In any Ghanaian kitchen or restaurant there will be Shito – a super-spicy black pepper sauce that is virtually essential to any sort of Ghanaian cooking. “Shito” is the word for pepper in the Ga language but has come to refer also to the black pepper sauce itself. Along with peppers, the sauce contain tomatoes, onions, garlic and fish or shrimp paste to give a bit of essential umami. I have seen recipes calling for 30 habanero peppers – so this sauce is definitely not for the faint of heart. Here are a few recipes: from Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (see below), Homemade by TZ, The African Gourmet, and Nigerian Lazy Chef. You can also buy shito in pre-made form at many African grocers or online.
Though it has faded from memory a bit – 12th Night – occurring on January 5th and 6th was once a major holiday celebration in the UK. It marked the end of the holiday season, and the Epiphany, which in Christian tradition is the day when the three wise men arrived to see the newborn Jesus and bestow gifts upon him. Occurring 12 days after Christmas, Twelfth Night was one last night of feasting and merriment before the Christmas season was officially over.
One of the key treats of 12th Night is Wassail, a warm alcoholic punch with fortified wine, apples and warm holiday spices. Some recipes even include eggs, in the manner of eggnog. Wassailing also refers to the tradition of roving door to door and singing carols, including of course “Here we come A-Wassailing.” You can find a variety of recipes at Lavender and Lovage, Nourished Kitchen, or a more modern take at LA Weekly.
A Twelfth Cake is also a traditional food of the holiday – it is a basically a fruitcake with a dried in it – much like the trinket found in a Rosca des Reyes or Galette des Rois. The person who found the bean was then the king or queen for the day. Though the shape and form of the cake is not as codified as in some other cultures, 12th night cakes were increasingly elaborate by the end of the 19th century. Here are some historical 12th Night Cake recipes from the 1800s and an updated version from English Heritage.
When we were in Rome for our honeymoon years ago, we stopped by a little walk-up pizza counter near the Vatican, the Pizzerium, run by renowned pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci. The pizza was delicious, and served al taglio – by the piece – which in the case of Roman-style pizza means cut by scissors and priced by weight. Roman style pizza is served on a somewhat thick crust with the texture of focaccia bread, with an abundance of topping varieties. We never expected to have Bonci pizza again (short of taking another trip to Rome) so we were floored when we heard that Bonci himself was opening his first overseas location in Chicago. Bonci himself supervised the opening of the Chicago shop, the eponymous Bonci (161 N Sangamon St. Chicago, IL) over the summer of 2017, and by the time we arrived in December, it seemed to be a well-oiled machine.
The Chicago Bonci location was similar to the Roman one – except supersized. The concept is the same – you peruse the pizzas on display and get slices to order, which are then, cut, weighed, heated up and brought out to you. When we were at Bonci there were at least a dozen pizzas on display. They varied by weight but most were $10.99 – $14.99 a pound. You can get any size you want, but we went with the smallest samples possible so we could try many varieties (which ran us about $3.50). The flavor combos ranged from classic margherita, to spicy meatball to salmon, and there is something for every taste. We started out with 3 varieties, but then went back for 2 more.
On our first trip we sampled ricotta, zucchini and lemon; anchovy and zucchini; and arrabiata (red sauce and spicy pepper). We followed up with potato and rosemary, and arugula and prosciutto. As we waited for our order to be heated up, we grabbed some stools behind the counter and watched the pizzaiolos do their thing – pressing the dough into rectangular pans and sprinkling toppings across the surface. One of the great things was that in less than 20 minutes, there were already some new pizza varieties to try on our second trip. We really enjoyed all of the pizzas, and we appreciated the attention to detail in the chewy, flavorful crust and all of the super-fresh toppings. Most of the pizzas did not come with red sauce, and all of the cheeses were fresh and delicate. Our favorite slice of the day was the ricotta with lemon, which was light, fresh and bright – and we felt like we could eat a whole pizza!
The service at Bonci was also excellent, and when the GM noticed that our slices did not have enough arugula, he brought some over himself. If you are thirsty, there is still and fizzy water on tap along with a selection of Italian soft drinks, single-serve wines and beers. Unlike the Rome location, there are counters along the wall to sit, though a good deal of the patrons were taking their pizzas to go. All told, we were stuffed with top-notch pizza for less than $20. If you like high-quality pizza, we highly recommend that you give Bonci a try – it is a little slice of Rome right here in Chicago.
Over the years we have discovered that one of the most universally beloved foods is the fried dough ball. In the Netherlands, fried dough balls are a traditional New Year’s food called Oliebollen (which translates to “oil balls” – the singular is oliebol). They have been variously known in the US as “Dutch doughnuts” and are called smoutebollen and croustillons in Belgium. Oliebollen have a long history in the Netherlands and were part of Germanic Yule celebrations, and the first written recipes date from the 1660s. The painting below, “Meid met oliebollen,” by Aelbert Cuyp is from 1652.
The legend behind Oliebollen is actually more morbid than I was expecting. According to Paste Magazine:
Eating oliebollen was considered a surefire way to ward off the whims of a cruel pagan goddess named Perchta. Her Teutonic name meant bright or glorious, but she was not always friendly. During the 12 Days of Christmas the goddess was said to fly around with evil spirits looking for something to eat. In her quest she might even use her sword to slice open the stomachs of those who’d already eaten to get at their food. Tradition said that eating oliebollen protected you because the fat absorbed from the cooking oil made Perchta’s sword slide off of her victims.
Oliebollen doesn’t stick to its fearsome origins anymore, and is mostly sold on the streets, accompanied by fireworks! There are tons of recipes for Oliebollen online including The Dutch Baker’s Daughter, Allrecipes and The Dutch Table.
We were lucky enough to get Hamilton tickets in NYC this year, which brought us to the age old question – where in the worlds are we going to eat? The key to pre-theater food is that it has be quick and close to the theater – it’s a bonus if it is any good (this is harder than it may seem). Fortunately, we think we have cracked the code for pre-theater dining in NYC – ramen! Turns out there is a pocket of great ramen joints pretty near NYC’s theater district. One of the best places to go is Totto Ramen (366 W 52nd St, New York, NY 10019), or Totto Ramen Next Door (366 W 52nd St. – same address…but next door) if that is a bit too busy! The best rumored ramen in the area is Ippudo (321 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019), and you might also try your hand at getting a spot there, but we heard that the line could be epic.
The name of the game at each of these places is ramen, and each is basically a walk-in. Regardless, there may be a line, even at Totto Ramen, and we had better luck going “Next Door” on a Thursday night. The menu at Totto Ramen Next Door is an abbreviated version of Totto Ramen – but all of the ramen greatest hits are there. You can order a piping-hot bowl of vegetable ramen (regular $9 or spicy $10), richer pork tonkatsu ramen, available with both shoyu or shio broths in both regular or spicy varieties ($12-14). The tonkatsu is the specialty of the house, so we knew we had to try it for ourselves. If you are really feeling peckish you can get a “Mega char siu tonkatsu” with a larger bowl and an extra helping of char siu pork ($16-17). It may have not been the most amazing ramen we have ever tried, but it was rich and flavorful, and the veggie ramen was some of the freshest and most colorful we have ever had. Plus, it may have just been the quickest and cheapest thing in the theater district aside from fast food. We walked right to our show after grabbing a bite, which took less than 45 minutes, all told. So do away with all of the fuss and expensive pre-dinner packages and just get yourself some ramen!
Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas! Having a roast pig for Christmas Eve/Christmas – lechón – is a major tradition in Puerto Rico and Cuba, and it is one of our favorites. Consequently there are many songs that extoll the virtues of the humble pig. In honor of the lechón-filled holiday, here’s one of our favorite Christmas lechón songs: “La Fiesta de Pilito” by Puerto Rico’s stalwart musical group. El Gran Combo.
Here are the most important lyrics:
A comer pasteles y a comer lechón
Arroz con guandules y a beber ron
Que venga morcilla, venga de todo
To eat tamales and eat roast pork
Rice with pigeon peas and drink rum
Let blood sausage arrive, let everything arrive
We hope you are having a delicious holiday – maybe with some lechón!
One of the most interesting articles we have read recently was about the prevalence of Russian Borscht in Hong Kong [via Metafilter]. The presence of a Russian soup in China (though it is made without beets there) starts to make a bit of sense when you think about the actually proximity of the two countries, but even more sense when you learn of all of the post-revolution White Russian émigrés who found their way to China and Hong Kong. These immigrants then started restaurants, and many of the Hong Kong’s top restaurants were owned by Russians by Mid-Century. Even though this wave of Russian immigration has ended, you can still find Borscht (called “loh sung tong” / “lor sung tong”) in Hong Kong. Cooking with Alison and Mrs. P’s Kitchen (seen below) have two classic Hong Kong Borscht recipes.
We have been to many Turkish restaurants over the years, but we were really excited to learn of a new Kurdish restaurant, The Gundis ( 2909 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657). The Kurdish people live in the region of southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, Turkey and Iran. Unfortunately, most of what we hear of Kurdistan and the Kurds relates to conflict and instability in the region, so we were excited to learn about another aspect of the Kurdish culture. The Gundis restaurant was started by two Kurdish immigrants from Mardin province in Turkey: Mehmet Besir Duzgun and Mehmet Besir Yavuz. However, reflecting the multiculturalism of Chicago, their Executive Chef, Juan M. González, hails from Mexico.
We met up with an adventurous foodie friend at The Gundis, which is in an unsuspecting spot on a surprisingly quiet stretch of Clark Street. The restaurant is clean and modern, witch minimal decor and exposed brick walls. The Gundis is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – so has more options than you may suspect. We saw some familiar favorites, but were excited to see some Kurdish dishes that we had never even heard of before. For breakfast you might be treated to Baklawa Crepes ($11.95) or a complete Kurdish Breakfast for two with all of the fixins: including eggs, fresh cheese, Kurdish bread, sesame butter, tomatoes, cucumbers and more ($34.95+, depending on the egg option).
For lunch and dinner there is a bit more meat, focusing on the staples of beef, chicken and lamb, but there is plenty for vegetarians too, including a surprisingly thorough salad list and more unique options like Tiršik (spicy veggie stew – $15.95). We started out with hummus as a mezze ($6.95), but there were plenty of other appealing options like octopus salad ($8.50), and ezme with walnuts (a spicy Turkish salad with chopped tomatoes and onion with pomegranate molasses – $8.50). For entrees there were a variety of shish kebabs and even an intriguing-sounding encrusted salmon. We asked the server what the most emblematic Kurdish dishes were and he suggested the Sac Tawa ($24.95) and Mardin Special ($21.95 – both with protein options).
The Mardin Special was vaguely described as fried eggplant with lamb, tomato and yogurt sauce. However, the dish that arrived was more than the sum of its parts, and was probably our favorite dish of the night. The yogurt sauce was a perfect counterpoint to the slightly spicy tomato sauce, and the lamb was perfectly cooked and fall-off-the-bone tender. As you can see above, the eggplant was also arranged in a dome shape, which we were not expecting!The Sac Tawa (above) was an extremely generous portion of chicken stir fried with tomatoes bell peppers, heavily spiced. We later learned that this is a traditional pre-wedding dish. Our friend ordered the lamb shank ($26.95), which was a staggering proportion, and was perfectly cooked and tender.
The dessert menu sounded delicious – so we decided to order the Kurdish Tea with Kurdish cookies ($8.50) and the goat’s milk rice pudding ($7.95). The rice pudding had a delicious tang, and we loved the sesame and pistachio-based cookies. Everything we tried at The Gundis was delicious, and prepared in an elevated, clean style. We would recommend The Gundis to anyone who likes Middle Eastern Food but is looking for something a little bit different. Though Kurdish food is similar to Turkish, it has its own unique twist, and should definitely be experienced!
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!”
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.
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:
- Sephardic Buñuelos with honey – a classic Jewish recipe
- Colombian Buñuelos, Venezuelan Buñuelos, and Nicaraguan Buñuelos – These are made from yuca flour and filled with cheese
- Mexican Buñuelos – These tend to have more of a flattened shape and are sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon
- Cuban Buñuelos – Perhaps the most different, these are anise-flavored and are shaped into a figure eight
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.”
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).
Hope everyone in the US has a lovely and delicious Thanksgiving! We are looking forward to some turkey and mashed potatoes – and cherry pie!
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!
Our 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.
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”.
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!
It’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).
We 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.
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.
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).
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.