Casual Culinary Treats

July 27th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

HG/BSK attended the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival near the town of Souris on Prince Edward Island. This is a two day event, the ultimate ceilidh, a celebration of Scottish and Irish music featuring scores of fiddlers, pipers, singers, step dancers and musicians from all over the Island, Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. Wikipedia defines “ceilidh” as: “Traditional Gaelic social gathering involving playing Gaelic music and dancing. Originated in Ireland and Scotland.” The Rollo Bay event is joyous with lots of folks arriving in motor homes from distant points. In addition to the music, HG/BSK enjoyed a unique treat: Scallops on a stick. These were sea scallops breaded in a spicy mix, quickly deep fried and skewered. Dazzling. Reminded HG of other wonderful, casual, often unexpected treats. As a very little boy in Depression era southeast Bronx, HG enjoyed sweet potatoes (with a big pat of butter) cooked by an old man in a charcoal stove on wheels. In that same time period, hot chickpeas doused with chicken fat were dispensed in paper cups. These were winter treats. In the summer, Italian vendors sold chunks of fresh coconut and sweet ices. During HG’s later New York days, HG sneered at “dirty water” hot dogs but loved the wondrous Italian sausages with peppers and onions served on crusty bread and cooked on the back of Greenwich Village trucks. HG encountered some great snacks during international travel. Hot chunks of garlic sausage were sold with robust bread and mustard on the streets of Prague (just months after Czechoslovakia became a democratic country). There was another interesting treat in that beautiful city: “Vaffels.” A window would open in a nondescript building. A sign was hung: “Vaffels.” A crowd would gather. And, out would come the treats. Warm waffles covered in bittersweet chocoate syrup and fresh whipped cream. The cost: Five cents American money, Preposterously delicious. Possibly the best of all street treats are the northern Chinese BBQ carts in the Flushing section of Queens. Truck pulls up at a corner with a retro-fitted charcoal oven. Old lady begins laying out various meats, veggies and seafood over the smoking coals. Dusts them in a mysterious blend of cumin, hot pepper and other spices. Served on a wooden skewer. She’s famous. There’s a long line. Worth the wait. Best chicken in the world.


Street Food Renaissance

March 3rd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

HG has always enjoyed street food starting with the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, ices and chunks of coconut that were sold along the Bronx streets in HG’s youth. During early manhood HG fancied the grilled Italian sausages with onions and peppers sold from the back of trucks in Greenwich Village. The classic New York City Sabrett hot dog, topped with onions and mustard and sold from a “hot water” cart, was always a treat. In Chinatown, anything sold on the street (no matter how unhygienic it looked) was always good. HG had excellent wurst and rye bread on the streets of Prague and even better wurst at the foot of ski slopes in the Italian mountain town of Selva Val Gardena. HG bought a very savory spleen (yes, spleen) sandwich from a Palermo vendor. HG was not a tripe fan (HG is now a Menudo — Mexican tripe stew — addict) when HG unhappily nibbled a tripe sandwich from the famous truck in the Florence wicker market. In Brazil, HG was too timid to taste the pungent stews being sold by women tending steaming caldrons outside of public markets in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia. The largest array of street food HG ever saw was in the colorful, surreal, slightly insane Djeema el Fnaa, the famous public square in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh. Established sometime around 1147, the square is a virtual maelstrom of noise, aromas and people (native Moroccans and tourists)/ There are magicians, snake charmers, water sellers, acrobats, story tellers, young men with chained Barbary apes, dancing boys and dentists (with large displays of pulled teeth as proof of their skill and prowess). When darkness falls, scores of food stalls appear and the air is filled with smoke. Hundreds sit on benches eating, grilled lamb (and its innards), chicken and every variety of seafood. Somehow HG found the square exciting but sinister (beneath the square is a police center for the vigorous interrogation of suspicious individuals). HG never patronized any of the stalls. Today, street food is having a renaissance moment in the United States. Serious and creative chefs are opening food carts and trucks alongside the ethnic specialty trucks (which had long dominated the market) in cities throughout America. Both groups of chefs are equally drawn to the food cart’s low overhead and the ripe possibility of building an audience for your cooking before dumping a fortune into a brick and mortar restaurant. And not only are the food trucks opening, urban planners and city governments are recognizing their civic importance. Cities such as Portland are actively supporting food trucks and creating a supportive business environment to help them thrive. The trend has reached New Mexico where excellent street food can be relished all over Santa Fe. This is an attractive trend bringing interesting, affordable food to folks who haven’t the time or patience for the traditional, leisurely, sit down restaurant meal. Finally, a culinary trend HG can stand by.

When Bad Food Happens to Good Food Hunters: An SJ Posting

April 2nd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

SJ here.  As a dedicated hunter of all sorts of obscure, ethnic food treats, you learn to read the signs — the tells — of a great culinary experience: a line of taxicabs in front of Pakistani take-out, absolute unfamiliarity in English, a certain grittiness mixed with equal parts pride…the list goes on and I was fairly certain my ability to read those signs was infallible.  Well, pride is a bitch.  What comes up must go down, and so shall I share with you a cautionary tale of When Bad Food Happens To Good Food Hunters:

She had it all.  No English.  A mouth full of metal.  Enthusiasm. A kitchen made up of various coolers and snap lid trays hauled around in a red shopping cart.  I had noticed her for a week dishing out food for the Central American workers in the Chinese owned glass and vegetable wholesalers that line Broome Street.  I finally decided to make my move and pick up whatever it was she was dishing out.  She was thrilled.  With what little Spanish I possess I came to understand that she had a chicken stew, with a kind of bean soup and a side of mashed eggplant; and a dish of baccala which did not look appetizing.  Sure!  I thought.  $5 for this awesome meal served out of coolers in between glass cutting machines and a smiling Guatemalan wearing an shirt covered in hand drawn pentagrams and the names of Nordic Black Metal bands — AWESOME!  As she dished out the food, I had dreams of writing posts in Chowhound about the brilliance of the meal and how those posts would cause food lovers to wait on line for this incredible street food experience and how one day my hero Robert Sietsema would feast on her chicken and then search me out to thank me for this incredible culinary find and how then we would become best friends and go to Flushing and eat banquets of dumplings together and…..and….and then I tasted my meal.

If it were disgusting, wretched, horrific even — I would have been happier!  It would have been an experience I could boast about and say: Remember that time I had that crazy Central American special chicken that tasted of tires and old socks?  Unfortunately the Broome Street chicken was just not good in the most boring way.  The chicken was very dry and over-cooked.  The stew itself had no strong flavors.  The eggplant thing tasted of baby food and the bean soupy thing had no zing, no nothing!!!!  For all its gritty surroundings and strong, ethnic profile, the meal was as bland as something served up in a hospital. My secret, ethnic food vending lady turned out to be a Midwestern housewife in disguise.

The signs had proved wrong.  My arrogance was shattered.  My friendship with Robert Sietsema never happened.  It will take me some time to recover. Thanks Broome Street Chicken!

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