Classic Portuguese Cuisine in Lisbon at Crisfama

portugalOn every corner of Lisbon there are little family restaurants – tascas – that serve a small menu of Portuguese classics with a wine selection. Often the menus (bacalhau, grilled fish and steaks) and atmospheres at each of these places are pretty similar (though the quality certainly runs the gamut), and it is hard to know which one to try. When attempting to cut through the dizzying quantity of tasca, we got a tip though, the the best tasca in town is Crisfama (R. Cruz de Sta. Apolónia, 58/60A, 1100-188 Lisboa), where everything was fresh, high-quality and cooked to order. CrisfamaCrisfama is on a backstreet on the outskirts of Alfama, the medieval quarter of Lisbon. It is a little bit of a trek to get there, but getting off the tourist track when it comes to food is definitely a good thing. The restaurant has only a handful of tables in the simple, clean dining room, so it is absolutely essential to make a reservation. Moreover, Crisfama is only open for a few hours for each lunch and dinner, so be sure to plan accordingly. The restaurant seems like a two-person show with the affable owner and his wife running the front and back of the house, respectively. The owner/waiter Fernando is an amiable host, ready to give recommendations, pour wine heavily and exchange in some witty banter in English or Portuguese while his wife mans the kitchen.sardinhas

For starters you get the typical Portuguese couvert of bread and olives, along with a choice of local Portuguese cheeses (€2-3). We ordered a round of soft goat cheese with herbs and a semi-hard sheep cheese. We are constantly impressed by the huge varieties of goats cheese in Portugal, and it is always fun to try a new variety. For mains, you can get either seafood or meat dishes for prices so reasonable that they will astound you. Everything is less than €12 (the bacalhau tops out the menu at €11.50), and for that price you can get a whole fish or a huge steak. Other specials included grilled octopus, bitoque (steak with an egg), bifana (pork sandwich), and duck with rice. Side salads are a shockingly low €1.25, and you can even get fresh fruit by the piece.

peixeIn the mood we for seafood, we ordered sea bass, tuna, dourada and the ultimate Portuguese classic, grilled sardines (€8.5 for each seafood plate). Each came with a side of potatoes and green beans, and the sardines came with a side salad. Each fish was cooked perfectly to order, and this was some of the best, freshest fish we have had in Portugal – everything was absolutely delicious. And as you can see, they didn’t skimp on portions. To wash down your meal, each glass of house wine is only €1.

semifreddoFor dessert there is a refrigerator case with an appealing variety of cakes, tarts and semifreddos. We heard that the chocolate orange semifreddo was sublime – so we ordered two – and it lived up to the hype and was basically the perfect treat for a hot summer day. From start to finish, we enjoyed the attention to detail at Chisfama, and it was definitely the best traditional Portuguese food we have had in Lisbon. With great prices and great quality for classic Portuguese food – you won’t find a better deal in Lisbon.

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A Guide to the Sweets of Évora and the Alentejo

portugalI have been diligently eating my way through the sweets of Portugal and Spain, but haven’t got around to posting much, so as a result, I have a huge backlog of sweets to share with you. When in Lisbon previously, I had been concentrating on some of the more iconic sweets available in the city’s myriad bakeries. This go around, however, especially as we have seen more of the country, I have branched out into some more specialized local treats. While in Évora, a picturesque, architecturally-interesting (even including a Roman temple) town located east of Lisbon, the key place to sample regional or convent sweets (doces regionais or conventuais) is the Pastelaria Conventual Pão De Rala (Rua do Cicioso 47, 7000-658 Évora).

PaoRalaBakeryQueijinho do Céu (pictured below – recipe in Portuguese)This name translates as “little cheese from heaven,” a name given to the sweet by the Clarissian nuns that invented it. Queijinho do Céu is basically an almond, marzipan-like paste that is super dense and fudgy, formed into small, flattened rounds, filled with egg yolk cream. There is also a treat with the same name from another region that does not contain almonds.

CeusCericá / Sericaia (recipe in EnglishThis sweet takes more of a basic cake form, with a fluffy souffle-like texture, lightly flavored with citrus. We have seen this cake dusted with cinnamon, but this version was not. This version was also served with a fig drenched in syrup – there is nothing quite like fresh Iberian figs!

Sericaia Pão de Rala (recipe in Portuguese)- The Pão de Rala, from which the bakery gets its name, is a brioche-like sweet made from eggs, sugar, lemon, almonds and filled with its most unique ingredient – gila – or squash, with a spaghetti-like texture. Sweetened squash fillings are surprisingly common in Portugal, and are found in a variety of treats throughout the country. I have even seen the squash filling for sale alone in small cups, or in jam form.

PaodeRala

If you can’t get to the Alentejo, in Lisbon there is a place to sample some of the convent sweets and other rare regional desserts from around Portugal: Pastelaria Alcôa (R. Garrett 37, 1200-309 Lisboa) in the heart of the bustling Chiado district. Alcôa has some treats from the Alentejo including the egg custard Encharcada (recipe in English) and Torrão Real (recipe in Portuguese). Torrão Real is a concoction of egg yolks, sugar and almond, that is almost pudding-y in consistency. The Torrão Real we got at Alcôa was cut into neat squares and topped with a fancy burnt sugar decoration. However, it was basically impossible to eat a without a spoon – so it makes a bit more sense that it usually served in a bowl or a deep plate with utensils.

Alcoa

This is only scratching the surface of the sweets of the Alentejo – we are constantly surprised just how many permutations of egg yolks, flour and sugar the nuns in Portugal were able to come up with. I am sure there are still hundreds we have not tried. Which of these sweets would you most like to sample?

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Eating our Way Around Lusophone Africa at Mesa Kreol

brazil angolaGuineaBissauFlagImageOne of the most interesting things about the Lisbon food scene is the proliferation of restaurants with foods from former Portuguese colonies. Brazilian, Angolan, Cape Verdean and Goan foods and restaurants abound in the city. When we were showing some friends around town, we wanted to find a place that would give them a taste of food from around the Lusophone world. We stumbled upon Mesa Kreol (Arco Portas do Mar, 1100-035 Lisboa). Mesa Kreol gives you that around-the-world trip by offering only the most iconic dishes from several former Portuguese colonies, all with a contemporary twist.

MesaKreolMesa Kreol is located at the foot of Alfama, the old quarter of Lisbon, which is perhaps more known for its fado music and small restaurants serving grilled fish. The restaurant is clean in tidy, and only foreigners were eating at the absurdly early hour of 7 PM (like 4 PM in the US), though the restaurants seems to be popular with a mix of locals and visitors alike. The menu was brief, and was divided into starters, meat and fish. For starters we had to sample the strawberry gazpacho, not traditional at all, but spicy, delicious and refreshing.  Other starter options included an octopus escabeche or linguiça sausage with goat cheese. For mains we went with the more traditional dishes, Moamba from Angola, Caldo de Mancarra from Guinea-Bissau and Brazilian shrimp Moqueca. Other national dishes included the cachupa bean stew from Cape Verde. Less traditional offerings included the tuna steak, Mozambican shrimp, and a Moroccan tajine.Moamba

Moamba is the national dish of Angola, and is made with whole chicken, drenched in palm oil, tomatoes, okra, spicy malagueta pepper, bell peppers and other veggies. We were warned by the server that this was a “greasy” dish, which may have been a needed warning for those not familiar with palm oil, but it was not really a greasy dish at all. The Caldo de Mancarra – a rich peanut stew with whole chicken – was delicious, and reminded us of other groundnut stews from West Africa. We sopped up every possible bit of sauce with the rice.

MoquecaandMancarra

However, the hit of the night may have been the shrimp moqueca, a classic Brazilian dish of coconut milk, palm oil and bell peppers that we have enjoyed many times in Brazil. M deemed deemed Mesa Kreol’s version as one of the best moquecas he had had outside of Brazil, which is pretty high praise. This version came with delicious fresh shrimp and it was replete with palm oil, which is a necessity. We were too stuffed for dessert, but tempting options included Brazilian Sagu (tapioca pudding) and chocolate cake. Mesa Kreol is a great introduction to the foods of former Portuguese colonies. It is a true culinary trip around the world in only one place!

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Finding Kakigori in Barcelona

On our recent visit we stayed in the charming Barcelona neighborhood of Gràcia, and after dinner one night we decided to explore dessert options around the main square. While there were a smattering of typical gelato places, we were most interested to see a Japanese shaved ice shop on the corner: Mr. Kakigori (Pl. de la Vila de Gràcia 3, Barcelona, 08012)! Kakigori is a traditional Japanese shaved ice, flavored with syrup, and it is currently making a comeback in Tokyo (and apparently making inroads in Europe as well).

True to Japanese Kakigori style, the ice was shaved off a rotating cylinder by hand – check out the ice in action. You can choose from 2 sweet syrup flavors for each size, ranging from strawberry to mango to coconut, with additional toppings like condensed milk and fresh fruit. We ordered a small – which turned out to be huge – with passion fruit and green tea flavors. Along with the shaved ice, you can also get Japanese pancakes called doriyaki, with savory fillings like tuna, or sweet fillings like red bean paste and Nutella. The kakigori is was perfect for a hot night, and we loved the refreshing change of pace!

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How to Celebrate the 4th of July in Portugal

USA-flagportugalWe are currently in Portugal for the 4th of July, which got us thinking about whether or not we could put together a US-style cookout here. Being abroad has definitely enlightened us to what other countries think of American food, and what American foods have just not crossed the ocean. Previously, we had lamented the lack of peanut butter – we had found some at an Indian grocery – but now we have found jars twice at run-of-the-mill grocery stores at semi-reasonable prices. So it seems that peanut butter is making in-roads, but there is still a dearth of BBQ and tacos. At the Continete megastore (think WalMart) in the gigantic Colombo Mall we saw an American food section in the “foreign foods” aisle – but it consisted mostly of Old El Paso products. Burgers and craft beer, two staples of the 4th of July cookout are actually getting to be pretty popular in Lisbon, especially burgers. Case in point, the aptly named “American Music Burguer” we spotted near the University.

BurguerThough cookouts in Portugal usually include fish, if you are planning to do an American-style 4th of July cookout, most fresh meats, fruits and veggies should be readily available. However, we have also found a resource to get the esoteric-to-Portugal ingredients you may need – the “American store.” Yes in Portugal, there is a such a thing as an American store – Liberty Store (Largo de São Sebastião da Pedreira 9D, 1050-010 Lisboa). Liberty Store is stocked with such goodies as Pringles, Pancake Syrup, Beef Jerky, Barbecue Sauce, Funfetti cake mix, and the like. The strangely-named Glood (several Lisbon locations) has products from all over the world, including a sizeable US selection, with a few slightly healthier options. The products available at either store are only the most mass market of mass market – but each definitely carries products you cannot find elsewhere. Liberty Store even has solo cups, an essential to every 4th of July cookoutLibertyStore

 

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The Teterias of Andalusia

When we went to Spain we were expecting to get our fill of tapas, but one thing we were not expecting were the proliferation of tea salons! We are major tea lovers here at ETW, so we were delighted to learn about a genre of tea rooms found only in Andalusia: teterias. These are Moroccan-style tearooms influenced by the many centuries of Islamic rule when Spain was known as Al-Andalus. Teterias are found throughout Andalusia, and we were lucky enough to try them in both Cordoba and Granada. In Cordoba we visited the Salon de Té (Calle Buen Pastor, 13, 14003 Córdoba, Spain), a stone’s throw from the Mezquita. In Granada we stopped at La Teteria Del Banuelo (Calle Banuelo 518010 Granada, Spain), in the shadow of the Alhambra.

The inside of a teteria is typically done in a Moroccan style, with an atmospheric courtyard filled with North African-style furnishings and pillows. Mint tea is always a good bet at the teteria, though the tea offerings are usually much more extensive; at some places you can even get smoothies and Mediterranean munchies. Another great aspect of the teteria are the little Moroccan pastries on offer, which transported us to the Djemaa al Fna.

I was impressed by the tea selections at the Salon de Té, with pages and pages of both hot and cold varieties. M got an almond shake, while I sampled an iced rooibos tea with berries. Our friend K fought through the heat and got a beautifully-presented mint tea with tons of fresh mint. At the Salon, we sampled baklava, kunefe (birdsnest pastries), tiny turnovers with pistachios, and makrout; you can get savory dishes as well if you are feeling peckish. Banuelo had a smaller selection of teas and savories, but offered sweet crepes along with a similar selection of Moroccan petit fours. Lemonade with mint and an iced coffee was a perfect selection for a particularly hot day at Banuelo, though the mint tea was still beautiful and refreshing. Banuelo also boasted a cute outdoor seating area, though it was too hot to venture outside on the day we visited.

Visiting these teterias was a highlight of our visits to Andalusia, and they definitely transported us to another era of Spain’s history. Whether you are looking to hide out from the punishing sun, or get some munchies, when you are in Andalusia you have to make sure to stop by a teteria for the full experience.

 

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On Our Way to Iberia

The eaters are going to be spending our Summer in Portugal, with a few side trips to the South of Spain and Barcelona. This means we will be taking a brief hiatus from blogging until we get settled and return from Andalusia – probably until Mid June. After that we hope to start chronicling our Iberian adventures. We have been to Portugal for an extended period of time (and have sampled dozens of pasteis de nata), but are relatively new to Spain and are especially looking forward to delving into the rich food scene. We see a lot of tapas and jamon in our future. Do you have any favorite recommendations in either country?

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Nutella Cafe to open in Chicago

In years past we wrote about the enigmatic Nutellerias  of Europe (and the short-lived Nutella cafes in North America): store/cafes dedicated to nothing but Nutella, the world’s favorite chocolate and hazelnut spread. Though the international Nutella cafes have come and gone, it now it appears that we will finally have a Nutella-only cafe of our own stateside. The Nutella Cafe will open in Millennium Park Chicago on May 31, and is officially run by Nutella’s parent company Ferrero. The Cafe will offer sweet, Nutella-based treats as well as savory non-Nutella fare. Previously, Nutella lovers in Chicago and NYC could enjoy the Nutella kiosk in Eataly, but this new cafe represents a whole new level of Nutella love (the door is even shaped like a jar of Nutella).

Nutella by Brian Cantoni

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Celebrate Victoria Day with a Victoria Sandwich

Today, May 22, is Victoria Day, a holiday to celebrate historical British monarch Queen Victoria’s birthday. Of all places, this is not a holiday in the UK, but in Canada! One classic treat to have on this date is Victoria Sandwich, named for the queen. Despite the name, this is not what North Americans would think of when they hear the word sandwich – it is actually a cake! Another name for this treat is Victoria sponge (as in sponge cake), and it consists of two sponge cakes filled with raspberry jam and cream in the middle. I first heard of this cake when it was referenced many times on the Great British Bake-Off! You can find a recipe for a classic Victoria Sandwich on BBC GoodFood, Jamie Oliver and Urban Hounds.

Victoria Sponge by Gordon Plant

 

 

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Pastry Post-Doc: International influences in Bebinca from Goa

India FlagWhen we first saw a picture of Bebinca cake from Goa, we thought it looked a little bit like Hungarian Dobos Torte. Look at all of those layers! Bebinca is a cake popular in the Western Indian region of Goa, and it is known by its 7+ distinctive layers. Bebinca is probably the most famous dessert in the region, and is even known by some as the “Queen” of Goan Desserts. Some of its fame also probably comes from its difficulty – it is as time-consuming as it is beautiful – each of the 7 layers is cooked individually and then stacked up. Despite this advanced structure, the ingredients for Bebinca are super simple: eggs, flour, coconut milk, ghee (clarified butter) and nutmeg. This dish is a product of Portuguese influence to Goa, which is definitely evident in the copious use of egg yolks – a Portuguese favorite.  Here are a few recipes for Bebinca from Flavors of Mumbai and BBC Good Food.

Bebinca from Wikipedia

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A great new butcher in Cleveland: Saucisson

When we left Chicago, one of the places we were saddest to say goodbye to was our favorite butcher shop: Homestead Meats in Evanston. When we got to Cleveland, we were super happy to find lots of great fresh meat purveyors at the West Side Market – however nothing quite fit the bill of a single location where we could get fresh meat, house-made sausage, charcuterie, prepared meals, and more. With a new addition to Slavic VillageSaucisson (5324 Fleet Ave, Cleveland, OH 44105) – we feel like we have found a Cleveland butcher replacement for our beloved Homestead Meats.

Saucisson is a fell-fledged butcher and you can see back into the kitchen where everything is made – we were also excited to learn that they are offering sausage-making classes – the next one is on Saturday, May 20 (call for details). Saucisson is a labor of love for founders and owners Penny Barend and Melissa Khoury, which started out as a pop-up at Farmer’s Markets, before opening their own bricks and mortar location. The new Saucisson space is clean and bright, with a fully-stocked cooler and freezer full of along with stock, soups, and lard. Saucisson had a variety of beef and pork cuts for sale, alongside a variety of pates, bacon, jerky, rilettes and esoteric sausages, all made/butchered in house. We sampled the German-style currywurst, the Oaxacan black mole sausage and the Filipino longganisa (a sweet breakfast sausage). Quite the spread  – though we think the Mole sausage was our favorite! Every week the selection rotates, so be sure to call ahead if you want something specific.

One of the other great features of Saucisson is that they have rotating food menu every day, which you can take out or eat in store (check out Facebook for the day’s menu). On the night we visited there was Italian chicken meatball soup ($5) and pulled pork tacos ($8). Though not a traditional taco, the super tender and flavorful pulled pork stole the show, smothered in green salsa, cotija cheese, slaw and pickled onions. Yum! Saucisson is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m to 7 p.m so be sure to time your visit properly. When we visited on a Friday night at 6, we got the last of the food.

Even more promising – the Saucisson team was super excited to potentially help us out with some custom butchery – we of course wanted to see if they could make the Brazilian classic cut of beef, picanha. They assured us that with a little advance notification, they could pretty much make anything. This stretch of Slavic Village is just starting recover from the housing bubble and economic downtown, and Saucisson is a welcome addition to the neighborhood’s commercial center. But Saucisson would be a great addition to any Cleveland neighborhood. We look forward to becoming regulars!

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Brunch with a Brazilian Twist at La Sirena Clandestina

brazil It’s always a delicate balance finding somewhere to go out to eat on a weekend for lunch – note that I say lunch – not brunch! Fortunately La Sirena Clandestina (954 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL) strikes a nice balance between lunch and brunch dishes, and is sure to please people with all kinds of palates. La Sirena Clandestina has an eclectic menu with lots of Brazilian flourishes, based on Chef John Manion’s childhood in Brazil – they even have our favorite cheesy bread on the menu – Pão de Queijo – though it sadly wasn’t available when we visited.  We are always looking for new Brazilian tastes, so we were definitely looking forward to sampling La Sirena’s mix of Brazilian flavors and local ingredients.

SirenaSteak

The weekend daytime menu at La Sirena is a mix of sweet and savory, brunch and lunch. On the brunch side of things you can get their take on Eggs Benedict, with soft shell crab and Brazilian malagueta peppers ($18) or chilaquiles with plantains and salsa verde ($15). For those going more savory, you can get a grilled hanger steak with a fried yucca “tot” ($18) or the “El Che” (a take on the Cuban sandwich – $13) – achiote roasted pork loin with ham, Swiss cheese and pickles. There are also some nice, healthier vegetarian options including the Kale Salad ($9) and the white bean hash with avocado and chimichurri ($15) Among our group we ordered some options from each “type.”

SirenaEgg

One of our favorites, the hanger steak was perfectly tender and well-accented by the garlicky sauce – we also appreciated the whimsy of the yucca “tater tot.” Another hit was the Tapioca Nordestina ($12) – which was similar to a beachside dish that is popular in Brazil. This consisted of manioc flour crepes stuffed with cream cheese and topped with strawberry and rhubarb compote. This was a combination of flavors we didn’t expect – but worked really well together, and was not too sweet at all.

SirenaTapioca

As an added twist on brunch, instead of the typical mimosa, you can get a variety of mixed drinks with Brazilian cachaça, along with aguas frescas (the juice of the day was chamomile lemon) and teas from Rare Tea Cellar. The vibe inside the restaurant is relaxed and casual, with vintage Brazilian tunes playing in the background (think Os Mutantes and Elis Regina). The space is not very big – so reservations are recommended. We highly enjoyed our eclectic brunch at La Sirena Clandestina, and it was a great spot for the pro and anti brunch crowds alike.

LaSirena

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Pastry Post Doc: Moroccan M’Hanncha

Flag_of_MoroccoWhen we were in Morocco, one of the daily highlights of our trip was enjoying some mint tea with a side of pastries. The range of Moroccan pastries, cookies and desserts was mind-bending, and every tea time brought new treats. In Marrakesh we first tried one of the most popular desserts in Morocco, M’Hannacha (or M’Hencha). M’Hanncha is made out of a giant spiral of almond and orange water paste wrapped in phyllo dough, and is also known as snake or serpent cake due to its coiled appearance. You can try to make your own version with recipes for M’Hanncha from Epicurious, Spice Traveller and Food52.

Mhanncha.jpg

M’Hanncha by She Paused 4 Thought

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Karam Kitchen’s Catering Success Story

We are so happy to hear about stories of immigrants using food to make connections and find success in their new homes. We previously featured Honeydoe catering in Chicago, and we just learned of another successful venture by Syrian refugees in Hamilton, Ontario, Karam Kitchen. Karam Kitchen is run by Syrian female chefs Rawa’a Aloliwi, Dalal Al Zoubi, and Manahel Al Shareef, and two American/Canadian women, Brittani Farrington and Kim Kralt, who run the logistics of the business. Karam Kitchen was kicked off by a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, and is now up and running and taking catering orders (and recently ran a second Kickstarter to get a delivery van). Saveur has a great feature about the start of Karam Kitchen and People of Hamilton focuses on the women involved in the project. Karam means generosity, and you can definitely see the generosity in the amazing spreads of Syrian foods that Karam Kitchen prepares.

Karam Kitchen by People of Hamilton

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Ramen Misoya, the original Ramen-ya in Chicago

We are happy that authentic Japanese ramen has exploded as a trend in the US, and now you can find great ramen in most US cities.  If you’re looking for the starting point of this wave of ramen in Chicago, you have to go out to the northwest suburbs, where Ramen Misoya (1584 S Busse Rd., Mount Prospect, IL 60056) was the first authentic Ramen-Ya (ramen restaurant) in the Chicago area, starting in 2013. Little did we know, but Ramen Misoya is actually a chain, with a few locations throughout the US and Japan, and now a downtown Chicago outpost (213 E. Ohio St.). Despite the influx of ramen restaurants in Chicago, one of our favorites is still Ramen Misoya.

Ramen Misoya is a tiny place with maybe only 8 tables, and a small amount of counter seating, so get there early. The menu may seem overwhelming at first, but there are 3 main varieties of broth to choose from, and you can get 5 versions of meat and vegetable toppings for each broth. The three miso-based broth options are Kome, Mame and Shiro: the Hokkaido-style kome ramen is made with a rice-and-soybean miso, and is the darkest and most full-bodied; the Nagoya-style mame is slightly bitter; and the Kyoto-style shiro is the lightest miso variety of the trio, and was described as having a fruity flavor. All ramen comes topped with ground pork, green onions, sprouts, and menma (fermented bamboo shoots), but with each broth you can can choose from assorted vegetables, Cha-Shu pork, spicy and kimchi varieties ($9-$13 depending on the toppings).

There are also a few special varieties of ramen including the creamier, richer Tokyo miso pork tonkatsu ($9.50) and the Kyoto miso tan-tan sesame ramen (above – $9.90). One of the best part of the ramen is that you get to customize your bowl with extra toppings including tonkotsu fried pork, extra noodles, nori sheets a, miso egg, or even a pat of butter (all for small extra charges). We like to start out with a small assortment of appetizers including a tasty gyoza dumplings ($4.5) and chicken kaarage (fried chicken, $3.50 small, $7 large).

We have tried all of the different broths, and each one has been delicious, though we think our favorite may be the special sesame broth, which you can not get at many other ramen places. Ramen Misoya excels at everything from start to finish: the noodles are also delicious – toothsome and springy – a perfect complement to the broth. The portion size is pretty big, too, and one bowl of ramen usually lasts us two meals. As an added plus, you can also get one of our favorite Japanese desserts there – taiyaki – a fish shaped waffle-like treat filled with sweet red bean paste. If you are looking for great ramen at the place that kicked off the ramen craze in Chicago, definitely visit Ramen Misoya.

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German Waldmeister Treats for May Day

germanyIt’s almost May – which means Spring is finally here (hopefully)! May Day marks a traditional Spring Festival in Germany celebrated with merriment, food, and of course – the iconic maypole / maibaum. One of the most traditional offerings at any German May Day Festivity is Maibowle – or May Wine – made with white wine infused with Sweet Woodruff syrup. Personally, I had never heard of Sweet Woodruff – it is a sweet, pleasantly-scented wild flower native to Europe – and it is called Waldmeister in German. Food.com has a recipe to make your own Maibowle, if you can get your hands on some Sweet Woodruff. Sweet Woodruff can also be used in a variety of desserts as a flavoring, and you can even buy Waldmeister syrup online. The Oma Way has a tasty-sounding recipe for Sweet Woodruff cheesecake, and Spoonfuls of Germany has a recipe for Waldmeister ice cream, for those of us with a sweet tooth.

Maibaum

A German Maibaum by Awaya

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Taqueria El Mezquite: our go-to tacos in Pilsen

Mexico Flag Sometimes, we go to a place so often, we just start to assume we have written about it on ETW. This tends to happen with our most favorite restaurants, many of which do not end up getting a review until years after we first go there (thinking of you Greenbush Bar). In that vein, we are finally getting around to reviewing our favorite taqueria in Pilsen. We have eaten our way around Pilsen, and our favorite go-to place is still Taqueria El Mezquite (1756 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608).TacosMezquite

El Mezquite is a classic mom and pop place, with simple red booths and an expansive menu of Mexican favorites. Our classic order at El Mezquite is tacos. The tacos are a reasonable $2.25 and come on delicious corn tortillas with the classic onion and cilantro. The taco menu is huge and you can get chorizo, carne asada, chicken and all the typical varieties. But what also sets Mezquite apart is that you can get harder-to-find fillings like nopal (cactus), tripe, and specific types and cuts of beef like lomo encebolloado (ribeye with onions), suadero (flank steak) and cecina (dried beef). They also excel at our favorite taco variety: pork al pastor. Even though they don’t have a trompo for Al Pastor, these are some of Matt’s favorites – the flavor is good, with a nice char.

Enchilada

Though the tacos are our starting point, we have also eaten through a bit more of El Mezquite’s menu, and have liked everything we’ve tried so far. Other favorites include the huaraches $7.95 (thick corn tortillas with a variety of toppings – we like the squash blossoms), and the chicken mole enchiladas ($7.25).  On the weekends they also have the traditional stews like menudo (beef stomach stew) and pozole (pork and hominy stew) – which you can get by the plate or even by the gallon. We also recently tried their hearty migas soup, a pork bone soup with bread and epazote native to the Tepito neighborhood of Mexico City, something we have not seen on any other Chicago menus.

Migas

However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg – you can also get freshly squeezed juices (like the vampiro, with oranges, beet and carrot), milkshakes, great horchata and tepache. If you have your own favorites we haven’t mentioned, it is definitely worth checking out Mezquite’s full menu of burritos, tortas, and dinner specials. Everything we have ever tried at El Mezquite has been good, and the prices are so reasonable. If you are in the hood and looking for a good place for tacos (and some Mexico City specialties) definitely make your way to El Mezquite.

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The Classic Anzac Day Treat: Anzac Biscuits

New Zealand FlagAustraliaApril 25th is Anzac Day, one of the biggest holidays in Australia and New Zealand – and are best celebrated with Anzac biscuits. Anzac biscuits (what we would call a cookie in the US) are oatmeal cookies with dried coconut, with the special secret ingredient of golden syrup – popular in British commonwealth countries. So what is Anzac Day? Anzac Day is basically the equivalent of US Memorial Day, and honors Australian and New Zealander service people. It is held on the anniversary of Australia and New Zealand’s Entry into World War 1 at the Battle of Gallipoli. Popular mythology is that these biscuits got their name because they were sent overseas to the soldiers (since they contained no perishable ingredients), however the name itself is only recorded as going back to the 1920s. BBC Good food has a classic recipe, though Anzac cookies vary in texture from crispy to chewy (recipe seen below) to soft. Anzac biscuits are now such a beloved classic, that they have inspired other desserts with a similar flavor profiles, like cookie bars and ice cream sandwiches.

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Anzac Biscuits by Ruthy Stinkface

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Thai at Banana Blossom in Cleveland

One of our favorite things in Cleveland is the surprising proliferation of quality Southeast Asian food. We have tried over a dozen Thai places in the area, but we keep coming back to Cleveland stalwart Banana Blossom (2800 Clinton Ave, Cleveland, OH) – it is our favorite, consistently solid spot for Thai classics in the city. Banana Blossom has been holding down an unassuming corner in the Ohio City neighborhood for a while, before it was the artsy, bustling neighborhood it is today. Banana Blossom is bigger on the inside than you might think, with a peaceful ambiance.

You can get all of your favorite Thai dishes at Banana Blossom, but we feel they are all executed better than you would normally find. The menu has a wide selection of salads, soups, noodle dishes and curries. There are some more unusual dishes like Prik Khing Salmon (Deep-Fried Salmon with String Beans and Our Homemade Prik Khing Sauce – $15.95) and roasted tamarind duck ($18.95). Despite the broad offerings,  when we go to Banana Blossom we usually stick with our classics: Pad See Eiw (stir-fried wide rice noodles with chicken and shrimp, eggs, carrots and broccoli – $11.50), and Penang Curry (a medium-spicy curry with chiles, coriander, kaffir lime peel, galangal, bell pepper, string beans, baby corn, eggplant and basil leaves – $12.95). Sometimes we will also start out with a refreshing papaya Salad (with string beans, tomato and peanuts – $8.95), which is also pretty spicy!

The service is quick and efficient, and you are never left waiting too long, even when it is busy. M also likes that he can get a legitimately spicy Penang curry (you can specify a heat level of 1-5). The portions at Banana Blossom are generous, and there are a wide variety of proteins: Chicken, Duck, Beef, Pork, Shrimp, Salmon, Tofu or Vegetable. Banana Blossom even has a full bar, though we usually just stick to the Thai iced teas ($3)! We have never been disappointed at Banana Blossom, and if you are looking for some comforting, classic Thai food in Cleveland, definitely visit!

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Czech Easter Bread: Mazanec

Today is Easter Monday, celebrated in Cleveland as Dyngus Day! We haven’t had much time to post recently, so even though we are a little late to the party, we figure there’s still a little time to share some Easter bread, this time with a local influence. In Cleveland there has historically been a large Czech population, especially in the appropriately-named Slavic Village neighborhood, which also hosted a large Polish population.  One of the most traditional Czech Easter foods is Mazanec – an leavened sweet bread with dried fruit and raisins, served primarily at Easter. Mazanec is considered a cousin of the English hot cross bun, and sometimes also has a cross shape on top. You can try making Mazanec for your spring celebrations with a recipe from Honest Cooking.

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