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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Stay Warm, New Yorkers. Eat Dumplings.

Jan.09.17

Stay Warm, New Yorkers. Eat Dumplings.

by An Uong

Dumplings in Flushing

New Yorkers have acquired an impressive array of tricks to handle the winter months. Mine is eating a dozen lamb and chive dumplings at Tian Jin Dumpling House, an unassuming stall tucked away into a basement food court in Flushing, Queens. As January turns the city into a landscape of skeletal trees and snow-lined streets, the only solace left is the promise of these dumplings.

The Chinatown in Flushing, Queens is one of many in New York City, but in recent years, it has become its own rich community. Second in size only to the Chinatown in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Flushing sits at the end of the seven train, in a borough that speaks well over 100 different languages. When the train pulls into its last stop at Main Street, passengers spill out in a mass of thick coats and winter hats. Most walk towards the grocery stores with metal carts in tow.

I walk alongside these market-goers, pulling my coat closer around my body to keep the cold air from seeping through. It does anyway. Though I have been to the dumpling stall more times than I can count, I find myself walking by the food court’s entrance without noticing it, then backtracking a few moments later when I catch a whiff of the spices. The basement’s steps descend into a maze of vendors, where dining space is scarce. The available spaces come in the form of plastic stools and aluminum card tables. Among the overwhelming displays of signage is Tian Jin’s bright red banner, marking its spot in the food court with pictures of dumplings and a list of filling combinations. Though my personal favorite is lamb and chives, there are other versions, everything from pork and cabbage to shrimp and ginger.

Within minutes of ordering, a plate of dumplings arrives, along with vinegar and chili oil for dipping. The translucent shells reveal a marbling of colors underneath. Each dumpling is a pocket of savory warmth, the softness of the dough giving way to a dense filling that blooms with flavor in every bite.

As I eat them, I think of my mom, who spends hours carefully pinching at the seams of her own handmade dumplings when I visit my home in Los Angeles. In my parents’ living room, the television blares Vietnamese music as I do my part by scooping balls of filling into the wrappers before handing them to my mom. From time to time I add too much. My mom smiles at me knowingly as she pinches off a piece of the filling, returning it to the bowl before folding the wrapper into itself.

At Tian Jin, the dumplings are eaten alongside others looking to escape the bitter cold, if only temporarily. But there is more to them than their filling warmth. Flushing is a neighborhood whose residents are connected by foods from faraway homes. My home, a small apartment in Los Angeles, comes to life in my memory when I am handed a plate of dumplings in Flushing. Elbow to elbow, puffy winter jackets and all, there is a comfort in this shared experience.

Breakfast Doesn’t Have to Be the Best, It Just Needs to Be Your Favorite

Sep.25.17

Breakfast Doesn’t Have to Be the Best, It Just Needs to Be Your Favorite

by Karen Gardner

Fried eggs in Millvale

Sliding into a booth at P&G’s Diner, I’m overwhelmed by the smell of butter. P&G’s is an institution: a diner, pharmacy, and gift shop that anchors the town of Millvale, near where I grew up. Millvale lies across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh, stretching from the river bank up a steep hill. The town is old, industrial, and a bit beaten up, but residents have plenty of local pride.

Pamela Cohen and Gail Klingensmith opened the first Pamela’s P&G Diner in Pittsburgh in 1980. Pamela cooked, Gail ran the business, and a friend helped out. As the diner grew in popularity, they were able to hire staff and expand, eventually running six diners in the Pittsburgh area. The chain’s diehard popularity spread outside Pittsburgh as well. In 2009, the Obamas invited Pamela and Gail to make pancakes for the Memorial Day brunch at the White House. The diners each remain locally owned, either by Pam and Gail, their family members, or former wait staff.

The P&G Diner in Millvale is the least fashionable and well-known of the chain. It’s a place where brunch is still about eggs and grease rather than mimosas, where it’s ok for everyone to call everyone else “honey,” and where tables are moved as strangers become friends over plates of french toast.

At P&G Diner the food is great, the prices are low, and there are key chains, postcards, Band-Aids, and cough drops for sale. The old-timey clock above the entrance, the cozy booths, the waitresses with names like Flo, Patty, and Tammy make it feel familiar and nostalgic. It’s just another diner, but one infused with memories.

I remember sitting inside on cold weekend mornings with my family. My brother would order corned beef hash and I would mix ketchup into my potatoes to make our meals look the same. I remember when Hurricane Ivan hit Millvale in 2004 and the whole neighborhood flooded. The legend is that Pittsburgh’s underground fourth river shot a geyser up through P&G’s kitchen. Whatever the truth is, the diner was shut down for half a year. I remember the town in shambles, and then how Millvale picked itself up and rebuilt.

I order the Big Lincoln: two fried eggs, Lyonnaise potatoes, bacon, and two hotcakes. The eggs are soft with runny yolks, the bacon perfectly crispy, the potatoes cooked, diced, and then fried: a middle ground between hash browns and home fries. The hotcakes are thin and the size of your plate, with crispy edges. I like them rolled with a filling of sour cream, strawberries, and brown sugar. With bottomless coffee, it’s a decadent and filling breakfast, impossible to eat in one sitting. I’m tempted to say that it’s the best breakfast in the best place, but it isn’t. It’s just my favorite breakfast in my favorite place.

What, You’ve Never Had Bright Red Foam on Your Drinkable Oatmeal Before?

Sep.21.17

What, You’ve Never Had Bright Red Foam on Your Drinkable Oatmeal Before?

by Allegra Ben-Amotz

Atole rojo in Oaxaca

It was my first time with a tour group. I’d come to Cuajimoloyas, in the northern highlands of Oaxaca, to forage for wild mushrooms during Mexico’s rainy season. Instead of navigating the forests alone, I joined a band of women and their local guide, a man named Celestino, for the town’s yearly Regional Wild Mushroom Festival.

We’d spent the previous day hunting, trying to collect the greatest variety of edible and non-edible toadstools. We woke up early the next morning for the announcement of the winning team by the fairgrounds at the base of the mountain.

I’d packed poorly for the July chill, and wandered the booths proffering various mushroom-based dishes in search of something to warm my bones. I spotted Celestino huddled under a tent, blowing on his hands as he waited for his breakfast. He was having atole, a traditional corn-based beverage thats something like a drinkable oatmeal. It sounded perfect. I ordered my own and we waited at the sole vinyl-covered table under the tent, elbow-to-elbow with an elderly Mexican couple.

When Celestino’s aunt, the woman running the booth, brought over two brown ceramic bowls brimming with bright red foam, I tried to tell her this was not what we’d ordered. “You’ve never had atole rojo before?” Celestino asked. “It’s for special occasions.”

Flavored with a powder of toasted corn, cacao beans, and brick-red achiote paste, the atole was steamed and then frothed on top to create a crown of festive bubbles. I dunked a strip of pan criollo (rich, eggy local bread) into the biggest bubble on top, tasting the icy foam. Celestino held his bowl in his hands, slurping it like a mug of coffee. I followed suit: the bowl was hot to the touch, the initial chill of the top layer giving way to an earthy, slightly-sweet molten drink.

Celestino poked my side. “That’s us, second place!” he said, and I heard the judges repeating our names. We went up to accept our prize, still clutching mugs of our celebratory atole in our hands.

Breakfast in Kashmir is So Good, They Have it Twice

Sep.19.17

Breakfast in Kashmir is So Good, They Have it Twice

by Sophia Ann French

Czot in Kashmir

It was my first time on a houseboat and my first trip to Kashmir. Standing on the deck of the boat, I was excited to start working on my first film when Ajaz, the owner of the houseboat, brought me a cup of tea. It was the first time I tasted Kashmiri nun chai. We Indians love our chai with milk, sugar, and, at times, I add a dash of cardamom seeds to make a Mumbai-style masala chai, but nun chai wasn’t like any other tea I’ve had. It was pink, and salty. (It’s usually served with milk, but I had it without.) I took a reluctant sip and was surprised to enjoy the unusual flavor. Over the three months we spent in Kashmir, nun chai became a staple at every breakfast.

The union of bread with tea is an age-old tradition, and a Kashmiri breakfast pairs the savory tea with fresh-baked loaves from a kandar waz—these bakeries are found in every neighborhood across the valley and the bread is baked in a wood-fired, clay tandoor. On the first morning, Ajaz served us czot and lavasa. Czot is made by mixing refined white flour with water and kneading pieces of dough into thin rectangles. The kandar makes impressions on each piece with his fingertips before putting it into the oven, so the bread has ridges across the surface. I’d smear dollops of butter across its auburn crust and dunk it in nun chai. Lavasa is an unleavened flat bread with a blistery surface. I didn’t enjoy its stretchy texture when dipped in tea, so a Kashmiri colleague made me a delicious roll by stuffing the lavasa with barbecued meat and chickpeas.

The Kashmiris love their bread and chai so much they have it twice every morning. The film’s crew would leave for reconnaissance soon after breakfast, but I stayed back on the houseboat to interview the locals about militancy in Kashmir. The valley has been disputed territory between India and Pakistan for decades. Kashmiris who cross the border into Pakistan and return to India to fight are called militants. Ajaz, like many young Kashmiris, didn’t go the militant way, but is caught between the crossfire between the militants and the Indian army.

In the middle of his interview, Ajaz excused himself for a few minutes and returned with a tray of the pink tea and bakarkhani, a round bread that looks like puffed pastry. It’s brown and crispy on the outside with soft fluffy layers on the inside. I’d never seen this at breakfast, and Ajaz explained that the Kashmiris have specific breads for specific times. Bakarkhani and nun chai became part of our 10 a.m. ritual, when Ajaz and I ruminated over the differences between Kashmir’s past—when it was a center for Sufism and Shaivism—and its fraught present.

If Nothing Else, This Experimental Utopia Has a Pretty Good Café

Sep.18.17

If Nothing Else, This Experimental Utopia Has a Pretty Good Café

by Ranjini Rao

Bagels in Auroville

With the blaze of the August sun in our eyes and yet a lightness to our step in Pondicherry, India’s beloved, dreamy beach town, and an erstwhile French colony, we set out for Auroville to have breakfast at the Auroville Bakery Café.

Our host—a dear friend who had grown up talking, breathing, and eating all things French in Pondy—had raved enough about it for us to want to sample the food there.

Auroville is an ambitious utopian living experiment, courtesy of the vision of philosopher-guru Sri Aurobindo and his colleague Mirra Alfassa, aka The Mother. Founded in 1968, it was designed as a village-for-all, governed by multicultural harmony, where people from all over the world are welcome.

The foundation for the bakery was laid by an Austrian banker, Otto, who moved to Auroville in the 80s and collaborated with bakers in the area for a while. The café in the back is a recent addition to the bakery, we were informed. The bakery was created by several eager hands, trying and testing recipes ranging from brioche to knackebrots to provide an excellent patisserie for Aurovilleans in the 90s.

The café’s newest crew—a German, a Ukrainian, a handful of Indians, and a couple of French nationals—came aboard in the 2000s, and decided to offer beverages, too. They started the café out small, with a few vibrant chairs and tables assembled under the trees in the backyard garden, but they were determined to serve big, satisfying breakfasts.

The menu was handwritten on an overused blackboard, and didn’t seem too exciting at first. But on closer inspection, we saw the items of which we’re sadly deprived in Bangalore: bagels with cheese, salads loaded with proteins, fresh fruit platters, wholewheat sandwiches with fresh cheese, quiches, tarts, croissants.

We ordered a bagel with cheese, a fresh fruit platter, and a grilled vegetable and cheese sandwich to share, plus juice, tea, and coffees.

The bread in the sandwich was a far cry from the supermarket variety to which we’re accustomed, which is softened and aerated with additives. This bread was crusty, substantial, with a nutty, earthy taste. The cheese was fresh, thick-cut, and refreshingly light on sourness and saltiness, unlike the aged cheeses sold outside, preserved with chemicals. It was a delicious morning.

A Delicious Breakfast Ruined by Reality

Sep.15.17

A Delicious Breakfast Ruined by Reality

by Corinne Redfern

Barbati in Bangladesh

It’s our third day of reporting in Jessore, and we’re starving. A tightly-bound team of four, we’re supposed to be covering child marriage—a weighty topic that’s reduced our sleep and raised our stress levels—and our stomachs are the ones suffering for it.

Somehow I’ve taken to subsisting on peanut butter scooped out of the jar with the end of a pen. The roadside café near our hotel doesn’t appeal—five men hover on the steps outside and stare. But our fixer is insistent: it’s time to find food. Plus it’s shaded, and there appears to be tea.

Female foreigners don’t come here often, we learn. The proprietor, Mahmoud, nervously knots and unknots the front of his navy-blue lunghi as we help ourselves to the pots of food: shoveling saucers full of rice onto wet stainless steel plates and drowning everything in heavily-spiced daal.

The food is good; hot and heavy. But it feels like we’re getting in the way. We push our chairs back to leave, and relief flushes Mahmoud’s face.

Less than 24 hours later and we’re back. It’s barely morning, but the day’s interviews are already going awry and we need to regroup. Today, Mahmoud is waiting. As we elbow our way to reach a space at the back, the 66-year-old stands beaming before producing a red plastic lunchbox from behind his back. A handmade paper bag follows; unwrapped to reveal eight flour-soft pathiri folded in four. Water is procured and ceremoniously poured.

He told his wife about us last night, Mahmoud explains, lunghi-knot intact as he checks the table arrangement one last time, and finally lifts the red plastic lid to reveal a hot, spiced pile of green beans and garlic. So she made us a breakfast of barbati, just in case we were still in town.

They were worried, he adds, in case yesterday’s food wasn’t good enough. That day, he hadn’t known we were coming. He hadn’t had time to prepare.
We try to send compliments back to the chef, but Mahmoud insists he could have cooked the barbati himself. It’s just a matter of heating salt, garlic, turmeric and onions, dicing potato and chopping up yard-long beans; stirring the ingredients with water until they soften and the spices find their way under the skins.

After all, he should know. He’d taught his wife the recipe himself two decades earlier, although she’s improved on it since, and won’t tell him what’s changed. How old was she when you married her, we ask, mouths full and distracted. It’s only as our breakfast digests that it dawns on us he answered “ten.”

Photo by: Rds26/Wikipedia Commons

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