Cuccìa for St. Lucia’s Day in Sicily

Today is St. Lucia’s Day, a day I have always associated with Scandinavia, though St. Lucia’s Day is also a big deal in parts of Italy. She is particularly venerated in Sicily, where she is the patron saint of Siracusa. One of the typical dishes you would eat for the Feast of Santa Lucia, and throughout the Christmas season, in Italy is Cuccìa. Cuccìa is a dish made of boiled wheatberries and sugar, and can have a variety of other add-ins including almonds ricotta, candied fruit, chocolate, or even chickpeas. I am not a major fan of porridges, but I have never tried wheat berries in this context, so I think I am willing to give it a try! According to tradition, no wheat is eaten on St. Lucia’s Day except for the Cuccìa. You can find a variety for sweet or (more rarely) savory  Cuccìas, but feel free to improvise your own. Here are some versions from Slow Food,  Mama Lisa and Serious Eats (pictured below). Don’t forget the accent on the I when you are searching though, without the accent, the word “cuccia” means “dog’s bed!”

Photograph: Vicky Wasik for Serious Eats

 

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A World of Buñuelos for Hanukkah and Christmas

Happy first day of Hanukkah – now it’s time for the treats! We wrote a little bit about the classic Sephardic Jewish dessert fritters, Buñuelos, in the past. However, we underestimated just how popular these little fried dough treats from Spain were. Though they are symbolic Hanukkah dish, and the frying of the dough represents the oil that burned for 8 nights, Buñuelos are also enjoyed as a Christmas treat. Buñuelos, (aka Bimuelos, Burmuelos, among other names) were initially created by Spanish moriscos centuries ago, but have since spread in popularity across Latin America.

Bunuelos

Bunuelos / Bimuelos by Joe Goldberg

Just how many Buñuelos varieties are there out there? It’s hard to say, but here we have tried to compile just a few variations on the humble Buñuelo:

BunueloMexico

Buñuelos in Mexico City by bionicgrrrl

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Pastry Post-Doc: Filipino Bibingka for Christmas

Can you believe that it is already December 1st? I know I can’t. Today the first of our holiday decorations went up, and I am scheming about which holiday recipes to make first (maybe something with gingerbread?) In conducting a search for holiday recipes, I came across a Christmas classic from the Philippines: Bibingka. Bibingka is a coconut cake made with rice flour and topped with coconut, duck eggs and even cheese. In the Philippines, you will see bibingka sellers peddling these cakes on the street around the holiday season. The traditional way to make bibingka is in a terracotta pot lined with banana leaves, cooked over open coals. However, bibingka has now adapted to the contemporary kitchen, and you can make it in a conventional oven. The following bibingka recipes vary a bit, but the rice flour is a must: Kawaling Pinoy Recipe, Panlasang Pinoy Recipe, New York Times Recipe, Zestuous Recipe. Asian in America Mag has a version of mini bibingka that are cooked in muffin tins with banana leaf “liners.”

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Pastry Post-Doc: What are Pikelets?

There is a new show streaming on Netflix called “Zumbo’s Just Desserts” which is a Cupcake Wars/Top Chef-esque cooking competition focused on – as you may have guessed – desserts. In one of the episodes the hosts mentioned Pikelets – and we had never heard that word before! It turns out that Pikelets are a type of mini, thick pancake found in Australia and New Zealand. These are based off of the English Pikelet, which is similar to a crumpet (A crumpet in the US is known as English muffin). The main difference between the two is that Pikelets are free-form, while crumpets are baked in a ring, making them perfectly circular. It seems like there is some debate as to whether UK and Australian Pikelets are one and the same. In each case, the recipe seems akin to a simple pancake batter. You can try your hand at Pikelets with recipes from Taste.Au, Genius Kitchen and Sweetest Kitchen in plain and chocolate chip varieties (seen below).

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

vintage-happy-thanksgiving-postcard

Hope everyone in the US has a lovely and delicious Thanksgiving! We are looking forward to some turkey and mashed potatoes – and cherry pie!

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Eating the World turns 10!

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Today Eating the World is 10. I can’t really believe that this blog has been around for 10 years! Over those years we have managed to eat 127 out of 195 countries! We have also visited 18 countries in person: England, France, Spain, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Denmark, Morocco, Brazil, Portugal, Peru, Canada, Mexico, Ghana (well, one of us) and even the Vatican City. As the landscape of the internet has changed, we have branched out too – especially to Instagram. I wonder if we will be able to finish our mission to eat food from every country in the next 10 years? As the countries we are aiming to sample get harder and harder to find, I guess we will have to wait and see!

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Latvia’s National Dessert – Rupjmaizes kārtojums

LatviaOur sister in law is Latvian – so we have been becoming more familiar with Latvian recipes recently. As we have discovered when jumping in to new cuisines, desserts are usually a good place to start. November 18 is Latvian Independence Day, so it only makes sense to celebrate with the national dessert of Latvia – Rupjmaizes kārtojums . This dessert is a kind of trifle made with iconic Latvian rye bread instead of cake. Rye bread crumbs are layered with cream and fruit – which sounds both simple and delicious. Nami Nami and Kitchen Mouse have recipes for the Latvian treat.

Rupjmaizes kārtojums by Krists Luhaers

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Spanish Bones of the Saints (Huesos de Santo) for All Saints’ Day

There is a theme with some Day of the Dead treats to be a bit literal – and usually that involves some form of bones! Pan de muerto is demarcated with a crisscross of bones on the top and ossi dei morti literally look like white, powdery bones! Spanish “saints bones” (huesos de santo) follow this trend, and are a bone-like, tubular marzipan with an egg yolk filling (sometimes squash). Maybe that filling is supposed to resemble bone marrow (cool! gross!)? Spain Recipes, Blue Jellybeans and The Spruce have recipes to DIY your own saints’ bones. These cookies originate from Madrid and have a history that stretches all the way back to the 17th century! Along with panellets and buñuelos, you’ll find these typical treats in many Spanish bakeries.

From Spain Recipes: Some accounts attribute their origin to 17th century Madrid, a theory that’s supported by their mention in Francisco Martínez Montiño’s cookbook, Arte de Cozina, Pastelería, Vizcochería y Conservería (The Art of Cooking, Pastries, Cakes and Preserves). Written in 1611, the book states that these sweets were “made to commemorate all the Saints and all the dead at the beginning of November”. 

Huesos de Santo by Dario Alvarez

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The hidden history of candy corn

Candy Corn Creature by Karla Fitch

Candy corn is one of the most divisive candies on Halloween – one ETW member thinks it was one of the worst candies you could get trick or treating (better than raisins but worse than Tootsie Rolls), while the other member just willingly bought a bag of candy corn to consume by themselves. Whether or not you are pro candy corn or not, it seems like it has been a part of Halloween forever. According to the National Confectioners Association, more than 35 million pounds (or 9 billion pieces) of candy corn will be produced this year. And candy corn HAS been around a long time – it originated in the US sometime in the 1880s, but was first commercially produced by Wunderle company, and production of candy corn was taken up by the Goelitz Candy Company by 1898 (the ancestor of the current Jelly Belly Company). It was originally called “chicken feed,” which appealed to the agrarian sensibilities of America at the time. Candy corn has been popular ever since! Though now automated, the process of making candy corn was originally very time-consuming, and each color was individually poured into molds and had to harden before the next layer was added. if you are really a fan, you can even make your own homemade candy corn!

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Italian Day of the Dead Cookies: Pan Dei Morti

ItalyIt’s that time of year – Halloween, Day of the Dead and All Saint’s Day are right around the corner – which means it is time for special holiday treats! Like in Latin America, All Saints’ and All Souls Day in Italy (especially in Sicily) is not a morbid affair, it is an occasion to celebrate your family and ancestors. It also used to be one of the few days a year children in Italy would get presents, said to be brought by their dead ancestors. Italy is big on treats for Ognissanti – All Saint’s Day – and we have previously featured Torrone dei Morti and Ossi dei Morti, classic Italian treats. One of the most common treats you will find in Italian bakeries this time of year, along with fanciful marzipan shapes – Frutto Martorana– is pan dei morti (bread of the dead). Though it sounds similar to Latin American Pan de Muerto, these two holiday treats are very different. Italian Pan dei Morti is a cocoa biscotti-like cookie filled with fruits and nuts. You can check out recipes for Pan dei Morti at Linda’s Italian Table and Passion and Cooking (seen below).

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Xinji Noodle Bar: Ramen in Cleveland

JapanWe are obsessed with getting the perfect bowl of ramen, and until recently the pickings have been pretty slim in Cleveland. Fortunately Xinji Noodle Bar (4211 Lorain Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113) recently opened up, so we have a new place for our noodle fix in Cleveland. To be fair, this is not strictly a traditional ramen place – they do offer ramen – but also an array of other Asian and Asian fusion food. The restaurant is the brainchild of chef Shuxin Liu, who cut his teeth at other Cleveland stalwarts like Momocho.

Xinji

The space is bright and airy with exposed pipes, ramen illustrations on the walls, and an inviting bar. It’s the kind of restaurany that wouldn’t look out of place in NYC or Chicago. The menu is compact, but has something for everyone. For appetizers, Xinji spans the Asian continent: you can start out with spicy Korean fired Chicken ($9) or Chinese bao sandwiches filled with pork or fired chicken ($7). We ordered the veggie dumplings with yuzu, wasabi and seaweed salad ($7) and the fried kimchi balls – which were basically like Korean arancine – yum! While the dumplings were good – they were folded and deep fried, and we were expecting more of a gyoza-type dumpling.

Dumplings

If you are not in the mood for ramen, there are other mains: rice bowls with tonkatsu (Japanese breaded, fried pork cutlets – $12) or grilled eel ($15). However, we were here for ramen, so we had to sample as many as we could. Xinji offers 5 types of ramen: shio (light salty broth), shoyu (a saltier soy sauce broth), miso, spicy miso and vegetarian broth (all $12, $10 for vegetarian).

ShioRamen

When we go out for ramen I usually choose shio ramen as my baseline test, and here it came with chicken mushrooms, naruto (fish cake), bamboo shoots and napa cabbage. The noodles were wavy and slightly irregular, with a firm texture – delicious. The broth was fragrant and salty, but there was not quite enough of it – we should have asked for more! The vegetarian broth was light and savory, and was garnished with bamboo shoots. The spice-loving M enjoyed the spicy miso ramen, which came with pork and bean sprouts. The broth was actually pretty spicy for a change, and was flavored with ginger and chili oil.

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 For dessert there were some more unusual options: a fried, sweet bao with matcha ice cream and red beans, drizzled with condensed milk ($6). We can’t resist anything matcha flavored. We liked Xinji’s unconventional take on a ramen restaurant, and we hope it thrives in a dining scene that could really use its presence. We are happy to finally have a legit place for noodles in Cleveland, and we can see ourselves becoming regulars here, especially in the colder months.

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Trinidadian Kurma for Diwali

The Hindi festival of lights – Diwali – is right around the corner on October 19th. The Indian diaspora is found all over the world, meaning that Diwali, and its collection of sweets called mithai, have traveled with them. You can check out our previous coverage of Diwali treats on the blog. Today, we’re celebrating Diwali Trinidad-style with Kurma. Trinidad has a long Indian heritage, so unsurprisingly, Indian treats are a big thing on the island. Kurma are ginger and cinnamon-spiced fried dough sticks in a sweet glaze, and though associated with holidays in Trinidad, they can now be found year-round. You can try your hand at Trinidadian Kurma with recipes from Simply Trini Cooking (seen below) and Trini Gourmet.

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Serai: Malaysian Cuisine in Chicago

We first had Malaysian food in the suburbs of Chicago many years ago at Penang. In the intervening years we have sampled Malaysian food in Malaysia itself and London, and every time we have it, we always fall in love again. Despitwe this deliciousness, Malaysian food is still pretty rare to find . When we heard about Serai (2169 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647), a new Malaysian restaurant opening in Chicago, we knew we had to give it a try. Malaysian food in a unique combination of Chinese, Thai, Malay, Indian and Indonesian influences, and with that amalgamation, it is no surprise that it is one of our favorite cuisines in the world.

Serai is located on a quiet corner of Logan Square, and is bigger then we expected – there are two dining rooms with wooden tables and chairs, and a full bar. The menu is pretty extensive, with Malaysia specialties, and it branches out into more general Thai or pan Asian foods. However, we heard that the Malaysian specialties were the standouts, and we recommend that you start off with Malaysian specialties. Some of the most iconic Malaysian dishes are on the menu including Char Koay Teow ($11.95) – stir fried flat noodles in soy sauce; Hainanese chicken rice ($14.95) – garlic and ginger poached chicken with rice cooked in its stock; and nasi goreng ($11.95)- a Malaysian fried rice. The server we had was very knowledgeable about Malaysian food, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about any recommendations or specialties.

We started out with a roti with vegetable curry (clearly showing influence from India). The roti flatbread was nice and flaky and the curry was mildly spicy and flavorful, and we appreciated that we could get the curry in chicken or vegetarian varieties. After only a little deliberation, we ordered our two favorite Malaysian dishes, beef rendang ($13.95) and laksa curry noodles ($13.95). The laksa noodles came in a coconut milk curry broth with char siu BBQ pork, shrimp, fish balls, a hard-boiled egg and “tofu puff.” Tofu puffs are fried, small pieces of tofu that somehow manage to have an airy texture, and Serai’s were exactly like what we had in Malaysia. The beef rendang ($16.95) is beef in a spicy dry curry sauce with lemongrass and ginger, served on a banana leaf with sides of rice, eggplant and string beans. The beef was extremely flavorful, and extremely complex, with just a hint of heat.

The servings at Serai were generous, but we happy scarfed down our dinner, pleased to get another taste of Malaysia. Though we were too full to partake, there are also a few desserts like coconut pudding or sweet sticky rice, and hard-to-find drinks like iced Milo (an international version of Nesquik), Teh Tarik and Malaysian-style iced coffee. Overall, we were very impressed with the food at Serai. Everything was delicious – and reminded us exactly of the food we had in Malaysia. We can’t wait to come back and try some more of the Malaysian classics, especially the chicken rice!

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What are Fofos de Belas?

When in Portugal we are constantly amazed at all of the different pastries that have emerged from a simple combination of eggs, sugar and flour. Every time we visited a bakery there we were pretty sure to find something new. This next, new pastry intrigued us by its name – “Fofos de Belas” -which literally means “Cute things from Belas.” The fofo consists of two small sponge cake layers filled with a pastry cream, and are often served in miniature sizes. They come from Belas, basically a suburb of Lisbon, but we have now seen them in Lisbon itself at the Sacolinha bakery chain. Apparently, the history of the sweets goes back to 1840, when the predecessor to the current Casa dos Fofos de Belas started making them to sell at fairs and pilgrimages around the Lisbon area. If the name seems a little modern, they were originally known as “Fartos de Creme” meaning “stuffed with cream.” The Sintra area is known for its pastries, and has also given the world travesseiros and queijadas. Unlike many Portuguese pastries, fofos are actually pretty simple to make, and if you know how to make a sponge cake, you’re mostly there. I have only found recipes in Portuguese: here from No conforto da minha cozinha and Receitas da Tia Celeste.

Fofo de belas from Casa dos Fofos de belas

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Acorns for Dessert in Elvas, Portugal

When driving back from Sevilla this summer, we visited a small Portuguese border town in the eastern Alentejo region – Elvas – which turned out to be much more interesting than we were expecting – check out their medieval forts. While there, we decided to get a snack in the town square, and discovered by happenstance another unique Alentjan treat – the Delecia de Bolota. Unlike many other regional sweets that date back centuries, this one was only recently invented [pt link] by a bakery in nearby Alandroal [pt link]. The Delecia de Bolota is a riff off of the well-known Pastel de Nata, but instead of a vanilla and cinnamon custard cream filling, the cream is full of acorns! “Bolota” means acorn in Portuguese – and this tart is indeed made of acorn meal and flour. Though these bolota acorns from the Emory Oak are now uncommon as food in the US, they were formerly eaten by Native Americans in the Southwest. The flavor of these acorns is nutty and rich, and not as sweet as hazelnuts or almonds. It is also worth noting that this is the same type of acorn (“Bellota” in Spanish) that is fed to the famous Iberico pigs of Spain, a fact that was particularly salient to M. Though you are unlikely to find these treats outside of this region of Portugal, you can see them being made here (video in Portuguese).

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Chicago Gourmet 2017 Recap

Chicago Gourmet, one of our favorite foodie events in Chicago, was last weekend and it was an amazing, gluttonous experience, as always. This year was especially good – since I got to go to the event with both M and my mom – which was not only fun, but helped with the strategic planning and maximized the food! This year was unseasonably warm – with temperatures pushing 95 degrees – so we knew we had to strategize especially well to keep backtracking to a minimum. This year’s Chicago Gourmet was set up similarly to previous years, with wine distributors in an aisle in the middle and themed chef tents and individual sponsors on the outside perimeter of the Pritzker Pavilion area in Millennium Park.

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There were 11 themed tasting pavilions this year, each featuring two rotations of 3-5 chefs. We headed to the seafood pavilion right away, always a fan favorite (and the booth with the longest line). Next up was the BBQ tent, featuring not only BBQ restaurants, but the ever-popular Stella Artois booth with its signature glasses. There was also an unusual habanero custard dessert made with dry ice on offer in the Stella Artois booth, served by none other than Top Chef contestant Katsuji Tanabe.

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Always on the hunt for international eats, we liked that there were two dedicated international tents this year: Thailand and Mexico. However, there were no sister cities represented, as there were last year. The Thai booth featured two rounds of Thai restaurants from the Chicago area, while the Mexico tent featured a different region on each day of the festival. Chefs from restaurants in each region were present, with Saturday featuring Guadalajara and the Yucatán on Sunday. We were pretty excited because Yucatán food is some of our favorite in Mexico.

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So what were our favorite eats at 2017 Chicago Gourmet?:

  • Pork Rib from Big Ed’s BBQ in Waukegan. This pork rib was perfectly smoked – it didn’t even need sauce – the true test of good BBQ. Though the sauce was good too. The portion was big, and we didn’t mind at all.Salmon.jpg
  • Smoked salmon toast from Roanoke Restaurant (top left above). This was the first bite we had at Chicago Gourmet, and it ended up being one of our favorites. The salmon was delicate and creamy, and paired well with the crunchy chip.
  • Cochinita pibil from Manjar Blanco Restaurant in Mérida, Yucatán (pictured above). The Mexican tent featured three chefs from Manjar Blanco restaurant, and 3 different types of pork tacos. Our favorites ended up being the flavorful cochinita pibil, spiced up with a little habanero sauce.
  • Thai rice salad from Choun’s in Wheaton (pictured above). Though this dish was only called “rice salad” it reminded us of Nam Khao Tod, and consisted of crispy fried rice, chicken, onions, cilantro, mint and lime – all of our favorite flavors. We had never heard of this restaurant before and are looking forward to visiting them.

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  • Salted caramel brownie from Bittersweet Pastry (Pictured above). This was a perfectly executed brownie with caramel sauce, what could be better?
  • Though we agreed on most of our favorite dishes, there were a few where we diverged. M liked the terrine from Bohemian House, and I liked the inventive tempura shrimp taco served in a crunchy taro root chip shell from Arbella.

We have to say that this year, the desserts particularly stood out. Aside from our previously mentioned top picks, we liked the tasty cherry cobbler from Bang Bang Pie shop and the delicate, layered, Dobos-Torte-like creation from Beacon Tavern. Of course M was particularly happy that there were 2 donut stations at Chicago Gourmet – Firecakes and Stan’s Donuts. The Loacker cookie company also was there with their signature waffle sandwich cookies, and Mariano’s peddled gelato (though it ran out pretty much right away).

Desserts

Chicago Gourmet is always a great place to try international spirits, and this year was no exception. Glenlivet and Glenmorangie whiskey tastings are always favorites, but there were a few more unusual choices this year, including Švyturys, the #1 beer in Lithuania. And of course, to stay cool, an Aperol Spritz was essential (see below). Though we have to say, one change that would be nice for future Chicago Gourmets is to have more non-alcoholic beverages – Bai drinks and Counter Culture Coffee provided a nice respite from the alcohol this year.

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There are also demos and master classes on the main Pritzker Pavilion Stage and tents on the lawn perimeter. We always try to attend one of these, and it is a great chance to see some great chefs in their element. This year we saw two iconic Chicago chefs – Stephanie Izard and Sarah Grueneberg – conduct a recipe demo of dumplings and pasta from scratch. Each created an Italian/Chinese fusion dish and they were each really funny and engaging in person. The demos, aside from being fun and informative, are also a good reason to get out of the sun. We stayed until the bitter end on Sunday, despite the punishing heat and sun. We are looking forward to another Chicago Gourmet next year (though we hope it will be a little cooler)!

Demo

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An International Rosh Hashanah Feast

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Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year! Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is always celebrated with a special meal of symbolic foods – especially those emphasizing the sweetness of the new year, traditionally represented by apples and honey. Every year though, we try to find some non-traditional Rosh Hashanah foods from around the world to spice things up a bit. Serious Eats has three international menus from Forward featuring Rosh Hashanah foods from Iran, Turkey and India. Some highlights include Turkish pumpkin bread, Persian chickpea cakes, and Indian Lamb Biryani (seen above). We were also intrigued by the Chicago Tribune’s recipe for Moroccan Chicken. If you are still looking for more sweet treats, Serious Eats has 18 modern takes on Rosh Hashanah dessert favorites. In any case, you can never go wrong with a little babka.

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The perfect Portuguese food experience at Botequim de Mouraria

If you want to eat at Boutequim de Mouraria (R. da Mouraria 16A, 7000-585 Évora, Portugal) you have to plan in advance. There are only nine seats, and a single seating for lunch and one for dinner. Moreover,  there are no reservations – you have to wait. Our party of 4 got there at 1130 AM for the 1230 opening on a weekday, and there was a family of four already there waiting. Despite these restrictions, we really encourage you to go – this was probably the best meal we had in all of Portugal. The Botequim de Mouratia is basically a bar, where you sit at the counter and watch the master of ceremonies, Domingos Canelas, and his wife Florbela cook a classic Portuguese meal and entertain. The bar itself is tiny and old fashioned, lined with vintage photos, wine bottles and the flags of the nations of every visitor that have dined there (a lot at this point).

The menu is small and simple, and at first glance does not really seem like anything different than at any Portuguese corner restaurant. However, you won’t feel lost, and you are free to pick and choose and customize. In essence you just ask Domingos what is good, and he will make it for you. What really sets this place apart is the level of detail paid to every single ingredient and preparation. For example, when picking out the fresh figs to serve with our presunto (jamon serrano) he threw out at least three because they were not up to his standards before settling on the perfect picks. He carefully sliced off each slice of presunto by hand. Our first course was a classic: of fresh figs, melon and hand-sliced presunto from a leg kept right in the middle of the bar (13€). The figs were the best we ever had and the combination of all three together was divine. Next, we sampled a local goat cheese baked with marjoram (4.50€) . The ultimate farm to table appetizer, this goat cheese is from a local farm only a few miles away. I could have eaten this whole dish myself, though we shared it between us. As a complement to the cheese there was fresh crusty bread and fig jam that was delectable enough to eat on its own.

Seafood is an art in Portugal, so we knew we had to sample some here. We each ordered a langostine, which was advertised as “shrimp,” with a whopping price of 80 Euros a kilo. Domingos told us that each shrimp was about 500 grams, which is about half of a pound – so HUGE, but of course we were not envisioning the proper size – even when given full information. So lo and behold that we were surprised when a  giant shrimp came out for each of us – to the tune of 20€ each. However, even with that steep price tag – it was worth it – these shrimp were the most delicious, tender and flavorful ones we had ever eaten. We could have made an entire meal out of these alone.

For mains we tried the wine-braised pork loin (14.50€), other options included fish and steak (13-16€).  The pork loin was a simple cut, but deliciously prepared in a clean wine sauce. One order was more than enough to serve the both of us. On the side were homemade chips and a simple vinaigrette salad. This was the best version of the classic Portuguese meat and two sides we have ever had. Though each sounded simple, the whole was more than the sum of its parts. Throughout the dinner Domingos chatted amiably with guests, and plated, served, and described everything himself.

All of the desserts were displayed on the back of the bar, and they all looked delicious – we didn’t know what to choose. Of course, Domingos then suggested that we tried one of everything. The mixed dessert plate consisted of: a fresh fig in syrup, a queijada, fig and chocolate cake and an almond and coconut Morgado cake. The fresh fig again was a revelation. Before this trip to Iberia I don’t think we had every really had fresh figs (certainly not common in the Midwest), and now we can’t get enough of them. We also like the appearance of the figs in the pound cake with chocolate chunks.

There is an extensive wine selection and Domingos will happily will choose a wine for you, and of course he is extremely knowledgeable about the wide selection of Alentejan wines.  Our dining experience lasted about 2 hours, and we never felt the least bit rushed. You can tell all of the pride that Domingos and Florbela take in their restaurant, and it really shows through in the service and the food. The lunch reminded us of the Japanese dining experience presented in Jiro Dreams of Sushi – a master at the height of his craft in a tiny, well-curated restaurant. If we went back to Portugal, this would definitely be our first stop. Boutequim de Mouraria serves amazing, simple Portuguese food that is worth waiting for!

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BienMeSabe: Venezuelan Arepas in Chicago

When we go to NYC, we always enjoy getting arepas – Venezuelan corn masa patties with a variety of fillings – but we didn’t really have a go-to arepa spot in Chicago (pupusas, yes, but not arepas). When we were back in town, my sister recommended we try BienMeSabe (1637 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613) in Ravenswood, a new arepas spot that has been making waves in the Chicago food scene. Apparently, it is even becoming a go-to place for MLB players from Venezuela. The inside of BienMeSabe is clean and simple, and an attractive seating option is the large outdoor patio. BienMeSabe was so new, that when we visited, the mural they were putting up on the wall was not even finished being painted. Another key feature of BienMeSabe is that it is BYOB. When we got there on Sunday for lunch, many people were enjoying the BYOB option on the patio.

BienMeSabe’s menu mostly consists of arepas with a variety of veggie and meat toppings, each running between $8 and 10. We sampled the Reina Pepiada (Chicken Avocado Salad & Gouda Cheese), Caribbean (Caribbean Cheese, Plantain & Avocado), and the After Party (Roasted Pork, Gouda Cheese, Avocado slices). If you are not in the mood for arepas, there are also meat-heavy mains including grilled steak, fish, and the national dish of Venezuela, Pabellon Criollo. We began our meal with the shrimp tostones and the fried yuca. The shrimp tostones consisted of grilled shrimp on top of fried green plantains, and were particularly good, we really loved the spicy avocado-based Guasacaca salsa. We were also excited to see that we could get some classic Venezuelan drinks: chicha – a rice milk drink similar to Mexican horchata, and papelon con limon limeade.

The areaps are decently sized for the price, and they are not stingy with the fillings. The arepa toppings were good overall, but a little bit of a hit or miss. The roast pork on the After Party was flavorful and tender, and we think it was our favorite arepa of the day. Though the fried plantains on the Caribbean arepa were delicious, there was just too much of the somewhat flavorless shredded cheese. And for me to say there is too much cheese, there really has to have been a lot. Despite this, we really enjoyed the arepas overall and we are happy to have a Venezuelan place in the hood. We will definitely be back to BienMeSabe to sample some of the other arepa varieties and maybe a tres leches cake!

 

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Vietnamese Pandan Honeycomb Cake – Banh Bo Nuong

Photo by Julesfood

When we first happened upon a picture of this cake, we couldn’t believe it was real. Was it a fruit? Gelatin? Turns out that this striking, otherworldly concoction is Vietnamese Pandan Honeycomb cake. Pandan – a flavor not often seen in American baking –  is a tropical plant from Southeast Asia with edible leaves  that impart the flavor and green color to this unusual cake. You can find pandan extract in many larger SE Asian groceries or online. The main base ingredient of this cake is tapioca flour, which leaves a chewy texture in the middle, much like pão de queijo. Julesfood, Danang Cuisine, and Runaway Rice have similar recipes for Pandan honeycomb cake. The Spice of Life takes it one step further, and uses whole pandan leaves to supplement the flavor of the pandan extract, and while it seems a little difficult, the payoff is big!

 

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