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.
Category Archives: Reviews
The End of an Era: Sokolowski’s University Inn Closing?
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.
Chengdu Impression: Sichuan in Chicago
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.
21st Century First Nations Bannock
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.
Pastry Post-Doc: The iconic Hawaiian guava chiffon cake
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!
Watermelon Ice for Ferragosto in Sicily
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!
What is Fiori di Sicilia?
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.
The Kopitiam Experience in NYC
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.
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Tamales de ceniza: Ash tamales from Puebla at Sabor Poblano
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.
Support the Bakers Against Racism International Bake Sale
I have been really happy to see the Bakers Against Racism bake sale project on Instagram gaining attention and participation. Started by DC-based pastry chef Paola Velez, a James Beard Award finalist, along with chefs Willa Pelini and Rob Rubba, this project aims to unite bakers (professional and amateur alike) who will be selling baked goods with at least 50% of the proceeds going to charities benefiting the Black community. The best way to see what bakeries in your area are participating is to check out the Bakers Against Racism Instagram (and there may be accounts for your specific area), and to follow the Bakers Against Racism hashtag. Pre-sales start today, June 15, for most bakeries, with pickup on June 20. Some bakeries may also offer shipping or delivery. So buy some baked goods for a good cause!
How to make Yewande Komolafe’s Nigerian Jollof Rice
Jollof rice is one of the most famous dishes in West Africa, and famously, each country thinks their take on the dish is is the best. Jollof rice is made with garlic, ginger, onions and habanero / scotch bonnet peppers (you can customize the heat levels), and it often accompanies roasted meat or fish dishes, and sides like fried plantains. It is considered one of the national dishes of Nigeria, and it is to that country to which we turn today for our Jollof rice journey.
Yewande Komolafe is a NYC-based chef who was raised in Lagos, Nigeria. She previously shared her 10 Essential Nigerian recipes with the New York Times, one of which being Jollof rice. We have enjoyed Jollof rice many times in restaurants, but never tried to make it ourselves. However, after watching Yewande Komolafe’s video, we knew we had to take the plunge. Her Jollof rice recipe [here] was easy to follow, and we even had most of the necessary ingredients on hand already. One note: the recipe calls for parboiled rice, and if you are just using regular rice, you will want to add more liquid than the recipe calls for in order to properly cook the rice. The end result was delicious: hearty, spiced and spicy, thanks to the scotch bonnet. As she says in the video, this would make a great meal for a crowd alongside other hearty Nigerian recipes. We served our Jollof Rice with chicken thighs roasted in Obe Ata (which is the same taste profile as the Jollof Rice) and fried plantains.
Teranga restaurant at The Africa Center in NYC
When we visited New York City last fall we met a friend for some food and snacks at Teranga, located on the ground floor of The Africa Center in Harlem (1280 5th Ave.). The mission of The Africa Center is to celebrate contemporary African culture and the cultures of its diaspora, and Teranga, opened in 2019, furthers that mission. Teranga is the concept of Senegal-born chef Pierre Thiam, and features dishes from a variety of African countries, with an emphasis on West Africa. If you would like to hear more from Chef Thiam, you can listen to him in conversation with food historian Jessica B. Harris at 5 PM ET, June 9th, 2020 in partnership with The Africa Center and the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD).
We love the mission of Teranga to bring fresh, accessible African food to the neighborhood. All of the dishes at Teranga are served in a customizable bowl format: you pick a base, a main, sides, and a sauce. The West African influence on the menu is apparent right away with the bases of Attiéké (fermented cassava from Cote D’Ivoire), Jollof rice (tomato spiced rice that a popular throughout West Africa) and Liberian red rice. For the mains you can choose Moroccan-spiced salmon, roasted chicken or veggies. The sides again dip into West African territory, with fonio (a type of grain found in West Africa, which Thiam sells through his food company, Yolélé) and Senegalese Ndambe (Black eyed pea stew), among others. You can top your dish with peanut mafe, or the mild onion yassa. There are even various levels of hot sauce available, from smoky Ghanaian shito to super-spicy Senegalese kani.
We are partial to Teranga’s Jollof rice, and absolutely love the mafe peanut sauce. You may notice that we wolfed everything down before we were able to get a picture. Also noteworthy are Teranga’s delectable fresh-squeezed juices ($5). In particular, we are fans of the ginger and mint (strongly gingery, in the best possible way) and the hibiscus Bissap. Teranga’s space on the ground floor of the Africa Center is a really nice and welcoming place to sit and relax, and we hope to visit again when hanging out is possible. As of 6/8/20, Teranga is open for delivery and pickup, and is also providing meals for NYC essential workers, and you can support their GoFundMe here. We love the accessibility of the food at Teranga, and the fact that you can mix and match for dozens of possible combinations. Please give them some love!
Edna Lewis, America’s Culinary Queen
A cookbook that should be in every American home is Edna Lewis’ The Taste of Country Cooking, one of the veritable bibles of Southern cuisine. Lewis was an influential cook, author and trailblazer, as one of the first African-American women who published a cookbook without hiding her gender or race. By the time she died in 2006 she had been rightly recognized in the pantheon of great American chefs. However, she was still not as much of a household name as some of her peers.
Edna Lewis was born in Freetown, Virginia in 1916, the granddaughter of an emancipated slave. She grew up cooking traditional Southern dishes with her family, using techniques that did not require modern appliances and ingredients that were local to the area. She later moved to Washington DC and eventually New York City where she became a fashion designer. She first worked as a chef at Café Nicholson in 1949, where she brought her southern cuisine to a broader audience. She worked later in catering and even as a docent in the Hall of African Peoples in the American Museum of Natural History. She wrote her first cookbook The Edna Lewis Cookbook in 1972. Her stature continued to grow with each subsequent cookbook, especially with The Taste of Country Cooking in 1976 (edited by Julia Child’s editor Judith Jones), where Lewis incorporated her own personal stories and recollections with recipes. She followed this with In Pursuit of Flavor in 1988 and The Gift of Southern Cooking in 2003 (with Scott Peacock).
Throughout her life, Edna Lewis remained a tireless proponent of Southern cooking, increasing its esteem in the US, and bringing southern recipes to a wider audience. In the 1990s Lewis was honored with a James Beard Living Legend Award and was named “Grande Dame” by Les Dames d’Escoffier International. Two years after her death in 2006, Gourmet published Lewis’ essay “What is Southern Cooking?,” an elegant distillation of her philosophy. In 2015, Francis Lam penned a great piece for the New York Times about Lewis’ enduring legacy, “Edna Lewis and the Black Roots of American Cooking.” In more recent years, a new generation of chefs became familiar with Lewis’ work, and her cookbooks received a publicity boost after a “Top Chef” tribute.
Another great way to honor Lewis’ memory is to cook some of her recipes. There are almost too many delectable recipes to decide among, but here is a smattering: Busy Day Cake, Shrimp Grits, Baked Tomatoes, Biscuits, Fried Chicken, Greens and Cornmeal Dumplings, Stove top Asparagus, and Oven Brisket. If you are looking for more Lewis recipes, please get one of her cookbooks, and if you can, buy from a Black-owned bookstore (we often shop at Semicolon in Chicago).
How to support Black-owned restaurants in your city
Many people in America are looking to diversify the way they understand the world (and eat!) at this moment in time, and rightly so. Where you spend your money matters, and the experiences you choose matter, now more than ever. A great place to start is by increasing your support of the Black-owned restaurants in your area, which are being disproportionately impacted by economic disparities and other crises like COVID-19. Anela Malik explains exactly why it is so important to support Black-owned restaurants now, and all the time, better than I could. A valuable resource to easily find Black-owned restaurants in your area is the EatOkra App (for Android and iPhone), and Korsha Wilson lists several other resources at Food & Wine. Hungry Hungry Hooker has a great compilation of city-by-city resources, many found on Instagram. For another city-by-city view, Eileen W. Cho has compiled a growing list of databases and articles of Black-owned restaurants throughout the US. Included among these is the list of Cleveland-area Black-owned food businesses I compiled this week. This list is a work in progress and I am looking forward to patronizing many more of these restaurants in the near future.
Quarantine Kitchen: What can you do with chicken backs?
What can you do with a bag of chicken backs? We received this intriguing question from our friend, who had mistakenly picked up a bag of chicken backs at the grocery story when he was intending to get chicken thighs. We are all getting desperate when we see the grocery shelves completely picked over, so we understand the feeling. Chicken backs are what is left of the chicken after the breasts, thighs and legs have been removed, containing a good amount of both bones and meat. The most obvious answer is to perhaps utilize these to make stock or bone broth, which you can then use for a myriad of other recipes including matzoh ball soup. Homemade stock is delicious, but we were looking for something a bit more creative. Fortunately, in many other cultures, it is common to use the chicken back for any number of savory dishes. We were particularly intrigued by this Vietnamese chicken and rice recipe, Com Ga from Viet World Kitchen (pictured below). You can also use the chicken backs to make the broth for Chicken Pho (Phở Ga). Chicken backs are a popular staple in Jamaica, so they find themselves into a variety of dishes including this Jamaican curry and can be substituted into the classic Jamaican dish, Brown Stew. Even the humble chicken back can shine!
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Hawa Makes Somali Food
So things have been a bit quiet here on ETW, that’s because things in the real ETW universe are quite hectic! New house, new job and 2 books to write between the two of us. So that has left little time to post here on the blog, sadly, though our Instagram is a bit more active. Oftentimes, at the end of the day we are too tired to do anything but watch a YouTube food video or two. We are obsessed with the Bon Appetit YouTube videos (as is everyone), and we are particularly also loving a newer video series featuring Hawa Hassan making delicious Somali food. Hawa is a cook, model and entrepreneur, who created a line of Somali hot sauces, Basbaas. We loved the Somali take on Bolognese, Suugo Suqaar, which includes cardamom and turmeric!
Rugelach for Hanukkah
Happy Hanukkah! Today is the 2nd day of Hanukkah and we are of course thinking of one of our favorite Hanukkah foods, babka. We have expressed our love here many times before for babka. However, sometimes you don’t want a whole loaf of babka (I assume it is possible), in which case you may be in the mood for rugelach, which we like to think of as a bite-sized babka substitute. Rugelach is a traditional Polish-Jewish sweet, basically a cookie rolled up with tasty filling – often cinnamon or chocolate – though any filling is possible! Unlike babka, which is brioche-based, rugelach is often made with a sour cream or cream cheese dough. Serious Eats has a compendium of various rugelach fillings, including a non-traditional red bean. Taste of Home, Tori Avey and Molly Yeh (chocolate sea salt and halva version picture below) have compiled even more versions!
Halva Rugelach by Molly Yeh
Superlative Middle Eastern at Galit in Chicago
This is one of those reviews that we could have sworn we already wrote, since we were so impressed with the meal. Better late than never! The food at Galit (2429 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614) was so amazing, it was definitely one of the best meals we have had in 2019! Galit is owned and operated by Andrés Clavero and James Beard Award-winning chef Zachary Engel, previously Zach was the Chef de Cuisine at Shaya Restaurant in New Orleans. We enjoyed Shaya so much on a previous trip to New Orleans that we were delighted to learn that Engel was opening a restaurant in Chicago.
The theme at Galit is Israeli cuisine, with some modern touches and showing the influences from the diverse groups in Israel and around the Middle East. Galit’s sign is not visible from the street, and the only sign that lets you know that you are in the right place is a small blue and white address sign with “Lincoln Ave.” written in Hebrew, English and Arabic. The inside of Galit is clean and bright, and centered around an aqua-tiled bar and open kitchen (note the pita oven). We went with two other friends so were fortunately able to sample more of the dishes.
We ordered the Salatim ($22 for all – pictured above) which are a variety of dips and nibbles:
- Labneh: creamy yogurt dip with sumac and sesame
- Yemenite, Bulgarian and Israeli Pickles
- Ezme: a paste of tomatoes, peppers, walnuts and chives
- Pumpkin Tershi: Pumpkin spread with Urfa biber pepper, cumin and garlic
- Cipollini onions with feta
Don’t sleep on the pita either, like at Shaya, the pita at Galit it is freshly-baked, and comes right out of the oven hot, puffy and fresh. To be honest, we could have made a meal out of only the pita and the salatim dips. The Labhen and Ezme we our favorites from among the Salatim, the labneh was like the best version of queso you could imagine, and the ezme was bold and smoky. And don’t forget the hummus, another signature plate at Galit. There were 4 varieties of hummus ($9-16) including the classic version alongside more interesting varieties like “Bubbe’s Brisket” with smoky cinnamon, tomatoes, and carrots. We went with the Masabacha, which was made from chickpeas, herby tehina and aleppo pepper ($12). The hummus was superlative, silky smooth and delicious, and the herbs added a bright punch not usually found in hummus.
Another section of the menu was called “mostly over coal” and included a wide variety of small-to-large plates ranging from glazed carrots ($13) to shakshukah ($16) to Foie Gras ($18). We sampled the falafel ($12) served with “funky mango” and labneh. Iraqi Kubbeh Halab ($14), a crispy ground lamb fritter served with golden raisins and almonds. For mains we ordered chicken thighs with pine nuts, mushrooms and Bulgarian feta ($18), along with two orders of the fried fish Tunisian style ($22). Everything was delicious, but our favorite small plates had to be the falafel and the kubbeh, which were both absolutely bursting with flavor. The falafel was our favorite kind, bright green and herby, and was perfectly combined with the acidic mango pickle.
For dessert, we shared a chocolate cake ($11) with cardamon and hazelnut and a phyllo pie with apples and sahlab ($11) which were both tasty, but just not as amazing as the savory dishes. Other dessert options included date Ma’amoul cookies and apricot and hazelnut rice pudding. We also appreciated the original drinks on the menu, spanning spirits and spirit-free, including mint and yuzu fizzy lemonade and parsley, cucumber and cumin. For after-dinner aperatif pairings they have a variety of Araks, a anise-flavored spirit. There is also Yemeni coffee with hawaij and a variety of blends from the Rare Tea Cellar. Everything we sampled at Galit was fresh, delicious, and served with great attention to detail. This was definitely one of our best meals of 2019, and we encourage you to visit ASAP.
XLB at Din Tai Fung in Sydney
We are always on the hunt for the best Xiao Long Bao (XLB), Shanghainese soup dumplings. Much like pizza, everyone has an opinion on the best XLBoutside of Sydeney. When we were going to Sydney we heard that it had a phenomenal regional Chinese food scene, with many amazing XLB options. One of the names that rose to the top on our searches was Din Tai Fung. Din Tai Fung is a chain from Taiwan that has dozens of locations globally, including Asia, Europe, the US and Australia. Despite our best efforts, we did not make it to Din Tai Fung when we visited LA so were very excited to try it in Sydney. There are 10 locations across Sydney and Melbourne, and we ended up visiting a location near the popular center city wharfs, in the Gateway Food Court (Shop G20-G21 Gateway, 1 Macquarie Place, Sydney).
Other locations of Din Tai Fung in Sydeny are proper restaurants, but we went for convenience of location. The Gateway food court is huge, and definitely more upscale than the name may imply. We saw lots of tasty-looking restaurant options as we wound our way to the back and found Din Tai Fung, a somewhat understated wooden kiosk. The array of menu options at this location of Din Tai Fung were somewhat overwhelming: appetizers, many dumpling permutations, soups, more substantial mains, fried rice and even desserts. Naturally, we we were there for the XLB. To order at this location (and perhaps others), you mark on a sheet of paper what you would like to order, pay at the counter, get a buzzer, and the order is soon delivered to your table. In a city as expensive as Sydney, the XLB is a relatively good deal: 4 dumplings in a steamer basket for $6 AUD. We placed our order and grabbed the buzzer, and within a few minutes our order was ready.
The moment of truth arrived: and the dumplings were amazing! The key to the best XLB are a thin skin and a savory broth. On both counts, the Din Tai Fung XLB delivered, the dumpling skin was very thin and not doughy or chewy, with a rich, savory pork meatball and a generous amount of soup both filling. We liked them so much that we had to order twice as much as we initially thought. In XLB the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and Din Tai Fung excelled. Yes, these were the best XLB we ever had. The excellence of the XLB made us so curious to try versions in China, and may have ruined XLB for us in America altogether. Plus, can you beat this mascot?
First Trip to Russ and Daughters in NYC
Russ and Daughters (179 E Houston, New York City) has been a lower east side fixture since 1914, and is one of New York City’s (and the country’s) best traditional Jewish delis. It is also one of the few business that has “And Daughters” as opposed to “Sons” in the name. We had been meaning to go to Russ and Daughters for probably a decade, but due to a series of circumstances, never made it there on all of trips to NYC. But finally, in October 2019, we did make it! You can recognize the store from down the block due to its original, vintage neon “appetizers” sign emblazoned with fish. What Russ and Daughters sells used to be called “appetizings,” and were considered places to get accompaniments to bagels. Inside and out, we appreciated that the store was reflective of the company’s long heritage: from the painted signs to the glass cases and the vintage-modern packaging.
The inside of the shop is TINY, as you can see below. You take a number and are served in order. You may have to wait a while, as we did, even at the off time of 3pm on Monday. There are two sides to the store, the sweet/bakery and the savory. On the sweet side you can get bagels, rye bread, challah, black and white cookies, babkas (chocolate or cinnamon), halvah, dried fruit, nuts and chocolate-covered sweets by the pound. In the cooler, there are sodas, pickles, and packages of blini ready to go, among other things.
While waiting, we decided to partake in some of the items from the sweet side, since you don’t need a number to buy items. If you are a previous reader of the blog, you may know that we are big fans of babka, an enriched sweet bread with a swirl of flavor, and are always looking out for a new variety. We opted for a slice of chocolate babka ($3 for a slice/ $14 for a whole) and our dining mates got some chocolate orange peel by the pound. The babka, while good, was no match for our favorite babka in the city. It was still very good, and a much needed snack while we waited our turn.
The savory side is the more impressive of the two, and the line belies this fact. Within the immaculate glass cases is a wonderland of cured and smoked fishes available by the pound. I must confess that my knowledge of smoked/cured fish is somewhat limited, though I do like the smoked offerings from Calumet Fisheries. There are no less than a dozen varieties of salmon alone, differing in origin (Norwegian, Irish and Scottish) and preparation (wet-smoked, cured, pastrami-cured, and dry-smoked, between $34 and 54 a pound). We are clueless about the qualities and characteristics of the different types of salmon, so we relied on the clerks for their expert advice. This Bon Appetit article with input by Josh Russ Tupper of Russ and Daughters, also helps break it down. One important distinction we did know, though, is that gravlax/lox is traditionally cured, NOT smoked, as many people think when they hear “lox.” There were other types of smoked fish on offer including: sable, sturgeon, whitefish and tuna ($15 to 56 a pound).
Though the fish are the stars of the show, you can also get other savories by the pound: pickled herring, egg salad, chopped liver, gefilte fish, latkes, caviar and roe of varying types, whitefish salad and knishes (many among other options, ranging between $9 and 25 a lb). We were already fantasizing about the amazing appetizer spread we could make with the endless options. However, if you are feeling like eating your fish right then instead of bringing it home (as we ultimately were), you can get a bagel sandwich, by selecting your individual fillings, or choosing a pre-picked combination. You first select a bagel (plain, sesame, everything, etc.), choose a cream cheese (goat cheese, plain, tofu, etc.), and finally a filling (many fish varieties or egg salad), plus capers and tomatoes for 50 cents extra each. The classic sandwich fillings are freshly sliced from the fish counter: Gaspe Nova, Norwegian smoked salmon, Salt-Cured belly lox, gravlax and more.
M got the Fancy Delancey ($12) which was a smoked tuna sandwich with horseradish dill cream cheese and wasabi flying fish roe, and I got a choose-your-own classic dill-brined gravlax with cream cheese ($13), both sandwiches on sesame bagels. Though the prices may seem a little steep, the bagel sandwiches are stuffed to the brim. The man at the counter sliced the fish with surgical expertise. We appreciated the attention to detail: everything was done in an exacting way, and was not rushed. The fish was superlative, of the highest quality, and melt-in-the-mouth tender. Having cured fish this good really makes you know what you are missing every other time. We could eat this stuff every day! We washed everything down with a classic Dr. Brown’s cream soda, the essential deli accompaniment (Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray is good too). We are so glad that we finally got to Russ and Daughters after all these years. It lived up to the hype, AND it is worth the wait (not often that we say both of those things).