I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hiking the Inca Trail: total respect for Indiana Jones

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: For short people, the Incas built some steep steps

It’s a Thursday morning and it is dark. I am standing with countless others in the dark waiting for the final check point to be opened. We woke up around 3:30 that morning and I haven’t showered the last 4 days. I smell like hobo minus the smell of urine. I am hungry. I throw on my headlamp and take out my knife and at 4:40am in the middle of the Andes, I start peeling an apple with my fold up K-Bar by headlamp. I love every minute of it.

I do not know what I was looking for or even what random events transpired that I decided trekking the Inca Trail solo would be a great idea yet, it was by far the coolest experiences that I will forever remember. The sights on the trail were breath taking and to think that people for hundreds of years ago built and walked these steps was a concept and idea I am still struggling to grasp. Seeing Machu Picchu, empty right after the sunrise is an undescribable moment. 
 Pictures and tales of adventure after the jump!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Banh Mi Saigon Bakery- and Jewerly Shop

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Sometimes when I am in the mood for a Banh mi, I also want some jade jewelry

The first time that I had a banh mi sandwich was in the exotic and mysterious location of Toronto. I was in High School on vacation with my parents and like all Asians in a foreign land, we “stumbled” upon the Chinatown. The Toronto Chinatown has a high Vietnamese population and this one shop was plagued with people which of course even at a young non-culinary age keened my interest. In this shop was a line of old women churning out ba minh sandwiches assembly line style that would make Henry Ford proud. There was no menu, you just told them how many you wanted and that was it. I bought one and after the first bite, I knew I was hooked. The rest of my family was hooked as well that an hour before we were due to go to the airport, we quickly rushed back to this shop before departing to buy a couple of sandwiches to munch on the plane. 

 Only dilemma you have here is if you buy a sandwich first or a bracelet.

Since then, banh mi sandwiches got smacked with the trendy stick and have been popping up everywhere. I mean a turkey and cheese hoagie? So 90s. The New York Times published a recently written article in which describes what banh mi sandwiches are and some of the top places to get banh mi. I am a fan of the New York Times food section but this time, they straight up failed me. Some of the top places they named in New York City were Baoguette and Momofuku Ssam bar. First off, ssam bar has not served a banh mi in ages and the closest you can get  a banh mi from the Momofuku group is terrine one that is at Ma Peche and Baoguette is a uber chain that makes an alright quality banh mi and does a descent job given the 20 million restaurants Mr. Bao is opening. The article disappoints me because publication such as the Times, that is an authority in the food world, has given such outdated and subpar suggestions and in turn just discredits such a delectable creation. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Last Meals in Cusco: Cicciolina and El Buen Pastor

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Nothing creates the mood like sitting by an open window of a second floor restaurant and seeing a woman walk by with a llama on a lease

 Unassuming Courtyard...

Cusco is an ancient and somewhat rural city in the Andes Mountain that is unofficial base camp for expats, backpackers and tourists. As a result, Cusco is littered with tourist restaurants that serve pizzas, hamburgers, and spaghetti which makes it hard to navigate and find quality food in the city. Nothing wrong with pizza and tourist foods, to each their own but I did not personally come to stay in my comfort zone, especially when it comes to food. 

However, with a little effort, and thankfully down the street from my hotel, refined and quality food can be found here. Cicciolina was a place I have been hearing about when I first started doing my food research on my trip to Peru. As much as I like eating homey food from the streets and wandering around aimlessly until I found a madre y padre joint, I want some good food and a place like Cicciolina filled that void.

Open Kitchen and peppers from the ceiling= good things to come
Cicciolina is located right off the Plaza de Armas and after you get pass people peddling massages, alpaca wool and art the only real indication of the restaurant is a chalkboard at street level. You have to walk through these huge double blue doors into a courtyard and on ground level, is Cicciolina’s café and bakery, which can be mistaken that you suddenly walked into a Parisian café with their grand espresso machine, fresh baked croissants and baguettes. Upstairs however, is the restaurant. Cicciolina is Mediterranean restaurant that gives a strong nod to Peruvian cuisine. The space is small; however the open kitchen and open windows makes the space comfortable and spacious. 

I am weird that I like the sight of fresh pasta drying

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cusco Day Dos: Tamales, street meat, and ill have the chicken

Om Nomz Hero note to Self: Tamales count as a light breakfast. End of discussion.

I woke up with a slight headache. The altitude was slightly affecting me a bit and I was still a bit full from the pervious day of eating myself to Bourdianesque oblivion. So I started off real light, with some Coca tea which according Peruvians, is the magic elixir that cures all problems and aliments. Yes, coca tea uses the leave that is used to make cocaine, however, the amount that you drink in a tea is not enough or even close to dope so do not worry about getting “high” or freaking out or whatever. 

 Lonely Tamale Lady at off of Ave. de Sol

I walked around the Plaza de Armas and found a group of people, huddled around a corner of the square and from a distance; they looked like they were eating. Naturally I went over hoping that it was food or maybe they were trying to get in a couple of games of dice before breakfast. The people were huddled around a lady just chilling there with a huge covered basket. What was in this basket? Cookies? Candies? Puppies? It was tamales. The crash course definition of a tamale is that is a dumpling-like cake that is made primarily of corn, water and oil and they are wrapped in corn husks and steamed. They can be savory or sweet, and can have fillings ranging from meat to raisins. Oh and so you do not look dumb, you do not eat the corn husks. 

 Bag of warm tamale goodness, the Tamale Lady of Plaza de Armas

Unfortunately my experience with tamales up until I got to Peru has been dense, gummy and somewhat processed and just dull. The tamale at the market was probably the first good tamale I had and I was excited to eat more. From observation, tamales are a typical street food that it mainly eaten in the morning and early afternoon. Already a fan of breakfast in Peru, I got a tamale and decided to go sweet. The tamales here in Peru has now set the standard for what a tamale should be. It was still warm and wafting with steam when she handed it to me and upon unwrapping it, it was not the nuclear yellow that I was used to but a vibrant shade of white, signaling freshness and actual usage of corn. The tamale crumbled delicately yet moist enough to prevent it from being a crumbly mess. This tasted great; you could actually taste the corn. The dulce tamale was sprinkled with bits of raisins. The sweetness of the tamales came from the corn and the bits of raisins which was subtle but perfect and naturally let the corn flavors come through. 
tamales and more food pronz after jump

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cusco Day Uno Part II : Pork, pork, alpaca and baked goodness!

I decided to head back to the hotel and get some rest and see what else I could find and then I found a street that I have heard about from a previous read and thought was a myth and I will now call, chicharron alley. 

 I know delicious in other languages too!
This street, which was really called Ave. San Andres is a non-descript and really had nothing going on except from about noon to 4pm these hole-in-the-wall restaurants set up the fryers near the door and the perfume of fried pork clot the air advertising their tasty offerings. 

 Stopped me dead in my tracks

Cusco Day Uno Part I : Market eating frenzy, sugar rush, alpaca and more!

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: My Spanish may suck, but I know pork in every language

Peru was my first solo trip that I have taken. I have traveled to other places on my own but this was the first time I did not plan to meet anyone on the other side. I went to Peru to hike/trek the Inca Trail and see Machu Picchu and it was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life so far. The food was amazing and I met so many people despite the language barrier (me having horrible High School Spanish). This will be a multi-part posts that will be mixed in so here we go with part I: Cusco Day Uno. 

After a flight from Newark to Lima and spending a lovely evening in the Lima Food Court, I took an early flight out to Cusco, which is like the unofficial base camp for anyone that is doing up the Inca Trail and . After a hilarious flight courtesy of Peruvian Airlines (the pilot failed to mention we were landing and I think 30 seconds before we touched down, the flight attendants were scrambling to sit down, get tray tables and seats up) I had a quick taxi ride to my hotel Rumi Punku. Although they offered a complimentary breakfast and I slept all half assed in the Lima Airport, I was hungry and I took a quick shower, changed and went to the market to eat.

I love markets because are pretty much guaranteed to eat well and for a good price. I have visited many markets and this was one I thoroughly enjoyed and spent a lot of time going back to. First off, this is mainly run by women, they were cooking, selling, butchering and ran the whole show. It was sectioned off too in which there was a meat section, fish, veggies, cheese and of course the cooked food section. I ate a lot of things in this market and during my time in Cusco, probably accounted for 40-50% of my diet here. Many would see this as a bad idea and I was advised by many not to go and eat at the market. I like to think that I am pure awesome retarded and I do not have a regular Gringo stomach like others. However, when it comes to eat in a market or in a non-restaurant setting here are some rules that I created for myself. Volume is better, like do not eat from the random lonely dude or lady because you feel bad that no one is there. You won’t feel bad about them later when you are on the toilet later that night and you did it for some probably crappy food. If there is a line of people, or there is a lot people eating there, you have a better chance of not getting sick. High turnover rate generally means food needs to replenished and is general fresher. Also I avoid raw veggies (no salads) and stick to the meats and the fried stuff. In my experience, these very basic rules kept me out of trouble.
Mercado food Pronz after the jump

Monday, March 21, 2011

Harney & Sons

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Tea Snobs are 10x better than coffee snobs

** Lagging a bit in entries because I was eating and trekking it up in Peru! First Entry later this week! Stay tuned!!**

I do not know much about tea or a crazy tea enthusiast. I drink both coffee and tea and for a short time in high school and college I did a double whammy and mixed them together with lots of sugar for the insane caffeine fix to get some of that late night studying done. I know enough that I can tell the difference between say a Darjeeling tea to a Chinese black tea and I do not like drinking weird Lipton tea. Although I do have a fondness for the old school Brisk lemon Ice Teas. Do they still make those? Those commercials were AWESOME.

Anyways, I thought I had a decent knowledge of tea but when I went to Harney & Sons, just walking into the place I immediately knew that stuff I knew about tea was amateur hour.  Harney & Sons is a renowned tea seller and blenders with their original shop in upstate New York and now their newly opened shop in Soho. Apparently, I have a quite a few friends that are tea enthusiasts and I decided to check this place out with them. The airy and bright space overwhelmed a person like me (ie. Simple minded) and the walls were lined with boxes and tins of tea. It was not what I was expecting at all. I had imaged it being a small, stuffy shop that was ran by the stereotypical Brit that had on a double breasted suit and had stories and tales of adventure from the Boer Wars. I mean, seriously, when you think tea, you either think Asian guy or British guy, and generally the British guy. The Brits take their Tea very, very seriously and the nerd I am, I find the Opium Wars the clear event that tells you, you do not get in between the Brits and their tea. The short version is:

Brits: Hey China, we want your tea and got a lot of opium, want to trade?

China: Opium, yo drugs are wack, na its ok.

Brits: WTF? No. you will trade your tea for our opium right MEOW!

China: Pissh, no, way, we don’t want youre opium, what are you going to do? Start a war?

Brits: Hells yea.

Basically, Britain started a war, forced the Chinese to take opium and smoke it, and Britain got their tea, such a classic Imperialism happily ever after ending.

Boxes o' teas

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bklyn (Brooklyn) or however you spell it, Larder

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: It is not polite to stare at bread apparently

Like a Jersey Shore Guido stepping into a gym or an Ed Hardy store, I get the same level of happiness and excitement when I walk into a gourmet food shop. Except of course I do not have the urge to get my “swell” on or the fire hazardous amount of hair product, the general feeling is about the same. It is everything that I want and I am interested in, encapsulated in one place. The Brooklyn Larder or the uber spelling “Bklyn Larder” is one of the mainly gourmet food shops that reside in Brooklyn. Located on Flatbush Avenue, it is easily accessible by subway and a couple blocks from the Brooklyn Flea.  The shop is quaint but the large window front livens and warms the place. They range from everything from beers and cheeses to meats and chocolates (not mixed together). This is a haven for supporting and buying products and foods from the ever growing food scene that is continuously cultivating. 

 Seats for eating and people watching

The Larder is neat stocked to the brim of almost any food item that would make a foodie jealous. It is easy to loose track of time (and money) when you are in here. They have a very respectable chocolate selection such as Askinosie and Taza to the local ones such as Mast Brothers Chocolates and the chocolate confectioners Liddabit Sweets. They even have the elusive Hazelnut Spread from Askinosie, which is an American made version of Nutella but Askinosie blows that out of the water. I have been rationing my supply of the Askinosie Hazelnut Spread until I can get resupplied and now I thankfully have a supplier now. 

 So...how many bottles of beer on the wall?

The store also has a great freezer and refrigerator case that has lots of taste goodies such as rilettes, pates, stocks and rendered fats from all your favorite animals, well animals that you like to eat. I will be back to try get some ice creams from them as soon as I am able to find a suitable transport system. So pretty much, I need to find some dry ice. They have numerous hard to find spices and blends and a very respectable stock of oils including a local olive oil. If buying all the provisions will most likely make you broke, then the prepared foods side of the store and the meat and cheese counter will have you living off of food stamps. They carry a good amount of salumi and have a all star line up of mortadella, guanciale and lardo. They have cheeses ranging from the ever stinky Italian Taleggio to American cheeses such as Cowgirl Creamery and a knowledge staff that can give you great suggestions on pairings. Their baked good section is another section that is very much worth mentioning. The Brooklyn Larder is a contender and a worthwhile buy for the best chocolate chip cookie in New York.

Chocolate Chip Cookie 

            The chocolate chip cookie at the Larder does not look much and looks unassuming and clocking in at only two dollars it is a pretty good deal. However, this is a solid chocolate chip cookie had the right amount of balance between the salt and sweet and had just enough of a buttery texture to make this a homey cookie. This is the kind of cookies that you imagine eating if your life was Leave it to Beaver. This is what an after school snack tastes and in a world where food can sometimes taste like nothing this tasted like a great all American cookies. You can queue the Team America “Fuck Yeah” music anytime. 

 Fresh Baked goods always a plus!

Unfortunately for my wallet, this will be another stop I will be making when I am in the area. It is a great addition to the neighborhood as well as a great place to shop for quality ingredients and tasty gourmet foods.

Brooklyn Larder
228 Flatbush Avenue
NY 11217-2473

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Porchetta NYC

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: You can never have enough cracklings on a porchetta sandwich

 The Church of Pork 

Anybody that has been reading my verbal vomit knows that I have a love, obsession with pork. Not just some amateur, “yeah, bacon is great!”, it is more like if I had to choose one meat to live off of for the rest of my life, I would not have to think about it and it would me pork. I love to eat every part and when they say nose to tail eating, I will eat every part from the nose to tail. The Tail by the way, its pretty good when it is fried up. So it seemed obvious to me that I have to go and get a sandwich from a place like Porchetta. Porchetta, owned by Chef Sara Jenkins is a minimalist shop that has maybe about six stools and is more or less a takeout joint. What they lack in seating and space, they make up in their Porchetta. Porchetta is an Italian, roasted rolled boneless pork shoulder that is slow roasted to perfection. The skin is left on to slowly baste the meat and achieves a ultra crispness. The menu is small and you can either get the porchetta served as a sandwich or as a platter with sides that I have unfortunately yet to try.

These are the good kind of Fat Rolls you want to have

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sweet Revenge Cupcakes

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Bathrooms that look like you stepped into someone's apartment kind of freak me out

Booze and Cupcakes together...as well as soup too according to the board.

I hate these credit card commercials because apparently, according to them no one carries cash. Seriously, start carrying some cash people! Chase has the small business card commercial and one featured the bar/bakery Sweet Revenge. Sure they have gained popularity for the “omgzyourontv” factor but that will only get you so far. Sweet Revenge, located in the West Village is a bit of everything. The core of Sweet Revenge is that is a bar that serves food but has a big sweets menu and mainly known for their cupcakes.

 The Bar at Sweet Revenge

One of the interesting things that Sweet Revenge does is that they are somewhat elevating there sweets by pairing them with drinks, which is a cool concept. If Jean Georges has a wine pairing for the molten chocolate cake, why can’t the strawberry cupcake get a booze pairing? Unfortunately, given that I already had a good amount of booze that morning I decided to forgo the booze pairings for another time and see how their sweets stacked up. I mean if your place is called Sweet Revenge, does not matter how well you pair your booze with cupcakes if your cupcakes are not up to par.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Peanut Gallery: the Nutropolitan Museum of Art at OpenHouse

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: My Art History minor was only good for a GPA booster

 Its like the Metropolitan, but with less naked people!

I minored in Art History for actual interest, not because I was under the illusion that Art History was a piece of cake. Thinking Art History is an easy subject is like thinking Family Guy is still funny: you are just fooling yourself. It sounds easy right? I mean you sit there and look at pictures for a good hour and a half and if you are lucky, the seats are comfortable and a great place to sleep and plus, if you are a guy the ratio of guys to girls in an Art History class is very much so in your favor. I wish it was that easy, try memorizing like, 70 images with dates, names, artists, periods and the little subtle details about them. That was hard and I never picked up any girls in my class. Thankfully, I was able to utilize some Rain Man like abilities and utilized my remembering skills and used it as a GPA booster in college. Who would ever think that my love for a food, such as peanut butter would collide, or sandwich together? (I apologize for that bad and forced pun)When I heard about the the Nutropolitan Museum of Art popping up this weekend, I was very interested in going. I mean, peanut butter, one of my favorite sandwich spreads and art that is inspired by said spread? I am in. 

 Gallery, people not included

In honor of national Peanut Month (Since apparently every food has a day and month, anyone care to inform me of national Durian Day?) the Nutropolitan Museum of Art is a pop up gallery that was open from March 4th to the 6th. The Peanut Butter themed gallery came from Lee Zalben, owner of Peanut Butter & Company located right here in New York City. Peanut Butter & Co. not only makes smooth and crunchy peanut butter, but making variations such as Maple peanut butter, Dark Chocolate peanut butter and my personal favorite, the Cinnamon Raisin peanut butter spread that has actual raisins. Not only are they making flavor enticing spreads, they are also creating sandwiches which is the theme of this gallery. Zalben challenge himself to create a new peanut butter sandwich for everyday of the year, giving that I can only think of a few, and the majority is changing up the serving platform. Paired with food stylist, Patty White, and photographer Theresa Raffetto the food gallery was born for a weekend only.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Recipe it up: Dorayaki

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: I still don’t know what Doraemon is, but I would totally party with him

When I was little and we would visit Taiwan, Japanese cartoon dominated the airwaves and I would see the one cartoon, where this character Doraemon would go absolutely crazy for what I now know was dorayaki. I have no clue what the hell Doraemon is, and according to wiki, he is a robotic type of cat. The Japanese think up some CRAZY stuff. 


Anyways, I thought dorayaki were just chocolate cookie sandwiches and did not realize until I actually had one that they are suppose to be filled with red bean paste. I can not recall the first time I actually had them but I do know they were from the Japanese mega-supermarket Mitsuwa, but I remember the first one that I actually remembered what it tasted like and why these Japanese treats were awesome was in a 7-11 Tokyo.
Going abroad, I like to go to the convenience store, especially the 7-11 to see what they got, and the ones in Asia and in this case Japan has 10x better food than we do. They have cakes, rice balls, fish cakes, noodles, hot dogs that eating at a 7-11 I would be perfectly content (sorry, folks, haven’t found a 7-11 taquito abroad yet!). But, I bought a dorayaki and I downed it like a fat kid sneaking a Snickers bar at fat camp. This is essentially a whoopie pie and I will say that these are the origins of the whoopie pie (Sorry Maine). The pancake is fluffy and tender and the smooth red bean paste is a great contrast to the sweetness. 
Although red bean paste in the traditional way to fill these suckers, in the picture or variations, such as a custard, curd, sesame paste or in my I call, the “white trash” rendition, filled with Nutella and Fluff which taste awesome. I plan to make these in the spring when I start to abuse the ice cream maker. The firmness of the dorayaki makes it a great vessel for ice cream!

Recipe after the Jump

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Taiwan Dispatch: Din Tai Fung: Soup Dumplings Nirvana

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Soup Dumplings is a perfect cure for Jet lag, or at least make your forget how tired you are.

Din Tai Fung Menu

I am going away next Friday and to get in the travel mood and spirit, I am going to start posting up stuff from my last travel excursion to Taiwan. I went to Taiwan back in November 2010 during Thanksgiving, which would generally make me angry because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I love celebrating the survival of a  bunch of uptight white folks. Oh yes, I also like cooking and eating Thanksgiving food, I am the loser that starts planning Thanksgiving when November comes around, I do not joke about Thanksgiving. So missing Thanksgiving and being in Taiwan would generally end with Hulk-like anger but after the initial shock and a 15 second moment of grief, I came to terms with it and knew this was just as good, if not better and 70 degree weather helped as well. Besides, I can smoke a turkey when I get home. 

I have a love and hate relationship with this country; I hated it when I was younger because I could not stand the whole day flight and then dealing with family members. They could not speak English and I had elementary Chinese skills at best and they could never pronounce my name. The name is Joseph or Joe, not “Johnson” or “Jetson”. However, like my culinary knowledge, as I grew up and learned more about Taiwan and food, it just took some time to become aware and embrace all that Taiwan has to offer and realized that this was a haven and a must destination for a serious eater. 

So to start off on what I call the Taiwan Dispatch (calling it a “dispatch” makes it sound 10x more exotic and exciting) I am going to start of with the beginning of the trip and the first thing I ate. Well, not really the first thing I ate but the first meal I had in Taiwan after not going back in about 6 years. Well, the first thing I had was a coffee and a stroopwafel at a Starbucks, which by the way, their “venti” is smaller than the American “venti” so we are either they are getting ripped off or we are making out I don’t know. Anybody that wants to fund this research and send me back to Taiwan for uhh research and study feel free to contact me.

This guy is like 10x cooler than Ronald McDonald

If the first meal in any place defines a trip, then I was going to eating like a king…like King Henry VIII who ate like everything. Even before we checked into our hotel room, we went to Sogo, a Japanese mall to the eat at the ever popular Din Tai Fung. First thing to note is that this mall food court is nothing compared to your local mall. If you think having a Cinnabon and a Sabarros was the pinnacle of mall cuisine, then you are out of luck here. It is like the food hall at Harrods in London and probably based off of that. There are bakeries pumping out fresh and tasty bread, specialty cakes and cookies, Korean barbeques, noodles everywhere and you can even get a steak dinner here. So it comes no surprise that there is a Din Tai Fung here. 

Food galore after the jump

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Keste Pizzeria

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Eating pizza like this, you never leave the crust. It is a sin.

 This is where real magic happens. Harry Potter ain't got shit on this Oven

One of my favorite television characters is from the old and still great Dave Chappelle Show where he has a character called Tyrone Biggums, who is a crackhead. He would do ridiculous things like through a 80,000 dollar crack party and did crazy stuff and always said, “I want the crack baby”! I laugh because he has the crackhead shakes, rubbing his gums, and doing anything for crack. Naively, I sit back and laugh, because I could never stoop to this level over something.
I realize I am Tyrone Biggums when I am walking down Bleecker on a cold Saturday night. I have the same signs when I am craving a Neapolitan pizza. I thinking about eating it, salivate like a Pavlovan dog, maybe I even get the shakes too but I can not help it. I even want to break into a car and steal the radio because I know a radio is at least worth a pie or 2. No regular slice can compare to a steaming, lightly charred, chewy pie with creamy mozzarella with specks of bright red tomatoes. It is like when they remade Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you can not compare to the original and it is not the same.
 Thankfully, unlike a crackhead, I have dignity and assets and did not need to sell stolen car radios or my body to get Neapolitan pizza. New York now has multiple places where I can get my fix but one of the standbys and the best Neapolitan pizza places is Keste Pizza. When it is a cold day, like frozen runny nose cold and people are waiting outside at 6pm on Bleecker Street, this place is worth going to. Especially on Bleecker Street and the surrounding area, it is like trying to find a Hippie at Burning Man: you do not have to look far to find one.

Pizza Pronz after the jump