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Eating the World Every Morning

How Do You Eat Chicken Wings With Chopsticks?


How Do You Eat Chicken Wings With Chopsticks?

by Yasmine Awwad

Chicken Noodle Soup in Hong Kong

We pull up grey plastic chairs and nod to the other diners at our table as the waitress hands us two menus.

Pointing to a photo of a bowl of noodles, we smile apologetically, hoping this translates to a friendly, “Chicken noodle soup and milk tea, please.”

Just hours ago we’d left London with teary goodbyes, 30-pound bags strapped to our backs and one-way tickets in our pockets. Our first walk through Mong Kok, a busy Hong Kong neighborhood, led us here, to a cha chaan teng (tea restaurant) for breakfast.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, these 24-hour diners are all over Hong Kong, serving up affordable comfort food to locals. They came about in the 1950s as Western dishes became more popular, and they serve a unique type of fusion food. As well as traditional noodle soups and stir-fries, their menus are filled with Hong Kong-style Western dishes, like French toast with peanut butter and macaroni-and-spam soup.

With its strip lighting, plastic furniture, and clattering plates in the kitchen, a cha chaan teng is not the place for a leisurely meal. The suited patrons all have their heads down, eyes on their food. Out the door ten minutes after they entered it, breakfast done and off to work. This may not be the best food in Hong Kong, but it’s fast and it’s cheap.

Our food arrives in two minutes. Strong, milky, sweet tea and bowls of light broth with vermicelli noodles, cabbage leaves and a couple of fried chicken wings. Grey mushrooms float to the top. They look bland and unappetizing but have a surprisingly strong, earthy flavor. And, most importantly, they’re easy to eat.

“Um, how do you eat chicken wings with chopsticks?” I whisper across the table to Colin, my partner in crime on this adventure.

“I have no idea.”

The woman next to me glances over as I use my chopsticks to grapple with a chicken wing. A year and a half later, this wouldn’t bother me. But on our first day, jet-lagged and overwhelmed, I decide to just focus on the rest of the dish to avoid embarrassment.

It might have been awkward, we might have sat at the wrong table and not known to rinse our cutlery with the pot of tea and asked for the bill when we should have paid at the cash register, but as we leave our smiles are wide. We are finally here and this is just the beginning.

Read more of Yasmine Awwad’s work here.

The Dorito-Topped Hot Dog That Saved Breakfast


The Dorito-Topped Hot Dog That Saved Breakfast

by Laura Marie

Hot dogs in Iceland

We left the house by the glacier early—around 7 a.m. My husband and I had to get back to Reyjkavik to catch a plane that afternoon. I expected, like in so many other places I’d travelled, that we would be able to find an open coffee shop or breakfast restaurant, even though it was Sunday. Years of living in Europe had taught me the spotty nature of Sunday-open business, but I hadn’t bargained on southern Iceland.

The towns that occasionally dot Highway 1 along the southern coast are fascinating, like a snapshot of a movie set for a quiet independent film. The weather was mild in May, but everything had a quiet feel to it, with perhaps one person visible walking through the towns. The whole island has fewer than 350,000 people, and so many of them live in the capital city. Only a few miles out of Reyjkavik, you start to see how big the island is, and how few and far-between the people are, as the modern city buildings give way to bumpy moss-covered terrain, insanely long views up to the glaciers and volcanoes, and occasional wisps of steam coming from vents in the ground.

We stopped at a natural hot spring, and swam the algae-lined pool for a little while, but then started getting hungry for breakfast. I figured it wouldn’t be far before we’d see a place that was open. As the minutes turned into an hour, I started using Google to search for the individual open spots along our route.

As we neared the town of Selfoss, one place popped up as open on Google: Pylsuvagninn. As near as I can figure, it translates to something like “Hot Dog Wagon.”

We were hungry, and I’d been told that Icelandic people ate a lot of hot dogs, so it seemed like an appropriate choice. The “all the way” hot dog in Iceland is a popular choice after a long night of drinking and dancing. An “all the way” hot dog, I learned, is topped with onions, ketchup, remoulade, a sweet mustard, and more onions—crispy fried ones.

The only other customers at Pylsuvagninn at 11 on a Sunday morning were teenagers, seeking greasy piles of onion rings and cans of soda, perhaps after partying. I looked below “hot dog all the way” on the menu and read “hot dog with garlic sauce, cheese, and Doritos.” I wasn’t hungover, but I ordered it anyway.

I ate my Dorito hot dog out on a picnic table by the river that runs through Selfoss, while the town quietly did whatever small-city Iceland does on Sunday mornings and the wind, ever-present, ruffled my hair. The hot dog was everything: greasy and garlicky and crunchy. Like so many other things in Iceland, it wasn’t what I expected or asked for, but it was wonderful nonetheless.

When Falafel is Good, It’s Very Good


When Falafel is Good, It’s Very Good

by Dave Hazzan

Falafel in Berlin

Why is falafel such a difficult food to get right?

This is not a rhetorical question. I don’t cook, so I don’t know. But half the time I order falafel, it’s like a crunchy ball of baked sand. It’s tasteless, mealy, and above all, dry. Sometimes it’s so dry it crumbles like powder, and if I breathe too close to it, it ends up clogging my nostrils like cheap coke cut with laundry detergent.

Slather it in tahini, surround it with veggies, or dip it in a vat of hummus like so many potato chips—none of these tricks work. Bad falafel is just bad falafel. You ordered it because you wanted the “healthy” choice, or maybe you’re vegetarian. In any event, you rolled the dice, and it sucks to be you.

Here in the north Neukölln district of Berlin, along Sonnenallee, there’s as much Arabic spoken as German. The women wear an even mix of tank-tops and shorts and hijabs and long dresses. The men shake hands and hug, and talk a mile a minute over each other. There is Arab restaurant after Arab restaurant, so picking one can be hard.

It’s a hot, humid, and hungover noon in Berlin, and anything is breakfast food. But do I dare risk the falafel? My mouth is already bone dry—wouldn’t a moist and scrumptious lebne, halloumi, or chicken shawarma be the better choice? Or maybe I should walk a few blocks and get some Schnitzel or Bratwurst, or a hamburger from the gourmet hamburger restaurants that have sprouted like dandelions across Europe. It’s hard to screw up a fat slab of beef on bread.

No. It’s falafel I crave, and it’s falafel I will have. According to Google, the best-rated restaurant in the neighborhood is a crowded little fast-food place called Azzam. You order at the cash desk, where the four men behind the counter work like machines, chopping, slicing, garnishing, throwing, yelling–the last two are necessary in an overcrowded joint like this. I order the falafel plate, which comes with hummus, pickles, and tomato.

There is free tea out of the samovar. It has two nozzles–one for hot water, and one for hot Turkish tea concentrate; espresso tea, if you will. Put too much of the second one in, your tea backhands you.

Finally, it’s the moment of reckoning. The fact it was only four euros and served up in less than a minute bodes well for my pocketbook and the use of my time, but not the quality of the food. The pickles are a bit too salty, the hummus seems a bit too oily. What will it be?

Success! It’s good! And when falafel is good, it’s very good. Crunchy on the outside, warm and moist on the inside. Exploding with garlic and chickpea flavor. All seven balls of falafel go down beautifully, dipped in hummus, chased with pickles and backhanding Turkish tea.

It augurs well for my time in Berlin.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Elton John and Colonel Sanders Can’t Both Be Wrong About This Pie


Elton John and Colonel Sanders Can’t Both Be Wrong About This Pie

by Steele Rudd

Tiger Pie in Sydney

The decor is retro diner; pure Americana. Chrome benches, vinyl seat covers, a big neon sign out the front that screams HARRY’s. Pinups of visiting celebrities paste the walls.

But the menu is single-mindedly British. Pies, and lots of them. The classic mince or chunky steak options, a couple of curry pies, veggie or marinara alternatives. If you’re really desperate for a meal that doesn’t come ensconced in buttery, flaky pastry, you could go for a hot dog or a roast beef roll, but tourists and locals alike have been coming back to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels for 70 years for the pies.

And one pie in particular. I’m here today for the pie that sets Harry’s apart from your average bakery. The pie that’s been a late-night savior to generations of drunken sailors and the subject of an Elton John press conference. The pie so good that Colonel Sanders smashed three in a row. Harry’s Tiger pies are a two-fisted sculpture of meat and pastry, topped with a generous double crown of mashed potatoes and mushy peas, then scooped out and filled up with hot gravy.

I’m the only customer in when I order mine. It’s 9 a.m., but Harry’s pies are traditionally a breakfast: the original restaurant had a long history as an (immobile) food van stationed outside a naval dock, serving sailors something hearty in the early hours before they stumbled back onto base.

The waitress/cashier takes a chicken pie out of the warmer, ladles up some steamy mash on top, and plonks a chunky mess of peas on top of that. Out of an industrial-size tureen she scoops up the thick gravy, uses the bottom of the spoon to dig a trough in the mash and peas, and fills it like a tiny bowl of soup.

Meanwhile I’m considering my sauce options. There are a couple of mustards, a mint jelly, and Worcestershire and HP sauce. They’re used so infrequently that some of the bottles have scabbed over, but it’s the thought that counts.

When my pie’s ready, I take a seat by the long countertop. The steam rises off the pie, thick and sticky. I use my spoon to mix the peas and mash and gravy together and take a couple of bites of the gloopy paste. It tastes and feels like a pre-chewed roast dinner, warm and nutritious and weirdly comforting. When I’m halfway through the toppings, I dig a hole in the pie’s roof and mush the rest inside. The pie bulges and dribbles obscenely and I feel a bit like a kid playing with his food, but this way I can pick the whole thing up at once. I chug the rest down quickly and feel exactly full enough.

On the way out I snap a photo of Colonel Sanders, cheerily mugging his way through a pie in 1974. Honestly, before I visited Harry’s I hadn’t realized that Colonel Sanders was a real person.

A Cold, Yogurt-Like Spoonful of Norse History


A Cold, Yogurt-Like Spoonful of Norse History

by Dave Hazzan

Skyr in Reykjavik

The first thing Iceland would like you to know about Skyr is that it isn’t yogurt.

It is at first glance. It’s sold next to the real yogurt, and comes in a variety of delightful fruit flavors, like yogurt. But it is not yogurt. The difference is Skyr is more solid than yoghurt, and less sour. Icelanders mix it with milk and sugar, or in equal parts with porridge, usually for breakfast. It’s also delicious on potatoes, the only food I can afford to eat in this extortionately expensive country.

The second thing Iceland would like you to know about Skyr is that it is wholesome and full of protein, the perfect thing to get you going on a dark and frozen Icelandic morning. The way they talk about it reminds me a lot of Wilford Brimley selling Cream of Wheat a hot, cereal-like porridge. In the 80s, Wilford would sit at a table, the quintessential kindly old man, and tell you that giving your kid Cream of Wheat on cold mornings before school is “the right thing to do.”

Skyr is like that, except its cold and full of protein. I don’t get why they focus so heavily on Skyr’s protein content. Between the lamb and beef, the fish and fowl, and the clogged and enormous dairy aisle at the Bonus “Discount” Supermarket, no Icelander is lacking in protein.

The third thing Icelanders would like you to know is that Skyr has been part of the Icelandic diet since the first settlers got here about A.D. 840, and inexplicably decided to stay. It has since died out in the rest of the Nordic countries, but remains popular in Iceland.

It’s changed over the years. Once made with whole milk, more health-conscious Icelanders today make it with low-fat milk. There are also many flavors, including kiddie flavors like chocolate and liquorice.

So the next time you find yourself in Iceland, fooled by the cheap airfares from mainland Europe, head over to your local Bonus and raid the dairy aisle for Skyr. Paying your grocery bill will feel like a mugging, but every spoonful of Skyr will be like eating a piece of Norse history.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Getting to Know Mexican-Style Sno-Cones


Getting to Know Mexican-Style Sno-Cones

by Thei Zervaki

Raspado in Tucson

I had no idea what a raspado was before I went to Arizona.

It’s a Mexican-style shaved-ice drink, named from the Spanish raspar, which means “to scrape.” It can be topped with fruit, flavoring, syrup, and various condiments. It can be sweet, savory, spicy, or all three. Naturally, I had to try it. For breakfast.

You can get raspado all over Tucson, but I went to Sonoran Sno-Cones, at their Mercado San Agustin location. Owner Maria Robles told me that when Sonoran Sno-Cones opened in 1999—after their family moved to Tucson from Obregon, in Mexico’s Sonora state—there were already a couple of raspado shops, but they served plainer, American-style versions. Sonoran Sno-Cones brought with them Mexican-style raspados, with fresh fruit, tamarind, and dry plum. This part of Arizona used to be part of Mexico, Robles said, so raspado culture is a way of staying connected to the area’s geographical roots.

At their store, the large menu board had a dizzying array of raspado combinations. Raspado terminology can be confusing for novices. Chamoy, an indispensable raspado ingredient, is a savory, sour, and spicy sauce made with pickled fruits. Nieve—from the word for snow—in a raspado refers to a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The sweet-toothed should go for the fruit-based versions, like mango and strawberry; you can add condensed milk—lechera—for a more creamy style. But there are also many options for lovers of sour flavors. The mangoyada raspado, with mango with chamoy and lime, is both sweet and savory. The chamoyada includes chamoy, lime and rielitos—the spicy Mexican candies made with sugar and chili powder paste. The saladito is a lime raspado blended with salt and topped with dried salted plums. You can add ice cream, peanuts or serpentine, another type of spicy candy.

For my first raspado, I went big: a savory, spicy one with strawberry and mango flavors, topped with tamarind and chamoy. The combination of sweet, savory, and spicy was perfect for a hot, dry day, not far from the Sonoran desert.

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