Here’s my guide. It’s chuck full of delicious food. You should make the trip, too.
(Click the image for the link)
Okay, so my internet is down again—going on two weeks—and just as I was starting to rededicate myself to this thing. (Or at least telling myself that I was.) I seem to lose access to the web for extended periods of time on a regular basis.
Not too far back, as in sometime during the last few months, Serious Eats posted an article by coffee columnist Liz Clayton about curbing your caffeine intake and learning to drink coffee in strides. Her argument was pretty clear: savor and appreciate the brew, don’t just slosh it down like some mindless bug. (Of course this tendency towards thoughtless consumption is one of the central problems with American food culture; I’m not saying I’m innocent of it, either.) She also works for Counter Culture, inarguably the top purveyors of beans in the United States, which is what made her article so interesting: here you have a coffee professional saying, “cut back, take your time, enjoy.”
I love coffee, it’s one of my favorite things—solid or liquid—in the world. My favorite coffee is the post-meal coffee, the steaming cup on a cool summer night. Evenings spent sipping a Sumatran brew on my Bronx balcony, under the cover of trees planted by long-gone Italian immigrants, figure strongly into my culinary memories. I like nutty brews, cups with both rough edges and smooth, gentle voices. Some I like with milk, others black. Café de olla for the winter, a drop of palm sugar in my summer iced coffees.
But I’ve been drinking too much coffee for too long. That’s a fact. It’s a reoccurring cycle that I go through, and have been contending with since my second year at college. When I drink a cup in the morning, I get exhausted—it makes me tired in a way I can’t control, and I need to drink more cups to get through the day. In essence: the caffeine is affecting me in the exact opposite way that it’s supposed to. I don’t drink as much coffee as I did during my junior year of college, when I peaked at 6 or 7 cups a day (not all of them full strength), and routinely finished the night with a pot. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed coffee then; rather, I was bound to it.
Which brings me to my point: I don’t feel like I can enjoy coffee anymore. The ritual has been extinguished, and the enjoyment of flavor has been superseded by the urge to consume. So I’ve cut back, but in a more calculated way: no coffee in the morning, one cup a day. (So I cheated once when I was reeling from a particularly eventful night of drinking.) But instead of just eliminating the presence of a soothing beverage from my morning, I’ve replaced it with tea, a practice I’ve adopted from my older brother. For the first time in many months, I made it through a day without coffee this past Saturday. I didn’t even pass out mid-afternoon.
I read through this post on the fate of momoni (a dried fish product from Ghana; like Bangladesh’sshutki its essentially rotten) in modernizing (?) Ghana. Its interesting to watch these processes–the generation that sees itself born into a new world of grand potential–repeat themselves: from the abandoment of traditional foods (all evidence points to a once rich and eccentric American cuisine of the 1800s) repeat themselves. The emerging middle class distances itself from these traditional food products, no matter how woven they are into their social identity, not because of American influence–the oft cited perpetrator of ‘homogenization’–but because these foods are symbolic of status within the culture itself. We give them up because we no longer need them. Momoni is a food of necessity–its villager food. And if you’re an enlightened Ghanaian, what of it?
Now the wheels turn backwards. Is the process of reversal you see happening in the States inevitable or peculiar to our condition? Of what importance is that the focus is decidedly on foreign, distance cuisines and not old American fare? Is it substantial, or just focused on cultural capital? What happens when we exhaust all frontiers?
On a balmy summer day, a trip to the New World Mall brings me back to days spent in Shanghai. I’ve still got to explore a good deal of the vendors here (I never made a priority of it, like so many others), but I do like this little Yunan stall’s hot and sour soup ($6.00) a good deal.
Topped with a hardboiled egg, some suan cai, fresh vegetables, and tons of noodles, its decidedly on the sour side: some extra chili sauce will due to services to the “hot” in its name, which is otherwise unpronounced. Deeper in the broth, celery and ginger can be found lingering out of sight. Sichuan peppercorns, too, make their mark, providing that characteristic tingle. My only complaint: it’s a bit oily.
Yun Nan Stall
4021 Main St
Flushing, NY 11354
Last Thursday, I had the privilege of joining the head of the Malian Cultural Center, Sai, in the kitchen for a introductory cooking class. The night was arranged by my friend the Baron Ambrosia, thanks be to him.
Above all, I appreciated the ritualistic aspect of the evening. Arriving early, I was offered libations in the form of a chalky Ceylon green tea; Mimi’s father poured it from a spectacular height, producing a crown of foam.
I’m hoping to produce at least three posts out of the experience, with two of these dedicated to unusual spices and the third to a recipe for the stew that we cooked. The dish was a personal request from the Baron, full of earthy undertones and laced with a herb that produced flavors not unlike the smell of pu-er tea. It was one of the more unfamiliar things I have ate in a very long time.
For now, here are some photos of us producing Malian sorrel tea, brewed with mint, sugar, and strawberry flavoring:
I got these guys in the mail earlier this week:
That’s three types of tomatoes, three chilies, two varieties of basil, and two onion breeds (what was I thinking?). Gonna be a good summer, with some real spicy tequila. If you’re looking for seeds, I got mine from High Mowing Seeds.
Last Tuesday, I had the good fortune to participate in a Thai cooking class the owner and (sole) chef of Woodside’s Thailand Center’s Point, Phin. (If you’ve never been there, the food is typically, though not always, very good.) Using a small pan and an induction burner, Phin cooked two simple, home style dishes for us: explaining, through rapid assemblage and pointers, how easy and unintimidating preparation of these unfamiliar foods can be. She then put us to task of making a papaya salad using wooden mortar and pestles ($10 at the restaurant)–this was fun. Inquiries were encouraged, and one of her daughters and a young family friend were there to help answer any questions, as Phin was a bit timid in the use of her English.
What’s great about a small cooking class like this is that there are no restrictive expectations imposed by the audience: Phin was able to admit to her preferences, and show us what Thai cooking meant to her. Future classes could be awesome.
Here’s the one not-too-awful-to-be-published photograph I snapped:
Thanks to Jeff Orlick for organizing the event. Looking forward to more.
Baseball is in season. The Yankees got swept by the Rays. Hit the Serious Eats page this Friday for exciting Yanquis 411. This week, I will (really) actually be posting some excerpts from my interview with Fuchsia Dunlop-I feel like I definitely dropped the ball on this one, and I don’ know if these posts will generate the same interest levels. If only I had been prepared … The last few weeks have been really busy. I haven’t had the time to socialize. I’m still bad at staying on track, and need to figure out how to better manage my time. The internet is my distraction factory. I think about how much I do with my time, and then I think how much others do with theirs–and the daunting amount of adversity they face–and I realize how much more I can do (ie weekly posts on this blog): for some, there’s just no time to be unproductive. Maybe this is what I need.
But, back to Fuchsia. I was putzing around the internet last week, and decided to check out her blog. I knew she had returned to China and I wanted to see what she was up to. The first post on her blog, from the end of February, is on a potentially classic mistranslation of gong bao ji ding on a Chinese menu.
“Public Explosion Chicken
This blows “Goose Anus” out of the waters. It isn’t even fair.
Abd it got me thinking that, if I did in fact return to China (Changsha, anyone?) that I would have to, in some formal way, catalog all of the “Public Explosion Chickens” and menu mishaps I stumbled across. This is what food journalism is all about.
I GOT A CAMERA. Does this mean I will actually keep my promises?
Lots to share.
This week, Serious Eats: New York put up my profile of Queens meat market Muncan Food Corp. I got in deep. Romanian owned, Muncan serves a wide variety of Eastern European charcuterie, from the Istrian salami to fresh cevapi. They’ve gotten by for decades, developing a loyal following and garnering praise from the “foodie” world, without bothering to market themselves; one of the more telling things Marko told me is that his grandfather would turn down interviews not because he didn’t want them but because “there was no time.”
It wasn’t about the press, it was about the food. And it still is.
Which, in the moment of celebrity chefs (“Today, with the popularity of some of these chefs, it’s almost like wanting to be an actor — these visions of grandeur. I think that there’s a lot of kids coming up now whose goal isn’t to be a top technician or someone who wants to hone their craft, but more that they want that notoriety,” as told by Sang Yoon to Eater) is something to celebrate. Like anything else (music!), food is being co-opted as a platform for celebrity (hence, “food is the new rock”). Is the conclusion then that they might love food, but they love the ulterior assets they can gain through it much more?I would imagine some of the chefs were, when responding to Eater’s question, reminiscing about the “good old days.”
That aside, Muncan is wonderful because of how organically it operates. Marko made his decision not to work less (in hopes of signing a reality television contract), but because he felt a passion he couldn’t turn away from. More on this, tomorrow.
Read the profile here.