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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Smart Move, Going for Pasta Over the Lumberjack Brunch When in Italy

Mar.24.17

Smart Move, Going for Pasta Over the Lumberjack Brunch When in Italy

by Dave Hazzan

Spaghetti aglio e olio in Turin

A woman is screaming in the apartment above us.

We don’t know what she’s screaming about, but she’s doing it at such a pitch that no one, presumably including whomever she’s screaming at, can understand anything. Residents have come out on their balconies to see what’s going on, pedestrians have stopped to listen, their thumbs on their mobile phones, ready to call the police if glass starts to shatter.

We’ve come for Sunday brunch at Slurp!, a well-known restaurant off Via Vittorio Emanuel II. It’s a pleasant little place with a cute balcony on the sidewalk, napkins and tablecloths in bright, primary colors, and lots of chatty young locals in sunglasses, kissing each other and chatting away their hangovers.

The menu is a bit of a disappointment, though. They offer something called the Lumberjack Brunch, which as far as I can tell involves a massive pile of eggs, sausages, pastry, salmon, and plenty else. It’s also 18.50, which is a bit beyond our budget, especially since we spent 70 euros getting drunk last night.

There is a pause in the din. Perhaps they’ve made up? Jo gets the salmon sandwich and I go for the spaghetti aglio e olio, largely because of the price, and because hey, we’re in Italy! While we wait for our meals, the screaming begins again.

When the food arrives, I ask the waitress, “You have no idea what’s going on here?”

“Well, they sometimes scream,” the waitress replies. “They are a couple, two women. They fight sometimes.”

Both the spaghetti and the smoked salmon are fantastic. Simple dishes done right—this is why we’ve come to Italy, to eat our way through the day in the mountains and Mediterranean sunlight. It feels like an Italian cliché made flesh: a Sunday at noon, with little cars going past, chatty, smoky locals, the al dente pasta, the lady above us screaming blue murder.

Photo by: Jo Turner

There’s No Such Thing As a Short Minute When You’re Hungover and Waiting for Pie

Mar.23.17

There’s No Such Thing As a Short Minute When You’re Hungover and Waiting for Pie

by Efraín Villanueva

Tamal in Bogota

The waiter takes our order and, before descending the stairs, extends all five fingers of his right hand: “Cinco minuticos”—five short minutes.

I explain to Sabeth, my German girlfriend, that La Puerta Falsa, next to Bogota’s Cathedral, is next to a side door that once was walled up. People would say “let’s meet at the aguapanalería at the false door.” That’s how the restaurant got its name.

Sabeth smiles, nods and we fall into silence. It’s 7 a.m., I’m hungover, and all I can think of is food.

Ten minutes.

The waiter comes up carrying two metal trays. Sabeth’s smile vanishes and I get crankier as he passes and serves another table. A guy in a black suit devours his huevos con todo—scrambled eggs with everything: white cheese, slices of sausages, ham, corn. It should be me eating those.

I try to distract myself by telling Sabeth more history. That La Puerta Falsa opened in 1816, and has been run by the same family for seven or eight generations. It’s only half a block away from Bolivar Square, the center of Colombian power. The restaurant’s owners and patrons have witnessed some of the most distressing moments in our country’s recent history: the riots of El Bogotazo in 1948, and in 1986, the guerrilla group M-19’s attack on the Supreme Court building.

Back to silence.

Our gazes cross from time to time as we look around, absorbing the details of the place. The second floor, where we’re sitting, has four wooden tables. Thanks to a mirror that covers the entire wall on the opposite side of the room, we get a fair view of the ground level. There is a tiny kitchen shared by four cooks and a cashier area behind an open fridge with a variety of juices, cheeses, arequipe figs, and other sweet treats.

Twenty minutes.

Without enthusiasm, I answer Sabeth’s questions. Almojabanas are cheesy, UFO-shaped baked corn pastries. They seem plain but they are very filling. A tamal is made of corn dough mixed with rice and stuffed with vegetables, pork, and chicken. Then this pie is wrapped in bijao leaves and cooked. The hot chocolate comes with a slice of white cheese. People drown it in the mug and let it melt before drinking the cocoa.

It’s hot and the remains of Glenlivet in my blood react accordingly. I feel naïve for trusting in cinco minuticos. Three years living outside Colombia, and I’ve forgotten the basics. That cannot be good for my colombianidad. In my mind, I walk down the stairs and demand my breakfast. My shirt is stuck to my back. I feel like fainting.

When the tamal is finally set down in front of me and its seductive smell hits my nose, I am saved. With the first bite, the evil waiter and his accomplices in the kitchen are forgiven. They are angels.

Photo by: Elisabeth Brenker

I Tried This Australian Croissant-Muffin Hybrid So You Don’t Have To

Mar.22.17

I Tried This Australian Croissant-Muffin Hybrid So You Don’t Have To

by Thei Zervaki

Cruffin in Melbourne

It’s nearly 9:30 a.m. in Melbourne on a Wednesday morning. I get off a tram and turn into a side street in the hip neighborhood of Fitzroy. I follow the Google Map directions that will hopefully take me to my destination. My destination is Lune Croissanterie, the birthplace of the cruffin—the croissant-muffin hybrid.

I am not a pastry aficionado. I prefer salty snacks and savory dishes. But it was my first time in Australia and I wanted to explore and try everything that I couldn’t get in North America. The cruffin can be found in a quite a few pastry shops in the U.S., but I consider visiting its birthplace part of my duty. (The term “cruffin” was first trademarked by a Delaware company in 1993, but it seems they never actually produced one.)

After a few minutes of walking, I arrive. They say the line at Lune starts to form two hours before it opens (at 7:30 a.m.) during the week, and that the pastries sell out before closing time at 3 p.m. Today, there is only a short line of no more than ten people ahead of me.

Lune Croissanterie is housed in a huge converted warehouse space that looks like a luxurious factory. While I wait, I look at the center of the building—a giant glass cube (which I later learn is called simply the “Cube”) that forms the climate-controlled working space where croissants, kougn-ammans, and cruffins are made.

The line moves quickly, and I am almost ready to order. When I ask for a cruffin, I’m told that there is only one left: the Lemon Curd. Naturally, I take it. The lady behind me orders “one of each of everything left”. I grab a bench spot.

Made with house-made lemon curd, citrus sugar, and candied lemon zest, it is soft to the touch and wonderfully fragrant. I cut into the middle to taste the croissant part, which is densely layered. The lemon curd’s tartness is refreshing and reduces the sweetness of the dough.

I regret not ordering the plain croissant to compare, but of the two, the cruffin seems the more delicate. I cheer the Australians for this fantastic culinary invention.

The Best Part of Waking Up Is a Boiling Sheep Carcass

Mar.21.17

The Best Part of Waking Up Is a Boiling Sheep Carcass

by Emma Pomfret

Kaleh pacheh in Tehran

The smell wakes you up first; an acrid alarm call of boiling sheep carcass, catching the back of the throat with more kick than a triple espresso. Iran’s heartiest breakfast, kaleh pacheh—sheep’s heads and hooves—is being served at Tehran’s Bare Sefid, a stripped-back joint of wipe-down tables and tiled walls. Its logo is a prancing lamb.

We are straight off the plane from London and at 7 a.m., this is some education in Persian cuisine. Our guide had gleefully suggested a traditional Iranian breakfast. We imagined bread, cheese, carrot jam, and fresh tea. There is too much shame in backing out now.

At least we can choose the bits we want: cheek, tongue, eyeballs, brain. Everything is doused in ladles of broth and an optional slosh of fat, skimmed from the pot. No wonder Iran’s doctors warn of kaleh pacheh’s cholesterol content. Bare Sefid is pretty low key; one man removes the meat from the carcasses, simmered overnight or for five hours at the very least. Another is on broth duty, hypnotically drenching the cooked heads and each dish before it goes to the customer.

The meat arrives on plates to pick over. Tongue is firm and close-textured; the cheek delicate, shredding under a spoon like an hours-long stew should. Bowls of golden broth come with brain—gelatinous, creamy blobs—floating in the clear stock. Other customers drift in and some order a whole brain, the size of a child’s fist, wobbling on the plate, its surface shiny and with that familiar maze-like, walnut appearance.

I mash the brainy blobs into my broth. Brain is unmistakable in the mouth: mushy, offaly, nutrient-rich. Too much. I tear up the accompanying lavash flatbread and pile it into the broth with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Yes, that works; wholesome and rejuvenating.

In her terrific book, Persia in Peckham, Sally Butcher cites heads and hooves as a hangover cure (yes, even in Iran), and as a “great treat for the family.” However, it is unlikely I’ll follow her recipe for recreating this dish at home.

Yet this is the best start to our Persian adventure. Eating kaleh pacheh becomes a badge of honor as we travel through Iran, sharing our impressions of the country with curious locals. My other half is playing a tennis tournament while we’re here, and news of his pre-match preparation sweeps through the opposition like Roger Federer’s backhand. Who is this bold British cat? Then he wins the tournament.

While buttery, saffrony rice unites the nation, it becomes clear that kaleh pacheh divides; Iranian men swear by it, beating their chests in appreciation. Women are less convinced. A mother tells me she served it to her teenage daughters for its super-food quantities of collagen. They didn’t ask for seconds. And neither will I. Pass the pomegranate juice.

The Serious Business of Breakfast in Northern Italy

Mar.17.17

The Serious Business of Breakfast in Northern Italy

by Rachael Martin

Cappucino in Brianza

It’s 8:30 a.m. in the northern Italian village, and the café is in full swing. The businessmen and bank managers are there in their suits, having a quick caffè, as they call the espresso round here. They stand at the bar, against its glass cases filled with every type of brioche and croissant. They chat opposite shiny polished coffee machines where smartly uniformed staff prepare caffé, caffé lattes, and marocchino, coffees in chic little glasses.

But the cappuccino is the star of the show. Cappuccino, that unassuming coffee copied all over the world, smooth and light in a simple white cup. (But never order it after 11 a.m.) Cappuccino e brioche is the staple breakfast of northern Italy.

It’s the weekly market day and locals from the village gather in the bar. Old ladies fresh from morning mass in pearls and dark woolen coats sit around one of the tables, women who were once busy with grandchildren, but the grandchildren are grown now. They talk together in a mixture of Italian and local dialect about daughters, grandchildren, people they know. And did you hear about Francesca, what a terrible life she’s had, and now this?

The tables fill up, mostly with women. Women who have come from school drop-offs, women who no longer do the drop-off, women in black coats and black sunglasses with designer handbags. They prefer the longer breakfast, spreading it out until past mid-morning.

It’s mid-morning now, and the staff are clearing away what remains of the brioches and preparing for the pre-lunch aperitivo. A few retired husbands have come to join their wives at the tables, back from a walk through the market and a look around its stalls with the fresh ricottas and salamis brought down from the hillside farms.

Mothers are starting to come in from the market. They queue up at the deli above glass-cased pasticcini, cannoncini—small tarts topped with strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, and grapes—next to sticky, rum-flavored babas. There are biscuits, chocolate, butter, almond, two-tone beige and chocolate swirls, and a tray of pastel-colored macaroons. And then there are the cakes: tarts with jam, tarts with fresh fruit, chocolate cakes, apple cake, various forms of cream cakes, all with fluted edges.

These are the mothers who buy pizza and focaccia and bread for hungry children who will soon be home for lunch from school. These are the mothers who rush around in lives they never quite envisaged, just like their mothers before them. They stop at the bar for a quick caffè, then say goodbye to their friends and go off back into their lives.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Millet But Were Afraid to Ask

Mar.16.17

Everything You Wanted to Know About Millet But Were Afraid to Ask

by Shirin Mehrotra

Ponkh in Surat

It’s a bit past the breakfast hour as I hitchhike to Surat’s most famous winter market. Near Swami Narayan Mandir, a short trek away from the main road, under the Sardar Bridge, lies the processing unit of Surat’s limited edition crop of ponkh, also known as tender jowar—one of the six species of sorghum found in the country.

One side of the market is lined with shops selling ponkh fritters while the other side has wholesalers selling the roasted and the dried version. Ponkh is Surat’s winter crop. It’s grown mostly in Hazira, a port town bounded by the Tapti delta and the Arabian Sea. After harvesting, the crop is brought to the market, where it’s roasted, packed, and sold. A big chunk of it goes to stores in Mumbai, while some heads to famous Gujarati restaurants.

I had my first encounter with this pearl-like millet sometime last year at The Bombay Canteen, a Mumbai restaurant that celebrates local and indigenous produce. It piqued my curiosity, and a year later I was standing in the city where the millet originated.

The roasting process is a treat for the eyes and the ears. Bushels of fresh millet are first roasted under coals and ash, then wrapped in a coarse cloth for pounding. The pounding is soft and rhythmic, on the beats of Gujarati music blasting from the speakers. It’s a visual experience. Families from tribal areas in Maharashtra come to the city every year to work at the processing unit. Men take care of the roasting and pounding, while women do the cleaning and packing of the final product.

After soaking in the experience for a while, I head to the shop to get some packed ponkh for home. There’s a sun-dried version too, which is easier to carry and can be stored for longer periods. But the earthy sweetness of fresh millet, enhanced by roasting, is unbeatable. The ideal way to eat it is with sev—a deep-fried savory snack made of chickpea flour—and smothered in green chutney. Farms in Gujarat and Maharashtra have winter picnics or hurda parties (hurda is the Maharashtrian name for ponkh) where they roast it on the spot and eat it with flavored sev, green garlic, and a spritz of lime and chutneys.

I decide to have a late breakfast of ponkh wada—deep-fried ponkh fritters, split Bengal gram, and spices, as well as ponkh pattice—ponkh stuffed inside mashed potato and deep-fried.

It’s fiery, so I wash it down with a bottle of cold chaas—buttermilk.

Never Get Between a Canadian and His Bacon

Mar.15.17

Never Get Between a Canadian and His Bacon

by Dave Hazzan

Khlii in Marrakech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I find I’m getting weary once more.

Photo by: Jo Turner

The Labor That Goes Into One Glass of Humble Porridge

Mar.14.17

The Labor That Goes Into One Glass of Humble Porridge

by Ranjini Rao

Ragi porridge in Bangalore

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embrace the Morning Milkshake

Mar.13.17

Embrace the Morning Milkshake

by Edith Honan

Dhal puri and alouda in Mauritius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Game-Changing World of Food Translation Apps

Mar.10.17

The Game-Changing World of Food Translation Apps

by Zac Crellin

Dim sum in Guangzhou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brains: For a Hangover Brunch, It’ll Do

Mar.09.17

Brains: For a Hangover Brunch, It’ll Do

by Shirin Bhandari

Batchoy in the Visayan Islands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Sounds Like the Best Fruit Roll-Up Ever

Mar.08.17

This Sounds Like the Best Fruit Roll-Up Ever

by Mel Plant

Khabeesa in Salt, Jordan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar.07.17

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

by Anisha Rachel Oommen

Donne biryani in Bangalore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes A Shrimp Donut Isn’t Just A Shrimp Donut

Mar.06.17

Sometimes A Shrimp Donut Isn’t Just A Shrimp Donut

by Dave Hazzan

Accras de morue and beignets de crevettes in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Jo Turner

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

Mar.03.17

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

by Lindsay Gasik

Nyonyas Kuih in Penang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always Learn the Word for Breakfast

Mar.02.17

Always Learn the Word for Breakfast

by Livia Hengel

Breakfast In Istanbul

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes A Village to Eat A Cow for Breakfast

Mar.01.17

It Takes A Village to Eat A Cow for Breakfast

by Boris Abrams

Breakfast in the Philippines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s No Shame in Eating Chinese Pizza For Breakfast

Feb.28.17

There’s No Shame in Eating Chinese Pizza For Breakfast

by Laura Tarpley

Shāo bǐng in China

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello!” they chirp.

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

“Two?” they clarify.

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

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

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

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

Feb.27.17

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

by Dave Hazzan

Fish and Chips on the Rosslare-Cherbourg Ferry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb.23.17

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

by Jamie Cattanach

Pies in St. Augustine, Florida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb.22.17

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

by Steele Rudd

Damper in Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tel Aviv Vibes on a Cloudy Brooklyn Day

Feb.21.17

Tel Aviv Vibes on a Cloudy Brooklyn Day

by Kenneth R. Rosen

Shakshuka in Crown Heights

Wanderlust cures my seasonal affective disorder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Remy Tumin

The Most Lauded Bakery in Laos

Feb.20.17

The Most Lauded Bakery in Laos

by Janelle Bitker

Croissants in Luang Prabang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Railway Breakfast Bazaar

Feb.17.17

The Great Railway Breakfast Bazaar

by Bulbul Mankani

Kachoris in Jaipur

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

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

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

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

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

Divided By Politics, United in Salty Cheese

Feb.16.17

Divided By Politics, United in Salty Cheese

by Samantha Shields

Halloumi in Cyprus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb.15.17

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

by Phylisa Wisdom

Raclette in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Very Habit-Forming Pancake-Burrito Hybrid

Feb.14.17

A Very Habit-Forming Pancake-Burrito Hybrid

by Charlotte Edwards

Jian Bing in Hebei Province

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

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

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

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

“Can you eat spicy foods?”

“Just a little.”

“Do you want scallions and cilantro?”

“Yes, extra scallions, please.”

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

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

“Cut or uncut?” was her next question.

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

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

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

This Is Basically Just Porridge But It Sounds So Wrong

Feb.13.17

This Is Basically Just Porridge But It Sounds So Wrong

by Olga Mecking

Milk Soup in Poland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that, mama?”

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

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

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

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

London Excels at Overpriced Brunches But Sucks at Breakfasts

Feb.10.17

London Excels at Overpriced Brunches But Sucks at Breakfasts

by Maria Kivimaa

Breakfast buffet in Helsinki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a moment, I wish I could freeze time.

Photo by: IK World Trip

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

Feb.09.17

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

by Heiko Niebur

Larb moo in Bangkok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb.08.17

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

by Mark Wetzler

Breakfast in Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never be Ashamed of The Time You Spend Contemplating Fritters

Feb.07.17

Never be Ashamed of The Time You Spend Contemplating Fritters

by Katherine Clary

Fataya in St. Louis, Senegal

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Egg Rolex Is the Best Kind of Rolex

Feb.06.17

An Egg Rolex Is the Best Kind of Rolex

by Barbara Wanjala

Rolex in Kampala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb.02.17

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

by Ella Rovardi

Leche de tigre in Santiago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb.01.17

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

by Samuel Patterson

Coffee in Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: David Schiersner

An Orgy of Yolk is Always the Answer

Jan.31.17

An Orgy of Yolk is Always the Answer

by Steffani Cameron

Poached eggs in Prague

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan.30.17

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

by Liz Shemaria

Honey in Nepal

I awoke to the smell of smoke.

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

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

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

It was around 7 a.m.

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

He laughed and said he wasn’t.

Within minutes, they had filled the bucket.

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

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

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

“Chiya?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Rabindra walked in and laughed at my concocted breakfast.

“I had to try it,” I said.

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

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

Jan.26.17

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

by Patricia Rey Mallen

Licor café yogurt in Galicia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Victory for Team America, With Help From a Crustacean

Jan.25.17

A Victory for Team America, With Help From a Crustacean

by Lindsay Gasik

Dungeness Crab in Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan.24.17

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

by Chris Newens

Coffee in Bahrain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Czechoslovakian Restaurant in Northern California Circa 1960

Jan.23.17

A Czechoslovakian Restaurant in Northern California Circa 1960

by Alexa van Sickle

Schnitzel in Marin County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Martin Hapl.

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

Jan.20.17

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

by Candy Moo

Coffee and Donuts in Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

Jan.19.17

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

by Susan Shain

Tamales in Oaxaca City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

Jan.16.17

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

by Rebecca High

Avocado Toast in North Dakota

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Lebanese Bread in Salt Lake City

Jan.13.17

The Best Lebanese Bread in Salt Lake City

by Haley Gray

Man’oushe in Salt Lake City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan.12.17

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

by Sabrina Toppa

Huevos Rancheros in Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan.10.17

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

by Audrey Harris

Barbacoa in Ixmiquilpan

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Warm, New Yorkers. Eat Dumplings.

Jan.09.17

Stay Warm, New Yorkers. Eat Dumplings.

by An Uong

Dumplings in Flushing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle Lines Drawn in the Great Australian Smashed Avo Affair

Jan.06.17

Battle Lines Drawn in the Great Australian Smashed Avo Affair

by Madeleine D'Este

Smashed Avocado in Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

A Pretentious Brunch to Cure the Homesick Australian

Jan.05.17

A Pretentious Brunch to Cure the Homesick Australian

by Tania Braukamper

Bengali Eggs in Amsterdam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan.04.17

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

by Tracy Denholm

Chicken Awadhi in Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan.03.17

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

by Luciana Squadrilli

Pizza Fritta in Naples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Alessandra Farinelli

Everything Tastes Better with Illicit Tabasco Sauce

Jan.02.17

Everything Tastes Better with Illicit Tabasco Sauce

by Adam Nace

Scrambled Eggs in Havana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.29.16

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

by Alexa van Sickle

Brioche Kipferl in Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.28.16

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

by Katherine Long

Osh in Dushanbe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.27.16

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

by Michael Snyder

Kefir in Hamtramck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pre-Emptive Hangover Solution You Never Knew You Needed

Dec.22.16

The Pre-Emptive Hangover Solution You Never Knew You Needed

by Jake Emen

Tuna in Tokyo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.20.16

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

by Barbara Wanjala

Macchiato in Addis Ababa

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

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

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

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

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

A Drink for Those Whose Hearts Aren’t Cold Enough

Dec.19.16

A Drink for Those Whose Hearts Aren’t Cold Enough

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Jigarthanda in Madurai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Levantine Answer to Chilaquiles

Dec.16.16

The Levantine Answer to Chilaquiles

by Kirsten O'Reagan

Fatteh in Beirut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.15.16

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

by Patrick Sauer

Smoked trout bagel in Montana

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pure Satisfaction of Sating a Breakfast Craving

Dec.14.16

The Pure Satisfaction of Sating a Breakfast Craving

by James Murren

Machaca con huevos in Baja California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec.13.16

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

by Richie Koch

Eggs in Bamako

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sauerkraut and Ramen, Together At Last

Dec.12.16

Sauerkraut and Ramen, Together At Last

by Cher Tan

Ramen in Yokohama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tunafish-Muffin Sandwich Is Some Next Level Thinking

Dec.09.16

A Tunafish-Muffin Sandwich Is Some Next Level Thinking

by Frances Katz

Matzah brei in New York

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

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

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

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

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

A Breakfast Worthy of an International Incident

Dec.08.16

A Breakfast Worthy of an International Incident

by Monique Jaques

Pupusas in El Salvador

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Are United in Our Love of Well-Baked Carbs

Dec.07.16

We Are United in Our Love of Well-Baked Carbs

by Alexandra Buskie

Bagels in Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: M. Rehemtulla

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

Dec.06.16

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

by James Murren

Ceviche tostadas in Baja California

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, Back to the Old Coffee Vs. Alcohol Debate

Dec.05.16

Ah, Back to the Old Coffee Vs. Alcohol Debate

by Olga Kovalenko

Coffee in Salento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Half Pancake, Half Hash Browns Sounds Promising

Dec.02.16

Half Pancake, Half Hash Browns Sounds Promising

by Heiko Niebur

Pickert in Lippe

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

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

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

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

Good Breakfast Habits I Picked Up in Ireland

Dec.01.16

Good Breakfast Habits I Picked Up in Ireland

by Gina Zammit

Oat biscuits in Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

When in Doubt, Eat Where the Truck Drivers Eat

Nov.30.16

When in Doubt, Eat Where the Truck Drivers Eat

by Shirin Bhandari

Silog in Manila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Culinary Middle Finger to the President-Elect

Nov.29.16

A Culinary Middle Finger to the President-Elect

by Sara Nasser

Shawarma in Istanbul

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Steaming Cup of Grainy, Bitter, Oily Chocolate

Nov.28.16

A Steaming Cup of Grainy, Bitter, Oily Chocolate

by Lindsay Gasik

Tsokolate in Mindanao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Love Affair With Empanada Is Uncomplicated and Always Fulfilling

Nov.23.16

A Love Affair With Empanada Is Uncomplicated and Always Fulfilling

by Gavin Donnelly

Tinto and Empanadas in Medellín

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sharp Twinge of Straying from Snack Loyalties

Nov.22.16

The Sharp Twinge of Straying from Snack Loyalties

by Shirin Mehrotra

Khasta-bada in Lucknow

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Most Triumphant Hubbub

Nov.21.16

A Most Triumphant Hubbub

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Coque Eggs in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Full English in Andalusia

The Full English in Andalusia

by Nathan Thornburgh

Black Pudding in the White-Walled Towns

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

And yet.

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

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

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

Photo by: Lesamourai

The Ethereal Breakfasts of a Bygone Era

The Ethereal Breakfasts of a Bygone Era

by Ignacio Peyró

Meringues at El Riojano

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Laura Marie

Pan con Tomate in Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

They Can Take Our Cafés But Not Our Cafés Con Leche

They Can Take Our Cafés But Not Our Cafés Con Leche

by Marta Valdivieso

Café con leche in Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jeff Koehler

Tortillas in Barcelona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, though, back to my desk.

Sometimes a Biscuit Is Just a Biscuit

Nov.11.16

Sometimes a Biscuit Is Just a Biscuit

by Julia Wallace

Tea and biscuits in Sittwe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov.10.16

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

by Coral Sisk

Nutella in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps the Most European Bagel Ever

Nov.09.16

Perhaps the Most European Bagel Ever

by Natalie Kennedy

Bagels in Bruges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Light Breakfast for Those Seeking Enlightenment

Nov.08.16

A Light Breakfast for Those Seeking Enlightenment

by Sabrina Toppa

Nattō in Kathmandu

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Byron Gray

No Quick Fixes, No Ready Mixes

Nov.07.16

No Quick Fixes, No Ready Mixes

by Revati Upadhya

Idlis in South India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov.03.16

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

by Jesse Lewis

Biryani in Mauritius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Father of the American Diner Breakfast

Nov.01.16

The Father of the American Diner Breakfast

by Kyle Bell

A Full English Breakfast in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Universal Pleasures of Indulgent Road-Trip Food

Oct.31.16

The Universal Pleasures of Indulgent Road-Trip Food

by Pankti Mehta Kadakia

Vada Pav on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Mess with Czech-Texan Breakfast Food

Oct.28.16

Don’t Mess with Czech-Texan Breakfast Food

by Abby Johnston

Kolache in Texas

“I’ll have a kolache.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Breakfast to Banish the Indignities of Modern Travel

Oct.27.16

A Breakfast to Banish the Indignities of Modern Travel

by Didi Kader

Biscuits in Atlanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being Thankful for Small Mercies and Semolina

Oct.26.16

Being Thankful for Small Mercies and Semolina

by Jency Samuel

Upma in Chennai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Brief Introduction to Waffle House Hash Browns

Oct.25.16

A Brief Introduction to Waffle House Hash Browns

by Andrew Durant

Hash Browns in Pensacola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct.24.16

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

by Samuel Patterson

Hummus in Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The California Burrito Is a Comforting Abomination

Oct.21.16

The California Burrito Is a Comforting Abomination

by Jason Avant

Burritos in San Diego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beignets for Breakfast Are No Breakfast At All

Oct.19.16

Beignets for Breakfast Are No Breakfast At All

by Cara Parks

Drago’s oysters in New Orleans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast in a Slightly Macabre Shrine to Princess Diana

Oct.18.16

Breakfast in a Slightly Macabre Shrine to Princess Diana

by Alexa van Sickle

Kibbe in Notting Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct.17.16

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

by Mel Hattie

Bosanska kafa in Bosnia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sweet Dish, Best Served Savory

Oct.14.16

A Sweet Dish, Best Served Savory

by Jency Samuel

Ven Pongal in Chennai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct.13.16

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

by Carolyne Whelan

Oatmeal and Coffee on the Great Divide Route

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Meghan Dinneen

Warm Gloop is a An Underrated Soup Topping

Oct.12.16

Warm Gloop is a An Underrated Soup Topping

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Tohu Nuway in Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Many Traditions of the Traditional Romanian Breakfast

Oct.10.16

The Many Traditions of the Traditional Romanian Breakfast

by Monica Suma

Telemea in Romania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Our Nation Safe for the All-Day Brunching Contingent

Oct.07.16

Keep Our Nation Safe for the All-Day Brunching Contingent

by Alexa van Sickle

Brunch in Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where will this madness end?

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

Oct.06.16

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

by Olga Kovalenko

Bear’s Bread in Abruzzo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Now You Know Where to Get Your Croissants in Kathmandu

Oct.04.16

And Now You Know Where to Get Your Croissants in Kathmandu

by Marco Ferrarese

Pastroes in Nepal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.28.16

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

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Coffee in Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cruel Fate of Being Tired of Pizza in Naples

Sep.26.16

The Cruel Fate of Being Tired of Pizza in Naples

by Sara Nasser

Pappadum in Naples

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

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

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

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

A steady stream of South Asian families went in and out. I saw massive bags of rice. The shelves were lined with cheese, boxes of pasta, bottles of olive oil, and packets of curry, instant dosa mixes, Chindian noodles and coconut oil. I live in Istanbul, where these goods were rarer than gold. I wanted to take everything back. Buy the lentils, the roasted Madras curry powder, the blocks of paneer, I said to myself. I paced about the shop, marveling at the packaging like a crazy person, and the families just browsed, as if it was so ordinary to find the foodstuffs of home in Napoli.

I settled on a packet of pappadum. As much as I wanted to get the biryani mix and the dosa batter, I realized that it would go to waste. I never learned how to feed myself with the things I craved. But pappadum was easy. I would fry it for three minutes, crunch the spiced lentil wafer, and be done with it.

Photo by: Biswarup Ganguly

The History of Delicious, Delicious Bubble Tea

Sep.23.16

The History of Delicious, Delicious Bubble Tea

by Thei Zervaki

Bubble tea in Taichung

It was hot and humid in the streets of Taichung, but the air conditioning in Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House cooled me. On the second floor, there was a table laid with silver teapots, whisks, shakers, measuring cups, ice- cube containers, a bowl of syrup, glasses, tapioca pearls, and oversized straws: all the tools for making bubble tea. I had come here to learn how to make the famous Taiwanese drink at its birthplace.

Our instructor, Chiang, was a 20-something brunette. “Thirty years ago, nobody drank iced tea,” she said. “Hot tea was the signature drink in Taiwan, made in a tea pot, and served in small cups.” In 1983, Chun Shui Tang’s owner went to Japan and discovered iced coffee, mixed with a shaker. He started serving Chinese tea cold using the same method.

Chiang filled the shaker with ice and added syrup. In the beginning, the iced tea was made by shaking strong tea and syrup together, resulting in a foamy, bubbly tea, served in a glass with a straw. They named it boba, which in Chinese means both “bubbles” and “big.”

After the history lesson, it was time to make my own boba. Following Chiang’s instructions, I started by mixing tea and powdered milk in a cup, stirring in one direction to create air bubbles on top. I added the milk-tea mixture to the shaker filled with ice and syrup. Shaking the boba can be tricky: you have to put one hand on top of the shaker, then the other on its body, and keep shaking it at a 45-degree angle. “The faster you shake, the better,” Chiang said. It’s ready when an ice coating forms on the outside.

To finish, I added two tablespoons of cooked tapioca pearls and stirred. It wasn’t until 1987 that tapioca pearls—a common dessert ingredient in Asia—were added to the drink. One of the teahouse’s employees put some in her tea for fun during a staff meeting. The result was so popular with the rest of the staff they decided to sell it to customers, and the rest is history.

With my oversized straw, I tasted the tea, milk, and bubbles. I would have preferred it less sweet, but perhaps the sweetness is part of its charm, along with the large pearls and ice cubes. Drinking boba is a pleasingly visual and tactile experience: you can see the pearls in the glass, and it’s a drink that you not only sip, but chew.

Blood for Breakfast Is Wasted on the Young

Sep.22.16

Blood for Breakfast Is Wasted on the Young

by Katie MacLeod

Black Pudding in the Outer Hebrides

Never tell an 8-year-old what they’re really eating, especially when their breakfast involves a mix of pig’s blood, oatmeal, beef suet, and onion.

In the islands of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, Stornoway Black Pudding is a traditional breakfast ingredient that, over the years, has evolved from rural island staple to in-demand delicacy, with the same E.U.-protected status as Champagne, Roquefort, and Parma ham.

Horrified at the thought of blood in my food, I didn’t touch another Stornoway Black Pudding for 20 years. By the time I was brave enough to try again, it was too late: I was preparing to move to the other side of the world, to a country where the marag dhubh, as we call it in Gaelic, is banned.

Returning home to the Outer Hebrides after 18 months in New York City meant rediscovering the marag dhubh I had abandoned years before. Where once I had barely noticed it, now it seemed as if black pudding was everywhere, on menus up and down the spinal chain of islands.

Of course, I saw it in Stornoway, the small harbor town that gives the breakfast item its name. I paused in one of the town butchers, admiring the fat lengths of marag hanging on the back wall where they swayed slightly above the counter tops. The debate about which butcher produces the best marag dhubh is a contentious one, even within the same family: one person might prefer Willie John’s, another Charlie Barley’s or maybe MacLeod and MacLeod.

Stornoway Black Pudding now accompanies everything from burgers to freshly caught scallops, but I learned that it’s still best for breakfast. After a road trip through the length of the Outer Hebrides, my family and I were circling our last destination in the car, looking for sustenance after an early morning arrival on the ferry. We found it at Barra Airport, which at times is used more frequently as a café than an airport, given the tidal nature of its white-sand beach runway. With no intention of getting on a plane, I placed my order: Stornoway Black Pudding, bacon, and potato scone on a roll, a classic combination.

Served without the skin that holds it together in the frying pan, the slice of marag was firm enough to retain its circular shape, but just crumbly enough to yield to a generous bite. Its strong peppery taste—a clue about which Stornoway butcher it came from—paired perfectly with the salty bacon rasher, the crispy, fried potato scone, and the fluffy, white bread roll.

My 8-year-old self would have been horrified, but I was in my element: the blood-infused breakfast combination was everything I had hoped it would be. I didn’t see the plane land while I ate my breakfast, but I didn’t mind: my taste buds were making up for lost time, after all.

Drown Your Weather Sorrows in Thick Hot Chocolate

Sep.21.16

Drown Your Weather Sorrows in Thick Hot Chocolate

by Jess Jacutan

Bodbod kabog in Dumaguete

The weather forecast announced there would be a typhoon in the next three days. A super-typhoon, in fact. But this warning was not unusual in the Philippines, a country where almost 20 tropical storms pass each year, around half of them making landfall.

In the seaport city of Dumaguete, people were unfazed. The relaxed university town at the edge of Visayas province was our jumping-off point for the beaches of Siquijor Island, and I was worried that the next day’s boat trips would be cancelled due to inclement weather. Yet Saturday night passed without incident. Locals and tourists filled the bars along the harbor, despite a downpour so thick you couldn’t see 10 feet ahead. It didn’t stop until we woke to a bright Sunday morning. We furtively watched grey clouds on the horizon as we hailed a tricycle.

“Where?” The driver asked. “Bodbod kabog?” I replied uncertainly—a local delicacy, not a destination. He drove us to Dumaguete’s public market. Bodbod kabog, a close cousin to the more popular Filipino rice cake suman, is Dumaguete’s quintessential breakfast: a sticky-sweet log of millet seeds and coconut milk steamed in banana leaf. It’s nutty, chewy, and creamy all at once.

At 6 am, the market was bustling. There were more motorcycles than people, being driven by teenagers and grandmothers alike, deftly maneuvering between vendors and shoppers. The faint smell of fish dissipated as we walked past stalls of dry goods. Eventually, the stalls gave way to bustling counters piled high with bodbod kabog.

Vendors cheerfully called out to us, singsong voices rising and falling in a noisy din. We were overwhelmed by the sudden attention until one elderly lady, smiling behind her crowded counter, silently beckoned us closer. We bought two bodbod kabog for 12 pesos—roughly 12 cents.

The best (and only) accompaniment to bodbod is tsokolate—Filipino hot chocolate—made with local blocks of cacao. Tsokolate is either thick or watery, and it’s often the latter. This is a truth so well-known that our national hero, Jose Rizal, wrote about it in his 1886 novel, Noli Me Tangere: A town mayor tells some visiting Spaniards that if they go to see the parish priest and he orders the servant to make them a cup of tsokolate eh (thick), they should stay without fear, but if he tells the servant to make them a cup of tsokolate ah (watery), they should take their hats and run.

The elderly lady’s tsokolate was delightfully eh, approaching the consistency and smoothness of churro dip. I swirled the bodbod in it out of instinct. She approved this gesture by slyly adding another to my plate.

We stayed long after we settled our bill, listening to fellow diners chat the morning away, determined to face the impending storm with as much nonchalance as they were. Turns out they had it right: it didn’t rain once until our flight back home to Manila.