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Just caught up. Wow. Terrific blog. I so want to go to Amsterdam one of these days. I'm digging how your interests in music and food overlap, as those two interests also overlap in my life. In fact, one of the many reasons why I'd like to visit Amsterdam one of these days is the fact that one of my musician friends performs there on a semi-regular basis. Thanks for making the idea of such a visit even more tempting. :smile:

Thanks mizducky, actually there's a final bit to explain about the music situation: I haven't answered the question about "why Amsterdam" yet...stay, um, eh...tuned, so to speak.

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The Turkish are possibly the highest-profile group of immigrants (from a positive perspective) in the Netherlands today (IMHO). In terms of sheer numbers, according to the figures here on my desk, the Turkish are currently the second-largest group of immigrants in the Netherlands, just behind the Indonesians. But, again, Indonesian immigration has been happening for so long and so quietly that it's almost completely ignored at this point: you almost never see "Indonesians" in the news. In fact, they're not even officially considered "foreigners" anymore (as far as I understand).

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Turkish (and Moroccan, for that matter) immigrants began coming to the Netherlands in the 60s as part of an agreement between their respective governments designed to resolve a labor shortage here in Holland. They were considered "guest workers", and the idea was that, after the labor shortage was over, they would just return home. When the oil crisis in the 70s dramatically cut the demand for guest workers...

You can probably guess that this did not quite work out as planned. Many of the resident immigrants never left, and Turkish immigration continued over the next 30 years as successful immigrants brought their families over to be with them, legally or illegally. As always, it's a complex story.

Culinarily speaking, Turkish cuisine is well behind the Indische kitchen as a powerful influence on Dutch tastes. But it's growing...albeit in a much less broad and integrated manner than Indische flavors. If you ask a Dutch person to name a Turkish food, I will wager, with no data to back me up whatsoever, that 90% of them would say shoarma.

gallery_28661_4926_16701.jpg

There are literally hundreds of shoarma or döner kebab joints in Amsterdam. Hopefully you've all tried shoarma, if you haven't, the Amsterdam version is shaved lamb served in a pita with lettuce (you can almost see the pita in this picture). It's always served with at least two optional sauces: a garlic-yoghurt sauce, and a tomato-chile-onion relish that they call sambal.

Huh?

Edited by markemorse (log)
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I imagine that the use of the term sambal for this sauce is strictly for convenience's sake. The other option would be to call it by its real name, skhug, and then explain to every single customer who walked in the door exactly wtf skhug was (other than an excellent Scrabble word). And I bet what they'd end up saying anyway was, "it's basically sambal", because everyone here knows what sambal is.

+++

The second most popular piece of Turkish eating here in Amsterdam is another sambal and yogurt sauce recipient. In the Netherlands, this oven-blistered bundle of taste-explosive goodness is almost always referred to as a "Turkish pizza":

gallery_28661_4926_7610.jpg

But the more common name for it outside of the Netherlands is lahmacun.

gallery_28661_4926_6623.jpg

This one came from the guys next to the currently-being-renovated post office. 2 euro 50, and I swear you've never spent that amount of money more wisely. The above was our afternoon snack.

+++

Edited by markemorse (log)
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I lied! Rijsttafel pics:

The menu:

gallery_28661_4926_13813.jpg

nasi kuning (yellow saffron rice with coconut milk and fried onions):

Are you sure it's saffron? Isn't it turmeric?

Hi May, that's what I would've thought, but the menu says (you can almost read it up there at the tippy-top) "gele saffraanrijst". I didn't see the rice 'til I got home so I couldn't ask my helpful server at that point. But yes, turmeric would make much more sense...

Cheaper too! :laugh:

As Chufi said, "everyone knows sate and bami." This is a fantastic and unique thing for a European country to be able to say, IMHO.

maybe comparable to curry in England? just thinking out loud...

Kinda...but in my mind, Indian food has quite a high profile globally (you can find Indian food almost anywhere in America, and I've eaten it in several non-UK European countries), whereas Indonesian food is generally tough to find outside of Southeast Asia and the Netherlands. When I lived in Atlanta there was one Indonesian restaurant (in a city of 5 million people). And 50 Indian restaurants (not statistically accurate...therese or someone from Atlanta, help me out here :raz: ).

Probably because there's an Indian diaspora, a Chinese diaspora, but I don't think there's an Indonesian diaspora.

Edited by miladyinsanity (log)

May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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This is getting more interesting all the time! I too was wondering, along with Sharon, about couscous, which I believe to be a national dish in France these days.

When my husband sees those shoarma and lahmacun pictures he's going to be agitating to visit Amsterdam post haste.

But wait, since you're talking of time running out, you've never explained wtf you're actually doing there!

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This is getting more interesting all the time!  I too was wondering, along with Sharon, about couscous, which I believe to be a national dish in France these days.

When my husband sees those shoarma and lahmacun pictures he's going to be agitating to visit Amsterdam post haste.

But wait, since you're talking of time running out, you've never explained wtf you're actually doing there!

Couscous is not really tremendously popular here. Certainly nothing like shoarma and lahmacun. Though there is some overlap between the two, I'll go out on a limb and say that Moroccan food is much less popular amongst the general population than Turkish food is: Albert Heijn offers lamb pre-cut and spiced for shoarma; pre-cooked, microwaveable shoarma; shoarmaspice for your spice rack, shoarma sauces, etc. There's not really a comparable Moroccan foodstuff that's infiltrated the largest grocery chains....kefta or merguez are probably the closest contenders.

And I promise not to close this blog without doing a full reveal on the "why/how Amsterdam" story. :wink:

Edited by markemorse (log)
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I, too, am just catching up reading this fabulous blog! :wub: Great food, fascinating background & stories, and I can't remember the last time I've laughed out loud so many times in one sitting. :laugh: (I wish I could write with your easy grace. . .)

Just a note about "old cocoyam" (taro) and "new cocoyam" (malanga or yautia) from the middle of the Pacific. They're closely related and I don't really know the botanical differences. We grow many types of taro here. . . dryland taro, wetland taro. . . Some are better for making poi, some for eating like a potato. There's Chinese taro, and tiny Japanese taro (ko-imo). They have different colors, ranging from purple to yellowish cream, and somewhat different flavors and density.

What they all have in common is that you can't eat them raw, because of the high oxalic acid content, and some people find them irritating to handle so must wear rubber gloves when they peel or grate them. The leaves are cooked and eaten as a spinach-like vegetable.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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Considerably less common than shoarma/döner kebab and lahmacun joints in Amsterdam, but still absolutely plentiful, are full-service Turkish grillrooms that offer a wider range of Turkish dishes. Tonight we got take-out from the ingeniously-named Döner Palace, an inexpensive grillroom on the Rozengracht.

Döner Palace was not my first or second choice for dinner, more like my seventh. But all of my normal Turkish filling stations had this helpful sign in their window:

gallery_28661_4926_11118.jpg

This one adorned the window of Patisserie Mercan (also on the Rozengracht), home of perfect böreks and unbeatable lahmacun. Bum-mer.

+++

But I'd peeked into Döner Palace a couple of times before and thought it always looked at least OK. And it's cheap, so a mistake wouldn't be costly. So I picked up a couple of things. Sigara Boregi, filo-wrapped feta and dill rolls:

gallery_28661_4926_12167.jpg

Imam bayildi (eggplant stuffed with onions, tomato, and pepper):

gallery_28661_4926_12364.jpg

and...a daily special that I didn't catch the name of, which my "mealworms and sawdust" camera setting made look almost exactly like the imam bayildi:

gallery_28661_4926_17660.jpg

which I tried to compensate for by rotating the dish 90 degrees. Problem solved! In reality this was a rather spicy lamb köfte with potatoes and long green peppers. Tasty.

In fact, it was all really tasty, and surprisingly spicy. Plus, they threw in some free sütlaç (rice pudding): all in all, a lucky strike.

Edited by markemorse (log)
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OK, I had give you that background so that the rest of my day's eating would have some context. I got up early, too early, ran to the Turkish guys, got some mint and some pistachio baklava, and then I made a chickpea salad to bring to the birthday picnic:

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that was scrumptious, and not too bad-looking either if I do say so my own self:

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Meanwhile, I fortified myself with the baklava:

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Then I very luckily checked my email and found out that the picnic was in fact not in the Westerpark as I'd thought, but in the Vondelpark. Oops! So I took off like the proverbial bat out o' hell and zoomed down there.

gallery_28661_4926_5834.jpg

Edited by markemorse (log)
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And then, it was off to the Amsterdam Pride canal parade, in my sky blue Lincoln Continental:

gallery_28661_4926_8373.jpg

Well, no, I don't know whose this was, but it was certainly a shock to see it. Also shocking was the number of revelers:

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...and the lengths they went to to get a good view:

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and then of course, the floaters themselves...both female:

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and male:

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and more....I've been to a few of these, and this seemed like a good one. It felt very much like a mini-Queen's Day on the length of the Prinsengracht today...tons and tons of happy inebriants, along with the quietly curious. But gorgeous weather had everyone smiling (and drinking).

There were 80 or so floats this year, it's hard to really give you a feel for the scope...these pictures were all taken in the span of 10 minutes and the parade went on for hours. Big fun. I didn't get to sample any street food....but I did see a lot of sausage. :wink:

Edited by markemorse (log)
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Big fun. I didn't get to sample any street food....but I did see a lot of sausage.  :wink:

Gosh. I wonder what you edited.

Mark, can we be at Winding Down time already? :sad:

You're a wonderful writer and this really is a great blog. I know you've promised to say more, so please don't consider this like the music they play during Oscar speeches.

You've given me lots to think about and when not so thoroughly tired, I might pipe up about bara, American vegetarian burgers and the intercultural nexus of urad dahl and Beluga Lentils. But it's time to wash the last of the dishes and take out the garbage, so I'll just say thank you for now.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Imam bayildi (eggplant stuffed with onions, tomato, and pepper):

gallery_28661_4926_12364.jpg

Random food trivia: one of my cookbooks tells me that the name of the dish "imam bayildi" translates as "The Imam Fainted," and that he fainted, according to legend, when he learned how much (expensive) olive oil went into preparing this dish--as you've probably experienced, eggplant can exhibit a spongelike capacity for sucking up a ton of oil. :smile:

Amsterdam's Pride celebration looks like one helluva lotta fun.

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Big fun. I didn't get to sample any street food....but I did see a lot of sausage.  :wink:

Gosh. I wonder what you edited.

Yeah, there were a couple of earlier revisions that didn't make it past the censors.

Thanks for the props. Looking forward to your lentil exposé. :smile:

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Since I pulled a Pulp Fiction with yesterday's chronology, I missed my Low Blood Sugar Emergency bite:

gallery_28661_4926_5428.jpg

A zucchini-feta pancake from an old haunt near the Overtoom called Gaffaf. Or at least it used to be called that, it seems to be having an identity crisis these days: the window logo still says Gaffaf, but there's another name above.

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Imam bayildi (eggplant stuffed with onions, tomato, and pepper):

gallery_28661_4926_12364.jpg

Random food trivia: one of my cookbooks tells me that the name of the dish "imam bayildi" translates as "The Imam Fainted," and that he fainted, according to legend, when he learned how much (expensive) olive oil went into preparing this dish--as you've probably experienced, eggplant can exhibit a spongelike capacity for sucking up a ton of oil. :smile:

Thanks mizducky, that's the story I know as well...I think I first read it in Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, which is one of my favorite cookbooks to cook out of...

In fact, the chickpea salad recipe I used yesterday is vaguely based on something in that book that I can't locate at the moment...here's what I did yesterday (this recipe makes a lot of chickpeas):

+++

moroccan chickpea salad.

1 kg cooked chickpeas

1 or 2 large sweet onions, chopped (I like a lot of onion in this)

5 canned roma tomatoes, smashed

6 or more scallions, chopped fine

1 cup or more fresh mint leaves, chopped

1 cup or more fresh coriander leaves

1/2 cup raisins, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained

2 tbsp quince paste, melted

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup or so extra-virgin olive oil

3 tbsp ras el hanout

salt

Combine and stir well. Serves 10-12 healthy portions.

+++

Now, while you can find "shoarmaspice" at Albert Heijn, ras el hanout isn't quite that high-profile yet. But just like there are the ubiquitous tokos and warungs that serve as grocers/takeout counters for the Indische cookers and eaters, there are the Turkish and Moroccan equivalent, almost always called "markets". So, our local one is Bario Market, the one I bought this ras el hanout from is called Osteriz Market I think, etc.

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It has much in common with shoarmaspice: healthy doses of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and turmeric; but ras el hanout is typically a more complicated spice blend that can contain some crazily esoteric ingredients as well: ash berries, chufa, Grains of Paradise, orris root, Monk's pepper, cubebs, dried rosebud, and the potentially toxic belladonna (according to Wikipedia). I'm trying to fit a Stevie Nicks reference in here somehow but it's just not happening.

Edited by markemorse (log)
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Before the day gets away, What Are We Doing Here, Part 2.

+++

When we left the US in 2000, our first destination was Siena, Italy. We'd vacationed to Italy a bit in the 90s and, though we'd done some reconnaissance on some other European locations, Italy was the clear favorite. We ended up in Siena to learn Italian for 6 months, and then we'd figure out where to settle down, probably Bologna.

We were in class 5 days a week, 4 hours a day, it reminded me completely of high school again (maybe 'cos everyone else in our class was 18?), actually, but our Italian came along OK. But, a bunch of things happened...we met a wonderful Dutch girl in our Italian class named Birre. When it was everyone's turn to introduce themselves on the first day, she was the only person in a classroom of 20 who said that she loved the city she lived in (Amsterdam). This raised our eyebrows. We became fast friends with Birre (she was the oldest 18-year-old of all time) and decided to visit the object of her affections over the Christmas/New Year's break...and we loved it, too.

Other things were happening simultaneously: it was on this winter holiday that Mara contracted GBS, and that shut her down for the next couple months. We also decided that Italian bureaucracy was going to seriously impede our attempt to get legal. So we went back to the US for the spring/summer to regroup. Mara's parents had bought our house from us, so we moved back in with them...the house was big enough, it was actually a nice little setup, we get along with them very well.

The more we talked about Plan B, the more often Amsterdam came up. I'd been a fan of the Dutch free jazz scene for a few years (largely thanks to writer Kevin Whitehead, whose excellent book New Dutch Swing is available for 52 cents from Amazon). There was a treaty between the US and the Netherlands that made it possible for us to legally immigrate if we opened our own business. Time passed, I went on tour, my grandmother died, we talked some more, and then it was settled. We'd move to Amsterdam and open up an extremely specialized record shop. Which we'd never done, nor did we have any idea how to do this. Cool!

Edited by markemorse (log)
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Opening your first-ever retail specialty shop in a country where you do not speak the language, with your life partner and best friend as your business partner (even though you've never worked together before), and where you know no one at all is (choose one):

A) ambitious!

B) stupid.

C) initially very lonely.

D) financially risky

E) potentially fatal to your love life

F) totally ridiculous.

G) a really expensive and inefficient way to meet many of the most creative and interesting people in town, a small subset of whom you will end up becoming very good friends with for a long time, in the process changing your life and your understanding of the world completely and irrevocably.

Pencils down!

+++

During the Banana in the Tailpipe Years, as we like to call them, you know....sitting inside a beautiful but empty record shop on a gorgeously crisp and sunny summer day...sitting inside an impeccably-researched but empty record shop on a frigidly cold winter day, waiting for the landlord's lackey to come by and pretend to fix the heating...eventually the tide turned. A handful of local recordlabels approached us about being their new international distributor. We knew nothing about how this worked, but we said yes, and after we realized that we could learn how to do this, we realized that we didn't need The Money Pit anymore. So we closed it in 2004, and now we do international distribution and mailorder from home. And we have almost completely recovered from the BITTP years. Yay us!

Edited by markemorse (log)
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Oh my goodness. I just got back from about two weeks of nonstop travel and performing with no time to breathe, much less read, and found your wonderful blog. Thank you so much, this is a pleasure and the pictures are wonderful! I've only been to Amsterdam once and only overnight, now am dying to go again and spend more time.

...and yes, stopping to think it through before you throw your entire life up in the air just to see where it lands is totally counterproductive. :raz:

K

Basil endive parmesan shrimp live

Lobster hamster worchester muenster

Caviar radicchio snow pea scampi

Roquefort meat squirt blue beef red alert

Pork hocs side flank cantaloupe sheep shanks

Provolone flatbread goat's head soup

Gruyere cheese angelhair please

And a vichyssoise and a cabbage and a crawfish claws.

--"Johnny Saucep'n," by Moxy Früvous

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I, too, am loving this blog and don't want to see it end.

A few questions/comments:

how is Mara doing?

why Siena?

I went on tour

Tell us about that.....performer or tech?

Mark, bergerka, Jamie, etc al:

I LOVE when someone takes the time to flesh out their profile. When intriguing comments are made, the first thing I do is look to see if there is something in the profile that will let me understand and not have to ask. Thank you, thank you.

And pictures are the best !

Kathy

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[...] in my mind, Indian food has quite a high profile globally (you can find Indian food almost anywhere in America, and I've eaten it in several non-UK European countries), whereas Indonesian food is generally tough to find outside of Southeast Asia and the Netherlands. When I lived in Atlanta there was one Indonesian restaurant (in a city of 5 million people). And 50 Indian restaurants (not statistically accurate...therese or someone from Atlanta, help me out here  :raz: ).

The one Indonesian meal I can recall eating here in Philadelphia was at the home of a retired Drexel math professor and his Indonesian lover. East and Southeast Asian cuisines in general are decently represented on the local restaurant roster -- lots of Vietnamese, plenty of Korean, even (at least) one each representing Laos (Cafe de Laos), Burma (Rangoon) and Malaysia (a chain at that -- Penang), but no Indonesian.

However, I was in the big Vietnamese supermarket on Washington Avenue yesterday, and it had several varieties of chili sauces from ABC, one of the big Indonesian brands. I didn't see any of the other Indonesian sauces (including ketjap), nor did I check their spice aisle.

Culinarily speaking, Turkish cuisine is well behind the Indische kitchen as a powerful influence on Dutch tastes. But it's growing...albeit in a much less broad and integrated manner than Indische flavors. If you ask a Dutch person to name a Turkish food, I will wager, with no data to back me up whatsoever, that 90% of them would say shoarma.

gallery_28661_4926_16701.jpg

There are literally hundreds of shoarma or döner kebab joints in Amsterdam. Hopefully you've all tried shoarma, if you haven't, the Amsterdam version is shaved lamb served in a pita with lettuce (you can almost see the pita in this picture). It's always served with at least two optional sauces: a garlic-yoghurt sauce, and a tomato-chile-onion relish that they call sambal.

Huh?

Shwarma can now be found in many US cities with Middle Eastern populations, including this one. Even more common, though, is its Greek identical twin, gyros. (Though a Greek friend of mine tells me that what most US eateries call gyros is not what you get in Greece. I think that may be because many places use big pre-formed cylinders of ground lamb and beef, not the stacks of slices that I understand are used in the lands of shwarma/gyros' origin.)

Haven't encountered it with sambal yet, though. Yogurt and tatziki sauces are the only ones I've yet seen.

Gyros is one of my favorite international street foods.

Has the Mexican version of this dish -- tacos al pastor -- made it to Europe yet?

The second most popular piece of Turkish eating here in Amsterdam is another sambal and yogurt sauce recipient. In the Netherlands, this oven-blistered bundle of taste-explosive goodness is almost always referred to as a "Turkish pizza":

gallery_28661_4926_7610.jpg

But the more common name for it outside of the Netherlands is lahmacun.

gallery_28661_4926_6623.jpg

This one came from the guys next to the currently-being-renovated post office. 2 euro 50, and I swear you've never spent that amount of money more wisely. The above was our afternoon snack.

I've associated this dish with Armenians ever since I first encountered it in Watertown, Mass., home to one of the largest concentrations of Armenian-Americans in the US. (There, they spelled it "lahmejune.")

It's a very convenient, versatile, and tasty snack -- there are many different ways to top it. I can get it frozen at a Middle Eastern grocery near the Italian Market, in a pocket of South Philly where many Lebanese live (there's a Maronite Christian church one block up from the store).

I for one would love to go to sleep and wake up, Rip Van Winkle-style, some 75 years from now and see how the various ethnic cuisines have recombined and fused. You've already shared with us a Dutch dish invented in the days when it ran Indonesia; care to speculate on where Dutch cooking might go in the wake of the other cultures that now add spice to the country?

As for the Gay Pride celebration: What mizducky said. Though I don't think I'd stand in the windowsill the way some of those spectators did.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I, too, am loving this blog and don't want to see it end.

A few questions/comments:

how is Mara doing?

why Siena?

I went on tour

Tell us about that.....performer or tech?

Just back from Kwakoe, sunburned, drunk, burping habanero burps, but I'll see what I can do here....

+++

Thanks a bunch, Kathy, seriously....

1) Mara had a rough night last night, codeine messing with her tummy, but today seems to be a little better. Thanks for asking!

2) Siena was one of the few places (Perugia and Urbino being the others IIRC) where there was a Universita per Stranieri (university for foreigners) where we could take an comprehensive immigrant-targeted Italian course.

3) And this tour was as a performer...kind of a doomed project due to cataclysmic personal conflicts between the two core members of the band, but even as things were coming apart, they/we somehow scored a month-long "residency" at the Knitting Factory in NY, two sets every Friday night in June (great!) for almost no money (boo). An unforgettable experience nonetheless, because we were based in Athens, GA at the time, and so the big question was: how to arrange a tour that would land us in Manhattan every Friday night. Logistics, ahoy!

Edited by markemorse (log)
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When I lived in Atlanta there was one Indonesian restaurant (in a city of 5 million people). And 50 Indian restaurants (not statistically accurate...therese or someone from Atlanta, help me out here  :raz: ).

And that one Indonesian place has gone under (you're thinking of the one on Cheshire Bridge, on the side of the street opposite Hong Kong Harbor?). Several Malaysian places (including our branch of Penang). Way more than 50 Indian restaurants (I ate a lunch of chat yesterday after a hard morning's shopping at Target), and bajillions of Vietnamese and Korean as well as every possible flavor of Latin American. Thai pretty common, as are various permutations of Middle Eastern.

Overall a good reflection of the immigrant mix.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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    • By FoodMuse
      Hello everyone,
      eGullet was nice enough to invite me to write a food blog chronicling what I've made or eaten out for one week. I'm so excited about it! Thanks guys.
      About me:
      I dream about food, I wake thinking what's for dinner and I'm so excited to share it with you. I'm part of the food world in New York. By that, I just mean that I'm so fortunate enough to be invited to great events where I get to eat great food. I'm also a nerd and a part of the technology world. I produce, edit and sometimes host food related web videos and I'm also a part of the tech world.
      I'm launching a website called Please, Pass the Gravy. www.pleasepassthegravy.com We let you create a menu, invite friends and then collaborate on that menu. Never host another potluck with 8 pasta salads. You could use it now, but we're alpha launch, it works but it's ugly. It's my ugly baby. So, if you use it be kind and message me if you have improvement ideas. I thought it would be ok to write about it here because it is food related.
      I live in Brooklyn with a lovely guy who likes to eat and a small corgi mix dog. I cook pretty much every night and do a nice brunch on the weekend. I am not a crazy dog lady, but I do admit to cooking food for the dog. I have an excuse, beyond doting, he had seizures that have stopped since not feeding him dog food.
      Foods I cook:
      Spicy foods! If you look at my blog I have a simple papaya ketchup with habanero that is pretty darn good.
      I love great cheese. This may be the week for Beer Cheese Soup.
      I try to limit carbs, though I do cheat.
      In any given week C. and I probably eat cauliflower, broccoli and green beans as a side.
      Tonight's dinner will be Vietnamese inspired. We'll see how it goes. I'll post about it as soon as I can.
      Any requests? Questions? I'd love to hear from you.
      -Grace
    • By Duvel
      In these challenging times, a full summer vacation is not an easy task. For the last 1.5 years we have been mostly at home with the clear plan to visit Catalonia (or more precise my wife’s family) latest this summer. And it looked good for a while. Unfortunately, the recent rise in case numbers in Spain have resulted in …
       
      OK, let’s skip this part. Long story short - my wife and me are fully vaccinated, as are >90% of the people we care about in Catalonia. After some discussion (after all, Germans tend to prefer to be on the safe side of things) we simply fueled up the car, got each a test (for the transit through France) and started to drive …
       
      After a leisurely 11h drive we arrived at a small fishing town somewhat north of Barcelona around 3.00am. We unloaded the car and my wife an the little one went straight to bed. 
       

       


      I found an expired beer in the elsewise pretty empty fridge and enjoyed the cool breeze on the terrace. Holidays, here we come …
       

    • By liuzhou
      Last week, Liuzhou government invited a number of diplomats from Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar/Burma, Poland, and Germany to visit the city and prefecture. They also invited me along. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday introducing the diplomats to the culture of the local ethnic groups and especially to their food culture.
       
      First off, we headed two hours north into the mountains of Rongshui Miao Autonomous County. The Miao people (苗族 miáo zú), who include the the Hmong, live in the mid-levels of mountains and are predominantly subsistence farmers. Our first port of call was the county town, also Rongshui (融水 róng shuǐ, literal meaning: Melt Water) where we were to have lunch. But before lunch we had to go meet some people and see their local crafts. These are people I know well from my frequent work trips to the area, but for the diplomats, it was all new.
       
      So, I had to wait for lunch, and I see no reason why you shouldn't either. Here are some of the people I live and work with.


       
      This lovely young woman is wearing the traditional costume of an unmarried girl. Many young women, including her, wear this every day, but most only on festive occasions.
       
      Her hat is made from silver (and is very heavy). Here is a closer look.
       

       
      Married women dispense with those gladrags and go for this look:
       

       
      As you can see she is weaving bamboo into a lantern cover.
       
      The men tend to go for this look, although I'm not sure that the Bluetooth earpiece for his cellphone is strictly traditional.
       

       
      The children don't get spared either
       

       
      This little girl is posing with the Malaysian Consul-General.
       
      After meeting these people we went on to visit a 芦笙 (lú shēng) workshop. The lusheng is a reed wind instrument and an important element in the Miao, Dong and Yao peoples' cultures.
       

       

       
      Then at last we headed to the restaurant, but as is their custom, in homes and restaurants, guests are barred from entering until they go through the ritual of the welcoming cup of home-brewed rice wine.
       


      The consular staff from Myanmar/Burma and Malaysia "unlock" the door.
       
      Then you have the ritual hand washing part.
       

       
      Having attended to your personal hygiene, but before  entering the dining room, there is one more ritual to go through. You arrive here and sit around this fire and wok full of some mysterious liquid on the boil.
       

       
      On a nearby table is this
       

       
      Puffed rice, soy beans, peanuts and scallion. These are ladled into bowls.
       

       
      with a little salt, and then drowned in the "tea" brewing in the wok.
       
      This is  油茶 (yóu chá) or Oil Tea. The tea is made from Tea Seed Oil which is made from the seeds of the camellia bush. This dish is used as a welcoming offering to guests in homes and restaurants. Proper etiquette suggests that three cups is a minimum, but they will keep refilling your cup until you stop drinking. First time I had it I really didn't like it, but I persevered and now look forward to it.
       

      L-R: Director of the Foreign Affairs Dept of Liuzhou government, consuls-general of Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos.
       
      Having partaken of the oil tea, finally we are allowed to enter the dining room, where two tables have been laid out for our use.
       

       
      Let the eating, finally, begin.
       
      In no particular order:
       

      Steamed corn, taro and sweet potato
       

      Bamboo Shoots
       

      Duck
       

      Banana leaf stuffed with sticky rice and mixed vegetables and steamed.
       

      Egg pancake with unidentified greenery
       

      Stir fried pork and beans
       

      Stir fried Chinese banana (Ensete lasiocarpum)
       

      Pig Ears
       

       
      This may not look like much, but was the star of the trip. Rice paddy fish, deep fried in camellia tree seed oil with wild mountain herbs. We ate this at every meal, cooked with slight variations, but never tired of it.
       

      Stir fried Greens
       
      Our meal was accompanied by the wait staff singing to us and serving home-made rice wine (sweetish and made from the local sticky rice).
       
       
       
       
      Everything we ate was grown or reared within half a kilometre of the restaurant and was all free-range, organic. And utterly delicious.
       
      Roll on dinner time.
       
      On the trip I was designated the unofficial official photographer and ended up taking 1227 photographs. I just got back last night and was busy today, so I will try to post the rest of the first day (and dinner) as soon as I can.
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