Yesterday we covered an emblematic English dessert, the Bakewell Tart on ETW, so today, the day on which Scotland votes on independence, it seemed only appropriate to feature a Scottish treat. The Ecclefechan butter tart’s name tells much of its story, a buttery pastry from the small Scottish town of Ecclefechan. The pastry is a short crust, filled with dried fruit, butter, sugar and eggs, with the secret ingredient of vinegar. However, their reach goes far beyond Scotland, where they are considered the predecessor for an emblematic Canadian treat, the more simply named butter tart. London Eats has a recipe for Ecclefechan butter tart, a relatively rare treat even in the UK.
When we were in London this past month, we were absolutely blown away by the huge amount of international cuisines available (even compared to our last visit 10+ years ago). However, we wanted to give proper attention to English classics including our favorite category of food – sweets. Now, we are no strangers to English candy, but we had not ventured far into the world of desserts, or as they are called locally – puddings. While in London, I popped into a bakery that specializes in English treats to brush up on my British baking knowledge: Peyton and Byrne (several locations, I visited 44 Wellington Street, Covent Garden). The case and bakery racks of this appealing cafe were full of delicious treats including familiar-to-Americans apple crumbles and cookies. However, there were some new treats including the Bakewell Tart, which looked too delicious to pass up.
The Bakewell Tart, which originated in Derbyshire, is tart with a shortbread crust, an almond filling and a layer of raspberry jam. On our trip, we saw Bakewell tarts in mini bite-sized versions (as above), or as larger tarts cut into wedges (as below). At Peyton and Byrne, they cut the pie into wedges (and top with almond slivers), which seems to make the perfect filling to crust ratio. We could tell the jam was homemade, and it perfectly complemented the frangipane filling. We found the Bakewell Tart to be perfectly delightful, or shall we say – moreish! There is a recipe for the Bakewell Tart in Peyton and Byrne’s book, British Baking, and recipes for traditional and exotic Bakewell Tarts abound online.
Today is Mexican Independence Day, so what better day to talk about some Mexican street food classics? While in Mexico City we enjoyed a lot of amazing street food including a quest to find the perfect tacos al pastor (post forthcoming). However, for the most delicious street food in the smallest space under a single roof, Coyoacán’s street food market, the Mercado de Antojitos, is a veritable one stop shop for low-key, delicious, authentic, friendly and cheap food.
Part of the major draw, beyond the food of course, is the market’s location in the historical and charming Coyoacán neighborhood in Southern Mexico City. With its cobbled streets and faded mansions, you will feel like you’ve stepped into another era (before Mexico City engulfed it, it was in fact its own town). The Anotjito Market is tucked into a side street near the main square of Coyoacán. There are about a dozen stalls inside, each ringed with stools or benches. This is definitely not a touristy place, and the food is so good – and turnover so high – there isn’t much need for hawking or up-selling. People of all ages packed the stalls, and for added liveliness, a guitar band entertained.
We were spoiled for choice by all of the antojitos (literally “little cravings”): so what did we get? One of the most popular dishes on offer was the quesadilla, which means something different that it does in English parlance (no cheese!). Due to their prevalence and popularity among the market patrons, we knew we had to choose a quesadilla. The quesadillas we tried were deep fried and stuffed with huitlacoche, one of our favorite Mexican flavors. Huitlacoche is technically a corn fungus, and tastes something like a truffle!
Another popular choice for sale was pozole, a hearty stew made from hominy and pork, which was especially delicious on a somewhat dreary and rainy day. For a little Vitamin C, you can also get your fill of fresh squeezed juices in flavors like strawberry and papaya. Beyond its role in pozole and in the tortillas, corn is king at the market, and for an even purer corn experience try a thick cornmeal drink (atole) or a cup of corn kernels with epazote (esquite). The prices are also very reasonable, so you can get more than a meal’s worth for only a few dollars. A market full of street foods is potentially one of our favorite concepts – and the Mercado de Antojitos definitely did not disappoint.
Much has been made of the dire economic situation of Haiti, and its continued degradation especially following the devastating 2010 earthquake. During and even before French colonization, Haiti’s economy has been based on agriculture; today manufacturing is the broader basis of the economy in terms of exports, and Haiti’s main export is been clothing. However, a new possible economic driver is on the horizon: chocolate. NPR recently reported on the presence of unique “mother / maman” Haitian cacao trees, which can produce more and better cacao pods than normal trees. Though these trees are not necessarily unique to Haiti, they are plentiful here, and are an untapped resource, sometimes producing twenty times the pods of normal trees.
Though around 60% of Haitians work in agriculture, the cacao market in Haiti has not been a primary economic driver in recent years (though it was exploited by colonial traders in the past). Even though cacao may only be a relatively small business in Haiti, there is major opportunity. As the global taste for chocolate grows, the demand for high quality chocolate products (even at a high prices) is there. One important potential stumbling block: even though the cacao produced from Criollo varietal trees in Haiti is of high-quality, it is often not fermented post-picking, which is considered an essential step in high-quality chocolate production. Consequently, unfermented Haitian cacao beans are often sold for much less than competitors.
So what are the next steps to realizing this cacao dream? Unlike many other food industries, cacao is still produced in overwhelming majority by small family farms, a model which will continue in Haiti. One collective, SOGEPA (Societe Genérale de Production Agroindustrielle, “General Society of Agro-Industrial Production”), a cacao exporter that represents 450 family cacao farms in Haiti, was given a grant by LEAD (Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investment Project – funded by USAID) post-earthquake to establish distribution and sales channels for the farmers in the collective. US Aid has also developed a program to help train Haitian farmers in effective cacao-raising techniques. FECCANO, a collective of cacao producers in northern Haiti has also been established. Slowly, artisinal Haitian chocolate is even being made available outside of the country. On such brand, the French Fair Trade label Ethiquable, boasts a “Grand Cru” Haitian chocolate bar. Currently Haitian chocolate does not enjoy the same cache as a French or Belgian label, but that could soon change.
Cotton candy is always a hit, but this video made us think of it as art. For 2 minutes and 30 seconds from which you will not be able to look away, watch this amazingly talented cotton candy purveyor make some of the sugary stuff into a veritable masterpiece.
We have eaten a lot of Lebanese street food, but Egyptian street food is something new to us. The most emblematic street food in Egypt is koshary/koshari, a mix of pasta and grains topped with chickpeas, a spicy tomato sauce and caramelized onions. Koshari Street (56 St Martin’s Ln, London WC2N 4EA) does a modern fast casual take on the Egyptian dish, offering three sizes of koshari in take away cups.
Located in the heart of London, Koshari street provides an unexpected cheap option right in the tourist track (though don’t worry, it is not touristy in the least!). Koshari Street is also a very quick option – Chipotle-style, the koshari is assembled in front of you to order. You can then customize the grain base with tomato sauces in three spiciness levels and you can specify if you would like onions and lemon on top. Though we didn’t think of it at the time, this dish is also vegan which makes it a good area option for all palates.
There were three sizes of koshari to choose from and we each ordered a small cup for a shockingly reasonable £3. We really enjoyed the mix of pasta and grains and the savory tomato sauce (vaguely reminiscent of Italian pasta and red sauce). M also went the extra mile and got spicy sauce. The koshari was tasty, warm and filling and easy to eat on the go. Definitely the perfect food for ambling about and taking in the sights!