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  • 10/22/15--08:00: When Coffee Becomes the Show
  • Video: Matt Taylor-Gross

    "All Ethiopians are proud of their coffee," Kedega Srage tells me while we sip on a batch she made just moments before. I don't mean she flipped the switch on a coffee machine; I mean she donned a traditional dress and head scarf, roasted green coffee beans over an open flame, ground them with warm cardamom and clove, and brewed an elixir so dark and rich and refreshingly bittersweet that the plain moniker "coffee" feels wholly inadequate.

    This is coffee Ethiopian-style, a proud ceremonial tradition from the ancestral birthplace of the coffee bean. Srage performs the ceremony four times a week at New York's Bunna Cafe, where she's also the head chef of the restaurant's skillfully executed Ethiopian menu. And since moving to New York in 2000 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital city, it's one of the ways she keeps in touch with home.

    Roasting coffee beans moments before brewing them makes for an exceptionally delicious and vibrant cup of coffee, but there's more to the coffee ceremony than good taste. “The main reason we do the ceremony is to socialize with our friends, our family, or whoever is visiting your house," she explains. "It's the most important hospitality."

    At Bunna, many of Srage's customers have no clue what's happening when she lights a burner in the center of the dining room and starts roasting beans. They rattle musically in the pan, and a toasty plume of smoke creeps its way toward the tables. But by the time the coffee gurgles over the top of the jebena, the clay pot used for brewing, one thing is clear: Everyone wants a taste.


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    Plaza de Santa Ana, Madrid

    Plaza de Santa Ana, Madrid

    Madrid has many great landmarks: Museums to spend days in, open-air markets, a lush green park where you can commune with peacocks. But deciding what to do in a large, foreign city is often overwhelming, and perhaps the best way to see one, at least this one, is just to sit in a square—Madrid is full of them, cobblestoned and usually bustling—and have a coffee.

    One of the great Spanish mainstays is the combination cafe-bar-restaurant found in almost every town and city, big or small, north or south. Here you can sidle up to the bar and order a coffee at nine in the morning and maybe at ten there will be a man drinking a beer right next to you, no eyebrows raised. The little old man behind the bar is often friendly and always endearing. There are tapas on display once the kitchen gets going, wine and liquor too, and at night, there may even be some full-on dinner plates. And if there's space, they'll have a few tables outside, too: nothing fancy and often topped with some sort of local beer advertisement and a dusty ashtray.

    That’s what the Madrileños do, anyways; ordering coffee to go is not a Spanish custom. Spain may not have the serious espresso culture of Italy, but it does appreciate the leisure of a cup of coffee, the excuse to sit for a minute. After lunchtime, you can switch to wine, and stay right where you are, or mosey on over to another neighborhood, another street, another square. In Madrid, you can make a day of squarehopping and call it tourism. Bring a book or a friend or a pen or nothing. It’s more city-watching than people watching, and it’s much more relaxing than sprinting between buttons on a tourist map.

    If you’re looking for particular squares to park yourself, plazas Santa Ana, Isabel II, and Dos de Mayo should top your list of Places to Sit with their vibrancy and prettiness. The latter is tucked into Malasaña, a stylish and young and hip neighborhood that everyone wants to compare to Brooklyn, but we’re not going to do that here. Pza. Dos de Mayo is still full of those ashtray-topped tables, flanked by Regular Old Cafés, and, on the weekends, full of giddy children and strolling families. Order a café con leche—or a less-milky cortado, if you want something smaller and punchier—and allow yourself an hour or so to do nothing but sit. Each of these squares houses a few restaurants at their borders; there isn’t much differentiation in what will arrive in your cup at one or the other, so pick whichever looks friendliest, or has the cleanest tables.

    And for a more modern take

    Toma Café

    Courtesy of Toma Café

    Toma Café in Madrid, Spain

    There are great coffee experiences, and then there’s great coffee. And if you’re looking for the best-made cup of coffee in Madrid right now, head to Toma Café. It’s reminiscent of hip shops in Los Angeles and San Francisco and Brooklyn and so on: You’ll find good-looking local couples with their well-dressed toddlers sitting at the reclaimed wood communal table on the weekends, local exchange students chatting in English on weekdays. A road bike hangs from the ceiling among leafy plants. You can buy a signature tote bag. There’s a quinoa salad on the menu.

    All of this might inspire a mondo eye roll if the coffee weren’t so well made. Toma shows how Spain is welcoming global trends with enthusiasm and skill.

    A café con leche is still an excellent choice at Toma, but they also offer a full menu of espresso drinks, including the ever-divisive espresso tonic (try it!), and single-origin pourovers. Their chocolate chip cookie is likely the best chocolate chip cookie in Madrid. It’s not an authentic Spanish pastry by any means, but it’s damn good. So is the carrot loaf. You can quell your tourist guilt by eating some jamón later.

    There are to-go cups here, too, which bucks all Spanish tradition and ignores the country’s deep appreciation of leisure and languor. To-go coffee was all but nonexistent in Spain before Starbucks arrived, but then again, so were coffee shops. And now they have those, and good ones, too. And if you order something iced, you’ll get to partake in one of our modern world’s greatest delights: the bendy straw.

    Toma Café
    Calle de la Palma 49, Madrid, Spain


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    "If he wants to talk to you about chowder, he'll get in touch,” said the bartender who answered the phone at Cliff's Elbow Room. Then she hung up. Three unreturned messages later, I came to terms with the fact that Cliff didn't want to talk.

    Cliff's cedar-shingled dive is something of a North Fork, Long Island, landmark known for its shell steaks, which are marinated and broiled to a degree of black char that lies beyond the redemptive power of any Instagram filter. I had eaten two bowls of Cliff's transcendent, Manhattan-style clam chowder—as in red with tomatoes, not cloudy with cream—the stuff that's long been denigrated by New Englanders as worked-up vegetable soup from the borough that bears its name. Cliff's version has been served in round, heavy bowls on plates lined with doilies practically forever, and I needed to know more about this paradox of mediocre-looking excellence: The broth was clam bouillon gray, practically overcast with ground bivalves, the opposite end of the Manhattan chowder spectrum from sauce red; its celery and onion were less sliced and diced and more hacked apart, like by one of those high-powered infomercial choppers gone haywire. Yet it tasted the way Manhattan clam chowder should taste, broadly sweet with glutamate-rich clams, as if its constituent parts had been on a slow simmer together forever until they reached a soupy alchemy. The only problem was no one wanted to tell me how that alchemy worked.

    I already knew a little. I grew up on Long Island, cooking in waterfront clam bars with kitchens the size of tin cans and with stoves that really had no business holding two 30-gallon stockpots. I spent a decade lugging bushel bags, prying shells apart with a heavy-bladed knife, and rendering chopped chowder clams into thousands of gallons of red, white, and clearish varieties, all with brackish culinary backstories. I waited in line for egg sandwiches at delis with the dwindling ranks of the sunburnt, stoned clammers ready for their shifts on the bay. A store in the next town sold nets, tongs, and custom shellfish rakes. I was so enamored with the T-shirt hanging in its window depicting a happy littleneck with his fist raised high and the words CLAM POWER that I bought one in each color.

    One summer long ago, a burly shellfish deliveryman who more grunted than spoke cornered me at the rundown clam shack by the boat basin where I had been appointed “chef.” He giddily declared our house Manhattan—transformed into a kind of benthic, clammy food miracle by our steam table, the flavors layering and growing deeper each simmering hour—the only authentic chowder he had ever eaten.

    Charlie Manwaring

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Charlie Manwaring of Southold Fish Market

    I've eaten chowder in everything from foam cups to bone china, and certain things have become apparent: A lot of tomato-pasty, appallingly bad Manhattans are served in old-school canteens and luxe steakhouses alike, particularly (and ironically) in its namesake borough. But on the outer reaches of Long Island, there are still far-flung keepers of the metaphorical cauldron. These people, often helming small, humble establishments within throwing distance of the water, swear by their well-weathered Dexter Russell shucking blades, their archaic celery shredders. The chowder at Cliff's was a shining example, and I was certain I could find it elsewhere, hiding in plain sight between the Salads and Appetizers columns on menus throughout Long Island. So I got in my car and headed east.

    My trail started at Peter's Clam House in Island Park, on the South Shore, where the deep-fryer oil burns a little too hot and the chowder is as shiny red as the plastic tray it's served on, and went as far as a Montauk pancake house called John's, where short stacks arrive topped with banana-slice eyes. On a good day, John's chowder could win awards—and it has—but the staff wasn't too forthcoming about the recipe, other than to tell me the clams were local.

    I encountered similar tight-lipped circumspection at Chowder Bar in Bay Shore, adjacent to the ferries that lumber over to Fire Island. Lynda Nenninger and Patricia Robinson have owned Chowder Bar since 1988, paving its minuscule lot with decades' worth of crushed chalky white and iridescent purple shells. Their meaty Manhattan includes enormous swaths of clams delivered by diggers who still work the bay.

    “We've been in business for so long, we get priority,” Robinson explained of her bivalve sourcing. They use half canned crushed tomatoes, half whole, and while there's an order in which ingredients are added to the soup, that's about as far as a “proprietary recipe” goes.

    “That's how people are,” said Charlie Manwaring, a fish-monger. “When you've got a good recipe, you don't want the public to have it.”

    Manwaring has been with Southold Fish Market for 28 years; he started filleting fluke at age 12 and finally bought the place in 2000. He's the kind of guy who says he's going “up island” and means nearby Riverhead.

    The market sells a staggering number of new soups with recipes that are constantly being tweaked, from crab bisques to gumbos, but the parameters for its Manhattan clam chowder, made in 40-quart batches, haven't budged in years. Beyond the standard vegetables and tinned tomatoes, the recipe includes rendered salt pork and rough-chopped chowder clams from the Peconic Bay, which is just about visible if you stand on the hood of your car in the parking lot and look south.

    Manwaring believes that good Manhattan clam chowders aren't fussed over, that chef-like tinkering can lead to an astringency that muffles the clean, lean taste of good clams. “There are new, high-end places trying to make fancy stuff,” he said. “But it's a down-to-earth soup.”

    North Fork Coast

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Long Island's North Fork Coast

    And yet: High-end doesn't necessarily mean mediocre Manhattan. Toward the tail end of my journey, I found myself at Aquagrill in New York City's Soho neighborhood. Chef-owner Jeremy Marshall has been the de facto torch-bearer for Manhattan clam chowder in its home base for the last two decades. From the beginning, the chef stripped out shortcuts like soup bases and add-ons like carrots and bell peppers in favor of what is essentially a high-wire balancing act between clams and tomatoes. Marshall deconstructs behind the scenes, not for modernity's sake but to ensure consistent cooking. His Rhode Island-dug clams spend a little time in the walk-in (“so they're actually Manhattan residents before we make them into soup,” Marshall says). Next, they're steamed in one pot, vegetables sweated out in another, potatoes boiled separately, and then everything is combined to order. An opposite approach to those from the old-guard clam shacks, for sure, but it bears the correct hallmarks of a killer chowder, its heartiness fine-tuned by the natural saltiness of the clams and little else.

    After tasting a dozen chowders up and down the island, I sought insight from folklorist Nancy Solomon, who recorded the oral histories of the dwellers of Long Island's bay houses, the freestanding structures, some a century old, built in the tidal marshlands of the South Shore. Kitchens in these homes often had a pot of chowder on low heat, she told me, with new components added as soon as the new hauls came in. A mix of old stock and new ingredients.

    Manhattan Clam Chowder

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    That's the technique I tried to replicate when I got back home, picking and choosing from the recipes I'd come across. I omitted carrots, which appeared about half the time, and made a shockingly red tomato broth that mellowed when simmered with pork and vegetables. The next day I used it as a kind of base—sort of like using a flavor-bearing sourdough starter—to which I added bacon and fresh herbs. I never let it boil, and it was delicious.

    The real alchemical force behind great Manhattan clam chowder, I found, happens when the last batch informs the next one, when the clams that have been on that slow simmer forever meet up with fresh topnecks and vegetables you've hauled in that day—even if that haul is from the supermarket and not the open waters. I'm a believer that all soup is better the next day rather than fresh off the stove, but this is particularly the case with the Manhattan, when the briny clams and long-simmered stock land together with fresh vegetables and smoky bacon in the same bowl. It's a reminder of the way chowder parties and clam bars have for centuries operated at their best. Great chowders are less of a soup, I learned, and more of a continuum.

    Get the recipe for Manhattan-Style Clam Chowder »


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    Asian Drinking Food

    Asian Drinking Food

    Alex Testere

    In Asia, drinking-food (and drinking properly with food) is an art form. So welcome to Asian Drinking Food Adventures, where Dan Holzman, chef-owner of The Meatball Shop, and Matt Rodbard, author of theKoreatowncookbook, seek out the best food from bars, izakayas, pojangmachas, and then some.

    On a recent Monday afternoon, a legendary craft beer bar, famous for its selection of geeky farmhouse ales and esoteric dubbels, was perfumed with the lingering smell of soy and garlic. And all was right in the world.

    For over a decade, a very likable guy named Jimmy Carbone has run Jimmy’s No. 43 in New York’s East Village like a personal clubhouse. Jimmy’s is a basement-level relaxed drinking den where the ever-present owner offers regulars, and those who wander in from the street above, tastes of the latest keg he’s wrangled from some cult Colorado alehouse or nano brewer upstate.

    Dan Holzman

    Jimmy Carbone and King Phojanakong.

    Like hanging out in your beer-crazed buddy’s man cave, the food at Jimmy’s has never been the main attraction. For a while he served gastropub favorites—plates piled with pig trotters and slow-smoked lamb ribs to wash down all that gose. Then the menu transitioned to a Cajun theme with a proud New Orleans expat cooking up boudin and gumbo. Carbone—who describes himself as “Italian on both sides”—is attuned to the rhythms of the food world. So, after a forced closure due to a devastating explosion that nearly leveled his block, Jimmy reopened with a menu that satisfied what the umami-crazed people of New York were yearning for: adobo chicken wings, crisp-skinned finger food soused in the high-octane salty-sweet sauce of the Philippines.

    The rest of the food on the slim menu is very good, and definitely built for beer. Lumpia are deep-fried pork spring rolls served throughout the Philippines and Indonesia, and King’s version at Jimmy’s are excellent, breaking apart in that way all good lumpia should, shattering at the slightest touch. Halo halo fries? Don’t worry if you have no idea what this is, neither did we. The name (translation: “mix mix”) is a reference to the mountainous shaved-ice dish usually served at the close of a Filipino meal. Here it’s transformed into the ultimate bar snack by topping a pile of fries with sizzling sautéed pork, Kewpie mayo, and bonito flakes. It’s more like okonomiyaki poutine than anything, and you should order it.

    Dan Holzman

    The bar at Jimmy's

    But more about that adobo.

    Adobo is the national dish of the Philippines, which wears the influence of the Mexicans, Spanish, and Chinese on its stain-speckled sleeve. The term refers to the technique of simmering meat, seafood, and vegetables in a marinade of vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, black pepper, and garlic. Like kimchi to Koreans, adobe is less a specific dish then a style of cooking that can be applied to many ingredients. At Jimmy’s, the protein of choice is the classic American bar snack: chicken wings. Instead of the Western salty, spicy, and eye-watering Buffalo-style wing, these adobo wings opt for an Eastern trifecta of sweet, salty, and savory. They may be even easier to inhale than their Buffalo bretherinkind.

    The man behind these wings is no stranger to high-flying Filipino cooking. King Phojanakong runs Kuma Inn and Umi Nom, popular and long-established restaurants that reflect the chef’s mixed background; he was born to a Filipino mother and Thai father. Tito King’s Kitchen at Jimmy’s is his partnership with Carbone, and we’re hesitant to call it a full-scale restaurant because we’re not sure how long the pop-up will last. Which is why we scribbled down the recipe for the wings as fast as we could.

    Tito's Wings

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    For this recipe, we adapted King’s version, keeping his basic marinade but opting to crisp the skin under the broiler rather than in deep fryer. (Feel free to fry them up if you’re up for it, but we prefer to spend more time cooking, eating and drinking beer then cleaning a slippery floor). We also added a recipe for crispy lime- and chile-marinated apple slices and an Asian-ish ranch dipping sauce. Cuz they just ain’t wings without ranch dressing and something to crunch on.

    Get the recipe for Adobo Chicken Wings »

    Daniel Holzman is the Brooklyn-based chef and owner of The Meatball Shop. Matt Rodbard is a writer living in Brooklyn and the author ofKoreatown: A Cookbook.


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    Açaí and Cupuaçu ice cream

    Flickr: luvprelove

    Ask Jeremy Black about his 30-or-so visits to Brazil and he'll come back to you with a warning: Don't skimp on the ice cream.

    Forget the Baskin Robbins 31. The co-owner of the Sambazon acai company, who's constantly on produce hunts in Brazil for better ingredients for his acai bowls and juices, is quick to point out that are hundreds of ice cream flavors to try in Brazil, many made with the country's bounty of local fruits. Ever heard of tapereba? How about cajarana? Soursop? Umbu? How about cupuacu, a relative of the cacao plant with a citrus-and-melon verve and almost alcoholic kick? They all make incredible ice cream. Brazil is "definitely one of the best places to take a sample spoon and say, ‘Can I try that?’” Black says.

    Ice cream has long acted as portable air conditioning in Brazil, journalist and Brazilian native Patrick Bruha explains over email. With sticky, humid summers that can start at over 85 degrees Fahrenheit and climb into the triple digits, a scoop of frosty ice cream is almost a daily necessity. 2014's heat wave was so fierce that a Rio de Janeiro zoo started feeding custom-made ice pops to its animals to cool them down.

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Sambazon acai juice.

    The national hunger for ice cream is only growing. According to the Brazilian Ice Cream Industries’ Association, Brazilians ate almost twice as much ice cream in 2014 as 2004. Supermarket freezers are lined with tubs and tubes of Nestle and local brand Kibon. The world's largest Ben & Jerry's opened in Sao Paulo last year. And scoop shops specializing in small-batch, high quality ice creams that feature local fruit are more popular than ever.

    At Sorveteria Rocha I, the most popular specialty scoop shop in São Sebastião, you can get a scoop of acai ice cream topped with sprinkles, marshmallows, and hot fudge, and take popsicles to go. The family-run place has been serving 61 flavors since it opened in 1947. Or visit Gelato Donato in Sao Paulo for their signature cheese and guave ice cream. You can even take your ice cream high-end at D.O.M., the home of Alex Atala, Brazil's most famous chef. There he serves a jabuticaba ice cream, made of a fruit that looks and tastes like grapes but with a citrisy twang, and is tinged with a sinus-clearing hit of wasabi.

    Sorveteria in Trancoso, Brazil

    Flickr: dany13

    Sure, there's plenty of grilled meat and fejoida to occupy your meals in Brazil. But listen a little closer and you'll hear the scream for ice cream loud and clear.


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    Welcome to Hawk’s Illustrated America, a monthly series following illustrator Hawk Krall’s journeys through the back roads of the U.S. in search of our country’s most obscure and delicious regional specialties.

    Deep in the heart of Pennsylvania coal country, a few miles from the smoldering, abandoned town of Centralia, lives one of the oddest regional foods In the country. At first it sounds like a gimmick, another frankenfood concoction like the ramen burger made for the sake of viral marketing. But the Fluff Burger is the real deal: a hyper-regional specialty that’s been around since at least the ‘70s, largely unnoticed by the world outside the Schuylkill County area.

    Yes, the Fluff Burger: a griddled hamburger topped with onions, a mound of soft butter, blisteringly hot chile paste, and Marshmallow Fluff. Taste one and you’ll easily see why locals have been packing into Tony’s Lunch (which is only open from around 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.) for decades.

    Tony’s has a familiar small-town lunch-counter feel, with a menu of standard burgers, hot dogs, and cheesesteaks. The signature dish is a Fluff-less burger called a Screamer, which is slathered with a secret homemade chile paste that has more in common with the eye-wateringly spicy condiments at a Vietnamese restaurant than anything you’d normally put on a burger. The current record for Screamers eaten in one sitting? 14 and a half.

    The Screamer on its own is a fiery blow to the tastebuds. But when you add a dollop of Marshmallow Fluff, something remarkable happens. The burger develops a wild sweet-hot-salty balance, in the same vein as salted caramel candy or ripe mangoes topped with chile and lime. This is the Fluff Burger, and it has to be tasted to be believed.

    Claire Salukas, the co-owner of Tony’s Lunch, explains that origin of the bizarrely delicious burger. “The restaurant had Fluff for the hot chocolate. A 16-year-old girl used to come in ever day and ask for it on her burger, and they refused. Then one day, Tony’s niece, a waitress, made it for her, and people started copying her order. Now everyone wants it. We go through a case and a half of Fluff a week.”

    Tony's Lunch

    Hawk Krall

    Tony Fuglini opened Tony’s as a lunch counter in the 1940s after WWII. Salukas and company bought it in 1975, and in the coming years expanded the lunch counter to a full-sized restaurant. Tony’s used to be open all day,” Salukas tells me. “There used to be more factories and schools around, Then it slowed down. We would be busy at lunch and then it would be dead until dinner. So eventually we just started opening late.” The peak hour doesn’t begin until after midnight, as people trickle in from local bars until a line snakes out the door.

    The late-night crowd has developed a secret menu: Lots of regulars order their Screamers with “quick cheese,” cold, unmelted American cheese under the fluff layer. Or, if one dose of Screamer sauce isn’t hot enough for you, ask for an “S&S,” a burger with Screamer sauce on both sides of the patty.

    Restaurants in neighboring towns have since made various copycats of both Screamer sauce and the Fluff Burger, but none of them top the original. And if the quantum blast of spicy and sweet on a burger isn’t enough, you can also ask for it on cheesesteaks and french fries. Some servers won’t allow you, perhaps rightly so. My “Fluffsteak” was one of the wildest things I’ve ever eaten in my life, but not something I’m scrambling to eat again any time soon. Those burgers though? If I lived within an hour drive of Tony’s, I’d be there three times a week.

    Tony’s Lunch
    23 East Main Street, Girardville, PA
    (570) 276-1730

    Hawk Krall is an artist, illustrator, and former line cook with a lifelong obsession for unique regional cuisine, whose work can be seen in magazines, newspapers, galleries, and restaurants all over the world. He focuses on editorial illustration, streetscapes, and pop-art style food paintings.


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    Asian Drinking Food

    Alex Testere

    In Asia, drinking-food (and drinking properly with food) is an art form. So welcome to Asian Drinking Food Adventures, where Dan Holzman, chef-owner of The Meatball Shop, and Matt Rodbard, author of theKoreatowncookbook, seek out the best food from bars, izakayas, pojangmachas, and then some.

    It’s closing in on midnight on a muggy late-summer evening and we find ourselves sitting at the Village Yokocho kitchen bar. This isn’t our first meal of the night, and it isn’t our first time with midnight box seats at the grill station. We’re sweating, our brows damp from the shochu cocktails and highballs of Japanese whisky we’d just slugged next door at Angel’s Share, the intimate speakeasy tucked into a corner of the restaurant.

    An izakaya is Japan’s version of the British public house crossed with an American diner and a Spanish tapas bar: a drinking establishment that serves a long and varied menu of greatest hits in small servings. The general idea is to order lots of food and lots of beer and lots of shochu and lots of sake and make a night of it. Add to that a sexy, low-key cocktail bar with an excellent selection of Nikka malts and you basically have the perfect date night, provided you don’t get too drunk, or too full, and throw in the towel before the finale.

    Village Yokocho

    Dan Holzman

    Yokocho has been the go-to for years—decades of drunk college students have found their way up the long, narrow stairs to the second floor oasis of booze and grub. There is a menu of kushikatsu (fried vegetables and meats) that goes on for pages, and the deep-fried squid legs dunked in Kewpie mayo are a must order on every visit. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are dare-worthy bowls of mucus-y nato that I heard Anthony Bourdain hyperbolize during his Food Network days. The yakitori menu is another rabbit hole well worth traveling down: skewers of chicken thigh, breast, skin, and organ meat, glazed in a sweet soy-based sauce called tare (pronounced tah-ray).

    For me, Village Yokocho was my Kaplan University for the beautiful art of Asian eating and drinking. For Dan, it holds the memories of a few too many dates where the consolation prize was a skewer of grilled quail eggs. It’s the kind of place where dirt-cheap sake and pitchers of Sapporo magically appear without you having to ask.

    On this visit, the fried squid legs are particularly crispy tender. Nuggets of fried chicken and skewers of grilled meats and vegetables compete for our attention as they arrive one-by-one. We venture into an order of what can only be described as breaded and fried chicken parmesan balls with ketchup sauce.

    Village Yokocho

    Dan Holzman

    As we eat, we reflect on what makes drinking-food so special and unique. Drinking-food is its own cuisine, one that eschews the burden of cerebral gymnastics or locavore fascism. It’s food that smells good and lands sizzling on the table, inviting you to burn your tongue. It feeds a deeper kind of hunger. The kind of hunger only satisfied by yaki butter.

    Our rough translation of the term, after a couple bottles of sake and fumbling thumbs, is “grilled butter,” and it’s the ambrosial liquid that pools at the bottom of a bundle of foil yaki. In Japan, toaster ovens are as ubiquitous as microwaves in America, a keystone appliance in which entire meals are prepared. Hence foil yaki, where vegetables, meat, or seafood are wrapped in a pouch of aluminum foil with a mixture of butter, sake and soy sauce, then baked. (Some Japanese toaster even have a foil yaki setting).

    Tear open the pouch and you’re greeted by the intense perfume of mushrooms or clams steam-roasting in a bath of butter and seasonings. It’s bliss.

    Foil Yaki

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    It turns out that the toaster oven is a very efficient way to cook. The house doesn’t heat up from a roaring oven, and once you throw away the foil there’s little to clean, making it an ideal appliance for those with limited space or time. Japan is a culture obsessed with packaging and presentation, so there’s also the excitement of unwrapping your pouch like a present.

    Here we’ve adapted the version for a conventional oven (though feel free to use your toaster oven like our friends in Japan). In addition to the classic mushroom medley, we have versions with leeks, clams, and king oyster mushrooms, as well as the amazing combination of salmon, leeks, and enoki. Best of all, you can make them all ahead of time, prepping your tightly wrapped packages on a Sunday night for days of foil yaki fun. That comes in especially handy after a few pitchers of beer.

    Get the recipe for Mixed Mushroom Foil Yaki »
    Get the recipe for Clam Leek, and King Oyster Mushroom Foil Yaki »
    Get the recipe for Salmon, Scallion, and Enoki Mushroom Foil Yaki »

    Daniel Holzman is the Brooklyn-based chef and owner of The Meatball Shop. Matt Rodbard is a writer living in Brooklyn and the author ofKoreatown: A Cookbook.


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    The Pony Bar, Pony, MT

    Spencer Stewart

    Like so much of the American West, Montana’s Pony Bar mixes fact and legend together with equal aplomb. That sort of thing happens with a 150-year-old saloon in a ghost town during the gold rush, the central watering hole in a place that only 100 or so residents call home.

    As the story goes, gold was discovered across the rugged terrain of western Montana in the late 1850s, causing a fevered rush of get-rich-quick thrill seekers to head west in hopes of mining their way to glory.

    While most didn’t end up rich enough to dive into their hordes of gold Scrooge McDuck-style, the rush inspired a fresh crop of rustic feed-and-seed towns, complete with sundry shops and, of course, a local watering hole. The town of Pony, Montana was built on the backs of this gold rush, with the hamlet’s namesake bar, The Pony Bar, erected in 1864.

    A wooden, Lincoln Logs-looking saloon with a wide porch made for sleepy dogs and tuckered-out hunters, the Pony Bar has survived as a destination location for over 150 years. It might be the only game in town, but the bar has long been a haven for a diverse cross section of people. Day-to-day regulars saddle up next to railroaders, construction workers, and out-of-town visitors who have made the trek to swill beer at such an antiquated joint.

    As Johnny famously tells Ponyboy in The Outsiders, nothing gold can stay. The gold boom in Pony soon went bust, and residents scrambled out of town in search of more stable work. But even as Pony stood on the verge of abandonment, the Pony Bar kept going strong.

    The Pony Bar, Pony, MT

    Inside the saloon.

    Spencer Stewart

    “We’re the end of the road—you have to come here, turn around, and leave,” said owner Scottie Lambert, who bought the bar 13 years ago. “It’s up at the base of the mountain, and the road ends right here at the bar. People don’t just happen to drive by it, kiddo.”

    Lambert is dedicated to preserving tradition and is a staunch supporter of one of Montana’s most curious drinking traditions—the wooden nickel. Long before Fernet coins spun bicoastal digestif nerds into a shot-taking tizzy, bars across Montana adopted a “wooden nickel” system in order to entice patrons to come back for another drink, on the house.

    “Wooden nickels are good for one free drink! It’s a Montana thing. If someone orders a round for everyone but a person already has a drink in front of them, they get chips instead so their drink doesn’t get watered down. I just keep honoring the tradition. There are over 1,500 wooden nickels out there some place.”

    Lambert is also so committed to having a convivial presence at Pony Bar that his house—a former “den of ill-repute” during the gold rush—is actually hooked onto the back.

    “I’m always around the bar in the afternoons when the working guys get off. I buy drinks, make sure they feel at home, and go from there, man,” Lambert laughs. “It’s not just a drinking place—it’s a meeting place, you know? We do a lot of business. I had a horseshoe guy who came in once to shoe one of my horses, and he got like nine other jobs.”

    The Pony is one of a fast-dying breed of bars in America that retains a distinct similarity to the saloons of yore, where business and pleasure met in news-swapping, liquor-fueled dealings.

    “There’s always some work around the bar. It’s like old times,” Lambert paused thoughtfully. “And just like old times, we do plenty of drinking, too.”

    The Pony Bar
    108 Broadway Street, Pony, MT 59747
    (406) 685-3386


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    Asian Drinking Food

    Alex Testere

    In Asia, drinking-food (and drinking properly with food) is an art form. So welcome to Asian Drinking Food Adventures, where Dan Holzman, chef-owner of The Meatball Shop, and Matt Rodbard, author of theKoreatowncookbook, seek out the best food from bars, izakayas, pojangmachas, and then some.

    “We make your ddukbokki dreams come true,” reads the slogan written on the Arang website. And, true to the claim, many a midnight reverie has been passed over a plate of the classic Korean rice cake dish that has made this mother-daughter-run restaurant famous.

    Ddukbokki (also spelled teokbokki due to a non-standard Romanization of the Korean language) is a popular street food in Korea. Finger-sized rice cakes, called dduk, are boiled until pillowy, like rice gnocchi, and stir-fried with a crimson sauce of gochujang (fermented soybean and chile pepper paste) gochugaru (dried chile flakes), soy sauce, fish cakes and anchovy stock. In Seoul, you’ll find streets lined with a dozen carts selling the spicy chewy snack, vendors exchanging their steaming chattels for a couple thousand won (around 2 bucks). Ddukbokki is also a foundational menu item of the Korean pocha or pojangmacha—tented streetside restaurants that are packed after the bars let out (which, in Korea, is basically all hours of the day and night).

    In America, the pocha heads indoors and is tweaked for a more Western appeal. That is, dishes like golden fried chicken drums and jalapeno poppers are served side-by-side with traditional Korean cooking like jogaetang, clams cooked in a clear broth of anchovies and peppers, and grilled octopus.

    Korean Restaurant Arang

    Dan Holzman

    Sue Song and her daughter Sunny Lim opened the original Arang on 32nd Street in the heart of Manhattan’s Koreatown in 2006. The restaurant was a neighborhood staple for 10 years before a rent hike forced them to re-locate to Queens. It was at that 2nd floor sanctuary—which for years was popular with the post-noribang crowd and played a soundtrack heavy on the Chromeo and “Freedom 90”—that the world was first introduced to their version of ddukbokki, closer to Korean nachos or spicy lasagna then the traditional dish. Same spongy dduk, same crimson sauce. But add layers of stir-fried pork belly, white onions, Korean peppers, chopped kimchi and a top it off with a pound of cheese (a blend of Cheddar and mozzarella).

    It’s an incredible dish. The fatty pork, squishy rice cakes, spicy kimchi, and gooey cheese come together to form a product greater than the sum of its parts; a molten gut-bomb worthy of the heartburn and regret that inevitably ensues.

    As Sunny tells it, over a decade ago, her mother went on a trip to Korea and witnessed cheese being added to the top of rice cakes. Unconvinced that a mere sprinkling of Cheddar was the answer, she added pork and vegetables into the mix. “A few food bloggers stopped by and things got a little crazy,” Sunny says, explaining how the dish went viral. There’s a couple from Staten Island who make a monthly pilgrimage, and Lim credits the dish’s popularity to both craveability, and how dope the thing looks on Instagram. “It’s huge with the Snake People.”

    Korean Restaurant Arang

    Dan Holzman

    On a recent Friday night, after a disappointing encounter with paneer pakora in Jackson Heights, our crew of six found ourselves craving the Korean nachos. Even via Uber, the ride to the heavily Korean section of Flushing takes some time, but we were overdue a visit to see Sue and Sunny at their new digs. And of course those nachos remained top of mind.

    The new Arang is now two levels and slightly more spacious than the original. On this night it’s about half full on the bottom floor and empty in the bar area upstairs where you can request karaoke if you feel like singing “Freedom 90” yourself. Business can be tough as the new kid on the block. Luckily for Arang their following, like us, is willing to travel. Almost before we’re seated bottles of soju and Hite arrive. I order jokbal (a massive plate of soy-braised pig’s feet) and jalapeno poppers which arive along with a blurr of banchan as the tradition calls.

    I ask Sunny about why she supposes the harmony of drinking and eating in Asia is so profound. “You first have to understand that in Korea, those people are going HAM all the time” she says, using the Kanye West emphatic. “In America, the bars are very interactive. Everybody is standing around and meeting each other. Korea is more about the conversation. Catching up and hanging out. And with tons and tons of food.”

    As we wrap our meal, we are left to finish off the last sips of soju and wonder what the future holds for the mother and daughter restaurateurs working hard, day and night, on the outskirts of the city.

    Korean Rice Cakes

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    I call Sunny a few months later and learn that business is picking up. “We’ve tweaked a few dishes here and there and things are looking good,” she says, noting an uptick in sales. Her most popular dish remains the ddukbokki with sautéed pork and cheese. “People came from Bensonhurst the other week.”

    The legend continues.

    Get the recipe for Arang's Deluxe Rice Cakes »

    Daniel Holzman is the Brooklyn-based chef and owner of The Meatball Shop. Matt Rodbard is a writer living in Brooklyn and the author ofKoreatown: A Cookbook.


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    Venetian wine bar culture is centuries-old, its existence predicated in part on three famous, neighboring regions—Soave, Prosecco, and Valpolicella—channeling their goods through the floating city.

    To deliver that wine to thirsty residents, the city enjoys a robust web of diminutive bars called bacari (bacaro is the singular), spread across Venice’s labyrinth of alleyways. Often standing-room-only, they serve a daily selection of small bites called * cicchetti*, akin to the tapas of Madrid or the pintxos of Basque country, along with glasses of regional wine referred to as ombre. Traditionally, bacari catered to a working-class audience looking to graze affordably while hopping from bar to bar. The wines were simple and rustic, the ambience (and hospitality), varying shades of charming.

    But recently, more and more bars are going deluxe, bolstering local wines with more obscure regions and upping the selection of on-trend “natural” and “organic” bottles. These bars usually mean higher quality wine, but navigating them takes more local knowledge than good luck. Which is why we turn to Matteo Bisol.

    Botegon Exterior

    Outside Al Botegon wine bar.

    Lauren Mowery

    To say the Bisol family has winemaking pedigree is an understatement. They’ve farmed land in Prosecco’s Valdobbiadene since the 16th century, and produced wine since the mid-1800s. Grapes has been bred into the clan’s DNA.

    Matteo Bisol, son of Bisol patriarch Gianluca, first came to Venice as a student. During his five years enrolled in a local university, Matteo learned the best spots for boozy bonhomie. “The good restaurants were too expensive for students, so it was better to frequent the wine bars: you walk, you see the city, you eat, and you make friends,” he explained.

    Upon graduation, Matteo stayed on in Venice to rejoin the family business as general manager of the Venissa Wine Resort, a newly minted project bent on restoring a near-extinct piece of Venetian viticultural heritage. The resort now produces around 4,000 bottles of Dorona di Venezia white wine, which has sold out to enthusiasts as much for the golden-hued liquid inside as for the collectible, hand-blown Murano glass bottle it fills.

    Vino Vero Wine Bar

    Vino Vero wine bar.

    Lauren Mowery

    Here are Bisol’s top six places for indulging in the Venetian art of bacari drinking and dining, from historic Venetian classics to the new breed of modern natural wine bars.

    Vino Vero
    Vino Vero (“real wine”) is nestled along a quiet canal in the neighborhood of Canareggio. The sleek, standing-room-only (unless you’re lucky enough to snag one of few stools in the window) storefront skews towards eclectic natural styles, and Bisol describes it as “one of the two best bars” for adventurous eaters and drinkers. Proprietors regularly rotate by-the-glass selections which they sell to a young, fashionable set who spill outside to socialize while snacking on fresher * cicchetti* than the competition.
    Fondamenta Misericordia, 2497

    Estero
    Bisol’s second recommendation for adventurous drinkers, Estero focuses largely on natural wines. The owners have amassed 700 different labels, all of which are fair game to open for the sale of just two glasses. It’s the perfect place for taking a deep dive into the wine list because you can drink at an actual table, while seated in an actual seat. Try a still or sparkling orange wine (they have several), and nibble on roast pork or chicken liver tramezzini.
    Dorsoduro, 3778

    Al Merca
    As the daily tsunami of tourists washes across the Rialto Bridge, this tiny, unassuming storefront in a nearby campo draws an authentic-feeling mix of Italians (those who pay rent and those on vacation). At mid-day, and again when it reopens in the evening, customers crowd the entrance for an affordable Aperol spritz or ombre, how Venetians refer to local wine. Try a two-Euro glass of citrusy-Soave, a white wine made from the Garganega grape, with salty Italian olives. No bathroom, though, and no seats.
    Campo Bella Vienna, 213

    Cantina Do Mori

    Inside Cantina Do Mori.

    Lauren Mowery

    Al Bottegon
    “Red or white,” asks the gruff proprietor of this dusty 1960s wine shop-cum-bacaro. Unfortunately, there’s no list, so you have to ask for recommendations based on what bottles are open. Try to ignore the humorless service, however, and focus on sipping your wine while noshing on their routinely “award-winning” bites like pumpkin and ricotta; gorgonzola and walnut; and robiola with fish eggs, each served atop a slice of crusty bread.
    Fondamenta Nani, 992

    Cantina do Mori
    You come for the atmospheric, rather than gastronomic, experience. This Venetian institution has been in business continually since 1462, and looks like it with its dark walls and begrimed ceiling adorned in copper pots. Postage-stamp-sized bites called francobolli sell out by afternoon, but inexpensive, young wine flows from demijohns until early evening.
    Sestiere San Polo, 429

    Alla Vedova
    “No wine bar tour,” explains Bisol, “is complete without a stop at a classic Venetian bacari like Alla Vedova.” Tourists and residents patiently pile into the front bar of this old-fashioned osteria, to sample the city’s most renowned polpette—a crispy, fried pork meatball – and wash it down with multiple glasses of prosecco. Eat, drink, and repeat.
    Cannaregio 3912


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    Before Kwame Onwuachi learned to cook, his mother, a chef and caterer, made sure he knew how to eat. Ask the 25-year-old chef where his cooking career began and he won’t say his stints at New York’s Eleven Madison Park and Per Se, or the catering company he started when he was 20, or his Top Chef appearance, or his coursework at the Culinary Institute of America.

    No—for Onwuachi, who’s about to open The Shaw Bijou in Washington, D.C., “it started in the Bronx with [his] mom.”

    That meant a steady diet of West African fufu, Jamaican jerk, and Puerto Rican pernil, everything a Creole-Jamaican-Nigerian family needs for a taste of home, and everything a curious cook, who started peeling shrimp in his mother’s kitchen at the age of eight, needs to kick off a lifelong obsession with global cooking.

    In the Bronx, a borough that draws more foreign immigrants than entire metropolitan areas, about half of the area’s households speak a language other than English at home. It is, bar none, one of the most linguistically and ethnically diverse places on Earth, where Puerto Ricans rub shoulders with Ghanaians, Bangladeshis, and Jamaicans. All of those communities cook—in many cases extremely well—and this is where you’ll find New York’s mightiest roast pork, its most delicate Salvadoran pupusas, and its only instances of, say, Garinagu cuisine or hyper-obscure Italian charcuterie.

    Yet in a city that prides itself on eating globally with residents who will gladly travel and queue up for good food, most adventurous diners who live outside the Bronx have never actually set foot in a restaurant there. And that’s a shame. A population that boasts fearlessness regarding, well, everything shouldn’t need Anthony Bourdain to uncover the cooking happening a few subway stops away.

    “I think people just write off the Bronx as not a destination,” Onwuachi says, “but I think it's our job as chefs to educate people about different places that are meaningful.”

    Kwame Onwuachi

    Kwame Onwuachi

    Kevin Carroll

    If you look at the chicken with mojo sauce on Shaw Bijou’s menu, you don’t have to go far to see where it comes from. Onwuachi’s untraditional mojo may be a fluid gel set over tempura-style fried chicken, but it begins with the Puerto Rican and Dominican diners around Baychester Avenue. His lamb sweetbreads with smoked white sesame and chiles? An homage to the halal cart lamb over rice you’ll find all around the Bronx.

    This is why whenever Onwuachi’s back home, he takes his chef friends around the borough for an impromptu tour of his favorite foods, an eclectic and delicious mix of jerk chicken, blisteringly spicy West African stews, and fresh-from-the-fryer empanadas.

    “Their minds are blown. One friend said, ‘This is easily the best meal I've ever had in New York City, and I've spent thousands of dollars on all these high-end meals.’”

    If you’re looking to get a taste of the Bronx yourself, follow along with Onwuachi’s favorite restaurants in the borough.

    How Kwame Onwuachi Eats the Bronx

    The Jamaican Jerk Chicken Man
    The order: Jerk chicken (duh)
    “This man has no storefront. Just his truck, his grill, and a line around the block. To find it, get off the 2/5 train and follow your nose.”

    The Jamaican Jerk Chicken Man
    Bronx Boulevard between 233rd and 234th Streets

    Accra
    The order: Ghanaian egusi (ground melon seed) stew with goat, mashed fufu, and jollof rice
    “Bring your eating pants to this place because this food sticks to your ribs. Egusi stew is one of my favorite things in the world—it’s a thick sauce of toasted melon seeds, sautéed spinach, and dried fish stock. It’s umami heaven. Add a plate of jollof rice on the side and you can’t go wrong.”

    Accra
    2041 Davidson Avenue
    (718) 584-8300

    Liberato
    The order: Pollo guisado (chicken stew), pernil (roast pork), mofongo (a mashed and fried plantain dish), and mondongo (tripe soup)
    “So hearty and so delicious, I could literally eat this food everyday. When you walk in you are smacked in the face with the smell of chicken charring on the grill, continuously basted with a tangy mojo sauce that hits the coals and sends these citrus fumes billowing through the air. Eat everything here, seriously.”

    Liberato
    10 West Burnside Avenue
    (718) 716-6200

    Martinez Restaurant
    The order: Chicken and beef empanadas, arroz con pollo
    “When I wasn’t eating a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich before school, it was because this place had some freshly fried empanadas. It opens early to get you what you need for breakfast.”

    Martinez Restaurant
    2307 Jerome Avenue
    (718) 583-2979

    University Pizza
    The order: Sausage and pepperoni pizza
    “There may not be any Italians behind the counter throwing dough in the air, but you wouldn’t know it when you taste the pizza. Get two slices with sausage and pepperoni and call it a day. Crispy underneath and gooey on top, loaded with thin slices of fennel pork sausage and pepperoni.”

    University Pizza
    574 East Forham Road
    (718) 220-1959

    Jackie’s West Indian Bakery
    The order: Coco bread, curry chicken patty, and hot “hard dough” bread
    “This is one of my all-time favorite places. When I was nine years old, the coco bread was 35 cents! I used to sneak out of my dad’s house to go and eat here. I’d run all the way to see Ms. Jackie and get coco bread, a chicken patty, and a vanilla nutriment, and would be back home in front of the TV before he knew anything.”

    Jackie’s West Indian Bakery
    1203 East 233rd Street
    (718) 994-2541


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    If you walk down the streets of Palermo, you’ll smell and taste something a little bolder than the flavors that Sicily, the Mediterranean’s largest island, is usually known for. Alongside the wild fennel, icy crystals of granita, and tomatoes so red they break your heart is a street food scene alive with almost brutish intensity: spleen, mixed offal, snails, octopus, and grilled intestines.

    Squeamish? Don’t be. Sicily is home to one of the world’s most distinctive and delicious street food cultures, built on layers of foreign influences and powerful flavors from centuries of exchange with (and occupation by) Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Normans. It’s original cooking you won’t find anywhere else, and the street cooks here turn humble ingredients like chickpeas and organ meat into something destination-worthy.

    On the weekend, get yourself to Palermo’s Piazza Caracciolo, when it transforms into a night market filled with street food. Or just wander—through markets, down alleyways, and at street corners and stalls, to devour these unique Sicilian essentials.

    A Palermo specialty, pani ca'meusa (above) this sandwich begins with a pillowy sesame seed roll. The vendor pulls out the bread’s soft white guts and replaces them with slices of well-seasoned calf spleen, lung, and liver cooked gently in oil. You can have it maritata—married, with fresh ricotta and shreds of grated caciocavallo cheese, or schiettu—single, without. The sharp cheese adds contrast to the soft spleen, with a taste somewhere between boiled beef and liver. You will also find it referred to as pane con milza.

    Alex Testere

    Repeat after me: one arancina, two arancine. Do not, whatever you do, make the mistake of calling them arancini (as they do in mainland Italy) instead of arancine (as they do in Sicily). Named for the oranges whose shape and color it resembles, this saffron-colored rice ball is wrapped around a savory filling, coated in bread crumbs, and deep-fried. Try one of three varieties: al ragù (with beef ragu and peas), al burro (with butter, ham, bechamel, and mozzarella); or alla Norma (with eggplant, tomato, and salted ricotta, a specialty of the city of Catania and named for Bellini’s 1831 opera).

    Alex Testere

    A dish of Arab origin, these creamy-centered, crisp-edged, slightly earthy chickpea fritters come with a topping of chopped parsley and deliver a hint of fragrant nutmeg. They’re usually served inside a soft white roll, sometimes with the addition of melanzane (sliced eggplant ), and are often paired with crocché, fried potato croquettes with mint and served in a coppa with salt and a squeeze of lemon. The mint and lemon elevate these tiny crunchy-soft bites of potato into something sublime.

    Alex Testere

    An elusive dish worth the hunt. Just as I’d given up hope of finding this robust-flavored Sicilian street food, I passed a highway underpass on the Palermo-Messina road and spotted a cluster of vendors fanning smoking grills. They were grilling veal or lamb intestines spiraled tightly around a skewer over charcoal for some spit-roasted innards. As the cooks turn the skewer, the intestines blister and spit. Once they’ve browned and turned crisp, the vendor pushes them off the skewer with a broad knife and chops them in pieces so they burst with juice. He then seasons the lot with salt and lemon juice and serves them with a delicate toothpick for eating. Each bite of these salty lamb chitterlings is by turns chewy, charred, and crispy.

    Alex Testere

    Another specialty of Palermo, sfincione is more soft bread than pizza, about an inch thick and soaked with tomato, onion and sprinkled with breadcrumbs before firing. It may have anchovies or caciocavallo cheese and dried oregano added. Served from a tiny mobile van by a sfincuinaro, you can buy it by the piece—one euro will more than satisfy one person’s hunger. The bread is soft and hot, with the sweetness of onions and tomato and the smokiness of the charred crust at its edges.

    Alex Testere

    Technically not a street food, these dainty cakes are, however, the perfect sweet end to a street food meal. Layered inside are pan di spagna (sponge cake) and sweetened sheep’s milk ricotta, covered in pistachio marzipan and topped with a sugar glaze and glâcé fruit and peel. (You can get the recipe for a full-sized version right here.)

    Alex Testere

    It’s hard to believe this passes for breakfast in Sicily, but it’s also hard to complain. A brioche topped with a tuppu, or bread button, is filled with one or more flavors of fresh gelato for a soft ice cream sandwich, often with the addition of wafers, piccolo, and whipped cream for good measure. Try hazelnut (nocciola) with straciatella, strawberry (fragola) with chocolate (cioccolato) or mulberries with cream (gelsi con panna). Of course, you don’t need to confine yourself to just two flavors, or even to breakfast hours, because it’s available until the brioche sell out.


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    Welcome to Hawk’s Illustrated America, a monthly series following illustrator Hawk Krall’s journeys through the back roads of the U.S. in search of our country’s most obscure and delicious regional specialties.

    Step into Gayle’s Country Ham & Market in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and take a whiff. 

    Maybe it’s the full country hams hanging from hooks in the back room. Or the ham slabs, side meat, and various cured pig parts in every corner of the store. Or the cooler packed with 32-ounce styrofoam cups of country ham broth—packed like to-go milkshakes and sold for a buck each—that made the best sausage gravy of my life.

    But you can tell, even with your eyes closed, that at 45-years-old and counting, Gayle’s is a well-weathered palace of unrestrained porcine pleasure, one of America’s great unsung meat destinations.

    Gayle Cupp opened Gayle’s in 1970, originally as a gas station that also offered country ham. In the ’80s he got rid of the pumps and expanded the market to what it looks like today, one that sells not only excellent ham products but also obscure offal delicacies, such as pan haas (the Pennsylvania Dutch precursor to scrapple) and liver pudding from nearby meat processor Gore’s

    Cupp passed away this year, so his sons Gayle Jr. and Chris, who’ve worked there most of their lives, are now in charge of everything from painting signs for groceries like “oysters by the pound” to de-boning the hams. Gayle’s doesn’t cure its own hams—a job best left to specialized ham houses like Wilkesboro, NC’s Hobe’s, which supplies excellent country hams to Gayle’s, fragrant with a genuine fermented tang. But the small staff are experts in slicing paper-thin shavings of the superlative country ham, and boiling and de-boning hams to a perfect tenderness that’s less salty than your average breakfast slab.

    Some might call Gayle’s just another old-time meat shop, but it’s actually far more unique, seamlessly blending unpretentious country store goods and groceries with high quality hyperlocal products that you can’t find anywhere else. In a more trendy town, Gayle’s amazing meaty lineup would be a star attraction. Here in Penn Laird, there are no chefs knocking on the door for custom pig parts, but the store does enjoy a following of loyal customers that drive in a couple times a year from Florida, Wyoming, and Colorado to stock up. Gayle's also supplies country ham to a couple of local diners, and sends out buckets of ham broth to church bazaars and Veterans of Foreign War halls in the area.

    Hawk Krall

    Once you’re loaded up on pig parts and fried pies, head on over to the small deli counter next to the register. Order a freshly made sandwich with that tender, perfectly sliced ham piled high on white bread, with lots of mayonnaise to offset the saltiness, for about $3. I devoured mine right in the parking lot for the finest and purest country ham experience I’ve ever had.

    If you can’t make it to Gayle’s, Gayle’s can make it to you. The store ships whole hams and other meat products anywhere in the country. You can check them out on Facebook, but your best route is to give them call them any day but Sunday.

    Gayle’s Market & Country Ham
    5439 Spotswood Trail, Penn Laird, VA 22846
    (540) 433-3464

    Hawk Krall is an artist, illustrator, and former line cook with a lifelong obsession for unique regional cuisine, whose work can be seen in magazines, newspapers, galleries, and restaurants all over the world. He focuses on editorial illustration, streetscapes, and pop-art style food paintings.


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    “I can’t believe you’ve never brought us here before,” says Gavin Kaysen to his pastry chef Diane Yang as they stroll the Hmongtown Marketplace in St. Paul, Minnesota. Kaysen, Yang, and chef de cuisine Chris Nye, the trio that heads up Spoon and Stable in neighboring Minneapolis, are marveling at lush produce they’ve never cooked or seen before, like piles of bulbous foreign squash and wiry stalks of winter melon. This is Kaysen’s first time in the market, a sprawling 200 booths that fill three indoor and two outdoor spaces within an area that plays home to 65,000 Hmong, the largest urban concentration in the United States.

    The Hmong are a rural Asian ethnic group that date back to ancient China, who then migrated into neighboring Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam during the 18th century. During the Vietnam War and the Secret War in Laos, many Hmong sided with American efforts to combat communism, and when the U.S. withdrew from Laos, a sizable group of Hmong were sent into internment camps in Thailand. The American government gave contracts to Christian groups to take in refugees in the following decades, Yang’s family among them, and the Twin Cities became a major resettlement area through Christian Charity and Lutheran Social Service programs.

    The local Hmong population started to explode in the early 1980s, with Hmong opening restaurants, small service-oriented businesses, and retail shops. Hmongtown Marketplace, a pillar of the Hmong community, opened at its current site in 2004, and it's since become a destination not just for groceries and prepared food, but also medicinal herbs, textiles, and, of course, community.

    Hmong Market

    Jacqueline Raposo

    The indoor spaces are wild to explore. You’ll find bright red rambutan, crisp bok choy, and small, dense bananas; an outdoor market teems with locally grown gigantic Asian yellow cucumbers, bright bitter melons, and massive stalks of lemongrass and sugar cane. Many vendors don’t speak English, but are more than happy to gesticulate, smile, and assist anyone who shows the right enthusiasm.

    In a small corner of one of the buildings, a grab-bag of Southeast Asian cuisines come together for Hmong in a few stalls of freshly prepared foods: The melding of a chile pepper with bundles of herbs and softened bamboo in chicken soup; a slightly-sweet tapioca pudding in coconut milk laced with chunks of softened taro; a papaya salad made to order that’s spicy, sour, salty, and sweet, with no one flavor dominating another.

    Hmong Market

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Vendors sell more than food; there’s also dried roots and herbs which have no name in English, but are “good for the stomach” or “good for your head.” Imported over-the-counter medicines sit next to large knives and scythes: “Everyone has ten of these knives in their kitchen to cut bones and such,” Yang explains. Tables are stacked two-feet high with Hmong ceremonial burial clothing: long colorful stripes running down dark, thick robes, and shoes meant to “guide feet through one of the stages of getting to the afterlife, where you walk through a patch of caterpillars.”

    After picking up stalks of pea eggplant to decorate Spoon and Stable, and some natural Thai medicines, the team sat to feast on their haul from the food stalls.

    Hmong Market

    Chris Nye, Gavin Kaysen, and Diane Yang

    Jacqueline Raposo

    “Tell the whiteys, ‘If they don’t like it, they can’t complain,” a smiling vendor joked to Yang.

    They liked it all.

    A Tour of Hmongtown

    Thai Chiles

    Hmong Market

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Hmongtown teems with these tiny spicy chiles. A common Hmong sauce, served with braised meats and greens, soups, fried chicken, or roasted offal, is a simple combination of chopped chiles and fish sauce topped with salt, occasionally cut with a little oil.

    Pea Eggplant (a.k.a. “Bitter Balls”)

    Hmong Market

    Jacqueline Raposo

    “What are you going to do with those?” several amused Hmong women asked Kaysen as he walked through the market with two giant stalks of red and green vegetables. Very few knew how to define them, other than as a cross between melons, eggplant, and pepper they sometimes refer to as “bitter balls.” They’re actually a form of pea eggplant, but the bitter description is fitting, as these tiny orbs are extremely bitter when eaten raw. Their snappy skins burst into a somewhat medicinal flavor that coats the throat and doesn’t ease up for a long time. The ladies suggested he stew them down with wild meat like rabbit, venison, or squirrel. Or, for the American palate: “put in a pot with chicken and beef and boil it.”

    Purple Lemongrass

    Hmong Market

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Smell this locally-grown purple lemongrass and you’ll understand why it’s more expensive than its commercial yellow counterpart: The bulbs are smaller, the flavor is far more sharp and potent, and the fragrance is pungent and intoxicating. Lemongrass is essential in Hmong cooking; it's most simply cooked into broth by simmering the trimmed stalks that forms the base of braised green dishes and various soups.

    Dried Bamboo

    Hmong Market

    Jacqueline Raposo

    This bamboo is dehydrated for export, and rehydrating it takes some time; the stalks must be continually soaked in boiling water, drained, and soaked again for several days before they’re ready for cooking. But they add a wonderful fragrance and resilient texture to soups, stews, and braises. At the market, you can fittingly buy dried bamboo at the Bamboo No. 5 food stall, where it’s cooked with ground chicken and broth. While the bamboo itself is a little bitter, Yang notes it’s because the soup is often served to the elderly or sick, who prefer it that way.

    Root and Herbs for Tea

    Hmong Market

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Hmong use all kinds of herbs as medicine, and you’ll find an abundance of medicinal herbs at various stalls. Most only loosely translate from Hmong into English, and some aren’t even referenced individually: ko taw qos liab (duck foot), tshuaj rog (fat medicine), and ntiv (sweet fern) have their own translatable names, but other than the Hmong who grow them, most don’t even know what they are. Instead, they’re referred to together as “cook with chicken herbs.” Bags of the fresh herbs, containing whatever is growing according to the current season, are so ubiquitous with chicken soup that many Hmong buy the bags when fresh and immediately freeze them, so they have them on hand to make chicken soup when people are sick or a woman has just given birth.

    Other roots and herbs are dried and used directly as medicine. Some, like burdock and ginseng, are somewhat easy to identify and describe to American buyers. Others, like the delicate leaves of the “twisted leaf” herb, are defined first as “good for stomach”: Two or three leaves steeped in hot water relieve upset stomachs and cramping. Combinations of the above are sometimes dehydrated, ground, and compressed with honey, which can then be shaved onto dishes or melted into medicinal teas.

    Winter Melon

    Hmong Market

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Hmong love winter melons’ thick, waxy skins so much that they carve dragons and other symbols into the surfaces. Or the melons, sometimes dubbed “Hmong pumpkin,” get hollowed out to use as soup terrines. “It’s really porous,” Yang says, “so when you cook it, it gets really spongy and doesn’t have much flavor.” Because of the high water content, winter melons are often juiced or candied for celebrations, and the skins get dehydrated and crystallized.

    Radish Tops

    Hmong Market

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Hmong eat lots of boiled and sautéed greens, so they let their radish greens grow thick and wild as a bonus vegetable. The green pods that emerge with the leaves are a little tough and chewy, “but Hmong people love chewy things,” Yang says. “They’re like radishes, but without the pepperiness and not as hot.”

    Stuffed Chicken Wings

    Hmong Market

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Food vendors at the market pay a flat $17,000 plus yearly fees to own their stalls, but high foot traffic means good food is well rewarded. And there’s plenty of good food. Cooks make papaya salad is made to order, balancing spicy, sweet, acidic, and salty flavors.Herbs are braised with pork, bamboo is tossed in chicken soup, and a local purveyor provides the stalls with a slightly spicy sausage. But one of the best dishes at the market is an order of stuffed chicken wings. The wings are skillfully deboned, then the skins stretched to the border of tearing. They’re filled with sautéed ground pork, vermicelli noodles, and herbs, and baked until the skin is crispy. It bites with a rich snap, yielding to the salty and bright filling.

    Hmongtown Marketplace
    217 Como Avenue, St Paul, MN 55103
    (651) 487-3700

    Jacqueline Raposo writes about chefs, food culture and chronic illness for outlets including Serious Eats, Tasting Table, Plate Magazine, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, and Elle. She's the host of Love Bites Radio on Heritage Radio Network and is the gluten-free baker behind The Dusty Baker. Find her work at Words Food Art and gab away with her on Twitter and Instagram.


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    Asian Drinking Food

    Alex Testere

    In Asia, drinking-food (and drinking properly with food) is an art form. So welcome to Asian Drinking Food Adventures, where Dan Holzman, chef-owner of The Meatball Shop, and Matt Rodbard, author of theKoreatowncookbook, seek out the best food from bars, izakayas, pojangmachas, and then some.

    Jack Lin’s family is in the dehydrated shrimp business, and as a young boy the Southern California-raised chef would snack on the sweet and leathery crustaceans until his belly bulged. But his fondest memory of dried seafood is hands down his father’s homemade XO sauce, a spicy, delightfully crunchy mix of dried scallops, shrimp, and chiles along with cured ham, oil, and seasonings that many Chinese cooks adore.

    “Everybody in my neighborhood had their own homemade recipe,” recalls Lin, who currently serves as the chef de cuisine at Oakland’s Hopscotch, an upmarket Asian-American diner and cocktail bar famous for its yonsei oyster (Shigoku oysters served on the half shell with uni, ikura, and citrus-soy dressing) and buckets of fried chicken that will rival any in the Bay Area. The birds are marinated for days in buttermilk, Japanese karashi mustard powder, soy sauce, and fresh ginger, then dusted lightly in flour before getting fried to a sublime crispness.

    Jack Lin

    Dan Holzman

    Jack Lin

    Hopscotch works their own homemade XO sauce into a number of dishes, including a grilled corvina served with kale ohitashi and barley. “It sits in a pool of thickened soy dashi and we top the fish with the XO,” says the restaurant’s chef-owner Kyle Itani. “The XO permeates into the broth as it is eaten and really packs a punch.” Fragrant with a hint of the ocean, on the nose XO plays out like a milder fish sauce. But once added to vegetables and meat, it brings all sorts of emotions to the surface. Sweet, salty, savory. It’s a puzzler. But one thing is certain: You like it.

    On a recent fall afternoon, we’re in the kitchen with Lin as he tells us everything he knows about this mysterious Chinese condiment. First, the name:“It’s a status thing,” he suggests while frying two cups of shallots. The sauce has its roots in the great Cantonese kitchens of Hong Kong, with XO short for “extra old”—which in the world of cognac is reserved for the finest bottles. (Cognac is widely idolized by the HK elite.) So when an ingenious chef in the 1980s first slapped the “XO” label on his new creation, diners instantly knew that they were in for something decadent.

    So why is XO sauce so special?“Dried scallops are expensive,” Lin explains as he checks the temperature of his wok oil. And true, the best XO sauces are made with whole dried scallops, which are harvested from as far as Hokkaido and typically cost over $50 per pound. At the restaurant, Lin and his cooks reserve the extraneous tags pulled from the fresh Maine scallops they serve, and dry them for the sauce. When the dried scallops are steamed, and then fried, it’s like eating bacon bits from the sea,, intensely rich, sweet, and salty. They serve as the linchpin in this involved recipe that requires a good amount of time for sourcing ingredients and standing over frothing wok oil.

    Dan Holzman

    So what else goes into XO sauce?“Everything is fried individually at a low temperature, and then incorporated with a little sugar and chicken stock at the end,” says Lin. The shallots, which are fried to a light golden brown are reserved. Next goes the garlic. Sizzle. Brown. Reserve. The labor-intensive process is continued with a kitchen sink’s worth of briny and funky East Asian products: mentaiko (spicy cod roe), shirasu (frozen baby anchovies), two kinds of minced chile, and the dried scallops. Then—and this is where it gets really interesting—two cups of bacon. “That’s Chinese cooking, man!” says Lin. “Love thy pork. Love thy smoky pork fat.”

    Traditionally the sauce is made with Chinese Jinhua ham, but at Hopscotch they cure and smoke their own bacon, so the burnt ends are saved for the sauce. Once fried, the reserved bits are mixed with brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a bit of chicken stock, and then combined with the cooled cooking oil (which is rich with the flavors of all the components).

    This leads to the last question: What does XO taste like? The first thing that comes to mind is Umami, or naturally occurring MSG—magical seasoning that brings out the fifth dimension in food and keeps us craving more and more. “It kind of goes with anything,” Lin says. He admits to eating it straight when he’s drinking beer, and he buys every jar he can get his hands on at the Asian market. “Every version is a little different, and it’s cool to see the variations.” But there is no question that homemade is the best.

    Asian Drinking Adventures

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    When Lin joined the Hopscotch opening team three years ago, Kyle was making his own version of XO, which both chefs now admit was a little haphazard. The Taiwanese-American Lin saw an opportunity to impress his Japanese-American boss and make a mark on the menu. “That wasn’t XO,” Lin notes of his boss’s version, which neglected to fry each component individually. (The idea behind frying individually is to ensure each component is cooked to perfection; seconds matter in the deep fryer. Also, by frying the more delicate ingredients first you preserve their individual flavor before the oil is seasoned by the rest of the ingredients.) Kyle was happy to acquiesce. “If it’s better, it’s better. I was excited to see Jack taking the initiative and bringing so much passion to his work”. Kyle speaks about Lin, who was recently promoted to chef de cuisine, with great pride.

    Up until this point, the recipe hasn’t been written down—not even for internal use. The restaurant would run out, and Lin would rush to gather the ingredients (sometimes coming in on a day off) and fry up a few days’ worth. He paused for a moment before agreeing to share it with us, and we’re thrilled he did. The sauce, which we admit is a little more complicated than the average home condiment recipe, keeps for months in your refrigerator, and is well worth the effort. That is, if it even lasts for a couple months. Because, it won’t.

    Get the recipe for Bacon XO Sauce »
    Get the recipe for Stir-Fried Shrimp and Long Beans with XO Sauce »

    Daniel Holzman is the Brooklyn-based chef and owner of The Meatball Shop. Matt Rodbard is a writer living in Brooklyn and the author ofKoreatown: A Cookbook.


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    In downtown Yangon, “street food” takes on a whole other meaning, as makeshift restaurants spill from sidewalks onto the roads. With more than 135 ethnic groups and borders shared with Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, and Thailand, it’s safe to say that the cuisine of Myanmar is diverse and eclectic.

    It’s also safe to call it a delicious mash-up of the spicy rich curries of India, the garlicky sweet sauces of China, and the bright herb-filled salads and soups of Thailand. There’s nothing quite like it, and Yangon is a city built for snacking. The best street food in Yangon can be found at temporary carts set up by vendors each morning, and the stews and snacks sold throughout the day represent a wide cross-section of different cultures and ethnicities.

    Burmese street food

    Ally-Jane Grossan

    If you like samosas, you’ll swoon when they’re chopped up and mixed with greens and coated in a rich broth for a spicy street snack. Breakfast often means mohinga, a piquant fish stew made with rice noodles and vegetables. Turmeric is used in everything from curries to tea, and fermented shrimp paste adds a funky richness to broths and sauces much like splashes of fish sauce in Vietnamese and Thai cooking.

    It’s food worth battling the clutching heat and humidity, insane traffic, and rancid street smells in this city of five million for bites of something you can’t find anywhere else. Here are seven essential street snacks to seek out on your visit.

    Mohinga

    Ally-Jane Grossan

    The unofficial national dish of Myanmar. A hearty, pungent fish broth is flavored with lemongrass, turmeric and pepper, which swirls around slippery thin glass noodles. The fish is not immediately recognizable; it’s ground with chickpea flour to make a lusciously thick stew usually served for breakfast.

    The assault of flavors so early in the morning is the perfect way to start your day of Pagoda viewing. Five minutes up the road is the astounding Shwedagon pagoda, and most of the diners at Myaung Maw Daw Cho have traveled there to worship. This famous mini-chain of mohinga shops has several locations in Yangon, and for about $3 U.S. you can take home a powdered mix of the soup base.

    Street vendors sell mohinga all over Yangon, but here the broth is thicker, brighter, and pungent with ginger. From a food safety perspective, worth keeping in mind in Myanmar, it’s comforting to know your fish broth was at least made in a kitchen with walls. Garnish your soup with fresh cilantro and chili flakes on the table, and don’t skip out on the deep-fried crackers and scallions, which make this bowl unforgettable. You’ll have to get up at the crack of dawn for a bowl, though; mohinga usually sells out by 9 a.m.

    Myaung May Daw Cho
    118A Yay Tar Shay Old Street, Bahan
    01-548501

    Mont Lin Ma Yar

    Burmese street food

    Ally-Jane Grossan

    Roughly translated as “husband and wife snacks,” these tiny bites are a visual delight. Dollops of rice flour batter are added to a large sizzling cast iron pan that resembles a muffin tin. Toppings such as quail eggs, scallions, or roasted chickpeas are added to half of the dollops, and then, like a husband and wife, the two halves are joined to make a little round cake.

    The quail egg versions are the perfect breakfast food, like eating half a dozen mini egg McMuffins. While there are no McDonald’s in Myanmar (yet), the best mont lin ma yar vendor is located in the shadow of Yangon’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken, which opened earlier this year. Mont lin ma yar vendors are found all over the downtown area, but a particularly picturesque cart can be found on Anwaratha between 29th and 30th. Here the fried bites are extra crisp, and the quail eggs are cooked perfectly, not dry and oily like at other vendors.

    Nameless Street Vendor
    Anawrahta between 29th and 30th Streets, near Bogyoke Market, Dagon

    Grilled Skewers

    Burmese street food BBQ skewers

    Ally-Jane Grossan

    19th street between Anawrahta Road and Maha Bandoola Road is Barbecue Street, where storefronts display skewers of meat, vegetables, and fish ready to be rushed back into the kitchen where they’re grilled over intense flames. Grab a plastic basket, fill it with raw skewers, and wait your turn.

    Kaung Myat, easily identifiable by its bright green interior to match the label of the omnipresent “Myanmar” beer, does a particularly delicious skewer of peeled baby potatoes. Then there are delicate strands of enoki mushrooms, clumped together along with okra and broccoli, which are all marinated in the same sweet lime chili sauce. A whole grilled fish is another highlight, cut into sections you can easily peel away with chopsticks; the skin is just slightly charred and deliciously sweet. Order a whole corn on the cob and it comes back in kernels, just lightly charred, meatier and starchier than the American sweet variety. When you run out of beer, make kissing noises to get the waiter’s attention.

    Kaung Myat
    110 19th Street, Latha

    Shan Noodles

    Burmese street food Shan Noodles

    Ally-Jane Grossan

    The Shan state in Eastern Myanmar juts out to the right and shares borders with China, Laos, and Thailand. It has been a region of conflict and civil war since Burmese independence in 1948, and the influences from China are not only present in the politics, but also in the food.

    Shan cuisine has dozens of variations of a simple noodle dish with a thin broth of fragrant garlic and black pepper. The region’s noodles are usually of the thicker rice variety, and they’re tossed in a sweet and spicy pepper-based sauce with bits of ground pork or chicken. The red pepper sauce is reminiscent of a Thai sweet chili sauce, but here it’s more fragrant, as if mixed with Chinese five-spice powder.

    Aung Mingalar is a bright and airy restaurant located just behind Bogyoke Market with, an English menu that makes it easy to order. The sticky chicken noodle salad is exceptional. Thick rice noodles sit in a brown sweet soy based sauce and are served with a tiny plate of pickled greens and a side of a herbaceous clear soup.

    Aung Mingalar Shan Noodle Restaurant
    Bo Yar Nyunt Street, Dagon

    Tea and Fried Snacks

    Burmese street food Tea and fried snacks

    Ally-Jane Grossan

    The Burmese teahouse provides so much more than warm beverages and snacks. It’s a place where the people of Yangon come to share the news of the day, discuss politics, and socialize. The tea you’ll find in Yangon is thick and strong, and heavily sweetened with condensed milk and sugar, but the brute force of the black tea cuts right through the dairy and sugar.

    Golden Tea has some of the best tea snacks in Yangon, which arrive automatically when you order tea. The snacks change daily, but keep an eye out for an unforgettable mini shallot samosa, or a fluffy, slightly spicy semolina fritter with corn. Try all of the snacks for just a few dollars, or leave them untouched--you’ll only pay for what you eat.

    Golden Tea
    99 Bo Sun Pat Road, Pabedan

    Samosa Salad

    Burmese street food Samosa Salad

    Ally-Jane Grossan

    After battling the traffic zooming around Sule Pagoda downtown, walk south along the park past the beautiful red-and-yellow brick High Court building. Its magnificent clock tower is a sight to behold, and just past the High Court building is Merchant Road, where food vendors crowd the sidewalks.

    The best of all these vendors is the samosa salad shop, directly across from the Myanmar Book Center on the Northeast corner of Maha Bandula Park Street and Merchant Road. Grab a seat on one of the tiny red plastic stools and watch the samosa salad master prepare your snack. Whole samosas are snipped apart with scissors and mixed with fried chickpeas, fried shallots, cabbage, and slices of potatoes. A ladle full of broth is also added to the salad, making this more of a soup than a salad. Ask for the chili flakes and prepare to be assaulted with bits of salty, sweet, crunchy, and soft, as the crispy samosa crust gives in to the citrusy broth around it.

    Nameless Street Vendor
    Merchant Road between Maha Bandula Park and 35th Street, Kyauktada

    Dosas

    Burmese street food Dosa

    Ally-Jane Grossan

    Dosas represent the Indian contingent of Burmese cuisine. This southern Indian pancake is made with a batter of fermented ground lentils and rice, and you can find them on many street corners in downtown Yangon. A thin layer of batter is spread quickly inside a concave metal pot over hot coals, and the back of a ladle is used in a circular motion to ensure the dosa is evenly cooked. The vendor then adds chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, less than a dollar, and you can walk away with a crispy snack any time of day.

    For the full dosa experience, head to Ingyin Nwe South Indian Foods for perfectly crispy paper-thin vegetable dosas stuffed with a turmeric-rich vegetable mash of bean sprouts, carrots, and cauliflower. The highlight is the three different sambar-like dipping sauces; a pungent potato version is outstanding.

    Ingyin Nwe
    232 Anawrahta Road, Pabedan

    Ally-Jane Grossan is a writer, editor, and recipe developer based in Brooklyn, New York. You can find her at ally-jane.com.


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    Brigantessa Pizza

    Drew Lazor

    In Campania, pizza is dogma. To satisfy the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), southern Italy’s governing body of fire-blistered crust, dough-stretchers are expected to complete a battery of regulations (PDF) more unforgiving than an Ariana Grande meet-and-greet. From ingredient origins and oven temperature to pie dimensions and herb application (“scatter a pinch of oregano in an orderly manner”), the requirements are stricter than strict if you desire the AVPN’s official blessing. And all that’s assuming you’ve already completed the mandatory two weeks of training in Naples, seven-hour days of specialized lecture followed up by a dinner-service stage in one of the City of the Sun’s dozens of pizzerias.

    So what exactly do AVPN-approved pizzaoli do for kicks, with rules on rules on rules lording over their professional lives? They break all of them. While Neapolitan shops tend to focus on two very minimalist offerings, the cheeseless marinara and the timeless margherita, a subculture of quirky, off-menu and definitely not AVPN-approved pizzas lingers just below the top crust.

    While noted nouveau pizza parlors like Paulie Gee’s and Pizzeria Bianco take a relatively conservative approach to flaunting the old ways, logging most of their innovation in the toppings department and subtle crust manipulations, a much wilder facet of Italian pizza culture caught the attention of Joe Cicala, a Philadelphia chef who went through AVPN training in support of his South Philly forneriaBrigantessa. Proud papa to an imported Gianni Acunto wood-burning oven weighing well over three tons, Cicala prioritized tradition when building his pizza selection. But he also decided there was room to have a little fun with the behemoth apparatus, which heats up to 900 degrees on a nightly basis.

    Brigantessa Pizza

    Drew Lazor

    At the bottom of the list, diners can find two examples of non-traditional pies inspired by lighthearted Italian pizzaoli—La Rachetta, a tennis racket-shaped crust topped with sheep’s milk ricotta, eggplant, tomato and basil; and La Stella, a buffalo mozz-pork sausage-sauce situation whose shuriken-like crust points are stuffed with additional cheese. Enough to get a rise out of a staunch pizza purist—but they’re far from the only options for thrill-seekers.

    Though they’re not on the menu, Cicala has the capability to make a number of weird pizzas, accessible so long as one can vaguely describe them to a server or bartender. The chef’s proper Neapolitan dough—nothing more than Italian double-zero flour, water, yeast, and sea salt—gets warped into a bread vessel of sorts for La Conchiglia, a hollow pizza pita he fills with a mess of steamed clams. For the Tranchetto, he twists a cheese-topped dough round up like a blunt, bakes it and dresses the log with bitter greens and two-year-old prosciutto. For the indecisive, there’s the humbly named Il Meravigliao (The Marvel)—a half-folded calzone hybrid that combines the toppings of three different pizzas onto a singular canvas.

    Brigantessa Pizza

    Drew Lazor

    Though these unorthodox pizzas deviate violently from the norm, Cicala doesn't skimp on ingredients or attention to detail when it comes to building them. They eat just as nicely as the chef's flatter, rounder stylings, with bonus functionality—when's the last time your pizza doubled as an edible bowl, or was able to satisfy a table of picky, particular eaters without excessive customization?

    “There’s no limits. You can do whatever you want with it,” says Cicala, fondly recalling an evening last fall when he prepared a Vesuvio, a stuffed pizza you literally light on fire before serving, while Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii played on the bar television. And though a majority of these explorations are inspired by Cicala’s Italian studies and travels, he’s started to let the stars and bars seep into the creative process—please don’t tell the AVPN about this one.

    Brigantessa
    1520 East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19147
    (267) 318-7341


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    Asian Drinking Food

    Alex Testere

    In Asia, drinking-food (and drinking properly with food) is an art form. So welcome to Asian Drinking Food Adventures, where Dan Holzman, chef-owner of The Meatball Shop, and Matt Rodbard, author of theKoreatowncookbook, seek out the best food from bars, izakayas, pojangmachas, and then some.

    It’s closing on 1 a.m. and we’re Ubering through the thick fog of San Francisco’s Outer Sunset in search of ballast for our drunken souls. There’s a sense of loneliness in trading downtown SF’s bustle for the deserted streets and gentle lullaby of the nearby sea. A loneliness that only jogaetang, a spicy clam soup, can fill.

    It was in the Hayes Valley offices of ChefsFeed earlier that afternoon that the mention of a little-known pojangmacha called Toyose piqued our interest. Let me be clear, this is not the slick SF of guidebooks and bread-centric Instagram feeds, but the fringes of a city perpetually on the fringe. And stumbling from our car, the warm and welcoming Korean tavern is a refuge from the empty streets.

    Toyose

    Dan Holzman

    The spread at Toyose.

    Operating in a converted garage since 1998, Toyose has long been a favorite of in-the-know SF chefs and writers, and one of the few places that stays open until 2 a.m. in a city that famously retires early. The restaurant is run by the husband and wife team Kong Kim and Jong Yu, who along with their daughter Young serve a Greek-diner-sized menu of comforting dishes that are meant to be eaten between shots of soju. We feel a profound sense of Korean hospitality; even as obvious outsiders, we’re treated like family.

    After spending time in Seoul and Busan—and studying Korean food and culture throughout the United States—I’ve come to realize that Koreans, simply-put, are some of the most dedicated partiers on the planet. In Korean culture, eating food and drinking alcohol are so tightly interwoven that it’s often hard to separate the two. At restaurants and pochas (short for pojangmacha, the tented street restaurants lining the majors cities in Korea), you will find packs of Korean men and women sitting at tables lined with amber and green shaded bottles, a ritualistic communal unwind that will always include plates upon plates of food.

    Korean Clam Soup

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Toyose is this kind of place. The menu is too long, the drinks are too big. Torn with indecision in the face of six pages of small print, we settle on a snack plate to accompany the massive plastic jug of Hite beer that’s just arrived. There is a pile of dried file fish and squid, a sort of Pohang pupu platter that also includes peanuts, wasabi peas and, as a wild curveball, dried mangos and bananas. The seafood is dunked in a choice of Sriracha mayonnaise or chojang, a blend of gochujang (sweet and spicy pepper paste), mirin (sweet rice wine), garlic and rice wine vinegar.

    The plate arrives with a pretty minimal banchan set up (small plates of snacks and condiments that accompany every Korean meal) of daikon and cabbage kimchi, seasoned bean sprouts, and stale popcorn and we dive in. On this weeknight, the place is half full, and mostly Korean—less our warmed-up group of four ordering the fish jerky. And while snacking is part of the pocha experience, the food at a Korean bar can run wild, from soups and stews to noodles. This is not snacking food, but Koreatown pub grub.

    Jaengban guksu is kind of like a Korean chef salad, a showcase of knife work, and a great example of the Korean kitchen outside of the universally known grilled meat and tacos. On this night, one in which we’d gotten a little loose with Dominique Crenn, we were pretty much full when we arrived, and the jaengban guksu is no small undertaking. A mountain of soba noodles with a rainbow of vegetables: napa cabbage, carrots, romaine lettuce, pickled daikon, chrysanthemum leaves, and bell peppers, all topped with more chojang. In the center, a fist of boiled eggs and sliced pig’s feet. It was wonderful to behold.

    Korean Soba Salad

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    But the jaengban guksu wasn’t the main event. When I think of pocha eating, especially the final pocha stop of the night (in Koreatown, you can pocha x 3 if you’re really feeling ripe), I think of one dish: jogaetang. It’s a light, very spicy clam soup that is typically served boiling over a butane burner. The heat comes at you from multiple directions: the scalding stock, the fire from beneath, and a handful of sliced chiles burning your tongue. It’s a reset of sorts, a piping elixir that blankets the belly and washes away the effects of that last, ill-advised Jameson shot.

    At Toyose, the soup came just in the nick of time. 15 minutes later, check paid and our hearts glowing with the warmth of Korean comfort food and bottles of soju, we were passed out in an Uber while Yeezus played on the radio, starting our long journey back to Oakland.

    Get the recipe for Jaengban Guksu »
    Get the recipe for Jogaetang »

    Daniel Holzman is the Brooklyn-based chef and owner of The Meatball Shop. Matt Rodbard is a writer living in Brooklyn and the author ofKoreatown: A Cookbook.


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    Jeju Island, South Korea, May 7, 2010

    The morning I went out with the haenyeo, the “sea women” of Jeju Island, the misty sky was light gray and the sea dark and steely. Hundreds of years ago, women in these sea villages took up diving for abalone, sea urchin, and conch as a means of making a living. Today the tradition is almost extinct, and the remaining haenyeo, most of them in their 50s or 60s, have become minor celebrities.

    Urchin Divers

    Jen Judge

    When I first tried to introduce myself to them, they ignored me, and remained stone-faced as I took portraits of their walk out to the ocean. I followed them into the water in full scuba diving gear, but after one hour of shivering in the frigid waters I was done, nearly hypothermic. I went back to the hut to take a hot shower and make myself some tea. I watched them bob up and put their catch in the nets and disappear beneath the surface again and again.

    Urchin Divers

    Jen Judge

    Hours later, they swam back to the shore and pulled their hauls out of the water. Still in their wetsuits, they began methodically cleaning and prepping the seafood, talking among themselves. Out of nowhere, one of the women scooped out a sea urchin lobe and pressed it into my mouth. It was creamy and rich like ones I've had in restaurants, but there was a little seawater mixed in, adding a briny snap to the bite.

    Urchin Divers

    Jen Judge

    My face must have been a mixture of surprise and delight; the haenyeo burst into laughter. This continued, the women cleaning the seafood and occasionally feeding me—a slice of chewy abalone, conch, or more sea urchin, giggling each time. Finally, it was time to leave, so I pointed at the door and tried to express my gratitude in fumbling gestures. They smiled and went back to their work.


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    Arman Party Restaurant, Herat, Afghanistan, October 31st, 2015

    From the moment I landed, I knew the people, the pace of this place, and the smells of the country would stay with me for years.

    One night, my hosts took me to a restaurant in town and we were seated hidden away in this little alcove (a white Western woman in that part of the world needs to be respectfully discreet). I took off my shoes and tucked my feet under me on this exquisite old Oriental rug and waited. The men around me smoked hookah and laughed uproariously (no doubt due to whatever was in the pipe), chasing their puffs with handfuls of food and energy drinks, a big hit there.

    Moments after we'd arrived, the waitstaff put down a plastic tablecloth on top of the rug and then served us all some spicy vegetable soup, skewers of lamb, beef and chicken, a flatbread called noni, rice, and sabzi, a cooked spinach dish with coriander and cilantro. I tore into everything with my hands, as is the custom there—it happens to be my preferred way to eat, which drives my mother crazy—the meat spiced with turmeric, nutmeg, and cardamom and so succulent, the rice fluffy and just subtly flavored and colored with saffron. After everything was quickly devoured, we used straws to drink cooling plain yogurt, as you do at the close of the meal there.

    The whole dinner, from the moment I took off my shoes to when I found myself whisked out into the waiting convoy of cars again, lasted no more than 15 minutes. In and out. The best fast food I've ever had.


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