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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

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 Flanavans 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.

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

Sep.20.16

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

by Brent Crane

Noodle Soup in Chiang Mai

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

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

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

“I don’t have one,” I said.

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

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

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

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

Sep.19.16

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

by Craig Sauers

Ketchup on Bread in Bangkok

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.16.16

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

by Tracy Denholm

Buffet in Almaty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.15.16

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

by Marco Ferrarese

Lassi in Varanasi

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

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

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

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

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

I Like My Cheesecake Like I Like My People: Bitter

Sep.14.16

I Like My Cheesecake Like I Like My People: Bitter

by Ashley Dobson

Coffee and Cake in Kaiserslautern

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

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

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

The strange look was for ordering cake at 9 am.

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

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

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

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

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

“Like our people,” he jokes.

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

A lady at the next table leans over to me.

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

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

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

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

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

Deliciously Complex, With a Hint of Dead Baby Bee

Sep.13.16

Deliciously Complex, With a Hint of Dead Baby Bee

by Zac Crellin

Honey in Ethiopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.12.16

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

by Tania Braukamper

Doces falicos in Amarante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple Pie Still Seems Like Sort of an Odd Choice

Sep.08.16

Apple Pie Still Seems Like Sort of an Odd Choice

by Sabrina Toppa

Apple Pie in Cameron Highlands

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

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

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

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

Love Is Love and Breakfast Is Breakfast

Sep.06.16

Love Is Love and Breakfast Is Breakfast

by Yvette Tan

Gumbo in Baguio

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

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

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

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

Afterwards, we waited to join the festivities.

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

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

That Is One Badass Noodle Soup Lady

Sep.01.16

That Is One Badass Noodle Soup Lady

by Cindy Fan

Bun bo in Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They strolled to their motorbikes and hightailed it.

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

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

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

Delicious, Delicious Bunny for Breakfast

Aug.31.16

Delicious, Delicious Bunny for Breakfast

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Bunny Chow in Durban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.30.16

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

by Jordan Tew

Vegemite in Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.29.16

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

by Megan Frye

Fruit in Viñales, Cuba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always a Surprise When the Horse Meat Is Raw

Aug.26.16

Always a Surprise When the Horse Meat Is Raw

by Aaron Gilbreath

Uma in Osaka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” I said, “horse!”

“Yes, yes,” the men said, “horse.”

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

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

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

Damn Simple, Dirt Cheap, and Irresistible

Aug.25.16

Damn Simple, Dirt Cheap, and Irresistible

by Marco Ferrarese

Tibetan Bread with Jam in Nako

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Sumita Roy Dutta

Perhaps It Is Time to Reconsider the Danish

Aug.24.16

Perhaps It Is Time to Reconsider the Danish

by Hanady Kader

Pastries in Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.23.16

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

by Valerie Stimac

Freddo espresso in Greece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.22.16

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

by Ferron Salniker

Corundas in Patzcuaro

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Is So Much Swedish Going on Here

Aug.19.16

There Is So Much Swedish Going on Here

by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Filmjölk in Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.18.16

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

by Sara Nasser

A Spread in Istanbul

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.17.16

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

by Barbara Wanjala

Kangumu in Nairobi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.16.16

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

by Kun Liu

Baozi in Beijing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.15.16

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

by Yvette Tan

Scallops on Sand Bar

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

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

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

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

“One peso per piece.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone agreed.

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

A Breakfast That Actually Does Sound Worth the Hike

Aug.12.16

A Breakfast That Actually Does Sound Worth the Hike

by Stuart Denison

Adassi in Tehran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.11.16

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

by Rob Armstrong

Man Bread in Malaysia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.10.16

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

by Andrew Wong

Pastizzi in Malta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wild Pastry Born of Smoke and Char

Aug.09.16

A Wild Pastry Born of Smoke and Char

by Nomi Abeliovich

Kürtőskalács in Budapest

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

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

But the Kürtőskalács is nowhere to be found.

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

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

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

A Visit to the Last of the Snake Kings

Aug.08.16

A Visit to the Last of the Snake Kings

by Brady Ng

Snake Soup in Wan Chai

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

The snakes end up in soup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.05.16

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

by Carolyn B. Heller

Ma’a Tahiti in French Polynesia

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

Inside this smoking metal crate is our breakfast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Land Where Chillies Are Given the Status They Deserve

Aug.04.16

The Land Where Chillies Are Given the Status They Deserve

by Kavita Kanan Chandra

Ema Datshi in Bhutan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracing a Breakfast Lineage Through Time and Across Continents

Aug.03.16

Tracing a Breakfast Lineage Through Time and Across Continents

by Ishay Govender-Ypma

Sour Porridge in South Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug.02.16

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

by Natalie Kennedy

Offal in Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Trippa?” he asks hopefully.

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

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

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

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

For Breakfast, Most of the Time, We Are Screwed

Aug.01.16

For Breakfast, Most of the Time, We Are Screwed

by Kiki Aranita

Kalua Pig in Philly

Lunch, I have covered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case for Deep-Frying All Breakfast Foods

Jul.29.16

The Case for Deep-Frying All Breakfast Foods

by Evangeline Neve

Malpuwas in Nepal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Your New Summer Hangover Game Plan

Jul.28.16

Introducing Your New Summer Hangover Game Plan

by Valerio Farris

Helados York in Valparaiso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul.27.16

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

by Ollie Peart

Scones at Edith’s House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Courtesy of Edith’s House

Everything You Need to Know About Breakfast Before the 2016 Olympics

Jul.26.16

Everything You Need to Know About Breakfast Before the 2016 Olympics

by Donna Bowater

Tapioca Caboquinho in Manaus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visiting a Place of Death That Teems With Life

Jul.25.16

Visiting a Place of Death That Teems With Life

by Brady Ng

Sweets in Kōya-san

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dispelling Misconceptions, One Meal at a Time

Jul.22.16

Dispelling Misconceptions, One Meal at a Time

by Ilan Ben Zion

Stuffed Cabbage in Jaffa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Jean & Nathalie

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

Jul.21.16

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

by Claire Margine

Congee in Chiang Mai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spanish English Muffin

Jul.20.16

The Spanish English Muffin

by Peter Dorrien Traisci

Mollete Catalana in Málaga

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

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

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

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

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

On Wednesdays We Eat Bean Soup

Jul.19.16

On Wednesdays We Eat Bean Soup

by Amy Rosen

Scones on Fogo Island

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: The Fogo Island Inn, by Ayphella

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

Jul.18.16

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

by Shawn Pearce

Maroilles Cheese in the North of France

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

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

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

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

Nothing Like a Plate of Smelly Fish to Start the Day

Jul.15.16

Nothing Like a Plate of Smelly Fish to Start the Day

by Frances Katz

Kippers in London

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

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

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

Kippers.

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

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

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

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

Speaking the International Medical Language of Avocado Toast

Jul.14.16

Speaking the International Medical Language of Avocado Toast

by Christine Chu

Avocado Toast in Ruhango District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul.13.16

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

by Shelley Seale

Hippie Hash in Ann Arbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Sweet Bread and Salty Butter Far From Home

Jul.12.16

Remembering Sweet Bread and Salty Butter Far From Home

by Rina Diane Caballar

Pan de Sal in Baguio

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

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

“Want some?” I said.

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

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

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

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

Bacon and Sausage to Soothe a Homesick Soul

Jul.11.16

Bacon and Sausage to Soothe a Homesick Soul

by Meher Mirza

The Full English in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul.08.16

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

by Brady Ng

Bo lo baau in Hong Kong

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s Nothing Better Than Hot Food and Good Conversation

Jul.07.16

There’s Nothing Better Than Hot Food and Good Conversation

by Rathina Sankari

Kadala in Vellaramkuthu

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

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

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

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

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

In Celebration of Democracy and Processed Meat

Jul.06.16

In Celebration of Democracy and Processed Meat

by Nastasya Tay

Sausages in Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hungover DJ Mark is tossing sausages.

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

I’ll Have the Usual for One More Year

Jul.05.16

I’ll Have the Usual for One More Year

by Justin Fox

The Lumberjacques at Tom’s Diner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bagels Are the Best Cultural Unifier Ever

Jul.01.16

Bagels Are the Best Cultural Unifier Ever

by Amy Rosen

Bagels in Toronto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a while she just stopped asking.

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

For me, it’s the Chosen One.

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

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

Jun.30.16

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

by Hannah Petertil

Karelska piroger in Stockholm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, Why ARE Kinder Surprises Illegal in the States?

Jun.28.16

Yeah, Why ARE Kinder Surprises Illegal in the States?

by Kiki Aranita

Yok Si Cao Mien in Hong Kong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun.28.16

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

by Didi Kader

Dungeness Crab in the Pacific Northwest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Not Question Strange Breakfasts, Submit to Them

Jun.27.16

Do Not Question Strange Breakfasts, Submit to Them

by Braden Ruddy

Granitas in Trapani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hangover Heaven Is a Place on Earth

Jun.23.16

Hangover Heaven Is a Place on Earth

by James Fixter

A Full Scottish Breakfast in Edinburgh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for a Ferry to a Sinking Island

Jun.22.16

Waiting for a Ferry to a Sinking Island

by Anuradha Sengupta

Jhal Muri at Lot 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Your Breakfast Home Halfway Across the World

Jun.21.16

Finding Your Breakfast Home Halfway Across the World

by Danielle Oteri

Sfogliatella in Naples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun.20.16

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

by Steven Crook

Soy Milk in Taiwan

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spicy Scent of Home

Jun.16.16

The Spicy Scent of Home

by Ying Tey Reinhardt

Nasi Lemak in Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission: Shanghai Soup Dumpling

Jun.15.16

Mission: Shanghai Soup Dumpling

by Angela Wu

Shen jian bao in Shanghai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission accomplished, I rushed back to the airport.