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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

The History of Delicious, Delicious Bubble Tea

Sep.23.16

The History of Delicious, Delicious Bubble Tea

by Thei Zervaki

Bubble tea in Taichung

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood for Breakfast Is Wasted on the Young

Sep.22.16

Blood for Breakfast Is Wasted on the Young

by Katie MacLeod

Black Pudding in the Outer Hebrides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drown Your Weather Sorrows in Thick Hot Chocolate

Sep.21.16

Drown Your Weather Sorrows in Thick Hot Chocolate

by Jess Jacutan

Bodbod kabog in Dumaguete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.20.16

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

by Brent Crane

Noodle Soup in Chiang Mai

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

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

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

“I don’t have one,” I said.

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

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

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

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

Sep.19.16

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

by Craig Sauers

Ketchup on Bread in Bangkok

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.16.16

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

by Tracy Denholm

Buffet in Almaty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.15.16

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

by Marco Ferrarese

Lassi in Varanasi

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

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

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

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

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

I Like My Cheesecake Like I Like My People: Bitter

Sep.14.16

I Like My Cheesecake Like I Like My People: Bitter

by Ashley Dobson

Coffee and Cake in Kaiserslautern

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

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

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

The strange look was for ordering cake at 9 am.

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

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

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

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

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

“Like our people,” he jokes.

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

A lady at the next table leans over to me.

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

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

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

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

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

Deliciously Complex, With a Hint of Dead Baby Bee

Sep.13.16

Deliciously Complex, With a Hint of Dead Baby Bee

by Zac Crellin

Honey in Ethiopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.12.16

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

by Tania Braukamper

Doces falicos in Amarante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple Pie Still Seems Like Sort of an Odd Choice

Sep.08.16

Apple Pie Still Seems Like Sort of an Odd Choice

by Sabrina Toppa

Apple Pie in Cameron Highlands

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

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

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

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

Love Is Love and Breakfast Is Breakfast

Sep.06.16

Love Is Love and Breakfast Is Breakfast

by Yvette Tan

Gumbo in Baguio

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

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

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

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

Afterwards, we waited to join the festivities.

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

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

That Is One Badass Noodle Soup Lady

Sep.01.16

That Is One Badass Noodle Soup Lady

by Cindy Fan

Bun bo in Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They strolled to their motorbikes and hightailed it.

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

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

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

Delicious, Delicious Bunny for Breakfast

Aug.31.16

Delicious, Delicious Bunny for Breakfast

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Bunny Chow in Durban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.30.16

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

by Jordan Tew

Vegemite in Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.29.16

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

by Megan Frye

Fruit in Viñales, Cuba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always a Surprise When the Horse Meat Is Raw

Aug.26.16

Always a Surprise When the Horse Meat Is Raw

by Aaron Gilbreath

Uma in Osaka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” I said, “horse!”

“Yes, yes,” the men said, “horse.”

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

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

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

Damn Simple, Dirt Cheap, and Irresistible

Aug.25.16

Damn Simple, Dirt Cheap, and Irresistible

by Marco Ferrarese

Tibetan Bread with Jam in Nako

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Sumita Roy Dutta

Perhaps It Is Time to Reconsider the Danish

Aug.24.16

Perhaps It Is Time to Reconsider the Danish

by Hanady Kader

Pastries in Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.23.16

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

by Valerie Stimac

Freddo espresso in Greece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.22.16

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

by Ferron Salniker

Corundas in Patzcuaro

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Is So Much Swedish Going on Here

Aug.19.16

There Is So Much Swedish Going on Here

by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Filmjölk in Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.18.16

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

by Sara Nasser

A Spread in Istanbul

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.17.16

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

by Barbara Wanjala

Kangumu in Nairobi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.16.16

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

by Kun Liu

Baozi in Beijing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.15.16

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

by Yvette Tan

Scallops on Sand Bar

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

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

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

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

“One peso per piece.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone agreed.

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

A Breakfast That Actually Does Sound Worth the Hike

Aug.12.16

A Breakfast That Actually Does Sound Worth the Hike

by Stuart Denison

Adassi in Tehran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.11.16

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

by Rob Armstrong

Man Bread in Malaysia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.10.16

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

by Andrew Wong

Pastizzi in Malta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wild Pastry Born of Smoke and Char

Aug.09.16

A Wild Pastry Born of Smoke and Char

by Nomi Abeliovich

Kürtőskalács in Budapest

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

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

But the Kürtőskalács is nowhere to be found.

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

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

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

A Visit to the Last of the Snake Kings

Aug.08.16

A Visit to the Last of the Snake Kings

by Brady Ng

Snake Soup in Wan Chai

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

The snakes end up in soup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.05.16

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

by Carolyn B. Heller

Ma’a Tahiti in French Polynesia

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

Inside this smoking metal crate is our breakfast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Land Where Chillies Are Given the Status They Deserve

Aug.04.16

The Land Where Chillies Are Given the Status They Deserve

by Kavita Kanan Chandra

Ema Datshi in Bhutan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracing a Breakfast Lineage Through Time and Across Continents

Aug.03.16

Tracing a Breakfast Lineage Through Time and Across Continents

by Ishay Govender-Ypma

Sour Porridge in South Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.02.16

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

by Natalie Kennedy

Offal in Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Trippa?” he asks hopefully.

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

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

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

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

For Breakfast, Most of the Time, We Are Screwed

Aug.01.16

For Breakfast, Most of the Time, We Are Screwed

by Kiki Aranita

Kalua Pig in Philly

Lunch, I have covered.

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

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

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

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

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

Chris goes to Dunkin’ Donuts soon after we set up (he walks faster than I do) and picks me up a small coffee, milk and one sugar, a little paper sleeve of hash browns that I eat with the pickled red cabbage and togarashi-yuzu mayo we serve on our Mochi Nori Fried Chicken (I hate ketchup). He also brings me a chocolate-glazed sprinkle donut.

This cheered-up, dressed-up (but still a little bit sad) breakfast keeps me alert and keeps me nice. So come by the cart, chat with me, ask me what everything means, and I will make you a plate lunch.

The Case for Deep-Frying All Breakfast Foods

Jul.29.16

The Case for Deep-Frying All Breakfast Foods

by Evangeline Neve

Malpuwas in Nepal

“There’s this breakfast place in Patan. It has no name. A local place. Do you want to go tomorrow morning?”

I’m not an early riser. But a local eatery with no name? Those are my favorite places of all. They are hard to find because they seem so ubiquitous to locals that most people don’t even think to tell you they exist. Prajjwal lives in the area and guides me and Sajana. We follow him down alleys, then into a tiny square courtyard. No sign, a few plastic chairs outside. It doesn’t look like much.

Inside the dim interior are huge woks filled with oil, from which emerge the items that are the main breakfast draw here. As a table empties we claim it.

On the old plastic table, among the names that have been scratched on it, is the phrase Fuck Earthquake. It’s not yet a year, after all, since the devastation of April 25th.

The food arrives in threes. Three small, steel bowls with a soupy curry of some sort. A plate with three alu chops on it, and three malpuwas, both of which are the reason for this place’s fame. It’s what everyone is eating. This is not beautiful food, but oh, how good. The alu chop—thick slices of boiled potato covered in a spiced batter and fried—is good, but the pea curry is outstanding: rich, tangy and spicy. I inhale my serving and want more. The malpuwa, however, is a revelation. I’m not generally a fan of Nepali sweets—most are too sugary for my liking. However, I’ve never had one like this before, hot and fresh. It’s something between a donut and a pancake: light, crunchy, and delicious. Tea arrives and we have another malpuwa because they’re just so damn good. I can tell that Prajjwal is pleased that Sajana and I like them.

The eating part is over quickly. This is not fancy food to linger over, and besides, someone else could probably use the seats. Tables of students are making way for laborers and young women dressed for the office. Before we leave I ask owner Ramesh Rajkarnikar how long they’ve been open. “Since my grandfather’s time,” he says, which conveys more than a date could about the history of the place. He confirms it has no name, they don’t need it.

Outside, Prajjwal points out a smear, a spray-painted red symbol by the door. “It got a red tag,” he says. “That means it should be demolished and rebuilt because of earthquake damage.” We look around, then at each other again. It looks solid enough, but what do we know? What is obvious is that no one cares and that most likely, this place will remain exactly as is.

We wander back to our scooters, dodging passersby, happy and satisfied.

Introducing Your New Summer Hangover Game Plan

Jul.28.16

Introducing Your New Summer Hangover Game Plan

by Valerio Farris

Helados York in Valparaiso

The late afternoon sun beamed through the open window and onto my face. I pried my eyes open and reached for my phone to check the time: 3:30 in the afternoon. I looked at the faces of the other sleeping bodies around me. Some were familiar, others not so much.

The room was a pseudo-hotel for transitory visitors, kids making their way through Valparaiso, Chile, the gritty port town an hour outside of Santiago. They were all here for the weekend in search of late nights, good music, and endless carretes—parties. A Chilean friend of mine had offered me refuge in this tiny bedroom apartment with him and his friends. I wove my way across a floor strewn with bodies, comatose and recovering from the piscolas they had enjoyed, ad infinitum, the night before, and walked out into the labyrinthine chaos of the city. A mural of a grandma seemed to cluck her tongue at me as I walked past, chiding me for the debauchery I had taken part in the night before.

Summer in Valpo, as the locals call it, is warm and crowded. Tourists ascend and crowd the cerros, the hills upon which the colorful city teeters, in search of snapshot worthy street art. Main plazas fill with itinerant merchants, accompanied by heavy backpacks, handmade jewelry, and small paintings. And the students who usually fill the city’s universities wait out the heat indoors, preparing for the night to meet up with friends and start the festivities.

I check my pockets and feel the cold bite of three Chilean peso coins against my fingers. I spy a woman rolling a cooler across the Plaza Anibal Pinto as a bead of sweat drips down my sticky spine. Ice cream for breakfast it is then.

I flag her down and show her my meager funds. She, without hesitation, recommends a York Popsicle. She points to one of the hills that dot the crest upon which Valpo is built and explains that these popsicles are made every morning in a factory right up there. I grab a coconut and a mango and thank her before she continues on her way, shouting, “Helado fresco, Helados York en todos sabores…

I break open the plastic and grab the wooden popsicle stick. The cold, milky coconut chills my tongue and soothes my pounding headache. I brace myself for the twenty-minute uphill walk back to the room full of sleeping twenty-somethings. The stark white of the coconut milk is a welcome contrast to the corrugated metal walls of porteño houses, painted in pastel blues and deep oranges. As I reach the end of the popsicle and feel the rough scratch of the wood against my tongue, I realize I have no idea how to get back to my friend’s house. I sit down on a curb to stare at a large-scale, black-and-white mural of a backpacker only to realize that the mango popsicle is nothing but juice in the front pocket of my jeans.

The Place to Go When You Want to Eat in a Grandma’s Bathroom

Jul.27.16

The Place to Go When You Want to Eat in a Grandma’s Bathroom

by Ollie Peart

Scones at Edith’s House

London’s a busy place; a staggering 8.5 million people crammed into slightly more than 600 square miles.

Sometimes, when things are getting a little too hectic, I need to escape the cosmopolitan, iPhone-swiping hoards of urban zombies for a more relaxed place. When I need that hit of warming nostalgia when embroiled in the colossal bullshit of London, I head to Edith’s House.

Based in Crouch End in the north London borough of Haringey, Edith’s House is a café disguised as a grandmother’s house for the masses. As we sat down, I couldn’t help but feel I was in someone’s house. We walked passed a retro-fitted kitchen and into a dining room complete with family photos of bygone times.

It’s the kind of place where you can’t simply sit down, order, and eat. You have to get up and have a look around. It’s like a museum full of knick-knacks that will uncover some dusty old memory from the back of your mind, like those pink and blue curlers your Nana used to use or that familiar bit of embroidered “art” that never moved from the front hall.

One of the more quirky tables is designed to look like a bathroom. Never before has the idea of eating in an environment where people usually take a dump been more appealing. The aroma wasn’t intestinal leftovers, but potpourri and whatever the color pink smells like. It was lovely.

It’s testament to the effort and work that has gone into making this place so aesthetically perfect that I am only just getting to the food, which is as warming and wonderfully charming as the place itself. The scones are a must. I had a pea and mint one with cream cheese and smoked salmon, all served up on suitably grandma-esque crockery. Also, give the avocado on toast with poached eggs a go.

The food here is great, and so is the coffee. But you don’t come here for that. Edith is London’s grandma. When your own grandma is just a bit too far away for a last minute visit, Edith does the job just fine.

Photo: Courtesy of Edith’s House

Everything You Need to Know About Breakfast Before the 2016 Olympics

Jul.26.16

Everything You Need to Know About Breakfast Before the 2016 Olympics

by Donna Bowater

Tapioca Caboquinho in Manaus

Breakfast was included at my hotel in Manaus in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, but it didn’t matter. I knew where I’d be starting my day come Sunday morning.

I was there to follow the Olympic torch relay as it reached the rainforest city on its way to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games.

And with temperatures pushing 90 degrees Fahrenheit, I knew it was going to be a long, sweaty day of criss-crossing Manaus in the heavy Amazonian heat with torchbearers running past the city’s landmarks.

So while the streets were still calm and cool, I headed out to the Eduardo Ribeiro Sunday market for breakfast. At 7am, the market was still setting up. Traders wheeled their wares down the roads while others unloaded. The weekly fair takes places in the shadows of one of the most famous attractions in Manaus, the opulent Teatro Amazonas, or Manaus Opera House.

Behind its salmon-pink walls, market stalls snake down the streets for several blocks, selling handmade soaps scented with Amazonian fruits and arts and crafts, mainly to tourists.

But for me, one of the best draws of the region is its food, and in particular its “café regional,” or local breakfast.

Several canteen-style stalls pitch up at the start of the market and invite you to take a coffee, a juice, and a tapioca with them. While tapioca—the flour made from manioc root—is readily available all over Brazil and normally served in the form of a crepe, the fillings in the Amazon make it distinctive.

A tapioca caboquinho comes with grilled cheese, grilled banana, and shavings of tucumã, the fruit of a native palm that is full of vitamin C. The ingredients are thrown together on a hot plate and put inside the powdery white tapioca pancake.

The combination of a buttery tapioca crepe, salty cheese, sweet banana, and the squash-like crunch of slightly bitter tucumã ticks all the boxes for me and is equally as good on a sandwich, or the famous X-Caboquinho. I paired it with a typically sweet, milky coffee and an Amazonian juice. I chose tangy, orange taperebá, which is also known as cajá and is brilliantly refreshing, but just as good is cupuaçu, another local fruit that is both creamy and sharp at the same time.

Café regional might be best taken at one of the many restaurants on the outskirts at the city, where the tapiocas are huge and come with Brazil nuts, and there’s also the Amazonian superfruit açaí, manioc cake, and pamonha, a kind of steamed corn dumpling.

But sitting at a plastic table with a wipedown cover as the city warmed up and the market started to bustle was good enough for me. The first time was a luxury but now, this breakfast is a comforting reminder of the gems to be found in the Amazon.

Visiting a Place of Death That Teems With Life

Jul.25.16

Visiting a Place of Death That Teems With Life

by Brady Ng

Sweets in Kōya-san

Starting in Osaka, the train shoots south, crosses rice paddies, decelerates, and slowly winds through mountains blanketed by cedars and hydrangeas. Hardcore hikers hop off at periodic stops to conquer the countryside for a few hours on a weekend morning. They stride with pride and purpose as the rest of us pull away. A mother leading her son’s Cub Scout troop tells the kids to peek out the window, and mentions something about adventure. Indeed, it is. At the terminus, one of the steepest cable car rides in Japan takes us higher. Reaching Mount Kōya takes time, or effort, or both.

In the early 800s, Kūkai, a monk and the son of a wealthy Japanese family, boarded a boat and sailed west. His goal was to learn a more colorful strain of Buddhism than what was practiced by his peers. Tang Dynasty China possessed the answers he sought, so he traveled there, soaked up local culture, found a master, studied hard, wrote a lot of poetry, honed his calligraphy skills, and then went home.

Kūkai didn’t return to Japan empty-handed. He brought with him scriptures, artifacts, relics, treasures, and most importantly, knowledge. It took a few years for Kūkai’s “new” version of Buddhism to take off, but once it did, he left an imprint on Japanese culture that is still felt today. Kyoto was his headquarters, but his remains are now in Kōya-san, 90 miles away, in the center of a mandala that covers all of Japan.

I pick up a few snacks to fuel my journey: yakimochi, amazake-manjyu, the like. They’re common sweet treats that could be found anywhere in Japan. On the roads that connect 120 temples, cyclists clad in neon tights zip by as pilgrims in white robes and conical straw hats find their own way. A dozen or so motorcycles rumble over, as foreigners on meditation retreats sit unperturbed on tatami mats. Later on, they will be served a lunch of tofu prepared in many ways.

The legends say Kūkai himself greets those who cross the bridge leading to his mausoleum. People stop to bring their hands together and bow before entering the graveyard that surrounds the grand master’s final resting place. Feudal warlords and samurai warriors lie there. A sandstone grave marker broadcasts cries from hell if you listen hard enough. One statue is permanently moist, sweating as it experiences the pain and suffering of humanity. Everything is covered in moss, everything breathes. Birds cry in the mist. This place of death teems with life.

Past the graves, past the trees, past the contemplation lies Kūkai’s mausoleum. Devotees plant lit incense, say a prayer, then use their palms to push the smoke onto their scalps, their arms, their skin until it clings. Ten thousand lanterns are kept eternally lit.

If Japan’s urban experience has been engineered to perfection, then places like Kōya must have been sculpted by something else, something supernatural, guiding the hands of Kūkai and his successors. Even the faithless lose themselves in rolling hills and whispered prayers as they search for mystery in hushes of cedar groves and the pale blue glow of hydrangeas.

Dispelling Misconceptions, One Meal at a Time

Jul.22.16

Dispelling Misconceptions, One Meal at a Time

by Ilan Ben Zion

Stuffed Cabbage in Jaffa

The muezzin’s plaintive cry had barely sounded before the family pounced on the food. Since their arrival in the hour before sunset, the aromas of Myassar Abu Shehata Seri’s outdoor kitchen tormented the weary fasters. Although I had eaten before making my way to Jaffa, I, too, was famished from watching her cook.

It was one of the last few days of Ramadan and Seri had invited me to join her family for iftar, the break-fast meal at sundown. Like at the Purim feast, Muslims consider hosting guests and family for the meal a mitzvah, and it was my honor and privilege to sample Seri’s exquisite Jaffa food.

Jaffa, which served as the principle seaport in historic Palestine for centuries, has a culinary tradition which differs from that of the hinterland. Arabs of the Galilee concoct dishes rich with greens, such as mallow, tumble thistle, and jute, and laden with beef or lamb. Stuffed vegetables and meat are a staple. Jaffa’s cuisine, on the other hand, features abundant spices and a profusion of seafood.

Seri spearheaded the Arab culinary scene in Jaffa, starting with selling prepared food at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center. She moved on to hosting cooking workshops and recently published a Jaffa cookbook, covering everything from pickles to soup to desserts and garnished with anecdotes and photos of her hometown. “Recipes and tales” is bilingual, catering to both Hebrew and Arabic speakers, and she plans to launch an edition in English and Arabic as well.

Wearing a long blue robe and black headscarf, Seri welcomed me into her home not far from the old city on the Mediterranean. In the sweltering humid heat of late June, she’d moved her kitchen into the courtyard, with a gas cooktop, oven, sinks, and counters in the open air.

Accompanied by one of her seven siblings and her niece, Seri was already cooking by the time I arrived. A platter of green bell peppers stuffed with fragrant spiced rice cooked with ground beef, lamb, chickpeas, and tomato was ready to go in the oven. Brilliant green broad beans were simmering in a tomato sauce and cabbage was boiling, soon to be stuffed with rice. Her mother watched Egyptian soap operas on a flat screen television in the corner while plucking purslane leaves for a salad, her three-year-old great-granddaughter snacking on carrot sticks at her feet.

“I learned to cook from my mother when I was 13,” she said, taking a momentary respite from cooking. Though her specialties are the foods she grew up with, her curiosity has driven her to explore other cuisines. “I cook cholent, kreplach, Iraqi kubbeh, anything,” she said, rattling off a slew of traditional Jewish dishes. Her mission, she said, was to teach Israelis that Arab food “isn’t just hummus and fava beans.”

Ramadan, she explained, was in some ways similar to Shabbat for Jews. “Just like with Jews, for Shabbat they make special food,” she set, checking up on a pot of artichokes and lamb. “That’s how it is with us for Ramadan.” The difference is that it’s every day for a month. For that reason, Arab news outlets always publish articles on how not to gain weight during the holy month.

As the courtyard filled with Seri’s extended family, a massive table was set and the dishes laid out in all their aromatic glory. The family sat down. Minutes of idle chatter filled out the last few minutes of the fast. It was like the final moments before the end of Yom Kippur.

After hours of anticipation, with the sun dipping behind the Mediterranean, the call to prayer rang out from a nearby mosque. Two dozen hands immediately descended upon the platters of roasted chicken with spiced rice, lamb and beans simmered in tomato sauce, and tender bulgur with chickpeas and carrots.

Ismail, Seri’s nephew who studied at the University of California, eyeballed the heap of stuffed cabbage prepared by his grandmother as the whole clan sat down.

“Bro, you can either talk or eat up, but I can’t guarantee there will be anything left,” he said when I tried to make polite conversation.

Taking his lead, I lunged at the stuffed cabbage first. The leaf dissolved in my mouth and the rich rice followed suit. The roasted chicken thigh was juicy and smoky at the same time, the mountain of rice imbued with the holiday warmth of nutmeg and allspice. Although I was already sodden with perspiration from the sultry coastal air, I slurped some of the chicken soup with cracked wheat; it was an elixir to cure all ills, far heartier than American chicken noodle.

For dessert, slices of ice cold watermelon and mixed nuts were just the start. Seri and her sister both prepared traditional holiday shortbread cookies filled with a date paste known alternatively as ka’ak or ma’amoul. To say they’re addictive does them injustice.

On the way back to Jerusalem, I had much to digest. Seri’s meal dispelled my misconception that Ramadan was like Jewish fasts, just a month long. It was more celebratory than mournful, as Judaism’s fasts tend to be, and unlike Tisha B’Av or the Fast of Esther for example, it’s observed by secular and religious alike.

What I was certain of was that I needed more material for my research and that it was another 11 months until Ramadan.

Photo: Jean & Nathalie

How to Survive the Nightmare of Not Being Able to Eat on Vacation

Jul.21.16

How to Survive the Nightmare of Not Being Able to Eat on Vacation

by Claire Margine

Congee in Chiang Mai

The plan for Chiang Mai was puffed donuts fried in open tins, the creamy flesh of a whole fish, plates piled with slippery noodles studded with basil and hot peppers. The plan was markets and stalls, cafes and restaurants.

The plan was scrapped almost immediately after an unexpected day trip to the emergency room. The plan transformed into dry spaghetti nights and bare toast mornings, devoured with the slow chew of the hungry mind and the busted stomach.

My sole souvenir from a month of backpacking was a stomach bug, vicious and leggy, running rampant in my body. In the hospital waiting room my mind flooded with misty flashbacks of tap water on a toothbrush, the haphazardly rinsed skin of a raw pear rubbed on my sunscreen and grime smeared t-shirt. I trekked back to the hotel with a purse full of stomach pills and strict orders from the doctor: “Nothing spicy. Nothing colorful. Nothing interesting. Simple foods—and not much of them.”

I was too weak to leave the hotel, taking each colorless meal in the restaurant. For days I watched a dining room full of people munch the crisp cheeks of fried fish, spear velvety mango and sticky coconut rice with fork tines, slurp sunny yellow khao soi, full of curry and noodles and fat. My husband’s plate was a tapestry of unattainable desires, slathered in curry paste and raw herbs.

It was the opposite of what you want to do in a new place: Stay in bed. Peel the paint off the walls with your endless gaze. Plain toast. Water. Pills. Repeat. In a week I exhausted bread, rice, and noodles. In lurid detail, I pictured microwaved oatmeal quivering in a bowl, dusted with cinnamon, a pinch of salt. I dreamt of a handful of dry cornflakes, consumed in my faraway kitchen, where I could cook plain foods made just how I liked. Pallid and drained, with rumbly guts and a sharpened mind, my appetite began to negotiate. If I went home a few weeks early, I could get better, maybe. I could get full, definitely. I began to look at flights.

Shimmering under a bog of steam, congee arrived one morning to temporarily banish dry toast and depression. Pearlescent and salty, full of texture and heft, it waited in a crockpot at a hotel breakfast buffet. I had never liked congee before, but suddenly it was a beacon of hope, each bite soothing my stomach’s endless twitch, smoothing the wrinkles in my tense heart with its porridge-y tendrils.

Pale geckos slunk across the walls while green-eyed cats with ornately striped fur watched them, hunting. Tuk tuks sputtered and chugged outside, the rosy grey light of early morning flooding the sky. I dipped my spoon again and again. I refilled my bowl. Here was something new enough to chase away the rot of homesickness edging my insides, something solid enough to push me forward. The congee never returned, but I stayed.

The Spanish English Muffin

Jul.20.16

The Spanish English Muffin

by Peter Dorrien Traisci

Mollete Catalana in Málaga

There may be nothing quite as strangely comforting as the sounds of a Spanish café during its morning rush; the musical clink and clang of cups being purposely placed on saucers, the screech of the espresso machine, the low roar of back and forth regarding last night’s fútbol game, endless complaints about the weather. It is a truly glorious place to be in the morning. There is a stinging sense that this precise scene has taken place for thousands of days before you arrived, and will continue to take place for thousands more to come.

Nestled on the southern coast of Spain, Málaga is home to myriad cafés with morning scenes such as this one. And there may be no breakfast order more ‘malagueño’ than mollete catalana y mitad doble. Traditionally produced in Antequera, a picturesque town of whitewashed buildings in the mountains to the north of Málaga, a mollete is a round, white-bread product that is baked in a wood-fired oven. Sharing similarities with our version of the English muffin (but, oh, so much better), the mollete is a source of provincial pride amongst Antequeranos, as evidenced by the stash of historical mollete clippings that lives in the town’s ayuntamiento (town hall).

The variety of cuisine found within the country of Spain belies its size. The depth, freshness, and singularity of the country’s food products seem to have no end. And the mollete catalana is a quintessential example of how Spain’s exceptional products can come together to become something greater than its parts. A fresh mollete (baked that morning and delivered before daybreak) is halved, toasted, and filled with a puzzle-piece layer of recently sliced jamón Serrano and a generous smear of tomaca, Spain’s unexpectedly tasty pureed tomato that is commonly found in Catalan cuisine. How is a seemingly simple sandwich so absurdly delicious? The light crunch of the fresh, toasted mollete and the salty unctuousness of the jamón are perfectly complemented by the subtle sweetness of the tomato. Silence befalls those who partake.

And what would this delightful sandwich be without a hot (and ideally caffeinated) beverage at its side? If you have ever entered a café in Málaga, you have undoubtedly heard the phrase mitad doble. Strong espresso is mixed with an equal part of scalding, fresh milk (screeeeeech!!) and served up in a tall, narrow glass. The steaming coffee sits pleasantly next to the mollete catalana like an expectant friend. The ridiculous heat of the mitad encourages a good three or four bites of sandwich while waiting for the beverage to cool. Huddled, quiet sips follow mollete elimination as the mitad finally reaches imbibing-appropriate temperature. Crumpled napkins surround you like so many white flags; another victorious battle.

If it is true that you can glean much about a country’s culture from its cuisine, then it is true that Spaniards value their morning routine. They value the time to gather, the time to participate in something unchanged, something timeless. In a chaotic and often uncertain world, these culinary customs provide a great deal of certainty. If comfort food exists in Málaga, it exists in the form of a mollete catalana y mitad doble.

On Wednesdays We Eat Bean Soup

Jul.19.16

On Wednesdays We Eat Bean Soup

by Amy Rosen

Scones on Fogo Island

Perched atop a hill near the easternmost edge of the world, the 29-room Fogo Island Inn is an architectural marvel and a beacon for Newfoundland food, art, culture, and most of all, hospitality. The craggy, defiant topography surrounding the inn is equally jaw dropping.

“Farley Mowat,” a Canadian writer and environmentalist, “has said that this is a land where the wheel has no utility,” says Zita Cobb, who moved back home to Fogo Island to help launch the Inn and, more importantly, the Shorefast Foundation, a charity whose mandate is the economic well-being of the local community.

The days here begin with a pre-breakfast of local berry-studded scones, hot coffee, and cool cream, delivered to my door at sunrise while I’m still in bed looking out at and listening to the raging Atlantic.

On Fogo, the food is deeply traditional, intensely delicious, and there’s a signature dish for every day of the week. Alf Coffin, a farmer, fisherman, and talented harmonica player, explains that “Sunday is Cooked Dinner: salt beef and potatoes, cabbage, peas pudding, steam pudding, and you’d have gravy.” Mondays you’d have what’s leftover from Sunday, Tuesday is Jigg’s Dinner, where the same thing is in the cooking pot as Sunday’s Cooked Dinner, “but a Jigg’s dinner has no gravy.” Wednesday is baked beans or bean soup, and you’ll have bread and molasses with every meal. And on it goes.

These acutely local dishes are still being interpreted today: caribou, cod, lobster, foraged moss, kelp, berries and molasses, turned into breakfast staples like granola with Fogo Island berries and caribou moss. All of it from the island, and of the island.

Photo: The Fogo Island Inn, by Ayphella

Dipping Some Funky Cheese in Bitter Coffee: Gross or Not Gross?

Jul.18.16

Dipping Some Funky Cheese in Bitter Coffee: Gross or Not Gross?

by Shawn Pearce

Maroilles Cheese in the North of France

I’d only been living in France for four months with my loving French wife when we had our first French Christmas. We were invited to celebrate with her family, so we drove from the south of France to the north, simply called the Nord region, to stay with her grandparents. My wife’s grandparents live in a small village and are in their 80s. They’re traditional people and adorably French. They also don’t speak English, nor did I speak French well at that point; but love was felt and there were a couple of family translators to communicate, so it was possible. My wife and I, along with several family members, were all staying at the home of the grandparents: a three-story house with creaky stairs and one bathroom. But the house was spacious and comfortable.

The first morning, I slept in and had a late breakfast, my favorite kind of breakfast. Her grandmother had available local Maroilles cheese, some bread, butter, homemade jam, and coffee. It was chicory coffee, made from burnt endives. The end result looks like coal, similar to the coal that used to come from these villages long ago. These hardy people call themselves the Ch’ti (sh’ti) which roughly translates to sticks. So I got to experience a traditional Ch’ti breakfast, designed by the coal miners of yesteryear.

While having breakfast, my wife and her grandmother were sitting around, talking. The grandmother had a story to tell me, and my wife translated. Sipping on some late morning rosé, she began to tell me of the time she was a child during WWII, living in this very house. She was very young, maybe eight or nine, when the whole Nord region was occupied by the Nazis, forcing the family from the home. In fact, the Nazis used it as a headquarters in the region. Ammunition was stored next to the wine in their cellar, the commander and other soldiers slept in their beds, and there was even a battlefield not far from the village. Once the war was over, they were able to return to their home and move back in, with minimal damage done to the home, but the same couldn’t be said for the village.

After speaking of the house, she casually changed gears and told me of a Ch’ti tradition, which is to dip the bread and cheese into the chicory. Fact: Maroilles cheese is a stinky cheese, high on the list of all the stinkiest cheeses. Still, I find it tasty. It is gross to dip that cheese into some really bitter coffee, but it isn’t to them. It isn’t even a prank, which I was convinced of at the time, being the new member of the family. To respect tradition, I dipped and ate. I now prefer to have them separately; breakfast should not be so tortuous.

Nothing Like a Plate of Smelly Fish to Start the Day

Jul.15.16

Nothing Like a Plate of Smelly Fish to Start the Day

by Frances Katz

Kippers in London

I stood, baffled, before the overflowing Full English Breakfast Buffet at my London hotel. It ran the width of the entire wallpapered dining room. I was armed with nothing but a sad little porcelain plate clearly not up to the task. So I took a handful of grapes and scurried back to my seat.

“Would you like a cup of tea, dear?” a friendly waiter asked me. Yes, I said. Tea would be an excellent idea. I needed time to think.

I almost decided to just have cereal when I spotted them in all their strange and smelly glory. They were piled one on top of the other on a large serving platter nearly hidden from view. They were a grey-orangey-brown color with slightly blackened ends. There was a shiny yellow-gold sheen glistening across their tops.

Kippers.

I grabbed my plate and tried not to run back to the table. I maintained ladylike composure. With the silver serving spoon, I nudged the top kipper off the serving platter and onto my plate, careful to make sure the yellowish brown translucent onions came along as well. I gave a sideways glance to my left and to my right. I slid another kipper onto my plate with more onions. The thing is, you don’t see kippers very often, in England or in America. I looked around and took two more.

Kippers took me back to Sunday mornings growing up in central Massachusetts. Kippers, a smoked fish rich in omega oils, were a treat, and my father always made a show of preparing them. My job would be to chop up every onion in the house to fill my grandmother’s gigantic heavy-bottomed skillet. The huge mountain of onions would dissolve into a sweet buttery film covering the bottom of the pan and then the kippers would be placed on top of them. We ate them alongside scrambled eggs with rye bread and butter.

I loved kippers when we had them at home, but I never saw them on any restaurant menu and I have never seen them since. Kippers are a tasty but difficult delicacy. I don’t think there is any way to cook a kipper that will prevent the kitchen and perhaps the entire house from smelling like smoked fish for at least two days. You can soak them, boil them, bake them or omit the onions, but nothing helps. To make things worse, the delicious filets are buried under enough pin bones to assemble a miniature brontosaurus. As a child, my mother always performed delicate surgery to my kippers, deftly sticking the tines of the fork under and over the endless rows of bones, leaving me with tasty, salty, flakey bits to eat with my eggs.

As I prepared to eat my English breakfast kippers, I was delighted to discover that the bones had been pulled away by a dexterous member of the kitchen staff. This was one of the few times I felt absolutely at home while traveling thousands of miles away. That’s pretty good for a small pile of smelly, burnt-orange fish.

Speaking the International Medical Language of Avocado Toast

Jul.14.16

Speaking the International Medical Language of Avocado Toast

by Christine Chu

Avocado Toast in Ruhango District

The journey to Ruhango Hospital from Kigali was hard, quite literally: I had felt every rock and pebble on the unpaved roads winding through the land of a thousand hills. In spite of this, our team of doctors—the senior physician, our Rwandan medical students Dennis and Gerard, and me, the gynecology resident on her first global medical mission—arrived early in the morning. Already, a throng of women were waiting, clustered patiently in the atrium. By the time we had found a rhythm by which to see the growing crowd, it was noon. We had yet to have our first meal.

Exhausted, perhaps from the high sun, lack of food, or the speed of work, we wandered in search of sustenance. Near the front of the hospital, we found a sign declaring “Cafeteriya – Cantine – Canteen,” in hand-painted letters. Inside the unassuming little room, a glass display similar to a jewelry case stood in place of a counter. A wealth of gem-like mangoes and bananas and golden oval pastries sat along the shelves. On a nearby table, a gaggle of mismatched thermoses full of milk and tea were gathered.

From the bright case, the medical students selected two soft rolls, elongated like baguettes but clearly of a softer crumb, and two perfectly round fruits. I only recognized these as avocados when they split the hard skin with a paring knife, and the soft green flesh and large pit appeared. With surgical precision, they scooped out the flesh in thick green curls and flattened them onto the split rolls with a fork. Though I gripped the dry, foil-wrapped bar I had brought for a meal, my mouth watered as a familiar meal emerged.

I’ve always thought of avocado toast as thoroughly American: trendy, green, and very Californian. And yet, it is admittedly simple and delicious, my breakfast of choice in those precious early morning hours before surgery. After a shower of salt and a drip of balsamic vinegar, the toast would be in my mouth and I would be out the door. And here it was again, a quick meal for hungry doctors, recreated a continent away.

My first days in Rwanda had been a haze of the unfamiliar. Though conceptually I was prepared for difficulty, reality was harder. Endlessly hopeful crowds waited for help, and there were many women we could not aid. Even communicating simple commands was a complicated process involving overworked Rwandan students, my high-school French, and the few Kinyarwandan words I picked up from repetition. Every night, I passed out on my bed, often before dinner, overwhelmed by jet lag and cultural barriers.

But food is a universal language, perhaps the greatest unifier, and when it comes to filling the bellies of medical trainees on the go, things are the same the world around. The simple, bright green comfort of avocado and bread became an instant touchstone of connection to a land I was learning to understand and to a people I was growing to love.

Put Enough Vegetables on Anything and You Can Convince Yourself It’s Healthy

Jul.13.16

Put Enough Vegetables on Anything and You Can Convince Yourself It’s Healthy

by Shelley Seale

Hippie Hash in Ann Arbor

You know that scene in Back to the Future, where Marty McFly goes into the diner right after he’s traveled back to 1955? That is exactly what it feels like to walk into the Fleetwood Diner in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I first noticed Fleetwood, without having any idea of its history, on a stroll around downtown Ann Arbor my first afternoon there. It’s a delightful urban center with the youthful vibe of a college town, packed full of bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, craft brewpubs, and locally-owned shops. If you’re at the corner of Liberty and Ashley, you can’t help but notice the gleaming, stainless steel, trailer-looking building with its fabulously retro sign on top: neon letters complete with the Coca-Cola logo.

The next morning, I arrived for breakfast, and learned the fascinating history of the place. The diner was first opened in 1949, built with a kit ordered from Montgomery Ward. It was manufactured by the Dag-Wood Diner Company out of Toledo, Ohio in 1948, and it’s pretty much the last remaining Dag-Wood kit diner in the country. There were several others through the years, which have all closed or have been remodeled beyond recognition from the original buildings.

From 1949 on, the diner went through a few different owners and was renamed the Fleetwood in 1971. The current owners, George Fotiadis and Adi Demiri, purchased it in 1992. It’s open 24 hours a day. A couple of other interesting claims to fame are that it had the first restaurant website in town, established in 1995, and was the first sidewalk café in Ann Arbor. Inside, the place is all dive-diner chic, with black-and-white checkered floor, fluorescent tube lighting, and thousands of stickers from all over the world covering the walls, placed there by customers (you, too, can affix your sticker of choice). There’s also a gallery of Polaroid pictures of people who have been banned from the establishment.

Fleetwood serves up a full menu of typically hearty, all-American diner grub: omelets, burgers, milkshakes, fried chicken, pork chops. They’ve also gone modern with a pretty good variety of salads and vegetarian options. But their signature dish, the thing that people talk about and keep coming back for, is the Hippie Hash.

It’s their own style of homemade hash browns, topped with grilled tomatoes, onions, green peppers, mushrooms and broccoli. The whole buttery mound is then topped with feta cheese. You can order this melty deliciousness by itself, or on top of corned beef hash, eggs any style, gyro meat or tempeh. Trust me, it’s a life-changing breakfast experience.

The secret of the Fleetwood’s magical hash browns, according to longtime cook Kevin Phizacklea, is to leave them entirely alone once they’re on the griddle. “Do not touch the hash browns,” he reiterated strongly to the Ann Arbor News. In spite of the golden grilled potatoes, he says the feta cheese is the most important part.

“We are actually the creator of the original Hippie Hash,” says Phizacklea. “It’s got the appearance of being healthy—it’s got all your vegetables, right?

Remembering Sweet Bread and Salty Butter Far From Home

Jul.12.16

Remembering Sweet Bread and Salty Butter Far From Home

by Rina Diane Caballar

Pan de Sal in Baguio

I was eating breakfast with my father on a chilly Saturday morning. It felt good to be back in my hometown, Baguio, a fog-laced mountain city north of Manila in the Philippines. The cold here was a welcome respite from Manila’s scorching heat. The morning brought a light drizzle with gray clouds hovering on the horizon and wisps of fog settling on the ground. Papa took a sip from his hot coffee and let out a sigh of satisfaction. “That’s good.”

I took a sip of my warm chocolate drink and scanned the table. There was a plate of scrambled eggs, some pan de sal, and butter. I passed my father the plate of pan de sal.

“Want some?” I said.

“Sure, I’ll have one,” he said. He took a bread roll, dipped it in his coffee, and took a bite of the soaked portion, just as he used to do when I was a kid.

While Papa enjoyed his coffee-dipped pan de sal, I ate mine with butter. I generously spread butter on one side and the warmth of the roll slowly melted the butter. As I took a bite, I tasted the slight sweetness of the pan de sal mixed with the butter’s saltiness.

Growing up, Papa was my constant companion. On Sunday mornings, we walked hand in hand to the nearby bakery to buy pan de sal for breakfast. The smell of freshly baked rolls greeted us. I would peer into the glass display counter and feel its warmth as I watched each roll make its way into a brown paper bag. Papa would give me a hot bun from the paper bag, a treat I ate on the way home.

Back in Manila, pan de sal are often part of my weekend breakfasts. After all, those soft and crumbly bread rolls are the quintessential breakfast bread of the Philippines. But for me, pan de sal will always remind me of my father, and my home.

Bacon and Sausage to Soothe a Homesick Soul

Jul.11.16

Bacon and Sausage to Soothe a Homesick Soul

by Meher Mirza

The Full English in London

It is my first month in London as a student. Back home in Mumbai, I lived like a princess in a large, sunny flat with a maid, a dishwasher, and a cook. The bit of London I had picked could not have been more different. The day I am to leave Mumbai, my phone rings off the hook with horrified relatives calling to tell me about the sensational, drug-related murder of a student from my new college. My very first week in halls, a student gets mugged right outside our door. More than once, I spot the gleam of a knife amidst a scrum of young men. It appears that I have eschewed Mumbai for the dodgiest bit of London I could find.

This is all very frightening. So, for weekdays, I have established an inexorable routine to keep myself away from trouble: tumble out of bed, take the bus to college, grab a cup of coffee from the cafeteria and sidle into class. I spend the afternoons in the library, with a pallid sandwich or two to drag me through the day. My dinner is usually a paper of fish and chips, eaten in front of my laptop watching Doctor Who reruns, in a room big enough for only a bed, a cupboard, and a writing desk. This is what it is, to be marooned in South East London and living on a quickly-vanishing stipend. Nevertheless, I love every minute.

But on Sundays, I am loosed of the moorings of university life. On Sundays, I have time for a proper meal.

Most Sundays, my friend and I go to the little café round the corner. Outside, the sky is painted slate, but inside are red-and-white chequered tablecloths and a curly vine hugging the café window, the leaves stained auburn from the autumn chill. Every time the kitchen door opens, we are swept by a gale of warm, delicious smells. By ten in the morning, the air is thick with the thrum of voices; customers lounge on wooden benches and chairs, tucking into hot, salty, fatty fry-ups.

I too, order the full English (when in England et al). A white plate flooded with protein is set down in front of me. More often than not, the chubby pork sausage has split open from the heat, oozing its unctuous juices all over the mushrooms. The pool of Heinz beans in their sweet tomato sauce and the grilled tomatoes sit happily beside the twin rashers of bacon. The piece de resistance of course is the egg, the wobbly orange dome sitting aloft a just-set white. It all comes with a thickly-cut slice of fried bread, which I cut into soldiers. Afterwards, there is always a steaming cup of English Breakfast tea on my table.

Really, it is just a simple full English, but my friend and I have fallen completely in love with it. There is something so warm, so emollient about this Sunday meal, that it is the perfect antidote to the weariness that drags me down all week. Suffused with the comforting flavors of sausage and bacon, I feel right at home.

Sign Us Up for Pineapple Buns Sans Fruit But With a Layer of Lard

Jul.08.16

Sign Us Up for Pineapple Buns Sans Fruit But With a Layer of Lard

by Brady Ng

Bo lo baau in Hong Kong

The bun is ubiquitous, and takes on many roles: a quick breakfast, part of an indulgent dim sum feast, a tea time snack, dessert. The Cantonese call it bo lo baau, literally pineapple bun. In its authentic form, the bun is sans pineapples. It gets that name from its identifying feature—a golden, scored crust approximating the tropical fruit’s skin—exactly how pineapples got their name from pine cones, or grenades from pomegranates.

When baked properly, a pineapple bun is crunchy on top but soft and fluffy everywhere else, sort of like the Japanese melonpan or conchas from Mexico. No one is absolutely sure of the bun’s origins, but it seemed to have first appeared in Hong Kong in the 1960s. Bakers and food historians say Hongkongers weren’t satisfied with the bland white bread that was available, so someone decided to add a layer of lard, sugar, egg, and flour on top. The extra crisp and new flavor stuck.

Bo lo baau is so engrained in Hong Kong’s collective consciousness that, in 2005, when the public was asked to suggest new names for typhoons, Hong Kong’s favorite baked good became a strong contender. However, the city’s observatory decided to bump it off the list when a sober official realized reports of the city being ravaged by Tropical Storm Pineapple Bun would sound just a tad too absurd.

Most bakeries and teahouses in Hong Kong have their own take on bo lo baau. Some restaurants have folded it into their menus, too. The classic presentation, with a thick slab of butter wedged between halves, is easily the most popular. For a taste, head to any cha chaan teng, old school diners that are one of the city’s equalizers.

Other variations have ardent fans, too. The cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world, Tim Ho Wan, serves triplets of “pineapple” roast pork buns that are part of nearly every order. Adzuki paste filling can lend a Japanese twist. Other places slice a classic bo lo baau in half and turn it into a sandwich, often with eggs and ham, or fish cakes. You can find croissants baked with the “pineapple” layer on top. Hip cafes dress it up further, plucking elements from other cuisines. And, surely, there are some with actual pineapple chunks in them. Bastardization is the name of the game.

But you can’t beat the original. School kids aching for a snack after school might grab one on their way home. White collar types nip out of the office a couple hours after lunch for some quick fuel: bo lo baau and strong milk tea. In Hong Kong, a fresh tray is never more than a block or two away. Just don’t forget the huge chunk of butter.

There’s Nothing Better Than Hot Food and Good Conversation

Jul.07.16

There’s Nothing Better Than Hot Food and Good Conversation

by Rathina Sankari

Kadala in Vellaramkuthu

We had started as soon as the sun had risen. I was on my way to Vellaramkuthu, a tribal village, with Sudha, who had agreed to be my guide. The high rises of Kochi were left behind and the verdant countryside greeted us. The serene, rural life always captivated me, having lived all my life in the chaotic city.

Shortly, we stopped at one of the thattukada to appease the rumbles of my stomach. These food stalls of Kerala do not have menus but serve the best local food at throwaway prices. Vinod greeted us warmly from behind the counter, which was laden with drool-worthy, deep-fried brown vadas (a lentil-based savoury item) and crispy banana fritters. Patrons clad in veshtis—unstitched cloth tied around the waist—plucked bananas hung on ropes at the entrance and bit into them. It was a simple, rustic setting. Clients shared tables and made conversation over breakfast. Most knew each other and soon we were surrounded by a genial crowd.

At one corner, Raghu stood in front of a bubbling caldron. He poured frothy tea in long cascades from one mug to another. Steam wafted from huge pots filled with fluffy, soft idlis (rice cakes) and string hoppers, or steamed rice noodles. He then flipped a crispy dosa (rice and lentil pancake) on a massive hot griddle that crackled with a dash of oil. But none of this stopped him from contributing to the contribution. Amid the hullabaloo, he called out to check on our order.

Soon a plate of kadala (brown chick peas) swimming in a pool of curry and glistening with oil droplets was placed in front of me. Beside it were two white, steaming mounds of string hoppers with coconut shavings. While employing my limited Malayalam speaking skills I wiped my plate clean. Sipping my chaya (tea) I realized it wasn’t just the excellent food that brought people like Sudha to such eateries but also the interesting tête-à-têtes.

The magic of the thattukada had probably rubbed off on me. As I stepped out into the sunlight I wondered about my next visit to the communal hearth of Kerala.

In Celebration of Democracy and Processed Meat

Jul.06.16

In Celebration of Democracy and Processed Meat

by Nastasya Tay

Sausages in Australia

I’m new in town. I live in a flat the size of a large wardrobe, on top of a little bakery, round the corner from where the harbor meets the sea; a place so stunningly beautiful, people go there to throw themselves off the cliffs.

I live down the road from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his large, Tuscan pink, waterside mansion. I know this, because his face is tied to all the lamp posts.

By all accounts, it’s been a deeply unimpressive election season, a seemingly endless infomercial selling Tupperware tubs of mediocrity. Amid the haze of middling banality, I’ve found one, perhaps, redeeming feature: crowdsourced maps of sausages.

Election day sausage sizzles are prolific, secretly competitive, and don’t always involve sausages, but some genius has mapped them all, GPS coordinates and color-coded vegetarian icons and all.

In celebration of democracy and processed meat, I choose two polling stations on opposite ends of the spectrum for breakfast.

The voting booths at Bondi Primary School are in one of the richest constituencies, in one of the richest cities, in one of the richest countries in the world. Here, my soy latte is produced by two baristas, a single-origin blend, I’m told.

“Chef Carlos made the blueberry friands,” one tells me. “They’re so delicious.”

Behind the sausage stand, an ibis has discovered the baby baguettes. It’s shooed away, the top tray of bread chucked in the bin.

“We’re one of the sausage sizzles of note,” Steve jokes over the ordering table. “There’s a chance Turnbull himself could show up.”

The upended plastic crate seats are topped with screen-printed calico cushions in industrial-meets-shabby-chic. Around me, the accents are British, American, Irish. Beneath the handwritten menu, you can buy copies of the glossy hardback school cookbook, “A Year in the Kitchen Garden.”

Steve is promoting the #BrEGGsit bun. I choose to have it all. Here, that means rocket and chilli jam with my bacon, organic egg, and gluten-free-hormone-free-ethically-raised-sausage. The chilli jam is made by the children, with ingredients from the school kitchen garden. Naturally.

“I haven’t made up my mind who to vote for,” Steve says. “And in Australia, the leader never stays the leader.”

I pull a muscle in my jaw trying to fit the first bite in my mouth. The happy cow sausage is juicy and the egg dribbles down my chin. Kids, if you’re reading this, the jam wasn’t spicy enough.

Behind me, eight-year-old Isabel has already sold out of all her pastry creations, so she’s backing Ava’s orange Anzac cookies instead. On the bake sale table, amidst Cocopop crackles and Oreo cupcakes, there are palmiers. I eat one in honor of the ambition.

The acoustic guitar quartet has been replaced by a pre-teen Daniel, playing the national anthem on a poorly tuned violin. It’s all very earnest indeed. And even in this right-of-centre Liberal outpost—the PM’s constituency, no less—there’s a flavor of Leftist rebellion.

“If Trump were here, we’d add a bit of arsenic,” I overhear.

Inland, at Erskineville Primary School, the candidate for the Greens has blue hair.

“That might make some people around here take her more seriously,” says my mate, Matt.

There are dogs, lots of dogs, and barefoot bunny-onesie-wearing children with scooters dancing on the tarmac. An enthusiastic fairy is climbing on top of a faux-cement sea monster.

There are people in varying shades of brown and yellow. Many are wearing black. Even more have brushed beards and unbrushed hair.

There is homemade lemonade, and a food stylist parent has created boxes of chocolate “bark” with sea salt and rosemary. From the school kitchen garden. Naturally.

“Oh, this is a Labour seat through and through,” Mel and Martine shrug, across the grill, Stella Artois stubbies in hand. “Tanya Plibersek [the deputy Labour leader] was going to come.”

There are sausages, but there is also slow-cooked lamb. Shoulders—30 kilograms of them—have been in the oven for over four hours, rubbed with Greek oregano. “Just like marijuana!” someone pipes up. The tzatziki, a celebration of raw garlic, is made by the dad who runs the souvlaki stand.

“We did lamb because pulled pork is too passé,” Mel explains. “We did the pork last year, and we had the highest number of people voting out of district coming here to eat it.”

The lines are growing. The waft of grilling halloumi is intoxicating. There are a lot of undecideds in the queue.

Hungover DJ Mark is tossing sausages.

“Cooked to perfection,” he grins. “You want to give them a slight char, overcook them a little. After all, you never know what’s in them.”

I’ll Have the Usual for One More Year

Jul.05.16

I’ll Have the Usual for One More Year

by Justin Fox

The Lumberjacques at Tom’s Diner

Tom’s Restaurant at 112th and Broadway in Manhattan is not exactly the diner from Seinfeld. Yes, the restaurant’s neon sign would pop up on screen, usually minus the “Tom’s,” when Jerry, George, Elaine, and/or Kramer paid a visit to a place called Monk’s Café. But the interior didn’t look like Tom’s, and it was really on a studio lot in California.

Tom’s definitely is the diner from the Suzanne Vega song “Tom’s Diner” (I am sitting/in the morning/at the diner/on the corner …), which was written in 1982, first released in 1984 and later remixed with a Soul II Soul beat into a dance song, used to build the very first MP3 digital audio file, sampled by countless hip hop artists, and remade into a minor 2015 hit by Giorgio Moroder and Britney Spears.

Still, it’s mainly the Seinfeld connection that the owners play up. Photos of the stars, framed TV Guide covers, and other memorabilia decorate the interior of the restaurant. Outside, during the warmer months, there are cloth barriers around the sidewalk dining area with “Elaine,” “Kramer,” and such printed on them. By this point, even Jerry Seinfeld himself has joined in; he and Jason Alexander filmed a 2014 Super Bowl ad at Tom’s.

So the place is a TV-certified New York tourist attraction. It is also two blocks from my apartment, and since we moved to the neighborhood three years ago my son and I have been going there for breakfast almost every Saturday morning.

By New York diner standards, it’s good food. New York diner standards aren’t high; if you want a great American breakfast go to Boston or Los Angeles or some other place where people get up early in the morning. Still, it’s nice to have in the neighborhood.

What is nicest of all is that, for the first time in my life, I am able to walk into a restaurant and say I’ll have “the usual.” In fact, I don’t even have to say it. My son and I just respond “yes” when asked if we are having the usual. A couple of times one of the two waitresses whose tables we almost always sit at has dispensed with even that formality and just given the cook his instructions as we walk in the door.

For me, the usual is corned-beef hash with two poached eggs and sliced tomatoes. My son has the “Lumberjack”—normally two eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, and toast—with French toast substituted for the pancakes. For a while, we talked about trying to persuade the restaurant to name this variant the Lumberjacques, but now that we never actually say what we’re going to have, it seems pointless.

After 10 a.m. on the weekend, the kitchen refuses to poach eggs, so we of course always have to get there before 10. My son and I wait for our usuals to arrive, we eat, and we generally don’t say a lot. I have become less talkative as I’ve grown older, and while my son is capable of great loquacity, he is also a teenager whose body would prefer to be asleep until noon.

He is 17, and we only have one more year of these Tom’s breakfasts before he heads off to college (he has no interest in attending the neighborhood school, Columbia). After that, I will probably stay home on Saturday mornings and eat fruit and yogurt.

Bagels Are the Best Cultural Unifier Ever

Jul.01.16

Bagels Are the Best Cultural Unifier Ever

by Amy Rosen

Bagels in Toronto

I eat at least half a toasted bagel every single day. It is my lifeblood. It is my heritage. It’s usually my breakfast.

There are many Jewish dairy restaurants in my hometown of Toronto that specialize in baked goods like bagels, challah, babka, and the rest of it. Back at the turn of the 20th century, when boatloads of observant Jews were arriving from Europe to escape persecution, dairy meant kosher and kosher meant home. United Bakers, founded in 1912, is still thriving, while Harbord Bakery has been baking the world’s best challah and cheese danishes since 1945. The city also has countless dedicated bagel spots, from Gryfe’s to Bagel World to Bagel House to the new pisher, Nu Bagel in Kensington Market, where Toronto’s Jewry first laid roots.

In the mid-1990s I was attending school in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a journalism degree, along with a tight class of about 36 students. Mike*, a nice guy from Newfoundland, was one of them, and Dave, an even nicer guy from a Toronto suburb, was another.

I didn’t eat pepperoni pizza and that’s what the gang always ordered, so Dave, who I believe was secretly in love with me, always had a bagel and mini packet of spreadable cream cheese on hand for me in his dorm room. One evening a bunch of us were gathered at Dave’s for an impromptu post-exams pizza party, Dave dutifully preparing my bagel and schmear, when suddenly from across the room, Mike shouted, “A bagel, Amy. That seems like something a Jew would eat.”

There were 15 people crammed into that double dorm room, scarfing down party-sized pepperoni pizzas and beer, yet if ever you wanted to hear a pin drop, this would have been the time. My response? “Gosh, Mike, that seems like something an anti-Semite would say.” (Nailed it!)

But understand this: Mike wasn’t anti-Semitic; he was ignorant. He apologized profusely, we hugged it out, and I continued eating my perfectly toasted bagel.

Bagels unify us, their doughy circles linking Jews like a chain-link fence across the Diaspora. My friend Ilona, who is not Jewish, is fascinated by Jewish food customs, or should I say, the lack thereof. I would go to a bar mitzvah brunch and she’d ask, “What did they serve?”

“Bagels, lox, cream cheese, tuna, and egg,” I’d say.

I’d go to a bris. “What did they serve?” she’d ask.

“Bagels, lox, cream cheese, tuna, and egg,” I’d say.

I’d go to a shiva. “What did they serve?” she’d ask.

After a while she just stopped asking.

But here’s the thing: A fresh bagel is so delicious and comforting that it never gets stale. Yet there’s always room for improvement and I’ve found it at Schmaltz Appetizing in Toronto, a newish grab-and-go noshery specializing in smoked fish and other bagel fixin’s. This is a photo of their Chub Chub: smoked Great Lakes whitefish, beet-marinated East Coast gravlax, dilled baby cucumber salad, and whipped Quebec cream cheese hit with horseradish, all on a Kiva’s (since 1979) poppy seed bagel.

For me, it’s the Chosen One.

*Names have been changed so that people don’t get mad at me.

Still Not Entirely Sure What Egg Butter Is But It Sounds Awesome

Jun.30.16

Still Not Entirely Sure What Egg Butter Is But It Sounds Awesome

by Hannah Petertil

Karelska piroger in Stockholm

I had already been in Stockholm a few days filling my belly with crisp breads and spreadable cheese when I first tasted egg butter.

Originally, I’d purchased my ticket on a bit of a “research” whim to dig into the Swedish taco and learn what exactly that phrase and food meant, but along the way I found myself floored by food at every turn. Warm kanelbullar, perfectly salted licorice, ice cream swirled with lemon and sweetened dollops of ammonium chloride. The country had me in a trance: would anyone even notice if I never came home? That’s when my friends introduced my to Karelska piroger and I started filling out a Fulbright application.

Karelska piroger, or Karelian pastries, come from Finland, not Sweden, but can be found pre-made or ready-to-heat in various places around Stockholm. My lovely hosts had just happened to stumble upon them a few weeks before my arrival when Elias, a lanky Finn on his mother’s side, spotted his childhood treat in a shop near their subway stop.

I’d met Elias’s wife through a whirlwind Jewish food fellowship in New York City and our mutual love of food made these two eager to share their find. We all gathered in the kitchen as Elias bopped around, searching for the taste of his memories one egg at a time. Mina supplied me with a running narration and I learned it was the first time he was attempting Egg Butter, a classic topping for the oblong, rice-filled, crimped-edge pastry.

Sure, it sounds simple enough: Egg Butter. But the unforgettable mixture of hard boiled eggs and butter needs to come together at the perfect temperature to ensure the butter and eggs meld but don’t melt. Sipping our tea, we were all aware of the possibility for disaster: greasy hard-boiled eggs were not on the menu. With great, well-deserved joy Elias placed the (perfectly executed) delicacy on their kitchen table and quickly loaded up three pastries. Each piroger was loaded, but not overwhelmed, by the glossy, pale-yellow mounds. Helping myself to a warm piroger, quickly softening butter leaking into the rice filling, I knew I was going to need seconds.

As a dubious egg-eater, I was skeptical about this dish holding my interest, so when breakfast rolled around the next day and we pulled out the left-overs, heated up the pastries, and dug in for the second time, I was thrilled that the magic hadn’t dissipated. Even now, I still find myself obsessing over about these supreme pastries far too frequently.

Yeah, Why ARE Kinder Surprises Illegal in the States?

Jun.28.16

Yeah, Why ARE Kinder Surprises Illegal in the States?

by Kiki Aranita

Yok Si Cao Mien in Hong Kong

I go home once or twice a year to look for a Hong Kong that no longer exists. I look for stores that are no longer in business and restaurants that have either become bigger and shinier or closed without a trace. I work through a checklist of very minor and very important things in order to convince myself that remnants of my post-Handover childhood survive. My checklist is separated into two categories: packable items and meals that remind me of my place in the world.

On the packable side: I must go to the Wan Chai wet market to purchase a year’s worth of cheap cotton undies. “Why do you do this?” my aunt asks every time. “Can’t you buy underwear in the States?” “Yes,” I tell her. “But in the States you cannot find Calven Klain brand underwear.” She usually laughs at this. Sometimes she tells me that I’m crazy.

I go to Park n Shop and gather things that are either better or readily available in Hong Kong and not in America: cup noodles (better), Maltesers (readily available), Kinder Surprises (why are these illegal in America?).

On the meals that remind me of my place in the world side of the list, I must go to Tsui Wah for breakfast, even though there are much better places. At Tsui Wah, I order hot milk tea, which comes in sturdy cups printed with funny faces and condensed milk toast with butter, which, I know, is the easiest thing to replicate no matter how far away from home I find myself. Step one: make toast. Step two: slather toast with butter and condensed milk. Somehow, despite intense homesickness, I almost never accomplish this.

The most important part of my semi-annual pilgrimage to Tsui Wah is for the yok si cao mien, composed of slivers of pork, mushrooms, and bean sprouts and served over crispy fried noodles. The dish looms large in my memories, my after-Chinese-language-lesson reward as a Mandarin-speaking five-year-old amongst dozens of Cantonese-speaking girls. For years, eating yok si cao mien was a race against the rapidly diminishing crispiness of the noodles. I like when the noodles are fried to the point of nicking the roof of my mouth. Now I’ve learnt to ask for the noodles to be served separately from the glossy pork gravy, so I have control over the sogginess of my yok si cao mien. At the Tsui Wah at the Peak, where everything on the menu costs a few dollars more, the staff is very accommodating. At a Tsui Wah in Causeway Bay, you’ll be thoroughly chastised for dreaming up such madness. Pick the right Tsui Wah.

In my mind, there is no better breakfast (and definitely no better hangover breakfast). I may sometimes be tempted by iced milk tea served in a glass bottle in a silver bucket or some other variant of condensed milk toast, but my longing for yok si cao mien never wavers.

When Going for Seconds at a Breakfast Buffet, Salad Is Never the Answer

Jun.28.16

When Going for Seconds at a Breakfast Buffet, Salad Is Never the Answer

by Didi Kader

Dungeness Crab in the Pacific Northwest

While the rest of America slips into summertime and flip-flops, the Pacific Northwest lingers in what we call Juneuary: the wet, warm, and unpredictable purgatory we endure before arriving at summer. Real summer begins when our dependable sun-filled days are long and luxurious thanks to our northern geography. Until then, we take our chances with the outdoors in Juneuary.

My boyfriend and I had plans to bike a trail that follows old railroad tracks in Snohomish County. We were going, rain or not. The forecast was for clouds. To steel myself for what could be a wet ride, I suggested breakfast at the Eagles Buffet in the Tulalip Resort Casino, not far from the trailhead.

We entered the casino and walked past the lights and ding-ding-ding of slot machines, some of which tempt the human weaknesses for wealth and food with names like ‘Lobstermania’ and ‘Jumpin’ Jalapeños.’

I’m a veteran of the buffet and explain the rules of the eating game to Abe: focus on the novelty items. Round two is the sweet spot. If you’re carrying plate number three, you might have gone too far; proceed at your own belly’s risk. Don’t forget we have to get on bikes after this. He nods and we grab a couple warm plates.

I find the Dungeness crab stacked in ice. The man behind the counter assesses the pile and picks out the cluster with the biggest legs. Steamed hot or served cold, he asked. I take the crab cold, like the Pacific water it came from, and slide a small bowl of hot butter and lemon wedges next to it.

I go next to the carving table and say yes to prime rib and wild salmon. It’s only 10 a.m., so to keep up the appearance of breakfast I add to my plate a buttermilk pancake, a savory potato pancake dotted with scallions, and a raspberry-cheese blintz. I nudge in a small bowl of hot maple syrup, and on the way back to the table I pause at the fruit bar. I make a bowl of melon, pineapple and grapefruit.

A server brought mugs of coffee, and seeing the crab, left packets of wet wipes. We each took a leg and got to work cracking and pulling chunks of sweet crabmeat to dip in butter. Maple syrup from bites of pancake dribbled onto the prime rib in my crowded plate.

I wondered out loud if I should get salad for round two, keep it light for the bike ride. Abe paused from dismantling another crab leg and looked at me. “What’s the fun in that?” he asked.

I went to the buffet and glanced at my watch. I decided it was late enough that it wouldn’t be inappropriate to have a barbecued beef rib.

On our way out, Abe played a few bucks in a slot machine and won $14.
We got to the trailhead and pulled on our rain gear. As I biked down the trail, a spray of rain brushing my cheeks, I thought about how beautifully prime rib and maple syrup go together.

Do Not Question Strange Breakfasts, Submit to Them

Jun.27.16

Do Not Question Strange Breakfasts, Submit to Them

by Braden Ruddy

Granitas in Trapani

On a sleepy side street in the city of Trapani, western Sicily’s millennia-old trading and tuna hub, lies granita mecca Antica Colicchia Pasticceria Gelateria. Outside, electrical wires haphazardly draped over picturesque balconies share space with ornate tiles, laundry set out to dry, hanging flowers, and tiny satellite dishes beaming soccer matches and Tunisian music videos to those inside.

An old Mediterranean Phoenician trading port that lies closer—both geographically and culturally—to North Africa than it does to mainland Italy, Trapani has retained parts of its unique Arab character and reliance on the sea for thousands of years. Short ferries to Tunis continue the cultural, economic, and historical ties between Trapani and the Arab world today. This is a city, in Italy, that favors couscous over pasta.

Trapani’s undisputed granita king since 1885, Antica Colicchia Pasticceria Gelateria serves, perhaps, Sicily’s best granitas to a mix of local families, workers, and tourists looking for a typical Sicilian breakfast to cool down with on the narrow souk-like streets of Trapani’s old city.

Granitas are a resolutely Sicilian tradition that can be eaten throughout the day as a dessert, a palate cleanser, or a refreshing semi-icy treat. Most frequently, however, they are consumed for breakfast alongside a warm brioche and a shot of espresso.

Outside the tiny old café, sounds of a drill waft from down the block as restorations of this grand old city’s buildings, badly damaged from allied WWII bombings, continue seventy years after the end of the war.
Like many other things in Sicily, including the food, architecture, and people, the granita has a fascinating migratory history that originates from the varied civilizations that have come to this island since the 11th century BC and then not wanted to leave.

Historians believe that the Arabs that ruled Sicily in the 9th century conceived of the first granitas here by scaling Mt. Etna’s volcanic peak to bring down fresh snow, mixing it with sugar and the island’s bright local ingredients. The brioche served alongside most likely came from the Normans who made their way from France in the 11th century to build on the advancements of the Arabs and make Sicily one of the most flourishing, dynamic, and multi-cultural places in the world while the rest of Europe remained largely in the dark.

At Antica Colicchia Pasticceria Gelateria in Trapani, the granitas are prepared roughly the same way in 2016. Fresh local almonds, lemons, espresso, blood oranges, or pistachios are finely mixed with sugar and hand-shaved ice that retains its glorious snow-like consistency. Served out of a glass with a tiny ornate silver square spoon, there is nothing artificial here. Just three ingredients—water, sugar, and natural nuts, fruits, or flowers (jasmine granitas are a Trapanese specialty)—that’s it.

It’s 10 am and as our almond and espresso granitas slowly melt into a delicious breakfast soup mopped up by the fresh-baked brioche, a rotund man in an Italian soccer jersey eating gelato out of an oversized ice cream cone walks by pushing a shopping cart filled with bricks. Across the street three priests are lighting sticks on fire outside of a Baroque church.

There is something slightly absurd about eating a magical slush-like creation, essentially an early form of ice cream, for breakfast. But in Sicily, the absurd takes on a poetic quality seeped in a history equal parts glorious and tragic that simply makes sense. When half the city is waking up and doing the same, and has been for more than a thousand years, one must not question the granita. One must submit to it. Every morning.

Hangover Heaven Is a Place on Earth

Jun.23.16

Hangover Heaven Is a Place on Earth

by James Fixter

A Full Scottish Breakfast in Edinburgh

The country famous for its porridge habit is obviously a place that understands the value of warm, stodgy comfort food when you’re feeling delicate in the morning. Looking around me, delicate is exactly the right word to describe the disheveled university students who sit hunched over the tables, wincing at the noise of clattering plates from the kitchen.

Exam season is over, the hard work done, and the celebratory drinks obviously flowed freely the night before. When Edinburgh’s student population wakes to a pounding headache after a night of debauchery, they can be thankful that the perfect cure is close at hand. A greasy spoon diner where even the Wi-Fi password is “hangover heaven”? Sounds like the right place.

The iconic English breakfast famous (or perhaps infamous) all over the world is often held up as a shining example of great hangover food, but Scotland has never been a place to be knowingly outdone by its neighbor to the south. After applying their celebrated spirit of innovation, the Scots managed to go one better and concoct a platter as fearsome to behold and tricky to conquer as they are.

The customary fried eggs, bacon, sausage, grilled tomatoes, and baked beans from the English breakfast are all present, joined by additional hearty Scottish delicacies: black pudding (blood sausage), the infamous haggis (a surprisingly delicious mixture of offal and spices cooked in a sheep’s stomach), a crispy potato scone and a slab of square sausage. In truth, the picture is not a pretty one and the ingredients are not so much arranged on the plate as piled high. But what it lacks in style, it more than makes up for in substance.

The restorative properties of this jaw-dropping plateful seem to be just what the doctor ordered for my fellow diners: with every mouthful of greasy food, a little more of the hangover nausea is eroded away and replaced by fortitude. Those who manage to go the whole hog (a fairly apt description given the sheer amount of bacon and sausage on the plate) can recline with pride, loosen their waistbands, and let out a contented groan.

However, this is merely phase one of Edinburgh’s own particular hangover tonic. After refueling over breakfast, the hardcore contingent makes its way to the foot of nearby Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that dominates the skyline of the city. It’s a steep climb among the blackened volcanic rock made all the harder by the extra weight of a mountain of food, forcing you to truly earn those calories.

Soaking up the previous night’s booze with breakfast is a great cure for the stomach, but the bracing wind at the summit does wonders for a pounding head, too. The views of this historic city and its iconic castle from here are magnificent and the feeling of rejuvenation immense. Looking out over such dramatic scenery, it’s easy to see why Scotland came to be known as “The Land of Legends,” but to call it “The Land of Legendary Breakfasts” would not be an understatement.

Oh, and there’s good news for those who couldn’t even muster the energy to crawl out of bed: they can have the very same breakfast delivered to their door in a polystyrene box. It’s true what they say: hangover heaven really is a place on earth.

Waiting for a Ferry to a Sinking Island

Jun.22.16

Waiting for a Ferry to a Sinking Island

by Anuradha Sengupta

Jhal Muri at Lot 8

“Has the vessel left for Ghoramara?” asks a woman in a green salway kameez wearing outsized sunglasses. The ferry guard tells her it hasn’t arrived yet. She looks back at a group of women waiting behind her. “Let’s have some chai then,” she says. They walk across to one of the tea shacks on the jetty, struggling to hold on to their umbrellas against the strong wind that is churning the waters into choppy waves. It’s 9 am and already the day is unbearably hot.

We are at Harwood Point, or Lot 8, the jetty where people take a ferry to Ghormara or Sagardwip islands, two islands on the Sunderbans delta in the Bay of Bengal. I am on my way to Ghoramara, which is quickly sinking due to rising sea water levels.

I haven’t had any breakfast, so I follow the women to the tea shacks. It was 6 am when I set off from home, dawn breaking over the rooftops in Kolkata. I arrived at Lot 8 after a three-hour rickety bus ride. Like all good tea shacks in Bengal, the fellow at the ferry point has an array of glass jars filled with biscuits in all kinds of shapes, sourced from local bakeries. I order a cup of tea, and pick out some biscuits to go with it, both savory and sweet.

An adjoining shack is selling the popular Bengali snack teley-bhaaja, fritters made of eggplants, onions, potatoes, pumpkins or cauliflowers dipped in a chickpea-flour coating. Stocking up on a plate of pumpkin fritters, I move on to a jhaal muri shack where a man in a vest and lungi (a sarong-like clothing worn by men in Bengal) is briskly mixing sprouted legumes and puffed rice with chopped onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and green chillies. He tops it all up with a drizzle of mustard oil and salt, and serves it in a paper cone. Up ahead on the road, flies buzz around the heaps of grapes, pomegranates, bananas, and guavas being sold at a few fruit stalls. A line of improvised vehicles stand on one side, made of wooden planks, old Jeep parts, and a diesel engine that looks like the front of a motorbike.

Arms laden with fritters and jhal muri cones, I head back to the women on the wooden benches. The tea arrives in a small glass. It’s milky and sweet and hits the spot. I dunk the biscuit embedded with nigella seeds in the liquid and bite off a chunk. Over cups of tea, biscuits, and fritters, we—fellow passengers to Ghoramara—get to know each other.

Some of the women are teachers who traverse the water of the Bay every day to teach at the only school in Ghoramara. One of them is a health worker at a government clinic. One of the teachers, Rituparna, says they skip school on rough weather days. “The boats are not in good condition and there have been incidents of capsizing.” The health worker—Snighdha—is waiting for a boy from Ghoramara. “He had a vaccine which seems to have gone wrong, his leg has swollen up,” she says. “I have to take him to Sagar Island which has a proper hospital.” Snigdha—born in Ghoramara—talks about the fear that the monsoon brings when it arrives in mid-June. destroying homes and lives. “My island’s nearly gone, swallowed by the river.” Her mother and brother still live in Ghoramara. “I got married and came out.”

Our conversation and short session of bonhomie is interrupted with the arrival of the ferry to Sagar Island. Snigdha finishes her tea and walks to the long line of disembarking passengers to look for the boy. I order another cup of milky tea, looking out across brown waters of the Bay of Bengal, waiting for the ferry to Ghoramara.

Finding Your Breakfast Home Halfway Across the World

Jun.21.16

Finding Your Breakfast Home Halfway Across the World

by Danielle Oteri

Sfogliatella in Naples

Napoli Centrale, 8 am, I order a sfogliatella from the train station bar even though I’m not hungry. Soon I’ll board the train to Milan then tomorrow fly back to New York. This pastry is the last taste, for now, of the city where I feel most at home.

The barista squints below her visor and asks, “riccia o frolla,” referring to the choice of flaky or smooth pastry wrapped around a soft mound of sweetened ricotta cheese.

“Riccia,” I reply, as though there isn’t really a choice, and her posture softens. Reaching under the counter with a square of wax paper folded against her palm, she tells me that my accent sounds foreign, but she is confused by my very Neapolitan face.

I always have this conversation in Naples. With my dark hair that does whatever it wants and heavy eyelids, only my New York accent betrays me as not a local. Neapolitan friends have picked apart my face to identify the regional mix of conquerors and oppressors: Greek, Spanish, a little French maybe. In America, I’m accused of having “resting bitch face,” but here among citizens whose philosophical musings are informed by the nearby volcano, I belong to them.

“Italo-Americana,” I say with a shrug.

“You chose the riccia, proof of good Neapolitan blood,” she says with approval, passing the sfogliatella across the marble counter. My fingertips press against the paper to feel its heat and hear the pastry crackle, proof of freshness that even in the Naples train station is assured.

Sfogliatelle have been my favorite sweet since childhood, when my grandparents would bring over a string-tied box of them fresh from the Bronx. When I started coming to Naples as an adult and discovered that these were not holiday treats, but what you eat here every single morning, it was like the 6-year old inside of me was told she could indeed have candy for breakfast.

But there are also rules. Like cappuccino, sfogliatelle are not something any Italian would dare consume after a big dinner, though Neapolitans find excuses like the merenda, or afternoon snack, which may come as late as twilight and is best enjoyed while swanning around the Piazza dei Martiri with friends.

Like Parthenope, the siren founder of Naples who died of heartbreak and washed up on the coast, the sfogliatella also arrived from the sea. One origin story, rote but beloved, describes a 16th century nun on the Amalfi coast experimenting with some cooked flour and milk during the dark early hours inside the convent’s kitchen. She formed the pastry to imitate the shape of a monk’s hood hanging along his back, thus inventing the smooth frolla version.

The recipe was made distinctly Neapolitan when a man named Pasquale Pintauro created a flaky shell that reminded of elaborate French pastries still fashionable in Naples, even after Marie Antoinette’s big sister had been deposed as queen. In the window of Pintauro’s pastry shop on the fashionable Via Toledo, the sfogliatelle were upended to resemble seashells, the new Rococo architectural motif in the city ruled by a Spanish Bourbon king.

Almost 200 years later, Pintauro’s pastry shop on the Via Toledo is still in place. Locals gather there for sfogliatelle on Sunday afternoons though legions loyal to “La Sfogliatella Mary” crowd around it in the Galleria Umberto.

Back at the train station bar, I wipe a galaxy of transparent crumbs off my scarf and take one last shot of caffé normale. I’ll creep back into my American skin tomorrow in Milan at the hotel’s continental breakfast.

Instead of a Caffeine Kick, Try Curdled Soy Milk in the Morning

Jun.20.16

Instead of a Caffeine Kick, Try Curdled Soy Milk in the Morning

by Steven Crook

Soy Milk in Taiwan

A few days before Dr. Tsai Ing-wen took the oath of office to become Taiwan’s first woman president—and the first female national leader in Asia who wasn’t the widow, daughter or sister of a previous leader—I went back to Kaohsiung to witness the scattering of a friend’s ashes.

A decade earlier, he’d told us he wanted his remains sprinkled in the shade of a huge banyan tree that overlooks the harbor. He eventually passed after years of ill health, some of which could be attributed to bad habits when younger. En route to the ceremony, I made a slightly dubious lifestyle choice of my own. I detoured to a breakfast establishment famous in Taiwan’s second city for adulterated soy milk. Once hailed as a protein-rich, low-calorie alternative to cow’s milk, unfermented soy products like soy milk are now linked to health problems including hypothyroidism, kidney stones, and male infertility. And if that isn’t bad enough, at Guo Mao Lai Lai the beverage is best enjoyed when it’s slathered with oily condiments and salty toppings.

But it’s fresh, meaning the beans are soaked the evening before, steamed before sunrise, blended, then pressed through a cheesecloth. Drunk hot and neat, just-made soy milk is quite unlike—and quite a bit stronger than—its bottled, refrigerated supermarket counterpart. For first-timers, the experience is akin to trying coffee prepared by a good barista after a lifetime of drinking instant. But raw soy milk isn’t to everyone’s taste, so many Taiwanese stir in sugar. In Mandarin Chinese, the non-sugared variant is called xian doujiang. This means “salty soy milk,” but at Guo Mao Lai Lai, only the finest of palates can detect brackishness beneath the various pungencies.

The eatery is in a neighborhood so nondescript people grab whatever excitement comes their way, on a plate or otherwise. I arrived just before nine am, when most folks are at work or school. Yet none of the staff were slacking off; the queue was a dozen deep, and moving fast. The soy milk connoisseur ahead of me ordered a bowl seasoned with finely chopped scallions, browned shallots, tiny dried shrimps, a dollop of sesame oil, a few drops of rice vinegar, and a squirt of red chili oil. I turned down the shrimps, instead opting for youtiao—Chinese savory crullers—as both a side dish and a topping.

Then I waited, and not just for the mix to cool to a drinkable temperature. The vinegar causes the soy milk to curdle; the final consistency is similar to cottage cheese. Despite its lumpy, foamy appearance—it looks like something you’d throw away if you found it in your refrigerator—this concoction is as satisfying as a good stew.

Sometimes it’s good to commence the day with a capsaicin kick instead of a caffeine jolt. And if you’re still nervous about the health effects of unfermented soy, dwell on this: The Ohio surgeon-missionary who set up Taipei’s first soy milk bottling plant in 1953 practiced medicine until he was 94. Soy fanatic Dr. Harry W. Miller then spent three years trying to perfect tofu-based cheeses. By all accounts he failed. What am I likely to achieve in my nineties?

The Spicy Scent of Home

Jun.16.16

The Spicy Scent of Home

by Ying Tey Reinhardt

Nasi Lemak in Germany

The ground chili paste in my pan is spitting hot and searing red. The luxuriant crimson mush, made up of shallots, dried chilies, and a handful of ikan bilis (white anchovies) ground earlier, darkened in the oil. The angry fumes scald my eyes, causing me to tear up.

“Oh, that’s going to be one hell of a freaking spicy sambal,” says Christian approvingly as he walks across the kitchen to unlatch a window. My husband hovers over my shoulder as I continue frying, and watches me pour the rest of the fried ikan bilis into the mix.

It’s 10 a.m. in Hermsdorf, a little village in East Germany. Spring air fills the kitchen and mingles with the pungent spice. I’m preparing the chili that makes up an important component of nasi lemak, a Malaysian breakfast staple that consists of coconut-milk rice, roasted peanuts, cucumbers, and boiled eggs. But because our German friends will recoil in horror if they don’t get bread for breakfast, we plan to serve it later for dinner, for my husband’s birthday party.

In Malaysia, feeding someone is the most important act of love. When greeting someone, it’s not unusual to ask them if they’ve eaten. Knowing that your stomach is full assures the other party that you’re well. And if not, the person asking will invite you for food. And here I am, proving my love by trying to recreate the perfect nasi lemak, a comfort dish that Christian and I bonded over, while we were still dating in that part of the world. This is not the first time I’m making it, but this is the first time with the right ingredients. The previous attempts, without the ikan bilis for the chili paste and pandan leaves for the rice, was lacking punch. Christian didn’t mind but I knew better. Living in Germany has taught me to be meticulous. Every ingredient counts.

Just a day ago, we were shopping at Go Asia, a major Asian grocer in Berlin filled with rows and rows of spice and sauces, noodles of all imaginable flavors, and Asian herbs and vegetables neatly packed and glistening fresh. I gasped when I entered; I was awestruck with the choices. Christian said it was as if I had discovered Wonderland.

Hermsdorf, which was once part of the ex-German Democratic Republic, offers no such supermarkets. The closest Asian market, 12 miles away, is a dingy squat. On the dusty shelves are only two choices of soy sauce and little else. Needless to say, pandan leaves and white anchovies were unheard of. At Go Asia, the supermarket was airy and glowed with promise. The two-hour drive was worth it.

My kitchen is now officially coated in layers of oil and hot chili splatters. Wafts of coconut and sweet pandan leaves escape the bubbling rice cooker. Freshly cut cucumbers lay on the chopping board. Peeled hard-boiled eggs in a bowl. A fishy, spicy scent lingers in the air. I hear our neighbor below crack open her window. She coughs. It smells like home.

Mission: Shanghai Soup Dumpling

Jun.15.16

Mission: Shanghai Soup Dumpling

by Angela Wu

Shen jian bao in Shanghai

Overnight layovers are one of travel’s trickier challenges to master. The key to making the most of those few rushed waking hours on the other side of the world? You need a mission.

Ideally, your mission is simple and achievable. On a recent 18-hour layover, my mission was breakfast.

At home in Los Angeles, I buy sheng jian bao by the box from a local Chinese food court and snack on them cold, plucking them one by one from the refrigerator. I grew up with them, despite being thousands of miles away from the city where they’re traditionally sold on street corners. Now, I had a rare slice of time to enjoy sheng jian bao the way they were meant to be enjoyed—for breakfast, in Shanghai.

It’s an understatement to call them pan-fried pork buns, which is how they often appear on menus. Sheng jian bao are the more delicious, less internationally famous, just as soup-filled sibling of xiao long bao, the tiny soup dumplings that Shanghai is also known for. Each bao is about the size of a child’s fist, with a crispy golden crust on the bottom and a pillowy white top sprinkled with scallions and sesame seeds. Inside is a juicy nugget of pork, savory and a touch sweet, and a thimble-sized sip of soup.

That tiny sip is decadent. Rich and flavorful—and filled with fat—it oozes out of the pork filling as the bao sizzles and steams in the pan. These days you can even find versions that come with a straw for slurping up the soup. But I wanted the classic.

My layover gave me just one breakfast, and one shot. Fortunately, I mentioned my quest to my taxi driver, who lit up. He was so passionate about sheng jian bao that he offered to drive me straight to his favorite restaurant, still open even as we approached midnight. His enthusiasm convinced me: this was the one. The mission, however, was breakfast. So he dropped me off at my hotel with walking directions.

I woke up the next morning, without a trace of jet lag, to find the city experiencing a very rare snowfall, the kind that makes the news. But I was on a mission. I set off into the cold.

A few years ago, my mom and I visited Shanghai together. We spent a steamy summer afternoon wandering through old neighborhoods, searching for the street where she grew up. Maybe it no longer exists, or maybe it’s just lost to us—but we didn’t find it. This time, as I cut through narrow courtyards and passed street vendors selling little chestnuts and big ladles of congee, I felt as if any of these streets could have been that street. I wouldn’t have known it, but I felt the warmth of possibility everywhere.

Finally, I turned a corner and found the sheng jian bao I had been looking for. They came with a large glass of sweet soy milk. I ate them all in 10 minutes.

Mission accomplished, I rushed back to the airport.

The Very Best Place to Drink First Thing in the Morning

Jun.13.16

The Very Best Place to Drink First Thing in the Morning

by Alexa van Sickle

Flat Pints in Edinburgh

We traipsed into the pub from the cold sunlight of a January morning. We expected some kind of reaction. If not quite the Scottish 8am boozer equivalent of a record-scratch, at least some curious or even indifferent looks.

Groups of people who ventured into Edinburgh’s morning-hour pubs were usually trying to prolong the night, crashing post-work drinking sessions for the city’s night-shift workers. But not this time. We were sober, but wired after 14 nights (midnight to 8 am) at a press research company housed in a former primary school. (The bathrooms were still painted baby pink and baby blue). We had joined the ranks of Edinburgh’s night workers.

You can drink in bars almost 24 hours a day in Edinburgh. In the 60s and 70s, some bars got licenses to open at 5 am so all-night workers (dockers, bond-warehouse workers, railway staff) had a place to unwind. Inevitably, some of the city’s thousands of students discovered them. The slight thrill of leaving the comfort zone of Edinburgh’s student bars on the city’s south side was probably part of the attraction. Diane’s Pool Hall in the West End is a renowned hub for people who aren’t ready to call it a night when the sun rises. (One Yelp reviewer called it “the Ground Zero of Edinburgh’s seedy underbelly.”) There was also the storied Boundary Bar, which stood on the old dividing line between Edinburgh and the grittier port city of Leith. A pole divided the bar into the Leith and Edinburgh sides, which had different drinking licenses (after-hours drinking was only done on the Leith side). I was more familiar with the Penny Black (hours: 5 am to 3 pm) where all-nighter students rubbed shoulders with off-duty postmen, casino workers, or just full-time drinkers.

But our night-shift local was not a city institution. It was usually empty. Ten-minutes walk from our office at the top of Easter Road, it was a nondescript pub about halfway down Leith Walk, the wide artery that forms a ramp between Edinburgh’s gilded center to the gateway of Leith. It was pretty typical: the walls bathed in hundreds of seasons of smoke and damp, slightly sticky dark wooden tables. (This was also a few months into Scotland’s smoking ban, so fresh cigarette smoke no longer obscured the dank smell from decades of ale spills ground into the 70s-era carpet.) This was where we would unwind after nights of scanning Scotland’s newspapers and preparing binders of media coverage, so Edinburgh’s press officers would have them on their desks by 9 am. We’d order pints of local ale or lager: Tennents (actually from Glasgow) or MacEwans, and even the lager would be flat. And we would wait to for the beer to make us feel drowsy enough to could go and crash for the rest of the day.

We coped with the nocturnal drudgery in different ways. Emma from Durham snacked on whole coffee beans. I ate Tesco chocolate cake garnished with increasingly hot chili peppers to stay awake. We also had CDs: Arcade Fire’s Funeral, lots of Johnny Cash, Guns N’ Roses. But there’s something really depressing about playing Use Your Illusion II at 4 am just to hear something other than the hum of computers.

At first, we tried to have a normal post-work evenings, and do normal evening things like run errands, or cook breakfast/dinner after our shifts. But we soon discovered that we were capable of sleeping right through the day from 9 am to midnight, when the next shift started as Edinburgh’s hilly streets began to fill up with drunken boys in kilts and goose-bumped girls in dresses without coats. Over winter, when Scotland’s daylight hours are already meager, I saw only a few minutes of daylight for weeks. (Our team leader had been doing this for two years straight. He was a little prematurely gray, but seemed otherwise cheerful.)

Diane’s Pool Hall still opens at 8 am, but the Penny Black is gone. The Boundary is now called City Limits and has no early-hours drinking, but there are a few pubs scattered around the city that do. I don’t know what became of our post-night shift local. I recently took a trip down memory lane/Leith Walk, thinking I would find it eventually although I had forgotten its name. But I didn’t. It could now be called the Joker and the Thief, or the Brass Monkey. Or it could be that new dry-cleaners.

Photo: Kim Traynor

Industries Rise and Fall But Fried Bread and Sugar Is Forever

Jun.10.16

Industries Rise and Fall But Fried Bread and Sugar Is Forever

by Terri Coles

Molasses in Newfoundland

Cheap tea and molasses they say they will give,
All taxes taken off that the poor man may live –
Cheap nails and cheap lumber, our coffins to make,
And homespun to mend our old clothes when they break.

Molasses is an important enough part of Newfoundland’s identity that it earned a mention in The Anti-Confederate Song back in 1940. Along with baby bonuses and better health care, lower prices for staple goods like molasses were among the carrots dangled before this island by the forces working to convince its people to join Canada.

The dark, sticky syrup probably wasn’t the deciding factor in just-barely convincing the majority of Newfoundland’s people to join Canada in 1949. But like so many of the province’s staple foods, it has endured beyond the point of being a necessity, even as much of the island surrounding it has continued to change.

A walk down Water Street in St. John’s, arguably North America’s oldest city, makes those changes obvious through a mix of new, nationally recognized restaurants and empty storefronts that once contained eateries that fell victim to the province’s recent financial troubles.

Tough economic times are nothing new for people who survived on subsistence fishing for about 500 years. When I first moved to Newfoundland—a craggy island that sits in the North Atlantic, off Canada’s eastern coast—the province was in turmoil. Its cod fishery had been shut down by the federal government just a year earlier, putting 30,000 people out of work and tossing the entire place into a state of economic and cultural crisis. In the early 2000s, an offshore oil industry was developed, but that recently crashed as crude prices have fallen. An austerity budget is working its way through the provincial legislature.

But in St. John’s, you’ll also see clear signs of things that have remained the same throughout the turmoil. That includes breakfast specials at the local pubs pumping out Celtic-tinged traditional music at all hours.

Toutons with molasses is among those enduring dishes, a combination of the ingredients that helped build the province. Toutons are a way to use leftover bits of bread dough from freshly made bread; everyone’s grandmother makes the best loaves on the island. Fry the dough patties up with leftover fatback pork, drizzle them with molasses in the ubiquitous yellow carton, then throw on the scruncheons—the crunchy bits that form in that pork fat—and you’ve got a breakfast that hits all the sweet spots of flavor and texture.

Molasses was once an item of necessity in Newfoundland, inextricably tied with the cod that brought Europeans to the island in the first place. That spoonful of blackstrap molasses had to be swallowed down because it contained iron and calcium, and it didn’t hurt that it covered up the taste of the cod liver oil that kids also had to (reluctantly) line up for in those days. And the steady supply of salt cod heading off the island and traveling southward kept the molasses flowing back in the opposite direction from the West Indies.

These days, Newfoundlanders can get sugar a bit more easily. Iron capsules, or beef, aren’t that difficult to come by, either. But molasses is still an important part of the foods you’d expect to find when you stop by grandma’s during a trip around the bay. She’ll probably have lassie buns, and you might find figgy duff pudding left over from dinner the night before drizzled with the black, sticky sauce. But no traditional Newfoundland breakfast is complete without those toutons, even if the health-conscious are more likely these days to use canola oil for the frying. The cod fishery is largely diminished, but toutons and molasses endure.

Photo: Badagnani

The Singular Satisfaction of Overcoming a Food Fear

Jun.09.16

The Singular Satisfaction of Overcoming a Food Fear

by Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki

Khlii in Morocco

“There’s no way I’m eating that!” I loudly protested to my soon-to-be husband as he eyed a vat of yellowish paste one day in Marrakech. “You should just try it, it’s really good,” he cajoled me. But I was firm. No way, no how was that going in my mouth. It looked like something a cat had coughed up. He gave up, shrugged, then ordered it anyway. I had to leave the table.

Moroccans have learned how to eat and preserve almost every part of an animal; some of it is good while the rest has something to be desired. Khlii is one example of these preservation techniques. Hard to pronounce but supposedly delicious to eat, khlii is cured and dried strips of meat (usually beef or sheep) that have been preserved in fat. It is sometimes labeled as rotten meat, which isn’t true. A spoonful is added to a hot skillet to melt and then cooked with eggs. It’s sometimes also used to stuff in breads or mixed into soups.

I thought after my first run-in I was in the clear, but every time we went to visit Morocco, and every time my husband returned from a trip, a plastic container of khlii was present. Slowly I learned not to recoil from the sight of it, though I couldn’t imagine taking a bite. As we had children, they, too, learned to appreciate their Dad’s love of this mystery meal and wondered why I never joined in. “Go ahead, you guys enjoy,” was always my response.

We moved to Morocco almost ten years after our first meeting. One day, when we had friends visiting, we decided to take them for breakfast. My husband claimed he had a great spot that we would love. I trusted his instincts and happily went. He ordered a traditional breakfast and our table was graced with all of the components that make a great Moroccan breakfast. There was soft, flat batbout bread and small plates of butter, olives, honey, amalou (an argan oil and almond paste), argan oil, and olive oil. I very happily tucked in. Then the waiter brought something else.

Khlii.

This isn’t happening, I thought. My friends knew I was a total foodie and rejecting this meal would mean they wouldn’t want to try it either. I smiled while secretly shooting eye daggers at my husband. He somehow had seduced me into trying it after all these years. He knew I wouldn’t let on to our friends that I was too afraid. So I did the only thing I could.

I ate it.

Ripping off a piece of bread I tentatively went for the eggs, avoiding the meat chunks. I put it in my mouth and chewed. No problems yet. I took another piece of bread and held my breath while reaching for the meat, quickly moving it from the plate to my mouth before I could think to much. I chewed and smiled. My husband laughed.

It turns out khlii reminded me an awful lot of beef jerky and tasted absolutely delicious. I so regretted having missed eating it for all these years. If you open my fridge today there’s one thing you’re sure to see: a small plastic container filled with khlii. Just for me.

Yes, a Thousand Times Yes, to Ice Cream in a Bread Bowl for Breakfast

Jun.08.16

Yes, a Thousand Times Yes, to Ice Cream in a Bread Bowl for Breakfast

by Kirsten O'Regan

Gelato con Brioche in Palermo

It’s 10:30am on a Tuesday and I am eating an ice-cream burger the size of my face. Despite the gargantuan proportions involved, this is a delicate procedure: the salty, sweet brioche must be handled carefully, allowing the steady consumption of gelato without losing trickles to the Sicilian spring heat. The operation is so sensitive, in fact, that I fear I look somewhat ridiculous: cradling the glossy bronze bun while turning my head this way and that, negotiating the mercurial subtleties of its cool contents with my tongue. The whole thing feels vaguely indecent. Not that anyone else in this public park seems to mind; this is Palermo, after all, and gelato con brioche is a respectable—even venerable—breakfast option.

Besides, Palermitans have bigger fish to fry. As I studiously make my way through voluptuous layers of fior di latte, pistachio, and crystallized almond, Palermo’s gnarled morning traffic creeps past. Several motorists a street away on Via Roma gesticulate wildly over a minor traffic accident, while municipal workers converge on the Politeama Theater to protest public sector layoffs (“We are fifty years! We cannot find new jobs!” a middle-aged woman tells me with a grin as I stroll by, friends guffawing at her English). The implacable massif of Monte Pellegrino watches over the fray, looming dustily above the outer city’s concrete apartments.

Sicily’s mountains have always ensured a supply of ice, for confections or otherwise; inhabitants have long harvested great blocks of frozen water from the taller peaks. And it was the Arabs, of course, who brought sugar—growing crops of cane across the island in the medieval period, in the first real sugar cultivation Europe had ever seen. The Normans swept across Sicily in the 11th century and ended up holding the island for the next two hundred years, transforming the physical fabric of the place and—presumably—bringing with them a proto-brioche. The first known reference to the pastry occurred in 1404, and later writings refer to brioche (a rich yeasted bread fortified with eggs, butter, and milk) as being Norman in origin.

Gelato is slippier, although the first ice-cream machine, patented in 1686, was indeed claimed by a Sicilian: Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, a former fisherman and more famously the founder of Paris’ seminal Café Procope (thus arguably the man who made coffee a French national pastime). It would be a leap to claim that Sicilians invented ice cream, but they have undeniably mastered the art of gelato’s proper, unabashed consumption. Pasticcerias and gelaterias specializing in the art of iced sweetness saturate the island, serving up smears—not scoops—of pastel-hued delights (pistachio, apricot, lemon, hazelnut, coffee) and garish wonders (strawberry, melon, raspberry, mandarin) throughout the day, more often than not sandwiched fetchingly between the halves of a sliced, sweet bun.

Flavors and trimmings vary: one café might serve the bun warm; several offer drizzles of chocolate, a dollop of cream, a sprinkling of nuts. The garnish may include a mini cone to scoop out bite-sized pieces, or a flat wafer. One gelateria in Palermo has given the “snack” a wellness makeover, with sugar-free options, a whey protein-powered chocolate sorbet and a kamut bun. Another veers to the opposite extreme, with a maxi brioche the size of a soccer ball, which looks like sweet suicide. Ice cream sandwiches are such an elemental aspect of Sicilian life that a 1980s New York Times dispatch from Palermo, written during the “years of lead” (when mafia killings reached new heights and “excellent cadavers” were popping up like acne on a teenager), introduces the city with a casual gelato con brioche breakfast scene.

“The Sicilians … had from the early days shown an extraordinary aptitude for the confection of ices,” Elizabeth David wrote in Harvest of the Cold Months, a posthumously published (and unswervingly obsessive) socio-cultural history of ice cream. Indeed, Sicilian gelato is a thing apart: made without the bulking properties of egg or cream, and whipped up instead from crema rinforzata, a cornstarch base, which may have its origins in wobbly Arabic puddings. The starch gives the gelato a supple, rounded mouth-feel, seeming to resist for a moment on the tongue before melting into sweet oblivion (vaguely reminiscent of the stretchy dondurma of Turkey, whose consistency derives from salep, the powdered bulb of an orchid). It is not uncommon to find Eastern echoes in Sicilian flavors: jasmine gelato in Trapani, saffron and almond in Noto.

As I valiantly try and fail to eat the vestiges of the brioche’s bobbly cap, I find myself internally justifying my food choices and swiftly conduct a mental intervention. In Sicily, food should not be rationalized. The island is sultry, sensuous, with its own proper rhythms and reasons, its own taboos and prerogatives, its own particular code of culinary conduct. There is something insanely wonderful about gelato con brioche that, as the experience wears on, leans heavily towards the insane. Sicilians have taken an insubstantial, subsidiary confection, and turned it solid, essential; the weight of the bun in the hand is visceral, shocking, a fantasy made flesh.

Yet, rather than defying logic, gelato con brioche for breakfast makes a weird kind of sense, just as sheep’s head soup, complete with brain, must be served as the first meal of the day in Iran: it’s too heavy to be reasonable at any other time (although Sicilians are not purists; they will eat an ice cream sandwich whenever they please). Even the construction—seemingly excessive—is functional. The brioche makes an excellent thermal insulator, protecting its precious cargo from the hot Scirocco winds whipping across the island from Africa. For the minutes the brioche takes to consume, time slows; the world shrinks to the size of a diminishing mitt of creamy sweetness. The gelato abides.

The Perfect Pancake Is Worth a Six-Hour Bike Ride

Jun.07.16

The Perfect Pancake Is Worth a Six-Hour Bike Ride

by Olga Kovalenko

Baba in Xizhou

The area around Erhai Lake in Yunnan, China, is famous for its serene beauty and ancient Bai traditions. They are also famous for a vibrant cycling culture. The mild climate and smooth roads attract Chinese cyclists for the annual Tour de Erhai, an 80-mile race around the lake that starts in the regional center—Dali—and continues along gentle hills, rice paddies, and tiny Bai villages. Yunnan is one of the less developed areas in China, so you can still see villagers walking in their traditional attire and plowing fields with the help of animals. Time seems to have stopped around Erhai.

Chinese tourists rent colorful bikes for day trips and even try tandem or triple-bikes, which are a source of many falls and even more fun. Lycra-clad pros wrap their faces in black scarves for protection against dust and sunshine, and zoom along the lake like wheeled ninjas. Dali itself has a perfect size and location for every-day riding, and sooner or later every visitor succumbs to the local cycling craze.

After a few months of life in Dali, I bought a brand-new bicycle myself and started taking it for a spin to the nearby sights. A popular destination among Dali cyclists was the town of Xizhou, 12 miles away from Dali. It took me about six hours to get there and back, and it became my favorite weekend destination. Besides, Xizhou was famous for its pancakes—baba—which made a perfect breakfast.

Baba is a thick pancake the size of a palm. It can be made sweet or salty, the latter being stuffed with minced pork or spring onions. Baba is sold in many towns around Erhai, but a Xizhou baba is particularly famous for its balance of fat, softness, and saltiness/sweetness.

I would keep my stomach empty every weekend and take an early ride to Xizhou. The town would welcome me into a maze of narrow streets and old houses of brick and wood. The center of activity would be the small square, where locals would come to buy and sell goods exchange gossip, and have a snack. The baba stand would be the busiest one.

The path to my breakfast was not always clear. One day would be too sunny, another would be too rainy; one day, there would be construction going along the road, while another day would be the soy bean harvest. The harvest was the worst. The villagers would cut the plants with the pods still intact and spread them along the road so that passing cars would crash the pods with their wheels and make it easier for the villagers to get to the beans.

In these harvest periods, the roads would be a real hazard. Eager villagers would pile the plants so high that it would be impossible to ride through them, and I would have to dismount and walk. The already crashed pods and beans spread all over the road would make me skid while making a turn. But I would remember the breakfast waiting for me in Xizhou, and press on.

The Joyous Breakfast of Large-Hearted People

Jun.06.16

The Joyous Breakfast of Large-Hearted People

by Vidya Balachander

Halwa in Negombo

One Sunday, a few weekends ago, my husband and I found ourselves deep in the heart of Negombo, a seaside town that skirts Colombo’s international airport. Better known for its narrow strip of bars and restaurants that offer jetlagged tourists a taste of Sri Lanka’s laid-back vibe, Negombo has, in recent times, also become an unlikely refuge for another sort of traveller. Fleeing sectarian and gang violence in their native country, several Pakistani Christian families seeking refugee status have found peace—and a sense of community—in the rustic bylanes of Negombo, dotted with Christian shrines at several corners. Only a couple of days earlier, I had become acquainted with one such family. True to the mehmaan nawazi—or no-holds-barred hospitality—in which Pakistanis take pride, they invited me home to break bread with them.

That’s how we found ourselves in their sparsely appointed home, listening to the matriarch of the family recount how they were forced to abandon their middle-class lives in Karachi and flee to this corner of Sri Lanka. It had been six years since they first arrived. After the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, rejected their application for asylum twice, they were now technically illegal immigrants, unable to work, loath to return, and living in constant dread of deportation.

As we took in the story, marked by gun violence and battle scars, the members of the large family scurried into action. One daughter furnished a chintz-print tablecloth to drape over the tatty dhurries we sat on, while another vanished into the kitchen and emerged bearing a plate of puris: puffy, golden, deep-fried bread that is a beloved breakfast item in Pakistan (and much of the Indian subcontinent). The puris were paired with classic sweet-and-savory accompaniments: a rich, orange-hued halwa made of semolina, sugar, and a generous helping of ghee, and chanay, or chickpeas, cooked until the chalky outer skin had been coaxed into silken submission.

We tore off bits of the saucer-sized puris and scooped up alternating bites of the halwa and chanay, the sweetness of one muted by the rich, spice-laden savoriness of the other. My husband recounted eating a similar breakfast in Karachi several years ago and for a few moments, reveling in the nostalgic comfort of familiar flavors, all felt okay, in our world and theirs.

In the weeks that followed, I would often think back to that morning, when we were offered a rare window into lives that would put the comfort of ours firmly in perspective. My journalistic instinct would prompt me to question some parts of the story, to prod them to see if they shook loose. But looking back, my cynicism is always tempered by the memory of that generous feast. A breakfast of halwa-puri is meant to be a joyous, celebratory one. To offer to share it when one has so little—that requires a large heart.

A Surfer Life Breakfast for the Type-A Cubicle Set

Jun.03.16

A Surfer Life Breakfast for the Type-A Cubicle Set

by Erin Russell

Açaí Bowls in San Diego

I tapped my feet impatiently outside the locked door: I was going to be late to work again. Finally—15 minutes after the posted opening time—keys jingled to let me into the tiny Brazilian café so I could order the beach version of a power breakfast: the açaí bowl.

With its proximity to the San Clemente headquarters of Sambazon—the company which first imported açaí to the U.S.—as well as a bustling Brazilian community, concoctions made with the exotic berry* were thriving in San Diego long before the rest of the country began to struggle with the pronunciation (for the last time, it’s ah-sigh-EE, dammit). Even in its native country, most Brazilians haven’t seen the actual fruit, which grows deep in the Amazon and does not travel well. However, the frozen pulp is ubiquitous at lanchonetes, snagged in small plastic cups as a snack or dessert.

I can’t speak to açaí’s “superfood” health benefits, touted by Oprah, then challenged when we reached peak açaí in 2009. And the much-lauded “energy boost” it provides is partially due to a calorie count that would send diet-conscious Californians into fits. But I’m simply a fan of cold fruit in the morning, and have mentally linked açaí bowls to the relaxed surfer lifestyle I long for. If it reduces my body’s free radicals, great.

The pursuit of perfection is frustrating. My neighborhood café requires a painful wait, as if each piece of fruit and flake of granola is set with tweezers for maximum aesthetic value. On weekends, that’s fine: I loosen up, often toting my bowl to the beach. However, on weekdays, I am not well-adapted to a flexible concept of time. That day, Very Important Spreadsheets required my attention, and I needed the cogs to get moving so I could make it to my cubicle on time.

The artiste finally presented her finished product in a styrofoam bowl, which I was able to pay for this time: also at odds with my Type-A self: the credit card machine is perpetually broken, and sometimes she can’t make change for cash.

Sure, there are other, more organized places that made decent bowls, emptying plastic pouches into blenders and decorating the icy slush. This might even be more similar to Brazil’s treatment of açaí, where the dirt-tasting pulp is often sweetened with guarana syrup to an almost sickening degree, the final product resembling a gritty Amazonian slushee. But I like my açaí bowls thick. Don’t pretend the thin, soupy abominations creeping into “healthy lifestyle” cafés worldwide are comparable: in San Diego, açaí bowls should be something to sink your spoon into. Give me my neighborhood bowl any day.

Sneaking into my desk with seconds to spare, my coworkers and their #saddeskbreakfasts looked on with envy as I dug into the sweet purple mash, letting my mind temporarily drift to the beach. The açaí spooned out like smooth ice cream, and traditional toppings of bananas, crunchy granola, and sticky honey were joined by the Americanized additions of strawberries and blueberries. Maybe today I was staring at a computer monitor instead of the waves. But to me, it was a way to start the day with a reminder that soon my toes would be back in the sun-warmed sand, spoon in hand.

*Technically a drupe, not a berry.

The Benefits of Plantain Leaves 101

Jun.02.16

The Benefits of Plantain Leaves 101

by Nifty Jacob

Adda in Kerala

There’s something uncanny about the history my family shares with plantains. Green leaves freshly cut from a thick stalk in the mornings is a memory that surfaces often; that and the smell of grated coconut, the waft of black ginger tea, and a vision of ammachi’s (my grandmother’s) kitchen.

Adda is a traditional dish cooked in the southern state of Kerala, India. It is also one of which my family is particularly fond. Thick rice batter, flattened onto a banana leaf and stuffed with a handful of sweetened, grated coconut was ammachi’s staple every time we met her for breakfast.

Being part of a Syrian-Catholic household, every Sunday had a routine. First there was the morning mass at church. Next stop was her kitchen, made of brick walls and a thatched roof. Ammachi would make her appearance exactly five minutes after we did, the amount of time she needed to change from her Sunday outfit and remove her jewelry.

Right after she walked in, it was time to take count. “Two,” she’d say pointing at herself. “Four,” pointing at mom. “Seven,” pointing at my aunt. And on and on, she would do the sum in her mind, meticulously counting the number of adda’s that each person was likely to eat, and invariably the number of leaf packets she’d need to cook the adda in. Once she was done running the numbers, she would take her huge knife and walk out the backdoor to cut leaves from her carefully tended plantains. It was a task she didn’t trust anyone with.

“You will end up tearing the leaves,” she chided anyone who made the grave mistake of thinking they could be of help.

The women of the family would then gather around the kitchen counter and join the matriarch as she prepped for breakfast. The leaf packets were steamed for roughly seven minutes. The sweet aroma of coconut would hit the bridge of our noses by the fourth minute. By the fifth, we had already grabbed our plates and huddled over the old wooden table, with one creaky, broken leg. Soon, the chatter of my aunts pulling out hot addas and placing new ones in the steamer would fill the kitchen.

Tea was prepared twice, always. One round brewed for as soon as the men in the family woke up and another one to accompany breakfast. If it was adda, milk was put on the stove for a third round. It somehow made sense to have a hot beverage with which to drown each mouthful.

For a few of my cousins who disliked the routine, ammachi would unflinchingly deliver an interrupted session of ‘the benefits of plantain leaves – 101’ between flattening the dough and wagging a finger at them. It’s a tradition that I often think of, especially now that ammachi can no longer cook. The old kitchen is now replaced with a new, modular one. The creaky table is long gone. The plantains have slowly withered and died.

“Perhaps it’s time to start the routine all over again,” my mother said to ammachi, as we fed her breakfast one Sunday morning, after mass. Her eyes crinkled. She smiled a wide, toothless smile.

Tasting Freedom in the Form of an Airport Cold Cut

May.31.16

Tasting Freedom in the Form of an Airport Cold Cut

by Alexa van Sickle

Wurstsemmel at the Vienna Airport

For a little while there, Austria–one of Europe’s most reliably boring countries–got interesting.

The Presidential race–between Norbert Hofer, the far-right Freedom Party’s gun-toting candidate, and ex-Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen–went down to the wire, with Hofer ahead by 4% on election night, pre-postal vote count. As these final, decisive votes were tallied in fits and starts the following day, Austria’s media sites crashed. The live announcement was delayed, so the state media ran old episodes of a Bavarian soap opera instead. Reading my Twitter feed was like a nightmarish election-day version of Schrodinger’s Cat—a universe in which both candidates had won, and both had lost. Hofer wins!! VAN DER BELLEN IST PRESIDENT! Lies! Hofer still ahead by 60,000! Americans made comparisons to Bush-Gore 2000. And through it all, the Austrian media couldn’t decide on a hashtag.

Of course, when I landed at Vienna airport four days later, Van Der Bellen had prevailed, but only by a sliver of 31,000 votes (0.6%). I didn’t cast one of those votes. I’m not an Austrian citizen. Yet, my affection for Wurstsemmel, Austria’s beloved everyman sandwich, means that I will always have some Vienna blood.

Eating a Wurstsemmel is my ritual when I return to Austria. Vienna airport’s arrivals hall boasts a more-than-decent supermarket with a meat and cheese counter. So I get a Wurstsemmel, and unwrap the wax paper at a stand-up table under the arrivals board. I finish it before I even leave the airport.

It’s simple. Just a semmel (Kaiser roll), a round roll of sturdy white bread (think baguette, not Wonder) and a few thin slices of Extrawurst, which is exactly as suspect as it sounds. Extrawurst, Austria’s most popular lunchmeat, is a cold cut made of the combined greasy forces of beef, pork, and bacon fat, plus garlic and spices. It’s hot-dog-style scraps, and the color of a cartoon piglet. But I love it anyway. And that’s it: just meat and bread, and sometimes a little gherkin if you’re feeling fancy. Any more would ruin the perfect marriage of the soft, salty wurst and the hard crisp of the roll.

Austrians take their national snack very seriously. Kommissar Rex, a cop-and-dog TV series set in Vienna that became an international hit (yes, really), has a running gag involving the clever Alsatian, Rex, stealing the hapless sidekick’s Wurstsemmel. In 2013, McDonald’s was forced to pull an ad campaign comparing a Wurstsemmel unfavorably to its Ranchburger (which at the time both cost just one Euro) after outraged Austrians summoned a social media shitstorm.

So it’s only fitting that a few years back, when Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache (campaign slogan: Vienna must not become Istanbul!) showed up at an exclusive Christmas party, a disgruntled citizen hurled a Wurstsemmel at him. It didn’t end well; witnesses said Strache’s bodyguard got twitchy and gave the perpetrator, a 40-year old ex-banker, a black eye. (The worst part? He missed!). Strache beefed up his security afterwards.

As I tore into my Wurstsemmel under the airport arrivals board, I realized that without those 31,000 votes, it might have tasted a little different. That day might yet come. But for now, if Austrians keep throwing their Wurstsemmels at Hofer, we might have a few more years of freedom from the Freedom Party.

A Last Breakfast in Los Angeles

May.27.16

A Last Breakfast in Los Angeles

by Nathan Thornburgh

Eating with the good drunks of El Abajeño

It’s no secret that El Abajeño in Culver City is a crush, a craving, the reason I jump the taxi line at LAX on arrival.

I cling to places like El Abajeño (and Tito’s, and Azuma, and so on) because each visit to Los Angeles brings so much unwanted mess. This time, in no particular order, I got so high I had to eskimo roll my way out of a hammock in Boyle Heights; I got 86’d from a J-town karaoke bar; I wasted entire days in traffic on the 110, the 91 eastbound, and the 405 in both goddamned directions. Take the food out of LA, and it could be one of the worst cities on earth. Put the food in, and it is suddenly one of the best.

The last day of a weeklong visit, with a midday flight back to New York ahead, it is time for me and my kids to have our third and final visit to Abajeño. The beauty of the breakfast here is that it’s really not much different than the lunch or dinner. The entrees are just as comically oversized as later in the day. They all have lagoons of refried beans, and stewed meat that has been simmering since the last Copa America. Putting an egg on it and calling it Huevos Rancheros doesn’t fool me. It is the same trough of Guadalajaran goodness you’d find any other time of day.

Waiting in line, I call my seven-year-old son by his name, Nico, and bark at him in Spanish to pay attention and order his food. Me and my wife, who is half-Mexican, don’t speak great Spanish around the house. Mostly we only use it when we’re yelling at the kids. That’s a wildly ineffective strategy, unless the goal is to have them forever associate the language of Cervantes with punishment. But it’s our strategy.

From ahead of us in line, someone heard the boy’s name. “Nico!” the man says in Spanish. “That’s my name too.” My son cocks his head and looks at him. He’s mid-50s maybe, a bit sour-smelling with an unmistakable alcohol tan, but happily enough buying himself a full plate of food and a cold beer at 10am. His eyes twinkle. He gives Nico and thumbs up and goes to sit with his food.

We eventually make it to our own table with our own giant plates of food and get to work. Huevos rancheros, enchiladas afloat on a sea of sauce, a burrito the size of a muffler. It all gets eaten. If our plane later that day were to crash-land in the desert, our family would outlive all the other survivors, because we smuggled a week’s worth of food in our stomachs.

I’m thinking about taking my boy and going over to talk to the old, drunken version of Nico. He seems nice enough, and I’m always looking for ways to expose the kid to Spanish that’s not spoken in anger. I stand up from the table, though, only to see that old, drunken Nico has fallen asleep, his fork laid across his chilaquiles, his hand next to his beer.

Sunday Morning at an Empty Fish Market

May.26.16

Sunday Morning at an Empty Fish Market

by Jonathan Lipfriend

Fish stew at the Howrah Fish Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inhaling the Yeasty Scent of a Dying Art

May.25.16

Inhaling the Yeasty Scent of a Dying Art

by Prathap Nair

Baking bread in Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May.24.16

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

by Olga Kovalenko

Tea and sweets in an Indian ashram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grading Shakespeare Papers in a Pancake House

May.23.16

Grading Shakespeare Papers in a Pancake House

by Susan Harlan

Flapjacks in Maggie Valley, North Carolina

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

“Papers to grade,” I say.

“Hmm. Coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling Like Yourself Again

May.20.16

Feeling Like Yourself Again

by Clementine Wallop

Lassi for the Pregnant in Jodhpur

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

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

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

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

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

When Breakfast Has Eight Legs

May.18.16

When Breakfast Has Eight Legs

by Brady Ng

Eating tarantulas in Phumi Khna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She Despised the Flavor of Short Cuts

May.16.16

She Despised the Flavor of Short Cuts

by Kim Green

Handmade Bánh canh in Cambodia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gloriously Sweet and Spicy Breakfast Pillow

May.13.16

The Gloriously Sweet and Spicy Breakfast Pillow

by Nick Pachelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Remain Loyal, Embrace Change

May.12.16

To Remain Loyal, Embrace Change

by Shraddha Uchil

Sheera in Mumbai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rainy Day Sandwiches No. 12 & 35

May.11.16

Rainy Day Sandwiches No. 12 & 35

by Tom Taylor

Soy Milk in Taiwan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May.10.16

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

by Calvin Godfrey

Nasi Ulam in Penang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Khaw found Disney World equal parts big and boring.

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

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

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

A Perfect Breakfast, Nourishing and Unpretentious

May.09.16

A Perfect Breakfast, Nourishing and Unpretentious

by Jodi Bosin

Eggs in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Good Piece of Bread Can Remind You Who You Are

May.06.16

A Good Piece of Bread Can Remind You Who You Are

by Anuradha Sengupta

Pois in Goa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Rush Perfection in Life or in Pancakes

May.05.16

You Can’t Rush Perfection in Life or in Pancakes

by Jodi Bosin

Congyoubing in Shanghai

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

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

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

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

A Breakfaster First and a Traveler Second

May.04.16

A Breakfaster First and a Traveler Second

by Brent Crane

Roti in Kuala Lumpur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Longing for Cream and Jam Early in the Morning

May.03.16

Longing for Cream and Jam Early in the Morning

by Pedestrian

Sarshir in Khuzestan

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

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

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

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

Life Is Good When Breakfast Is Plentiful

May.02.16

Life Is Good When Breakfast Is Plentiful

by Bonnie Lei

Dopuh Nweh in Yangon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr.29.16

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

by Olga Kovalenko

Nescafé in Hanoi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr.28.16

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

by Christopher English

Bombas in Barcelona

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Movimiento Mediterráneo

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

Apr.27.16

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

by Alexa van Sickle

Mealie Meal in Cape Town

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Aleph500Adam/Commons

A Humble Reminder of a City and Safe Haven

Apr.26.16

A Humble Reminder of a City and Safe Haven

by Kirsten O'Regan

Bougatsa in Thessaloniki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pride of Eating a Really Bony Fish Successfully

Apr.25.16

The Pride of Eating a Really Bony Fish Successfully

by Charline Jao

Bento in Taiwan

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

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

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

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

“What did you do?” he replied.

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

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

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

Apr.21.16

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

by Shirin Bhandari

Taho in the Philippines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Variations on a Fish Soup Theme

Apr.20.16

Variations on a Fish Soup Theme

by Ailsa Ross

Fish Soup in Northern Greece

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

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

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

I didn’t care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is this called?” I asked Yannis.

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

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

“Sounds good.”

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

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

Photo: Jules/Commons

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

Apr.19.16

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

by Kiki Aranita

Poke on the Big Island

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

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

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

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

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

The Divine Breakfast for the Unapologetic and Reckless

Apr.18.16

The Divine Breakfast for the Unapologetic and Reckless

by Sharanya Deepak

Kachori Sabzi in Banaras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr.15.16

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

by Angela Wu

Donuts in Bangkok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Flaky, Oily, Meaty Hangover Cure

Apr.14.16

A Flaky, Oily, Meaty Hangover Cure

by Cher Tan

Burek in Montenegro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr.13.16

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

by Stephanie d'Arc Taylor

Sfoliatelle Riccia in Naples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Real, Bread Is the Best Thing Ever

Apr.12.16

For Real, Bread Is the Best Thing Ever

by Swati Sanyal Tarafdar

Bread in Kolkata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Ben Ostrowsky

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

Apr.11.16

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

by Mark Wetzler

Cordero Asado on Chiloe

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

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

The occasion is brunch.

The occasion is cordero asado.

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t eat vegetables,” she says.

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