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    Zoltan Perenyi / Budapest Local

    Eating family-style at Zoltan 18.

    There’s no escaping the fact that Hungary’s gastronomic personality is largely defined by the likes of chicken draped in paprika-cream sauce. But in the city of Budapest, which lies squat in the middle of tradition and modernity, a new way to eat is emerging. Past the paprikash dens and Michelin-starred restaurants, a group of supper clubs is illuminating the alluring mix of Hungary’s rich roots and progressive future—ditching the formal restaurant dining room for something far more intimate.

    Food Tours and Underground Meals

    Carolyn and Gábor Bánfalvi, an American and Hungarian wife and husband team, launched the tour company Taste Hungary in 2014. The company runs small food-focused tours across the country, capped at six people; I spent a day with them winding through Budapest’s vibrant Jewish Quarter. While the majority of the day was spent inside gawking at synagogues, the highlight was a lunch inside the book-lined home of Maja Raj, widow of a well-loved rabbi and mother of one of the city’s most acclaimed pastry stars, Rachel Raj.

    To kick off the meal, everyone drank her homemade pálinka (the best, smoothest version I’ve had so far of this indigenous fruit brandy) before gathering in the dining room. Here, in the company of Shabbat-themed board games, we all ate bread slathered in meltingly soft goose fat and slabs of tender beef tongue heightened by horseradish sauce. Rachel’s famous flodni, a Jewish torte layered with poppy seeds, apple, walnut and plum jam, was the fitting finale.

    I found more convivial, communal eating at Tasting Table (& Shop), the Bánfalvis’ second venture. Located in the gritty Eighth District, it’s a rustic subterranean spot for locals to buy a bottle of, say, Pinot Noir-meets-Gamay-like Kadarka, but on most Thursday evenings it transforms into a restaurant. That’s when a predominantly English-speaking group of tourists, expats, and locals pack in for wine tastings and themed dinners.

    “During our travels in Hungary we meet so many interesting people who are making so many good things, and we wanted to bring them to the Tasting Table,” Carolyn explains.

    The first family-style dinner I attended there was an ode to Roma Gypsy cuisine, with fiery stuffed peppers and cinnamon challah; another put nearby Transylvania in the spotlight through polenta laden with smoky bacon and ethereal fresh-from-the-fryer doughnuts. At these meals I sat beside local and foreign strangers—including a couple serendipitously visiting from the Queens neighborhood I called home for many years—but made friends quickly. For Carolyn, these meals are more than just dinner; they’re a way to “bring the participants closer to understanding some aspect of Hungarian food or wine, and to also make them feel as if they are part of a community here.”

    As Budapest’s dining culture continues to evolve, it’s not surprising that food-savvy locals are also embracing the supper club model as a way of showcasing the unexpected ascent of Hungarian cuisine. “The idea of Hungarian contemporary cuisine hardly existed five years ago, and the city’s restaurants lacked the style that many of them have now,” Carolyn observes.

    Dinner With the Family

    Zoltan Perenyi / Budapest Local

    Suzie Goldbach, a poised, 25-year-old whose college curriculum revolved around food studies, returned to Budapest from abroad in search of the right job. When she couldn’t find it, she founded Eat & Meet last January by serving Hungarian family recipes in an inviting apartment. Her dinners since become exceptionally popular with curious tourists—as a recent Budapest transplant, I was the only “local” at mine—and Suzie sometimes throws as many as five a week, warmly greeting her guests and explaining the origin of each of the three courses.

    While Suzie plays the consummate hostess, the dinners are a family affair. Her mother Zsuzsa works the kitchen, making every dish from scratch; her father Ferenc presides over the all-Hungarian wine list.

    “At a restaurant—as good as it can be—you never experience true home-cooked food, the ‘Sunday family-lunch’ effect,” Suzie explains. “There’s an image of, ‘It’s Hungarian only if there’s paprika in it,’ which is absolutely not true.” At my first Eat & Meet dinner, golden brown breaded carp was a welcome surprise. Hungary is oft-deemed carnivore country, but Suzie, a fan of native freshwater fish varieties, wanted to introduce guests to something uncommon. I still dream of the tangy, vinegary tomato salad that accompanied the mustard marinated pork at my second dinner.

    Emphasizing Hungarian ingredients like poppy seed is always Suzie’s priority; she just doesn’t want them to be glimpsed through the same dusty lens. So she dreams up ever-changing, seasonal menus in tandem with her mother that authentically reflect the everyday dishes relished in Hungarian kitchens. Pumpkin might be the star of a cozy November dinner, while July brings meat grilled in an open-air setting, 15 minutes out of the city.

    Kitchen Take-Overs

    Adam Pohner, part of the Bocuse d’Or Hungarian team, is another young, bright visionary eager to expand Budapest’s culinary profile. He’s dialed back his cooking duties at Budapest’s Olimpia to study Japanese. To ensure his kitchen skills remain on par with his academic pursuits, he started making casual dinners that his friends came to, “and then they brought their friends and were like, ‘You have to try this,’ and so on. I almost didn’t do anything, just cooked as well as I could.”

    It caught on. Now he arranges dinner over email, dashing off to locals’ homes as often as four times a week, taking over their kitchens to turn out multi-course dinners. The two times I sampled Pohner’s cooking were at the invitation of a Hungarian family, when he prepared dishes like curry-laced carrots, beef neck with beets and potato in a Chinese-style sauce, and thick coffee-chocolate mousse.

    Pohner doesn’t prescribe to any certain formula; his menu changes with inspiration from the markets, which over one meal meant a seafood-centric menu of trout with vanilla sauce and meaty octopus with wasabi. Unlike the Goldbachs and the Bánfalvis, Pohner cooks for locals first and foremost, but if you have a kitchen available, he’s up for a challenge.

    The Upscale Restaurant That Isn’t a Restaurant

    Courtesy of Zoltan 18

    There’s nothing predictable served at the elegant communal wood table that is the centerpiece of Zoltán 18. Set inside an airy apartment in the shadow of the U.S. Embassy, Zoltán, which made its debut a little over a year ago, is essentially an upscale restaurant without the restaurant, run by Krisztian Katona and Anatoli Belov, where they bring the light, produce-centric flavors of North American West Coast cooking to Budapest. That means fresh sabrefish atop verdant asparagus risotto, or rounds of rabbit porchetta accompanied by organic vegetables, all savored in an art-filled dining room.

    Krisztian and Anatoli first met in Vancouver, where Krisztian was running a local coffee franchise and Anatoli was a loyal customer. The encounter sparked “a culinary journey, which took us cooking on the side of the highway to yachts and weddings.”

    “Hungary has changed a lot since I started coming back in the mid-nineties,” Krisztian says, “but somehow the food stayed the same. We wanted to change all of that and become one of the pioneers.”

    “We constantly hear from locals and expats alike that they have not tasted anything like this since they have been here,” Krisztian tells me. He and Anatoli plan to bring their double punch of cooking and hospitality to a proper restaurant setting later this winter, and already I am eager to roost there and gorge. But the spirit of their current enterprise is worth a trip right away. There’s something extra special about a meal where you’re sharing a table with strangers—particularly when they become friends afterwards.

    How to Book

    Booking these meals is best done in advance, but if you're looking for a last-minute dinner, there might just be room, depending on the venue.

    Tasting Table
    Book online
    About $27 U.S. per person

    Eat & Meet
    Book online
    About $32 U.S. per person

    Adam Pohner Kitchen Take-Overs
    About $20 U.S. per person

    Zoltán 18
    Book online
    About $50 U.S. per person

    A native New Yorker, Alia Akkam recently moved to Budapest, where she continues to write about food, travel, drink, and design. Her work has appeared in outlets such as,, Playboy, and Wine Enthusiast.

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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.

    Every New England small town seems to have at least one independent doughnut shop. In Southwick, Massachusetts, there’s one people drive a hundred miles for.

    Personally, I never leave Mrs. Murphy’s without at least a dozen doughnuts. You need that many to taste everything the place has to offer: light and airy yeasted honey dips, perfect vanilla and Boston creams, the unexpected genius of a half-jelly, half-cream strawberry. Take a taste, and another, and another, and you’ll see why Mrs. Murphy’s has earned a cult following. In a town of less than 10,000 people, Mrs. Murphy’s goes through thousands of pounds of flour a week.

    Mrs. Murphy’s hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1976, and there are no special tricks, just big, fat doughnuts made fresh (ask for one warm from the fryer). The crullers (New England style, long and fried dark) and apple fritters are legendary. The “butter crunch”—basically a vanilla cake doughnut coated with sugary, buttery bits, almost like a coffee cake—is fantastic with a cup of coffee. These doughnuts transport you to that emotional holy doughnut place at first bite, in a way that neither chains nor those high-end “artisan” doughnuts ever could.

    The doughnut renaissance of the past few years has left us with more $6 lemon verbena glazes than we know what to do with, but in New England, especially Massachusetts, a hardcore doughnut culture has thrived long before the fancy doughnut boom. Sure, that’s part in thanks to Dunkin’ Donuts’ regional presence, but the soul of New England’s doughnut obsession is mom and pop shops like Mrs. Murphy’s.

    Hawk Krall

    Earl and Rose Murphy opened Mrs. Murphy’s Donuts in the tiny center of Southwick, a small town in western Massachusetts near the Connecticut border, and still run the shop. Their Irish heritage runs into the food a bit with big icing-drizzled blueberry scones and homemade beef stew every Thursday. And their counter is a destination for more than doughnuts; with a menu of sandwiches, soups, and chili, it’s a well-frequented community anchor. Most of the staff hails from nearby and grew up eating these doughnuts, a connection to the past that keeps quality high.

    Almost-rural Southwick is just enough out of the way to keep Mrs. Murphy’s off the national doughnut radar. It’s rarely seen on national Best Doughnut lists, even though it stands just as tall. That’s starting to change, though, so if you’re in the area, get there before the crowds do. Mrs. Murphy’s celebrates their 40th anniversary this year, which is as good a reason as any to pick up a few dozen crullers and butter crunches.

    Mrs. Murphy’s Donuts
    538 College Highway, Southwick, MA 01077
    (413) 569-9076

    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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    Dan Holzman

    Spices II

    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 our server Kenny’s birthday and he stands to greet us with a half-cocked grin, lingering for a beat before returning to his own meal at the next table over. We’ve walked in on a mid-afternoon party at Spices II on San Francisco’s Clement Street and it feels momentarily awkward before Kenny makes it right, pouring us shots from his mostly drained bottle of Hibiki. We came to this famous restaurant with our buddy Kyle Itani in search of a mid-afternoon Sichuan snack, but quickly realize we’re in it for the long haul and roll up our sleeves and…Ganbei!

    Dan Holzman

    Sichuan Province, whose cuisine is marked by flashes of heat mingling with the numbing tingle of its eponymous peppercorn, is in Southwest China. Until relatively recently, Chinese food in the United States had little to do with what you’d actually eat in China. In America, early Chinese immigrants developed a cuisine to suit the American palate (i.e. sweeter and less spicy), using local ingredients and incorporating Asian spices and cooking techniques. Culinary anthropologists, searching for the origins of dishes like General Tso’s chicken, dead-end in history that never existed. But as our food consciousness has rapidly evolved, and immigrants from more regions of China move to the U.S., regionally specific Chinese restaurants have begun to open, introducing the West to the incredible diversity of a country whose landmass spans five geographical time zones.

    Spices has been a Bay Area hospitality industry favorite for 15 years. Its “Sichuan Trenz” menu is for the adventurous, with an entire section dedicated to stinky tofu (actually a Taiwanese specialty)—tofu marinated in a brine of fermented vegetables, seafood, and meat. It’s extremely pungent akin to a ripe Époisses or freshly cut durian.

    Dan was introduced to Sichuan cuisine here while working as a cook in early 2000s, and he quickly sequesters with the menu, ordering a couple of the regions tamer dishes: twice-cooked bacon and spicy fish filet bowl with flaming red oil along with some vegetables and rice. “Crowd pleasers,” as Dan calls it. We’ve been eating fermented fish guts and the like for one too many days and a break is needed. We strike up a conversation with Kenny and his pals in search of info on Chengdu, the region's capital where we’re planning a trip.

    Dan Holzman

    “He’s the guy from Sichuan and knows the deal,” says Kenny, pointing to Rocky who is finishing off the bottle of Hibiki. “It was full when he brought it for me” he says with a smile. “Hibiki goes with everything, but it goes best with spicy food,” says Rocky, who is more interested in talking about where we should go in San Francisco then about his home country “Have you been to Swan Oyster Depot?”

    An order of dry-braised green beans arrives, wearing a crown of what must be an entire head of minced garlic. The overpowering flow of warm and fragrant air snaps us back to the meal at hand. The beans are both tender and pungent, the perfect accompaniment to cool our soon-to-be burning tongues. There’s no irony in the menu’s description of our fish served in “flaming red oil”; it’s extremely spicy, a giant bubbling bowl of freshly poached dorade swimming in a sea of fried chiles, celery, and cilantro.

    While the fish and veggies are amazing, it’s the twice-cooked bacon that steals the show. The “bacon” is not cured or smoked like the name suggests, but fresh pork belly, boiled for the first cooking then sliced thin and fried in a blistering hot wok to crisp it up, earning it’s “twice-cooked” title. The pork is mildly spicy, tossed with a generous handful of Chinese leeks and seasoned with fermented black beans and the Shaoxing wine that gives it its signature salt and tang.

    Spices 2 dishes

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    The version at Spices is extremely tender, with a unique flavor that we can’t quite put our finger on. Kenny tells us what we already know. “The pork belly is first cooked whole, boiled in water, then sliced thin and cooked a second time in a scorching hot wok and showered with leeks.”

    We press him for more details, hoping the birthday Hibiki might induce him to give away his secret. “So, what’s in the pot?” we ask as nonchalantly as possible. “That’s for the chef to know,” says Kenny without hiding his grin. The man can hold his liquor.

    Get the recipe for Twice-Cooked Pork »
    Get the recipe for Water-Boiled Fish »

    Spices II
    291 6th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94118
    (415) 752-8885

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    Some things just shouldn’t work. Like a Taiwanese taco stand in a back alley in Vietnam. Yet here I am, against my better judgement, ordering dinner and tequila shots off an exceptionally improbable menu.

    Taco Ngon looks like a typical Vietnamese food stand. There’s a sandwich-board sign behind a fence of parked motorbikes. The seating area is full of kids’ furniture. And like most street food, it’s a one-woman show. Elin Lin waives me to a table and gets to work.

    Her tacos are strongly traditional—just from five different traditions. Taiwanese pork and Vietnamese vegetables are wrapped in a handmade flour tortilla, à la California taco truck. It’s all topped with wasabi coleslaw and a drizzle of Sriracha. This isn’t fusion so much as a multicultural pileup.

    I’m doubtful right up to the first bite. Then my toes curl with pleasure. Wasabi cuts the sweetness of the meat and amplifies the clean crunch of papaya and carrot. This is surreally, confoundingly good. My plate is clean in minutes, and I order another.

    Taco Ngon

    Samuel Bergstrom

    Lin chats with me between customers, and I try to unravel the story of her flavors. She moved to Da Nang from Taipei two years ago, but initial plans to teach Chinese got sidetracked by cooking. Her first venture was a Taiwanese café. It featured guà bāo, spiced pork belly in steamed buns. When business didn’t take off, her American boyfriend suggested using the meat in tacos.

    “No one here knows Taiwanese food,” she explains, flipping tortillas into a pan with chopsticks. “But everyone knows tacos.”

    Perhaps conceptually. But Lin has never tried Mexican food. She built her tacos by taste, one layer at a time. Guà bāo meat was too heavy alone, so she borrowed raw vegetables from Vietnam’s bánh mì sandwiches. Then, of course, she needed some heat. Wasabi’s complexity worked better than the quick fix of chile peppers and became the base for a creamy, deep-biting coleslaw. For more timid palates, she designed a salsa of yogurt, tomato, papaya juice, and corn.

    Taco Ngon’s distinct flavors are the reason for its success. It’s hard to get Mexican right on the far side of the world, so Lin doesn’t try. Imitation would invite comparison and disappointment. Instead, she’s reimagined the taco to reflect her own roots.

    Taco Ngon

    Samuel Bergstrom

    But she hopes to try the real thing when she visits California. I’m tempted to talk her out of it—I’d hate for the traditional taco to sabotage this magic. Instead, I ask if Western customers complain that her food isn’t Mexican. Sometimes, she says. Before they eat. Usually not after.

    I’m stuffed by the time I notice the leaderboard. The men’s record this month is eight tacos; the women’s is unclaimed. I beg off, too full to go for the title. Then Lin points out her new deep fryer. She’s debuting a fish taco: breaded basa fillet in ginger-lime sauce. By the time she’s described it, I’ve found room for one more.

    Taco Ngon
    60 Chau Thi Vinh Te, Da Nang, Vietnam

    Erin Craig is a writer currently based in Southeast Asia who freely admits she moved there for the food. Her work has appeared in Get Lost, BBC Travel, and Roads & Kingdoms. She also blogs at Posie on the Lamb.

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    Adam Kuplowsky

    Montreal, which famously has the largest number of restaurants per capita of any North American city, is many things to many people. It’s the taste of salty confit de canard backdropped by cobblestoned streets. It’s a deli haven with a beloved smoked meat tradition. And it’s the casse-croûtes, the local diners and snack bars, that fill the gaps left between all other restaurants and champion the night after everything else has closed.

    Casse-croûtes have a long and fond history in Montreal, which trace their ancestry from the city’s varied cultural traditions. And they’re everywhere: these all-purpose local hangs gather around the city’s six universities and 12 junior colleges, and sit well-snuggled in the recesses of golden memory of anyone who has passed through Montreal.

    You never have to travel far if, in a drunken haze, you find yourself jonesing for souvlaki piled high with garlic sauce, Jewish deli-style smoked meat, poutine, steamé hot dogs topped with mustard and coleslaw, a slice of pizza, or any combination of greasy breakfast stuffs. And at a time when greasy spoons across North America are facing harder and harder odds to stay open, Montreal has emerged as one of the last great diner cities.

    Adam Kuplowsky

    There are plenty of reasons why Montreal’s diner scene has succeeded where others have not. Until 2013, a long-held ban on street-food vendors and trucks meant that Montrealers looking for fast, cheap food were driven into corner snack counters for their food on-the-go. Many older casse-croûtes own the buildings in which they operate, and for those that don’t, a slow-moving economy has meant stable commercial rents.

    “The recession really gripped the city for much of the past three decades due to the political situation,” says David Sax, an ex-Montrealer and author of Save the Deli, referring to an ongoing political instability that can be traced back to the ‘60s. “Until recently, it froze real estate prices in place.” The same cannot be said of rapidly developing Toronto, or prohibitively expensive New York and San Francisco.

    The casse-croûte is more than just an old fashioned place for burgers; it represents a culture that’s distinctly Montreal. Sax calls the city’s casse-croûte landscape “a reflection of modern Quebec”, saying, “Every culture that comes in through that business leaves its mark, and every culture that comes in through that city leaves its mark, too.”

    Adam Kuplowsky

    Those cultures fuse seamlessly today; souvlaki is served with french fries; shredded smoked meat sits atop of a shimmering mound of poutine; fries ladled over with spaghetti sauce, cheese curds, and Italian sausage becomes poutine italienne, and a steamé topped with meat sauce and chopped onion is embraced as a Michigan hot dog.

    You could say the only similarity between these foods, other than the relatively ease of preparing them, is that they’re the kind of dishes that one would only consider ingesting if they were completely, fall-down, loaded off their faces. And this is the last key to Montreal’s casse croûte success: their clientele, which hasn’t changed much in the last century.

    From the turn of the 20th century and through to the ‘60s, Montreal became a hub for gamblers, jazzers, and boozers, establishing its carefree and racially integrated nightlife during a time when America faced Prohibition followed decades later by the Civil Rights Movement. Snack shacks sprouted to feed these revelers’ hunger, accommodating travelers from across the border by serving burgers and fries with a Quebecois twist.

    Adam Kuplowsky

    The three-storey-tall Orange Julep

    The waterfront and the former red light district came alive in these decades: neon panels were stacked, row by row, beckoning night owls into jazz clubs along St-Antoine and Notre Dame streets. Between the clubs, snack bars and cheap diners awaited, helping bar hoppers sober up before moving onto the next cabaret, gambling den or brothel. Diners became well known for their celebrity night owls: longtime Montreal residents still remember the regular sight of Leonard Cohen at Ben’s, les glorieux Montreal Canadiens at Moe's Corner Snack Bar, and everyone else at Schwartz’s.

    By the ‘70s, a crime crackdown struck most of the sin from the city, but the formica diners remain, as do their hungry, sometimes hungover patrons.

    Casse-croûtes still sit on every corner along Rue Notre Dame in Oscar Peterson’s old neighbourhood of Little Burgundy, though their more illicit neighbours have vanished. On St-Catherine Street on any given weekend, groups of young Americans drive in from out of town to take advantage of the lower drinking age of 18, and to pop into decades-old strip clubs, stopping into Mr. Steer for a quick bite as they did 50 years ago.

    They remain cheap sources of bacon and eggs, where you follow the crowd after a show at Club Soda, where you taste your first poutine and, decades later, have another one for the memories.

    Five Casse-Croûtes You Need to Visit in Montreal

    Adam Kuplowsky

    The Wilensky Special

    Established in 1932, Wilensky’s Light Lunch has earned a legendary reputation for its Wilensky Special, a salami and bologna sandwich topped with mustard in a flat kaiser roll, best paired with an old fashioned fountain soda. They moved down the street in the ‘50s, and since then, the only thing that’s changed is their prices.

    34 Avenue Fairmount Ouest +1 514-271-0247

    Orange Julep
    Montreal’s Olympic Stadium isn’t the only Big O in the city. Also established in 1932, this three-storey-tall orange has made an indelible mark on Montreal’s skyline since its carhop days, when aficionados would gather in the huge parking lot to show off their classic rides. They serve everything a casse-croûte should, from souvlaki to smoked meat-topped poutines, but they’re most famous for the Orange Julep drink, a frothy orange beverage somewhat akin to an Orange Julius, but with a mystery recipe.

    Orange Julep
    7700 Boulevard Décarie +1 514-738-7486

    La Belle Province
    The most ubiquitous chain in Quebec, La Belle Province might not be most Montrealers’ most nostalgia-draped diner, but its 125 strategic locations ensure that everyone has had at least one inebriated rendezvous with the instantly recognizable fluorescent orange gravy that tops its 26 kinds of poutine. Sometimes sketchy, often pretty and always cheap, you’ll never find a more tempting offer than a $1.45 steamé hot dog at 3 a.m. after last call.

    La Belle Province
    Locations around Montreal

    Déli Sokołów
    A new player in town, Déli Sokołów has been open for a year and has settled comfortably among the trendy juice bars and upscale restaurants west of the train tracks in St-Henri. A Polish-inspired casse-croûte, Déli Sokołów’s menu is total comfort for people looking for everything from Montreal Jewish deli fare, perogies and borscht, or just a scoop of strawberry ice cream. Their latke poutine isn’t to be missed, and there are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options as well.

    Déli Sokołów
    4350 Rue Notre-Dame O
    +1 438-228-0265

    Montreal Pool Room
    No longer a pool shark’s haven, the 1912-established Montreal Pool Room is mostly known for its steamés and potates frites. Located in the former Red Light District (currently the Quartier des Spectacles) in the heart of downtown, it moved across the street in 2010 but you can still see the marquee lights emanating from the old Café Cléopatra strip club across the street.

    Montreal Pool Room
    1217 Boul St-Laurent
    +1 514-954-4487

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    It was only September in Copenhagen, but you wouldn’t know it from the crisp, wintry snap in the air and the restaurant signs imploring customers to book their Christmas lunch parties. I’d already had to find a thicker sweater and a second scarf. I’d just bought a few hand-painted Christmas ornaments from a shop fully decked out in red and gold, whose cheery proprietor was dressed to match. And in the afternoon’s wan light and chill wind, no restaurant had ever looked as welcoming as Restaurant Kronborg.

    Before coming to Copenhagen, I knew of the smørrebrød as the Danes’ preferred open-faced sandwich, ubiquitous across Denmark. As are the sandwiches of so many nations, the smørrebrød is an obvious product of economy—a sturdy rye-bread trencher layered with any and every foodstuff readily available: Last night’s chilled roast beef, the season’s pickled herring, a quick scramble of eggs and the smoked fish on hand. And as with the sandwiches of so many nations, smørrebrød are a beloved national pastime, far evolved from their eminently practical roots.

    What I didn’t know is that Copenhagen has an entire genre of restaurant—generally decades-old, charmingly old-school taverns—dedicated wholly to the dish. Many lie below street level, with low ceilings and elderly waiters; they’re lit by candlelight or an open hearth and come with extensive lists of smørrebrød and, equally important, the ever-present Scandinavian spirit aquavit; sometimes a straight shot of caraway firewater, often tempered and flavored with local fruit and herbs.

    While most culinary tourists froth at the bit for their reservation at Noma or AOC, with their New Nordic foraging and whimsical plating, I found myself far more enchanted by these warm, weathered taverns, which I’d heard described simply, and charmingly, as “lunch restaurants.” Writers have dedicated books to them. (Jacob Termansen’s Lunch pays particular homage to them.) History breathes from their walls. Yellowed photos and weathered signs on the walls are relics from days gone by, not affected modern designs. Chalkboards have a dusty sheen from the memories of menu specials past. The rough wooden floor’s smooth patina is decades in the making.

    “Long after we have tired of foraging in the woods, and we are no longer amused by making rhubarb taste like licorice,” writes Danish author Jacob Termansen in his book Lunch, “the world of these traditional lunch restaurants will still stand, unchanged by the onslaughts of changing times and tastes.”

    With a feeling of snug timelessness, Restaurant Kronborg is not unique in Copenhagen; nor is it the best-known of these lunch restaurants. Rather, it’s a perfect example of the form. My server, an older gentleman, seated me next to the fireplace and talked me through the elaborate menu. “Aquavit?” he inquired, in a tone that wasn’t really a question. Well, of course. Choose one for me. “Would you like a small pour, or a reasonable one?” (Hard to answer that inquiry with “small.”)

    He brought me an aquavit infused with hawthorn flowers, a spirit rounded and complex and leaving a bit of a tingle behind, with none of the aggressive bite of most aquavits I’ve drank. To eat, a smørrebrød of smoked eel and egg. The hefty rye bread was a meal in itself, and between that rye, soft-scrambled eggs, and smoked seafood, the flavors were faintly reminiscent of a New York appetizing shop—comfort food in an unfamiliar country. Small sips of aquavit proved a good pairing for such powerful flavors; the spirit slices right through.

    Alex Testere

    The Danes often speak of a concept called hygge, one of those remarkable and all-but-untranslatable terms you come across when traveling. “Coziness” is the fallback translation, but that’s insufficient, not really communicating the depth of hygge or its centrality to Danish culture. Cozy, but something more; cozy with intimacy. Keeping warm with cocoa on a snowy night—that’s hygge. A meal with friends that stretches on for hours into the night. One of those homes that just feels inviting. Christmas, unsurprisingly—and Danes start their holiday celebrations in November—is the most hygge of all.

    These well-worn smørrebrød taverns embody hygge like nothing else. Eating lunch alone, as I did on that cold afternoon, isn’t exactly the height of hygge. But lunch next to a crackling fire, the comfort of a hearty sandwich and just enough aquavit to pinken my cheeks, the server stopping by to ask, “Is it lovely? Is your meal lovely?” and topping off my aquavit glass with a sly wink—very hygge indeed.

    Where to Have Your Own Hygge Experience

    Restaurant Kronborg
    An atmospheric tavern that serves as a perfect introduction to the world of smørrebrød; there’s no faulting the smoked eel or roast beef, but herring deserves particular consideration, whether pickled herring, pan-fried herring, marinated herring, or curried herring.

    Restaurant Kronborg
    Brolæggerstræde 12
    (+45) 33-13-07-08

    Restaurant Schønnemann
    Classy, venerable (dating back to 1877), and wildly popular, Schønnemann is a piece of Copenhagen history, with excellent sandwiches to boot. Reservations essential.

    Restaurant Schønnemann
    Hauser Pl. 16
    (+45) 33-12-07-85

    Øl & Brød
    More hipster smørrebrød outfit than old-school tavern, with excellent modern takes on the sandwich—culinarily impressive and beautifully decorated, but distinct, in the way that a modern pizzeria restaurant can rarely compete with a decades-old coal-fired joint for atmosphere.

    Øl & Brød
    Viktoriagade 6
    (+45) 33-31-44-22

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    On Jumeirah beach, across the bay from the Burj Al Arab, the so-called ‘world’s first 7-star hotel’, sat an unassuming double-wide trailer. Under a small hand-scrawled plywood sign that read "Bu Qtair," queues wove through the door, snaking up to a small window where a burley man stood in front of a pile of fish slathered in yellow-tinged marinade. There was no menu, just a hand-scrawled list of the two fresh fish available that day and the price per kilo. Eager diners would point and order their fish and some prawns before turning back to find an empty seat at one of the few plastic tables squeezed in the space.

    Within 15 minutes, a plate of flash-fried fish and prawns slathered in a mustard-oil marinade would be delivered along with a plate of chopped vegetables, two small dishes of curry sauce, one vegetable, one fish, and a 
plate of steamed rice or pieces of thin chapatti bread (depending on the day and the mood of the cooks). The addictive dry heat of the South Indian mustard oil played perfectly off of the sweet flesh of just-caught seafood, justifying the long queue and lack of ambiance.

    Recently, after more than two decades, the trailer was shuttered. Loyalists mourned and when a shiny new location across the street was unveiled, 
the food lovers of Dubai collectively groaned, wondering if the
place had been sanitized and gentrified beyond recognition.

    The queue returned, winding from the parking lot through the mirrored door, under the branded, well-lit sign, between the proper tables that had replaced the mismatched plastic ones, all the way to the back of the cavernous space, where the gruff old fish slinger took orders from another small window, the morning’s catch scrawled on a sheet of paper tacked to the wall beside him.

    Workers, tourists, and locals who longed for the mellow burn of the crisp prawns and the spicy tang of the malabari curry filled the communal tables set with plastic cups and water pitchers. Grease-stained plates came and went.

    Bu Qtair (Near Burj Al Arab, Opposite Fishermans Accommodation) Street 4D, Umm Suqeim, +971 5570 52130

    See more in A Culinary Traveler's Guide to Dubai »

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    Ingalls Photography

    Thanks to Arab residents who have flocked to the city over the last forty years, Dubai is the best place in the world to explore the diverse flavors of the Middle East, from Levantine dishes from Mediterranean-facing countries like Lebanon that feature favorites like hummus, baba ghanoush, and falafel; to North African tuna sandwiches laced with fiery harissa; hearty broad beans dusted with cumin; and the crunchy, tangy street snack khoshari. In central Arabia, Syrian and Iraqi foods echo the ancient, sophisticated traditions of Mesopotamia with delicacies like turmeric-scented lamb, while in the far east of Arabia, you can taste Khaleeji“soul foods” like Emirati harees, a mashed chicken and wheat berry porridge. In Dubai, the melting pot of the Middle East, you can sample the four-corners of Arabia in one delicious city.

    North African Street Snacks

    Al Ammor, Zabeel Road, Al Karama +971 4370 7060
    Koshari, a dish of lentils, rice, chickpeas, and pasta tossed in a vinegary sauce and topped with fried onions, originated in the 1950s as an “everything but the kitchen sink” concoction of leftover pantry staples, but has since become ubiquitous street food in Cairo. In Dubai, Egyptians and other expats flock to Al Ammor in the Karama neighborhood for koshari and fatayer meshaltet, a layered pastry of hand-stretched dough stuffed with cheese.

    Taste Tunisia (near the Ramada Hotel), Hor Al Anz, +971 4297 8287
    Tunisian Brik pastries, paper-thin North African warka bread (literally “paper bread”) stuffed with tuna, capers, parsley, piquant red pepper harissa, and a whole raw egg, are flash fried so the crust becomes golden and crisp but the egg remains lusciously runny. The no-frills restaurant, Taste Tunisia, in the Hor Al Anz neighborhood has perfected the method.

    Levantine Classics

    Zahrat Al Quds (Behind the Ramada Continental), Abu Hail, +971 4297 7509
    Mansaf, a dish of rice topped with roast lamb marinated in re-hydrated, dehydrated yogurt, makes use of this innovative ingredient, originally used by Jordanian-Bedouin tribes to make dairy caravan-stable, which still lends its distinctive, fermented layer of richness to the dish. Musakhan, crisp, oil-laden flatbreads topped with caramelized onions, pine nuts, and tart, sumac-crusted chicken, is always prepared during the olive harvest in Palestine, when massive quantities of fresh-pressed olive oil are lavishly added to everything. Mansaf and Musakhan are typically made in Jordanian and Palestinian homes only during celebrations, but in Dubai, you can find both at Zahrat Al Quds in Abu Hail.

    Al Nafoorah, Jumeirah Emirates Towers, +917 4432 3232,
    Mezze and mixed grill are offered at Lebanese restaurants all over Dubai, including Al Nafoorah, where nutty hummus; tart, crunchy fatoush salad; and crispy orbs of meat and pine nut-stuffed kibbe share space on lantern-lit tables with bottles of Lebanese wine and heaving platters of grilled beef, liver, ground meat, and juicy, perfectly charred chunks of shishtawook, chicken breast marinated in lemon and garlic and served with thick garlic mayonnaise called toum.

    Khaleeji Comfort Food

    Al Tawasol, Al Rigga Road, Deira, +971 4295 9797
    Yemei Mandi is traditionally made by placing a pot of seasoned rice over hot embers in a pit and covering it with a grate topped with meat or chicken so the boiling rice will steam the meat while the drippings flavor the grains. The saffron-colored dish is eaten by hand and served in the local way from a large metal platter set on the floor of a private dining area along with simple chopped salad, lemony lentil soup, tomato salsa, and yogurt at Al Tawasol.

    Omani Halwa Shop, (next to Al Fareej restaurant), Al Nahdah Street, no phone
    Omani Halwa a jelly-like dessert of sugar, ghee, and cornstarch cooked down with saffron and rose water, is an important symbol of hospitality in the Sultanate of Oman where it is served by the spoonful alongside black, cardamom-infused kahwa Arabic coffee. At the unmarked Omani halwa shop in Al Twar 1, you can sip kahwa and sample date, rose water, and special house varieties of the sweet before selecting a ceramic bowl of the stuff to bring home.

    Mesopotamian Meals

    Bait Al Baghdadi, Al Muteena Street, Deira, +971 4273 7064
    The chef at Bait al Baghdadi, in the Deira neighborhood of Dubai, once worked as a royal chef, and his expertise in regional Iraqi cuisine shines in masguf, a Baghdadi specialty of butterflied riverfish that is salted and hung to grill over lemon wood, and makhlama lahm, a 10th Century Mesopotamian dish of sautéed lamb spiced with bahar asfar, a mild yellow curry, and topped with an egg. The fish requires 45-minutes to cook, so it is best to call ahead to request the dish along with tandoor flatbread and house-made, tangy mango “fish chutney."

    See more in A Culinary Traveler's Guide to Dubai »

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  • 01/20/16--11:34: A Drink with a View
  • Celia Peterson

    A visit to Dubai requires a trip to the Burj Khalifa, the city's most iconic landmark. Bypass the line of tourists waiting to go up to the observation deck from the mall and enter through the chic lobby of the Armani hotel. Take the lift down to level C, where you will wind through a few maze-like corridors to reach the unmarked, round reception area for Atmosphere lounge. It’s best to call ahead to reserve a seat by the window, but if you forget, you can usually score a table for a minimum spend of 200-250 dirhams per person, which you’ll easily meet with a few cocktails. Once you’re past the black clad staff, step into the elevator and rocket skyward until the doors open and you are welcomed by a shock of floor-to-ceiling windows framing the pulsing city 123 floors below. The best time to visit is just before sunset, when you can watch the ever-growing metropolis transform as the sun dips and the glittering lights come on.

    The signature cocktails are sweet, so if you prefer a more subdued tipple, order an off-the-menu Manhattan, which the bartenders make using anise-flavored bitters. Gigantic cheese-stuffed green olives will be served with your beverages. If you want a more substantial nibble to accompany your view, the bar snacks, from a delicate crab and avocado salad to wagu sliders, are exactly as stylishly petit and expensive as you would expect, but far better that you would have imagined.

    With order placed and cocktail in hand, let your eyes wander over the tables of boisterous cigar-smoking businessmen, European fashionistas in designer mini-dresses, glamorous Emirati women in flowing abayas talking quietly with their khandoora-clad husbands, and a scattering of people sitting alone typing furiously on their iPhones. From the top of the tallest building in the world, you can see Dubai’s playful opulence, echoing a bygone era of glitz. Close your eyes and you can feel the raw ambition beneath it all. Look down at the ribbon of red lights snaking up Sheikh Zaid Road and raise a glass to the kebab men grilling in Satwa, to the fishermen hauling the evening catch onto Jumeirah beach, to the restaurateurs making a new start for themselves in Deira, and to all the workers, hustlers, laborers, moguls, millionaires, and risk-takers driving this sparkling city towards the biggest, tallest, newest, next best thing.

    See more in A Culinary Traveler's Guide to Dubai »

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    Someday soon, perhaps, lumache alla romana (plump snails braised in a spicy tomato sauce with mint) will disappear entirely from menus across Rome. At one time, snails were the centerpiece of a local ritual: Hungry Romans headed to suburban fields and vineyards to collect them in late June and cook them into this earthy, mildly piquant dish celebrating the feast day of Saint John the Baptist. It was a tradition unique to Rome, and snails were one of the things that defined cucina romana.

    But Romans don't seem to care for snails anymore. Or liver and sweet caramelized onions. Or noodle soup with delicate hunks of tough-to-clean skate. Or many of the staple ingredients that once made Roman cuisine distinct. The city's trinity of traditional dining venues—the elegant ristorante, the rustic trattoria, and the bare-bones osteria—now competes with French bistros, gastropubs, all-you-can-eat promotions, fast-food chains, and an alarming number of mediocre burger joints offering plenty of variety but little substance. A proper Roman dinner once followed a prescribed ritual, a timeless pattern—the antipasto, the primo, the secondo, the contorno, and the dolce—and meals were long, wine-fueled events, portions were manageable, and when you booked a table it was yours for the night. Now, on the increasingly rare occasions when Romans go out for traditional fare, they eat fewer courses, drink less wine, and spend less time at the table. Trattoria owners are obliged to adapt or perish. Restaurants now serve super-sized pasta portions, they turn tables, and, thanks to the E.U.'s globalized food system, dishes often aren't made with the fresh, local ingredients that defined the flavors of the past.

    The traditional foods of Rome are as worthy of protecting as any chapel or ancient relic.

    There are a handful of culinary preservationists keeping the city's cuisine alive, thankfully—chefs and restaurant owners who are carrying on the traditions of their family-run restaurants. One is Claudio Gargioli. He's in his kitchen six days a week, buttoned into his gray chef's coat, emerging occasionally to greet regulars. You can see him from the dining room, moving around a broad iron stove, tossing pasta in warped aluminum pans, and seasoning gently simmering pots of oxtails. Since Claudio's father opened his eponymous trattoria, Armando al Pantheon, in 1961, three generations of Gargiolis have transformed this small family business into a Roman landmark known for its soulful renderings of cucina romana. When I sit in the dining room watching Claudio work, twirling his comforting spaghetti ajo, ojo, e peperoncino around a fork, the place, like the hulking mass of the neighboring Pantheon, feels gratifyingly constant, resistant to the evolution overtaking so much of the city.

    Over the centuries, cucina romana has become a pillar of Rome's cultural patrimony, but by embracing a global approach to food, Rome risks losing this fundamental part of its identity—the incredible dishes that used to define the city's cuisine. The traditional foods and flavors of the city are a direct link to the past and are as precious and worthy of protecting as any piazza, chapel, or ancient relic. Here are some of Rome's classic restaurants and the timeless dishes they are saving.

    Six Roman Classics

    Trattoria al Moro: Lumache alla Romana

    Trattoria al Moro, Tomato Braised Snails

    Lef: Andrea Wyner | Right: Matt Taylor-Gross

    Helmed by four successive generations of Romagnolis since the 1920s, Trattoria al Moro serves this classic dish of snails cooked in a rich tomato ragu.

    A ten-minute walk from the Pantheon—and about 300 feet from the Trevi Fountain—a window-paned door admits visitors to the time capsule that is Trattoria al Moro. Helmed by four successive generations of Romagnolis since the 1920s, the place began humbly, slowly building a reputation among actors at the nearby Teatro Quirino. In time, it became the haunt of local artists, performers, and filmmakers, including Federico Fellini, who cast Mario Romagnoli in his 1969 film Satyricon. It remains a destination for well-heeled, decades-long regulars who, in typical Roman style, receive special pampering from the notoriously aloof owners. Third-generation Franco Romagnoli and his children Elisabetta and Andrea are unwavering in their commitment to tradition, and they serve a huge array of forgotten classics in their three wood-paneled, overcrowded dining rooms. Lumache alla romana, snails cooked in a sauce spiked with anchovies, chile, and mint, is served exclusively around the Feast of Saint John the Baptist. The slightly spicy dish is now virtually absent from Roman tables, as snails, eels, and other fringe foods have fallen out of fashion.

    See the recipe for Lumache alla Romana »

    Checchino dal 1887: Garofolato

    Checchino dal 1887

    Andrea Wyner

    Amid Tex-Mex restaurants and budget sushi, this trattoria stands apart, promoting traditional Roman fare like this veal cutlet slowly braised in a clove-spiked tomato sauce.

    Leaving the centro storico and heading south to Testaccio, Checchino dal 1887 is where the Mariani family preserves and promotes historic dishes in the shadow of Monte dei Cocci, an archeological site composed of tens of millions of discarded terra-cotta jugs that were used to carry olive oil from Andalusia to Rome. Chef Elio Mariani serves one of the last surviving examples of garofolato, a dish named for its main seasoning, chiodi di garofano, cloves. Veal or beef eye of round (whichever is available from their purveyor that day) is simmered in a tomato sauce perfumed with a healthy dose of the dried spice, which isn't used as much as it used to be. “I think that cooking traditional food and continuing to do it against all odds is important,” Mariani says. “It's a safeguard that protects the very definition of being a real Roman.” His neighbors around Monte dei Cocci include American-style brunch spots, a budget sushi restaurant, and a place that doubles as a Tex-Mex restaurant and discoteca.

    See the recipe for Garofolata »

    Armando al Pantheon: Pere Cotte con le Prugne and Spaghetti Ajo, Ojo, e Peperoncino

    Armando al Pantheon; Rome

    Andrea Wyner

    This Roman trattoria serves classic dishes like pears and prunes baked in red wine.

    In the past, spaghetti ajo, ojo, e peperoncino (pasta coated with garlic and chile-infused oil) was a regular late-night staple. Long meals would end with this simple, subtly spicy dish, which was served after dessert. “It signaled the end of a meal,” says Claudio Gargioli, the chef at Armando al Pantheon. Now, he features it on his menu alongside popular primi like carbonara, gricia, and cacio e pepe, because a full-on Roman meal doesn't end with pasta anymore; it ends with dessert. Popular local sweets on the dessert menus around town have themselves been replaced by generic pan-Italian favorites like panna cotta and tiramisù, but remaining true to its roots, Armando al Pantheon serves the old-school Roman classic of pears and prunes baked with red wine. It's a rare example of the waning local custom of eating fiber-rich, digestion-aiding desserts that showcase the simple, sweet, and caramelized notes that were once typical.

    See the recipe for Pere Cotte con la Prugne »
    See the recipe for Spaghetti Ajo, Ojo, e Peperoncino »

    Mordi e Vai: Fegato alla Macellara

    Mordi e Vai

    Andrea Wyner

    This Roman market stall serves a wide range of meat-and-offal–centered dishes, including this calf's liver sandwich on crusty bread, slicked with caramelized onions and cherry tomatoes.

    Mordi e Vai in the Testaccio Market attracts budget-conscious Romans hungry for hearty local flavors. Mara and Sergio Esposito and their son Giuliano opened the stall in 2012 when the Testaccio neighborhood's market was transferred to a modern building beside the former slaughterhouse. They make a dazzling range of meat-rich and offal-heavy recipes culled from the Esposito family archives, including fegato alla macellara (“butcher's style” liver cooked with onions and tomatoes), a nod to Sergio's previous gig at his family's butchery stall. The earthy and sweet onion-laden dish is a flavorful reminder of Testaccio's past, when slaughterhouse workers used every part of an animal. Liver, once a common ingredient, has fallen out of favor as Romans swap organs and poor cuts for more impressive, expensive ones.

    See the recipe for Fegato alla Macellara »

    Trattoria da Cesare: Minestra di Broccoli e Arzilla

     A Roman restaurant,  minestra di broccoli e Arzilla

    Andrea Wyner

    Left: A Roman trattoria | Right: Minestra di Broccoli e Arzilla

    A restaurant near the Spanish Steps in Rome advertises traditional Roman cuisine. Across the city, Trattoria da Cesare serves an iconic fish and romanesco soup.

    In the Gianicolense district, Leonardo Vignoli and Maria Pia Cicconi of Trattoria da Cesare serve a menu guided by the seasons, a feature of the cucina romana that is no longer a given. During the cool months, when romanesco is in season, da Cesare makes minestra di broccoli e arzilla. The soup, made with skate and romanesco, used to be a fixture on the Roman table, but as a greater variety of fish became available in the capital, skate, which is bony and cartilage-riddled, was abandoned for less labor-intensive species. Serving this delicious relic of Roman cuisine is particularly meaningful for Leonardo. “For me this recipe means anchoring a part of history in the present,” he tells me. “Often, if we change too much and too quickly without remembering where we come from, we risk putting the past on a shelf to collect dust and be forgotten.”

    See the recipe for Minestra di Broccoli e Arzilla »

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    Navajo Hogan

    Hawk Krall

    One of the best things to ever emerge from the deep fryer

    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.

    Part Native American, part Southwestern and Tex-Mex, part state fair-style deep-fried joy, frybread tacos are an oft-overlooked, sometimes controversial, and insanely delicious example of a regional American food born from cultures accidentally coming together.

    Imagine the ground beef, lettuce, and grated cheddar of a hard-shell taco wrapped in the puffy embrace of an unsweetened funnel cake, with the occasional touch of Southwestern ingredients like blue corn or green chile. As with a good Philly cheesesteak or giant pastrami sandwich, it’s impossible to eat a frybread taco neatly, but when it’s done right you don’t mind the dribbles all over your shirt, and you’ll wonder why you can’t get anything like it outside the frybread belt between Arizona and South Dakota.

    But if you have your pick of places, start with Navajo Hogan in Salt Lake City, which makes some of the nation’s best.

    Navajo Hogan started as a video game arcade and pool hall called “The Farmers Place” in a cinder block box near the local high school. The business didn’t do too well, so in 1989, Marcie and Bill Espinoza changed the focus to food, and opted for frybread tacos as a way to differentiate themselves from the area’s Mexican restaurants and to honor their Mexican and Tewa Pueblo heritage. Then they brought in local artists to design the logo and paint murals—including famed Navajo artist Andrew Warren—and paid them in tacos.

    It’s impossible to eat a frybread taco neatly, but when it’s done right you don’t mind the dribbles all over your shirt.

    Frybread is a staple of the Southwest, found everywhere from sit-down restaurants to state fairs, roadside stands and legit Najavo pow-wows. It’s a simple dough fried until puffy and crisp, and when you cover it in honey butter and powdered sugar, or chokeberry wojapi, or mutton stew, or ground beef or green chile (the latter are typical frybread taco trimmings), it’s quite possibly one the most delicious things you can ever put in your mouth.

    Navajo people originally used maize for their breads, until processed white wheat flour was forced on them by U.S. government rations, from which the modern frybread was born. Many Native Americans now deride frybread as a symbol of cultural appropriation and oppression, especially for the health problems associated with consuming it regularly (Native American reservations report some of the country's highest concentrations of diabetes).

    But for some, frybread is a longstanding symbol of Native culture and pride, from Inuit assaleeak, similar to the Navajo version, to sopapillas, popular from Chile to Mexico and the American Southwest. And in the case of the frybread taco, frybread becomes a vehicle for binding diverse cultures together. You can get almost anything under the sun on frybread—hamburgers, hot dogs, deli sandwiches—but nothing has outdone the popularity of the taco.

    Navajo Hogan

    Hawk Krall

    Outside Navajo Hogan

    Navajo Hogan does both sweet and savory frybread, including the Tex-Mex classic of ground beef and pinto chili beans as well as the more Southwestern green chili frybread taco. The beans start with pintos, ground beef, a secret blend of spices, and little to no tomatoes, that are simmered all day long in a big pot. They’re simple and classic, but with a powerful depth of flavor that comes from the experience of making beans for decades.

    For their tart and spicy green chili, the Espinozas make an annual trip back home to Albuquerque to stock up on New Mexico chiles, which they mix with pork, garlic, and onion. Navajo Hogan also does shredded beef and chicken tacos, and all of these options come topped with the standard dressing of chopped tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, shredded cheese, sour cream, and the salsa of your choice. For something more Navajo, there’s Mutton stew, a Navajo comfort food favorite, hearty, satisfying with a pleasant gaminess; it’s a special on Saturdays that often sells out before noon.

    In addition to the standard white flour, Hogan also offers blue and red corn frybread for any of their dishes, something you don’t see too often, inspired by a trip to the Blue Bird Flour Mill in Colorado, where the Espinozas get all their flour and pinto beans. And you really can’t leave without trying the dessert frybread, which starts with the same dough as the savory kinds but adds a blizzard of powered sugar, cinnamon, honey butter.

    I’ve tried to recreate their frybread at home, a dead simple recipe with only four ingredients—flour, baking powder, salt, and water—to no avail. The Espinozas insist part of their magic is the super-fine, high-gluten Bluebird flour they use, but it’s mainly about technique: nailing the consistency after years of practice. Navajo Hogan makes each taco by hand fresh to order, which is crucial for good frybread. They stretch balls of dough in a process called “flapping,” similar to tossing pizza dough, and drop them in clean fryer oil for a few minutes. They also prick a hole in the middle of the bread while it fries to “release evil spirits” and ensure it cooks evenly.

    Navajo Hogan has been going strong for more than 25 years, and they haven’t expanded the business except for a few catering gigs and a 2013 pop-up in Philadelphia with their son Marcos, a food writer, and local chef Lucio Palazzo. Hundreds of people lined up for a taste of their tacos then, and Marcos says he’d love to expand the business to Philly full time. “People still don't really know about it, and nobody (besides me) is really preaching its gospel.”

    Navajo Hogan
    447 3300 S, Salt Lake City, UT
    (801) 466-2860

    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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    Pamela Farrell

    Mussels from the White Horse Inn

    Under the low-slung winter light that embraces England in January, I pick my way through a pot of local mussels at The White Horse Inn. This time of year, the best meals along England’s Norfolk coast are strictly mussel-bed-to-table. And as I look out through the restaurant’s cathedral-like glass conservatory, just yards away I spot the beds where my own meal fattened on a feast of rich North Sea nutrients for the last 18 to 24 months.

    Norfolk has long been a summer retreat famous for sailing on the “broads” and beaches that wrap halfway around the county. But in the stillness of winter, cold-water mussels take over menus along the north coast, making February and March the perfect time for a quiet retreat. Many restaurants close in January while decorators smarten up the dining rooms, and chefs return from their post-Christmas sabbatical simmering with new ideas even as they carry on the traditions that have drawn visitors out of London to taste what’s cooking out on the edge of England.

    “We try to keep it simple,” Fran Hartshorne, The White Horse head chef, tells me in typical English understatement as I’m halfway through her mussels with a particularly Anglo flare: a little celery, a little English thyme, a splash of white wine, and lashings of rich English double cream (that’s 48% butterfat to American heavy cream’s 36%).

    On Monday nights, I discover the particularly English passion for the spice of cuisines from warmer climes. Mussels are robed in almond milk, raisins, and ras al hanout or turn Thai with chiles, ginger, and lemongrass. Then there’s “The Local”: the north coast’s session pale ale, Brancaster Best, swimming with a triumvirate of Norfolk bacon, Dapple cheese, and Colman’s (native to Norfolk) mustard.

    Mussel hunting

    Pamela Farrell

    Cyril and Ben Southerland harvesting their mussels

    But it all starts in those beds just at the bottom of the restaurant’s garden. “We’re slaves to the tide,” jokes Ben Southerland, the fifth-generation mussel farmer in a family business that stretches back a good century. He and his father Cyril still keep those beds alive with mussels like no others.

    Until the 1990’s, most of these mussels left the county and headed off to industrial cities like Nottingham or Leicester. “They were a working man’s pleasure,” says Southerland, and as the day ended, factory workers grabbed bags from market stalls to take home for dinner. But then, chefs along the Norfolk coast became interested in making the most of what they could get locally. And word spread that this quiet English county had some amazing food on the menu.

    These bed-grown Norfolk mussels are distinct from industrially produced rope-grown mussels that spend their life constantly suspended deep in the water column. Because they live most of their lives right where the land meets the sea, Norfolk mussels drink up high tide and dry out in low. They adapt to the ebb and flow and have a hearty character that gives them a slightly longer shelf life once harvested.

    Then when it’s time for harvesting, “it’s all done in the same way it was in my great grandfather’s time,” says Southerland. While rope-grown mussels are mechanically harvested, and while national dealers trade in tonne-size bags, “we are handpicking more or less every mussel,” and grading each by hand to ensure “only the best go to the customer.”

    Titchwell Manor Mussels

    A mussel and dashi canapé from Titchwell Manor

    Southerland also supplies an old school friend, Eric Snaith, chef-owner at Titchwell Manor. Snaith plays with the classic British dish, beef and oysters, dressing a slow braised beef shin with “that salty taste of the sea” mussels offer. And in one-bite canapes, mussels come out of their shell, get a splash of hot and sour dashi, and are served on spoons for a single bite.

    Farther west along the coast, at Michelin-starred The Neptune, chef-owner Kevin Mangeolles confesses that when it comes to mussels, "I never really liked eating with my hands, so I thought I'd refine it a bit." He whisks seaweed butter into mussel broth and serves the meaty bivalve as a garnish for sea bass alongside potato gnocchi.

    It’s hard to beat a winter’s afternoon tucked up in front of the fire with a massive pot of mussels and something choice from the cellar of The Hoste. (The small is big and the large is incredible.) It’s the definition of snug at this sixteenth century “hostelry”—a good old-fashioned word that delivers food, drink, and a place for weary travellers to rest.

    As the winter winds come in off the North Sea, these restaurants make me feel a little like a medieval pilgrim. They offer rooms as well as the local speciality done perfectly. (At the Deepdale Cafe, a kind of casual roadside place where you can get the mussel lunch deal along with sausage rolls, jacket potatoes, and tea and cake, you can stay over with friends in the hostel or book the heated shepherd’s hut.) The tide rolls out, you rock up to a casserole of steaming mussels fresh out of their bed, and then roll off to your own.

    Where to Get Your Mussel Fix

    The White Horse Inn
    Brancaster Staithe, Norfolk PE31 8BY
    +44 (0) 1485 210262

    Titchwell Manor
    Titchwell Manor, Titchwell, Near Brancaster, Norfolk PE31 8BB
    +44 (0) 1485 210221

    The Neptune
    85 Old Hunstanton Road, Old Hunstanton, Norfolk, PE36 6HZ
    +44 (0) 1485 532122

    The Hoste
    The Green, Burnham Market King's Lynn, Norfolk PE31 8HD
    +44 (0) 1328 738777

    Deepdale Cafe
    Dalegate Market, Main Road, Burnham Deepdale PE31 8FB
    +44 (0) 1485 210200

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    Daniel Holzman

    The counter at Ippuku

    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.

    Grilled chicken is one of the single best foods known to man. Name a non-vegetarian nation that doesn’t boast a delicious grilled chicken recipe? Nearly impossible. And of all the nations, of all the grilled chickens, one stands above the rest: Japan.

    In Japan, there is no job unworthy of mastery and attention to detail. In Japan, an artisan can bring art to any craft, from cooking knives to getting drunk, elevating it from mundane to spectacular and worthy of notice. And when that attention is turned to the otherwise ordinary task of grilling chicken, an artform called yakitori (translation: “grilled bird”) emerges.

    A single chicken can yield 33 cuts of meat, and in Japan people eat virtually everything but the feathers. The cuts are then skewered on wooden or metal skewers, sometimes with vegetables, sometimes alone. And then the grilling over charcoal begins, meticulously turning, dipping, seasoning and basting—each skewer cooked to its absolute optimal potential—and immediately served piping-hot.


    Daniel Holzman

    Ippuku in Berkeley

    Chicken grilled this carefully needs nothing more than a dusting of salt, but some parts get glazed with tare, a sweet and smoky barbecue-like sauce made from soy sauce, mirin, and mizuame (Japanese maltose). Sometimes the chicken sticks are served with a dollop of yuzu koshu (chile and Japanese citrus rind), or a small pile of chile pepper and a lemon wedge.

    The best yakitori we’ve had this side of Japan (and possibly even including Japan) isn’t exactly a secret (it’s on a busy street in Berkeley, CA). It’s also not cheap, or particularly hospitable. But damn does that chicken commit itself to memory. Welcome to Ippuku.

    Over five years ago in his influential San Francisco Chronicle column, restaurant critic Michael Bauer wrote about the restaurant with a bit of astonishment. “This is the first place I know in the Bay Area that serves shochu, sake, and beer, but not even one wine,” he noted in his three-star dispatch.

    This was way back in 2010, which in retrospect seems like the Dark Ages given the recent renaissance of traditional Japanese soul cooking in the Bay Area. Today, the currents of shochu and sake flow swiftly—and as equals alongside craft beers in the dozens of sushi bars, izakayas, and ramen shops that stretch from the south bay to Berkeley and beyond. But Ipukko still stands out.

    Tsukune and sweet potatoes

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Chicken meatballs and miso-butter sweet potatoes

    Ipukko’s 2009 opening was the work of Christian Geideman, a Bay Area pioneer and master of the ancient Japanese practice of getting shitfaced and eating wonderful things deep-fried and served on sticks. And it was on a recent winter evening that we found ourselves in town, and in the mood for what his restaurant ultimately does best: chicken.

    After settling in our booth, having walked past a prominent “no photos” sign and an advanced-level selection of Japanese whisky beyond the usual Nikka and Yamazaki, we rubbed our chilly hands and got down business. First off, a round of massive mugs of Sapporo (which arrived almost instantly), and then lots of chicken.

    Dan took control of the menu, and what landed on the table felt like an omakase on steroids; you’ll be glad to know that there were no steroids used in the Hoffman Farms poultry that landed plate after plate after plate. Teba (wing), shiro (intestine), nankotsu (cartilage), sunagimo (gizzard), negima (chicken and negi, a mild Japanese leek), toriniku (white meat chunks) were among the many courses that were equally exquisite, each bite representing the ideal preparation suited for an exact cut.

    There was a respite from the chicken when ginnan (ginko balls) arrived, and other tasty vegetable course interspersed throughout the meal were equally delicious. We include a recipe for steamed sweet potatoes with miso butter, which captures the flavors of the Japan in one giant tuber. But our favorite two dishes of the night were the tsukune (meatballs, for which Dan has an obvious affinity) served traditionally with a raw egg yolk floating in a shallow dish of tare. The recipe we developed is both easy to execute, and more approachable than, say, our our absolute favorite: bonjiri, chicken tail, which is really more the terminus of the bird’s GI tract. Yes, out of all the chicken’s wonderful cuts, we loved the ass. And ordered it over and over.

    See the recipe for Chicken and Ginger Meatballs »
    See the recipe for Sweet Potatoes with Miso Butter »

    2130 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94704
    (510) 665-1969

    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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    Amanda Arnold

    The dish: Pot fish and fungi with "provisions" (a.k.a. sides).

    If you’re wandering through the pastel-hued Danish arches in Christiansted, St. Croix, you’d likely walk right past Harvey’s, an unassuming local’s restaurant adorned with sun-bleached newspapers and wooden bead curtains. Those Obama election-era clippings don’t do much to suggest that the kitchen makes one of the best meals on the island: a superlative pot fish and fungi.

    That’s pronounced foon-ji, and it has less to do with mushrooms than okra, cooked into a thick, smooth mash with cornmeal and water. Then comes the pot fish (so named because it was traditionally caught with a pot), a whole bony reef fish deep fried until crisp and topped with sweet onion gravy. The fish is crispy and showy, with the salty, spicy sauce seeping into every cavity; the fungi, mellow and nutty, is perfect for catching all the flakes of fish and gravy that go astray. Digging your fork into the center of custard thick fungi, you begin to understand the flavors of St. Croix.

    Amanda Arnold

    Housemade hot sauce: Scotch bonnet peppers in oil.

    Situated just southeast of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea, the island is the largest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, and one that receives its fair share of tourists but relatively few mentions of its distinctive cuisine. For breakfast, think saltfish, hardboiled eggs, and freshly-fried johnny cakes. For lunch and dinner, goat curry or stewed conch in butter. And for dessert, rum cake or red grout, a guava-flavored tapioca sweet. But what Crucian cuisine also embodies is the food of 20,000-plus slaves who lived there in the 1800s, harvesting sugar cane and cooking dishes with what was available. To these cooks of limited means, seafood and inexpensive grains were main sources of sustenance. Enter pot fish and fungi, unofficially recognized as the dish of the US Virgin Islands.

    And if you’re going to get it, get it at Harvey’s. While you can order pot fish and fungi at nearly every Crucian restaurant around the island, Sarah Harvey and her husband (known locally as “Mr. Harvey”) have been serving Crucian cuisine for the past 30-some years how it should be: unpretentiously. The tables are covered with checkered cloth and paper placemats, the homemade Scotch Bonnet hot sauces are housed in old liquor bottles, and the Harveys are always there, stirring the fungi, manning the bar, and laughing with the locals both sitting inside the building and walking past the open windows.

    When you find a seat at one of the tables, start with one of her own homemade juices. For something fresh and sweet, go for passion fruit or guava; for something less expected, try sweet-tart sorrel, bitter maubi, or nectar-thick soursop. When you receive your order of pot fish and fungi—with “provisions,” a.k.a. sides—reach for the hot sauce, give your fish a nice douse, and grab a few napkins.

    Amanda Arnold

    The sign of a good meal.

    While you’ll start eating with a fork, you’ll end finish using your hands, using your fingers to pull out pin bones that inevitably end up in your mouth and breaking open the fish head to suck out all the little bits of flesh nestled inside. You will make a mess. Your fingers will smell like fish. And you won’t want to miss a morsel.

    Harvey's Restaurant
    11B Company St.
    Christiansted, St. Croix 00820

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    The Caribbean archipelago is made up of almost 30 island nations, which all makes for a vast, complex cultural heritage, and food options as abundant and diverse as the region's pristine beaches. While some of the islands' ingredients and dishes have made their way to foreign shores, food in the Caribbean is a world all its own, with a rich history well worth exploring. You may know about jerk chicken and callaloo, but how about goat water, oil down, and a can't-miss wheel of stuffed cheese called keshi yena? This is a place where regional cooking runs deep.

    To help you wade through all those food and travel options, this guide narrows things down to five islands with lush, tropical landscapes, no shortage of excellent regional food, and places to stay beyond the giant resorts.

    St. Lucia: Land of Green Figs and Saltfish (and Chocolate)

    Courtesy of Chris De La Rosa, Caribbean Pot

    St. Lucia, with the Petit and Gros Pitons towering 2,500 feet over the town of Soufrière, is one of the Caribbean's most visually stunning islands. And there's an equally stunning culinary culture in the shadows of these Pitons. Eating in St. Lucia starts with the island's number one export: green figs, the St. Lucian parlance for unripe bananas. The pleasantly starchy fruits are boiled with their skins on to extract the nutrients within, then mixed with simmered cod that's then cured, for a rich dish that undeniably tastes of the tropics. The dish was historically made with salt cod from Nova Scotia, but today you'll find it with all kinds of local fish.

    The Caribbean climate is optimal for growing cacao, and St. Lucia's abundance of cacao trees has made the island a leader for chocolate-hungry travelers. You can tour plantations, taste local chocolate, and watch the stuff get made truly bean-to-bar or tree-to-bar. And you'll find the ingredient on menus across the island for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

    Where to Eat

    Anse La Raye Fish Fry
    The fishing village of Anse La Raye in Gros Islet hosts one of the island's most exciting fish fries on Friday nights. What started as a draw for tourists in nearby hotels has grown to a weekly celebration of local fish, food, and music.
    Front Street, Anse-La-Raye

    Dasheene at Ladera
    Take in the sites and flavors of St. Lucia at Dasheene at the Ladera Resort, overlooking the island's Pitons.
    (1) 758-459-6600

    Coal Pot Restaurant
    Just five minutes from downtown Castries, St. Lucia's capital, is this 50-year-old restaurant serving French-Caribbean food.
    (1) 758-452-5566

    Castries Market
    Shop the 100-year-old open-air market (closed on Sundays) in St. Lucia's capital town of Castries, where you'll find vendors selling produce, spices, and homemade hot sauces.
    John Compton Hwy, Castries City

    Where to Stay

    Boucon by Hotel Chocolat
    Immerse yourself in St. Lucia's long history of cocoa (and eat plenty of chocolate) and the rare cacao grown there at the island's Boucon Hotel, set high in the rain forest on Rabot Estate, St. Lucia's oldest cocoa plantation.
    Hotel Chocolat Estates Ltd., Jalousle
    (1) 800-757-7132

    Anse Chastanet
    Take in the view of both Pitons on St. Lucia's 600-acre beach-front hotel.
    (1) 800-223-1108

    Fond Doux
    If you're looking for a bit of history, and the chance to cook with the island's produce, stay at this historic 19th century estate. There are two on-site restaurants (Cocoa Pod and Jardin Cacao), but all of the one- and two-bedroom cottages at this 250-year-old plantation have kitchens, so you can also get the chance to cook with the local produce.
    (1) 758-459-7545

    Sugar Beach
    Enjoy a number of on-site activities at this Viceroy resort, from scuba diving and volleyball to kayaking and windsurfing.
    (1) 758-456-8000

    Anguilla: Small But Food-Obsessed

    Penny de los Santos

    Anguilla is one of the Caribbean's smaller island nations, but it boasts over 100 restaurant and bars, making it one of the Caribbean's most dense and exciting food destinations. Because of the island's size (16 miles long by three miles wide), there is limited space to raise livestock. So even more than on some other Caribbean islands, seafood plays an essential role in the local cuisine, from lobster and shrimp to crab and conch, peppered by influences from Spain, France, and nations across Africa, and all served with pigeon peas and rice, considered to be the island's national dish.

    The small island also has one of the Caribbean's biggest barbecue cultures. Grills are commonly set up for the weekends, but you will find a few mainstay places serving chicken and ribs in Blowing Point, The Valley, and Long Bay.

    Where to Eat

    Sandy Island
    Some of the best grilled lobster in the Caribbean is at the restaurant on Sandy Island, located five minutes off the north coast of Anguilla.

    Bankie Banx's Dune Preserve
    Open for lunch six days a week (closed Mondays) from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., reggae artist Bankie Banx's Dune Preserve is also Anguilla's go-to music venue, with shows starting nightly (excluding Mondays) at 9.
    Rendezvous Bay, The Valley
    (1) 264-729-1328

    Smokey's at the Cove
    Caribbean barbecue on the beautiful white sand beaches of Cove Bay. Smokey's is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
    Cove Bay, West End Village AI-2640
    (1) 264-497-6582

    Straw Hat
    Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this Meads Bay restaurant has been serving Anguilla and the community (supporting local fisherman for the lobster, crayfish, and seafood-heavy menu) for 20 years.
    West End Village, in the Frangipani Beach Resort, Meads Bay
    (1) 264-497-8300

    De Cuisine
    A husband-and-wife-owned small, intimate restaurant with an ever-changing menu that reflects the island's bounty of local ingredients.
    South Hill Plaza, Lower South Hill
    (1) 264-584-3431

    Elvis' Beach Bar
    Seafood-influenced pub fare with a Mexican lean on Sandy Ground, which separates Road Salt Pond with the Caribbean.
    Sandy Ground
    (1) 264-476-0101

    Hungry's Good Food
    Alphonso Hodge and Irad Gumbs started a catering company in 2003. Since then, Hungry's Good Food, known for their seafood, soups, and quesadillas, has grown into a food truck, a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and a fish depot.
    The Valley
    (1) 264-497-5827

    Where to Stay

    Las EsQuinas
    Little Harbor's little bed and breakfast on 8,000 square feet of a secluded peninsula.
    Little Harbour, Anguilla BWI, AI-2640

    Harbor Lights
    Seek out one of the four rooms at this family-owned inn, located in Island Harbor, for a budget stay on Anguilla. Rooms range from $80 to $130 per night.
    (1) 264-497-4435

    Lloyd's Bed and Breakfast
    This 55-year-old, 11-room bed and breakfast is a break from the island's monolithic resorts. Prices range from $99 to $145.
    The Valley
    (1) 264-497-2351

    Montserrat: The Caribbean's Emerald Isle

    Courtesy of Patrick Bennett, Uncommon Caribbean

    Montserrat is known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean. This is partly due to the striking resemblance between the coasts of Montserrat and Ireland, but it's also a reflection of Montserrat's rich Irish heritage. The comparison is most notable, from a food perspective, once you get a taste of the national dish: goat water, a type of goat stew—seasoned with black pepper, garlic, and thyme (common in Caribbean cooking)—which is believed to be a riff on Irish stew (using goat meat in place of mutton) descended from the island's Irish settlers.

    There are plenty of ways to spend your time beyond eating excellent goat. For such a small island, Montserrat has a surprising number of restaurants, and they are bustling during breakfast and lunch hours. With a population of only roughly 5,000 people, some of the restaurants are open for dinner by request only. But, when these requests are granted, you get some of the freshest food in the Caribbean, with some Irish-leaning dishes like baked fish, souse, and mutton. Montserrat is the only nation outside of Ireland to officially recognize St. Patrick's Day, and Montserratians do so with a week-long celebration. The island's passport stamp is shamrock-shaped.

    You'll find most of Montserrat's activity, and 5,000 residents, on the northern half of the island. In 1995, Montserrat's Soufrière Hills volcano (which had been dormant for 300 years), in the southern capital city of Plymouth, erupted and buried the city in lava and ash. Since then, two thirds of the island has been termed an exclusion zone, with occasional visits only permitted by the local police force.

    Where to Eat

    Hilltop Coffee House
    Pies, pastries, quiche, and fresh local juices (guava and soursop) located at the start of Montserrat's Oriole Trail.
    Fogarthy Hill
    (1) 664-496-8765

    Anfa Restaurant
    The comfort of Cantonese classics (the Caribbean is also home to Chinese culinary influences) like sweet and sour pork, cashew chicken, and fried rice on a Caribbean island. Most of Anfa's business is takeout, but there is a small bar and handful of chairs to dine in.
    Saint John
    (1) 664-491-2200

    Ziggy's Restaurant
    A fusion of English and Caribbean fare such as jerk pork, chicken roti, and butterfly shrimp at this Montserratian favorite Woodlands restaurant.
    Mahogany Lane, Woodlands
    (1) 664-491-8282

    Where to Stay

    Old Sugar Mill
    Rooms at this restored 17th century sugar mill range from $55 to $150 per night.
    (1) 664-496-2080

    Tradewinds Real Estate
    Gingerbread Hill
    (1) 664-491 5812

    Miles Away Resort
    Located along the Nance River, rooms, suites, and villas are all available for rent starting at $69 per night.
    Mayfield Estate Dr, Olveston
    (1) 664-496-7362

    Aruba: The International Island

    Fred Matos, Flickr

    Aruba draws 1.5 million visitors a year for its unique geography and culture. It's one of the six islands that make up the Dutch Caribbean, and its food is more global than almost anywhere in the region, from Brazilian steakhouses to Italian restaurants that toss pasta in Parmesan cheese wheels.

    But the island's local food traditions run deep, and the best place to start is with the national dish: keshi yena. It is traditionally made in a hollowed out Edam or Gouda cheese rind, stuffed with spiced meat, and baked or steamed. The Dutch influence is found in a number of other dishes common on Aruba, like pea soup, Dutch pancakes, and poffertjes (small sweet pancakes made with buckwheat flour).

    Where to Eat

    Madame Janette One of Aruba's great restaurants showcasing the island's international influences. Find locally-grown and sourced ingredients in lobster ravioli, sweet and sour shrimp with sesame seeds, takes on schnitzel, and steaks with classic French sauces.Cunucu Abao 37, Noord
    (1) 297-587-0184

    Named after the most widely-spoken language in the Dutch Caribbean, this 33-year-old Aruban restaurant serves a mix of classic Aruban dishes and heavily-spiced bouillabaisse with locally caught fish.
    Washington 61, Noord
    (1) 297-586-4544

    The Old Cunucu House
    The menu here celebrates the colonial influences of Dutch, Spanish, English, and French influences found throughout Aruba. In addition to keshi yena, find Caribbean classics like stewed conch and coconut fried shrimp on the menu with rack of lamb and escargot.
    Palm Beach 150, Noord
    (1) 297-586-1666

    The Dutch Pancake House and Linda's
    Two of the favorite places for Dutch pancakes on the island.

    The Dutch Pancake House
    Renaissance Marketplace, LG Smith Boulevard 9, Oranjestad
    (1) 297-583-7180

    Palm Beach, 3 6-D, Noord
    (1) 297-586-3378

    Where to Stay

    Sunset Beach Studios
    Rooms start at $100 (depending on the season) at this small estate located just steps from the Caribbean Sea and Eagle Beach on the north side of Aruba.L.G. Smith Boulevard 486, Malmok

    Sea Breeze Apartments
    Choose from ten studios/apartments.
    Malohistraat 5, Pos Chiquito
    (1) 297-585-7140

    Karibu Aruba
    It's hard to find budget-friendly rentals on the coast in Aruba. The island is small, so beachfront property fetches a particularly pretty penny. But Karibu Aruba has three rental apartments just across the main road from Eagle Beach.
    Salinja Cerca 25M
    (1) 297-746-0397

    Grenada: Sweet and Spicy

    Katherine Fung for Meat Loves Salt

    Grenada, often referred to as Spice Island, is known for its production of spices, predominantly nutmeg and mace. Those spices play a vital role in some of the island's food, from savory dishes to sweet jams and syrups. There's even a Nutmeg Spice Festival devoted to the island's harvest.

    But the island's national dish is something different altogether: oil down, the Caribbean version of chicken and dumplings. It's a one-pot callback to the island's French colonial past, with the Cajun/Creole trinity of onions, bell pepper, and celery mixed with local salted meat (usually fish or pork) along with chicken, doughy dumplings, and coconut milk. The stew gets its name from that coconut milk, namely the oil that cooks out of the milk as the pot simmers down, which it does for the better part of a day.

    Where to Eat

    Rhodes Restaurant
    The Rhodes Restaurant, part of the Calabash Hotel and located amidst its villas, caters to the island's largely British tourists. But chef Gary Rhodes makes it a point to introduce guests to the local flavors of Grenada with a shrimp and callaloo tart, pepper pot (a heavily-spiced, salted-meat and vegetable stew and the national dish of Antigua), and local fish of the day preparations.
    Calabash Boutique Hotel & Spa, Beach Lane, St. Georges
    (1) 473-444-4334

    Patrick's Local Homestyle Cooking
    You'll find oil down here but, because of the dish's long cook time, it's only available by request. Patrick's offers an array of classic Caribbean dishes from cou-cou (a mixture of cornmeal and okra) and callaloo to Creole fish and fried plantains.
    Lagoon Rd, St George's
    (1) 473-440-0364

    Belmont Estate
    Dinner here is at the 17th century plantation and agro-tourism estate's 250-seat restaurant.
    Belmont, St Patrick
    (1) 473-442-9524

    Where to Stay

    Bougainvillea Apartments
    Located just off the Grand Anse main road, these apartments are a quick ride from the airport and close to the beach and start at $64 per night.St. George's
    (1) 473-444-4930

    Candle Glow Apartments
    Candle Glow's studio suites are located in Grand Anse, a short drive to the coast and the island's popular Grand Anse Bay beach.
    St. George's
    (1) 473-439-4916

    True Blue Bay
    50 rooms overlooking the waters of Grenada's True Blue Bay on the southern coast, with onsite activities that include cooking classes and rum-tasting.
    Old Mill Road, True Blue Bay, Saint George's

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    The Kituyi family

    Philipp Engelhorn

    A member of the Kituyi family sorting through the day's catch.

    Zoya Village, Kitale, Kenya — December 25, 2005

    The children, giggling, scooped up handfuls of the winged termites—known as “white ants”—that were pouring out from the ground in droves. My friend and I had driven seven hours on a dusty road from Nairobi to a small village in the brush of western Kenya to meet with the Kituyi family, one of many who have made a tradition of gathering these insects, most abundant during the rainy season, and eating them fresh or fried and mixed with rice.

    It was dusk, the ideal time to summon the bugs. The family led us to the harvest site by their home in the wide Rift Valley, where they laid down wooden branches and built little mud traps around the holes of the ant mounds. As they began drumming against the wood to imitate the sound of rain, the ants rushed from the ground, forming jittery piles in the little traps.

    Following the example of those around me, I snatched the insects from the ground or the air by their wings and took a taste. The flavor was slightly sweet and the texture surprisingly pleasant. With the children scampering about, all of them home from school for the holidays, there was a jovial air to that evening meal, maybe because of the kindness of the Kituyis, or maybe because my dinner, for the first time, was flitting through the air and flapping in my mouth.

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    Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

    Kate McCulley

    Nicaragua's Little Corn (pictured here) and Big Corn islands were British colonies until the late 1800s, remaining culturally distinct from the Spanish-influenced mainland.

    It's not easy getting to Little Corn Island. The challenge is part of the charm. At least that's what my girlfriend, Danielle, and I tell ourselves as we step onto the ferry, neither of us quite noticing that it isn't really a ferry, but a working ship transporting thousands of gallons of gasoline. As the boat chugs into stomach-turning swells, diesel fumes fill the cramped passenger hold.

    Seeking fresh air outside, I watch three men trolling for fish off the back of the boat, each clutching salt-crusted hand-lines. On a bench between greasy fuel drums, a gray-haired German man in wire-rim glasses has wedged himself into a child-sized life vest and stares grimly at the heaving horizon. One errant spark, his fierce look says to me, and we all go down together.

    Ten miles and two-and-a-half hours later we enter the calm of Little Corn's protected harbor. Just as we do a springtime squall opens overhead. The rain falls in gray curtains and a dozen teenage boys scramble onto the ship with wooden planks they use to roll the gasoline barrels off the deck and plunk them into the glassy water below.

    Danielle chose Little Corn Island as a vacation spot where the two of us could escape New York's pressure, structure, and noise. There are no taxis honking on this one square mile of land, no streetlights flashing. Electricity runs only at night. We've come for the sounds of waves, the rattling of wind in the palms, and not much else.

    What we weren't expecting on this dot of sea-sprayed jungle and sand is compelling food. In most resort destinations, isolation brings overpriced and underwhelming tourist fare. But here, where the local languages include Spanish, an English patois, Garifuna, and the indigenous Miskito, we find a cuisine that is both proudly self-sustaining and utterly fresh. The majority of the food is grown on the islands—bananas, tomatoes, breadfruit, cassava, other tubers—or fished from the surrounding clear turquoise waters. Soon we find ourselves on an unexpected culinary expedition, slurping down fresh coconut juice and inhaling simply prepared ceviche at every turn.

    Off the boat, we take refuge under the covered porch of the first restaurant in sight, Miss Bridget's, remove our packs, and grab a table. We order two cold Toñas and some curried yellowtail snapper, which comes with a side of crispy golden tostones (twice-fried plantains). As with most meals over the next five days, lunch blurs the lines between a commercial transaction and simply eating at someone's home. The bathroom for customers is next to the family's outdoor washboard and drying lines. The veranda at Miss Bridget's, we realize as we sip our beers, is also simply Bridget's veranda.

    We dip our tostones in the curried milk and are stunned. The silky-spicy sauce, the flaky fresh snapper, the crunch of the tostones—how is this food so good? As we sop up the last drops of broth, a man in an American-flag T-shirt at an adjacent table introduces himself. This is Bridget's husband, Elvis, a fisherman, who offers to take us trolling for barra (barracuda), king fish (king mackerel), and snapper. Fish and shellfish are plentiful on Little Corn. Spiny lobsters dominate the market—their season runs from midsummer to early spring and is an economic cornerstone—and during the annual August Emancipation Day festival, locals catch blue forest crabs and cook huge pots of crab soup packed with plantains and yucca, all swimming in a rich coconut broth. Elvis tells us that Bridget will cook whatever we catch. The melody of his baritone has the ring of gospel. How could we say no? We make a date for later that week, sling our packs on our backs, and head into the rain-cooled jungle.

    Rachel Rebeca Sambola López of Derek's Place; Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

    Michael Ames

    At Derek's Place on Little Corn's north shore, Rachel Rebeca Sambola López preps a pot of rundown soup with fresh coconut bread on the side for sopping up the rich broth.

    There are no cars on Little Corn—the only “highways” are paved wheelbarrow paths through the Village and Caribe Town. For back roads, miles of dirt trails crisscross mango forests and dead-end at rocky bluffs and coconut grove beaches. Mangoes litter the forest floor in rotting piles—we pick the good ones for tomorrow's breakfast, a kind of island grocery shopping I could get used to. The revolting noni fruit is also ubiquitous. These “hog apples” rot in mucus-colored stains on the ground and smell uncannily like blue-cheese dressing warming in the sun. But the noni fruit is also a sworn tonic for hangovers. At Yemaya, the island's lone upscale resort, they are blended with coconut and cinnamon into a palatable but pungent noni-colada.

    Aimless walks and random snacks give structure to our days. We wander into Miss Esther's kitchen, a home-bakery hybrid, where a TV on a high shelf plays cartoons and we buy oven-warm coconut bread that smells like toasted coconut oil. We hide in the shade at Alfonso's as his wife presses star fruits into juice from trees in their own backyard. We follow the sounds of reggae to the weekly baseball game, where women sell us peppery fried chicken behind the bleachers and an 8-year-old boy plies the crowd with his mom's spiced beef patties, stuffed in golden-orange cornmeal pockets. Habana Libre, a Cuban standout near the harbor, serves the most delicious ceviche we have ever tasted.

    Rundown Seafood Soup

    Justin Walker

    Meant to be a catchall for the day's available seafood, rundown showcases whatever's freshest at the fish market along with tubers in a slightly sweet coconut milk broth.

    At Derek's Place, the mini-resort of Ewok-esque bamboo palapas that we call home on the island's north shore, a cook, Rachel Rebeca Sambola López, introduces us to the local version of “rundown.” The dish is common throughout the Caribbean, but recipes differ; in Jamaica, rundown is a slow-cooked coconut custard. On the Corn Islands and along Nicaragua's east coast, it is more like a Creole bouillabaisse, a heady broth of spices and fresh-pressed coconut milk simmered with whatever seafood the cook finds when she “runs down” to the harbor market.

    “This is our food,” López says with evident pride. The golden broth she makes starts with a coconut milk base cooked down with onion, garlic, sweet pepper, curry leaf, chiles, and fresh oregano. Cassava and breadfruit are added, and finally the different types of fish she bought earlier that day at the market.

    “Rundown is a hearty food,” she lilts in her Garifuna song. “When you eat, it sits heavy in your stomach.”

    We try a second version at Darinia's Kitchen, where Darinia Jeanneth Bonilla Estrada has turned her modest patio into a cozy and casually charming destination. Hers, a consommé of fish broth and salty-sweet clarified coconut milk, is an elegant interpretation. She adds herbs, carrots, shrimp, and, on the night we visit, two types of fresh-caught local fish.

    On one of our last days, we meet up with Elvis, as planned, to go fishing at dawn. Danielle reels in a fearsome-looking 15-pound barracuda, and with fillets to spare, we head back to Bridget's. The cook suggests barra Caribbean-style—seared and flash-roasted in spiced coconut milk, the same flavors as rundown, but prepared sans broth. After we order, we see Bridget walk out the back door with a young green coconut and a huge machete. This is slow food. We order two more Toñas and sit back. There is nothing more to do, nothing else to see. We look out at the harbor, look back at one another, and think long and hard about nothing at all.

    See the recipe for Nicaraguan "Rundown" Seafood Soup »

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    Tea fields

    Naomi Tomky

    The tea bushes at Amba share land with fruit trees, both for the estate's remarkable jam and to encourage biodiversity and healthier soil.

    Sri Lanka, a small island off the southern tip of India, shimmers with natural beauty. Sandy beaches stretch forever and high green hills cascade toward the warm Indian Ocean. And from the Buddhist temples on high hills down to the sea-level remains of a Dutch colonial fort, verdant slopes show off the country’s most notable export.

    Tea is big business in Sri Lanka, and the local tea trade sings a siren call to tourists. Guide books recommend trips to plantations. Tea the Sri Lankan way is a whole Thing to Experience, like the island’s hulking crabs and lacy-edged hoppers. Unfortunately, most of the tea factories dotting the traveler’s path leave a bad taste in the mouth—literally and metaphorically. What the guide books leave out—what I had to experience first-hand—is that most of that tea, broken down by clanking machines that wither, dry, and roll the leaves, just isn’t that good. Neither are most of the formulaic plantation tours, or, for that matter, the way those plantations treat their workers.

    But for those willing to go the extra mile (or three) to try the extraordinary, there is Amba Tea Estate. In 2010, as part of the redevelopment of the struggling farm, new owners brought on Beverly Wainwright, a former aid worker, to makeover the operation. With an eye toward social justice in a land steeped in political and ethnic tension, Amba blends high quality tea with the goal of improving lives of its employees.

    Tea leaf

    Naomi Tomky

    A young tea leaf and bud

    Tea plantations are known for paying workers comically low wages while not investing in their growth. In 2014, Amba became the first tea estate in Sri Lanka to share revenue with all employees. It trains tea workers in multiple tasks, giving them new skills—and opportunities for better jobs down the line. A tour of the estate and stay at the bungalow offers visitors a genuine chance to learn about this remarkable beverage and the dramatic landscape that produces it.

    The extra mile pays off. With its hand-rolled orange pekoe, Amba is making some of the best tea in Sri Lanka. Where most commodity tea is sold at bulk auction in the city of Colombo, Amba sells directly to specialty shops like Harney & Sons and Canton Tea Co. It has more in common with the single origin coffee you buy in hip cafes than a bag of Lipton.

    I had no plans for my morning in the slow-moving hill station of Ella when I sat down for breakfast at Waterfalls, my hotel. I dug into my fresh buffalo curd (think the flavor of fresh cream with the texture of yogurt), but it was the mango-ginger jam I spread on my toast that changed the course of my day. When I asked Waterfalls’ proprietress about it, she wove me a tale of the tea estate “right nearby” that produced it, called Amba.

    “Ten kilometers away” means very little when it comes to travel in Sri Lanka. Gazing out from the porch as she pointed, I wondered if I could walk across the valley faster than my driver could get me there (driving oneself as a foreigner in Sri Lanka can be near suicidal, and renting a car with a driver is almost the same price as the car alone). After an hour of bumpy driving down single-lane dirt switchbacks and just a few close encounters with buses, we arrived at Amba—thanks mainly to the magical combination of GPS on my phone, rough directions (turn at the bus stop, look for the sign for Misty Mountain Hotel), and dumb luck.

    Tea guide

    Naomi Tomky

    Karuna shows a full-grown leaf

    Tea leaves sunned themselves on screens atop the corrugated metal roof of the factory building at Amba. My plantation guide, Karuna (who’s also the field manager and the fifth-generation of a family working this estate), gently chided me for not removing my sandals when entering—shoes introduce dirt to the slow process of withering, the first step in converting the leaves into tea. Workers tend constantly to a wood-fired dryer. A machine rolls leaves, but only some of Amba’s products ever see the inside of it: Many of Amba’s higher grade leaves are rolled by hand, protecting the delicate buds, and limiting breakage for a more delicate and nuanced brew. From picking to packing, there’s hardly a moment when someone isn’t carefully handling the leaves.

    If that sounds expensive, that’s because it is. The price difference between Amba and bulk tea nearly stupefies. An extended withering time and stringent quality standards means a price gap between $5 and $85 for 100 grams.

    A sip of amber-hued, hand-rolled OP1 black tea (a grade based on the size and leaf used) buzzes with honey sweetness and a spark of citrus, even when I drink the tea neat, and it lacks the bitter bite of lesser Sri Lankan brews I choked down elsewhere. Even for an amateur taster, the difference is palpable on the tongue: smooth as the glimmering tea leaves from which it comes, refreshing as cool coconut water sipped straight from the fruit on a muggy Sri Lankan afternoon.

    Picking tea leaves is thankless work, and it is—when done right—precise, skilled labor. Amba is the rare place on the island that produces green tea. While black tea can be mechanically sorted post-oxidizing, leaves for green tea need to be pre-sorted for top-quality leaves (just the top two leaves from a branch) prior to processing, since they don't go through the oxidation process. That means picking with nearly 100% precision. At a bulk tea facility, a manager told me that he aims for pickers to get 70% of the picked tea to be those top-notch leaves, but in reality, he’ll settle for 50%, because at least then he’s gathering in tea. When it comes to Sri Lankan tea, the best comes from the bud and top two or three leaves on a shoot, all at a Goldilocks stage of maturity: old enough that the bud is unfurled, not yet woody with age.

    Steeping tea

    Naomi Tomky

    White Champagne stars tea brews while an hourglass keeps track of the steeping time.

    As I strolled through the tea fields at Amba, I paused to gaze at guavas and mangos, poke at the coffee cherries, and peel bark from a cinnamon tree. All are inter-planted among the rows of stately tea trees, serving a secondary function by helping fix nitrogen in the soil. (A stark contrast from the tea-bush monocultures of other plantations.) Amba also packages their cinnamon and coffee and makes jam from the fruit.

    After wandering and tasting my way through the jam-making facilities, I sat down to a tasting in a century-old plantation house with white-washed walls and fat chairs made of old wood and leather. A tea expert came out and walked me through each of the teas and other brews: a black “thieves” tea (named because it was originally made from lower grade leaves taken home--stolen--by workers on the estates), white Champagne tea stars, a lemongrass tisane, and my favorite, the OP1: a light-bodied black tea hand-rolled into delicate needles that gently unfurl in the pot.

    It was a luxurious experience—open to anyone who can find the estate, and, theoretically free—if you don’t count the $50 (US) that I spent on tea, jam, cinnamon, mustard, and other related gifts at the store on our way out. In return, I’d been free to take photos of everything from the nearby hills (including Lipton’s Seat, a tea country emblem) to the mango-ginger jam recipe that inspired the trip in the first place.

    I left Amba with regret that I couldn't stay longer: I could have used a day to wander the estate in its entirety, another to hike the hill and watch the sunrise. A third to watch the jam-making, a fourth to see the hand-sewing of the pouches in which the tea is sold by residents at a nearby psychiatric hospital. And, perhaps, a week to sip tea and sink into the slow pace of life in the hill country.

    Visiting Amba

    Amba Estate is about 45 minutes from the town of Ella, which is well served by buses and trains. To get to the estate, there are buses from Ella, or you can hire a tuk tuk or driver. Call ahead to check for availability on the tours, though they are given most mornings at 11 a.m., at no cost.

    What Else to Do in Ella

    Barely more than a football-field length strip of shops, Ella mostly caters to tourists hopping off the train for a quick stop: the town itself offers little activity. But a breakfast of fresh woodapple juice and buffalo curd at the Curd Shop will set you up for a day of hiking to Ella Rock for panoramic views of tea country. Follow it up with a drive to (or a stop on your way back into Ella from Amba) Ravana Ella waterfalls—but hold on tight to your fruit: The monkeys won't hesitate to steal that mango right out of your hand.

    Where to Stay

    Amba also offers lodging on the estate for those in search of a very rural getaway. For more of a small-town feel, Waterfalls is in the town of Ella, about 45 minutes away.

    Where to Buy Amba Estate Tea

    Harney & Sons
    A Thirst for Tea
    Canton Tea Co.
    Single Origin Tea

    Naomi Tomky is a Seattle-based food and travel writer. Learn more about her at The GastroGnome.

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    Alex Testere

    All the ways to eat Baltimore

    Let’s get this out of the way: Baltimore’s nickname may be Charm City, but when it comes to food, the world pretty much thinks of it as Crab City. And when visitors to Baltimore say crab, they’re usually thinking of one of two things: whole steamed crabs and big crab cakes.

    There’s certainly nothing wrong with either of these. If you’re visiting Baltimore, you really should feast on at least one big platter of steamed blue crabs (Bo Brooks down by the water is a reliable bet, while C. J.’s way out in suburban Owings Mills is a little-known sleeper). Crab cakes of wildly varying quality can be found in just about every restaurant in town, but the version served at the Faidley’s stand in Lexington Market is the city’s standard-bearer. Don’t skimp: get the top-of-the-line all lump cake, not the cheaper backfin or regular version. It’s a massive sphere the size of a baseball composed of big nuggets of blue crab meat bound by just a touch of mayo and mustard and a sprinkling of crushed Saltines—and that’s all a crab cake needs.

    But if you want to do Baltimore right, there are plenty of other ways enjoy the local crab, for Baltimoreans are prone to put crab meat inside of or on top of just about anything. Crab pretzels are a relatively recent innovation, but they’re now omnipresent on local pub grub menus. For a representative take, visit the Silver Spring Mining Company in Cockeysville, which claims to have invented the thing. It’s a soft, chewy pretzel layered with crab dip and cheese then tossed in the oven till everything is hot and melted into a thick, gooey mass.

    Half and Half Crab Soup

    Alex Testere

    Half and Half Crab Soup

    If you prefer your crab in soup form, the city offers two signature versions. The one known simply as crab soup is a tomato-based broth loaded with chunks of vegetables—potatoes, onions, corn, beans—and plenty of blue crab meat. There’s also cream of crab—a thick, rich white soup studded with blue crab meat and a dose of Old Bay. If you can’t decide between the two, just order a “half and half.” When combined in a single bowl, the two soups merge into a pale orange bisque-like blend that’s downright delicious. You can try the combination out at Seaside Restaurant south of Baltimore, an easy detour when you're heading to or coming from BWI Airport. Downtown near the water in Fells Point, a cup of half and half at Kooper’s is a great prelude to one of the tavern’s hefty burger.

    Crab Fluffs

    Alex Testere

    Crab Fluffs

    The crab fluff is virtually unheard of outside of Maryland and somewhat controversial within it (some locals love it, others don’t see the appeal). It's a crab cake that’s been battered and given a dunk in the deep fryer, resulting in a crisp golden sphere with gooey crab inside. The “hard fry” or “fried hard crab” carries things a step further. Cooks take a whole blue crab (sometimes steamed, sometimes uncooked), stuff a crab cake into the cleaned body cavity, then dredge the whole thing in a thick seasoned batter and deep fry it. Greasy, spicy, crunchy, and decidedly space alien in appearance, it’s definitely a form of novelty food. But you won’t find anything like it in Charleston or Boston. Something of an old-school indulgence, hard-fried crabs are getting increasingly rare, but they’re still battering up both crab fluffs and hard fries at Bo Brooks Restaurant and out at Ocean Pride in Lutherville.

    Fried Hard Crab

    Alex Testere

    Fried Hard Crab

    Baltimore’s cuisine may start at crabs, but it by no means ends there. Just stop by Attman’s Deli, which is located on a stretch of Lombard Street that bears the nickname “Corned Beef Row,” once the heart of Baltimore’s Jewish immigrant community. Attman’s one of the last of the old guard delis still standing, and while its fare is decidedly New York in style, amid the corned beef and knishes you can find an authentic Baltimore treats known as the coddie.


    Alex Testere


    These are flattened potato patties flavored with salt cod, shaped by hand and deep fried till golden brown. Typically served with saltine crackers and yellow mustard, coddies were once a popular afternoon snack in the city’s soda fountains, where they sold for a nickel apiece. They’ll run you $1.69 each at Attman’s today, but for a quick, filling snack that’s still quite a deal.

    Berger Cookies

    Alex Testere

    Berger Cookies

    Even older are Berger Cookies, which have been local favorites for more than a century. Henry Berger immigrated from Germany to the in 1835 and opened a bakery in East Baltimore. Sometime in the 19th century the firm began selling what quickly became its signature cookie: a thin, oblong disk of shortbread, one half of which is hand-dipped in a thick layer chocolate fudge. Berger’s distinctive red boxes can be found in groceries and convenience stores all over the Baltimore area, and you can pick them up at the Berger’s Bakery stall in the Lexington Market, too.

    For me, though, Baltimore’s premier local treasure is pit beef. The beef in question is a roast—usually top or bottom round—grilled directly over a hot charcoal fire, the pit man turning each hunk repeatedly so the outside gets a crisp char but the beef remains rare in the middle. It’s shaved to order on a big slicer, the tender folds of beef piled high on a roll. Some locals dress theirs with mayonnaise or barbecue sauce, but the traditional toppings are sliced raw onions and “tiger sauce,” a punchy blend of horseradish and mayo.

    Pit Beef

    Alex Testere

    Pit Beef

    Most pit beef joints are small, somewhat casual operations—many just cash-only takeout stands. They first sprang up in the industrial district on the east side of Baltimore, but in recent years they have migrated westward around the I-695 Beltway. Chaps Pit Beef, the city’s best known purveyor, remains the lone holdout along Pulaski Highway, which once was dotted with stands.

    These days, the epicenter of Pit Beef is the junction of I-70 and I-695. At Pioneer Pit Beef, a tiny yellow building with a steep-sloping green roof location, customers enter through one door, place their order at the counter, and exit with their foil-wrapped prize: tender, juicy beef loaded up on a Kaiser roll. Just two exits south on I-695, Kirkwood Pitbeef piles its beef—and its pit ham, pit turkey, and barbecue pork, too—on a smooth-topped roll. Both stands serve their iconic sandwiches with splendid boardwalk-style hand-cut fries.

    Lake Trout

    Alex Testere

    Lake Trout

    Equally distinctive, though now seemingly in decline, is the curiously-named lake trout. Insiders note that it’s neither trout nor from a lake (it’s actually ocean-caught whiting, which itself is the local market name for silver hake). The bone-in fish are rolled in a cracker or cornmeal batter, deep fried, and served with white bread and hot sauce. Generally it’s a take out food, wrapped in foil or in a styrofoam box, and most versions are spicy and quite bone-laden, requiring a practiced maneuver to slip the meat off the spine without winding up with a mouthful of bones.

    The Roost on Reisterstown Road was once the city’s best-known lake trout outlet, but after a several years of slipping it’s now gone for good. Your best bet for finding lake trout is to keep an eye out for a sign in a storefront window, for it’s sold in fried chicken and seafood spots all over town. The many fishmonger stands in the Lexington Market are good options, too. Be sure to wash it down with a half and half. Not to be confused with the soup, it’s what people elsewhere else call an Arnold Palmer—a blend of lemonade and iced tea.

    The closing of former icons like the Roost suggest are just one of many warning signs that Baltimore’s distinctive local foodways are at risk of fading away. In just the past few years, many of the old stalwarts of the local seafood scene have closed their doors, too, like Gunnings Seafood in Hanover and Sterling’s in the Lexington Market. The last Polock Johnny’s, once a small local chain featuring polish sausage dogs, closed its doors around in 2013, though the company’s wholesale operation still supplies sausages to local restaurants and bars.

    Caught between competing culinary forces, Baltimore’s dining scene seems at a turning point. A steady influx of tourist-oriented chain restaurants has brought a relentless drive toward standardization and accessibility. At the same time, there’s the natural tendency for those who grew up eating local fare to turn their eyes and culinary ambitions elsewhere—toward the fine-dining scenes of DC and Philly, toward the exotic promise of far-flung cuisines from around the globe, toward the latest sensations on Twitter and Instagram.

    But we often don’t see the value of what we have until someone tries to take it away. There’s good reason to hope that, as local Baltimore cuisine fades, the city will embrace it even more strongly—and so will visitors from everywhere else. And with so many delicious options before us, why not be on the safe side and go explore them right now?

    Bo Brooks
    2780 Lighthouse Point
    Baltimore, MD 21224

    C. J.’s
    10117 Reisterstown Road
    Owings Mills, MD 21117

    203 North Paca Street
    Baltimore, MD 21201

    Lexington Market
    400 W Lexington Street
    Baltimore, MD 21201

    Silver Spring Mining Company
    11100 York Road
    Cockeysville, Maryland 21030

    Seaside Restaurant
    224 Crain Highway North
    Glen Burnie, MD 21061

    1702 Thames Street
    Baltimore, MD 2123

    Ocean Pride
    1534 York Road
    Lutherville, MD 21093

    Attman’s Deli
    1019 E. Lombard Street
    Baltimore, Maryland 21202

    Berger Cookies
    2900 Waterview Avenue
    Baltimore, MD, 21230

    Chaps Pit Beef
    5801 Pulaski Highway
    Baltimore, MD 21205

    Pioneer Pit Beef
    1600 North Rolling Road
    Catonsville, MD 21244

    Kirkwood Pitbeef
    6220 Baltimore National Pike # 3
    Catonsville, MD 21228

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    Azore Islands

    Jacqueline Raposo

    You're never far from water on the Azores.

    There’s no avoiding the ocean when you traverse Sao Miguel. The largest of the nine islands in the Azores—the Portuguese archipelago one third of the distance between Europe and the United States—“Saint Michael” covers around 290 square miles. The soil is volcanic, the result of hundreds of thousands of years of violent eruption that ended in the 17th century, leaving behind active hot springs, rolling hills cut by winding roads, and the bright blue of the Atlantic around every corner. Trees and flowers grow lush and lavish, making “The Green Island,” as locals call it, a popular stop for migrating birds and the watchers who follow them. Between land and sea, Sao Miguel’s isolation and robust environmental health yields a bounty of unique foods not found anywhere else.

    Around 140,000 people live on Sao Miguel, most in row houses extending from the cobblestoned center square of each municipality, then stretching out and up into the hills. My father was born and grew up in Povoação, one of Sao Miguel’s six vilas—municipalities built around the largest craters shaped by the volcanoes—on the west side of the island. He emigrated as a teenager with his parents and siblings, but still returns regularly to see extended family there.


    Jacqueline Raposo

    There's always fresh fish here

    The first time he took me, I gorged on super-sweet bananas, green figs fresh off the tree, and sun-speckled oranges from my grandparents’ small backyard orchard and impressive garden. Sardines, caldo verde (kale and potato soup), blood sausag,e and soft goat cheese graced our plates on a regular basis. Cows teem on the island, and their meat made hamburgers as juicy as an 11-year-old American girl could ask for. I remember once running through the banana trees and turning a corner to find my grandmother calmly sitting and plucking the chickens I had fed that morning. I was getting an education on where food came from years before “farm-to-table” became a stock term for food writers. Economic hardship and physical isolation impose challenges on the Azores, but that same isolation means that offers incredibly unique experiences, too, like slow-cooking big pots of stew with the heat of the volcanic ground, or pulling wild honeysuckle from the side of the road to sip while on a long, meandering drive.

    Ponta Delgada, the capital city of the Azores, plays home to the airport, mall, lone movie theatre, many government buildings, and countless churches. It’s the center of shipping, tourism, and commerce. But it’s also where most restaurant owners on the island stock up on both imported and local foods at a gem of a market nestled between narrow roads, a few blocks from the sea.

    The Mercado da Graça Vendor

    Jacqueline Raposo

    One of the vendors at Mercado da Graça

    The Mercado da Graça (R. do Mercado, 9500-326) is not particularly large, nor particularly beautiful. It resembles an abandoned indoor car park. There are no prepared food stalls or tchotchkes. Much like Azorean cuisine itself, it does not try to be fanciful or photo-ready. Instead, the locally-grown and imported foods you can get there reflect the honest cooking of the island: fresh fish, meat, herbs, fruit, and vegetables are steamed, roasted, or broiled together for rich, earthy results.

    My cousin Rita once owned several restaurants on the island, and now plays tour guide to those needing a smiling face and an easy translator. On my most recent visit back “home,” she’s surprised I’ve never visited the Marcado da Graca before and offers to show me around. It’s 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, and the bustle has long since died down. Most cooks get in there early, she says, as she calls out warmly to those she’s worked with in the past.

    We start to explore.

    Annona Fruit

    Annona fruit

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Annona fruit

    The islanders call it “coracao negro,” or “black heart”, since it darkens to a harsh black as it ripens and then expires. A transplant to the islands from the Philippines, it’s grown on Pico, a neighboring island, too. Once you slice it open, it’s easy to remove the black seeds and eat the pulp with a spoon. The ripe fruit has a custard-like texture and is incredibly sweet, like a cross between a mango, a pineapple, and a banana.



    Jacqueline Raposo


    Bananas grow everywhere and easily all over the island—the trees produce huge bushels with little tending from human hands. Much smaller in size than American versions, their thick yellow skins yield extremely concentrated flavors reminiscent of the small red bananas of South America. Unlike the half-dozen an American family might pick up at one go, it’s common to find an entire bushel hanging in a garage, being plucked progressively as they ripen. They’re generally eaten without fanfare off the bunch a few at a time; an on-the-go snack for those who work long hours from home.



    Jacqueline Raposo


    Azorean pineapples are a thing of beauty. The islands aren’t tropical: While the temperature hovers at a moderate 50-75 degrees or so year-round, there are very few months of full sun, and the humidity is harsh and chilly rather than warm and balmy. So Azoreans, with the ingenuity that comes from isolation and economic necessity, learned to cultivate pineapples (originally brought over for ornamental purposes) in greenhouses. They speed up the ripening process by light smoking, concentrating the sugars and ripening the pineapples at a smaller size. The result is a compact, floral, bracingly sweet fruit that is most common simply sliced at picnics and formal celebrations alike. Pineapple jams are a common gift-shop purchase, as well as boxes of whole pineapples ready for taking directly on a plane and home.



    Jacqueline Raposo


    Because of its volcanic history, the irregular sea floor surrounding the Azores provides many cliffs, reefs and plateaus for an abundant variety of fish. Red snapper, bluefish, and a variety of tuna come to feast on the abundant anchovies and sardines that the Portuguese are best known for. At the market, the fishmongers will boisterously make sure everyone knows their fish are fresh, and if you wake in the dark and head to the docks surrounding the entire island, you’ll find proof of that. Because of this, Azorean food relies much more heavily on fish than continental Portuguese. Because of their abundance and robust health, every restaurant on Sao Miguel will have plump sardines on their menu, most often simply grilled with salt and served with lemon and boiled potatoes. Sardines are an extremely affordable fish that are easy and quick to fry up, so everyone knows how to cook them at home, perfectly filleting and removing the bones before feasting.

    São Jorge Cheese


    Jacqueline Raposo


    The island of São Jorge started producing one of the most recognizable Portuguese cheeses centuries ago, when the robust cattle that fed alternatively on pastures of grass and legumes produced so much high-quality milk that islanders soon found they could produce far more than they ate, and started exporting. The raw milk is aged for a minimum of three months, producing a semi-hard, yellow cheese with a mild tang and a subtle grassy aroma. Aged longer (usually around nine months), it becomes slightly crumbly, far deeper in peppery and musty flavor, and leaves an almost puckered feeling in the mouth. On São Miguel, São Jorge cheese is most often served at the beginning of a meal, sliced thin, next to Portuguese rolls. It’s also a common quick breakfast or lunch sandwich.


    Chouriço vendor

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Chouriço vendor

    When most people think of Portuguese sausage, they think of linguiça first, but in the Azores it's all about spicy chouriço. We eat a lot of it, and it's everywhere. Similar to Spanish chorizo, the smoked and dried links are dark with pepper, paprika and garlic; a bit smokier and darkly flavored than linguiça. Growing up, my grandparents used chouriço exclusively in their caldo verde (the most popular Portuguese soup, with pureed potato, thinly-sliced kale and rounds of sausage), and most restaurants on the island do the same. It’s also commonly served as an appetizer on slotted ceramic dishes, under which aguardente—a liquor similar to moonshine or gin—flames, giving the sausage its final outward char before getting sliced and eaten.

    Minhotos (“Little Yams”)


    Jacqueline Raposo


    While pineapples need to be grown indoors, the cool winter winds, moist ocean air and limited sun means that hearty vegetables do particularly well on the island. Minhostos (or what my dad just calls “Azores yams”) are grown most often in Furnas; the municipality with the hot ground and boiling springs. They're less sweet and far starchier than most yams, and are commonly served simply peeled and fried. Other favorites are purple yams, which are also sliced thickly and fried in oil until sweet and crisp.



    Jacqueline Raposo


    It’s not uncommon to drive in a low gear up and around a winding road, and then come to a dead stop behind a herd of cows casually walking down the road. Cows outnumber humans in the Azores, and they’re often rotated to pastures every few days that are only reached by using the same narrow roads everyone else uses. Because of the vast amount of green, thriving, fertile land, all of the beef on the island is grass fed, incredibly rich and marbled, and is slaughtered continually for local use. It’s mostly prepared in stews or broiled and served with a fried egg on top.

    Fresh Herbs

    Fresh herbs

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Fresh herbs

    Most Azoreans have a garden; even those in row houses will grow a few tomatoes or herbs with whatever light they can find. And because of the simplicity of the cuisine, fresh herbs are grown on a large commercial scale to accommodate those who use more than they can grow. Like the meat and fish bread or caught nearby, the herbs are also kept as simply grown and organic as possible. Mint, sage, rosemary and especially parsley are often added to the end of dishes to bring some brightness to the otherwise hearty cuisine.

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