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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

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.

Never Get Between a Canadian and His Bacon

Mar.15.17

Never Get Between a Canadian and His Bacon

by Dave Hazzan

Khlii in Marrakech

Traveling in Morocco, I find I’m getting weary.

Maybe it’s the dust. Maybe it’s the lack of women anywhere after sundown: I’m married and traveling with my wife, but it’s hard to adjust to this world of scowling, soccer-watching men. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on the road for six months.

Then it’s hard to get liquor, a severe drawback when you travel the Islamic world. I had a friend who once spent six months in Saudi Arabia. When he arrived at Heathrow at the end of his contract, and Immigration asked him why he was visiting England, he declared, “To drink beer and eat bacon!”

But hey, at least there’s the food. Today we left our hostel unfed and starving, ready to comb la nouvelle ville for whatever Moroccans eat for breakfast. At a café by the bus station, we found it.

We sat outside. They had a menu in four languages, and I ordered khlii, a mix of eggs and a sort of beef jerky, along with orange juice, bacon, and a bowl of harira, Moroccan soup.

Never get between a Canadian and his bacon–yummy, maple-cured, fried in its own fat, sizzling, cut fresh from the hog, fill-me-up-with-rashers-of-that-shit bacon. But if you’re going to substitute it for anything, then by all means, let it be beef jerky.

Western cuisine has criminally neglected the possibilities for beef jerky. It can be so much more than just a gas station snack for truck drivers and baked teens. It can be fried, sautéed in lemon, braised, fried, chopped up in salad, fried, pureed into tomato sauce, used as a cocktail garnish, or fried. Or, as the Moroccans do, put in eggs.

I was delighted with my khlii. The eggs were baked to a perfect firmness, and with every bite there were little beefy explosions of jerky. Washed down with a double espresso and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, that’s the way to begin your Moroccan day.

Until we asked for our harira, the soup which came with the breakfast special. The waiter seemed incredulous, like we were asking him to sacrifice a fresh lamb for our dinner. “Harira is soup,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, pointing at the menu, “and according to the menu, breakfast comes with soup. It says so right here.”

“That is not for breakfast! You got coffee and juice with your eggs. That’s already a very good deal.”

I find I’m getting weary once more.

Photo by: Jo Turner

The Labor That Goes Into One Glass of Humble Porridge

Mar.14.17

The Labor That Goes Into One Glass of Humble Porridge

by Ranjini Rao

Ragi porridge in Bangalore

Growing up in a traditional South Indian family in Bangalore, I came to love sweet breakfasts just as well as savory ones. We’d often have something sweet at the ready in the mornings, and Mother’s free-handedness with ghee and jaggery only enhanced the sugar rush.

While those ingredients can easily waltz their way into halwa varieties, we mostly had them mixed into our one big staple: Ragi porridge. Ragi, or finger millet, wasn’t just a grain rich in proteins and minerals: it was a sacred part of good health and vitality.

Making it was no picnic; it called for days of elbow grease, from the storeroom to the grinding stone. The Ragi kernels were first unpacked from musty gunny bags in the storeroom at the back of the kitchen, then washed and dried out on a soft, white, muslin cloth laid out like nine yards of a sari on the terrace. Once dry, they were brought down to the backyard, where Grandma and Mother would huddle up around a coal-fired stove bearing a large cast-iron pan. They would then break into an elaborate folk song about the goodness of Ragi, as they threw the sun-dried kernels into the heated pan to roast them.

Once cooled, they’d be packed into large tin boxes for the housemaid to take to the local flour mill, where they’d be ground to a silken smoothness. This aromatic, earthy powder would then transform into a sticky-sweet, ambrosial porridge every morning, as Mother whisked it with hot milk, dollops of ghee, and jaggery powder, topped off with a kiss of cardamom. She’d fill tall glasses with this superfood and line them on the counter, and if we were all to get to school or work in time, we had to pick up a glass and drink up.

When I moved out and went on to live across continents, Mother would send me goodies through kindly folks who were headed my way, and there was always a pack of Ragi porridge blend in the mix. I’d rarely been short on supply, save for a few weeks here and there. Since her passing last year, and my own homecoming a little before that, I’ve tried scores of store-bought packaged millets: muesli and granola, for example, doused in warm milk or cold yogurt, but the one thing I can’t seem to shake off is the yearning for the singularly spectacular drink that made past breakfasts so fulfilling at Mother’s. After a bit of careful exploration, I’ve finally found Indira’s Popped Ragi mix at my local grocer’s, which tastes almost as good as Mother’s, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

I’ve since resumed the ‘drink up’ morning routine, which has duly been passed on to my American-born child, whose persnickety breakfast preferences typically run toward pancakes and French toast, but who can sometimes be found drinking a glass of Ragi porridge.

Embrace the Morning Milkshake

Mar.13.17

Embrace the Morning Milkshake

by Edith Honan

Dhal puri and alouda in Mauritius

I first tried alouda—Mauritius’ answer to the milkshake—at the Central Market in Port Louis. I caught a whiff of curry coming from the food court and followed my nose. It was before nine on a weekday morning and the place was packed with people lapping down glasses of the stuff. Glossy black beads floated to the top of the milk, and at first I mistook it for bubble tea. The seeds are actually basil seeds.

I ordered a glass. It was sweet—Mauritians serve their sweets syrupy and their spicy foods fiery—and delicious. Making it is simple: at the market, milk is poured into a large bucket and sweetened with sugar and vanilla. Thin strips of agar agar jelly are added, along with a generous handful of basil seeds, which fatten up like chia seeds as they sit in the liquid. A glass is completed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The basil seeds are said to have a cooling power—no small benefit in hot and sweaty Port Louis. The agar agar lends a feeling of fullness.

As I roamed the foot court, I noticed that for every person swilling back a glass of alouda, another was navigating a messy helping of dhal puri.

“Yes, sometimes people have both,” the man at Stall Five told me.
“The dhal puri is very spicy and the chili hurts the stomach. So you have the alouda to feel better.”

At the market, dhal puri is prepared with studied abandon. The delicate crepe, made from milled split peas and flour, is laid out, and topped with bits of curried beans, stewed greens, homemade tomato sauce, and finally chili—an artful splash of each, propelled by a flick of the server’s wrist. It is folded into a quarter and, of course, it’s best eaten hot. I ate one, and found it delicious: spicy, starchy comfort food.

I had a look at the other stalls, but it was clear Stall Five was doing something special. His dhal puris were fluffier and plumper, and he had the longest line. I ordered a second.

“Mauritians like it because it is practical. Also, they like spicy food,” he told me. He wouldn’t tell me his name, but he gestured for the piece of paper I held in my hand. “I’ll give you the name that everybody calls me,” he said. In capital letters, he wrote: “JOY – FOOD COURT NO. 5.”

“His are the best,” said one of the customers. Judging from the ease with which he handled the droopy thing, I took him for a regular. “Some people have many, but for me”—he patted his flat tummy—“two is enough.”

I thanked Joy and set out into the damp warmth of Port Louis, feeling happy and full.

Edith Honan is reporting from Mauritius with the support of the International Reporting Project.

The Game-Changing World of Food Translation Apps

Mar.10.17

The Game-Changing World of Food Translation Apps

by Zac Crellin

Dim sum in Guangzhou

It’s mid-morning, and a seemingly endless stream of diners are entering our
yum cha restaurant when a waiter approaches our table and starts speaking in Cantonese. He points at the teapot and we nod our heads in response, assuming he’s asking if we’d like tea. This doesn’t answer his question. Suddenly, he begins talking into his phone. A voice replies in a crisp, if robotic, American accent. “Which tea would you like?”

I pull out my phone, open a translation app and hold it over the menu.
Onscreen, the Chinese characters morph into English words punctuated by gibberish. It’s confusing, but enough to get the gist. We point at jasmine.

This restaurant is part of a growing shift among yum cha restaurants to à la carte ordering, which, to someone who can’t speak the language, is much less accessible than ordering from trolleys. But this is Guangzhou, where using the latest smartphone while dining is borderline compulsory.

Throw in the patience of local waitstaff—and their willingness to share their cuisine with dopey foreigners—and ordering is no longer a struggle.

We get the usuals (pork buns, prawn dumplings, sticky rice and more), but one dish dominates the menu and seems to be on every table. Hovering my phone over the back page, the translation app spells out something completely unexpected: intestines.

Little did my app know, “intestines” was a metaphor in this case. Hóng mǐ cháng (红米肠) are small rolls of minced shrimp wrapped in red rice paper. They resemble sections of intestine when served. The pink-red rolls are soft on the outside and chewy on the inside, with a layer of fried crispiness in between. Cooked in peanut oil, they’re a greasy digression from the steamed parcels we usually had for breakfast.

Suddenly a waiter brings over another bamboo steamer, but this time she fusses over our table’s receipt. She looks at the paper, then up at our meals, then back at the paper, and then back at our meals. Something is amiss, but all she can do is point vaguely.

Out come the phones again. Before she can think of how to phrase her translation, I realize what she wants to know. One of our meals hasn’t been stamped, and she’s worried someone has forgotten to bring it. Luckily I had taken a photo of our table earlier without giving it a second thought. This showed that we had indeed received the phantom meal. Crisis averted, and smiles all around.

As we’re leaving, the first waiter pulls me aside. His phone’s robotic American voice asks me what app I was using to translate the Chinese menu through my phone’s camera. I was also curious about the app he used to translate his voice into English, so we decided to exchange apps. You could say we granted him sight, and he granted us speech.

Brains: For a Hangover Brunch, It’ll Do

Mar.09.17

Brains: For a Hangover Brunch, It’ll Do

by Shirin Bhandari

Batchoy in the Visayan Islands

“Brains?” the waitress asks as I peer into the bowl of the person next to me. Not the most appetizing question first thing in the morning, but for a hangover brunch, it’ll do.

It was my first trip to the Visayan Islands, in the south of the Philippines. The obsession with red meat unites the country. It is not the ideal tourist destination for the average vegetarian.

The 35-year-old Batchoy house I walked into is located in the heart of Bacolod, a stone’s throw from the busy central market. The place is packed with locals—a good sign.

The high-protein soup of mystery meats originated in the neighboring province of Iloilo. Before the Second World War, in La Paz, Iloilo, butcher Federico Guillergan concocted a hot noodle soup based on the dishes of Chinese merchants in the area. Guillergan developed, through trial and error, a complex broth made from bone marrow, boiled shrimp paste, chicken, pork, and beef meat, topped with fried garlic, pig organs, crunchy pork cracklings, leeks, and a raw egg.

This Filipino soup is not as well-known in the West as Japanese ramen and Vietnamese pho, which are easily found in bigger cities. Batchoy is consumed not with chopsticks, but a fork and a spoon, and, to put it mildly, is an acquired taste.

The cook forms an assembly line of bowls on a messy table counter. He builds up each bowl with egg noodles, tender beef, pork loin, and chopped pig organs. The soup base has been boiling slowly in a large cauldron for hours. The broth is added last and topped with your choice of gamey add-ons. The chalkboard shows the available choices: Original, Special and Super. The rule is, the larger the order, the more organs—liver, intestines, and brains—are included.

No one wants to look like a lightweight in front of locals. “Super.” I say. The server flashes an amused look.

A warm bun is placed beside me with an overflowing ceramic bowl of Batchoy and a bright plastic cup with even more broth. One could drown in the free soup refills.

Batchoy’s spiced aroma can hold its own against its better-known counterparts. The noodles are substantial and firm to the bite. I wade through the chopped meat bits to decide which organ to tackle first. The crackling pops in my mouth. The salty and slightly sweet broth comes as a pleasant surprise to an empty stomach after a night of debauchery. Batchoy is an unusual bowl of comfort.

Namit?” (“delicious”) the lady across me asks. I nod and pour the contents of the cup into my bowl.

This Sounds Like the Best Fruit Roll-Up Ever

Mar.08.17

This Sounds Like the Best Fruit Roll-Up Ever

by Mel Plant

Khabeesa in Salt, Jordan

I’d come to Salt, a 30-minute drive west of Amman, in search of little except something to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Salt’s sand-colored stone buildings are a relic of a golden era long past, when Salt was a trading hub and, later, the first capital of Jordan. Salt may have UNESCO-nominated architecture, but my friend had come in search of a classic Salti sweet—khabeesa. With a mouth full of sweet teeth, I was happy to follow.

After asking almost the whole city for directions, we eventually arrived at a hole-in-the-wall store in the market’s main stretch, tucked between cobblers and clothing stores, and bustling with people.

The place wasn’t exactly where you’d expect to buy a treat. Dates, bulgur, and raisins by the pound, but not dessert. Dark, small, and crowded, with bags full of grains waiting to be weighed, this seemed like more of a general store. The only clue that there was treasure within was the line tumbling out of the door—the place selling much the same stuff next door had no line.

Owner Abu Hamad can’t remember exactly how long the store has been open, but says it’s “at least 60 years,” so he clearly knows how to do business. Or maybe it’s so popular because they are the only store in the market selling khabeesa.

Many Arabic desserts are a meal in themselves, soaked in sugar syrup and often stuffed with heavy cheese or nuts, but Salt’s sweet of choice is more of a snack. The closest thing you’d find to khabeesa is a school lunchbox staple, the fruit roll-up. This version is decidedly more adult: the same elastic texture, but with less processed sugar. According to Abu Hamad, it boosts the immune system. (This remains to be seen, but I bought two pounds of the stuff, so if anyone can discover the truth, it’s me.)

With khabeesa, my playground nostalgia—ripping pieces off this Levantine fruit roll-up—meets Arabic flavors. In Salt, old ladies make your fruit roll-ups, with a regional twist on trail mix thrown in. The juice of local grapes is boiled with semolina until a paste is formed, then they add aniseed, sesame seeds, juniper seeds, and almonds. Khabeesa may make a speedy snack, but it’s not quick to make: the paste is laid out thin and flat under the sun until it dries.

Apparently, Salt is the only town that makes khabeesa in Jordan, though Hebron, in Palestine, is also known for it. Khabeesa reminds me of Jordan and the Levant: many flavors mixed together, but each retaining its distinct character.

Nothing Beats a Bowl of Rice After a Night of Cigarettes and Whiskey

Mar.07.17

Nothing Beats a Bowl of Rice After a Night of Cigarettes and Whiskey

by Anisha Rachel Oommen

Donne biryani in Bangalore

It is 6 a.m., but we’re already late. The streets are deserted except for a dog slowly waking up near the entrance to the Anjaneyaswamy temple on the main road. We are in the old city, the petes from the 16th century, built by Kempegowda I. The streets are narrow and tumbledown, but in an hour or two, they will be teeming with humanity.

We are here after a long, late night of cigarettes and whiskey, for a breakfast of biryani. Typically, this celebrated dish of spiced meat and rice is feast food, served at weddings, parties and festivals. Biryani for breakfast raises eyebrows. But in India’s southwestern state of Karnataka, the specialty donne biryani—dished out in palm-leaf bowls—is often served as a last meal before the end of a long night, especially in Bangalore’s old city.

We meet a friend in the backstreet, at a crossroads. The restaurant she is taking us to is frequented by truckers who have driven through the night and need a substantial meal before they turn in for the day. It is also frequented, in lesser numbers, by young partygoers searching for comfort food before calling it a night. In India, despite the international cuisine now available, nothing hits the spot quite like a meal of rice eaten by hand.

We follow her as she confidently navigates this labyrinth of streets to find the restaurant. We snake left, right, left again, and then abruptly turn into the only place that isn’t still shuttered. Inside, the room is humming with activity. The kitchen is noisy, but no one seems to be speaking. A man in the corner sits at a small cash register, and about 12 diners politely inch around each other in the cramped space, picking up plates from the kitchen counter, then accommodating themselves along a wall lined with a steel counter that doubles as a standing table.

My friend leans in and holds up four fingers, “Nalku!” There isn’t a menu because they only serve one dish; you simply stick your head in and call out the number of plates you want.

A green palm leaf lines the plate, and a neat heap of donne biryani, tinged green with coriander and mint, is topped with a quarter of red onion, a wedge of lime and half a boiled egg. There are two pieces of nati koli, or country chicken, buried under the fragrant short-grained rice.

It is a gentle but filling meal, mildly spiced, unlike the fiery Andhra biryani that has earned a cult following, or the decadently rich Mughlai biryani served at weddings. But a hot meal of rice is a feast at this hour.

Sometimes A Shrimp Donut Isn’t Just A Shrimp Donut

Mar.06.17

Sometimes A Shrimp Donut Isn’t Just A Shrimp Donut

by Dave Hazzan

Accras de morue and beignets de crevettes in Paris

Paris’s past and present come alive at Place de la Bastille.

There is a market here, every Thursday and Sunday, the block filled with over a hundred stalls of green grocers, butchers, bakers, fishmongers, vintners, and my favorite, the cheesemongers.

There are also ready-made meals, thank god, because we came to the Place de la Bastille to eat now. The sausage sandwich was delicious and the four-cheese panini was fine. The winner was the stall selling accras de morue and beignets de crevettes.

Both are deep-fried seafood snacks from the French Antilles. Beignets de crevettes literally translates as shrimp donuts, but they’re unlikely to be found at your local Dunkin, unless you live in a particularly hip end of Brooklyn or Berkeley.

The whole shrimp is battered up, deep fried, and served with cocktail sauce. If you live far away from a Caribbean restaurant, your local Chinese joint might do something similar.

The accras de morue are a little harder to figure out, unless you have a particularly sharp taste palate. They are deep fried balls of minced cod with spices, crunchy on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside, spicy and sure to slap you awake on any Sunday morning.

It’s appropriate I got the meal here on the Bastille, where the French Revolution began, proclaiming the republic of liberty, equality, and brotherhood. France became the nation of human rights. Yes, there was the mountain of severed heads, the Napoleonic invasions in the name of the revolution, the crushing of the Commune, the conquests of French Africa and Indochina, the Dreyfus Affair, Vichy. But the revolution moved human rights forward and gave activists a powerful rhetorical weapon in the name of treating others with dignity.

Today, those revolutionary ideals are in danger. As President Pussy Grabber is intent on tearing down whatever made America great in the first place, Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front, stands high in the polls, ready to leave the European Union, shut France’s doors, and lead Europe on a path of xenophobic hatred towards non-whites.

Like Trump supporters who think tacos will soon replace hamburgers, Le Pen voters worry accras de morue and beignets de crevettes will replace croissants and pain au chocolat.

You can’t shop or eat your way to a revolution. But sharing a breakfast of accras de morue and beignets de crevettes can at least signal that you believe France—or any society—should be open to a brotherhood of all, as the revolution claimed.

Photo by: Jo Turner

When In Doubt, Order All the Bite-Sized Desserts for Breakfast

Mar.03.17

When In Doubt, Order All the Bite-Sized Desserts for Breakfast

by Lindsay Gasik

Nyonyas Kuih in Penang

I’m late, as usual, and hot. This Saturday morning is all blue skies and humidity, and the breakfast hawkers have either left or hidden their tables under foliage of green, red, and blue beach umbrellas. I pedal down the short strip of granite shop houses on the main drag of Balik Pulau, Penang, wishing I’d decided a little earlier that I wanted breakfast.

I spy her pushing the cart across the street, done for the morning. The cart has half a teal bicycle welded onto the back, but I’ve never seen her ride it. She stops when she sees me and unstacks the yellow plastic trays. She recognizes me—there aren’t any other Western women on bicycles here—so she shows me the tray with the rainbow array of striped rice-flour wedges and squares.

I spot my favorite, kuih talam, a double-decker with green pandan leaf on the bottom and white coconut cream on top. Next to it is a solid purple slab of kuih bengka, caramelized just slightly on one edge, and then the orange, pink, and white layered kuih lapis—the most labor intensive to make of all Malaysia’s Nyonya kuihs.

Kuih is a vague term for any bite-sized snack or dessert, but the kuih most famous here are the steamed rice flour sweets created by the Baba and Nyonyas, an early group of Chinese immigrants. They came here in the 13th and 14th centuries, married local women, and stayed.

“Got boyfriend yet?” she teases me. I shake my head. I don’t feel like explaining Tinder to the old woman, and I have a more pressing dilemma. Should I get the pretty blue pulut tekan, a square of sticky rice dyed with blue pea and held together with coconut milk and salt, or the deep orange ang koo kuih, pressed with Chinese characters and filled with peanuts? They cost only 60 cents, or one ringgit each, so there isn’t much risk in choosing wrong.

“I want one of everything,” I tell her. She laughs and drops each kuih in a little plastic bag, looping it closed with red plastic twine as if I’m going to take them home. Instead I put my backpack on the pavement and tease open the twine with my fingernails. The kuih are already sweating a thin film of oil from the coconut milk.

I taste every kuih she has, starting with ondeh ondeh, a green ball rolled in coconut flakes, that explodes like a gusher between my teeth, coating my tongue with thin molasses-flavored syrup. I save my familiar favorite for last. The green pandan part is smooth and moist, like fragrant herbal butter topped with salty coconut. Rice flour delicacies may have originated in China, but the Baba and Nyonyas clearly improved them with the ingredients they found in their new home.

As I wipe my fingers, she wags her head and grins. The next time, I’ll choose just one or two, but today all the kuih are mine.

Always Learn the Word for Breakfast

Mar.02.17

Always Learn the Word for Breakfast

by Livia Hengel

Breakfast In Istanbul

The first night I arrived in Istanbul, I sat down to dinner brimming with anticipation at what local delicacies would await me. When the waiter handed me a menu, it wasn’t too long before my naiveté was replaced with confusion when I realized I couldn’t make out a single word printed on the page.

I was a seasoned traveler and my knowledge of two-and-a-half languages had seen me through remote areas of Cambodia, Morocco, and Peru, so I assumed I could rely on my resourcefulness once again. Instead, I found myself struggling to distinguish appetizers from drinks. There were no translations, no visual aids, and no amount of sign language could bridge my language barrier with the waiter. I was staying in a residential neighborhood in the northern end of the city where the views of the Bosphorus were as beautiful as ever and the language spoken (and written) was exclusively Turkish.

During my initial weeks in Istanbul I disparaged myself for muttering a sheepish thank you in English as I dashed out of restaurants because I couldn’t bring myself to practice reciting the proper expression in Turkish: teşekkür ederim. I had no desire to undertake the uncomfortable mental challenge of learning a new language and relied on my pocket dictionary for brief exchanges. In fact, I wasn’t motivated to address my linguistic apathy until I laid eyes on a Turkish breakfast buffet for the first time. You see, Turkish breakfast is not only one of the most visually enticing affairs I had ever seen; it is a decadent culinary experience that is immensely satisfying and supremely delicious. It was then that I knew I had to commit myself to learning these all-important words: “türk kahvaltısı, lütfen” (“Turkish breakfast, please.”)

Touted as one of the best breakfasts in the world, Turkish breakfast is in a league of its own. This banquet features a dozen sweet and savory foods waiting to be assembled and enjoyed in a variety of combinations. A standard breakfast is most often comprised of quartered tomato wedges, delicately sliced cucumbers, green and purple olives, fresh and aged cheeses, yogurt, and some walnuts and almonds for good measure. For protein there are cast-iron skillets with sausages and fried eggs. Small dishes of butter, jam, honey and chocolate sauce are served alongside thickly sliced country bread. And to drink, there is a steaming kettle of çay, Turkey’s hallmark black tea served in tulip-shaped glasses.

Turkish breakfast is a dream come true. It strikes a perfect balance of textures, flavors and food groups and in bringing together an array of modest ingredients, it becomes much more than the sum of its parts. Its a pleasurable and nutritious way to begin your day and is more than enough motivation for learning a new language.

It Takes A Village to Eat A Cow for Breakfast

Mar.01.17

It Takes A Village to Eat A Cow for Breakfast

by Boris Abrams

Breakfast in the Philippines

My knees had turned a crusty crimson and the sweat on my palms had all but dried. I smiled as faces danced around me in a feverish trance. Women cheered on, their cell phones capturing the moment.

The cow, tied and momentarily stunned, had been pulled to the ground with a heavy thud. A blade separated the skin from around her throat. There had been no protest as the beige fur turned sticky. A man reached in and cupped the blood in his hands before carefully transferring it to the plastic container. The cow huffed as her life was slowly bled away.

After celebratory photos with the carcass were taken, a group of men marched forward. The animal was disemboweled, cigarette ash falling onto the warm meat. Throughout the night, friends arrived, all bringing forth their own skills and expertise. There was one man who cleaned the intestines of grime, the women who sliced vegetables with surgical proficiency.

From one animal, a colorful array of dishes emblematic of Filipino cuisine would materialize. The bulk of the meat was reserved for the Christening that day, but breakfast would entail a sampling of all the dishes. The tail and tendons were cooked with peanut butter and fish sauce (kare-kare). The skin was scorched and sliced thinly, a chewy treat be enjoyed with a squirt of calamansi. The stomach was cut into ribbons, ready to be thrown into a grass-green broth of bile and ginger. Raw slices of beef were mixed in a bowl, also dressed in fresh bile juices and chopped chilies.

I looked down at the meat-heavy breakfast before me. Was I fortunate to be here, on a remote farm in the Philippines, watching 50 people prepare foods they could so seldom afford to consume? Or was I unfortunate, right to feel saddened by the slow death of the animal?

The cow had died painfully and here I stood, with her body reconfigured as a breakfast buffet before me. Domesticated dogs fought for stray bones and discarded pieces of meat. Women hugged each other as men finished preparing the dishes. I closed my eyes, letting the sound of laughter and the crackle of burning twigs dissipate the visions of the night. I washed the blood off my shins and joined the crowd at one of the tables. “You must eat!” I was instructed as they piled my plate with fresh rice. “Eat, eat!”

I nodded and thanked the women. I scooped up the raw meat with my fingers and absorbed the conversations, all the laughter and celebration going on around me. I felt very fortunate indeed.

There’s No Shame in Eating Chinese Pizza For Breakfast

Feb.28.17

There’s No Shame in Eating Chinese Pizza For Breakfast

by Laura Tarpley

Shāo bǐng in China

The school where my husband and I work serves teachers free breakfast. We snub the cafeteria in the mornings, though. We’d rather hop off our bus, walk 30 feet to our favorite food stand, and pay four yuán each for shāo bǐng.

Our first month in Shenzhen, China, we were the poorest we had ever been. Spending three yuán, or 44 cents, on a bottle of water was controversial enough to spark a fight, even though Chinese tap water left us crouched over a toilet all night. However, even in that month of scarcity, we found a way to justify spending a total of eight yuán every morning on two huge ovals of pork-stuffed bread. Heaven forbid we cut the cost and calories by splitting a piece. Sharing is not an option.

Shāo bǐng is somewhat like naan served at Indian restaurants. Unlike naan, however, this flatbread unique to China is unleavened and usually stuffed with meat and vegetables.

A middle-aged Chinese couple manages this booth. The woman scoops pork, chives, and spices from a bowl and slaps it onto a ball of dough. She rolls it all together, then grabs her rolling pin and flattens it. When she passes the dough to her partner, he dabs water on it and sprinkles sesame seeds on top. He then places the dough in the oven as all the customers stare, anxiously awaiting the moment when he’ll remove the steaming shāo bǐng from the oven.

When it’s finally our turn, we can choose a topping of spicy chili oil, sweet hoisin sauce, or ketchup. I choose a combination of chili oil and hoisin sauce. I may be American, but that doesn’t mean I feel compelled to defile foreign dishes with ketchup.

The couple sees us coming each morning and greets us with smiles and waves, even when they are busy.

“Hello!” they chirp.

“Zǎo shāng hǎo!” we reply in unison. “Liǎng gè.”

“Two?” they clarify.

We nod, dropping change into their cash bowl. That’s all we usually say, both couples attempting the other’s language as best we can. The conversation is always bilingual, out of respect and friendliness.

The Chinese teachers see us enter the office scarfing down what’s left of the bread. Some mornings, they tease, “Chinese pizza for breakfast!” I laugh along, a bit embarrassed about reinforcing the stereotype of Americans and their unhealthy diets.

For four weeks at the end of January and beginning of February, schools are closed for the Chinese New Year. I have no excuse for making the commute to the neighborhood where my school is located and my favorite breakfast is made. Maybe I don’t need an excuse. Every once in a while, I take the bus 15 minutes just to say, “Nǐ hǎo,” and bite into that piping hot stuffed bread.

If You Can’t Get the Food You Love, Love the Food You Get

Feb.27.17

If You Can’t Get the Food You Love, Love the Food You Get

by Dave Hazzan

Fish and Chips on the Rosslare-Cherbourg Ferry

The day before we got on the ferry from Rosslare, Ireland to Cherbourg, France, we had celebrated with a trip to the Hotel Rosslare’s pub.

Rosslare, in County Wexford, is barely a town. Besides the Europort ferry terminal, it’s home to a strip mall, with a supermarket, a post office, and a café that serves the most sweetly unpleasant chili this side of China. There are walking trails and a nice slice of beach, but on this wet winter day, neither were very appealing. But the Hotel Rosslare’s pub was.

The pub looks over a cliff to the beach and ferry port below. Here we downed six pints of cheap Irish lager before boarding. On the boat, we discovered the bar was open, and had a bunch more with our new friends, since it’s really easy to make friends in Ireland after six pints.

The cabins were booked up but the main passenger area was almost completely deserted. We passed out stretched across a line of seats each, and woke throughout the night with pains in our backs, hips, necks, and legs from the seats.

By the time we woke for good, around 10:30 a.m., all we could think of was a full Irish breakfast at the canteen. We brushed the wrinkles from our clothes, locked our bags to our seats, and went leaping across ship for our eggs, beans, bacon, and sausages.

Alas, a sharp-eyed Norwegian madam told us we would not be having any Irish breakfast, or indeed, any breakfast at all.

“Canteen closes at 10:00,” she said. (Or maybe she said 9:30, it was all rather hazy.) “Canteen reopens for lunch at 12:30.” (This one I’m sure of.)

“Will you have breakfast food?” I asked hopefully.

She looked at me like I was the most complete idiot she had ever dealt with. “It’s lunch at 12:30,” she answered dryly. “We will be serving lunch.”

I felt like the kid who thought he was getting a Nintendo for Christmas, only to open up a box of socks. Totally deflated, we went into the bar and got coffee, and then sat trying to read over the blare of the BBC.

At 12:30, we were ready, waiting to pounce like jungle cats. I was first in line with my tray, and after verifying again they weren’t serving Irish breakfast, we got two orders of fish and chips, which we figured was the next best thing.

We feasted like stoners, our gullets crammed with fried cod, salted fries with ketchup and vinegar, and mushy peas. It wasn’t what we wanted, but if you can’t get the food you love, love the food you get.

Three hours later, we waddled off into the French sunshine, satiated, but still wishing we had gotten that last full Irish breakfast.

Aussie Comfort Food in the Oldest U.S. City: Sure, Why Not?

Feb.23.17

Aussie Comfort Food in the Oldest U.S. City: Sure, Why Not?

by Jamie Cattanach

Pies in St. Augustine, Florida

The sun is rising in the nation’s oldest (continually inhabited) city.

It’s too early for the horse and buggies that will clip-clop through brick-lined streets of St. Augustine in a few hours; too early, even, for the pies to be set out in their case yet. But I know what I want. I walk into the downtown location of Kookaburra, an Australian-owned, tiny coffee shop, one minute after its 7:30 a.m. opening. The pink-haired 20-something behind the counter lifts and uncovers a tray.

They’re fresh from the oven. I must choose: sausage, egg, and cheese; spinach, egg, and cheese; or the classic sirloin (although that’s a lunchier version). But when she points to the rosemary cheddar, I’m sold—though yet another tempting iteration features bacon. When she asks if I’d like sriracha or ketchup—the traditional accompaniment—I say both.

These savory pies are a traditional street food in Australia, where people eat 270 million of them each year. Here in this strange little seaside town in northeastern Florida, they’re an exotic nosh—one on which a melange of college students, crumpled conservative residents, and wide-eyed tourists can agree. In fact, I’d bet students at nearby Flagler College outstrip the Aussies themselves on per-annum pie consumption.

I order a flat white to top it off: Australia’s smoother, sweeter answer to a latte. It’s warm and easy, creamy without too much sugar-sweetness.

The pie is delicious. It’s rugged, despite the frilly, fresh rosemary sprinkled on top and within. In fact, it’s almost too well-seasoned, with noticeable flavors of salt and pepper. It tastes like something homemade, intended for someone who’ll endure a day far tougher than mine. The crust is pleasantly dense, subtly flakey, crunchy at the edges; the cheese and eggs inside have melted into a sticky, gooey mess.

As I eat, the baristas are still getting things in order, switching on the stereo to fill the silence with acoustic guitar. Through the window, the first rays of sun broaden into full daylight, and sightseers filter into the 450-year-old streets—the closest to ancient America has to offer. The pink-haired girl is laughing. She replaces g’s with k’s (“Anythink else?”) and calls everyone “love.” Her accent sounds, to me, more Cockney than Australian, but what do I know? As yet, this is the closest I’ve come to the Outback.

And You Think You’re All Outdoorsy With Your Granola Bars

Feb.22.17

And You Think You’re All Outdoorsy With Your Granola Bars

by Steele Rudd

Damper in Australia

The creek’s so low that it’s sulkily gathered itself into scummy pools and refuses to flow. Bad news for me; I was relying on this spot to refill my water. But the stagnant, muggy conditions are perfect for mosquitoes, and the air around my campsite is thick with their symphony and with the humidity.

No running water means this is my last morning on the track. Today’s predicted to hit 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), too hot to go hunting for water sources that may or not be there. And I’m about to use some of my last reserves to make breakfast.

The ‘damper’ I’m making is a traditional unleavened bread, cooked with an open fire instead of an oven. It’s a staple of the swagman’s diet and legend. In the semi-mythologized colonial days, itinerant workers would trudge from farm to farm, with nothing much more than a swag (a combination bindle/sleeping bag). A simple meal of flour and water, mixed up and buried under coals, made a quick and filling travellers’ ration.

Albeit a boring one. Unlike in the Anglo-Celtic tradition, full of exciting scones and bannocks, there’s no hint of oats or dried fruit here. And while the indigenous Australians made a similar meal using ground nuts and seeds for flour, there’s nothing so nutritious or tasty to liven up damper. I suppose some lard might be acceptable as a shortener, although I doubt a crumbly bread would cook too well directly in coals.

So it’s basically just flour. Mine’s got a bit of sugar and salt in it, although that feels heretical. I pile up a heap of flour on a flat rock and poke my finger in the middle. Into the hole I drip water—carefully, I can’t afford to waste any—and slowly mix it around. Then I roll the dough out along the rock and repeat the process a couple of times.

In the meantime I’ve lit a fire and let it go out. Some passerby to this site has left a kind of bush oven, a hollow cairn of smooth rocks from the creek bed that keeps the heat focused inwards. With my dough rolled out into a sausage shape, I rake the embers back a bit, squish the damper in, flatten in between two hot rocks and cover the lot with coals.

It’s going to take maybe half an hour to bake, so I sit down nearby and roll a cigarette. Bread and iron (according to the Irish) are meant to act as charms against fae—forest spirits. If you carry a slice of civilization in your pocket, you’ll be safe in the wild.

After a while I tap the damper with a stick and the knocking sound tells me it’s ready. I scrape off the ash and tear it apart, dipping it in some Vegemite I’ve brought along. It’s the first hot meal I’ve had in a while, and it’s humble but heartening.

Tel Aviv Vibes on a Cloudy Brooklyn Day

Feb.21.17

Tel Aviv Vibes on a Cloudy Brooklyn Day

by Kenneth R. Rosen

Shakshuka in Crown Heights

Wanderlust cures my seasonal affective disorder.

I’m looking for a way out of town, and know that staying can sometimes be more rewarding than jet-setting. It’s early afternoon when I reach the former auto repair shop for lunch (my breakfast), a nondescript dining area marked only by a continuous stream of handmade donuts appearing from a cellar, then disappearing beneath a rollaway garage door.

I’ve come for the shakshuka, a Middle Eastern dish of Libyan and Egyptian origin, they say. It is comprised of eggs poached in tomatoes and spices. But for a moment I feel that I have come for more: there is little to remind me that I am somewhere in Brooklyn. Inside it feels like Tel Aviv, sans ocean view.

The Brooklyn Artisan Bakehouse, in an unassuming, predominately Hasidic neighborhood, is my stand-in for a place to which my father and sister often invite me, but one I cannot seem to reach: Israel. I want to go, I do, but as a reporter, matters elsewhere in the Middle East seem more pressing. So, for the meanwhile, my desire to visit Neveh Tzedek or a café off Rothschild brings me here.

Everywhere, baby strollers. Sheitels and wigs. All so young, married, chatty. The exuberance of life is especially welcoming on days when the clouds hang low and my spirits are smothered by the atmosphere. Inside, I can settle into the clamor of a family dinner, with place settings for very few.

I invited a friend to breakfast. Last time this friend went to Israel, she took a note to the HaKotel HaMa’aravi (Wailing Wall) for me, as I have never been. I had dedicated the note to my sister, wishing her a fruitful, prosperous year. She was engaged months later.

The shakshuka arrives. We share a pastry. It is, in a word, divine. I can’t say this is because I’m gripped by the cuisine, which I am not; it is nothing special. But there is solace that comes with breakfast and friends, no matter the food.

Being life-long New Yorkers, however, this meal was not without critique. We were leaving soon and I asked my friend what she thought about this slice of our holy land.

“It’s got that Israeli vibe, for sure,” she says. “All that’s missing is the arak.”

Photo by: Remy Tumin

The Most Lauded Bakery in Laos

Feb.20.17

The Most Lauded Bakery in Laos

by Janelle Bitker

Croissants in Luang Prabang

It’s not too surprising that Luang Prabang gets billed first and foremost as a spiritual center. The old town is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, largely because of its more than 30 temples with gleaming gold facades, multi-tiered roofs and glittering mosaics. As the sun rises every morning, tourists pour out onto the main drag to give alms to the city’s 200 monks, who take their tokens of rice while being blinded by a million camera flashes.

What’s more surprising is that guidebooks don’t emphasize how much Luang Prabang, the main tourist destination in Laos, feels like France. I contemplate this while walking to breakfast, passing French café after French café, their patios blurring with the sidewalks.

The French first built a consulate in Luang Prabang in 1885. After battles with Siam (modern-day Thailand), France added Laos to its roster of Southeast Asian territories, along with Cambodia and Vietnam. The Lao people had mixed feelings about its French overlords: better than the Siamese, certainly, but the French didn’t make many improvements in Laos. Most resources went to Vietnam during that nearly 50-year period.

I arrive at my destination, Le Banneton, the most lauded bakery in Laos. It’s a simple-looking place, with white walls, wood beams and a ceiling of arabesques. But the pastry case beckons with its golden hue of viennoiserie, delicate layered cakes and crusty baguettes.

I order one croissant aux beurre. A quick tear and the surface erupts into countless flakes, its stretchy center an excellent sign of its properly buttery lamination process. It isn’t the best croissant I’ve ever had, but after traveling through Southeast Asia for weeks, it tastes positively luxurious. I had nearly forgotten what wonders butter can do.

I close my eyes, enveloped in the hum of French tourists deep in conversation. Across the street, monks stroll into one of Luang Prabang’s many temple complexes, their robes saffron flashes in my peripheral vision. Next to me, a stack of old French fashion magazines easily outnumbers Lao reading material. On the other side, a French family of four battles over the last bite of opera cake. The kids whine for more dessert, which sounds remarkably the same in every language.

Articles abound that claim tourists are ruining Luang Prabang; they disrespect the town’s Buddhist traditions while indirectly forcing longtime residents out of their homes so they can be turned into hotels.

But on this morning at Le Banneton, on a quieter end of Luang Prabang’s main street, with the neighboring temple only hosting a couple of tourists at a time, and the monks drying out their orange laundry as usual, we coexist peacefully.

The Great Railway Breakfast Bazaar

Feb.17.17

The Great Railway Breakfast Bazaar

by Bulbul Mankani

Kachoris in Jaipur

Indian trains provide an astonishing variety of fresh food all day. Food carts abound at major stations, serving fluffy fried poories with spicy potato curry, kachoris and chutneys, rice and cholas, and samosas. Sweet chai is a favorite. Vendors scurry between train windows with steaming kettles and precariously balanced cups. You need to call out for them quickly and have the correct change in hand: for the chaiwallahs, every second counts at the short station stops.

Traditionally, Indian travelers carry food from home, but it’s more exciting to buy breakfast from the train window, and Indian train journeys bring you regional specialties. Chugging through Uttar Pradesh, the asafetida-flavored curry with fried wheat puffs will sell out unless you yell for it loudly enough. In Kerala, breakfast is a crunchy crisp paratha with its spiral layers and yellow egg curry with a hint of coconut. In other southern states, idlis are king: steamed rice cakes with spicy daal and a few vegetables and coconut chutney, wrapped in a banana leaf. Also in the south, coffee from the region’s coffee estates replaces chai.

For three years, I took the Shatabdi Express train from Jaipur to New Delhi once a month. This early morning train served meals on board, but I could never resist the food carts. Waiting for the train, I could smell the pyaaz ki kachoris, a Jaipur specialty, being made. This deep-fried, savory snack travels well: a wheat pastry filled with fennel, coriander, chilies, cumin, and finely chopped fried onions.

Pyare Singh, one of Jaipur’s train station vendors, has been making kachoris for about a decade. He learned to make them in a small shop in the Old Town, and got the license to sell them when he was 29. He quickly understood that he would move more kachoris if he kept his product hot, and now he can stock about 80 of them in a glass box warmed by a hot-plate.

For me, two of Singh’s kachoris, downed with piping hot chai as I boarded the Shatabdi, gave me a sense that all was right with the world.

Divided By Politics, United in Salty Cheese

Feb.16.17

Divided By Politics, United in Salty Cheese

by Samantha Shields

Halloumi in Cyprus

When I lived in London’s Cypriot enclave, Green Lanes, I used to buy slabs of halloumi cheese from the huge, plastic buckets overflowing with cloudy brine that lurked in the corner of every greengrocers on the road. I’d eat it for breakfast raw, sliced in fresh pitta bread, loving its saltiness and squeakiness between my teeth, and the hits of freshness from flecks of mint.

It wasn’t until I moved to Cyprus many years later that I realized I’d been doing it all wrong. While it’s delicious raw, halloumi is at its very best straight off a hot grill. The char on the outside intensifies the flavor of the salt, and the inside doesn’t melt but instead keeps its wonderful texture. If you need a condiment, it goes equally well with Greek-Cypriot mosfilo jam, made from the tiny yellow fruit of a local hawthorn tree, or with Turkish-Cypriot ezme salad, a fiery chopped mixture of tomatoes, peppers, chilies, and pomegranate molasses.

Another thing I realized when I moved to Nicosia: this cheese is political. In the Republic of Cyprus, the southern part of the island that has been a member of the European Union since 2004, it’s called halloumi. In the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, occupied by Turkey since 1974, it’s hellim. Both cheeses are made from a mixture of goat, sheep and cows’ milk, although they shouldn’t contain too much cows’ milk.

A 2008 Greek-Cypriot attempt to secure European Union Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status for halloumi failed, dogged by Turkish-Cypriot accusations of gastronationalism and a German company’s attempt to trademark the name hellim.

But last year the European Commission published an application to register the names halloumi and hellim, in Greek and Turkish, as PDOs for cheese of this type produced in all the territory of the island of Cyprus. Hopes are high that the attempt will succeed this year, putting halloumi and hellim in the same category as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Stilton, and feta. There are some concerns that small producers won’t be able to afford to pay the international body that will carry out production controls to monitor the milk ratios, but overall, the cheesemakers on both sides of the divide have managed to come together in a way that politicians have so far failed to.

At Mousikon Kafeneion, a traditional old-style cafe on the Greek-Cypriot side of Nicosia, a stone’s throw from the Green Line dividing the island’s capital, I ordered the Cypriot breakfast. Generous slices of grilled halloumi came with a dollop of mosfilo jam, the local smoked ham called lountza, chunks of fresh tomato and cucumber, and good bread and olive oil.

I listened to the call to prayer drifting over from the Selimiye Mosque on the other side of the border, and later the church bells from the Greek Orthodox Faneromeni Church not far from the cafe. Maybe the reunification of Cyprus will start with cheese.

A Love Letter to London’s Best Cheese-Soaked Potatoes

Feb.15.17

A Love Letter to London’s Best Cheese-Soaked Potatoes

by Phylisa Wisdom

Raclette in London

I lived and worked in London for a little more than four years. I recently went back for a whirlwind one-week visit: seven opportunities for my favorite breakfasts. One of them comes from Borough Market, the iconic food market next to London Bridge train station.

Borough Market is one of the most crowded spaces in London. On any given weekend the prepared food and cart section is full to the brim with a crowd queuing for burgers, Turkish delight, brownies, coffee, salads, and Afghan curry, to name a few of my favorites. But the jewel in Borough Market’s crown—according to me and the poor, unfortunate souls I’ve spent many hours queueing with—is Kappacasein Dairy.

The menu does not change. Raclette or a cheese toastie, both £6 ($8). For me, it’s the raclette every time. The word raclette comes from the French word racler, “to scrape.” In this case, it’s a thick, locally-made Ogleshield cheese heated and scraped onto steaming baby new potatoes and crisp pickles. It is not exactly traditional breakfast fare.

When I was a 9-5 London worker, I liked Kappacasein raclette best on a long weekend midmorning or as an early lunch. You really need to allow for a midday slump after this breakfast.

On this occasion, I stopped by around 11 a.m. on a Tuesday and the queue was a fraction of what it usually is. My belly was empty on one of the coldest London days I can remember. I watched the enormous half-circle of cheese bubble and pop under an industrial-sized raclette set. I watched, breath visible in the chilly air, as the cheese heated up. Then the woman serving me grabbed the cheese, turned it about 45 degrees, and scraped the top layer onto the potatoes. Unlike many of the best heavy breakfasts, this is one for which you stand and wait.

After she added the pickles and fresh ground pepper to my cheesy potatoes I took my heavy plate to find an empty bit of curb to sit on. I noted as I walked that the immense weight I was carrying would soon be in my stomach. I wanted to eat fast so the cheese wouldn’t harden in the cold air, but it pays to savor both the raclette and the curbside view for people-watching.

After this breakfast, you have to keep moving or you’ll fall asleep. I walked to get an espresso from Borough Market institution Monmouth Coffee to cut through the fat. Digestif coffee in hand, I headed to the South Bank of the Thames to continue my day of visiting old favorites.

A Very Habit-Forming Pancake-Burrito Hybrid

Feb.14.17

A Very Habit-Forming Pancake-Burrito Hybrid

by Charlotte Edwards

Jian Bing in Hebei Province

I’ve never been one for breakfast, so pre-baby, I usually skipped it. A month after giving birth and returning to work, I didn’t think twice about resuming my usual routine of preparing my husband’s breakfast and rushing off to catch the bus to work. However, I’d neglected to realize how much my appetite had increased because of breastfeeding.

By the mid-morning break on my first day back teaching English to nursing students at the local college in Renqiu, China, my stomach was growing uncontrollably. Luckily, outside the sprawling campus was a street filled with vendors preparing all sorts of delicious street foods for students who were unsatisfied by the cafeteria fare and hungry teachers like myself.

I needed to make a selection quickly so I got in a short line to buy a food that I’d never seen before: jian bing. A helpful student who was in front of me called it a pancake, but the only way it resembled the ones I grew up eating in the United States was that it started out round.

The woman who made it, probably no older than my student, poured a butter-colored batter on a large, round griddle and swiftly cracked an egg on top of it. When the egg was partially cooked, she used her hands to flip it over. Then she started asking me questions in rapid-fire sequence as she worked with impeccable precision and great speed.

“Can you eat spicy foods?”

“Just a little.”

“Do you want scallions and cilantro?”

“Yes, extra scallions, please.”

As she added a liberal amount of green atop the fiery red chili paste she asked, “Do you want crispy fried crackers or fried dough sticks?”

“Crackers, please,” I said, having just noticed the two options sitting on a shelf over her mobile makeshift kitchen that sat atop her three-wheeled cart. The crackers resembled a thin, rectangular tortilla chip, while the fried dough stick was just what it sounded like: a long piece of dough fried until the outside was crispy.

“Cut or uncut?” was her next question.

I wanted the huge burrito-like food cut in half, so I replied with a simple, “cut it.”

In less than three minutes, start to finish, my first jian bing was in my hands. It was piping hot and savory, and both soft and crispy. Thus began my daily jian bing habit, which lasted for the next two years.

It’s been several years since my first taste of jian bing, and while I’d like to eat it daily, my jeans tell me otherwise. So it remains a special treat that transports me to a past season of life.

This Is Basically Just Porridge But It Sounds So Wrong

Feb.13.17

This Is Basically Just Porridge But It Sounds So Wrong

by Olga Mecking

Milk Soup in Poland

I love Polish food, but there is one dish I could never stomach: milk soup.

There is just something about milk. Cold, it was barely palatable, but could be eaten with cornflakes. Warm, it was impossible. Just the smell was enough to make me gag. Luckily, my parents never made it, let alone forced me to eat it, so I only had to deal with milk soup at camp. But that was bad enough.

Milk soup is exactly what it sounds like: warm milk, sometimes served with pearled barley, oats, or with zacierki—tiny dumplings made by grating pasta dough directly into the soup.

Milk soup fits into the Polish tradition of sweet soups. Tart cherry soup
was a very popular first dish in my school’s canteen. It was served with pasta. It was delicious, but I wasn’t used to sweet soups because my parents never made them. No wonder milk soup was a no-go for me. To me, soup is just not made to be sweet, and my parents taught me that mixing pasta with fruit was just not done. But then again, I come from a nation that does exactly that: makaron z truskawkami, a Polish dish that combines pasta with cream and strawberries.

When I moved abroad, some of the dishes I knew from Poland became impossible to make because some of the ingredients just weren’t available. And then I had children, and suddenly, it became increasingly important to me to make for my children the Polish dishes I knew, even the ones I never made myself.

At some point, I thought I had to introduce them to milk soup. I didn’t even know the recipe, so I had to look it up. But the recipe for the dumplings was pretty much the same as the one I usually use for my noodles: 100g of flour, one egg, and a pinch of salt. But instead of rolling out the dough and cutting it into longer strips like tagliatelle, or into squares like for Polish łazanki, I just grated them into the hot milk. I also added some honey, because I remembered that though the soup was usually not served sweet, children would add sugar.

I rarely make such elaborate breakfasts for my children. I was just finishing it up when they came back from school.

“What’s that, mama?”

“That’s milk soup. With dumplings. Do you want to try it?”

They enthusiastically agreed. Unlike me, they enjoy milk. They drink it, they eat it with cereal. And now they were about to experience it as a soup.

They ate so quickly that their ears shook, as we say in Poland. And then they asked for more. I was surprised to find that the milk soup, something that I hated growing up, elicited such an enthusiastic response from my children. I thought it must be all the honey I put in there.

When my children were done, my eldest looked at me and said, “This is the best soup you’ve ever made, mama.” Actually, I don’t mind. Because at the moment, my foreign-born children were much better at being Polish than I ever was.

London Excels at Overpriced Brunches But Sucks at Breakfasts

Feb.10.17

London Excels at Overpriced Brunches But Sucks at Breakfasts

by Maria Kivimaa

Breakfast buffet in Helsinki

It’s 8:30 a.m. Bulevardi Street is covered in icy slush, and the city is smothered by thick darkness. A nasty wind blows from the Baltic Sea. Winter mornings at these latitudes have no mercy.

I open the café door to my grandma, Inger. We’ve come for breakfast at Ekberg, one of the most prestigious, old-school coffee houses in Helsinki.

I’m in town only for a short visit from London, my current home. Grandma still takes it a little bit personally. Why did you move so far away, she always asks. What does London offer that Helsinki doesn’t?

I needed an adventure, I always reply. Right now, London has everything. But
I’ll move back one day, soon, I promise. I don’t have the heart to tell her that she probably won’t see that day come.

Ekberg is nearly empty, thus we get a window table—not that you can see much outside. Inger carefully removes her mink fur and leather gloves. She’s 87, but her style remains impeccable. Hair like a lion’s mane, bag and shoes always matching.

A waiter brings us two menus. I opt for the breakfast buffet. ‘Buffet’ has a somewhat dodgy reputation in Britain—something to do with cheap Chinese restaurants and their stale lunch offerings, I was once told. The Nordics beg to differ. Buffets are popular, especially at breakfast and brunch, and delicious. Finns, and many Swedes, have nostalgic childhood memories of the glorious, banquet-like buffets served on the ferries between Helsinki and Stockholm.

I start with creamy porridge and herbal salt. Then comes plain rye bread, raw vegetables, gravlax and two hardboiled eggs—again, with herbal salt.

Anywhere else, I’d order an Americano. Here I pour myself weak filter coffee.
London might excel at overpriced brunches, but it sucks at breakfasts. Fluffy pastry is as useless as an umbrella in a tornado. Toast with Nutella should only excite a toddler. And don’t even get me started on the pride of the nation, the artery-clogging institution called the Full English.

Inger nibbles her croissant with some raspberry marmalade. I gently tease her about her continental eating habits, and nag, yet again, about her putting cream in her coffee. I’ve lived this long, I do what I want, she replies.

We chat mostly about times gone by. She tells me, once again, how she used to work for the Security Intelligence Service during the Cold War, spying on Russians. This always makes me happy: I have a grandma basically out of a Bond movie.

I fetch a second pile of the warm, pitch-black rye bread and slices of cucumber. Inger looks at the plate approvingly. If there’s one thing that unites grandparents around the world, it’s the joy over their grandchildren’s appetite. We chat about books, politics, and Helsinki’s current art exhibitions.

Ekberg has slowly filled up: Swedish-speaking ladies of leisure, bohemian middle-aged men, philosophy students, Italian tourists. The clonk of the tram, Helsinki’s constant soundtrack, is now frequent. An orange light finally dawns behind the art nouveau-style buildings.

For a moment, I wish I could freeze time.

Photo by: IK World Trip

That’s One Serious Breakfast Upgrade for This Punk in Thailand

Feb.09.17

That’s One Serious Breakfast Upgrade for This Punk in Thailand

by Heiko Niebur

Larb moo in Bangkok

I first met Natt back in 2012 at a punk show somewhere in the Thonburi neighborhood of Bangkok, west of the Chao Phraya River—where the capital of old Siam once stood. It was my second night in the city and I still was baffled and crazy about everything that was going on around me. The obligatory bottle of SangSom was making the rounds, and the Thai rum added to my confusion and fascination. Natt and I quickly became friends.

Years later, I was sitting in Natt’s house, eating my way every morning through the vast amounts of food her aunt made for breakfast—a breakfast that looked and tasted more like lunch or dinner to a boy like me who was raised on German bread.

Every morning, a new array of dishes was waiting to be eaten. I was skeptical at first about how to stomach it that early in the day. My body expected sweetness and softness combined with some form of cereal, not a bomb of meaty flavors and spice. (Luckily for me, her aunt was mild on the chili peppers, mostly.) But I fell in love with Thai breakfast on my first morning there, celebrating not only the hospitality of Natt’s family but the mealtime itself. Mainly because I got to eat delicious larb moo, as it’s called in Thai, before lunch.

Larb, a spicy minced pork (or chicken) salad, originally comes from northeast Thailand and Laos, but it’s popular all over Thailand and comes in several varieties. It has the perfect balance of texture and contrasting flavors: seasoned with fish sauce, chili, lime juice, toasted sticky rice, some mint or kaffir leaves and, at Natt’s house, mushrooms, larb is fresh, herby, spicy, salty, and crunchy.

At Natt’s, I ate larb with a special kind of purple rice called riceberry, and chased it with large gulps of icy water. The spicy papaya salad didn’t do much to reduce the heat. Some fried pork and grilled pork sticks, a Bangkok street food stable, served me better—they were perfect for rounding off my first at-home Thai breakfast experience, so different from wandering the streets, wondering what to eat other than fruit or the pancakes marketed to backpackers.

At Natt’s, every day there would be something different for breakfast, but variety and abundance were constants. Fortunately, so was the larb.

Most of the Bread in the U.S. Is Garbage

Feb.08.17

Most of the Bread in the U.S. Is Garbage

by Mark Wetzler

Breakfast in Berlin

Soccer may be the more high-profile sport, but breakfast is also a national pastime in Germany. Recently, I went to Café Bilderbuch in Berlin’s Schöneberg neighborhood, a place dedicated to the art of substantial German breakfasts.

I arrived with a friend sometime after one in the afternoon. This might be a problem at some restaurants, but Café Bilderbuch serves breakfast until 11 p.m. Our waiter seemed to be in a hurry. The breakfast I ordered was called “Der kleine Muck”—named after William Hauff’s fairytale about a young boy who wanders into the desert in search of a merchant selling good fortune. (I ordered it mostly because I liked the word “Muck.”) Our waiter hurried off, and we paused to take in the surroundings.

The main dining room in Café Bilderbuch is down a narrow hallway past the kitchen. It’s like walking into your grandparents’ living room. There are low coffee tables surrounded by decadently-upholstered armchairs. There are books everywhere (“Bilderbuch” is a German expression for a children’s book, or picture book). The atmosphere was generally one of post-holiday and weekend mirth.

Finally my “kleine Muck” arrived. There was salami, sliced cheese, arugula, a flowered radish, apricot jam, and mixed greens.

But the real star of the meal was the bread. Ten minutes in Germany makes you realize that we’ve forgotten what good bread is in the States. Not only have we forgotten what good bread is, we’ve forgotten what bread is. The bread at Bilderbuch was covered with poppy seeds and sesame seeds and sunflower seeds big enough to choke a ferret. Some of the bread was dark, the color of coal, and obviously hand-kneaded. What more could one want other than this fresh bread with this fresh butter, this jam, this flowered radish?

Eventually, after a few hours of chatting, we left. Couples and groups streamed in to take our place, with the grim faces of determination that precede strenuous physical activity. Our waiter didn’t even look at us as we left, so immersed was he in the task of serving breakfast.

Never be Ashamed of The Time You Spend Contemplating Fritters

Feb.07.17

Never be Ashamed of The Time You Spend Contemplating Fritters

by Katherine Clary

Fataya in St. Louis, Senegal

It was my plan from the minute we booked our tickets: I was going to find and eat accara, a popular street food, in Senegal. I had already begun to imagine what the black-eyed pea fritters tasted like and how fresh the baguette would be. Would it be served with any sauce? And would it be spicy? Would the fritters be soft and squishy like a beignet, or firm and dense like a falafel? I’m unashamed to admit that I spent a lot of time contemplating these fritters.

One evening in St. Louis, we set out to find the sandwich. Admittedly, I had heard it was more of a breakfast food, but knew there must be vendors at all hours. I must have looked like I was on a treasure hunt, all giddy with anticipation. We arrived at a stand belonging to two old women, aglow under a street light with a growing line of people. “Accara?” The vendors shook their heads in unison and pointed vaguely down the street.

We walked another block and arrived at another vendor’s set-up. It was day nine of our trip, and I felt I had finally mastered the sing-song lilt of Senegalese French. “AH-ccara?”

“Non. Fataya!” Her little boy, all wide-eyed and shy in our presence, stared up at me. They both waited for a response. I didn’t want fataya; I didn’t know what fataya was. I was in denial about not being able to find the weird pea-fritters I was lusting after. “D’accord, fataya.” I admitted defeat and prayed that I would receive something delicious.

She brusquely handed over a baguette wrapped in newspaper. Inside were pillowy, spicy fish fritters slathered with a vibrant, salty tomato-onion paste, like nothing I had ever tasted. We walked in silence and passed the sandwich back and forth, devouring it despite a lack of appetite at this point, and eventually found ourselves in the town’s square.

Surrounding us were hundreds of people, eagerly watching a large stage where women slowly came on, one by one, brilliant silk dresses in gold and purple and red, elaborate head wraps that seemed to add four, five inches to their height. I had no clue what exactly we were witnessing, had not planned for this at all—and that was totally okay.

An Egg Rolex Is the Best Kind of Rolex

Feb.06.17

An Egg Rolex Is the Best Kind of Rolex

by Barbara Wanjala

Rolex in Kampala

The origins of the Rolex are shrouded in mystery. According to an article by Ugandan journalist Dennis Muhumuza, a man by the name of Sula was the first to establish a Rolex stand behind Kampala’s Wandegeya mosque in 2000. Most intriguing, wrote Muhumuza, is that Rolex making is a man’s affair.
“From Wandegeya to Kalerwe and other hubs for the booming lucrative Rolex, you will rarely find a woman frying [one].”

What is the Ugandan Rolex? It’s a street snack that consists of fried eggs rolled into a chapati, the flatbread that originated from the Indian subcontinent and is now an East African staple. The filling can also include assorted vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, and green peppers.

Last year, CNN named the Rolex as one of the African foods that are finally ‘taking off,’ leading one to wonder where CNN has been all this time. They even got the picture wrong. Somebody told me that the word Rolex is a contraction of ‘rolled eggs,’ but this appears to be pure speculation.

I met a Rolex-maker at the Uganda Museum last year; the Rolex Festival had taken place there a few days prior. Launched by tourism minister Godfrey Kiwanda as part of a community empowerment program, aiming to increase demand for the Rolex as a fast food and to promote Rolex-making as a commercial activity.

“The ministry of tourism, wildlife and antiquities is endorsing Rolex as a proudly Ugandan product that is also enjoyed by tourists,” said Kiwanda.

What better place than the storehouse of Ugandan culture to partake of this proudly Ugandan delicacy?

I watched the Rolex-maker’s movements with great interest. He worked in silent concentration, the supply of eggs and chapati dough on his table steadily reducing as the day progressed. Business was booming as festival attendees, museum visitors, and schoolchildren made trips to his table to order their Rolexes. He rolled out lumps of dough methodically and placed each flat circle onto his frying pan, deftly flipping the browning chapati from side to side with his spatula. When the chapati was ready, he set it aside and quickly made an omelet, which he then rolled into the chapati, a tasty and filling snack.

Floating Fish Bits in Alcohol Broth: Some Next-Level Hangover Thinking

Feb.02.17

Floating Fish Bits in Alcohol Broth: Some Next-Level Hangover Thinking

by Ella Rovardi

Leche de tigre in Santiago

Revelers gathered around the grill, befriending the guy brandishing the tongs and the big knife, eyes agog as the flames danced sacrificially around a huge hunk of meat, throbbing as if still alive. Occasionally, the grill guy would carve slivers from the edge, the blade slicing through the salty, charred crust to the glistening pink tenderness inside. Devoured with fresh bread and salsa, and washed down with copious pisco sour aperitifs (later graduating to piscolas, or pisco mixed with cola) the fiesta continued into the wee small hours, until the booze ran dry.

The night incited the inevitable hangover. The morning painfully evolved into the afternoon, at which point I dragged my self-pitying, raggedy carcass out of my apartment in search of a steadfast cure for my caña (hangover). Only one thing would suffice.

It was the height of summer and although late afternoon, it was searingly hot; the concrete and glass visibly radiated the day’s heat, not helping my nausea.

I was headed downtown to where the city’s Peruvian migrants have helped spice up Santiago’s restaurant scene, challenging the typical Chilean offerings of pasty empanadas and the famous hotdog topped with avocado, ketchup, and mayo, earning it its tricolor nickname, the Italiana.

I sidestepped the patio tables of my favorite Peruvian restaurant seeking refuge indoors, spotting a vacant table under a failing ceiling fan. I knew what I needed. A weary yet smiling waiter took my order and left me to ponder the previous night’s antics, my eyes glazing over, hypnotized by both the brightly colored textile tablecloth and the Andean panpipes charming me from the speakers.

My order arrived. On the rim of the glass, an adorning shrimp perched as if posthumously contemplating its demise within the murky opalescence of the ‘leche de tigre.’ Literally meaning ‘tiger’s milk,’ it is simply the leftover liquid of a ceviche preparation: flecks of macerated red onion, hot chili pepper, and cílantro with floating fish bits and the key lime juice it was cured in. Oh, and a hair-of-the-dog shot of pisco.

I remember the first time a friend of mine suggested I try this concoction. Skeptically thinking it akin to some kind of shamanic ritual, the thought of consuming it provoked puke-worthy memories of my Scottish granny forcing watery, salted porridge on me as a child.

But it is fresh and restorative. I’m not sure if it is the acid-to-alkaline effect of the citrus, or the electrolyte restoration from the fish, or just the shock that you are forcing this absurdity on your debilitated self. But it works, almost instantly. As a side note, it’s delicious. And I’m pretty sure the pisco has something to do with it. Hell, if it can cure the fish, it can cure me.

If Breakfast in Venice Takes More than Five Minutes, You’re Doing It Wrong

Feb.01.17

If Breakfast in Venice Takes More than Five Minutes, You’re Doing It Wrong

by Samuel Patterson

Coffee in Venice

In the offseason, Venetians get some reprieve from the estimated 20 million tourists the city gets every year—overwhelming for a city of around 55,000.

Some might consider it the price of getting to live in Venice: the city needs to be shared. But in early January, locals have the luxury of moving without being physically displaced by legions of day-trippers and cruise-shippers.

Offseason Venice still throngs with tourists navigating the city with one eye on some iconic landmark and the other looking out for some stuffed animal on a pole indicating a tour guide. But they don’t block the streets and campos. The venerated-to-the-point-of-sacred Italian breakfast protocol of cappuccino and cornetto (the term “brioche” also works, never say “croissant” east of Monaco) can also proceed unimpeded.

On a frigid Monday morning, my father and I walk through the Piazza San Marco in search of a warm cup of coffee before entering the Doge’s Palace. This early, the sun’s been up for half an hour and there are few with whom to share the Piazza beyond deliverymen and a peculiar group of men surrounded by scores of pigeons. From the way they walk purposefully at us idling in the Piazza, their business model must be to approach tourists and thrust pigeon-feed into their hands, compelling them to pay for an unhygienic photo opportunity.

We don’t stick around to see if these men sic pigeons on noncompliant tourists but instead walk east along the lagoon, until we duck into a narrow alley looking for caffeine. A warmly-lit room with glass windows and espresso machines behind a single L-shaped bar—no chairs or tables—pulls us in. The space is tiny, perhaps enough room for ten skinnier people to fit comfortably.

The proper coffee stop takes between three and five minutes, enough time to order, down your drink, eat a cornetto (optional), and kibitz with the barista before departing. The men and women around us in business suits or with dogs on leash know the drill. We, the tourists, need hand-holding.

From the time we enter until the time we leave, we clock no more than seven minutes. It’s enough for the maneuvers that go into making cappuccinos. Seven minutes gets you flaky, cream-filled cornettos with a berry on top, and a series of mangled English-Italian interchanges. Fortunately, gibberish and pitiful smiles are okay in January. In July, they might have shown us the door.

Cups empty, plates containing little more than crumbs, we pay up and head back out in time to join our fellow foreigners at the Doge’s Palace.

Photo by: David Schiersner

An Orgy of Yolk is Always the Answer

Jan.31.17

An Orgy of Yolk is Always the Answer

by Steffani Cameron

Poached eggs in Prague

What my last meal would be changes depending on my mood, but at least one ingredient is always a must: eggs. Versatile, simple, rich: I find it impossible to understand how people can dislike nature’s perfect food.

When I sold everything to travel, I missed North American breakfast more than I could imagine. My rude awakening came in Croatia, where I made the horrific discovery that eggs for breakfast weren’t a thing. Thank goodness I found Bistroteka in Zagreb, which softened the blow with their eggs on toast. I’ve made it myself countless times since: toast topped with cream cheese, arugula, and a poached egg.

The hunt for new, exciting takes on breakfast is a great joy, especially when it’s successful. Every new city brings with it the critical Google search: “Best breakfast in __.” That’s how I discovered eggs in a glass. A dish common throughout the Czech Republic, Prague takes it up a notch. The concept is simple: three soft-poached eggs in a glass, topped with chives, served with bread or toast. But that simplicity is deceptive.

Prague’s La Bottega di Finestra is big on execution and detail. They transform this simple dish with sous vide 63-degree eggs—as the eggs slow-cooked in hot water are commonly known—dropped into a puddle of clarified butter and topped with a sprinkle of sea salt and clipped chives.

The first time I ordered it, my daily budget meant it was the only breakfast on the menu I could afford. When two slices of unbuttered toast and a glass with three eggs arrived in front of me, I smiled at the waiter and thanked him, but was secretly crushed. It looked so simple, so small, and somehow lacking.

But then I picked up that tiny silver teaspoon and poked the egg, delicately tearing the top yolk. Gold spilled out, mixing into the butter, flowing around the chives, filling gaps between the other eggs. How to do this, I wondered. Tear the bread apart and dip it? Scoop the egg and smear it on the bread? Break all the eggs? In the end, I decided the only answer was to have an orgy of yolk: after I broke the first egg, I broke the rest.

As I pushed the last piece of bread around with my spoon, sopping up the final drips of buttery yolk, I added a sprinkle of sea salt and chewed as slowly as I could. Then, I opened my eyes, sad-faced. So good, so gone. A diner opposite me smiled. “You want another right away, ja?”

Ja. Leaving Prague, I wasn’t sure what I’d miss more, the Charles Bridge or eggs in a glass. Now I know it’s definitely the eggs.

You Can Pretty Much Dump Honey on Anything and It Will Be Good

Jan.30.17

You Can Pretty Much Dump Honey on Anything and It Will Be Good

by Liz Shemaria

Honey in Nepal

I awoke to the smell of smoke.

My tiny flashlight illuminated the pile of clothing next to my backpack. I pulled on my wool beanie and jacket and went through the attic’s trapdoor. I emerged to a view of a Himalayan blue sky, framed by banana and guava trees.

Aama, my homestay mother, and her youngest son, Rabindra, crouched over a wooden box beside the mud house. There was buzzing.

Wearing a green, floral sarong; brown, long-sleeved T-shirt; pink, quilted vest; and white, veiled hat, Aama pulled trays from the beehive with one hand, waving a smoking hay broom at the hive with the other. She handed the frames to her son, who cut sticky hexagonal cells off wires and dropped them into a green, plastic bucket.

It was around 7 a.m.

“Aren’t you worried about getting stung?” I asked Rabindra.

He laughed and said he wasn’t.

Within minutes, they had filled the bucket.

The village on Panchase Mountain, my home for three days during a 10-day trip to Nepal, was a three-hour bumpy jeep or bus ride west of the lakefront resort town Pokhara, through farms, three river crossings, and hairpin turns. Goat and buffalo stables and mud brick homes emerged among terraced rice fields.

Aama removed her beekeeper’s hat and headed for the kitchen. I followed, sitting on a rug facing the wood-burning stove and stone hearth.

There were simple wooden shelves of tin dishes, glasses, and mugs printed with flowers and Eiffel Towers. Thin strips of buffalo and goat meat were hanging, smoking, above the stove where Aama sat cross-legged, blowing on the flame through a bamboo tube. She then set a cast-iron kettle on the single burner. She opened a pressure cooker next to her and stirred rice from the previous night’s dinner, which had been grown in fields down the road. She grabbed the kettle, placed it on a round woven bamboo mat on the stone floor, and set the pressure cooker on the burner.

“Chiya?” she asked.

“Yes, thank you,” I said, to the Nepali tea mixed with buffalo ghee and milk from their farm.

She spooned rice into a tin bowl and poured buffalo milk from a plastic Coca-Cola bottle over it.

“Honey?” I asked, pointing to the bucket by the door.

Aama smiled, grabbed two toast-sized chunks of the honeycomb, and handed me the bowl. It smelled of jasmine, cut grass, and mountain air.

I cut small pieces off the rectangles with my spoon, chewing honeycomb and rice together. Wax was getting stuck between my teeth, and spitting it out made me self-conscious. I broke the cells using the back of the spoon, and drizzled ochre-colored syrup onto the grains. The still-warm, sticky sweetness alternated from divine to pleasant to overwhelming.

Rabindra walked in and laughed at my concocted breakfast.

“I had to try it,” I said.

As the fire warmed my lap, I embraced the sweetness.

Never Lose Your Capacity to be Surprised by Weird, Alcohol-Inspired Products

Jan.26.17

Never Lose Your Capacity to be Surprised by Weird, Alcohol-Inspired Products

by Patricia Rey Mallen

Licor café yogurt in Galicia

What I love about the world is that just when you think you may have nothing left to see, it will surprise you again. And what I love even more is that the surprise often comes from the unlikeliest of places.

I grew up in a nondescript Spanish city, where my serious case of grass-is-greener syndrome was sometimes grating to my family and friends who gladly embraced the Atlantic charm of our hometown. Not me: one of the most significant days of my life was when I left, 15 months before becoming a legal adult.

Thirst for discovering new flavors was the motor behind my inability to sit still. Though I am far from done, I am happy with the job I have done so far in my quest to be surprised, particularly when it comes to libations. In the last 15 years, I have tried the weirdest of alcoholic concoctions. From mezcal and guava ice cream in Mexico City to Guinness-infused candy in Dublin to chocolate cake with wine jam in Cape Town, I’ve never turned down novel ways to enjoy a drink. I thought nothing could surprise me anymore.

But I had yet another unexpected boozy experience last year in a working class, unassuming town in Galicia, Spain: licor café yogurt. Licor café, a liqueur made of coffee beans and schnapps, is the traditional Galician digestif, a strong, flavorful drink that locals have after meals. It’s usually served in a shot glass and drunk slowly to savor every sip. (Although when we were young we treated it like the local version of bad tequila, downing shots in rapid succession for a quick and cheap buzz.)

Last summer, a well-known dairy manufacturer launched a gourmet line of yogurt, including a licor café version. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t contain alcohol.)

Galicians greeted the announcement half-scandalized and half-amused. I, who at the time was an ocean away, was half-shocked, and half-shocked in a different way: on the one hand, my attitude was “is-nothing-sacred-anymore?” On the other, I knew had to try one. It was hard to believe that the biggest travel discovery of the year was waiting for me back where I started.

I finally tried it when I went to my parents’ for Christmas, and it was a surprise. It’s a comforting thought that you are never too jaded, or too close to home, to try something new. The best part? It didn’t remind me of anything else. I may have been in a place I thought I knew well, but that yogurt was like nothing I had ever tasted.

A Victory for Team America, With Help From a Crustacean

Jan.25.17

A Victory for Team America, With Help From a Crustacean

by Lindsay Gasik

Dungeness Crab in Oregon

I lace up my shoes and jog into the foggy morning. Seabirds cry and the ocean thunders onto the plain of soggy sand. It’s such a perfect picture of desolate gloom that I sigh. It’s good to be home.

I check my watch and jog faster toward Bandon, Oregon, and Tony’s Crab Shack. Today’s my last chance to find fresh, Oregon-caught Dungeness crab and heal my wounded local pride. This trip, I’ve brought my Malaysian host family home for their first tour of America. Malaysians are foodies, and the Chinese-Malaysians seem to be the most food-obsessed. In their dialect, a common greeting is “Have you eaten yet?”

I can’t let them go home thinking American seafood is red snapper fish sticks, fried razor clams, and chowder. After dinner the previous night, my host father shrugged. “Americans don’t appreciate fresh ingredients,” he surmised. I’ve got to find the Dungeness.

The large Dungeness crab is our state crustacean, placing us along Maryland and Louisiana as the only states to have a designated state shellfish. The deep-sea creatures are a $49.3 million industry here, and are even featured in the 2016 Oregon-based spin-off, Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove. The crabs measure six to eight inches across the shell, not including their armored legs and heavy claws. Alive, they’re an ugly purple-brown, but when cooked they turn a bright pumpkin orange.

I’m in luck. Robert is outside getting ready to open Tony’s Crab Shack, a small building attached to a bait and tackle shop. Robert says it’s not the main crabbing season, December to March, but he does have Dungeness, caught that morning in the Coos River. I make the first order of the day and speed back over the sand.

The crab is nearly ready when we arrive back at the Shack, its legs splayed out, hot and steaming on a waxed paper tray with all the American fixings—mayonnaise-rich coleslaw and pasta salad, a thick wedge of sourdough, a side of melted butter. The shack is cramped, the walls invisible under layers of glowing beer signs, tackle, buoys and ropes, and kitschy t-shirts that read, “I have a crabby attitude,” and “I’m a keeper.” Live crabs and lobsters claw at the glass of their tanks.

My host family has eyes only for the brilliantly-colored crab. They pull off its hard shell and marvel at the sweet ivory meat, so tender it’s juicy. “This is good,” my host father says, pointing messy fingers at the carcass. I fist pump for America.

We Get the Politicians and the Bland Cups of Coffee We Deserve

Jan.24.17

We Get the Politicians and the Bland Cups of Coffee We Deserve

by Chris Newens

Coffee in Bahrain

As the Airbus A320 banks for its final descent, and the shimmering blue heat of the Persian Gulf fades into Bahrain’s desert-yellow suburbs, I cannot suppress a familiar tingle of excitement at flying into a world so different from my own, even if it is just for a transfer.

On the ground, there is the early morning’s vast warmth, so different from the low skies of the British winter I have just left, the indecipherable calligraphy of adverts and airport signs, the businessmen in their neatly pressed dishdashas. I make my way through the airport building, indulging in glimpses of the wild blueness of the sky and the unknown city beyond, until I arrive in a departures hall, itself filled with clean desert light.

There, the bubble bursts; I have seen a Costa Coffee—the most British of firms and a personal bête noire.

Founded in 1971 as a London-based wholesale coffee bean supplier, Costa has grown to become the second largest coffeehouse chain in the world. It boasts over 3,000 stores across 31 countries. All this, despite offering what I can only describe as a quite staggeringly mediocre experience.

It’s not that Costa is bad—just inoffensive to the point of offensiveness. While Starbucks markets a brightly cartoonish, distinctly American style, and Caffè Nero (one of Costa’s main British competitors) riffs off an Italian aesthetic, Costa offers little more than a sub-Ikea, maroon-colored, flat-pack blandness.

This is not to say that the business is a void of design, however; quite the opposite. From the saucers, which hold their cups “quirkily” off-centre, to the mass-produced faux-letter-press signs, its product and interior have been meticulously constructed to ride on the distant coat-tails of contemporary style, never more than acceptable but acceptable nevertheless to hipsters and grannies and everyone in between. And it works.

This, I suppose, is my main issue with Costa Coffee: what it says about us. One of the main precepts of capitalism ought to be that it ends up giving the people what they want; thus, the success of Costa, like Britain voting for Brexit or the victory of Donald Trump, is another chalk toward my diminished faith in humanity. For it suggests that what we want (in our coffeehouses, at least) is something that we don’t see, a service that blends into any background, one that requires the least amount of engagement possible, in which we need do nothing but stay safe in our own thoughts.

At the same time, the coffee itself is not terrible, and as Costa seems the only place I can buy caffeine in this staging post between long-haul flights, I figure I’ll leave my boycotting for a later date. I order a steaming half pint of Americano, and am soon enjoying its hot, dark bitterness, while I stare out at the Gulf Air jets as they ascend into the wild blue sky. Reliably, Costa fades into the hubbub, allowing me to enjoy Bahrain once again.

A Czechoslovakian Restaurant in Northern California Circa 1960

Jan.23.17

A Czechoslovakian Restaurant in Northern California Circa 1960

by Alexa van Sickle

Schnitzel in Marin County

Recently, I got to experience a long-held dream, if only for a couple of weeks: living in the woods with only a diabetic cat for company.

I had jumped at the chance to cat-sit for friends who live in a cabin in Inverness, CA, a town of around 1,000 on the southwestern shore of Tomales Bay, on a jagged peninsula north of San Francisco. The cabin, set high up on a ridge overlooking miles of forest, comes as part of the job when you work as an ecologist studying the local owl population. Yes, cat-sitting (and owl-observing) is nice work if you can get it.

On my first full day, after a night struggling with jet lag and the feline alarm clock, the sun was already high in the sky when I coasted the car down the hill in search of coffee and perhaps some kind of wholesome muffin.

It may be rural, but this corner of Northern California is far from undiscovered. People come to hike along dramatic beachside cliffs and spend many happy hours at Hog Island Oyster Company. (There is also an excessively-Instagrammed shipwreck that an amateur photographer accidentally set ablaze last year, apparently after trying to create a dramatic backdrop using sparks from steel wool.) But despite the robust visitor numbers, West Marin still has an appealing idyll. Inverness has only a couple of small clusters of businesses along the bayshore, all looking on-message for Marin County: clapboard storefronts, dusty general stores, and ocean-themed inns.

So I did a double take when I saw Vladimir’s: a cartoonish, colorful, squat building, flanked by an old-fashioned coat of arms fitting for a Medieval Inn at a theme park, plus several sets of old-school skis propped underneath for reasons, at that point, unclear.

Vladimir’s turned out to be a Czech restaurant, specializing in Moravian cabbage rolls, garlic rabbit, paprikash… and Wienerschnitzel. As a quasi-Austrian (and a quasi-Wiener no less) I couldn’t pass that up, so I thought, screw the muffin and coffee. My first breakfast in Inverness was a Schnitzel, with potato salad, red cabbage… and yes, a stein of Pilsner. (In my defense, it was well past noon.)

To shamefully paraphrase someone I have no business paraphrasing, one could say that all good Schnitzels are alike, but bad Schnitzels are bad in their own way. Maybe the cut of the veal is not tender enough, or it’s too thick, or undercooked, or the breadcrumb coating is too soggy, or the crumbs are too sparse. This one was not the best I ever had, but it still scored respectably on all those fronts.

It was only afterwards I learned that the local wisdom is that you go to Vladimir’s for the history, not the food. The story is that founder Vladimir Nevl skied over the border from Czechoslovakia into Germany when he was 18 to escape the Communist government. He ended up in Australia for a while, before landing in California, and opened the restaurant in 1960.

Nevl died in 2008, and now his daughter runs it. They’re proud to say the décor has not changed since it was opened. And that’s really the best way to describe the place: a Czechoslovakian restaurant in Northern California, circa 1960. Dim lighting, bucket-sized beer steins behind the bar, chandeliers, trophies, pencil sketches of Czechoslovakian towns, and every inch of the wall covered in old photographs of horses and other hobbies of Nevl’s—who apparently liked to wear full equestrian gear in the restaurant.

The dark interior certainly has a rumpled charm, bordering on the dusty. Maybe Vladimir’s isn’t about the food. But I still wouldn’t say no to Schnitzel for breakfast.

Photo by Martin Hapl.

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

Jan.20.17

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

by Candy Moo

Coffee and Donuts in Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

Jan.19.17

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

by Susan Shain

Tamales in Oaxaca City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

Jan.16.17

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

by Rebecca High

Avocado Toast in North Dakota

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Lebanese Bread in Salt Lake City

Jan.13.17

The Best Lebanese Bread in Salt Lake City

by Haley Gray

Man’oushe in Salt Lake City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan.12.17

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

by Sabrina Toppa

Huevos Rancheros in Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan.10.17

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

by Audrey Harris

Barbacoa in Ixmiquilpan

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Warm, New Yorkers. Eat Dumplings.

Jan.09.17

Stay Warm, New Yorkers. Eat Dumplings.

by An Uong

Dumplings in Flushing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle Lines Drawn in the Great Australian Smashed Avo Affair

Jan.06.17

Battle Lines Drawn in the Great Australian Smashed Avo Affair

by Madeleine D'Este

Smashed Avocado in Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

A Pretentious Brunch to Cure the Homesick Australian

Jan.05.17

A Pretentious Brunch to Cure the Homesick Australian

by Tania Braukamper

Bengali Eggs in Amsterdam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan.04.17

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

by Tracy Denholm

Chicken Awadhi in Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan.03.17

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

by Luciana Squadrilli

Pizza Fritta in Naples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Alessandra Farinelli

Everything Tastes Better with Illicit Tabasco Sauce

Jan.02.17

Everything Tastes Better with Illicit Tabasco Sauce

by Adam Nace

Scrambled Eggs in Havana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.29.16

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

by Alexa van Sickle

Brioche Kipferl in Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.28.16

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

by Katherine Long

Osh in Dushanbe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.27.16

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

by Michael Snyder

Kefir in Hamtramck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pre-Emptive Hangover Solution You Never Knew You Needed

Dec.22.16

The Pre-Emptive Hangover Solution You Never Knew You Needed

by Jake Emen

Tuna in Tokyo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.20.16

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

by Barbara Wanjala

Macchiato in Addis Ababa

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

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

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

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

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

A Drink for Those Whose Hearts Aren’t Cold Enough

Dec.19.16

A Drink for Those Whose Hearts Aren’t Cold Enough

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Jigarthanda in Madurai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Levantine Answer to Chilaquiles

Dec.16.16

The Levantine Answer to Chilaquiles

by Kirsten O'Reagan

Fatteh in Beirut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.15.16

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

by Patrick Sauer

Smoked trout bagel in Montana

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pure Satisfaction of Sating a Breakfast Craving

Dec.14.16

The Pure Satisfaction of Sating a Breakfast Craving

by James Murren

Machaca con huevos in Baja California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.13.16

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

by Richie Koch

Eggs in Bamako

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sauerkraut and Ramen, Together At Last

Dec.12.16

Sauerkraut and Ramen, Together At Last

by Cher Tan

Ramen in Yokohama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tunafish-Muffin Sandwich Is Some Next Level Thinking

Dec.09.16

A Tunafish-Muffin Sandwich Is Some Next Level Thinking

by Frances Katz

Matzah brei in New York

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

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

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

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

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

A Breakfast Worthy of an International Incident

Dec.08.16

A Breakfast Worthy of an International Incident

by Monique Jaques

Pupusas in El Salvador

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Are United in Our Love of Well-Baked Carbs

Dec.07.16

We Are United in Our Love of Well-Baked Carbs

by Alexandra Buskie

Bagels in Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: M. Rehemtulla

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

Dec.06.16

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

by James Murren

Ceviche tostadas in Baja California

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, Back to the Old Coffee Vs. Alcohol Debate

Dec.05.16

Ah, Back to the Old Coffee Vs. Alcohol Debate

by Olga Kovalenko

Coffee in Salento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Half Pancake, Half Hash Browns Sounds Promising

Dec.02.16

Half Pancake, Half Hash Browns Sounds Promising

by Heiko Niebur

Pickert in Lippe

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

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

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

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

Good Breakfast Habits I Picked Up in Ireland

Dec.01.16

Good Breakfast Habits I Picked Up in Ireland

by Gina Zammit

Oat biscuits in Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

When in Doubt, Eat Where the Truck Drivers Eat

Nov.30.16

When in Doubt, Eat Where the Truck Drivers Eat

by Shirin Bhandari

Silog in Manila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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