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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Everyone Benefits When Cultures Mix But Especially the Baked Goods

Aug.04.17

Everyone Benefits When Cultures Mix But Especially the Baked Goods

by Deborah Wei

Egg tarts in Hong Kong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thick Salvadoran Tortilla is the Only Cure for a Rainy Day in Vancouver

Dec.12.17

A Thick Salvadoran Tortilla is the Only Cure for a Rainy Day in Vancouver

by Toni Ford

Pupusas in Vancouver

My elbows are on the table and my chin is in my hands as I watch the traffic crawl bumper-to-bumper through an endless rainstorm. I’m in Duffin’s, a diner of sorts that stands on the corner of one of Vancouver’s busy suburban intersections with only the petrol station opposite to keep it company. I’ve been in Vancouver for four days and it has yet to stop raining.

Several Canadians warned me against moving to Vancouver in October.

“You know that it basically rains every day, right?” they said, eyebrows high.

“I’m from the North of England,” I said, eyebrows low. “I’ll be fine.”

I shift uncomfortably, damp jeans cold against my skin and sticking horribly to the vinyl-covered seat of the window booth I sit in. I didn’t choose this seat for the view, just like I didn’t choose this city for its weather, and I wonder now if I’ve made the wrong decision on both counts.

Duffin’s Diner doesn’t seem to quite know what it is. ‘DONUTS’, said the sign outside but also, ‘TORTA SUBS’, ‘CHINESE FOOD’ and ‘FRITOS’. Laminated photographs of plates of food faded into sepia tones line the walls. With the idea of ordering some kind of safe sandwich and a black coffee, I approach the till and see a handwritten sign taped to the counter. ‘Pupusas,’ it reads. “$2.85 (minimum order two).”

Back at my table I listen to a nearby group of Chinese men argue happily over something and nothing, paper cups of milky coffee and sugar-dusted donuts covering their table. Two police officers come in, awkward in their street armor, and disappointingly ignore the donuts to order two turkey subs. I twist in my seat to glance at the table behind me, where a large Spanish-speaking family tuck into a feast of fried things on paper plates and soft things wrapped in banana leaves.

When my breakfast arrives, I realize I’ve chosen well. A pupusa is a thick tortilla of fried corn batter filled with beans, cheese, and shredded pork. The crispy fried coating of the pupusa splits under the pressure of my plastic knife and piping-hot dough inside bursts out. I scoop some of the surprise side dish of cool, crunchy coleslaw onto my pupusa and add a splash of salsa. It’s not salsa from a jar, the sort you dip Doritos into that always tastes a bit like vinegar; no, this is real salsa, made with sweet tomatoes and smoky chili. I take one bite and I’m the world’s biggest pupusa fan.

I sit back, stuffed at a total cost of $5.70 (Canadian) and look out of the window again. The rain is still going strong but in the morning gloom I can see the reflection of everything happening behind me in the fluorescent strip-lit diner. I might be eating alone but I’m not by myself, and I feel a warmth inside me that isn’t just the heat of that great salsa. Vancouver is going to be great and, no matter what they say, it can’t rain every day. Can it?

Lagman Vs. Laksa: Who Will Win the Noodle Championship?

Dec.11.17

Lagman Vs. Laksa: Who Will Win the Noodle Championship?

by Magdalena Tan

Lagman in Tashkent

Igor spoke more English than our usual Uzbek hosts, though he shared their tendency to overfeed us.

It was a fine Monday morning when he took us to his favorite kafesi for a bowl of lagman; he told us that it was the best in the city. But I had my doubts, because I come from Malaysia, and I believe we have the best noodle soups in the world.

When we arrived in an alley packed with florists and bakers, I could smell fresh bread wafting in the air. A young boy holding up a stack of lepyoshka, a Central Asian flatbread, walked across the room, which was filled with people tucking into bowls of red soup.

We had tried a lot of different lagman in the region, from dingy establishments near the vokzal—the main bus station in small towns—to homemade noodles prepared by grandmothers who insisted on us having a second round. But Lola Kafesi had a reputation among the locals. Igor said that even during the financial crisis in 2008, its tables were always full.

We ordered three bowls of hot lagman, two pieces of lepyoshka, and a pot of green tea with lemon for three people. There is no such thing as carb overload here, and people always suggest you wipe your bowls clean with the bread. The noodles arrived, and I could see that the soup contents had a variety of herbs, red peppers, cubes of beef, and the layer of oil so common in dishes in Central Asia.

“Time to eat!” exclaimed our host. “Every time I host someone from Couchsurfing, I take them here and they are never disappointed.”

Couchsurfing is quasi-illegal in Uzbekistan, because tourists need to register with their hostels and hotels whenever they stay in a city for more than three days. The registration process causes a lot of confusion and anxiety for travelers and their hosts. Igor hosted us for two nights. We were supposed to leave Tashkent afterwards, but we ended up staying in the city for a few more nights. I had no trouble crossing the border into Kazakhstan, but my friend did. So, he tried another border, where they let him through. The rules are a little hazy.

I slurped on the soup, and felt a sense of relief that it was not as oily as other ones I’ve tried. A bite of the tender beef brought a smile to my face. It was no laksa, but the broth was full of flavor and the combination of chewy noodles, soft vegetables, and beef made the dish a pleasure to devour.

The clientele was mostly middle-aged men who came here with their friends, sharing some lagman, bread, and tea. I could not see a single tourist; they usually join tour groups who take them to restaurants on their planned itineraries. If it weren’t for Igor, who took a risk by hosting us and taking us to this local spot, we would never have known about it.

Photo by: Kim Sergey

Is This the World’s Best Vegetarian Dish?

Dec.05.17

Is This the World’s Best Vegetarian Dish?

by Pranjali Bhonde

Misal in Pune

Its 11 a.m. on a Tuesday when I amble down the footpaths in the historic ‘peth’ area of Pune, in search of breakfast and the legendary misal at Shri Krishan Bhuvan.

Vendors in the bustling market area of Tulshibaug thrust their wares at me—a neckpiece, handkerchiefs, chappals, fruits, etc. I maneuver through the crowd and finally reach Shri Krishna Bhuvan.

Established in 1941, the place is all coy minimalism—a few wooden tables and benches and waiters darting in and out of their open kitchen. The tables are shared; it’s absolutely normal for a stranger to come and sit beside you. Thankfully, it’s a weekday and I don’t have to wait. The waiter asks me how would like my misal—normal, medium, or ‘picy’, hastily skipping the ‘s’. I order a medium with buttermilk. The misal arrives in record time, with a bowl of the ‘sample’ (curry, infused with ginger-garlic paste, freshly grated coconut, chillies, tomatoes, and potatoes) and bread slices.

The misal at Shri Krishna Bhuvan is prepared by combining poha (rice flakes sautéed with onions and curry leaves), batata bhaji (potatoes tempered with mustard, asoefitida, and chilli), chiwda (a mixture of dry rice flakes), and sev (noodles made of chick peas). It’s garnished with chopped onions and lemon, and topped with tari—a searing mixture of oil and spices.

The flavors of the coconut, ginger, and garlic beautifully unfurl on my tongue. In between bites of bread and misal, I take brave swipes at the red tari. Beads of sweat gather on my forehead. When it gets too hot to handle, I take large sips of the buttermilk.

Several tea-houses and corner shops serve misal, each with their own method of preparation. For people in my state, Maharashtra, misal is more than just a dish. It stands for camaraderie and bonhomie, and it’s also a perfect cold remedy. It’s a versatile dish: it can be an evening snack, but it’s common to eat it for breakfast and lunch, too. Don’t just take my word for its charms: in 2015, London’s Foodie Hub Awards declared misal the world’s tastiest vegetarian dish.

Shri Krishna Bhuvan, 1164,
Budhwar Peth Road, Tulshibaug,
Budhwar Peth, Pune,
Maharashtra

Breakfast Curd: It’s All About the Pot

Nov.29.17

Breakfast Curd: It’s All About the Pot

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Curd in Sri Lanka

We are still bleary-eyed as our car makes its slow progress through the streets in Sri Lanka’s south. Our flight landed at an ungodly hour in the morning, and my husband and I are headed from Colombo’s international airport to Yala National Park.

The streets are empty, the dozens of villages dotted along the stretch slowly coming to life. We have been looking for breakfast, but nothing is open yet. Crossing the coastal resort towns of Tangalle and Hambantota, we reach Tissamarahama, when these shops first begin to appear. The first sign that catches my eye is Jayasuriya Curd Shop.

Wait, wait. What is a curd shop?

Our driver, Anand, turns to us in the backseat—taking his eyes off the road, as is his habit—to gush over the delights of the local curd. As he talks, we notice that both sides of the highway are lined with open stalls (with and without signboards) selling curd in shallow earthen pots.

Known as mee kiri, this is Sri Lankan curd, traditionally made from buffalo milk. The milk’s high fat content gives it an unmatched creaminess. The curd is made through natural fermentation, with tiny spoons of old curd added to milk that’s boiled for two hours to reduce the water content, then cooled to room temperature. It’s then sealed with paper and set aside for 12 hours (usually overnight). A part of the secret to this curd’s taste and texture lies in the coarse and porous nature of the baked clay pot (kiri hatti) in which it’s set, which provides natural insulation.

Stomachs rumbling, we pull over at a relatively uncrowded shop. Sanduni, the smiling teenager whose family has been in this trade for several years, welcomes us with a shy smile. She has even set up a hut with makeshift chairs and tables; a couple of local men seated on rickety plastic chairs pour a generous quantity of a viscous brown liquid on the yoghurt in their cups.

This Sri Lankan treacle, known as kithul peni, is made from the toddy (kithul) palm and is a perennial favourite among locals. Somewhat like maple syrup, it is smooth and thick, without the cloying sweetness of sugar or honey. Kithul-tapping is carried out by specific communities in Sri Lanka, with both men and women collecting the sap from trees and then boiling it to produce treacle (as well as jaggery, another natural sweetener).

As we dig into our kiri—we can’t bring ourselves to pour quite as much kithul as the locals do, especially because the curd has an innate sweetness—we chat with Sanduni while Anand acts as interpreter. Like other families in the village right behind this bustling highway, hers also makes and sells this yoghurt—over 250 pots a day.

Kiri with kithul is a most delicious and satisfying breakfast. We buy another pot for later in the day, the thought of kiri for dessert after lunch running through our heads.

[Looks at Photo] I’ll Have What They’re Having

Nov.28.17

[Looks at Photo] I’ll Have What They’re Having

by Tayyaba Iftikhar

Katlama in Lahore

One of my earliest memories is of eating gigantic, deep-fried flatbreads smothered in spices at my grandparents’ home in Lahore. The bread was delicious, and according to my mother, after we had come back from our trip I ordered my father to search the city for a katlama like the one we had in Lahore.

I had forgotten about that, until I visited Lahore again many years later. I had only come for a day, and the original plan was to set off for home early next morning, but the smog deterred us. We were in the car debating where to get breakfast as we waited for the haze to clear. The long fingers of dawn had crept up across the horizon, and the municipal workers were sweeping the street. It was strange to see a city, usually bustling with people, clogged with traffic, so empty, quiet, and vulnerable.

We drove to old Anarkali Bazaar in central Lahore, named after the legendary figure, Anarkali, a courtesan that the Mughal Emperor, Akbar, supposedly ordered to be buried alive. The bazaar was shrouded in fog, but we caught glimpses of the British and Mughal architecture. A few nameless roadside stalls were open, and there was a small queue of people in front of them. We watched as one of the vendors lit a fire under a huge, blackened wok full of oil. Another person behind him deftly rolled dough into sizable balls.

I asked him for breakfast recommendations. He parroted a list of options: halwa puri, channa cholay, katlama, qeemay ki tiki (sometimes known as qeemay ka katlama), etc. We ordered the katlama and qeemay ki tiki. The vendor produced a large rolling pin and worked on the dough, stretching it. He threw a blend of chili powder, pomegranate seeds, and crushed cumin in a thick mixture of besan (chickpea flour) and spread it all over the dough. He then carefully tipped it in the sputtering oil until it was completely submerged.

The vendor, between flipping the katlama and drinking his second cup of chai, told us that the bazaar was at least a century old—perhaps even older than that. They opened shop at six every morning, except on special occasions such as an urs or mela (the festival to mark the death anniversary of saints), where they opened even earlier to accommodate devotees. The prepared food was usually all gone within two hours.

There was no place to sit, and like other bystanders having their breakfast in front of the stall, we tore off pieces of hot katlama right there. There was a delightful crunch of the pomegranate seeds, and the bread was flavorful and crispy around the edges. We started on the qeemay ki tiki: a deep-fried, flaky pastry pie filled with spicy minced meat. There was grease on our fingertips and on the sides of our mouths; pastry flakes scattered across the folds of my dupatta; meat and pastry and bread in our bellies. And my favorite part: it was even better than how I remembered.

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