November 29th, 2010 by joelcoblenz
It’s not a pretty sight to watch me eat. I make food and travel tv shows and I am told I inhale my food like a starving man. I am always feeling rushed and that someone will take my food away or there won’t be seconds. Often it’s just a taste and we’re moving on. I might have some sense about what I missed should I return unhampered. The television army travels on its stomach. At least my camera commandos do. It’s hot or cold, the stuff is heavy. Every 5 or 10 or 15 hours or so we refuel. I’ve been lucky enough to see everyplace twice courtesy of viewers like you and I am grateful. All that travel made me very hungry and after the first few decades, somewhat more discriminating.
The best wine I ever imbibed was served in an open unlabeled bottle. It was an ancient boîte up a cobble lane too narrow even for even mini cars. That well worn table was high above Canne in the old city. In hind taste I’m sure the bistro fare was Provençale pearls before swine. The cuisine escapes me but that vin rouge ordinaire was a heady big giant fruit sporting complex tastes of its elements, circumstances and environment. It was effervescent, smoky, mellow, silky with what I now recognize as low tannin. We were shooting the Film Festival, John Sayles was showing “Brother from Another Planet”. I ate spaghetti Bolognese by the pool at the Carlton Hotel and hung out with Mickey Dolenz (hey hey we’re The Monkees). We worked in tuxedos, interviewed Isabelle Hubert and Catherine Deneuve and had some of the best red ever. Thanks for sending us.
Seasons later you sent us to Rome and Florence. My very first bite was porcini mushroom on polenta. My second bite was prosciutto hand sliced ethereally thin. I fell in love with espresso although Italy had me at bite uno. We followed an erstwhile Cardinal getting elevated, profiled designer Laura Biagiotti and futbol star Giorgio Chinaglia. I learned the virtue of the siesta and long meals outdoors way past my bedtime. A pattern of early calls, late wraps, long dinners and less sleep emerges.
OMG; Did I thank you for shipping us back to Provence to go truffle hunting with George Germon and Johanne Killeen then from R.I.’s Alforno where they shaved fresh black truffle in ample chips over fresh fettucine and cheeses the heady earthy gems from the earth perfuming the memory. Bourride is a fish stew, a regular guy bouillabaisse made with the tasty rock fish of the Med and floating croutons with spicy aioli. I learned to make this when I got home cause I wasn’t gonna get it any other way and here the door to flavor opened up a bit more.
In college my friend Diggins introduced me to Thai food. He’d traveled alone there and conjured images of palaces, elephants, vast wet markets and never ending street food that fascinated. Cold beer at a reasonable price. In those early days at “Bangkok” on Mass Ave and “The Thai House” out on Commonwealth I developed a taste for super spicy roast duck curry, kaffir lime and lemongrass soups, country style pad thai, kee mao noodles, charcoal grilled satays , and fiery hot papaya salads.
A new Siamese Fairytale by the Green Fantaman.
I’ve found out that Green Fanta soda goes especially well with the Thai moonshine, Lao Khao. Not the red or the yellow. The Green Fanta. In Thai that unnaturally bright chartreuse tonic is called Nahm Quiew. It seems like fizzy robitussin cough syrup to me but the Thais know it as “cream soda”. Go figure, and…now I’m hooked. Wicked hard to find in my neck of the woods I’ve discovered one Khmer market that has it every other blue moon. But here’s a work around; Honey Bee Thai cream soda concentrate and your good seltzer et voila. Ice + Thai vodka and I’m dipping my toe in Thailand. Join me?
N.T.S.; Walk a mile in another’s shoes, put on their apron for a day. Learn a little local speak. At least enough to be polite, say hello, thanks, inquire where the toilet is and to decipher a menu.
(note: For entertainment and by your leave I’ve taken the liberty to manipulate this experience, rearranging and compressing, some poetic license, thievery and out right lies).
Chan hiu laeo/I am already hungry.
So just whose on board for this food trip? I’ve decided to give the Runaway crew Thai nicknames. All Thai people go by some short name. Pong, Ao, Lek, Bird, Tom, Tan, Apple etc. I’m doling the monikers out like barbeque names. Alter egos. Dopplegangers. A.K.A.s
Chef Michael Ginor; soldier, wall street player, author, Chef and Foie Gras King gets the name Sen Yai. It means “big noodle”, like “big cheese”…an important person. “Not a subtle guy” he is on a far flung flavor quest. We will follow him with lenses and microphones only to where “real people eat”. It’s a rule. Really.
Begin forwarded message from the Runaway Chef: Will anyone believe a Jewish guy called big noodle?
JC.com: I thought we were known for being pretty smart.
Johnny O on audio and music. Johnny is Khun ” Waan Yen”. It means “sweet cool” (a type of Thai dessert), an easy going person. He’s packing all the sound gear and a guitar.
Begin forwarded message from Johnny O:
That sounds great Joel, just assure me “Waan Yen” does’nt mean “Lilly white fragile flower” or ”rotting durian stench”. Other than that its fine. Otherwise I’d prefer my porn name, Fuzzy Hayes.
Nikki on second camera gets Pak Boong. The much loved pak boong, water convolvulus or water spinach (yummy deep fried) is known as “morning glory” in English. She is bright and cheery and our youngest Runaway with a great eye.
Begin forwarded message from Nikki:
I know curiosity killed the cat, but google translator isn’t so great at translating from Thai. Please tell me that, “Khun Boong” doesn’t mean, “cow booger?”
Diggins. Really can’t improve on that. He’s Khun Diggins/Mr. Diggins. Diggins and I went to college together and long ago he came to Thailand and got me interested in the culture that I find magnetic.
Khun “Apple” from the Tourism Authority has it all under control. “Big Apple” weighs about 87lbs., originally from Chiang Mai now of Nutley, New Jersey.
Khun “Tom” our erstwhile monk phenomenal fixer from last year in Bangkok and Khun Tan our hip hop driver make it all work.
I am the Director, Producer, bottle washer and whipping boy. They call me Khun Jo. Be careful what you wish, sometimes the glamour is masking long days, frayed nerves, a whole lot of dirt, rain and serendipitous delight.
Mai Pen Rai
If you’ve been in Jamaica you’ve heard the phrase “no problem”. Anywhere under a sombrero and we’ve been told “tal vez mañana”. (Maybe tomorrow). RunChef crew I lend you the multi purpose Thai word Mai Pen Rai – pronounced “My pin rye”. We will hear it many times before we get out of Thailand, often when something goes wrong or someone loses their cool. This simple phrase sums up life in Thailand and the attitude there in general. This famous attitude is what allowed them to keep their cool and get back on their feet after the devastating losses of the 2004 Tsunami and more recently, the political unrest that has affected daily life.
There are lots of different opinions on the direct translation, but it literally means “no worries” or “its nothing“.
You will enjoy your trip exponentially more if you adopt this local attitude as well. The next time they loose your ticket, your bus breaks down, or you step in a pile of water buffalo poo – don’t freak out like you would at home, just smile and say “mai pen rai“.
This approach came in handy mai pen right away on Emirates Air. Our business class upgrade didn’t work out so off we went in steerage. It was packed. A bus in the air. Anyway, I had a drink, suffered the meal then took an ambien and a valium. So I had a good time, went hungry, then fell fast asleep relaxed. The Chef lifted my head out of the aisle so the beverage trolley didn’t knock it off. Apparently I was chatting away then sort of fell over, but I can’t confirm this.
Same Same…but different
For the Runaway Crew it’s our collective 29th first trip to the kingdom of Thailand. At some level it makes us young again as we use all our senses to navigate and comprehend a high voltage shock of culture. The hot breath of Siam embraces you as soon as the Airbus vacuum is broken. Up that jet way is something so familiar and so foreign. An ancient never dominated society of complex social patterns side by side with a Blade Runner high tech future. Exciting and modern, spiritual, magical and above all delectable.
These event took place between August 29 and September 17, 2010. Many animals were hurt during this production…but none were wasted.
Thai cooking places emphasis on lightly-prepared dishes with strong aromatic components and is known for being spicy. Balance, detail and variety count. Its a balance of the five taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: hot (spicy), sour, sweet, salty, and (optional) bitter. To sort it out first think of the cuisine as Thai but know it’s really 4 regional traditions. Northern, Northeastern (Isaan), Central and Southern. Each area is influenced by its border neighbor; Burma, the Chinese province of Yunnan and Laos to the north, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to the east and Malaysia to the south of Thailand. In addition to these four regional cuisines, there is also the Thai Royal Cuisine which can trace its history back to the palace cuisine of the Ayutthaya kingdom (1351–1767 CE).
Ever wonder why Thai food is so popular often outnumbering other ethnic cuisines? It’s vibrant, harmonious, sometimes fiery, at times dangerous. An old flame. It is social, shared, enjoyed. The Khon Thai live to eat. It not just fuel. It’s sanook-fun! So we lovers of Aharn Thai or Thai Cuisine are on a mission to the no-farang (no foreigner) zones to seek out the high notes, the haute takes and the soulful inspirations; the real deal. We’re going all the way out for Thai. But where can this crew of food know-it-alls begin?
A hundred years ago? Before the Portuguese brought chilies, corn and tomatoes? 1000 years ago before the Chinese brought peppercorns or the Indians brought curry. Let’s set the way back machine for 2100BCE and join the reclusive, never before recorded Dr. Kanit Muntarbhorn, medical Doctor whose avocation is a life work in progress to reveal the gastrology of Asia. Food lover of 5 decades he possesses an unmatched collection of 70 of the oldest recorded recipes in Thai. Stowed away safely in 7 bank vaults the items include Patinnabutr Lae Jod Mai Het, a magazine-like book published in 1889 AD (2432 BE) as well as cremation volumes often loaded with the dearly departed’s favorite recipes. We meet for a little gastro-archeology 101 in the old Siamese capital, Ayutthaya, the once upon a time Venice of the East. Sacked by the Burmese in 1767, the new capital Bangkok was a blip downriver back in the day. Here the Royal Court and its many kitchens once flourished.
Cue the gratuitous elephants out front of the Ayutthaya historical park’s Wiharn-Pramongkolbaphit Temple. I found this a sort of Fellini meets PT Barnum moment of shameless juvenility and pure fun. Did I mention the Thais cherish fun.
Sanook = Fun. ขี้ฅลก
Way back they were water worlders. Plants, leaves, fish, galangal, lemongrass, rice. Later on, India, China, Portugal and Japan would come tramping thru and leaving off their recipes and ingredients. The Thais adopted the best of it and made it better.
Dr.Kanit, author of Gastronomy in Asia has some rules about the real deal in Thai Cuisine. “Here are some tips and facts that may help your decision-making on authentic Thai food versus non-authentic Thai food or fusion food (the kind that may cause confusion).
Learn about the most important herbs and spices used in traditional Thai cuisine such as lemongrass, Thai/greater galangal, Thai/Kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, hot basil, sweet basil, shallots, cassia and pepper from books or the internet. Buy them fresh and then tear or cut them to experience their aromas which are usually related to essential oils.
Local herbs (samun prai) include lemongrass, Thai/greater galangal, Thai Krachai related to galangal, Thai/Kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, hot basil, sweet basil and shallots.
Red Thai chilli (technically a fruit) is not red Cayenne chilli.
Locally produced Thai spices (pungent or aromatic seasonings) include cassia, pepper and powdered chillies.
Thais had to wait for the import of various foreign spices before coming up with
Thai Muslim Curry. (An analogy: “The English had to wait for imported Chinese ginger to create English Ginger Biscuits”.)
The aroma of Thai hot basil (Bai Kaprow) is different to that of Thai sweet basil (Bai Horapa), and Italian basil is no substitute.
In most Thai recipes with onions, small red-purple shallots rather than the larger European shallots or onions are used.
Tomato-sized green aubergine cannot be substituted by purple eggplant.
Ginger is no substitute for Thai/greater galangal.
Thai fish sauce and tamarind water provide extra flavours for Thai fried noodles, i.e. Phad Thai.
Lemongrass and Thai/Kaffir lime leaves are more important than galangal in Tom Yum Koong (Hot and Spicy Prawn Soup).
Mai pen rai-ing it, Dr Kanit and our gang loiter in Ayutthaya town’s Chao Phrom market. FYI; deep fried catfish liver is spitty outy. Just sayin’. We linger in the fragrant market heat over a morning Leo, although we have a pending lunch date with expat, linguist, food blogger and photographer Austin Bush. This Oregonian came here in 1998 and has wander lusted ever since. His log is pure foodie fun and today he has brought the good Dr and all us Runaways to Jay Nit for the famous boat noodles of Ayutthaya. Jay Nit has been around for 40 years but only the last ten on dry land. We find it tucked alongside a Buddhist Wat on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Austin been quoted as saying that Ayutthaya is possibly one of the more underrated food cities in Thailand. Austin had blogged:
“Inside knowledge from a local led us to Jay Nit, a longstanding ‘restaurant’ on the man-made island that forms Ayuthaya’s old town. To get here you have to walk through Wat Ratayachai, a temple at the edge of the Chao Phraya River, until you reach what looks like a dilapidated wet market at the edge of the river. The place is frankly filthy, but filthy in that reassuring Southeast Asia way that often suggests good eats.
The noodle dishes at Jay Nit, which include yen ta fo, are done at two stations, although I didn’t really understand the division of labour (one pork station and one beef?).” “(Yen ta fo, for those of you who have been living under a rock, is a Chinese noodle dish that is probably the most popular of all noodle dishes in Thailand. One important ingredient in yen ta fo is a big fat cube of coagulated pork blood).” “Regardless, they’re doing something right. The broth of the pork version was satisfyingly thick, thanks to the addition of blood, but wasn’t actually as rich or as spicy as it appeared. But I was most impressed with the pork (illustrated at the top of this post), which was fatty and tender and served in thick slices not unlike a very good bowl of Japanese-style ramen. And unlike most other places in Ayuthaya, the servings here are rather generous (boat noodles are typically served in tiny bowls that sell for as little as 10 or 15 baht - possibly a legacy of the dish’s waterbound origins), making it a heartier version of the dish than most of its counterparts”.
Jay Nit Wat Ratayachai (Wat Jin), Ayuthaya 9am-2pm. Be there or be square.
A thirty minute away whirlwind van ride made possible by Khun Tan, our hip hop Thai driver leads us to Krayasart which is the ancient rice krispy treat of Thailand (*w/peanuts). This government sponsored royal project at Amphur Saena in the Saena district helps the local economy whose former dependence on exotic wood logging or opium cultivation has exhaled with the wind. Another good opportunity for blogging and snapping and Austin lends a few pointers about something we don’t know everything about…yet. Foodblogography.
Krayasart which means food for the Sart Rite is prepared from rice, bean, sesame and sugar cooked into a sticky paste to be offered to the monks on Sart Day. Thai people believe that if they did not offer Krayasart to monks, their dead relatives would have nothing to eat and thus they would be condemned as having no gratitude towards their benefactors.
First night in Ayutthaya. Big rain all night. The advance team ate with our Thai hosts along the river with a view o’ruins @ Baan Suan Rim Nam
1. Grilled River Prawn 2. Kangleang Baansuan 3. Lemon Grass Salad (Yum Takrai) 4. Banana Blossom Salad 5. Herbal Fish 6. “Dok Sano” Thai Sour Spicy Soup 7. Fried Fish Cake 8. Young Tamarind Leaf Spicy Soup 9. Rice wrapped in Lotus Leaf (Kao Haw Bai Bua) 10. Meiang Kam (sliced coconut with betel leaf) 11. Garden Chili Paste 12. Grilled River Prawn served with Thai Sweet Sauce
Hoy Thong/Soda. Bia Chang.
Dinner Ayutthaya night 2 at Baan Watharachai, tel: 035 321 333 The restaurant is located on the river behind beautiful Wat Kasatrathirat.
-grilled snakehead fish, -tom khlong plaa salit bai makhaam on, - yam thua phlu-yam plaa duk foo- phat phak boong fai daeng:
Chef Michael (Sen Yai), celebrated his birthday under a safron cloud at Buddhist Wat Phananchoeng at Ayutthaya, Thailand; a Siamese kumbaya (o lord) moment. Bolts of orange fabric on silver trays are thrown up from the ground to men standing a story about on the lap of a très large très beautiful golden Buddha. Like something out of the Ed Sullivan Show the trays are flung first and caught perfectly. The bolts of cloth follw and are dreassed over the three story high image. Then the ote half of the transparent cloud is thrown out over the crowd which gathers tightly (watch your wallet close) and spread the love under a very tangerine roof. I’m moved. No one rolled video on this. Left to sound and moving memory and Khun Diggins:
Lunch at Saithong restaurant was a worm hole to an ancient Thai kitchen where we first agreed that we are not big fresh water fish lovers. Chef Michael says, “things taste like where they live.” With that Chef bashed voracious land crawling snake head wonders into the next life. The muddy water snake head fish, stuffed with herbs, liberally salted and grilled is popular Ayutthayan fair.
1. Salted & Grilled Snakehead Fish 2. Steamed Sea Bass In Lime Juice 3. Fried Cha-Om Leaf Sour & Spicy Soup 4. Young Coconut Sliced & Seafood Ho-Mhok 5. Three Flavored Blue Fish 6. Roasted Pork Rib with Pineapple 7. Shrimp Tom Yum 8. Cooked Meatballs 9. Flavored Samlee Fish
River Prawn catch at Bang Pa-in Spa way up River was a surprise. They catch em on a
line with a piece of chicken heart and these colossal blue armed critters, big as my
forearm, are grilled and served with perfect condiments of naam plaa, chili, lime
and peanuts. The dinner at Bang Pa-in was a birthday feast that was just perfect.
Delicately fried flower blossoms, giant river prawn w/roe, salads, fruits, leaves and lotus
seeds from the property. A classic perfect hostess with a fine touch in the well staffed
kitchen, epic monsoon rain, fluorescent ambiance and chain lightning. (http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotos-g580110-d1026031-Baan_Rim_Nam-Koh_Chang.html#24457974)
Back in Ayutthaya it’s however the roti sai mai or candy floss in a crepe that really shines. With Islamic influences it is typically sold by Muslim vendors, their countless colorful stands ring the main roads. Thai desserts, big here, kick started when the Portuguese first came to Ayutthaya, introduced the use of eggs. sugar and coconut products infecting the Thai sweet tooth. Most popular is in fact roti sai mai, and consists of spun sugar (sai mai-’silk threads’) rolled up in a thin pancake (roti). The hot spun palm sugar is worked with two large pins looping it over and over until exponential threads of candy floss, later colored tartish hues, is A.) bagged for take away with a pile of delicate crepes or B.) stuffed and devoured on the spot. We chose B. The snack is considered a local specialty of Ayutthaya, though many Thais find it a nostalgic snack. Perhaps because, Roti Saimai can normally be found around school areas, and kids like us love it.
Later on it’s off to the Bang Lan night market where the monsoon rains have shrunk the crowds of ever hungry Thais. A few die hards linger and some of the offering is the stuff of eating dangerously. Pass the bile. Some beers, night rain, Cowboy music. Complain. Only moto taxis at night. We are a fleet. Some farang just zipped by and shot me a bird.
Rain on the roof at Iudia Guest House was like an Ayutthayan lullaby. Along the Chao Phraya, the Iudia has a pool with a view; the ancient ruins. That night monsoon rain and heat lightning played across a southeast asian skyline and the outline of old Siam. Luxurious personal service, Thai breakfast and Spaghetti Bolognese on demand. Luscious sweet golden seeded pomegranates and longans are adorning my desk. Edible beauty. (nts: come back here on vacation and stay a week) Hong Thong has supplanted the Mekong at this point. I’m toting a Mekong ice bucket I schnored off the distillery during a factory tour. http://www.iudia.com/index.html
From Ayutthaya, the Thai ancient capital in ruins the Runaway crew moseys down to Bangkok, Krung Thep, The City of Angels.
We’re basing our dysfunction TV family at the intimate and ultimate Metropolitan Hotel ensconced way off the bustle of South Sathorn Road. Regal Khun Alarda and manger James Low have seen to everything. We are in hotel heaven. Here also (and wicked conveniently) is the location of Chef David Thompson’s newest restaurant Nahm.
The Australian’s successful Thai ventures down under and his Michelin starred Nahm in London make him a preeminent authority on Thai food. His book Aharn Thai is the international go to on the cuisine. But will the Thais take to it? We dine at Nahm with Chef Ian Kittichai and his wife Sarah Chang, old friends and culinary conceptualists in Bangkok, Mumbai and New York. A Royal family member, Khunying Narisa Chakrabongse presides over a round table. Tom Parker Bowles, author of The Year of Eating Dangerously (and son of Prince Charles’s Camilla) is in attendance with luminaries from the British press where Chef David is a darling. Two of Andy Ricker’s Chefs from Portland, Oregon’s lauded “Pok Pok” with NYC restaurateur and innovative pastry artist Pichet Ong share a 2 top. Legendary Bangkok Post erstwhile food critic Bob Halliday (pen name Ung-aang Talay” (Sea Toad) and “Plalai Faifa” (Electric Eel) is in attendance but out of my view. Quoted in the NYT the Toad said, “When someone comes along and presents himself as the spokesman of Thai cuisine it’s like Osama bin Laden going to the Vatican and saying he is the high authority on Catholicism,” I’d heard the Falstaffian farang, in country for 30 years, got his stomach stapled and was a shadow of himself. Perhaps that’s how he got by me. An encounter with Lonely Planet’s Joe Cummings ratifies this real deal Thai Menu. All agree the experience is sublime. Authentic, soulful, skillful and of quality. The attitude and presentation give and get respect. But the habits of Thais who “live to eat” often hold the best experiences close to the heart. Their mother, their domestic, their street vendor, their use of condiments is the way. (*ironic; Thai has no articles) Oh they will come to bring guests, particularly Farang (foreigners), for bragging rights and hi-so “been there done that”. Our expat friend Austin Bush blogged: “And speaking of Thompson, the Bangkok branch of his Thai restaurant nahm is now officially open for business. I ate there for the third time last night and yet again, was thoroughly blown away. Standout dishes included the deliciously tart and spicy cured ‘hiromasa’ kingfish salad with chillies, lime and mint; the rich and very spicy smoked fish curry with prawns, chicken liver, cockles and black pepper; a slightly bitter and rather spicy red curry of grilled salted beef with chili leaves; and a deliciously decadent and rich durian and sticky rice. If you’re in Bangkok and are interested in Thai food, it’s a must visit.”
I myself ate here thrice myself in 10 Krung Thep nights. It was all sensation and totally engaging. I felt hungry, welcome, satiated and appreciated. What will the Thai’s say, strings attached? We’ll see. After all, there is magic at work. It all began with an amuse of betel leaf stuffed pomelo, prawns, toasted coconut and peanuts, appointed with palm sugar and tamarind…and then…
(*read slowly with your eyes closed)
pomelo and grilled prawns with toasted coconut peanuts and palm sugar sauce served on betel leaves
smokey chiang mai relish with pork scratchings and quail eggs
southern grilled mussels with cucumber
lemongrass salad of prawns, squid and pork
crab and snake gourd soup with egg, pepper and coriander
yellow beans and crab meat dressed with ginger, kaffir lime and shallots served with crispy fish cakes.
spicy relish of prawns, santol and shrimp paste with braised mackeral, sweet pork and crispy cha-am
sour orange curry with red claw crayfish
smoked fish curry with prawns chicken liver and black pepper
stir fried pak warn
salak steeped in perfumed syrup with coconut dumplings
black sticky rice with longans and young coconut served with carmelised taro
custard apple and tapioca in coconut cream with glaceed pumpkin
durian and white sticky rice
Freshness, fire and flavor immerge, converge, embrace. Nose to tail eating with ancient civilized refinement and Thai practical elegance. Light, herbal, texturally complex and simply “aroi” - delicious. All the senses are in play. Spicy complicated curries, tart acids with citrus chiming across sweet burned palm sugar with bright herbal notes and a surprisingly welcome textural feel. I didn’t know what to say. I tried to go slowly. I listened. It was awesome and most assuredly a top ten lifetime dining memory. Hospitality of the finest kind and very dramatic silent personal theatre take place. The sour tang of tamarind, salt of naam plaa fish sauce, aromatics like kaffir lime, galangal, lemongrass play nicely together. Then green peppercorns and the hot spark of chili happens. Add applied fire, a boatload of skill and as ever condiments designed to make each mouthful the first. For me this was dreamy. Maybe that sounds nutty?
This great chaotic harmony springs from a bustling kitchen of talented Thai kitchen elves, forging food porn, seamless service, all amongst dining decor which smacks of Ayutthaya temple brick ruins. The Chef tells of a mural that will be the room’s showpiece. Outside a Buddhist blessing adorns the Nahm sign. Thompson himself wears a white string on his wrist as a part of that magic. It will stay there until it falls off. I have one on each of my wrists even as I type. These are ties to blessings, tithing, connection, and belief in the magic of everyday. (Plus spirits and ghosts, demons, politicians etc.). The great Thompson’s new book debuting in the US September 2010, Thai Street Food is a coffee table manifesto with luxurious photography, great stories and the unlocked recipes.
Chef David scribbled, “Some of the nicest street food in Bangkok. – I don’t think it can be called a restaurant, it’s just a shop front really with the kitchen at the back and a table filled with various raw ingredients and the plastic chairs and tables spilling along the pavement and onto the streets. I do know this one’s name, Raan Kao Dtom Plaeng Naam (actually it is called raan kao dtom jaesuay 02 223 9592). and it’s open 7 days a week form 5 pm until late. It’s a casual and easy place that is so typical of the Sino-Thai food of the street, various trays of dishes sitting on ice, squid, scallops, crunchy pork belly along with Chinese broccoli, garlic chives and snow pea shoots. There is no menu but none is expect. What you do is point to the ingredients you want to eat and they’ll tell you how they cook it – crunchy pork with Chinese broccoli, squid with snow peas, bean curd with Chinese sausage. I always order the smoked duck. I know of no other place in Bangkok that serves this very local dish – it’s prepared in the nearby dtalart gao market – where it is salted and smoked over sugar cane to result in the most delicious mahogany coloured bird. I love it. You should also try the minced pork with Thai olives, the little mussels fried with chillies and coriander”.
Thompson has been on service all night with tons of luminaries and hi-so-ites demanding his attention and a new kitchen just getting up to light speed. Tonight in the wet sodium vapour later-than-lateness, the Chef directs like a conducting maestro and waves and gestures and speaks a charming Australian Thai that has a lilt of it’s own. The King’s Thainglish? He lives in a nether world of Farang/Kon Thai-ness that suits him and intrigues me. Bangkok is straggling home. The bars are closed. Taxis are scarce. Vendors have pushed their carts to shelter. The victuals and company are unforgettable but now too late and lost on the crew and guides. They go but I linger. Judgement call. 0 dark 30.
Thompson has given to calling me “Tennessee”. I am from Massachusetts. I’ve been called worse. As a professional guest in kitchens great and small I have learned that when a Chef says ”jump” the correct response is “how high Chef?”. In this instance, on a very late night with a very early call at daylight this Chef has slurred “ Diem? Drink?” I ask how high.
On 14 Sep 2010, at 11:46 PM, David Thompson wrote: I pray you’re in pain. I am.
On 15 Sep 2010, at 05:17, Joel wrote: Jep (Hurts)
On 15 Sep 2010, at 06:23 David Thompson wrote: Excellent !
But what are some of the elements of Thai Cuisine and how are they made. Cue:
Parade of Thai Industry
Sriracha Panich Factory: the original. Chilies+vinegar=napalm. Love it. This original “Rooster Sauce” from Si Racha, TH is a giant modern mechanism. We follow the process with marketing man Khun Tanawat Winyarat at Amphur Muang Samutprakharn and have an I Love Lucy moment when the camera knocks over the bottling line like spicy dominos. *Note: The original Sriracha Panich (panich means commerce) now markets the product under the name Sriraja Panich (with a “j”) since “Sriracha” was trademarked in the U.S. by Huy Fong (Vietnamese in California).
Squid Fish Sauce factory at Klong-Darn, Samutprakarn is an old school operation watching over anchovies & salt +18 months= the cognac of fish sauces. The awesome owner Khun Anun “Luck” Nithipitigan resembled the great Japanese actor Tushiro Mafune but with crazy Aharoni eyebrows. They produce Squid Brand (it contains no Squid) but also the very popular American seller, Tiparos. Been in my fridge for decades. (Not the same bottle of course).
Perhaps the best lunch of the trip followed. “Daeng!” See food. Oh that crab w/roe and Nahm Quiew. The venerable bare-chested proprietor and owner of competing brand “Lobster Fish Sauce” (no lobster) strode in and asked how many wives we each had. Clearly he can walk around in his own restaurant with no shirt and apparently has many wives. Luck’s daughter “A” wrote me this menu reminder:
“Well, the name of that lunch restaurant is Daeng (แดง) in Samuthsongkram. I am not sure how exactly its location is called, but you need to u-turn under the bridge over the Mae-Klong river, then its Soi is on your left. Umm…at that lunch we had Poo Pad Pong Ka-Ree (ปูผัดผงกระหรี่) curry crab, Tom Yum Kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง)hot and sour shrimp soup, Pad Pak Ruam Mit (ผัดผักรวมมิตร) stir fried mixed vegetable everything, Kung Oob Klau (กุ้งอบเกลือ) Oob, Pla Muk Pad Kra Team Tone (ปลาหมึกผัดกระเทียมโทน) Squid, then some Thai dessert and watermelon. I guess that is it. I hope it helps J.”
Mekong Distillery formulates cane and rice into fire water but not really whisky. Known for the increasing popular Chang Beer and Mekong “Whisky” which is actually a cane rice distillation with a curious flavor some find reminiscent of whisky. Particularly if you are in Southeast Asia and have no whisky. Its well guarded blending they could have showed us but then they’d have to kill us. Tanker trucks of Molasses in, giant vatting, blending, testing, tasting. They also make Hong Thong, Thailand’s best selling domestic liquor at about $3 a fifth. Ice soda and a 90/10 soda whisky pour and you my friend are on a slow rice barge up river. Or something.
CP Foods; global giant and super secret location visit with Ian to the agri-farm of the future. The giant is even bigger this year because Indonesia’s old method crop (exposed) have gotten a blight and we all know what BP did to the gulf of Mexico. Thai shrimp everyone? There’s Tom Yum Goong, Kaeng Goong, Goong Yang, Goong Khao, Goong Ka Pow, ….
A new day; The monsoon rain all night has cleared the air for 100 degrees 100% humidity.
Runaway is curious after Thompson’s take on Thai, just what is the authentic Royal Traditional fare? We gather four Chefs and plan a big deal meal for 30+ with the Thai press invited to the Chakrabongse Royal Villa.
Ian picks up Runaway at the Met and takes us to meet Suthat “TonY” Charnvises, a runner up from Asia’s biggest loser (perhaps source a bit of footage from NBC?)
Chefs Ian + Tony + Michael at Tae weht Market
Breakfast at Mong Konchai, Tony’s family’s original restaurant location: Chicken Rice Place, Duck and Pickle Lime Soup (the consommé was sublime)
Shoot market. Ian’s TV crew joins
DJitpochana original neighborhood
Double steamed duck pickled lime soup.
In the old Tae Weht market, tucked away between the blocks is a medieval kitchen with cauldrons bubbling the works for kao man gai, the omnipresent and elegantly flavorsome steamed chicken rice that is the comfort food of a place I’ve grown most comfortable in myself these 20 days. I’m not here for the chicken rice though. Ian’s close friend, business partner and runner up on Asia’s Biggest loser is still the biggest man in Thailand if in heart alone. This spot is the original site of his family’s uber popular chain, D’Jit Pochana. English accented and Terry Gilliam humorous Tony lays it all out over a bowl of the duck pickled lime ambrosia. “Yeah man, like 70 years ago my grandfather was a butcher in the old Tae Weht market, and my grandmother was selling hor mok (tasty fish and coconut concoctions steamed in banana leaf cups) from a basket. Today TonEE is a Sen Yai / Big Noodle (Big Cheese) in Bangkok’s restaurant and catering scene. We’d meet up with Tony again and again on the odyssey we’ve planned to Runaway to. It happens as I sit down to collect my notes, my thoughts, my wits, the first flavors I conjure back home are the great double steamed pickled lime soup. Back here in the B&W flavor world I’ll goose the duck to accentuate the strong clear consommé (cheat by buying a duck in Chinatown), the five spice and sweet soy duck, the pickled lime with an added fine dice of kaffir leaves. Way too much deep fried garlic and pickled cabbage with a breath of white pepper and I am coloring with crayons while copying a water color but minus the sound of the monsoon wet streets, a plastic stool beneath me and beverages al la 7/11, it works.
We gobble a pastry box of Kanom Bueng, sweet thai taco/crepes. Ian, Tony & Michael wander thru the old dark alleyways that make up Tae Weht. My post elevensees ample form reminds me of the totally equipped gym back at the Metropolitan. For now eat, shoot and be merry….. Tony wanders out ahead to the newer outdoor market. From his silhouette he hollers back…”stop eating”.
Meet at D’ Jit Pochana restaurant to plan Royal Thai Dinner. D’JitPochana; think modern Thai Bar Mitzvah with buffet, Thai and western sections, food stations and green fanta. (Also Thai beer on tap). One could even have spaghetti Bolognese if one chose to. My 3 Chefs put there heads together, sketch, divvy up and we split to:
Hyde&Seek where the libations with imagination Flow. Ian & Sarah are awesome hosts and the crew takes a break from local fare for some inspired gastro pubbery. Notable baby back ribs with chili chocolate glaze came right off the tiny bones, pulled korabuta pork sliders, and cutting edge cocktails.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010 Shop, cook, dinner at Thai Viila
Now Traffic in Bangkok does nothing but suck. If you drive in it then you mai pen rai’n it. So first off Nikki runs away with Chef Ning Najpinit by boat to Pran Nok market at Pran Nok. I first learned about Professor Kobkaew and Phd. Food Culture Specialist Ning and their Khao Cooking School from who else? Blographer Austin Bush:
“Khao San Road is probably the unlikeliest place in Bangkok you’d expect to find an authentic Thai cooking school. But the people behind Khao Cooking School have heaps of experience and have put together an institution that feels both professional and homey, despite the incongruous location.
The school was founded 2 years ago by Kobkaew Najpinit (in the middle in the picture above), author of several cookbooks and a 35-year veteran of teaching Thai cooking. Her daughter Ning (on the left) speaks great English and does much of the teaching to non Thai-speaking students. A typical course at Khao spans three dishes over four hours and costs 1,500B. There are two sessions a day, each offering a different repertoire of dishes, so it’s possible to study a week and not repeat a single dish. Those interested in more obscure recipes can arrange private scholarship. Stop by and let us know how it was.”
Khao Cooking School
Located behind D&D Inn, Th Khao San
081 731 800
Diggins Every time we had a special meal, Boonypat seemed to be there, whether it was at D. Thompson’s Nahm, the Thai Royal Place, or the amazing Khao Cooking school this fellow was there. I often asked, “is there anyone else who really cooks in BKK”? September 30 at 11:28am
Diggins I need to take some lessons from you and he! October 1 at 12:57pm
At the Royal Villa.
Another way to end run the BKK rush hours is the Rod fai Faa or sky train to Vongvien Yai market with old friend Ian Kittichai…
aka Chef Mue Thong aka Chef Pongtawat Ian Chalermkittichai, plus Ian’s TV Crew, who are awesome. I notice they give him periodic massages. Former Four seasons Exec, Ian rules restaurants in Bangkok, Mumbai and New York. The morning walk thru the old hood and the wet market itself are totally juxtaposed to our transport there by the land of tomorrow train. It occurs to me that Bangkok and Amazing Thailand are like Disney World but for grown ups. I’m amused. Old School, new paradigm. Same same ..but way dif.
Meet Khunying Narissa Chakrabongse (royal family member) at Thai Villas (Chakrabongse’s Villas). In close ascension to the top, Narissa appears as a British Aristocrat, with both Russian and English heritage. Kunying Narissa with the title Mom Rajawongse has written extensetively about the Royal Family and tours us around the river side Royal digs with a view of Wat Arun. When she is not in residence the amazing property is a boutique refuge of the rich and famous. Here’s our choice location for the old school cooking that’s fit for a King. Thompson visits with Tom Parker Bowles (son of Camilla wife of Prince Charles). They say cheerio and take off in a long tail boat.
6:00 pm Dinner on Terrace perhaps 30 people
Food, folks, fun, a flourish. Khun Ping from TAT, Khun Pong from Trikaya Tours, many old friends have come. Deputy Governer of Marketing for Thai Tourism; Khun Juthaporn Rerngronasa, Khun Ping from TAT NYC, old friend Khun Kasemsak “Pong” Bhamornsatit. Magazines, TV News, Daily papers and internets haved showed up. Tomorrow we will be multi colored headlines in the Thai papers. “Runaway Chef comes to learn about Thai Cuisine and Encourage Tourism.” You better believe it. The Thai press loves Runaway. Ian, TonY, Kobkaew, Ning and Michael work in a space made for less. Especially since we’ve let in all the press and photographers. It has taken on the feel of a live event. Everyone is having fun. The night grows long, great success. Even Dr Kanit joins us. Applause for Runaway Chef and the BKK Crew. Just time to get on the internet. Upload some HD videos. Collect, charge, sleep perchance to:
Morning train to Khon Kaen
Diggins points out the rhythm of life is in every sonic detail in Thailand. The sputter of Tuk Tuk two strokes, the whoosh of the sky train, chopping, sizzling and pounding, the sing song of many voices talking at once and the clack of tracks. Segueing in I imagine the sound of the native Kaen or bamboo harmonica. It’s a kinda zydeco accordian sound that bridges cultural chasms. The smoking section is between the cars. I climb on top of the train to scout a shot. It’s about a million degrees up there, centigrade. No shot. Down inside no real AC. We are in the Airconditioned car. Train food. Mai pen on rye please. Bia Leo is what’s for breakfast and steamed rice with spicy ground protein, chilis and a fried egg. One of our crew meets a girl and asks to take her photo. They both smile. Clack, snap, clack etc. I think I notice she has the beginnings of a tattoo on one wrist or perhaps in that light a cheat sheet in Thai script. Or…a phone number. TonY will meet us there with Tan and Tom our van and luggage.
“saep” (แซบบ่) in the Isaan dialect implies a multitude of flavors
8 (bpairt) hours later Runaway pulls into Muang Pol station, the source of MUM
· Mum is the word for; fermented pork and rice sausage left to its own devices in high heat. Danger. Spitty outy.
· Sato; cloudy white rice beer. Like unfiltered sake. It would make awesome ice cream
· Kao Mak; the rice from the fermentation process. No waste.
· Nam Prik Plaa ra: A fermented fish paste that only a Thai mother could love. But this baby is the progenitor to fish sauce, the ubiquitous salty element of Thai kitchen magic. Intense but not impossible. Many Isaan people would ask us, “You eat Plaa ra”? “Chai kap, saep mahk” Ja sure. Very tasty.
· Dried Buffalo Skin. Pretty good really. How bout like bacon bits on Thai ceviche?
Group picture with the whole village. It’s another Royal project and we’re the first farang visitors they’ve see. We are funny. I have a big nose. They are proud and perfect.
Just a 90 minute van hurtle by driver Khun Tan who has met us with our ace guide and fixer Khun Tom. Tom and I worked together last season with a former TV Chef. He rocks and we are glad to be together again. I have years on him but the former Buddhist Monk calls me little brother. I oft act my shoe size. This month I will be 50 though my older brother Bill tells me that since life begins at 40 I’m just over 10.
Khon Kaen and the luxurious Pullman Raja Orchid ex-Sofitel. Nightmarket Dinner.
According to Lonely Planet’s Joe Cummings; “You know you’re in Isaan when
-in the shop, thick layers of dust cover Coke and Fanta bottles, while Mekong and Beer Lao bottles are always new and shiny. -the 6-pm national anthem is the signal to close up shops, go home and sleep. -the first cry of the rooster is the signal to crowd the markets and blare morlam karaoke for the listening pleasure of the entire village. -you can drive on a four-lane road without seeing any cars; in fact, in a half hour you’ll come across more cow-poop than cars! -at a restaurant, you ask for a glass of drink, they give you a bottle (”geo”). -the number of local women interested in marrying you is directly proportional to your age - but their age is inversely proportional to yours! -upon hearing you speak Thai, people assume you must be married to a local gal. -you see buffaloes and chicken roaming in-and-out of schoolyards. -you compliment your host for the colorful patterns of the tablecloth, and then you see him using the same thing as a loincloth! And towel! And blanket! and just about everything else you can think of. -the only thing removed from the chicken in the soup are the feathers.“
8:00 am Breakfast and shoot at New Aim Oat in Prachak Road home of the “The Khon Kaen grand slam. Tony presents the full Isaan breakfast including French/Vietnamese baguette based breakfast sandwiches and house made Chinese sausage / lap chong. Thai iced Tea (charred tea latte with condensed milk) and fresh tangerine juice with real bits of fruit. It’s Rosh Hashanah so we go to Temple at Wat Nong.
About an hour north is Suan Kwang and the locally popular Kai Yang Wanna. This is the most popular Kai Yang (grilled chicken spot). Lot’s of Thais thaiing on lunch. Once again it’s about the condiments. We TV intruders make friends and influence people. We learn how to spatchcock/butterfly a chicken on bamboos skewers. Flattened, s&p and charcoal grilled to apparent perfection and delight, the monsoon deluge crashing on the giant chicken outside the awning is ignored. Inside Wanna has it all going on. Kai Yang, Larb, roast pork neck, sticky rice and there was Nahm Quiem/Green Fanta. Khun kao jai kap?
In Isaan language Papaya Salad is called Tam Bak Hung. In Thai it’s Som Tam which means “sour-pounded”. @ Aran gin lao reuy, Michael and TonY make Som Tam at this famous SomTamery. The Chefs take strands of papaya mix with the various mise en place choices and pound them a bit in a narrow wooden mortar to blend the salad ingredients, extract the juices and break down the fiber. Then they sample about 7 kinds. “With duck eggs” comes last and it’s my favorite. The creamy yolks and fiery chili lime juices meld with the yielding green papaya shreds and the whole Thai kitchen sink including tomatoes, dried shrimp, garlic, brined crabs, shrimp paste, yardlong beans, plaa ra, hog plums, limes, chilies, sugar, peanuts, elbow grease and soul with individual little woven cylinders of sticky rice on the side to soak up every jubilant drop. I want it now. Or som tam soon.
Next morning TonY heads back to his catering empire in BKK . We record Morlam karaoke music (some acoustic “kaen” bamboo harmonica thing) (traditional and karaoke) for the listening pleasure of the entire village which turned out to be us and ten friends of the band. Traditional music for good live performance and sound recording. No doubt they rocked and the traditional acoustic was haunting and the electric zydeco roller derby disco was haunting in another way.
We press on to UdonThani and meet Professor Kobkaew who along with her sister has come to Isaan to make a visit to a special forest Wat Tham Klong Pane near Nong Bua Lamphu where a venerable Monk presides over the many faithful who make the schlep. First a crazy early lunch at Waan Dee which was perfect in all ways right down to the condiments. Chef Michael will spend the night at the forest monastery of Baan Taad (Wat Not) without ambien and in Spartan reflection. Had it not been for the karmic twist of countless roosters fighting and fornicating all night the Chef/aka Foie Gras King’s night might have been better. Venerable Acariya Maha Boowa Nanasampanno at 96 is kinda the Pope in these parts and offerings including big trays of cash flow to his perpetual hour of power. Next morning (cockadoodle) when a cast of thousands turns out to make tamboon (a mitzvah) and bring alms of food and other necessities it becomes yet another Thai thanksgiving dinner (breakfast) that couldn’t be beat.
This was followed by elevensees a tad on the early side. A main drag joint open to the Udon Thani morning rush. The early crowd, Runaway crew and the twice worthy Professor Kobkaew. As fleets of loudspeaker billboard pickups parade we enjoy jook (rice porridge), khao tom (rice soup with ground pork), or rice noodle soup. Always the condiments (sugar, fish sauce, dried red pepper, and chilies in vinegar) ignite the bowl.
Runaway lead by nimble Khun Kobkaew explores the famous CELEBRITY restaurant in Udon. The Chefs meet the former Prime Minister and talk food. Bee larvae, fermented jungle honey, Kobkaew, kitchen scene. Awesome.
Bye bye to the Professor and long ride to Ban Wang Nahm Mok. Near here in 1966 some son of an American diplomat stumbled on a pottery shard in a road construction and uncovered a civilization predating the fertile crescent and China. Turns out they were metallurgical, animal husbands who also cultivated rice: 5,000 years ago! So this place has some bones, agreed?
The most common greeting in Thai is (gin khao laew rue yang?) which means “Have you eaten rice yet?” Rice is sacred in Southeast Asia, and the center of Thai life. Most people eat rice three times a day, and rice is used as offerings to monks, as well to the spirits. Rural villages have traditionally been organized around the production of rice, with communal labor working together to build and repair irrigation channels for the rice fields, and families working cooperatively to plant and harvest rice. Even now, as labor sharing has given way to paying wage laborers to work the fields, rice is a key part of Thai daily life and cultural identity. The Jasmine Rice or Khao Suay Mali, eaten in the Central Plains and south as well as a prized export and the Khao Nieow/Sticky (glutinous) rice which is the staple of Isaan diet.
Weaving, gathering water plants, riding a motorcycle, rice, rain, play Takaw (foot volley ball w/a wicker ball) with local kids. We learn the litany of rice. Plowing with water buffalo, planting the seedlings by hand in the flooded paddies, the threshing to follow. The blue pajama clad Isaan farmers happily holler work songs as they toil under a dramatic Thai sky in what passes for a monsoon sunset. Too much rain no good, Too little rain no good. The children playing in the puddles are oblivious. Slow down. Stop and smell the neuroses. Chef Michael is often mistaken for Bruce Willis here. Sort’ve the way Springsteen and Che are often confused in Siam. Here comes an Isaan hootnanny. Drums and whisky. Music and dance. Lots of cooking and eating and the tithing. A woven banana leaf representation of the constellations and a ball of string are wrapped from wrist to wrist by the village eldest. He encantates and you can just tell we’re gonna all be Facebook friends or the traditional equivalent there of.
Overnight at Budsabong Fine Resort which seemed to host only us in a California modern motel around a pretty groovy swimming pool. Something sort of Twilight Zone here though. I did learn that when Khon Thai drink they arrange themselves on the floor like Thai Kings of old. Very sensible as it is a shorter distance to the floor. The morning revealed the greatest collection of dead soldiers ever. Ibuprofen me thinks.
Sunday, September 12, 2010 Nong Khai
The mighty Mae Nam Kong just separates us from Laos. A skylab (motorcycle rickshaw painted up in tarty low rider ways) shuttles us to the morning market. The Nong Khai Food Blizzard is like a food show for regional producers. In a giant plastic Quonset hut it is well airconditioned. A state fair. John gets a weird guitar. I peruse the swords and knives. A quick visit to the Giant religious pantheon miniature golf and lunch on the river.
Standing at the Mekong River in Nong Khai, the farthest point of the journey I’m sifting to define some catharsis. Dr. Kanit, Austin Bush, Thompson, Ian, Tony, Ning, Kobkaew and every last Thai I met were so warm and proud. They shared everything and gave us farangs a pass on our new world audacity. The food porn was deep but the soul satisfying genuine planet respect and the joy of everyday were profound. The prideful hospitality of meals and the sociability of producing, crafting, conveying, sharing impressed. Everyone eats and we grow closer around the table. So here is my story and in the end I want more people to widen their cultural horizons, try new things and make the world a smaller more delicious place. Eat at Thai restaurants, cook Thai food at home, GO TO THAILAND. NOW. NOT SOMEDAY. It will feed your body and your spirit. Runaway with us; eat drink be merry…tomorrow we’ll diet. May your glass be half full so that you have room for more.
The Runaway Chef crew :
Chef Michael Ginor
Director Joel Coblenz
Sound Recordist/Music John O’Connor
Second Camera Nikki Bramley
DSLR Richard Buxenbaum
For T.A.T. Achiraya “Big Apple” Buddhani
Guide & Fixer Khun Tom
Driver and the artist recently known as Khun Tan
MANY ANIMALS WERE HURT DURING THE FILMING OF THIS PROGRAM.
(but none were wasted)
Dinner, a time when . . . one should eat wisely but not too well, and talk well but not too wisely.
- W. Somerset Maugham
If you’d like to Runaway in our footsteps:
The Metropolitan: South Sathorn Road, Tungmahamek, Sathorn, Bangkok, 10120, Thailand
Iudia on the River
11-12 U-Tong Road, Moo 4, Pratuchai, Ayutthaya 13000 Thailand Email: email@example.com Tel : +66 (0) 8 6080 1888, +66 (0) 3532 3208
Krungsri River Hotel (9/4 only)
27/2 Moo 11 Rojana Road, Kamang, Ayutthaya 13000, Thailand
Pullman Raja Orchid
9/9 Prachasumran Road, Amphur Muang,
Khon Kaen, 40000, Thailand
Centara Hotel & Convention Centre Udon Thani 277/1 Prajaksillapakhom Road, Muang , Udon Thani, 41000, Thailand Phone: +66 (0) 4234 3555
Budsabong Fine Resort Address. 222 - 222 / 2 Bann Donsawan, Donsawan-Wattad Rd | Tumbon Hadkum, Nong Khai 43000, Thailand +668 1471 4505 +668 1666 5111
March 24th, 2009 by joelcoblenz
I’m a Producer of TV Shows about Food and Travel. My post production guides are my journals, submitted here for your amusement and designed to whet your appetite to watch. “Food Trip” Season 2 on PBS. Check your local listings. Joel Coblenz; Director/DP
March 23rd, 2009 by joelcoblenz
Cast & Crew of the PBS series Food Trip head up the Amazon and into the Andes
“Iquitos, mierda. I’m was still only in Iquitos. Every time I think I’m going to wake up back in the jungle. When I was in Lima it was even worse… I’d wake up and there’d be nothing. I’d hardly said a word to my Producer when I told the crew to pack the gear and update their yellow fever and malaria. Later on we’d need something for the altitude, but I’m climbing ahead of myself. Before we left all I could think of was Ceviche and we’d found that in Lima in spades. White fleshed fish with chunky red onions, camote sweet potato, firecracker aji chilies and spices found nowhere else. The juice is called leche de tigre-tiger’s milk. The Peruvians know it as a cure for sleepwalking, hangovers and an aphrodisiac. Some of the best damn citrus acid cooked Corvina in Peru but I was craving something more. We were on a mission from Todd…English that is. Restaurateur, charter member of the clean plate club and travel junkie, the Chef is looking for a spark. Something very old and new at the same time. It’s out there in the places where light filters into the deep rain forest, in the villages where sauces of poverty sustain a people as old as the clay and river which provide for them. A place that you can’t get to from here. No roads. Air strips on no maps and the mighty Amazon and its tributaries. I’d been here a day now, waiting for the mission to begin. The Spanish colonial remnants and modern intrusions of moto taxis and billboards close me in here. For lunch I’d eaten a rodent of unusual size, a Paka and some Piranha with the local brew Cusqueña lager but while they were tasty and the company of the local futbollers was welcome, my culinary spirit was craving something more. Finally I get what I want. At nightfall we reach Nauta by bus and my shadow precedes me in the sparse sodium vapor streetlights. In the dark ahead I sense the river. The glowing feral eyes of the ferryman pilot me to the Aqua our floating home as we follow the Pingha to the place where the river runs black and the dolphins are pink. I was going to the best place in the world and I didn’t even know it yet. I wanted a mission and I got it. Brought up to me like room service.”
Pedro Miguel Schiaffino knew he’d be a Chef since the age of 12. The son of a butcher, art collector and purveyor of fine spirits he is the charming Don of the Lima limelight. His restaurant, Malabar, the name picked from Benjamin Moore paint chip colors, is one of the best rooms and menus in a city with no shortage of places to be seen and make the scene. Astrid & Gaston, Raphael, Tanta and La Gloria all rock but Pedro Miguel is a young eclectic culinary Turk turning out dishes like Brule’ tuna cubes marinated in ‘cocona sauce’, black clam risotto, and sashimi style diver scallops with chichi de jora and lime marinade. He exemplifies the fusion of Spanish, Criollo, and Japanese influences that are the face and palette of Peru today and the rest of the world by the time you read this. I’m excited to be going in the heart of the Amazon basin with such a companion and even as I write this I am hungry again.
We stop in towns and small villages of the local Cocoma people and are struck by their abject poverty. It’s just serious business here in the unforgiving heat of the upper Amazon and Ucayali rivers. Not so many old faces. Clearly no child labor laws. The markets feature the double skinned armored catfish and little girls sit among the entrails and lacerate the boney whole fish to make them ready for sale. Transparent plastic bag cylinders of colored spices, oils, and ready to go soup and stew mixes hang on lines above tables of potatoes, wide leaf cilantro or culantro, aji chilies, and purple potatoes. Wild rice and yucca are cultivated as staples. We trek into the rain forest and gather camu camu fruits (with 40 times more vitamin C than kiwi), fragrant garlic tasting leaves, small tomatillo like berries, wild citrus fruits, and colossal fresh water snails. Tropical rainforests cover only about 7% of the earth, they house almost half of the world’s plant, animal and insect life. A quarter of today’s pharmaceuticals are derived from tropical rainforest plants, and according to the American National Cancer Institute, 70% of the plants useful in cancer treatment are found in our disappearing rainforests. Scored rubber trees are the evidence of the rubber boom that made then abandoned an important economic factor here. A real prize was the tender heart of a special young palm that when unraveled became a perfect jungle fettucine that Pedro Miguel laid out on a banana leaf. A stylin’ amigo. I am struck by the subsistence living of the small hamlets like Hatum Posa we encounter. A mother grills fish and plantains over charcoal and lots of kids look on in the open stilt house where in the wet season this is waterfront property. With no privacy it is clear that all the seasons of life from conception to death occur in full vision of the whole clan. A fermented yucca beer is offered up in the genuine hospitality of this place. Pre-masticated for the enzymes that activate the brew, guide Yusil (a better man than I) takes a long pull from the pail. Shotgun shells litter the deep jungle here and Capucin monkeys are shadows in the canopy. They know better and we rarely see wildlife up close as the predators and the prey of this place in Peru coexist.
The M/V Aqua is a new ship on this old river. With the ultra modern look of something designed by Gehry she boasts 12 staterooms with big panorama windows where the jungle moves by in an endless strip. Dinners are complete from a tight galley below and fine Peruvian, Chilean, and Argentine wines are flights on this cruise. All the baked goods are made onboard and I must give the baker kudos. The Puinahua river is in our wake and seasonal fisherfolk ply the waters of the smaller Sapote river in wooden canoes with longtail motors that make it possible in the shallow bits during this the dry season. We buy a prize Tiger catfish from a proud fisherman. Fish pens used since time before time here, hold the catch for these people who will be sustained by the small profit in Peruvian soles they will receive. The method is gill netting and one husband and wife show how it’s done. Along the bank their camp is a tarp strung between trees and an open fire cooks a one pot supper. The catch is giant paicha, armored catfish, oscar, and other species alien to me. Then came the rain of the dry season and sky cried onto the hungry clay. The fisher folk retreat under their meager shelters and we return to the Aqua. Consado.
Yanayacu lake is a 90 minute skiff ride up the Pacaya. Storks that have lofted on the thermals from a continent away are everywhere. White egrets, macaws, parrots, and turtles mug for the camera. Yusil who is stout and strong as a Kapok tree is leading to the place where the river runs black and pink dolphins gently break the ebony glass and chase the schools of small fish for lunch. Yusil and Chef dive in and I remind them there’s no peeing in the pool lest tiny parasites follow the stream back up inside and clamp on. I wonder if farting would be a problem. Think I’ll hold that thought and pass on passing. Meanwhile small fish are biting. “Small fish are biting”. Now I ask if they have any cuts or did they shave? Maybe should’ve mentioned that before? The water feels good under the Peruvian Sun but the pink Flippers don’t come any closer. Mini locke-nessies. We make the 90 minute trip back. (Blackberry is not a jungle fruit and I’ll have to wait a few days before I can work on the other world matters.)
Iquitos again. Pedro Miguel recommends the Belen market there highly. We jump in a motobike taxi that reminds me of the tuk tuks of Thailand and precariously negotiate the morning rush of this town built by the rubber Barons of the late 1800s. The Belen Market is everything Pedro Miguel said and more. Color, humanity, scent, and story. Hawkers cry out their wares and desayuno is gulped down in bowls of flavor like sopa de pollo. A beggar woman has planted herself in a major intersection and sings a haunting chant as she holds her child. A man is hand rolling cigarettes faster than the eye can follow. Fruits and veg, salted fish and fresh have made their way here from the Amazon along with us. Butchers and beef, paca, venison, turtle and turtle eggs, alpaca and more I could only guess at. A flight up above the hustle and bustle a tile floor cover with blood and guts I can’t define leads to a walk in refridgerated room where an unnatural fog reveals alligators and giant tiger catfishes and the huge Paica (Arapiana Gigas..+6feet) are dressed out for some other world thanksgiving dinner that won’t be beat. OK I’m hungry. We sit down at a plywood table, pull up a bench and enjoy one last Amazonian breakfast of Piranha, roasted sweet plantains and a chili cocona salsa that ads a kick along with a banana leaf wrapped package of that tender hearts of palm ribbon. The market that goes on for many square blocks swirls around us and a woman with a monkey shot full of holes cradles the carcase like a baby then mocks a macabre waltz. This is real. Same as it ever was. Not bizarre. Not unreserved. Real food caught and cultivated by real people who live to close the very good earth and big waters of the Amazon. Pedro Miguel and I part ways and agree to meet at his Malabar in Lima in a few days. Before then the Andes are waiting. My guys grab cameras and altitude medication and we fly.
Now we are averaging about 4 hours of sleep. A big TV production no no, but as always so little time and so much to do. With just a few hours in Miraflores in Lima we manage a strategic strike on Astrid & Gaston where we sample 2 Ceviches and a fine dish of young kid with a perfect salty and crispy exterior. I’m getting used to the Pisco brandy a sort of refined grappa and the Merlot and Malbec just sing to us. We briefly catch up with Doug Rodriguez from Miami’s OLA and YUCA. Chefs that pass in the night. Chef and I screen a cut of a show we shot in Africa and I’m snoring and awake simultaneously.
Now we ascend. Snowcapped peaks are below us. Cusco is actually higher in elevation than Machu Picchu where we are headed. The whole crew gets aerosol cans of pure 02 held in little Andean embroidered slings. Local Quechua woman sell us coca leaves and coca candy. We chew the leaves like a chaw but feel no rush. Not even a coffee lift but somehow between the pure oxygen, diamox acidifying our blood and the coca we plod on. Postcard scenes pass our lenses and our new guide Ayul takes us to a local Andean market in the Sacred Valley. Mutton and kid with a spicy peanut sauce (peanuts came from here in the beginning), potatoes in countless variety (Peru knows 2000 and 200 are common), chilies stuffed with local fresh white cheese, and Chicha corn beer both plain and with strawberry and cinnamon is served tepid and is muy popular. Breads in fresh sweet round loaves and pastel dessert cakes are sold among traditional crafts. Looms are worked as they’ve been for thousands of years and pots of bright Andean dyes are like the big big box of crayolas on steroids. Cooking fires, revelry, laughter and daily life drift away behind as we squeeze in a quick lunch on the way to the train to the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu.
Late. We are late. The driver is racing along these mountain roads amid the giant snowcapped peaks that ring the Sacred Valley reveal our lunch date. A catered affair for just us is two small canopies. One with the table and the other a small kitchen. We wade thru a heard of sheep to our seats and eat another incredible high altitude meal of alapaca and chicken with all the fixins in this way beyond The Sound of Music setting. We’re late which is way too bad as I could’ve lingered here imbibing the wine and soaking up this billion dollar view. Sacred.
Our mini bus careens down the mountain passes dodging lighting bolts and pelted by more rain of the dry season. A town races by and I wonder what we’re missing there. Perhaps just one marinated skewer of anticuchos? No tiempo amigos. We run for the train hustling up all the heavy gear and luggage and roll away down the track to Machu Picchu.
It happens to be the national holiday of Peru, which means we are not alone in our pilgrimage to the ancient Inca site. In 1821 Peru wrestled its independence back from the Spanish who long ago came as conquistadors but never dominated the culture. The Quechua took what they found useful from the Spaniards, Portuguese, Africans, Chinese and Japanese and have amalgamated a Peru that is new compared to its pre-Colombian history. Thousands of years with no written language and no currency worked out just fine for the Inca who ruled the lowlands from their high Andean castles via a network of Llama pack trains that brought order and trade to this land. Today the people still remember the spirits or Apu of the mountains and the Shaman still plays a role. At the core is the respect of Pachamama or Mother Earth. Don’t mess. A good harvest, weather, disease, love and luck are all tied up in it. I paid a visit to one such holy man who built an offering of representations of life elements from liquor and candy and dirt and bark, literally blew smoke, then packaged it up in wrapping paper like a birthday present and burnt on the bare earth of Pachamama. Couldn’t hurt.
We do it fact get lucky at Machu Picchu where our Peruvian government permits to make TV at the archeological wonder come thru thanks to the Apus and Michael Steven Owens the manger at Cusco’s La Casona who pulled few Peruvian strings to make it happen. We line up in the dark with the faithful and touristas and snake up the switchback road at 4am to the entrance. Some of the crew has got the pinch of coca between the cheek and gum which is a disgusting habit. “Gimme some.” We climb up a mile or so into the clouds and wait. Wait for the sun. Wait for the clouds. Wait for the Apus. Then is comes. The classic view of Machu Picchu and I get a chill as the majesty and magic of this place grown out of the granite emerges. It’s one of those wonders of the world like the Pyramids of Egypt or the Colosseum, legendary and impressive. Something has and continues to go down here. The Incas knew the importance of food and sustainability long ago. Lessons we are relearning now at our peril. To survive they lived in concert with nature and adapted. Freeze drying was known to them. Granaries and storehouses and irrigated terraces testify. The lowlands blossomed in ancient Peru because the Inca coaxed oasises of water and green swarths to be thru ancient irrigation channels and when Pizarro came and brought the dim light of the old world he noted that “no one went hungry in this land”. Today, not quite so much. We walk among the alleys and houses and temples and plazas before the crowds overwhelm the place. Thanks Apus. Machu Picchu.
Just enough time to cook with Chef Davide of Café Inketerra. Quinoa crusted Pollo (tastes like chicken) and our first taste of Guinea Pig or Quwi deep fried (think vegetarian short eared rabbit) happen. The experience wouldn’t be complete without music and Chef sits in on guitar with a pan pipe Peruvian band. They rock out on Hey Jude and some original Peruvian songs. Machu Picchu Mariachis.
OK kids. Pack it up and put it on another little train that could and will chug back up to Cusco. Not just any train however. This is an Orient Expression of train travel and in the club car excellent mixologist David delivered perfect straight up vodka martinis and we discover the Capitan which is a Pisco brandy and sweet vermouth cocktail of which I am surprisingly a fan. A jazz duo is making it all a fiesta with Criollo renditions and our soundguy Steve gets in on the action on bongos. Lomo Saltado in the dining car with all the trimmings of fine service and we pull in nice and late to Cusco and La Casona. La Casona was once an Andean then Spanish hacienda and now boasts just ten plush rooms with a picture perfect interior courtyard. Yesteryear’s privilege at today’s prices and worth it. The Chef at La Casona, Juan Carlos was full of Peruvian pride with a face like a road map to the Andes and a talent for incorporating the bounty of Andean culture and modern cuisine. His tidy kitchen and attentive staff are eager for our visit and the sources and techniques are careful and clever. We dine on trout and quwi and a full course of Cusco hospitality. The hearty and the bullheaded continue on to The Monastery Hotel for a full on Pisco tasting. A Piscoing contest if you will. Empty stomach La Casona Manager Michael takes one for the team as his eyes cross and he pours into a cab but not before one more round at Ciccolina who had catered our Sacred Valley lunch just days and a lifetime ago. Now sleep a minute.
Last mountain Pass:
Cusco’s market is nothing to sneer at and Chef Juan wakes early (so unkind to a Chef) and guides us thru his town. The Quechua vendors are happy and welcoming. No hands out. Lot’s to see from fruits to meats to sweets. The locals line the food stalls eating their breakfasts of Andean champions and it’s all good. Especially with a heaping of aji chilies and culantro.
Adios to Juan and off to local outlying towns that each specialize in one food. First a town that bakes bread. A lifelike statue painted in color like some religious shrine depicts a woman and boy with round loaves of the Pan in the town Square. Chef gets in on the kneeding and baking. The Baker swathes down the ancient oven with wet eucalyptus brooms and the decorated and raisoned breads rise to the occasion. I’m not gonna say yummy like a twit but it was wholesome and tasty no doubt. Town number two boasts the deep fried Pato or duck served with stuffed chilies and a frittata of pasta. Lots of carbs make life possible at high altitude. The local black beer gasps and pops like champagne as Chef demonstrates the kitchen skill of opening it with the back edge of a knife. POP, fizz, Pato. Now town three is what you’ve been expecting. Guinea pigs…everywhere. Golden roasted, heads on, stuffed with yuacatay herbs it is greasy and good. Will Chef put it on the menu soon? No. Pets or Food? Hard to say. Finalamente it’s the town of Chicharrones. Not the name of the hamlet but its speciality. Deep fried pork and potatoes with pork rinds as an app. A beer, a way too sweet Inca Kola and a shot of an anise like liquor and it’s time to pack for flight. Me and the squadito will squeeze our heads back thru the guinea rabbit hole and make the trip back to New York from the Andes and the Amazon. A swirl of extremes and tastes and colors for the senses and the soul. It’s given me food for thought both Cloud Forrest and Mighty River which recede in our jet wash. Peru. Never dominated, she has conquered me. On the way we’ll finally sleep and dream.
March 23rd, 2009 by joelcoblenz
In this final chapter of 3 Food Trip with Chef Todd English goes to Southern Thailand. Cast & Crew included Todd, Commando, Producer Matt, Johnny O on audio and me; YHS
Last part: Lerk Thai; Siam Dream
It’s a about a one hour flight to The Beach from Bangkok. Muslim lunch; kinda putrid, no beer. Rice, Curry, Earthy, Nutty, Beautiful.
In southeast Southeast Asia, on the jade green island of Phuket in a turquoise sea lies Amanpuri. Nature, thai culture, spirit, and tranquility live here and so will we for five days. Luxury and service must have been invented at this the first of the Aman resorts because this place is all about both. Each of us has a little Thai bungalow with some translucent walls, ultimate bath and outdoor traditional sala where we might lay about and pretend to be Thai gentlemen lost in time. There’s a spa and gym though I’ll never know. Several restaurants (Thai/Italian/Japanese) and a perfect crescent beach where our hero will pitch his Blackberry” into the Andaman Sea, kick off shoes and get off the grid…and just say “Phuket”.
(By the end he’ll be wading around saying, “I know it has to here somewhere”. No actual Blackberries were hurt in the taping of this program.)
Production meeting with the Amanpuri staff. Scout the property and the Villa. This will work. Safety first. Dinner in Patong. The best nuttiest most beautiful beautiful coldest beers I ever had was the second to last of many this night on plastic chairs under the southern Thai sky surrounded by…Farangs including Russians. (They make me feel so smart. I hate that). Tom Kar Gai, Som Tam (nuclear), Pad Thai, Poo Kaeng Som, Pad Kee Mow, Sauteed Morning Glory, Sizzling Plaa (Matti Mahal ate the cheeks!). The food is so good and so spicy that I am so sweaty and so…what’s with the 1 sheet napkins? And why won’t they come out of the dispenser? I touch them and they disappear. Ethereal serviette.
Roadside real breakfast for non farang. Sticky rice with minced pork (savory), sticky rice with shredded coconut (nutty), sticky rice with banana (beautifully), all stickily wrapped in banana leaves.
Sea Gypsies are Muslims who live on a stilt platform town near what have become known as the James Bond Islands for the two 007 flicks that have been filmed here. Pha gna Bay is a natural wonder of the world with its columnar islands that rise up hundred of feet to wooded caps. The gypsies have a whole thing going on out here and we check out their fish drying and shrimp paste making. A close up shot of a singing Minor Bird and a minaret and the call to prayer heard in the background sticks with me. Unripe mango w/palm sugar and dried chili, dried shrimp w/cashews are snakes and one of them gives you diarrhea. Diddle boy, flat screens in shacks, live monkey. Chef helps pounding shrimp paste or kappi old school. We lunch with 300 floating bus people. Squid 2 ways, Tom Yum Goong, Nam Prik and the Thai show offs in our group eat lethally hot nam prik on crudite like it was peanut butter.
Meet the Mango Sticky rice family. Old man with a face like a map of the Mehkong Delta. Glowing eye Girl shuttles the mangoes and pours on the sweet coconut milk. Old woman slices. Ice cream man with longan ice treat pedals by. “Kawtort!”/Excuse me. 4 please (gesture). Case of tall boy Singha to go. Travel tip: We’ll empty the mini bar.
Just make the Muslim market. Muslim ladies in head scarves are all done up in 3 penny make up to sell their wares. String of pearl sausage, shrimp batter fried on leaf and green like an art work relief. Steamed curry in banana leaf. Ferns, vines, veg and fruit, meats and fish. Cooked food. We already got beer.
Dinner for real food trippers down a dirt road far away from Farang to a long tail boat ride across the Styx to a floating restaurant in another dimension. Big oysters like Belon spooned from the shell and topped with shallots and chilies and other stuff I forgot. Spicy red soft shell crab, Sand Shark Banggaan. I remember the Mehkong Whiskey trolley and the bottomless glass of Thailand. Our waitress wrestles puffer fish and shark in pens in the big raft. Lot’s of beer. I was sad to leave. It will be hard to find again. Just sayin’.
Cooking demo at the villa with Thai Chef Khun Naree. Fair well dinner for Thais at the big Sala. Patong along. Tell them Jay sent you. Tiger. Everybody out of the pool. It’s my villa and I’ll have a party if I want to. We’d walk a mile uphill in high heels to feel safe. Dream, perchance to sleep.
I’m falling, and flying, swimming. It’s too bright to see and I’m not thinking about…anything. It’s a story about a King forlorn and many princesses, “nine parrots, one nightingale and some cats . . with its final message being ‘it is very difficult to put the happiness of someone you love before your own’.” S.M.; Siam Fairytale.
Red Sails on the Sea Lion in Pha Nga Bay. Barbie on board by Khun M. includes Lobster, Shrimp, Satay, swim in the cave. Beer was not an issue.
Pomelo Martini anyone?
• 2 ½ Ounce Grey Goose Vodka
• ½ Ounce Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
• 2 Ounces Fresh Pomelo Juice
• 1 Pomelo Grapefruit
• Pink Himalayan Salt
1. Gently tear away sections of Pomelo grapefruit and separate into individual pieces (each will fall away like a little teardrop).
2. Use small amounts of Maraschino Liqueur to moisten the outside rim of the glass. Gently coat with salt around full length of glass.
3. Place cubed ice in an ice bag; crack with muddler until medium cracked.
4. Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice, shake well and strain over cracked ice into salt-rimmed coupe champagne glass. Garnish with Pomelo tears.
Mandatory safety meeting. Everybody gets a sarong from me as a gift. I thought is would look like dresses and be a hoot but it turned out like old kings of Siam hanging out with the guitar and beer, wearing beach towels. Afternoon off at the Khun Tam jam. Whis-a gee and soda by the waves. Italians join in. We shut the place down. It’s 6:30pm.
Thai dinner at Amanpuri. Nice Miang Kam on betel leaf. Trio of salads. Duck Curry. I recall beer. Orchids like they’re going out style, peaked tiled roofs, the shadows of palms, kingfishers and furtive tiny lizards dance. There are no mirrors. I begin to slow, to smile. I get “mai pen rai”. “Chai Yen Yen”. I want to savor every moment of friends and food and fun. Here in this paradise found I recline in my memory at the low table with immortal comrades and laughter that elicits those tiny man tears echoes. Kingfishers and lizards were my friends. Spaghetti Bolognese can be delivered to my room…just sayin’.
There had been discussion about staying another day as a sleep in day off. Didn’t work out. I’ll probably never return to Amanpuri. I certainly can’t afford it. But I will always remember when it was my home for a moment and god as my witness it was nutty and beautiful.
This was a fortnight. Inked in my passport and etched in memory, a passage to India and a Siam traveler’s tale. It seemed a long haul and also far too short. Particularly that last bit, at least for me. I wore my sunglasses as I said goodbye to our Thai friends. Sunida (Daa), X, M, Tam, and Pong. I will miss their bright smiles and devotion to fun. Did I mention that they eat 7 or 8 times a day. The harmony of the four tastes; heat, sweet, sour and salty had me at go. But the soulful interpretations we have been privileged to, where few farang have gone before, brings this world a little closer. Some part of my heart will always be in Thailand…and most of my stomach.
“Then it seemed to me that in these countries of the East, the most impressive, the most awe-inspiring monument of antiquity is neither temple, nor citadel, nor great wall, but man.” The Gentleman in the Parlour - W. Somerset Maugham
Не настолько любознательно теперь. Не так много.
March 23rd, 2009 by joelcoblenz
In part 2 of 3 parts the cast and crew of Food Trip w/Todd English travel from Delhi to Bangkok, Thailand to take a bite of the Big Mango.
Night flight to:
Part 2: The Big Mango, The City of Angels, Bangkok
“City of angels, great city, immortal jewel of Great Indra’s Ayutthaya, land of the blissful nine-jeweled capital, with abundant palaces, immortal palace where Brahma’s incarnation dwells, built by Vishnukarma (the god of engineering).” The full Thai name for the city of Bangkok is: Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthayamahadilok Phopnoppharatratchathaniburirom Udomrathcaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkatthatiyawitsanukamprasit
The Thais just call it ‘KrungThep’. ‘Bangkok’ is for Foreigners or…
Farang. Overall our group has only a little Thai, but quickly becomes familiar with the Thai word farang (often mispronounced; even by Thais) as falang - farang with a slightly trilled ‘r’ is the correct pronunciation.) It’s basically used to describe Caucasians. Farang is also the Thai word for the guava fruit, so we heard a few farang eating farang ‘jokes’ at local markets.
Siam dooz and don’tz
Thais are generally “no sweat guys”. Mai Pen Rai and Chai Yen Yen are catch phrases. It means ‘never mind’ and ‘take it easy’ and the squad will hear them a lot while in Thailand. (We’re sporting a hand full a ‘gimme’ and mouth full of ‘thank you very much’).
On the plus side Thais are patient, tolerant, and don’t show their temper. (We will tax all these). To lose one’s temper is most unbecoming of the person and thought of as a person with low character or poor upbringing.
On the minus side Thais are ultrasensitive, so that even jokes could cause embarrassment or displeasure to them. (We’ll be here too)
Some say that forgetfulness and unpunctuality are a cultural thing with the Thai people. (We fit in)
No temper. No heads. No feet. No Kings, No monks and as always no mothers.
Do use the wai correctly. A Westerner should never wai first and anyone who is paying for any service is the boss and the bosses don’t wai first. (I pretty much blew this. Wai not?)
The guys and I clear customs at Suvarnabhumi International Airport where only weeks ago political demonstrations had shut down the airport and paralyzed the country. Especially hard hit was the very important tourism industry. We hope to encourage people to come and to eat! First stop: The Oriental. Where everybody knows your name. The lobby is lavish with a fountain of gargantuan tropical blooms and temple bells hung from the high ceiling like pendant lighting of the gods. Wais all around. My room has a very nice view of the Chao Praya River from its very excellent and safe balcony.
I sneak away from the group and explore the neighborhood. Soup time at a crowded alley shop where a woman and her young son invite me to join them and tell me what to order. My rusty Thai is getting me by. Another gent at the next table tells me what to drink. They are of course correct. Sen lek noodle soup with fish balls and prawns. A Hales Blue Boy syrup over ice. On the way back to the Oriental a friendly street vender sells me a sweet omelet I saw her crafting on my way to soup. Wrapped in banana leaf it is a fragrant happy second course. The Thais eat 7 or 8 small meals a day. I love them.
A note on: Cab drivers can do anything. We beat em up for “meter fares” only cause we have not a clue what they are saying. Safety meeting.
Take Tuk Tuk (precarious 2 stroke golf cart runs on methane I think) to Soi Polo: This is my “last meal”. The original gloryfried thai fried chicken, flavored with black pepper and the free world’s supply of golden-brown garlic. Add kao niaow sticky rice and som tam peht mahk (papaya salad very spicy) and soak up the juice with sticky rice balls. Garlicky Isaan sausage (Bangkok boudin), minty laab moo, pork neck, and sizzling whole fish and you have the makings of our first ah-hahn glahng wun (Thai lunch). To get there you go down Soi Polo and it’s about 50 yards in on your left. We visit the two giant fry woks that turn out this perfect food and the skinny fry cook who works that forge. The cold fluorescent light reflects in the pools of bubbling oil, the aroma is garlic and pepper and pure fry-elation. For over 50 years Soi Polo Fried Chicken has been building a loyal some say fanatical following including me. I was here three years ago with my son and I just got rid of the breath. Thumbs up tables of happy Thais surround us in the air-conditioned dinning room just down the Soi. Commando demonstrates table etiquette loading with the fork and eating with the spoon. Runners keep the plates coming and tallboy sweating Singha beers ring the tables. Awesome. I understand they deliver if you live close by. I wonder if the Oriental is too far?
Chatuchak weekend market has a tremendous food market. Durian smells like hell and taste like heaven according to some. I’m gonna say Limburger cheese in an old diaper. An acquired bad taste. We were so full from Polo and saw a lot of food included acrobatic pulled tea but with only a few hours sleep on the plane and the very long day in Delhi that we just ……hit the wall.
Fire works, lit up river boats and illuminated Temples are out at night on The River of Kings, the Chao Praya. DVRBs at our table along the river at The Oriental. Double Vodka Red Bull is nominated the Food Trip Thailand go-to cocktail. State Tower. The dome. Sirocco. Safe at the Hotel. Nightcap.
The local contemporary floating market is Taling Chan, about 30 minutes down river by longtail. Lot’s of food on the water but the Thai “farmers market” is on land. Another Thai Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat at a floating restaurant near Talad Don Wai. Tom Yum Thelay, crab curry, sizzling plaa, som tam, lobsters, prawns. Very hot day. Very cold Beer. The Crazy Market, Talad Don Wai was buzzing. We came to see sweets. We were full of lunch. Nice Buddhist Temple visit brings serenity now.
One night…in Bangkok.
Wat Po has the huge reclining Buddha with the mother of pearl inlaid feet. It also has Temple Massage where the Chefs got bent over and twisted like pretzels. You haven’t lived till you’ve seen 90 pounds bend 230 pounds like a twig. Verandah lunch back at the Oriental featured an Erawan Curry and a Surratthani crab meat and pomelo salad:
In a mortar and pestle, smash a clove of garlic and two bird’s eye chilies with about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Then add a finely chopped stalk of lemon grass and smash it up some more. About a tablespoon of dried shrimp and the juice of one wedge of lime and smash this more and mix into about 1.5-2.0 cups of shredded pomelo. Add about 1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar or palm sugar, more lime juice and 3-4 teaspoons of good Thai fish sauce. Mix this all up and serve as is or chilled slightly. The heat of the chili is offset by the sweetness of the pomelo, and it is a bracing and flavor packed accompaniment to fried foods. Toss in a whole mess of crab meat or giant river prawns or lobster tails or whatever you having on hand.
Our Chefs cook Alms they plan to give to Buddhist Monks at the Marble Temple tomorrow way too early. Chef Norbert, Exec at the Oriental opens his kitchen and extends his patience as we fumble for a menu that will please the monks but be something different. Chef Norbert tells us “Of course there would be rice, some fruit, a piece of cake. They like that.” And Nobert Kostener knows having been here some 30 years as an expat and married to a Thai with two luk krung children.
Old Siam Plaza. Super Super Market, Department Store. This was played with their PR media, video and flashing still cameras in every shot giving it a weird entourage feel. We had fun in the high tech super market and the plastic card food court. There was water chestnuts and rose petal on ice; tup tim which means rubies. Was tasty.
Ultimate Pad Thai over live fire.( Imagine the following in a very Thai tonal sing song speech and be transported kap).
(Thai bloggers sayJ) “Pad Thai is like Coca Cola…except does not take the rust off metal…it’s served in every major city in all the major cities that has Thai restaurants. What’s the catch? Wouldn’t it be a thrilling experience to taste the original coke and how it actually SHOULD taste? So here it is…”
PAD THAI PRATOO PEE translated would be ‘Gates of Ghosts’ …I guess the name derived from ancient times (there is a fort with a cannon down the street)…The setting is simple…the focus is in the food. Fresh prawns and secret sauce with nodles stirred fried …watch the flames go up in roar…Big fans blowing the sweet aroma….The final finale…pad thai wrapped in omelete served with fresh sprouts and veggie condiments! hmmm… 50 to 80 baht a dish…
try also the fresh orange frozen drink…
this place is not too far from kao san and are mostly known only to locals…
PAD THAI and the ORANGE FREEZE!
“PhadThai is usually have big prawns in it. Which makes it very groovy. (ones those sold on Khaosan road is budget PhadThai..sorry…no prawns) and at Thipsamai they various kinds of PhadThai Price per dish goes for 30-40 Baht.
There’s a movie named “Jao Sao PhadThai” (Phad Thai bride!) showing in Thailand now. And the actress she had to learn how to cook Phad Thai,So the director sent her to ThipSamai..for real!
Well, it’s not expensive, it’s original, it’s good old restaurant, Locals love it, best selling in town, I think probably only one PhadThai restaurant in Thailand that even has website. The setting is simple…the focus is in the food. Fresh prawns and secret sauce with noodles stirred fried …watch the flames go up in roar…Big fans blowing the sweet aroma….The final finale…pad thai wrapped in omelet served with fresh sprouts and veggie condiments! Hmmm… Fresh orange freeze drink makes this complete.
And they’ve been selling Phad Thai there since year 2509 (this year is 2552 in Thailand) over 40 years already! don’t be surprised if you see a royal entourage and diplomats stop by for a pick up….it’s that good!
Price: less than US$10 » Currency Converter
Comparison: least expensive
Address: 313 Mahachai Road,Phranakorn,Bangkok Phone: 02 221-6280 Directions: From Khaosan Road take a bus no.159 once the bus turn right around the corner. Off at fist bus stop.
Cowboy up. Elephants. Glass Ceiling. Waiyulai. Doggie bag. Wicked early call, like 4:30am. I smell like fire and pad thai.
We make merit by giving Alms to Monks. They compare what they got from the Chefs like kids compare trick or treat spoils. Our Chef decided on pasta cakes with fresh fennel salad. I think we threw in some other goodies too. Gracious and amused the saffron robed broze with the big bowls single filed back to the temple. Our crew is early enough for the Flower and fresh market as the street light gives way to day and Krung Thep stretches.
At Pak Klong Ta Lad Flower Market in the wee hours Phuang Malai garlands are being threaded by many knowing hands. Marigolds, orchids, dahlias, lotus, bird of paradise… The ubiquitous “Ubu” of jasmine and roses is the traditional greeting for travelers in Thailand. At our hotel a fresh chain of blossoms is left for us each day. I find the scent of the jasmine intoxicating. Bulgari makes a scent like that. (note to self).
Market Day with Kuhn Norbert. I love his Thai/(Italian by passport only)/ Deutsche accent. Mountains of chilies, holy basil, lemon grass, kaffir lime, galangal, and cilantro stir our appetites. Pea sized eggplants and wrinkled bitter melon. Morning glory a kind if water spinach. Noodle soups (mine with roast duck) are breakfast on plastic chairs in front of the 7/11. (note to self; get plastic chairs) Thru the locked refrigerator case beer is trapped inside at this hour.
Ban Baat; (ชุมชนบ้านบาตร) The Alms bowl village. The ‘villagers’ craft the bowls the old school way and a venture down its winding lanes and alleys reveals the process of making alms bowls for Monks and a slice of the real life of Krung Thep. Cutting, welding, fire finishing amid the day care, corner store, and open single room flats. Spirit houses and daily offerings to serve the animistic superstitions and flat screen TVs to pass the time. The GGH and Commando bobble thru. We buy some bowls as souvenirs. Merit making. A very Thai mitzvah.
State Tower; zoom with a view, “From atop the State Tower, the world’s highest al fresco restaurant in beautiful Krung Thep , I’m the GGH and this is my Food Trip.” Red Skye at night. On our tour of skyscraper restaurants we land here. I’ve been getting that the higher the restaurant the worse the food. Caesar salad and lamb chops. Wai? Insert bad news here. Oy gevult. ‘Lah gorn na’, goodbye to the Oriental. Regarding beach to the sand, waiyulai?
Kaloang Home Kitchen (ครัวข้าหลวง)We have a nice lunch and blow a good story. Address: 2 Soi Wat Thevarajkunchorn, Si Ayuttaya Road Tel: 02-281-9228.
Chefs know that to find the real deal in any cuisine you have to eat where the locals do. We gathered a posse of our Thai friends and headed down an alley near the National Library. Down at the end past the Buddhist Temple where the kids are playing badminton is Kaloang. A ramshackle pier with plastic chairs and family style tables it’s a Krung Thep favorite. We’ve ferreted it out for it’s outstanding seafood including river prawns as big as my forearm. We suck up the Singha with yam pla duk foo, a grilled fish salad that’s rather spicy, but goes great with a cold beer. I remember laab goong, spicy-and-sour shrimp salad with banana blossoms. Tom Yum Thelay, Crab curry. We had kitchen access too. The staff stood at attention and applauded. Loved this place.
Outside the Rachdamnoen Stadium the vendors are grilling, steaming and frying. The beer is chilling. Inside the main event is Muay Thai. Betting is strictly illegal in Thailand so naturally at the national stadium it is rampant. Ever see ‘Roller Ball’ or ‘Gladiator’. We cruise the locker room as the fighters get taped up. They are tough little elves with wicked sharp teeth. “Sabai dee, kap? cool?” We take our hard to get ring side seats. The traditional hurdy gurdy Thai band of oboes, drums, and symbols plays. Odds makers shout up to the cheap seats. Two jacked little dudes come out and after a ceremonial intimidation just break each other down using the “art of the eight limbs” and ultimately one gets whooped. Commando meets Thai Movie starlette Janesuda who was a great get for the show and learns about the national sport; Kick Boxing. Street Food and attitude. Blue wins. I shoulda bet. Outside amid the stadium street food choices, all our new friends. Som tam, Isaan sausage, gai yang (grilled chicken w/sweet chili sauce), Singha, Leo and Chang, oh my; Janesuda gets the whole BBQ squid.
Last breakfast along the Chao Praya, River of Kings. I will miss the Oriental where Maugham and Kipling and Conrad hung and wrote. Did I mention Sophia Loren has stayed at the Oriental? A caffè latte with a double add shot to start the heart. Passion fruit and mangosteen, congee and croissant and the Squad are off like a prom dress. Next stop; Phuket.
“There are eight million stories in the Angel City. This has been one of them,”
March 23rd, 2009 by joelcoblenz
In this three part blog Food Trip w/Todd English travels to India and Thailand to make delicious television shows. On the Todd Squad this go round: Commando, Johnny O, Matty Mahal and me.
I’m viewing the last shimmering glimpse of sunset thru the foreground of my toes just as it dissolves into the far haze over the Andaman Sea and I’m trying to make up my mind between the Panter Punch or the Tom Kolin. Mr.Tam is playing the guitar and softly singing some gentle Thai country tune that I must move closer and still myself to hear. We’re thinking we should be working for Khun Tam ourselves, but he already has like six Thai guys working this seaside boite. They are longhair types with wispy Uncle Ho beards and badass temple tattoos all over. Sak Yant inked with bamboo needle and hammer in large traditional patterns that may take days to apply. The whole lot are smoking away on rough shag tobacco rolled in dry palm leaves that perfume the salty air. From behind a ragged curtain in a tiny shack, grilled prawns and pad kee maow which translate as ‘shit drunk noodles’ are produced along with Mekhong Whiskey and soda. The whiskey known as Sang Thip is illegal virtually everywhere else in the world and is rumored to have hallucinogenic properties. Here in the shade, steps from the surf we hang out… cold beer at a reasonable price, Thai cuisine al fresco and this time it really just doesn’t get any better than this. Beautiful. Coco nutty. Beautiful. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get in the Way Back Machine and set it for Old Delhi, about two weeks ago.
“The story you are about to read is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
Early gray and froze, me and my partner JohnnyO are hurtling down I-95 across the bleak winter landscape of New England toward JFK. On the way the morning repast of humus, newly minted pita and the Jerusalem mix w/curried deep fried taters like you get near the Mehane Yehuda. I’m finding it a hard habit to break since our last Food Trip to Israel only weeks in the rear view mirror. It’s thee perfect petit dejeuner brought to us by Commando who will join the squad again as we meet up with Matty Mahal and jump down the rabbit hole once more with our fearless leader a.k.a. The Great Giant Head. This time it’s Old Delhi and then KrungThep/City of Angels and finally we’ll all embrace the chaos and just say “Phuket”.
Я любознательное Джордж и это мое отключение еды (Okay, o.k.,o.k. I Curious George and this Food Trip of me.)
Part 1: The Kababary Coast
“It is written…”
Guess who is late? Without him we are like a tandoori chicken with its great giant head cut off… and loving it.
We arrive business class and by way of Brussels (nice lounge) on Jet Airways to Delhi around midnight. Met by our guide Karan we inquire of late night eats. My tongue has swelled up inside my mouth and I must have been having a tough time articulating “ beer”. Perhaps we might sort out a roadside Darhba of note? Our van has a lovely customized wood floor and an indescribable funk like alien toe jam.
Along the wooded deserted boulevards, small fires consuming the detritus of that day fill the street lit air with a hazy fog. Sacred cows actually roam these streets like lost dogs. At least Pindi on Pandara Road is open for business. Parantha, Rogan Josh, Keema Mater, Butter Chicken. No beer. Lime and soda. That wonderful coconut chutney you don’t see and that mango pickle thing I wish you didn’t. Families are still filtering in at 1:30am.
We five, satiated for the moment totter out onto the lane where a Paanwalla has set up on the curb. Acara nut, sugar, candied fruit, fennel seeds, cloves, cardamom saffron, lime paste, and a score of other ingredients of the Paan art are wrapped in a betel leaf and then chewed like a plug and ingested in short order. No spitting. Where’s the fun in that? This time without tobacco or mukwas as found in some paan, the flavors are like some chilled potpourri; rose water, coconut, bits, nibs. It is a popular old school digestive and palate cleanser here in Incredible India so we all put some between the cheek and gum.
A note on the no beer thing. Lots of Muslims, so no booze in a lot of places. The places that do have it tend to serve it après dinner. Go figure. This spicy cuisine and beer go together like… pasta and Bolognese.
Note to India: Work on the beer thing.
Karan is a warrior class act from countryside several hours north of here. To caste and crew he is the cream of the Manala people and we are quick friends. Our fixer is regal and patient and a very good chap. All in all, a better man than I. Maybe someday I’ll visit him far from the city at his ancestral home. There in the foothills of the Himalayas where the Frontier cuisine is cooked over live fire and toasts are made over Mowa wine made from butter tree flowers.
Shangri La lies in New New Delhi, out by the embassies and politicians compounds. It is a five star hotel and an armed camp with a formidable gate. Soldiers whose automatic weapons are chained to them conduct obligatory searches. Since the November ‘08 Mumbai attacks the whole place which normally runs like some Stalinist sub continental first n’third world model of efficiency is on double high alert. Did I mention that there is also no smoking anywhere in public? I am struck by this considering the entire country is smoldering. In the perfectly fine room there was a fruit plate and some nice chocolates set on rock sugar.
Breakfast at the Shang is comprehensive. We are digging the morning dose of Dosas on demand, uttapam, and other Indian fare. We forget about coffee and learn to love the proper Masala Chai, a perfect blend of tea and aromatic spices and herbs.
Videowalla am I. Landmarks but no permits put us in “fly under the radar mode”. Permits in India take about a lifetime to get and since our pre-pro is seat o’the pants we wing it. Red Fort, The Lotus Temple, Akshardham temple, street life, let’s chaat, Sihk and find. 1000 suspect handshakes at the gazillion dollar Patemple where it’s school field trip day for the masses. We are apparently fascinating foreigners. Decked out in schoolboy pants ourselves, and pigment-less we must appear as some unhonorable snowmen. Although I got a weird feeling it’s more like Jerry Lewis in France. Purell anyone?
Bengali buffet lunch at Oh Calcutta. Prawn pulao, soft prawns in an aromatic rice garnished with raisins, chicken malai curry cooked in coconut milk, and an incredibly light but tasty daab chingri. For fish dishes (flown in from Kolkatta) - smoked hilsa fish and a steamed boneless hilsa in a mustard sauce – both worked. As far as apps - crabmeat and shrimp steamed in a banana leaf – winner. Big safe nap back at the Shang.
We scope Bengali Sweets for a shoot the next day. We chaat up the locals some more and visit a big old time Krishna tent event. I think I felt the spirit upon me there that evening or perhaps it was a pickpocket.
Carnivore’s Note: The Hindus hold sacred the cow. The Muslims, they shun Mr. Pig so in India sheep and goats are scared. Chickens are toast. Recommended by our Delhi fixers and Indian friends at home, dinner is at Punjabi by Nature on three modern floors in an outdoor “mall” of upscale stores with a cinema complex. A one legged beggar owns a patch of real estate out front. Insert rupees here. Extreme Indias. Beer by the pitcha before dinner only (we break this custom.), Gol Golppas which are chaat vodka shots in golf ball shaped crisp panni poori cups…tamarind, mint and straight vodka flavored… shoot and crunch. According to our hosts, goat is always Mutton. Raan e Punjab like Mataa (Mother) used to make, Kababs (surprise), a rack of jhengi champ, dhal makni, masala okra, Lachedar parantha, gulab jamun to finish. Overall this was my very favorite meal in Delhi. Chai. Pass the cream. Safe at the Shang.
Lamb Rogan Josh is a red colored curry cooked without any tomatoes. You can use this recipe with mutton (a.k.a. goat) or beef as well.
1. Lamb bone-less cut into 1 to 1½” cubes: 1 pound
2. Lamb meat on bones (shank) cut about 2″ long: 1 pound
3. Ghee: ¼ cup
4. Cumin seeds: ½ teaspoon
5. Chopped onions: 1 cup
6. Garlic peeled cloves: 4
7. Ginger fresh peeled: 1″
8. Cinnamon 3″ long ¼” wide: 2 broken in half
9. Black Cardamom crack open the pods: 4
10. Cloves: 7
11. Black peppercorn: 8
12. Dahi (Yogurt): 1½ Cup
13. Degi Mirch (Paprika): 3 teaspoon
14. Ratan Jot: 2 teaspoons
You may substitute it with 4 drops of red food color.
15. Ground Lal Mirch (cayenne pepper): 1 Tablespoon
16. Salt: 1½ teaspoon
17. Water: 2 Cups
1. Process Onions, Garlic and Ginger in a food processor to make a paste. Set aside.
2. In a heavy bottom pan, heat Ghee. Add Lamb fry till all sides are seared, and the meat is brown. Remove lamb and set aside.
3. Add cumin seeds and Shahi Jeera, fry till brown about 2 minutes
4. Add Onion/Garlic/Ginger paste from step 1. Fry till most of the moisture is gone. It will start turning greenish brown. Green tinge is from chemical reactions between raw onions and raw garlic
5. Add Cinnamon, Cloves, Cardamom, and peppercorn. Fry about 2 minutes.
6. Add Lamb from step 2.
7. Add Dahi ¼ cup. Cook till yogurt is consumed about 2 minutes. Repeat till all the Yogurt is consumed.
8. Add remaining ingredients except water. Fry about 2 minutes.
9. Add ¼ cup of water. Simmer covered on low heat. Most of the water is gone about 4 minutes. Repeat this step till all the water is used up. You should be left with tender lamb in a red colored thick gravy. If the lamb is not yet tender, add more water and repeat.
Mr. Matty gets Delhi belly and is down.
I’m not gonna lie to you. Sunny Northern Injia is teaming, simmering and exhilarating. I want to take a hundred portraits, anticipate a thousand actions and capture this rich quality of light and color, this heat and melodic cacophony of Old Delhi. Rickshaw and barrow, donkey cart and wandering cow and always, relentless urchins are in our face. Impromptu cricket pitches and stick swinging policemen. Sidewalk acrobats, fakirs (and their mothers) and contortionists compliment the type casteng. Dickens would be quite at home. I see that Commando is grabbing rich images on his still camera. He has a shot of one woman where the eyes are piercing, the rich tone of her weathered face glows as shafts of light rake the frame from one side. I really miss being able to take stills on these trips. I frame close ups of carefully arranged lemons and green chilies in egg and dart patterns I am told ward off bad luck. The stolen frozen moment is a different perception. The video however is a moving experience and I engage scores of people who interact with the lens and me. One nut brittle street vendor pops a piece in my mouth. “Dan ya vad.” Sikhs wash their feet before entering a temple guarded by a mustachioed giant wielding a great truncheon thing. I stop to buy a Sikh bracelet and some charms on a string. You can never have enough juju. Just sayin’.
It’s a hot Delhi Day and as ever “Only mad dogs and English’s men go about in the noon day sun”. This time you are glad there is no “smell-o-vision.” The olfactory factors of carbon, diesel, methane, animal and human are staggering. I can’t imagine what happens when the monsoon comes and the water table rises. Purell please?
The great giant head and the exquisite sari adorned Anu Vivek (aka Miss India) meet the Maharajah at the Taj (Hotel) and dine on upscale elevations of Mughlai cuisine at Restaurant Varq . This worked out awesome since Buhkara at the Marya Sheraton and The Spice Route at the Imperial reneged last minute. The table talk is about the slum dog billionaire story of Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal who was supposed to meet us but was detoured to Davos, Switzerland to the world economic summit. I’m quite sure he would not have carried off the sari as well as Anu.
Menu highlights at Varq which means Gold Leaf in Hindi include Varqi Crab, an appetizer of crabmeat in phyllo pastry topped with a tandoori prawn, Makai ka shorba, a corn broth poured over popcorn, Martabaan, meat curry with red pickled chilies served in a traditional ceramic pickle jar, Kadi patte ke scallops, three plump scallops flavored with curry-leaf and served on tomato salsa, Sunheri Nalli, a robust New Zealand lamb shank on a bed of kofti biryani, Masala Sea Bass served on sautéed spinach and mushroom, bread selections, such as the Tomato and Mozzarella Kulcha and Olive Naan, Tamarind and sugarcane sorbets to cleanse the palate between courses, Masala tea crème brulee.
Next day in Delhi…
(from the Wickedpedia)
“Chaat is plate of savoury snacks, typically served at road-side tracks from stalls or carts in Pakistan, India and the rest of South Asia. (Think Chex mix with yogurt, bark, twigs, gunpowder, calcium, niacin, tamarind sauce, black salt). The word derives from Hindi cāṭ (tasting, a delicacy), from cāṭnā (to lick), from Prakrit caṭṭei (to devour with relish, eat noisily).
The chaat variants are all based on fried dough, with various other ingredients. The original chaat is a mixture of potato pieces, crispy fried bread, gram bean and spices, but other popular variants included Aloo Tikkis (garnished with onion, coriander, hot spices and a dash of curd), bhel puri, dahi puri, panipuri, dahi vada, papdi chaat, and sev puri. There are common elements among these variants including dahi, or yogurt; chopped onions and coriander; sev (small dried yellow noodles); and chaat masala. This is a masala, or spice mix, typically consisting of amchoor (dried mango powder), cumin, black salt, coriander, dried ginger, salt, black pepper, and red pepper. The ingredients are combined and served on a small metal plate or a banana leaf, dried and formed into a bowl.”
Bengali Sweets does chaat right. Karan and Chef dig in and experience the snack genre that includes crunchy bits, raita, coconut, pomegranate, whatever and etc, thingamabob, and the chaat makers signature tamarind sauce. A whiff of sulfur smelling black masala salt makes it a complete treat.
No guest Chef Chintan Upadhyay from Jet Airways this morning as his flight is delayed probably due to the hazy invisibility cloak the Delhis prefer to wear. Pressing on we encounter a snake charmer as we change from odiferous van to au natural rickshaw. Snake charming is totally forbidden in India today. Our Chef hates snakes it turns out although I am mesmerized and get like within a foot of the hooded hissing striking cobra. I bet they defang it or detox it or something. Right? The Chef always fancied himself in a rickshaw but found driving it with Anu and the driver in back overrated. The Paan Bizarre is full of the paan parts and paan purveyors. Everywhere are bales of the betel leaf, tobacco, jars, sacks, zip lock bags, liquids, neat little piles of the items that go in the paan plug. The paan wallas hands move faster than the eye as he smears and adds pinchs of the magic. As he periodically breathes his mouth opens slightly to reveal red teeth and gums from the betel nut and asrtingents he prefers in his own brand of paan. The Great Giant paan chewer gets one with everything including tobacco. From the look on the great giant face I’m guessing spitty outy this time. We’ll just check that right off the life list.
Chowdni Chowk is just got too many people trying to exist in the very same space at once. Johnny O and I curiously ascend an ancient tenement to a roof top five stories above. Atop this old school skyscraper is roof life and it goes on as far as the eye can see. Here are little hovels and villages, microcosms up high. Below a frothing tide of people and the noise of the street. As we turn to leave JohnnyO goes down hard as his feet go out from under him in some primordial roof ooze and he is anointed. The roof people immerge from their places and clean him up and we rupee them. Purell!?
The Spice Market here is a scene from an older world much. It is a maze of alleys and stalls where the dense foot traffic of people and spice never slows. The air is impregnated with aromatic dust and the particulates have this world wheezing and hacking. Tiny men with turban heads and gauze masked faces haul impossible bundles and pull and heave on gigs and carts. India needs a lot of flavor and here are tons upon tons. Chilies, cinnamon, turmeric and more. Just visiting, Anu and the Chef dance thru, he dressed like Johnny Cash and she still in the fairy tale sari; propriety and the spice of life.
Our rickshaw driver is nearly killed several times. In his zeal to please he diverts from our rickshaw caravan often going the wrong way, taking expired shortcuts, getting a flat and generally pissing all of Chowdni Chowk right off. The dealio in Dehli; mean as a stick, conform, lay low, older than dirt, you don’t know where that’s been, don’t touch…anything.
My Indian friends back in the States all said if you have only one meal in Delhi make it the original Moti Mahal. Over a billion sold since Independence in 1947, Moti Mahal is proud and not to be confused with Moti Mahal Deluxe. It’s a sort of Ray’s Pizza thing. As the hazy night shades Delhi again the sound of mandolin, wood flute, sitar and squeeze box and the eerie off key nasal female vocals of old but not forgotten ghazal love songs are cranking out from a beerless garden of Kababs. (The choice of songs was a mix of the best of the patrician and the plebian — Himesh Reshammaiya tunes belted out with as much relish as Ghalib’s qalaam). Just sayin’.
Chintan and the Great Giant Head invade the Moti Mahal kitchen and marinate and ruminate and tandoorize a menagerie of halal meats. The Chefs work the Tandoor and soon breads and kababs were flying out like there was no tomorrow. Really. We ordered everything. Paneer Shashlik, Bharwaan Aloo and Makhani Daal for the veg. The Reshami Kabaab, Burra Kabaab, Rogan Josh, Butter Chicken, and Tandoori Chicken all marinated to perfection in yogurt, garlic, and a tad too much lemon, red dye #4, and secret spices. Kalmi Kabaab and the Khasta Roti were note worthy. Beer was not part of this excellent experience.
Across the take your life in your own hands crossing this street Road, we find the best Paan so far. Wrapped in edible silver leaf in the classical style, some of the stuff inside is chilled. In between the cheek and gum it is startling cold, sweet, and floral. Beautiful and yes…nutty. Dan ya vad paan man.
High Chai w/Anu still in sari at the Shang. Swanky.
Ohka veg market w/Chef Chintan. At Ohka a vast bounty of fresh produce and a sea of humanity both inside and outside the covered market beckons the eye and ear. Tractor tire size spirals of red carrots and fenugreek and countless other ingredients are styled perfectly. Again I note the green chilies and lemons organized for luck. Most of the market smiles and beckons the camera. Everyone is ready for their close up. A cow wanders thru. I am nearly run over constantly.
Ate at the Jet Air commissary and saw how Indian cuisine is designed to fly for efficiency of weight and preparation on board.(kababs, cotton candy)
Cook at the Shangri La (stuffed quail, tandoori lobster), Family backyard cookout dinner in New Delhi (more kababary).
Commando gets the Delhi Belly and wills himself well in just hours. Tomorrow in Thailand he will be eating on camera.
The squad has carried a lot of water here in India and deserves praise. The Jet Airways business class lounge in the Delhi Airport is like a bus station in hell. There was however beer.
YOU may talk o’ gin an’ beer
When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere,
…Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them black-faced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din. Rudyard Kipling
March 23rd, 2009 by joelcoblenz
The way to a man’s heart is clearly thru Italy by vintage car as I now know. But I am getting ahead of myself. Got a second? She goes like this: I have no cat. I took my plant to the dry cleaners. They are nice people. I gathered up my team of very merry TV Food Show pranksters and caught the evening fllght to Rome where we promptly stopped for pizza and beer on our way to the Castle. You see if you’re like our hero, Chef Todd, you are going to live in a medieval castle, shop in a medieval market, eat a medieval lampredotto sandwich (4th stomach w/green and red sauces, the roll dipped in the bollito), get medievil heart burn, find a medieval apothecary then take a medieval digestivo. Throw in a VIP pass to the Uffizzi where we walk above the crowds in the Corridoio Vasariano where the Medicis waltzed from the Pitti Palace to the Office across the Ponte Vechio. The millions that trod below each year will never see the masterpieces that hang there and never realize that the few privileged like us and our viewers walk above. Coffee break at Rivoire and a try at the national passion of lyrical opera with a stylin’ voice coach alla Carmen. Just enough time for the butcher, the baker and the gelato maker with all this done on a classic Vespa by now laden with groceries and then make a feast fit for a king back at the Castle. There is no lock on the wine cellar. Chianti, Sangiovese, Brunello and Vin Santo like you read about. Bistecca Fiorentina just barely black and blue with a perfect outer crust. Chianina, a pinch of salt, a whiff of pepper. We’re delicately frying rose petals, geranium blossoms, and crispelle. Cibreo (too hard to explain), bread soup and beans and pasta that is pici (pea chee). Dessert; Sciacciatta di uve with tiny cabernet grapes that were a moment ago on the vine and all of this forever in the memory of taste. All this is just a primi. Our TV troupe is about to see Italy by Vintage Car. The burnt orange 1960 Alfa Romeo awaits. The classic body glove hugs the winding ribbon we follow thru the Tuscan country side to find old ways and slow ways. Proud family businesses and current kitchens where appellations of wine and cheese and the dolce vita are waiting to be kissed twice. The good folks at Vintage Car are Tullia Caballero, Carolyn Sukoff and Francoise Vanderkam and inbetween the Italian, French and English both proper and American we all get along like kindred spirits at the supper table. Something amazing is about to happen and the sky opens and then piove. Rain as if to clear the heat and the palate. If you’re like our favorite Chef begin with a breakfast of Roman Champions and a Sicilian Ice Cream sandwich made by maestro Antonio at Carabe’ in Firenze. Granitas and gelatos and a perfect road food of brioche and gelato with whipped cream. Two very pretty girls here could be granddaughters of Sophia Loren. Antonio has ideas like melon gelato with prosciutto. We should open a gelateria back home. All this eating and driving makes us hungry. Zoom to a view at Greve where Osteria Mangiando Mangiando is so nice they named it twice. Pici with wild boar, carpaccio with cold citrus sauce, perperado of beef, and two kisses all around as the Chef’s pose for snaps. There’s a wine festa here in the square and we drink and meet and greet in the picture perfect piazza in Chianti just long enough to be late for the Castello di Cafaggio which is the olive oil story from tree to press to tasting and then a practical lesson about the cucina povera of Tuscan Culinary history. Toasted unsalted bread rubbed with garlic and a sopa Lombardy with the essential condiment, deeply fragrant olive oil. In the kitchen of a keep on a hill overlooking Fiesole surrounded by olive trees and an alfa parked by the gate. Zoom with a view. A dog is barking in the distance. Cocks are crowing. (look out for the Cibreo). Cows are talking to each other and horses are restless. Morning comes thru a fog to the Fattoria Biologica Pieve a Salti and we are guests. There are a few bugs in my room. Before I get them with my sticky tongue I remember. This a biologically sound and sustainable agritourismo. A farm without chemicals. A few bugs are a good sign of the lack of chemicals and health of the land. All around the fields are resting, strengthening in their fallow state to get ready for 700 hectares of organic grains. Many of these grains will become farina and then you guessed it, Pici pasta. We get another lesson in pastafication with the Cook here, Massimo. Pici is flattened and cut then rolled like playdough into perfect delicious strands. Add cinghiale alla agrodolce and that my friends is my kind of breakfast. So let’s ride horses with the manager Leonardo to a view of this truly working farm where guests can come and get close to the land and learn green lessons that are old and new again. Faro or spelt is being husked by modern means as we ride up from the trail. Chef trades his reigns for the Alfa’s wheel and we hug the road thru morning mist and infinite fields of sunflowers. In the Tuscan hillcountry another dead ringer for the estrella Sophia and her Mom are making lunch at their restaurant in Vergelle. Sheep are rolling across the the terrain like a wave of wool. Their milk goes into the Pecorino that is made here but you can’t get any because it is sold out by subscription. I wish we had smellovision. By the the time we visit the formageria with Angelo (the big cheese) and see the ash and grape must or vinache coated wheels, lunch is ready. Several kinds of the unavailable pecorino are materialized. One with raw milk, one with red pepper corns, one with truffles. There is pici with pecorino and pepper and carta di musica, a flat bread with lardo and cheese served with rocket and the sweetest cherry tomatoes. (Slap your Moma here). Add water and wine and espresso. The Alpha pulls away and everyone in the hamlet of Vergelle waves goodbye. We don’t film this. We wave. Drive very fast now to a mountain town where inside the fortress bee keepers and honey lovers are meeting about apiculture. Bees are pollinators so preserving their diversity and strength is critical to agriculture and life. We stop to have a little sweet talk, taste the dolce miele and its associated products and learn it’s techniques. The light is leaving the sky and more scattered rain forces the top up on the Alpha. Maybe I should have bought the David made from bee’s wax? Last stop is Borgo la Bagnaia where Carmen Mogliazzi, the Direzione is waiting. The plush resort and events venue is a movie set of villas and piazzas. Another perfect meal with great company is more than just pici and the Brunello flows and so it goes. The story pays off as our favorite Chef regroups with his pal, Chef Jeff Steelman and the two plan to turn the supper tables on the Italians by cooking some of what been inspiring for a big nite with key gastronomic writers from Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice. All these educated palates are the progeny of the Tuscan “Cucina Povera”. Some say you can’t grasp the concept lest you’ve lived through a war and Italy has seen two big ones in recent times. It differs from the overused term “Cucina Rustica which loosely means country cooking. Cucina Povera is the use of simple ingredients of mean necessity to make profound tastes. A foraging run to the San Lorenzo market leads to culinary creativity as the Chef speaks the language of kitchen love and wows the Italians in an elegant sit down dinner that could not be beat. Mille Grazie Antonio (gelato), Angelo (pecorino), Leonardo (faro). Carolyn, Francoise and Tullia, grazie!!! Italy by vintage car to a big nite! Inside the sound of silverware and hum of happy fussy diners. Two tired Chefs toast in kitchen that has worked hard. Outside chain lighting and let it rain. The top is up on the Alpha.
March 23rd, 2009 by joelcoblenz
‘Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue.’ The Song of Solomon
It goes something like this:
I hadn’t been back in two thousand years so when the chance came to jump down the culinary coney hole once more I hopped to it. This time the Food Trip Todd Squad included Chef, Commando the foie gras king, Producer Mr.Tumnus, the Chanteuse, Johnny O on audio and little ole cameraman me. We gastronauts were all heading for the food flashpoint that is Israel; land o’milk n’honey. If you were Romans, or Assyrians, or Babylonians, or many others then this land was on the way to somewhere for you and you left your epicurean sandal mark upon it’s back. If you were “lucky” enough to be one of the Chosen then your seed was cast into the wind of the Diaspora long ago and only in the most recent blink of the timeline have we, and now me made the return. Ashkenazis from Europe (think blintzes, perogie, matzo balls, chopped liver, seltzer, a coronary), Sephardics from the Med and Africa (think couscous, dolma, lamb, pilaf), Yemenites, Turks, Cochins from India, Shanghai Jews, Libyans, Moroccans, even Americans. The Return has brought their assimilated kitchen lore and the result is not your grandfather’s sad kosher compromise that historically has made so many dietary law sacrifices to flavor. Plus their culinary progeny have been travelers and quick studies. Hold on Food Trippers. This will be biblical. 10 daze, I’ll lose 6 pounds by eating constantly. Gather round. Warning: It’s not all kosher.
El Al to Tel Aviv Business class is very nice. Insert ambien here. Wake up, touch down and I’m back although I’ve never been here before. It’s a modern city on the Med. The view from my room north along the coast includes a Mosque and the Muezzin wails the call to prayer over a loud speaker like some spiritual lighthouse. There is a relaxed military presence. Not so water cannonish as Peru nor so truncheon upside the head as China. Comely female soldiers appear in pairs in the markets. Garrisons with fully automatic weapons at rest stops are casual. Mostly the vibe is low key and we feel safe.
Now the David Intercontinental is as fine a hotel as you’ll get anywhere. Dinner is at Boya at the Port area. Busy and unmemorable, featured were some mezze (a sweet tamarind sauced cauliflower) and kabobs but it was a lively room alongside the Mediterranean. The local golden brew Gold Star is excellent unlike the sad pale reflection Macabee-r. You could see how during warmer weather it would be a real scene here in the port when all these trendy spots open their doors to the waters edge and put their toes in the surf. A café and nightclub society; Whiskey a go-go; Max Brenner is chocolate; all in a live each day world.
We take a ride with new friend Ali (think culinary Kojak) to a northern suburb and visit a bar in an apartment complex where smoking still happens indoors. All kinds. The water pipe, hookah or nargilla as it’s known here turns out to be a lifestyle. There was vodka as I recall. We’ve noticed that the women are exceedingly attractive. These Sabra are named for the native prickly pear cactus, sharp on the outside and sweet on the inside should you negotiate those thorns.
A little prologue: When Chefs Todd English and Michael Ginor visited Israel a baker’s dozen years back, in the group were old friend Jean Louis Palladin, Drew Nieporet, Don Pintabona (chef of Tribeca Grill) and Roberto Donna (chef of Galileo in DC). They cooked two dinners at the Sheraton TLV and two dinners in Jerusalem. The Chefs ate perfect Humus at Abu Hassan, visited the spiritual Western Wall as well as “lots of less holy nightlife stuff.”
This Food Trip is a real story of two old friends returning to the Holy Land and then competing for culinary gold in the Israeli Iron Chef Knife Battle. Each TV episode of Knife Battle (Krav Sakinim) features a different prominent Israeli chef, who competes against one of the show’s featured foreign chefs. All Israeli winners compete against one another in the finals and the winner competes against a foreign chef (Guess who?) for the title of season champion. The competitors prepare a three-course meal, with each dish given a score of up to 10 points by each member of the panel and commentators, accumulating up to 150 points per chef (compared to 90 points in season 1, where the commentators had relatively more points to give). Our advance team was on the ground prepping and testing at a friendly kitchen in Tel Aviv. Chef English would fly in on game day with a few hours to spare, or so we best laid our plan.
We shoot scenics in Tel Aviv, Jaffa and the Carmel Market getting the lay of the land and starting it right with freshly squeezed pomegranate and orange juice. Johnny O certifies it. The chosen juice.
We check out the advance team at Food Arts kitchen where they are prepping the Knife Battle recipes. A mozzarella balloon is giving them a hard time. A Wagyu kabob with a cinnamon bark skewer is vexing them. We sit at the bar and discover the many ways of Arak (think pastis). Always make friends with the local fire water.
The Chanteuse arrives sans Chef. Big surprise. We all head out to the Knife Battle studio for the competition although Chef arrives late by about six hours. No pressure. The Chanteuse brought a rolling carry on filled with Wagyu beef. The secret ingredient required by the Knife Battle is fruit. Pears and Kiwi will factor in for Team America. We shoot the behind the scenes then wait in the green room like expectant fathers. It’s getting super late (or early) and we decide to leave after the competition but before the judging. Later on text messages have us on pins and needles as we lose the first round by a camel hair and then bring it home in the finale with a chocolate dessert studded with pop rocks. The trophy is a pair of formidable Chef’s knives framed under glass. (nts: don’t try to carry these on) Our Chef, Iron Chef America and now Israel; Knife Battle Victor. That works.
Johnny O, Mr. Tumnus, and I head back to the hotel before the verdict to get some sleep and catch a lucky cab with Jeremy Moshe, cab driver, Yemenite Philosopher. He has voice like he’s channeling Harvey Fierstein in Aramaic. He shares his predilections as a creature of the Tel Aviv night and we learn new swear words, all about Dentists, late nite eats and the apparently very warm Yemeni women. He asks us if we are hungry or cold. Guess.
Dabush is the first name in schawarma at 3:00am. It’s really good or we are really hungry or both. Dabush is all about turkey schawarma vertically spit roasted with a great hunk of lamb fat on top as things clearly go better with that baste. In pocket pita or the gargantuan Iraqi style flat laffa, the thing is filled with cabbage, tomatoes, onions, aubergine pickles (a purple not found in nature), green pickles, hot sauce, tahini, and amba (mango pickle). This and a grapefruit juice and I’m in paradise with 72 new friends. Taxi drivers and really drunk kids are our late night dining companions. One kid with dark Yemeni features yells slurring to me “I teach you to say something,…once you go black you never come back”. Intl. LOL.
First stop is the Carmel Market w/Gil Hovav the Anthony Bourdain of Israel. He’s been waiting 90 minutes because he never got our messages that we would push back our schedule due to the late night knife fight. Sorry Gil. Hovav has his own TV Show in Israel and is a restaurant critic and local celebrity. He leads the Chefs on a tour of the Shuk Ha’Carmel and he is clearly the Mayor of the market. Countless double kisses ensue. First stop is the “courage test”. The Chefs take a food fear factor dare and try Tiger Blood wine and Sea Horse swizzle sticks. On to frsh than fresh Pomegranate and Orange elixer please. The look on Johnny O’s face tells it all as we quench ourselves; ambrosia again. The freshest vegetables, fruits, pickles, olives, hot laffa bread from the iron domed saj. The spice mix z’atar, including wild oregano known as hyssop in the bible, is sprinkled on the hot saj bread with labneh, a fresh strained yogurt and is a big hit. Hot and crispy Borekas which are phyllo turnovers of meat, potato, eggplant and more chopped to serve with hard boiled egg. Satiated for now we thank Gil and part ways.
Dr Shakshuka is in. With its communal tables where stray cats rub against your legs and dream and beg. Dr. Shakshuka is a unique local Jaffa joint. Hiding in a narrow alley a stones throw from the clock tower, long family style tables fill a shaded courtyard. Welcome to Libyan soul food heaven. They serve a one-pan meal of Shakshuka, which is a dish of eggs and tomatoes seasoned with local flavors. Add your tear of fresh bread, olives, pickles and freshly cut tomatoes. For 2 ½ generations the family of chef/Owner Bino Gabso have been conjuring Shakshukas and other Tripolitan delicacies for Jaffa. Also featured here: Tripoli-style couscous with mafrum (potato stuffed with ground meat, served with stewed beef and vegetable soup), stuffed vegetables, kishke (North African-style intestine stuffed with meat and rice), grilled lamb patties; and fresh grilled or fried fish. Mezze and salads abound. Minted lemonade is the drink of choice. This just rocked!
Itzik Hagadol. Also a gem of Jaffa/Yafo, is our choice ’shipudim’ restaurant in Israel.The grand green and red neon façade on a dark side street is something out of HongKong. (just south off the corner of Sd. Yerushalayim + Rhv. Eilat)…Big Isaac Luzon himself,(no misnomer) is waiting out front to meet us at his magnificent meating place. Theskewered meats, “shipudim”, in Hebrew, are all delicious. Selections include thedecadent grilled rich and buttery “kaved avaz”…foie gras… but all the usual suspects;kebabs, beef and lamb, are available too. Included are unlimited middle-eastern saladsand hot Iraqi pita bread… yes all even we can eat… tomato sauces, spices, stewedvegetables, chickpeas, eggplant…also tuna… this is the place…Mixed grill and mess o’mezze and the Squad is good. Don’t miss the citruswood direct fired steaks, chops, spinal cord and cow udder. Next time I will pass on theturkey or lamb Iraqi Mountain Oysters (this is nuts). Our crew also sampled sweetbreadsof lamb and veal More beer please. On the way to check out the skewer room several doors down a back alley I spied about10 old dudes in a room smoking the nargilla and drinking beer. I ask if I can take their picture,“Min fadlak?”, but they refuse until Big Isaac insists. The men begin to sing and the shot hasan eerie sort of voyeuristic quality. (BTW: Itzik is now open in Encino. Finally a reason to go to Cali.)
Bar Yoezer is just as Chef left it years back. Yoezer himself is still at the bar drinking big red wines like some Mideastern Rip Van Winekal. It is a cavernous dark and quiet stop with vaulted ceilings and serious vintages and a fine continental bistro menu. Set in a former Turkish Governor’s residence it is reminiscent of some Florentine Buca. It was quiet and we were full.
Tel Avivians really love Nanutchka because it’s got both traditional and modern elements. A crazy lively nightspot the Gruze (Georgian) delicacies from the kitchen are great and the owner Nana Schrier holds court like a Diva. D-fried and poached chebureki and kachaburi stuffed with beef and goose — or with cheeses, mushrooms, and vegetables, rich stews of lamb and meat dishes with dried fruits, and delicately sauced fish and chicken made with onion, tamarind, and pomegranate as well as fusion like Nana’s “Black Sea egg rolls” stuffed with crab and shrimp all come to the table. As the night deepens Nanutchka bar-bistro rocks to Russian and Western sounds, plus traditional music, and people often dancing in the aisles and on the bar. As I navigate the tiny standing room only dance floor with both hands holding a camera over my head someone grabs my neck and forces a glass of what I was hoping would be water to cool me down. It looked like water. Nanutchka thinks I should shave my beard. People keep insisting we drink vodka. O K
Mr Tumnus is down.
Hummus “Al Haboker” or morning humus is an Arab cultural tradition and the breakfast of the proletariate. The Abu Hassan Ali Karavan restaurant serves the best humus in Jaffa and possibly Israel these last 40 years. We wander thru the memory of this place and eventually find it after a while in a hillside neighborhood at #1 Dolphin Street. The six small tables inside are full and our heroes sit at a deuce on the street right under the take away window. Nothing quite like rich and creamy chick pea spread with just born pita. The menu is very limited, only humus, Masbacha which is humus warmed by cooked chickpeas or fava beans with plenty of lemon, olive oil and chick-peas and pita-bread, served with fresh onion and lemon juice spiked with hot green chilies. Our heroes relive their first taste some dozen years before and our crew swipes the plates and vacates to let others take our place before the humus is gone and Abu Hassan closes until tomorrow morning.
Commando describes Chef Israel Aharoni as “Israel’s most notorious culinarian and a chef of many different toques”. Aharoni has made dim sum and foie gras household words in Israel. Of course he has a TV show, who doesn’t in this country? Its called Derech Ha’ochel “The Way of Food”. Aharoni knows the way and we rendezvous at Levinsky Market and tour Pereg Spice where two giant conical piles of sweet paprika frame the store front. Samples of olive oils and marzipan are had and we happen on a Schawarma made perfectly with all the trimmings including a lemon quick pickle slice that makes it a vibrant mouthful. A Turkish delicatessen sample of smoked mackerel known as Lakerda is Turkishly delightful. Aharoni is grande and eccentric with gray ponytail and black bushy pointy eyebrows. (Think Spock meets Paul Mitchell.) We’ll catch up with him later at night when he’ll DJ a big charity nightclub event. Yes, he is also a DJ.
In a small restaurant of six tables in winter, Margaret Tayer laughs like a fool and we fools along with her as she prepares divine deep-fried filet of sardine stuffed with “caviar” and warm rolled grape leaves filled with rice, nuts, and raisins served over yogurt and herbed olive oil. Eaten al fresco with a view of the Med, in earshot of the call to prayer that wrestles the sound of the surf the Dolma are devine. The laughter and food are both infectiously delicious. Commando eggs Margaret on with a zesty “yallah habibi” and the cackles drown out everything else.
PR Event at the Hotel. PR Event at Knife Battle Reception. Charity Event with Aharoni at Club Block. Vodka flows. Sad Events at home. Tears flow. The Chanteuse has to fly. That’s all about that.
Our bus hits the road. Now we are 7. Fields and orchards roll by and some lunar landscapes where bible story backgrounds have been pelted by the heavens with boulders. Ahead lies Cesaria and its legacy of Roman rule. Its theater, aqueducts and sunken harbor bear testimony to the 600 years it was the provincial capital. This history and its effects on the culture are felt today, even in the cuisine. Commando reminds Chef English, “this is the place where your people first messed with mine.”
The Underground Crusader City at Akko tells the tale of Crusaders who did the same. Their cultural assault is also apparent topside in both contemporary tradition and gastronomy. These were not Templars but rather appropriately Knights Hospitaliers. We speak hospitality!
At Akko we lose the Chef and track him by his wireless microphone signal to the back of a busy Falafelry. He has ordered four and the Squad dispatches them in a flash. The Felafeler’s hands move faster than the eye or camera as he makes deep fried chick pea balls and stuffs pita from the bakery across the square which meet the freshest humus, tahini, cabbage, pickles, tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. (I must break here for a snack). Commando stops to partake in the nargilla in the bakery. Into the Arab Shuk and the fish is an amazing array of jewelry from the sea. Clear eyed scaled fish and shell fish in wonderous variety are perfectly styled on ice. They call to us like pet store puppies. Pastries and bakeries and spices and a man pulling a hot almond milk drink topped with spice and nut, ladling the beverage in high arcs to gather a crowd. Long lines wait at two doors to a place that must have the best humus and foul (“fool”) moudammes (Egyptian fava bean spread served hot with chick peas, olive oil and paprika). We could only peer in thru the windows.
Housed in a 400 year old Ottoman Building on the Akko waterfront Uri Buri is famous for fish and its prodigiously bearded owner Uri Jermias. Gil Hovav said it was a must. Uri wasn’t in. There was fish. Only 20 km. from Lebanaon, in 2006 a constant rocket barrage drove tourists from Akko but not Uri Buri lucky for us. First an appetizer of fresh jackfish smothered in lemon, capers and onions, baby Saint Peter’s fish (tilapia) grilled and served with caramelized beets. The cauldron trout with green onions, spices and a cream sauce was also delicious. The pan-seared scallops in cream sauce , some very Akko Coquille St Jacques were devoured. The Squad ended the meal with homemade ice cream and minty rose water.
Back in the bus we are chasing the last light of the northern Israeli day in Rosh Pina where Chef Chaim Tibi, Mizpe Hayamim and restaurant Muscat awaited. Across the Kenneret from the heights of Rosh Pina we glimpse the Golan and Syria Beyond. The organic farm that serves restaurant Muscat is impressive and lemons and oranges, pomegranates and chard are all in season. They even make their own supply of soaps for their ninety rooms, using garden grown products as well as Cheeses and Liqueurs. A lamb shoulder dish cooked slowly ala sous vide was perfection. The menu kicked off with a just baked foccacia with olive oil and sea salt included Beet ravioli w/organic camembert, sherry tartar and hazel; Veal Carpaccio in olive oil and balsamico; toasted bell peppers w/organic goat cheese; goose canneloni, veal tonsils; mushrooms with smoked goose; fanned out and wood fire roasted eggplant with pine cone oil; stuffed veal spleen on a wild salad w/a crown of wild mushrooms and hyssop; gnocchi w/goat cheese filling and marigold sauce.Chef Chaim can really cook. The exquisite preparations and presentations with pairings of excellent local vintages bowl over the Chefs and we toast in the candle light of a perfect dining experience and a perfect day and in need of a perfect nap.
The Scot’s house is a groovy restored exterior/modern interior, group of buildings dab smack on the Gallilee and a real non-kosher w/bacon massive buffet breakfast proper sort of place. They had Shakshuka and the awesome Yemenite bread called Jachnon, which is baked all night in a tightly covered dish (steamed) for Sabbath brunch. Was good. Eat it with Yemeni hot pepper garlic chutney.
Christ walked these places and we visit a boat from that time recovered from the bottom of this major water source and along with it a cooking pot of that age. Jesus ate here? At the edge of the Galilee or Keneret the water has receded hundreds of yards and the crisis is apparent. Today there is less water to walk on where the miracle of loaves and fishes is told and water concerns are food issues.
The bus rolls on to Nazareth, the defacto capital of the Arab North of Israel, the childhood home of Jesus and a center of Christian pilgrimage. There’s also a mighty kebob restaurant, spice market and bakery.Enter Palestinian Chef Dochol Safedi, who continues the life-work of his father, Mahmoud at the awesome Diana Restaurant. We rendezvous at the ancient El Babour spice mill market where the colors are dazzling and aromas intoxicate. We take coffee with the owners. Here’s your ras al hanout and z’atar and harissa found in bulk, fresh milled and piled like treasure heaps in this ancient cellar in Nazareth.
Kanafeh (Arabic: كنافة),is a very fine shredded phyllo used to make confections, pastries and desserts which originated in the Palestinian city of Nablus in the modern-day West Bank, where it is filled with what else? Nabulsi cheese. The kanafeh is cooked covered over gas jets then the whole pan is doused with syrup covered with another pan and flipped to cook the other side. It is sweet acrobatics no doubt. Here in Nazareth at the Mahroum Sweet Shop we sample formidable versions of Palestinian desserts including baklawa filled with almonds, peanuts, pistachio and doused with honey as well as halawa. I want these now.
At Dochol’s Diana the biggest knife you ever saw chops meat for kabobs. Chef takes a turn. “If you pull a knife, be prepared to use it. I’m TE and this is my Food Trip.”) While I’m shooting this Ali appears in my peripheral and pops an ample sample of kebab lamb tartar in my mouth. Raw, meaty, nutty…spicy, exotic. Probably better cooked. A million mezze including roasted cauliflower with tahina come dancing out and some great big reds and gold star beer followed by kebobbery and chops and fresh Iraqi bread out of a bee hive oven like Nan from a tandoor. Pastries and Coffee and we find the Chef’s sons smoking Nargilla on a street corner with the locals. Chef and Commando join in and the double apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The lights of Nazareth twinkle out on the hillsides. The bus awaits. We are late again…still.
Drive to Jerusalem. Renter thru the Jaffa Gate under cover of night. We take the city unnoticed. When in Jerusalem the cast and crew of Food Trip stay at the ultra luxurious and hyper efficient David Citadel. Quick freshen and taxi to Mona Bistro and meet Ezra Kedem, Chef at Arcadia and the Gordon Ramsey of Israel. Red Bull and a steak knife please.
Did I mention every breakfast includes the always refreshing Israeli salad of diced tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet onions, olive oil and lemon juice. They all speak espresso as well. I like.
An old man in traditional Arab dress beckons at the Mount of Olives and I give him some Euro and we stop and connect, beggar and minstrel, as the view of Jerusalem begins to shine in the early magic hour.” From The Land of Milk and Honey I’m TE and this is my Food Trip”. The sun touches off the golden dome of Al Aqsa. Behind our camera tour buses unload and pay a sad camel to take pictures aboard that solitary ship of the desert.
(I am reminded at my club that only the Goyem call it the Wailing Wall.) I was bawling myself so whatever. The Western Wall is spiritually magnetic and the fathers and sons covered and placed prayers in the cracks of the wall of the second temple left as a reminder to the Jews by the Romans re: who was boss back in the back in the day Holy Land. The men in black are covered in prayer shawls and wrapped in the leather straps of tefillin. The murmur of prayer and their gyrations as they fervently daven fill the air with concentrated energy. Security melts into the background of the plaza. I spy one solitary Israeli soldier near a big duffle bag and can only imagine what’s in it. I leave a note of my own. I have a handkerchief here somewhere. Just sayin’.
On the Via Delarosa the Boychiks find an ancient bakery circa 1300 and bread w z’atar dispensed in a scrap of Arabic newspaper is a single perfect note. Dear food diary…
At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified and later interred we wander and are interestingly- invited into a Syrian orthodox service in a catacomb-like room. Instantly we are timeless with television equipment in tow. The chanting and incense and same as it ever was glow of candles and the effigies that stare back from single dimension antiquities draw us back and forward again as we photograph the participants with old world hearts and modern eyes.
Moshe Basson forages. Chef-owner of the Eucalyptus in Jerusalem he takes a different approach. His inspiration comes not only from traveling the world but from the Bible. A proponent of slow ways Moshe also participates in Chefs for Peace which brings Palestinians and Israelis together at the table. Basson’s lamb dishes are seasoned with the same herbs used thousands of years ago. Thyme, hyssop (z’atar), pine nuts, sumac, wild asparagus, worm wood. As we talked in a forest outside the city, he snapped a pinecone and popped out a wild pine nut for Chef to taste. “Nutty”. He travels throughout the country to harvest wild herbs and has a reputation as an expert on them. He has started growing his own produce on his restaurant’s rooftop and in flower boxes on the street. “Arugula, like children, needs the exact amount of care to give it the right character,” he said, between running up and down the stairs. A giant pan of rice and chicken, nuts, and fruits is miraculously hefted by the diminutive Basson and flipped to dislodge its pot crust and make the dish complete. Lamb slow cooked in a clay jar capped with dough (Lamb crock pie?) and fresh figs on a pool of marzipan and chocolate were standouts. All this in a tiny kitchen with one end open to a square two stories below and an improvised gas driven saj hangs over the railing. The air is laden with spice and herb and fire and flavor. Wild thyme is scorched by flame and shaken over the dishes like a shaman ritual. Breath. I wish you had smellovision.
Back in the bus. It’s the first night of Hanukah and we are guests for a Moroccan Family dinner in suburbs. For those of you expecting Hanukah Harry and presents under the bush take it easy. This is Moroccan and Israeli. Colorful dishes of beets and salads, dolma, fish cakes, couscous and rice as well as pastry cigars and triangular pastels stuffed with tuna. A very Moroccan Hanukah indeed including the mandatory sufganiot jelly doughnuts that say Hag Sameach over here. Chef lights a beautiful oil Menorah along with the very talented and charming lady of the house who has cooked all this and of course has had her own TV show.
Day 7 (Last day)
We finish and begin with elevated breakfast at the shaded courtyard restaurant Arcadia. Victuals include oven hot foccacia sleek with olive oil, Shakshuka and Sabich- Iraqi flat bread stuffed with fried eggplant, humus, and long cooked hard boiled eggs (chaminada) and Amba mango pickle. Ezra Kadem is a great one in the kitchen and the dining room and this special set up just for Food Trip is the way to start this final day.
Also attending was Chef Shalom Kadosh, one of the leaders in the quest for a national cuisine, executive chef at Jerusalem’s Sheraton Plaza Hotel as well as Chef Guy Ben-Simhon of the Le Guta Restaurant. Shalom is famous for Israeli cuisine based on what’s referred to as the Seven Species: olive oil, wheat, honey, dates, figs, pomegranates and grapes (wine). It’s in the Bible and the agricultural landscape remains the same as ever. Chef Kadosh, makes his own food trips for culinary inspiration and adds a distinct Israeli touch seen in dishes like quail prepared with an onion-and-pomegranate sauce or savory stuffed figs.
Full of breakfast, where better then to wander than the Mahane Yehuda Market? Amongst the everything, we sample the Yemenite hot coriander pesto called Tchug (grinded). I put it on everything but Tchug works especially well on schawarma and felafel and kabob and schnitzel etc. A recipe:
Tchug/Schug (“pesto from Yemen”)
2 bunches cilantro
1 bunch Italian parsley
4-5 cloves garlic peeled
2 Ssrrano chilies or 4 Thai red chilies, stemmed
½ cup olive oil
½ tsp cumin
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp Kosher salt
½ lemon, juice of
Directions:Cut and discard stems of cilantro and parsley. Wash and pat dry. Blend or process all ingredients. Taste, Adjust, Add oil to top as with pesto.
Back in the Mehane Yehuda Market a Torah service in a tiny closet sized synagogue draws us in as the roll up scripture is chanted aloud with prayers of thanks given for it in unison. Walking that walk.
Down the way green leafy betel-like Qat is sold. Because the qat (Catha edulis) produces alkaloid stimulants, perhaps three quarters of Yemeni adults chew qat leaves each afternoon, for a period lasting at least five hours. So we monkey see.. It’s said people spend about one-quarter to one-third of their cash income on qat . And because qat has come to mean everything in Yemeni life, some among the poorer segments of society will willingly forego food in favor of buying qat, also know for its Viagra like virtues. Just sayin’.
We wander in the Iraqi shuk of the Mehane Yehuda to Azura which offers a menu of traditional food such as rice, beans, kube (a semolina-wheat dumpling filled with meat usually served in soup in the Iraqi tradition), hummus, majadara, a rice and lentil dish, vegetables such as pepper and zucchini filled with rice and other dishes. These are all one pot dishes very slow cooked over small flames. The seventy year old proprietor comes in each morning at 4am to put up the food his next of kin will serve from 8am to 1pm or whenever it runs out. Our Chef is so big in this individual gas driven pot family business that as we film he is conscripted to help serve dishes. We were after all taking up valuable real estate. Can you believe I lost 6lbs on this Food Trip?
You can never have enough Shesh besh (meaning Six Five) and Turkish coffee. Smoke and friendly arguments fill the square and our heroes and Chefs Ezra and Shalom roll dice and play backgammon and enjoy the company of fellow Chefs under the shade of giant palm trees on the edge of a vast market in an ancient city where for us everything new is old again.
The famous local hangover remedy, the Jerusalem Mixed Grill (actually funny enough – ‘a sautee’) or Midnight Sandwich includes lightly curried parts of the animal (mostly chicken heart and spleen – it is as by Commando – it is all about texture) sold no where else. (all stuffed into a pita with a generous shmeer of spicy condiment) (its also … all about the condiment) We chow. Everybody gets their own with everything and topped with fries. Insert the last icy cold tall boy Gold Star. Once again things go better with beer. Last street food. Sababa!
Last supper at Scala at the David Citadel. It’s the wrap and Chef thanks the whole team. It may be the best Food Trip ever and we are melancholy at the finish. Back on the bus. Did someone pack those framed big knives I wonder? We are bumped to first class on El Al. There will be humus.
Airport. Knives. Issue. Mr.Tumnus is down.
There is a lot happening on Food Trips: Important lessons in old ways, slow ways, green initiatives, sustainability and bio sensitivity. In the end a real story of two old friends returning to the Holy Land and then competing for culinary gold is indeed a very warm tale of pride, talent, heritage, and hope. Humble and elevated plates galore will make millions of viewers hungry and the Chefs, Cooks and Gourmands are sharing so much. I stopped at Haim Cohen’s restaurant in Brookline on the way from the airport. Had to have some felafel, hummus, schwarma, borekas and an orange Fanta. I told him I still had the “Jerusalem Mix Midnight Sandwich” from Agripas near Mahane Yehuda in my system. 6′3″ Haim Hagadol laughed out loud and said, “Those guys in the window with the goose parts you can’t sell here?…they are always drunk”. Like Steven Wright said, it’s a small world…but I’d hate to paint it.
March 23rd, 2009 by joelcoblenz
If you’re like me you travel around the world making food and travel TV Shows so when the chance came to jump down the rabbit hole again with the Todd Squad well let’s just say, call me what you like but don’t call me late for TV dinner. Celebrity Chef Todd English, Food writer and good friend Annie Copps,sound recordist Steveevo and yours truly shuttle off to LaGuardia and connect with a flight to Atlanta then off to Mother Africa. Next stop: Dhaka, Senegal. Just another 8 hours to Johannesburg. Africa is big and we are going far. Insert ambien here.
Touchdown and finally arrive at the renowned Hotel Westcliffe a perfect hilltop series of buildings overlooking the city. Dinner at Westcliffe of Lobster bobotie, Springbok and a South African Pinotage. Very nice. The crew is happy and ready to roll. We are glad to be together and ready for another food adventure. (nts: it is good to be Chef.)
A foggy morning in Joburg. The dinner last night reminded this place is all about food and so am I. The bounty of Africa awaits. I’m about to meet passionate local Cooks who mind tradition to keep soul in the food. So the Crew and I are in Johannesburg heading for a private plane that will take us back to the hungry and the hunted, back into Africa. Outside the Westcliffe enclave, graffiti walls and razor wire Johannesburg goes by as our van speeds thru town to avoid the morning motorway traffic. I wish we had another day here. I heard about a little place in Soweto where the lunch is awesome….next time. The plane is waiting.
The airport gets small and we climb out over cultivated lands that slowly change to velt as we fly east to the Zwa-Zulu Natal. We make a neat touchdown on an airstrip in the bush covered with Impala poop. The Impala, proud of themselves stand on the other side of the landing field. Their backsides look like the McDonald’s logo. McButt. A little queezy from the puddle jump we could use a beverage. The staff from CC Africa’s Forrest lodge awaits and obliges. Pimms No.1 Cup all?
Roofless four bench seat custom land rovers are waiting. They’ll be our ride for the next few days. A large caliber rifle and a machete adorn the dash and a special seat is mounted on the front of the hood for the tracker or bait depending on the scenario. Now if Safari is like fishing this trip starts out catching on every cast. Hello Rhino, Elephant, Giraffe. I ask if I can walk up to the Giraffe and our guide says fine if I want to be kicked to death. The animals are five or ten feet from me. I need the wide angle lens. Check in at Forest Lodge where we are warned not to leave our bungalows after sundown lest we be eaten. Security will collect and return us after dark. PM Game drive to a South African sundown and Sundowner
We are silhouettes as the Southern Cross and stars new to us come out. Cocktails appear with biltong (South African jerky), nuts, cheese, dried fruits, crackers and dreoworse (dried sausage/the real slim jim). These foods reflect the region’s food history when storage and refrigeration called for these preservations. They are excellent with the local beer Castle or Hansa. This night we have our first dinner in the Boma. Boma: think stockade of vertical sticks lit by firelight and torches. Basically the set of Survivor Africa. Lamb on the Braai; the South African Barbie, local spinach and beans, a dorado, and chutneys, sambals and blatjangs all reflect the Dutch, English, Indian and Malay cooks who reached even to this upper right corner of South Africa.
AM game drive. Did you know a group of Zebras are called a dazzle and they fart early and often? Dazzling. White Rhino and baby are just over there. A Cheetah and five young cubs tolerate us only meters away. Change to a telephoto lens and the close-ups of mother and cub are awesome. A Lion and three young males had been seen the day before but our tracker Daniel out on the bumper seat finds no trace. Back at the lodge it’s full colonial breakfast served by Barry excellent waiter and winning smile. Some nice person has already ordered me a Bloody Mary.
Next a visit to the local community with excellent guide V.R. Along the way he sings and repeats Zulu words. We were gettin Isi-Zulu-schooled. Sawubono (Sonny Bono= Hello). Hundreds of kid faces surround us at the community school. We learn one entire class are orphans. HIV here is at some of highest levels anywhere. The kids are so excited to see us. We make a gift of school supplies to the principal. CC Africa, which runs the game preserve and lodges, has donated some of the classrooms. The kids surround our van and it is hard to leave on several levels.
When you want your fortune told in Zulu country first clap your hands and say Togoza as you enter a dimly lit hut with drums and smoke and chanting. Stir up a froth from a cup of warm sorghum beer and we are ready to channel the spirits of the ancestors who will sound like Harvey Fierstein with a bad cold, dance with soda can bangles and rattles on ankles and eleven cows later you can see your destiny or add a wife. We made friends and I think the ancestors like us too. Is that so wrong?
Back inside the preserve we continue our search for Lions. They prove elusive. Our trackers spot their prints in the soft sand of the paths and roads but the kings of the jungle auger into the bush where even Dumi does not follow. The sun drops out of a painted sky like a glowing monkey orange and trades places with the Southern Cross. A big candle lit sundowner is setup around the bend as if by some magic and we recall the adventures of the day. A lion or a fortune teller, one or the other, roar far away.
Back at the lodge we celebrate the Todd’s birthday. What do you get the chef who has everything? A perfect evening under African skies, a splendid dinner, a birthday cake, friends close, a serenade by acapella choir and a Zulu Spear. It is good to be Chef. Sisaphila. Ngiyabonga kakhulu. (We’re OK. Thank you very much.)
Flashlight armed security guards escort us back to our Japanese style glass boxes on stilts. Outside Impala and Ngala drift about in the brush. Hard to say who else is sleeping in the jungle tonight or under the bungalow? Better get some sleep cause in the AM we are going to kill a goat.
Next day while the AM game drive is on, the strong stomach crew heads to off to visit a local young Chief in the community. The Chief or Inkosi ,dressed in a pink shirt and slacks received us at his compound (think Boma with a ranch house and outdoor plumbing). When we get ready to sacrifice the goat for lunch, Inkosi donned a grass tiara and entered a ceremonial traditional hut to OK this with the ancestors. Evidently they’d heard from the fortune teller so it was all cool. With a wicked sharp knife the goat met its fate and and no one lost it. It was intense to get that close to the food process and we headed back to the lodge before the meal and agreed we’d bring Inkosi a lamb at mealtime to complete the circle of lunch.
Some hours later we returned with lamb in tow and our whole group. Now this was the real Zulu deal. Lunch featuring pot cooked goat, beans, spinach, and Lala Beer. Small three legged cauldrons were simmering away over a wood fire. The famed Lala palm beer was in a large glass pitcher beckoning to the flies. The Lala, from which the term Lala-land is derived, causes a sleepy feeling of well being as it continues to ferment inside the drinker. Eatiquette involves stepping up to the jar and taking a big pull right from said container. As I gave it a good hit I noticed the Zulu women watching (separate from the men) laughing. Was this going to be a Carlos Castaneda thing or more of a Cipro thing? Try everything once is what I say. Plus the Chief went first. The feast on mats on the ground was eaten with both hands from wooden platters and was not bad. Sam the head cook made us traditional Zulu bracelets from the fresh goat hide stretched over our wrists and worn as long as one might dare. The Chief and the Chef each danced the traditional dance. A very Zulu Thanksgiving. It is good to be Inkosi.
Now the PM game drive included Mr. Crocodile as he cruised a small pond and another massive sunset and of course the essential sundowner. Our caravan of land rovers wheel into night in the bush. This night the bush dinner cooked by Dumi; in the bush. Local Zulu dancers fly thru the air as we run a gauntlet of drums and dancers. The Braai is all fired up and we dine on Springbok (a gamey antelope), boerworse (farmer’s sausage in spiral links), pumpkin and dumplings and beans and spinach. Shadows with big bore rifles patrol the perimeter and our voices and Cuban smoke rise with the sparks from the fire into the shimmering ceiling over Mother Africa.
Last day at Forrest Lodge and last AM game drive. Finally the Lion is sighted and we get close enough to hear what is clearly not purring and get some incredibly close shots. He is an older male who has killed a rival and taken his territory. With his black mane he is regal indeed and we wonder what he must make of us. A Cheetah paces our Rover along a road. We drive to a high overlook and shoot time lapse of the vista with clouds rolling by. One last Bar n’box and we say goodbye to Forest Lodge and our guides. I drive with Dumi for one last game drive and we witness a Cheetah chasing a McButt but the Impala gets away for now and the cheetah lays down to catch its breath. Another day in the bush. Back on the Impala poop strip two prop planes are waiting. We fly to Durban and change to a national airline to fly on to Cape Town. I’m sure I would feel better after a rough night if I could only get some pasta. The Cape Grace Hotel is very nice and after scouting some locations I borrow part of the kitchen to conjure some pasta. It looked and tasted the part. Sleep is also good food.
The Cape Grace Hotel is fine digs indeed. Outside my window a table cloth of clouds obscures Table Mountain, which commands Cape Town. If the weather clears we’ll take the Gondola up to the summit to view the Cape Peninsula and The Indian Ocean having a big fight with the Atlantic. Next stop Antarctica. Who were those brave souls who pioneered this spice route and plied these waters in wooden boats like bobbing corks? They were hungry evidently. Today the Cape Cuisine is a legacy from Portuguese, Dutch, English, Indian and Malay influences.
At a local farmers market Biltong and woersts and spectacular lamb, cheeses and honey, baked goods, herbs like Fynbos and other fresh produce are tempting. Chef Craig Patterson from the hotel is our guide and the bounty of South Africa is laid out in a pristine setting and teases what Craig will be cooking up back at his kitchen.
When you travel the wine country always go by motorcycle and sidecar. Batman and Robin in Constantia. At the winery we met the vintners and enjoyed a rare opportunity to sample elements of some great future red blends.That evening I got to cook with the Waterfront Chef Craig Patterson using the great local ingredients we’d gathered that morning then flung over to Bruce Robertson’s Showroom where that chef has clearly been struck by lighting. He is pixilated and the fare with countless ingredients is inspired. The Showroom restaurant is inside a car dealership which was an interesting décor. We linger for some fine South African red blends and then fade into the rainy evening. Nothing to do now but head for Cape Grace’s Waterfront restaurant. There was after all Chef Craig’s Cape Malay dim sum and notable entrees to dispatch. How about a Pork Belly secondi? Compliments…
Kalks Bay has some of the best frozen fried fish you’ll find. Wrinkled old fisher folk with faces like roadmaps twist native smokes up to bolster themselves before heading out to an unpredictable sea from this fishing village. The day’s catch of kingklip, john dory, bream, and dorado become delectably fried morsels at shacks along the quay and we tuck in.
Meet Egon Seconds a big star as far as Rugby goes in South Africa and we learn about the scrum and such then head off to Tiger’s Tavern in Cape Town’s Langa Township. Tiger’s, a Shabine or speakeasy was literally and otherwise cooking. An indoor Braai was turning out sausages and chicken. The history of this pre and post apartheid tavern is interesting as upward mobility brings back those with roots here. Their upscale cars are parked outside and local guys hand wash and watch them. The vibe of the township is intense and reveals this complex country has a long way to go in transition to pluralism. Inside the Shabine it is a noisy smokey crossroads and we seem to be in another dimension as no one notices us crew, cameras and all. Some are playing pool. Lots are drinking on this early afternoon. Some lovers locked in embrace, some friends deep in conversation. Games of chance. Children race about on small bikes indoors and babies are held as the business of everyday goes on. Folk cuddled cold bottles of Black Label beer and hot dogs on paper plates while a radio burst into life with a rendition of Amajoba. Some people may have been uncomfortable, others exhilarated. I ate a chicken wing that could not be beat. Shabine.
Last stop Table Mountain and the view is world class. We close the show and regroup for an elevated Indian Feast at Bukhara. Back at Cape Grace with over 460 different whiskies, Whiskey Sommelier Korbis de Koek knows his distilled libations well and we learn some things about the single malts. Cuban cigars. Fade.
In the morning we’ll squeeze our heads thru the rabbit hole again and get very small and head back to the point of origin. Good-bye game drive and big five. Bye bye Boma. So long Egon and Shabine. Farewell and Sala kahle South Africa. Tomorrow and tomorrow the stars will be familiar but some part of us will always long for Sundowners, and dinner in the Boma and Dumi, in the bush.
March 23rd, 2009 by joelcoblenz
Sotto un cielo colore rosa con le nubi bianche
My plate runneth over. Where shall I begin? Antipasti; Mortadella di Bologna
When the chance came up recently to visit Italy with celebrity Chef Todd English and entourage for a new TV series called Food Trip I jumped down the rabbit hole for gustatory joy. Because cuz, if you’re like me you can never have enough of certain special Italian delicacies. From arrincini to zampone you gotta love it, alla zuppa a dadi. Me…I can never get enough Mortadella and that is no baloney. Mind you this is not your grandfather’s lunchmeat though it might be your Nona’s antipasto. I found it is omnipresent on the humble and fine tables of northern Italy’s gastronomic center, Emilia-Romagna from where springs: the mother of all meat sauces, Bolognese ragu, melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto, the queen of cheese; fine seasoning Parmigiano Reggiano, tortellini pasta filled with myriad inspirations in the shape of tiny navels and served in golden brodo (broth that could make you slap your Jewish Mama). Sangiovese that rich deep red wine both bright and fruity the likes of which to grace the cup of Bacchus, precious balsamic vinegars (known to be the first item in last wills and testaments), roasting chestnuts that perfume the brisk fall air, 8 macchiatos a day and so much more under a pink sky with white clouds which in my mind’s eye seem like…like lardons and pistachios.
Factoid anyone? Mortadella hails from that food rich town, our first stop Bologna, aptly nicknamed “la grassa” meaning fat. Among the many pork sausage products made in this region it is this one that is the most celebrated. Mortadella has been made for at least five hundred years but may have origins in Roman times. A favorite sausage of the Romans was called farcimen mirtatum and was flavored with myrtle berries and prepared by using a mortar and pestle. The name for mortadella originates from the Latin words for myrtle (mirtatum) and mortar (mortario) and the sausage was made the same way up until the Middle Ages. Today the preparation and ingredients are a little different as Italian culinary life has evolved over the centuries….not so much.
What it is: Mortadella di Bologna starts with finely ground pork, usually the lesser cuts of meat that are not used for other types of sausage. In fact Mortadella is a testament to the resourcefulness of the Italian pig farmers as nothing edible on the pig is wasted. This ground meat is mixed with a high quality fat (usually from the throat) and a blend of salt, white pepper, peppercorns, coriander, anise, pieces of pistachio and wine. What you find in a true Mortadella is a slightly firm, pink sausage accented by the white squares of fat. It should be slightly spicy but smoothed out by the lardons and should have a distinctive aroma.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Pack a dozen cases of television production gear. Fly Boston-Paris-Bologna. Meet our trusty and totally patient guide Paola Golinelli and bus driver Ceseare. Paula has the Italian style thing going on that places her somewhere between 20 and 50. Ceseare would prefer not to be kissed. We are Chef Todd English, his Mom, his Gina, his Chef Jeff of Mohegan Sun’s Tuscany, his Cousin Joey, and five PBS TV crew knuckleheads all with good attitudes and appetites. First stop is our hotel Corona D’Oro (learn Italian: Golden Crown) for a quick press conference. See “Guru” Todd; page 2 of the Bologna Daily that Sunday complete with picture. We’re here for culinary inspiration on a classic Italian food trip. A mission from Todd. Next let’s walk across the many porticoed La Grassa to a Osteria and begin with the ubiquitous white polka dot pink meat, pasta, poultry, and a semi fredo sauced dessert bomba.
Disperse for shopping. Dinner is the Cantina Bentivoglio. There was mortadella. Salads are endangered here I am finding. The pasta is however delicate, an art form. The mineral water and wine flow like hot and cold. A braised beef on mashed potatoes comes by. The Bolognese just as all Europeans eat late and long. Espresso is vital, early and often. Get a grappa on yourself.
Primi piatti; Tartufo Bianco
Italian breakfast is continental. Great strong coffee but bitter juices and hard rolls. Don’t get me started about the baking. Let’s just say they’re not into it. Bleached flours with hard tack results. The M-Meat was present. It gives me an idea for Mortadella flakes. All aboard the magic bus although Cousin Joey and Chef Jeff are AWOL. The sound department seems tired. Apparently all-night-bakeries sell beer. Let’s head to Savigno about 25 kms west in the hills outside Bologna where on this Sunday in November the sleepy town becomes White Truffle Central. It’s the Sagra del Tartuffo and you’ve never seen so many of the white precious wonders in one place.
The main square and the streets of Savigno have the pleasure of playing host to numerous carefully-selected stalls which sell the Superior White Truffle of the Hills of Bologna according to the prices set by the truffle “bourse” which operates during the festival. Meet Truffle Mogul Luigi Dattilo. He guides Chef Todd thru the maze of truffle mania and do we see truffles. I wish you had smellovision because the air is full of the heady aroma of these edible incredible fungi. We’ll meet up again on an early morning later in the week to hunt for truffles with Luigi and very special truffle dogs in secret spots that they could tell us about but then they’d have to kill us. Chef Jeff magically appears out of the crowd. Good job. It’s good luck too for Foodniks like us, cause the vibe is tremendous. White truffle lasagna made with thin hand made pasta sheets so fine they describe their craft of tradition, finesse and feel. This is the slow food experience. Todd meets the mayor of Savigno who whisks us into a tent where magic cooking is happening all around us. Chestnut flour crepes happen in the blink of an eye in hot lard greased irons. Aromatic pork filling is folded into these delicate envelopes and they disappear in our mouths.
The Polenta line is mixing and cooking by motor then molding in meter long stainless rectangular forms, cut in small rectangles and sauce three ways; porcini mushroom, Bolognese ragu, and white truffle. Breakfast of champignons! Add vino and espresso and on we go.
Back to Bologna where we chase the light and Sunday night closed shops. There is a chocolate festival in the Piazza Magiore and we mix in the great crowded conga line of revelers. Chocolates there included fillings of pepperoncini, balsamic vinegar and espresso. There was no Mortadella. At least not that I saw. Dinner at the Caminetto D’Oro. This meal just rocked. Sangiovese is pouring in a ratchet-it-up flight of the local grape. A rabbit pasta dish with hand made gemelli is huge. Pumpkin filled tortellini and a goat cheese ravioli sing on the plate and palate. Now Chef has called for some steaks and this is where the beef is at. The local Chianini cows are renowned and the two bigger-than-your-head porterhouse steaks that arrive easily feed our crowd. Maybe a little olive oil or balsamic vinegar but the flavor of the beef is profound. Big home run! Maybe just one more grappa and a decaf espresso (just kidding…there is no decaf).
Secondi Piatti; Maiale intero
On Monday morning exit hotel to strains of Verdi as interpreted by a gypsy accordionist. Architecture and art are in all the details as we shoot some locating exteriors of Fat City in the early light. People begin to move. Look both ways. Armies of Vespas, double long diesel buses, bicycles and pedestrians negotiate the brisk November day. We are off to the University of Gastronomic Science at Colorno. It’s graduation day and we’ll attend the commencement and perhaps more importantly the following buffet. It was protracted and we rush off in our bus with cured ham on cruel saltless bread and a quick cappuccino.
It’s on to Zibello on the misty banks of the Po River where black pigs forage acorns and become the vaunted (cured in a stomach for 11 months) Culatello. Chef poses with a pig while the sunset drops behind in a perfect stand of young oaks while shafts of light criss cross the background. The air is fertile. Down the road in an old country villa deep in the dungeonish cellars guarded by ancient deadbolt and modern keypad security lie the curing loins. The Culatellos (over 4000) hang like alien pods until they slowly become ready for market. We slice some and taste at a restaurante down the way. The paper-thin slices melt or maybe vaporize somewhere between fingers and tongue. It is good. The fat is evenly distributed in fine lace and the faint taste of acorns and sunset lingers.
It’s a dark ride back to Bologna where dinner awaits at the Magnatum Pico Truffle Event. At a villa outside Bologna the truffle movers and shavers have gathered over a hundred strong to sample this season’s great white truffles prepared by visiting chefs of some renown. Our table of gastronauts and restaurant rock stars will be the judges. Truffles truffles everywhere with more than a drop to drink. Truffles with beef tartar, buds of turnip on Regianno cream, truffles with cardoon, truffles with crispy sweet breads for a hundred. The heady aroma of the razor thin chips of magnatum pico igniting their essential oils over hot food wafts from the kitchen and fills the room. This is good. Final note: the host gives me a quick tour of the villa and a can of espresso to go.
Il Menu di lunedì 13 novembre 2006
Aperitivi di benvenuto
Battuta di manzo in punte di coltello “La Granda” con germogli di cima di rapa, alice e tartufo bianco delle colline bolognesi
Passatello asciutto su crema di Parmigiano Reggiano e tartufo bianco
Gobbetti, tuorlo d’uovo e tartufo bianco
Animelle fritte, cicoria e tartufo bianco
Cialda croccante alle mandorle farcita di crema di mascarpone e tartufo bianco
Acqua minerale Cerelia
br /> Vini della Fattoria Felsina di Castelnuovo Berardenga (SI)
A flute player sits under the portico of a twelfth century building and plays a baroque Vivaldi serenade to La Grassa. Fountains and unbashful statues are ready to go. Cue pidgeons. Morning filming in the winding medieval alleys that still house the dry and wet markets of Bologna. A passing man pushing a cart overhears our crew wearing it out so calls my name and the camera’s attention to his cart of suckling pigs on their way to dinner. Fish I don’t know are displayed on ice. A bright pink kick line of winking prawns dance by. Little white placards with prices in euros and kilos are planted here and there. Prosciuttos, cheese wheels, and a crayola box of fruit and vegetable color are abundant.
Let’s climb the four hundred stairs of an ancient tower, once a prison, now a bed and breakfast. The smaller upper floors of the tower are unfurnished but for the creaking wooden stairs that steeply climb the interior perimeter. Graffiti from past involuntary guests are scrawled on the walls as we labor up with our camera and sound gear. I’m wondering if there might be an espresso machine on the roof? (Not so much). There was how ever a great view above the towers, cupolas, and tile roofs of the old city around us and the street four hundred stairs below.
Next we meet with a guide who leads us on a food tour of the ancient city where streets dating back to medieval times have names like meat street, bread way, and fish roe. We navigate the crowds (camera back- pedaling) and color of the old market streets where the same vibrant tradition of slow foods and meals one at a time, go forward much the same as they have for centuries. Squads of cured hams hang up to the ceiling of shops, tortellini filled with chestnuts lie in great heaps in store windows, perfect purple artichokes are arranged like flowers and everywhere are signs proclaiming the tartuffo bianco can be had at a price; white truffles.
Terzo Piatti; Quanto Basto
On to the Ferrari Museum in a red Ferrari. Fast car/slow food. Down the road aceto balsamico/balsamic vinegar slumbers til it’s ready say in 25 or 200 years. We taste. It is worth waiting for.
Say: “Formaggio” and I take your picture
Our troupe camps at Savigno. Dinner at Amerigo is late and slow… like it’s supposed to be. The owner Alberto shows off a brace of woodcock that were gotten by a local hunter that morning. Woodcock only fly by this way for three days on their annual migration to Africa. Tomorrow they are coming for dinner. Fried squares of pork fat and ground mortadella, pickled ciopollini onions, the cruel bread, great olive oil and balsamic vinegar, formaggio and oh here it comes; chestnut tortellini in golden broth. Espresso, grappa, kiss kiss, ciao chow.
Just around sunrise it’s a clandestine rendezvous with Luigi, Guiseppi and his two dogs. We’ve come at a time when we’ll draw less attention as we follow the dogs to the white gold: Truffles. Carmella is a terrier and Rosalita is a Vizsla puppy. (I want one). Guiseppi yells “Dove’, dove’, dove’(where, where, where)” and we’re off. Scrambling around after the dogs thru briar and thicket where their trained noses lead us to a few smaller specimens. Before long we have a ping pong ball size prize to show. Right out of the ground the aroma is strong. I think I’m developing a taste for the funky fungi.
Now, drive the Ferrari very very fast. See it go by scenic views. Add cappuccino. Off to an old flourmill that still does the daily grind the way it’s been since the 1600’s. At the Molino D’Ottore gravity flow of water drives an ancient turbine and turns two millstones. One for Farina and the other for Chestnut flour. Fabio is the miller although I did not recognize him with short hair. A small bite alfresco at the mill included fresh salume, ricotta cheese, and new and challenging breads. A young wine, fizzy water, no espresso. (note to self: battery operated espresso would be huge here). We go.
Formaggio, where it starts, at a dairy in the hills of Santa Lucia. Cows are busy making milk for the queen of cheese; Parmesan Reggiano. At this temple of formagio only 12 cheese a day are made from two milkings. Inside the towering storage area great wheels of this cheese of all cheese are rotated and washed in a great brush washing contraption once a week. We are talking serious inventory here, there were thousands of these wheels. We meet Antonio and Michela who thump the wheels with little hammers to check for uniformity and then cut the cheese. We sample. It is good. Now that we’ve opened it, just put it in the Ferrari.
Back on the bus I vaguely hear the Testerosa rocket by to Savigno where dinner and Alberto will be ready after 8. It is another truffle dinner that can’t be beat although I wasn’t much for the woodcock. I usually like game but I wasn’t game for this, notsomuch. Mr. Bunny however made an appearance in a dark sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Fresh pasta was served which Chef Todd shaved truffle wisps upon releasing once again their height of the season culinary magic like some gastronomic eclipse and we are there.
Quarto Piaati: Poco un più
On the ridges of the hills outside Savigno a foggy mist obscures villas in the distance like some veil between what we are dong and the rest of the world. Hunting dogs and 20 gauge shotguns, sensible shoes and designer shooting glasses. Point, flush, fire, the dog jumps and carries the prey to the ground.
A regal looking pheasant goes under the Chef’s arm to bring to a pasta-making lesson back at Amerigo. Anna Nani is a maestra of old school hand made pasta and her skill with the paper thins sheets is daunting. The tools include a three-foot length of broomstick, strength, experience, and patience. Filling of chestnut and minced pork go inside fine and finer tortellini wrapped around her tiny small finger. This lesson in old ways is a good trade for our pheasant. Chef samples a bowl of Anna’s tortellini with Bolognese ragu and six other forks descend and polish it off. In the back kitchen Chefs Todd and Jeff meet Amerigo’s Cook Denis and learn about Pork Four Ways from another special breed of pig recently brought back from a near total depletion of its stock. The marinated belly rolled and tied, the liver pierced with laurel leaves, the prociutto marinated in garlic and spices and the chop grilled. It is plated, I take its picture and it disappears. Insert coffee here.
Back in the bus. Luigi has quite a merchandising operation and we pay a visit to the truffle and all things Emilia Romagna parade of industry at his warehouse and plant. We take a gander at about a quarter of million dollars worth of white truffles. Even under refrigeration the scent could knock you over. Luigi gives me a truffle or two to spirit back to the States. It is packed in cloth inside a jar but even at the heart of my formally clean clothes I am concerned it will be smelled. Could just be oozing out of my pores at this point. This is the last stop. The end of the road for this Food Trip.
After a week all about truffles, ultimate pork products and perfect pasta plates tomorrow we say arriverdercci. Ciao Paula, ciao Ceseare. The bus rolls down to the Adriatic where a pea soup fog devours us and we dine on frito misto fruitti di mare, lobster rissotto and other delicacies of the sea. Alberto from Amerigo has somehow called ahead and treated us to a champagne toast. Bravo! Chef Todd cooked here back in his salad days and the meal is evocative for all of us. A slow meal of quality ingredients with good friends all in good time.
Things To Do
1. Buy an espresso machine
2. Smuggle a truffle
3. Get a Vizsla puppy
4. Slow down
5. Stock up on Mortadella