It started with a 6 PM meal at some small café in an alleyway. We had kofta, roast chicken, salad, rice, and date juice. Couldn’t really think of a better way to break the fast than with solid street nourishment.
The highlight of the night came at about 2:30, ironically in the morning. We were starving, so we walked into this empty hole-in-the-wall and attempted to order some food. The Pakistani guy that was with us, Salman, could read the menu but had no idea what any of it meant. So I just looked up on the wall and pointed at one of the pictures. “That looks good, I think.”
We decided upon the chicken. But I couldn’t just sit there and wait…I had to go into the kitchen and check things out. Small, quaint, and downright tiny is how I would describe it. Thumbtacks on my shoes were a must, due to the thick layer of oil on the floor. On first check, no cockroaches, no other strange insects, no bad smell…what kind of restaurant was this?
The “chef” started by taking a huge plate and covering it with an aromatic rice (cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and pepper). He then went to what I can only describe as a giant steel meat receptacle. It had to have been five feet in diameter, and was filled with random pieces of lamb and chicken. He pulled out a whole chicken, spread it out, and put it on the plate. Hmm…that was easy. But will it give me Cairo Colon?
In an attempt to have a little fun, the “chef” pulled out what I can only guess was a lamb’s head. He did a little hand puppet routine with it; I laughed; he laughed. I spent a good ten seconds trying to figure out if there was any meat on the thing. Perhaps it was for flavour?
The chicken was pretty damn good, and we have enough rice for a week.
Samantha, you, or Saroj, must be cooking up something good. Or eating somewhere nice?
Abner and Blanka...you have a few weeks, but I have great anticipation for what you'll be eating.
Did I miss anyone?
The actual mooncakes
I found the following short history of mooncakes on this Governemnt of Hong Kong website: http://www.info.gov.hk/bspu/ehtml/win_entries/web_99/p201/tin/Mooncakes.htm.
From1280-1368, China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Leaders from the preceding Sung dynasty (A.D.960-1280) were unhappy about foreign rule, and wanted to start a rebellion. The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Mid-Autumn Festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Inside each cake was a message with the outline of the attack. On the night of the Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. What followed was the establishment of the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644). Today, mooncakes are eaten to commemorate this event.
Inside of a non-tradtional Mooncake
Traditionally, mooncakes are made by grinding the Lotus flower into a paste, planting a fermented egg yoke in the middle and encasing the whole thing in some sort of pastry. Today, many substitute ingredients are used, bring new flavours to this yearly treat. It is very common to see ice cream mooncakes, cookies and cream mooncakes etc... The flavour I just tried was not traditional at all, it was green bean paste with a "bird's nest" in the middle. I have no idea what a "bird's nest" is, only that the streets of Hong Kong are filled with Bird's Nest shops, and you are supposed to give them to a women who is pregnant. Anyways, it tasted pretty damn good.
Mooncake madness is in full swing in Hong Kong, Virtually every advertisement you see (which are A LOT here) is for one brand of mooncake or another. All the cake shops in the city have stocked their shelves with mooncakes, and temporary shops and stalls have sprung up all over the city to meet the high demand for these seasonal delicacies. I know I for one cannot wait until October 6, when I plan to take my mooncake and a colourful paper lantern to Victoria Park, Hong Kong and enjoy the full-blown Mid-Autumn festival experience.
Location: A street in Cairo that I have not yet learned the name of
Ingredients: Dough, sausage, tomatoes, pickles, onions
Price: 5 pounds ($1 CDN)
By far the best part of this meal was watching the guy make it. You don't see dough masters like that in too many places, so it was a real treat to witness such glory. He started with a small lump of dough and proceeded to stretch it out using a technique not known to North Americans. Once the dough was of the preferred thickness, he folded it up (shown in the top picture). Next, toppings were supplied in equal, yet fair, proportions. Finally, it went into the gas oven for cooking. The finished product is what you see in the 2nd picture.
A bit greasy, but still good. And filling! There was definitely a sourness I wasn't expecting, but it was splendidly offset by the spice.
Last night it was onto some bread. I've been working at perfecting my bread. Actually I'm new to the bread making adventure and finding it takes practice. I decided to go with a whole wheat oatmeal loaf. Rustic and heavy, perfect for days that are edging on snowing. I worked the dough pouring in my work search frustrations and watched as it rose perfectly. I attempted to keep the loaf softer by using ice cubes in the oven to create some steam for the first 20 min. of baking. This didn't work well. My bread is great but is protected by a bullet proof crust that if thrown would probably break a window. Still got some work to do I guess but with some butter and honey it warms the soul and I almost don't mind that fall has beaten summer to a pulp leaving only winter left to look forward to.
First off I have to say this tasted way better than it looks I just didn't get a picture until it was almost all eaten which I think proves my point.
My peach cobbler was actually supposed to be peach pie. I headed to the farmers market last weekend to catch the tail end of peach season here in Western Canada and picked up a nice bunch of them that still needed a couple of days to ripen. I set them out on the counter and when I check back they had gone crazy and way over ripened. After I cut off the mush I was left with only enough peaches for a cobbler. Personally I find cobblers and crisps a little boring so I was pondering how I could take it up a notch when my mind wandered, as it often does, towards Indian chai. Peaches and ginger are a classic combination as is peaches and cream. Suddenly a light went on and I set to work infusing cream with green cardamom and ginger much as you would when making chai. After a very slow half hour simmer on the stove my thick creamy mixture was ready to be strained onto my peach cobbler. It all went into the oven for a half hour to procreate leaving a creamy mixture with subtle layers of flavor piling up until you can only call it heaven. I mixed the extra peach juice that was left from their soak in sugar and vanilla before baking with a little of my infused cream and reduced it into a thick syrup to top the dish.
The crunch of brown sugar and oatmeal on top of the cobbler was perfect with the warm creamy peaches and the flavor of cardamom and a slight twist of ginger lingered on the palette long after the bowl was empty. Definitely a good way to punch up a cobbler. If you want better recipe style instructions post a comment asking for it and I'll put them up.
Happy Cooking and Eating.
Location: Qingdao, China.
Ingredients: Unidentified fish that I picked from an ice box, corn salad, rice, jasmine tea, Tsingtao beer.
Ahh, the Chinese coast. You could just walk into a restaurant and point at whatever seafood you felt like having (there was indeed a vast array). If it was alive, the chef would whack it over the sink, take it into the kitchen, and then work some magic with the seemingly endless number of sauces. If it was dead, he might still whack it over the sink just to be sure, but the magic would still ensue.
The suace on this particular fish was gorgeous and the flesh just melted away in my mouth. Washing it all down with some locally brewed Tsingtao beer made it that much better.
I have this fascination with taking pictures of every dish that I eat, whether it be in a restaurant or on the street. Why? Because food is one of my primary reasons for going to other countries. I would be happy if all I got from a country was its national cuisine. Sure, the food isn’t always good, but there’s nothing like saying you’ve eaten scorpion on a chilly night in Beijing.
There’s a very good chance that I won’t make it to every single country in the world, so that’s where my travelling, food-loving friends come in. If we all post dishes, recipes, snack items, street food, or whatever, it should make for a nice collection. And, who knows, you might get and idea of what to eat when you go to a particular country.
Now I don’t expect every post to look like the proceeding one, but a picture is always appreciated. Some other information, like the name, country/city, and ingredients should be put in as well, if possible (if you’re not sure what kind of meat you’re eating…guess). A little description of what you thought of the food would also be good.
If you happen to be in your home country and you think the food is relatively boring, don’t worry. Every national cuisine can be considered international because not everyone on this blog is or will be Canadian/German/Chilean/etc.
Oh, and I’m always open to suggestions on how the blog can be made better.