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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

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.

Ah, to Be Handed Deep-Fried Pork Skin by a Kind Stranger

Apr.21.17

Ah, to Be Handed Deep-Fried Pork Skin by a Kind Stranger

by Sarah Witman

Carnitas in Mexico City

The Mercado de Medellín feels like an open-air market stuffed inside an aircraft hangar. Whole baby sharks sit on ice, arranged artfully among freshly caught shrimp and starfish. Stall shelves are covered with neatly arranged apples, watermelon, plantains, and cartons of strawberries—the same brand I buy back home in Wisconsin. An entire wing is dedicated to flowers: fiery red lirios (lilies) and delicate gipsófila (baby’s breath).

The market is a cross-section of Mexico City culture, along the intersection of the traditional Roma Sur and hip Roma Norte neighborhoods. During the week it’s a sleepy, sensible grocery store. Saturday mornings are a different story.

Carnitas?”

By mid-afternoon on Friday, I had seen the carnitas vendors already beginning to set up: sharpening knives, wiping down gleaming metal workstations. This is what I’ve been waiting for all week.

“Si si si! Gracias…” I say, accepting the most succulent shard of meat I’d ever seen from the vendor’s outstretched hand.

“Dos tacos, por favor.”

No need to specify what type; there is only one. The carnitas are cooked on a steaming spit. It’s then chopped up fairly fine, and lovingly portioned onto two corn tortillas. The tortillas are fresher, and more substantial, than the papery rounds I’m used to getting in the Midwest. So instead of doubling up, I can split the carnitas among them to make four tacos.

I spoon on salsa verde, one taco at a time. There are the ubiquitous little dishes of chopped onion, cilantro, and lime wedges on the table, too. Mexico City has taught me to appreciate limes.

The vendor bustles back over, asking how everything is, and hands me a crispy piece of chicharrón, deep-fried pork rind, free of charge.

“Mucho gusto!” I say with enthusiasm. This is a rather formal way to say “pleasure to meet you.” But I think he got my point.

Pretty Much the Most Heartwarming Story About Shit-on-a-Shingle You’re Likely to Hear

Apr.20.17

Pretty Much the Most Heartwarming Story About Shit-on-a-Shingle You’re Likely to Hear

by Heather Arndt Anderson

Biscuits and gravy in Portland

Biscuits and gravy may be a bastion of Southern cuisine, but they have also been embraced in Portland, Oregon, the land of brunch lines and culinary trend-spotting.

Everywhere from greasy dive bars like The Trap to Instagrammy critical-darling Tusk has it on the menu. People queue up for an hour to order it at Screen Door. As a 4th-generation Portland native and historian of both breakfast and Portland’s culinary scene, I intimately understand the fuss.

I grew up below the poverty line, the firstborn to two ex-military kids on the cusp of their twenties. My mom had herself been the firstborn to two teenaged parents from Oklahoma, and her childhood had seen struggle.

Between her role as Alpha Sister to four siblings and her stint in the Marines (she was a corporal), she had learned how to stretch a dollar in the kitchen with simple fare. This often meant our meals focused around a pound of dried navy beans flavored simply with a ham bone and a bay leaf, but occasionally, when the food stamps had run low, she fell back on perennial classics like chipped beef on toast, known affectionately in our household as shit-on-a-shingle.

My mom’s version was as economical as it can get: ground beef crumbles simmered in a white sauce made with powdered milk, thickened with roux made from the hamburger drippings, served on a slice white bread. It was a study in beige. It wasn’t glamorous, but it filled our bellies. I always really liked it, and not only because it came with a free pass to cuss at the dinner table. I enjoyed the soft, white warmness of it. Similar iterations came in the form of biscuits and gravy, made with leftover Jiffy mix biscuits and the same pasty hamburger gravy, and I ate it all with gusto.

When I grew up and started dipping a furtive toe into the world of fancy food, one of my first experiences was eating at Bread and Ink Café on Hawthorne. Back in the mid-90s the street was only starting to get hip, and Bread and Ink was the nice place with real napkins and white tablecloths, in a brick building that had once been a grocery store. It was a little out of my price range, but breakfast was an affordable luxury.

The first time I had biscuits and gravy there, I wasn’t transported back to my mother’s elbow or anything so melodious, because although she could ably feed her family, my mom never derived any joy from it. This B&G tasted like love, not making-do.

I had never known that shit-on-a-shingle could be decadent, but here it was: a broad plate of tender biscuits flecked with butter, blanketed in silky cream gravy scented faintly with nutmeg and black pepper, punctuated with sausage bits and needlessly gilded with melted cheese. This was manna from heaven, if heaven was the once-nicest joint in a formerly working-class neighborhood and God was Baron—the venerable gentleman with the jangling chain wallet and slight limp who’s been waiting tables there for thirty years.

There are countless ways in which Portland has gotten too big for its britches, but Bread and Ink’s biscuits and gravy are my favorite example.

Nothing Primes You For a Papal Visit Like A Sugar High

Apr.19.17

Nothing Primes You For a Papal Visit Like A Sugar High

by Dave Hazzan

Cake and cookies in Rome

As kids in the 80s, my brother and I were bombarded, every Saturday morning during cartoons, by a plethora of advertisements for sugary cereals. An enormous-chested tiger told us we could ski Mont Blanc if we ate Frosted Flakes, a glue-huffing leprechaun promised us Lucky Charms were magically delicious, and a very creepy third-rate Bugs Bunny knock-off told us Trix were for kids.

Kids loved the idea of waking up to bowls full of sugar (duh), and billions of dollars rolled in to the coffers of Post, Kellogg’s, and General Mills, not to mention the manufacturers of Ritalin and the whole dental profession.

Today, I carry on the tradition of sugar for breakfast in Rome. When my wife and I arrived at our Vatican-side B&B, our host offered us an “Italian” breakfast option. We didn’t know that an Italian breakfast, per our hosts, includes more sugar than a case of Coke.

It begins with two pieces of spongy cake, shot through with chocolate chip shrapnel. Alongside the cake are four carefully chosen cookies: a long, puff-pastry finger biscuit; a chocolate cookie with white chocolate stars glued on; a circular butter cookie; and a tiny nub of cookie that is like a straight shot of solidified syrup. Accompanying that is a glass of very sweet pink grapefruit juice and a cup of espresso. Feel free to add sugar to the espresso, if you haven’t already slipped into a diabetic coma.

It’s a wonderful way to start your morning, or at least the first hour and a half of it. Nothing primes you for a visit to the Vatican quite like this plantation of sugar. From the apartment, it’s a 10-minute dash to St. Peter’s Square, and then an energetic hour in the papal mosh pit, elbowing your way to the front to see the Holy Father.

But sugar is a short-term drug, and when it wears off, things become dark. The mosh pit isn’t any fun anymore. That sun is awfully hot. Does that jackass behind you really need to whelp so loud? Does this guy really think he’s Christ’s living embodiment on Earth?

The energy is drained from you, like a high-octane gasoline burnt out of an Italian race car. The pope is done touring around in his Popemobile, waving at the crowds and kissing the babies. He’s gone home to his apartment, to rest his holy, weary feet. And you are alone, in the center of St. Peter’s Square, sad and faithless, because your high fructose breakfast has worn off.

Now comes the hangover. Or cake for lunch.

Photo by: Jo Turner

It’s No Deep-Fried Mars Bar, But It’ll Do

Apr.18.17

It’s No Deep-Fried Mars Bar, But It’ll Do

by Ella Rovardi

Crowdie in Edinburgh

Crowdie: a rustic, Scottish, soft, cow’s milk cheese.

How had I never heard of this before? Up until this point I had felt smug about my well-travelled palate. I’ve tried many weird and wonderful foods over my years of globetrotting: roast guinea pig (a bit like duck with long toenails); putrified shark meat (its chewy texture as unforgiving as its ammoniac stench); and meal-worm bolognese, which was actually pleasantly nutty. But here I was, back in the country in which I was born and bred, unaware of this humble cheese made right here in Bonnie Scotland.

Overcoming my embarrassment as a Scot having to ask an English waiter at our local Edinburgh gastropub to explain what crowdie was, I felt obliged to order the crowdie salad in spite of my appetite hankering over something more brunchy. Chunks of bleeding beetroot and charred pumpkin sat brightly among beige pearls of barley, and the crowdie, warmed, silkily coated the peppery arugula. Akin to soft goat’s cheese in texture—but less “farmy” in flavor—its creaminess was slightly sour, almost lemony.

This cheese has some pretty cool history. It is known to have fed revellers at traditional Scottish ceilidh celebrations, lining their stomachs along with oatcakes in preparation for the onslaught of whisky drinking. Its origins can be traced back to the Viking settlements in the ninth century, the tradition carried forward by Scottish Highlanders to this day.

Essentially a byproduct of butter-making, the process begins by skimming the cream from fresh milk and heating the remaining liquid until it curdles—historically, either in the sun or by the fire—before straining, separating the curds from the whey. Salt is added to the curds before being molded into a log shape and sometimes rolled in chewy pinhead oats and spicy crushed black pepper, known as “black crowdie.”

It becomes clear the more people I speak to that I am not the only one who had never heard of it. In spite of its availability, we in the south of Scotland are still reaching for the mass-produced tubs of soft cheeses, lining the pockets of food giants, as our local cheese sits on the shelves, invisible, undiscovered and as yet, unwanted. Containing only cows’ milk and salt, I can’t help but think this must be a superior product to consume than everyone’s favorite cream cheese?

It may not be as exotic as our haggis or black pudding, or as (in)famous as the deep-fried Mars Bar, but crowdie still merits a place in our homes and on our menus. A back-to-basics, local product, versatile in its simplicity; I am a convert.

Finding Acceptance and Dim Sum Far From Home

Apr.14.17

Finding Acceptance and Dim Sum Far From Home

by Randy Mulyanto

Siu mai in George Town

Dim sum—often associated with Cantonese cuisine and dialect—has won hearts in George Town, the capital of the Malaysian state of Penang, although you’ll more often hear the Hokkien dialect here, which originated in China’s Fujian province.

It is Saturday, almost 9:30 a.m., and Restoran Zim Sum is full of families eating breakfast. Penang resident Awee tells me this restaurant is always crowded thanks to its location on George Town’s main artery, Macalister Road.

I’m visiting Penang from Tangerang city, Indonesia, staying with my parents while they get medical checkups. Many Indonesian nationals come to Penang for the excellent but affordable healthcare. My parents were both born in Indonesia, descended from the many waves of Chinese migration to the country. My father, who at first only knew Hakka dialect, picked up my mother’s dialect—Hokkien—quickly.

Because my parents spoke Hokkien at home, Penang doesn’t feel strange to me. The diners around us at Restoran Zim are all speaking Hokkien, so I consider it an opportunity to blend in with the locals.

Getting your food here is simple: take whatever you want from the dim sum station, but don’t put anything back. You can find the classics like har gow, braised chicken feet, and char siu bao. There are also custard buns, cheong fun with soy sauce, and sweetbread with chicken and ham filling. But siu mai is my favorite. Served three to a small metal plate, this is a steamed, succulent, pork-and-shrimp dumpling with flying-fish roe on top. The yellow wrapping doesn’t feel sticky. It’s not dry, but it’s not watery either. It’s warm food that relaxes me from the first bite. Then there’s also sweet chili sauce and hot Chinese tea from the pot.

After walking back and forth to the dim sum corner to keep tabs on the what’s ready, a waitress in her 60s heads to our table to give us the bill.

Yìn ní lang?” she asks my aunt—who has lived in Penang since 2009—to find out if we’re Indonesian. I confirm.

Yìn ní huá qiáo?” She asks us again, this time completely in Mandarin. Chinese-Indonesian?

Duì,” I say. Yes.

She knows we’re not from Penang, but she doesn’t treat us like foreigners by conversing in English or Malay, which is closely linked to Indonesian. She is friendly and full of laughter.

She sees us as we are, and it’s a welcome feeling. Indonesia’s New Order government brought decades of forced assimilation for the ethnic Chinese there, including a push to adopt Indonesian names. To cut their ties with China—which the government believed was closely linked to Indonesia’s banned Communist Party—Chinese traditions and languages were forbidden in public. It feels more important than ever for Chinese Indonesians to be proud and comfortable in their own skin.

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