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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Soul Food for the South Indian Palate

May.30.17

Soul Food for the South Indian Palate

by Deepa Bhasthi

Curd rice in Bangalore

This city sometimes feels like a wide river I am trying to ford to reach my friends on the other side. We tell ourselves we are too busy or that the summer this year is particularly hot, and that is why we cannot meet more often. We don’t always tell the truth.

We are at Koshy’s. The most Bangalorean thing to do in Bangalore is to hang out at Koshy’s, an old restaurant in the middle of town that retains an unimpeachable disdain for the new business of hurriedness. People grow old around its tables, and we talk about how one day we will, hopefully, be among them.

Liver on toast is the best thing to eat at Koshy’s, I am told. However, I am a vegetarian, and for me it is not an option. Koshy’s has been a constant through the years. I have conceived a food journal there, begun a relationship, made new friends, gossiped, grown older. It is our village square. And whenever it was close to any mealtime, sometimes even when it wasn’t, at Koshy’s I have always asked for curd rice, or mosaranna, or thayir sadam as we call it in these parts of the country.

No one I know believes me when I say how good Koshy’s curd rice is, especially in relation to the gooey, paste-like nonsense you get in every other restaurant in the city. Curd rice is something you eat at home, not something you order for a late breakfast as a standalone dish at, of all places, Koshy’s. But here, the cold bowl of perfectly tempered rice is an ode to mama’s cooking, to the soul-food status that curd rice, very deservingly, has attained in the palates of us true-blue south Indians.

Curd rice at Koshy’s is, I like to think, a well-kept secret. It comes when we are in the middle of discussing our current reading lists, in a shallow bowl, all jet-white and gleaming. It is tempered with mustard seeds, mildly spiced, and has a big red chili garnish, “like a cherry on ice cream,” says one of my friends.

It is cold, the perfect temperature to soothe a belly fired up by the many cups of coffee we have had while going through small-town gossip from back home in the hills, where some of us are from. It is milky with a hint of sourness from the curd, and vanishes within minutes.

I am tempted to order another plate, but by then we have made plans to go to Pecos, another of those ancient establishments, for beer. We are, all of us migrants from elsewhere, as close to local Bangaloreans as we can get on that bright May afternoon.

Photo by: Sharmila Vaidyanathan

When Falafel is Good, It’s Very Good

Jun.28.17

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

Jun.27.17

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

Jun.26.17

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

Jun.23.17

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.

The Famed Parisian Café Culture, Now Available in Kabul

Jun.22.17

The Famed Parisian Café Culture, Now Available in Kabul

by Ali M Latifi

Coconut cookies in Kabul

The Slice Bakery opened while I was briefly living in Istanbul, but even in Turkey, I heard that it had become a gathering point for young people in Kabul.

Visitors to Istanbul from Kabul would talk about meetings and debates over coffee and pastries—Turkish milk tea, brownies, coconut cookies or a take on our traditional Afghan salty biscuits—at Slice.

When I moved back to Kabul in March, Slice was one of the first places I visited. I had to see if it lived up to its reputation.

The first time I went in, seeing the wood and glass tables full of young people—some in traditional Afghan piran tomban, others in suits and ties or distressed jeans and crisp leather jackets—it seemed that it was indeed the Afghan capital’s new hotspot.

More importantly, this wasn’t a high-priced establishment, tucked away in an unmarked building in a side street of a residential area catering to foreigners and rich Afghans. The bright yellow sign was visible from across the busy street in Shahr-e Naw, Kabul’s commercial hub.

I’ve been to the café countless times, but one evening in early May proved to me why this place stood out among the glut of restaurants and cafes that pop up each day in Kabul.

At the time, people all over Kabul were talking about the imminent return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former anti-Soviet commander and now leader of the nation’s second-largest armed opposition movement, who had just made peace with the central government after more than two decades in hiding.

Of course, people were talking about it at Slice, too. As soon as I ordered my latte and coconut cookies, my friends called me over to their table to discuss the return of a man who—along with rival commanders—had been responsible for the destruction of Kabul and thousands of deaths in the 1990s.

These young men, many of whom were too young to have any direct memory of the thousands of rockets Hekmatyar and his rivals rained over the city, were discussing his return over their cups of “Afghano” coffee, saffron-infused lattes, espressos, and green teas.

These debates were a sign of how far Kabul had come since the time Hekmatyar and his rivals were destroying the city. From the rise of communism in the late 1970s and until the U.S.-led intervention of 2001, Afghanistan was ruled by a series of communists, warlords, and the Taliban, whose policies made the expression of dissent extremely difficult, if not illegal. The free discussion among Afghans with different viewpoints—some who welcomed Hekmatyar’s return, others resigned to the fact that warlords always win, and those who refused to accept a man known as the “butcher of Kabul”—could almost, I thought, resemble the famous café debate culture of Paris or Beirut.

“Slice is what Kabul could become if everyone just left us alone,” said an Afghan-American documentary filmmaker, who had been visiting from her home in Brooklyn. One of the waiters put it more simply to a European journalist: “Slice is a symbol of what young Afghans want their country to be.”

Photo by: Qais Alamdar

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