a wave of his hand, and we find ourselves polishing off Pushkar’s famous fried-milk malpuas, fingers dripping with syrup.

Don’t leave Pushkar without learning the recipe for malpua. And don’t forget to thank the cows for the milk.

Only a Formidable Breakfast Burrito Could Make Spam Seem Like a Good Idea

Aug.11.17

Only a Formidable Breakfast Burrito Could Make Spam Seem Like a Good Idea

by Sarah Morgan

Burrito in New Mexico

When your desk is often the dashboard of your truck as you head out into a 12-hour field day, you shouldn’t miss the last chance for food not procured from a gas station. As an archaeologist, I often just eat whatever goods are stashed in the bottom of my pack. Real food is glorious.

A few miles south of Farmington, New Mexico is a different kind of border. Where the view gives way from the greens and built shapes of the San Juan River valley to the browns and golds and reds of the mesas and rock. The border isn’t marked; there isn’t even a sign. Somewhere between dawn and the sunrise, you enter the Navajo Nation.

At a dusty four-way intersection, which multitasks as an asphalt depository, a school bus stop, and a gathering place for work crews, a 1970s travel trailer is hitched to an old Ford 150 that may once have been dark blue. And in that old trailer, there is a stove, and a counter, and a couple who make spectacular Navajo breakfast burritos.

They must get up pretty early to make the stacks of homemade tortillas every morning. The tortillas are thick, often slightly charred, unsalted, and have a faintly metallic baking powder aftertaste. These tortillas recall the Long Walk of 1864, when flour, lard, and baking powder became staples of the Navajo kitchen. The Navajo were forcibly relocated from their homeland where they herded sheep and grew beans, corn, and squash, to Bosque Redondo, where those items were no longer an option.

You can pick between ham, bacon, sausage, Spam. Into the thick tortilla it goes, with egg scrambled lightly on a griddle, layered over pork and smashed-up potatoes. Wrapped in a single sheet of yellow paper, a piece of scotch tape seals the cylinder. For $3.50, it comes with a salt packet and a whole raw jalapeño. Sometimes I get the sausage. Sometimes, the Spam. In fact, it’s the only time I like Spam.

I place the burrito on my dashboard and drive further. Past the border and into the landscape, into Navajo country, first through nothing and then past hogans—Navajo dwellings—horses, dogs, sage. I consult maps and consult the sky. My destination varies, depending on the project.

When I arrive, I open the yellow-clad parcel, and sprinkle the salt on just enough for two bites. I take one nibble of the jalapeño, and hold the wet green spice in a corner of my mouth before biting the burrito. The tortilla is slightly dry, and cracking a little. The contrast between that dryness and the wet crunch of the pepper, and the sprinkled-on salt with the soft filling, makes a perfect morning meal. Salt on the outside, salted pork on the inside, wrapped in the chewy dough, which tastes slightly of wood smoke. I inhale and watch the light play on the mesa edges.

There’s A Lot Riding on This Pork Sandwich

Aug.10.17

There’s A Lot Riding on This Pork Sandwich

by Sharanya Deepak

Porchetta in Rome

It is midnight on a Saturday in Rome, and there is an air of silent devastation at our table. We have eaten a bad Chinese meal. There is prolonged bickering, erratic blaming, contemplation on the confusion that globalization brings. We wonder if our chefs were really Chinese. And what we should drink to erase the memory of the last hour.

It’s a tense hour, but I suggest, to a hum of agreement, that the next days should be about culinary redemption. Someone announces “porchetta!” and we have consensus about breakfast tomorrow, and a glimmer of hope.
The first time I ate porchetta, my Indian stomach did not understand it. There was no dressing up of flavors, no daylong stewing, no fuss. It was stand-alone meat and bread, but it was perfect. I used to gawk at the plates of ham and tomatoes Italian friends presented to me proudly, aghast at how easy they made cuisine look.

My favorite porchetta in Rome is at Mercato Trionfale—an ocean of hard cheeses, fresh fruits, and competing Italian grandmothers in the center of the city. A perfect porchetta is a pork roast, prepared after laborious gutting and deboning, and roasted for hours over wood. The meat is moist, salty, herbed and violently fragrant. Usually eaten inside a panini, a good porchetta sandwich has a reasonable amount of fat, not too much, definitely not too little, and as a Roman friend solemnly told me in my first days in the city is “all about the correct balance. Like life.”

Though porchetta is native to nearby Ariccia, it is eaten all over Italy. The Tuscans sometimes eat it in flat bread, in Umbria the pig is stuffed with its own entrails, but the sandwich, which can be traced back to different historical periods in the city, lives up its full potential in Rome.

Today, a lot rides on my breakfast. There is the challenge of redemption from the frozen shrimp we ate last night, and it is two years after my first, young, impressionable visit. This time around, the trip has been trying. I am a frequent visitor and not a first-time tourist, less easily enamored, a self-proclaimed aficionado of the Italian kitchen.

At the market, it takes five minutes to find the porchetta—in shining, pink glory and in the process of being carved by a balding man named Nino. We run towards him, urgent in mission, and he chuckles as he takes out his knife. “In one hour it is lunch!” he scolds, as he hands us bread stuffed with pork he has been working on all week.

With one bite, Nino’s porchetta does everything I hoped. It heals me of yesterday’s regrets, prepares me for my new experience of Rome, and rids me of the skepticism I was afraid I had acquired. It’s almost closing time, and Nino packs up his leftovers for the next day. We get some to take home. The porchetta is still a home away from home.

You Can Never Have Too Many Cooks Stuffing Chilis

Aug.09.17

You Can Never Have Too Many Cooks Stuffing Chilis

by Martina Žoldoš

Chiles en Nogada in Puebla

It was chile en nogada season in Puebla. Everyone was talking about how many they had eaten, and where: everyone had a favorite restaurant, although the consensus was that the homemade ones are always the best.

So my friends and I decided to do just that—make them ourselves, although nobody really had a clue how to go about it.

Chiles en nogada are a Mexican gastronomic icon. A whole poblano chili, filled with picadillo—a mixture of meat, fruit, and spices. It’s a most patriotic dish, representing the three colors of the Mexican flag: white from the creamy walnut (nogada) sauce, red from the pomegranates sprinkled over it, and green from the parsley garnish.

There are many legends about the dish’s creation, and rules about which recipe to follow, and the best time and place to prepare it. They say the original and best version is served in the state of Puebla between July 15 and September 30, with locally grown apples, pears, peaches, plantains, nuts, and pomegranate.

According to the most popular legend, nuns from Santa Monica convent invented the tri-color dish to celebrate Agustin de Iturbide—the Mexican army general and later emperor who was instrumental in fighting for independence from Spain—on his way through the city of Puebla, and to commemorate the country’s recent triumph over its colonial rulers. Another claims it was first served by some the emperor’s soldiers’ girlfriends to celebrate the troops’ arrival.

Legends aside, one thing about this revered dish certainly holds true: preparing it is a laborious process.

We had to do all the shopping the day before, or we would have sat down to eat at midnight. So we gathered in the market and bought around 22 pounds of ingredients, splitting the bags strategically so that each team could chop some of the fruit in advance.

My partner and I were assigned one of the most challenging parts of the process: roasting and cleaning the chilis. My partner’s eyes were soon sore and he sneezed constantly as the smoke from the burning chilis filled the kitchen. When they were totally black, we put them into a plastic bag for 15 minutes before skinning them and opening them to dig out the seeds and veins.

When we arrived at Rafa’s home the next day, the garden was already a hive of activity. Agnija was busy chopping the last of the peaches; Adriana was struggling to whisk egg whites into snowy peaks; Cassandra was puréeing nuts, cream, and cheese; Dario was cleaning pomegranates. Nereo was mixing the music. Mirna, the only one who had witnessed the creation of chiles en nogada before, was frying onions, pork, and beef. She was also in charge of mixing meat and fruits in a huge pot, filling the chilis, rolling them in beaten egg, frying them, and taking them out of the boiling oil.

Four hours later, we served the chiles en nogada with a nutty cream, heavily spiced with bourbon, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, and decorated with chopped parsley leaves. Despite one minor mishap—when the pot slid off the fire and turned over, spitting out some of the filling—the endeavor was a success. It was the first and the last time I ate two chiles en nogada in one sitting.

Tea, Fried Bread, and Some Mountains or Something. Mostly Bread.

Aug.07.17

Tea, Fried Bread, and Some Mountains or Something. Mostly Bread.

by Poorna Menon

Dal Puri in India

The air is heavy with birdsong, and birdsong alone. I cannot hear voices, cars, people, or in fact anything that might reveal that I haven’t cut myself off completely from humanity. In truth, I’m staying in a village in the Garhwal Himalayas, in a traditional homestay.

Reluctantly, I stir, and am greeted with a cup of “bed tea”: one of those wonderful Indian creations, served bedside, and made especially for crisp mountain mornings like this. Although the hot, gingery liquid is worth treasuring, what I’ve really woken up for is breakfast. Our hostess had already championed her morning specialty to us the previous night: a traditional dal puri—which caused my stomach to grumble in anticipation upon waking.

Right on cue, the lady of the house clambers up the stone steps leading to our rooms, laying down plates of food in front of us. We’re greeted with a veritable feast, but my focus remains on the dal puri—and there they are, resting in the center of my plate, piled high. A deep-fried Indian bread, delectably stuffed with spiced lentils, slightly steaming in the cold morning air, they are the crowning glory of this morning’s meal. The puris are like little pancakes, flaky, comforting, containing just the right amount of grease. I peel apart the layers: one thin and crispy, the other denser and chewier. To balance the oil and bulk of the puri, an accompanying fragrant green chutney is served, ground the previous night, comprising of wild mint, mountain herbs, and other mysterious ingredients.

To wash it all down is more tea, and then matta—delicious, cold buttermilk. Nothing can compare to a hot, starchy breakfast on a crisp mountain morning like this.

Most of the breakfast ingredients have been sourced from the village gardens and surrounding fields, free of pesticides. It’s traditional farm-to-table living at its best. I can’t believe the amount of goodness on one plate—although it seems many of these villagers seem to be losing interest in preserving their way of life.

Staring at the surrounding mountainside and fields below, I swallow the last bit of crispy puri. A meal from heaven.

Everyone Benefits When Cultures Mix But Especially the Baked Goods

Aug.04.17

Everyone Benefits When Cultures Mix But Especially the Baked Goods

by Deborah Wei

Egg tarts in Hong Kong

Jet lag woke me early on my first free day in Hong Kong. Unable to sleep, I turned my thoughts to breakfast. I knew exactly what I wanted—a Chinese bakery.

Chinese baked goods were a rare treat for me growing up in the American Midwest. When my parents made the two-hour drive to Chicago’s Chinatown to stock up on Asian groceries, the highlight was always a stop at a bakery. I would hover over the array of creations, Western staples transfigured by uninhibited Asian creativity. On visits to Taipei, my grandparents would have fluffy milk bread and scallion buns ready for breakfast every day.

Hong Kong had plenty of Chinese bakeries to feed my nostalgia. I looked one up and set off from my hotel. Though it was barely 7 a.m. on Saturday, people were already out and about. I passed elderly tai chi practitioners in the plazas, bar girls sharing a smoke with hungover expats, students buying sticky rice from a corner stall.

The blue dotted path on Google Maps led me to a bakery window full of bright yellow egg tarts. Inside, familiar favorites filled the pastry cases; BBQ buns and pineapple buns, raisin twists and Asian-style Swiss rolls. I asked the cashier about the filling in a flat, round pastry, shy with my rusty Mandarin and hoping she wouldn’t snub my lack of Cantonese. Winter melon, she replied, and I smiled my understanding.

I walked out with an egg tart and a winter melon cake in a plastic bag. The pastries were so fresh from the oven that they burned my fingers, but I was too excited to wait. I popped a hot morsel of creamy custard and crumbly crust in my mouth. It was rich and comforting, exactly what I craved.

I wandered blissfully down the street as I ate, watching morning routines unfold. Customers at dai pai dongs slurped beef noodles as they read newspapers. A butcher wielded a cleaver over glistening slabs of meat, while middle-aged ladies haggled over piles of lychees next door. Children in uniforms munched on buns as their parents toted them to music lessons.

Though it was my first time here, I felt strangely at home in all of it. Hong Kong echoed places I had been and memories I harbored. The jungly humidity evoked summers in Taipei and the old men buying vegetables made me miss my grandfather. The pungent smells of seafood and Chinese medicine reminded me of weekend pilgrimages to Chinatown. Yet, Hong Kong still felt novel, boldly mixing cultures and styles. Little shrines were carved into doorway niches even in the most corporate of marble buildings, tended with incense and clementines. The streets bore a jumble of British or Cantonese names. High-rises climbed upwards, covered with simple bamboo scaffolding.

Weeks later, I would read numerous articles lamenting Hong Kong’s decline. It was said that Hong Kong was losing its unique culture after 20 years under mainland rule. But as I finished the last crumbs of my pastries that morning, Hong Kong pulsed, vibrant and confident around me. Like a Chinese bakery, it was the best of East meets West.

The Best Medicinal Noodles in the World’s Oldest Chinatown

Aug.03.17

The Best Medicinal Noodles in the World’s Oldest Chinatown

by Shirin Bhandari

Egg Noodles in Manila

“Is this your first time?” I ask my friend as he looks blankly at the board. The menu looks as old as the Dead Sea scrolls. The food has not changed since the restaurant’s inception. The red acrylic letters on the sign are sparse and unmoving. The price slots are movable and filled with handwritten rates on paper—prices which have increased exorbitantly since my last visit.

The floor is slick and the 1940s-era fans are full of dust, as if time stood still.
A waiter in a one-size-fits-all-uniform arrives with a bored look on his face.

“The place smells funny,” G says.

Chinese egg noodles often come with a distinct smell of ammonia that some find off-putting. There has been much debate through the decades about why they smell like this, and the mystery adds to the experience.

The interior of the restaurant is uninspiring; G can hardly believe that this is, in fact, the birthplace of the Philippine mami—a hearty noodle soup with cuts of meat. We watch the kitchen door swing open, servers rushing out with large white porcelain bowls filled with hot soup.

The neighborhood of Binondo, in the city of Manila, was established in 1594 by Spanish colonizers to keep the Chinese immigrants in check. It is the world’s oldest Chinatown. The word Binondo is derived from the local Tagalog word binundok, or mountainous, referring to Binondo’s then-hilly terrain. It was the center of commerce, trade, and good food. Now, it has seen better days.

The restaurant’s founder, Ma Mon Luk, was born in Guangdong. He left his life as a teacher in 1918 to try his luck in the Philippines. To earn a living, he peddled his special noodle soup in metal vats attached to a bamboo pole slung over his shoulders. He became popular with the working class and students around Chinatown and Quiapo, Manila. The word mami is the street slang for the famous concoction, combining his first name (ma) with the Chinese name for noodles (mian).

Through hard work, he opened his first restaurant in the 1950s in the heart of the city, making the nourishing and tasty mami famous throughout the country. He died a decade later from cancer. His family have continued the tradition, but only two stores out of six remain. The Filipino love affair with air-conditioned fast-food burger chains has killed many small enterprises.

Our beef noodles arrive, with two steamed pork buns. The meat is tender and melts in the mouth. It has a strong flavor of star anise. The egg noodles are firm and tasty. The chopped scallions and fried garlic are crispy. It brings back fond memories of my grandfather slurping his noodles with gusto.
A bright orange salted duck-egg yolk glistened as I tore into the succulent pork bun.

“How is the broth?” I asked as I dipped a piece of the white bun into the bowl.

“Medicinal, but in a good way,” G laughs.

The soup keeps our hearts pounding and fuels us for the rest of the day.

Morocco’s Answer to New York’s Bodega Breakfast Sandwich

Aug.02.17

Morocco’s Answer to New York’s Bodega Breakfast Sandwich

by Graham H. Cornwell

Egg sandwich in Morocco

Most Moroccans may start their day with one (or three) glasses of atay, that uniquely Moroccan blend of green tea, fresh mint, and tons of sugar. But in my travels around the country, especially in the bigger cities of the north, I discovered that mornings are also about a simple egg sandwich, accompanied by a café nuss-nuss or a jus d’avocat (an avocado milkshake).

These are best found in a local mahlaba, a combination snack shop-juice stand that derives its name from the Arabic word for milk (haleeb) and is a sort of neologism from the French laiterie.

Mahlabas are best defined by their bright décor: stacks of colorful fruit, or posters of stacks of colorful fruit, display cases of yogurts and cheeses and a Spam-y, halal “charcuterie” that I don’t recommend. I do recommend the fresh fruit juices—but the classic, 9 a.m. Moroccan move would be a glass of hot milk flavored with a bit of coffee, and a simple sandwich of hard-boiled egg and spreadable cheese.

The sandwich itself could be Morocco’s answer to that New York City staple, the bodega egg-and-cheese. You can get it anywhere. Even if your nearby corner store, or hanut, seems to offer no prepared food, rest assured that the proprietor has a basket of hard-boiled eggs, a knife, a small dish of salt and cumin, and plenty of the ubiquitous La Vache qui Rit spreadable cheese triangles.

Wherever you go, the prep is similar: the person behind the counter will pull out khobz, or, if you’re lucky, batbut, a sort of Moroccan take on the English muffin but cooked on a hot griddle. He’ll run his knife through the bread to open up a pocket and insert one or two wedges of cheese. Then he’ll peel one or two eggs (your choice), drop them into the pocket, and use the blade to slice and mash everything up. He’ll ask if you want a hit of salt and cumin. You do. (Even an Egg McMuffin at a McDonald’s in Morocco comes with salt and cumin.) In general, you pay only for the ingredients—1.20 dirhams for the khobz, 1 dirham per cheese triangle, 1.20 for each egg—just as you would if you were buying groceries. That’s about $0.35 for the whole thing.

Besides the unbeatable price, the beauty of the sandwich is its simplicity.
Like your basic fried egg draped in melty American on a roll, it works despite the relatively low quality of ingredients: fatty, too creamy “cheese,” big crystals of salt, the heft of the boiled eggs, the light funk of cumin, and dense bread. The best breads have a chewiness not unlike pizza dough, with little air pockets to catch the slathers of cheese and crumbled yolk. You could wash it down properly with a café nuss-nuss—a half-half coffee-milk combination. Or opt for dense jus d’avocat, in which case you won’t be hungry again for some time.

The Perfect Breakfast for the Milk-Averse Cheese Enthusiast

Aug.01.17

The Perfect Breakfast for the Milk-Averse Cheese Enthusiast

by Luciana Squadrilli

Cheese in Northern Italy

I’m not a big fan of milk. I’d rather start the day with a large cup of filter coffee or an espresso rather than a creamy cappuccino. Yet, I love cheese and other milk-like things. So, when I was invited to have breakfast at the cheese factory in Muris, a small village in Friuli Venezia Giulia, I was thrilled: mountain cottage cheese and fresh-made ricotta instead of cereals and pastries? Oh yes.

Muris has what is known as a “shift cheese factory” or latteria turnaria: latteria is the local term for cheese dairy; turnaria signifies that people take turns to work it in shifts. Functioning both as a cooperative farm and social institution, it’s one of the few that remain in the region. This one is also a great place to have breakfast.

As we get there around 9 a.m., the cheese-making is almost done. The experienced dairyman arrived many hours earlier to turn on the gas fire to heat the milk and to clean the previous day’s wheels of cheese. The women shaping and pressing the fresh cheese have also been here for hours. They come in shifts to help the dairyman transform milk into delicious cheese, ricotta, yogurt, butter, and more.

Officially established in 1880 by a Royal Decree, the cooperatives started out as a clever model of community farming and soon became a social hub. Muris’s one was established in 1920, although the current building only dates back to the 1970s.

Every family had at least one cow, for the milk—too much to drink it all, not enough for serious cheese production. So villages pooled their resources to produce cheese and other products, incorporating the knowledge of an expert dairyman who created recipes and handed them down. Farmers—often women, young girls, or widows—took turns bringing milk to the factory and assisting the dairyman. Each family received the cheese made from the milk they brought, or the money from selling it on.

Over the years, these cooperatives became the villages’ main gathering point. Women came to the factories carrying milk cans and singing; men worked, discussed village affairs, and looked for potential wives there.

Much has changed. Many of these latterias have shut down. After the 1976 earthquake destroyed part of the region, locals seized the opportunity to switch from a rural economy to a modern one, with the help of reconstruction funds. Now, there are different challenges. People complain about the falling price of milk, and the effect of E.U. regulations on the traditional techniques employed to make the cheese.

In Muris, visitors are welcome to buy cheese or enjoy a brief tour ending with a sumptuous breakfast. We taste an intense, golden, yellow butter for bread with homemade jams. A creamy yogurt. A stunning cows’ ricotta, made with the whey from the cheese-making, no added cream. And of course, cheese: several wheels of it, of varying ages, with milky flavors ranging from freshness to richness. Definitely much better than a cappuccino.

The Endless Global Variations of Donuts: Kenya Edition

Jul.31.17

The Endless Global Variations of Donuts: Kenya Edition

by Rachel Rueckert

Mandazi in Kenya

I was introduced to the treat of mandazi on a recent work trip to Kenya.

For my job, I create the English curriculum for primary schools in resource-constrained neighborhoods across Africa. Sometimes my trips are last-minute, and this was one of them. In my mad rush to pack, I forgot to check the weather in Nairobi and missed the memo: rainy season.

I slipped down a muddy hill in sandals to reach the first academy on my schedule. The academy manager greeted me in Swahili with a kind smile. Then he surveyed my shoes and absent coat. “You are welcome,” he said, switching to English. “Please, sit down in my office.” A few children walked by in heavy-duty rain boots and winter hats. They chuckled at my mistake.

Within minutes, the academy manager presented me with breakfast, consisting of a warm, milky tea and a plate full of steaming, puffy mandazi—a simple piece of fried dough shaped into triangles which, over the course of my trip, became synonymous with love and hospitality.

“Here, have a crispy one,” he said. “These ones have been fried more, so they have less cholesterol.” I didn’t argue, and reached for one. The taste was simple, but familiar—a relative of a scone or donut. I detected the smallest hint of sweetness. The mandazi warmed my body and helped me relax for the first time since I’d arrived in Kenya.

Mandazi, omnipresent in the Kenyan breakfast scene, is not difficult to make. It comes in all shapes and sizes, but the most common shape in Nairobi is a triangle. There are infinite variations, but the most basic ones are made of flour, baking powder, sugar, and maybe a pinch of lime or lemon zest. Sometimes yeast is substituted for baking powder or coconut milk is used to increase the sweetness. After the ingredients are mixed and shaped, the dough is fried in oil.

Mandazi is eaten in the morning, as snacks (also known as “bitings”), dessert, and at all times of the day, because they’re quick to make and easy to store and reheat. It seems to be a universal comfort food. It certainly was for me.

After two weeks of busy days visiting academies without warm clothes, I got sick, to no one’s surprise but my own. I coughed and sneezed and hacked until Mary, the housekeeper where I was staying, knocked on my door.

“Rachel, come out of there,” she ordered. “I have something for you.”
Mary was not a person to mess with. I emerged from the room. She told me to sit at the table, where a cup of hot tea awaited me. I was in the middle of thanking her when she interrupted. “—No. That isn’t only what you need. Just wait.” Mary went to the kitchen and returned. I was not surprised to see her carrying a pile of perfect triangles on a tray.

A One-Item Brunch Menu Actually Sounds Like a Good Idea

Jul.28.17

A One-Item Brunch Menu Actually Sounds Like a Good Idea

by Pontia Fallahi

Omelet in Tehran

My friend Hasan and I walk in to see rows of men mopping up tin bowls with bread, while others nurse black tea and puff away on a hookah. I feel uncomfortable being the only woman, until I spy two other heads wrapped in a scarf similar to mine and breathe a sigh of relief.

We’re in Niavaran in northern Tehran, an upscale, old-money neighborhood. Just up the street is Niavaran Palace, the one-time residence of the former monarchs, and this out-of-place dive seems trapped in that same era. It’s anything but upscale, but therein lies its undeniable charm. The no-nonsense metal chairs and tables get the job done; the kitchenette with a samovar, copper kettle, and traditional tea glasses drying on the dish rack flood my mind with memories of my grandmother’s kitchen.

Brunch is now a thing in Tehran, and trendy cafés serve up various Italian coffees alongside Western favorites like waffles and crepes. But Tehranis flock to Amoo Hooshang (Uncle Hooshang) for his two-item menu: omelet for breakfast and gheymeh stew for lunch, both served with a generous helping of nostalgia. In Iran, omelet means eggs scrambled with tomatoes and/or tomato paste, and it’s eaten with warm bread, raw onion, and fresh herbs. At Amoo Hooshang’s, you take it with doogh, a salty yogurt drink, from an old-school glass bottle, no less. It’s hardly my morning beverage of choice, but the tradition is doogh first, tea last, so I follow suit.

As we wait, I notice Amoo Hooshang leaning against the kitchen sink. His long, white hair extends down below his wool skullcap, giving him the appearance of a dervish. Every so often, his eyes doze off, and at 10:30 a.m. and still no caffeine running through my veins, I can empathize. He pours himself tea from the samovar, and in the fashion of elderly Iranian men, transfers it from glass to saucer, places a sugar cube between his front teeth, and sips it.

No sooner does our breakfast arrive than I smother a morsel of piping hot barbari bread with omelet, top it with basil, and savor the medley of flavors as I slowly chew. After washing it down with fizzy doogh, I’m ready for my long-overdue caffeinated libation. We catch Amoo Hooshang’s attention, and he gently nods. He places two teas with rock candy in front of us and meanders over to one of the patrons sitting under a sign stating that smoking is strictly forbidden. No words are exchanged, but he lights the man’s cigarette and then his own.

We get up to pay, and the man in front smiles, “You have to ask Amoo.” At long last, Amoo Hooshang breaks his silence, his voice coming from the bottom of a well, as they say in Persian. “12,000 tomans.” About USD$4.

As we leave, I gaze at the luxury high-rises and hip cafés and wonder how much longer places like Amoo Hooshang will be around. Tehran has developed faster than it can handle, leaving its dwellers teetering between craving modernity and desperately longing to hold onto tradition. Maybe there’s room for both.

A Temple Dedicated to All Forms of Sugar For Breakfast

Jul.27.17

A Temple Dedicated to All Forms of Sugar For Breakfast

by Jane Mitchell

Nepolitana con crema in Madrid

I walk into the historic quarter of Madrid, carefully negotiating the throngs of tour groups with their umbrella-wielding guides. Madrid lies under a cloud of autumn grey and rain has made the footpaths greasy. Down the Calle Mayor, at the Puerta del Sol, where all roads start their journey through Spain, is my breakfast destination: my last sweet breakfast before returning home to Australia.

La Mallorquina has been filling Madrelinõs with sugar and spice since 1894. The shop has been on the fringe of the Puerta del Sol since 1960, its two main windows on Calle Mayor and around the corner towards Calle Del Arenal, holding an arresting and ever-changing display of cakes and pastries impressive enough to stops tourists, but still revealing only a small hint of what’s inside.

The staff behind their glass counters of cakes never stop: hola, buenas. It’s a question as well as a greeting. What do you want? It’s not rude, just matter-of-fact.

“Café con leche y nepolitana con crema.” I stumble over “por favor,” but the waitress is already moving before I can finish.

“Café con leche,” she calls out, placing saucer, spoon and sugar sachet in front of me, searching the glass shelves for my breakfast. The man at the coffee machine doesn’t acknowledge the call but continues his constant ballet of beans into the grinder, grounds into the machine then dripping the hot black coffee into cups or glasses.

A long room, one end is dedicated to cakes for taking home, the other is a bar that runs three sides around the room. Staff behind the cake-laden glass counters wear crisp, white coats and if they aren’t taking or delivering orders, they are constantly refilling the glass shelves with more fresh pastries that appear on large trays from the kitchen out the back. Around the bar, people cram into any free space they can to place their elbows and order their choice.

My waitress leans over the counter and delivers my nepolitana con crema. It’s still slightly warm. The sugar-glazed, semi-flaky pastry is lightly wrapped around a soft and sweet vanilla cream. A few seconds later a cup of hot, black coffee is placed on my saucer and, without ceremony, hot milk is poured in from a silver jug. The waitress is gone just as quickly, catching the eye of a newcomer ready to order.

In Australia, cafés can be sedate and quiet affairs. A table, a menu, time to think and decide. Breakfast is more often savory instead of sweet, and people linger over it; perhaps a second coffee, maybe even a third. La Mallorquina fills up in the mornings with people stopping in for a small sweet hit, often with caffeine. But they don’t linger. La Mallorquina in the mornings is a constantly moving, ever-changing, swirling cauldron of people eating, drinking, arriving, and leaving.

Omg, Someone Make Us This White-Bread Frankenstein Casserole Right Away

Jul.26.17

Omg, Someone Make Us This White-Bread Frankenstein Casserole Right Away

by Lara Southern

Bobotie in Franschhoek

Autumn in South Africa is beautiful, and offers the occasional breezy respite from its standard blistering forecast. This morning, no such luck. I am visiting my mother and father in Franschhoek, where they grow pears and apples and I abuse their parental charity. After shuffling my way to the kitchen, cotton-mouthed and bleary-eyed, I land upon the remains of last night’s dinner. Bobotie.

At first glance, this Cape Malay classic could be the kitchen-sink dish nightmares are made of. In what I imagine can only be an extremely oversized saucepan, minced meat is combined with miscellaneous dried fruits, buttered onions, and peach chutney before milk-moistened white bread chunks are folded in. Then this glorious glop is blended, poured into a casserole, topped with a curry-laced egg custard, and broiled.

My mother, though a wonderful cook, likes to strictly adhere to recipes. That bobotie is endlessly malleable and subject to hundreds of different interpretations proves troublesome to her perfectionism, so she outsources this most treasured of dishes. Cafe Tramurei’s iteration is lamb-based, laced with apricots, and accompanied by rice stained neon with turmeric. (Apricots are added to many Malay dishes, often as unwelcome saccharine invaders into an otherwise perfectly lovely savory dish. Here, it works.)

Not only delightfully fun to say, bobotie is the most aptly Frankensteinian of feasts, a blend of the myriad cultures and flavors that make up South Africa. On this morning, through a light hangover and heavy humidity, it is particularly perfect. In the glow of the open fridge door, each spoonful parties its way across each part of my palate—sweet, salty, funky, pungent. It is cacophonous, confusing, and more than a little ugly. In this moment, it’s utterly beautiful.

A Breakfast Worth Picking Spine Out of Your Teeth For

Jul.25.17

A Breakfast Worth Picking Spine Out of Your Teeth For

by Dave Hazzan

Capelin in Torbay

It’s mid-July in Newfoundland, and the capelin are rolling.

Down at Middle Cove, on the coast of the Avalon Peninsula, the little fish have come to spawn on the beach. The locals call this the “rolling” of the capelin (pronounced KAY-plin), a two-week event that occurs every summer.
At dawn and dusk, the tides are black with the fish, and the beach is awash with Newfoundlanders, and tourists from “the Mainland” (the rest of Canada), out to catch the fish.

This is the world’s easiest form of fishing. All you need is a simple net, or even just a bucket—or hell, a good pair of leathery hands should do it. You wade about calf-deep into the water, and the waves bring in great schools of capelin, which you then scoop up.

I’m unclear on the capelin’s conservation status, but I hope there are plenty of them, because people are driving off with trucks full of buckets full of capelin. The local news is here, asking how the capelin are rolling this year. Well, is the answer.

Kyle Tapper is one of the dozens of Tappers who live in Torbay, just to the west of Middle Cove. A born-and-bred Newfoundlander, he shows me how to hold up the net, throw it “like a discus,” and pull in the capelin. They are then dropped into a bucket where they quickly suffocate. At least I hope it’s quick—they sure don’t flap around long.

Out at the Tapper home, there is a large wooden structure, present in many Newfoundland yards, used to behead and gut fish. So Kyle and I set to work, chopping off their little heads, slicing open their abdomens and pulling out their little hearts and spleens, and throwing them into buckets.

Occasionally you get a squishy female, and when you cut them open, they spurt a fine jelly of pale-yellow roe. The Japanese have taken a liking to capelin roe on sushi, and are buying up great gallons of it. We don’t know what to do with it though, so we throw it to the plants.

Most of the capelin, now freed of their heads and organs, go into freezer bags. But we save a few dozen, bring them into the kitchen, and coat them with flour. Then we throw them into a frying pan with plenty of oil, spray them with vinegar and salt, and voila! A Newfoundland breakfast worthy of anyone.

They’re a tasty little fish. They look like herring but taste much milder. You’re meant to pull the bones out, but they’re small enough that you can crunch and swallow them, though you end up picking bits of spine out of your teeth for the next hour.

Next week, the surviving capelin will go back out to sea, safe from the monsters on the beach who catch, mutilate, freeze, and fry them for brekkie.

They will have only the ocean to contend with—less deadly than a Mainlander with a bucket.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Here’s to Pancakes and New Beginnings

Jul.21.17

Here’s to Pancakes and New Beginnings

by Cynthia Sularz

Blinis in Dnipro

Puzatta Hata is the largest Ukrainian cuisine chain restaurant. It’s welcoming, warm, and most of all, reliable. When I first arrived in Dnipro, Ukraine back in September of 2016, I was lost. I fell asleep immediately after moving into my new apartment, and thus in the morning, I became painfully aware of my empty fridge and even emptier stomach. Exhausted, dehydrated, and jetlagged, I left my apartment.

When I first entered Puzatta Hata, a wide variety of scents overwhelmed me. The buffet-style restaurant is something that has always hit or miss for me in the U.S., but as I soon learned, this Puzatta Hata would be a refuge. After long intercity travel, late night English lessons, or freezing evenings when the very idea of moving felt like too much work, Puzatta Hata was there for me.

That first morning I watched leisurely as a child was lifted to the sinks at the restaurant’s entrance. A frown soon formed on his mother’s face as her son splashed water instead of washing his hands. “блин” she muttered and my eyes shifted to the very thing she was alluding to. Pancakes.

Dnipro, the city I had moved to, is mostly Russian-speaking. And although Ukrainian has become more prevalent in day to day life, certain phrases remain habits. “блин” which directly translates to pancake, is a common way to say “whoops.”

“Пе́рвый блин всегда́ ко́мом” is a famous Russian saying which roughly translates to “The first pancake is always a blob.” This was true for my first month living in the industrial city of Dnipro, Ukraine, but like making pancakes, each month, my days improved.

Walking into Puzhatta Hata in the morning, I had my choice of eggs, sausage, borscht, cheeses, vegetables, and, of course, pancakes. Now, these pancakes aren’t like those one would expect in the United States. More reminiscent of a crepe, Russian pancakes—blinis—are thin. They are traditionally made from wheat, and sometimes buckwheat. Blini are served with anything from sour cream to quark butter, and can be wrapped around fruits, chocolate, or cheeses. If you really go all in, it feels like you’re eating dessert for breakfast. And on that first full day in Dnipro, desert for breakfast was exactly what I needed.

Historically, blini were thought to be a symbol of the sun due to their round form. Pre-Christian Slavs would prepare them at the end of winter in order to celebrate the rebirth of the new sun. Butter Week, or Maselnitsa (Russian: Мaсленица, Ukrainian: Масниця), the week before Lent begins when eggs, cheese, and other dairy can still be eaten, has even been adopted as a holiday by the Orthodox church, and blinis are the typical dish with which to celebrate.

As I sat there in the restaurant that morning, I couldn’t help but feel like something new was starting. It felt like a celebration, and my blini was the new sun, lighting the way to a year full of newness. Looking back, I didn’t know just how much a pancake can symbolize. How much a simple meal can warm you up and ensure that you are ready for the new day. How even if the first pancake isn’t great, the next will surely be better as you continue to strive and work.

Maybe it was just the hunger talking, but that first pancake, although doughy and far from a perfect circle, was one of the most perfect things I have ever eaten.

Disregard the Ghastly Color and Lumpy Texture And This Porridge Is Actually Quite Good

Jul.20.17

Disregard the Ghastly Color and Lumpy Texture And This Porridge Is Actually Quite Good

by Josh Freedman

Youcha Tang in Meitan

Meitan County, in southern China’s Guizhou province, is obsessed with tea. At the center of the county seat, on the peak of a hill named Fire Mountain, sits a 240-foot-tall building shaped like a teapot. Another township features a series of undulating tea fields called the “Sea of Tea,” named after an impromptu utterance by former president Hu Jintao. The character for tea adorns unassuming housing blocks and grand entryways alike, and even the streetlights overlooking the county’s recently paved extra-wide highways are shaped like tea leaves. Places in China often compete to be number one for something, and Meitan has crowned itself the undisputed number one place for tea in Guizhou.

You don’t need to drink tea with breakfast in Meitan, because you can get tea in your breakfast. Youcha tang, or oil tea soup, is a thick porridge made with tea leaves, sticky rice, peanuts, and lard. The ghastly grayish-green color and lumpy, viscous texture are misleading: adorned with fried dough twists and crispy millet, oil tea soup has a pleasant, slightly salty taste. Each variation of oil tea soup has different ingredients, but when I press for more specifics about what is in the bowl I am eating, I am simply told, “A lot of things.”

In Meitan, oil tea soup has earned the moniker “vitality soup.” “If you eat a bowl of oil tea soup in the morning, you’ll have vitality all day,” explains Bacon, my tour guide-turned-best friend who, like nearly everyone I meet in Meitan, takes hospitality to unparalleled heights. The origins of oil tea soup are murky, but local lore traces it back more than a century and a half, to the food that helped re-energize rebel forces fighting against the Qing dynasty army. The thick porridge is about as efficient as caloric intake gets, and it tastes pretty good, too.

Much of the rest of the tea obsession in Meitan, in which any possible item can be turned into an oversized monument to tea, is new. A decade ago, a friend explains, there was still plenty of tea in Meitan—it just wasn’t a big deal. Policymakers hope that combining tea and tourism can drive economic growth in what remains one of the least developed parts of the country.

The newfound overabundance of tea symbolism has succeeded in drawing people like me, strangely fascinated by giant teapot buildings, to Meitan. But something feels off about the extent to which tea has metastasized in Meitan. Similar to brand-new “ancient” towns sprouting up all over China, the single-minded obsession with tea feels forced: the need to make a place “about something” threatens to overshadow the essence of the place itself.

A dish like oil tea soup dispels any doubts about Meitan. It is the most utilitarian food imaginable, eaten by farmers and office workers alike. High-grade tea can be outrageously expensive, but a hearty bowl of oil tea soup remains less than a dollar. It, rather than the world’s largest teapot, would be a better choice to represent the people and places in Meitan: humble, nourishing, and surprisingly delightful.

The Misfit Breakfast of Vietnam

Jul.19.17

The Misfit Breakfast of Vietnam

by Sean Campbell

Beef stew in Ho Chi Minh City

My t-shirt is every bit as moist as the fatty chunks of beef and carrot floating in the deep red broth. I’m not in the least bit worried about the perspiration, or the splashes of broth on my shoes, or the way I’ve got the bowl tipped up to my face as I emit pleasured grunts.

Some of the meat melts in the mouth and some stiffens the jaw with its rubberiness—that’ll be the tendon, I guess.

Like a lot of Vietnamese soups, the magic is in the broth. Star anise, curry paste, pepper, cumin, chopped onion, chive, and the national condiment, fish sauce, are just a part of what makes up a criminally under-celebrated dish.

Lighten the brawn with chili, hoisin, lemongrass, hefty squeezes of lime, and a bunch of cilantro, basil, and ngo om (rice paddy herb) and you’ve got yourself a most complex flavor. Order a baguette on the side to dunk and mop up, and you’re onto a winner.

Vietnamese beef stew, or bò kho, doesn’t seem to fit in around here. The words heavy, hearty and earthy aren’t really words we’d associate with Vietnamese eating. This is a land famed not only for phở, but for the light sweetness of bún chả and crispy, fresh gỏi cuốn among others.

Its inner workings are about as complex as its disputed history. Some say it’s a colonially influenced take on beef bourguignon, while others suggest it’s nothing more than the pell-mell product of ingredients traded on the spice route.

In a country famed for zesty, sharp dishes, this is the heavyweight cousin. Right at the bottom of the bowl is where the most magic happens. The contradiction of flavor at the top, where one side might give you aniseed, onion on the other, coexists in perfect harmony at the bottom, a euphoric cross section of tastes begging to be smeared onto the crispy baguette.

It’s no easy task getting there, though. The piping hot bowl and the fragrance has your nose streaming and your tongue burning; I’ve eaten it under the baking sun and I’m certain that I weighed less after eating than before, so fair warning—get it early in the morning or late at night.

Bò kho might not be the most popular breakfast here, but I’ve never met a soul who claimed to dislike it. When I eventually return home to Ireland, I’m going to open up a food cart selling Vietnamese beef stew to morning commuters on cold winter mornings, and you know what? I reckon I’ll make a killing. So here’s to misfit breakfasts.

This Australian Breakfast Is “Like Sucking Mucus Out of a Corpse” AND IT’S NOT EVEN VEGEMITE

Jul.18.17

This Australian Breakfast Is “Like Sucking Mucus Out of a Corpse” AND IT’S NOT EVEN VEGEMITE

by Steele Rudd

Weet-Bix in Sydney

I have vague memories of an ad campaign that ran during the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics. Buffed and toothy athletes in their green-and-gold tracksuits stood, backdropped by an Australian flag, talking about how many Weet-Bix they ate each morning.

“Five,” bragged the sprinter. “Eleven,” growled the weightlifter. “Three,” chirped the pole vaulter.

I can’t be certain whether that’s an accurate memory or not, but I know that a variation of that campaign has been running more or less ever since. Weet-Bix stands for nutrition and nationalism, and they won’t let you forget it. It’s “Australia’s No. 1 Breakfast Cereal”; it’s the “Official Breakfast of the Socceroos” and the “Official Breakfast of the Australian Cricket Team.” Rather immodestly, it’s also the “Breakfast of Champions.”

But Weet-Bix are bloody awful. In case the name didn’t give it away, they’re wheat biscuits: even the most charitably-minded would struggle to describe them as anything other than “edible.” I’m not convinced they’re even particularly nutritious, although they do boast of being a great source of fiber. So is cardboard.

I think even the manufacturers of Weet-Bix have realized this problem, because when I get to the supermarket to pick some up—for the first time in decades—there’s an abundance of alternatives under the same brand. There’s a gluten-free option (sorghum, for the curious). There’s an organic option. There’s Weet-Bix for kids; half a dozen flavors of Weet-Bix drinks; Weet-Bix Bites and Blends and Minis. It’s all a bit too bright-lights-big-city for me.

Bugger this, I think to myself, and go next door to the Aldi. They’ve got a generic version that’s a perfect simulacrum of the Weet-Bix I remember. Plain, unassuming, shredded wheat oblongs in a box with the Southern Cross proudly spackled across it. It’s even got the official Made in Australia logo in the corner, so you know it must be good.

At home, I dump three of my ersatz-biscuits in a bowl, pour some milk over them and wait for them to soak it up. Some people like theirs crunchy, but I prefer my breakfasts mushy and unthreatening. While I wait I ponder the reasoning behind all the flag-waving on the box.

The original Weet-Bix are made by a company called Sanitarium. Like Kellogg’s, Sanitarium was founded on Seventh Day Adventist beliefs that vegetarianism, circumcision, and enemas light the path to righteousness.

Unlike Kellogg’s, however, Sanitarium is still wholly owned by the Adventists—although as noted their advertising leans more on the nutrition and nationalism, less on the circumcision and enemas. They claim to have invented the idea of shredded wheat biscuits right here in Sydney. It’s a fair call, although hardly one to swell your breast with patriotic pride; and with some variety of the cereal now available in most of the world it’s no longer the case that shredded wheat is a unique and defining aspect of the Australian psyche.

When my gruel’s nice and ready, I take a few bites. It’s cold and oleaginous, like sucking the mucus out of a corpse. I chop up a banana into it and wish I’d bought oats instead.

If You’re Stuck With Bad Weather Might As Well Eat Something Deep Fried

Jul.17.17

If You’re Stuck With Bad Weather Might As Well Eat Something Deep Fried

by Revati Upadhya

Buns in Bangalore

I only need to shut my eyes for a brief moment, and I can almost taste the hot morsel of crispy flatbread cradling the spicy, glossy gravy of chickpeas, and I am transported to the little tea house in Panjim, where I first tasted the Goan breakfast my friends had been telling me so much about.

There’s no better time than during drizzling and overcast skies to indulge in deep-fried goodness of any kind. And in Goa, I was introduced to a particular type of buns. A round, flat, mildly sweetened bread, fried in a large hot wok of oil until only slightly puffy, dotted sparsely with a hint of cumin. Crisp (but not crunchy) on the outside, puffy on the inside.

One morning, it was pouring, the rain coming down in sheets, and we ducked into the little teahouse. Inside, the air was warm from the sheer number of bodies gathered for their breakfast of snacks and tea.

It was a grey week in the beginning of June, and the monsoon had been threatening to hit for a few days, and it was the first time I tasted the dish that assuaged some part of my craving for a breakfast from back home. In the years that followed, buns and bhaji (the spicy gravy) became my go-to comfort food.

There’s something about the delicate balance between the subtle sweetness of the bun and the richly flavored curry it typically accompanies. Whether it was the mixed vegetable curry, or the slightly indulgent chickpea variant, or black-eyed peas, or the simplest of them all, made with sliced and wilted onions and tomatoes, the gravy always packed a punch. Runny, but slightly textured thanks to a ground base made from coconut and whole spices, it is the perfect accompaniment to the bun, in form and in function.

Last week, my Facebook feed was filled to the gills with gushing updates about the monsoon that had just hit Goa. As I scrolled through it, sitting at home in the city I have now moved to, I was filled with the inexplicable urge to immediately find my way to the tea-house where I’d breakfast at least once a week, but especially so when the monsoon first struck.

The smell of the wet earth following the first rains will forever stir up an intense craving for some fried buns.

Since the teahouse is now about 500+ miles away, I did the next best thing. Replicated it in my kitchen, while the rain came down in a feathery drizzle, as people call it in Bangalore. All this, so I could dig my teeth into a puffy bun, the steam escaping through my lips, and chase it with a cup of sweet milky tea.

Chicken Soup: The Cure for Traveling Man Flu?

Jul.14.17

Chicken Soup: The Cure for Traveling Man Flu?

by Dave Hazzan

Chicken soup in Hamburg

Are all canned chicken soups created equal?

That was my question as I pried open a can of “Meine Hühner Bouillon” at 9:00 a.m. at our guesthouse in Hamburg.

I’m not a huge canned soup fan; who is? There’s nothing glamorous about plopping a dented aluminum can of concentrated meat and vegetables into a saucepan and heating it, stirring occasionally as the puddles of oil concentrate on the top, reflecting the kitchen lights in all sorts of psychedelic patterns. Then you eat it and grimace through more salt than was used to preserve the rations on all of Captain Cook’s voyages.

But then there is a cachet to the canned soup, no? Andy Warhol didn’t make great pyramids out of fresh soup from mother’s kitchen. It represents an age when love of convenience and ignorance of nutrition intersected, to produce an adequate, if not yummy, lunch in five minutes. What North American hasn’t once pined for a tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich meal on a rainy day? Hell, you don’t even need to have ever eaten it before–the image has been ingrained in us enough by culture.

And of course, chicken soup keeps you warm and comfortable: that’s why you can commission a series of books called “Chicken Soup for the ____ Soul” and walk off with so many billions, you won’t ever need to eat canned soup again.

Chicken soup the world over is also meant to be a cure for illness. My own people call it “Jewish penicillin.”

By the time our train pulled into Hamburg, I felt decidedly unwell. By nightfall, I realized I was in the middle of a seriously unpleasant bout of flu: sour stomach, headaches, fever, alternating sweats and chills, and muscle pain throughout my body. Beatles-platz, St. Michael’s Cathedral, and St. Pauli were going to have to wait for this break-bone nastiness to pass.

My wife picked up a can of what we both felt looked like chicken soup at the grocery store. By the time we heated it for the next day’s breakfast, all the signs indicated it was. There was a chicken broth, cut carrots, little chunks of chicken, and big balls of what look like some lame goyish excuse for matzo balls, but I think were a chicken by-product, processed from the feet, bones, and beak of the poor, feathered beast.

It didn’t cure anything, but it was ingestible and digestible in my weakened state. At the end of it, as my wife did the dishes—usually my job, like the shopping—she remarked, “I think Big Pharma is suppressing the cure for Man Flu, to try and keep women serving whiny men.”

Photo by: Jo Turner

There is No Distance Too Far to Travel for the Perfect Lobster Roll

Jul.13.17

There is No Distance Too Far to Travel for the Perfect Lobster Roll

by Pamela MacNaughtan

Lobster roll in Québec

From the moment I drive off the ferry onto Îles-de-la-Madeleine—seven small islands in the Gulf of the Saint-Lawrence in Quebec, six of which are connected by a road—my goal is to find the best lobster roll on the islands.

Lobster has been an obsession of mine since I was a teenager. A treat I would enjoy once or twice each summer, when my dad received a crate of live lobsters from a customer in Prince Edward Island, resulting in an impromptu lobster feast in our backyard.

Large chunks of succulent lobster meat stuffed into a fresh hot-dog bun is, in my opinion, one of the best summer foods in North America. And I will happily eat them any time of day. Still, my first lobster roll experience was a disappointing mix of lobster meat, mayonnaise, small bits of celery, and lettuce stuffed into a hot dog bun. A tuna salad sandwich made with lobster meat.

Surely, I thought, there would be a place on Îles-de-la-Madeleine that serves
lobster rolls with an enhanced flavor profile.

Now a decadent treat in many households in North America (and around the world), lobster rolls and lobster sandwiches have more humble origins on these islands. For the fishermen here, it was a cheap staple, not an indulgence.

At 10:30 a.m., five days after arriving on the islands, I pull into the parking lot at La Renaissance des Îles, one of the biggest lobster-processing facilities on the islands, ready to eat a lobster roll for breakfast. Walking up to the counter in their canteen, I order a lobster roll with a small bag of fries, grab a bottle of Bull’s Head blood orange soda (a Québec soda company), and sit down at a picnic table.

My lobster roll is a delicious combination of large chunks of lobster meat caught the day before, mixed with mayonnaise, small bits of celery, and green onion, in a hot dog bun with lettuce. I set out to find the best lobster roll on Îles-de-la-Madeleine. This is where I found it.

Stir-Fried Noodles and Samosas, Together At Last

Jul.12.17

Stir-Fried Noodles and Samosas, Together At Last

by Awanthi Vardaraj

Samosas in Chennai

It was a pleasantly warm morning, and little fluffy clouds chased each other across a crystal blue sky, but I wasn’t in the mood to appreciate any of it. My mother and I had spent the night in my grandmother’s hospital room, and neither of us could face another canteen breakfast. So we were out and about, wandering around Navalur, in Chennai’s Old Mahabalipuram Road, and our minds were on coffee and tiffin—a light meal—the hotter the better.

So when we found ourselves outside a sweet shop that advertised snacks, we went in. We found what we were looking for, along with the most unusual samosa I’ve ever eaten: noodle samosas.

The samosas were everything samosas are supposed to be: hot, flaky, and delicious. But instead of the typical fillings that I’m used to—spiced potatoes and peas scented with the heady scents of cloves and coriander seeds, or sweet golden brown caramelized onions, or even savory minced meat cooked with myriad spices and seasoning—the crisp cones were filled with a piquant curried noodle stir-fry that would have been delicious on its own. Packed into the crisp samosa, however, it took on a life of its own, with the noodles complementing the pastry perfectly.

Samosas are often automatically associated with Indian cuisine, but they did not originate in India. It is thought that Central Asian merchants brought the samosa to India along ancient trade routes around the 13th century. The mince-filled triangles were easy to make en route, and just as easily packed into saddlebags to be consumed while traveling. In The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davison writes, “The Indian version is merely the best known of an entire family of stuffed pastries or dumplings popular from Egypt and Zanzibar to Central Asia and Western China.”

My mother and I had another noodle samosa each, and washed it down with good strong coffee, scalding hot. It had been an impossible night, and it was going to be another stress-filled day, but somehow I felt ready. The benefits of a good breakfast are widely known, but the most important benefit is that it can renew your interest in life, and that’s precisely what those noodle samosas did for me.

Embracing Flaky, Turkish Pastries and Gluttony at Dawn

Jul.11.17

Embracing Flaky, Turkish Pastries and Gluttony at Dawn

by Harini Sriram

Burek in Cappadocia

A rogue wind swept past the street and left my teeth clattering. My hands were numb, and I couldn’t feel my feet. March in Cappadocia can be unforgiving, especially for someone from the plains of southern India. I was in dire need of a warm cup of coffee.

We had been up early that morning, hot-air ballooning. It was magical; we soared precariously over fairy chimneys against a gloomy dishwater sky that miraculously turned a tinge of fiery orange as the first rays of the sun strained its way in. Once we touched ground, we trudged through ankle-deep snow, and took a swig of the celebratory champagne on offer (it was, unfortunately, non-alcoholic), after which we ambled over to the neighboring town of Goreme for a leisurely walk.

It was 8 a.m. on a Sunday, and the town wasn’t ready for the drudgery of daily life yet, understandably. The streets were lined with pretty-looking bakeries and cafés, none of which had opened for the day. We’d almost given up hope, but then we stumbled upon a middle-aged bespectacled man who asked us if we’d like to have some breakfast, and pointed us towards M&M Café, around the bend of the road. The smell of freshly brewed coffee and baked items filled the air; the promise of a good breakfast.

It was here that I sank my teeth into the softest, most pillowy Su Boregi (water burek) stuffed with feta cheese. This deceptively simple dish has been compared to lasagna without the sauce, but it tastes nothing like that. It’s doughy, flaky, buttery, and it is layers upon layers of pure bliss. Burek is a phyllo pastry (made of yufka, a thin pastry sheet with flour, eggs, butter and salt), a savory pie, if you like, and there are several variations of it across Turkey and parts of western Asia. It’s a quintessential Anatolian dish that grew in popularity during the Ottoman period. The multi-layered burek whetted my appetite, and I was greedy for more. Another plate of burek, this time with chicken, was wiped clean in minutes.

Egged on by our unabashed enthusiasm for pastry, the friendly owner of the café—the bespectacled man we met earlier—urged us to try gozleme. Light, soft and airy, this Turkish flatbread (also made of yufka) had a thin filling of salty feta cheese and spinach—just enough to tease your palate, and nudge you to have another bite, and then another. And then there was the Turkish coffee I’d been craving. Thick, dark, hot, bitter, and unfiltered, it shook me out of the inevitable food coma. There was room for cake, I thought; there always is.

As we dug our fork into a giant slice of almond-pistachio cake at the warm, cozy café, we saw ourselves for what we truly were: gluttons.

Too Late For Cheek Meat, But Just in Time for the Tongue Tacos

Jul.10.17

Too Late For Cheek Meat, But Just in Time for the Tongue Tacos

by Brian Petit

Barbacoa in South Texas

Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que is an understated temple to barbacoa in Brownsville, Texas. When two friends and I arrived at 10:45 one hot morning, Armando Vera, the owner, was turning customers away.

They were sold out.

Barbacoa has roots in the pre-colonial Americas and is prevalent throughout modern Mexico and the southwestern U.S., including the ranchlands of South Texas. Different animals are used in different regions, and many preparations now rely on contemporary kitchen technology. Vera’s is the only place in Texas that follows a traditional process, in which whole cattle heads are slowly cooked over live coals in a hole dug into the ground. They sell tortillas, salsa, and chopped onion and cilantro, alongside poundage of the different cuts of head meat. The eater assembles the taco.

I had been waiting for a visit for years, and couldn’t believe our tardy transgression. I lingered at the counter, and Mr. Vera ran a spoon around a steam table pan and came up with one last pound of lengua, or tongue. Cachete, or cheek, was gone, as was mixta, a combo of sundry edible bits, and ojo, or eye. Tortillas were sold out, too, but he made a call to get a pack delivered from the Capistran factory down the road.

On the plus side, overshooting our arrival meant that Vera and his crew had time to indulge our out-of-towner enthusiasm. We were full of questions and Vera anticipated what must be a common request from visiting foodies.

“You want to see the pit,” he said. Our eyes widened.

But we were getting ahead of ourselves. First, we made tacos with the fatty, faintly smoky lengua and the local corn tortillas. A tangy green salsa balanced the rich, but not gamey, meat. We were temporarily silenced. It was the best Texas-style barbacoa I’ve had.

After eating, Vera’s college-bound daughter and two employees walked us to the detached cinderblock building where the heads are prepared and cooked. The pit room is roofless and contains the rectangular pozo where mesquite coals are used. Only cooled ash remained in its depths at that time of day.

Years ago, Vera lined the rough pit with firebrick and, at the restaurant’s volume peak in 1993, was cooking 80 heads at a time. While they don’t sell quite so many now, Vera’s business seems to be picking up. The restaurant landed on the Texas Monthly magazine’s influential list of the state’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints for 2017. The weekend-only schedule recently expanded to include Fridays. The menu has grown to include meats like brisket and carnitas.

We shared the dining room with a longtime customer named Cervantes, friendly and dapper in a straw fedora. He’s been eating at Vera’s since Armando Vera was a child; Vera’s parents opened the restaurant in 1955. Cervantes started limiting his visits for health reasons before realizing (or rationalizing) that cachete isn’t as fatty as the other cuts. He’s back to eating there most weekends.

Can Anyone Track Down This Food Cart in Seoul? Asking For a Friend

Jul.07.17

Can Anyone Track Down This Food Cart in Seoul? Asking For a Friend

by Christopher Sarachilli

Breakfast in Seoul

Of the many dishes I tried in Seoul—bibimbap, bulgogi (from a Popeye’s in the DMZ, no less), barbecued pork, pajeon—the most memorable came from an early morning stop in an unexpected alley.

I was on assignment documenting a student trip to South Korea. Because it was too dark to make sense of the neighborhood when I had arrived the previous night, I faced three tasks that first morning: find the nearest subway stop, get cash, and eat breakfast.

To the right of the hotel was a busy intersection; to the left, an uphill road ending in a turn. In search of the subway, I chose left. After a serpentine trek past two French-style bakeries, a construction site, and an art space filled only by a sculpture made of twigs and branches, I arrived at the divine combination of a 7-Eleven, a Woori Bank, and my subway stop. One task checked off. And, thanks to the helpful cartoon guides printed above the bank’s ATM, task two was also quickly accomplished.

In the 7-Eleven, I grabbed a yogurt and a box of brown rice tea and tried my best to greet the clerk with a shaky “annyeonghaseyo.” I looked for a place to eat my yogurt and celebrate a successful morning.

But then I saw it, in an alley between the 7-Eleven and the bank: a cart—more like a tiny house on wheels, complete with porch, than a food truck—with an assortment of grilled foods, fried foods, and stewed foods. An elderly woman sat on the porch, stirring a vat of broth behind the spread. My yogurt could wait.

Now practiced, my “annyeonghaseyo” resembled the actual greeting. I pointed, more to the array than any individual item. The vendor handed me a skewer and gestured to the vat.

Not expecting this follow-up, I shook my head “no,” then “yes;” we both laughed, and she ladled broth from the vat into a cup, which I had no choice but to accept. I remembered to say a “gamsahamnida” in thanks.

I bit into the skewer, which was far spicier than expected, and took a drink of the broth, which was far fishier than expected, then sat next to a businessman on a stoop outside of the bank. While he ate a pastry and drank coffee, I finished my skewer and sipped fish broth and waited for the students to arrive.

I never figured out what I ate. Perhaps it was maekjeok, a pork skewer I learned about later, but I would never know. The woman, her cart, and the meats and broths were gone the next morning—and every other morning I was in Seoul.

There’s Homemade, and Then There’s Made by Benedictine Nuns for 300 Years

Jul.06.17

There’s Homemade, and Then There’s Made by Benedictine Nuns for 300 Years

by Kristin Vuković

Baškotini and skuta in Croatia

We entered the monastery, and Martina Pernar Škunca rang a bell. A window opened and a nun said, “Hvaljen Isus i Marija”—Blessed by Jesus and Mary. Martina asked for a kilo (just over two pounds) of baškotini. The sister thrust a bag brimming with the hard, sweet bread into her hands and Martina gave her 70 kunas, about $10 USD. The shutter closed with such alacrity that I couldn’t recall the sister’s face, having only caught a glimpse of her black-and-white habit and the wireframe glasses set low on her nose. A warm bakery scent lingered.

In Pag Town, on the Croatian island of Pag, a rugged strip of land in the Adriatic Sea, nuns at the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Margaret have made baškotini for 300 years. Centuries ago, many citizens didn’t have open-fire baking ovens, so they would go once a week to the monastery and buy baškotini to last the whole week. The sisters kept their rusk bread recipe a secret—no small feat in a small town. Traditionally presented to guests with bijela kava (white coffee, a sort of latte), family celebrations on the island are not complete without this aromatic, toast-like bread, which has a hint of anise. “I used to eat it with milk when I was child, but it’s more common with white coffee, especially among adults,” Martina told me. “When a child is born, baškotini with white coffee is served, and then we dip it. It softens and it is more tasty.”

Martina works at Paška Sirana, the island’s oldest creamery, which supplies the other half of the baškotini breakfast equation. Residents also eat baškotini with honey and skuta, a sheep’s milk ricotta that is only available during the milking season, from January through June. Sweet or salty with notes of warm nuts, each cheesemaker has their own secret for crafting skuta. After producing Paški sir, the island’s famous cheese made from milk, flavored with the salt-dusted herbs on which the sheep graze, skuta is cooked from the remaining whey.

There isn’t just a strong emotional connection between the island of Pag and skuta. It’s also healthy. Skuta helps to regulate blood sugar, and contains proteins that strengthen the immune system—key for early-rising shepherds who face the bura, a severe winter wind that reaches near-hurricane strength. Skuta was traditionally a reward for shepherds; the day began with a ritual of black coffee into which pieces of skuta were mixed.

This spring, four years after my encounter with the bespectacled sister in the window, I rediscovered baškotini and skuta at Wine & Cheese Bar Trapula, on the main square in Pag Town, across from the Church of the Assumption of Mary. Trapula was a fitting place to reconnect with two of the island’s treasured culinary staples, listed on the menu as the traditional Pag breakfast. The combination was a perfect start to my last day on Pag.

The Greasy American Dream, Wrapped in Newspaper

Jul.05.17

The Greasy American Dream, Wrapped in Newspaper

by Annabel Xulin Tan

‘American’ noodles in Kuala Lumpur

Most mornings in Kuala Lumpur, it’s bearably cool and there is a mild level of activity around the neighborhood. You see shopkeepers setting up shop in the wet markets. You watch the silver-haired aunty next door perambulate around the neighborhood. You hear the myna bird singing her good mornings in the distance.

Growing up, weekday mornings meant the harried rush to school without breakfast, my father waiting tight-lipped in the Jeep for my sister and I. But weekend mornings meant traipsing downstairs at 9 a.m. to see what Phor Phor—my grandmother—had brought for breakfast from the wet market. I always hoped for nasi lemak. I especially loved the one that came with a side of mutton rendang, the most expensive platter that came in a polystyrene box, not the cheap kosong parcel that came with tight-fisted smatterings of ikan bilis, sliced cucumbers, a teaspoon of sambal and a quarter of a small boiled egg.

“Where is the nasi lemak, Phor?” I questioned one morning.
“Too late. Bo liao,” she replied shortly. She pointed to several newspaper parcels on the dining table. “There, American meehoon.”

I gingerly opened the rubber-banded parcel to reveal a glossy dark brown mess of plain fried noodles, tossed with beansprouts and cabbage, and served with a cleverly tucked tablespoon of sambal that sat to the side. It was the perfect storm of soy sauce and grease. I suppressed my quiet disappointment as I beheld the tangled mess in front of me. I really would have preferred nasi lemak. In any case, I got my personal chopsticks from the drawer and tucked in. I dipped my chopsticks into the sambal and roiled it in the noodles.

And then it hit me: no matter how many times I eat this, the first bite is always surprising. I never expect it to taste or feel halfway decent because it’s so awfully brown. The noodle is chewy but slick on the tongue, every bite accompanied with a secret beansprout and sliver of cabbage for added crunch.

“Why is it called American meehoon?”

“American meehoon, lah. Ciak lah.” American meehon. Eat. She clicked her tongue at me and walked off into the kitchen to ready lunch. Of course, this didn’t answer my question.

I sat and ate my breakfast in silence. I pondered all the reasons my breakfast could be called American meehoon. I doubted then, as I do now, that any American had come as far as Taman Cheras to christen a sodden parcel of noodles with a machine gun and a rallying cry for freedom. Maybe it’s American for its grease and empty calories, like the American French fry.

Maybe it’s American because the inventor had always wanted to go to the Land of the Free but had never been. Maybe it’s American so it would sound foreign and unattainable, like caffeine-free, sugar-free cherry Coke or red velvet Oreos: a dream wrapped in newspaper.

Now, I live far away from Kuala Lumpur. It’s funny that my Cheras-born American meehoon is now as far away and unattainable to me as America was back then.

Ugh, the Terror of Waking Up to Realize You Slept Through Breakfast

Jul.04.17

Ugh, the Terror of Waking Up to Realize You Slept Through Breakfast

by Matthew Chet Sedacca Levine

Molletes in Seville

It’s our last morning in Sevilla, and I am jolted awake in a panic by my partner’s hands gripping my sides. Within minutes, I’ve thrown on my wrinkled clothes from last night and can hear the door slamming behind us. This urgency is not because we are late for our bus to Granada—that stress will come later, in a few hours. We’ve almost slept through our last chance for molletes.

A flaky flatbread found across Spain’s Andalusian region, the mollete is an exercise in simplicity. After receiving a quick, searing kiss from the oven, the bread is bathed in raw garlic and garbed lightly with olive oil. Ascetics can opt for this bare-bones set-up; a slightly more substantial version might include tomato slices. Breakfast gluttons looking to indulge themselves during a day’s early hours can pile on additional layers of jamón or cheese.

During our stay, we had already tasted molletes with tomato once, on a whim, and they were heaven. So, the day before, we stopped in at a café near the cathedral just after the stroke of noon, hoping for a second helping. But the mustachioed counterman could only give a half-hearted apology. Molletes were a breakfast option, he said, and they were done serving them that day. He recommended hard-crusted bocadillos as an alternative. They tasted like a consolation prize.

So we are running from the apartment to avoid a repeat of this disappointment, and have found ourselves at the window counter of a sleepy watering hole called Casa Diego. Inside, a gaunt man in white pants and a collared shirt is alone, silently nursing his caña of beer, illuminated by the neon glow of a slot machine. After we find out that we can order molletes today, the counterman, perplexed by my partner’s excited state, signals for her to join me at a patio table. Relax, they’ll bring the food to you, he explains.

Sitting down at the table, we settle into the timeless pace of life on the square, watching others unmoved by urgencies of the day. When the molletes arrive—this time with jamón and tomato—we bite into them. Although they taste good, the cravings persist. Something is off—we’ve gone too far.

The jamón’s taste is overpowering the tomato, my partner says. She begins removing the cured meat, to eat separately, and I follow her lead. The fruit’s simple brightness is all the bread really needs, we realize.

Photo by: Andrea Marks

There’s No Better Food for Sad Times Than a Carb Made Out of Another Carb

Jun.30.17

There’s No Better Food for Sad Times Than a Carb Made Out of Another Carb

by Alia Akkam

Pogacsa in Budapest

They come for the cakes, the tiers of poppy seed-vanilla cream crowned with lustrous seals of redcurrant, the booze-laced sponge hidden inside frozen white parfait domes that appear delicately sculpted from plaster. In summer, they come for the cones stuffed with orange-chocolate truffle ice cream.

These are the folks who swarm Daubner Cukrászda, one of Budapest’s most famous confectioneries. I love splurging on these specialties, too, but I revel in mornings here, long before the afternoon sugar cravings creep in, when I only have eyes for the humble potato pogacsa.

I’ve always preferred the carb-fueled, European-style breakfast to the hefty bacon-and-egg combos beloved by Americans. I’m thrilled to douse a diner omelet with hot sauce at any given time, but a croissant that leaves a path of flakes on my lap washed down by an Americano is typically what I crave.

Two years ago, when I had just moved to Budapest, I was at a cafe called Espresso Embassy, where among the banana bread and brownies on display I was drawn to (but didn’t order) a misshapen scone that, upon closer inspection, seemed to resemble the buttermilk biscuits I fell for while attending university in South Carolina. Like Brazil’s petite pão de queijo, its top was emblazoned with a patchwork of blistered cheese. They were pogacsa, I learned, and a few acquaintances told me they were delicious and I must try them.

Shortly after transplanting to Europe, I was sad without reason, a frequent occurrence when you’re a newly minted expat who gives up a glamorous life of New York nights dominated by Scotch tastings and five-course dinners to impulsively live in a country where you have zero friends and don’t speak a lick of the perplexing language. During those early days of transitioning to Budapest, my social calendar was centered not on conversation but the new-to-me restaurants, bars, bakeries, and cafes I sought out to ameliorate my loneliness. On such a day, post crying jag, I decided to visit the out-of-the-way Daubner, determined to fill an inexplicable void with custard and shimmering strawberries.

This unassuming patisserie in the pretty Buda neighborhood of Óbuda has been firing its ovens since 1901. It doesn’t ooze the grandeur of other Budapest sweets palaces, but its spirit is warm, a well-worn hangout spruced up with greenery and natural light where regulars find fleeting bliss by sipping espresso and thrusting forks into almond-shellacked cake slices at one of the tall tables.

That day, I passed by rows of these slices—and the stash of marzipan wedding cakes seemingly plucked from a fairy tale—as I walked along the long row of glass cases. Then I noticed Daubner’s rendition of pogacsa. In sizes small and large, they were all there, studded with pumpkin seeds or covered in a layer of Gouda. Yet it was the plainest of the bunch, the plain potato version, that attracted me. Whether in creamy mashed form or cubed and lacquered in parsley, potatoes always bring me comfort.

So I ordered it, just one, much to the clerk’s surprise, along with my usual cup of milk-free coffee. I headed to one of the tall tables where the loyalists peered at me curiously between bites of their own pogacsa. I devoured it quickly. It was greasy, soft, yeasty, something that would taste especially good slathered in butter. The pogacsa’s unpretentious simplicity satisfies me in a way that nothing else I’ve so far encountered in Budapest has.

The Dorito-Topped Hot Dog That Saved Breakfast

Jun.29.17

The Dorito-Topped Hot Dog That Saved Breakfast

by Laura Marie

Hot dogs in Iceland

We left the house by the glacier early—around 7 a.m. My husband and I had to get back to Reyjkavik to catch a plane that afternoon. I expected, like in so many other places I’d travelled, that we would be able to find an open coffee shop or breakfast restaurant, even though it was Sunday. Years of living in Europe had taught me the spotty nature of Sunday-open business, but I hadn’t bargained on southern Iceland.

The towns that occasionally dot Highway 1 along the southern coast are fascinating, like a snapshot of a movie set for a quiet independent film. The weather was mild in May, but everything had a quiet feel to it, with perhaps one person visible walking through the towns. The whole island has fewer than 350,000 people, and so many of them live in the capital city. Only a few miles out of Reyjkavik, you start to see how big the island is, and how few and far-between the people are, as the modern city buildings give way to bumpy moss-covered terrain, insanely long views up to the glaciers and volcanoes, and occasional wisps of steam coming from vents in the ground.

We stopped at a natural hot spring, and swam the algae-lined pool for a little while, but then started getting hungry for breakfast. I figured it wouldn’t be far before we’d see a place that was open. As the minutes turned into an hour, I started using Google to search for the individual open spots along our route.

As we neared the town of Selfoss, one place popped up as open on Google: Pylsuvagninn. As near as I can figure, it translates to something like “Hot Dog Wagon.”

We were hungry, and I’d been told that Icelandic people ate a lot of hot dogs, so it seemed like an appropriate choice. The “all the way” hot dog in Iceland is a popular choice after a long night of drinking and dancing. An “all the way” hot dog, I learned, is topped with onions, ketchup, remoulade, a sweet mustard, and more onions—crispy fried ones.

The only other customers at Pylsuvagninn at 11 on a Sunday morning were teenagers, seeking greasy piles of onion rings and cans of soda, perhaps after partying. I looked below “hot dog all the way” on the menu and read “hot dog with garlic sauce, cheese, and Doritos.” I wasn’t hungover, but I ordered it anyway.

I ate my Dorito hot dog out on a picnic table by the river that runs through Selfoss, while the town quietly did whatever small-city Iceland does on Sunday mornings and the wind, ever-present, ruffled my hair. The hot dog was everything: greasy and garlicky and crunchy. Like so many other things in Iceland, it wasn’t what I expected or asked for, but it was wonderful nonetheless.

When Falafel is Good, It’s Very Good

Jun.28.17

When Falafel is Good, It’s Very Good

by Dave Hazzan

Falafel in Berlin

Why is falafel such a difficult food to get right?

This is not a rhetorical question. I don’t cook, so I don’t know. But half the time I order falafel, it’s like a crunchy ball of baked sand. It’s tasteless, mealy, and above all, dry. Sometimes it’s so dry it crumbles like powder, and if I breathe too close to it, it ends up clogging my nostrils like cheap coke cut with laundry detergent.

Slather it in tahini, surround it with veggies, or dip it in a vat of hummus like so many potato chips—none of these tricks work. Bad falafel is just bad falafel. You ordered it because you wanted the “healthy” choice, or maybe you’re vegetarian. In any event, you rolled the dice, and it sucks to be you.

Here in the north Neukölln district of Berlin, along Sonnenallee, there’s as much Arabic spoken as German. The women wear an even mix of tank-tops and shorts and hijabs and long dresses. The men shake hands and hug, and talk a mile a minute over each other. There is Arab restaurant after Arab restaurant, so picking one can be hard.

It’s a hot, humid, and hungover noon in Berlin, and anything is breakfast food. But do I dare risk the falafel? My mouth is already bone dry—wouldn’t a moist and scrumptious lebne, halloumi, or chicken shawarma be the better choice? Or maybe I should walk a few blocks and get some Schnitzel or Bratwurst, or a hamburger from the gourmet hamburger restaurants that have sprouted like dandelions across Europe. It’s hard to screw up a fat slab of beef on bread.

No. It’s falafel I crave, and it’s falafel I will have. According to Google, the best-rated restaurant in the neighborhood is a crowded little fast-food place called Azzam. You order at the cash desk, where the four men behind the counter work like machines, chopping, slicing, garnishing, throwing, yelling–the last two are necessary in an overcrowded joint like this. I order the falafel plate, which comes with hummus, pickles, and tomato.

There is free tea out of the samovar. It has two nozzles–one for hot water, and one for hot Turkish tea concentrate; espresso tea, if you will. Put too much of the second one in, your tea backhands you.

Finally, it’s the moment of reckoning. The fact it was only four euros and served up in less than a minute bodes well for my pocketbook and the use of my time, but not the quality of the food. The pickles are a bit too salty, the hummus seems a bit too oily. What will it be?

Success! It’s good! And when falafel is good, it’s very good. Crunchy on the outside, warm and moist on the inside. Exploding with garlic and chickpea flavor. All seven balls of falafel go down beautifully, dipped in hummus, chased with pickles and backhanding Turkish tea.

It augurs well for my time in Berlin.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Elton John and Colonel Sanders Can’t Both Be Wrong About This Pie

Jun.27.17

Elton John and Colonel Sanders Can’t Both Be Wrong About This Pie

by Steele Rudd

Tiger Pie in Sydney

The decor is retro diner; pure Americana. Chrome benches, vinyl seat covers, a big neon sign out the front that screams HARRY’s. Pinups of visiting celebrities paste the walls.

But the menu is single-mindedly British. Pies, and lots of them. The classic mince or chunky steak options, a couple of curry pies, veggie or marinara alternatives. If you’re really desperate for a meal that doesn’t come ensconced in buttery, flaky pastry, you could go for a hot dog or a roast beef roll, but tourists and locals alike have been coming back to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels for 70 years for the pies.

And one pie in particular. I’m here today for the pie that sets Harry’s apart from your average bakery. The pie that’s been a late-night savior to generations of drunken sailors and the subject of an Elton John press conference. The pie so good that Colonel Sanders smashed three in a row. Harry’s Tiger pies are a two-fisted sculpture of meat and pastry, topped with a generous double crown of mashed potatoes and mushy peas, then scooped out and filled up with hot gravy.

I’m the only customer in when I order mine. It’s 9 a.m., but Harry’s pies are traditionally a breakfast: the original restaurant had a long history as an (immobile) food van stationed outside a naval dock, serving sailors something hearty in the early hours before they stumbled back onto base.

The waitress/cashier takes a chicken pie out of the warmer, ladles up some steamy mash on top, and plonks a chunky mess of peas on top of that. Out of an industrial-size tureen she scoops up the thick gravy, uses the bottom of the spoon to dig a trough in the mash and peas, and fills it like a tiny bowl of soup.

Meanwhile I’m considering my sauce options. There are a couple of mustards, a mint jelly, and Worcestershire and HP sauce. They’re used so infrequently that some of the bottles have scabbed over, but it’s the thought that counts.

When my pie’s ready, I take a seat by the long countertop. The steam rises off the pie, thick and sticky. I use my spoon to mix the peas and mash and gravy together and take a couple of bites of the gloopy paste. It tastes and feels like a pre-chewed roast dinner, warm and nutritious and weirdly comforting. When I’m halfway through the toppings, I dig a hole in the pie’s roof and mush the rest inside. The pie bulges and dribbles obscenely and I feel a bit like a kid playing with his food, but this way I can pick the whole thing up at once. I chug the rest down quickly and feel exactly full enough.

On the way out I snap a photo of Colonel Sanders, cheerily mugging his way through a pie in 1974. Honestly, before I visited Harry’s I hadn’t realized that Colonel Sanders was a real person.

A Cold, Yogurt-Like Spoonful of Norse History

Jun.26.17

A Cold, Yogurt-Like Spoonful of Norse History

by Dave Hazzan

Skyr in Reykjavik

The first thing Iceland would like you to know about Skyr is that it isn’t yogurt.

It is at first glance. It’s sold next to the real yogurt, and comes in a variety of delightful fruit flavors, like yogurt. But it is not yogurt. The difference is Skyr is more solid than yoghurt, and less sour. Icelanders mix it with milk and sugar, or in equal parts with porridge, usually for breakfast. It’s also delicious on potatoes, the only food I can afford to eat in this extortionately expensive country.

The second thing Iceland would like you to know about Skyr is that it is wholesome and full of protein, the perfect thing to get you going on a dark and frozen Icelandic morning. The way they talk about it reminds me a lot of Wilford Brimley selling Cream of Wheat a hot, cereal-like porridge. In the 80s, Wilford would sit at a table, the quintessential kindly old man, and tell you that giving your kid Cream of Wheat on cold mornings before school is “the right thing to do.”

Skyr is like that, except its cold and full of protein. I don’t get why they focus so heavily on Skyr’s protein content. Between the lamb and beef, the fish and fowl, and the clogged and enormous dairy aisle at the Bonus “Discount” Supermarket, no Icelander is lacking in protein.

The third thing Icelanders would like you to know is that Skyr has been part of the Icelandic diet since the first settlers got here about A.D. 840, and inexplicably decided to stay. It has since died out in the rest of the Nordic countries, but remains popular in Iceland.

It’s changed over the years. Once made with whole milk, more health-conscious Icelanders today make it with low-fat milk. There are also many flavors, including kiddie flavors like chocolate and liquorice.

So the next time you find yourself in Iceland, fooled by the cheap airfares from mainland Europe, head over to your local Bonus and raid the dairy aisle for Skyr. Paying your grocery bill will feel like a mugging, but every spoonful of Skyr will be like eating a piece of Norse history.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Getting to Know Mexican-Style Sno-Cones

Jun.23.17

Getting to Know Mexican-Style Sno-Cones

by Thei Zervaki

Raspado in Tucson

I had no idea what a raspado was before I went to Arizona.

It’s a Mexican-style shaved-ice drink, named from the Spanish raspar, which means “to scrape.” It can be topped with fruit, flavoring, syrup, and various condiments. It can be sweet, savory, spicy, or all three. Naturally, I had to try it. For breakfast.

You can get raspado all over Tucson, but I went to Sonoran Sno-Cones, at their Mercado San Agustin location. Owner Maria Robles told me that when Sonoran Sno-Cones opened in 1999—after their family moved to Tucson from Obregon, in Mexico’s Sonora state—there were already a couple of raspado shops, but they served plainer, American-style versions. Sonoran Sno-Cones brought with them Mexican-style raspados, with fresh fruit, tamarind, and dry plum. This part of Arizona used to be part of Mexico, Robles said, so raspado culture is a way of staying connected to the area’s geographical roots.

At their store, the large menu board had a dizzying array of raspado combinations. Raspado terminology can be confusing for novices. Chamoy, an indispensable raspado ingredient, is a savory, sour, and spicy sauce made with pickled fruits. Nieve—from the word for snow—in a raspado refers to a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The sweet-toothed should go for the fruit-based versions, like mango and strawberry; you can add condensed milk—lechera—for a more creamy style. But there are also many options for lovers of sour flavors. The mangoyada raspado, with mango with chamoy and lime, is both sweet and savory. The chamoyada includes chamoy, lime and rielitos—the spicy Mexican candies made with sugar and chili powder paste. The saladito is a lime raspado blended with salt and topped with dried salted plums. You can add ice cream, peanuts or serpentine, another type of spicy candy.

For my first raspado, I went big: a savory, spicy one with strawberry and mango flavors, topped with tamarind and chamoy. The combination of sweet, savory, and spicy was perfect for a hot, dry day, not far from the Sonoran desert.

The Famed Parisian Café Culture, Now Available in Kabul

Jun.22.17

The Famed Parisian Café Culture, Now Available in Kabul

by Ali M Latifi

Coconut cookies in Kabul

The Slice Bakery opened while I was briefly living in Istanbul, but even in Turkey, I heard that it had become a gathering point for young people in Kabul.

Visitors to Istanbul from Kabul would talk about meetings and debates over coffee and pastries—Turkish milk tea, brownies, coconut cookies or a take on our traditional Afghan salty biscuits—at Slice.

When I moved back to Kabul in March, Slice was one of the first places I visited. I had to see if it lived up to its reputation.

The first time I went in, seeing the wood and glass tables full of young people—some in traditional Afghan piran tomban, others in suits and ties or distressed jeans and crisp leather jackets—it seemed that it was indeed the Afghan capital’s new hotspot.

More importantly, this wasn’t a high-priced establishment, tucked away in an unmarked building in a side street of a residential area catering to foreigners and rich Afghans. The bright yellow sign was visible from across the busy street in Shahr-e Naw, Kabul’s commercial hub.

I’ve been to the café countless times, but one evening in early May proved to me why this place stood out among the glut of restaurants and cafes that pop up each day in Kabul.

At the time, people all over Kabul were talking about the imminent return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former anti-Soviet commander and now leader of the nation’s second-largest armed opposition movement, who had just made peace with the central government after more than two decades in hiding.

Of course, people were talking about it at Slice, too. As soon as I ordered my latte and coconut cookies, my friends called me over to their table to discuss the return of a man who—along with rival commanders—had been responsible for the destruction of Kabul and thousands of deaths in the 1990s.

These young men, many of whom were too young to have any direct memory of the thousands of rockets Hekmatyar and his rivals rained over the city, were discussing his return over their cups of “Afghano” coffee, saffron-infused lattes, espressos, and green teas.

These debates were a sign of how far Kabul had come since the time Hekmatyar and his rivals were destroying the city. From the rise of communism in the late 1970s and until the U.S.-led intervention of 2001, Afghanistan was ruled by a series of communists, warlords, and the Taliban, whose policies made the expression of dissent extremely difficult, if not illegal. The free discussion among Afghans with different viewpoints—some who welcomed Hekmatyar’s return, others resigned to the fact that warlords always win, and those who refused to accept a man known as the “butcher of Kabul”—could almost, I thought, resemble the famous café debate culture of Paris or Beirut.

“Slice is what Kabul could become if everyone just left us alone,” said an Afghan-American documentary filmmaker, who had been visiting from her home in Brooklyn. One of the waiters put it more simply to a European journalist: “Slice is a symbol of what young Afghans want their country to be.”

Photo by: Qais Alamdar

Come for the Obscure Canadian Sport, Stay for the Buffet

Jun.21.17

Come for the Obscure Canadian Sport, Stay for the Buffet

by Julie Stauffer

Pork sausage and marshmallow salad in Tavistock, Ontario

Defeat makes you hungry. Or maybe it’s the fact that we dragged ourselves out of bed at 6:00 a.m. to make it to the World Crokinole Championship on time. Either way, two intense hours of disk-flicking have failed to get us beyond the preliminary round of the recreational doubles event, and our stomachs are speaking up.

Crokinole is a tabletop hybrid of curling and shuffleboard. Players use a thumb and finger to shoot their wooden disks across the board, knocking off their opponent’s pieces and—if they’ve judged the angles just right—coming to rest in the high-scoring center.

Most folks reserve it for rainy afternoons at the cottage, or for Christmas gatherings after the remains of turkey and mincemeat pie have been cleared away. But once a year, several hundred players descend on Tavistock, Ontario (population 6,836) to prove their prowess at a game invented just a few miles up the road.

There are grandparents and grandkids here for a little fun, and a smattering of Mennonite women in their white net caps. (While the Church has traditionally prohibited alcohol, cards, and dancing, it sees no harm in crokinole.) There are clubs from as far away as Texas and Prince Edward Island, and champions from past years here to defend their titles.

We have all convened in the town’s hockey arena, where row after row of crokinole boards have replaced the customary ice. Officials in reflective vests stand ready to settle disputes and enforce regulations. (Woe betide anyone who fails to keep a portion of their posterior firmly on their chair while making a shot.)

My colleague, Josh, and I came here with ambitious goals: to avoid defeat at the hands of children. And we have succeeded. In our first match, we triumphed over a nine-year-old and his grandfather. Even better, we soundly defeated Josh’s adult brother and cousin in our second match, with plenty of trash-talking on both sides.

By the end of eight matches, we’ve accumulated a respectable 37 points, placing us in the top half of the division. It’s not enough to move on, but that’s just fine. By now it’s 10:30, and we’re ready for some serious sustenance.

As tradition dictates, we join a group of other less-than-stellar players and head to Quehl’s. You won’t find prosciutto, pea shoots, or baby kale at this Tavistock institution. Instead, Quehl’s serves country cuisine with a Pennsylvania Dutch flavor. At the buffet, diners pile their plates with pork sausages, roast beef, mashed potatoes, pickled beets, sauerkraut, and four kinds of pie.

After demolishing his meat course, Josh’s brother announces his intention to load up on salad. He returns with a plate noticeably lacking anything green. “There’s fruit in here,” he argues, pointing to a mound of marshmallow “salad.” “Yeah,” says Jared, his doubles partner. “Maraschino cherries.”

But the best is yet to come. Everyone who participates in the World Crokinole Championship earns a commemorative disk, courtesy of Quehl’s. Those who choose to partake in the buffet can shoot it on the restaurant’s crokinole board to determine the discount on their bill: 10 percent off if it lands in the center hole; 5 percent off for anywhere else on the board.

Jared’s shot slides purposefully across the board and past the posts that ring the inner zone. The disk hesitates for the briefest moment on the lip of the hole and then slips smoothly inside. Doogie!

2018 Championship, here we come.

Hangover-Curing Fish Soup, Ecuador Edition

Jun.20.17

Hangover-Curing Fish Soup, Ecuador Edition

by Carolina Loza León

Encebollado in Esmeraldas

It’s noon, and the whole flat is waking up, hungry, with thumping headaches. Trying to piece the together the night before is a daunting task. The best way to do it is over some encebollado, Ecuador’s famous fish soup. We head out, tired and sweating on a hot, cloudy day in Esmeraldas, a city on Ecuador’s northern Pacific coast.

Lucien, a cocky French aid worker, hops on a bus, and I follow. “I won’t eat encebollado just anywhere,” he says. All Ecuadorians have their own ‘secret’ spot they believe serves the best version of this thick tuna, cassava, and onion-based soup. They usually take great pride in ‘their’ place, so you’d better like it, too.

Lucien leads us to a small, no-frills corner restaurant in the chaotic downtown district. Most of the patrons are families with young children. Most Ecuadorians eat encebollado—which originated on Ecuador’s coast—for breakfast, with plantain chips or bread, depending on which part of the country it is. It’s a favorite both for hard-partying revelers and for families doing brunch, Ecua-style.

Looking the worse for wear and surrounded by five-year-olds excitedly ordering soup for their families, we pay our USD$2.50 each. Lucien starts piecing the previous night together. The bar had closed at Ecuador’s mandatory time—2 a.m.—but then there was a lock-in, where they had too much to drink. For once, I’m glad I left the bar before they did. I pretend to listen, and look at the street outside: empty, like the rest of the city on a Sunday morning. The only activity for blocks is this restaurant, its white plastic chairs spread on the sidewalk.

We finally get our bowls of soup. The encebollado is thick, orange-hued, with bits of chopped parsley and cilantro on top. I squeeze all the juice of a lemon wedge into the steaming liquid. The first taste is soothing; it’s comfort food, but it’s also nutritious. It makes this grey Sunday morning bearable. I have to give Lucien credit: he’s chosen his encebollado joint well.

Meat, Cheese, Wine, the President: Just a Monday Morning in Vienna

Jun.15.17

Meat, Cheese, Wine, the President: Just a Monday Morning in Vienna

by Cynthia Sularz

Breakfast in Vienna

I had just flown in from Kiev to Bratislava, in Slovakia, then took a bus to Vienna, another hour-and-a-half’s journey. My body was tired, but I was very hungry.

Crisp air clung to the streets as I approached Vienna’s Naschmarkt—a vast food market with over 100 stalls and several storied restaurants and bars. The scent of braised and smoked meats filled the air as my body, defeated from travel, yearned for a special meal.

The choices were overwhelming. Meats, vegetables, and cheeses were only the beginning; we also passed stands showcasing varieties of vinegar, oils, olives, and spices. To know where to even begin required some expertise. So, following in Anthony Bourdain’s Vienna footsteps, we entered a small butcher shop called Urbanek. The man asked us what we were looking for; we told him to surprise us.

The resulting spread was rich and perfectly paired: each slice of cheese, meat, and sip of wine served to us in the order they were meant to be sampled. Our morning snack—with plenty of Grüner Veltliner—stretched into lunch. The highlight of the meal, for me, was boar; it’s something I rarely eat, and its lean texture surprised me.

One of Urbanek’s regulars stood with us. He was well into his 50s, with warm eyes and a hardened but welcoming smile. He spoke to us in broken sentences, telling us about favorite beaches and cheeses, and why he didn’t care for Chris Christie, my home state’s governor. I have studied German for years and attempted to respond, but he insisted on practicing his English.

He was just about to tell us more about his time in America when another man touched his shoulder. He spoke into our friend’s ear and then the two of them motioned for us to lean forward. “The president of Austria,” the man said in a rough whisper, “is in the market.”

It was 11 a.m. on a Monday and the president of Austria was simply walking through the Naschmarkt? The man repeated this claim, and motioned his head towards a man, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with what seemed to be his wife. I was doubtful.

I tried to recall the Austrian president’s face. Rough images of the man sprang to my head from headlines. “Alexander Van der Bellen,” our new friend assured us. I stared at the man; others did too. Soon, small groups of people approached him gingerly, asking for photographs.

I thought about how, a few minutes earlier, this man was telling me his opinions about my own state’s governor.

“Do you like your president?” I asked.

He smirked and shrugged. “He’s OK.”

All Fruit Salads Should Come with Cheese, Salt, and Hot Sauce

Jun.14.17

All Fruit Salads Should Come with Cheese, Salt, and Hot Sauce

by Allegra Ben-Amotz

Fruit gaspacho in Morelia

I was on my own for the day in Morelia, the Spanish-style colonial capital of the Mexican state of Michoacan. I’d tagged along with my husband on a business trip, and spent the one full day we’d had together sick in the hotel, with that feeling of a cat clawing its way around my stomach.

Traveling, for me, is about experiencing flavors you can’t get at home, so few feelings are worse than not being able to eat. I’d experienced it before while backpacking through Southeast Asia, when a salad I’d had on Thanksgiving in Ho Chi Minh caught up to me, and I spent two days unable to stomach even a sip of the pho I’d dreamed about.

I woke up in Morelia with the kind of powerful hunger that only comes after such nights. I knew the right move would be to ease my way back into real food with something plain and simple, but I only had half a day to make up for what I’d missed. On my way to check out the city’s candy museum housed in a 19th-century mansion, I passed a stand proffering fruit gaspachos—more fruit salad than savory soup—that I’d heard were a signature Morelian street food.

I watched as one man prepared his mise en place: deftly diced jicama, mango, and pineapple piled onto a reassuringly clean stainless steel slab. His partner readied his station, lining up plastic cups and shakers full of salt and chili. A line began to form to my right, and other fruits appeared from below the counter at the request of the customer. For an older woman, a heaping cupful of diced cucumber with lime and salt. A little boy wanted watermelon and papaya with nothing added. And then, an older man ordered his gazpacho “tradicional, con todo”—the fruit trinity carefully layered with salt, chili powder, and cotija cheese. Three layers of fruit and toppings, and then a generous glug of fresh orange juice went in, followed by more fruit, a squeeze of lime, and a final sprinkling of cheese, salt, chili, and drizzle of hot sauce.

I moved into the line, mouth now watering, and ordered a small—tradicional, con todo. I paid 30 pesos for a huge cup piled high with fruit, served with a plastic bag to catch the extra juices, and ate it next to the stand on a cobblestone street in the bright sun. Each bite hit the four major tenets of Mexican street food—sweet, salty, sour, and spicy—without heaviness or grease. The bag was an insufficient barrier for the pieces of perfectly ripe, evenly diced fruit that escaped my spoon. Faster and faster, I filled the hole in my stomach as spice gave way to sweet, then to salty, sour and back to sweet again.

The Soothing Familiarity of Curry-Scooping Bread

Jun.13.17

The Soothing Familiarity of Curry-Scooping Bread

by Sabrina Toppa

Palata in Yangon

After walking around Yangon’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda, I found streets overflowing with roadside eateries and barking dogs, my stomach growling under the burning sun. Plastic stools, street hawkers, and endless rows of restaurants crowded the roads of Burma’s business capital.

The restaurant I landed in had the perfect morning snack that I fashioned into a breakfast: buttery flatbread known as palata, accompanied by a warm bowl of spicy, curried coconut chicken.

Palata—the Burmese interpretation of the Indian paratha bread—is comfort food for me. I grew up eating roti and paratha every day, but I never imagined I would find something this similar to my Pakistani mom’s paratha in Southeast Asia. Cut into small triangles, soaked in a vat of spicy coconut chicken curry, paratha is a South Asian specialty with a similar culinary lineage in Burma.

When my mother makes roti or paratha by hand, it’s usually over a flame under a black tuvva, a type of heating plate popular in Pakistan. First, she rolls the dough into a circle, then slaps it between her palms like pizza dough, and then gingerly lays it over the tuvva to sprout brown or black spots indicating that it’s done. She usually provides a hearty protein dish to sink the roti or paratha into, which can be a moist cut of goat or a bowl of curried lentils. In Burma, the palata is also used as a vehicle to scoop up chicken or other proteins, but it’s a lighter food item. In triangular form, it looks like a less crispy version of a chip.

Palata is also excellent as a mopping agent for all sorts of hot curries that burn one’s tongue. The word “palata” is also similar to the Hindi and Urdu word “paratha,” a strong indication of a common heritage.

In South Asia—a region perennially cleaved by language, caste, and ethnicity—there is a salve in knowing we consume the same flavors. So, it’s also comforting for me to eat palata in Burma, to see familiar food translated across borders. In that Yangon restaurant, I was both jolted and soothed by the unfamiliar.

A Hot Dog Wrapped in an Egg Crepe: What’s Not to Like?

Jun.12.17

A Hot Dog Wrapped in an Egg Crepe: What’s Not to Like?

by Josh Freedman

Jidan guan bing in Beijing

On his return to Beijing after two years away, my friend wanted more than anything else to eat jidan guan bing. The oily wrap—literally translated as “poured egg pancake”—reminded him of early mornings when he was a student, lining up outside of a street-side stall to scarf down breakfast before lectures.

In the world of Beijing breakfasts, the bing, or wheat pancake, abounds. But in three years of living in Beijing, and through countless hours of bing consumption, I had never eaten a jidan guan bing. In fact, I had never even heard of it.

I asked a few friends where to find jidan guan bing. “It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten that,” one friend said. Another, knowing my physical aversion to early mornings, cautioned me that they would only be sold from early morning street carts, likely to disappear by 9:30 a.m.

Undeterred, we walked to a breakfast stall near my apartment. “Nobody around here sells that,” the owner said, and returned to watching television on his phone. The man helming the steamer at the dumpling and bun shop next door was also at a loss. A few blocks away, above a row of bing stalls, red menus listed what I thought must be every possible variety of bing. Yet jidan guan bing was conspicuously absent. Another customer, seeing our disappointment, gently encouraged us to consider other bings—perhaps a shou zhua bing, or hand-pulled pancake, would be a good alternate choice, she suggested.

My friend was ready to cave. I, however, didn’t want to give up. I had to find the jidan guan bing, and I had to eat it.

We called off our search until the next morning. We rolled out of bed and headed to a nearby subway station, where breakfast carts lined up to serve hungry commuters. The smell of frying bing filled the street. Before I had a chance to investigate more closely, my friend had already realized the inevitable. “They don’t have it,” he said.

Another friend tipped us off to a different subway station, two stops north. It was almost 9:30—this was our last chance. Outside of the least-used subway entrance, tucked in the hedges along the entrance to the highway, a single stall sold magazines, soft drinks, and, for some reason, jidan guan bing.

The man running the stall threw two pre-prepared wheat-and-egg wraps onto the grill, and slapped them with the two key sauces omnipresent among Beijing breakfasts: questionable-looking brown sauce (technically, sweet fermented flour paste) and questionable-looking red sauce, which is mild hot sauce. He topped it off with a few clumps of lettuce, some pickled radishes, and a sausage that looked like it had been turning aimlessly on the heater for hours.

The final result was a smaller, slightly softer version of the famous hand-pulled bing, with a sausage inside. It was tasty, sure, but I was not impressed: we had scoured an entire neighborhood in search of what was basically a hot dog wrapped in an egg crepe.

But my friend’s face lit up in a satisfied smile. It wasn’t the best jidan guan bing he’d ever had, but it was close enough. It still had the flavor of his memories of living in Beijing.

A Remembrance of Arepas Past as Venezuela Suffers

Jun.05.17

A Remembrance of Arepas Past as Venezuela Suffers

by Gustavo Castillo

Arepas in Caracas

The smell of burnt corn slowly crept into my dreams. When I woke up, I’d run down the stairs with Christmas-morning excitement to see my mom standing over the budare, a thick iron pan cured for years and used for making arepas.

The coffeemaker whistled and thundered as it brewed, and all of the breakfast smells began to come together: Caraotas negras (black beans), perfectly cooked creamy eggs with tomato and onion, refried leftover carne mechada (pulled beef) from last night’s dinner, sweet plantains, a bowl of nata (sour cream), queso fresco. Even the cloth that covered the arepas to keep them warm had its distinct smell.

I’d be the first person to sit down at the big table, giddy to begin our family’s arepa-eating ritual. Venezuelan arepas are made from maíz blanco—a white corn that’s been around since before colonization. Unlike Colombian arepas, in the Venezuelan version we stuff the fillings on the inside, like a pita. It is our daily bread. There is no wrong way to fill an arepa. You can go traditional and fill it with reina pepiada, a mixture of shredded chicken with avocado, cilantro, lemon, and peas; or dominó, queso fresco, and black beans; or a totally different combination, like dominó with avocado.

We’d pass the basket around the table, the arepas covered with a dishtowel so clean it still had the slightest scent of detergent. We’d each grab one arepa, place it in our palm, and open it with technique and precision. I’d softly stick the point of the knife inside, carefully but quickly shifting to open it without burning my hand. A cloud of hot corn steam would hit me in the face. The next step had to happen fast, because I didn’t want the arepa to get cold: I added the butter, buttermilk, and cheese and closed it back up until they melted together. While I waited, I’d ask my family to pass the rest of the ingredients.

This was all over 15 years ago, before I started to cook professionally. Before the food shortages. Before Maduro and Chavez, two leaders who ruled by violence, deprivation, and destruction. Before I fled to Argentina in 2011, because Venezuela was no longer safe. In Argentina I went to culinary school and started cooking in high-end restaurants. I also started a supper club showcasing Venezuelan flavors, and started making videos of my favorite recipes so Venezuelan food would always be present in my life.

In Venezuela’s chaos, many basic goods and foodstuffs have disappeared from supermarket shelves—including corn flour—which means that even staples like arepas are now hard to get.

My father would always say that a family that eats together, stays together. It’s been years since I returned home for breakfast, but to me, arepas will always represent happiness and family.

Four AM Coffee and Other Jet Lag Emergencies

Jun.02.17

Four AM Coffee and Other Jet Lag Emergencies

by Ishay Govender-Ypma

Flat white in Melbourne

I have an emergency: a desperate need at 4 a.m. for coffee, good coffee. Instead of capitalizing on this gift of time and silence, my body is on GMT+2—Johannesburg time—and by 6 a.m., the deprivation taunts me. There are free Anzac biscuits in the hotel room’s mini-bar and there is a Nescafé machine with four pods. I eat the cookies but avoid the predictable disappointment of an in-room espresso.

By 7 a.m. I am showered, dressed in black to blend in with the Melbournian sensibility in this part of town, and facing a medium-sized man wedged in a space that appears as if it could house no more than a single body. But there are two bodies in there, turning out toasties and avocado sarmies drizzled with fresh lemon. Switch Board sits in one of Melbourne’s laneway arcades, in Collins Street, with skinny benches plonked a few feet opposite and a glass alcove into which you can slide for some bleary-eyed people watching. I’m told the café occupies part of the site of the former Melbourne Telephone Exchange, which ran until 1958. Once upon a time, switchboard operators tended to emergencies (and whims) of a different nature.

“One flat white, please,” I say, throat scratchy with excitement, eyes dry from the hours spent staring at the hotel room’s ceiling. Many in the know call on the petite coffee bars similar to Switch Board, like Patricia and Brother Baba Budan, for superior coffee. (In the 16th century, Sufi Baba Budan is said to have strapped seven coffee seeds to his person, defying the strict laws in Yemen and the Middle East that regulated the growth and distribution of coffee within the region, and smuggling it to India. A reckless, brilliant man.)

While many of Melbourne’s coffee bars offer minimal seating—adjacent to the counter or at a cramped communal table—the modus in the CBD, I notice, is to pop in for a takeaway rather than linger over your laptop. At Market Lane coffee bar, queues tend to snake around the block at peak hour. Etiquette dictates you order, pay, stand to the side, and wait.

“Flat white,” the Switch Board barista announces with a smile. I may be dead on the inside, but my eyes light up at the call.

“In the morning it’s the caffeine hit and then off rushing to work you go,” says Maria Paoli, a barista trainer who founded Melbourne’s first coffee tour in 2001. I follow suit, and by 6 a.m. the next day, I’m stomping my feet, stalking another Melbourne hole-in-the-wall for a flat white, and later an iced latte, to go.

Boiled Eggs: So Much Better Tasting Than They Look

Jun.01.17

Boiled Eggs: So Much Better Tasting Than They Look

by Allegra Ben-Amotz

Shabati eggs in Mexico

Growing up, my family spent summers on Long Island, at a house my grandparents bought when I was born. There were 16 of us there at a time, counting aunts, uncles, and cousins. My Persian grandmother fed us all, spending the day in the kitchen while we biked to the beach or played in the pool overlooking the grape vines and English-style garden my grandfather planted, each section carefully orchestrated to burst into bloom at its own designated time of year.

Every Friday afternoon, my grandmother boiled a pot of water with whole eggs, oil, onion skins, and rose petals from the garden, or sometimes, from the beach, if my mom had taken it upon herself to collect wild petals strewn by the dunes. She turned the pot to a low simmer, leaving the eggs to soak in their shells overnight—a relic recipe from her more religious Jewish upbringing, when a low flame was the most cooking you were permitted to do on Shabbat. We’d have the fragrant eggs for breakfast the next morning, with boiled potatoes and pita bread, and oily sautéed eggplant and squash for the grown-ups.

This year, my husband and I moved to Mexico, and my family sold the house. The morning the sale was finalized, I cried and called my grandmother to ask how to make Shabati eggs.

Last Friday was Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., when we would have piled onto the Long Island Railroad to escape the city for the summer. That night, I set the eggs to boil for my husband and I—four for the two of us, lonely-looking in their big pot. I didn’t have wild rose petals, so I used red onion skins and coffee grounds for color. I tapped the shells with the back of a spoon after a few hours, as my grandmother did, so that the mahogany liquid would seep in, spidering the skin of the eggs like tie-dye.

The next morning, I sliced ripe avocados and we cracked into our eggs. The whites had turned tan and tender, with the meaty flavor of caramelization, and the yolks were hard-cooked but creamy. Our breakfast tasted familiar but new—something like home.

The Enduring Tradition of the Famous Portuguese Egg Tart

May.31.17

The Enduring Tradition of the Famous Portuguese Egg Tart

by Sheila Ngoc Pham

Pão and Pastel de Nata in Dili

A simple menu on the counter of Padaria Brasão lists two savory items: pão com chouriço and pão com ovos fritos. My knowledge of Portuguese is rudimentary at best, but from the photos alone it’s obvious what’s on offer. We order one of each, two coffees and a pastel de nata, the famous Portuguese egg tart.

‘Long black or flat white?’ the young woman asks in English, the Australian influence on coffee culture evident in the question. There’s a sizable Australian contingent in Dili—recent compared to the Portuguese who’ve been coming for more than 300 years, originally as colonizers. Australians started to arrive during the late 90s, and more have arrived since the restoration of independence from Indonesia in 2002. But we’re just blow-ins staying for a few weeks.

I watch dozens of local patrons leave Padaria Brasão with red plastic bags full of steaming bread rolls. Bread is a staple of the Timorese diet, and this acclaimed bakery makes it the traditional Portuguese way.

At a small table in the simple and spotless interior, everything is laid out for us. The pão com chouriço has been sliced lengthways and grilled with a few slices of fatty chouriço—the bread-to-meat ratio demonstrating old-world restraint. The ovos fritos is sandwiched between two thick slices of marshmallow-soft toasted bread. The coffee is strong and farm-to-table because Timor-Leste is a key grower. But while the style of brew is Australian, the milk used is long-life, and back home would be unthinkable with coffee, because only fresh milk will do.

The nation of Timor-Leste might be young, like its population, but the Timorese have old traditions, including the Portuguese ones like the pastel da nata, originally created by Catholic nuns in Lisbon over 200 years ago.

Holding Padaria Brasão’s version, I take a bite of the flaky crust and caramelized edges of the filling. The tart’s sticky sweetness fills my mouth. It may have originated in a distant place on the Iberian Peninsula, but in Dili, the pastel da nata is as everyday as bread.

Soul Food for the South Indian Palate

May.30.17

Soul Food for the South Indian Palate

by Deepa Bhasthi

Curd rice in Bangalore

This city sometimes feels like a wide river I am trying to ford to reach my friends on the other side. We tell ourselves we are too busy or that the summer this year is particularly hot, and that is why we cannot meet more often. We don’t always tell the truth.

We are at Koshy’s. The most Bangalorean thing to do in Bangalore is to hang out at Koshy’s, an old restaurant in the middle of town that retains an unimpeachable disdain for the new business of hurriedness. People grow old around its tables, and we talk about how one day we will, hopefully, be among them.

Liver on toast is the best thing to eat at Koshy’s, I am told. However, I am a vegetarian, and for me it is not an option. Koshy’s has been a constant through the years. I have conceived a food journal there, begun a relationship, made new friends, gossiped, grown older. It is our village square. And whenever it was close to any mealtime, sometimes even when it wasn’t, at Koshy’s I have always asked for curd rice, or mosaranna, or thayir sadam as we call it in these parts of the country.

No one I know believes me when I say how good Koshy’s curd rice is, especially in relation to the gooey, paste-like nonsense you get in every other restaurant in the city. Curd rice is something you eat at home, not something you order for a late breakfast as a standalone dish at, of all places, Koshy’s. But here, the cold bowl of perfectly tempered rice is an ode to mama’s cooking, to the soul-food status that curd rice, very deservingly, has attained in the palates of us true-blue south Indians.

Curd rice at Koshy’s is, I like to think, a well-kept secret. It comes when we are in the middle of discussing our current reading lists, in a shallow bowl, all jet-white and gleaming. It is tempered with mustard seeds, mildly spiced, and has a big red chili garnish, “like a cherry on ice cream,” says one of my friends.

It is cold, the perfect temperature to soothe a belly fired up by the many cups of coffee we have had while going through small-town gossip from back home in the hills, where some of us are from. It is milky with a hint of sourness from the curd, and vanishes within minutes.

I am tempted to order another plate, but by then we have made plans to go to Pecos, another of those ancient establishments, for beer. We are, all of us migrants from elsewhere, as close to local Bangaloreans as we can get on that bright May afternoon.

Photo by: Sharmila Vaidyanathan

Recover from Traumatic Border Crossings with Cheap Pancakes

May.26.17

Recover from Traumatic Border Crossings with Cheap Pancakes

by Dave Hazzan

Pancakes in Chisinau

At the London Pub in Chisinau, capital of Moldova, they try hard for that expensive steak house feel.

It’s dimly lit, with little lamps on the tables. The menu is extraordinary, the waiters neat, if taciturn. It’s somewhat spoiled by the big-screen TV that blasts Top 40 videos, but I suppose that’s how the Moldovans like it. I find it hard to concentrate on my food or conversation with Katy Perry at that volume.

Still, it’s worth it. For just 35 lei (about $2) they have big breakfasts with coffee and tea, of both the American and Moldovan varieties. I got cottage cheese pancakes, wrapped up and fried like egg rolls, delicious. We ate three Moldovan breakfasts in a row here.

We had only planned to be in Chisinau for a weekend, long enough to visit the Cricova wine caves and then move on to Ukraine. But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

On Sunday, we caught the 8:10 a.m. train out of Chisinau to Odessa, with no trouble. Customs didn’t even look at our passports, just asked us where we were from—Canada and New Zealand—and said, “Goodbye.”

At about 10:45 we got to the border. The Captain of the Border Patrol—who appear to be a branch of the military and all carry AK-47s and wear camo outfits—asked the Kiwi, my wife Jo, for her visa. She said she didn’t need one, we had checked. He called his boss, and he said she did. We were told to get our bags and follow him, off the train.

We sat in a little room outside the train tracks while some phone calls were made, and the captain made it clear we were going back to Moldova. They packed us into a Jeep and took us to the border. We were waved through a long line of Moldovans and Ukrainians, and then the captain pointed to the other side of a bridge—Moldova.

We didn’t enjoy being frog-marched off a train and detained, but we have to admit the Ukrainians were perfectly professional. The captain said something in Ukrainian about getting a taxi and bus on the other side, then bade us goodbye with a couple of handshakes.

Were it so simple. The other side of the border isn’t actually Moldova, but the breakaway republic of Transnistria. You won’t find this place on any map and it is unrecognized by any UN nation or body. But it has its own government, passport control, and frightening hammer- and-sickle flag and coat of arms.
Instead of stamping our passports, we got a slip of paper with “Transit visa” written on it. In town, we tried to find someone to drive us to Chisinau, since there are no buses there.

We eventually found an old man who would do it for 40 euros. He trundled us into his smoke-belching ca. 1975 Lada, and drove us to the real Moldovan border. There we switched cars and drivers, and someone, I guess with proper paperwork, drove us through Immigration and finally to Chisinau.

As soon as we got some internet, we checked Ukrainian passport control online. Turns out, New Zealanders can get visas on arrival—at the airport. Now we’re stuck here until Thursday, when we get our flight to Minsk. At least we’ve got London Pub.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Remember When Toast Didn’t Have Avocado Smeared All Over It?

May.25.17

Remember When Toast Didn’t Have Avocado Smeared All Over It?

by Henna Zamurd-Butt

Toast on the Isle of Wight

While moving through the town of Cowes at a pace usually reserved for dawdling teenagers, the ‘Well Bread’ shopfront enticed all of our appetites equally.

In the 18 years since we first met in a little commuter town outside London, my school friends and I have all taken dramatically divergent directions in life. After a decade of Christmastime catch-ups over syrupy coffees, we decided to celebrate our 30th birthdays collectively, and so ended up just off the southern coast of England on the Isle of Wight, happily forsaking cocktails and loud music for ice creams and rambling walks.

It takes on hour on the ferry from Southampton to cross the thin, shallow strip of water known as the Solent, enough time for a cup of watery tea before you arrive. Thanks to a trend set by Queen Victoria in the 1800s, the diamond-shaped island is usually teeming with holidaying families during school vacations, and boasts sandy beaches, a donkey sanctuary, and a garlic farm, among its many charms.

Pushing open the bakery door, we were greeted from behind the counter with the same gaze that we’d get as teenagers buying chocolate at the local newspaper shop: somewhere between disdain, disinterest, and familiarity. The little shop’s shelves heaved precariously with loaves of all kinds alongside wide, flat trays of school-dinner-style traybakes draped in thick icing. The floor space was taken up by long wooden bench tables.

Among the many shades of brown, I noticed a dish with two big, bright blocks of moderately mauled butter sitting in front of a couple, now deep into their breakfast at the end of one of the benches. Eyeing the brown paper bag signs which served as menus, I discovered the ‘all you can eat toast’ option, and so we sat down, equipped with our own loaf.

The bread was fresh and fragrant, the butter salty and softened, and to crown it there was an array of jams to be explored.

On no other occasion, in a world which seems to have turned on bread as a carbohydrate-rich enemy, would I have permitted such reckless abandon with the familiar. Breakfast toast is boring, and in London, my home city, now only acceptable in sourdough form smeared with mandatory avocado.

Holiday eating is for sampling little bites of the rare and the exotic, is it not?
At some point a second loaf appeared, and so we carried on, enjoying the simple pleasures. The perfect celebration of friendships ever-present, but now rarely indulged.

Where Better to Drink Coffee Than in the Chicken Capital of the Philippines?

May.24.17

Where Better to Drink Coffee Than in the Chicken Capital of the Philippines?

by Shirin Bhandari

Coffee in Bacolod

The colorful pre-war jeepney lets us off in the middle of a busy street. We make our way through the market in search of an early morning caffeine fix. Meats, fresh seafood, and vegetables are on display as we push against people haggling loudly. The aroma of coffee wafts by.

The city of Bacolod, in the Visayan Islands, is known for its sugar cane haciendas and for being the chicken capital of the Philippines. Skewered and grilled on a stick, or alive and ready to kill in a cockfighting pit, the city is obsessed with poultry. However, many are unaware of Bacalod’s coffee potential.

Café Excellente is an old and quaint coffee shop on the main thoroughfare of the central market. A group of rusted chairs and a long wooden bench serve as seats. A young boy crushes the coffee beans in a large industrial grinder. A large pot is on the boil. The beans are grown on the sub-tropical foothills of Mount Kanlaon and brought into town for trade.

Coffee was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish conquistadors in the mid-18th century. The coffee seedlings initially came from Mexico, and were first planted in the fields of Batangas, south of Manila. Two hundred years ago, the Philippines was the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer, until insect infestation destroyed all the coffee trees in the late 19th century. Its coffee standing has declined, but there is now an interest among farmers in reviving the trade. The Philippines is one of only a few countries that can produce all four main coffee varieties—Robusta, Liberica, Arabica, and Excelsa.

The little café tucked inside the buzzing market is a far cry from the prohibitively complicated concoctions of Starbucks: here, 12 pesos buys you a hot cup. The freshly roasted coffee beans are filtered through local cheese-cloth called katcha and served to you in its purest form.

The fragrant coffee is presented in a small brown mug with a spoon on top. The dark liquid is strong and crisp, intense and rich in taste.

A man seated next to me has a can of sweet evaporated milk. He whisks a few drops into his coffee. The hawkers across the cafe wave and offer a variety of cakes and local pastries.

I settle with a sticky roll of rice in coconut milk with homegrown muscovado sugar, wrapped in banana leaf. The people at the neighboring table laugh as I try to figure out the logistics of unraveling the gluey cake. The first bite is corrosively sweet—but a perfect match for the underrated coffee of Bacolod.

We Should All Be So Lucky as to Have Beautiful and Boring Memories

May.23.17

We Should All Be So Lucky as to Have Beautiful and Boring Memories

by Jessica Furseth

Brunost in Norway

The house I grew up in was sold the year after I left home, and I never saw it again. It’s in the Trøndelag region of Norway in a village called Å—a single letter word meaning “still river,” named for a stream where the water sometimes runs so slowly you can see your reflection. It’s a beautiful place that was also very boring.

Every Norwegian breakfast table has two kinds of cheese: white and brown. The white is a mellow gouda, and the brown is a very different animal. Brunost—literally “brown cheese”—is made from whey, is caramel-like in flavor, with a texture that resembles fudge, but with a cheesy tang. Brunost is one of the most Norwegian things you’ll find: it’s ubiquitous and distinctive, and also plain and quotidian, just like the brown paper wrapped around school lunches.

As a teenager, living in that house in the village with the curious name, I’d often have Brunost for breakfast. I’d carve off a slice of bread, homemade by my mother, on the chopping board that you pulled out of the kitchen unit like a drawer. Salty butter came next, and then the special Norwegian cheese cutter, the only way to get nice slices off the sticky Brunost. I’d take my open-faced sandwich and go sit on top of the stocky dining room table that my father had made, resting my feet on the bench while looking out the window and eating in silence. It was always so quiet in that village, a beautiful place where nothing ever happened.

I live in London now, a place where everything happens all the time, and I haven’t been back inside that house in 16 years. But I can still walk through it in my mind, perfectly recalling the smallest details: the feel of the front door handle in my hand, the texture of the hallway linoleum, and which kitchen cupboard had my mother’s shopping list tacked on the inside.

Tine, Norway’s national dairy, makes 11 kinds of brown cheese these days, but anyone who knows anything will tell you there are really only three. The light and mild Fløtemysost is full of cream, the medium-flavored Gudbrandsdalsost is the original and most common, and the dark and rich Geitost is my favorite. It’s sharp and pungent, made purely out of goat’s milk. This was the one I’d put on those slices of bread early in the morning, all those years ago, and eat while looking out the window onto the snow-covered landscape. I can still remember the grain of the wooden table, the curve of the plate, and the salty tang of the caramel cheese. The memory is boring and beautiful, and it’s so close to the surface that I can taste it.

Is This the Best Sausageless Sausage Sandwich in Chile?

May.22.17

Is This the Best Sausageless Sausage Sandwich in Chile?

by Cristina Slattery

Choripán in Punta Arenas

At a quarter of eight in the morning, other cities might have been buzzing. At the end of March, Punta Arenas—the capital of Chile’s southernmost region—was still dark, and although teenagers in uniforms were heading to school, the city was quiet.

In the main square, there is a bronze statue of Hernando de Magallanes, as Ferdinand Magellan is known in Chile. People make a point of kissing the statue’s large foot—or at least rubbing it—to ensure they will one day return to Patagonia.

Coffee shops that had been open the night before were all closed now. “Desayuno? Dónde?” I asked a woman crossing the street. She looked perplexed, but not because she couldn’t understand the questions. A long moment followed. “Down that street, to the right, there is a place,” she said, pointing in the direction of the Strait of Magellan. Sure enough, on the right, a block from the center square, Kiosko Roca was open for business.

The room was packed. The royal-blue banners of the University of Chile and bright red ones of “La Roja,” the national soccer team, decorated the walls. Waitresses took orders rapidly from the mostly male crowd. Some people occupied seats at the counter and others stood in the center of the room waiting for a seat to be vacated, or were content to eat standing up. There was one free spot on a round stool at the very end of the counter.

Pieces of bread with a sauce resembling tomato paste appeared on the counter in front of the man to my right. “Choripán,” he explained. This is all that Kiosko Roca serves. Here, the choripán is a sandwich that comes with a sauce made from chorizo, with mayonnaise (chorimayo) or with cheese (choriqueso). At Kiosko Roca, the choripán is larger than an English muffin, but slightly smaller than an average bagel.

Brazilians, Uruguayans, Argentines, and Chileans are all partial to this sandwich, but it usually comes with a whole chorizo. Kiosko Roca uses the paste, but not the meat itself. They opened in 1932, so generations of Chileans know about Kiosko Roca’s sausageless style of choripán, even if they have never eaten one themselves.

I went for the choriqueso. After five or ten minutes—time seems to pass slowly when one is hungry—it arrived. The warm, freshly-baked bread with just a thin layer of melted white cheese was ideally suited to the crisp morning.

A few minutes later, it was time to leave. A short walk led to the boardwalk that bordered the Strait of Magellan. Tierra del Fuego was visible on the horizon, but just barely.

Delicious, Flaky Pastries Not Quite Like Grandma Used to Make

May.17.17

Delicious, Flaky Pastries Not Quite Like Grandma Used to Make

by Dave Hazzan

Burek in Dubrovnik

Ottawa, 1989.

When we were children, my grandmother, Mariette Setton, would take the Voyageur bus from Montreal to stay with us. These trips happened about once a month, and I loved them.

Grandma would take us all to the fast food joint of our choice, stuff us with grease, and then spend the weekend telling us how wonderful we were compared to our father when he was our age, back in Egypt, the old country they had fled in the 50s as very unwelcome Jews.

When not stroking our egos, grandma would spend most of the weekend making “cheese bits” and “spinach bits.” There was a routine to this.
First, she complained that she had to work all weekend like the Hebrews of old.

Second, she complained about the quality of the filo, the paper-thin pastry used to wrap the cheese and spinach with. Is this really the best filo they had? To which my father replied, would you really like to drive to the Arab market across town and try them all out for yourself?

Third, she would complain about their taste once they were finished and baked, for which she only blamed herself. They were wonderful, of course: a taste of the old country my grandmother would not talk about. I also appreciated it when she told my Dad that 13 was perfectly old enough for me to drink beer with them.

Dubrovnik, 2017.

It turns out cheese and spinach bits are called burek. You can also get them with meat. It also turns out they’re a Balkan specialty, not just from Egypt. The Croatians shape them like Danishes, whereas my grandmother used to fold them over each other into squares or triangles. But the food is the same.

They’re also hella good for breakfast. At our home they were appetizers, but my God, what did we miss by not eating them in the morning. The most miserable 15-year-old could be persuaded to eat breakfast before school if it was salted cheese or spinach with lemon, wrapped in pastry.

Of course, when you get them at the bakery down the road (and outside the Old City) and eat them on a park bench, you save on the extortionate prices they charge for restaurant breakfasts, which aren’t as tasty anyway.

And the flakes make for great bird feed. My wife, Jo, has taken to imitating Snow White, and crumbling flakes into her hand so sparrows will land on her and pick them off. That the flying beasts are filthy with disease is apparently not an issue.

Mariette Setton died in 2007, at the age of 95. It wasn’t the kind of death where you cry, “Why God why?” to the skies. But that doesn’t mean we don’t miss grandma anyway. So, if I take nothing else away from Croatia, at least I’ll take away morning memories of my grandmother, who has never been here.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Honor Your Ancestors With Their Favorite Food, Or Whatever’s Easiest to Carry

May.16.17

Honor Your Ancestors With Their Favorite Food, Or Whatever’s Easiest to Carry

by Charline Jao

Dragonfruit in Taiwan

The heavy cloud of incense overwhelms me. I’m not used to the smell. Thin wafts of smoke draw out memories of household shrines, street-side temples, and our most recent visit about a year ago.

“It is not good for you to breathe in,” my mother tells me, when I ask if she likes the smell. Qingming Festival isn’t officially until next month—April 5th in Taiwan for the day Chiang Kai Shek died and different elsewhere depending on the solar calendar—but some places of remembrance have already opened for Tomb-Sweeping Day.

The temple has prepared vases, plates, and cups for families to use as we remember our ancestors. A colorful dragon stares at me from the bright red plates, just a little damp from people rinsing them after use. We set our white flowers into a vase and lay out our offerings—dragonfruits, apples, cookies, and savory snacks. Having few memories of them, I ask if the crackers and fruits were chosen to suit my grandparent’s taste. My mother explains it is more because they are convenient to carry. Next to us, a family brings out an entire fish and a huge piece of pork belly that the red plate struggles to hold. Another carefully removes the lids off the takeout they brought. The generic packing suggests they are from a local shop.

For any situation, you can find a Chinese food idiom or phrase to match it. Every festival food typically has a story or pun behind it, elevating eating into a cultural activity full of history and mythology. Fish symbolize prosperity, bananas stand for brilliance, and apples mean peace. One verse from an old Song dynasty book comes to mind here: “Firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea are the seven necessities to begin a day.” If we think of the sticks of incense burning unevenly into the white rice as some kind of firewood, we have all the components of an ideal morning. It’s almost like we’re having breakfast with the dead, though we ourselves are not going to be eating until later.

Here, my parents talk about their fathers in the present tense. “Dad must like it a lot here,” says my father. “The view is great, he has a lot of company.” This meal ends when the incense burns out, at which point the ashy rice is thrown out.

The food brought out for tomb-sweeping differs widely by region, with some focusing on dumplings or spring rolls. However, there’s just as much variation within this one temple. The family with the fish packs up and another takes their place, slowly pouring out rice wine into tiny cups. It’s easy to try and paint images of the deceased based on their offerings—this one loved drinking, this one enjoyed meat, this one really liked pea crackers—but I suspect it’s more telling of the families visiting.

You’d Dream About This Pancake For Four Years, Too

May.15.17

You’d Dream About This Pancake For Four Years, Too

by Lydia Tomkiw

Banana pancakes in North Sumatra

Before I even knew what was on the menu for breakfast, the orangutan mother and her baby had started eating theirs. I could hear them moving, rustling. Their breakfast would consist of whatever was reachable among the thick, leafy branches over 100 feet above me in the canopy of the Sumatran jungle. Our tent, pitched slightly uphill from a medium-sized stream, felt a world away from civilization, but in reality the city of Bukit Lawang and the surrounding palm oil fields weren’t too far away, and occasionally a bar would show up on my cellphone.

I had my hopes up about my own breakfast after I’d seen our guide Adi pull a bunch of small, yellow bananas from a black plastic bag the day before. I’d been dreaming about this pancake—thinner than American ones but a little thicker than French crepes, with pieces of caramelized banana—since I’d left Indonesia four years earlier. It’s a simple dish for breakfast or a snack you find across the sprawling nation of thousands of islands. It likely has its roots in the Dutch colonial period and their version of the pancake, pannekoeken. Sometimes it comes with a sliver of lime to squeeze on (a favorite in Bali and the Gili Islands), other places will drizzle chocolate sauce or condensed milk on top (a Jakarta street food option), and occasionally a dash of sprinkles is added.

The day before, I hadn’t eaten much. All of my clothing was sticking to me in places I didn’t even know were possible. I’d started sweating as soon as I had woken up and all I craved was water, and more water amid the haze of the dense jungle. I’d given up hope of seeing an orangutan in the wild. After all there was no guarantee—deforestation, palm oil plantations, farmers harvesting rubber and cacao are all encroaching on the natural habitat of orangutans.

I also had no idea if Adi knew how to make pancakes. Was he trekking with flour, sugar, and oil in his bag? Would there be a large enough pan at the campsite?

The light was beginning to fade, and as we approached our campsite I could see a giant pan resting on logs. Then Adi froze and pointed high above the tent, and there she was. A large adult orangutan slowly moving, using branches as links between trees, and then I saw the second pair of eyes amid her red hair—a baby clinging to its mother. Our eyes locked and we examined each other for a minute before some berries among the branches became more interesting to them.

In the morning, I could smell the smoke from the fire and hear chopping noises. “Pisang pancake,” Adi said using the Indonesian word for banana as he approached with a silver-colored metal camping dish. As I finished the last bite of sweet banana and craved another, the mother and her baby had already started to move on—it would be lunchtime soon.

A Close Encounter With a Monk and a Chocolate Muffin

May.12.17

A Close Encounter With a Monk and a Chocolate Muffin

by Jessica Allen

A muffin in Laos

We woke to the bang-clang of metal against metal. The tak bat had begun.

My husband and I slipped out of bed and into shoes. We left the hotel room door open, just so, to the street, but prayed our small son would continue to sleep as the meditative procession of monks started to move through Luang Prabang.

Dawn after dawn, the faithful feed the faithful. Orange-robed monks walk barefoot and single file. They receive handfuls of sticky rice, fruit, incense, and sweets from men and women who sit or kneel, shoeless and sashed, along the route. No one speaks.

The daily Buddhist ritual of almsgiving knits the community together, as it has for hundreds of years. Pots full of food let the receivers focus on spiritual concerns, rather than earthly ones. Generous deeds help givers earn merit for the next life.

Rules for observing are simple, if self-evident: no touching, no talking, no blocking the flow. No eye contact, no crop-tops, no crowding. No flash photography, no in-your-face photography. For the love of god, leave the selfie stick in your suitcase. In short, don’t be a fool. Or a toddler, a group not generally known for its dignity or decorum. So we watched, and waited, and stutter-stepped toward our room if we heard so much as a sigh.

When a murmur threatened to tip over to a wail, my husband jogged into our hotel and returned bearing our tuckered blond boy. Right away he reached for me. Tugging his airplane jammies over his belly, I put a finger to my lips. He put a finger to his lips, and popped in a thumb. We touched heads. The youngest monks were only a few years older than him.

“Are they holy men?” he whispered, echoing our explanation of the people who lived in the temples we’d visited the day before. He called the dollhouse-sized shrines outside of stores and restaurants “palaces,” and begged us to stop and admire each one.

In a heartbeat, an elderly monk appeared in front of us. He stuffed a chocolate muffin into my son’s hand, the plastic wrap crinkling. He stroked his cheek, and grinned a great big grin. Before we could do more than smile our thanks, he’d blurred back into line.

Later, in the hotel’s courtyard, we drank coffee and watermelon juice, and split the muffin three ways.

The Subtle Pleasures of Solo Breakfast Dining

May.11.17

The Subtle Pleasures of Solo Breakfast Dining

by Emily Ziemski

Sup ekor pedas in London

As a traveler, I would consider myself pretty green. All of my jaunts rely on riding the coattails of the carefully-laid plans of others: a study-abroad program Italy, a romantic weekend in Paris with a paramour, and a family trip to Puerto Rico, to name a few.

In January I took a trip to London, solo. It was purposefully timed around Inauguration Day—it seemed like the perfect time to get away. I was always craving something warm to eat, as it was the dead of winter, but couldn’t stomach a Full English breakfast. The idea of black pudding and sausages with my morning coffee felt gluttonous compared to my usual eggs and toast. On top of this, having to eat alone at every meal felt daunting, because sitting down to eat is synonymous with socializing. Most meals consumed on a daily basis are in the presence of friends, colleagues, or even just my curious cat, hoping for a scrap.

My first morning, I left the tiny flat in Paddington I was renting, wandered down Leinster Gardens with my stomach as empty as the facades at numbers 23 and 24, and set out to meet my self-inflicted demands.

The first shop that welcomed me was a Malaysian restaurant nestled between an aggressively-lit tourist trap of vibrant, cheap baubles and a family-run pharmacy. Tudkin sat unassumingly on Craven Terrace, a mere 10-minute walk from Hyde Park. Plain wooden tables and chairs lined the walls like students at a middle school dance, and the rich smells of tamarind and coconut drifted inside.

It was there that I had sup ekor pedas—spicy oxtail soup—for the first time. For breakfast. Legend has it that a version of this soup originated at Spitalfields, in East London, soon after the British established the Straits Settlements in the 18th century, which were later dissolved in 1946. The soup, and Malaysian cuisine, retained an influence on British culture.

Nothing was more satisfying than chasing my three or four morning espressos with the thick broth dotted with splashes of spicy oil and meat so tender that my spoon felt like the sharpest knife. It was clear someone had taken much care with this dish. A a pile of delicately bias-cut green onions floated on the surface.

Toward the end of my meal, a group of bawdy businessmen sat down to my right for an early lunch. Debates on politics in America and the future of Brexit hung, smoldering, over their plates of curry.

I was very grateful to be dining alone.

Good Rule of Thumb: Don’t Listen to Brits Abroad on Anything Food-Related

May.10.17

Good Rule of Thumb: Don’t Listen to Brits Abroad on Anything Food-Related

by Laura Tarpley

Oyster omelets in Taipei

“Is breakfast included?” I ask the Taiwanese concierge behind the desk of our hotel.

“No,” he responds apologetically. Then, impressing us with his proficient English, “But there are many great places to get food nearby. Here.” He circles a green square on the map he’s just given us. “You will see a temple. Next to it is a food market. This is where you want to go.”

Food market? He had spoken the magic words.

Taiwan is known for its markets. My husband, Daniel, had spent hours in the days leading up to our trip watching YouTube videos about the best foods to eat in Taipei. So far, our “Must-Taste List” consists of beef noodles, bubble tea, and oyster omelets.

Our first day in the city, however, two British girls shatter our expectations of oyster omelets by describing their consistency. One girl says, “You know the film Flubber? Yeah, it’s flubber.” The other girl said it was more like snot.

Our second day in the city, Daniel and I lead three of our friends to Dadaocheng Cisheng Temple, where we find the food market our concierge recommended. The market is simple. While it’s busy, I don’t see any flashy signs, fellow foreigners, or even English words to attract tourists. Looks like we’re in for the real Taiwanese deal.

After 20 minutes, all five of us reconvene at one of the small tables between the market and temple. We each clutch a Taiwanese delicacy to share. Daniel has brought decadent fried pork belly. Cessna has pig intestines. So far, we’re proud of our selection.

Daniel announces that he’s ordered some fried rice for the group. We’re all happy when the plates arrive. A few minutes later, our faces collectively fall as the same proprietor drops off two more platters of a dish we all instantly recognize: oyster omelets.

“Oops!” Daniel chirps sheepishly. “I guess I ordered these with the fried rice. The guy asked me a question in Chinese, and I just said yes.”

Looking at the dish in front of me, I must admit the description offered by the British girls had been spot on. I can see the egg, but some sort of starch mixture has covered the egg and oysters in gelatinous goo. But, hey, I’ll try it.

We all hesitantly pick up our chopsticks and go for it. The three other girls take only one bite before sticking out their tongues and moving on to other dishes. Daniel takes a couple of bites before declaring, “Nope.”

I don’t hate it, though.

To be honest, I couldn’t eat an entire plate of this stuff. I won’t deny that the consistency is off-putting. But the oysters are the freshest, most flavorful I’ve ever tasted. As a native Arkansan, I’m always in awe of fresh seafood. Today, I groan dramatically with my friends. But I then, I keep stealthily helping myself to more and more flubber-coated oysters until I’m full.

The Best Breakfast Sandwiches in Gaza

May.09.17

The Best Breakfast Sandwiches in Gaza

by Alexandra Sturgill

Sandwiches in Palestine

In an office in the heart of downtown Gaza City, it’s Thursday morning, the weekend is nearly here, and there is a plate of DIY breakfast sandwiches.

I am in a co-working space and tech startup incubator that my husband oversees and where I occasionally volunteer. While regular power cuts and the sound of horse hooves clapping on the streets alongside cars remind me of where I am, in many ways, Gaza Sky Geeks resembles a tech hub you might stumble upon in Paris or Brooklyn. You can park yourself on a colorful chair and listen to free workshops on Blockchain. The graffiti murals adorning the walls mix Arabic calligraphy and coding jokes. And there is always food in the office.

In particular, Thursday morning team breakfast, or “Zad Al Khair madness,” as some of the staff has taken to calling it in tribute to the name of the restaurant it comes from, has become a tradition at Gaza Sky Geeks. The carb component is a fluffy pita. For your fillings, there are an array of egg dishes, including a hash-browns-meets-scrambled eggs combo in which the small chunks of potato are perfectly soft and salted and evenly distributed.

The Gazan take on shakshuka, the tomato egg dish ubiquitous across the region, is more like scrambled eggs with diced tomatoes and onions and spices. As add-ons, you have a Gazan guacamole topped with olive oil—or what the Gazans call avocado salad—eggplant in fried and pureed forms, a spicy tomato salsa, and of course, it’s never too early in the day for hummus. It’s washed down with sugary mint tea or sugary Nescafe.

As Hani, a fiercely organized recent college graduate, lays out the different dishes, I ask if I should grab plates for everyone. He shoots me back a perplexed look: “Why would we need plates?” he asks, and I soon see what he means. The bread serves as both plate and dishing utensil as we start to assemble our sandwiches. The table quickly becomes a flurry of hungry hands, but everyone knows everyone else’s favorite, which means Said will always get a healthy portion of his beloved eggplants and I will not miss out on the guacamole.

Gazans take a great deal of pride in their food, which is considered some of the freshest and most flavorful in the region. But, as is the case in many places, preparing it rarely seems about the complexity of the cuisine or artistry of the presentation. What makes it most delicious is its ability to bring us all to the table, even when times are rough.

Three Cheers for Soft Taco Tubes for Breakfast

May.08.17

Three Cheers for Soft Taco Tubes for Breakfast

by Kyle Bell

Enchiladas in Mexico City

Until an embarrassingly advanced age, I could not have told you what an enchilada was exactly. Thanks to the wildly popular local Tex-Mex take-out place down the street from my childhood home, I knew it as a shifty pile of meat and various ingredients, possibly including rice and vegetables, all covered in gooey melted cheese, emphasis on the cheese. It came in a rounded metal tin and despite appearing to be leftovers covered in cheese—or perhaps because of this—it was very tasty.

As a young college student exploring the South Philadelphia neighborhood known as the Italian Market, now heavily populated by Mexican establishments, I happened upon the culinary discovery my adolescent self might have called “soft taco tubes in salsa,” also known as Mexican enchiladas.

Enchiladas, made the right way, are soft corn tortillas wrapped around a key ingredient, often braised chicken, pork or beef, and topped with homemade tomatillo or tomato salsa. If made with flour tortillas, tomato salsa, and gooey cheese, they’re called enchiladas suizas, Swiss enchiladas. When made with the smoky, chocolate and chili mole sauce, they’re known as enmoladas, my personal favorite.

They’re then often topped off with Mexican cream and a dusting of crumbled cotija cheese. In a pinch, American sour cream and Parmesan or feta can be substituted.

If you imagine the enchilada as an ice cream sundae, the crumbled cheese is the cherry on top. It’s a light dusting, a garnish. On the other hand, if the Tex-Mex enchilada were a sundae, it would be half cherries.

All this talk of dessert is distracting from my eureka moment during my first visit to Mexico. In Mexico City I learned that while tacos are the de facto late-night delivery device for meat, cilantro, and onions, the enchilada is a 24-hour phenomenon. Enchiladas are a full-on breakfast food. They can be stuffed not only with meat, but also with beans, cheese, or even scrambled eggs.

Eggs in an enchilada! I looked down my plate overflowing with deep mahogany-colored mole sauce and tucked into my eggy taco tubes. As the sun started peeking through the doorway of the festively painted restaurant, I took a sip of my fresh-squeezed orange juice and thanked whoever decided that dinner for breakfast is just as acceptable as breakfast for dinner.

The Eternally Under-Appreciated But All Important Second Breakfast

May.05.17

The Eternally Under-Appreciated But All Important Second Breakfast

by Patricia Rey Mallén

Cava in Barcelona

Many agree that Spain’s eating times take some getting used to. Breakfast at the break of dawn, lunch at 2:30 p.m. (or later), dinner at 10 p.m. (if you’re lucky). With some exceptions of course, these eating habits can baffle even the most seasoned travelers. They can also baffle Spaniards who have been away for a while. Like myself.

I remember when I first left Spain for a long-term stay abroad, and being asked questions about our lunch and dinner times. It did not matter if the inquirer was Norwegian, Canadian, or Australian—they all had one question. How on earth do Spaniards survive between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.?

Years later, after a decade away, I returned to Spain for the longest stint at home since I had left. After a couple of weeks with my parents—during which my stomach would loudly growl every day at noon like clockwork—I began to ask myself the same question.

I found the answer in Barcelona, in the charming village-turned-neighborhood of Gràcia: the oft-forgotten and eternally underappreciated second breakfast. I was re-introduced to this wonderful concept at a classic taberna deep in the heart of Gràcia. The taverna, Can Tosca, has been welcoming customers for three generations, since it was founded by actress (and beloved local personality) Conchita Tosca.

It was 11 a.m. on a Tuesday when I was led into Can Tosca with the promise of a “nibble,” a quick stop so we could continue our stroll around Gràcia. The nibble turned out to be a butifarra sandwich and a glass of cava.

I had been expecting something more along the lines of a cookie and a coffee. A cured-meat sandwich in the morning? Alcohol before noon? But it was perfect. The butifarra was creamy, strong and delicious, the bread was crusty and fresh. The cava, a nice Catalonian touch to the second breakfast, was refreshing and energizing. And, what do you know, they both kept my stomach quiet until well after 2:30 p.m. Maybe Spaniards know what they’re doing after all.

You Can’t Eat Fish Balls All Day If You Don’t Start in the Morning

May.04.17

You Can’t Eat Fish Balls All Day If You Don’t Start in the Morning

by Ying Tey Reinhardt

Fish ball noodles in Johor Bahru

“So Chris, you eat spicy?” my cousin Yu Ling asks my husband at 7 a.m., the minute he emerges from the guest room with his eyes still half-closed.

“You eat fish balls?”

Chris stands a while before nodding slowly. Now he’s finally awake. But he isn’t perturbed by the question. As a German married to a Malaysian, he knows that being asked about your food preferences first thing is just as polite as a “good morning.”

“Okay, then we go to eat the famous fish balls,” concludes Yu Ling. “Hurry up! The place will be packed soon!”

Really? So early? On a Sunday? In Germany, nothing moves on a Sunday before 11 a.m.

We’ve just spent last night at my uncle’s place in Johor Bahru. From here, it’ll only take us 30 minutes to the border between Malaysia and Singapore. We are bound for Singapore that morning and Yu Ling is intent in getting us all fed before we cross the half-mile causeway by bus.

When we get there, Lai Kee Restaurant is already buzzing with activity: patrons loitering around waiting to be seated; servers briskly weaving through tight spaces, dumping sloshing bowls of fish ball noodles in front of hungry patrons; someone at the front, moving at warp speed between chopping up fish cakes, pinching condiments, blending sauces, dunking in fresh egg or rice noodles into the pork broth to cook.

Yu Ling was right; despite the early hour, there aren’t any tables left.
Lai Kee Fish Ball Noodles is a household name among local residents. The fading mustard color of the restaurant’s sign is physical proof that the restaurant has been around for two decades. People grew up eating this stuff.

The crowd is fast-moving. No one is leisurely chewing the fish balls as though at a lazy weekend brunch. Within five minutes, we are seated not too far away from where the noodles are being cooked. A man quickly appears with a notepad, asking for our orders. “With chili?” he asks, looking at Chris, when Yu Ling tells him to bring us a bowl of fish ball noodles with soup, two bowls of dry versions of the dish and a separate plate of crispy-fried fish cake as appetizer.

“Yes, spicy.”

As we wait, Yu Ling chastises us for not making it back for Chinese New Year. If we’d visited in January instead of mid-February, we’d have the opportunity to eat like there’s no tomorrow, and for free. For Malaysians, it’s always about the food: not economy, not religion, not politics. Food makes us all equal. To eat is to be human. Thankfully, Chris understands this fundamental fact about us: we live to eat, instead of eat to live.

The steaming bowls of wonder come 45 minutes later. With chopsticks, we deftly pick up a mouthful. The taste of dense and springy handmade fish balls complemented with a serving of savory egg noodles, slick with lard, soy sauce, and fiery chili sauce is indeed a natural wonder. The cooked slices of pork that comes with it also add another dimension of flavor. Definitely worth the wait.

“Good?” Yu Ling asks. My mouth is too full to answer.

“The balls are awesome,” Chris splutters. The tips of his ears have gone read. “But damn, the noodles are spicy!”

A Great Sandwich is the Best Friend You’ll Ever Make

May.03.17

A Great Sandwich is the Best Friend You’ll Ever Make

by Peter Dorrien Traisci

Cemita Poblana in Puebla, Mexico

We’d traveled to Puebla to partake of the mole poblano, and to gorge on freshly pressed corn tortillas filled with wondrous local goodies (huitlacoche, anyone?). We’d traveled to Puebla to try the chiles en nogada: stuffed poblano peppers bathed in a perversely delicious walnut cream sauce. We hadn’t come to Puebla for a sandwich.

La cemita poblana. Few sandwiches have been so indelibly burned into my culinary consciousness. A breaded meat cutlet, generally pork or chicken, on a sesame-speckled, brioche-like bun (also called cemita), covered with a variety of rich flavors: ripe avocado slices, stringy queso oaxaca, chipotles in adobo and a generous handful of papalo, a cilantro-like herb popular in Mexican cuisine.

It is not the prettiest of sandwiches. The cutlet and string cheese spill from each side of the bun in an unseemly fashion. Adobo sauce drips from unseen crevices. The challenge of taking the first bite weeds out the eaters who are less than fully committed. Only the resolute persevere. But with great risk comes great return. The crisp breading of the cutlet is offset by the soft stringiness of the cheese. Smoky adobo contrasts ever so deliciously with the richness of the avocado. With each successive bite, the combination of flavors and textures varies dramatically.

The annals of culinary history hold no shortage of great sandwiches. Take a few minutes online and you can easily find countless disparate ideas of what constitutes the best sandwich. Is it the simple and unctuous crunch of high quality jamón ibérico laid bare on a freshly baked baguette? Or is it something more complex—something that marries contrasting flavors in an unexpected ceremony of sheer pleasure? Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is true with my new (and lasting) friend, la cemita poblana.

Should you find yourself in Puebla, Mexico, do yourself a favor. Ask a local where they procure their favorite cemita (they will most certainly have a favorite). Go there. Order one with everything. Say thank you. Take it outside and sit on the sidewalk. Lift your head a bit to feel the sun on your face. Take a bite, close your eyes. Did I mention you’re not going to want to share?

Comfort Food: Good Even When It’s Bad

May.02.17

Comfort Food: Good Even When It’s Bad

by Sophie Pan

Jianbing in Flushing

My eyes take in the food stalls as I walk though the dingy underground shopping mall. Dumplings, pork, and chives hugged in freshly kneaded dough bubble in a foamy pot. Tempting, but not what I’m looking for. Spicy wood ear mushrooms sprinkled with chili peppers and other Sichuan cold dishes beckon to me, but my mind is elsewhere.

The options in Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall are endless, and some stalls, like Xi’an Famous Foods, have even become tourist destinations for those seeking something unfamiliar. But my purpose here is different. I’m not searching for a window into another culture, but a reminder of my own past.

I used to visit Shanghai every summer. I was born there and moved to the U.S. when I was four. In Shanghai, muggy August days bled into crisp, cicada-filled nights. As the sun rose over my grandmother’s home, I would have the heartiest meal of the day. There were breakfast staples, of course; bowls of steaming whole milk sprinkled with black sesame powder, hard-boiled eggs drizzled in soy sauce, and endless steamed white buns—man tou, bao zi, and hua juan. Even though that was enough to send me into morning food comas, my grandmother would occasionally pick up something extra on her journey back from the local farmer’s market. My favorite was jianbing, a thin crepe filled with egg, fried crackers or Chinese crullers, scallions, coriander, and mustard pickles, slathered with a generous helping of hoisin sauce. A popular breakfast option in northern provinces, my southern grandmother could not make it at home. This made jianbing all the more of a luxury.

Three years later, I meander my way towards the back of the shopping mall, the buzz of the crowds fading into the walls of steam and smoke. Sadly, I no longer visit China as often. My search to relive those memories has led me to this mall and I find myself at a lone stall with no customers. Although advertised as a tea shop, their concise jianbing menu catches my eye.

Option B and sweetened soy milk, I tell the owner. I decide to add sausage, switching out the cracker for lettuce in a failed attempt to be healthy. Hot or cold, she asked, meaning the soy milk. Hot, of course, just as they serve it in China.

The lady jumps into work, smearing the crepe batter over the sizzling griddle as I hungrily watch the thin film bubble and rise. When she hands over her creation, the whiff of the fragrant scallions hits me. Sinking my teeth into the delicate dough, the sticky hoisin sauce adds just the right amount of sweetness, while the sausage provides a much-needed bite. I wash it all down with soy milk, feeling the warmth trickle down my body. Maybe this isn’t the best jianbing, but nothing tastes better than nostalgia.

When the Breakfast Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

May.01.17

When the Breakfast Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

by Sachin Bhandary

Dal-pakwan in Mumbai

It was a Sunday morning and I had to wake up at 7, but it was already 8:30 a.m. when I finally rubbed my eyes open. Like most weekend mornings, the many gin and tonics the night before were to blame. But I wasn’t planning to be up early on a Sunday morning for a walk or some exercise: I was up for food. Not just any food, but the special breakfast served at Vig’s Refreshments, in the Chembur Camp area.

It was 9 a.m. by the time I hailed an auto, the Mumbai tuk-tuk. I was sweating, and not just from the heat: I was also worried that by the time I reached Vig’s, they would have run out of their famous breakfast dish. So after a few minutes of suspense, I was grateful that they hadn’t. This is a dish you rarely find at restaurants: dal-pakwan. It’s a combination of lentil stew—split Bengal gram to be precise—served with fried and brittle pancakes made from refined flour.

A loud Gujarati family had grabbed the table next to me. “We must have this for breakfast every day,” said one woman to another. She paused for a bit before continuing: “…but then not have lunch.”

For a dish to scare a food-loving Gujarati like this, it must be seriously loaded with calories. Dal-pakwan certainly isn’t for days when you want to feel healthy. The crispy pakwan is dipped in lentil stew, which is topped with a spicy and tangy chutney. Every bite is a riot of textures and flavors.

My friend George once observed that in isolation, neither the dal nor the pakwan are anything special. It’s when they get together that the magic happens.

The dish belongs to the Sindhi community, which migrated to India after partition from Sindh province, now part of Pakistan. That’s why you get dal-pakwan and other Sindhi culinary delights in the ‘Camp’ neighborhood: it was here, in a refugee camp, that many Sindhis found shelter after arriving in India.

On my way out, I tried to make small talk with the elderly gentleman at the cash counter about the dish. He was dressed in a white kurta, or long shirt. He told me off by saying “Beta, isme baat kya karna hai, isme toh bas khaana hai”—meaning, there is nothing to say about this dish; it’s only for eating. I don’t disagree.

Trust Us, We Meant to Order the Cow-Head Stew

Apr.28.17

Trust Us, We Meant to Order the Cow-Head Stew

by Dave Hazzan

Paçe in Tirana

Albania has a message for the world: after decades of war, dictatorship, and Ponzi schemes, we now have our shit together.

This is especially the case when it comes to eating. Restaurants are open and full. Tirana has a lively, packed, and affordable selection of restaurants, cafes, and bars. They’re like 10,000 middle fingers pointed at the days when finding enough to eat in this war-ravaged, totalitarian hellhole was a Herculean task.

For breakfast, most Albanians, at least in Tirana, have adopted the regimen of their continental brothers, especially the Italians across the Adriatic: pastries, sweets, and coffee, either espresso or overflowing with foam. But for those looking for something a bit more traditional, a fat bowl of paçe is what you’re after.

Paçe (pronounced PAH-chay) is a stew, made from the meat from the head of a cow. The head is boiled until the meat slides right off the skull, and is then stewed with salt, pepper, garlic, and onion.

At Qebaptore Tini, which according to Google Translate means “Cheeky Teen,” the waitress wasn’t sure if paçe was really what we wanted. It was a small diner off the main road, and they’re not used to seeing a lot of foreigners in there.

When we assured her the best we could we did want paçe, she pointed to her stomach and then to her head. It took a few moments to get the point–did we want it made with stomach meat or head meat? We were under the impression it was only made with head meat, so we chose that. I suppose the stomach one is for the more adventurous.

She wobbled off to the kitchen to put it together for us. When it came out, it looked like a bowl full of vomit, with shredded beef and many little globules of fat. I’m no anatomist, but rubbing my own head, I never thought of the meat up there being particularly fatty. Or green.

Despite how it looked, it tasted like your run-of-the-mill beef soup, but knowing an entire cow’s head had gone into its preparation made it extra special. It was thick, savory, and salty, and I finished it gratefully, mopping up the remains with the bread that comes with every Albanian meal.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Always Eat the Fish Eye At the Bottom of the Bowl

Apr.25.17

Always Eat the Fish Eye At the Bottom of the Bowl

by Efraín Villanueva

Fish broth in Barranquilla

It’s Carnival in Barranquilla. There are marimondas, negritas Puloy, ITALgarabatos, monocucos, and many other traditional figures joyfully wandering in every street. There is dancing in all the ways the locals know: cumbia, mapalé, chandé, fandango, porro, merecumbé, bullerenge. There are kids, adults, pets, houses, and cars dressed up in colorful costumes.

A very well-organized recocha (which Urban Dictionary defines as “to be disorderly in the name of fun”) reigns in the town. There also is, of course, lots of alcohol involved. It’s been like that for more than a century, so the mayor and the police have agreed to make an exception from the recent national law that forbids the consumption of alcohol in public spaces.

If you ever come for the Carnival and you want to keep up and party non-stop during the five-day celebration, you need to know how to hold yourself together. What does it for me is food.

“Are you really gonna have fish soup for breakfast?” my German girlfriend, Sabeth, asks with a surprised expression on her face.

I inspect her side of the table. Her plate is filled with two carimañolas (yucca dough stuffed with ground beef), one arepa e huevo (corn dough stuffed with a fried egg and extra ground beef), suero costeño (a fermented milk-based dip) and corozo juice. I smile. It makes me proud how much she enjoys our fried-stuff cuisine.

“Don’t look at me like that,” she defends herself, “for me it’s different. I’m a foreigner, I’m supposed to try as much as I can.”

“Yeah, right. You’re just embracing our culture. Nothing to do with you being a good eater.”

She grins.

“Look, it is not fish soup. Not technically. This is just a caldo, a broth. A real soup would include a big piece of fish, potatoes, green plantains, yuca, ñame. The real deal. Wanna try?”

“It’s breakfast time. Soup is for lunch,” she argues.

“In Germany you guys have Weisswurstfrühstück… and that’s with beer.”

“That does not count. That’s Bavarian,” she says, making her Germany-is-bigger-than-Bavaria-you-people face.

“Wanna try it or not?”

She does. She always does. And her closed eyes confirm what I expected: She loves it.

We eat. I dive to the bottom of my plate and find a pleasant surprise, at least for me.

“Look, I got a prize!”

“What is that?” she asks.

“It’s the eye. I love this but I’m willing to give it away just for you. Wanna try?”

She always does.

Fresh, Ripe Tomatoes: the Culinary Opposite of Airport Curries

Apr.24.17

Fresh, Ripe Tomatoes: the Culinary Opposite of Airport Curries

by Andrew Strikis

Breakfast in Cyprus

As the rosy-red flesh of tomatoes basked in the light streaming through the stone-and-timber window frame, I could sense Karen’s reluctance as she mentally prepared herself for that first bite.

Less than 48 hours earlier we were in the U.K., slack jaws mechanically processing a lukewarm airport curry, a flaccid coda to our exploration of Scotland’s bonnie but slightly stodgy shores.

The tiny, cobblestoned village of Vavla, in Cyprus, was our new home, and we were hoping for something, anything, to resuscitate our neglected taste buds.

Over mugs of hot coffee, we could hear our hosts Donna Marie and George nattering back and forth in the kitchen; she with her Yankee drawl, rusty from disuse, he with his thick, gravelly, Greek-inflected English sporadically tumbling forth like slow-moving boulders, a verbal dance born of decades of practice. They met in the U.S., but Vavla is their home now, and food was the pivot on which their lives spun gently.

First, a simple plate. Humble fare, familiar not just to Cypriots but to the Mediterranean. A basket of freshly baked bread, thickly cut and steaming. Sliced cucumber, tomato, halloumi: green, red, white. Threatening to none except Karen: since childhood, tomatoes have been her culinary nemesis.

Not this morning. With eyes wide, we shared a moment of revelation from the most unexpected of sources: tomatoes. Sweetness, with barely a hint of acidity. Here, you were just as likely to pick up a tomato as an apple for a snack.

The term ‘foraging’ is everywhere now, but for Donna Marie and George, this is their life, and they laugh to hear the terms ‘organic’ and ‘foraged’ used with such reverence. To wander their garden was an education, as they shared their knowledge of the land, the seasons, and the fruits of their labor.

George’s eyes lit up as he spoke of his passion for split green olives. With a generous measure of diced garlic and a splash of lemon juice, these are still the best green olives we’ve ever woken up to. Also on the table: Mosphila berries transformed into the sweetest of jams, a small bowl of local almonds, freshly squeezed orange juice. And yet more olives, air-dried and packed with umami.

Ah, to Be Handed Deep-Fried Pork Skin by a Kind Stranger

Apr.21.17

Ah, to Be Handed Deep-Fried Pork Skin by a Kind Stranger

by Sarah Witman

Carnitas in Mexico City

The Mercado de Medellín feels like an open-air market stuffed inside an aircraft hangar. Whole baby sharks sit on ice, arranged artfully among freshly caught shrimp and starfish. Stall shelves are covered with neatly arranged apples, watermelon, plantains, and cartons of strawberries—the same brand I buy back home in Wisconsin. An entire wing is dedicated to flowers: fiery red lirios (lilies) and delicate gipsófila (baby’s breath).

The market is a cross-section of Mexico City culture, along the intersection of the traditional Roma Sur and hip Roma Norte neighborhoods. During the week it’s a sleepy, sensible grocery store. Saturday mornings are a different story.

Carnitas?”

By mid-afternoon on Friday, I had seen the carnitas vendors already beginning to set up: sharpening knives, wiping down gleaming metal workstations. This is what I’ve been waiting for all week.

“Si si si! Gracias…” I say, accepting the most succulent shard of meat I’d ever seen from the vendor’s outstretched hand.

“Dos tacos, por favor.”

No need to specify what type; there is only one. The carnitas are cooked on a steaming spit. It’s then chopped up fairly fine, and lovingly portioned onto two corn tortillas. The tortillas are fresher, and more substantial, than the papery rounds I’m used to getting in the Midwest. So instead of doubling up, I can split the carnitas among them to make four tacos.

I spoon on salsa verde, one taco at a time. There are the ubiquitous little dishes of chopped onion, cilantro, and lime wedges on the table, too. Mexico City has taught me to appreciate limes.

The vendor bustles back over, asking how everything is, and hands me a crispy piece of chicharrón, deep-fried pork rind, free of charge.

“Mucho gusto!” I say with enthusiasm. This is a rather formal way to say “pleasure to meet you.” But I think he got my point.

Pretty Much the Most Heartwarming Story About Shit-on-a-Shingle You’re Likely to Hear

Apr.20.17

Pretty Much the Most Heartwarming Story About Shit-on-a-Shingle You’re Likely to Hear

by Heather Arndt Anderson

Biscuits and gravy in Portland

Biscuits and gravy may be a bastion of Southern cuisine, but they have also been embraced in Portland, Oregon, the land of brunch lines and culinary trend-spotting.

Everywhere from greasy dive bars like The Trap to Instagrammy critical-darling Tusk has it on the menu. People queue up for an hour to order it at Screen Door. As a 4th-generation Portland native and historian of both breakfast and Portland’s culinary scene, I intimately understand the fuss.

I grew up below the poverty line, the firstborn to two ex-military kids on the cusp of their twenties. My mom had herself been the firstborn to two teenaged parents from Oklahoma, and her childhood had seen struggle.

Between her role as Alpha Sister to four siblings and her stint in the Marines (she was a corporal), she had learned how to stretch a dollar in the kitchen with simple fare. This often meant our meals focused around a pound of dried navy beans flavored simply with a ham bone and a bay leaf, but occasionally, when the food stamps had run low, she fell back on perennial classics like chipped beef on toast, known affectionately in our household as shit-on-a-shingle.

My mom’s version was as economical as it can get: ground beef crumbles simmered in a white sauce made with powdered milk, thickened with roux made from the hamburger drippings, served on a slice white bread. It was a study in beige. It wasn’t glamorous, but it filled our bellies. I always really liked it, and not only because it came with a free pass to cuss at the dinner table. I enjoyed the soft, white warmness of it. Similar iterations came in the form of biscuits and gravy, made with leftover Jiffy mix biscuits and the same pasty hamburger gravy, and I ate it all with gusto.

When I grew up and started dipping a furtive toe into the world of fancy food, one of my first experiences was eating at Bread and Ink Café on Hawthorne. Back in the mid-90s the street was only starting to get hip, and Bread and Ink was the nice place with real napkins and white tablecloths, in a brick building that had once been a grocery store. It was a little out of my price range, but breakfast was an affordable luxury.

The first time I had biscuits and gravy there, I wasn’t transported back to my mother’s elbow or anything so melodious, because although she could ably feed her family, my mom never derived any joy from it. This B&G tasted like love, not making-do.

I had never known that shit-on-a-shingle could be decadent, but here it was: a broad plate of tender biscuits flecked with butter, blanketed in silky cream gravy scented faintly with nutmeg and black pepper, punctuated with sausage bits and needlessly gilded with melted cheese. This was manna from heaven, if heaven was the once-nicest joint in a formerly working-class neighborhood and God was Baron—the venerable gentleman with the jangling chain wallet and slight limp who’s been waiting tables there for thirty years.

There are countless ways in which Portland has gotten too big for its britches, but Bread and Ink’s biscuits and gravy are my favorite example.

Nothing Primes You For a Papal Visit Like A Sugar High

Apr.19.17

Nothing Primes You For a Papal Visit Like A Sugar High

by Dave Hazzan

Cake and cookies in Rome

As kids in the 80s, my brother and I were bombarded, every Saturday morning during cartoons, by a plethora of advertisements for sugary cereals. An enormous-chested tiger told us we could ski Mont Blanc if we ate Frosted Flakes, a glue-huffing leprechaun promised us Lucky Charms were magically delicious, and a very creepy third-rate Bugs Bunny knock-off told us Trix were for kids.

Kids loved the idea of waking up to bowls full of sugar (duh), and billions of dollars rolled in to the coffers of Post, Kellogg’s, and General Mills, not to mention the manufacturers of Ritalin and the whole dental profession.

Today, I carry on the tradition of sugar for breakfast in Rome. When my wife and I arrived at our Vatican-side B&B, our host offered us an “Italian” breakfast option. We didn’t know that an Italian breakfast, per our hosts, includes more sugar than a case of Coke.

It begins with two pieces of spongy cake, shot through with chocolate chip shrapnel. Alongside the cake are four carefully chosen cookies: a long, puff-pastry finger biscuit; a chocolate cookie with white chocolate stars glued on; a circular butter cookie; and a tiny nub of cookie that is like a straight shot of solidified syrup. Accompanying that is a glass of very sweet pink grapefruit juice and a cup of espresso. Feel free to add sugar to the espresso, if you haven’t already slipped into a diabetic coma.

It’s a wonderful way to start your morning, or at least the first hour and a half of it. Nothing primes you for a visit to the Vatican quite like this plantation of sugar. From the apartment, it’s a 10-minute dash to St. Peter’s Square, and then an energetic hour in the papal mosh pit, elbowing your way to the front to see the Holy Father.

But sugar is a short-term drug, and when it wears off, things become dark. The mosh pit isn’t any fun anymore. That sun is awfully hot. Does that jackass behind you really need to whelp so loud? Does this guy really think he’s Christ’s living embodiment on Earth?

The energy is drained from you, like a high-octane gasoline burnt out of an Italian race car. The pope is done touring around in his Popemobile, waving at the crowds and kissing the babies. He’s gone home to his apartment, to rest his holy, weary feet. And you are alone, in the center of St. Peter’s Square, sad and faithless, because your high fructose breakfast has worn off.

Now comes the hangover. Or cake for lunch.

Photo by: Jo Turner

It’s No Deep-Fried Mars Bar, But It’ll Do

Apr.18.17

It’s No Deep-Fried Mars Bar, But It’ll Do

by Ella Rovardi

Crowdie in Edinburgh

Crowdie: a rustic, Scottish, soft, cow’s milk cheese.

How had I never heard of this before? Up until this point I had felt smug about my well-travelled palate. I’ve tried many weird and wonderful foods over my years of globetrotting: roast guinea pig (a bit like duck with long toenails); putrified shark meat (its chewy texture as unforgiving as its ammoniac stench); and meal-worm bolognese, which was actually pleasantly nutty. But here I was, back in the country in which I was born and bred, unaware of this humble cheese made right here in Bonnie Scotland.

Overcoming my embarrassment as a Scot having to ask an English waiter at our local Edinburgh gastropub to explain what crowdie was, I felt obliged to order the crowdie salad in spite of my appetite hankering over something more brunchy. Chunks of bleeding beetroot and charred pumpkin sat brightly among beige pearls of barley, and the crowdie, warmed, silkily coated the peppery arugula. Akin to soft goat’s cheese in texture—but less “farmy” in flavor—its creaminess was slightly sour, almost lemony.

This cheese has some pretty cool history. It is known to have fed revellers at traditional Scottish ceilidh celebrations, lining their stomachs along with oatcakes in preparation for the onslaught of whisky drinking. Its origins can be traced back to the Viking settlements in the ninth century, the tradition carried forward by Scottish Highlanders to this day.

Essentially a byproduct of butter-making, the process begins by skimming the cream from fresh milk and heating the remaining liquid until it curdles—historically, either in the sun or by the fire—before straining, separating the curds from the whey. Salt is added to the curds before being molded into a log shape and sometimes rolled in chewy pinhead oats and spicy crushed black pepper, known as “black crowdie.”

It becomes clear the more people I speak to that I am not the only one who had never heard of it. In spite of its availability, we in the south of Scotland are still reaching for the mass-produced tubs of soft cheeses, lining the pockets of food giants, as our local cheese sits on the shelves, invisible, undiscovered and as yet, unwanted. Containing only cows’ milk and salt, I can’t help but think this must be a superior product to consume than everyone’s favorite cream cheese?

It may not be as exotic as our haggis or black pudding, or as (in)famous as the deep-fried Mars Bar, but crowdie still merits a place in our homes and on our menus. A back-to-basics, local product, versatile in its simplicity; I am a convert.

Finding Acceptance and Dim Sum Far From Home

Apr.14.17

Finding Acceptance and Dim Sum Far From Home

by Randy Mulyanto

Siu mai in George Town

Dim sum—often associated with Cantonese cuisine and dialect—has won hearts in George Town, the capital of the Malaysian state of Penang, although you’ll more often hear the Hokkien dialect here, which originated in China’s Fujian province.

It is Saturday, almost 9:30 a.m., and Restoran Zim Sum is full of families eating breakfast. Penang resident Awee tells me this restaurant is always crowded thanks to its location on George Town’s main artery, Macalister Road.

I’m visiting Penang from Tangerang city, Indonesia, staying with my parents while they get medical checkups. Many Indonesian nationals come to Penang for the excellent but affordable healthcare. My parents were both born in Indonesia, descended from the many waves of Chinese migration to the country. My father, who at first only knew Hakka dialect, picked up my mother’s dialect—Hokkien—quickly.

Because my parents spoke Hokkien at home, Penang doesn’t feel strange to me. The diners around us at Restoran Zim are all speaking Hokkien, so I consider it an opportunity to blend in with the locals.

Getting your food here is simple: take whatever you want from the dim sum station, but don’t put anything back. You can find the classics like har gow, braised chicken feet, and char siu bao. There are also custard buns, cheong fun with soy sauce, and sweetbread with chicken and ham filling. But siu mai is my favorite. Served three to a small metal plate, this is a steamed, succulent, pork-and-shrimp dumpling with flying-fish roe on top. The yellow wrapping doesn’t feel sticky. It’s not dry, but it’s not watery either. It’s warm food that relaxes me from the first bite. Then there’s also sweet chili sauce and hot Chinese tea from the pot.

After walking back and forth to the dim sum corner to keep tabs on the what’s ready, a waitress in her 60s heads to our table to give us the bill.

Yìn ní lang?” she asks my aunt—who has lived in Penang since 2009—to find out if we’re Indonesian. I confirm.

Yìn ní huá qiáo?” She asks us again, this time completely in Mandarin. Chinese-Indonesian?

Duì,” I say. Yes.

She knows we’re not from Penang, but she doesn’t treat us like foreigners by conversing in English or Malay, which is closely linked to Indonesian. She is friendly and full of laughter.

She sees us as we are, and it’s a welcome feeling. Indonesia’s New Order government brought decades of forced assimilation for the ethnic Chinese there, including a push to adopt Indonesian names. To cut their ties with China—which the government believed was closely linked to Indonesia’s banned Communist Party—Chinese traditions and languages were forbidden in public. It feels more important than ever for Chinese Indonesians to be proud and comfortable in their own skin.

A Brief Lesson in Avoiding Uncomfortable Conversations About Trump and Dietary Restrictions

Apr.13.17

A Brief Lesson in Avoiding Uncomfortable Conversations About Trump and Dietary Restrictions

by Lindsay Gasik

Kolo mee in Kuching

“So how do you feel about your new president?” The Uber driver chuckles. My friend in the backseat rolls her eyes.

Uber is easy to use and cheap in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo, and for the past five weeks we’ve been having this conversation daily. Once I reveal I’m American, apparently there are only two things to talk about.

“You never know,” I reply tersely. “Maybe it will be better than we expect.” I wait for the next question. He pauses.

“So how do you like our kolo mee?”

Kolo mee is Kuching’s signature dish, sold morning, noon and night and apparently eaten that often by its Uber drivers. I still haven’t tasted it. “What?!” the driver yelps, suddenly upset. He harangues me about the springiness of the boiled noodles, served dry like pasta, the smoky sweetness of thin slices of char siu, red-rimmed pork, and the heat of brined chilies.

“This is the number one food in Kuching,” he says, wagging his index finger at the traffic.

I feign interest and make promises I don’t intend to keep. As a vegetarian, I’m doubtful I’ll ever taste kolo mee. But anything’s better than discussing the U.S. president. When we arrive at Stutong Community Market in Kuching’s southeastern suburb, I make a last false-assurance that I will absolutely buy kolo mee for breakfast and shut the door.

Inside the towering market building, shoppers and vendors loop slowly through a tidy labyrinth of fruits and vegetables open to the overexposed morning. I stop to inspect bundles of purplish jungle ferns called midin. When I look up my friend has disappeared.

I pay the grandmotherly Chinese woman for my ferns and stand tiptoe, scanning over the black-haired heads for my friend’s yellow halo of kinky dreads. She’s not looking at powdered spices or vegetables pickled to the color of camouflage. She’s not in the corridor echoing with the noise of fresh coconut being ground into milk. She’s not buying gummy rice-flour breakfast cakes.

At a loss, I tiptoe up the steps of the market to the second floor, a square cafeteria edged with dozens of narrow food stalls. Four or five advertise kolo mee. I ignore them.

But as I circumnavigate the top floor, yellow seals signifying Buddhist vegetarian food catch my eye. Penciled under the Chinese lettering are the words “Kolo mee.” I almost laugh, and sit down.

The yellow tangle of noodles arrives, topped with fried green onion, slices of soy-based char siu, and a large steamed lettuce leaf. I dump the smaller bowl of clear broth and all of the pickled chilies over the top and use chopsticks to gather the slippery noodles into a deep spoon. It reminds me of the ramen of my childhood, but less salty, somehow softer, and slightly spicy.

Finished, I head downstairs and spy her bright head between bunches of hanging bananas.

“Where were you?” she asks.

“Eating kolo mee.” She raises her eyebrows.

You never know.

Romance is Fleeting But Pastry is Forever

Apr.12.17

Romance is Fleeting But Pastry is Forever

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Tahinli çörek in Istanbul

Not long after I moved to Istanbul, I met a neighborhood, a guy, and a pastry all within a few months of each other.

The neighborhood was Kuzguncuk, a little village of a place that abuts the Bosphorus on the Asian side. Plane trees line its central avenue, and there are cafes and galleries and butcher shops and tea houses all in a row.

The guy was a resident of Kuzguncuk. It was to learn more about the history of this intriguing place, where minorities had coexisted well into the 20th century, that I met him through a mutual friend. He lived in an apartment he’d inherited from his mother, his parents having come like so many others from the Black Sea to settle in this part of Istanbul when it was first emptied of the Greeks, Armenians, and Jews that used to live here. We met in a tea house and chatted.

It was a chance encounter that turned into an hours-long conversation and ended with the gift of a book. We kept in touch and continued to meet not infrequently and usually over quite ritualized meals in meyhanes that might start in the early evening and go well into the early morning. But it wasn’t until the first snows fell and what Orhan Pamuk describes as the hüzün, or melancholy, of winter settled on the city that this friendship turned to something more.

Then I met the pastry.

It was morning, and he had put on a pot of coffee and popped out to buy a newspaper. He came back with package from Dilim Bakery on the corner, with something inside that looked like a snail in pastry form. It wound out from the center, was caramel-colored and dusted with sesame seeds. In texture, it was a hybrid between cake and bread, and inside were fine layers of tahini cream. It was an amalgam of sweet, nutty, and spicy, and a great complement to the black coffee. In Turkish they call it tahinli çörek and in Greek tahinopita.

This became our usual weekend breakfast, and whenever I left Kuzguncuk, I would walk down to Dilim Bakery on the corner and pick up a couple of the tahini pies for the road.

Summer came, and the guy and I broke up, and the pastry and neighborhood fell out of my life for a time. Then I tried buying it from other bakeries in my area, but they were not quite as good as the one in Kuzguncuk. So after some months, I started going back to Dilim Bakery. They know my face now, and we speak Turkish together.

The second year in Istanbul brought more visitors, and I kept sharing this pastry. My friends from Paris especially loved it, as surprised as I was at first by how flavorful it is, given its unprepossessing appearance. When they left, they even took some of the tahinli scones back to Paris with them, as I do when I visit, and my friend now tells me that tahinli is part of his apartment code.

Ideas and culture are spread, and food is a repository for memories. In spite of loss, we keep and pass on what we love, as bittersweet as tahini pastry and black coffee.

Photo by: Sina Opalka

Embracing Cereal and Probable Damnation for Breakfast

Apr.11.17

Embracing Cereal and Probable Damnation for Breakfast

by Boris Abrams

Cereal in New York

Still blurry from sleep, I stumble into the kitchen where a box of cereal awaits. The mind’s eye transports me back to Passovers spent in Israel: to a life of comfort, security, restriction. On those warm Mediterranean mornings, matzah would be slathered in the saltiest of butters and extra-dry pastries would sit on plates reserved for the eight-day holiday.

It’s the beginning of Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the end of our slavery in Egypt. As with most festivals, dietary regulations are enforced, though never are they quite as strict and complex as on Passover. The consumption of chametz—leavened foods—is prohibited. Kitchenware—plates, pans, cups—must be changed, for they have absorbed the leavened grains. Though some utensils may be purified for the holiday, others, such as those made from enamel and clay, may not.

No longer an observant Jew, I remove a bowl from the cabinet and pause before allowing the dry cereal to rattle against the bowl’s ceramic interior. It is a sound that I have come to adore, yet on this morning, the prospect of icy cold milk refreshing the stale breath of morning worries me. The merging of crunchy cereal with the sweetest of fruits, once a highlight of the morning meal, fails to entice. Nevertheless, I force my body to comply. This rebellion is needed. Dicing strawberries, apprehension builds. The blade is clean, but its impurity shines brightly; it contaminates and it taints all that it touches. Indeed, nothing in my kitchen is kosher for Passover.

Seated at the table, I struggle to eat. To consume the breakfast would expel me from the only life I have known; a life once loved and celebrated. Indeed, even to own one of the five forbidden grains during Passover is to incur spiritual expulsion. To ingest these grains is unthinkable. Is this what I really want? Am I ready to complete my journey to liberation—or probable damnation?

There is yet another moment of pause, the mind assessing the severity of punishments to come. Fleeing the internal pandemonium, I allow the spoon to collect soggy wheat-flakes in the now lukewarm milk. I swallow, willing the voices in my mind to quieten. I think of the generations of Jews before me, whose commitment to the faith cost them their lives. I think of my family’s disappointment at their failure to raise a good Jewish man. But then the monologue disappears. It is replaced by a reassuring silence, much like a gentle breeze that confirms a hurricane has past. It’s odd: one final act of defiance and the worry is over.

After breakfast, I leave the apartment, nestling into the cold embrace of Manhattan’s early spring.

Photo by: Ubcule

Nothing Heals a Broken Heart Like a Technicolor Taco Cart

Apr.10.17

Nothing Heals a Broken Heart Like a Technicolor Taco Cart

by Gowri Chandra

Chicharrón tacos in the Yucatán

I wandered through the pre-dawn streets, looking for a place that was open. It was 6 a.m. We had just said goodbye.

January in the Yucatán had been unusually frigid, flurried with rain. I had only packed beach dresses of gauzy linen, and walked hunched with cold.

In the blue light I came to a technicolor taco cart, its propane burners lit. Behind it a tiny lady emerged. She looked about 80. She deftly navigated between a myriad of metal pots, stirring various toppings—black beans, crumbled boiled eggs, cotija.

I ordered a chicharrón taco. There was nowhere to sit, so I found a spot on the sidewalk. The taco arrived on a plastic plate, morsels of fatty, gelatinous skin glistening in red gravy. Amber rivulets of grease caught the morning light, now emerging. I took a bite. The umami flavor flooded my mouth, satisfyingly salty. It was the very essence of pork, condensed. A far cry from the powdery pork rinds packaged in American supermarkets, I thought.

I sat in the morning sun, forgetting my chill. I ordered another.

The previous days had been punctuated with street food. Panuchos eaten standing up, hard disks of tortilla topped with threads of chicken; tamales colados wrapped in banana leaves, as thin and square as a padded envelope. The masa inside was as creamy as custard; within, paper thin layers of chaya, cream cheese, and eggs. I would skip the hotel breakfast to bike through downtown, pecking at stalls. He hadn’t been very interested; he preferred muesli by the beach. How boring, I had thought. But it hadn’t made this any easier.

The dusty alleyways were coming alive now, putters of cars now audible. I didn’t want to go back to the hotel room.

I sauntered up the main drag, fatigued with pork fat, sadness, and lack of sleep. The light was now bright and harsh. I came to a sidewalk cafe—clearly the touristy kind, but the only thing open. Outside sat a group of older American women who looked like they were dressed for golf.

I pulled a chair into the sun and ordered a hot coffee. It came steaming, thick and dark. I wrapped my hands around it for warmth, and thought about how to spend my last day here, alone. Coffee, a taco, a slice of sun: welcome consolations, I thought, if this has to be an ending.

Ukraine Falls In Love With Coffee, Again

Apr.06.17

Ukraine Falls In Love With Coffee, Again

by Cynthia Sularz

Coffee in Dnipro

When discussing coffee, one might think of Italy and Austria, of Colombian blends, and of deep jungles in the heart of South America. Rarely does one think of Ukraine. But, for many Ukrainians, coffee is now not just a treat, but a daily necessity. As I walk through the city of Dnipro, I can’t help but notice all the coffee shops. Sometimes there are as many as four on the same street.

Almost every morning I walk past the Holy Trinity Cathedral to my favorite coffee shop in Dnipro. The name, My Coffee, conveys warmth and a reminder that I belong. It suggests that even I can have something of my own in this grey but welcoming city. It’s one of the newer ones, reflecting the city’s changes. Its yellow and wood interior is small, but never congested. I would not describe it as homey. It’s slick but easy, angular but cozy. I usually order a cappuccino, and they give me a choice of Arabic or a Costa Rican blend.

It wasn’t always like this. Like modern Russia, Ukraine was a country of instant coffee and tea. It is only in the past five years that coffee has taken center stage. And with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the beginnings of the war in Donbas, came a desire, even a need, to invest in Ukraine. To remember Ukrainian culture. To feel pride.

This is perhaps why Yuri Kulczycki has had somewhat of a renaissance. Kulczycki was born in 1640 in what was then part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and is now western Ukraine. According to a long-held (and only recently disputed legend, Kulczycki founded Vienna’s first coffeehouse, Zur blauen Flasche (“at the blue bottle” or “the place with the blue bottle”) after the Ottomans’ unsuccessful Siege of Vienna in 1683. He was a hero in Vienna because, as a fluent Turkish speaker, he managed to smuggle crucial messages in and out of the besieged city by posing as a Turkish merchant.

Kulczycki’s siege heroics may be true, but his link to Vienna’s coffee tradition, less so: according to more recent sources, Vienna’s first coffeehouse was actually founded by an Armenian, out of his apartment building. Kulczycki’s link to Vienna’s coffee tradition appears to have been invented in 1783, in Gottfried Uhlich’s history of the Turkish siege.

But no matter. The original Blue Bottle coffeehouse—and whoever opened it—is long gone. But there is now a new Blue Bottle coffeehouse in Lviv, honoring this legend. Lviv now has more than 600 cafes. Dnipro, my current home in Ukraine, has fewer, but more keep opening.

It’s strange now to imagine a Ukraine without coffee shops. To walk down the boulevards and not smell the aroma of roasted beans. Some Ukrainian history may have once been lost, but, like the location of your favorite coffee shop, it’s never forgotten.

What To Order After Your Brioche and Caffè Marocchino

Apr.05.17

What To Order After Your Brioche and Caffè Marocchino

by Rachael Martin

Peach juice in Milan

It’s a spring morning in Milan, and I’m sitting on a bar stool playing with the straw in my peach juice. I’ve had my caffè marocchino in its elegant little glass. I’ve had my brioche, too, still warm and filled with raspberry jam. And now I’m having a peach juice so I can stay a little longer. It’s one of those thick juices, halfway between a juice and a purée, satisfying, as I navigate the straw in circles around the bottom of the glass.

The windows frame the world outside. The dirty white canopies of the market stalls line the canals. Market traders are ready for a brand new day, only this time they’re selling the relics of the past. There are 1960s telephones, wooden tortoises, fur coats of dubious ethical provenance, all the usual vintage clothing and bijoux, and stalls specializing in vintage evening bags. Milan is chic and it knows it, only this version is ever so slightly shabbier and more well-loved, like the velvet armchairs grouped around low tables in this a café, which evokes a golden age of poets and intellectuals despite the fact it’s only been around for five years. The bars and cafés are a relatively new phenomenon along the Naviglio.

Naviglio literally means navigable canal. Nowadays, you can ride a tourist boat on it, but towards the end of the 13th century, the Naviglio Grande was a direct link with the Alp and Prealp settlements in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Switzerland. This was the canal that brought the marble from the caves of Candoglia northwest of Milan to build the famous Duomo. The whole waterways system was extended by Milan’s most powerful families, the Visconti and the Sforza, during the Italian Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Wander along the Naviglio Grande nowadays and you’ll find a series of art galleries, bars, restaurants and trattorias, the famous Libraccio second-hand bookshop, a communal washing trough, and lots more tucked into little side alleys that all give the impression of a country town rather than a city.

Yet that can come later. I’ll just sit a while longer in the café with the old birdcages complete with fake parrots and the bicycle wheels that hang from the ceiling and function as lights. It’s a temple of bric-a-brac with its old wooden bar that came straight from a chemist’s, and I love it.

A group of tourists chat in Dutch. An older guy is reading his way through the Corriere della Sera newspaper. And I am here, with my glass of peach juice. Lucio Battisti is singing La Canzone del Sole, song of the sun, in the background.

The clouds are clearing; the light has changed. Of course it has. We’re in Italy, where romance is not dead.

A Political Truce Over Fried Chicken Biscuits

Apr.04.17

A Political Truce Over Fried Chicken Biscuits

by Caroline Eubanks

Fried chicken biscuits in Atlanta

When it comes to my father and I, we frequently sit on opposite sides of the spectrum. He’s a gun rights conservative and I’m a bleeding heart liberal. He’s a little bit country, I’m a little bit rock and roll. He works outside doing manual labor and I sit inside, freelance writing in my pajamas. But one thing we can always agree on is fried chicken biscuits.

Hearty breakfasts like the fried chicken biscuit originated with farmers and laborers who needed to carb-load for long days in the field. Today, they still suit everyone from 9-5ers to the hangover-afflicted. All can appreciate the satisfying combination of textures and saltiness.

You’ll find this breakfast dish in fast food restaurants in the South and beyond, but there’s one biscuit that rises (pun intended) above the rest.

You’ll find it at Home Grown Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. Home Grown’s exterior resembles my grandmother’s home, complete with a vegetable garden. The interior looks like a 1970s diner. Stickers for local breweries and companies cover the fridge and offbeat artwork lines the walls. You can even buy from Sew Thrifty, its small shop in the dining room.

Unlike its fast food counterparts, Home Grown’s chicken biscuit has crunchy and peppery fried chicken that is hammered thin, schnitzel style, still retaining the juiciness. The batter isn’t overly heavy or doughy. It’s then placed inside a pillowy biscuit and, if you’re feeling adventurous, topped in sausage gravy. Wash it down with refills of drip coffee. Even Bill Clinton and Clint Eastwood have been spotted here.

We try to go early, sometimes after he picks me up for the airport or on a Sunday outing. Otherwise, it’s next to impossible to find a table. So we order our respective meals, his with extra sausage gravy and mine with a side of home fries and coffee, from the tattooed waitress. By 2 p.m., they’ll be closed.

While here, we don’t talk politics or religion or sports. Nothing controversial. It’s our common ground, our demilitarized zone for breakfast. Sometimes we take in the changes to Reynoldstown, the neighborhood that Home Grown is in. The busy Memorial Avenue is now home to high-rise apartment complexes as much as abandoned and graffitied lots.

Home Grown is one place that people from both sides of the aisle, like my father and I, can come together for a classic Southern breakfast.

Don’t Let Social Mores Get Between You and Your Favorite Omelet

Apr.03.17

Don’t Let Social Mores Get Between You and Your Favorite Omelet

by Sonia Filinto

Ros omelet in Goa

I was on my way back from a morning walk on Calangute beach in north Goa. I stopped by the market square, locally called tinto, to pick up the day’s bread requirements—the famous Goan pao and its close companion, the poe. As the shopkeeper filled my small cloth bag, the whiff of freshly baked bread whetted my appetite. An unusually early dinner the previous evening and the morning sea breeze made me rather hungry. My parents were not at home that morning so in no rush to head back, I decided to have breakfast nearby. I knew what I wanted. Ros omelet, a Goan classic: an omelet and coconut gravy.

Growing up in a Goan Catholic household meant I was more familiar with jam and butter for breakfast. Cold cuts were weekend treats. All this, an influence of 450 years of Portuguese rule. Coconut gravy-based breakfast dishes are predominately a Hindu preparation. In fact, ros omelet is usually served as an evening snack across Goa. My hometown, Calangute, is the only place I know of where the dish is available in the morning. A few years ago, a little eatery opened near my parents’ home. Yes, it served ros omelet for breakfast. My siblings and I are particularly fond of the dish so whenever we visit home, my father makes a dash across the road for some take-away. As my trips back home become increasingly frequent, the ros omelet has found a regular spot on the breakfast table.

I parked my scooter in the narrow unpaved gap between the road and rows of shops and walked a few meters to Anand tea stall. It shares its name with its more famous counterpart—the owners are related, I believe—nearby, which serves only vegetarian meals. As I settled into my seat, a few curious eyes followed me briefly before returning to their meals. It is unusual for a woman to dine-in alone at a modest place such as this. If she does come in, it is to pick up take-away or as part of a group.

My ros omelet arrived. A nice, thick omelet soaked in a generous portion of gravy, accompanied by two bread rolls. Finely chopped onion and a tiny piece of lemon are served separately incase you wish to garnish the dish. The combination of coconut and ground spices gave off a heady aroma. I tore off the bread hungrily and soaked a piece in the warm gravy. The mildly spiced flavors were comforting. I proceeded to polish off my ros omelet. It was only when I was done that I leaned back and looked around. The place had a steady stream of customers, all stopping by for a quick breakfast before heading off to work. The waiter asked if he should serve the milky tea that is usually drunk after the meal. I declined. I wanted the taste to linger on.

Everything Tastes Better With a Side of Familial Disapproval

Mar.31.17

Everything Tastes Better With a Side of Familial Disapproval

by Eileen Guo

Baozi in Lijang

I sink my teeth into the doughy flesh of the steamed bun and bite through to the ground pork inside, flavored simply but heavily with ginger and salt. The filled bun was just removed from the steamer, and is almost painfully hot, just the way I like it. When it comes down to burning my mouth versus waiting to consume my favorite Chinese breakfast food, baozi, I’ll choose taste over comfort/safety any day.

It’s day eight of my month-long trip to China, where much of my family lives, and I am finally satisfying my cravings for the steamed buns filled with fragrant, ground meat. I am in the tourist hotspot of Old Town Lijiang, enjoying a few days of solo travel before rejoining my family for the Chinese Spring Festival, and it is the first time that I am making my own decisions about breakfast. I make for the nearest open restaurant, ensure that baozi is on the menu, and sit down for a bamboo basket of the pastries, which I pair with fresh soy milk.

It’s a common breakfast combination for busy Chinese person. A decade earlier, studying Mandarin at a local university, each morning I rushed out of the house and biked to campus, stopping for the just-cooked buns and a plastic cup of soy milk from one of the vendors at street intersections along the way. I would balance on my bike with one hand while eating the buns from the other, arriving on campus satiated, content and, usually, without getting into any bike or serious scalding accidents. I knew that my family would not approve—either of the one-handed biking or my distracted eating of street foods—but besides the flavors, living as an adult in the country of my early childhood and having the freedom to choose my Chinese food experiences was part of the appeal.

At home, we ate steamed buns without filling, mantou, or the longer boiled dumplings usually associated with Chinese food, but my family rarely made baozi. During my visits, my relatives sometimes purchased them from a grocery store or a street vendor to appease my well-known cravings, but I know that they didn’t approve. In China, food safety is a constant concern and like many middle-class Chinese, they are suspicious of all foods cooked outside of the home, especially street food, and particularly ground meats of undeterminable origin. Baozi, literally and figuratively, is all of these things.

Besides, street foods are fast food, and to eat fast food is to suggest that I do not have family cooking for me at home. So out of respect for their generous hosting and concern for my gut safety, I limit my baozi consumption to when I am on my own.

In solitude, as on this morning in Lijiang, I brave the mystery meat and scalding contents for the flavor and texture that I have come to associate with adulthood in China.

The Breakfast Burrito I’ve Been Fantasizing About For Seven Months

Mar.30.17

The Breakfast Burrito I’ve Been Fantasizing About For Seven Months

by Hannah Freedman

Green Chile Burrito in Albuquerque

My first sight when arriving home to Albuquerque is the Sandia Mountains to my right and the six-lane highway stretching into the horizon ahead of me, broken only by the few scattered high-rise buildings that count as “downtown.” There is no question where I’m headed; it’s always the first and last destination of every trip home. Just off Interstate 25 on Central Avenue is a familiar barn-shaped building with a kitschy yellow roof and the words Frontier Restaurant displayed prominently in white and red.

It’s 11 p.m., an unusual hour for a breakfast spot, but inside it’s bustling and boisterous. Frontier will be open for two more hours—a change from the original 24-hour policy after some unruly nights and a shooting that took place behind the restaurant several years ago. Servers and cashiers in soda jerk hats are yelling out to one another as order numbers flash across screens around the room. Retro booths with orange, plastic cushions fill the front space, and three more large rooms stretch into the back of the restaurant. I wait patiently until the next green flashing light indicates an open cashier. Customers in here ignore the looming menu above the ordering space—they know what’s served and what they want.

I place my order, wander into the farthest back room, and take a seat under one of numerous paintings of John Wayne that hang on the walls alongside Native American rugs, flower landscapes, and turquoise jewelry. Sipping my homemade lemonade, I wave to the co-owner of the restaurant, an older woman dressed immaculately in a long skirt and blouse with her hair in a French twist. She’s busy busing down the table next to me and I’m sure her husband, the other owner, isn’t far.

When my number is called, I collect my tray from the front and finally dig into it: the green chile breakfast burrito I’ve been fantasizing about for the seven months since my last visit home. For the most part, the East Coast hasn’t—yet—quite caught on to the breakfast burrito (or at least, this version of it.) But green chile—peeled green pepper, roasted and chopped, with a a unique heat and spicy flavor that’s impossible to replicate—is so essential to New Mexicans that those who have moved away often have friends or family mail them jars of it regularly.

The Frontier burritos are notoriously hefty, filling a large dinner plate, but the eggs, golden hash browns, crispy bacon, cheddar cheese, and hot green chile all wrapped in a homemade tortilla are beckoning, and I devour the entire thing. The comforting spicy tingle of the chile lingers on my lips. Satiated, I consider ordering another one to take home for breakfast the next morning, but I know I’ll be here again on my way back to the airport when I leave. I’ll have one last burrito, and pack a jar of green chile and several freshly-made tortillas into my carry-on to take with me. A little piece of home for the road.

Photo by: Don James

Not Quite St. Patrick’s Day On the Other Emerald Isle

Mar.29.17

Not Quite St. Patrick’s Day On the Other Emerald Isle

by Séamas Ashe

Bagel in Montserrat

I’ve exchanged a blizzard in Boston for tree frogs and trade winds. I’m back in Montserrat in the Caribbean, one of Britain’s last overseas territories. It’s known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, because it resembles Ireland topographically and because of its Irish heritage: its first European settlers were Irish indentured servants the English shipped over from neighboring St. Kitts, who eventually became slave owners themselves.

Montserrat is one of a handful of places besides Ireland where March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—is a public holiday. Here, it also commemorates a failed slave uprising in 1768.

For the past six years I have spent March 17 here, where it’s part of a week-long, Mardi-Gras-like festival when far-flung Montserratians return for dancing, drinking, and to don the national dress of green, white, and orange—which also happen to be the national colors of Ireland.

At first, I was drawn to the island’s friendliness, but now it’s the actual friendships that keep bringing me back.

My friend, Iris, is running late, and though I’m hungry, I’m not in a hurry. When she eventually picks me up, we take our time driving along narrow winding roads.

Our destination is a quaint combination café and mini art gallery called Java Lava—a fitting name on an island with an active volcano. (The loudspeaker outside chimes at noon, and doubles as an emergency siren when necessary.) Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills volcano—long dormant—sputtered back to life in 1995, and a large eruption 1997 killed 19 people and devastated much of the island, including the island’s capital, Plymouth, and the island’s airport. The tourism industry was also destroyed, but it’s slowly returning as the island continues to rebuild and renew. Java Lava now buzzes with locals and visitors alike.

My friend Iris recommends a Caribbean Blend frappe, which is made with coconut cream. I need a quick caloric fix, so I order a scrambled egg-stuffed bagel packed with bacon. The eggs are fluffy and tasty, and I ponder how they fit what looks like a half dozen eggs between two bagel slices. Everything is fresh on this island, particularly the eggs. Montserrat has no chain restaurants. Chances are, anything you order will have been picked, harvested, or caught that very day, and your palate and your body will be grateful for it.

Customers come and go, some sitting and others opting for takeout. I meet several people, some I’ve met on previous visits. Later, I’ll head to the north of the island, to Pont’s Beach View Restaurant, where I will wait for my freshly caught fish to be cleaned and cooked. Again, I won’t be in a hurry.

A Man With a Sizzling Wok is Always Good to Find

Mar.28.17

A Man With a Sizzling Wok is Always Good to Find

by Anisha Rachel Oommen

Jalebis in Bangalore

The spring equinox that marks the Persian New Year is also celebrated in India, by the Parsi community.

India’s Parsis predate the country’s other Zoroastrian community, the Iranis, by several centuries. The legend of that first wave of Persian migration in the eighth century goes like this: fleeing persecution in their home country, they arrived on the shores of Gujarat on the west coast of India seeking asylum, only to be told there was no room. The king sent a glass of milk filled to the brim to signify his kingdom could accommodate no refugees. But a tenacious Zoroastrian priest added a pinch of sugar and sent the tumbler back, an unspoken promise that the Parsis would assimilate to their new home like sugar into milk, only adding to the sweetness of life in their host country. And the Parsis did integrate seamlessly, assuming the native dress and adopting local traditions while still retaining their distinct culture and faith.

Many Parsi culinary traditions are unique, but there is no denying their host culture’s influence—such as a strong sweet tooth. Most Parsi Nowruz celebrations feature the jalebi, a maze-like spiral of flour-batter, deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup. The jalebi’s origins are unclear, but many trace its roots to Persia, from the Iranian zulabiā, sweetened with honey and flavored with saffron and rose water.

In the crowded streets of Malleswaram, in Bangalore, if you know where to look, you can find jalebi for breakfast. One morning in the week leading up to Nowruz, as we walked among Malleswaram’s iconic old-school restaurants that serve traditional dosas and idlis, we found what we were looking for: a corner stall with a man and a giant wok. As we walked towards his stall, we felt the heat radiate off the spluttering oil in the pan. He saw us approach and swung into action. Picking up what looked like a large handkerchief filled with batter, he expertly motioned circles in the air, over the oil. A steady stream of batter flowed into the oil below, which he shaped like pretzels. In under a minute he had made close to 40 of them.

It was hard to tear our eyes away from the mesmerizing pattern of his movement. The batter sizzled in the oil. As it changed color, he used a large slotted spoon to lift the roundels out of the oil and drop them into another wok filled with sugar syrup. He let them rest a moment, before ceremoniously placing them on a scratched blue plate.

Jalebis pair nicely with thickened milk, rabdi, or vanilla ice cream, and even custard. But many, like me, believe that they taste best on their own, still hot and crisp from the wok.

If You’re in Mexico City and Craving Cameroonian Bread, You’re In Luck

Mar.27.17

If You’re in Mexico City and Craving Cameroonian Bread, You’re In Luck

by Daniel Martínez Garbuno

Makra in Mexico City

I live in Mexico City, perhaps not the most obvious location for a place devoted to African gastronomy. But there is a small and cozy restaurant in the north part of this megalopolis called Lafricaine, and it is where I ate one of the most magnificent pieces of bread: the makra.

I don’t make this affirmation lightly. Mexico has no shortage of baked goods. Every day, we can choose between the bolillo (and their many varieties: torta, guajolota, or molletes, for instance), a concha (with nata or with a cup of hot chocolate), an oreja (so called because it resembles an elephant’s ear) and many other breads at our panaderías.

Makra is just a ball of fried banana bread. But its simplicity is what makes it so attractive. As is often the case, the simpler the dish, the better it tastes. I thought, when I first tasted it, that this could be the next big thing, if only more Mexicans knew about it.

Danielle, Lafricaine’s owner, told me her family ate makra for breakfast every morning. I imagined her family feeling the first rays of the sun in Bafang, Cameroon, while they ate and prepared themselves for another day, which always began with a bunch of freshly fried makras. Usually, they ate this bread with beans and buyi, a fermented drink made of cornmeal. In Mexico, however, I ate it with cajeta, a Mexican staple of sweetened caramelized goat’s milk.

After they immigrated to Mexico, Danielle’s family left many things behind, but not their makra morning ritual. Maybe because the recipe is simple and the bread can be easily reproduced with products in any Mexican market, or maybe because some foods feel like home more than any house or bed. Either way, I found myself transported through the flavors of a long lost home.

Smart Move, Going for Pasta Over the Lumberjack Brunch When in Italy

Mar.24.17

Smart Move, Going for Pasta Over the Lumberjack Brunch When in Italy

by Dave Hazzan

Spaghetti aglio e olio in Turin

A woman is screaming in the apartment above us.

We don’t know what she’s screaming about, but she’s doing it at such a pitch that no one, presumably including whomever she’s screaming at, can understand anything. Residents have come out on their balconies to see what’s going on, pedestrians have stopped to listen, their thumbs on their mobile phones, ready to call the police if glass starts to shatter.

We’ve come for Sunday brunch at Slurp!, a well-known restaurant off Via Vittorio Emanuel II. It’s a pleasant little place with a cute balcony on the sidewalk, napkins and tablecloths in bright, primary colors, and lots of chatty young locals in sunglasses, kissing each other and chatting away their hangovers.

The menu is a bit of a disappointment, though. They offer something called the Lumberjack Brunch, which as far as I can tell involves a massive pile of eggs, sausages, pastry, salmon, and plenty else. It’s also 18.50, which is a bit beyond our budget, especially since we spent 70 euros getting drunk last night.

There is a pause in the din. Perhaps they’ve made up? Jo gets the salmon sandwich and I go for the spaghetti aglio e olio, largely because of the price, and because hey, we’re in Italy! While we wait for our meals, the screaming begins again.

When the food arrives, I ask the waitress, “You have no idea what’s going on here?”

“Well, they sometimes scream,” the waitress replies. “They are a couple, two women. They fight sometimes.”

Both the spaghetti and the smoked salmon are fantastic. Simple dishes done right—this is why we’ve come to Italy, to eat our way through the day in the mountains and Mediterranean sunlight. It feels like an Italian cliché made flesh: a Sunday at noon, with little cars going past, chatty, smoky locals, the al dente pasta, the lady above us screaming blue murder.

Photo by: Jo Turner

There’s No Such Thing As a Short Minute When You’re Hungover and Waiting for Pie

Mar.23.17

There’s No Such Thing As a Short Minute When You’re Hungover and Waiting for Pie

by Efraín Villanueva

Tamal in Bogota

The waiter takes our order and, before descending the stairs, extends all five fingers of his right hand: “Cinco minuticos”—five short minutes.

I explain to Sabeth, my German girlfriend, that La Puerta Falsa, next to Bogota’s Cathedral, is next to a side door that once was walled up. People would say “let’s meet at the aguapanalería at the false door.” That’s how the restaurant got its name.

Sabeth smiles, nods and we fall into silence. It’s 7 a.m., I’m hungover, and all I can think of is food.

Ten minutes.

The waiter comes up carrying two metal trays. Sabeth’s smile vanishes and I get crankier as he passes and serves another table. A guy in a black suit devours his huevos con todo—scrambled eggs with everything: white cheese, slices of sausages, ham, corn. It should be me eating those.

I try to distract myself by telling Sabeth more history. That La Puerta Falsa opened in 1816, and has been run by the same family for seven or eight generations. It’s only half a block away from Bolivar Square, the center of Colombian power. The restaurant’s owners and patrons have witnessed some of the most distressing moments in our country’s recent history: the riots of El Bogotazo in 1948, and in 1986, the guerrilla group M-19’s attack on the Supreme Court building.

Back to silence.

Our gazes cross from time to time as we look around, absorbing the details of the place. The second floor, where we’re sitting, has four wooden tables. Thanks to a mirror that covers the entire wall on the opposite side of the room, we get a fair view of the ground level. There is a tiny kitchen shared by four cooks and a cashier area behind an open fridge with a variety of juices, cheeses, arequipe figs, and other sweet treats.

Twenty minutes.

Without enthusiasm, I answer Sabeth’s questions. Almojabanas are cheesy, UFO-shaped baked corn pastries. They seem plain but they are very filling. A tamal is made of corn dough mixed with rice and stuffed with vegetables, pork, and chicken. Then this pie is wrapped in bijao leaves and cooked. The hot chocolate comes with a slice of white cheese. People drown it in the mug and let it melt before drinking the cocoa.

It’s hot and the remains of Glenlivet in my blood react accordingly. I feel naïve for trusting in cinco minuticos. Three years living outside Colombia, and I’ve forgotten the basics. That cannot be good for my colombianidad. In my mind, I walk down the stairs and demand my breakfast. My shirt is stuck to my back. I feel like fainting.

When the tamal is finally set down in front of me and its seductive smell hits my nose, I am saved. With the first bite, the evil waiter and his accomplices in the kitchen are forgiven. They are angels.

Photo by: Elisabeth Brenker

I Tried This Australian Croissant-Muffin Hybrid So You Don’t Have To

Mar.22.17

I Tried This Australian Croissant-Muffin Hybrid So You Don’t Have To

by Thei Zervaki

Cruffin in Melbourne

It’s nearly 9:30 a.m. in Melbourne on a Wednesday morning. I get off a tram and turn into a side street in the hip neighborhood of Fitzroy. I follow the Google Map directions that will hopefully take me to my destination. My destination is Lune Croissanterie, the birthplace of the cruffin—the croissant-muffin hybrid.

I am not a pastry aficionado. I prefer salty snacks and savory dishes. But it was my first time in Australia and I wanted to explore and try everything that I couldn’t get in North America. The cruffin can be found in a quite a few pastry shops in the U.S., but I consider visiting its birthplace part of my duty. (The term “cruffin” was first trademarked by a Delaware company in 1993, but it seems they never actually produced one.)

After a few minutes of walking, I arrive. They say the line at Lune starts to form two hours before it opens (at 7:30 a.m.) during the week, and that the pastries sell out before closing time at 3 p.m. Today, there is only a short line of no more than ten people ahead of me.

Lune Croissanterie is housed in a huge converted warehouse space that looks like a luxurious factory. While I wait, I look at the center of the building—a giant glass cube (which I later learn is called simply the “Cube”) that forms the climate-controlled working space where croissants, kougn-ammans, and cruffins are made.

The line moves quickly, and I am almost ready to order. When I ask for a cruffin, I’m told that there is only one left: the Lemon Curd. Naturally, I take it. The lady behind me orders “one of each of everything left”. I grab a bench spot.

Made with house-made lemon curd, citrus sugar, and candied lemon zest, it is soft to the touch and wonderfully fragrant. I cut into the middle to taste the croissant part, which is densely layered. The lemon curd’s tartness is refreshing and reduces the sweetness of the dough.

I regret not ordering the plain croissant to compare, but of the two, the cruffin seems the more delicate. I cheer the Australians for this fantastic culinary invention.

The Best Part of Waking Up Is a Boiling Sheep Carcass

Mar.21.17

The Best Part of Waking Up Is a Boiling Sheep Carcass

by Emma Pomfret

Kaleh pacheh in Tehran

The smell wakes you up first; an acrid alarm call of boiling sheep carcass, catching the back of the throat with more kick than a triple espresso. Iran’s heartiest breakfast, kaleh pacheh—sheep’s heads and hooves—is being served at Tehran’s Bare Sefid, a stripped-back joint of wipe-down tables and tiled walls. Its logo is a prancing lamb.

We are straight off the plane from London and at 7 a.m., this is some education in Persian cuisine. Our guide had gleefully suggested a traditional Iranian breakfast. We imagined bread, cheese, carrot jam, and fresh tea. There is too much shame in backing out now.

At least we can choose the bits we want: cheek, tongue, eyeballs, brain. Everything is doused in ladles of broth and an optional slosh of fat, skimmed from the pot. No wonder Iran’s doctors warn of kaleh pacheh’s cholesterol content. Bare Sefid is pretty low key; one man removes the meat from the carcasses, simmered overnight or for five hours at the very least. Another is on broth duty, hypnotically drenching the cooked heads and each dish before it goes to the customer.

The meat arrives on plates to pick over. Tongue is firm and close-textured; the cheek delicate, shredding under a spoon like an hours-long stew should. Bowls of golden broth come with brain—gelatinous, creamy blobs—floating in the clear stock. Other customers drift in and some order a whole brain, the size of a child’s fist, wobbling on the plate, its surface shiny and with that familiar maze-like, walnut appearance.

I mash the brainy blobs into my broth. Brain is unmistakable in the mouth: mushy, offaly, nutrient-rich. Too much. I tear up the accompanying lavash flatbread and pile it into the broth with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Yes, that works; wholesome and rejuvenating.

In her terrific book, Persia in Peckham, Sally Butcher cites heads and hooves as a hangover cure (yes, even in Iran), and as a “great treat for the family.” However, it is unlikely I’ll follow her recipe for recreating this dish at home.

Yet this is the best start to our Persian adventure. Eating kaleh pacheh becomes a badge of honor as we travel through Iran, sharing our impressions of the country with curious locals. My other half is playing a tennis tournament while we’re here, and news of his pre-match preparation sweeps through the opposition like Roger Federer’s backhand. Who is this bold British cat? Then he wins the tournament.

While buttery, saffrony rice unites the nation, it becomes clear that kaleh pacheh divides; Iranian men swear by it, beating their chests in appreciation. Women are less convinced. A mother tells me she served it to her teenage daughters for its super-food quantities of collagen. They didn’t ask for seconds. And neither will I. Pass the pomegranate juice.

The Serious Business of Breakfast in Northern Italy

Mar.17.17

The Serious Business of Breakfast in Northern Italy

by Rachael Martin

Cappucino in Brianza

It’s 8:30 a.m. in the northern Italian village, and the café is in full swing. The businessmen and bank managers are there in their suits, having a quick caffè, as they call the espresso round here. They stand at the bar, against its glass cases filled with every type of brioche and croissant. They chat opposite shiny polished coffee machines where smartly uniformed staff prepare caffé, caffé lattes, and marocchino, coffees in chic little glasses.

But the cappuccino is the star of the show. Cappuccino, that unassuming coffee copied all over the world, smooth and light in a simple white cup. (But never order it after 11 a.m.) Cappuccino e brioche is the staple breakfast of northern Italy.

It’s the weekly market day and locals from the village gather in the bar. Old ladies fresh from morning mass in pearls and dark woolen coats sit around one of the tables, women who were once busy with grandchildren, but the grandchildren are grown now. They talk together in a mixture of Italian and local dialect about daughters, grandchildren, people they know. And did you hear about Francesca, what a terrible life she’s had, and now this?

The tables fill up, mostly with women. Women who have come from school drop-offs, women who no longer do the drop-off, women in black coats and black sunglasses with designer handbags. They prefer the longer breakfast, spreading it out until past mid-morning.

It’s mid-morning now, and the staff are clearing away what remains of the brioches and preparing for the pre-lunch aperitivo. A few retired husbands have come to join their wives at the tables, back from a walk through the market and a look around its stalls with the fresh ricottas and salamis brought down from the hillside farms.

Mothers are starting to come in from the market. They queue up at the deli above glass-cased pasticcini, cannoncini—small tarts topped with strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, and grapes—next to sticky, rum-flavored babas. There are biscuits, chocolate, butter, almond, two-tone beige and chocolate swirls, and a tray of pastel-colored macaroons. And then there are the cakes: tarts with jam, tarts with fresh fruit, chocolate cakes, apple cake, various forms of cream cakes, all with fluted edges.

These are the mothers who buy pizza and focaccia and bread for hungry children who will soon be home for lunch from school. These are the mothers who rush around in lives they never quite envisaged, just like their mothers before them. They stop at the bar for a quick caffè, then say goodbye to their friends and go off back into their lives.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Millet But Were Afraid to Ask

Mar.16.17

Everything You Wanted to Know About Millet But Were Afraid to Ask

by Shirin Mehrotra

Ponkh in Surat

It’s a bit past the breakfast hour as I hitchhike to Surat’s most famous winter market. Near Swami Narayan Mandir, a short trek away from the main road, under the Sardar Bridge, lies the processing unit of Surat’s limited edition crop of ponkh, also known as tender jowar—one of the six species of sorghum found in the country.

One side of the market is lined with shops selling ponkh fritters while the other side has wholesalers selling the roasted and the dried version. Ponkh is Surat’s winter crop. It’s grown mostly in Hazira, a port town bounded by the Tapti delta and the Arabian Sea. After harvesting, the crop is brought to the market, where it’s roasted, packed, and sold. A big chunk of it goes to stores in Mumbai, while some heads to famous Gujarati restaurants.

I had my first encounter with this pearl-like millet sometime last year at The Bombay Canteen, a Mumbai restaurant that celebrates local and indigenous produce. It piqued my curiosity, and a year later I was standing in the city where the millet originated.

The roasting process is a treat for the eyes and the ears. Bushels of fresh millet are first roasted under coals and ash, then wrapped in a coarse cloth for pounding. The pounding is soft and rhythmic, on the beats of Gujarati music blasting from the speakers. It’s a visual experience. Families from tribal areas in Maharashtra come to the city every year to work at the processing unit. Men take care of the roasting and pounding, while women do the cleaning and packing of the final product.

After soaking in the experience for a while, I head to the shop to get some packed ponkh for home. There’s a sun-dried version too, which is easier to carry and can be stored for longer periods. But the earthy sweetness of fresh millet, enhanced by roasting, is unbeatable. The ideal way to eat it is with sev—a deep-fried savory snack made of chickpea flour—and smothered in green chutney. Farms in Gujarat and Maharashtra have winter picnics or hurda parties (hurda is the Maharashtrian name for ponkh) where they roast it on the spot and eat it with flavored sev, green garlic, and a spritz of lime and chutneys.

I decide to have a late breakfast of ponkh wada—deep-fried ponkh fritters, split Bengal gram, and spices, as well as ponkh pattice—ponkh stuffed inside mashed potato and deep-fried.

It’s fiery, so I wash it down with a bottle of cold chaas—buttermilk.