Where it all began: Le Village, Senegalese cuisine in Paris

This blog started almost exactly 15 years ago in November 2007, can you believe it? We really can’t. Eating the World all began over a dinner in Paris in August 2007 where we talked about the international cuisines we had eaten to that point while dining at Au Village, a wonderful Senegalese restaurant in the trendy Oberkampf neighborhood. However, despite this formative experience of having Senegalese food for the first time, we actually never reviewed the restaurant. Perhaps it seemed like it loomed so large in our lore that naturally, we believed a review must have come out of it. Well, 15 years later, we are rectifying the omission.

We haven’t been to Paris since 2011, and when we decided we were returning to Paris this year, we wanted to see if Au Village was still around. Turns out they are still there, going strong, and have renamed themselves as Le Village, at the same address, (86 Parmentier in Paris). The bi-level interior is simple, with wood accents and Senegalese-inspired decor, plus a small bar. They also have a few tables outside, and we were grateful that Parisians aren’t deterred by a slight chill for dining al fresco.

We visited Le Village after 15 years away on a chilly fall day, but were promptly greeted by the ebullient proprietor. To warm up, we ordered 2 pots of tea, classic mint tea, ataya, and a new drink us: quinquéliba, a Senelagese herbal infusion made from the Combretum micranthum shrub. The quinquéliba was woody and herbal, and very refreshing. The menu at Le Village is full of Senegalese and West African classics. For appetizers, you can get fish or shrimp acaras (bean fritters, and a relative of acarajé in Brazil), fried pastries filled with tuna, along with lighter options like avocado puree and crab and tomato salad. Some of the most classic Senegalese main dishes are represented, including Mafé peanut sauce, and the mild mustard-and-onion Yassa sauce. You can pick your choice of protein: beef or chicken, or even veggies. For those who prefer fish, you can try Thieboudienne, fish with red rice, or Firir, a whole fried fish. On weekends, there are special dishes, including Thiebouyapp, a lamb and rice dish.

We ordered beef mafé (top) and chicken yassa, two of our favorite dishes, and those by which we judge any Senegalese restaurant. For an appetizer, we got the fried plantains, alocos. The mafé was rich and delicious, and the yassa was light and delicate. The mafé and yassa were perfect versions of these Senegalese classics, and tasted just as good as they had all those years ago when we tried them for the first time. We didn’t have room for dessert, but there were several intriguing options, including coconut flan, banana flambeé, fresh tropical fruit, and mango tiramisu. The food at Le Village is a greatest hits selection of Senegalese classics, and the service was warm and friendly, making us feel like we were regulars. We loved everything we ordered, and we still feel that Le Village is a great introduction to Senegalese cuisine. There may be dozens (hundreds?) of Senegalese restaurants in Paris, but Le Village will always have a special place in our hearts.

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Gelateria La Sorbettiera: Our favorite gelato in Florence

We consider ourselves something of gelato experts, after many years of American and international experience. When we were in Florence this summer, we had gelato at least once a day, trying samples from all over the city. After four days of trials, we settled upon one gelateria in Florence that was head and shoulders above the rest: Gelateria La Sorbettiera. Gelateria La Sorbettiera’s principal location is at Piazza T. Tasso, 11/r – 50124, a little off the tourist track, on the southern bank of the Arno river, which bisects Florence. The store is blink and you’ll miss it small, only a small walk up counter on the side of a compact but busy city square ringed with shops and restaurants.

Over time, we have developed a few rules to find the best gelato. The absolute best gelato is usually found in stainless steel tins as it is at La Sorbettiera, meaning you cannot see the gelato itself. While perhaps not as visually appealing, this will insure that the gelato is being stored at relatively even and stable temperatures, meaning the texture will be better preserved. There is some good gelato to be found outside tins, but avoid place that have super whipped-up gelato. The more the gelato is piled up, the worse it will probably be, because there is mostly air! Secondly, some flavors will clue you in to the quality of the gelateria. Our go-to favorite flavors – both for taste and assessment – are pistachio and chocolate (both pictured below, along with caramel). Pistachio in particular, lets you know how skillful the gelato-makers are, since there is a vast difference in flavor and colors between the best quality pistachios and poor quality/artificial flavors or colors (bright green color, in particular, is a bad sign).

Both the chocolate and the pistachio at La Sorbettiera are excellent: creamy and smooth with pure flavors and no artificial colors. The fruit flavors in particular were bursting with flavor – a perfect distillation of fresh fruit. Along with our go-tos, La Sorbettiera has some great, more unusual flavors, including chai, cheesecake, coffee cardamom, and fig; along with old favorites like lemon, hazelnut, and cream (fiore di latte). Beyond the pistachio and chocolate, other flavors we liked there were salted caramel, raspberry, and mascarpone. Of course, the flavor offering will vary by day and season. The prices are very reasonable, and a large cup or cone with 3 flavors is only 3 euros. A small cup is only 2 euros, and 50 cents extra for whipped cream. You can also get the Sicilian specialty of gelato in a warm brioche for only 4 euros. Talk about a decadent way to start (or finish) your day. If you are in Florence and are looking for some delicious gelato beloved by tourists and locals alike, take a trip to La Sorbettiera.

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Suzhou-Style Mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival

In China, one of the most emblematic dishes for the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated throughout East Asia, is the mooncake, a beautiful sweet with a thin, chewy skin and a myriad of fillings. However, today we were introduced to an intriguing variety of mooncake unlike any other variety we had seen: Suzhou or “Su” style mooncakes. This style of mooncakes from the city of Suzhou in the Yangtze River Delta has a different kind of “skin,” instead consisting of a shell of undecorated, multi-layered, flaky puff pastry! The filling for Suzhou mooncakes can be either sweet or savory, which is atypical of other mooncakes. To prevent any surprises, a red mark on top often distinguishes the sweet mooncakes from the savory. The version I tried was filled with sweetened squash, nuts and black sesame, though red bean is also typical. If you would like to make your own savory version, Food 52 and the New York Times have versions stuffed with pork, while the Woks of Life has a sweet red bean version.

Sweet Suzhou-style mooncake

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Our favorite Bay Area matcha at Third Culture Bakery

When we were in LA and San Francisco this past month, one of our goals was to find the best Matcha latte in each city (and across both). Matcha is powdered green tea, made from specifically shade-grown tencha tea leaves. At, home we make our own matcha drink every morning using Sugimoto Tea Reserve Mizuki Matcha, however, we are always on the lookout for good tea on our trips. After our searches, we can say hands-down that our favorite matcha stop on our most recent trip was Third Culture Bakery (2701 Eighth St, Berkeley, CA 94710).

Third Culture Bakery is the brainchild of Sam Butarbutar and Wenter Shyu, who wanted to pay homage to their upbringings in Indonesia and Taiwan in the cafe’s flavors. Third Culture has a variety of matcha lattes ($5), and you can get all kinds of add-ins, including caramel and strawberry lychee for and extra 50 cents. My personal favorite was the caramel swirl, seen in front here. There was also an unusual offering – the roasted matcha latte ($5) – which has a tan hue, and a roasted hojicha-like flavor. At Third Culture, they prepare the matcha in a traditional bowl with a whisk, which is one of the tell-tale signs that you are getting a made-from-scratch matcha latte and not a powdered mix. The matcha itself is also very high quality – smooth and not bitter at all – and you can taste the difference in every sip. If you want even finer matcha, you can order a special ceremonial-grade matcha ($7).

For those looking for options other than matcha, there are also cold brew or pour over coffee selections, and even some decaffeinated options like sodas with house-made syrups. The other key offering at Third Culture Bakery are their mochi baked goods (made from sweet michiko rice flour), which have gotten a certain amount of fame in the Bay Area. You can get mochi muffins in flavors like black sesame (pictured in front above), ube, chocolate, and matcha, alongside mochi doughnuts and waffles. We are particularly fond of the mochi muffins, especially the chocolate, and the “original” flavor (seen in back, above), which is lightly scented with pandan and topped with black and white sesame seeds. These mochi treats have a delicious chewy texture, and a savory heft that complemented the sweetness.

The inside of the shop is cute and colorful, with a small selection of merch, and a large kitchen. You can enjoy your treats to go, or sit outside on a row of outdoor seating built into the steps between the store and the sidewalk, which we happily did on a lovely sunny day. We highly recommend Third Culture Bakery, since we have tried a fair number of matcha lattes in the past few years, and this is definitely our favorite so far. We love their mission, style, baked goods, and most importantly, their matcha!

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Where to find Semla in Chicago

When Andersonville’s storied Swedish Bakery closed in 2017, Chicago collectively let our a huge gasp. Where could we get our Swedish treats? In stepped Lost Larson, with their modern take on Scandinavian baked goods. For Lent in Sweden, sampling Semla (plural semlor) pastries is a must, and Lost Larson has their own rendition (seen below). Traditionally, semla are eaten on Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday and also throughout Lent on Tuesdays. Lost Larson’s version has an almond cream filling, chopped almonds, and whipped cream all in a house-made cardamom brioche. Yum! They were fresh and full of almond flavor, definitely the most delicious version we have ever had. The semla at Lost Larson frequently sell out, so it is recommended that you place your orders in advance for pickup on the Lost Larson website (at either location). Plus, their new Wicker Park cafe (2140 W Division St.) is extremely charming, so we recommend that you pop in. If you need any more convincing, Lost Larson also has one of our favorite matcha lattes in Chicago (also seen below).

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Puerto Rican mofongo and more at Cleveland Mofongo

Owing to a large Puerto Rican population in Northeast Ohio, Cleveland actually has some pretty great Puerto Rican food spots. We have tried quite a few, and one of our our favorites is Cleveland Mofongo (11621 Lorain Ave, Cleveland, OH). We have written about mofongo before, and this emblematic dish consists of garlicky, fried mashed plantains (traditionally pounded in a wooden mortar and pestle, called a pilón) with savory fillings. As the name would suggest, the key thing to order when you go is mofongo. I mean, sure, you can order a salad or empanadilla (preferably guava and cheese), but only as accompaniments to the mofongo.

At Cleveland Mofongo, you can get a variety of mofongo fillings including: vegetarian, pork, chicken, shrimp, salmon, steak, bacalao (dried cod), or even surf and turf (prices range from $10-15.50). The mofongo comes with a simple side salad, or you can also substitute rice and beans, or make the whole dish into a rice bowl. So what’s the verdict on the mofongo? We love mofongo, and can be pretty picky about it, and Cleveland Mofongo lives up to the hype. This mofongo is not too dry, or greasy, two common failings, and the fillings are ample. The roast pork is our go-to-and it is flavorful and tender. Cleveland Mofongo has even gotten the stamp of approval from a Boricua who knows a thing or two about mofongo.

But, truth be told, they really do have a pretty large menu in addition to the mofongo: salads, tacos, quesadillas, sweet empanadillas for dessert, and adobo chicken wings are on offer. Plus, if you are into that sort of thing, they also have brunch featuring American staples like french toast and omelettes. Everything we have ordered so far beyond the mofongo, including the appetizer platter with empanadillas (little fried empanadas), tostones (fried, smashed plantain rounds), and yuca are delicious accompaniments, too (pick 4 for $13.50)! There is a new dining room at Cleveland Mofongo, which is usually full, but we have opted for takeout during the pandemic. You have to call in your orders, and sometimes they are so busy that it takes a while to get through. One time, actually, we were not able to get through at all over the course of an hour, so you may have to be a little persistent, or lucky! We are glad they are doing so well, and if you can, give Cleveland Mofongo a try for a little taste of Puerto Rico.

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Celebrating the New Year in Japan with Kagami Mochi

A few years ago in Chicago, our friends shared kagami mochi with us, one of the many traditional foods and decorations used to celebrate the new year in Japan. Kagami mochi, meaning “mirror mochi,” is a two-layered stack of white mochi (pounded rice cakes), topped with a citrus fruit, usually a daidai or mikan. A symbol of the new year for centuries, they are called mirror mochi because they somewhat resemble old copper mirrors, and the double stack is considered auspicious. The kagami mochi may be simple stack, or may sit on wooden stands (sanpō) where they are festooned with paper chains (gohei) and other accoutrements. In Japan you can buy kagami mochi throughout December pretty widely, and you can also find it at some Japanese grocery stores in the US. If you don’t have access to this, you can make your own mochi at home. It is then considered auspicious to then “break” the mochi (kagami biraki) and eat them on January 11th!

Kagami Mochi by Midorisyu

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Soup Joumou for Independence Day and New Year’s in Haiti

Happy New Year! Bòn ane! And if you are in Haiti, Happy Independence Day! January 1st marks Haiti’s independence from France in 1804, as the culmination of the Haitian Revolution. This independence marked not only the end of French rule in Saint-Domingue (precursor to the modern state of Haiti), but also the end of slavery. On January 1st, to mark the sovereign nation of Haiti’s independence, it is traditional to eat Soup Joumou. Soup Joumou is made with calabaza squash, cabbage, potatoes, scotch bonnet peppers, pasta, and beef. So how did this soup become associated with independence? It is said that during the times of French rule, enslaved people were forbidden from eating this soup, however, once the country became free, this restriction was lifted. As a result, after independence, Soup Joumou became associated with freedom, in many senses of the word. The tradition of Soup Joumou lives on over two centuries later, and just a few weeks ago, the soup was given a protected cultural heritage status by UNESCO. The soup is also popular throughout the Haitian diaspora, and filmmaker Dudley Alexis made a documentary on Soup Joumou called “Liberty in a Soup” [trailer below]. Every family’s recipe is slightly different, so here are a few recipe versions from Epicurious, PBS and WLRN South Florida.

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Balkan hurmašice for Christmas

We are always looking for intriguing Christmas recipes, particularly where sweets are concerned, and for our latest holiday treat we turn to the Balkans, an area little visited on our ETW journey. In Bosnia and other neighboring areas, Christmas dessert is synonymous with hurmašice, a small, sweet vanilla and walnut cake soaked in lemon-flavored sugar syrup. These pastries remind us of the Indian Gulab Jamun, or Greek Loukoumades, also little cakes smothered in a sweet syrup. It turns out that hurmašice / hurmašica is similar to (or possibly a descendant of) the Turkish Kalburabastı. One of the signature features of hurmašice is the series of indentations on its top, made by pressing down on the cake with a grater. You can check out recipes from Recipes by Nana, Mediterranean and Me, and SBS to make your own, or if you would like step-by-step help, check out the video from Ingrid in Bosnia below. If you celebrate, we hope your Christmas is full of delicious sweets!

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Arancine for St. Lucia Day in Sicily

December 13 is St. Lucia Day, celebrated in various countries, but perhaps most prominently in Sweden, and Italy, specifically Sicily. In Sicily, the holiday is strongly celebrated in honor of St. Lucia blessing the island with a shipment of wheat after a long famine in the 17th century. Traditionally, the dish eaten on this day in Sicily was cuccia, a sweet or savory boiled wheat berry porridge, which is supposed to be the only form of wheat eaten on the day. However, to current palates, this is perhaps not the most exciting dish. In modern-day Palermo the most popular Saint Lucia food is now arancine! Arancine are delicious deep-fried rice balls filled with cheese and/or meat ragu that are popular year round in Sicily. In Palermo in particular, arancine is eaten with gusto on St. Lucia’s Day, and conveniently these rice-based treats do not contain much wheat (though they are typically breaded). In Palermo, too, the dish is always spelled arancinE in the plural, and arincinA in the singular, as opposed to arancini (pl) and arancino (singular) in Eastern Sicily and in much of Italy. This year we will be making cuccia, but perhaps next year some arancine would be in order.

Arancine at Monteverde Restaurant in Chicago

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Eggs as Street Food in India

Even though it would be unusual in the US, Having an omelette as street food is pretty intuitive, since eggs are cheap, nutritious, tasty, and quick to prepare. Nowhere in the world is the egg-based street food culture as distinctive and varied as in India, and Priya Krishna has a rundown of some of the most iconic egg dishes in India on Bon Appetit. The state of Gujarat, in Northwestern India, is also particularly known for its egg-based dishes. A typical Gujarati egg street food dish from the town of Surat is Anda Ghotala, eggs mixed with tomatoes, garlic and ginger. If you are in the US, Egg o holic restaurant in the Chicago area (along with other locations around the US) specializes in Gujarat’s egg-heavy cuisine.

One type of eggy street food, the bread omelette, is popular throughout India, with endless variations by region. The bread omelette even went viral across the world on Reddit in 2019, introducing it to a large fanbase outside of India. Check out the video to watch a real master at work making bread omelettes at a street stall in Delhi. Elsewhere, in Goa, you may enjoy the local version of the bread omelette, Goan Omelette Poi. We think that the US should start embracing the egg street food culture!

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Pupi di zucchero: Sicilian Treats for Festa dei Morti

November 2nd is the Day of the Dead, a remembrance day for deceased ancestors celebrated around the world. In Sicily, the day is called the “Festa Dei Morti,” and is celebrated with a number of unique, seasonal dishes. Far from being morbid or somber, some of the treats for Festa dei Morti are particularly colorful, including the realistic-looking marzipan fruits known as Frutta Martorana and the even more complex Pupi di Zucchero.

Pupi di zucchero means “sugar puppets” in Italian, and these edible, brightly-colored treats are formed in molds in the shapes of Italian folkloric characters, including knights and dancing girls. The tradition of actual pupi marionettes, particularly in Opera dei Pupi performances, is a major Sicilian art form dating from the 13th Century, and is still visible (in diminished form) throughout the island, particularly in Palermo. The origins of the sugar versions of pupi, and how they came to be associated with the Day of the Dead, are relatively obscure, and various historians place them as having French or Arabic origins. I haven’t ever seen these sugar treats outside of Sicily, so those of us outside of the island will just have to enjoy the visuals!

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Pa Lian: A taste of Burma in Chicagoland

Prior to visiting Pa Lian (254 E Geneva Rd, Wheaton, IL) we had only sampled Burmese cuisine a few times before, and there are no Burmese restaurants in Cleveland, so it had been a while. So when we heard there was a new Burmese restaurant opening up in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, one of only 2 in Illinois, we were really intrigued! Burmese food is a delicious marriage of Southeast and East Asian flavors, with a touch of spices from the Indian subcontinent, a combination that can’t be beat. Pa Lian opened last year and has been introducing the suburbs to Burmese food, while serving a small, local Burmese community. Currently, Pa Lian is takeout-only and you can order online by Grubhub or by phone. The first time we visited Pa Lian was in May, and we ended up taking the food out to eat in a nearby park with a friend, and we were all impressed. Since then, we have been back a few times, and have never been disappointed. The menu at Pa Lian consists of Burmese favorites including a wide array of noodles, salads, and curries over rice, alongside Burmese-style tea and coffee. We are impressed by the variety of the Burmese dishes at Pa Lian, and while the menu isn’t huge, nearly every dish is new to us.

Our favorite dish from Pa Lian so far is Nangyi Dok ($12.50), a complex noodle dish (lower dish in the photo below), consisting of rice udon noodles, which are light and springy, topped with curry chicken, fried onion, carrots, cucumber and hard-boiled egg, and even the unusual topping of chickpea powder. Another standout noodle dish is Shan Noodles ($13.50) thin noodles topped with curried chicken, gai choy (a green leafy vegetable similar to bok choy), fermented black beans, peanuts and sesame (top dish in the photo below). In each of these noodle dishes, the combination of the springy noodles with the piquant curried chicken, vegetables, and fermented elements make for a surprisingly complex and delicious combination.

Perhaps the most famous Burmese dish is Tea Leaf Salad ($13.50, pictured in top photo), also known as lahpet, and we love Pa Lian’s rendition. This is a dish that is unlike anything else you can get in other countries, and involves fermented tea leaves topped with fava and yellow beans, peanuts, sesame seeds, tomatoes, cabbage and lime. This salad is tangy and refreshing, and the fermented flavors make for an extremely interesting flavor profile. The tea leaf salad is completely vegan, and vegans and gluten-free diners will find many options at Pa Lian. The papaya salad ($15.99) with the unique addition of Thai eggplants, is another favorite salad, bright and tangy. Along with tea leaf salad, another Burmese national dish at Pa Lian is Moh-Hin-Gar ($12.50) a spicy soup with thin rice vermicelli in catfish broth, topped with boiled egg, lime, cilantro, and crispy lentils. This warming dish is perfect for a chilly day, but we even enjoyed it in the 80-degree heat.

We are intrigued by Pa Lian’s comprehensive Burmese menu and are looking forward to trying some of the other dishes including Pe-Eih-Kyar-Kwe ($5.99) Burmese fried bread with vatana (cooked yellow peas) and the goat and split pea ginger curry ($17.99) Pa Lian’s dishes are a combination of salty, sweet, sour, tangy and spicy, and we are absolutely hooked. Be sure to visit Pa Lian when you are in Chicago’s western suburbs, you won’t regret it! Plus, if you are in the market for Burmese groceries you can also visit Papa Win (1730 E Roosevelt Rd, Wheaton, IL), a small Burmese grocery store nearby.

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Koulou’s Marketplace: A new African Grocery Store in Cleveland

We are happy to report that there is a new pan-African grocery store in Cleveland, Koulou’s Marketplace, which opened in 2020 in the Ohio City neighborhood (4700 Bridge Ave., Cleveland OH 44102). You can find dry, frozen and fresh foods from all across Africa at Koulou’s, alongside an assortment of American, European and Middle Eastern goods. The shop is run by Siba and Kolou Beavogui a Liberian/Senegalese couple who usually preside over the shop’s daily operation.

Koulou’s is a relatively small store with a few rows of dry goods, fresh vegetables in the back of the store, and a particularly exhaustive frozen goods section: including hard-to-find Egyptian molokhia leaves and Nigerian ugu leaves. Though there is a focus on African goods, the selection is wide-ranging: we went in looking for a few specific items that we figured would likely be available: fufu (fermented cassava) and palm oil. Not only did we find those items, we ended up getting a ton more interesting stuff, which is really to best part of visiting any grocery store. Fortunately, Koulou’s is very organized and easy to navigate, making browsing easy.

On our latest visit, we bought a bag of Cameroonian groundnut sweets (nuts covered in caramelized sugar), one of the most popular street snacks in Cameroon (groundnuts are related to, but distinct from peanuts) to snack on at the beach. Other recent finds include the incredibly umami Shito pepper sauce from Ghana (which M now puts on everything), and Hawaij spice seasoning, a East African spice mix we plan to utilize when making recipes from In Bibi’s Kitchen. Among the other ingredients we spied were Egusi seeds – from a gourd- used to make the iconic Nigerian dish, Egusi stew, giant bags of cassava flour and rice, various types of tahini, international canned beans, teas from around the world, and bulk spices. We are excited to visit Koulou’s again soon and unearth some more treasures.

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The Best Pastel de Nata in Newark

When we drove to New York last month, our route took us through Newark. Newark has a very large Portuguese community, and as a result, has some of the highest per capita availability of Pasteis de Nata (in our estimation). The Ironbound neighborhood, in particular, is a stronghold of Portuguese identity, and is home to dozens of bakeries serving these Portuguese cream tarts. While traveling in and out of Newark, we were able to sample a variety of local bakeries, from the under-the-radar, to the more well-known. As with our previous Pastel de Nata ratings we assessed the pasteis on the texture and consistency of the filling, the flakiness of the crust, the value, and of course, the overall flavor.

Among those pasteis de nata sampled in Newark, the clear winner was Canela (180 Wilson Avenue, Newark, NJ). When we sat down at Canela, they were out of pasteis, and cooked us up a fresh batch from scratch. The name of the bakery means “cinnamon” in Portuguese, and the tarts are given a customary dusting of cinnamon when fresh out of the oven. It is not advisable to eat pasteis de nata piping hot, so we let them cool down a little bit before tasting. Though perhaps a little bit deeper than those we have eaten in Lisbon, the crust was flaky and solid, the cream was smooth and flavorful, and the nata boasted a nicely broiled top. All of the elements added up to more than the sum of their parts, the true test of a successful pastel de nata. These were some superlative pasteis, and we had to struggle in order to not eat all of our pastel haul at once.

On the second time we visited Canela, we chatted with the proprietor who said that he himself once worked at Pasteis de Belem, perhaps the most famous purveyor of pasteis de nata, located just outside of Lisbon. However we found that Canela’s were much better! And the quality was no fluke, Canela’s offering were just as good the second time around. There are other pastries, coffee, and salty snacks (salgadinhos in Portuguese) available at Canela, including coixnhas, however we were so enchanted with the Pasteis de Nata that we didn’t even sample anything else. Canela is cash only so make sure you are prepared in advance, and the pasteis will only set you back $1.75 apiece. Trust us, it will be worth the trip: this was definitely one of the best pasteis de nata we have ever had in America!

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Eating the World at the Queens Night Market

We were lucky enough to visit the Queens Night Market when we went to New York this July, our first trip outside of the Midwest since October 2019 (when we last visited New York, incidentally). The 100% outdoors Night Market is held weekly on Saturdays at Flushing Meadows Park, next to the New York Hall of Science (site of both the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s Fairs). You can purchase $5 tickets in advance for admission at any time during the night (currently 6 to midnight). The Fair is slated to run until October this year, though it would be wise to check for updates.

Visually, the Queens Night Market looks like your typical outdoor food fair, with several rows of tented booths and signs advertising their wares. However, the type of food on offer was nothing like the average food festival, and we were absolutely floored by the scope and variety. The restaurants and catering companies featured were selected for their international flavors, and dozens of countries were represented on the night we visited, from Belize to Burma. We were most pleased that we got two new countries under our belt in one shot: Sudan and Antigua & Barbuda. Each booth had a short menu of offerings, most ranging from $5 to $10, making it one of the most reasonable eating options in NYC.

The Sudanese booth – Sambuxa NYC – had a truncated menu featuring meat and vegetable sambuxas, lending their name to the restaurant. Sambuxas are the East African cousins of Indian samosas, deep-fried phyllo dough pockets full of savory fillings, brought to Sudan through trans-Indian Ocean migration. These surprisingly-light, tasty morsels came served with two sauces: yogurt and garlic.

The Antiguan & Barbudian booth, La’Maoli had a large variety of dishes representing the small island nation. The codfish fritters, rum bread pudding, and blood sausage all looked enticing, but we settled on the ducuna and saltfish, which was was billed as one of the national dishes of Antigua & Barbuda. Ducuna is made with sweet potato and is something akin to a slightly-sweet Caribbean take on a tamal. Along with the ducuna and saltfish was a generous helping of sauteed greens and veggies, also known as chop-up. The key to this super-flavorful dish was getting each of the components together in one bite, the resulting combo was an explosion of sweet, salty, and savory tastes.

Bangladesh was well-represented at Jhal NYC, where we sampled Jhal Muri, a puffed rice snack mix filled with contrasting salty, tart and spicy flavors. However, our absolute favorite dish of the night was the classic Peruvian ceviche from Don Ceviche. We couldn’t believe the price: a made-to-order, restaurant-sized amount of high-quality ceviche for just $6! This was a delectable dish with tender fish, a citrus-filled tiger’s milk marinade, all topped with the requisite accoutrements of sweet potato, onions, and choclo (XL dried corn kernels).

There were a variety of sweet options at the Night Market as well, which as you know is one of our weaknesses. We loved Moon Man‘s avant-garde Southeast Asian sweets. We sampled an enticingly-green steamed pandan cake that had a light, citrus-forward flavor. Moon Man was also selling jarred versions of some of their wares, including their pandan, ube and original Kaya Jam. Another surprise for us were the hard-to-find-in-the-US pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) from Joey Bat’s Cafe. Even in the inhospitable format of an open-air booth, these tarts were delicious! For those seeking a cooler treats, bubble tea and Filipino Halo-Halo were also on offer.

The best part of the night market was that, in a single place, you could sample dishes from around the world for a shockingly reasonable price. We enjoyed trying old favorites and new-to-us dishes, and our group was happy with the variety, including the ample options for vegans and vegetarians. Granted, some of the more popular booths had lines, which only grew as the night went on, but they moved relatively fast. Towards the end of the night we were getting pretty full, and therefore were not able to sample everything, including the two most popular booths: Treat Yourself Jerk Chicken and Gi Hin Mama Food (Squid & Lamb Skewers).

If you are planning to visit the Queens Night Market, we recommend perusing the list of vendors in advance so you can note which ones will be must-dos. The vendors also appear to change from week to week, so some of my picks may not be there when you visit, though many vendors also have physical locations scattered throughout the city. It is also worth it to check out the line-up of live entertainment, when we were there we enjoyed the all-female Brazilian samba drumming group Batalá. If you won’t be in NYC and are looking for a taste of the Queens Night Market they even have a recipe book featuring some recipes from the Night Market, The World Eats Here. We hope to visit again next year!

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Superior Al Pastor at Taqueria Chingón

You may know by now, if you a frequent reader of the blog, that we are always on the hunt for the best tacos al pastor, near and far. And in Chicago, we may have found a new top contender in Taqueria Chingón (2234 N Western Ave Chicago, IL 60647). Taqueria Chingón is a counter-serve pickup or takeout spot, and we particularly liked their nice outdoor space, especially in these Covid-stricken times. We arrived on a weekday right after they opened at noon, and there was already a small line forming, a good sign of things to come.

The menu at Taqueria Chingón is limited: tacos, appetizers (quesadillas, ceviche), plus a few sides (nopal, frijoles) and desserts (churros, flan). For tacos, there is a full range, from the classic beef asada and chorizo alongside some more esoteric options like duck carnitas and vegetarian al pastor, made with mushrooms. All of the tacos are $4-6 dollars, which is a little steep for tacos, but hear us out, for a change, it is actually worth it!

The al pastor tacos ($5) are a thing of beauty, and they contain all of the factors we think one needs in a perfect taco. First, the homemade tortillas are pliable, and thick enough to handle the fillings, but not too chewy. Second, to creat the tacos, juicy pork is shaved right off of a spit (trompo) with a nice charred bark. Usually, al pastor tacos are pre-cut from a trompo and finished on a flattop, or never on a trompo to start with, but we think it makes all the difference. Finally, the taco has to have some pineapple on top, alongside the traditional onion and cilantro topping. A good al pastor taco is more than the sum of its parts, and Taqueria Chingón certainly delivered on every part. We enjoyed these tacos so much that we even went back to get another. Not wanting to give the other tacos on the menu short shrift, we also tried the cochinita pibil: stewed Yucatecan pork, which was spicy and flavorful.

Overall, Taqueria Chingón was a stunner, and everything we tried was at the highest level. It reminded us of taquerias in Mexico City: high marks for both style and substance, which was the goal of the owners. Taqueria Chingón is definitely going into our Chicago taqueria rotation and we recommend you visit if you get the chance.

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Filipino Specialties at Nipa Hut

Though Cleveland is much smaller than Chicago, we are always heartened to see how much diversity is really tucked away in the city and surrounding area’s restaurants. We had a craving for Filipino food recently, and were happy to find that there were actually two Filipino options in the Parma area: Nipa Hut (6775 W 130th St, Parma Heights, OH) and Mely’s Kainan (5382 State Road, Cleveland, OH 44134). We were craving Halo-Halo (pictured below), so we opted for Nipa Hut, since we saw it featured prominently on the menu (very scientific, I know).

Nipa Hut is primarily a grocery store, but also with a separate seating area to dine in, but it did not appear to be open when we went. Instead, during our Covid-era visit the only option was to pick up food from their ready made take-out selection. However, this restriction was not too big of a deal since the take-out section actually consisted a large number of refrigerated items, as you can see below. From these we selected: pancit bihon ($7.95), chicken afritada ($9.95), Laing (taro leaves in coconut milk), and we finished up with pickled papaya salad. Other options included chicken adobo (soy and vinegar marinaded chicken with thousands or variations), menudo (pork stew, different than the Latin American menudo, a tripe stew), fried sardines, palabok (noodles in a shrimp sauce) and kare-kare (peanut curry stew). We brought home our choices to reheat in the oven, and overall they held up very nicely. We were really surprised by the Laing, which we had never tried before – it was both tangy and creamy, with a nice shrimp paste kick – all complementing the slightly chewy, toothsome taro leaves. The pancit, a rice noodle dish, is one of our go-tos because its mix of stir-fried meat and veggies is so comforting (in this case chicken and bell peppers). The chicken afritada, a homey stew with a delightful savory sauce of tomatoes and spice, was surprisingly complex, and the chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender.

And now for dessert, which for us, was the main event. We ordered a halo-halo ($6.99) to go for each of us (and who wants to share?), which we enjoyed in the car before it melted. This dessert was made to order, and not available in the takeout counter. Halo-halo is a frozen Filipino sundae-like dish that means “mix mix” in Tagalog, and it is an idiosyncratic combination of lots of different sweet delicacies all contained in a single cup. No two places make it the same, though there are often common elements, like ube ice cream and jellied fruit. Our Halo-Halo contained: puffed rice, a scoop of ube ice cream, a slice of flan, shaved ice, condensed milk, jackfruit pieces, chickpeas (!) and bright-green pandan jelly. The beauty of halo-halo is that the combination of elements is more than the sum of its parts, trust us!

Nipa Hut was also connected to a sizable grocery store filled with any sort of Filipino grocery your heart could desire. We were also extremely intrigued by the large selection of ube frozen treats, including a frozen ube pie, which we really regretted not buying. Within the aisles of Nipa Hut, there was a staggering assortment of Filipino sauces, canned goods, and treats, and a selection of jellied fruits to make your own halo-halo! There were also more esoteric inclusions tucked away, including balut, a fertilized chicken egg. We highly recommend Nipa Hut if you are in search for Filipino ingredients, hearty comfort food, or even a little halo-halo as a treat.

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Celebrating the Bengali New Year – Pahela Baishakh

BangladeshApril 14 or 15 is celebrated as Pahela_Baishakh (also spelled Pohela/Poila Boishakh), the start of the New Year in Bangladesh (April 14) and across some eastern Indian states (April 15) with significant Bengali populations. Pahela Baishakh is traditionally celebrated with large processions with floats (especially in Dhaka), but in both 2020 and 2021, Covid has sent the merriment and public celebrations indoors. However, you can still use the occasion of Pahela Baishakh to make a Bangladeshi feast. One of the most iconic dishes for New Year is panta ilish, a dish of soaked rice (panta bhat) and fried “Hilsa Herring”/ilish fish. If you want a bit more inspiration for a complete feast, you can find entire Pahela Baishakh menus on Whisk Affair, India Today, and With a Spin.

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Crescia al Formaggio: Italian cheese bread for Easter

We are very familiar with sweet carb-y options on the Italian Easter table including the colomba, marzipan lambs, and pastiera. However, we are excited to learn about some more savory Easter dishes popular in Italy. In Central Italy, one version of this Easter bread goes by many names including Pizza di Pascua, Crescia di Pasqua, and Crescia al Formaggio. Crescia al Formaggio (as it is known in the Marche region, literally translating to cheese growing/rising) is a leavened, dome-shaped bread filled with an assortment of cheeses, including Parmesan. This bread is traditionally baked on Good Friday, and is then eaten on Easter, especially with a side of charcuterie. While we might not have enough room to make this cheesy bread this Easter, we think it sounds like a delicious treat year-round. Check out recipes from King Arthur, Our Italian Table, MA Kitchen, and She Loves Biscotti.

Pizza di Pascua By Germana Caranzetti

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