Category Archives: Travel

Smoked Tofu Curry Noodle

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I spent the first beautiful weekend of summer in Ithaca, NY. Between hiking, ultimate frisbee, and yoga, I had a little bit of time to check out the local food co-op and grocery store.

Ithaca is home to a thriving vegetarian scene, including the landmark Mosewood Restaraunt, so I couldn’t wait to try the locally made organic tofu I found. Each individually-wrapped, golden brown block of Ithaca Soy Tofu-Kan cost around $2.00, and came marinated, baked and ready to eat.

After using it in this recipe, I fell in love with this ingredient. Continue reading

The Cheapskate’s Guide to Puerto Rico: Part II

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Pinones

A short drive east from San Juan on coastal route 187 is the beach town of Piñones. Freed and escaped sugarcane plantation slaves founded Piñones with the help of native Tainos, and Afro-Carribbean culture and pride still run strong. At my first roadside stop, I watched a bomba dancer in a long skirt and bare feet command the rhythms of conga drummers with the movement of her hips.

Piñones is also where immigrants from the Dominican Republic settled in the 60’s and 70’s. Therefore, the first half of the town consists of Dominican clubs and restaurants, and the second half are Puerto Rican. You can drive up and down the strip at night, sampling both tastes, rhythms, and accents. Continue reading

The Cheapskate’s Guide to Puerto Rico: Part I

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My good friend is leaving for Puerto Rico today, so to follow through on a last minute promise, here is my version of what’s good in Puerto Rico–to eat, see, and enjoy–based on the three months I lived there in 2007. The first installment is about an area of San Juan I frequented regularly:

Santurce

On Thursday and Friday nights, the bars surrounding this market plaza are so packed with locals that the crowds spill out into the street, where they dance to live music, gather around tables with beers and fried seafood, and socialize beneath the large trees that line the plaza. I was there about twice a week, but it was usually at midday, instead of midnight.

This is because the Placita de Santurce is also home to a farmer’s market where you can find the best fresh fruits and veggies in the city. Inside the plaza’s turn-of-the-century structure, you can find everything from red bananas to yellow avocados. One vendor sells exotic herbs like yerbabuena, wild tarragon, and Puerto Rican lemongrass—all especially good for flavoring cocktails like mojitos.

A selection of fruits fresh from the market: guamas de la india, platanos, papaya, bananas and pinapple

My favorites from the Placita: guamas de la india, platanos, papaya, bananas and pineapple.

Another yummy add-in for mojitos is my favorite Puerto Rican fruit: guama de la India. Native guamas grow on trees, inside large green pods that look like giant peas. But in the summer, they are out of season, so, to keep up with year-round demand, another kind of guama tree was imported from India. Its fruit looks like an orange teardrop with tender white flesh inside—and the taste is like nothing else. It has the fresh, pine-y taste of juniper berry, the tartness of lychee, and the sweetness of Muscat grapes. You can’t go to PR without trying one…or twenty.

The Ramirez family sells guamas at their large stand in the center of the market. They also sell rum bottles full of homemade aji (spicy pepper sauce), which make for great souvenirs. Continue reading

Trini-PR Plate

This is my plate at Jean’s family gathering in Miami, at his uncle’s house. He is Puerto Rican and his wife is Tranidadian so it is REAL!!

Yellow rice, grilled fish with pepper sauce, yuca, fried plantain, green mango,and salad!

Fish Head Curry

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The best curry I ever had was made of fish heads. It was with Jean, two years ago, at the Banana Leaf in the Little India section of Singapore. I liked this place a lot. For one thing, we ate off of banana leaves instead of plates. And instead of utensils, we followed local custom and used our hands to eat.

We started off messy, but then copied a group of businessmen seated nearby, using our fingers to roll compact balls of curry-sopped rice. I felt like a child learning to use a fork for the first time, and that was big fun.

fish-head-curry

Notice, in the above picture, the small pile of bones on the corner of Jean’s leaf. In the USA, fish heads are what we throw away. But they are so meaty! I heard somewhere that the most tender flesh in the fish is at the back of the “scull,” and it is true. Like soup cooked with bone-in, skin-on, fatty chicken vs. soup cooked with cubes of white breast meat, fish head curry is ten times more flavorful than any other fish I’ve ever tried.

I lived around cities my whole life, where food came from the supermarket, from restaurants, or machines. We had an aversion to the whole animal approach to food. Gizzards, eyeballs, bones and blood were considered “dirty” food. We only used the breast of the chicken, the filet of the fish, and the ‘mignon’ of beef: the cutest cuts for the most proper presentation.

But now, with the whole “snout to tail” (or is it tail to snout?) philosophy gaining popularity, we are reaching back into the theoretical garbage can to reclaim lost treasures. Marrow bones have become a menu must. A new cookbook features bacon fat cookies. Headcheese is on the rise. On my first day at a new job, the chef made summer rolls with leftover crispy duck skin…they were to die for.

So, city or country; trend or tradition; Stateside or Singapore; have your fish– and eat it, too.

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Mitsuwa Madness: An Illustrated Adventure

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On Friday afternoon, Kristen and I met at gate 51 of the Port Authority Bus Station on 42nd Street. Our destination–the sole stop on the minibus departing from gate 51–was Mitsuwa, a huge Japanese supermarket in Edgewater, New Jersey, perched on the banks of the Hudson River directly across from Harlem.

I had read about Mitsuwa on Serious Eats, while searching out taiyaki, the fish-shaped, golden griddle cakes I was hooked on in Singapore, Continue reading

The Other Farmer’s Market

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To cap off our country weekend*, my Dad took me and Jean to the farmer’s market in Quakertown, PA, a few towns over from where my parents live. (*Anita’s weekend= Wed-Fri.)

Quakertown is one of those Pennsylvania towns where Victorian style houses with wraparound porches line both sides of Main Street. Where every other storefront is an antique shop. Where a railroad crossing sign marks the main intersection. On the left, there’s a perfectly preserved, turn of the century train station, where a white haired man and woman, silhouetted against the sun, are huddled in conversation- although it looks like a train hasn’t passed through here in decades.

Basically, it’s the idyllic little toy land from the intro to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. And it has always given me the creeps.

Continue reading