Scandinavian pastries at Lost Larson

There is nothing we like more than trying pastries from around the world, so we were delighted to visit a new bakery in Andersonville in Chicago that celebrates the neighborhood’s Scandinavian heritage: Lost Larson ( 5318 N Clark St Chicago, IL). Lost Larson specializes in traditional Scandinavian pastries made with the highest quality ingredients. The bakery itself is bright and clean, and there are even some comfy booths for seating.

We have been to Lost Larson a few times, and we have yet to try something we did not love. We think that the croissants are particularly good. The scrumptious chocolate croissant has a touch of cardamom, and there is also a Danish riff on a croissant, the Tebirkes ($4.50), which has an almond filling and is covered with poppy seeds. M was head over heels for the cinnamon roll ($4.50), which was subtle, not overly syrupy or sticky. The cardamom bun ($4.50), a Swedish classic, was also superlative. They also have seasonal specialties in the pastry case like Saffron buns for St. Lucia’s day in December (unfortunately they were sold out when we got there).

A full selection of beverages are available including espresso drinks, tea and a matcha latte. Recently, we also sampled a special elderflower mulled apple cider. Don’t sleep on the breads displayed behind the counter either, we were in love with the slightly-sweet Swedish limpa bread with fennel, anise, and orange peel. There are also a few savory open-faced sandwiches (known as smorrebrod in Denmark) with eclectic toppings like avocado and pickled herring ($8.50-10) if you are in more of a lunch mood. Though Lost Larson may be a bit more expensive than other bakeries, it is worth every penny!

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Ul Boov for Mongolian Lunar New Year: Tsagaan Sar

Happy Lunar New Year! It is now the year of the pig in Chinese astrology (M’s lucky year!). There are so many delicious traditional foods, across all of the regions that celebrate Lunar New Year, that it is hard to choose one to feature. This year, we decided to go a little off the beaten track, a feature a dish that is specific to Mongolian Lunar New Year, Tsagaan Sar. This holiday is traditionally celebrated with copious amounts of food, including lots of dairy, tea with milk and dumplings. The centerpiece of the Tsagaan Saar (which means “White Moon”) table may be the Ul Boov, a huge layered presentation of cakes and cookies. Ul Boov literally means “shoe sole” and describes the shape of the fried cakes that compose this dish. Check out a video of an Ul Boov being made below.

 

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Birrieria Zaragoza: Amazing Goat stew in Chicago

Birrieria Zaragoza (4852 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60632) has been a stalwart restaurant for years, so we consider ourselves extremely remiss for not visiting them before this month! They only serve one thing – birria (hence the name Birrieria) – long-simmered goat stew from Jalisco state in Mexico. The benefit of only having one thing on the menu, is that you know it is going to be good!

We were amazed at all the different ways you could get the birria: as a stew, in a taco, or with broth only as a consomme. If you are itching for some tacos, you can get the birria made directly in taco form for $3.75 apiece, but if you get your birria by the plate, they also provide you with tortillas to make DIY tacos. We ordered a large plate with no bones ($15 without bones, $13.75 for bones in), which in our opinion is worth the slight extra expense, because then you can directly make your own tacos, and eat any extra meat. The platter came with 6 handmade tortillas, limes, peppers and other accoutrements.

All of the versions of birria came out to us super quick and piping hot. You can brighten the rich stew up with hot peppers and lime, and it was great to be able to make our own tacos just how we wanted them. We also got some nice freebies from the restaurant: a cheese quesadilla on a homemade tortilla (normally $2.75), and homemade tomato salsa in a molcajete (normally $4). We really liked the homemade tortillas, and the molcajete salsa was the perfect addition to brighten up the the birria tacos. We have to get back to the birria though – it was silky and tender, without any hint of gaminess. This is the best birria we have had in Chicago, bar none!

As you can see, the prices are all extremely reasonable, and we ate like kings for less than $25. You can even order goat by the pound for carryout ($22 for bone in, $25 for bone out), which we would definitely consider for a Superbowl party…. The service at the restaurant is great, too, it is definitely a family affair, and everyone couldn’t be friendlier. Birria is the perfect food for a cold dreary day (read: all of Chicago winter), so now is the perfect time to stop in for some at Birrieria Zaragoza!

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Peruvian chicken in Madison: Estacion Inka

We were so sad to hear that one of our original beloved Peruvian restaurants, Inka Heritage in Madison had closed! On a recent trip to Madison we looked them up to learn about their hours, only to find out that they were closed for good. Fortunately, we learned that the owners went and opened up another restaurant, this time a more casual spot in downtown Madison: Estacion Inka (604 University Ave, Madison, WI 53715). Unlike the more upscale vibe of Inka Heritage, Estacion Inka is a casual quick service place where you order at the counter and sit at the few tables in this clean, bright storefront. However, don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s simple appearance, the menu has many of the same favorites as Inka Heritage.

Here, the focus is on roast rotisserie chicken, which comes in a variety of sizes and permutations. Peru is known for its obsession with the perfect roast chicken, and we have tried a few dedicated Peruvian chicken spots in Chicago like D’Candela, so we are glad to see this type of restaurant come to Madison. We were at Estacion Inka on a weekday for lunch, and there is even a very attractive lunch special of a quarter chicken with rice and beans for a staggeringly cheap $5.65. You can also get a quarter ($7.99), half ($9.99) or whole roast chicken with one side: French Fries, Black Beans, White Rice, Cilantro Rice, Sweet Plantains, Fried Yucca, or Salad. There are some pre-defined options if you can’t choose, including the Caribbean special with rice, black beans and plantains ($8.99). We ordered the lunch special and Caribbean plate, and devoured every bite.

The chicken was tender and juicy with crispy skin, and the sides were on point. Another key element is the slightly spicy aji pepper sauce to slather on your chicken, which really brought it up a notch. Smoothies round out the menu, including M’s favorite flavor, Lucuma ($4). The tres leches cake ($3.50) and the alfajores looked tempting, but we were so full from our lunch that we had to stop at the smoothie. While we mourn the loss of Inka Heritage, Estacion Inka is a great stop for anyone in Madison craving some Peruvian flavor at a great price.

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Happy New Year from ETW!

Wishing you and yours a happy new year! I personally can’t believe that it is already 2019 – over 11 years since we first started this blog! We hope you are celebrating the new year with some good treats and relaxation, perhaps some bubbly as well. However, that doesn’t mean it has to be champagne! Check out this guide from Vine Pair on sparkling wines from around the world! Gayot and Wine Enthusiast have specific bottle recommendations. Cheers!

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Elegant Egyptian Classics at Sofra in Luxor

Whenever we were looking for restaurant recommendations in Luxor, Sofra (90 Mohamed Farid Street Al Manshiya, Luxor) kept bubbling up to the top. One thing that will impress you about Sofra right away is its historic setting in a 1930’s era structure. When we arrived at lunchtime, the whole bottom floor was empty, but we climbed the stairs and we found a bustling dining area. Notably, Sofra has one of the most relaxing and tranquil restaurant settings we encountered in Egypt. The upper level was filled with historic wooden furniture and traditional copper tables, colorful lanterns and draperies. Even though it was open to the elements and the 95 degree heat, the shady dining room was not hot at all.

The menu was filled with elevated Egyptian classics. We started out with Baba ghanouj eggplant dip and Khiyar Bil Zabadi Salad (cucumber and mint in yogurt – 21 EGP) which were both cool and refreshing. We each ordered a hearty main: hamam mashi (grilled, stuffed pigeon 65 EGP) stuffed with spiced rice and lamb shank fattah with a yogurt sauce over rice and bread cubes (95 EGP). We had tried pigeon before in Egypt, and it did remind of Cornish game hen – a lot of bones with little meat. However, Sofra’s version blew us away – the bird was tender and juicy and the rice stuffing made the meal feel more substantial. The lamb shank was fall-off-the-bone tender, though we would have liked more yogurt sauce on our dish.

One of our favorite things in Egypt is the fresh juices, so we went with cantaloupe (18 EGP) and classic mango juices (22 EGP) to accompany our meal. For dessert we tried Sahlab (25 EGP), a warm rosewater pudding made with flour from orchid tubers. Everything at Sofra was outstanding, the portions were generous, and we left happy and full. We would recommend Sofra to anyone who is visiting Luxor – delicious food, at reasonable prices, in a luxurious setting – what could be better?

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Guyanese pepperpot for Christmas

Merry Christmas! If you celebrate, we hope you have a wonderful day full of delicious food and good company. We have decided to go savory for a change with our 2018 Christmas food feature: Guyanese Pepperpot. Pepperpot is a hearty sweet and savory stew traditionally eaten on Christmas, made with beef, pork or mutton, casareep (boiled-down cassava juice) and the warming flavors of brown sugar, orange peel hot pepper and cinnamon. You can sop up the pepperpot stew with a flatbread like roti. Pepperpot is considered one of the national dishes of Guyana, and is popular throughout the Guyanese diaspora, and somehow has also found its way into historical Philadelphia cuisine. Looking to make your own? Here is a recipe from Caribbean Pot and Jehan can Cook.

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Icelandic Laufabrauð (Leaf Bread) for Christmas

icelandRemember those cutout paper snowflakes you used to make in grade school? Icelandic Laufabraud is kind of like that – but in bread form! These intricately patterned, paper-thin breads feature intricate geometric designs cut by hand or with special brass rollers. Once designed, the dough is then fried. This bread is said to have originated in northern Iceland in the 18th Century, and was made so thin because grain and provisions at the time were scarce. Even in lean times, the Laufabraud was a special holiday treat, and it is still enjoyed at Christmas now. Check out this lovely version and recipe from Icelandic Knitter. Bakestreet has a recipe and a step-by-step videoGleðileg jól!

Laufabraud by Frida Eyjolfs

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Italy’s Christmas Breads: Pandoro vs. Panettone

Christmas is almost upon us, which means it is time to get our favorite Christmas dessert, Panettone! Panettone is an Italian yeasted sweet bread/cake that originates in Milan. However, Panettone is now popular worldwide and is seen on Christmas tables throughout Europe, North and South America. In fact, some of the best panettone we ever had was from the Bauducco panettone company’s “Casa Bauducco company store in São Paulo, Brazil, the chocolate chip version was sold sliced and toasted… nothing better. Panettone is notoriously difficult and time-consuming to make, with several days of raising, resting and baking needed. So, this is one treat that even self-respecting Italian chefs will usually buy from a bakery or store. While the traditional filling of panettone is candied fruit, and chocolate chips have been on the scene for a while, more unique flavors have popped up in recent years including fig, black cherry, pistachio and orange and chocolate (which is what we picked this year).

Panettone and Pandoro on display in Eataly Chicago

Though panettone may be more famous, there is actually another Italian Christmas dessert that deserves some of the spotlight: the Pandoro. Pandoro means “golden bread” in Italian, and is native to Verona. Both panettone and pandoro date back to prior to the middle ages, and have been enjoyed as holiday treats ever since. Pandoro is similar to panettone in that it is a sweet, yeasted cake, however it comes in a tall, 8-pointed star shape (said to be reminiscent of the Alps) instead of the cylindrical panettone. There are also typically no fillings or mix-ins of any kind on a pandoro, but it is topped with vanilla powdered sugar. So which one is better? It’s all a matter of personal taste. While panettone adds more variety in terms of filling, there is something to be said for minimalism of the pandoro. You can find a good selection of both panettone and pandoro at Eataly or World Market. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have even gotten in the panettone game in recent years!

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Italian Jewish Food for Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah! Every year for Hanukkah we try to highlight some lesser known (at least in the US) foods of Jewish communities. One country with a rich tradition of Jewish foods that you may not think of immediately is Italy. There has been a Jewish community in Italy since at least 150 BC, and it has continued through to the present day. In Rome, the Jewish population was forced to live in a designated ghetto from 1555 to 1870, and in this period a distinctive Roman Jewish cuisine emerged.

One of the most famous Rome Jewish-Italian foods, that has been adopted by Romans of all religions as a signature dish is fried artichoke. Its Italian name – carciofi alla giudia – actually translates to Jewish-style artichokes. This simple and delicious dish is perfect for Hanukkah, where fried food symbolizes the oil in the lamp that burned for 8 days instead of just one. Other Italian Jewish dishes include pinaci con Pinoli e Passerine (spinach with pine nuts and raisins), Baccalà all’ebraica (fried codfish), and concia (fried zucchini). If you are hungry for more recipes check out the cookbooks Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen and Classic Italian Jewish Cooking.

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Wenkie’s Ice Cream in Luxor

The best ice cream we had in Egypt was at Wenkie’s (El Gawazat Street Luxor, Egypt) a German-run shop in the heart of Luxor. Wenkie’s specialty is making ice cream out of super-local water buffalo milk. Water buffalo are found throughout Egypt near the Nile and we were really excited to sample buffalo milk in a form other than our favorite cheese: buffalo milk mozzarella.

The shop was bright and welcoming, and featured a pin map on the wall of the locations of all the visitors (we couldn’t contribute since the US had already been well-covered). The owners of the shop, Ernst and Babette Wenk were running the show when we arrived, and helped explain all of the available flavors to us. We especially like that they make ice cream in local flavors like hibiscus, guava, pomegranate and doum fruit (which we were not even aware of until this trip). We ordered 3 scoops (15 pounds each) and they gave us a ton of samples afterward. You could also get milkshakes, coffee and even waffles!

The buffalo milk ice cream at Wenkie’s is indeed delicious! We loved all of the flavors we tried as well as the creamy texture of the ice cream. The doum fruit also lent itself very well to ice cream, perhaps better than having it as just a juice. We also were delighted by their chocolate and gingerbread flavors (we should have guessed that Germans would make amazing gingerbread). Ernst encouraged us to try the Hibiscus and chocolate together to make a sort of Black Forest cake. If you are in Luxor you have to visit Wenkies, there is simply nowhere else like it!

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Afternoon Tea at The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan

There is nothing we love more than a good cup of tea, so we always try to do a little research into the best teas in the area when we are traveling. We were surprised to find out that one of the most storied teas in Egypt was found in Aswan, in southern Egypt, at the Old Cataract Hotel, a British colonial hotel from 1899. The Old Cataract Hotel is very expensive and decadent, and has played host to a variety of luminaries and dignitaries over the years. With this tea we have now had tea in 4 of the 6 populated continents. Somehow along the way we have missed South America, despite our long stay in Brazil – oh well – we will get there again eventually.

The price of tea at the Old Cataract Hotel is quite steep by Egyptian standards where a normal cup of black or mint tea will cost you only a few pounds. There are two versions of the tea available, a lighter and heavier option, and you pay by how many trays of food you want (versus per person). For the lighter teas, it is 360 pounds for one tray of food and 50 pounds for a second serving of tea (though nowhere is this listed). It is worth noting that the Old Cataract is quite fussy about letting non-guests in, and each non-guest must spend 200 pounds while there. We just walked right in the front door (be aware there is security as there are in many expensive Egyptian hotels), though we met others who have been stopped and questioned as to where exactly they were going.

The main attraction of the tea at the Old Cataract is the luxurious setting and the gorgeous view over the Nile from a comfortable shady terrace. We were a little disappointed to see that, of all of the teas being advertised on the menu (over a dozen), there were only 2 available: Darjeeling and Earl gray (we chose Darjeeling). After a bit of a wait, we got our tea in a substantial cast iron kettle, and a while after that, we got our tiered tray of food. There was plenty on the tray for both of us, so we were glad we did not order two, which would have been way too much for an afternoon tea.

For savories, we got roast beef, salmon with capers, and chicken salad popovers along with turkey and cheese and veggie finger sandwiches. M particularly liked the popovers and said that the salmon was his favorite bite of the whole tea. For sweets we had a “scone” with “clotted cream” (more of a bread roll and whipped cream), a mini berry macaron, a brownie, mini opera cake, a lemon tart and a fruit tart and a cup of custard. The mini opera cake was my favorite of this lot, though all of the desserts were pretty good. The last tier was a welcome surprise that you do not get at most teas: fresh fruit! We enjoyed the heaps of fresh mango, honeydew, strawberries and kiwi.

Sitting on the outdoor terrace and taking in views of the Nile was an extremely pleasant way to while away the afternoon. We felt like we could take our time and really take in the ambiance of the Old Cataract Hotel. During tea you definitely feel the last remnants of Colonial British Egypt (for better or worse). While you are certainly not paying for the service, the atmosphere could not be beat, and it is a relatively cheap way to enjoy the historic ambiance of the Old Cataract Hotel.

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On the Cheese Tea trend at Bingo Tea

We are always on the lookout for bubble tea, but little did we know that the whole landscape had changed in the past few years. One of the biggest bubble tea trends now is cheese milk/foam tea, which originated in Taiwan years ago. To be honest, cheese foam sounds a little bizarre, but think more cream cheese than cheddar. The sweetened, light milk foam topping eventually incorporates itself into the rest of the tea drink, making it extra creamy. We tried “cheese” milk for the first time at Bingo Tea (2150 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616) in Chicago’s Chinatown. The topping has been given the more palatable name of “Sea Salt Milk Foam” and is available as an add-on to any drink. We tried the classic matcha milk tea with boba and a peach tea with a sea salt milk foam, which we thought was a great combination. The matcha was solid, too! Bingo Tea also boasts a special reusable cup with a sipping lid (like a typical coffee cup lid) which allowed you to integrate the foam and tea while sipping. If you order a milk tea with tapioca boba, you do get a straw.

Though it may be the main attraction, cheese/milk foam is not the only unique drink at Bingo Tea. They also have a wide variety of interesting drinks including fresh fruit teas with dragon fruit, yogurt-based drinks, rose oolong tea, purple yam milk tea, and add-ons like grass jelly and matcha pudding. The prices may be a little higher than most bubble tea places, but they do also include the reusable plastic drink cup. Bingo Tea is also a great place to hang out, the inside is warm and modern, and there is even a selection of house-made baked goods including Durian Bread. If you live on the north side, there is now a second location of Bingo Tea on Argyle. Perhaps the biggest attraction of Bingo Tea, however, is the mascot (which looks exactly like M)! Bingo Tea is a great addition to the Chicago Bubble Tea scene, and we look forward to trying milk foam on some other tea varieties.

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Egyptian home cooking at Fasahat Somaya in Cairo

When we read about the food Renaissance in Cairo one name that kept bubbling to the top was that of Somaya Hamed. One of the few prominent female chefs in Cairo, Somaya cooked for participants of the 2011 revolution in Tahrir Square. Now she has laid down roots and opened up a restaurant of her own. Fasahat Somaya (19 Youssef El Gendy Street, Off Hoda Shaarawy Street Cairo) which occupies a small corner in downtown Cairo near Tahrir Square.

The restaurant can be identified by its white walls and bright blue sign only in blocky Arabic script carved into the wall (seen above) – you won’t be able to miss it because invariably there will be crowds milling about waiting for the restaurant to open at 5 PM. The restaurant is only open for 2 hours a day, first come, first served, and there is a finite amount of food. When they are out of food, they’re closed for the night! We have heard that the best Egyptian food is always cooked at home, and you feel just like you are being invited into Somaya’s home as she greets you from her open kitchen (chef/owner Somaya is below).

Somaya will have a few selected items for the menu of the day, and you can expect something different daily, so come with an open mind. There is no menu on the wall, and the prices were unlisted. The waiter told us the offerings of the day and we decided to order one of each.

On the day we visited, Somaya was making:

  • Sweet and sour chicken: These were crispy chicken drumsticks with a sweet and sour glaze. The drumsticks were delicious, with more of an East Asian flavor than Egyptian.
  • Whitefish with a lemon cream sauce: This was probably our favorite dish of the night. The whitefish was mild and tender and the lemon cream sauce was the perfect complement.
  • Molokhia: Egypt’s famously slimy and polarizing jute leaf soup. We have had this Egyptian classic a few times while here, but this was our favorite version.
  • Salata Baladi: delicious local salad with many permutations, this version had tomatoes, cucumber, onion and peppers in an oil and citrus dressing. Fresh and delicious!
  • Roast potatoes with cumin: We were not expecting much out of this dish but it was tasty and hearty.No two nights will be alike, and Somaya’s menu is always changing with the seasons. Our whole meal for four only set us back about $20 US, which was absolutely astounding. We would definitely recommend getting in line early for Somaya’s takes on Egyptian classics with a twist –  you feel like you are eating in someone’s personal kitchen – where the best food is always located.

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The Doum Palm of Aswan

We are currently riding down the Nile River in Egypt on a dahabiyya, an historical wooden boat, and are outside of Aswan. Our lovely crew decided to pull over to make a picnic for us on the shore of the Nile. While there, we marveled at a proliferation of palm trees with wrinkly green/pink fruits that we had never seen before. Not a coconut or banana certainly… somewhat guava-like but still not that….

Turns out this scrubby palm with tons of spikes was a Doum Palm! This sturdy palm tree grows in arid climates across the Sahel of Africa and produces a sweet fruit by the same name. Doum fruit is eaten from Senegal to Tanzania and beyond, and is apparently popular in Egypt as both an edible fruit and folk remedy. Our intrepid crew got us some ripe Doum specimens from the trees and made a chilled smoothie for us back on the boat (seen below). Though the appearance was standard, the flavor was really shocking! Think a fruity butterscotch with a hint of maple. With a flavor like that, it is no wonder the Doum Palm is also called a “gingerbread tree.” The sweet candy-like taste also reminded us of the lucuma fruit from Peru which has a similar, unexpected cake-like quality. Who knew the Sahara could produce gingerbread!?

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Bellies en Route Cairo Food Tour

Unsurprisingly, our favorite thing about traveling is the FOOD, and we try to learn a bit about the local cuisine before we visit a place. You may be surprised that up until now we have never taken a food tour. When we learned about the first food tour in Cairo, given by Bellies en Route, it sounded like the perfect food tour for us. Bellies en Route is curated and run by Egyptians Mariam “Mia” Nezar and Laila Hassaballa. They are experts in the Cairo food scene and picked out the perfect eats for first time visitors, exposing you to the vast variety of classic Egyptian foods. And as you may have guessed since we are not Arabic-speakers, the tour is given in English.

We met Mia in Tahrir Square in the heart of downtown Cairo at 4 PM to start off our walking tour of downtown Cairo foods. Mia and Laila have throughly vetted all of the stops on the tour both for tastiness and consistency so you know you will be in for a treat, taking out all of the guesswork in a new city. Our host Mia, a born and bred Cairene, was also extremely knowledgable about the history of Cairo and its cuisine. We really appreciated the extra historical context and insight she provided throughout the tour.

Our first stop was for some classic Egyptian home cooking. Our amuse-bouche was salad water (Muyyet Salata) a vinegary drink in a shotglass proportion with garlic, lemon and dill meant to whet the appetite. Our next sample was macarona bechamel, a tasty baked pasta dish with meat and a cream sauce (with extra tomato sauce on the side) that is popular at home but rarely seen out in restaurants. Without the tour I am sure we would never have gotten to try it. Think of it as kind of a cousin of tomatoless Greek pastizio.

Another new-to-us specialty the Bellies unearthed at a historic coffee roaster was Arabic-style coffee which is light in color, and nothing like the thick, potent Turkish coffee you may be expecting. This conconction is served unsweetened with cardamom, and tastes akin to a green tea. You definitely have to try it for yourself!

Next we were off to a juice bar to sample some fresh Egyptian juices, something the country is particularly known for. We sampled karkade, a popular drink made from a flower similar to hibiscus (and the Mexican agua fresca Jamaica), sugarcane juice, and Sobia, a rice and coconut water similar to Mexican drink horchata without the cinnamon. I find it interesting how there are so many analogues between Mexican and Egyptian drinks. It was particularly fun to watch the raw sugarcane stalks pressed through the machine to make the juice, and surprisingly it was not too sweet. Of course, in Egypt, the king of all juices is Mango. Egypt grows dozens of varieties of mangos and their in-season time is hotly anticipated. Sometimes it is impossible to know which juice bar is good (or clean enough) so we felt grateful for the Bellies’ guidance.

We also visited a well-known classic restaurant for Egyptian comfort foods, Felfela, which is actually built into an alleyway and is particularly atmospheric (seen above). After that we visited a hole-in-the-wall homestyle Egyptian restaurant tucked into a nondescript storefront in downtown Cairo that we can assure you could never find on your own. At these two restaurants we sampled heartier Egyptian fare including Egyptian falafel (made of fava beans instead of chickpeas as it is in many other places), a parade of mezze, and the polarizing Egyptian soup molokiah (dark green soup seen below).

Molokiah is made of jute leaves cooked in a chicken (or other type of) stock, and has a very unusual texture. The plant leaves, which are somewhat akin to kale or collard greens, have a viscous okra-like texture when cooked. The dish is a love-it or hate-it thing and we personally fall into the pro-molokiah camp. Mia also showed us how to sop up the molokiah with pieces of the baladi bread made into the shape of a “cats ear” (same deal as an Italian scarpetta).

By this point we were getting pretty full, even though most of what we had been tasting was the sample portion size, but we pressed on, eager to sample more! As our last savory item, we visited a place for koshary that came recommended over the more famous Abu Tarek. You have to attend the tour to find out where! We have written about koshary (and our affinity for it) a few times before and it is a must-try for any visitor to Egypt. Koshary is a satifying mix of lentils, chickpeas, various shapes of pasta, fried onions and tomato sauce, which you can customize with spicy or garlic sauces.

After all of these main courses, we stopped at a traditional dessert shop where piles of cookies and desserts in large copper trays were on offer. We sampled basboosa, honey cake and kunefe. Basboosa is cooked with semolina flour and flavored with rosewater and kunefe is made with two cake-like layers of crunchy wheat vermicelli filled with a layer of cream.

And there were even more surprises in store, but you have to attend the tour yourself to find out. We are grateful to the Bellies for showing us a different, more local side to the Cairo food scene. If you are new to Cairo and want an on-the-ground food tour featuring food that the local Cairenes actually eat themselves, we couldn’t recommend Bellies en Route more. Our only major advice is: come to the tour hungry!

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Cairo Kebab Before we head to Cairo

We are going to Egypt (starting in Cairo) TODAY. So before we headed to Egypt we whet our palates with a little Egyptian food right here in Chicago. There is a lot of Persian and Lebanese food in Chicago, but not much Egyptian, so we had to seek out Cairo Kebab1524 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL ) for a taste of Egypt.

One of the signature dishes you have to get in Egypt is koshary (seen above), so naturally we had to get it at Cairo Kebab. Koshary is mix of rice, lentils, macaroni and chickpeas with a spicy tomato sauce and topped with fried onions. Now, we have only had koshary a few times, so we are super excited to sample it in Egypt. Cairo Kebab’s rendition of koshary ($8.75) was a huge portion of filling, tasty comfort food, and we could really taste how well all of the elements complemented eachother. We also filled up on the delicious hummus and pita ($6 for a large, as seen below) and stuffed grape leaves ($5). At this point we were already astounded by the sheer amount of food – so it is a good thing that we decided to split among us the Cairo Kebab Combo ($15) a platter of Chicken Kebab, Shish Kebab, and Kofta Kebab, served on a bed of rice with grilled veggies. The kebabs were tasty, delicious and filling. If you are a fan of any particular type of kebab you can order that one individually as well. Though we did not try it – the chicken or beef shewarma also looked particularly tantalizing ($11.75).

We finished up our meal with typical sweets for dessert: Baklava and Mamoul (date cookies). We are definitely fans of Cairo Kebab – their renditions of Middle Eastern favorites and Egyptian specialties were great. We are now feeling a little  more prepared for our trip to Egypt and its culinary delights. Do you have any Egyptian food recommendations?

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Chicago Gourmet 2018 Recap

This is my 6th (!!!) year going to Chicago Gourmet, a weekend-long food and wine festival that takes place in Millennium Park in the heart of Chicago’s Loop. Chicago Gourmet is a food festival that features chefs from restaurants around town serving small bites in food pavilions, alongside wine and spirits exhibitors, and it just seems to get bigger every year.  There are 2 rounds for each Pavilion during the day, with a set of 3 or 4 new chefs when the pavilion turns over halfway through the day (12 to 3 PM or 3 to 6 pm).

My priority is always finding international food, and Chicago Gourmet tends to deliver in this department. This year there were 2 exclusively international Pavilions, The Mexico and Thai Pavilions, with other international bites sprinkled throughout. Though there were plenty of world cuisine on offer, I was disappointed, however to see that the sister cities pavilion, which had been present at the past few Chicago Gourmets, was not there. Stella Artois still had its signature booth, alongside a few more beer purveyors in the wine-focused festival than I had seen in previous years including Birra Moretti, Bell’s and Moody Tongue.

The Mexico Pavilion featured chefs from Guadalajara, Mexico this year, all up-and-coming chefs that do not yet have their own restaurants. There was even a mariachi group performing! The bites offered at the Mexico tent were innovative and tasty takes on Mexican classics, think: a pork belly taco with shrimp ceviche and pineapple sauce, a scallop tostada with mole and edible flowers, and a miniature roasted pork sandwich.

The Thai Pavilion also turned out some tasty Thai food from restaurants around town, including our perennial favorite Star of Siam that featured their inimitable Rama peanut sauce chicken. We also loved the Som Tum papaya salad from JJ Thai street food, but my favorite bite from the Thai tent was a delicate Miang Kham betel leaf from Herb Thai Restaurant, which featured all of our favorite flavors: shallot, ginger, garlic, lime, and peanuts.

Of course, there were also chefs serving up global fare in some of the other pavilions. Rick Bayless and Topolobampo turned out a great Oaxacan black mole on a homemade tortilla as his bite in the BBQ Tent. The labneh (Turkish yogurt) with carrot slaw from The Bristol was also a winner. The Supreme Seafood pavilion was also a standout, and features some of the longest lines year after year. Seafood-wise, the ceviche from La Josie and the Octopus taco from Octavio were standouts.

The dessert pavilion is always my favorite, and it did not disappoint this year. We visited for both rounds, and were surprised at all of the innovative flavors and American classics. Bang Bang Pie had a delicious berry cobbler, Hewn had a chocolate mascarpone marble brownie and our favorite was a stunning miso tart from Floriole.

As in previous years, there were also many international and domestic wine and spirits distributors. The free-flowing drinks are certainly a large part of the appeal for many fest-goers. I especially enjoyed the TYKU Sake booth from Japan. I sampled a few different sakes, and learned about what differentiated the different grades of sake, a spirit I had never really considered before – and there is a lot to learn about sake. For example, I learned that having polished rice made foe a more refined and high-grade sake. And of course the Campari tent was turning out delicious Aperol Spritzes, though since it was only 50 degrees, they were not as refreshing as they were last year when it was 90+ degrees.

One thing I did a little differently this year was to try a variety of wines in an effort to become more educated on the different varietals of wine and their specific qualities. Our dirty little secret on ETW is that we do not really know anything about wine! At least in terms of wine exploration, I think my wine mission was pretty successful. Having attended and skipped over the wine in the past, sampling all of the wine made Chicago Gourmet a little bit more worthwhile. More on that in a future post.

Some non-food vendors get in on the Chicago Gourmet fun to varying levels of success. This year Cadillac sponsored a build-your-own donut bar featuring Do-Rite donuts, which was fun and delicious, but left me scratching me head about how it related to cars. I brought a donut home for M, so no complaints there.

Of course, another major part of Chicago Gourmet is the demos and classes. The celebrity chef demos, featuring big names like Rick Bayless and Carla Hall demos always draw a crowd. However, I wanted to see someone who was newer on the scene, so I went to a demo by Jennifer Kim of the much talked about Chicago restaurant Passerotto, which features a mash-up of Korean and Italian cuisines. She made glutinous rice noodles in a lamb-neck ragu. It was interesting to see how these noodles were made, and the similarities and differences between rice noodles and Italian pastas.

The temperature this year was a bit cooler at about 55 Degrees, which turned out to be the optimal weather for food sampling. All in all, Chicago Gourmet was a fun experience, and a great way to try some new food and wine. I learned about restaurants (and wines) that I had never heard of before, and ate to excess. I am looking forward to seeing what Chicago Gourmet will come up with next year!

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Chicago Gourmet 2018 Preview

Chicago Gourmet

It’s that time of year: Chicago Gourmet! This is when Chicago rolls out the red carpet for local restaurants and for chefs and food businesses from around the world. This is the 6th year that we have been to Chicago Gourmet and are so excited to sample all of the delicious food. The official schedule has been posted, and it looks to be as good as ever with a full slate of demos, seminars and exhibitors. Some highlights include: We look forward to seeing you there!

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Osmanthus for the Mid-Autumn Festival

chinaIn 2018, the Mid-Autumn festival in China falls from September 24-26. One of the most traditional treats for Mid-Autumn festival is the mooncake, made of a glutinous rice flour skin filled with lotus paste and sometimes an egg yolk (to represent the moon). Though mooncakes may be the best-known Mid-Autumn festival food, we were looking for something a little different. That’s where Osmanthus comes in – a flowering blossom that is in season at this time of year. According to mythology, the Osmanthus tree grew on the moon. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, Osmanthus can be found in everything from Osmanthus tea (steeped with black or green tea leaves), to Osmanthus jelly, to Osmanthus Wine. Osmanthus has a unique flavor, and though it is related to the cinnamon tree, it also has fruity apricot notes. For a double whammy, you can even make Osmanthus-flavored mooncakes!

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