Articles on this Page
- 07/24/13--21:00: _Scenes from Nebraska
- 07/28/13--21:00: _Special Feature: Th...
- 08/27/13--08:30: _Melon Man
- 09/05/13--09:40: _Bohemian Rhapsody
- 09/09/13--08:00: _Double Dutch
- 09/10/13--11:00: _Pasadena: The Langh...
- 09/11/13--14:00: _Gold Standard
- 09/23/13--09:30: _7 Things You Can On...
- 10/21/13--09:24: _28 Homemade Candy R...
- 10/21/13--09:26: _Fall Salads
- 10/21/13--09:30: _Rhapsody in Red
- 10/21/13--09:34: _Root Vegetables
- 10/21/13--09:36: _Fall Breakfasts
- 10/21/13--09:42: _Gluten-Free Fall Mains
- 10/21/13--11:30: _27 Ways to Use Fres...
- 10/21/13--12:30: _Going to Seeds
- 10/21/13--13:58: _Ommegang Witte: The...
- 10/22/13--06:00: _Pho Bac
- 10/22/13--08:00: _Upper Crust
- 10/22/13--08:36: _Recipes from Buenos...
- 07/24/13--21:00: Scenes from Nebraska
- 07/28/13--21:00: Special Feature: The Heartland
- 08/27/13--08:30: Melon Man
- 09/05/13--09:40: Bohemian Rhapsody
- 09/09/13--08:00: Double Dutch
- 09/10/13--11:00: Pasadena: The Langham Huntington Hotel
- 09/11/13--14:00: Gold Standard
- 09/23/13--09:30: 7 Things You Can Only Get in Indianapolis
- 10/21/13--09:24: 28 Homemade Candy Recipes
- 10/21/13--09:26: Fall Salads
- 10/21/13--09:30: Rhapsody in Red
- 10/21/13--09:34: Root Vegetables
- 10/21/13--09:36: Fall Breakfasts
- 10/21/13--09:42: Gluten-Free Fall Mains
- 10/21/13--11:30: 27 Ways to Use Fresh Goat Cheese
- 10/21/13--12:30: Going to Seeds
- 10/21/13--13:58: Ommegang Witte: The Perfect Pairing for your Early Fall Fare
- 10/22/13--06:00: Pho Bac
- 10/22/13--08:00: Upper Crust
- 10/22/13--08:36: Recipes from Buenos Aires
Though my grandfather would slip me a twenty sometimes, and we exchanged a few words here and there, I never got to know him very well back then. So last August I decided to go to Sickles and photograph my grandfather, now 86 years old, during his watermelon harvest.
As a professional photographer, I've shot all kinds of subjects, but this experience was personal—and eye-opening. Over the course of four days studying Grandpa through the lens of my camera, I saw a side of him that I'd never noticed as a kid. Starting at six every morning, his days were full: He'd help load hundreds of melons for customers even if they were half his age; he'd go into the field himself and pick melons if someone needed a few more to make their orders, carefully checking each fruit to make sure it was perfectly ripe. The chores never ended, but he didn't seem to mind. And I noticed that whenever this characteristically quiet man spoke, people listened—so I listened, too. I started to understand what it meant to be a farmer, and what kind of man my grandfather was.
After I left, I called and asked him how he knows when each melon is ripe for picking. He told me, "You'll have to come back and learn where you can." I smiled. I know now I'll be going back next year, and the year after that, as long as there are watermelons and Grandpa is harvesting them.
I was fleeing Communism. But thousands of Czechs had already settled in Nebraska, as well as Kansas and Oklahoma, in the late 1800s, lured by offers of free land under the Homestead Act. Their cuisine was based on the seasonal products that farmers could raise in the climate they came from. Barley and rye, cabbage, dairy: These were used in the recipes they brought with them.
Today I buy Czech hard cheeses at the farmers' market in Lincoln to bread and fry, just as I remember from when I was young. I drive 40 miles north to the village of Prague, named after my hometown, for the fried carp, a Friday night Catholic Czech tradition. In Wilber, I can find slivovice, a plum brandy that we Czechs believe has medicinal properties. And I gladly go to 20 or so ethnic festivals in Nebraska, Kansas, or Oklahoma each year, where I share the taste of Czechness with friends and relatives. By eating the food of our mothers, we return, at least in spirit, to the comforting fold of our families. I think this is why cuisine is the part of Czech life that is so well-preserved here. At the beginning of the 20th century, Nebraska's Czech-language newspapers were filled with letters from readers who shared experiences of substituting Nebraska produce—peppers, tomatoes, corn—in old family recipes to approximate the flavors of home.
Those recipes endure at places like the Bohemian Cafe. Waitresses like Jerry Cousal [pictured], who has worked there since 1966, still deliver paprika-laden goulash and bread dumplings blanketed in dill gravy to Nebraskans, including those of us of Czech heritage who understand that, though the knowledge of our language in the U.S. is disappearing, in our traditional cuisine transplanted to the southern Great Plains, the culture of our homeland continues.
1406 S. 13th Street
I remember how the conductor would call the restaurant five minutes before he arrived; and how my father-in-law, Tuful Kuo, and his staff would immediately fire up the woks. Succulent Indonesian-style grilled pork was doused in a crimson Chinese-style sweet and sour sauce to make the dish called babi pangang. Spring rolls, or loempias, were stuffed with leeks, cabbage, celery, pork, and shrimp just before they hit the deep fryer. Moments later, my father-in-law would dart across the street to hand the containers to the stalling conductor, just as the riders started to grow restless.
I realize these dishes might seem exotic in the land of Dutch pancakes and pickled herring. But, in fact, it's part of a beloved cuisine that's been here for about a century. Chinese immigrants, many of them working as stokers and sailors for Dutch shipping companies, were already running restaurants in port cities like Rotterdam and Amsterdam in the early 1900s. But the term, "Chinese Food" took on a whole new meaning when, in 1945—following more than three centuries of Dutch rule—Indonesia secured its independence.
Chinese restaurateurs saw an opportunity, tweaking their menus to appeal to returning Dutch expats who had developed an appetite for Indonesian food abroad. To their Cantonese menus, they added Indonesian specialties: crispy prawn crackers and atjar, a pickled cabbage dish; chunky chicken skewers called kip saté dunked in a simmering peanut sauce; pisang goreng, batter-fried banana sprinkled with powdered sugar, undoubtedly a Dutch touch. In essence, they were birthing a new style of cooking, one that combined the sugar and spice of Indonesian fare with their traditional Chinese recipes—fried rice called nasi goreng, red-hot sambal sauce, fragrant curries, loempias and other delicious fusions.
To the people of Rotterdam Wha Kong 2 and the cuisine it serves are now indispensable, a lesson I learned last summer when Tuful Kuo announced a week-long vacation.
"What will I eat while you're gone?" one patron wailed.
"I consider this takeaway my best friend," said another.
Clearly, the food has proven addictive to the Dutch. But it turns out they're not the only ones. When you visit Wha Kong 2 ("Wha Kong" is the Dutch pronunciation of two Chinese words that mean "Chinese garden."), you might wonder where Wha Kong 1 is. That restaurant opened in Madrid 20 years ago, when my husband's uncle traveled to Southern Europe to capitalize on the growing popularity of Indo-Chinese cuisine among the Spaniards.
There’s a lot of good food at the Langham for a hungry guest to choose from: The Royce, the hotel's main restaurant, offers a seasonally-driven surf-and-turf New American steakhouse menu, with dishes like wagyu brisket in a soy and ginger bordelaise sauce and blue prawns with candied peanuts and chiles, all prepared on a wood-fired grill. A lounge in the lobby hosts afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, tarts, and scones with Devonshire cream and, on Sundays, a chocolate fountain. A gastro-pub called the Tap Room serves craft cocktails and upscale comfort food (lobster mac & cheese; Kobe beef sliders with bacon-tomato jam). In the end, I went for a table at the Terrace restaurant, which serves bistro-style fare, where I devoured an entrée of pan-roasted sea bass perched atop a sweet corn tamale in romesco sauce and piled with crisp sea beans.
On the way back to my room, I passed a writing desk in the Club Lounge where I spotted an antique typewriter that belonged to Ernest Hemingway. A note advised that should guests feel the urge to peck out a letter, the hotel would mail it anywhere in the world: one last delightful step back in time for the road. —Barbara Ries
IN THE AREAMignon Chocolate Boutique: If you’ve ever wanted to eat like a royal, head to Mignon, a Tehran-based chocolate company and favorite of Iran’s royal family. You really can’t go wrong with any one of these all-natural, preservative free chocolates, but try the ginger with sea salt, a dark chocolate shell filled with chocolate ganache and topped with lime-infused sea salt. 6 East Holly Street, Pasadena; tel: 626/796-7100; mignonchocolate.com
Dog Haus: Upgrading the ballpark classic, this California-based chain (two out of the three stores are in Pasadena) offers dogs like the “Sooo Cali,” an all-beef skinless dog served on a King hawaiian roll and topped with arugula, diced tomato, crispy onions, spicy basil aioli, and avocado. 105 N Hill Ave, Pasadena; tel: 626/577-4287; 93 E Green Street, Pasadena; tel: 626/683-0808; doghausdogs.com
Marston’s Restaurant: The location in a converted house makes for a homey environment and, even better, down-home food. Rated the “Best Breakfast in California,” customer favorites include the macadamia nut pancakes, sourdough french toast coated in cornflakes, and the andouille sausage omelet with black beans and cheddar. 151 E Walnut Street, Pasadena; tel: 626/796-2459; marstonsrestaurant.com
Old Pasadena Walking Food Tour: Explore historical Pasadena while sampling some of the best foods the district has to offer. Tastings include Oaxacan and Peruvian food, Italian gelato, and olive oil. While you eat, you’ll be greeted by the merchants and learn a bit of the background behind the delicious samples. Melting Pot Tours; tel: 800/979-3370; meltingpottours.com
I remember how the server arrived at my table and, in the highly ritualized fashion that is customary in Cologne, pulled a small, narrow glass called a stange filled with pale, foamy brew from his circular, handled tray and placed it atop a coaster, which he marked with a tick of his pencil. I sipped: Crisp, mild, subtly fruity, that refreshing kölsch took the edge right off the hot July day.
As soon as I finished, my stange was wordlessly replaced with a fresh one, and another pencil tick was added to the coaster. Since the typical stange, a slender cylinder whose name means "rod" in German, holds a mere 200 milliliters, about 6.75 ounces, of beer, I could drink quite a few, so this ceremony went on for some time. Finally, taking a cue from the locals surrounding me, I put a stop to the proceedings by placing the coaster on top of my glass. The server then added up the pencil marks, multiplied them by the price of a stange, and scrawled the total on the coaster, transforming it into a beer-stained tab.
As I found out, the trappings surrounding kölsch reflect its esteem here as well as its uniqueness, for kölsch, an ale that goes down like a summer lager, is a beer unlike all others. Most of Germany is known for its golden lagers—pilsner, helles, märzen, and the like—which are fermented slowly at lower temperatures using cold-loving lager yeasts. Lagers, particularly suited to chilly northern climes like Germany's where they can be aged in caverns and frigid cellars, rose to prominence in the 16th century, joining the ales that preceded them. But lagers back then weren't so light. Germany's blonde lagers date to the mid-1800s, when advances in kilning technology made the production of pale malts possible.
Combining lager yeasts and the newer, lighter malts, brewers created a crisp, golden beer style that became the talk of Europe—except in Cologne, a city whose conservative traditionalism has long been one of its trademarks. There, brewers stood resolute in defense of old-style ales—heavier, darker, more dimensional beers that fermented more quickly at warmer temperatures.
A beer as thirst-quenching as a lager, with a milder flavor than other ales but nearly as much complexityBut progress was not on traditional German ale's side. By the late 19th century, given lager's popularity, Cologne brewers figured it was time to meet the competition head on. So they kept their ale yeasts but adopted the paler malts that had become so fashionable in lagers, as well as lager's longer, cooler conditioning. What resulted was a beer as thirst-quenching as a lager, with a milder flavor than other ales but nearly as much complexity. In Cologne, the style proved a hit, and breweries, from the brightly lit, rambling Brauhaus Sion—one of the city's oldest, founded in 1318—to the homey, fourth-generation Brauerei Pfaffen and others, now serve none but kölsch.
It's great stuff. Technically an ale that's made like a lager, Cologne's native beer finesses the divide between the two, borrowing from each to become something more balanced and delicate altogether. Most kölsches have a light fruitiness up front—soft peach or apricot or a hint of something lemony but nowhere near the big berry or citrus flavors you might find in other ales. The hoppiness, too, is nuanced, rarely approaching the bitterness of even a mild pale ale, while the body of a kölsch is crisp on the palate but without the dry austerity of a lager like pilsner.
Wonderfully thirst-quenching and approachable, the style is great for pairing with sausages and other hearty foods served in Cologne beer halls. Those halls are the only places to experience some of my favorite kölsches, not to mention the ritual of drinking them. In 1985, recognizing the singularity of its beer, the Cologne Brewers Association campaigned successfully for some of the strictest regulations governing beer production anywhere. These days, when even the size and shape of the stange is legislated, breweries must be located in and around Cologne to call their beer kölsch. Many of these don't send their beer abroad.
But some imports are available here at home, along with American beers made in the kölsch style—Saint Arnold Brewing Company's zesty Fancy Lawnmower beer, New Holland's more austere Full Circle, Four Peaks' bracing Sunbru. Drinking these, I've found that the style also goes great with milder summer foods. Salads, grilled fish, steamed seafood—kölsch never overpowers these dishes, but rather enhances the meal with a sly complexity that sneaks up and hooks you.
See tasting notes for 7 great kölsch-style beers »
Local Beer from Sun King Brewery and Bier Brewery
On the first day of a visit to Indianapolis last summer, I tried 23 different locally made beers. While that may sound excessive, I barely even scratched the surface of the city's beer offerings. Indy loves beer; you'll find a wide variety of local brews at brewery tasting rooms or on tap at restaurants and bars. Sun King Brewery is the king of the Indiana brewing scene and also distributes around the state. To experience the full line-up of its beers, sidle up to the tasting room bar and sample brews like the blood orange-tinged Osiris Pale Ale or Grapefruit Jungle, a citrusy American IPA that uses three types of hops. The tasting room at Bier Brewery rotates draft beer offerings, so you may find the hop-heavy Chinookalicious IPA or an easy-drinking Belgian amber, plus the ongoing experiment Fruit Cup Surprise, which adds fruit—on my visit, sour cherries—to a Belgian wit base.
Sun King Brewery
135 N College Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46202
5133 E 65th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46220
Beer Truffles from Best Chocolate in TownFor a TSA-friendly way to take home the flavor of Indy's brewing scene, head to Best Chocolate in Town, a tiny shop on Massachusetts Avenue that makes creatively flavored truffles. Its chocolate offerings include the Sun King Wee Mac truffle, made with the brewery's Scottish-style beer and a dark chocolate ganache.
Best Chocolate in Town
880 Massachusetts Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46204
A Locally Sourced Prix-Fixe Meal at RecessThere's one problem with the regional and locally sourced menus, which change daily, at Greg Hardesty's Recess—you only have only one chance to try each dish. Hardesty, a semi-finalist for Best Chef Great Lakes in this year's James Beard Awards, offers a different prix fixe four-course menu each day. The menus are attuned to the seasons and feature dishes such as smoked mozzarella grilled cheese served atop a tomato, basil, and shallot salad. As its name suggests, the restaurant has a classroom feel, with brightly colored chairs and children's footprints on the floor.
4907 N College Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46205
The Batali Sandwich from Goose the MarketTake a lunch break by popping into Goose the Market, a specialty food and wine shop that also happens to make excellent sandwiches. The Batali sandwich is popular among city residents for good reason: The layers of spicy coppa, soppressata, capocolla, and provolone are complemented by sweet and spicy condiments, including tomato preserves, hot giardiniera, and marinated red onion. You can stock up on locally made products, including meats from Smoking Goose Meatery, which Goose owner Chris Eley launched three years after starting the shop. The black truffle bologna gives the childhood classic an earthy flavor, while the smoked lamb bacon puts a gamey spin on the breakfast meat.
Goose the Market
2503 N Delaware Street
Indianapolis, IN 46205
Gin & Tonics at BluebeardWhile you may not necessarily equate gin and tonics with Mediterranean food, the trio of house G & T's on the menu at Bluebeard pairs well with dishes like grilled octopus with tomato and olive confit. A few standout cocktails are the House Gin & Tonic, made with Blue Coat American dry gin and lime for a sweet-tart flavor; the citrusy Hopped Gin & Tonic, made with Small's gin and Bittermens' hopped grapefruit bitters; and the vegetal Old Tom and Tonic, made with Hayman's Old Tom gin and Bittermens' celery shrub. The refreshing tonic in these cocktails is made especially for Bluebeard by Wilks & Wilson, an Indianapolis-based elixir producer.
653 Virginia Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46203
Neal Brown's FoodAs owner of The Libertine Liquor Bar and Pizzology Pizzeria and Pub, and co-founder of Dig IN, a summer festival that celebrates Indiana food and agriculture with tastings and educational panels in White River State Park, Neal Brown is a leader of the Indianapolis food scene. At The Libertine, the long narrow bar manages to feel both sleek and rustic: Golden orbs of light hang over each table, while white tree branches adorned with lanterns break through the back wall. Order a Screw & Bolt cocktail, made with gin, orange blossom water, and tonka, then try Brown's iconic dishes, such as hamachi carpaccio dressed with wasabi tobiko, horseradish, pea tendrils, and sriracha oil, or beet-pickled deviled eggs topped with whitefish and caviar. At Pizzology, you'll find classics as well as new creations such as pizza topped with housemade fennel sausage, porchetta, fresh mozzarella, and wood-roasted Brussels sprouts.
The Libertine Liquor Bar
38 E. Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
13190 Hazel Dell Parkway
Carmel, IN 46033
Milkshakes at The Loft at Trader's Point CreameryLocated right outside Indy in Zionsville is Trader's Point Creamery, an organic dairy farm with 150 acres of land for Brown Swiss cows roam. Those grass-fed cows provide milk for the yogurts and ice cream served in The Loft restaurant. Farm tours highlight the milking parlor, grazing pastures, and a store that sells milk and yogurt in glass bottles. But the main attraction is the Dairy Bar, which sells vanilla, chocolate, coffee, and mango ice cream, among other flavors, and serves rich, thick milkshakes.
Trader's Point Creamery
9101 Moore Road
Zionsville, IN 46077
I was standing in my Budapest kitchen amid bright red communist-era cabinets, miniature appliances, and mismatched pots and plates, poring over a recipe for stuffed peppers. It was from a tattered old Hungarian cookbook, the Móra Ferencné Szakácskönyv (Mrs. Ferenc Móra's Cookbook), which I'd bought at a used bookshop in Budapest. I spoke Hungarian pretty well and could read it too—or so I thought.
"We are blanching the peppers," Móra wrote. Wait, how many peppers? For how long? "The stuffing is made in the same way as for stuffed cabbage, but you parboil the rice a little bit." Come again? How much rice? How long is "a little bit"? I did my best to soldier on.
Procuring the ingredients had been simple, a joy even. At the soaring halls of the cathedral-like central market in Budapest I had my pick of different grades of hand-ground paprika in varying shades of red; incredibly fresh local produce; pristine dairy products, from tejföl (the sour cream that is so essential to many Hungarian recipes) to hand-churned butter and raw milk; and richly marbled cuts of pork, much of it from the country's native curly-haired Mangalica pigs.
But despite such exemplary raw material, there I was faced with the desultory results: a pot of wilted peppers and crunchy rice floating in a thin sauce. This was definitely not how it was supposed to look, or taste, though I presented it to my husband Gábor with the best flourish I could muster. It was then, as he bravely struggled to eat it—with images of simmering chicken paprikash, delicate stuffed cabbage, and proper stuffed peppers swirling in my head—that I realized there was only one way I was going to learn how to cook Hungarian food: I had to apprentice myself to the best Hungarian cook I knew. So I picked up the phone and called my mother-in-law.
It had been eight years since I first set foot in Hungary. Gábor and I had met working on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and dated for a few years in the U.S. One summer when he was visiting his family, he invited me to join him. I flew in from Washington, D.C., and Gábor picked me up at the airport. I had arrived right at lunchtime; my stomach rumbled, but he told me not to worry—his mom was making lunch. As we made our way toward Bőny, the little village northwest of Budapest where Gábor was born and raised, I was filled with nervous anticipation. I'd never met his family before, and I knew just a handful of Hungarian words.
Two hours later we pulled up to an elegant old house at the end of a long driveway and were ushered to a table in the garden set under towering horse chestnut and walnut trees. Gábor's mom Kati, a slim woman in her mid-50s, brought out a tray of glasses filled with diólikőr; she'd made the dark brown liqueur with walnuts from the branches that hung above us. I threw back the shot—it was sweet, bitter, and spicy in the back of my throat. It perked up my taste buds.
Kati served the first course, húsleves, whole root vegetables and homemade pasta simmered in a clear consommé. The family passed around a small bowl of hot ground paprika, which each person added to the bowls. I followed suit. The rich soup, laced with smoky heat, worked with the liquor to lift me out of my exhaustion. A succession of platters followed: beef bones, from which we tapped the marrow, spread it on toast, and sprinkled it with salt, black pepper, and more paprika; then a slab of beef braised in red wine; a plate of charcuterie fringed with raw sliced peppers and red onions; glasses of furmint, a white wine that tasted of grapefruit and apricots; cucumbers in a sweet and tangy dressing of sour cream, sugar, and vinegar; and a veritable encyclopedia of pickles. I was getting full, but, wait, there was dessert: szilvás pite, a sheet cake dotted with fresh plums that we chased with strong black coffee. I was full of questions and excitement. What was this delicious world I'd stumbled into?
Exploring the answer to that question has become a life-changing endeavor. A few years after that first visit, I married Gábor and we moved to Budapest where I worked as a journalist. We've been here ever since.
Simple, deeply flavored foods built on fat, onions, and paprika endured in the kitchens of women who kept culinary traditions alive
Hungary is a country roughly the size of Indiana, a landlocked place squished between Austria, Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, Croatia, and Serbia. Because of its location—as well as the complex history of border changes, wars, and occupations in this part of Europe—Hungarians have always heavily shared and borrowed recipes and ingredients: garlic, onions, and pasta arrived when Hungary's King Mátyás married Italy's Beatrice of Naples in the 15th century; paprika, made from ground sun-dried chiles, was introduced when Turks invaded the country in the 16th century. Today the spice is one of the pillars of local cooking. Under Austrian rule in the 18th century, there was a great flowering in Hungarian cookery, from agriculture all the way up to imperial cuisine. It peaked under the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when chefs from France cooking for the court applied refined culinary techniques to traditional Hungarian dishes. This all amounted to a unique and layered cuisine. Things changed, though, in the 20th century, when under communism Hungarian businesses were nationalized and restaurant culture was all but wiped out. But the bones of the cuisine survived in the home-cooked dishes that had been here for centuries—simple, deeply flavored foods built on fat, onions, and paprika—enduring in the kitchens of women who kept culinary traditions alive, passing them down from grandmother to mother to child.
In 2005, when Gábor and I started our own family, we made weekly visits to Kati's house in the countryside, where Kati cooked the same dishes for my children as she had for my husband when he was a child. While I'd eaten in myriad Hungarian restaurants and in the homes of many Hungarian friends, I wanted to dig deeper into the cuisine. Watching my children inhale everything Kati prepared made me want to cook those dishes for them too.
But then I encountered the problem of the indecipherable Hungarian cookbooks, which is how I found myself in Kati's tiny nook of a kitchen one afternoon, not as a guest, but as an apprentice.
Kati didn't offer me formal cooking lessons, but let me ask questions and take notes as she cooked, and I gradually picked up the techniques and recipes that hadn't made their way into Móra's cryptic cookbook. I noticed how, as she made paprikás csirke, chicken simmered in a paprika-spiked sauce, she slowly cooked diced onions in lard and a bit of water until they were translucent, then turned off the heat before quickly stirring in a heap of paprika. "If the paprika burns, it turns bitter," she explained. I saw that she kept a jar of zsèr, a blend of rendered pork fat and cracklings, on hand. She'd dip into that jar to add a smoky, bacony depth to soups, stews, or sauces, or even fold it into the dough for tepertős pogácsa, flaky, savory, yeast-risen rolls that she might stuff with a prune filling. I quickly started a jar of my own at home.
In various ways, these home cooks transformed basic ingredients—flour, fat, milk—into extravagant dishes
As my cooking improved, I started asking other Hungarian friends if I could watch them cook too, and with every kitchen I visited, the cuisine took on another dimension. It struck me how resourceful their cooking was. In various ways, these home cooks transformed basic ingredients—flour, fat, milk—into extravagant dishes. From Mária Keresztes Kovács, Gábor's sister's mother-in-law, I learned how to thicken soups by whisking rántás, a roux of flour and lard enriched with sour cream, into the soup's base; added to csülkös bableves, a soup of pork and beans, the rántás transforms the rustic dish into something luxurious. From the hands of Edit Szabó Gézáné, a radiant 54-year-old home cook in Kisar whom I knew through a mutual friend, even stuffed cabbage leaves astonished me. She steamed the leaves and used them to create tight conical packages that held a polenta-like cornmeal filling studded with ham and slivers of pepper. Bathed in a bright tomato sauce, the dish was a gorgeous play of flavors. But her simplest dish was my favorite: She braised pork ribs in lard, transforming the rib meat into an unctuous confit, then fried them to create a crisp exterior. Served with sliced sweet peppers and wedges of ripe tomato, it was a dish in perfect balance.
Thanks to these women, I now have a small but growing roster of dishes of my own. I'll make chicken paprikash with homemade galuska, little dumplings I form by pushing egg dough through a spätzle plane into boiling water. I make szilvás pite, reveling in the way the tart, juicy ripe plums from the market meld with the tender sheet cake.
But try as I might, Kati's food is still our household's benchmark—more so than ever, in fact. After realizing that she spent more of her time visiting her grandchildren than at her own home, Kati moved to Budapest; she now lives two doors down from us, where she welcomes a steady flow of family members coming to eat. She is guiding the taste of another generation. “It wasn't as good as Nana's,” is often the reply I get when I ask my children how they enjoyed dinner at our house. I don't mind one bit—if I surpassed my mentor, whom would I have to learn from?See a menu of Hungarian Comfort Food »
Box of 8 passion fruits, price varies by season, at Melissa's Produce
See a recipe for Passion Fruit Custard »
While once considered a seasonal Summer beer, Witte is the perfect pairing for the fresh and spicy flavors of early Fall.
PAIR WITH salads, tangy BBQ, seafood, Mexican dishes, chevre, feta, brie, gouda, or camembert.
Find more inspiration and recipes at Ommegang.com»
INGREDIENTS4 large shallots, unpeeled
1 4″ piece ginger, unpeeled
1 tsp. fennel seeds
5 star anise
1 3″ stick cinnamon
1 pod black cardamom, crushed
5 lbs. beef leg bones, cut into 2″–3″ pieces
1 ½ lbs. boneless beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 4″ x 2″ x 1 ½″-thick pieces
½ oz. dried scallops
2 tbsp. kosher salt, plus more
¼ cup fish sauce
8 scallions, green parts thinly sliced, white parts left whole
1 ½ tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
2 serrano chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced crosswise
2 lbs. small flat rice noodles
8 oz. beef sirloin, cut across grain into ⅙″-thick slices
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
⅓ cup cilantro leaves
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
INSTRUCTIONS1. Arrange a rack 4″ from broiler and heat. Put shallots and ginger on an aluminum foil—lined baking sheet and broil, turning often, until blackened, 15–20 minutes; let cool. Scrape peels off shallots and ginger; halve ginger lengthwise, press each piece with the side of a knife to flatten, and set aside with shallots. Heat fennel seeds, star anise, cinnamon, and cardamom in a small skillet over medium heat and toast, swirling pan, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer spices to a small bowl and set aside.
2. Place bones in a 12-qt. pot and cover with cold water by 1″. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes; drain and rinse bones. Clean pot and return bones to pot along with reserved shallots and ginger, beef, and 6 qts. cold water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; add reserved toasted spices, scallops, and 2 tbsp. salt. Cook, skimming surface, until beef is tender, 1 ½ hours.
3. Using tongs, transfer beef to a bowl of ice water and cool for 10 minutes. Drain beef and thinly slice crosswise; transfer to a plate, cover, and refrigerate. Continue cooking broth for 1 ½ hours more. Remove from heat and pour through a cheesecloth-lined fine strainer set over a clean 6-qt. pot; discard solids and skim fat from surface. Stir in fish sauce and scallion whites and keep hot. Combine vinegar and chiles in a small bowl and set aside.
4. Pour boiling water over noodles in a medium bowl and let soak until al dente, about 10 minutes. Rinse noodles in cold water, drain, and divide between 8 serving bowls. Top each with chilled, cooked beef and raw sirloin; top beef with onions, then scallion greens and cilantro. Season with pepper, and then ladle broth over each serving, placing one white scallion piece in each bowl. Serve with chiles on the side.
"By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea-Water," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in The Song of Hiawatha. We recalled that epic poem last October as we drove beside that same Big-Sea-Water—the Chippewa moniker for Lake Superior. We were wending our way up Michigan's Upper Peninsula on U.S. Highway 41 through a blaze of autumn leaves toward the highway's terminus at Copper Harbor.
Longfellow's Hiawatha came here to fast, but we had come to feast on the region's unique road foods. One sign that we were in the right place? The prevalence on myriad tavern and café menus of the Cornish pasty (pronounced PASS-tee). The emblematic regional food—an all-in-one meal of beef, potatoes, rutabagas, and onion that's baked inside a crimped half-circle pastry pocket—is a legacy of mid-19th-century British settlers who flocked here to work the iron and copper mines. While ore mining is history in these parts, locals remain fiercely loyal to pasties, which are far more common than even hamburgers.
Marquette's Crossroads Lounge sells a guaranteed one-pounder made of pork and beef, but we found ourselves nearby at Jean Kay's Pasties & Subs, a tiny eatery with just a few tables and a big take-out trade. Sitting there, we watched as one customer picked up $171.45 worth of pasties for his coworkers at a nearby auto mall, followed shortly by a woman who planned to ship a dozen to her homesick son in Mississippi.
The restaurant is named after Jean Kay Harsch, who opened a small bakery in Iron Mountain in 1975 with her husband and their son, Brian. The family sold that location in 1983, but Brian keeps his parents' traditions alive in the store he runs in Marquette. "We make our pasties the old-fashioned way—with suet," Brian explains. Given the pasty's origins as a portable lunch for miners, durability is a signal virtue, and the beef fat helps the crusts stay flaky.
Our next stop, just a mile and a half away, was Thill's Fish House, where we went to exalt in one of the best offerings of the Upper Peninsula: fresh fish. This waterside seafood market is family run; the first generation of Thills came to the area half a century ago, and various Thills have been supplying local restaurants with fresh fish ever since. Inside, it smelled deeply of smoke and brine, and on offer were handsome hunks of smoked lake trout, walleye, smelt, and whitefish, all of which just about melt on the tongue. If you can hold out, have the staffers wrap up some slices in white paper—they're perfect for a picnic or, in our case, a road trip.
Fish in the backseat, we headed west on 41 to the old mining town of Ishpeming for a visit to Lawry's Pasty Shop. The cinder block shack has a fluorescent No-Doz ambience, pour-your-own coffee, and a neon "open" sign that blinks on at 7 a.m. Traditional pasties, made using Madelyne Lawry's original recipe, are hefty hand-formed crescents of tender crust loaded with beef and vegetables reminiscent of a portable pot pie. A sign on the cash register admonishes: "It's Not PAY-STREE…It's Not PAY-STEES…IT'S PASS-TEE!!! YOOPER FOOD OF DA GODS!"
"Yooper," derived from U.P. (Upper Peninsula), is the local term for a full-time resident. It also describes the in-your-face bumpkin pride that pervades the region as you travel into the forestland of the Northwest. On the roadside in Ishpeming, a raffish enterprise named Da Yoopers Tourist Trap & Museum sports a sign that reads: "Welcome to Yooperland. Relax—Enjoy—Spend All Your Ca$h. But Please Don't Move up Here." Outdoor museum displays include the world's largest working rifle and a 23-foot-long chain saw. Inside you can buy a glossary of the "Yoopanese language" (e.g., No Hunting means "Shoot This Sign").
A visit is enough to rev you up for a big Yooper meal, and our next stop had us veering north along the Keweenaw Bay to a land that seems ever more remote and separate from the rest of the United States. Indeed, when we sat down at Suomi Home Bakery and Restaurant in the town of Houghton, we really did wonder if everyone in the big bakery—café was speaking a foreign language. It took a few moments to recognize their tongue as English; Yooper English is a curious blend that sounds Finnish, German, and Canadian all at once, and it's especially strong northwest of Marquette.
In fact, there are more people of Finnish descent in the U.P. than anywhere else outside of Europe, so the Suomi menu's headline of "Tervetuloa! Welcome!" and its bilingual listings are hardly affectations. You can get familiar voileipiä (sandwiches) for lunch and rice pudding for jälkiruoka (dessert), but we recommend aamiainen (breakfast), served all day, for which braided nisu—or wheat—bread perfumed with cardamom is made into Finnish French toast, and pannukakku is the star attraction. The waiter described it as a Finnish pancake, but we found it to be more like a crustless egg custard pie—sweet, creamy, fundamental. One large cake is about a half-inch thick and is served in four-by-four-inch squares with a side of warm raspberry sauce.
One of the best tips we got on this trip came from a customer at Suomi who told us that his wife used to make nisu and saffron bread at home until they discovered Toni's Country Kitchen up in Laurium. What a find! As we entered the one-room diner, which buzzed with chatter, we looked left into a kitchen where bakers were rolling dough on a floured table and another woman was forearm-deep in a pan of ingredients, hand-mixing pasty filling. Toni's pasty is a beaut, its crust fine, light, and savory, the rutabaga and potato sliced wafer-thin, the hunky beef shot through with sweet onion flavor. For dessert, we munched on some lovely sticky buns and cinnamon-bread French toast, but the real knockout was the nut-rich povitica. The name for this babka-like loaf comes from the Croatian word for "swaddled" and indeed, swaddled by fluffy bread in each slice was a buttery swirl of cinnamon-walnut filling. It put run-of-the-mill cinnamon breads to shame, and we packed some to go.
Our goal as we headed ever northward and approached the end of Highway 41 was Jampot, a fairy-tale hut in the Eagle Harbor forest where monks of the Society of St. John make and sell breads, muffins, cookies, and jam. Simply stepping out of the car in the parking lot by Jampot can be a religious experience, thanks to the warm smells of baking bread and sourdough cakes filled with fruits marinated in wine and rum. We grabbed a banana-walnut bread packed with blueberries, a bag of molasses-rich gingerbread cookies, and a lemon-frosted pumpkin muffin, then drove to a nearby snacking spot overlooking beautiful Lake Medora, just five miles short of Copper Harbor. Gazing at the opposite shore, where autumn trees were perfectly mirrored on the blue waters, we were thankful our teachers had made us read all of that lengthy Song of Hiawatha. We thought of the last canto, of the lines that read:
Bright above him shone the
Level spread the lake before him;
From its bosom leaped the
Sparkling, flashing in the sunshine;
On its margin the great forest
Stood reflected in the water,
Every tree-top had its shadow,
Motionless beneath the water.
We saw no sturgeon, but otherwise, there we were with Hiawatha. Not so bad with a slice of povitica in hand.
900 County Road 480, Marquette; 906/249-8912.
Da Yoopers Tourist Trap & Museum
490 North Steel Street, Ishpeming; 800/628-9978.
6500 State Highway M26, Eagle Harbor; no phone.
Jean Kay's Pasties & Subs
1635 Presque Isle, Marquette; 906/228-5310.
Lawry's Pasty Shop
2381 U.S. 41, Ishpeming; 906/485-5589.
Suomi Home Bakery and Restaurant
54 Huron Street, Houghton; 906/482-3220.
Thill's Fish House
250 East Main Street, Marquette; 906/226-9851.
Toni's Country Kitchen
79 Third Street, Laurium; 906/337-0611.