BOOK REVIEW: Dare Eat That by Divya Anand

Dare Eat That: A Guide to Bizarre Foods from Around the WorldDare Eat That: A Guide to Bizarre Foods from Around the World by Divya Anand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book takes one on a journey, sampling exotic foods of the world. The author describes experiences eating bizarre dishes in nine countries: the US, India, the UK, Luxembourg, Thailand, Australia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore. The foods include insects, balut, reptiles, game animals and fowl, and a wide range of seafood (including blowfish, a type of sushi prepared with surgical precision to avoid tainting the meat with a lethal poison.)

The book is organized by country in the order listed above. Some countries have many sub-chapters and others have as few as one depending upon how extensive the travels and how much unusual food was on offer. The book presents tables for each dining location, showing the cost, taste, and “fear factor” for each of the exotic dishes. Of course, the taste and fear ratings are inherently subjective. I know, among the items I’ve eaten, my subjective ratings would often be a little different. However, there is an inescapable cultural — as well as individual — bias to such ratings. By cultural bias I don’t just mean at a country level, but if you grew up in a coastal region versus a landlocked one, your ratings would probably vary considerably. That said, I thought it was a nice way to give the reader a quick insight into the experience of each food.

The biggest disadvantage of this book is that the experience is once removed. That is, the author is mostly reporting her spouse’s experience. As a vegetarian who shifted to eating chicken, she tried very few of the foods first hand (though, among those she did try was durian melon – proving she’s not a coward, because durian is nastier than much of the insect, seafood, and game food.) Still, because of this distance from the experience, the description could probably be more vivid in places. On the other hand, there is an amusing tension created between the husband who is an intense bizarre food foodie and the author who is squeamish about meat markets that adds to the entertainment value of the book.

Besides the aforementioned tables, the book is loaded with pictures — including a section of color plates — and has maps and diagrams as well.

I found this book interesting, readable, and – as a traveler – a potential reference source. If you’re a traveler and / or interested in exotic cuisine, you should check it out.

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BOOK REVIEW: The World’s Best Street Food by Lonely Planet

The World's Best Street Food: Where to find it and how to make it (General Pictorial)The World’s Best Street Food: Where to find it and how to make it by Lonely Planet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This is a combination guide to street food and cookbook. Each of the 100 entries consists of two pages. The first describes the food, how it’s eaten [that’s not always as self-evident to outsiders as one might think], its origins, where one can find a quintessential or famous example of the food, and whether there are any variants on the recipe. The second page is the cookbook entry, which lists the ingredients and describes the process by which they are combined to create the dish in question.

The foods are divided into broad categories of savory and sweet. The savory category is the larger by far, comprising 80 of the dishes—leaving 20 sweets. The dishes represent about 50 different countries of origin. A lot of these countries are well-known street food cultures such as Thailand, Vietnam, India, Mexico, and the US, but there are also a number of locales with which readers may be less familiar– such as Ghana, Malta, and French Polynesia. The dishes include a number of my favorites, such as Vietnamese Banh Mi, US Breakfast Burrito, Indian Masala Dosa, Thai Pad Thai, Hungarian Langos, and Singaporean Hainanese Chicken Rice. However, I also learned of new dishes that I’m eager to try, such as Croatian Cevapcici, Burmese Mohinga, and Chilean Sopaipilla.

WARNING: While I didn’t deduct stars for it, I will warn readers that this isn’t a good book to get as an e-book—at least unless you have a high-end tablet. It was a bit of a pain to read on my Kindle Touch, and the graphics (which I assume are beautiful in the print edition) were largely useless on my device. One could blow up the text easily enough (within limits, at least,) but the pages got grainy if one blew them up too much—and some of the text remained small when expanded.

There are photos. As I mentioned, on my device they were largely useless (grainy black-and-white) but your results may vary.

I found this book to be interesting and informative. While I wish the e-book had been easier to read, it was well-organized and offered a broad selection of dishes from a large number of countries.

I’d recommend this book for street food lovers and foodies.

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Learning Indian Cooking in Bangalore

I'm stirring the pot.

I’m stirring the pot.

The thing about Indian food–with its penchant for pureed gravies–is that I find it delectable, but often have no idea what I’m eating or how it got to me looking, tasting, and smelling like it does.

 

That is until recently. A couple of weeks ago I attended a cooking class at Manju’s Cooking School in RT Nagar in an attempt to rectify (or at least reduce) my ignorance. Manju’s offers a wide variety of classes (Indian and non-Indian, veg and non-Veg, cooking and baking, etc.)

 

I attended with a group of friends, and we constituted a class unto ourselves. We, therefore, got a quick and dirty introduction to a number of common / typical Indian foods (veg and non-veg, and both North and South Indian.) The menu we prepared consisted of two breads (kulcha and Malabar parota), dal makhani, paneer butter masala, and kadai chicken.

 

The class took 2.5 or 3 hours, and ended in a banquet of the foods we hand prepared.

20150201_170142 20150201_170013

 

Some of the fun facts that I learned include:

-“Kadai” in the name of dish just means that it’s wok-cooked.

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-A Kulcha is essentially a naan of a different thickness.

-Dal makhani requires a lot of prep, even if you have access to a pressure cooker.

-There’s a lot of finely chopped onion in these gravies that often goes unnoticed.

-One can cook with the pot upside-down. This is how we cooked Kulcha. In a restaurant it would be cooked in a Tandoor oven, but at home you can cook it stuck to the bottom of a deep pot.

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-Lastly, the key to a the flaky goodness of a Malabar parota is lots of fat… who’d have thought?

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Me&Parota

 

DAILY PHOTO: The Fried Wontons of Green Onion

Taken October 9, 2013

Taken October 9, 2013

I’m a hole-in-the-wall kind of guy. I like good food wherever I find it, but I find it particularly pleasurable at tucked away little places.

This week I ate at Citrus in Leela Palace. It’s one of the swankiest places in Bangalore. The food was excellent, but, of course, you know it’s going to be excellent. It’s expensive and has a French sommelier on staff. There’s great food, but no surprises.

Green Onion is a little first floor (second floor to Americans) Chinese place on a short side-street off of MG Road. I’ve been there twice, and it’s been almost full both times. It’s good food at a reasonable price. Today, I had the above fried wontons  along with kung pao chicken (which I order as much because it’s fun to say as because it’s delectable.) As can be said of most any Chinese place in Bangalore, it’s Indo-Chinese. That is to say, dishes don’t taste like they would in Beijing. That doesn’t make them bad, just different.

I don’t know if it’s cultural bias or not, but I think good Chinese food in America mirrors Chinese food in China more closely than does good Chinese in India. (Of course, bad Chinese food abounds in the U.S. and probably outnumbers good Chinese restaurants.) It may be because American food doesn’t have the extensive and potent flavor palette Indian food does, or because the China and India have shared a border for long enough to have developed a third entity cuisine over time in the manner that Tex-Mex food is distinct from Mexican. All this being said, it’s still tasty, just not in the same way Chinese food in China is.

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TODAY’S RANT: The Lonely Omnivore

My salami has a first name, it's B-E-S-S-Y.

My salami has a first name, it’s B-E-S-S-Y.

I’m a member of a group that has long suffered the bitter pill of discrimination. How is it–you may ask–that a white, heterosexual, suburban, graduate-educated male knows the foul taste of discrimination? I love meat, but my wife is a vegetarian.  This makes me a lonely omnivore.  When I go to the market, I can’t find meat packaged for my kind. No individual could cope with such quantities of meat as packaged by supermarkets. Well, that is besides those not averse to contracting colo-rectal cancer from the rotting carcass wedged in his transverse colon, e.g. Adam Richman.

One option–the healthy option–would be for me to go vegetarian. Did I mention that I love meat? I love bacon and beef and poultry and pork and rabbit and reindeer. I would eat meat on a boat. I would eat meat with a goat, and then I’d make a stew out of the goat. Cut off the beak and the bung, and you’ve got yourself a customer. You say you got horse meat in my beef? Sounds tasty. So option one is a nonstarter. I’m out of the omnivorous closet. I’m here; I eat steer; get used to it.

Another option is to find the store butcher and ask him to wrap me a solitary steak.  The problem is two-fold. First, the butcher is never just hanging out at the counter, and so there will be a PA announcement. In the 1950’s, before computers with Facebook and solitaire, the butcher would hang out at the counter, but now he’s in the back–presumably goofing off like 90% of the workforce. The announcement will be quick and neutral, but it will sound enough like the following to garner widespread attention, “Attention in the meat department, there’s a pathetic soul with no one to love him who needs steak for one, I repeat STEAK FOR ONE.” Then everyone in the store has to take a peak at the lonely omnivore. Don’t stare, Johnny, it’s just a hobo.

The second problem is that, while the butcher is smiling and polite, I know he is thinking, We have half a mile of prepackaged meat, and you really want me to take a break from my hectic schedule of playing solitaire in the back office to cut you one steak? Haven’t you heard of a nifty invention called a “freezer?” It should be located somewhere in the general vicinity of your refrigerator  

The third option is, of course, the freezer. If you had any idea how disheveled my mind was, you wouldn’t even suggest this. Using the freezer would require that I anticipate that I will eat again in the future so that I can take the meat out to thaw. Here’s how it really works. I’m sitting here typing and think, That steak would really be good about now! However, presently it isn’t a steak, it’s a block of meatcicle. So I take it out of the freezer. I stare at it for a few minutes, hoping to use my ill-developed Superman-like powers of heat vision. Then I try running hot water on it, but it remains crystalline on the inside. Then I leave it and go back to typing. Then I check on it in three minutes. Then I go back to typing. Then I check on it after two minutes. Sensing the beef will never thaw, I break down and make myself some unsatisfying but filling Top Ramen. The next time I see the steak it’s a soggy and unappetizing lump hanging out in my sink.

Now if you’re an outline-and-note-card kind of writer, you may wonder how a writer could be so unskilled at planning. I’m not that kind of writer. If you haven’t guessed it, if it hasn’t shown through, I just make shit up as I go along. For me, writing is a process of paginated diarrhea, with an admittedly messy cleanup process.

My final option is to go to one of the huge “farmer’s markets” that we have in the area. (I use quotes because I’ve never seen an actual farmer there, and the food is as likely to be from Armenia as it is from Americus, Georgia.) These markets have heaped slabs of meat on ice, they’ll and cut it however one wants. I do this sometimes. There’s a very cool thing about these places. Because they serve such a diverse population, they hire a lot of immigrants.  However, while it’s cool that my butcher is a native Lao speaker, it can be problematic for me as a non-Lao-speaking English speaker. Inevitably, my desire for ONE PIECE of meat is translated into ONE KILO of meat or ONE CRATE of meat. I know, you’re saying that there’s one simple and obvious solution: learn the Lao language.  The problem is that the next time I go I might get the Urdu-speaking butcher.

I don’t like to complain about my plight [which is why I have a regular series of posts called TODAY’S RANT], but we should make room in our society for those of different meat needs.

A Dude’s Attempt to Master Pad Thai

On a trip to Thailand last fall, my wife and I did a one-day cooking class in Chiang Mai. That day I made the perfect batch of pad thai. (For the uninitiated, Pad Thai is “noodles Thai-style.” It’s one of the more popular dishes at your local Thai restaurant. If you don’t believe me, go check. I’ll wait.)

Anyway, I preceded at home to make 35 batches of pad thai that bore little resemblance to food. That’s not true. Only the first five dishes were fundamentally inedible, the next thirty were tasty enough– they just didn’t taste like pad Thai. A poor cook might blame the difference on the variation in ingredients between Thailand and home. However, I have a sneaking suspicion the cooking school staff was slipping good cooking into my dish while I wasn’t looking. They’d say, “Godzilla” and point, and I’d turn (because one can’t take a chance that close to the Pacific), and when I turned back around the contents of my wok would look and/or smell better.

If making mac-n-cheese from a box, microwaving a HotPocket, or grilling a burger aren’t counted as cooking, then you might say that my experience with cooking was nothing. However through an extensive process of error and error, I arrived at delectable pad thai.

Below is what you’ll need.

Ingredients

Ingredients

First, for the anal retentive types who’ve noticed that I took this picture on top of the washing machine, that was solely for lighting purposes. This process in no way involves use of the washing machine. It’s not one of those clever recipes like cooking fish in the dishwasher. I’m serious, under no circumstances are you to attempt to use your washer in the making of pad thai.

In list form, what you’ll need is:
– 2 Tablespoons of oil (anything but olive)
– 4-ish cloves of garlic (more if you have a vampire-infestation problem)
– shrimp (several to many)
– chicken (one to two tenders’s worth; like the size of tender they give you at Applebees or Chilis– NOT McDonalds, i.e. a swanky tender)
(substitute tofu if you’re one of those quasi-vegetarians who count chicken as animal but don’t count shrimp/fish.)
– egg (1)
– 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
– 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
– rice noodles (about 2 ramen packets worth, not that you should buy it that way)
– crushed peanuts (3 heaping Tablespoons)
– spouts (1 cup-ish. Normally this is soy or mung bean sprouts, but I’ve substituted Alfalfa sprouts because they work fine and last longer in the fridge.)
– spring onions or chives or something green and oniony (1-cup-ish)
– 1/2 a lime

Step 1: Heat your oil in a wok. Get it hot enough so that when you throw the garlic in, it’ll sizzle. This will make you feel more chef-like.

Sizzling garlic

sizzling garlic

Step 2: Add the animal stuff. Put the chicken in first, it takes longer than the prawns.  If you’re using tofu, put it in after the shrimp (tofu won’t cause you severe debilitating diarrhea if it’s under-cooked. [I don’t think, but I have no idea what I’m talking about. Although I do suspect one shouldn’t refer to diarrhea at any point in a food blog post.])

chicken and shrimp (lamest superhero duo ever.)

chicken and shrimp (lamest superhero duo ever.)

Step 3: Add the egg, fish sauce, and sugar. Scramble the egg up good, and mix everything together.

Egg, fish sauce, and sugar

egg, fish sauce, and sugar

prawn scramble

prawn scramble

Step 4: Add the noodles. This is the trickiest part of all. First, they make a lot of different types of rice noodles in different dimensions and colors, and they all cook differently. I prefer thin noodles. I must admit the noodles are the weak part of my game. In the batch I’m showing, the noodles are overcooked, but I have done them just right. (You’ll have to take my word.) It’s preferable to have them slightly under-cooked when they’re mixed with the prawn scramble (There’s usually enough moisture that they’ll continue cooking.)

At the cooking school, we put pushed the prawn scramble up to the top of the wok and tilted the wok over and put dry noodles and a cup of water in the bottom of the wok. We then cooked the noodles, and then mixed them with the prawn scramble.  If you’re an octopus or a ninja, that method works great. I, however, pour boiling water over bowled noodles when I’m putting the chicken in the wok, then I tong them into the wok and mix them right together with the prawn scramble.

overcooked noodles this time

overcooked noodles this time, so sad

Step 5: Add the vegetable stuff. First, throw in the crushed peanuts. Then stir in the sprouts and the spring onion. (These are all done last, because you want them to provide a bit of crunch. i.e. You don’t want them thoroughly cooked.)

with the veges in

with the veges in

The penultimate step is to squeeze on the lime. This can be done into the wok after it’s removed from the heat or directly on top of one’s bowl.

Step 6: Eat. I’ve included the following picture as proof that this was, in fact, edible.

last few bites

last few bites