Tortilla with Ham and Cheese
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- 05/09/17--08:30: _This Over-the-Top F...
- 03/27/17--09:00: Meet the Bakers, Cheesemakers, and Pepper Farmers of Basque Country
- 03/27/17--15:00: Choripán Will Put Your Hot Dog To Shame
- 04/03/17--14:30: Where Our Editors Traveled in March
- 04/04/17--05:00: 5 Essential Greek Snacks to Try in Thessaloniki
- 04/11/17--11:00: Why is China in Love With This Savory Pancake?
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- 05/02/17--10:45: Where SAVEUR's Editors Traveled in April
Jane Sigal follows the makers preserving the native tastes and character of this distinctive corner of southwestern France
My friend Olivia's mother and aunt are preparing quintessential Basque dishes for dinner. There will be blistered padrón peppers, along with baked goods. For the moment, it's a squid cook-off, and the sisters eye each other's mise-en-place in the aunt's apartment kitchen in Biarritz, an elegant beach town wedged between the Pyrenees and the Atlantic Ocean. When most people think of Basque country, they think of Spain, but the region is made up of seven provinces, three of which are in France.
The French portion, called Iparralde in the Basque language, has its own way of doing things. Dinner's at eight, not 10, and it's a full meal. While Olivia's mother and aunt squabble over just how much garlic is too much for their dishes—both end up lovely, though I prefer her aunt's intensely garlicky version—there's no debate on the subject of how to properly approach the ubiquitous gâteau basque that follows for dessert: no fork necessary. Eating the uniquely French Basque pastry, buttery and filled with dark cherry preserves, with your hands is part of the pleasure.
On an early spring tour of the Pays Basque, when the Atlantic is cold but surfers are out, suited up in neoprene, Olivia introduced me to some local characters who are keeping the region's wholly unique traditions alive while adding their own interpretations. Together, they compose a gastronomic cross-section of a region that maps and locals sometimes disagree on. "This is Basque country," as Olivia's cousin told me one night at the dinner table. "Not France."
With his right hand, Eric Ospital slides a probe into the thickest part of the jambon de Bayonne (Basque ham), then presses it to his nostrils and inhales deeply. The probe, called a sonde, is shaped like a digital thermometer but more elegant and much lower tech, carved as it is from horse bone.
Ospital is a judge at the annual Foire au Jambon, a ham fair held each spring in Bayonne since 1462. In tented stands along the Nive River, fairgoers noisily dig into ancient shepherd's snacks of griddled cornmeal flatbreads stuffed with bacon or sausage and dripping with cheese. But here in the ham competition, it's nearly silent, the mood serious. Ospital and his fellow judges, charcutiers dressed in matching neckerchiefs and black lab coats, make their way around tables of enormous haunches. Among them are red-robed, note-taking members of the Bayonne ham brotherhood, photographers, and a crowd of tense farmers. These farmstead hams are rubbed with red piment d'Espelette for color and arranged in folkloric displays. One re-creates an autumnal scene with moss, chestnuts in their spiky shells, and cèpe mushrooms. Another ham is accompanied by a cutout of the Bayonne skyline—all cathedral spires and arcaded houses—and other regional signifiers, like the handmade woven basket and leather ball of pelote, a popular jai alai-like game, and cocoa beans, a nod to the region's delicious chocolate.
By holding the sonde to his nostrils, Ospital can tell if the meat is pleasantly savory—or musty. "We work with the nose," he says, at the same time prodding the ham leg with his left hand to feel if it is too hard (dried out), too soft (not aged long enough), or properly firm.
France recognizes jambon de Bayonne—raw, unsmoked, simply cured with salt and air-dried—as worthy of its own indication géographique protégée (IGP) label. Translation: Here is a ham so inherently special and inimitable that any attempts to duplicate it elsewhere or tweak its production should be prevented by law. Yet Ospital's father, Louis, felt, like judges from older generations, that the designation didn't go far enough to protect the quality and traditions of their hams. In the 1980s, they created their Ibaïama label, which uses only a specialized breed of pigs and a 20-month-average aging time. Even the source of the salt is indicated: Salies-de-Béarn, where a saltwater spring produces white pyramidal crystals that taste of violets.
Today, Eric Ospital is a recognized master of the ham-making arts. Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud fly trainees to southwest France to study with him. In his late teens, Ospital apprenticed with charcutiers in Bayonne and did his military service in Berlin around the time the wall came down. After, Ospital worked at Paris's legendary food emporium Fauchon during the tenure of pastry visionary Pierre Hermé. He learned discipline and precision while preparing oeufs en gelée and foie gras terrines. It was around that time, in the 1990s, that food artisans began to appear on the menus of Paris's best restaurants.
Ospital had found his mission: to rehabilitate the profession of charcutier. In the 1980s, as the French began to eat out more, charcuteries started focusing less on cured meat and more on takeaway meals, too often bought from industrial wholesalers. Ospital traveled to Italy to see how the finest hams were made. He modernized his father's recipe by using less salt and then took the nutty, sweet ham to Paris. Modern bistro pioneer Yves Camdeborde preferred the texture of Ospital's product to the fabled acorn-fed hams of Spain and introduced it to his clients. Eventually, Joël Robuchon and Thierry Marx came calling—though they served the ham in dainty slices, unlike in Basque country, where it's often cut into thick steaks, griddled, and served with eggs.
Ospital's hams are aged in an airy drying room next to the Ospital family charcuterie in Hasparren, 22 miles southeast of Biarritz. The space looks like the spotless attic of a particularly industrious Basque grandmother: Strings of Espelette peppers dry under the steeply pitched roof, and hunks of ham dangle from heavy wood beams. Each is swaddled in muslin and wears a small blackboard with the name of a restaurant to which it's been promised; each is aged differently, according to the individual taste of its patron. Every year, Ospital produces only 1,000 hams. Some are destined for Paris, others for Japan and New York. The ham maker is pleased with his progress, though he notes, "If you have to have a Maserati, this is not the job for you."
The Pepper Grower
The one homegrown chile of France is, like many things French, subtly complex. Piment d'Espelette has flavors of tomato and hay and a buzz that's gentle rather than incendiary.
"We never use black pepper at home," says Rodolphe Bidart, who grows the pepper on his farm near the spa town of Cambo-les-Bains. The mellow heat and warm familiarity of the peppers are enough for him.
Bidart used to lay tiles to make ends meet before he transitioned to farming full-time, a shift that's telling of piment d'Espelette's evolution: Once barely known beyond the Pyrenees, the vibrant dust of this brick red pepper has now spread as far and wide as San Francisco and Bangkok, where chefs sprinkle it on plates for added color.
Bidart's house, a converted barn with coppery stone walls and green shutters that's belonged to his family for four generations, is the perfect spot for storing hay. It's dry and sunny here, but a few miles west, outside Cambo-les-Bains, the climate is completely different and better suited to growing the slender 3- to 4-inch peppers. Warm moist air from the Bay of Biscay rises over the slopes, and it rains, often.
At his greenhouse near Cambo, Bidart shows off the 6-week-old shoots he's started from seeds saved from last year's harvest. In April, he plants the seedlings outside. In August, as the peppers ripen, everybody—wife, father, brother, brother-in-law—is pressed into harvesting duty. It's done by hand, an AOP regulation. The chiles are air-dried (but not smoked like pimentón in Spain) on racks, first in the greenhouse for two weeks, then for two days in a dehydrator. When all the moisture is coaxed out, the peppers are ground. Dried, they're the same oxblood color as the exposed timbers in the storybook farmhouses of the region.
Before they had dehydrators, farmers strung up the peppers on south-facing façades, and you still see them, red braids on whitewashed walls, in the pepper's namesake capital of Espelette, near the Spanish border. Harking back to this custom, pepper growers save the prettiest chiles to sew into garlands, and locals dry them at home or buy them dried, then crush or chop them as needed.
While Bidart can rattle off that it takes 7-plus kilograms of fresh peppers to make 1 kilogram of the spice, he can't tell me much about what to do with it in the kitchen. Instead, he drives me northwest along the scenic, winding Route Impériale des Cimes to Bayonne, where his school friend Sébastien Gravé operates La Table de Pottoka, named after a native pony believed to have Paleolithic origins.
Gravé trained with the celebrated chefs Joël Robuchon and Christian Constant. He works with the freshest ingredients and a broad Basque humor. Bidart and Gravé chat in fits of laughter, while the chef prepares his take on chicken basquaise, breasts sautéed until golden brown, then quickly braised in white wine and stock. With piquillos replacing bell peppers, spicy sausages instead of ham and a hit of diced green apple, this iteration provides a new conception of the Basque standard and a pointer on piment d'Espelette: You don't cook it. Sprinkle it on just before serving, Gravé says. Unlike its Spanish relative pimentón, whose smokiness practically blooms in the pot, the French chile's delicate flavor can't take the heat.
Mickaël Sansoucy tosses boulangerie-size heaps of sugar, butter, eggs, and flour into a mixer for the pâte sablée in his gâteau basque. Asked if the dough might be too tough, he looks amused. "You don't have to worry," the baker says with a massively dimpled smile. "There is so much butter in this pastry."
A six-minute ride from Cambo-les-Bains, the town where the emblematic Basque dessert was invented, the baker from Brittany makes a prizewinning version of the cookielike double-crusted tart with a filling of either vanilla pastry cream or dark cherry preserves. Since Sansoucy arrived in Larressore in 2010, the community has embraced him with a big warm hug. His customers even nominated his bakery, Axola Gabe—a Basque translation of his family name that means "carefree"—as a contender for the Top Chef-like reality cooking show La Meilleure Boulangerie de France.
Mickaël and his brother, Sylvain, who takes care of sales and promotion, left their home of coastal Brittany in search of an environment that would welcome their unusual ideas, like gluten-free baking. "Being Breton, I absolutely wanted sea and mountains," Mickaël says. "And Basques and Bretons have their own languages and many of the same cultural codes. Basques are more accepting of newcomers and innovation though."
In some ways, the Sansoucy brothers have taken a step back in time. In their small artisanal shop, they bake baguettes and country loaves, plus rustic croissants, cakes, and pastries. They sell at roving markets and make individual deliveries to people who can't get out. But their delivery trucks are 100 percent electric powered. And riding the trend of resurrected ancient grains, Mickaël uses stoneground wheat and flours made from einkorn, buckwheat, rye, and kamut. The brothers can't keep up with dem-and; they're building a new bakery.
You could say Mickaël has become more Basque than the Basques themselves. He studies Euskara, their ancient language, and is a member of Eguzkia, the gâteau basque's defending authority. In fact, his by-the-book version of the pastry has placed three times in Cambo-les-Bains's annual gâteau basque contest. He's also introduced a version of Brittany's buttery kouign amann pastry with a very Basque touch: It's layered with a bite of piment d'Espelette-spiked chocolate.
Raphaël Eliceche—up to his right elbow in warm milk curds and wearing a beret—whistles as he stirs. It's a plaintive tune. When I ask the 49-year-old cheesemaker what it is, he grins as if he's been caught.
"It's an old folk song," he says. "We have a shepherd who sings it, and it's gotten stuck in my head."
Although Bidarray, the nearest village to Eliceche's farm, is only 40 minutes southeast of Biarritz where we are staying, we didn't allow for the twisty one-lane road into the Pyrenees foothills. Fortunately, there are hand-stenciled fromage signs at every turn. When we arrive, it's past nine. Meanwhile, Eliceche has already milked his 400 ewes and combined the morning's milk with yesterday's in a stainless-steel vat the size of a Jacuzzi.
While we wait for the milk to warm in the steamy dairy, he tells us about his background. Like their neighbors, his parents grew a little corn and some grapevines and kept a few pigs and sheep. Like all farmwives, his mother, Jeanne, made cheese, and Eliceche, before attending ag school, learned from her. She taught him to milk the animals by hand and heat the milk in a copper cauldron in the fireplace. At age 26, he began to pursue cheesemaking seriously. But he probably wouldn't be a full-time sheepherder and cheesemaker today if a young intern hadn't suggested posting those charming signs that led us in. Sales jumped. Ten years ago, he modernized the operation. "I have new equipment," he says. "I don't milk the animals by hand anymore, but I kept the same recipe."
When the milk has almost reached body temperature, Eliceche adds rennet. In the half hour of downtime it takes to curdle the milk, he talks about his ardi gasna, Basque sheep cheese, which he named Irubela after a nearby mountain. His version is made more or less in accordance with the local AOP rules for Ossau-Iraty cheese. His sheep come only from the approved breeds: Basco-Béarnaise, Manech tête rousse, and Manech tête noire. His Irubela is uncooked. It's pressed into a cylinder that's briefly bathed in brine and aged for at least two months. But it doesn't carry the official seal of approval. Why forgo the prestigious appellation? "My recipe is the old one, by taste," he says.
Once the curd forms, it's finely cut to help expel the whey. To judge its readiness for draining, Eliceche first removes his beret so it doesn't fall into the vat, then reaches in to ensure that the pieces are the size of corn kernels. "Now the real work begins," he says. Joined by his wife, Sylvie Beaussant, the two quickly transfer the curds to 53 muslin-lined perforated molds, kneading and packing them with their knuckles.
The molds filled and stacked for pressing, we gather around his mother's kitchen table to taste a fully aged cheese. Jeanne sets out homemade cherry preserves, but Eliceche demurs. "It denatures the flavor," he says. "It tastes good, but then it's dessert." This still supple 10-month-old is ivory with a straw-colored rind. It's entirely different from a cheese like Idiazabal that you might find in Spain, partly because they use different sheep and it's unsmoked. The flavor, nutty and pungent with a whiff of the barnyard, must be what ardi gasna has tasted like since the Basques first smuggled contraband across the Pyrenees. Now I understand why Eliceche decided to go off-piste.
I ask about the Irubela label, adorned with two green stars reminiscent of the Basque cross, but not an actual one. For Eliceche, making a literal representation would smack of trading on his identity. "My cheese is for sale," he explains. "Not the Pays Basque."
Now Get Cooking
Don't leave Argentina without snacking on this essential grilled sausage
When I lived in Argentina, my diet consisted almost exclusively of meat (supplemented minimally by alfajores and Fernet). I had burgers and steaks every week. Most evenings I would eat a sandwich that came from a shop across the street (beef, ham, and two fried eggs with a thin layer of lettuce). But nothing held a candle to choripán.
Choripán are Argentina's version of the hot dog—they're spiced sausages you can buy on the street, and they're at every sporting event—but that's unfair comparison, because choripán are clearly better. Way better. First of all, it's Argentina, so the quality of the coarsely ground pork sausage is high enough to make you cry. It's seared to a beautiful crackly crust, more than any hot dog, spitting and sizzling as it gets slapped onto a toasted bun. And as for toppings, you don't get just ketchup and mustard. No, there's chimichurri sauce, or a tomato salsa, or any of a number of other condiments.
I remember eating choripán all the time. I'd get one on my way into football games (Boca forever, baby), or on my way out of a long night on the town. There's never a time to turn down a choripán. And if you need more convincing, SAVEUR's Argentina reporter Jamie Leventhal will show you just how good it can be. See it all in the video above.
Since the 1970s, Syracuse, New York has been home to tens of thousands of immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S. With Love, a restaurant and training program that reinvents itself with a new host and cuisine every six months, is helping them—and the city's many low-income citizens—do just that
It was just a coincidence that With Love, a Syracuse, New York restaurant and business incubator, was scheduled to open the Friday after the presidential election. The city’s tens of thousands of refugee residents—and their neighbors—were suddenly wondering: what would happen?
A lot of friends and acquaintances, still digesting the week's news, were planning quiet weekends at home. The temperature had just plummeted for the year's first real wintry night. But a friend and I bundled up and headed downtown. Down one desolate street cloaked in shades of gray, With Love glowed in full color.
The restaurant, a project sponsored by Onondaga Community College, aims to give entrepreneurs—largely refugees and other immigrants, but also aspiring American-born people—a workspace and start-up funding to launch their own food businesses. It functions as a series of pop-ups: entrepreneur residencies last six months, and when one residency ends, the restaurant reinvents itself. The inaugural incarnation is With Love, Pakistan.
The scene resembled a postcard image from a utopian urban America. Tattooed hipsters of every skin color mingled with women in hijabs. Elderly couples chatted with hippie families from the university neighborhood. Everyone good-naturedly made space for the gentleman on crutches and the woman in the wheelchair. The crowd wrapped out the door.
Inside, the restaurant gleamed with sky-blue-painted tin walls and gorgeous knotty wood tables. Enormous maps hung everywhere. "I collected those maps for years not knowing what I would do with them," said Adam Sudmann, who is heading up the restaurant with support from the college as well as Centerstate CEO, a group active in neighborhood revitalization and business incubation.
Sudmann was already known in the city for his one-night-only pop-up My Lucky Tummy meals, where he taps into the refugee community to find cooks. He had come up with the restaurant's name, an allusion to the sign-off on a postcard.
Sporting scarlet lipstick and a leopard-print sweater, With Love’s inaugural restaurateur Sarah Robin smiled as she served guests. Four years prior, Robin and her husband left their native Pakistan and settled in Syracuse as refugees. So far, the couple has earned their living working checkout at a local supermarket chain. But tonight, Robin had the kitchen running in full force.
"My mom helped with the recipes, over the phone," she told me. Robin, as part of her training, taught the cooks how to make make her menu, including steamy pale-pink chai generously topped with pistachios, and tangy apple fritters served with a verdant herb chutney.
"What am I eating?" I overheard a woman saying, tilting her head to read one of the menu cards that had been scattered on tables here and there. There was some confusion—which was the dip and which was the lentil-and-chicken?—though the food was homey and comforting.
The handful of students working at With Love, I learned, would also turn over every six to nine months. In the meantime, they’d learn skills either on the kitchen line or as waitstaff in the dining room—even, in some cases, while simultaneously learning English. (A press release from Sudmann mentioned that diners might occasionally see interpreters trailing their waiters.) If these students faltered in their new jobs after completing the training program, With Love would take them back for additional training.
“These are people who have been dealt a lot of blows,” said Sudmann. “Who might have been out of work for a while or might not have jobs that are as respected as what they had back in their native countries. To get out there in front of diners and learn how to make polite small talk in a new language—it’s not easy. They’re really putting themselves out there.” Sudmann hopes that the safety net With Love creates will make it easier for them to take that leap.
Restaurant incubators and teaching businesses abound across the country, molding their forms to fit their cities’ needs. Hot Bread Kitchen in New York City teaches baking and business management to immigrant women facing job insecurity, a natural fit in a city that seemingly has almost as many bakeries as it does yellow taxis. Many smaller cities, like Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., have developed restaurant incubators that breathe new life into landmark buildings that have fallen out of use, showcasing up-and-coming chefs who already have small followings but lack capital to strike out on their own.
With Love's mission is particularly suited to Syracuse, one of the poorest cities in the nation that, since the 1970s, has been home to a sizable population of refugees from countries including Syria, Yemen, and Bhutan. Analysts estimate that over 30 languages are spoken in the neighborhood With Love resides in.
"Syracuse has long been a point of entry for new Americans," said Dominic Robinson, vice president of economic inclusion at Centerstate. "We hope to emulate the success of the Neighborhood Development Center in Minneapolis, where they have been placing minority and low-income entrepreneurs in stores and stalls with good loans and affordable lease deals for more than 20 years, basically taking someone unbankable and turning them into pillars of the community."
I’ve visited those Twin Cities neighborhoods he’s talking about, where it would take, it seems, years to sample all the restaurants that have popped up, from all points on the globe; the idea of such diversity coming to Syracuse is almost too exciting for this avid diner to entertain. And I’m just an eater; for someone looking to restart their life after being uprooted halfway around the world, a training spot at With Love could mean everything. It could be a life-changer.
I returned to With Love in December, after it had a few weeks to iron out kinks in the kitchen and dining room. A beaming waiter took my table's order in heavily-accented English, then about 10 minutes later, reappeared to confirm that he had gotten it right. A little bump like that was to be expected, the women at my table quietly agreed; and anyhow, I thought, from my experience at the preview, this restaurant could succeed just on good will—that Syracuse diners were just happy it was here. Perhaps that would be enough.
Then the chickpea salad arrived, assertive with garlic and garam masala vinaigrette, punctuated with crisp squares of fried pita. Also the apple fritters from the preview, though this time clearly cooked to order, even more crisp and fragrant than I remembered. A butternut soup was silky and rich, with little nuggets of perfectly roasted squash adding a crunchy counterpoint. Suddenly I was wondering if With Love was serving not just social justice, but also some of the most exciting food in the city. A dish of dainty lamb chops arrived perfectly medium rare (sadly a rarity around these parts), smoky with a spice rub and underlined by lovely roasted Brussels sprouts studded with pomegranate and sage.
Sarah Robin will exit With Love this summer, and hopefully, with the help of Sudmann and his network, along with Centerstate, who will pair her with lawyers and investors, she will open her own place. With Love will install its next entrepreneur-in-residence and add a new country to its name, starting the training process all over again. A win-win for the city of Syracuse, which will, in effect, gain two new restaurants every time it turns.
Snapshots from India, Mexico, and the exotic suburbs of New Jersey
At SAVEUR, our obsessive quest to unearth the origins of food and discover hidden culinary traditions sends us from our test kitchen in New York City to all the corners of the globe. From chilaquiles in Sayulita, Mexico to jaggery in Kerala, India, here are all the ways SAVEUR editors ate the world in March.
Stockton, New Jersey
Curiosity Doughnuts is the brainchild of H. Alexander Talbot, one half of the Ideas in Food team that's been pushing the boundaries of culinary curiosity since 2005. (Props alone for continually running a 12-year-old blog and keeping the new stuff just as zany and interesting; see smoked cream cheese for a nova-free bagel sandwich.) And it's worth a trip to his stall at the Stockton Market even if you only pick up this lovely alien thing: a vanilla doughnut studded with slices of hot dogs that's fried and served with a piquant mayo.
Is it sweet or savory? Yes. Why does it exist? "Because I just love hot dogs," Talbot explains. Does it fulfill my dreams of finally eating a three-dimensional representation of the mines from Minesweeper? Absolutely. Go get it, then walk across to the other end of the market and pick up a bottle of peppery Tunisian olive oil from Mediterranean Delicacy, and then hop in your car and drive north along the Delaware until you hit Easton and Phillipsburg for some more of the best hot dogs you'll ever heat. — Max Falkowitz, executive digital editor
Charleston, South Carolina
I recently traveled to Charleston for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, where, for four days, I stuffed myself full of crawfish, barbecue, and more. One of the surprising food highlights, however, was my room-service breakfast at the Belmond Charleston Place on the last morning before we headed back to NYC. Craving something saucy, I ordered the huevos rancheros from the hotel's Palmetto Cafe. It turned out to be fantastic: a classic version with poached eggs, chorizo, and country ham in zesty ranchero sauce, and sliced avocados—all over black bean quesadillas. — Dan Q. Dao, deputy digital editor
On assignment, photo editor Michelle Heimerman and I packed our bags for Kerala, South India, a region that has always been culturally distinct from the rest of the country. As a valuable port and a region rich with spices, it was at the crossroads of trade routes for thousands of years and experienced the arrival of the Egyptians, Romans, Dutch, Portuguese, British and Chinese among others.
Over the centuries, it's absorbed all of those influences via architecture, literature, art, and politics while remaining distinct in language, dress, and, or course, food. Coconut, cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric abound (even though much of the region's agriculture has moved to the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu)—even in the coffee, sourced from nearby and always soft, almost wine-like.
Most mornings, we'd spend an hour drinking a pot outdoors, listening to the birds in the banyan trees and sweating beneath the climbing sun. Our favorite variation was a cardamom and cinnamon infused coffee with fresh coconut milk, and dark, rich jaggery, a raw palm sugar that tastes of molasses and chocolate. —Leslie Pariseau, special projects editor
It's the beginning of maple syruping season in the Quebec countryside, which is where I found myself one weekend in late March to learn how "sugaring"—the harvest and refinement processes—are done. Between jaunts to sugar shacks old and new, I spent as much time as I could exploring the food scene in nearby Montreal.
After a decadent but delicious meal at Joe Beef and downing crispy Montreal-style bagels at St. Viateur, I was in dire need of a produce fix. Jean-Talon market made my dreams come true. One of the oldest markets in Montreal, it's an indoor-outdoor complex of diverse produce vendors, food stands, maple shops, florists, butchers and beyond that's been around since 1933. The rainbow colored apples splayed out across this fruit vendor's pretty stand stole my heart, and I loved learning the names of some unfamiliar varietals, like Spartans and Lobos—two McIntosh-like styles from Canada. —Stacy Adimando, test kitchen director
I got to spend a few days in Sayulita, a small surfer village north of Puerto Vallarta, for a friend's birthday, and it was almost impossible to get on the plane back home. Mexico is such a beautiful, magical place, and I can't express how much I love it. But I especially love the food of Mexico, particularly the breakfast food.
A proper Mexican breakfast is the perfect way to recover from a night of fun. For example, this plate of chilaquiles is a life saver if you maybe spent too many hours at the artisanal tequila bar the night before. Or maybe you went to the pharmacy and got "pain killers," not realizing how strong they are. It doesn't matter what it is. Chilaquiles will help. —Matt Taylor-Gross, staff photographer
New York, New York
On Tuesday, March 14, a monster winter storm was predicted to hit the Northeast, and I prepared to work from home and hibernate in my Manhattan apartment. It turned out to be kind of a dud, dumping a slushy mess into the streets rather than the feared 20 inches of snow. Still, I wasn’t about to venture outdoors. When I realized that it happened to be 3.14, aka Pi Day in celebration of the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, I decided it was the perfect day to bake a pie.
I had a jar of sour cherries in the pantry, not quite enough for a pie…hmmm, some frozen berries would fill out the fruit quotient nicely. I pulled out my trusty Jim Dodge ultra-flaky all-butter crust recipe. A Pi Day pie must be decorated accordingly, so I cut out the letter π with a knife, and some circles with a Linzer tart cookie cutter. I served it with some cream I whipped by hand, which balanced out the tart flavors. Who cares about a blizzard when you can eat pie? —Donna L. Ng, copy chief
I recently took a short trip up to Williamsburg, Brooklyn to one of my favorite wine stores, UVA, which excels at oddball bottles. I was in the mood for a brawny and tart white Jura, which they happened to be out of. The closest alternative was actually not from France at all.
Mondo Antico, a biodynamic producer in northern Italy’s Lombardo region, makes a bright, unoaked “Perpolio” chardonnay that’s nearly indistinguishable. Like many whites from Jura, Perpolio is aged under a flor, or collection of yeasts, which exposes it to more oxygen and gives it that distinctive love-it-or-hate-it funk. Unlike many whites from Jura, the bottle was under $20. —*Andrew Richdale, deputy editor
I took a quick trip to Philly a few weeks ago and made sure to go to Zahav, which was exactly as good as everyone told me it would be. I also stopped by Rooster Soup Company, the newest addition to Michael Solomonov's restaurant group. It's a diner that serves really good soups, sandwiches, salads, and coconut cream pie. The food is great and all, but that's only half the story here.
The restaurant is on a seriously admirable mission. First, they use up 500 pounds of spare chicken parts from Federal Doughnuts to make the broth for their soups every week—reducing food waste is always a good thing. The most admirable part of the business is that 100% of their profits goes to a local charity that provides meals, medical care, and social services for people in need. If you're ever in Philly, go there. —Kristy Mucci, test kitchen associate
New York, New York
Ali Baba is the perfect traditional Turkish cuisine! Whether Turkey is home or a favored vacation destination, Ali Baba makes you feel like you’re in the heart of Istanbul! The staff is more than accommodating, most of the waiters speak perfect Turkish and English. The upstairs rooftop seating view is an ideal place to look out at the midtown area of NYC while also enjoying the Turkish vibes. The dishes are not only about the savory spicy taste, but the presentation and portion size. The dishes are fresh and easy to share with the table. Ali Baba offers private events and catering, as well as accommodating services form the generous owners. My favorite dish is hard to pick, my top three are the Lentil soup, the Gyro Kebab, and the Stuffed Trout. To finish it off, a Turkish coffee, it tradition to have tea and coffee time with dessert, as well as flipping the coffee cup upside down to wait for fortune results from the residue of the strong, dark coffee. —Emma Goodnough, Intern
How to eat around the clock in Greece's second city
If you're going to Greece, there are many reasons to put Thessaloniki on your itinerary. It's right on the sea, it's less tourist-trodden than Athens, and it has a fascinating history. Then of course there's the food.
Thessaloniki's reputation as a food destination has soared in recent years, with boundary-pushing restaurants that are redefining the meaning of Greek cuisine. If you're looking for traditional Greek food, you can find that everywhere too—there are still plenty of tavernas that serve up excellent plates of moussaka and horiatiki.
But for me, Thessaloniki's real charm is the endless bounty of snacks—a souvlaki to munch on while on your way to the corner cafe for a strong Greek coffee and a bit of cake. Here's how to snack around the clock.
This gem is right in Valaoritou, one of Thessaloniki’s popular bar districts. It’s open from 1 p.m. to 5:30 in the morning, so that should tell you the clientele it typically attracts. But the thing is, this isn’t like Dominos or New York’s dollar slice joints, that are open for the same kind of business. This is real pizza. The dough is made by hand and cooked in a wood-burning oven, and the crust is perfectly crispy and thin. There are truffles and tomatoes and cheeses and mushrooms and all kinds of toppings. There are even sweet options, like a giant chocolate calzone.
Vilara 2, Thessaloniki 54625
If there’s one thing you can find everywhere—really, everywhere—in downtown Thessaloniki, it’s dessert. Cakes and pastries are everywhere, and you can eat them any time of day. Really. But if you want to get away from the chain shops (which, admittedly, do have better desserts than you might expect), head to Sugar Angel. It sits on a quiet street only a few blocks from Thessaloniki’s paralia, and when the weather is nice, you can grab a table on the street. There are plenty of cake options, from cheesecake to lemon cake, and they’ll all go perfectly with a coffee.
Lassani 1, Thessaloniki 54622
One of the Greek things that is hardest to replicate, even in New York, is good feta. It’s not that I haven’t tried, but unless you’re willing to splurge, it’s often just plain bad. “Cheese ninja” Liz Thorpe has even written about this problem: “Sadly, much of the ‘feta’ you'll find in supermarkets is cow's milk, precrumbled, and tastes akin to salty dust.” She’s right. So when I came across this feta bar in Thessaloniki, I immediately cleared all my plans to take myself on a cheese-eating date.
And cheese-eat I did. I ordered the “variety of feta bites,” along with a few extras that I thought sounded interesting. And, for some reason, I topped that off with prosciutto. I was perhaps a little too ambitious, but as I made my way through block after block of the good stuff, I was completely fine with my decision and the ensuing digestive discomfort. If feta isn’t really your thing, don’t let that deter you - they have soft goat cheeses, semi-hard and hard cheeses, and plenty of Greek specialties like kefalotyri, kasseri, and graviera.
Pavlou Mela 14, Thessaloniki 54622
Cafe at the Olympion
If you go to Thessaloniki during its film festivals, there’s a good chance you’ll be in the Olympion, a theater that sits on Aristotle Square across the street from the sea. The Olympion cafe is also home to one of the best (and most elaborate) cups of hot chocolate you can find in the city. The cafe looks out over the square, and it’s the best way to spend a cold winter evening in the city. But if melty gooey chocolate in a mug isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other drinks to sip on.
Aristotle Square 10, Thessaloniki 54623
The first time I ate at Delicatessen, I was nursing an ouzo-induced hangover, and it was raining. It’s the kind of place you could walk right past if you don’t know to look for it—there’s no indoor seating, just a series of tables outside under umbrellas. The inside has just enough room for a line that forms a sort of U. You walk up to the register, and after ordering, turn back around, parallel with the incoming customers. The wood-paneled walls are almost totally coated in photos and newspaper clippings.
I used to see people I knew there all the time. It was just one of those places that you find yourself when you’re hungry and/or hungover (making it an awkward place to occasionally run into your students). My first visit there, I made the somewhat unorthodox decision to get a pita with haloumi, mushrooms, and everything else they had piled on top. The first bite caused nearly everything to fall out the sides and onto my tray, but it didn’t matter. It was delicious. I went back and ordered one with chicken. Then I got a third one for the road. You'll likely do the same.
John Kouskoura 7, Thessaloniki 54622
Gas mask optional, but highly recommended
Passover is just around the corner, and in New York, Jews are steadfastly stocking up on matzo, cleansing their houses of chametz (verboten leavened bread products), and, of course, putting on gas masks to grind horseradish on Grand Street.
Alright, so that last one is less universal. But for the past few years it's been a fixture of the Pickle Guys' storefront on the Lower East Side, a neighborhood that was once one of the greatest hubs of America's Jewish community. Back in the day it was home to countless shops where you could fish a pound of kosher dills out of wooden barrels for a few pennies. Today, almost all of those pickle shops are gone, but The Pickle Guys carry the tradition on, and come Passover they turn their attention to one particular pickled piece of produce: horseradish. A lot of it. 2,700 pounds, owner Alan Kaufman estimates, for the season.
Over the past few years, the public grinding has become a neighborhood attraction, drawing crowds of tourists and locals to watch as Pickle Guys staff grind, mix, and bottle their incendiary horseradish relish. The fumes are so strong that, on busy days, grinders wear gas masks to keep excessive eye and nose inflammation at bay.
An essential component of Ashkenazi Jews' Passover seder, horseradish sauce is little more than just that: ground horseradish fixed with a salt or vinegar brine. The Pickle Guys sell two versions: a milder, sweeter style tempered with fermented beet juice and a full-throttle plain one that, if you huff it head-on, is liable to singe your eyebrows off. Way fresher, hotter, and more flavorful than anything you'll get in a grocery store. We love it in the mayo served with these roasted parsnips, and, for something a little more treyf, this Creole shrimp remoulade.
How the traditional Czech pastry became as quintessentially Texan as smoked brisket and pecan pie
On my second day living in New York City, I woke up hungover and hankering for something doughy and delicious. Naturally, I asked my then-roommate, a native San Diegan, if he knew where I might find a simple kolache in Manhattan. “A who?” he asked, bemused. “No really, I’m super hungry. Where are the kolaches around here?” I persisted. It didn’t seem to register.
If I ever had a we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore moment after moving from Houston to NYC seven years ago, this was definitely it: realizing that the kolache (pronounced koh-la-chee) of my childhood—with its pillowy, yeasted dough encasing fillings both sweet, like fruit jams, and savory, like sausage, cheese, and jalapeños—would no longer be a morning tradition. I resigned, reluctantly, to a too-stiff-to-chew bagel layered with toothpaste-textured cream cheese and a weird sashimi-like fish I’d never before encountered. (For the record, I’ve since warmed up to the whole lox-and-schmear thing.)
But seven years later, for every cold brew I chug and Cronut I wait on (not in) line for, my early-morning palate remains 100% Texan. I yearn for breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs and chorizo, and the kolaches that could be found at every school fair or football game. In their absence, I began to dig into where kolaches come from and why it’s so difficult to find them outside of the Lone Star State. The answer, as with much of Texan cuisine, begins with the arrival of immigrants and their traditional foodways.
A Czech Immigrant Story
Brought to Central Texas and areas of the Midwest by Czech families in the late 19th century, kolaches seamlessly entered the food culture of rural communities, perhaps the most famous being the small town of West, Texas, in what is today known as the Czech Belt. At first, the pastries stayed true to those of their homeland, then Bohemia and Moravia: circular rounds of sweet dough nestling fillings of preserved fruit and even cabbage zipped with sugar, salt, and pepper.
Over the next century, a new Tex-Czech hybrid category evolved, making use of local ingredients like dewberries and prickly pear, yielding riffs that are still made by the Czech-American community today. I was surprised to learn that it was only in more recent years, however, through the rise of doughnut-bakery franchises like Shipley’s Donuts, Southern Maid, and the Kolache Factory, that savory versions with spicy sausage, ham, or chorizo begin to emerge under the umbrella of “kolaches,” when in reality, you’d never find a meat-filled kolache in the Czech Republic.
For Dawn Orsak, Austin-based kolache authority and blogger behind the Tex-Czech food blog Svacina Project, classic kolaches are a window to her family’s rich Czech heritage. “Baking kolaches, writing about kolaches, and promoting their traditional way of being made is about identity,” says Orsak. “It connects me with my ancestors and a community that my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents grew up with.”
She emphasizes that while she’s pleased kolaches have gained such notoriety, it’s important to remember their history and celebrate the authentic methods of preparation. “Chorizo kolaches are fun, but ultimately if that’s all a non-Texas-Czech audience is presented with, it’s ultimately just going to dilute the traditions,” she explains, adding that kolache shops hawking newfangled versions should also consider offering staples such as prune and poppy seed.
The New Kolache School
The savory, pig-in-a-blanket–style renditions, which I’m admittedly partial to, more closely resemble klobasneks, Czech pastries with meat wrapped in flakier, more buttery dough than the one used to make kolaches. Whether the savory kolaches of today are a hybrid of the two, or a wholly Texan creation is unclear even to Orsak. “I had a relative who says she started wrapping individual sausages in dough to feed the people who were working on her farm, but Village Bakery out in West, Texas also lays claim to the Texan klobasnek.”
Morgan Weber, co-owner of Agricole Hospitality (Revival Market, Coltivare, Eight Row Flint), says he grew up eating both with his grandmother. “Being from a central Texas Czech-German family, they were always around,” explains Weber. “Until the 60’s, my grandmother baked her kolaches and klobasneks in a wood-burning oven. They are still the best I’ve ever had.”
Today, you’ll more often than not find both the tried-and-true Czech kolachs offered side-by-side with the klobasnek-esque hybrids—usually under the same name. Often served as breakfast, their grab-and-go quality has also earned them popularity as road-trip fare, with Czech and German bakeries dotting the highways that link Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston.
“Kolaches are a shining light in the great state of Texas,” Underbelly chef-owner Chris Shepherd says. “Whether they come with link, patty, boudin, or fruit, they are all delicious.” We couldn’t agree more. Yet, despite food media’s waxing poetic about them—the Today Show even heralded them as a “food we’ll be craving in 2015”—, kolaches remain largely confined to the South and Midwest.
“They’re a regional state food, so it seems unfair to expect them to go viral nationwide,” explains Orsak. “Still the fact that some place like NYC has Czech restaurants but no kolache bakeries, while Texas has kolache bakeries but no Czech restaurants, is interesting.” On a much smaller scale, Orsak says she is ecstatic to see that the food revolution of the past two decades has inspired the next generation of Czech-Americans to learn how to make them, whether at the many kolache festivals in Texas or through community bakes at local churches.
Weber, on the other hand, is more optimistic. “If there are made right, they are immediately lovable,” he says. “I’m seriously convinced that kolaches will have their day outside of Texas and the Midwest. It will just take some time.” For the sake of my mornings, I certainly hope so. But till then, I’ll be cherishing every chance to take a drive back home and get my fill of kolaches on the open road.
Take Your Own Kolache Road Trip: Where to Get Great Texan Kolaches
2247 TX-71 BUS
La Grange, TX 78945
Lone Star Kolache
1701 Parmer Ln
Austin, TX 78727
Donut Taco Palace II
1807 W Slaughter Ln
Austin, TX 78748
Ellinger, TX 78938
113 E Oak St
West, TX 76691
104 S George Kacir Dr
West, TX 76691
Old Main Street Bakery
808 3rd St
Rosenberg, TX 77471
All about these seasonal sweets, and where to find our favorites
Even before Kyoto’s famous cherry trees bloom into fluffy pink clouds, seasonal sweets appear with the first signs of spring. Pale pink sakura-mochi and wobbly warabi-mochi arrive in early March and disappear with the last falling cherry petals. These spring specialties are but a few of the countless varieties of wagashi (the wa means old-school Japanese; gashi means sweets) you can find throughout Japan, with particularly elegant versions in Kyoto. Equipped with a mamachari (slang for the kind of shopping bike old ladies ride) and a map pinned with a dozen recommendations from locals, I set out to taste them all.
There’s a Japanese stereotype that American sweets are super sugary and brightly colored. This isn’t wrong, particularly when compared to the subtlety of Kyoto’s wagashi. Their flavors are gentle and earthy, and their colors parallel the landscape: understated but lush hues of green, pink, and brown.
Instead of the flour, eggs and butter that go into Western pastry, the primary ingredients of wagashi are beans, sticky rice, agar agar (seaweed gelatin), and various starchy roots—with raw sugar, matcha, and sweet toasted soybean flour called kinako as flavorings. (Vegans, rejoice: traditional varieties contain no animal products!) As strange as beans in dessert may seem to the uninitiated, the notion of savory beans (think chili con carne) is utterly shocking to many Japanese. In the most refined wagashi, legumes take on the texture of marzipan.
Like doughnuts with coffee, wagashi is better with matcha. Tea ceremony as it exists today originated in Kyoto (where it was codified and recorded in the sixteenth century), and wagashi are integral to its ritual. Kyoto people proudly uphold traditions that are marginalized elsewhere in Japan by what’s new and trendy. And while cha-do—the way of tea—takes a lifetime to master, you can get your matcha and wagashi fix without the formality at shops scattered around the city, where an afternoon stop is a refreshing respite from sightseeing (or criss-crossing the town by bicycle, collecting sweets).
A comprehensive guide to wagashi would require a full book, but these notes from my short and sweet Kyoto wagashi expedition highlight some of the tastes of spring, and a few year-round favorites to whet your appetite.
Dango and Sakura-Mochi at Gion Manju Factory
You’ve seen the emoji—the cute multicolored spheres on a stick—but what is dango? These soft mochi balls (achingly nostalgic for anyone who grew up in Japan) are pleasantly springy and distinctly but not overpoweringly sweet. Though ostensibly flavored differently, the pink, white, and green bocchan dango all taste about the same. I sampled them at Gion Manju Factory, an efficient kitchen with a service window, nearly out of sight on residential side street in touristy Gion.
I was lucky to stop by during the brief season for sakura(cherry blossom)-mochi. This one had a faint perfume somewhere between earthy and floral, like walking through a garden after the rain. A pickled cherry leaf (for fragrance, not to be eaten) wraps around barely pink sticky rice with smooth anko filling, and a salt-pickled cherry blossom on top. When the cherry trees come into full bloom in April, these sweets will disappear.
Gion Manju Factory
103 Ooidecho, Sanjo Shirakawabashi-dori Nishi-iru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Warabi-Mochi and Mitarashi Dango at Umezono
Just as the snow melts and fiddlehead ferns pop up in the forest, sweets made from bracken root appear at wagashi shops: jiggly squares of warabi-mochi. Their texture is softer than Jello but firmer than custard, with a neutral flavor that yields to a generous dusting of nutty kinako and an optional drizzle of raw black sugar syrup.
Mitarashi dango is another nostalgic treat for Japanese kids (and kids at heart). This plain white mochi grilled over charcoal and painted with sweet soy sauce syrup inhabits a marvelous borderland between sweet and snack.
Everything at Umezono is top-notch. They have four shops in Kyoto; I visited their charming café and gallery location, which has a (tastefully) youthful aesthetic in spite of the shop’s long history. The first of their shops opened in 1927, and the newest just one year ago.
234-4 Daikoku-cho Kawaracho Sanjokudaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-8031, Kyoto Prefecture
Yokan at Toraya
When the emperor moved to Tokyo in 1869, Toraya (already in business for a few hundred years) followed, and now they have shops abroad in the US and France. Still, Some of my favorite flavors of yokan—firm blocks of jelly made from adzuki beans and agar agar—are only available in Kyoto. (In Tokyo, look for sweet potato version called imo-yokan).
I picked up white miso and black soybean yokan, and a pricey seasonal pattern bar that, to quote the packaging, “When served, each slice shows fully-bloomed cherry blossoms in the light of warm spring sunshine.”
Staff here speak English and tax-free shopping is available. The downtown location includes a café.
Karasuma Ichijo-dori Kado, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
“Drawing” Rakugan at Uchu
Far north of the typical tourist area, on a nondescript side street, UCHU sells colorful rakugan that look like they belong at the MoMa store—and remind me of the pattern blocks I played with for hours on end as a child. (Turns out I could have visited more convenient locations next to the Imperial Palace or Kyoto Tower).
These firm chalky candies (something like a Necco wafer) don’t reveal their charms until you enjoy them beside tea, where sweet and dry becomes a pleasing contrast to the hot drink’s astringency.
The best rakugan are made with whole-cane confectioners’ sugar, bound together with a little starch. Uchu makes a playful contemporary take on this molded confection, which is usually formed in seasonal shapes of flowers, leaves and other symbols.
786 Fujinokicho, Inokuma dori Kamidachi Urisagaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-8423, Kyoto Prefecture
Mame-Mochi at Demachi Futaba
At the outdoor counter, a line that doubles back on itself contains nary a Western tourist. There are other sweets, but everyone is here for the mame mochi: smooth chewy mochi flecked with sweet adzuki beans wrapped around soft anko (adzuki bean paste). The whole thing is salty-sweet and fresh as can be. It’s best eaten within a day before the mochi hardens, though stale mame mochi revived in the toaster is also delicious.
236 Seiryucho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-0822, Kyoto Prefecture
Ubatama and Sou•Sou Collaborations at Kameya Yoshinaga
At first glance I mistook Kamega Yoshinaga for a jewelry store, with its high-end atmosphere and formal glass cases. The ubatama too are deceptive: they look like bon-bons but have nothing to do with chocolate. A clear shell of agar agar jelly contains anko that's a vehicle for wildly flavorful raw sugar; it’s smooth, elegant, and awesomely delicious.
Kyoto’s famous textile design house (think Japanese Marimeko) Sou•Sou recently published a book about their collaboration with Kameya Yoshinaga: monthly wagashi and textile pairings. While Sou•Sou’s café is temporarily closed, you can pick up hi-gashi (dry wagashi such as rakugan and hard sugar candies) packaged in their bright patterns at Kameya Yoshinaga.
Next time, I hope to try one of Kameya Yoshinoga’s classes for making nama-gashi (fresh sweets), the soft marzipan-like bean and yam paste formed into flowers, fruits, and other decorative shapes.
17-19 Kashiwayacho Shijodori Aburanokoji Nishiiri, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8498, Kyoto Prefecture
Inside the crispy, crunchy, floppy folds of jianbing, one of China's most popular street foods
Imagine the lovechild of a crepe and a burrito with aspirations of being a breakfast sandwich, and you have, in essence, jianbing (literally: "fried pancake"). What a cigarette and coffee is to Paris and the bacon-egg-and-cheese is to New York City, the jianbing is to Beijing: a ubiquitous breakfast, available streetside, capable of restoring your darkest morning to its brightest self. Why is China in love with this savory pancake? Reporter Yulin Lou gives the answer in the video above.
Hundreds—and perhaps even thousands of years old—the jianbing is simple stuff. Start with a wheat flour batter spread paper-thin over a massive circular griddle, much like a crepe. Top with an even layer of beaten egg. Paint on myriad sauces—oyster, hoisin, chile oil—then apply toppings of chopped fried crullers, scallions, cilantro, hot dogs, crab sticks—anything goes in a jianbing. Then fold up, wrap in wax paper, and dive into a kaleidoscope of textures and flavors.
That's part of the joy of jianbing—nearly anything goes, and the more bits and bobs, the better. At Tao Rice Rolls in Flushing, New York, where the jianbing come out reliably flavorful and not-too-greasy, the house specialty is pickled mustard greens, a welcome rejoinder to the layers of starch and egg.
Fortunately for jianbing lovers, the savory pancake is making inroads into the U.S., particularly in New York. But we have a long way to go until there's a jianbing vendor on every corner. Until then, off to Beijing we go.
Manolo Lopez makes a triumphant return to his home island, and he’s not coming empty handed
“I’m a bit of a frustrated artist,” Manolo Lopez tells me, his English accent touched with a surfer’s lilt. We’re on a walk through his new home of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and he’s bringing me to one of his favorite spots, where the ocean meets a cemetery filled with bright-white headstones. Lopez chose the neighborhood so he could be inspired by the candy-colored colonial architecture that lines the hilly, cobblestone-paved streets. He’s here to run a business, to reconnect with family and old friends, but he also needs to sketch.
The admission shouldn’t be shocking to anyone who’s queued up for his Mofongo NY pop-up since its debut at the massive Brooklyn outdoor food market Smorgasburg in 2014. From the bright green pilón that illustrates its logo to the similarly saturated photos that populate its Instagram feed, it’s clear that whoever’s behind the brand has a deliberate artistic vision—one that aims to bring Puerto Rican cuisine to the kind of audience who’s seduced by a tight concept. Lopez, in running his business, has taken on the role of de facto cultural ambassador for Puerto Rico. He’s taken Mofongo NY to Japan, and he organizes a yearly New York City party with a group of other island-based creatives called Cosa Nuestra that he hopes to take global.
The concept worked in Brooklyn of course, where Lopez had moved in 2011 from western Puerto Rico, to work in marketing and design until growing restless and coming up with the idea of serving a twist on his grandmother’s mofongo—the traditional Puerto Rican dish of fried and mashed plantains topped with a protein, usually pork—to those strolling by.
This year, though, he’s brought his new-school take on mofongo back to his home island to sell—oddly enough—at a new open-air market much like Smorgasburg. The skills he honed in Brooklyn dealing with long lines and fast turn-arounds have come in handy, but here he doesn’t have to set up shop anew each weekend; the kiosks are stand-alone structures, making for a much more streamlined experience. A fresh concept for San Juan, it’s called Lote 23 and vendors are selling everything from cold brew tonics to bao buns to pizzas. Lopez’s food is the most traditional on the roster.
Serving mofongo to New Yorkers and tourists is one thing; for the most part, they didn’t grow up with the dish. Here in Puerto Rico, there’s no such luxury of ignorance. So he’s sweating the details and choosing to do his own take. His ropa vieja, braised for 12 hours, is gently added to the bowl with a pair of tweezers; pork loin is cooked sous vide. While it’s still traditional, this preparation shows off what he’s learned from years of eating in New York: to justify your existence, you have to offer a new twist.
The idea, Lopez says, is to introduce Puerto Ricans not just to mofongo, but to Mofongo NY, the brand, which he would like to expand into restaurants of various levels—from the street food at the base to a fine-dining take on the island’s cuisine—but that’s just what he’s thinking today. He “could never have a straight answer” for what he wants. “It’s constantly changing,” he tells me.
“I feel like I have more opportunity in Puerto Rico than I have in New York,” he adds. Though he’s only guaranteed to pop up at Lote 23 for two months and has one season left on his Smorgasburg contract, he sees himself staying on the island, near family who still live where he grew up, on the west side of the island in Aguada. He’s just become an uncle for the first time.
Lote 23 was founded by another young Puerto Rican who spent years in New York City working in marketing: Cristina Sumaza. While there, she had a part in founding the nonprofit ConPRmetidos, which was dedicated with connecting the diaspora to the island, but when she moved back she joined her family’s real estate development business. Sumaza and Lopez are part of a generation that is seeking to revive the island’s cultural life as a means of empowering it economically, in spite of, or in direct opposition of the ongoing debt crisis.
“When you compare Puerto Rico to the U.S., basically everywhere is a low-income community,” Sumaza says. “Coming from New York, I would go to tons of restaurants and markets. Here I was living in Santurce, where there are all these amazing chefs and artists,” and she wanted to create a space to support and highlight local talent. “They all have their own followers and fans,” she says, which helps create traffic for everyone. “The collective impact that they can all have is what makes this really special.”
Lote 23 has provided a launch pad for that potential impact, providing space mainly for concepts that are brand-new to the area. Established chefs, such as Xavier Pacheco, whose restaurant La Jaquita Baya is a few miles away in the Miramar area, here serves tacos he’s calling “bigotes.” Paxx Caraballo Moll, a chef who used to cook at El Departamento de La Comida and José Enrique, had trouble getting a food truck off the ground on the island, but regularly sells out at El Baoricua’s Lote kiosk.
“You wouldn’t go to Santurce five years ago,” Lopez tells me, but that’s changed. The Santurce Es Ley arts festival has brought tourists in who take pictures of the street-art-covered block Calle Cerra, and the nearby Libros AC bookstore offers music programming and readings. During the lunch hours, Lote 23 is populated mostly by office workers in suits from the nearby banks.
There are still worries that Lote 23 will be a gentrifying force; many locals initially took to the Facebook page find the food and concept to be excellent, but the prices high. One bowl of mofongo here goes for $10, and a Medalla (the ubiquitous local beer) costs $3. Lopez points out that you can get one in La Placita de Santurce, a popular hangout, for as low as $1, and in the more downtrodden Tras Talleres for even $.50. A focus on engaging community programming could at least help change the conversation, Lopez believes, and they are offering free weekly movie nights and yoga classes. Something seems to be working: As Lote has been open longer, some of the sticker shock has dissipated and five-star reviews have rolled in. “Excellent ambiance,” raves Luis A. Febles in Spanish on the page. “I went with my family and had a great time. We’ll definitely return!”
At the kiosk, Lopez is all business while he explains the menu to curious customers and roosters casually strut in from the parking lot. He and an employee are both decked out in logo-embroidered guayaberas and aprons made especially for this pop-up: “Born in Puerto Rico. Back in Puerto Rico.” The branding, as usual, is flawless.
“I learned how to fail over there and how to develop a product that was true to what I was doing, and it takes time to develop that—to the point now where I feel confident,” Lopez says of his time in New York City. But here, the mission has taken on new meaning. “We know how to brand things, we know how to make them look appealing, but can we make them taste good? Are we really being true to what our ancestors did?” Back home now, that has been revealed: This season will be Mofongo NY’s last in Smorgasburg, and the lease at Lote 23 was extended.
The hardest thing about visiting Marfa's El Cosmico is deciding which trailer or tepee to stay in
There's a peaceful feeling that washes over you when you walk onto the El Cosmico grounds in Marfa, Texas. It's quiet except for the occasional slap of tepee flaps, isolated from everything but the sun. There's no wifi (except in the main lodge), which is by design—to some degree, you're forced to unplug and interact with your surroundings, or just to relax. And with the trailers, tepees, yurts, and tents they have, that's not hard to do.
From the outside, the trailers might just look like brightly colored boxes. There's no way they could be comfortable or spacious, you might think. And you'd be wrong. They're meticulously designed and decorated, with beds, couches, and chairs galore. They even have outdoor patios where you can sit and enjoy a beer as you look out over the rest of El Cosmico's grounds. To find out more about the work that goes into decorating a trailer (or any of the other accommodations at El Cosmico), we talked with Liz Lambert, El Cosmico founder and chief creative office of Bunkhouse. She tells us about how El Cosmico started, the work that goes into decorating, and the ways they find their next addition to the trailer park.
How did El Cosmico start? How many trailers did it have? What did it look like then, and how did it grow to what it is now? What came first?
When I bought it, it was a pasture with a horse shed and not much else. A Marfa city councilman lived in his own Airstream on the property while we were noodling with the first iteration of El Cosmico. When we opened, we had five trailers, a few safari tents and a bath house. The fence was loose and you’d see pronghorn antelope on the property while you were taking a shower.
How do you acquire more trailers? Where do they come from?
Word of mouth, mostly. People know we have trailers so they will call us up or send an email. Craigslist, trailers on the street with for sale signs—we’re always on the lookout.
Where do the names of each trailer come from?
Really, there was no larger organizing principal around the names. For most of them, we used their original names—Spartan Mansion, Vagabond, Kozy Koach—because they are just so good. Then we got a little trailer and painted it pink, so she became known as Little Pinky. We got her a companion, so we called it Amigo.
What’s it like to design a trailer, yurt, or tepee?
More complicated than you would think. The ready-made trailers, like the Kozy Koach, have the original interiors—beautiful built-ins and wood paneling, like the inside of a boat—but finding those in pristine condition at a decent price is a challenge. When we started to think about ideal trailer configurations as more of a hotel room than a portable home, it made more sense to gut trailers and build the interiors from scratch and simplify the whole thing.
We’ve worked with local woodshop Enabler in Austin on the last couple and that has worked out really well—we can make the spaces more livable and accessible, but also so we can redo the electrical and plumbing and, most importantly, add foam insulation. The desert is hard on these old trailers. Yurts and tepees are easier, since they are big, open spaces and are ingeniously designed to weather the elements.
How do you decide on color schemes?
From the beginning, I was inspired by the saturated colors of India, and in particular, the colors of buses and trains and rickshaws in India, for El Cosmico. I google “Indian Transportation” and I hold Pantone chips up to the sky, and we discuss it in the office, plotting the existing trailers out on foam board—really, we just make it up as we go along, like a lot that we do. I love tone-on-tone color schemes. The Vagabond trailer became the “Vag-a-bond” once we painted it two shades of lavender. Sometimes a trailer tells you what color it wants to be, from the color of the porcelain of its original sink or a remnant of the old vinyl flooring.
What’s one kind of trailer you’d particularly like to get at El Cosmico that you don’t already have there?
There’s this great image floating around the internet of this maze of 1950’s era trailers stacked on top of each other (I think it's actually a stage set). I would love to have a multi-level unit at El Cosmico. We're beginning to work with containers, which probably offer more structural integrity for stacking, but I always return to the idea of the high-rise trailer park with the most enthusiasm.
More Awesome Trailers
Photojournalist Stuart Freedman’s new book, The Englishman and the Eel, documents the city’s decades-old—and endangered—eel, pie, and mash shops
If Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop on Fleet Street were real, she might not have had to resort to cannibalistic meat pies to keep in business; she could have just bought better eels.
“Eels, long a staple of London food,” photojournalist Stuart Freedman writes, “were synonymous with the city and its people. In a capital dominated and bisected by the River Thames, they were once cheap and nutritious.”
Which is how eel became a quintessential food of the eel, pie, and mash[ed potato] shop, a centuries-old staple of London’s working class that is now the subject of a new book, The Englishman and the Eel.
Freedman’s 25-year career has taken him to more than 65 countries, including India, where he documented the fading tradition of the Indian Coffee House chain for his first book, The Palaces of Memory. Freedman focused on the Indian Coffee House in part because the shabby cafes reminded him of the eel, pie, and mash shops of his youth.
In the same way the Indian coffee house held memories of an era passed, “these simple spaces,” Freedman notes in the book, “hold within them the memories and a rich, largely undocumented cultural heritage of generations of working-class Londoners in a city whose only constant is change.”
Eel, pie, and mash shops are monuments to a bygone era. The Englishman paints a portrait of this, and a quickly evolving East End, using the shops as a canvas. Today, only a handful of eel, pie and mash shops remain, mostly run by families that have passed their businesses through the generations. But they remain a portal to the London that once was, as well as a look at how the city is constantly changing.
As with Palaces, Freedman is crowdfunding The Englishman through a Kickstarter campaign that just launched. I reached out to Freedman to learn more about eel and the London working class, and how these things fit with the British custom of mince meat pies and mashed potatoes.
When did eel become a food for the working class?
Eels have always been a foodstuff for the London poor, since people lived by the river. The Roman occupiers in Londinium ate it, and it was spatchcocked (a grilling technique that sliced the eel lengthways) by the Anglo-Saxons. The willow baskets used to catch the eel were such a nuisance to river traffic that they were banned in the Magna Carta of 1215 (not that anyone took any notice). In early modern London, if you couldn’t afford to eat meat, you could afford to eat eels.
Today you can eat eels jellied or stewed. Stewed eels are cooked slowly in a parsley liquor, and jellied eels, which are the traditional way to serve eels in London, are boiled in their own gelatinous liquor and then allowed to cool and set.
How did they come to be paired with meat pies and mash?
If I were making a restaurant menu I wouldn’t necessarily put those two things together. You could just have pie and mash and a plate of eels on the side, or you could have eels and mash, or you could have the whole damn thing on the same plate. But I think there is a resonance with both eels and pies. They were easy street food, and cheap.
How old is the tradition?
There’s a contentious history about who opened the first shop. But what seems to be clear is that Henry Blanchard opened the first one in Southwark in 1844, and then Robert Cooke opened one in Clarkenwell in 1862. But it was Michael Manzi, a peasant from Ravello, that started this pie empire. He bought a shop from Robert Cooke and started selling eels together with pie and mash. These early shops were seen as ‘respectable,’ and I think that’s a really important word to use in Victorian London; working class restaurants where you could eat clean and relatively healthy food.
Your work has taken you across the world; what brought you back to London now?
After all these years working in the developing world I thought it would be interesting to come back to London and look at what had changed there, and look at the area where I grew up, which was not very nice. I wanted to find out about traditional London food as well, because everyone thinks it’s fish and chips, which is just complete nonsense. Fish and chips are Yiddish. But pie and mash shops were landmarks when I was growing up in the 1970s.
I grew up in Dalston, in Hackney, which then was a kind of metaphor for poverty and inner-city deprivation. Now Dalston is one of the trendiest places in Western Europe, full of hipsters and nightclubs and coffee shops. But then it was very rough. And the pie and mash shops were kind of like the pubs and cafes you’d find everywhere.
And who is the clientele today?
Mostly older people. Because, sadly, and I think this delineates quite clearly the change in the London working class, this idea of the Cockney. That kind of food has been surpassed, and was being surpassed in the 60s and 70s, by the opening of American-style bars and hamburger joints and fast food. And now younger people generally don’t eat eels.
It’s a bit of an acquired taste, jellied eels especially. And I think for the older generation it’s a way to possibly remember the war, or just after the war, a time of austerity. There’s a kind of Proustian moment that brings them back to the austerity of the 40s and 50s, because that was the food people survived on. It was always cheap. It was always plentiful, whereas fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, meats, weren’t necessarily available.
What’s the world’s street food capital without the street food?
People need to be saved from their own terrible ideas. That includes lawmakers: American lawmakers, British lawmakers, and even Thai lawmakers. Today, Bangkok officials announced that street food is to be banned from the city, which is not only the capital of Thailand but also the de facto capital of Southeast Asian street food.
In an effort to clear the city roads and enforce hygiene, Thai officials will cracking down on all street businesses by the end of the year. "All types of stalls including clothes, counterfeit goods and food stalls will be banned from main city roads," said Wanlop Suwandee, a chief advisor to Bangkok's governor, speaking to AFP.
As with many other Southeast Asian countries from Vietnam to Singapore, Thai street food is a major tourist attraction, employer, and cultural symbol. Signature items, like quick bowls of chicken soup, meat skewers, and pad Thai, are favorites of Thais of all socioeconomic statuses and professions, who sit side by side on sidewalks and street corners to enjoy a meal. The law targets all 50 of Bangkok’s districts, including the famed areas of Yaowarat (Chinatown) and Khaosan, where alone there are 200 street stalls.
Leah Cohen, chef-owner of Pig & Khao restaurant in New York City, spent a year staging at restaurants across Southeast Asia, eventually settling down in Bangkok. “Street food is the culinary backbone of the country, and the way many Thais can afford to eat,” Cohen tells SAVEUR. “People spend decades perfecting certain dishes and pass the knowledge on to their kids.” She adds that her own experience in the city was made possible by affordable street eats: “The only way I could have afforded my year abroad, and eat and learn as much as I did, is because of street food.”
Authorities insist that the motive behind the act is cleanliness and safety, but critics are accusing the government of attempting to “remodel Bangkok into a Singapore-lite.” It’s a goal reflected in various morality campaigns imposed by Thailand’s military junta, which came to power in 2014.
The announcement comes on the heels of CNN's awarding Bangkok the title of 'best street food in the world' for the second year running. If you want to get your fill of it, you’d better get yourself to Thailand before the end of 2017.
h/t The Guardian
Mexico City's Festín de Insectos Comestibles is set on changing your ideas about entomophagy
Draped atop a slab of milk chocolate, the two-inch-long Madagascar hissing cockroach looks almost elegant, its lacquered exoskeleton reflecting the thin light of a Mexico City afternoon.
“We recommend eating the roach on its own first, to savor the flavor,” says Isaac Sandoval, a vendor at the city’s third Festín de Insectos Comestibles (Edible Insect Festival). As I contemplate just how adventurous I’m feeling this afternoon, Sara Diosdado, a fellow novice entomophagist, beats me to the punch.
“I’m not afraid,” she says, lifting the bug to her mouth and sinking her teeth into its crackly body. It takes her a few attempts to chew all the way through.
“It’s not…bad,” she reports, dislodging a bit of shell from her teeth. “It’s a flavor I’ve never tasted before.”
Diosdado isn’t the only one experiencing entomophagy—or eating insects—for the first time today. More than five thousand people visited the festival over the course of the weekend, eager to sample (or just gawk at) dishes like mosquito-egg tacos, tlayudas topped with roasted maguey worms and bonbons garnished with crispy beetles.
“Interest in insects has grown in the last few years,” says Daniel Monragon, whose chocolate shop, Xbalanque, created the beetle bonbon. “We don’t hear ‘ew, gross,’ as much anymore. It’s fashionable, just like mezcal.”
Restaurants around the city now advertise the arrival of “bug season,” and chefs like Enrique Olvera serve ants and their eggs on their high-end tasting menus. At René Redzepi’s much-anticipated pop-up restaurant in Tulum this month, insects may well be featured at the $600-a-head event.
More than 500 species of worms, ants, beetles, fly larvae and other insects have been part of the Mesoamerican diet for centuries, recorded as far back as the 16th century in the Florentine Codex. But in 21st-century Mexico City, eating bugs is still something of a novelty for many, including me and the two friends I recruited to help me eat my way through the festival.
Our first stop is at a stand selling scorpions for 60 pesos each, their semi-transparent bodies impaled on toothpicks stuck into a pineapple. They’re chewy and taste faintly of shrimp and herbs, flavors apparently absorbed from their watery environment.
The stand with the longest lines is the one selling tlayudas, a large tostada spread with beans, cheese, and other toppings that’s sometimes described as Oaxacan pizza. These tlayudas are garnished, of course, with all kinds of toasted bugs: fat and skinny worms, chicatana ants, beetles, crickets, and maguey snails. We opt for a standalone insect sampler and head for the picnic tables, stopping along the way to pick up a gourd full of pulque, a viscous pre-Hispanic drink made from fermented maguey sap.
Most of the insects share a common basic flavor: salty, earthy, minerally. We get hints of chicken liver off the larger maguey worm, roughly the size of an index finger, while the smaller worm is redolent of chicharrón. The maguey snails, like escargot, taste mushroomy, and we all agree the chicatana ants are our favorite. About the size of a pea and resembling beetles more than ants, they deliver the crunchy-salty satisfaction of popcorn.
At another stand, I meet vendor Elia Buendia, who holds up a plastic bag full of what looks like fine-grained sand and explains that it’s actually hueva de ahuahutle, or mosquito eggs. The tiny larvae are mixed with oil, made into a kind of mushy cake, doused with salsa verde, and served on tortillas, but it’s hard to discern their flavor underneath the bold salsa.
“We’re doing our part to prevent chikungunya,” Buendia jokes, for probably the 100th time that day.
Another crowd pleaser is the cocopache, a pretty black-and-red spotted beetle a little over an inch long. I try it first at Xbalanque, where Monragon explains that its woody flavor makes it a natural match for chocolate, and again at Cal y Maiz, where it’s being served on blue corn chips with a salsa made from mamey fruit and ground-up cocopaches. Here it’s crunchy and tastes delicious—flavored with garlic and the beetle’s own natural oils—and not at all “buggy.”
“These ancestral food traditions like insects and corn—they aren’t new,” explains Cal y Maiz’s Victor Urbano. “They’re only new to our modern culture.”
Nearby, some kids in their 20s are hovering over a tlayuda, framing the perfect Instagram snap on their iPhones. Next to them sit three women a generation older. For them, edible insects are old hat.
“I come from a family that had that pre-Hispanic tradition of eating insects,” says Georgina Martinez, 57, who grew up in Cuautitlán in the nearby State of Mexico. Sipping pulque out of a plastic cup, she suspects the current edible-insect boom is a reaction against a half century of denigrating Mexican traditions while fetishizing all things foreign.
“It’s the same thing that happened with pulque and mezcal,” Martinez says. “Ever since the ‘60s, when beer came in, they said pulque was bad and dirty, that they put excrement in it to ferment it. In my house, we had a pitcher of pulque on the table all the time. My mom said, ‘you really think we’d be drinking something that was made with shit?’ It was the same with insects. People said they’re ugly to look at, ‘how are you going to eat something that lives in the dirt?’ It was this racist campaign to scorn the traditional and impose commercial foods.”
“Racist and classist,” echoes Elizabeth Garcia, 54, as the other two nod in agreement.
Now, though, the tide seems to have shifted. Vendors say people are reacting positively, curious about how the bugs are foraged and prepared, and ready to pay good money for the privilege of eating them. Even the chocolate cockroaches do better than anticipated, the batch of 400 selling out over the four-day event. More than one person I meet refers to insects as “the food of the future,” echoing a campaign by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to promote entomophagy as a sustainable protein source worldwide.
For event organizer Enrique Cervantes, the festival offers a chance to recognize the folk wisdom of women from the campo, whose gastronomical knowledge didn’t come from studying at a fancy school but was passed down generationally.
“Why did they decide to try insects? How do they know which can be eaten?” he wonders. “It surprised me to learn that chicatanas, for example, only come out in the rainy season, and the abuelas knew when it was time. It used to be a family tradition to go out and collect them. People used to observe their environment, listen to it, contemplate it. We don’t do that anymore.”
Will eating insects make a comeback as the world continues its love affair with Mexican gastronomy? Cervantes, for one, is banking on it.
“People are fascinated with everything that Mexico produces,” he says. “In Mexico, Mexico is trendy again.”
Maya Kroth is a freelance writer based in Mexico City.
Fried eggplant + eggs + pita = a vegetarian superstar
Falafel you know. Pita, chickpea fritters, tahini, salad. It is delicious. It is ubiquitous. It is multi-faceted. A guiding light of meat-free "clean" eating that satisfies like nothing else.
But, as Yoda put it, there is another.
Sabich is falafel's lesser-known sibling: same pita, same salads and saucy toppings, same meat-free ethos. But instead of fried chickpea mush, the sandwich is loaded with fried eggplant and hardboiled eggs. And in Israel, the sandwich's home turf (it's one of the few truly-native-to-Israel dishes out there), it's just as important as falafel.
The sandwich came to Israel by way of Iraqi Jews, who cooked eggs and eggplant as make-ahead food to eat during the Sabbath, when observers aren't supposed to cook or turn on a stove. Along the way, those components found their way into a sandwich (doesn't that happen to every good thing eventually?), and the rest is sandwich history. As Neal Ungerleider puts it for SAVEUR, "like any other great food, the sabich is deeply connected to immigrant folkways and history's pathways."
In the video above, Keren Brown documents just what makes Israel's sabich so splendid to cook, eat, and just have on the street all around you. Want to try your own? We have a recipe right here.
No, not a grilled cheese—this salty, gooey cheese spread on a bun, hot dog, or french fries only comes from one small town, and Graham's is the place to get it
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.
Fall River, Massachusetts is food mecca of sorts, but not in the way you may expect. There are no sleek coffee shops or modern-rustic restaurants in this sleepy, somewhat rundown fishing village. But there is a wealth of hyperlocal delicacies: chow mein sandwiches, chourico rolls, hot weiners, “marinated” hamburgers, Syrian meat pies, and linguica bakery pizza.
Even in this culinary twilight zone, where American lunch counter cuisine mixes with New England seafood and influences from China, Greece, Portugal, and the Middle East, one particular oddball dish stands out: the legendary hot cheese sandwich.
Know this: A hot cheese sandwich is not a grilled cheese, as the bread is not toasted in a pan. Nor is it a cheese sandwich as you and I know it. Here in Fall River, “hot cheese” is a custardy, semi-liquid product that looks a little like scrambled eggs. Said product then gets placed on a burger bun and handed over to you. It’s delicious, and Graham’s Hot Dogs is the place to get it.
“People think it’s mashed potatoes,” laughs owner Linda Seidl, who runs Graham’s with her son. “The base is a sharp cheddar cheese. That’s all I can tell you!” It’s served like a hamburger, on a soft bun, topped with either Coney Island-style meat sauce or a combination of mustard, onions, and relish.
Imagine sharp, salty cheese grits without the grits, maybe fortified with a little whipped cream or butter for structure, and you can appreciate the beauty of hot cheese, or “chopped cheddar” in Fall River lingo. It’s satisfyingly oozy but doesn’t run all over the place, and it’s firm enough to support toppings usually ladled over a hot dog.
Graham’s also spoons the cheese goo over hand-cut fries along with their Coney sauce, and offers it as a topping on burgers and hot dogs. But the classic hot cheese sandwich—the original formulation, the way god intended you to eat it—is by far the most popular. It’s one of the top sellers on the menu, and the one that draws fans from all over. “It’s most popular with older people,” Linda explains, “usually with just mustard, onions and relish.”
Today in Fall River, Graham’s is a hot cheese legend, but it isn’t the originator of the concept. “We stole it,” Linda says with a laugh. “There used to be hot cheese carts all over downtown that sold the sandwich,” and it became a staple of every Coney-style hot dog shop in the area, of which there are many. Linda laments that only four or five decades-old hot dog joints remain. Still, most towns way larger than Fall River would be lucky to have one.
Graham’s opened in 1962, by the original Graham who started with a menu of Fall River standards like Coney dogs, fried seafood (still popular, especially during Lent), chourico, baked beans, and of course the hot cheese. Linda’s in-laws bought the business two years later (it’s unclear what happened to Graham) and it’s been in the same family for decades. It’s a funky little place with old photos of JFK and cats on the wall, and a line of classroom-style desks for solo diners alongside some tables. The hot dog grill sits in the sidewalk-facing window to draw in passers by.
There’s more to the place than hot cheese. The Coney dog is good; getting it topped with the baked beans is better. True to Fall River’s multicultural melting pot, Graham’s also does a dog made of local Portuguese sausage that you can get chopped with fries. There’s also something called a whimpy burger—another semi-forgotten Fall River specialty that consists of a marinated burger patty that’s braised for hours with onions and gravy until it’s fall-apart tender. Almost everything at Graham’s is homemade.
You could spend a week’s worth of meals eating your way through Graham, appreciating delicious regional spins on hot dogs and burgers. But there’s nothing like their glorious hot cheese anywhere else on Earth. Try it with relish, try it with Coney sauce, try it on some fries. Just don’t pass by Fall River without experiencing the magic of hot cheese.
Graham's Hot Dogs
931 Bedford Street, Fall River, MA
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.
And why it's so important for the liveliness of our cities
“It really is a type of haute cuisine,” says Krishnendu Ray, associate professor and department chair of the NYU food studies program. As democratic food for the masses, he says, street food stands apart from more homestyle cooking: bold flavors and spices, crisp griddled edges and crunchy fried crusts, made at stands layered with eye-catching colors.
At the recent CityFood symposium in New York City, Ray and other scholars explained how street food the world over contributes to an aesthetic that’s different everywhere but grounded by a universal theme: thrifty, satisfying fare that’s immediately delicious, and essential to the geographic and economic fabric of our cities.
Yet while street food is riding a surging wave of attention and adoration, the vendors who spend their days making our falafel, kebabs, and empanadas are often overlooked, and even declared a public nuisance despite their hard-fought contributions to urban culture.
Ray explains the complicated role of street food and development around the globe. As more small farmers migrate to urban centers in search of better work, they often become street vendors—and sometimes have to fight for the right to do so. In some cities in the global south, Ray says street vendors are almost 2% of the entire population of the city. However, as cities modernize, the goals of development can clash with traditional street food vending, and with policy as well. Street foods are viewed as “backwards,” and counter to the “modern” urban flow of car-friendly streets and capital-driven developments.
“There’s this idea that ‘development’ is to get rid of street vendors,” Ray goes on. “One example is what’s happening in Bangkok right now, where the military is seeking to clear out street vendors.” In a city that’s often called the world’s street food capital, it’s hard to imagine government officials removing all street vendors by 2018..
Similar issues, to varying degrees of severity, have hit elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Mumbai, Singapore, some sub-Saharan African cities, and even New York City. Back in the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia worked to rid the city of its open-air pushcarts, driving vendors into indoor setups such as the Essex Street Market.
For Ray, such measures lead to two kinds of loss. “You lose access to livelihood for people, and you undermine what I call ‘liveliness’ of the streets.” That liveliness makes streets more livable, food at every level more inspiring, and our daily rhythms more delicious. To show just what that means, we’ve collected portraits from across the planet of street vendors in action.
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
New York, USA
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
New York, USA
Can Tho, Vietnam
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tel Aviv, Israel
Buenos Aires, Argentina
People are lining up around the block at 1951, a non-profit training program that's helping immigrants adjust to American life
Latte art, Meg Karki and Peter agreed, was tough, and save for the two-week training session they’d attended before 1951 Coffee opened in late January, neither man had made a latte before, let alone tried to draw leaves with milk.
Back in Malaysia, where he’d paid an agent to smuggle him from his native Myanmar, Peter had worked in a bar with a coffee machine, but it wasn’t anything fancy. And in the Nepali refugee camp where Karki had lived for 20 years after fleeing Bhutan with his family, there was only tea. But here in Berkeley, lattes were popular—“it’s one of the favorite drinks,” Karki told me. A small, wiry 27-year-old with a kind, steady gaze, Karki isn’t a coffee drinker; he prefers the cafe’s Assam tea. “But I am still learning,” he said. “And probably I’ll get into coffee one day.”
1951 Coffee is most likely the only the only third-wave coffee shop in the Bay Area where a lack of prior experience isn’t an impediment to employment; if anything, it’s expected. The cafe is the first from 1951 Coffee Company, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that provides job training and employment for refugees, specifically within the Bay Area’s ever-growing coffee industry. All of its ten employees are refugees, and about half are graduates of the nonprofit’s two-week barista training program. They each earn $13 an hour, and together represent Syria, Uganda, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, and Iran.
While their command of English varies, their shared experience of strife and upheaval has created its own language. “Feeling like we are all refugees, it’s an amazing feeling,” Karki said. “We understand each other.”
Karki himself arrived in the Bay Area in 2011, following a two-year application process for resettlement through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which among other things requires a referral from the U.S. Refugee Admission Program, and an interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration officer. He joined his parents, who were already living in the East Bay with an uncle who had sponsored them. The family subsequently relocated to a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland, where Karki slept on the couch.
Compared to the refugee camp, where he’d moved when he was two, life here was easy: food was plentiful, and he no longer had to worry about the near-constant threat of disease, flooding, or fire. But finding work was hard, regardless of the English he had learned at school in the camp. So he began volunteering at the Oakland chapter of the International Rescue Committee (a global humanitarian relief agency) where he met another volunteer named Doug Hewitt. The two men formed a rapport, and Hewitt found Karki a job packing coffee for the coffee consulting firm where he worked as a roaster.
When Hewitt subsequently took a full-time job at the IRC as an employment specialist, he helped create the Chipotle Class, a short program that taught refugees skills like how to chop vegetables and roll a burrito. Impressed by the difference pre-job training could make for someone like Karki, who had by this point found his own job with Chipotle, Hewitt began brainstorming with Rachel Taber, another IRC employee, about how to teach refugees other valuable skills.
Taber, whose background is in fundraising, found the answer one morning while having coffee at Blue Bottle: a cafe, she realized, could form the foundation of a sustainable social enterprise, while the Bay Area’s robust coffee industry could provide jobs for the refugees they trained. Eventually, she and Hewitt realized that it wasn’t just coffee, but high-end coffee that was the means to their end: The goal, Taber told me at the cafe, “is to show people that refugees can make as great a cup of coffee as the one you get at Blue Bottle.”
So 1951 follows the same aesthetic mandate as the typical high-end Bay Area coffee shop, with clean lines and blonde-wood accents. It brews coffee from Verve, a boutique roaster in Santa Cruz, and serves kouign-amann from Emeryville’s Starter Bakery. And although Taber’s father lobbied hard for the cafe to be called the Human Bean, “we wanted something that was, I don’t know, on a different level,” Taber said.
Since it opened, 1951 has drawn both press and customers; on a typical morning, a line extends from its counter and its tables host a mix of Berkeley students, laptop jockeys, and friends chatting over coffee. Business, Hewitt said, had been “beyond our expectations,” thanks in part to the executive order on immigration that President Trump signed just three days after the cafe opened. “It’s been nuts,” Taber said of the numbers of people who had stopped in to show their support. “But good nuts.”
1951 takes its name from the year that the United Nations first set forth guidelines for the protection of refugees, a detail that is explained on a wall behind the espresso machine. Statistics about the world’s refugee population are scattered throughout the cafe, which rents its space from Berkeley’s First Presbyterian Church, and its visual centerpiece is a wall-length installation that details the typically arduous resettlement process. It’s bold and visually compelling, and since Trump’s executive order has provided the backdrop for numerous customer selfies.
Trump’s stalled ban hangs in the air at the cafe, but for many of its employees it is just one of a litany of more pressing everyday issues. “Life is really difficult here,” said Nazira, a soft-spoken Afghani who arrived in early December. “We had challenges in our own country, but when we come here we faced another kind of challenge. We don’t know the language, the system, the rules. We have to start from the first step here.”
Back home in Kabul, Nazira, who is 27, had been a journalist; her husband had worked with the United Nations and the American embassy. Though they had good jobs, they feared for their safety: Nazira is Tajik and her husband is Pashtun, and their mixed marriage made them vulnerable, as did their work.
Still, when her husband applied for and got a Special Immigrant Visa, Nazira didn’t plan to follow him to the U.S. The country’s capitalist system didn’t appeal to her—“the rich people just go up,” she said, “and the middle, it has always faced problem.” But when her situation in Kabul further deteriorated, she decided to join her husband in San Leandro. She spent her first few weeks in a state of homesickness and culture shock; with her husband working at IKEA all day, she had no one to talk to, and she cried all the time. So she sought help at the IRC, where she met Hewitt and Taber.
Working as a barista had been a difficult adjustment, Nazira admitted. “I come from a very high background of career, I was working differently there. But after one week it was really great. I see many people, different cultures.” She’d even encountered some acquaintances from Afghanistan, now living as refugees in nearby Fremont, who came in after seeing her picture in a TV segment about the cafe.
Despite the uptick of Islamophobia in the air since the election, Nazira feels safe in the Bay Area; the IRC recently finished preparing documentation for her and her husband’s green cards. But she worries about its broader implications for the world. “Muslim will be against Christian, Christian will be against Muslim, all these things it will start from small things,” she said. In countries like Afghanistan, the combination of religion, politics, and a lack of education has always led to war, she continued. “But here, people are educated. We never think that they gonna do like this.”
She and her coworkers worry about those who have been left behind; Peter thinks a lot about his parents in Myanmar and his friends in the refugee camp in Malaysia—Kachin asylum seekers like him who fled the Burmese civil war. “Hopefully,” he said with a tentative laugh, “Trump change his mind.”
But he doesn’t have a lot of time to think about it: in addition to his morning shifts at the cafe, which he learned about through the IRC, he works nights at a medical manufacturing company in Alameda. His free time is spent ferrying his wife and two small children to various appointments. His wife’s nursing degree is no good here; she’d like to go back to school, but can’t with two small children to care for and very little money to spare.
Peter himself would like to own a Burmese restaurant one day, but in the meantime, his goal is to learn more English; Americans talk too fast for him, and sometimes there are misunderstandings with customers. But he likes working at the cafe; he’s reputed to be a natural with latte art, and when people walk through the door, he often calls out, “Thank you for coming in!”
Berkeley, everyone agrees, has been good to them; business has been brisk enough for Hewitt and Taber to begin thinking about opening new locations, and the customers are patient and understanding. “A lot of people, especially senior people, they say, ‘Thank you for being here,’” said Karki, who left Chipotle to become 1951’s senior barista. He stood up to return to his shift. “Whenever they say that, I feel really happy. And I will say to them, thank you for being here, too.”
We ate and drank our way through Alaska, New Orleans, California, and Greece
At SAVEUR, our obsessive quest to unearth the origins of food and discover hidden culinary traditions sends us from our test kitchen in New York City to all the corners of the globe. This month, we traveled to New York for cheese, Alaska for halibut, and Greece for raki with every meal.
Beacon, New York
If you live in New York City, you probably know at least one person who is debating whether or not they should move to Beacon, an artist's hamlet and Hudson Valley hot spot just 60 miles north. There's Dia, the contemporary art museum, and Storm King, the contemporary sculpture center that covers 500 acres in the mountains.
But there are also ample breweries, taprooms, and distilleries nearby, like Hudson Valley, which might be under construction but they've still got the taps flowing and tables set up for hanging out with a pint of their "Kinds of Light," a sour ale fermented with local chardonnay grape skins. Stock Up has a pop-up here, as well as a brick-and-mortar location around the corner, where, while accompanying a friend up north to hunt for an apartment, we bought freshly sliced bacon to cook for breakfast, and a few sandwiches and a growler of beer to take to Storm King for the afternoon. We're hoping she finds an apartment soon, if only so we have another excuse to take the train up for the weekend. — Alex Testere, associate editor
San Francisco, California
It's not every day you launch a new cookbook. That's why, in mid April, I headed out to San Francisco to celebrate the publication day of Nopalito, an authentic Mexican cookbook I co-authored with chef Gonzalo Guzmán of Nopalito restaurants. Of course, I ate my bodyweight in ceviche, tamales, and carnitas. But in between visits to the restaurant I found time to eat at some of my other favorites in town.
At the famous Ferry Building, home of San Francisco's biggest and best farmers' market, I swigged cappuccino from Blue Bottle Coffee and a grilled cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, then perused the shrooms at Far West Funghi. At Cotogna, a cozy wood-fired Italian spot, the chefs fed me tortellini with artichokes and guanciale (cured pork jowl) that had me speechless. And at the new-ish Tartine Manufactury, I ended the week on a last lunch of perfectly moist, greasy porchetta sandwiched with sharp arugula, and complemented with a glass of Sonoma rosé. Hey, it was a celebration. —Stacy Adimando, test kitchen director
New Orleans, Louisana
Oh New Orleans, what a wonderful city in which to become nocturnal for a week, because the music's best at night and Morning Call is open 24 hours a day. You likely know about Cafe du Monde, the tourist-spot-that's-actually-great beignet palace in the French Quarter, but the Metarie-based (and that's Met-uh-ree, or Met-tree, to you) coffee and beignet shop is a terrific local alternative with marble tops everywhere, surly bow-tied servers, and perfectly milky coffee in a bucolic corner of City Park. They may even do better beignets, even at 5 a.m., when I stumbled in for a nightcap doughnut after a hungover breakfast there 8 a.m. the day before. Surrounded by greenery matched only by the actual Louisiana woods, with a pile of light-as-air, gently chewy beignets in front of me, and as much cafe au lait as I could drink—yeah, I could see living here. — Max Falkowitz, executive digital editor
It was 8:30 on a Friday evening in Sitka, Alaska. I was out on the water with a local writer working on an upcoming assignment. The sun was setting over snow covered Mount Edgecumbe, and the harbor breeze was cold but refreshing, and helped keep our Denali Brewing IPAs chilled to perfection. The boat dramatically swayed back and forth as we pulled two 50 pound halibut out of the water. It didn't take long for me to get into the routine of things up in this remote, northern part of the country. There are a lot more options for dinner if you just go out and catch it yourself. A few hours later, back at the writer's home, candles were lit, the halibut cooked, and the wine was poured for the perfect Friday night dinner. — Michelle Heimerman, photo editor
In my mind, Berkeley has always been a village on a hill bursting at its borders with heirloom tomatoes, watercolored apricots, and lettuces so delicate, they could be stitched into silky shirts and headscarves. I'm not sure how or when this idea implanted itself, but I think it must have something to do with Chez Panisse. Because, in the topography of my imagination, Chez Panisse sits at the pinnacle of the village hill, windows glowing warm, baking pie smells wafting through them and out into the wild California air. (Begrudgingly, I am a romantic.)
Earlier this month, on the way to Napa, I stopped through Berkeley for the first time in order to fulfill a decade-long desire to sit in Chez Panisse's treehouse-of-a-café and order those whispery lettuces. And because I'd wanted to eat there for so long, I was anxious that it might not be as good as I'd dreamed up. As we departed the San Francisco airport, I picked a fight with my boyfriend over which route to take. I fussed over my hair, parting and re-parting it in some trance of cosmetological magical thinking. I even changed my shirt in the car rental parking garage, because in my mind's eye, I knew what one should wear to Chez Panisse.
It wasn't necessary to have worried. There's a reason Chez Panisse remains beloved. After all these years of food evolution and revolution, it's still the platonic ideal of an American restaurant. Simple and elemental, it's still the best version of America's food culture. There was crisp, peachy Bandol rosé and those whispery lettuces dipped in buttermilk. There were roasted beets and a guinea hen with swiss chard that tasted like Christmas, all cloves and oranges. There was a slice of pillowy ginger cake and a crumbly wedge of a rhubarb tart. And it lived up to ten years of anticipation.
Feeling buoyed by the dewy East Bay air and a second glass of Bandol and the sun coming through the boughs of an araucaria tree, I was very happy to see that some places and people and things (and lettuces) can live up to all of one's expectations. — Leslie Pariseau, special projects editor
Tarrytown, New York
With Friday-night tickets to see the Jayhawks at Tarrytown Music Hall, a jewel box of a theater (built in 1885 by a chocolate maker), my husband and I took a train from Grand Central Station in Manhattan for the 50-minute ride north up the Hudson River. We weighed our dinner options—build-your-own-burgers, BBQ, tacos, even Korean—before deciding to treat ourselves to the Twisted Oak, a New American bistro some Google reviewers compared to Dan Barber’s Blue Hill.
We settled in at the cozy bar and started off with excellent cocktails: smoky-spicy mezcal, grapefruit, serrano chile, agave, and Luxardo maraschino liqueur for me; bourbon for him. We started with chef-owner Michael Cutney’s perfectly tender octopus complemented by spicy nduja tater tots, preserved lemon, and salsa verde. I followed up with duck lasagna with braised wild greens and bechamel, topped with a fried egg, an appetizer portion but plenty satisfying and rich. My husband loved the new-to-the-menu allium risotto, with ramps, spring onion blossoms, and Sprout Creek Bogart, a raw cow’s-milk cheese. As a grace note, everything was served on lovely pottery. — Donna L. Ng, copy chief
Before I left for Crete, I got the same warning from everyone: Prepare to drink lots of tsikoudia. Also known as raki, this drink is everywhere on the island, and it often popped up unexpectedly. One farmer poured homemade raki into shot glasses on the hood of his truck, right in the middle of his field. Another cheesemaker served us raki with plate after plate of cheese (it was 10 in the morning). And one night, I watched a group of Cretan men make it in a big copper pot as we ate. There was a lot of discussion and arguing about how much water to add, because the initial concoction is 80% alcohol. They placed the vat of alcohol in the middle of the table and served it out of a smaller saucepan, continuing to argue about what should be changed to make it taste better, but it didn't stop them from filling glasses and passing them around—because you can't leave until all the raki is gone. — Katherine Whittaker, assistant digital editor
Cochran Farm, New York
I don't get out of the city as often as I'd like, but when Gwen and Patrick Apfel invited a handful of us Saveur-ites to their historic Upstate New York farm for a tour of their cheesemaking facilities early last month, I jumped at the offer. Cochran Farm was originally the home of Surgeon General John Cochran, who served under George Washington during the American Revolutionary War, purportedly saving the life of The Marquis de Lafayette—twice.
The Franco-American alliance lives on at the General's former residence; Patrick and Gwen met in business school and worked in tech all over the U.S. and abroad, before, while on assignment in Patrick's native France, they decided to shift gears and enrolled in a cheesemaking course at a technical school in Burgundy. Today, they produce some of the best French-style chèvre around, using Alpine goat milk from a local Amish farm. As Gwen walked us through her cheesemaking facility—a pristine laboratory tucked discreetly inside an 18th century barn—Patrick prepared a perfect country lunch of green salad, crusty bread, mineraly Loire wine, and the prettiest rippled white tomme any of us had ever seen. — Kat Craddock, test kitchen assistant
Los Angeles, California
I don't brunch. I don't like brunch, I don't see it, and I don't respond to it. Doesn't it make more sense to just sleep in? However, when I travel, I prefer to do as the locals to. So, when I visited Los Angeles this month, I decided to drag myself out bright and early at 1pm to indulge in that mid-afternoon tradition of booze and eggs. Luckily, the brunch standards at Wolf in LA were well-worth the effort: crispy potatoes sitting on an aji amarillo aoili, perfectly cooked steak and eggs, pancakes nestling bananas and topped with strawberries, and just for fun, these eggs Benedict upgraded with tender chunks of lobster. It's no surprise: the chef-owner at Wolf is Marcel Vigneron, of Top Chef fame, who opened Wolf last year. The best part? The restaurant is 100% zero food-waste, and that's the kind of business I can get behind at any hour of the day. — Dan Q. Dao, deputy digital editor
And maybe stop it, but the schnitzel at Arthur’s Nosh Bar is a good way to go
There should be certain dishes on one’s must-eat list when going to Montreal. Among them: a mile-high smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s, a chewy wood-fired bagel at Fairmount Bagel (or one of its Mile End neighbors), and a steaming, gravy-covered mound of poutine at any and every casse-croute. Never before would I have envisioned putting schnitzel on that list.
That was until I met Alex Cohen and Raegan Steinberg, co-owners of Montreal’s new Arthur’s Nosh Bar, and their phenomenal schnitzel sandwich.
Drawing from Ashkenazi and Sephardic cuisines, the pair do, in their words, “Jewish classics with a twist.” After cooking and working at spots like Joe Beef and Liverpool House, they claim owning their own restaurant was more or less a mistake. “We needed headquarters for a catering company we were running,” Steinberg says, “and ended up finding such a great location that we opened our dream restaurant in it.” That location, on the increasingly buzzing Notre Dame Ouest in Montreal’s suddenly hip St. Henri neighborhood, quickly found its following—and reliably long weekend brunch lines to follow.
Cohen, the head chef who cooks and eats like a guy with a permanent case of the munchies, ups the ante on old-school dishes like matzo ball soup, borscht, and blintzes with unexpected touches like Moroccan spices (Cohen’s parents are Moroccan) and nostalgic childhood flavor combinations (jam and cheese). Case in point: he uses honey and pickles on his chicken schnitzel sandwich to evoke the sweet-sour quality of a McDonald’s burger, and calls it The McArthur’s Sandwich. It’s the schnitzel sandwich to end all schnitzel sandwiches.
The details are these: A gargantuan, buttermilk-soaked breast of tender pounded chicken is battered in a genius combination of breadcrumbs and instant mashed potatoes to give it both heartiness and crunch, then mounded with chile-flecked iceberg slaw, kosher dill pickles, honey, and a shallot vinaigrette. It’s all served on buttery toasted challah that squishes—but doesn’t buckle—under the sandwich’s weight.
On their challah French toast listed on the brunch menu, Cohen and Steinberg run a disclaimer about that dish’s playful, ever-changing preparation, but it pretty much sums up the schnitzel as well, not to mention Cohen and Steinberg themselves:
“Wherever the wind blows!”
Arthur’s Nosh Bar
4621 Rue Notre Dame Ouest, Montreal