Between the two of us, M has the stronger love of pumpkin spice, and every Fall he has to get his fill of this seasonal flavor. What Americans now call pumpkin spice – a variable mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove – is similar to many spice blends around the world, and we just learned of another international pumpkin spice cousin: Neapolitan Pisto (Italian Wikipedia). The key ingredients of the Pisto spice blend are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, and coriander. Pisto is a key component of the popular Roccoco and Mostaccioli (below) cookies, which are eaten around the Christmas holidays. Mostaccioli [recipe] are diamond-shaped spicy cookies coated in chocolate, and Roccoco [recipe] are ring shaped with candied fruit. Other Neapolitan holiday cookies like susamielli use Pisto as a major component. You can buy pre-blended Pisto in Naples, but we have never seen it for sale in the US. Fortunately, you can find recipes online like this one from SBS / Italian Street Food.
Today marks the start of the Hindu celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights. The holiday is celebrated throughout India and the Indian diaspora, usually with festive foods and a variety of small sweet treats, called Mithai. However we were interested to learn that a popular alternative to Mithai in India is chocolate, and Cadbury chocolate in particular. Writing for the New York Times, Priya Krishna describes the long-seated dominance of Cadbury, a British confectioner now owned by the multinational brand Mondelez, and their sweet milk chocolate “Dairy Milk” bars, in India. The company first got its foothold in India during British colonization, and it is still the main player in the Indian chocolate market. While many other food categories are dominated by local companies, Cadbury has only been growing in recent years. While Cadbury may still be synonymous with chocolate in India, Krishna describes a small handful of artisan Indian and Indian-American chocolatiers are trying to beat the company’s monopoly in India and the diaspora with their innovative small-batch chocolates.
In Italian Cuisine, there are many special treats to commemorate Day of the Dead / All Souls’ Day / Commemorazione dei defunti on November 2nd. However, most of these are sweet – called in Italian “sweets of the dead” or i dolci dei morti – including pan dei morti, torrone dei morti, Frutti di Martorana, and ossi dei morti! Shockingly, from time to time, even the Eaters are in the mood for something a bit more savory. For that craving, we turn to the far northern Italian region of Lombardy, which celebrates Day of the Dead with Minestra dei Morti, or “Soup of the Dead.” This is a humble pork broth soup served with vegetables and chickpeas, typical of cucina povera or “peasant cuisine” meant to make humble ingredients stretch. The legumes, strangely enough also have connecttions with the dead, being linked with funeral rites and offerings for the dead since antiquity. Typically this recipe was made with a whole pigs head, coinciding with the typical season of the hog slaughter, though you can go for a more standard cut of pork nowadays. We plan to make the recipe from Memorie di Angelina this November 2nd.
Sokolowski’s University Inn (1201 University Rd. Cleveland, OH 44113) is pretty much the definition of a Cleveland classic. The restaurant opened in 1923 and was Cleveland’s oldest family-owned and -operated restaurant. However, that run might be over soon. Due to a combination of personal issues and the threat of Covid, the third-generation owners decided now was the right time to get out of the business, and the building is now for sale. Tremont, the neighborhood where Sokolowski’s sits, is rapidly gentrifying, so the land alone would surely earn a pretty penny.
We visited Sokolowski’s right before we left for Chicago for the year, and we are glad we got to experience this stalwart in its full glory before it closed, pre-Covid. Sokolowski’s bread and butter was its cafeteria line, at which you could grab classic Polish and Eastern European dishes to make yourself a tasty and reasonably-priced meal. Typical fare included kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, pierogi, and chicken paprikash. Other American (meatloaf, Salisbury steak) and Italian (chicken piccata, eggplant parm) dishes were also on offer, along with a smattering of veggies and desserts. The restaurant itself was something of time capsule, filled with dark wood, knickknacks, and religious paraphernalia. The restaurant also boasted an enviable view of Cleveland and the Cuyahoga River from high atop a hill.
Going to Sokolowski’s is a right of passage for every Clevelander, and it even won a James Beard award as an “American Classic” in 2014. Sokolowski’s definitely represented the Cleveland of another era, and was one of the last of the old-style Eastern European restaurants hanging on. With the recent(ish) closure of the Slovenian restaurant Searle’s Country House in 2017, the closing of Sokolowski’s marks the end of a culinary era for Cleveland.
I came across this intriguing bit of ephemera in a scrapbook dating to the 1930s, and I became curious about its origin. Turns out this “Optimist’s Creed” is a longstanding advertising campaign of Mayflower Donuts. It seems equally at home in the Great Depression as it does in 2020, doesn’t it? Mayflower Donuts was founded by Doughnut impresario Adolph Levitt in New York in 1931, and eventually blossomed into a chain of Mayflower Doughnut shops across the US. Levitt had previously invented an automatic doughnut fryer, which he sold to other doughnut shops around the US, eventually opening up his own Mayflower chain. Mayflower featured prominently at World’s Fairs throughout the 1930s, including Chicago in 1933-4 and New York in 1939-40, as the company tried to drum up publicity. You can see the Optimist’s Creed hung on the wall of a Chicago Mayflower shop circa 1949, from Calumet 412. Despite its former popularity, as of this writing in 2020, the Mayflower chain seems to have disappeared. If you are a fan of the Optimists’ Creed you can buy a mug or print from Vintage Menu Art.
Chengdu Impression (2545 N Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614) is one of the places we could have sworn we have already written about. When we were back in Chicago, it was one of our go-to spots to take friends craving Chinese cuisine. In the past few years, the number of options for regional Chinese in Chicago has really exploded, and we are so happy about it. Sichuan food – known for its spiciness, both in terms of heat and the unique numbing effect of the Sichuan pepper – in particular is now available at several restaurants throughout Chicago, and Chengdu Impression is a standout. Since the restaurant opened several years ago we have been there at least 5 times (and maybe more), which is saying something, since we are usually on the hunt for something new.
The Chengdu Impression menu includes both Americanized Chinese favorites (orange chicken and General Tso’s) along with a section of Sichuan dishes. We never tried ordering the American Chinese dishes, choosing to stick to the Sichuan side of the menu, but we assume they are good, too! Over the course of our many visits we started to settle on some favorites. First up is a classic dish, the mapo tofu ($13.50, above) tofu cooked in a spicy sauce with the signature numbing Sichuan peppercorns. The version of this dish at Chengdu Impression is our favorite in the city. We also like to start off with a small appetizer portion of Dan Dan Noodles (spicy noodles in a Sichuan peppercorn sauce, below). Another one of our favorites was the dry chili chicken ($14.50), breaded chicken pieces with a mix of chilies, which we have had at other Sichuan restaurants, but we love Chengdu Impression’s version because there is not too much superfluous breading, and still a nice amount of spice. A dish that was new to us was “Ants Climbing a Tree” aka Ma Yi Shang Shu ($13.95), a savory dish with vermicelli glass noodles, ground pork and a spicy sauce. For those looking for something different, a great vegetarian option is the YuShiang eggplant ($12.95) sauteed with sweet and sour sauce (you can also get YuShiang dishes prepared with meat).
The Sichuan dishes at Chengdu Impression are fresh and authentic, with generous portions. On one or our trips we even with with someone who had lived in Chengdu, and he was pretty impressed. We absolutely loved trying a new Sichuan dish every time we visited, and we can’t wait to be back in town so we can continue to work our way through the menu. Fortunately, the restaurant is still open, as of September 2020, for takeout. And if you are going to the iconic Chicago Blues Club, Kingston Mines, in the future, Chengdu Impression is literally the perfect place to eat, right across the street.
Today marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a day of renewal, celebration, and of course food! Honey-based or dipped foods are also a culinary tradition on this day, with the thought that they will usher in, and symbolize, a sweet new year. Searching for some Rosh Hashanah inspiration, we came across Jewish Food Society, a site that covers a diverse variety of Jewish foods from across the diaspora. We love that the site includes all of the different roots (and routes) the recipe went through to reach its current form, in the case of the Texan honey cake, a peripatetic path of Białystok, Poland > Manhattan > Houston. We were delighted to see an entire comprehensive Persian Rosh Hashanah menu on the site. The dishes, shared by Israeli cookbook author Rottem Lieberson, had the route of Tehran, Iran > Sha’ar Haliyah (near Haifa), Israel > Jerusalem > Tel Aviv. We are seriously tempted by Lieberson’s recipes including Fried Eggplant with Mint Vinaigrette, Rice with Barberries, Saffron and Potato Tahdig (seen below), and Toot (Persian Marzipan). Check out the Jewish Food Society’s impressive list of posts to discover more family recipes with roots from around the world.
One of the most emblematic foods of the First Nations in Canada is Bannock, a type of flatbread made with wheat flour, lard, baking powder and sugar. Versions of Bannock are found on both sides of the Atlantic, though the version in Canada may not be related to the Scottish version, and may predate it. Different Nations make their own versions and it is closely related to Fry Bread in the US. Check out this recipe from Eat Drink Breathe which has been adapted from Chef Andrew George Jr.’s book Modern Native Feasts. In the video below, Jean Cunningham from Alberta shows us how to make Cree Bannock.
Though Bannock is a traditional food for First Nations Canadians, new versions are being re-imagined in the 21st Century. You can find Bannock at restaurants at Indigenous-run restaurants in Canada, including Kekuli in British Columbia, which has several locations. We were delighted to learn about the recent appearance of Bannock doughnuts at new First Nation-owned café owned by the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation in Prince George, British Columbia.
September 7th is an important day in Brazil: it is both Brazilian Independence Day and a festival day for Yemanjá, the goddess of the sea in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé. It is traditional to serve white foods for Yemanjá, including creams, hominy-like canjica, and rice pudding (info link in Portuguese). One popular dish for Yemanjá is Manjar Branco / Manjar de Coco (coconut pudding, not to be confused with Peru’s Manjar Blanco, which is similar to Dulce de Leche). This Brazilian flan-like cream is flavored with coconut milk, and is super simple to make. Similar starch-thickened cream dessert dishes are found in Middle Eastern and European cuisines, including French Blancmange. In Brazil, Manjar Branco is traditionally served with a plum sauce, as you can see below. Check out Manjar Branco recipes from Olivia’s Cuisine, Mani Snacks, Ricardo Cuisine and Sabor Brasil. In addition to its presence at celebrations honoring Yemanjá, Manjar Branco is a popular dish to ring in the New Year! Odoìyá Yemanjá!
The transatlantic connection between Akara and Acarajé, bean fritters from Nigeria and Brazil respectively, is unmistakable. I wrote about this connection in 2014, noting the research of Nigerian food scholar Ozoz Sokoh at the time. I was really excited to see a short film on this topic by Sokoh, where she cooks both of these dishes. Seeing each being made really visually illustrates the unmistakable connection between these two Transatlantic dishes.
Today, August 21, is Statehood Day in Hawaii, which represents the anniversary of when Hawaiians voted by referendum for US statehood in 1959. To celebrate today, we are going to explore one of the most iconic treats from post-statehood Hawaii, guava chiffon cake. This dessert was created by Herbert Matsuba at Dee Lite Bakery in Honolulu in the 1960s, and has remained an island favorite ever since. The cake has spread with the Hawaiian diaspora, and is also popular in the California Bay Area, especially the classic guava cake from Aki’s Bakery (also sadly now closed). The traditional Hawaiian guava chiffon cake is bright pink from guava puree, and is topped with a guava jelly. The original Dee Lite bakery was bought out by Saint-Germain Bakery in 1990, which unfortunately closed in 2018. Here is a recipe from the Honolulu Advertiser, which aims to replicate the original Dee Lite recipe, as does this Guava Rose recipe. The New York Times shares a version adapted from Alana Kysar’s book “Aloha Kitchen: Recipes From Hawai‘i.” While we can’t go on a trip to Hawaii anytime soon, this may be the next best thing!
August 15, Ferragosto, is a national holiday in Italy, and one of the biggest events of the year. It originally was celebrated in Roman times as Feriae Augusti, the festival of emperor Augustus, however it was later syncretized with the Catholic holiday of the Assumption of Mary and moved to August 15. It is a day of food and fun, and also marks the peak of summer vacation for many Italians (and the closing of all of the shops for at least 2 weeks). Each region of Italy has different specialties for Ferragosoto. Watermelon is popular as a refreshing treat throughout the country, but particularly in Sicily, where it is used for the Ferragosto specialty Gelo di mellone (in Sicilian dialect: gelu di muluna/miluni). Gelo di Mellone is an iced watermelon dessert, similar to granita, but thickened with cornstarch. Traditional toppings include pistachios, chocolate shavings, and sometimes jasmine blossoms. It doesn’t seem very hard to make, and there is no special equipment needed. Check out these recipes from Food Nouveau, Italy Magazine and Memorie di Angelina. We are entering the dog days of summer here, and we think we may make some this weekend!
In our last CSA box we unexpectedly got some late-season rhubarb, which led us to think of more unusual ways in which to use it than our first instinct, pie. Globally, rhubarb is popular in Scandinavia, especially Norway and among Norwegian-Americans. Rhubarb entered Norway in the 18th century as a decorative plant, but made its way into the kitchen by the 1800s. It was also able to flourish in the harsh Norwegian climate, which added to its popularity. An iconic Norwegian recipe is for Rabarbrakake, or rhubarb cake, a simple cake filled with rhubarb and topped with almonds. Here is a recipe for Rabarbrakake from North Wild Kitchen (pictured below), and you can find other versions from Ramshackle Pantry and Outside Oslo.
We recently saw a Munchies video on Vice about the lone Dungan restaurant in NYC, Lagman House (2612 E 14th St, Brooklyn, NY 11235), and quickly added it to our list of places to visit when we can travel again. The Dungan people are descendants of Muslim Hui Chinese who migrated to Central Asia over the course of centuries, and are now most commonly living in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. NYC’s Lagnam House is the only restaurant serving Dungan cuisine in the US, and is located in the neighborhood of Brighton Beach, which is heavily populated with immigrants from the former USSR. The family running this restaurant, the Azimovs, immigrated from the town of Zhalpaktobe in southern Kazakhstan in 2012, and family members act as cooks and servers.
The cuisine of the Dungan is imprinted by all of the different threads influencing the Dungan culture: Chinese, Islamic, Soviet and Central Asian. The signature dish is Lagman, hand pulled noodles (known as La mian in China) topped with beef, from which the restaurant gets its name. Handmade noodles are the stars of many of the dishes including Dappan Ji, noodles with fried chicken and peppers, and Ash lan fin, cold noodles with vegetables, bean jelly and eggs. The Central Asian and Russian influence can be seen clearly seen in dishes like Dungan samsa, pastries filled with beef and onion, and beshbarmak, a beef and noodle soup. Fortunately, you can still order from Lagman House on Seamless during the epidemic.
We recently put in an order for tea from one of our favorite Chicago purveyors, Rare Tea Cellar, and one of their varieties is Sicilian Wild Flower Chai, featuring the the flavor “Fiori di Sicilia,” which literally means “Flowers of Sicily.” We were intrigued, so we took a chance (and it turns out we love the tea)! We looked up the extract, and it is not from any Sicilian flower per se, but is actually a combination of citrus and vanilla extracts. You can buy Fiori di Sicilia from King Arthur, or a variety of online sources. Food 52 has a cookie recipe that calls for Fiori di Sicilia, and it can be easily substituted for vanilla extract in most sweet recipes. If you are feeling especially DIY, An Edible Mosaic has a recipe to make your own Fiori di Sicilia extract. A similar flavoring is called Panettone Extract, which combines both vanilla and citrus flavors, along with some additional spices. This variety is also especially popular in Brasil, where it is known as Essência de panetone.
When we were in Egypt in October 2018 (has it really been that long)? We took a food tour in Cairo with Bellies En-Route, led by Mia. Eating our way through Cairo with experts was definitely one of the highlights of our trip, and you can read the summary of our tour here. When we learned that the Bellies team had released their first cookbook, Table to Table, this year, we knew we had to get a (virtual) copy. We love making cuisine from all of our travels, so we were delighted to see that the Bellies had highlighted some of the dishes that we had sampled on the Cairo food tour, particularly the Macarona Béchamel, which is an Egyptian cousin to macaroni and cheese. Along with recipes, the book is really well-designed, and contains a heaping helping of cultural insights that you would not normally see in a cookbook.
All in all, you receive 16 recipes including including 2 soups, 3 appetizers, 8 mains, and 3 desserts. We are particularly looking forward to making the lentil soup (shorbet ads), the potato & chicken casserole (seneyet batates bel ferakh), moussaka, and the basbousa, a classic semolina-based dessert that we tried for the first time on our tour (pictured among other desserts on our tour below). All of the recipes are handed down from family members, which makes them extra special. With the uncertain Covid-19 situation, runnign a food tour business is precarious, so go and help out these amazing entrepreneurs. You can buy the Table to Table eCookbook, which comes as a handy PDF download (or a file to send to a Kindle). from Gumroad here for $16.99. Follow Bellies En-Route on Instagram to learn about their latest adventures.
We have been cooking our way around the world during quarantine, since we can’t go anywhere. So far, it has been helping our quell our wanderlust a little bit. A few weeks ago we tried to make Adobo, the de facto national dish of the Philippines. Chicken Adobo can be made a thousand different ways, but generally has a vinegary sauce base. Chef Angela Dimayuga shared her family’s recipe which includes soy sauce, garlic, and three types of coconut: coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut vinegar. You can find the recipe here on New York Times Food. This dish was super easy to make, and was deliciously savory and tangy. We especially loved the spicy pop of the whole peppercorns. This would be the perfect dish for entertaining (someday).
Kopitiam (151 East Broadway, New York, NY 10002) has been on our radar for a while. When we visited Singapore and Malaysia we were first introduced to Nyonya (also known as Peranakan) cuisine, which is a mix of the Chinese and Malaysian cultures that settled in the region. Since then, we have been on the lookout for this delicious cuisine stateside. Kopitiams are traditional coffeehouses/eateries found throughout Malaysia (the name comes from the Malay word for “coffee” and the Hokkien word for “shop”), and the NYC restaurant is a modern take on this restaurant genre. Kopitiam is inspired by the Nyonya heritage of chef/co-owner and James Beard Semifinalist Kyo Pang. The restaurant is co-owned by chef Moonlynn Tsai.
We were lucky enough to visit Kopitiam last year with a friend, so we were able to sample a wide variety of dishes in simpler times. Fortunately, Kopitiam is still open for carryout during Covid. As a result, the menu is more limited, but many of the favorites we tried last year are still there. Under normal circumstances, Kopitiam is a quick-service restaurant, no reservations accepted.
Kopitiam serves breakfast all day, featuring some iconic favorites including iconic kaya butter toast ($5) slathered with kaya (pandan coconut jam) and butter. This is one dish we are sorry we missed, and we hear it is amazing. Also available for breakfast is nasi lemak, which is perfect for any time of day ($9). The components of nasi lemak are coconut rice, egg, cucumber, and crispy anchovies, all topped with homemade sambal sauce, and it is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
True to its coffeehouse moniker, Kopitiam serves several varieties of coffee and black tea, hot and iced, and served with and without condensed milk. One of the most famous drinks is the teh tarik (seen above), tea foamed with condensed milk. There were other non-caffeinated options like Bandung ($4.5, the pink drink above) made with condensed milk and rose cordial syrup, or if you want a throwback taste of childhood, you can order Horlicks or Milo ($3.75) malted milk drinks.
We ordered two chicken dishes, which served as appetizers. First up was the pandan chicken ($6.5) steamed chicken dumplings steamed in aromatic pandan leaves. Those who like chicken wings, will love the Belacan wings ($7) bone-in chicken wings coated in a salty-sweet caramelized shrimp paste chicken. Our favorite light bite was probably the cold spicy sesame noodles ($8), the house-made spicy sauce was both rich and savory – a total umami bomb – and perfectly served cold. We can’t turn down handmade noodles, so we had to order the Pan Mee ($12) flat homemade flour noodles in anchovy broth, fried anchovies, wood ear mushroom, spinach and minced pork. This was probably my favorite dish, and the mix of flavors with the salty anchovy kick was amazing.
Don’t sleep on the desserts either. We were really excited to see a variety of Kue Lapis, a many-layered flavored cake, here served in a cinnamon version ($3). You can also order rose and lychee flavored mochi, or honeycomb cake. Kopitiam is a real taste of Malaysia in New York, and we can really appreciate the dedication and care the team brings to every dish. We are looking forward to getting back to NYC some day soon and sampling more of what Kopitiam has to offer.
Over winter break in Chicago last year we visited Sabor Poblano (7027 N. Clark) in Rogers Park after it was highly recommended to us (and it later was reviewed in the Chicago Reader). We are so glad to try a restaurant that features the foods of Pueblo State in Mexico, and we loved tasting regional specialties, including some dishes we had never heard before. They are open for pickup now, so please give them a try. The menu includes pambazos (dipped sandwiches), quesadillas, tacos and a variety of moles, and some special weekend-only dishes like barbacoa. Everything we tried was delicious, and one of our favorites, the red mole Poblano, was killer. We were really excited to try a much rarer specialty from Puebla – tamales de ceniza – which translates directly to “ash tamales.” These tamales are known in Morelos and Guerrero state as Tamales Nejas.
Tamales de ceniza are flat, unfilled and rectangular, and are made with masa and ashes from the wood-fire stove, and steamed in banana leaves. The flavor of the Tamales de ceniza was really interesting! The black flecks permeated the masa, and the flavor was smoky, but not gritty like you may think ash would be. Since these tamales, unlike many other Mexican varieties, are not filled, and are used more as a platform for other sauces and flavors. At Sabor Poblano they are served as the perfect vehicle for the green mole sauce and chicken. There are similar tamales from Michoacán called corundas, which are triangular, but are also not filled. There are not many recipes for Tamales de ceniza online of you are looking to re-create them at home, but here is a recipe in Spanish. One of our favorite cooking YouTube channels, De mi Rancho a Tu Cocina has a video for how to make the similar corundas.
Today marks Juneteenth, the day when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, over two years after the proclamation had been issued on January 1, 1863. This year, Juneteenth celebrations are especially poignant across America. Though initially most popular in Texas, celebrations commemorating Juneteenth have spread throughout African-American communities in the US, incorporating regional foodways along the way. A dish from the African Diaspora Gullah community in the South Carolina lowcountry and sea islands that is perfect for any Juneteenth celebration is the Benne wafer. Benne wafers have deep roots in African cuisine, and their name comes from the Bantu language group word for sesame seed. After being brought over from Africa, sesame was cultivated in the South Carolina lowcountry by enslaved Africans. The African-American Gullah community created and popularized these cookies using the fruits of the sesame crop, and they are now a staple of lowcountry cooking (and can be either savory or sweet). Benne wafers are easy and delicious to make at home, and you can try sweet recipes from King Arthur Flour, Simply Recipes and Serious Eats. You can also make a savory version of Benne wafers, like these recipes from Edna Lewis and Toni Tipton-Martin. I tried the Simply Recipes version (the result of which you can see below) and we love them!