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    Grilling season is in full swing, and we're setting fire to burgers, vegetables, and even cocktails; it's hard to find something that doesn't taste better when given the hot coal treatment.

    The grill may also be the world's most portable cooking method—put your mind to it and you can shape just about anything into a firebox on the go. By way of example, here are 10 grilling methods we've spotted around the globe that go way beyond the backyard kettle classic.

    Thailand: Bring Your Grill On Your Back

    Vendors grilling on Ko Samui island in Thailand

    Emily Chaisone

    Vendors grilling on Ko Samui island in Thailand.

    On the island of Ko Samui, Thailand, vendors can carry everything they need—even the hot grill itself—all on their backs.

    Ukraine: Grates and a Pot Full of Coals

    Summer grilling in Kiev, Ukraine

    Grilling for a summer picnic with friends in Kiev, Ukraine.

    Photographer Olga Drach captured this moment in Kiev, Ukraine. Fish gets sandwiched between grates over a pot filled with coals.

    Spain: Getting Grounded

    A celebration in Quintanilla del Coco, Spain

    A celebration in Quintanilla del Coco.

    In Quintanilla del Coco, a small town of 20 inhabitants in northern Spain, people from both inside and outside the village gather to celebrate mass at the chapel. The day consists of dancing to the tune of a large orchestra, drinking wine, and grilling meat at the shrine. As for the grill itself? Nothing more than grates rising a couple inches off the ground on a bed of ash. Low tech and plenty effective.

    Czech Republic: The Importance of Accessories

    Smokeless Grilling in Prague, Czech Republic

    Smokeless Grilling in Prague, Czech Republic. Gas mask optional.

    Matěj Šmucr took this photo at a parkside grilling party with friends in Prague. The portable grill is designed to not produce smoke, but we're into the artistic touch of the gas mask.

    South Africa: Braai Time

    Braai (grilling) in Khayelitsha Township in Cape Town, South Africa

    A braai in Khayelitsha Township in Cape Town, South Africa

    In Khayelitsha Township in Cape Town, South Africa, locals prepare their braai (grill session or barbecue). These street stands are a common sight on weekends.

    New York: All You Need Is a Shopping Cart

    A shopping cart grill in Queens, New York

    A shopping cart grill in Queens, New York.

    A variety of grilled meats gets packed in foil to go at a not-quite-legal shopping cart food stand in Queens, New York.

    Mexico: Beachside Grilling

    Grilling up a variety of skewers in Puerto Vallarta right on the beach at Playa Los Muertos.

    Grilling up a variety of skewers in Puerto Vallarta right on the beach at Playa Los Muertos.

    There’s nothing quite like eating camarones (prawns) right on the beach. In Playa Los Muertos in Puerto Vallarta, a variety of skewers are prepared right on the sand.

    The Philippines: Getting Ahead

    Backyard BBQ in Manila, Philippines

    A backyard barbecue in Manila

    At a backyard barbeque held on a farm in Manila, lechon and chicken are grilled over coals. The heads will most likely be saved to make sisig (a sizzling dish of chopped pork) after the remainder of the body is sold to attendees.

    Thailand: Gai Yang Time

    Street food in Bangkok

    A street vendor in Bangkok.

    This Bangkok street vendor has been selling Thai grilled chicken (gai yang) for years.

    Turkey: Hot Stones

    Shop near the Zelve Monastery in Eastern Turkey

    Shop near the Zelve Monastery in Eastern Turkey

    In Kapadokya, a historic region of eastern Turkey, there are several shops that sit outside of the Zelve Monastery. Here, one of the locals flips the gözleme (a traditional Turkish flatbread) over a hot stone griddle near the monastery area.

    China: Skewers to Go

    Motocycle Grill in Shanghai, China

    Motocycle grill in Shanghai, China

    A motorcycle gets a makeover with a portable grill in Shanghai, China.

    Uganda: Streetside Stew

    Wire rack grill in Entebbe, Uganda

    Grilling in a small town outside of Entebbe, Uganda.

    In a small town outside of Entebbe, Uganda, a woman and her son prepare a mid-day stew at a small roadside eatery called Hajat's. After started a small fire in a clay basin, the young boy threw the salted meat on a wire rack to cook.

    Spain: Fish on Sticks

    Grilling fish in Marbella, Spain

    Franc Le Blanc

    Grilling fish in Marbella, Spain.

    These fish are stacked on spikes by a beach bonfire in Marbella, on Spain's southern coast.

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    William Hereford

    Specializing in Magellan king crabs, Santolla restaurant is built entirely of recycled materials and former shipping containers.

    Out-of-the-way locals' restaurant you need to know about

    Fernando and Isabel Nuñez, a couple in Puerto Natales, opened the charming IF hotel and its neighboring restaurant Santolla, where they serve Patagonian king crabs.

    IF hotel
    Calle Magallanes 73, Puerto Natales
    +56 61 241 0312

    Magallanes 73B, Puerto Natales
    +56 61 241 3493

    Best local sandwich

    Be sure to try Chile's national sandwich, the barros luco—a beef, avocado, and cheese masterpiece named for former president Ramón Barros Luco, and available almost anywhere sandwiches are sold.

    Best market find

    Traverso aji crema is the secret ingredient in Tercera Barranca's spicy pebre. A thickened red pepper paste, aji crema adds another dimension of flavor to sauces and stews.

    Tercera Barranca
    Torres del Paine National Park, Región de Magallanes y de la Antártica Chilena
    +56 61 261 3530

    What you'll dream about smuggling back

    A bottle of De Martino's Viejas Tinajas cinsault, a wine that's fermented and aged in century-old earthenware tinaja amphorae. Think beaujolais cru made in Chile.

    Hotel worth a splurge

    Awasi Lodge beside Torres del Paine National Park is stunning, but don't miss the Singular Hotel housed inside a 19th-century cold-storage factory. Decorated with massive gears and steam machines, it looks like a giant's workshop.

    Awasi Lodge
    Tercera Barranca, Lago Sarmiento, Torres del Paine National Park
    +56 22 233 9641

    Singular Hotel
    Km 5, 5 Norte S/N, Natales, Región de Magallanes y de la Antártica Chilena
    +56 61 272 2030

    Read this book before you go

    Idle Days in Patagonia, W.H. Hudson. A mix of scientific observation and passionate reportage, Hudson's book is a primer on the natural curiosities of the region.

    Adventure travel organizers INCA travel can help make arrangements in the region.

    More Patagonia

    Featured in: The Epic Food and Landscape of Patagonia
    Eating in South America: Pastries in Patagonia »
    Chile: The Singular Patagonia »

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    William Hereford

    In Patagonia, being a gaucho is more than a job—it's a near spiritual identity that requires rugged resilience and a lust for adventure. The gauchos live hard and are deeply connected to this windy, vast corner of the earth.

    Have you heard of the hairy mylodon? An immense, now extinct giant ground sloth, it roamed the fairy-tale lands of Chilean Patagonia until about 10,000 years ago. The mylodon inspired one of the best travel books ever written, Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia. And here it is now in the town of Puerto Natales, near Last Hope Sound and the mouth of the Mylodon's Cave, commemorated in the form of an enormous sculpture standing 15 feet tall on its shaggy hind legs.

    That this thing actually existed, that it walked these thorny moonscapes, makes it somewhat easier to digest the theory that unicorns also populated the area during the Pleistocene era.

    It's early February, the height of summer, and I haven't yet spotted a sasquatch, although it feels like one could show up at any moment here on the Ruta del Fin del Mundo. This highway at the very southern tip of Chile, at the uttermost end of the hemisphere, has one dominant characteristic: It is exceptionally windy. The Ruta is a desolate, Death Valleyesque stretch of asphalt where the wind comes to get its freak on. It howls away in primal bellows, making you almost catch flight as it lifts your heels. Black-browed albatrosses flip over in the air when it changes direction. Down below, land-bound packs of guanacos, a kind of camel-llama ungulate, munch on wind-ravaged herbs while keeping an eye out for pumas. Slow down to check them out, and they stare back with quizzical raccoon-bandit eyes. The Ruta del Fin del Mundo is the sort of drive that requires side-to-side gawking at the relentless majesty passing by—but you have to stay focused. Several ostrich-size flightless rheas have already leapt across the road in front of me like crazed velociraptors.

    Patagonia exists somewhere on the spectrum between real and make-believe. It's a place where you can start the day with a glass of fresh-squeezed raspberry juice, just like the cartoon Moomins do in Moominland, then head out to observe penguins waddling around extraterrestrially in their rookeries, and wind up experiencing a blistering mountaintop sunset that dazes you with the limitlessness of what this world is capable of.

    The Patagonian end zone primarily attracts Teva-sandaled nature lovers but also prides itself on satisfying weary-eyed hikers with gargantuan end-of-day meals, fit for giants. The name Patagonia is thought to mean “land of giants” or “land of the big feet.” It dates back to Magellan's arrival here in 1520, when Spanish colonialists claimed that the Tehuelche people they observed were 10 feet tall. That was, it appears, an exaggeration. They were closer to 6 feet, 7 at most—though they do seem to have worn particularly large animal-hide moccasins. Factor in that mylodon, a genuine bigfoot, and you get a place that has always been as outsize as it is fantastical, filling all comers with wonder.


    William Hereford

    Left: a just-caught brook trout is stuffed and grilled in the embers of Juanito's bonfire. | Right: Juanito Sánchez Velázquez is a lifelong gaucho who works at Tercera Barranca, a ranch bordering the Torres del Paine National Park. He often cooks over an open fire outdoors. His lover, Carmen, runs the ranch's kitchen making regional specialties like pebre and leche asada.

    I'm heading north from Punta Arenas toward Puerto Natales and then on to Torres del Paine National Park. Friends who've been here before assured me it's the most beautiful place on earth. I've just started this journey and already it's clear that assessment qualifies as an understatement. The blue-green flatlands stretching out around me are so immensely epic it feels like I'm taking in more visual information than I've ever been able to in a single eyeful before. The colors are kaleidoscopic: mossy pastures, purple lowlands, burnished hayfields. Imagine a prehistoric Montana on LSD and Viagra.

    I come across gauchos on horseback tending to flocks of woolly sheep grazing away on the endless expanses. It's just after lunchtime, but the gauchos have already started making dinner, the way cowboys here have always done: whole butterflied lamb stretched akimbo over an open bonfire. The fire will burn for the rest of the day; the meat will cook slowly, ready by the time night falls. I desperately hope I'll find a way to try some gaucho food while I'm here.

    Back in the car, a haunting song by the old Chilean folk singer Violeta Parra crackles over the radio. Gracias a la vida, she sings: “Thank you to life, which has given me so much.” It's a sense of gratitude I share, incredulous that I've somehow ended up here. The entire wrinkled, smile-lined landscape is so beautiful that I find myself pulling over to the side of the road just to look at things for a little longer. It would be a profound pleasure to do nothing but stare at the wind rustling through the tall grass here for hours. Charles Darwin was more affected by these plains than anywhere else he visited on the voyage of the Beagle. “I can scarcely analyze these feelings,” he wrote, “but it must be partly owing to the free scope given to the imagination.”


    William Hereford

    Specializing in Magellan king crabs, Santolla restaurant is built entirely of recycled materials and former shipping containers. It was designed by Fernanda, the 25-year-old daughter of owners Isabel and Fernando Nuñez, who studies architecture in Santiago

    My imagination and I succumb to that free scope when a dreamy blue light settles over the town of Puerto Natales in the early evening. Even in the daytime, there's a vivid ultraviolet dimension to the air here—possibly due to the hole in the ozone layer directly above southern Patagonia—and it magnifies as the sun descends. I'm having dinner at Santolla restaurant, on a small side street in the center of town. Here, they serve immense red Magellan king crabs, which are brought in World's Deadliest Catch style from the icy Antarctic waters off the southern coastline, and are bigger, spikier, and more delicately flavored than any other crustacean I've ever encountered. A few years ago, when king crab exporter Fernando Nuñez and his wife, Isabel, decided to open this restaurant, they called it Santolla, an alternate spelling of centolla, the name for the king crabs in these parts.

    Even though it's prime summertime, it's a little too windy for alfresco dining, so I sit next to the big windows at the front of the restaurant, a minimalist structure of reconfigured shipping containers built entirely with recycled materials. Isabel suggests I start with local scallops found underneath glaciers in the impenetrable darkness of nearby fjords. Divers gather them blindly off the ocean floor, she explains. These bivalves turn out to be extraordinarily tender and delicious, especially when paired with a crisp, Granny Smith—inflected glass of Chilean sauvignon blanc.

    Dinner in the blue-tinged twilight is proof that food in a place like this can be just as otherworldly as its surroundings. Crabs here at Santolla come in many guises—the sweet claw meat plucked out in advance, or gratinéed into a perfect chupe de centolla (a regional specialty that's a kind of baked crab-custard-chowder-dip), or the classic, carapace-intact crab boil method. I opt for the latter, and it's dazzling—a giant crimson sea-spider whose splayed legs cover the entire tabletop, keeping me occupied and deliriously contented until the blueness of night fades to dark.

    Torres del Paine National Park is an hour and a half from Puerto Natales, and the drive there is like cruising through the set of Planet of the Apes. This land sits among the Magellanic subpolar forests, but there aren't many trees here; the wind is too much for them. Their skeletal white remains could be mistaken for forgotten piles of bones. Deeper into the rugged outback, the vistas become increasingly spectacular. The main attraction here is a cluster of mountains known as the Cordillera del Paine. The rocky excrescence pops out of the surrounding lowlands in such astonishing fashion that it's been called the eighth wonder of the world. From a distance, its towers pierce through low-lying clouds like shafts of radiant light. And despite its barrenness, the earth bears forth unexpected treasures, from tart calafate berries to fire-grilled guanaco steaks.

    The Mapuche, Patagonia's aboriginals, call themselves “the people of the land,” and the Patagonian knack for cooking with the land itself reaches its apogee in their curanto patagónico. Curanto means “hot stone,” and involves cooking in a pit with fiery rocks. Slabs of meat, sausages, root vegetables, shellfish, and a potato pancake called milcao are all wrapped in nalca leaves, placed into the hot-stone hole, and then covered in soil. After three or so hours in that subterranean sauna, dinner is served.

    victor solido riquelme

    William Hereford

    Victor “Sólido” Riquelme, the chef at Santolla restaurant, makes a textbook chupe de centolla (creamy Patagonian crab gratin). At the height of summer in Puerto Natales, where crabs are caught in nearby fjords, nothing beats a classic crab boil.

    I'm spending the next couple of nights at Awasi Lodge, in gaucho country where cowboys cook using the elements, not unlike the Mapuche. The lodge itself is located on a private reserve next to the park. There's an Arctic chill to the air here, even in summer. The path from Awasi's main building to each of the individual villas is lined with trees covered with creeping mosses. Simply breathing in this pristine mountain air feels healthier than yoga. A massive condor circles slowly above. Turning a corner, I'm greeted by the sight of five white-tailed hares. They take one look at me and immediately dart away in all directions, their tall ears poking out over the long grass.

    Throughout these parts, you can see gauchos riding over the untrammeled land on horseback. They're equal parts shepherds, horse-riding instructors, and ranchers. They bring the flocks in, fit horseshoes on mares, and do general handyman maintenance work around the property, as I learn when I meet a couple of them at their ranch. They're wearing green berets and baggy riding pants called bombachas, and they offer me some potent yerba maté that I drink from their communal tin bombilla straw out of a hollowed-out gourd. Nineteenth-century travelers described gauchos as living almost exclusively on maté and steak, and if forced to choose between them, they'd take maté over beef.

    The gauchos are employed by a nearby estancia called Tercera Barranca, a modest inn, restaurant, and working ranch. Because Tercera Barranca is on land that was purchased by Awasi, it has become a fundamental part of the experience. One of the older gauchos on the ranch is a man named Juanito Sánchez Velázquez, who has worked there for over 20 years. Velázquez is known for his gifts in the art of cooking whole spatchcocked lambs over an open fire—and luckily for me, he's planning an asado-style cookout that very afternoon. The secret to preparing cordero al palo (whole lamb al asador), he tells me, is to rack the lamb up on a traditional iron cross, and then slowly barbecue it next to the flames. When it's done, seven hours later, Velázquez cuts it into serviceable pieces with a bone-dulled old saw. As we stand there, inhaling the perfume of the embers, feeling the glory of being alive, he hands me a rib—his favorite cut. A single bite justifies the lengths anyone would travel to get here. It's so smoky and salty and fatty and herbal and perfectly fire-charred, it's like devouring the essence of the Patagonian hinterland itself.

    The dishes served alongside it are equally interstellar. These are prepared by Velázquez's lover, Carmen Lopez Ruíz, a gold-toothed Chilean Julia Child who runs the kitchen at Tercera Barranca. Just as Velázquez supervises the outdoor asado, Ruíz cooks over a 100-year-old wood-fired stove, turning out rustic food so life-affirmingly good it can actually stand up to this barbecued lamb. Her specialty is pebre—a condiment that's somewhere between a salsa and chimichurri. Hers is essentially a chunky tomato hot sauce mixed with white wine vinegar, sunflower oil, white wine, and a secret ingredient: Traverso brand aji crema (a kind of prepackaged chile pepper ketchup made with aji rojo peppers). When I taste it, it's so unbelievably delicious, I end up eating a half pound or so with the lamb.

    Seeing how much I appreciate it, she comes over to explain that pebre is good alone on bread, or in soup, or on sandwiches, or with scrambled eggs, or in a cazuela of beef. As I jot it all down, she shakes her head and calls me mi perro—“my puppy.”

    Next, she brings me a bit of mote con huesillo—a homely Chilean dessert of barley with dried peaches in a sweet syrup. The barley is boiled with the rehydrated peaches, cinnamon, and dried tangerine peel. It's like granola that's been transubstantiated into a summery peach promised land. Ruíz tells me that she remembers eating this exact same recipe with her family when she was 9 years old.

    She follows the mote with a classic leche asada—a kind of baked crème caramel—flan type thing that she prepares in a banged-up old powder-blue lasagna tray. Like everything else here, it's full of soul.


    William Hereford

    Left: Carlos "Carlota" Mansilla, a gacho in Torres del Paine National Park. | Right: Carmen Lopez Ruíz cooks over a century-old wood-fired oven at Tercera Barranca. There, she prepares classic Patagonian cuisine like leche asada, a regional variation of crème caramel made with milk, eggs, and sugar.

    The food at Awasi Lodge proper is much more haute than homey, but true to its homeland. Chef Federico Ziegler, originally from Argentina, has dedicated himself to understanding the cuisine of Patagonia, the results of which manifest in updated and innovative dishes like a playful guanaco-meat completo hot dog topped with mashed avocados; and a crunchy iceberg salad scattered with herbs and flowers, a mirror of the landscape but also a riff on a dish his mother once made.

    Ziegler is also confident enough to make what he refers to as “grandmother cooking”—the sort of down-home comfort food that Ruíz and Velázquez prepare. His lunchtime special of cancato, trout stuffed with sausage, cheese, tomato, onion, and oregano, is so good largely because it's simple and reflective of the land's bounty. Ziegler's spit-roasted lamb shoulder comes impaled on a tree branch—a visually arresting presentation that is just as fantastic as Velázquez's whole parilla lamb. They're using the same source material, after all; it happens to be wandering around freely all over the place.

    The cuisine here is of the land, but it isn't stuck in time; it has always been shaped by outside influences. The original Mapuche traditions and ingredients like merkén chiles and charquicán, a dried meat stew, have been melded with Spanish and Peruvian inflections but also a major German influence. In the 19th century, industrious germanochilenos cleared and settled the land. Their imprint is clear in dishes like boiled pork knuckles washed down with a stein of Kunstmann Weissbier and a slice of Kuchen.

    La zona austral, as this part of the country is known, is a place for hearty eating, a place where the food culture essentially mirrors the wilderness, a place where the intersections between nature and kitchen come into focus when you dine in its element.

    Guests often picnic in the reserve with fare prepared by Ziegler, but simply to eat inside the spacious dining room at Awasi, looking out the immense windowpanes toward Torres del Paine, is to experience the precise quality that defines this place: a unity between the terrain and the cooking.

    This unity, inherently romantic, lends a palpable “Patagonia is for lovers” vibe, and it's with a certain heaviness of heart that I check out of Awasi and make my way into the aorta of nature itself.

    The park is carpeted with golden pampas grass and meadows sprouting ancient flora of a hypervivid green. The alkaline lake Sarmiento is surrounded by gray-white mounds of bacterial deposits—some of them so big that they've become caves in which wild pumas make their homes. The towers seem to have their own private ecosystem, which is constantly changing: now a moody, storm-darkened fortress; now a heavenly white cloudland; now a catch-me-if-you-can emerald city playing hide-and-go-seek with the sun.

    federico ziegler

    William Hereford

    Left: Federico Ziegler, the chef at Awasi Lodge. | Right: Chef Federico Ziegler's update on an iceberg salad is inspired by a dish from his childhood.

    The dreamlike, poetic quality of Patagonian food emanates from the earth itself—and hiking through the park brings everything into relief. Torres del Paine means Towers of Blue. Paine is the Tehuelche word for “blue”—and it must refer to the particular shade seen in the lakes beneath the cordillera. This blue is what you come here to feel. The blue and the wind.

    Forget the highway; this park is the windiest place I've ever been. You can just about lean straight into the wind and not fall over. It rips untethered through its lunar paradise, more intense the higher you go. This wind redefines the idea of being blown away by something. I huddle on the cliffside, taking notes about man in nature and holding on to my glasses so they don't get whipped into the ether.

    Raw wind courses through the grasslands below like fleet hordes of mink. Beyond the roaring, you can see the wind here. There it is: in the rocks, in the reeds, in the air. This is its dominion. You are a guest in its Patagonian home now. This is where all wind comes from. This is where it's born.

    Recipes from Patagonia

    grilled stuffed trout

    William Hereford

    In Chile, fishing is a way of life, for citizens' livelihood and pleasure both. In the Chiloé region's crystal river waters, trout are plentiful. The fish is often cooked over an open fire, like this version from the Awasi Lodge, which abuts the dramatic Torres del Paine National Park. The lodge's chef Federico Ziegler stuffs his brook trout cancato style with cheese and sausage, grills it over a wood fire, and serves it alongside pebre, a ubiquitous Chilean condiment that's somewhere between salsa and chimichurri. Get the recipe for Grilled Stuffed Trout with Pebre Sauce »

    patagonia cocktail

    William Hereford

    With a base of pisco, a Chilean spirit distilled from the country's native grapes, the After the Snow, a fresh sour cocktail, can be found at the Awasi Lodge in Patagonia. Laced with celery and grapes, which are muddled and hidden under a drift of crushed ice, the drink has a brisk, vegetal note as fresh and delicate as spring's arrival. Get the recipe for After the Snow Cocktail »

    avocado soup

    William Hereford

    As ethereal as its origins, this unusual, chilled summer soup is a specialty at the Singular Patagonia, an otherworldly hotel that borders Sena Última Esperanza (or Last Hope Sound). It's made velvety and rich by the local avocados, which are called paltas. Get the recipe for Avocado Soup »

    king crab gratin

    William Hereford

    Known as chupe de centolla, this Chilean crab gratin borders on a cheesy crab dip. While similar South American chupe are always prepared with milk-soaked bread and any combination of shrimp, scallops, shellfish, meats, and cheeses, Patagonia's version relies solely on the massive local king crabs, the hallmark of fishermen's kitchens along Chile's southernmost coast. Get the recipe for The Ultimate Crab Dip »

    iceberg salad

    William Hereford

    At Awasi Lodge in Patagonia, Chile, chef Federico Ziegler draws inspiration from a dish he remembers his mother making for him during childhood. His play on an iceberg salad integrates a chunky gremolata alongside a whole wedge of lettuce so that “every bite is crunchy,” he says. Get the recipe for Iceberg Wedge Salad with Lemon-Parsley Dressing »

    More Patagonia

    The Insider's Guide to Patagonia »
    Eating in South America: Pastries in Patagonia »
    Chile: The Singular Patagonia »

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    Concrete Picnic

    Michelle Heimerman

    The best eats in Queens aren't found in restaurants—they're cobbled together at concrete picnics.

    The Census Bureau estimates that half of the 2.3 million people who live in Queens were born outside the United States. Over 100 languages are spoken daily on its streets. Such dizzying diversity has earned the borough a reputation as a food lover's paradise: If the world cooks it, you can probably find someone here who makes it. And if the recipe requires an obscure ingredient from home, there's a market in Queens that sells it.

    For the curious home cook, it doesn't get better than this. And for the wandering eater, there's nothing like spending an afternoon eating through the borough without setting foot in a single restaurant. Because once your bags are loaded with yogurt and curry paste and a kilo or two of smoky sausage, you won't just be wondering what to cook first, but how those Thai dried bananas might taste dipped in some Mediterranean honey. So do as we did: Plonk your haul down in a park and have yourself a picnic.

    Despaña Brand Foods

    Despaña Cashier

    Michelle Heimerman

    Despaña's tiny Jackson Heights storefront is full of imported goods on every available surface.

    On sunny Saturday mornings in Jackson Heights, Jose Reyes pours wine. A plastic cup of tempranillo, filled nearly to the brim, is his standard welcome at Despaña, the Spanish food importer and meat shop where he's worked for 30 years.

    Despaña Small Plates

    Michelle Heimerman

    Tempranillo in plastic cups, the most vibrant chorizo, and assorted small plates await you at Despaña.

    Reyes now oversees the company's sausage operation: 2,000 to 3,000 pounds a week of garlic-laced chorizo, coils of Basque chistorra, and morcilla sausage, dark and sweet as dried fruit thanks to a smart combination of cooked-down onions and coagulated pig's blood. Come for the wine but stay for the free samples of sausage as well as bites of tinned tuna belly in olive oil and nutty Manchego cheese, to say nothing of the olive oil, sherry vinegar, and special Spanish sweets. Despaña's retail flagship may be down in Soho, and that larger space offers a sit-down menu as well, but nothing's quite as charming as snacking on sausage while bumping elbows with the locals here in the tiny Jackson Heights spot.

    Despaña Brand Foods
    86-17 Northern Boulevard, Jackson Heights
    (718) 779-4971
    Closed Sundays

    Muncan Food Corp.

    Muncan Food Corp. Counter

    Michelle Heimerman

    The counter at Muncan Food Corp.

    Marko Stefanovic is the third generation of Yugoslavian meat men at his family's charcuterie shop, Muncan Food Corp., in the Greek, Italian, and Balkan neighborhood of Astoria. Muncan carries dozens of cured and smoked meats, which are so revered that, according to Marko, former Astoria residents who've moved as far as California travel back to Queens for a taste of proper domaca and tirola (traditional pork sausages) and parizer, a Balkan-style bologna made with pork, beef, and veal. “If you come to the U.S. from a place where these foods are normal, your holidays don't feel like holidays without these tastes,” Stefanovic says. “We provide them.”

    Zoran Matovic, Muncan Food Corp.

    Michelle Heimerman

    Muncan's retail general manager, Zoran Matovic.

    Hanging vines of sausage obscure the ceiling of the narrow shop, filling the air with the potent smells of smoke and pork and spice. Below, meat cutters banter in Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, and Spanish while handing customers samples of lamb prosciutto and duck pastrami. The shop's most popular item goes by many names: jumari in Romanian, cvarci in Serbo-Croatian. In a nod to the shop's Hispanic customers who visit specifically to buy the stuff, Muncan labels it chicharron. But this isn't another airy pork rind: It's the ne plus ultra of fried pig—hunks of jowl, a perfect balance of meat and fat, cooked to a resounding crisp with a satisfying chew, piled into a paper bag for convenient snacking.

    Muncan Food Corp.
    4309 Broadway, Astoria
    (718) 278-8847

    Thai Thai Grocery

    Thai Thai Grocery

    Michelle Heimerman

    P. Noi stocks everything a Thai cook needs, including an array of frozen fish and little snacks. But beware, fried bananas only appear for a limited time.

    Two miles away, over on Woodside Avenue in Elmhurst, is P.Noi Thai Thai Grocery. When locals seek out tongue-tingly makhwen (a relative of the Sichuan peppercorn), essential to good larb, they come to Thai Thai, where they might also pick up some chewy stink beans, pudgy like favas but far more aromatic and great stir-fried with shrimp.

    The shop owner, an enthusiastic 60-year-old-going-on-24 who only goes by P.Noi, greets all visitors with the de rigueur sawadee ka and a bow and a grin. Once she starts dispensing cooking advice—this feathery herb adds an earthy lilt to soup, that sausage with the pork skin nubbins is best eaten raw—it's easy to see why her tiny market has become an anchor for a close-knit community of Thai home cooks.

    Thai Thai Grocery P. Noi

    Michelle Heimerman

    Left: The owner of Thai Thai Grocery, P. Noi, greets her customers.

    “It's just me here running things seven days a week,” she says, barely getting out the sentence before taking another customer's order. Folks in the neighborhood stop by for her hard-to-find imported goods and homemade snacks like khao niao ping: little packets of sweet-and-salty sticky rice molded around fudgy Thai bananas, bundled in fragrant banana leaves, and grilled for a kiss of smoke. They're a special only available on the weekends, and on this particularly busy Saturday, they disappear minutes after hitting the shelf.

    P.Noi Thai Thai Grocery
    7613 Woodside Avenue, Elmhurst
    (917) 769-6168

    Parrot Coffee

    Parrot Coffee

    Michelle Heimerman

    The cheese and coffee selection at Parrot Coffee.

    A 10-minute ride west from Thai Thai on the elevated 7 train takes you out of Thai Town and over to Sunnyside, where Middle Eastern and Himalayan restaurants join Irish pubs on both sides of bustling Queens Boulevard. There you'll find the flagship location of Parrot Coffee, a pan-Mediterranean market that used to sell the best baklava in the city until the Mexican guy who made it moved away.

    Parrot's got an ample coffee selection, but it's also a go-to source for dry goods, canned foods, breads, cured meat and fish, and sweets from across the Middle East and the Balkans. The dairy selection here is unparalleled. Like ricotta? Creamy mizithra may do you one better. And if you think good feta begins and ends in Greece, the counter workers here will change your mind by gently steering you toward the varieties from Romania and Bulgaria, which satisfy a cheese lover's deepest cravings for salt and sour and funk.

    Also of interest here: homemade goat milk yogurt, with a brighter flavor than yogurt made with cow's milk and a classical Mediterranean tang absent even among fancy brands at supermarkets. And coils of flaky homemade Turkish tahini bread, tricky to locate even in dedicated Turkish bakeries, crackly and rich as croissants flattened in a waffle iron.

    Parrot Coffee
    Locations in Sunnyside, Astoria, and Ridgewood

    Map It: One Day in Queens

    More New York Eating

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    Jason Lang

    Spleen, lung, and cheese: offally good.

    Lard bubbles in shallow vats. Outside, the sun is punishingly hot. In a narrow shop facing the port, the Favata family scrambles to keep up with the lunch crowd. Domenico and Gieuseppe slice offal to order. Gaetano pulls meat off drying hooks. Rosario shouts the orders as they come in. Everyone's here for what's in those gurgling vats, for the only thing served here: pani ca' meusa, the glorious grease bomb, classic street snack of this city, consisting of a soft sesame roll hollowed out and piled with a bounty of meusa (spleen) and lung, sometimes trachea. The sandwich, whose fame has not spread to mainland Italy, traces its origins to the 15th century, when the city's butchers were paid for their services in scraps by Kosher-keeping customers.

    “Un otro maritatu!” cries Rosario. Maritatu (married), meaning the meat is topped with shredded caciocavallo cheese. A sandwich with no cheese is called schettu (single), for which a squeeze of lemon may be allowed. There are no other versions.

    “Nothing is thrown away by the poor of Palermo,” Rosario says, heaping a tangle of hot entrails onto a bun, wrapping it all in butcher paper.

    Pani Ca' Meusa Porta Carbone has been run by his family since 1943. (A young PT boat captain named John F. Kennedy, stationed here briefly, is said to have been an early fan.) There are plenty of other vendors of pani ca' meusa in the city, but the Favatas are known for their curing technique, and the juiciness of their meat, which is never left to congeal in cool oil.

    The sandwich is an indelicate affair, a literal hot mess. The flavor: overwhelmingly gutsy, like foie gras with an attitude problem, possibly even a criminal record, the molten cheese a willing accessory. Bite into it and any squeamishness over unlovely animal organs is washed away in the torrent of that flavor. You're sweating lard now—and thinking about getting back in line for seconds. It's that good.

    More Sandwich Intel

    The Best Panini in Florence »

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  • 07/20/16--09:00: How to Eat Tijuana
  • tijuana

    Melanie Dunea

    Neon sign atop chef Jair Tellez's Crema y Verde restaurant.

    Ever since I was 18, making the occasional trip to Mexico to do tequila shots with friends, I've thought of Tijuana as holding an untold story. A border town in Mexico's Baja California, it wasn't a safe place back in the 1990s. Yet, it held a certain magic that repeatedly lured us along the 30-minute drive from San Diego.

    Recently, I'd heard the city had blossomed, and when my friends and I arrived late last year, we were met with a stylish, vibrant food scene fueled by hip, hungry Mexicans. Restaurants in some seedier parts of town still crank out the deep-fried chicken necks beloved by locals, but food truck parks, serving everything from craft beer to local cheese, combined with sprawling open-air markets and elegant new restaurants, are telling the tale of Tijuana—one beyond just tequila shots.


    Melanie Dunea

    Nueva Tijuana:Crema y Verde, a chic, new restaurant from chef Jair Tellez. Wash down octopus- and gouda-stuffed blue acorn gorditas (below, left) with something from the thoughtful wine selection or the restaurant's sage-infused water. Calle Orizaba 3034

    Hidden Hot Pockets

    Melanie Dunea

    Hidden Hot Pockets: El Tucumano, a parking lot hole-in-the-wall strung up with twinkle lights, serving carne de res empanadas (right), stuffed with beef, hard-boiled egg, and green onion. Corner of Calle 8 and Calle Madero


    Melanie Dunea

    Mexican Buffet:Telefonica Gastro Park, where food trucks serve single-origin coffees, local cheeses, craft brews like Mexicali's Cerveza Legion, and adobo-marinated pork ramen with enoki mushrooms. Ave. Melchor Ocampo between Blvd. Agua Caliente and Calle 11


    Melanie Dunea

    A diner enjoys adobo-marinated pork ramen with enoki mushrooms outdoors.


    Melanie Dunea

    Market Day: Mercado de Artesanías, one of many outdoor markets, featuring hidden taco stands, pomegranate- and nopales-packed produce stands, not to mention dulce de leche by the bucketful, and life-size Donald Trump piñatas. Corner of Calle Benito Juárez & Ave. Negrete


    Melanie Dunea

    Pomegranate- and Nopales-packed stands at the Mercado de Artesanías.

    And an Old-School Bonus:Caesar's Restaurante, the progenitor of the Caesar salad, which still makes its famous dressing tableside, the same way it did in the 1920s. Ave. Revolución 1059

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    Tim Robison

    Kings Restaurant, a barbecue joint, has been a Kinston institution since the 1940s.

    As you dip south of Raleigh, cruising eastbound on U.S. 70 toward Atlantic Beach, look around and you'll see low-lying solar farms, strip-mall churches, and no lack of Bojangles'. Soon the highway links up with the North Carolina Barbecue Society trail, and around Goldsboro the aroma of hardwood coal settles in. Then, it's only 25 more miles before you get to Kings Restaurant, “the home of the Pig in a Puppy.” A quarter pound of hand-chopped whole hog laid under a mess of vinegary slaw, the pig is squished into a superabsorbent hoagie of a hushpuppy—the sweet cornmeal fritter stretched out, pressed flat, and fried crisp to order. Welcome to Kinston, North Carolina.

    The storied tobacco warehouses downtown that made the nearby farmers rich—and at night doubled as dance halls for Cab Calloway and Ray Charles during the town's midcentury heyday—are long razed or shuttered. But the spirit of Kinston's townspeople hasn't collapsed. Inspired by lunch counters that have served the town for generations, the community has regained its appetite for hospitality. Greasy dough burgers are still a staple at Lovick's Cafe, steamed Frosty Morn hot dogs remain a day drinker's delight at Captain's Corner, and a new generation of local restaurateurs, led by chef Vivian Howard, are making destination-worthy food their focus.

    kinston tap room

    Tim Robison

    Opening the Mother Earth Tap Room & Beer Garden was just the beginning for Stephen Hill, who has continued to transform his hometown into a destination for food lovers and artists alike.

    Ten years ago, Vivian Howard's New York City life was golden. The Deep Run, North Carolina, native worked at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Spice Market and earned extra cash selling soup out of her kitchen with her husband, Ben Knight. Still her parents made her an offer: Come home, build a house on the family farm, and start a restaurant in a dilapidated mule stable downtown. The couple accepted, and in 2006 they opened Chef & the Farmer, where they cook some of the best pig and produce in the region. “I started exalting the food of Eastern Carolina as a means to connect with the locals,” says Howard, and in 2013, PBS premiered A Chef's Life, a show championing Howard and her engagement with the region's ingredients.

    While Howard has been restoring Kinston's soul, Stephen Hill is restoring its bones. As a boy, Hill got his hands dirty working for his father's construction company, spending summers cleaning bricks from job sites. His uncle played bad influence, sneaking Hill sips of Red Eye, beer blended with the juice of his mother's canned tomatoes. Hill's love for that drink gave birth to Mother Earth, the brewery, distillery, and taproom he and his son-in-law opened in 2008, finally giving visitors a place to go before dinner at Chef & the Farmer.


    Tim Robison

    Right: "The community needed a watering hole, and the eastern North Carolina oyster bar is a dying breed," says Ben Knight about his and Howard's oyster bar, Boiler Room | Left: Manager Joe Hargitt of Kings Restaurant has kept its spirit alive, by establishing the Oink Express, a mail order service that delivers King's hand-chopped barbecue across America.

    One day, Hill found himself on the brewery's roof, gazing out toward a derelict mill village on the fringe of downtown: “I saw this boarded-up house, and I couldn't look at it falling down for the rest of my life, so I bought it. Then I realized I couldn't ignore the surrounding boarded-up houses either, so I decided to form a community.” Hill founded smART Kinston, a nonprofit tasked with buying up and making over the old neighborhood as an artists' colony. Hill's commitment to the arts has led Kinston to become home to the state's largest public art collection. Just this spring, sculptor Thomas Sayre dedicated Flue, a series of seven 30-foot-tall concrete tobacco barn facades, raised on the long vacant grounds of the former Brooks Tobacco Warehouse from which they were cast.

    Hill spent $2 million restoring the Farmers & Merchants Bank, which he reopened as The O'Neil, a seven-room boutique hotel. It's just a roll from bed and a short walk away to Queen Street Deli, where Vivian Howard's sister Leraine serves scratch biscuits from a recipe she learned from a longtime bricklayer. While the old Standard Drug #2 is no longer, it's been reopened as the Hawk's Nest, and its new owners took care to reproduce the original soda shop's orangeade and root beer floats. And at Olvera Street Taqueria, local catfish is fried and wrapped in handmade corn shells from a tortilleria down the road.

    For Howard, the culinary renaissance of Kinston has been all about local pride. “What I've learned,” she says, “is that by raising our food traditions up, shining a light on them, and validating them, we've been able to give people a pride in the place they come from, a place they have too often apologized for.”

    Where to Eat

    The Captain's Corner
    3711 Plaza Blvd, Kinston
    (252) 522-5559

    Chef & the Farmer
    120 W Gordon St, Kinston
    (252) 208-2433

    Hawk's Nest Café & General Store
    100 S Queen St, Kinston
    (252) 686-6149

    Kings Restaurant
    3405 E New Bern Rd, Kinston
    (800) 332-6465

    Lovick's Cafe
    320 N Herritage St, Kinston
    (252) 523-6854

    Mother Earth Tap Room & Beer Garden
    311 N Herritage St, Kinston
    (252) 208-2437

    Olvera Street Taqueria
    212 W North St, Kinston
    (252) 686-5040

    The O'Neil
    200 N. Queen Street Kinston
    (252) 208-1130

    Queen Street Deli
    117 S Queen St, Kinston
    (252) 527-1900

    More North Carolina

    The First Lady of Carolina Cooking »

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    Philly Fusion Sandwiches

    Hawk Krall

    Not your typical cheesesteaks.

    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.

    When people talk about Philadelphia’s most iconic foods, the first that comes to mind is the cheesesteak. Second is probably the classic roast pork with broccoli rabe and provolone, or any of the many other delicious, vaguely Italian sandwiches on long rolls that bless our city. Point being: Philly is about sandwiches to its core.

    But cheesesteaks and Italian-style hoagies are only the beginning. Lesser known are the city’s more globally-minded sandwiches, the natural results of Philly’s iconic foods merged with the city’s many immigrant cultures. Think Indian egg hoagies. Middle Eastern and Korean cheesesteaks. Puerto Rican-style Italian roast pork.

    As a Philadelphia resident, I’ve become obsessed with tracking them down. Plenty of times I get close: a restaurant that serves cheesesteaks and beef rendang but won’t mix one with the other. And some are more disappointing than inspiring. But the sandwiches that hit the mark are incredible—not just unexpected, but pure Philly, exemplifying our city’s respect for quality sandwich bread and the proper balance of flavors you get in a roast pork and rabe sandwich. The best Philly Fusion Sandwiches are fairly simple, seamlessly fusing everything we love about classic Philly comfort food with the cuisines of the people cooking them today.

    Here are six standouts to seek out.

    El Punto: The Bistec Con Huevo

    Bistec con Huevo

    Hawk Krall

    Bistec Con Heuvo

    Way up in the Juniata Park section of Northeast Philadelphia, this late-night Dominican pressed-sandwich joint makes what may be the city’s closest approximation of a proper Cuban sandwich. But the fusion draw here is the Dominican Cheesesteak. The “El Punto Whiz” is pretty much what it sounds like: your standard Philly cheesesteak setup of shaved beef, griddled onions, and cheese product, but instead of a plain Italian roll it’s loaded onto Caribbean flatbread, slathered with butter, and pressed flat, criollo-style, like a Cuban.

    For something bigger, get Punto’s Bisteca Con Huevo: all the elements of the El Punto Whiz plus two fried eggs, lettuce, tomato, and a variety of sauces (be sure to order con todo to get everything). All the add-ons meld together in perfect harmony, familiar but also something completely new—think a well-made hamburger with an egg on top, crossed with a Philly cheesesteak, prepared like a Cuban. Fantastic.

    El Punto makes plenty of other crazy sandwiches worth ordering if you’re inebriated—a delicious myriad-meat Tripleta, double hamburgers topped with ham—but start with the Bisteca to kick things off the right direction.

    El Punto
    4460 Whitaker Avenue
    (215) 329-2251

    El Soto: The Mexican Hoagie

    El Soto

    Hawk Krall

    Mexican Hoagie

    Philadelphia’s Mexican population has boomed in the last couple years, resulting in a cornucopia of legit Mexican food options in a town that where real tacos were once fairly hard to find. One of the newer developments are hybrid Mexican pizzerias and corner stores that serve legit tacos and tortas alongside Philly staples like cheesesteaks and pizza. It’s almost inevitable for some avocado or al pastor to make its way onto a slice of pizza or hoagie, either privately, for the employees in the back, or officially on the menu.

    Over the years I’ve tried a multitude of Mexi-Philly fusion hoagies and “tortas bisteca con queso” (think steak, Oaxacan string cheese, jalapeños, and pineapple, on a seeded hoagie roll) from these sorts of places, but El Soto is hands down the best: more carefully put together, and built on Sarcone’s beloved bread, crustier and sturdier than some of the cheap, no-name soft rolls used at the other spots.

    My favorite sandwich, with Mexican jamon, mild slabs of half-crumbled queso fresco, creamy avocado, shaved iceberg lettuce, and chipotle mayo, is actually known as the Torta Enojada. It’s sort of like a guilty-pleasure Wawa ham hoagie slathered in mayo, but on better bread and with better ingredients. The comfort-food bells of a classic Philadelphia hoagie still go off in your head, but the flavors are distinctly Mexican.

    El Soto Grocery
    1500 Tasker Street
    (215) 278-7831

    Saad’s Halal: The Chicken Maroosh

    Chicken Maroosh

    Hawk Krall

    Chicken Maroosh

    On the outskirts of Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood, dorms and bars starts to co-mingle with the long-standing African, Middle Eastern, and Islamic communities of West Philadelphia, you’ll find all of the above coming together at Saad’s Halal. Saad’s started out as lunch truck in University City, eventually expanding to the brick-and-mortar location that seems to be jam-packed around the clock with a unique (and very Philadelphia) mix of Muslim families in full garb, drunk college bros, and maybe a handful of vegetarian crust punks chowing down on falafel. Just as important: the food’s fantastic.

    Saad’s halal cheesesteak is a serviceable rendition of the classic, but you’re really here for the signature “Maroosh” sandwiches. The chicken sandwich is technically called Shish Tawook Maroosh Way, in homage to a restaurant in owner Saad’s home country of Lebanon, but everyone just the sandwich orders by its street name: Chicken Maroosh. Chicken cheesesteaks in Philly are often a bottom-rung meat situation, but Saad’s is juicy and delicious, marinated with Lebanese spices before cooking. It gets put in a lightly toasted hoagie roll and topped with white garlic sauce, tomato, curly parsley, and spears of Lebanese pickles for good measure.

    Saad’s Halal
    4500 Walnut Street
    (215) 222-7223

    Porky’s Point: The Puerto Rican Roast Pork

    Puerto Rican Roast Pork

    Hawk Krall

    Puerto Rican Roast Pork

    A bit of an old classic of the Philadelphia Obscure Sandwich Circuit, Porky’s Point has long been a favorite of the city’s food writers, but it’s probably unknown to most people outside of Philly, and just too damn good not to include on this list. It’s pretty far outside of most Philadelphians’ dining radius—far north of center city in a heavily Latino neighborhood blessed with a plethora of amazing Spanish and South American restaurants. There’s a bootleg Porky Pig mascot, a parking lot filled with tricked-out cars blasting reggaeton, and nowhere to sit or eat save a narrow stainless steel ledge, but the pork sandwiches are on par with the best of the city—tender, juicy, perfect.

    Porky Point started as your standard Italian-owned roast pork and cheesesteak stand a few decades ago, but as the neighborhood changed, the food (and clientele) slowly shifted to almost all Puerto Rican. The crispy bits of skin on the roast pork (“WE DO NOT SERVE LEAN PORK,” proclaims a hand-written sign) are optional; get them. And get it all on a long Italian roll covered with a rich, spicy tomato gravy, more like Caribbean barbecue sauce than marinara.

    Porky’s Point
    3824 North 5th Street
    (215) 221-6243

    Koja Grille: The Korean Cheesesteak

    Korean Cheesesteak

    Hawk Krall

    Korean Cheesesteak

    The idea of a Korean cheesesteak isn’t unique to Philadelphia, but with a strong Korean community and food scene, Philly’s game is strong. Koja is a Japanese-Korean-American fast food favorite up near Temple University that was a huge hit when it first opened five to six years ago, and it’s still going strong. The griddled beef is especially tender, dripping with a gochujang-spiked marinade mixed with melted cheese. Koja’s sandwich is also topped with sautéed onions and green peppers, and served with chopsticks, giving the whole thing a kitschy takeout vibe. Grab an order of kimchi on the side and add it to your sandwich to gild the lily. If I lived up here I would eat this twice a week.

    Koja Grille
    1600 North Broad Street
    (215) 763-5652

    Little Sicily Pizza II: The Egg Keema Hoagie

    Egg Keema Hoagie

    Hawk Krall

    Egg Keema Hoagie

    Little Sicily Pizza II is the crown jewel of the Philly Fusion Sandwich. It doesn’t look like anything special: a late-night pizza joint with take-out beer in a gristly shopping center near the highway. So you need to know about the secret menu.

    I don’t mean “secret” like “wink wink, please spread this all over the internet.” This is the real thing: something the restaurant’s Indian cooks started making for themselves and family and friends. The only fusion sandwich that’s actually printed on the menu is listed as Spicy Chicken Cheese Steak, Spices Of India, but the full off-menu roster includes at least five or six different sandwiches, all ridiculously delicious and devoid of any pretension.

    The secret sandwiches start with fresh garlic and ginger, green chiles, lime juice, and Indian spices added to sandwich meats (or-non meats), then get topped with American cheese. There are beef and chicken tandoori cheesesteaks, a Bombay Club (a spicy vegetarian club sandwich), and the Egg Keema hoagie: eggs scrambled with American cheese, onions, spices, a hit of tomato, and a dusting of green onion and cilantro. The finished egg mixture is tucked into a soft hoagie roll and doesn’t look like much at all. But it tastes like nothing you’ve ever eaten, and you’ll want to down five in a sitting. Paired with a pile of masala fries and a cold beer from the cooler, it’s Philly cheesesteak heaven for the modern world.

    Little Sicily Pizza II
    1608 South Christopher Columbus Boulevard
    (215) 465-8787

    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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    rancho loma

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Rest, Rancho Loma's chic and minimalist five-room guesthouse.

    At the conclusion of a three-hour drive northwest from Austin, through rolling hills of scruff, a renovated 1878 limestone farmhouse materialized at the end of a small dirt road like Oz's Emerald City: Rancho Loma. I'd been hearing about Robert and Laurie Williamson's vaunted Friday- and Saturday-only 24-seat restaurant run out of their home for a couple of years, but I'd had to wait for months until my schedule aligned with their six-week waitlist. Now, finally, my boyfriend and I were here, to see firsthand not only how two former commercial filmmakers had managed to create a destination restaurant and inn in the middle of nowhere—with not a day of professional chef, restaurateur, or hotelier experience between them—but also how they are working to remake the nearby town of Coleman into Texas' next cultural hotspot.

    We parked, put our bags down at Rest, the ranch's five-room, bunker-chic auberge, and, with a few hours still before dinner, wandered the 300-acre property. I spied sheep in the distance looking like clouds caught in the scrub, and marveled at chickens dressed to kill in coats of ombré, polka dots, and paisley. We passed the garden and a few acres of land that were plowed in order to accommodate syrah, grenache, and mourvèdre vines (Robert believes he's sitting on the best growing region in Texas). Pigeons flew in a choreographed loop overhead and a deer coyly eyed me, then fluttered its fluffy white tail before skipping up the hill, a Comanche burial ground after which the Williamsons named their property: Rancho Loma de las Almas. I looked out at the seemingly endless horizon, and understood why Texans wax poetic about the wide open sky.

    rancho loma dogs

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    The Williamsons' dogs, Ancha and Rio, take in the view from the deck.

    Laurie and Robert, both born in West Texas, bought the property in 1998 as a weekend getaway and promptly quit their Dallas jobs in commercial film to devote themselves to the details of renovation. “We didn't know what we were doing,” Robert told me, “but it was easier to figure it out myself than to communicate my ideas to someone else.” When their dream house was finally finished two years later, Laurie realized there was little within driving distance that she wanted to eat. So she turned to her next project: researching and refining what would become her straightforward but carefully considered menu.

    rancho loma

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    An old-fashioned soda fountain in Coleman, a town the Williamsons are helping to revive with a pizzeria and a future winery.

    Rancho Loma opened on Valentine's Day 2003, having announced itself with only a few small ads in the local papers. To the couple's surprise, their dining room was completely packed. One local complained that his fourth course, a 6-ounce steak, left him so hungry he had to stop at 7-Eleven for a burrito after, but otherwise the word of mouth was positive, and over the years rock stars, state politicians, and rodeo clowns have sought a coveted spot in the peaked-roof dining room to eat Laurie's food, which changes every week. When I was there, the menu included frisée aux lardons salad with oozing egg yolk and crisp bacon cubes, a winding heap of homemade linguine alle noci (walnut sauce), and a dessert of rich vanilla panna cotta with a ruby brooch of blood orange supremes and snowflakes of blood orange granita too airy to be terribly cold.

    But Laurie and Robert's aspirations extend way beyond dinner.

    “We want to be the catalyst for creatives,” Robert told me, recounting a time, a few years back, when the couple, craving the creative culture of their previous lives, almost ditched everything and moved to Santa Fe. But after serious soul-searching, they decided to attract and create that culture themselves, by revitalizing the nearby town of Coleman (population 4,500).

    rancho loma

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Binoculars are on hand on the hotel's patio for guests to spend the day spotting wildlife.

    Coleman, the self-proclaimed hunting and fishing capital of Texas, has long been a gathering spot for local farmers, and on the town's main drag there's still an old-fashioned soda fountain and a pawn shop that peddles power tools, guitars, and guns.

    At Rancho Pizzeria, the Williamsons' hip and spacious pie shop that opened in May 2015, I ate a superb Caesar salad and margarita pizza alongside locals in cowboy boots, Stetsons, and hunting camo, as well as out-of-towners, taking a break, perhaps, on their commute between Austin and Lubbock. Next door was a spot slated to become an art gallery, and across the street stood a gutted old filling station where Robert and Laurie plan to open a tasting room, which, if all goes according to plan, will make and serve Rancho Loma's very own wine, grown from vines Robert has been tending.

    With a restaurant that started out as something of a whim, the Williamsons have begun to create something more lasting than they originally intended—an invitation to stay beyond dinner.

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    urumqi woman

    Mathias Depardon

    A local woman is preparing polo, a traditional Uyghur rice pilaf flavored with mutton and shredded orange and yellow carrot, in her stall at Urumqi's night market, near the International Bazaar.

    China's far west region of Xinjiang is a place of expansive natural beauty, full of snow-peaked mountains and stony deserts. Located at the threshold of central Asia where the 'stans converge—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—it is home to the Turkic-speaking Islamic Uyghur people. For centuries, oasis towns on the ancient Silk Roads provided safe harbor and much-needed sustenance on the passage from the Middle East to the Chinese Empire.

    Flavors associated with the Middle East predominate—cumin, chile, garlic, and saffron, cooked with peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. Mutton features heavily, either slow-braised, cooked with rice in polo (a mutton pilaf), or smoke-grilled, and camel is eaten occasionally. Flatbreads called nang, similar to Indian naan, are essential at every meal, along with fragrant black tea scented with saffron and rose petals. It's a far cry from the soy sauce, pork, and rice wine flavors permeating Han Chinese cuisine that most Westerners associate so closely with the country.


    Mathias Depardon

    Left: A Uyghur woman walks the streets near the mosque in Tuyoq, the oldest Uyghur settlement in Xinjiang. The adobe buildings are typical of those in many villages on the northern Silk Road | Right: A Uyghur musician plays the rabab, a stringed instrument, outside the ruins of an ancient oasis town at Gaochang, near Turpan.

    uyghur praying

    Mathias Depardon

    Escaping the crowds of the bazaar, Uyghur men pray in the Turpan Bazaar's mosque, kneeling on beautiful handwoven rugs made in the region.

    In a far-off time, here, beyond the last outpost of the Great Wall of China, prisoners of the Emperor were expelled into the desert on the assumption they would surely perish. Now this area is seductively alive with color, flavor, spices, and trade. A banishment to Xinjiang would be a dream for any food lover, feasting each day on roast mutton with tart, vinegary carrot and radish salad; or plump bready dumplings and sweet walnut pastries. Occasionally, eating adventures lend to cultural misunderstandings.


    Mathias Depardon

    Over a glowing charcoal grill, a street vendor in Turpan's night market watches over a row of mutton kawap (kebabs), each one flavored in its center with a melting chunk of sizzling mutton fat.

    One night, while researching local food traditions with my Uyghur guide in the small town of Tashkurgan, I caused a serious brawl revolving around a yard-long charred mutton kebab, crusty with cumin and chile. I'd arrived on the day of a country fair, the town's field a circus of flags and horses, blue-ribbon yaks, and prizewinning cross-stitch. Fragrant smoke from charcoal grills hung thick in the air, and I struggled to choose between buttery polo, and hand-pulled noodles, laghman.

    With silent, ravenous attention I watched a cook grill three mutton kebabs (known as kawap in these parts) over a waist-high charcoal brazier, sprinkling them with a blend of chile, zīrán or cumin, white pepper, and salt, and sending showers of orange sparks into the air. The juicy morsels of fat in the center of each kawap dripped and spat into the coals, sharpening my hunger. My choice was made. When they were ready, the cook took a round of charred nang, big as a wall clock, and folded it in half around the three long spiked skewers. Then he waved me into a nearby yurt to eat.

    At the doorway I removed my shoes and focused on finding a place to sit. Tajik men sat on the yurt's patterned carpet floor, eating and drinking tea, alongside Kyrgyz men in pointed white felt hats, and my lone Uyghur guide in his embroidered green and white doppa prayer cap. The other men glanced up just as my socked feet blundered over the food cloth on the floor, textured and heavy with gold fringes. I'd committed a grievance equivalent to putting my dirty feet up on a dinner party table set with crystal and cutlery. I apologized. Too late. I'd unforgivably offended a Tajik with a handlebar mustache. It being dishonorable to insult me, both a foreigner and a woman, the man—emboldened with clandestine liquor—stood and insulted my guide behind his back. No sooner had the words left his mouth than every man in the yurt was on his feet, fists at the ready or hands on the hilts of knives.

    uyghur family

    Mathias Depardon

    In the village of Tuyoq, near Turpan, a Uyghur family relaxes on their outdoor terrace with a typical lunch of hand-pulled laghman noodles.

    Following the inevitable fistfight, during which the police hauled the drunk Tajik away, I found a quiet spot to savor the charred smoky meat. My guide sat beside me.

    “There's a Uyghur saying,” he began. “Gep yüzde yahshi, kawap ziğda yahshi.” He tore a tender piece of mutton from the stick with his teeth before continuing.

    “Words are better spoken face to face; kebabs are better eaten straight from the skewer.” Wise words to live—and eat—by.

    Get Carolyn Phillips' Western Chinese Recipes

    Recipes adapted from All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips (Ten Speed Press), which will be released in August.

    uyghur flatbread

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    The Uyghurs of the western regions of China refer to these flatbread as nang, which have existed for centuries as a staple at every meal. Punctured with a nail-studded tool, they're scattered with any variety of seeds and spices and vary in diameter from a few inches across to a foot or more. Though they're usually cooked in tandoors, an oven with a pizza stone will do. Flour in China is lower in protein than American all-purpose, forming a dough that is comparatively lower in gluten, the result of which is fluffy no matter how thinly rolled. To avoid a crackerlike bread, a mixture of all-purpose and pastry flour will do the trick. Get the recipe for Uyghur Flatbread (Nángbĭng) »

    cumin kebabs

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    The staple meats of Western China, lamb and mutton can be found folded into everything from pilafs to buns to noodles. Of course, they're also the focal point of the region's iconic kebabs. Seasoned with freshly ground cumin (zira in Farsi and zīrán in Chinese), which was probably introduced to Xinjiang from Persia, the kebabs get an extra kick from minced garlic cloves and ground chile powder. Get the recipe for Chile and Cumin Lamb Kebabs (Yángròu chuàn) »

    cilantro peanut salad

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Due to its long, cold winters and hot, dry summers, Xinjiang is not renowned for its vegetable dishes, but fast-growing produce like spinach and cilantro often make it to the table during the brief respites between seasons. This refreshing salad is a perfect to accompaniment to fatty grilled meats. Use the most delicate cilantro you can find, so the stems can be eaten along with the leaves. Get the recipe for Cilantro and Peanut Salad (Huāshēngmĭ bàn xiāngcài) »

    grilled cumin fish

    Mathias Depardon

    During Western China's desert summers, freshwater fish from the Tarim River are barbecued, butterflied, and splayed across long, thin salt-cedar branches. The skewers are then stuck, stake-like, into the ground around a burning fire, which roasts them slowly and evenly. In this version, a hot oven or a traditional western grill will work similarly, roasting the cumin-, garlic-, and pepper-rubbed fish to a fragrant burnish. While carp and perch are more common in western China, bass and branzino are fine substitutes. Get the recipe for Grilled Fish with Cumin and Jalapeños (Xīnjiāng kăoyú) »

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    Chicharon Bulaklak

    Craig Cavallo

    Charles Olalia holds a chicharon bulaklak (which means flower in tagalog) at Bahay Kubo.

    To Filipinos born and raised in the Philippines, Alvin Cailan is an Amboy: an American-born Filipino. Amboy is also the name of the lunch project he operates out of Unit 120 in Los Angeles from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. His menu there is a mix of Filipino cuisine and Southern California style, including a celebration of LA’s backyard grill culture that parallels the grilled meats found throughout the Filipino canon.

    Most people know about Cailan from Eggslut, his enormously popular counter in Downtown’s Grand Central Market where you’ll find one of the city’s best, and most obsessed-over, breakfast sandwiches. This January he opened Unit 120 in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza, not just to expand his repertoire beyond egg sandwiches, but to show LA just how much Filipino cooking has to offer.

    At this point, arguing that Filipino cuisine is going to be the Next Big Thing in American food is hardly new. But in Los Angeles, a powerful wave is cresting, and the argument deserves a fresh perspective. There a quickly growing community of second-generation Filipinos cooks are taking a refined, even studious approach to their heritage. In the county with the largest population of Filipinos outside the Philippines, chefs like Cailan are making unprecedented headway in a decades-long push to make Filipino food as attractive to the American mainstream as Chinese or Thai.

    Bahay Kubo

    Craig Cavallo

    Traditional dishes (bopis, laing, and kare-kare) and tray-style counter service at Bahay Kubo.

    Four years prior to Amboy’s debut, the Concordia family opened The Park’s Finest, a community-driven barbecue spot at the end of West Temple Street in Historic FIlipinotown. At Warren Almeda’s Belly & Snout and Eric de la Cruz’s Oi Asian Fusion, diners are swooning over classic Filipino dishes sold at inexepensive prices and executed for a modern crowd. And if you’re looking for Filipino desserts, you won’t find any better than those made by Isa Fabro (and served at Amboy).

    So how are they doing it? That’s a question Cailan addressed in June last year at Next Day Better, a discussion and event series about diaspora communities. But the first spark came at Coachella two months prior, when Cailan first met fellow Filipino chef Charles Olalia and began a discussion about Filipino food in an entirely new way. At Next Day Better, Cailan spoke to a crowd of 300 people. “Because my restaurant Eggslut had made it to the mainstream,” he says, “people wanted to know how I got there.”

    Cailan was born to Filipino parents in Pico Rivera, a predominantly Latino neighborhood 15 minutes from Downtown Los Angeles. His second-generation sensibilities, academic background (he graduated from the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland), and commitment to the culinary arts put him in a position to consider the role Filipino food plays in the North American landscape. And he’s not doing it alone.

    Charles Olalia

    Craig Cavallo

    Olalia sitting on the counter at his 225-square-foot RiceBar.

    “Alvin wants to help everyone out in the most honest way,” Olalia says on a Monday evening, surrounded by people snapping open cans of beer while cooks fry chicken in the kitchen. It’s industry night at Unit 120.

    “Six months ago Charles and I decided to invite chefs we didn’t know to get together and ask them to bring food,” Cailan says, the excitement in his voice enough to drown out the small speaker on the table playing Drake. The first meeting place before 120? Olalia’s apartment. There, a roomful of chefs started talking about how to make the crispiest lechon skin and ways to promote sweet Filipino rice-based desserts by translating them into something with mainstream appeal. “It started amongst the Filipino community,” Cailan says. “But the awareness has grown to everyone in the industry.”

    A large part of the initiative has to do with the growing number of Filipino chefs in Los Angeles. “Every major Los Angeles restaurant has a Filipino chef working in it,” Cailan says. Most don’t serve Filipino food, but the presence of Filipino chefs in their kitchens is encouraging. “It shows we can cook and run successful restaurants,” Cailan says. And it’s a great start. “But if our community doesn’t support us,” Cailan wonders, “then what’s the point? Unless my mom, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews support us, there’s no way we can cross over.”

    At Amboy, Cailan leaves the core of Filipino food intact. But he shifts the final product for the community at large he’s cooking for. “Instead of using heavy pork fat as the base,” Cailan says, “I’m using vegetarian shiitake mushroom dashi.” For other traditional Filipino stews—kaldereta, kare-kare, and monggo—he swaps out meat for legumes to appeal to the area’s vegetable-oriented diet. “Southern California food is vegetable heavy,” he says. So he roasts vegetables, sears and glazes them with an adobo sauce, and then adds lashes of soy, vinegar, and garlic—classic flavors of the Filipino pantry. Traditional? Not really. But “if you eat it all together,” Cailan tells me, “you’re eating Filipino food.”


    Craig Cavallo

    Hopia baboy: sweet onion-filled pastries from My Mom's Bakeshop on West Temple Street.

    Filipinos began arriving in Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century after the signing of the Pensionado Act of 1903, which allowed Filipino students to study in the United States. 20 years later, as the population grew, restaurants opened to feed them, particularly in LA’s Little Tokyo, where the community eventually established what’s become known as Little Manila there. The Depression and, later, the Tydings-McDuffie Act, restricted Filipino migration, which would not pick up again until after WWII. Decades later, in 2002, the city of Los Angeles designated the area that makes up the southwestern portion of Echo Park Historic Filipinotown, which is home to a number of Filipino restaurants and bakeries. They still serve a primarily Filipino dining community.

    “For our parents,” Cailan says, “Filipino food wasn’t a focus, because it was more sustenance than craft.” He’s after what Chase Valencia calls a “second-generation response to the food.” In addition to cooking lunch at Amboy, Cailan hosts Filipino-American brothers Chad and Chase Valencia’s dinner pop-up LASA Friday through Sunday.

    “Our parents’ main concern was assimilation,” Valencia adds, and seconds Cailan's point: “They never thought about Filipino food other than as a means to provide for their families.” Valencia, 31, tells me that he and young people like him have opportunities their parents never did—the result of the herculean work of his parents’ generation. “We’re able to move more freely with our decisions and the careers we choose,” he says.

    That’s why, for Charles Olalia, when he’s cooking, “the element of home always has to be there.” Olalia is the chef/owner of RiceBar in Downtown LA, where he serves Filipino rice bowls out of a 275-square-foot space. “For me,” Olalia says, “my social responsibility is to take the food we’ve been enjoying our whole lives and give it to everyone consistently with a level of attention and care.”

    Nanay Gloria

    Craig Cavallo

    Olalia points to and talks about dinuguan, a traditional Filipino pork stew made with pig's blood, garlic, chiles, and vinegar.

    RiceBar offers $7 to $10 bowls made from heirloom grains imported from the Philippines. The low price point “brings the city together,” Olalia says. “We get all types of people coming to us.” The low pricing is only one means of drawing in non-Filipinos; central location is another. But low prices don’t mean low effort. “It’s about properly cooking proteins and vegetables,” Olalia says, “and serving things at the right temperature.” You get it perfectly when you taste his pork longganisa. Bright yellow pickled vegetables shine against green scallions and the deep reddish-pink hue of the most flavor-packed and juicy sausage I have ever eaten.

    The attention to detail is Olalia’s response to the casual Filipino steam table restaurants run by the older generation over on West Temple Street, the main artery in Historic Filipinotown. Filipino restaurants there like Nanay Gloria’s and Bahay Kubo serve dozens of classic Filipino dishes, like dinuguan, laing, sisig, pinakbet, and various forms of adobo. “What they’re doing is the most efficient way to serve food,” Olalia says, “and I always give them respect for that.” But Olalia’s micro-managing—even closing the restaurant during low-traffic hours to keep things as fresh as possible—reflects his industry chops and, ultimately, care for the level of detail that upscale restaurants can achieve more easily than volume-focused restaurants.

    At RiceBar, Olalia makes everything from scratch. That longganisa—a sweet, smoky, spicy Filipino pork sausage that Olalia grinds using his uncle’s recipe—gently cooks in stock all morning in the tiny open kitchen in front of guests. “I wanted to keep a sense of the restaurant experience there,” he says, “and curiosity. I want people to ask questions.”

    Rice Bowl

    Craig Cavallo

    Pork longganisa bowl with garlic rice and a fried egg at RiceBar.

    Olalia admits RiceBar may not be the most revenue-driven model. It’s difficult to scale up this attention to detail. But it’s also an investment in Filipino food education. “Eight months in, non-Filipino people are coming in and asking for dishes by name,” Olalia says, “and they are pronouncing things right.”

    Cailan is seeing similar results. “Because people Instagram,” he says. “People talk about it. The food is delicious. We take our time and strike a combination of price point and sourcing ingredients.” He’s hopeful that special sauce of approachability without compromise will give Filipino cuisine the momentum not just to build great restaurants, but work its way into public discussion.

    He doesn’t see any of this work as cutting ties from the old generation. Quite the opposite: keeping a sense of family and community is everything.

    Cailan recalls going to his dad’s friend’s house as a kid. “Their camaraderie and closeness, and generosity and willingness to help each other, was just amazing.” As Cailan becomes a leader in the industry, he sees parallels to his father, who’s an established figure in the Catholic community and who teaches bible studies and preaches regularly at church. “When I was giving that speech,” he tells me about the Next Day Better talk he gave in June, “in the middle of it I realized, wow, I just became my dad.”

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    Fry Everything Vendor

    Max Falkowitz

    At grill and fry stations like these, you pick your own skewers of fresh meat, vegetables, and blood cakes, pile them into a plastic basket, and hand them to a cook to make before your eyes.

    Are you going to see any night markets?

    Tell travelers you're visiting Taiwan and, New Taiwan Dollars to Taiwanese doughnuts, that's the question they ask you. The island's reputation for night markets is so great that, at times, it eclipses all other aspects of the country's multifaceted cuisine. After all, this is a country that makes one of the world's greatest breakfasts and has a fine tea culture to rival China and Japan; it's a challenge to eat poorly in here, whether you're slurping superlative soup dumplings in Taipei or snacking on rare mountain greens in the countryside.

    Barbecue Vendor

    Max Falkowitz

    Flame on.

    But hey, if you're visiting Taiwan, chances are you will in fact be hitting some night markets, perhaps even by accident as you wander down the streets of Taipei and come upon a skewer-wielding fried chicken artist next to a hawker furiously scrambling oyster omelets. The markets are, in truth, great fun. They're also, for the uninitiated, totally overwhelming, crowded, and noisy with little signage and lots of food. Where do you start eating? How do you know what's good? And why are they such a thing in Taiwan?

    It helps to have a guide. Consider these tips your starting point.

    So What Exactly is a Night Market?

    Ring Toss Games

    Max Falkowitz

    Night markets offer more than just food; games for the crowd are part of the whole thing, too.

    In brief: a regular market that pops up at night, when locals can shop and snack and gather. Vendors sell all sorts of goods, from clothes and accessories to produce and drinks, but food is certainly a big draw. In a country where alcohol and bars aren't monolithic cultural fixtures, night markets play an essential role in nightlife, anchoring not just hungry Taiwanese, but whole communities and, in larger cities, specific neighborhoods. The markets can run quite late into the night, with food built for snacking—a roving buffet.

    But...Don't Expect All the Food to Be Fantastic

    Dried Plum Tomatoes

    Max Falkowitz

    Impeccable cherry tomatoes filled with sour dried plums.

    Yes, it is hard to eat poorly in Taiwan—7 Eleven and Family Mart are convenience stores from heaven, and even supermarket produce is pretty excellent—but, to be honest, night markets are far from the pinnacle of great eating. Some are better than others, but the average quality of stalls may very well be...average. A lot of romantic myth-making says otherwise, but if you want to eat the best of Taiwanese food, head to family-run restaurants and specialist shops. The street food is often quite good, but better to keep your expectations moderate and appreciate the sheer variety of what you can eat.

    Where to Start

    Grill Skewers

    Max Falkowitz

    Don't shy away from grilled offal if you see it—this is how you want to eat your off cuts.

    The common street food adage applies: follow your nose—and the crowd. Night market hawkers specialize in particular foods—fried chicken, stinky tofu, pork belly buns, fish-your-own-shrimp (more on that in a minute)—and locals tend to know which specialists are the best. You won't always find orderly queues, but you won't have to shove. And if you're clueless about what a hawker makes, ask! Taiwanese hospitality is, to put it mildly, incredibly generous, and most strangers are more than happy to help you out if you show a genuine interest in the food.

    Stinky Tofu

    Max Falkowitz

    Stinky tofu: bark that's way worse than its bite.

    A few staples you'll find pretty much everywhere: fried chicken, popcorn-style to peck at with skewers, insanely good with sugar, chile, and pepper in the breading and plenty of aromatic Thai basil thrown in for good measure; gua bao, steamed buns filled with anise-braised pork belly, pickled greens, and shaved peanut brittle; the famous stinky tofu, which smells way more pungent than it tastes, but announces its presence from half a block away; whole stands full of skewered stuff, from chicken to sausage to squid to blood cakes, which you pile into plastic baskets and hand to a cook to fry or grill for you. But keep an eye out for regional specialties—Taiwanese cooking is a many splendored thing, with impressive variation from city to city.

    As for specific night markets to visit, the editors of Wikipedia, bless their hearts, have compiled a particularly impressive nationwide list.

    Hit the Small Ones

    Roasting Shrimp

    Max Falkowitz

    Catch your own dinner, then grill it live over a fire.

    Grilled Corn Apparatus

    Max Falkowitz

    Or pick up some corn from this beautiful retro grilled corn machine.

    When it comes to night markets, bigger doesn't mean better. More options, sure, but not necessarily superior quality, and certainly more crowds. Smaller night markets also offer a more distinctive look into a local community, and if you head out of the cities and into small town Taiwan, you're in for a treat, because there night markets become the nightlife thing, a block party meets county fair with some excellent blood kebabs for good measure. It was at a tiny town in central Taiwan's Nantou County where I encountered a night market game of "catch your dinner": little kids with fishing poles hooking live shrimp from a tank, skewering them, and gathering around a tiny grill to cook them right then and there. Small town night markets: fun for the whole family.

    And When All Else Fails

    Night Market Games

    Max Falkowitz

    A row of claw games.

    Hit the claw games. Taiwanese people love them. And rather than having a single game with a mix of prizes, they set them up in long rows that gleam in the night, each with its own set of prizes for you to choose from. Pound back some boba tea, snack on some popcorn chicken, and try your luck.

    More Taiwan

    Trekking Taiwan's Oolong Tea Trail »
    Taipei is Becoming the World's Next Great Coffee City »
    How to Build a Taiwanese Pantry »

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    rib tips

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    The Chicago rib tip and hot link combo.

    Robert Adams Sr. of Bronzeville’s Honey 1 BBQ is the last of a dying breed. Born in Marianna, Arkansas, he is the last Chicago pitmaster to migrate from the Delta South to Chicago to practice the barbecue trade. Although Adams has moved his restaurant three times now, he has never veered from two constants: a real wood fire and his famous chair, the throne of Chicago barbecue.

    Barbecue is a proud Chicago tradition, one that exists at the intersection of two urban realities that have profoundly impacted the Windy City: a growing black population during the second wave of the Great Migration and the abundance of cheap off-cuts from the city’s meatpacking houses. Chicago barbecue’s defining fixture, the equivalent of burnt ends in Kansas City or brisket in Texas, is a combination of hot links (coarsely ground spicy pork sausage) and rib tips (the fatty, cartilaginous sides of rib meat that are perfect for gnawing), cooked in a unique glass-walled pit called an aquarium smoker, and served on top of a pile of fries with a slice of white bread to soak up every drop of sauce. Each bite is a balance of smoke, fat, and meat, as craveable as the best pulled pork or sliced brisket.

    Robert Adams Sr. with his aquarium smoker.

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Robert Adams Sr. with his aquarium smoker.

    Chicago isn’t usually mentioned in the great American barbecue pantheon. You don’t hear it sitting next to Kansas City, Memphis, or Austin. It doesn’t appear regularly in Food Network shows, and most visitors to Chicago don’t even know it exists. But it’s an undeniably important element of American barbecue, one born from 20th century urbanism—and now slowly disappearing.

    The Great Barbecue Migration

    At the front window at Honey 1.

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    At the front window at Honey 1.

    Men like Robert Adams moved to Chicago during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, in the second wave of the Great Migration following the Supreme Court striking down laws that prevented blacks from moving to parts of Chicago. With the post-war era’s urban job boom, millions of African Americans relocated from the South to the Windy City and its suburbs. But as the city’s fast food and franchising opportunities expanded, so too did the discriminatory practice of retail redlining, in which many of the country’s most iconic chain restaurants conspiculously avoided Chicago’s new black neighborhoods.

    Sensing a void, black entrepreneurs turned to restaurants to make a living. Local fried chicken favorite Harold’s Chicken Shack was one such tradition that lives on today. The famous Leon'sopened in 1940. The Lemons Brothers of Indianola, Mississippi, another group of Chicago barbecue pioneers, opened three locations of Lem’s BBQ starting in 1950. (Today, only one remains on 75th Street.) Adams came relatively late, opening the first iteration of Honey 1 (then Honey One's) in 90's.

    Enter the Stockyards

    Uncle J's

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Chicago barbecue is fast food. At Uncle J's, there's no real seating area—order at the counter, then head on your way.

    The Migration explains how barbecue arrived in Chicago, but to understand why it took the form that it did, you need to look to the city’s meatpacking history.

    The Union Stockyards turned Chicago into America’s hog butcher, which left plenty of cheap off-cuts for the local market that couldn’t be sold at a premium elsewhere. The rib tip—the remaining bit of meat after a pork rib has been divided into a St. Louis and Baby Back rib—isn’t prime meat, but as James Lemon of Lem’s noted in a 2011 documentary about Chicago barbecue, barbecuers could buy it for nearly nothing. The hot link joined the mix as an artifact of the city’s many sausage-making traditions. With a large German population across the city, locally made sausage was easy to come by.

    Uncle J's

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Finishing a rib tip and hot link combo at Uncle J's, with a side of fried chicken for good measure.

    Lem’s BBQ claims to be the first place in town to serve the rib tip and hot link combo, beginning in 1951. In 1958, Toni’s Jazz Lounge was advertising “Rib Tips, Chicken, and Choice Steaks” from the “Chicago Bar B Que” Man in the Chicago Defender, catering to the recently constructed nearby Wentworth Gardens housing development. But Chicago barbecue isn't just about the combo; it's also about how the meat is cooked.

    The Rise of the Aquarium Smoker

    Honey 1

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    The hulking aquarium smoker at Honey 1.

    For small cuts like rib tips and hot links, Chicago barbecuers didn’t need massive smokers like you’ll find in Texas and the Carolinas—and their small urban restaurants wouldn’t have had room for them anyway. Enter the aquarium smoker, and indoor cooker designed to comply with the city’s fire code. Depending on who you ask, it was invented at Belvin Metal or Aquarium Metals, both local metalworking shops.

    The smoker is made of a metal firebox topped with a glass-walled grill area and a smoke exhaust pipe, giving it a distinctive aquarium-like look that could be viewed from the street—an important visual element for marketing. Unlike the smoke box or trailer-sized smokers of the South, the aquarium situates the heat source (ideally smoldering wood) directly below the meat, which means a rack of ribs conceivably can be finished in about an hour.

    aquarium smoker

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Adams spritzes the smoldering wood to create clouds of smoke that flavor the meat.

    Low and slow cooking this is not, but the direct wood fire adds a pronounced smoky bark to the meat that is worth crowing over. Add in fries, a mild tomato-based sauce or a spicier vinegar sauce, and a single piece of white bread, and you’ve got a Chicago classic: designed as fast food to eat on the run, with short cooking times ensuring restaurants can stay open all day. At Southern barbecue restaurants where larger quantities of meat cook for longer times, once you run out, you’re out. Chicago barbecue restaurants don't have that problem.

    The Modern Barbecue Landscape

    chicago barbecue

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Chicago barbecue sauce comes in two speeds: thick and sweet or thin and hot.

    The product of a unique set of circumstances at a single point in history, Chicago barbecue is now starting to disappear. A reversal in migration flows, the rising popularity of national fast food chains in black neighborhoods, and skyrocketing ingredient costs and rent have all made it harder for the old guard to stay on. But it still thrives in a few camps.

    There is the Robert Adams’ Texarkana school, his itinerant Honey 1 BBQ, which has on the West, North, and now South sides. The offspring of Mack Sevier (Chicago’s king of the hot link) hold court at Bronzeville’s Uncle J’s and the South Suburbs’ Uncle John's. Despite the recent passing of James Lemons, his Lem’s BBQ still sends smoke out onto 75th like a carnival barker. And Ben’s remains the stalwart option on the West Side.

    Honey 1

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Outside Honey 1.

    But Robert Adams Sr. is the last of the original Southern-born pitmasters, and given that more blacks are moving to the South from Chicago today than the reverse, it's likely to stay that way. Maybe Atlanta will get an aquarium smoker joint soon.

    Chicago-style barbecue may be on the decline, but barbecue in Chicago is growing in new ways, as restaurants specializing in regional Southern styles like Green Street Smoked Meats, Lillie’s Q, and Smoque proliferate across the city. That innovation is a good thing, but it would be a shame to overlook the city’s smoked meat roots, one of the North’s only native forms of barbecue.

    Hunter Owens is an opinionated person based in Chicago, IL. You can follow him on Twitter @hunter_owens.

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    Francis Mallmann

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Mallmann playing with fire.

    Desserts made with fire may seem a little outdated—think the flambé craze of the ’80s—but Francis Mallmann wants us to set aside our doubts.

    “There’s this idea that fire is too brutal for desserts, but you can deliciously burn high sugar content fruits that are very ripe,” Mallmann says. He’s obsessed with scorching peaches, plums, bananas, and pineapples on coals or a griddle, and he regularly uses the tenderness of the fire’s ashes to roast a whole watermelon or a bundle of red summer berries. He’s also known for grilling a cake after baking it and burning dulce de leche-stuffed pancakes dipped in orange marmalade over a pile of coals.

    Francis Mallmann

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    The grill concentrates and intensifies fruit flavors.

    Before we get to the end, so to speak, we must start at the beginning.

    “If I stand up to my thoughts that the true and only reason to eat and drink is to have better conversations, then I should say dessert is very important,” Mallmann tells me. “Dessert brings a childhood joy to the table; when courting a lady, dessert brings intimacy; and when signing a contract, desserts bring the last chance of slightly bending with humor the rigid words of the accord.”

    7 hour Pineapple

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Whole pineapples on the grill. Mallmann cooks these low and slow for hours to caramelize the fruits' sugars while keeping their flavors bright.

    After fussing with haute French cuisine for two decades, the now 60-year-old firestarter with a passion for open-air cooking stopped the charade at age 40. He reverted to his childhood in the wilds of Patagonia where every basic need in life was met by flame. His career began to revolve around the essence of what was once Argentina’s most remote region; the open-fire gospel he learned there became the core of his ethos.

    Francis Mallmann

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Mallmann adds a dose of dulce de leche to his giant panqueque.

    Mallmann sets the scene: “It should be a place outdoors in the comfort of a beautiful shade, with desserts served family-style so guests can go back once again as they please.”

    I asked Mallmann if he thought applying so much heat to normally light summer desserts was compatible with the sweltering haze of the weather right now. He sees no contradiction, particularly if you have your grill going already. And to cool you off, there’s always a dollop of crème fraîche or a scoop of mascarpone.

    Banana Split Gratin

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    A pancake bordered with charred bananas.

    Here’s how Mallmann scorches his dessert.

    Four-Hour Pineapple

    7 hour Pineapple

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Slow-cooking pineapple whole on the grill concentrates and enriches its flavors while keeping the fruit tasting bright. “The pineapple must be very ripe,” Mallmann says. “If not, it’s useless. The slower you do it, the better.”

    Get the recipe for Four-Hour Pineapple »

    Burnt Peaches and Plums with Mascarpone and Hazelnuts

    Peaches and Strawberries Mascarpone

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    At once rustic and refined, this technique amplifies the inherent sweetness of the fruit. The mascarpone-mint leaf combo brings a rich yet uplifting twist. The more ripe your fruit, the better it will caramelize. Look for freestone peaches that will let you remove the pits easily. Mallmann says: “Let them burn a bit without touching them. Don’t flip and flop.”

    Get the recipe for Burnt Peaches and Plums with Mascarpone and Hazelnuts »

    Banana-Pear Pancake

    Banana Split Gratin

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    A thick yet fluffy pancake full of creamy bananas, smooth hints of pear, and crunchy pine nuts over a heap of cool crème fraîche. “This is good with any ripe banana,” Mallmann says, so if you have extra-sweet varieties besides the ubiquitous Cavendish available, use them.

    Get the recipe for Banana-Pear Pancake »

    Giant Apple and Dulce de Leche Pancake

    Panqueque of granny smith apples with dulce de leche

    Matt Taylor-Gross

    Soft apples with a hint of tartness balance a bittersweet caramelized crust, spurred on by rich dulce de leche.

    Get the recipe for Giant Apple and Dulce de Leche Pancake »

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    Cooking by the River

    Bénédicte Desrus

    Locals cooking their caldo de piedra by the river.

    Deep in the northern reaches of rural Oaxaca, Don Julio Isidro, 69, emerges, grinning, from a stand of trees on the banks of the Usila River. In one hand he holds a machete; in the other, a slender tree branch, quickly cleaved to form a kind of oversized tongs. He hands the giant tongs to Don Victor Santiago, another of the village elders, and they exchange a few words in Chinanteco, one of Mexico's few remaining indigenous languages.

    Cooking Stone Soup

    Bénédicte Desrus

    The stone brings the broth to a boil almost instantly.

    Don Victor is tending a raging fire of orangewood planks, which conceal a few dozen carefully selected river stones inside it. Balanced on the rocky shore next to the fire are several jicara, or large gourds, each filled with aromatic vegetables, herbs, cold water, and half a mojarra, a tilapia-like freshwater fish. Soon Don Victor will use the tree-branch tongs to move the glowing-hot stones from the fire into the gourds. Their blazing heat will transform the assorted ingredients into an ancestral dish called caldo de piedra (literally: stone soup): broth cooked not over a fire, but by a hot stone.

    Said to predate the arrival of the conquistadors, caldo de piedra is now famous enough to be found on the menu in white-tablecloth restaurants like Mexico City’s El Lago and Casa Crespo in Oaxaca. But its roots are here, in the tiny Chinantec town of San Felipe Usila, where it remains a fundamental part of life despite the fact that the world around it has changed.

    Ingredients for Stone Soup

    Bénédicte Desrus

    The ingredients for caldo de piedra: fresh-caught fish, tomatoes, onions, limes, and herbs.

    “Usila has all the riches that God gives us, and the people of Usila use everything,” Don Julio says, explaining that all the soup’s ingredients used to be found right here by the river. Some men (until recently, the soup was prepared exclusively by men) would select the stones from the river while others gathered firewood and fished for shrimp and mojarra. Cooks would collect tomatoes, onions, chiles, garlic and herbs from nearby gardens, and not far from where I sit on the riverbank I can see the jicara tree, the bright-green gourds that get turned into bowls hanging heavy from its branches like oversized Christmas ornaments.

    Prepping Vegetables

    Bénédicte Desrus

    The vegetables are prepared within each jicara.

    Today it’s different: A dam built 20 years ago decimated the local mojarra supply, so Usileños now have to drive to the next town to buy fish. Families lug five-gallon bottles of purified water to the shore, fearing that the river water is no longer clean enough to cook with. And instead of using a rock to crush the garlic and tomatoes, some cooks now use graters or even electric blenders to get the job done. But caldo de piedra still plays an essential role in family get-togethers, especially during Semana Santa (Holy Week), when the riverbank is crowded with clusters of people each preparing their version of the dish.

    After a half-hour in the fire, the rocks are ready to be dropped into the gourds, one for each member of our party of assorted family, neighbors and guests. Don Victor uses the tongs to gently guide the first rock into the first jicara. Right away, the broth starts spitting and frothing against the white-hot stone, sending the heady aroma of garlic, cilantro and chiles wafting down the river.

    Splitting Fish

    Bénédicte Desrus

    Splitting mojarra from the river in half before placing them in the bowls.

    Each gourd swallows three or four stones before the soup is ready to eat, and the spent stones are removed before serving. From the first slurp, the soup is intoxicatingly good: spicy, smoky, savory and tinged with mineral notes from the rocks. We eat hunched over our gourds, squatting on the shore. I take a seat on a boulder near Lalo Lozano, an Usileño a generation younger than the elders who starts waxing poetic about the importance of the dish to Chinantec culture.

    “It’s identity, it’s harmony, it’s family,” Lozano says. “It’s our responsibility to teach the kids, so it doesn’t disappear.”

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    Saveur Blog Awards 2016


    Saveur Blog Awards 2016

    The SAVEUR Blog Awards are here, and from a pool of tens of thousands of reader nominations we’ve selected 78 finalists in 13 categories. Now it’s your turn to vote for a winner. Cast your ballot here early and often; you can vote as many times as you like by August 31st. And today: meet the finalists for the Eat the World award, six top food blogs all about international travel and bringing the world to your kitchen.

    Finalists in the Eat the World category are writers from around the globe exploring international cuisines in new and exciting ways. They wander from Italy and Turkey to Myanmar and Honduras, showing how to travel food-first.

    Parla Food

    Parla Food

    Parla Food

    Parla Food, Katie Parla

    The Blog: Food writer Katie Parla lives in Rome, and the mission of her blog is to "highlight great food and beverages, praise the people dedicated to feeding us well, and to get readers talking about what they are eating and drinking.” She focuses on local food culture (and the threats facing them) and critical reviews of restaurants and trends, but you'll also find her reporting on her favorite destinations, especially southern Italy and Turkey.

    The Blogger: Katie Parla is a Rome-based food and beverage educator and journalist. Originally from New Jersey, she has lived in Rome since 2003. She has written and edited more than 20 books and her food criticism and travel writing have appeared in The New York Times, Saveur, Food & Wine, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Punch, and more. Katie is the author of the ebook “Eating & Drinking in Rome,” the mobile dining apps “Katie Parla’s Rome” and “Katie Parla’s Istanbul.” and the book National Geographic’s Walking Rome. Her cookbook, Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City, co-authored with photographer Kristina Gill, recounts the traditional and contemporary cuisine of Rome.

    Rambling Spoon

    Rambling Spoon

    Rambling Spoon

    Rambling Spoon, Karen Coates

    The Blog: Rambling Spoon: Our Food, Our Planet covers the cultures of eating, the health of our environment, and the conversations we’re having about what we eat.

    The Blogger: Karen Coates is an author and journalist who specializes in food, environment, health, and human rights in developing societies. She spent several years living in Asia and working as a correspondent for Gourmet before settling in New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley with her husband, photojournalist Jerry Redfern. They live on a little plot of land with gardens, grapes and fruit trees. Karen periodically teaches Southeast Asian cooking classes in the United States. Her latest book, with Jerry, is Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos. She is a senior fellow at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism.

    potato chips are not dinner.

    [potato chips are not dinner.](, Paulina Farro

    potato chips are not dinner.

    The Blog: Potato Chips Are Not Dinner was born out of necessity: 14-hour workdays as a flight attendant, days away from a home and a kitchen, and eating whatever packaged food happened to be rolling around the bottom of her flight bag for dinner. This is perhaps why blogger Paulina Farro became hyperaware of what people around the world were filling their bellies with as she travelled around the world. She brings this inspiration home and shares recipes, illustrations, and stories of the beautiful people, places, and things she comes across along the way.

    The Blogger: Paulina has always loved cooking and bringing people together with food; she grew up watching her Grandmother cook beloved Filipino recipes and annoying her with her eager-yet-lackluster Lumpia rolling skills. As long as she’s making something, whether it’s a cake, an illustration of a cake, or a picture of a cake, she’s happy. Traveling provides an endless sources of inspiration for these creations, and she’d be lying if she said she doesn't choose her next destination based on the food she gets to eat.

    Eating with your Hands

    [Eating with your Hands](, Fernando Nikolić

    Eating with your Hands

    Eating with your Hands, Fernando Nikolić

    The Blog: Eating With Your Hands is an online platform focused on food you can eat with your hands. Because, let's be honest, hand food is fun food. We all love to order pizza for a fun night in, or get a mean burger after night out dancing, and what would summer be without ice-cream cones? EWYH is dedicated to bringing its readers regular hand-based inspiration and includes recipes, places, guides, and features.

    The Blogger: Born in Mar del Plata, raised in Oslo, and now based in Berlin, Fernando Manuel Lopez is a web consultant, co-founder of Ouibonjour, and creator and writer behind food blog Eating with your Hands. Living and working in cities like Paris, Barcelona, and Berlin, and being married to a Persian-Canadian foodie, has given Fernando a passion and interest in food and inspired him to run Eating with your Hands.


    [EatingAsia](, Robyn Eckhardt

    David Hagerman

    EatingAsia, Robyn Eckhardt

    The Blog: EatingAsia seeks to go beyond the dish to explore, in words and photographs, street food culture, markets, ingredients, and traditional foodways in Asia, Turkey and beyond. There's nowhere they won't go, because they believe that even the most well-travelled places and the most well-"understood" cuisines can offer up surprises. As much as they love a good meal, for them, food is an entree; the biggest reward to what they do is the people they are lucky enough to get to know along the way.

    The Blogger: Eleven years ago this month writer Robyn Eckhardt and photographer David Hagerman moved to Malaysia; inspired by their new home’s magnificent food scene they launched EatingAsia. Since then they've explored exceptional eats, magnificent markets and unusual ingredients, and highlighted praiseworthy cooks in south east Asia and beyond. Most recently they spent 16 months road-tripping in Turkey for their first cookbook, out fall 2017 from Rux Martin Books. The couple’s goals for the year ahead include getting reacquainted with Penang, their home base; revisiting Asia’s most under-appreciated food destination (Taiwan); and making up for a long-standing red wine deficit in Italy.


    [black.white.vivid](, Kati Boden


    black.white.vivid, Kati Boden

    The Blog: black.white.vivid. is a colorful lifestyle blog curated by Kati for the curious traveler and healthy foodie. A love story between images and words, Kati's travel adventures take readers to unknown places, local eats, and happy moments. Aiming to capture the interest for traveling and foreign cultures, the blog curates food guides from around the world as well as recipes inspired by Kati’s travels. The recipes are easy, mostly vegan and burst with colors and vitamins.

    The Blogger: Kati Boden is a photographer, food enthusiast and travel lover who was born in Germany. She loves to share her adventures and the tasty finds she eats at home and away. She has travelled to 5 continents, lived in 9 countries and toured 64 nations. From freshly baked empanadas in Argentina to spicy curries in India and green tea ice cream in Japan, she has always enjoyed documenting new taste experiences. Now she's living in Istanbul and when she's not cuddling her cats, you can find her wandering through hidden alleys or devouring Turkish treats.

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    Soft Cream Collage

    Hannah Kirshner

    Endless flavors of soft cream.

    In a country with some 300 regionally and seasonally specific varieties of Kit-Kit bar and different specialty snacks at every train station, Japan has no shortage of ways to collect limited edition foods. One of the less appreciated genres—and my personal favorite—is soft serve ice cream.

    Soft cream, as it’s called in Japan, is a souvenir you can’t take home with you, but that’s part of the pleasure: you can only taste it right there in that moment. If you live in Japan, etiquette requires that when you take a business trip you bring back a treat from that city for your coworkers and family—such as chick-shaped manju sweets from Tokyo or roasted twig tea from Kaga. But the soft cream is just for you.

    According to the Japanese Soft Cream Commission, soft cream was introduced by American occupying forces on their (American) Independence Day celebration in 1951, and later that year department stores all over the country started serving it. Like so many inventions that Japan has adopted from other cultures and made all their own (and, arguably, way better), Japan’s soft cream has its own delightful range of flavors, many particular to certain cities, towns, or single shops. Matcha, kuro-goma (black sesame), and kinako (nutty toasted soybean flour) are as ubiquitous in Japan as chocolate and vanilla in the U.S., and almost every town has its own special flavor.

    Japan’s “road stations” (great places to eat, unlike most American rest stops) often feature soft cream flavored with the area’s famous crops, from potato to peach. Factories and farms offer visitors soft cream in keeping with their product, whether miso, melon, or rose petals. There are novelty cones like udon (with noodles wrapped around the ice cream) in Kagawa and and fried oyster in Okayama that are mostly for shock value—but most of the flavors, even if they sound unusual, taste fantastic.

    Here are 10 to look for in Japan, organized roughly from the south of the country to the north.

    Purple Sweet Potato (Beni-Imo) at Onno Confectionary Palace, Okinawa

    Beni Imo

    Hannah Kirshner

    Purple Sweet Potato

    These nutrient dense purple sweet potatoes are part of a traditional Okinawan diet that’s linked to longevity. Though the tubers are served in savory dishes such as tempura, at Onno Confectionary Palace you’ll find all kinds of beni-imo sweets:tarts, candy, and of course a delightfully earthy, purple-hued soft cream.

    Onno Confectionary Palace
    Yubinbango 904-0404
    Okinawa Prefecture
    Kunigami-gun Onna Serakaki 100

    Mikan (Mandarin orange) Soft Cream at Yoshiumi Road Station in Ehime


    Hannah Kirshner

    Mandarin Orange

    The best mikan—those sweet-as-candy easy-to-peel seedless mandarins—come from Ehime, and the juicy, tangy little seedless oranges are a treat themselves (they sell for anywhere from a dollar a pound to eight dollars for one fruit). This pit stop on the Shimanami Kaido, a road that you can travel by bicycle or car over seven bridges between islands populated with citrus groves, offers seafood barbecue, and of course creamy pale orange mikan soft cream.

    Yoshiumi Road Station
    Imabari, Ehime Prefecture
    Yoshiumi name 4520-2

    Sake Kasu Soft Cream at Shishi no Sato in Yamanaka Onsen

    Sake Kasu

    Hannah Kirshner

    Sake Kasu

    There’s nothing like a cold dessert after a long soak in an onsen (a hot-spring-fed spa). This local sake brewery’s shop, a block from Yamanaka Onsens’s public bath, is a popular stop for locals and tourists alike: they offer sake kasu soft cream, sweetly aromatic and vaguely boozy with the smooth rice sediment from sake-making. It has the gentle flavor of sweet nigori sake.

    Shishi no Sato
    Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture
    Yamanaka Onsen Honcho 2-chome

    Blueberry Soft Cream at Beshodake Sky Deck service area in Noto


    Hannah Kirshner


    The isolated Noto Peninsula grows blueberries that get made into jam, sweet wine (that tastes like jam), and of course soft cream. This service area boasts a sky deck with a spectacular view over the mountains to the coast, a well-stocked gift shop, and a good cafe. The soft cream is intensely fruity with real berries blended into the base. Swirled with vanilla, the striking purple ice cream is as beautiful as it is delicious.

    Beshodake Sky Deck
    Ishikawa Prefecture
    Nakajimamachi Bessyo, Noto Highway Bessyodake Service Area, Nanao 929-2202

    Peanut Soft Cream at Kimura Peanuts in Chiba


    Hannah Kirshner


    In this suburb of Tokyo known for growing the finest peanuts, you can stop by shops dedicated entirely to them—roasted, flavored, and made into myriad snack foods. The volcanic soil here is ideal for growing them, and the peanuts you buy in Chiba are fresher and more flavorful than what you’ll find almost anywhere else. The venerable Kimura Peanut plant is a good place to load up on peanutty souvenirs—and enjoy a rich peanut soft cream.

    236-3 Shimosanagura Tateyama Chiba

    Volcanic Ash Vanilla Soft Cream at Owaku-dani in Kanagawa

    Volcanic Ash

    Hannah Kirshner

    Volcanic Ash

    This volcanic valley of Mt. Hakone has a reputation for black boiled eggs, cooked and colored by the sulphurous natural hot springs. If that’s not your cup of tea, try a soft cream blackened with volcanic ash. The ash doesn’t add much flavor—the ice cream tastes like vanilla—but the color is dramatically black, with a slightly powdery texture.

    Kanagawa Prefecture
    1251 Sengokuhara, Ashigarashimo-gun, Hakone-machi 250-0631

    Satsuma-Imo (Yam) Soft Cream at Imokin Mandago in Asakusa


    Hannah Kirshner

    Sweet Potato

    When you visit Sensoji temple in Asakusa, it’s hard to miss the satsumai-imo (sweet yam)snacks this Tokyo neighborhood is known for. The purple-skinned, yellow-fleshed yams are made into imo-yokan (firm sweet potato jelly candy), and daigaku imo (fried and syrup coated chunks of yam dotted with sesame seeds). Naturally, there’s satsuma-imo soft cream too, and it truly tastes like sweet potato. You’ll find many soft cream vendors around Sensoji, but this satsuma-imo sweets shop makes a particularly good one.

    Imokin Mandago
    Taito-ku, Tokyo Asakusa 1-21-5

    Soy Sauce and Miso, at Yamaki Jozo in Saitama

    Soy Sauce and Miso

    Hannah Kirshner

    Soy Sauce and Miso

    At this organic brewery, where cookbook author Nancy Singleton Hachisu likes to take visitors, the soy sauce is eye-openingly complex and the ponzu is good enough to drink. Another highlight is the salty-sweet miso and soy sauce flavors of soft cream, which are reminiscent of a gently salted caramel, not harsh at all, with a hint of umami backing the velvety cool sweetness of the ice cream.

    Yamaki Jozo
    Saitama Prefecture
    Kodama-gun Kamikawa-cho Oaza Shimoaguhara 955

    Egg Soft Cream at Michi no Eki Hinai Tottokan in Akita


    Hannah Kirshner


    Akita prefecture’s hardy Hinaidori chickens—ornate brown feathered hens and multi-colored roosters—are considered a national treasure. Pull off the highway in Akita to get skewers of hinadori yakitori—and golden-hued egg flavored ice cream. The color is so dramatic I’m not convinced it’s entirely derived from eggs, but the extra-custardy richness sets it apart. Once in a while you’ll find an apologetic sign when they can’t source enough hinadori eggs to make the soft cream.

    Michi no Eki Hinai Tottokan
    Akita Prefecture
    Odate Hinai Senda Catedral Nueva Tsutsumishita 93-11

    Hokkaido Milk on Soft Cream Street in Hokodate


    Hannah Kirshner

    Hokkaido Milk

    Hokodate city may be the ultimate destination for soft cream lovers: there’s an entire street flanked by soft cream vendors offering everything from pure milk flavor to local melon, seaweed, scallop, and squid ink. Because it’s the only part of Japan geographically suited to large-scale dairy farming, Hokkaido produces ice cream with reputation for exceptionally high quality, so take a stroll down the street and sample as much ice cream as you can.

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    J. Walton

    Rawa'a, Dalal, and Manahel, the trio of chefs at Karam Kitchen, with a sample of their food.

    When Brittani Farrington volunteered to help throw a welcome dinner for a handful of displaced families from Syria in Hamilton, Ontario, she intended on preparing the food—until three of the refugees asked if they could do the cooking instead.

    Rawa'a, Dalal, and Manahel, three women who had resettled in Canada a few months before, knew they couldn’t communicate in English, but they could introduce themselves with their pillowy homemade pitas and mutabal, a yogurt-thickened cousin of baba ghannoush. Moved by the meal, Farrington opened up Google Translate to communicate with the women, and she slowly gleaned that they were interested in selling their food. So in July, she created a Kickstarter to fund Karam Kitchen, a catering business run by the women, and set a goal of just over $4,900 USD to cover the bare-minimum basics. Start date: July 24, with 30 days to reach full funding.

    Little did Farrington expect to see the project nearly half-funded in the first 24 hours, and fully funded in just four days.

    “The women were so excited [when I told them it was funded], though they were much more excited about being on the front page of The Hamilton Spectator,” Farrington says. “They felt like they were famous.”

    Marketed as a catering company that “seeks to empower Syrian newcomers to build a new life in Hamilton and contribute to [the city’s] vibrant community,” Karam, which translates to generosity in Arabic, currently has over twice the amount of money it projected as a goal and nearly 200 backers—and there’s still a week left. With help from business partner and co-founder Kim Kralt, who has catering experience and a degree in social work, Farrington has lead the women through all the necessary steps, like earning their food handlers’ certification, and the more exciting tasks, like creating their standard catering menu.

    Brittani Farrington

    J. Walton

    Brittani Farrington, co-founder of Karam Kitchen. Rawa'a, Dalal, and Manahel declined to be photographed themselves.

    Kralt found herself running around the kitchen, scrambling to keep up with the women who cooked each dish by feel. After finally convincing the women to measure how many cups of yogurt went into their smoky mutabal recipe before mixing, she and the team settled on a menu with both recognizable dishes to locals, such as tabouleh and hummus, and others that are less so, like meat- and rice-stuffed eggplant and zucchini. Their first official catering gig is September 8th for a meeting of the city’s Task Force on Refugee Resettlement, a group of 25 to 30 people who have supported Karam Kitchen from the start. From there, Karam already has a few packed months ahead. It’s an impressive schedule for any catering business, let alone one that’s only half a year old—and to say nothing of the language barrier.

    Just as Rawa'a, Dalal, and Manahel were new to Hamilton, a Canadian port city with a population of half a million, so was Farrington. Born in the Midwest, where she went to college and gained experience doing marketing for catering companies, she found herself uprooted a year ago to Ontario for her husband’s PhD program. Well aware of United States’ shaky reception of Syrian refugees, Farrington was shocked to find herself in a city with a global department dedicated to making the city welcoming to refugees, and with a large task force behind it. In the past year, Hamilton alone has welcomed 1,000 displaced Syrians.

    Since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011, the U.N. estimates that nearly 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid, and more than 50% of the population is displaced—but only 3.6% of those who are displaced have resettled in another country.

    Karam Kitchen Table

    J. Walton

    Just a few of the dishes on Karam's menu.

    While the U.S. hasn’t been that receptive to Syria’s refugees, our neighbors north of the border have proven to be especially welcoming. In the past few months, both the New York Times and the Washington Post ran features on Canada’s programs. According to Global Affairs Canada, the governmental department that manages the country’s diplomatic relations, Canada has taken in over 25,000 refugees since November 2015 and has spent over $1 billion in “humanitarian, development, and security assistance.”

    “It's been so refreshing here in Canada to be living in a city that is generally incredibly welcoming to refugees,” Farrington says, emphasizing that though displaced persons are obviously grateful to be welcomed in foreign countries, leaving their home is bittersweet. “Rawa'a, Dalal, and Manahel were always serving me cookies and tea [when I visited their homes], despite their limited resources, so I've been so pleased to see the city rally around newcomers.”

    Now that Karam has exceeded its $4,900 USD goal, they’re hoping to reach just over $11,600 by August 24th, an amount that will allow them to purchase more equipment and packaging, as well as fulfill all rewards for Kickstarter donors. But beyond supporting the women, Farrington stands behind the food; she doesn’t want people supporting Karam solely because of the cause, but also because she believes in the crisp-fried falafel, the savory-sweet cabbage and pomegranate salad, and every other dish on their menu.

    “We believe so strongly in the women, which might be why someone initially orders from us,” Farrington says, “but it’s such quality food that we feel confident that if we can get people to try it, they’ll be hooked.”

    Read more stories from Ladies First, a column about people doing amazing things in the food world who happen to be women »

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    Jacqueline Raposo

    Explore the city of markets, ancient and modern.

    Plan a trip to Barcelona and chances are you’ll receive a short list of recommendations about places you have to see: the Picasso museum, Gaudi’s epic Sagrada Familia, a walk on Las Ramblas, and of course the Boqueria market—the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, to be precise. For the food-obsessed, the sprawling Boqueria is a more than worthy destination, with centuries of history and lane after lane of stalls selling virtually everything you can eat in Spain. And as one of the most tourist-trafficked markets in the world, it’s almost perpetually mobbed. As we set out on a local market excursion, chef Mauro Ciccarelli of Arola at the Hotel Arts admits that many chefs stop there to load up when their suppliers fall short, too.

    The same isn’t the case with Barcelona’s 40 or so other public markets, which date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In truth, Barcelona is a city of markets, and compared to the impressive-if-forbidding Boqueria, many of the smaller ones are steeped in even more local charm.

    Ninot Ous de Calaf.

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Ninot Ous de Calaf.

    In the middle and late 20th century, many of Barcelona’s public markets fell into disuse as mass-produced food and supermarkets became the norm. But with the greater demand for organic produce at the turn of the 21st century, Spain progressively set aside what is now the largest area dedicated to organic farming in the European Union, spawning a renewed pride overall in fresh, local ingredients. With a big economic push from city officials to revitalize the aging structures, many markets underwent facelifts to become renewed and vital neighborhood centers. Ciccarelli guides us toward one such market—Mercat Del Ninot—where locals shop lazily on a quiet Monday morning. As we casually wander, he points out commonalities in the market scene today.

    Ham on Display

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Ham at Ninot on display.

    Each market has several fish and meat stalls, where products are labeled with area of origin. Astounding varieties of dry beans and lentils sit in massive bags and baskets, ready to be weighed out by the pound. Legs of jamon Iberico hang from hooks or await slicing at many a stall, where links of spicy, smoked sausage lay alongside in abundance (all in the chorizo vein).

    There’s cheese aplenty, too. And stands of fresh melon, plums, tiny pears, peaches, and tomate de ramallet—the small, grainy tomatoes used only for pa amb tomaquet (Catalan tomato toast)—are particularly hearty in the late summer months.


    Jacqueline Raposo

    Choosing meats at Concepció is an exercise in communication well worth the experience.

    But each market contains its own gems as well, be it a particular stand or an experience of Catalonian culture that has survived modernization. And while it may be hard to determine whether the first language spoken will be Catalan or Spanish, most vendors open up to friendly inquiry or, at worst, give you the space to flounder until you finish your order.


    Jacqueline Raposo

    Hanging tomatoes at Concepció.

    Word to the wise: Some of these markets close for a few hours mid-afternoon, and seasonal hours vary, so make sure you have your watch synchronized. Bring cloth bags—you won’t be offered plastic. And don’t expect whole-bean coffee stalls or a quick iced coffee to be found anywhere; for a country with a rich coffee culture, most people use mass-produced grounds, and if requesting something cold you’ll be given a cup with an ice cube alongside your espresso or latte.

    Here are five great local markets to visit for a taste of Barcelona beyond the Boqueria.

    Mercat del Ninot


    Jacqueline Raposo

    Local cheeses catch the eyes of buyers at Mercat del Ninot.

    Built in 1933 on land used as a market since the late 19th century, the Mercat del Ninot underwent a massive and stunning revitalization in 2015. Though it looks completely modern, it still retains some of its original purveyors like the xarcuteria Alonso Andres. Stop at Ous de Calaf for an impressive collection of eggs from quail, ostrich, turkey, and many breeds of chicken, all sitting out in their non-refrigerated, happy glory. At Porta Novau, find a colorful variety of dry goods like dehydrated fruit or roasted nuts for snacking, along with beans, pastas, and oils.

    While many markets are flanked by small restaurants and bars that serve market fare, Ninot was rebuilt with these spaces in mind, so come hungry and grab a bite at Restaurant la Cuina del Ninot, Bar Jyp, Bar David del Ninot, and more. Eating at one of them exceptional way to meet locals, scope out what they’re eating, and then order the same.

    Carrer de Mallorca, 133

    Mercat de L’Abaceria Central

    L'Abaceria Central

    Jacqueline Raposo

    Fresh fruits at L'Abaceria Central.

    Built in 1892, the L’Abaceria Central is one of the city’s oldest markets and, as it hasn’t been restored, retains a more roughshod look in a working-class neighborhood passed over by most tourists. All stalls bustle during busy hours, selling slabs of dried cod, fresh meat, dried mushrooms, and canned fish. But locals visit on quiet mornings, too, taking a break for a sip of coffee or breakfast at Bar Parera before wandering outside for clothing, books, tchotchkes, and inexpensive electronics. Take in the market’s relaxed energy and pretend you live nearby.

    Travessera de Gracia, 186

    Mercat de la Llibertat

    La Libertat

    Jacqueline Raposo

    La Libertat is way less crowded than the Boqueria, but still has plenty to offer.

    Opened in 1888 and now completely modernized, the Mercat de la Llibertat sits in the Vila de Gracia, surrounded by stalls selling clothes, books, and flowers. Inside, stock up on thin slices of meat and cheese at xarcuteria Bragulat, then jars of cured olives, hearts of palm, and artichokes at Helbig, where the patient purveyor takes his time with you. Then run like a kid in a candy store to La Grana, a third-generation family stall that sells a dizzyingly colorful variety of candied and dried fruit, wood-roasted hazelnuts and almonds, Catalonian nuts, and high-end chocolates.

    Plaça Llibertat, 27

    Mercat de la Concepció


    Jacqueline Raposo

    Cured meats and Iberico Ham from Concepció.

    Set within the Modernist-style buildings of the upscale La Dreta de l’Eixample neighborhood, built in 1888 and stunningly revitalized in the late 1990’s, Concepció is such a community staple that it’s hard to find meat or good produce in any major supermarket nearby. But meat this market has aplenty, with several xarcuterias offering a plethora of sliced cured meats to order, prepared packages of jamon, salsitxa, and chorico, and stalls that specialize only in fresh cuts of chicken, beef, pork, or lamb. Once outside, wander through the flower stalls to lunch at Sopa de Pedres where, for around 15 Euro, you can get a daily three-course prix-fixe meal of fresh market finds.

    Carrer d’ Aragó, 313-317

    Mercat de Santa Caterina


    Jacqueline Raposo

    At markets like Mercat de Santa Caterina and Lagrana, displays of candied fruit entice shoppers with a sweet tooth.

    Nestled in the Old Town part of the city, Santa Caterina (named after the Dominican convent that once stood there) was the first covered market in the city and has been continually revitalized, with Guadi-esque mosaic roof tiles and a vaulting interior of warm wood beams set high in the ceiling. Inside, there are five stalls selling eggs alone, three reserved for olives and canned vegetables, and endless options for fish, meat, and produce. There’s also a modern supermercat inside for household items, and a pharmacy.

    Avenue de Francesc Cambó, 16

    More Barcelona information available at Mercats de Barcelona.

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    Tokyo Tsukiji Market

    Max Falkowitz

    The inner and outer markets at Tsukiji.

    For 15 years now, the world's most famous fish market has been in limbo. Tourist mainstay and site of record-breaking tuna auctions (alongside sales of every other swimming thing Japan eats), Tokyo's Tsukiji market has been slated for demolition and relocation to a modern facility on Tokyo Bay. But Bloomberg reports that in an 11th hour save, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has just announced that the move will be postponed indefinitely.

    The move, scheduled for November 7th, was an effort to reclaim some of Tokyo's most valuable real estate while updating the aging market's old-fashioned sensibilities: cobblestone floors, open-air design, and close-packed stalls, which some say cause issues for sanitation and more modern developments like refrigerated truck deliveries. But after years of struggling to contain costs and rising concerns about the environmental safety of the new site (formerly a gas plant), officials have pulled the plug. “Construction costs had ballooned,” Bloomberg quotes Koike as saying—current estimates were 588.4 billion yen, just a little under six billion U.S. dollars.

    Tsukiji has long been one of Tokyo's biggest tourist draws, most famously for its pre-dawn tuna auctions, where visitors are allowed to line up in the middle of the night—right on the cobblestone, no creature comforts in this working market—to observe sales. The inner market is then closed to tourists throughout the morning, opening up again after the day's business is done. Surrounding the inner market is a labyrinth of food stalls and small groceries, which would have found themselves without an anchor and home had the market's move proceded.

    So for now, Tsukiji is safe, and considering the obstacles in the path of relocating it, visitors can breathe a sigh of relief. But in a city as future-minded as Tokyo, with real estate this valuable, there's no guarantee how long that will remain the case.

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