nora on 07/04/2014
Chiles en Nogada

Edible History: Chiles en Nogada

The other night I was having dinner with my boyfriend at the wonderful Mexican restaurant Mesa Coyoacán in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My boyfriend is the only other person I know who is as obsessed with Mexican culture and Mexican food as I am. We could talk about the history of urban planning (or lack thereof) in […]

The other night I was having dinner with my boyfriend at the wonderful Mexican restaurant Mesa Coyoacán in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My boyfriend is the only other person I know who is as obsessed with Mexican culture and Mexican food as I am. We could talk about the history of urban planning (or lack thereof) in Mexico City, dream about the jungles of Oaxaca, and eat churros for days on end and never get bored. I know that there are many more people on the planet who love Mexico as much or more than, I do. But sometimes in a city obsessed with bahn mi tacos, artisanal elote, and infused libations of any sort, I feel it hard to find authentic Mexican food, with authentic prices, that isn’t just served out of shopping cart by a sweet old lady on Saturday mornings in the belly of Bushwick. Which don’t get me wrong, I totally love. But when I am waxing poetic about tacos al pastor from la merced, sometimes it just doesn’t cut it.

That quest brought me to the most amazing restaurant, and arguably one of the best Mexican restaurants I have ever eaten at — Tortillaria Nixtamal. We were lucky enough to shoot a spot on Nixtamal recently, so keep your eyes open for a feature on how they make their fresh ground corn tortillas and the most mouth-watering chilaquiles this side of the border. But alas, Nixtamal is all the way in Corona Queens, so I have to savor it on special occasions. And though I can be pretty persuasive, I can’t often convince my friends to travel one-and-a-half hours each way for homemade tortillas.

Which brings me back to my dinner in Williamsburg at Mesa Coyoacán. This upscale Mexican eatery, which is quite delicioso, has many authentic Mexican dishes that can be hard to find anywhere else in the city. But one dish that represents the pinnacle of authentic Mexican cuisine, is this: chiles en nogada — and something my boyfriend had never heard of. And if he had never heard of chiles en nogada, I then realized that many aspiring Mexiphiles have probably never heard of it or had the chance to try it either (as it is usually only served in Mexico on special occasions) — and something must be done!

First off, chiles en nodaga is a complicated dish. It can be made with upwards of 40 ingredients and generally consists of roasted poblano chiles filled with picadillo, a mixture of ground or shredded meat (usually beef or pork), panochera apples, sweet-milk pears, criollo peaches, and spices. Once stuffed, the chiles are sometimes dunked in egg batter and fried, then always smothered in a crema sauce made with walnuts and fresh cheese. Finally it is dusted with a cover of pomegranate seeds and parsley. Simple, yet visually stunning, it is a tantalizingly divine encapsulation of the tricolor Mexican flag.

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Aside from the fact that chiles en nogada is incredibly tasty, it also holds a space dear to my heart and to the heart of most Mexicans. The last time that I was in Mexico City (the fall of 2010), it was the double-decker anniversary of the 200th year of Independence from Spain and the 100th year of the Mexican revolution. In 2010, after some tough political times, Mexico was bursting with pride and ready to celebrate their historical achievements. For months, everywhere I went there were Mexican flags waving in the wind, sparkling gold streamers hanging from every doorstep, and ¡Viva la Revolución! posters plastered everywhere. And at practically every restaurant the daily special was chiles en nogado. But why was chiles en nogada so special?

I was incredibly lucky to have at the time a wonderful teacher and mentor in Mexico, Eulogio, who generously shared his culture, cuisine, and family traditions. At almost the exact moment I tucked in for my first meal of the trip, he explained the importance of chiles en nogada in Mexican culture and how I simply could not visit the country during its pinnacle celebration without trying the dish. Just a few days later, I sat at his mother’s kitchen table in Naucalpan, having one of the best meals of my life and devouring the tricolor with abandon.

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The dish is considered a symbol of Mexican independence, as it was first prepared in 1821 for Agustín de Iturbide, the seminal commander who built a successful military coalition that marched through Mexico City, decidedly ending the Mexican War of Independence. He later became the Emperor of Mexico from 1822 to 1823. The story goes that in August of 1821, Iturbide signed the Treaty of Cordoba, which gave Mexico its independence from Spain. On his way to Mexico City from Veracruz (where the treaty was signed), Iturbide stopped in the town of Puebla.

The people of Puebla wanted to hold a feast to celebrate Mexico’s independence and to honor Iturbide on his saint’s day, which is the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, August 28th. Nuns of the convent of our Mother of Santa Monica created a new dish in Iturbide’s honor, employing only indigenous, seasonal ingredients — most notably the poblano chile (which was selected out of over 200 chiles that are used in Mexican cooking), walnuts, and pomegranate seeds. Pomegranates and walnuts are in season in Mexico during August and September, and still today most places only serve chiles en nogada during these months.

It is said that Iturbide was fearful of being poisoned at the feast in his honor and thus ate nothing throughout the evening. At least, nothing until the chiles en nogada came out. He could not resist the colorful and decadent dish, fully enjoying many helpings. While it is rumored that Iturbide was also served another tricolor dish that day — a salad consisting of green nopalitos, red tomatoes, and white onions — chiles en nogada was the one that stuck and to this day remains a symbol of Mexican independence.

While chiles en nogada is the hot ticket dish on menus through Mexico at the end of every summer, now that we live in a world where ingredients can be had anywhere at any time, I am sure that it is possible to find it somewhere in Mexico City any time of the year (or in NYC in December, like me). But really, don’t you want to stay true to tradition and eat the dish during the celebration of the revolution? Although if you find yourself at Mesa Coyoacán anytime soon, I hardly think you should resist temptation.

flickr_The Masa AssAssin

Images by Nora Chovanec and  Daniel Dionne and The Masa Assin via Flickr Creative Commons.


Mari on 06/28/2014
Mongolia_Marianna Jamadi-19

Road Snapshots: Mongolia

Mongolia is The Land Before Time meets my landscape pipe dream. As Mongolia’s landscape revealed itself, I didn’t know if I should cry out of bliss or pee my pants out of excitement. Luckily, I saved myself the embarrassment of both, but no doubt Mongolia has a way of moving you. It’s like seeing for […]

Mongolia is The Land Before Time meets my landscape pipe dream. As Mongolia’s landscape revealed itself, I didn’t know if I should cry out of bliss or pee my pants out of excitement. Luckily, I saved myself the embarrassment of both, but no doubt Mongolia has a way of moving you. It’s like seeing for the first time. My virginal eyes deflowered by Mongolia’s curves. The seduction of simplicity. It has a way of making your feel small, yet possible. Much in the same way you might feel when in a plane and you look down at earth and realize you are an ant in comparison, only to realize your ant-sized self is hurling itself through the sky to discover the world. That is possibility. That is living big. This is Mongolia.


Matthew on 06/21/2014
tomb

Where to Go: Walking Tours of Istanbul

Anyone who has ever had more than a fleeting interest in Istanbul is probably tired of hearing about how it is the crossroads between East and West. Few places are stuck with such persistent truisms about them as this global city that literally spans two continents. Any visitor to this city will be able to […]

Anyone who has ever had more than a fleeting interest in Istanbul is probably tired of hearing about how it is the crossroads between East and West. Few places are stuck with such persistent truisms about them as this global city that literally spans two continents. Any visitor to this city will be able to see it for themselves in the markets selling Qurans and soccer jerseys in adjacent stalls, hear it as arabesque and techno music try to outdo each other on the street, or taste it as they wash down their babaganoush mezze with a stein of German beer.

However Istanbul is great enough to embody more than just this one split personality. It has several. It is both a vibrant youthful metropolis and a sprawling ancient capital. It is a place where stockbrokers argue about LGBT rights just down the hill from blue-collar immigrants from the countryside arguing about familiar honor.

The different identities that pull the city and its people back and forth in a continuous motion are what make it such an exciting place to visit. In celebrating a few of these dichotomous identities, here are two suggested trips across the city to help you get a sense of how much more defines this city than its strategic place on the map.

Progressive and Conservative 

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Istanbul attracts just as many hip backpackers to its galleries and bars as it does Islamic pilgrims to its shrines. Starting on the European side of the city in the Tophane neighborhood, wander up Boğazkesen street while stopping into a few of its many contemporary art galleries including Rodeo, Non, Pilot, and Piartworks. You are certain to find a new up-and-coming Turkish artist with a hard to pronounce name that you can drop to impress all of your hipster friends.

Then head up Defterdar Yokuşu street until you reach Van Kahvalti evi, where you can get a glorious Turkish style brunch complete with kaymak: a creamy dairy product that tastes like pure heaven when mixed with fresh honey and smeared over fresh baked bread.

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Keep heading up the hill and you will soon find yourself in one of Istanbul’s trendiest neighborhoods, Cihangir. Cihangir is full of beautiful art deco apartments, boutique stores, and Turkish celebrities. Eventually at the top of the hill you will run into Istiklal Caddesi. This is the central artery of all of Turkish society. Take a left and as you walk you will see book stores touting critical theory, protesters railing against patriarchy, and thousands of people just looking for a bar or bar food. If you dare to explore its back alleys you may find one of its uber-hip music venues like Salon or Peyote.

As you reach the end of this gloriously busy street, just before reaching Tunel,  you will come across the unassuming entrance to the Mevlevi Tekkesi. It is a lodge for Sufis where they often hold the famous Whirling Dervish ceremony. As you descend the hill and take the bridge across the Golden Horn you will suddenly find yourself in an Ottoman cityscape. Just in front of you is the imposing facade of a blue tinted mosque structure built in 1665 called the New Mosque. Make sure to check out the tomb structure right behind the mosque that houses the coffins of no less than five Ottoman sultans.

Following the tram up the street you can stop into Topkapi Palace and see more history than you’ll know what to do with. For those interested in something a little more authentic, head in the opposite direction to the Eyüp neighborhood. Eyüp is famous in Istanbul for being the only place where women walk around completely covered in conservative Islamic abayas and even Niqab.

But don’t let this scare you off. Close to the water you will find an extensive series of mosques, cemeteries, and tombs including that of Ayyub al-Ansari who was a companion of the prophet Muhammad who died in the Muslim’s first attempt to conquer Istanbul in 674. In sharp contrast to many of the religious pageantry reenacted for tourists in the SultanAhmet area, it is a very moving experience to walk amongst the throng of pilgrims in Eyüp during Ramadan. And visiting this conservative neighborhood will help you appreciate how far you’ve come from sipping lattes in Cihangir located just 3 miles away.

 

Homogeneous and Cosmopolitan

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Once you’ve been in Turkey for a few days you will come to a sudden realization about the face of its founding leader Atatürk : it’s everywhere. Hanging on office walls, printed on t-shirts, smiling on currency, painted on everything, and tattooed on the arms of young men. Atatürk represents the triumph of Turkish nationalism as the guiding ethos of the country.

Over the course of the 20th century, Istanbul was transformed from a true cultural and religious melting pot to a city with an overwhelmingly uniform Turkish character that it has today. This is a very sensitive topic which can ignite intense political debate among Istanbulites.  For the casual expat or tourist, this may just mean that you may get pretty tired of eating Doner kebab and Kofte everyday during your visit. But for those willing to peel back the layers of history and culture, they will find that the history of Istanbul tells a much more complex and colorful story.

To get a taste of modern Turkish identity, it might be useful to start your tour with the Istanbul Military Museum close to Taksim square. With the modern Turkish republic being founded after many years of war, and almost all Turkish males serving in the military, it is important to see the relationship between Turkey’s strong nationalist mentality and militarism.

Just down the hill you can also visit Dolmabahçe palace which was the the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire for over half a center. Right across the street you will see İnönü Stadium. Right alongside the Turk’s allegiance to his country is his allegiance to a soccer club.  İnönü is home to the Beşiktaş football club. Although Istanbul is home to no less than 3 different soccer clubs each with their own rowdy tribe of fans, none are as die-hard or rowdy as those of Beşiktaş . During a match in this stadium in 2007, Beşiktaş fans roared in unison at 132 decibels, giving  İnönü the title of the “loudest stadium in the World.”

As you head West from İnönü stadium on the Bosphorus road you will pass by one Ottoman mosque after another; designed with an elegant unity of design. Then you will go over a bridge named after Atatürk as you cross the Golden Horn. But once you reach the Hagia Sophia on the other side you will realize that the city has not always been wholly Turkish nor wholly Muslim. Everywhere inside this awesome structure are signs of other civilizations. The Byzantine mosaics on the walls, the Greek inscriptions, even graffiti left by a Viking in the 9th century.

If you make it to the Chora Church, a popular tourist site located up the peninsula from the Hagia Sophia, you will find yourself in the neighborhood of Fener-Balat.  Just up the hill from the very Muslim Eyüp, Fener-Balat is a beautiful old neighborhood that used to be home to thousands of Greek, Armenian, and Jewish families.

If you look across the water back towards Beyoğlu, you can see another equally dilapidated but fascinating neighborhood called Tarlabaşı. It is was originally home to a large Greek population but in recent times it has became home to droves of Kurdish immigrants who settled in with the Roma already living amongst its crumbling walls. Nowadays if you brave walking around this somewhat unsavory neighborhood you will also run into new immigrant groups who have come to Tarlabaşı from the former USSR and sub-saharan Africa.

Take the ferry across the Bosphorus to Kadıköy and not only will you be treated to Istanbul’s cooler alternative side (think Brooklyn as compared to Manhattan), but if you look closely you can see more traces of when Istanbul was populated by more than Turks. The ferry will pass right in front of the impressive neo-classical Haydarpaşa train station which was built by Germans to house passengers on their way to and from the Middle East. The train station was also the scene to a darker chapter in the history of the Armenians in Turkey.

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From the waterfront in Kadıköy you have two options to explore Istanbul’s cosmopolitanism. Another ferry will take you to the gorgeous Büyükada, an island in the Marmara Sea where there are no cars and everybody lives in magnificent whitewashed mansions. On a hilltop you can find the Aya Yorgi monastery which is one of two important pilgrimage sites for Christians in Turkey. Alternatively, you can head up into the market of Kadıköy and celebrate Istanbul’s once and future multiculturalism at Çiya: Istanbul’s most delicious restaurant. Its Turkish-Kurdish proprietor has recruited some of the most exotic and delicious food from all over greater Turkey.

You cannot walk far in Istanbul without seeing its many contradictions: ornate Ottoman fountains spray-painted with leftist graffiti, or pristine wooded parks butting up against trash-strewn Gecekondus. Without even trying, you will soon be coming up with your own truisms to describe this incredible city to the folks back home.

 

All photography copyright Matthew Lundin and Image by sputnik57 via Flickr Creative Commons.


Maddy Douglass on 05/25/2014
Le Marais Croissant | Abbott & West Productions

Notes from the Kitchen: Oh la la, Le Marais Bakery

What do you get when you leave a Frenchman in California for too long? A Frenchman in desperate need of a good croissant. The San Francisco Bay Area may be known for having some of the country’s best bread, but baked goods worthy of a Parisian palate continue to be the El Dorado for which […]

What do you get when you leave a Frenchman in California for too long? A Frenchman in desperate need of a good croissant.

The San Francisco Bay Area may be known for having some of the country’s best bread, but baked goods worthy of a Parisian palate continue to be the El Dorado for which every American baker searches. When, after years in finance, Frenchman Patrick Ascaso decided it was time for a change, he couldn’t pass up a chance to throw his hat in the ring, in honor of the fresh banana-chocolate croissants he had every morning as a child from his neighborhood boulangerie. A longtime fan of Tartine, the city’s most famous bakery, he felt there was still room for growth, especially in the Bay-facing Marina district, a far cry from the foggy Mission.

Le Marais Bakery | Abbott & West Productions

From the reclaimed California redwood beams to the antique Parisian steel gates-turned-mirror accents, Le Marais Bakery is up-front about its dual influences. Ascaso knew he needed someone typically San Franciscan to balance him out, hiring firm Paxton Gate after seeing their work in Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water. “It was done in the most elegant way but also the most simplistic way,” he gushes to me over Stumptown cappuccinos and a marble tabletop covered in plates of everything from a rosemary kouign-amahn to a lemon tartelette. Details like vintage bundt-pan light fixtures and limestone floors indicate he got what he asked for when Le Marais opened in June of this year.

Each item on the menu – designed by Ascaso, Head Boulanger Justin Brown, and pastry chef Phil Ogiela – embodies Le Marais’s farm-to-table principles. The bakery operates with a “restaurant approach,” with the three of them going to the farmer’s market three times a week to pick out seasonal produce. “There’s no reason why you should produce a raspberry tart in November, but you can do pear,” Ascaso declares. “I didn’t want to make a lemon tart all year long; I want people to walk in and see what’s available that day.”

Le Marais lemon tarte | Abbott & West Productions

As Ascaso tells me about one day’s apricot walnut rye bread, the next’s pear and kale variety (the owner’s favorite recipe to date), I start to panic that I’m never going to be able to try everything delicious that comes out of this kitchen. The team has a twenty-two hour bake cycle, ensuring that each day’s offerings are fresh, based upon the availability of ingredients and on what Brown and Ascaso feel like serving that day. The goal is to “avoid being stagnant or static,” and, from the moistness of the pain de genes almond cake and the flakiness of the classic butter croissants, I don’t think that’s something they have to worry about.

For Head Boulanger Brown, it’s a baker’s dream, creating new recipes regularly: “We can really respond to a rotating numbers of ingredients because we’re operating on a smaller scale. We’re not locked in to a certain number of products or certain recipes.”

Le Marais bread | Abbott & West Productions

Brown brings his own skills to the figurative (and literal) table – after stretches working at Bien Cuit Bakery and Roberta’s, two of New York City’s top outposts for baked goods, he has contributed eight starters to Le Marais’ bread lineup, a culinary feat of its own. But working at Le Marais is different from anywhere he’s been before. For example, the “Marina Miche” Ascaso sent me home with – a seemingly basic sourdough bread – includes a combination of spelt, barley, and wheat starters and ferments for 42 hours, something that Brown says makes it distinctive in even the Bay Area amongst breads.

The Bay Area, he claims uncontroversially, “is one of the few places in the country that has cultivated and supported a real baking community.” Here, he can focus on his bread with the support of the artisanal baking movement, as well as Ascaso, without worrying about the bakery turning into a massive wholesale operation

“The fact that we’re making everything in house – in a very basic, fundamental sense – is unique. Customers can ask ‘Is it made here?’ and we can say ‘Yes!’”

Le Marais Bakery | Abbott & West Productions

The most surprising part of this venture for Brown has been the sense of “village baker” he’s gotten from seeing repeat customers around the neighborhood. “I never expected that or experienced it in New York, but here we’re so exposed and up front in the community, so you recognize customers on the street that you’ve seen in the bakery…which is really rewarding in an unexpected way.”

Similarly, Ascaso’s primary concern is service to his customers, a trait I note defies French stereotypes and perhaps indicates a San Francisco influence. During my visit, he bounced around the dining room, checking on the afternoon menu, taking orders firsthand, chatting with a return guest to ensure she was satisfied with her lunch, and bringing me plate after plate of sweet and savory treats. “I want to create a neighborhood bakery spot, where people can gather and feel welcome. I have regulars; people have been very happy that we are here. And I love that,” said Ascaso.

Le Marais pastries | Abbott & West Productions

Watching Brown and his staff work in their walk-in-closet-sized kitchen, it’s clear every employee of Le Marais shares his and Ascaso’s passion. And their team will be expanding – at least, temporarily. One of the innovative steps Ascaso and Brown are taking to improve their venture is inviting guest bakers and pastry chefs to come bake at Le Marais for short periods, a novel idea in the baking world.

Beyond even his ability to learn from these guest chefs, Brown thinks it will be helpful to those whom Le Marais aims to please the most: the customers. “This will be most beneficial for the community and customer base who will be able to come in and get three or four loaves of bread from a baker visiting from France.”

They may not need a guest chef from the homeland, but what San Franciscan is going to say no to that kind of sharing? That’s the California spirit.

All photography by Madeleine Douglass.


Kate on 04/18/2014
Balinese Rujak Abbott & West

Recipe: Balinese Rujak

Dining in Bali is a singular experience. In a sense, it’s not a huge food culture; the same meal is generally eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you don’t mind the lack of variety, though, the flavors are fascinating, a classic Southeast Asian blend of sweet, sour, spicy, and salty with fresh tropical fruits, […]

Dining in Bali is a singular experience. In a sense, it’s not a huge food culture; the same meal is generally eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you don’t mind the lack of variety, though, the flavors are fascinating, a classic Southeast Asian blend of sweet, sour, spicy, and salty with fresh tropical fruits, fresh seafood, and loads of rice.

When I was in the famously artsy hillside town of Ubud, I took a cooking class at the Casa Luna Cooking School in which we learned to make a full Balinese meal (which obviously means a full day of Balinese meals, by the aforementioned rule). Everything was delicious, but generally difficult to recreate when the abundant exotic offerings of Ubud’s daily market are not at your fingertips. Fortunately, the popular sweet and sour fruit and vegetable salad (and favorite street snack) known as rujak is simple enough to be recreated at home. Here’s the recipe as I learned it:

Balinese Rujak

Dressing
2 small chilis of the cabe or lombok variety, seeded
1 tsp shrimp paste, roasted, or fish sauce
3 tbsp tamarind paste
4 tbsp palm sugar syrup
sea salt to taste

Salad
2 apples, cut into half-inch chunks
1/2 a pineapple, roughly chopped
1 large cucumber, roughly chopped
1 ripe mango, roughly chopped
1-2 Japanese pear or jicama, roughly chopped

Starting with the chilis and salt and using a large mortar and pestle, grind the dressing ingredients until chunky and a bit liquidy. In a large bowl, combine the chopped fruit and vegetables. Pour the dressing over the fruit and vegetables, and toss the mixture to combine well. Add salt if necessary.

You can always add or substitute any of the fruits or vegetables, depending upon your preference and what’s available. Eat as a snack throughout the day or serve as an appetizer or side dish with a meal. I’m already daydreaming about bringing it to a picnic in the park on a hot, humid day this summer, when it will be super refreshing.

Image by fitri.agung via Flickr Creative Commons.


nora on 02/05/2014
Dim Sum

Where to Eat: Adventures in Manhattan’s Chinatown

Whenever I have friends or family  visit me in NYC, inevitably the culinary corner of the city that holds the most intrigue and the most reverence is Manhattan’s Chinatown. Pushing your way through its crowded streets can make even the most seasoned New Yorker sweat. So when you are a hungry tourist trying to determine […]

Whenever I have friends or family  visit me in NYC, inevitably the culinary corner of the city that holds the most intrigue and the most reverence is Manhattan’s Chinatown. Pushing your way through its crowded streets can make even the most seasoned New Yorker sweat. So when you are a hungry tourist trying to determine the most “authentic” experience to have in a neighborhood packed with vendors every-which-way peddling a thousand variations of green tea, unnameable creatures that walk the ocean floor, and more whole ducks than one sees in Central Park, it can be intimidating to say the least. But in holding its ground as one of the oldest Chinese enclaves outside of Asia, with a population of almost 100,000, Manhattan’s Chinatown should not be missed. So I thought it best to try and offer up my two cents on the best places to eat along Canal Street before the old ladies shelling lychee on the corner scare you off.

And while I cannot, by any means, claim to be a Chinese cuisine expert, I do feel that I am a pretty seasoned aficionado. I spend a lot of time down at The Museum of Chinese in America, due to my other job and familial ties, and I LOVE dim sum, pulled noodles, dumplings of any shape and size, Szechuan to the spiciest degree, and the big pots of green tea most restaurants provide you with gratis. I love fancy-dancy, cloth-napkin Chinese and I love 3am grease-dripping-down-your-chin Chinese. I could eat it for morning, noon and night, if I was better at cooking the darn stuff myself.

Now, just to be clear, I know that Chinese food in the U.S. is supposedly very, very different from the Chinese food of its homeland. But, I can say without hesitation, that I don’t really care. I mean, I would of course love to try any and every dish on it’s home soil, but I do not scoff at Americanized Chinese food and feel that it should be celebrated in its own right. And besides, isn’t Manhattan’s Chinatown about as close to authentic as you can get outside of China? So the next time you find yourself stepping off the Chinatown bus ready to dig in deep, hopefully this culinary road map will help point you in the right direction.

 

Nom Wah Tea House

Nom Wah Tea House
13 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013
(212) 962-6047
Now I know that this early in the game I should not pick favorites, but I cannot help myself. This little dim sum hub holds claim to fame as the first dim sum restaurant in the city, incorporating back in the 1920s. But unlike other “classic” restaurants in the city, it has been able to maintain its authentic credibility over the years. Nestled in a crooked corner street south of Canal, Nom Wah is hard to spot if you don’t go looking for it. Doyers Street is truly like nowhere else in rest of the city. In fact, it is legend that there are secret passageways between the buildings and the sharp Eastern turn it takes led the street to be called “The Bloody Angle” in the 1930s because of the gory fights that would occur amongst the Chinatown Tong Gangs.

But don’t let it’s gruesome history cloud your vision of Nom Wah. The retro diner interior may make you feel as if you are turning back time as you slide into the red rubber booths and pick up a paper menu, but the food definitely satisfies modern palates. My favorite fare includes the incredibly delicious and filling pork buns, which at $1.50 are the biggest steal in NYC, the scallion pancake, pan fried dumplings, and Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce. To note, if you are an adventurous eater, try the chicken feet. But be aware, they are not for the faint of heart. Last time at Nom Wah my boyfriend and I placed an order and as someone who prides herself on having eaten like a local and consumed odd dishes to the tune of bulls balls, grasshopper tacos, and goat heart, I thought the chicken feet would be no problem. But, to my dismay, even when cooked, chicken feet really do look and feel like chicken feet and there really is not that much meat on the bone.

 

Sheng Wang

Sheng Wang
27 Eldridge St., New York, NY 10002
(212) 925-0805
While the decor of Sheng Wang may leave much to be desired, the noodles do not. I recently took a trip off the beaten track to this hand-pulled-noodle spot with a friend who has lived in China many times. He suggested the Fujian style noodles, after hearing friends rave on and on about its authentic cred. The two types of wheat noodles served — lamian strand spaghetti style and dao xiao mian peel noodles — hold up alongside the flavorful broth and my friend gave them two thumbs up for the authentic preparation. While you are slurping up noodles and peeling your elbows off the vinyl tables, take a look to the back of the shop and watch the chefs make fish balls and pull the epically long strands of noodles on site.

 

Red Egg

Red Egg
202 Centre St. NY, NY 10013
212.966.1123
Red Egg fills a much needed role in the world of Chinatown cuisine – a tasty restaurant that comes with a sophisticated decor and clean tablecloths. Sometimes you find yourself craving delicious Chinese food, but you are in the company of friends or family who may not be quite as gung-ho about “authentic” culinary experiences that often include basement restaurants with plastic tablecloths. Instead you want a well shaken cocktail and a relaxing ambiance with your vegetable wonton. Red Egg is the perfect place. Red Egg employs a classic Chinese menu and ups the ante. It embraces the dim sum style, while still offering up mouthwatering plates of Peking Duck, General Tso’s chicken and filet mignon.

 

Vanessa’s Dumpling House

Vanessa’s Dumpling House
18A Eldridge St, New York, NY
(212) 625-8008 ‎
If you are looking for a sweet dumpling fix, but don’t have a lot of change in your pocket, head over to Vanessa’s Dumpling. This well-known Beijing-style dumpling house offers four chicken and pork dumplings for only $1.00! And even with such a low price tag, they hold up to their “pot-stick” name with just the right amount of soft, chewy, and slightly crunchy textures. I must say, I cannot vouch for much else on the list, as I have never known anyone to visit Vanessa’s and purchase anything other than dumplings. I know it has happened, as they have a much larger menu with many other options that differ from dumplings. But really, who would be crazy enough to not just scarf down a couple of orders of dumplings and feast like a king for less than the price of a subway ride?
NOTE: Insiders know that one of the ways that Vanessa’s keeps the cost low is by watering down their soy sauce. So I would advise bringing a packet or two of your own.

 

Shanghai Cafe Deluxe

Shanghai Cafe Deluxe
100 Mott Street, New York NY 10013
While interactive soup dumplings are often not for the serious eater, they are quite a fun and tasty experience. My first time slurping soup dumplings was actually during an initial meeting of Abbott & West, where Kate and I hashed it out over a few too many plates of soup dumplings and beef and broccoli. But thank goodness for the sustenance, for that was the night that we came up with our namesake — Abbott & West! But all personal biases aside, Shanghai Cafe Deluxe is the best known soup dumpling place in town, and that is no small feat. The dumplings are freshly rolled and steamed to order and provide a tasty little pocket of flavor perfection. Way better than some of the other over-hyped soup dumpling places in the area.

 

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard Street NY, NY 10013
(212) 608-4170
While it may seem counterintuitive to satisfy your sweet tooth in Chinatown with something other than fortune cookies or lotus cakes, don’t worry about being too “westernized” at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. The ice cream parlor holds down local cred with twisted flavors like red bean, taro, black sesame, and zen butter. And as it is a family run operation that has been scooping out sweet treats for almost three decades, the Factory is definitely a neighborhood institution.

 

Dumplings

A Few More Ideas…

A few more places in town to whet your appetite:
**Full disclosure, my fabulous friend and Chinese food aficionado Christine Kim helped me put this list together.

A-Wah
5 Catherine Street NY, NY 10038
(212) 925-8308.
Specializes in Bo Zai Fan (loosely, “clay pot rice” in Cantonese). Think Korean bibimbap meets Chinese food. No frills.

Xi’an Famous Foods
67 Bayard Street New York, NY 100133
Specializes in the Xi’an style (Middle Eastern meets Chinese). It’s cheap and a favorite place for lots of famous Chinese/Asian chefs in NYC.

Yunnan Kitchen
79 Clinton St., New York, NY 10002
212-253-2527
Specializes in food from the Chinese Yunnan province. Think small plates of wild mushrooms, cured ham, and edible flowers. Yunnan borders Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Sichuan, and Tibet, so don’t expect “traditional” Chinese.

Great N.Y. Noodletown
28 Bowery NY, NY 10013
212-349-0923
Lives up to its name with expertly prepared Cantonese cuisine. Cheap and VERY no frills.

 

Images by  amesis and christine_w_wei  via Flickr Creative Commons.


Kate on 01/10/2014
Kay's Bar Edinburgh | Abbott & West Productions

Where to Eat: Edinburgh

The Scottish capital has flown under the radar for too long. It’s renowned throughout Europe for its arts and culture – the Festival, anyone? – but, somehow, Americans keep overlooking it. We’re here to change that. The ancient city is one of the world’s most picturesque, with its medieval castle towering above and impressive architecture […]

The Scottish capital has flown under the radar for too long. It’s renowned throughout Europe for its arts and culture – the Festival, anyone? – but, somehow, Americans keep overlooking it. We’re here to change that.

The ancient city is one of the world’s most picturesque, with its medieval castle towering above and impressive architecture from throughout history lining every street. But you’d be most remiss if you didn’t take full advantage of its food scene, which has rapidly become one of the – if not the, but don’t tell London – best on the island of Britain.

From an abundance of Michelin stars to plenty of talented young upstarts, here are some of our favorite places to eat in Edinburgh.

The Dogs
Hidden away in a pair of upstairs rooms in the Georgian-era New Town, this cozy local gastropub ticks all the boxes: friendly, well-designed, affordable, and – above all – delicious. Ingredients are locally sourced, recipes are classic Scottish and English with a fresh twist, and the beers are top-notch Scottish. It’s sort of like your best friend in Edinburgh’s dining room, and that’s a great thing.

The Ship on the Shore
Did you know that Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald visited Edinburgh? Okay, maybe they didn’t, but this champagne bar and seafood restaurant in the waterfront Leith neighborhood that looks like an atmospheric old pub is actually all 1920s-style charm and jazz-inflected elegance. And super fresh seafood. It’s the perfect destination for a Sunday lunch after a long walk along the Water of Leith.

21212
Enter the Michelin stars. One of Edinburgh’s longtime darlings, Chef Paul Kitching serves exquisite five-course menus of fresh, seasonal Scottish cuisine in a beautifully restored Georgian townhouse on Calton Hill. He usually comes out after to sit down for a chat, so be sure to save some room for conversation…

The Gardener’s Cottage
In a place where it’s so dark and rainy most of the time, it’s a bit surprising to find somewhere that feels so inspired by the outdoors. But inside this converted historic gardener’s cottage (truth in advertising…), long communal tables and all farmers market-inspired seasonal dishes make it one of the cosiest and most enjoyable dining experiences in the city. That and the £30 six-course prix fixe menu – one of the city’s best deals.

Kay’s Bar
If you’re a fine dining enthusiast or trend-setting eater, you aren’t coming to Kay’s Bar for the food. If you want a taste of authentic, old-world Scotland, then you’re definitely there for the food. And the beers and the whisky and the conversation and the atmosphere… It’s handlebar-mustachioed proprietor and Victorian interiors are just half of what makes this the perfect Edinburgh pub. The pies (of the savory variety, naturally) and scotches and ales are the other half. So grab a seat and settle in for a few hours.

The Bon Vivant
So it’s a bit trendy with its aged craft cocktails and French liqueur posters, but the fact is that the Bon Vivant gets it right, so it’s hard to blame it for puffing its feathers a bit. Seasonal, locally sourced ingredients fill classic Scottish dishes with a French flair and the bartenders decked out in suspenders mix a mean negroni. Plus, you do feel like you’ve found possibly the coolest spot in Edinburgh.


nora on 12/11/2013
Mexican Tortas

The Great State Project: Mexico City Milanese Tortas

Technically, my first experience in Mexico was a night back in 2007 spent in Rosarito, 45 minutes over the border from San Diego in Baja. But since my time on the ground was barely 24 hours and the only real Mexican food I ate was a bowl of “vegetarian” menudo, I don’t really think of […]

Technically, my first experience in Mexico was a night back in 2007 spent in Rosarito, 45 minutes over the border from San Diego in Baja. But since my time on the ground was barely 24 hours and the only real Mexican food I ate was a bowl of “vegetarian” menudo, I don’t really think of it as my first time in Mexico. That came about when I began a documentary photography and oral history project on corn farmers in Central Mexico. My partner on the project and I were stationed in Mexico City and would take week-long trips to other regions to live with different farmers. I fell in love deeply with Mexico and my life has never been the same. So it feels fitting to begin my exploration through Mexican culinary history with my home away from home state of Mexico, otherwise known as Mexico City, Ciudad de México, Distrito Federal, or D.F. for short.

Now onto the dish….

Mexico City Milanese Tortas

Tortas are quintessentially a Mexican sandwich. You can make them yourself at home, but while in Mexico City that seems almost crazy to attempt, considering that torta street vendors sit on practically every corner, are piled sky high with ingredients that could fill you up for about two days, cost about 30 pesos, and toast on a grill that carries the seasoning of the thousand tortas that came before it.

Tortas are awesome for many reasons, so watch this little video to find out why they are so great, especially in D.F. And then, either hightail it on the next plane to Mexico or go home and make one yourself! You can find the full recipe here.

Mexico City Milanese Tortas!
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1:10
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The Innocents Abroad on 07/22/2013
Maharlika

The Philippines: Maharlika

Staying true to the island nation’s diverse roots, Maharlika Filipino Moderno in Manhattan’s East Village draws inspiration from one-pot-meals of tasty peasant food infused with calamansi and garlic. Learn what it takes to eat like a real pinoy with Pampangan-style sizzling sisig, an appetizer made of some unusual pork parts cooked three ways.

The Innocents Abroad, Episode 6: Maharlika
Runtime
15:09
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288
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