Pete’s Travels: 36 Hours in Washington D.C.

Last weekend Kristi, Janet and I headed to Washington D.C. to visit our friends Lenny and Shelley (yes all of my friend’s names end in y).  We got back yesterday and as I write this I am on a flight to Las Vegas for a tradeshow.  So, lots of restaurant eating and not much cooking lately.  I described my feelings on writing about restaurants about a year ago but in case you missed it:

“Aside from my Philly post, I generally avoid giving any kind of restaurant reviews on this blog.  There are 200,000 active restaurant blogs with over 95% of them located in the 25 biggest cities in the U.S.  Pretty crazy right?  Well, I made most of that up but I’m guessing it’s relatively accurate, and what I am trying to say is that area of blogging is pretty well covered.  Who needs another blog that tries to sound like Bourdain while they give the millionth opinion posted online of a Best of Boston restaurant’s seared scallops.  I’ll save you some time: they tasted good and were cooked well.”

I still feel that way, but in the interest of writing something this week, and because we did some pretty dece grubbin’ between our late night arrival Friday and our exit on Sunday, here’s my recap of 36 hours in DC.

After Janet woke up in the 7s on Saturday we went for a walk to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market and discovered it is only open on Sunday.  At which point we headed home hungry, researched the new Union Market and drove out there.  I was immediately reminded of Reading Terminal Market in Philly except it was newer, cleaner, and everything just looked nicer.

Every food stand had a cool name and ornate signage.  In Philly all of the restaurants look like this, but you get to Reading Terminal market and most of the signage is handwritten on the bottom of a previously used paper plate.  I’m exaggerating, but the truth isn’t too far off

Every food stand had a cool name and ornate signage. In Philly all of the restaurants look like this, but you get to Reading Terminal market and most of the signage is handwritten on the bottom of a previously used paper plate. I’m exaggerating, but the truth isn’t too far off

To continue Lenny and my longstanding pattern of arriving at restaurants before they start serving, we got to Union Market 15 minutes before most of the restaurants opened.  Which brought us to Buffalo Bergen, the only establishment open for breakfast and serving authentic NY style boiled bagels and a few unique knish options.

I will eat any bagel but I also understand that most of them are crap.  They can never hold up to the NJ and NY bagels that I grew up eating, but the bagel with cream cheese and scallions at Buffalo Bergen was one of the best I’ve had outside NJ.  And because I was extremely hungry, I got a braised short rib knish as well.

This knish was great, but while it cooked/cooled I annoyed everyone within earshot gushing about how brilliant it was that instead of scallion cream cheese, the bagel was served with cream cheese and a handful of crunchy fresh chopped scallions pressed into the cream cheese.  I was probably a little over the top, but it made a big difference

This knish was great, but while it cooked/cooled I annoyed everyone within earshot gushing about how brilliant it was that instead of scallion cream cheese, the bagel was served with cream cheese and a handful of crunchy fresh chopped scallions pressed into the cream cheese. I was probably a little over the top, but it made a big difference

Since there were potatoes mixed in with the shredded short rib, this knish was basically like an entire dinner surrounded by flaky pastry.  And that’s a good thing.  The short rib was tender and had the traditional pot roast-like flavor I associate with slow cooked short ribs.  I was surprised that the Dijon mustard they served on the side actually went really well with it, but, that’s why they do this professionally and I just play make believe.

When the other food establishments started opening we noticed that Red Apron butcher served Bells Two Hearted Ale, my fav thing and brewed near where Shell grew up in Michigan.  We stopped in for a pint (I’m really happy I haven’t admitted what time stuff opened) and while there I stared at their class case of house made charcuterie.  After being asked to leave multiple times due to the nose grease smudges and knish breath fog I was applying to the glass, I ordered a couple ounces of their liverwurst and morel mushroom & pork terrine.

A Jack Ryan favorite, and also one of mine.  I have been loudly mocked by sassy deli counter workers twice in my life when ordering liverwurst, and my fear of that experience keeps me from ordering it more than once or twice a year.  Soooo, yeah, I fully believe mocking and humiliation can lead to better health

A Jack Ryan favorite, and also one of mine. I have been loudly mocked by sassy deli counter workers twice in my life when ordering liverwurst, and my fear of that experience keeps me from ordering it more than once or twice a year. Soooo, yeah, I fully believe mocking and humiliation can lead to better health

The consistency of terrines keeps me away from them a lot of the time, but mushrooms make everything better for me.  That may be the most Bates College thing I have ever said in my life

The consistency of terrines keeps me away from them a lot of the time, but mushrooms make everything better for me. That may be the most Bates College thing I have ever said in my life

Liverwust is cheap food; usually it is the lowest priced deli meat in the case because it’s made with a lot of cheap cuts.  I’d never had an artisanal version of it and couldn’t imagine that it would be as different as it actually was.  The flavor was rich, distinctly porky and didn’t have the strong liver flavor that hits you right away with the cheaper stuff.  However, you did get a pretty sharp liver aftertaste at the end which I didn’t mind but made Lenny not enjoy his sample much.  You know who did enjoy it?

Not to get too sappy but we often talk about how much Janet reminds us of Pop Ryan when she smiles and how she’s like a little Jack Ryan.  As stupid as her enjoying scrapple, liverwurst, and other weird Dad foods seems, it makes me smile more than any normal food could.  Keep grubbin’ like the greats ‘lil gal!

Not to get too sappy but we often talk about how much Janet reminds us of Pop Ryan when she smiles and how she’s like a little Jack Ryan. As stupid as her enjoying scrapple, liverwurst, and other weird Dad foods seems, it makes me smile more than any normal food could. Keep grubbin’ like the greats ‘lil gal!

The terrine was also pretty tasty and I found it more enjoyable than most terrines.  The pork meat was so well blended with fat that it had a creamy texture you normally would associate with a mousse but still with some of the meat grain.  The mushroom flavor wasn’t as strong as I was hoping but added a nice texture contrast along the way.

Since I was momentarily stuffed on meat products we all headed off to explore the other offerings in the market like oysters at Rappahannock.

Kristi enjoyed her half dozen sampler though she’s become accustomed to the incredibly briny ones in New England so she was slightly disappointed.  She will likely be more disappointed that I used this picture of her

Kristi enjoyed her half dozen sampler though she’s become accustomed to the incredibly briny ones in New England so she was slightly disappointed. She will likely be more disappointed that I used this picture of her

Or the first shop that we were drawn to upon arrival, TaKorean.  The tacos looked ridiculous but Len ended up going with some sort of enormous mixed meat bowl with chicken, shredded beef, lots of sauces, herbs, and greens.

My biggest knock on the entire gourmet food court/truck experience is that they still use plastic cutlery that has the structural integrity of pipe cleaner and seems to start melting at exactly 100F.  Yet Wendys has soup spoons that could double as a professional quality tennis racket.  Step it up Union Market!

My biggest knock on the entire gourmet food court/truck experience is that they still use plastic cutlery that has the structural integrity of pipe cleaner and seems to start melting at exactly 100F. Yet Wendys has soup spoons that could double as a professional quality tennis racket. Step it up Union Market!

This meat bowl was freaking ridiculous and I would definitely make TaKorean my first stop on a return visit.  A ton of different strong flavors coming together with a lot of cilantro and greens making the whole thing taste fresh and crunchy.  You know who else enjoyed it?

Depending on your definition of adorable this competes with the earlier shot of Janet.  Sure she is a cute toddler, but she was eating liverwurst, and look how sick Lenny’s coif looks!

Depending on your definition of adorable this competes with the earlier shot of Janet. Sure she is a cute toddler, but she was eating liverwurst, and look how sick Lenny’s coif looks!

The flavors in the bowl gave me a little second wind to try out one last establishment: DC Empanadas.

These things were hot and extremely crispy.  Not sure why I thought that this completely uninsightful picture was a better idea than taking a bite and showing the contents of these dough pockets.  Well, they both had stuff inside

These things were hot and extremely crispy. Not sure why I thought that this completely uninsightful picture was a better idea than taking a bite and showing the contents of these dough pockets. Well, they both had stuff inside

I went a little boring on the my filling (three cheese) compared to Kristi’s (some sorta crazy teriyaki thing) mainly because the salsa verde looked like something I would want to use lots of.  I was correct in that assumption since it was most similar to a cross between creamed spinach and salsa verde but with cilantro as the strongest flavor.  I would use that stuff on every taco I eat for the rest of my life and I wish I had purchased some to take home.

As we wrapped up the savory portion of our “lunch” we all looked for the dessert we would finish our time at Union Market with.  I chose poorly with baklava stuffed with rose cream, which was much closer to an eggy custard than a cream.  Not bad, just not my thing.  Shell on the other hand walked away with the holy grail of Union Market desserts: Dulce De Leche Pudding from DC Empanadas.

A naturally lit shot without Pete’s kitchen radiator cover in the background?  The hell you say!  That’s right, I actually photographed a piece of food outdoors for once.  Real sun and everything

A naturally lit shot without Pete’s kitchen radiator cover in the background? The hell you say! That’s right, I actually photographed a piece of food outdoors for once. Real sun and everything

This stuff was absurd.  Very creamy, sweet and rich but not so much that it made you want to stop eating.  Instead, it made it completely addictive and impossible to stop eating.  Handing the spoon back to Shelley felt like I was Samwise Gamgee handing the ring back to Frodo.  Lord of the Rings references!  Just in case you forgot I didn’t have a girlfriend until college.

After Union Market we headed home for naps (I drove everyone out of the room by snoring on the living room floor) and then a walk to the zoo (Janet loves her some monkeys).  We had dinner at Firefly, which offered some pretty awesome food but incredibly awful lighting for fotos.

I would rather scream curses at someone else’s child in a quiet restaurant than ever take a picture of my food with a flash.  I am embarrassed for other people when they take pictures of their food in nice restaurants.  Act like you’ve been there before!  I pretended I was texting our babysitter something important while I shot this one

I would rather scream curses at someone else’s child in a quiet restaurant than ever take a picture of my food with a flash. I am embarrassed for other people when they take pictures of their food in nice restaurants. Act like you’ve been there before! I pretended I was texting our babysitter something important while I shot this one

My tartare was pretty solid; well seasoned and I appreciated that they didn’t add capers or pickles, just let the meat stand on its own.  I really can’t speak highly enough of my entrée, though: smoked lamb shoulder with leaks, feta, and mint served over pappardelle with watercress pesto.  The type of meal that I immediately started making plans with Brother Tim to smoke some lamb and replicate in the future.

After a couple Guinness we headed home for the night and looked forward to packing in more eating the following morning before our flight.  As it turned out, the Dupont Circle Farmers Market that wasn’t open on Saturday because it’s open on Sundays was indeed open on Sunday.  So we went there and I made it two booths into our opening lap before stopping to buy grub. In this case, empanadas from Chris’ Marketplace.

I tried to stealthily take this picture the first time and this nice woman photobombed it.  She was blinking so I gave her a second shot, which came out much better.  Look at those empanada fillings!

I tried to stealthily take this picture the first time and this nice woman photobombed it. She was blinking so I gave her a second shot, which came out much better. Look at those empanada fillings!

Given my love of smoked fish, I had to go with the smoked bluefish empanada, which I correctly assumed would be more like a pate than solid pieces.

For the fourth or fifth time during the weekend Kristi excitedly asked me, “what’d you get?” hoping it would be something she could have a bite of, only to groan in disappointment when I told her

For the fourth or fifth time during the weekend Kristi excitedly asked me, “what’d you get?” hoping it would be something she could have a bite of, only to groan in disappointment when I told her

Awesome filling for an empanada.  The flavor wasn’t overly rich, smoky or fishy so you didn’t mind a big bite of it and the outside was light and flaky.  The range of options for fillings was overwhelming and I could have spent a whole day there sampling each variety.  My only knock was that the temperature was closer to lukewarm than hot, but the flavor was still great.  I would get a mushroom one a few minutes later, but I had heard a lot about the fresh baked pizzas at the market.

The breakfast pizza, a concept I wholeheartedly support and think is crucial to our evolution as a species.  We’re really learning people, we’re starting to get it

The breakfast pizza, a concept I wholeheartedly support and think is crucial to our evolution as a species. We’re really learning people, we’re starting to get it

Considering that a runny egg yolk is one of the few foods I’ve found that can actually upset my iron (not on the outside) stomach, it’s pretty stupid that featuring an egg on top of any food item is a surefire way to get me to order it

Considering that a runny egg yolk is one of the few foods I’ve found that can actually upset my iron (not on the outside) stomach, it’s pretty stupid that featuring an egg on top of any food item is a surefire way to get me to order it

I didn’t actually taste the breakfast pizza since I was reaching my full food sampling capacity at this point, but I had a couple slices of the ricotta, asparagus, and bacon pizza.  I will admit that I was slightly bummed out since I had such high hopes for the pizza and the combination of flavors, which were good.  In the end it just needed something to tie it all together, like the vinaigrette mentioned on the menu that I didn’t actually taste on the pizza, or possibly a little salt.  Overall, it didn’t have the punch I was expecting but definitely made me want to experiment with asparagus on pizza moving forward.

Ending on a dag, but a really fun and delicious weekend.  Big ups to Len and Shell for being awesome hosts (they slept in the living room so we could have their room with Janet!) and feeding me lots of awesome food.  Thanks again duders!

Pete’s Travels: 48 Hours in Chicago

Don’t get me wrong, Chi-town got it going on – Will Smith

I like starting off posts with awful music quotes that carbon date me.  I apparently like starting out my blog with them too.  Also, for a three week period in college I thought Miami by Will Smith was the best song ever, then I went back to noodle dancing to Phish bootlegs with the rest of Bates College.

Last week I was in Chicago for business and, with a little assist from Mommy Ryan, Kristi joined me sans Janet for the weekend.  So, I wasn’t really in Chicago for 48 hours, but Kristi was, and that timeframe was when I got the chance to do some food exploring after a couple days of work-filled lunches and dinners.  In preparation for our trip we collected numerous recommendations from friends and coworkers and they didn’t disappoint.

Shortly after Kristi got to town on Friday night we headed to the Chicago Chop House, a famous steakhouse located in a three story brownstone.

Not my picture, but had to find a shot of this awesome sign.  We knew we were in for some Olympic-level eating so we walked to and from the restaurant despite the wind and rain

The Chop House is a pretty traditional old-school steak house, but the execution was freaking awesome.  The first floor feels history packed; the type of place that makes it easy to picture the exact same scene 40 years ago, just with a lot more smoke and a lot less women.

Once we were seated, the true steak house experience began with lots of talk about cuts of meat and multiple waiters ensuring we were stuffed on red meat and red wine.  I went with the ribeye, ‘course.

Not my picture again.  I generally hate taking pictures of my food in restaurants since I see so many other people doing it and it annoys me.  Had to break that policy by Saturday when I recognized I had no post for this week otherwise

The salads, steaks, onion rings, and scalloped potatoes side dish were all excellent and borderline painful to stuff into my body.  I wish I could have stopped before I ended up so stuffed, but it was all too good and I have no semblance of will power anymore.  A good start to our weekend of eating made slightly more tolerable by our mile+ waddle back to the W after dinner.

Saturday morning we woke up and wandered around the waterfront area by Buckingham Fountain before I got antsy.  I’d received a tip on a place I hadn’t heard of before, and we needed to get there nice and early with plenty of time before the Cubs day game we had tickets to.  When we arrived at Hot Doug’s at 10:55 AM and saw the line, we realized my antsy-ness was merited.

That line doesn’t move like a fast food line.  There are 10-12 tables inside and almost everyone in that line will be eating at one of those tables.  Considering it wasn’t even noon when I took this picture, I’m guessing it gets much crazier

The atmosphere in that line is one of anxious anticipation.  Lots of first timers looking at the menu on their phones, nervous discussions of “how many you gonna get?”, and plenty of questioning as to how long the line is inside once we get to the door.

The cold, windy weather was harsh, but our experience was made exponentially more entertaining by what appeared to be a first date going on right in front of us.  A couple that seemed to have met on a gluten-free message board of some sort.  My favorite moments were when he ran down his fantasy football team names from the the past five seasons (they included a Simpsons reference and a Tarantino reference, shocker), and when Kristi pointed out that he was wearing those black leather velcro sneakers that are usually reserved for obese, sleeping security guards.  Let’s move on.

After about 45 minutes, we were in the door.  The wait felt completely worth it when we started seeing the food coming out.  Plus, while the standard Chicago hot dogs and brats are available, it’s the specials menu that has surely made even the skinniest man weep before.

I mean, good god.  These aren’t hot dogs, these are glorious meals in tube form on a bun

When you wait in a line that long, and you are faced with a menu filled with extensive incredible options, you need to put logic aside when ordering.  Which is how we (I) ended up with the duck & foie gras sausage (second one down on right on the specials list), the wild boar sausage (bottom left), the “Game of the Week” antelope sausage with navegador cheese & bacon garlic mayo, and duck fat fries.  Plus a bratwurst with caramelized onions.  You know, for the ladies.  Oh, and a t-shirt.

Clockwise from the top: duck fat fries, bratwurst, duck & foie gras (with slabs of foie gras mousse), antelope, and wild boar.  I have zero regrets about my order.  In fact, I’d recommend getting a minimum of three to anyone who goes there

I think the highest compliment I can give this food is that all of the items on this tray were completely different than every other item and they were all delicious.  Not an easy thing to do when you’re working within the general framework of “sausage”.

I dove into the duck/foie sausage first and it was quite a moment for me.  As I took my second bite Kristi asked if I shouldn’t mix in bites of the others to make sure I wouldn’t get too full.  Although a reasonable question, I think I just grunted at her while I chewed.  Without tasting the others I knew I would rather finish this than risk not finishing it.  It was absurdly rich with creamy textures and fatty meats, but the flavor was the stuff of my poultry liver dreams.  I didn’t think anything could match it, but the other two specialty sausages came close with their unique combinations of flavors.  Loved the crunchy onion/brie texture combo on the wild boar and the sharp cheese plus the sweet garlic sauce on the antelope was excellent.  The duck fat fries were great, though they never live up to what I hope for when I hear those words together.  Excellent meal, and yes I ate all three of my sausages and would do it again in a second despite the ensuing pain.

From Hot Doug’s we headed straight to Wrigley via a well timed (or so we thought) bus.  Here’s something they don’t tell you when you visit a Central Time city; they play their games at 1:00 EST, not 1:00 CST.  Oh well, we were a little late, but Wrigley was still worth the experience.

Beautiful day, but old stadiums hold their cold extremely well.  Thanks for the help on the tickets Sugs, was a great way to spend a Saturday

After the game wrapped up, we stopped in for a beer and a pretzel at the Berghoff (just because it’s a landmark) then took a much needed nap from all the previously mentioned beer and food.

For dinner we planned on a “grub crawl”, one of Kristi and my favorite things to do when on vacation since it lets us try a bunch of different restaurants and dishes.  The recommendations from multiple friends pointed us to Randolph Street where our first stop was GEB (Graham Elliot Bistro) for a cocktail and an app.  Kristi was a little meh on the corn chowder, but I was pretty in to my venison tartare.

Game meat tartare and a well made old fashioned is the fastest way to my heart.  Graham Elliott, we are kindred spirits, but if anyone ever tells me I look like you I might finally be motivated to get back to my wedding weight

The sauces had lots of flavor but they didn’t overwhelm the enjoyably stong raw venison.  Those little concord grapes got the Man of the Match award for this dish, though, since every bite they showed up in was better than the other bites.  Dece old fashioned too.

Although I was mildly annoyed with the bartender due to his on-the-job persona of Mega Hipster, he liked our grub crawl plan and gave some solid recommendations.  Based on his feedback we headed across the street to Maude’s to battle for a spot at the bar.  The smell of the new-age french food coming out of the kitchen was all we needed to know we should stick around.  When we got our seats a few minutes later and opened the menu, we knew the grub crawl was going to be permanently stalled.

As a shout out to Pop Ryan and to learn a bit about what I am obligated to make for a holiday dinner this year, I got the cassoulet.

I’m 50/50 on the fresh off the range pan as a serving dish.  Fully in favor of the white hot ramekin, but pans rarely sit level on a flat surface and this one was like a wheel of fortune with a scalding hot handle coming around every 45-50 seconds

I feel like I am delving too far into the awful internet food critic zone, especially with my poor selection of synonyms for awesome, but this was an excellent meal.  Loved the tender duck and the chunks of carrot, plus every bite had the flavor of every element.  The side of mashed potatoes in dark chicken broth, a recommendation from the GEB bartender, were better than any item going by the name “mashed potatoes” has the right to be.  Great spot.

Stuffed and exhausted from our truncated grub crawl, we willed ourselves to Kingston Mines for a few hours of live music before calling it a night.  The next morning, we boarded an architecture boat tour of the city at 10 AM (way better than it sounds) and exited the boat finally hungry again.  To fulfill a food curiosity for both of us since we saw a mouth watering food show a few years back, Kristi and I headed straight to Ginos East, one of the most famous deep dish pizza places in the city.

Unfortunately, we got there 10 minutes before it opened, so we ducked into Portillo’s hot dogs so Kristi could use the bathroom and I could sneak in a quick traditional Chicago dog.

I last had a Chicago-style dog in 2000 on a road trip with my idiot (super)friends.  Forgot about the pickle spear on top and was excited to to see it

With so much of the dog covered with a pickle, I completely missed all the other toppings hiding underneath it before I took my typically enormous first bite.

Look, I don’t want to ruin an extremely appetizing food picture, but why does it look like I have a sixth deformed finger perpendicularly lying across the others?  I am gross

Those little pickled peppers packed a punch.  That’s right folks, Peter’s Purchased Pickled Peppers Packed a Punch!  Odds are you just gave up on this post.

With the dog finished in 4 combined bites from Kristi and I, we headed over to Gino’s East a few minutes before noon to make sure we got a decent football viewing spot while we waited for our pizza.  Ginos is pretty crazy due to their open invitation for their guests to graffiti any and everywhere.

I thought the place was well lit when I took this, but I might have been delirious from hunger and waiting for our pizza.  Didn’t feel dirty despite the association with places that look like this

We went with a meat-heavy half of a medium deep dish and a cheese half since Kristi was nearing a meat overdose at this point.  While I wish that we had just gotten the meat slab, I wasn’t disappointed when this hit the table after the expected 45 minute wait.

It was 12:55 in a well lit area of a reasonably well lit bar.  No idea what happened here with the red light district vibe, but I know that all of my pictures of this ‘za are worthless

I wouldn’t say we were disappointed by the pizza, but when you see it on the TV the ingredients and creation of the pizza are what make the knees shake.  It was our first time tasting traditional deep dish in Chicago, and while we both agreed that it was delicious, the meat and cheese was a little much.  Glad we did it, but I’ll happily choose a bubbly, crispy thin crust over Chicago deep dish anytime.

And with a stop at our friend’s apartment for a few hours of Sunday football on our way out of town, our weekend was over.  Thanks to Annie, Mark, Joel, and Chucky for the recommendations, thanks for the Sunday hopsitality McQueens and thanks to Granna for taking care of Janet.  Amazing time, we can’t wait to do it again.

Pete’s Travels: South Carolina and The Masters

Last Sunday I went to The Masters in Augusta, GA after finding out about an available ticket a couple days before from my friend Derek.  I flew down to Charlotte, NC on Saturday to drive down to Columbia, SC where we would be staying.  On Sunday, we spent 13 hours at Augusta and had an incredible day, highlighted by prime seats for the final playoff hole where Bubba Watson wrapped up the Chip.

Derek and I are in the green and red hats, respectively, on the right side. I showed this picture to everyone I passed on the street for the following four days

The importance of the photo above, aside from making my friends envious, is that it is the only photo of me at Augusta National since no cameras are allowed.  Tough to write a food blog without photos, so instead of verbally walking you through everything I ate on the trip, I will instead focus on the two best things I ate.

First up: the pimento cheese sandwich.

None of the photos in the first half of the blog are mine, let's just get that out of the way. I have no idea how someone took this picture but I like to think it was with some sort of spy-like eyeglasses camera that someone risked smuggling into the Masters just to take a picture of a sammich

Now, it’s important to share that I went into the Masters completely unprepared since it was such a last minute situation.  I hadn’t taken the time to research the course, the concessions, etc.  I just knew what I’d learned from watching the tournament religiously on TV for 10 years and particularly intently the two days leading up to Sunday.

I didn’t know about how beloved The Masters’ reasonably priced food and beverages are until receiving a slew of texts Saturday morning from friends that had been before.  The egg salad sandwich was well reviewed, but the overwhelming message was that I was going to love the pimento cheese sandwiches, the signature sandwich of The Masters.  Since I like pimento cheese spread, I was intrigued to say the least.

After a chicken biscuit to start the day, I purchased my first pimento cheese sandwich somewhere in the 10s.  It was like they’d been holding this tournament for 80 years hoping that a Ryan would show up and truly appreciate their sandwich.

While watching the playoff we looked down the hill to the employees-only area and saw a few folks in chefs whites. I wanted to go down and congratulate them on having the 21st-century version of the Coke recipe; people take wrappers home to unravel the ingredients of their sandwich

The sandwich is simple; soft fluffy white bread filled with a mixture of shredded processed cheese, chopped pimento, lots of mayo, and some additional spices.  It took about three bites for me to fall in love.  And at $1.50 apiece, the price was certainly right.

If I saw this on the ground I would have picked it up and taken it towards the trash exaggeratedly shaking my head then made a hard cut to hurry into a bathroom stall and eat it with no judging eyes looking on. Just a little window into how I think

I ended up having four of them (possibly five) along with a turkey and cheese sandwich and a bunch of $3 beers.  Between the hospitality, the minimal hit on the wallet from the concessions, the cloud-free weather, good pals, and the dramatic final day, I can say that Sunday was one of the most enjoyable days of my life.  Wholly recommend making the trip at some point if you can swing it.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from The Masters is the second food item I want to discuss.  Easily the most notorious food of the south in general, chitterlings.

When I arrived on Saturday I had some time to kill so I took the scenic route from Charlotte, NC to Columbia, SC, intentionally taking back roads to try and find some authentic roadside pit BBQ.  Unfortunately, despite Siri’s help (she led me to a garden center she said was a BBQ joint) I found no roadside food in the first hour and a half.  I only saw churches (I would guess over 100) and gas stations (that apparently double as fast food restaurants).  In an abandoned, Children of the Corn-looking town I saw some potential in this place:

I know, I know, it doesn't look promising at all. But, it was the first place I'd found that said BBQ. Plus, the creepiness factor of what looked like a ghost town surrounding it made me think it must be OK to have stuck around despite the local economic struggles

The buffet looked dodgy to say the least, and the BBQ looked more like mushy shredded beef than anything that had ever seen real wood smoke.  So, I had to invent a new go-to move to avoid awkwardly walking out of a hospitable southern restaurant.  And that would be, “I bet you make a great sweet tea, can I get one to go?”

After two sweet teas and with my bladder threatening to throw a locker room champagne celebration in my shorts, I saw this roadside sign.  Looked VERY promising when paired with the rundown building.

Sunbleached plastic signs with stock image mascots are always a good sign. Means they've stayed in business for a while by doing something right

Given the speed everybody moved inside and the fact that it smelled like most patrons enjoyed their food over a couple packs of Winstons, I have no idea what the word "Express" was doing in their restaurant name

I went inside and talked to the nice old lady behind the counter who seemed confused that I was interested in ordering chitterlings (I pronounced it “chitlings” which might have been incorrect).  She kept trying to extract “chicken wings” from what I was saying but eventually brought her daughter out who verified I did indeed want chitterlings.  So I took my seat at the empty lunch counter and waited.

The menu for Saturday. Baked Chicken, Fried Chicken, Fish, Pork Chop, Chicken Dumplings and Chitterlings. I think it's obvious where I was ending up

She didn't move too fast but gave me free refills on my sweet tea (third of the day, I was friggin wired). Also, I think Janet has that smock. The handwritten signs all over the place were pretty funny

Chitterlings are hog intestines, cleaned as thoroughly as possible (you hope) then boiled in a broth with spices for however long it takes to get them tender.  According to the guy in the back who was dredging chicken in batter when I asked, he boils his chitterlings for 12 hours.

Chitterlings (called “chitlins” by the other woman at the restaurant) have a bad reputation because of what they are, but also because there is no amount of prep that can hide what you are eating.  They have a pretty distinct aroma.  Here’s a quick artistic break from the topic.

These stools have gotten a lot of ass in their day. Wokka wokka. Pretty sure it was a lot of large, gaseous dudes, though

Anyway, as I sat there waiting for my chitlins, I was pretty nervous.  I’d had a nice conversation with these women, they were about to serve me some authentic food in an empty restaurant, and I didn’t want to have one bite and sprint out the front.  When my bowl came out, I wasn’t feeling any more confident.

I can't give my full description of the general aroma of these on a family friendly website, that's for my side project blog "PeterisADB: After Hours". Suffice it to say that it was a little strong and "sitting on the floor of a Green Line train after the Boston Marathon"-y

My first line of defense was a healthy shake of hot sauce and salt & pepper.  My second line of defense was pausing to take a picture and collect myself.  But, from there, I just had to dive in.

They were very thin and easy to get a plastic fork through. They also looked exactly like what they were

The first bite was entirely surprising.  There wasn’t even a hint of the unpleasant aroma in the taste and as long as you didn’t have your nose over the bowl (not a pun) you wouldn’t have any idea they were an organ.  Kind of hard to believe, but it was true.  In addition, they weren’t chewy at all, very tender, and the broth they were cooked in gave the meat a lot of good flavor.

Halfway point, but I ended up eating the whole bowl and it didn't really take any effort at all

In the end, I polished off my chitlins and laughed with my hosts about how good they were but that the smell takes a little getting used to.  Quick refill of the sweet tea to ensure that I would be behaving like a meth addict when I arrived at my hotel looking for the lobby bathroom, and I was on my way.

One weekend, two items off my bucket list.  Next week will focus on my attempt at Ponce that happened a few weeks ago.  I also got a deli-style meat slicer via mail today which will either lead to a few posts or the end of posts due to loss of fingers.  One of the two.

Weird Crap I Eat: Everything Morocco

As discussed in the previous post, Morocco is an incredible place for looking at food.  It’s also a great place to eat, and I like to eat.  So this entry is about the eating, and a little bit of the travels.

After an overnight direct flight from JFK we landed in Casablanca and had a brief layover before hopping on a train to Fes which was about three hours away.   Because we hadn’t eaten since the previous night, I was hungry but hoping to hold out for grilled meat somewhere.  So we started with some coffee, croissants, mint tea, and banana milk.

Good start to the day and trip, except for that goddamned book. Zach's questions to our guides and regular lengthy references to it throughout the trip threatened my sanity. I threatened everyone else's by talking about food for 23 hours out of the day

Mint tea is served as a greeting everywhere you go in Morocco.  It’s black tea, fresh mint leaves, and a few cubes of sugar steeped together.  Always served from a silver teapot into glasses instead of ceramic mugs.  It’s sweetness and warmth were welcome due to the chilly temperatures at the time we visited.

En route to Fes, the landscape was not what I expected at all; lots of rolling green hills with delicious animals grazing on them.

"G-L-A-M... O-R-OUS, Riding first classsss, up on the tracks" or something like that. We bought first class train tickets. They were ten dollars

After arriving in Fes, we took a cab to our riad and discovered that, since it was Friday, most of the medina was shut down.  I was starving and devastated.  So we headed to the souk in the new section of Fes and I prayed to find something edible there.  Luckily, shortly after exiting the cab, I saw some locals hanging around a counter with this behind the glass.

I was deliriously hungry and incredibly excited to find this place, but this glass case didn't appear refrigerated

Sure there was chicken, lamb kefta, and beef, but that skewer of liver looked too good to pass up.  Or was it kidney?  The dude running the stall responded to that question (asked in English) by mooing at me.  Glad we got that straightened out.

I ordered 4 skewers for 10 dihram (or $1.25) grilled and served inside half a loaf of khobz and sprinkled with cumin, salt, paprika and some sort of chili pepper.

Took a few bites before I remembered to take the photo. Was too excited to eat

I decided it was liver, despite having a little bit of crunch to it which was unexpected.  The best and most flavorful bites were the ones that included the one piece of fat on each skewer which you may have noticed in the previous picture.  Overall, I though the liver had a surprisingly mild flavor and the sandwich was very tasty if a little dry.  Danny disagreed with my assessment when he tasted it, so I guess i just like liver.

To get that taste out of his mouth, we found a guy who was cooking small links of merguez sausage inside the souk.

Tiny charcoal grill that he fans heavily with a piece of cardboard to get heated up anytime someone orders

This was served identically to the liver: pulled off the skewers into a half loaf of local bread.  Danny and Zach both ate it without complaint, but it was definitely a little funky.  The sausage was mainly blood and fat and tasted like it, but for a dollar on the street we didn’t expect much more than that.

After picking up Jae at the train station, we headed out for dinner where I had my first tagine.  Tagine is a ceramic dish with a cone-like top, but its also a style of food; basically a one pot slow cooked meal.  It was a little subpar.

I will never understand why I can't take an in-focus picture in a reasonably well-lit room. Superzoom is great, but that blurry photo option that I can't turn off annoys me

Whole slices of salted preserved lemon rinds, un-pitted olives, and a half chicken all cooked together.  If the tagine had a bed of couscous, it would have been a hundred times better, but instead it was just a lot of strong flavors with nothing neutral to absorb them.  Oh well, we quickly learned that restaurants weren’t where you found the best food.

The next day Mohammed, our previously discussed guide for the day, brought us to a restaurant inside the medina for lunch.  We knew we were being pulled into a tourist trap owned by Mohammed’s buddies, but the food ended up being relatively decent.  We were started off with a bunch of small cold appetizers which you piled up on local bread.

Everything was vegetarian and pretty good, but glad to see I am not the only one who doesn't like lentils

The main event for me, and something Mohammed promised me I would be able to order, was pigeon pastilla, or pigeon pie.

Didn't expect the dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon. Reminded me of how shocked I was when the Monte Cristo sandwich I ordered at The Office in Bridgewater, NJ when I was twelve came out with powdered sugar on it

The pastilla was in an individual portion size and was basically a pastry filled with pigeon meat (some still on the bone), nuts, eggs, and spices.

Just a pigeon donut

The tiny bones were annoying.  Some were soft enough to easily chew, but others had to be fished out in the mouth and removed.  I was getting more comfortable with this process from my time in China, but it made for a less enjoyable experience.  The flavor of the spices and pigeon meat was great, though.

The next day we took a minibus to Merzouga on the fringe of the Sahara desert where we planned to ride camels into the desert and stay in a Berber camp for the night.  Which we did.

This was about the point that we were all shifting uncomfortably and wondering if everyone else's groin region was in as much excruciating pain as ours. Which was the entire time. Also, your DB is the second one from the back

Camels are deceptively tall, extremely wide around the midsection, pretty cranky, and carry a unique odor.  Which meant we had a lot in common.  Camels are also remarkably comfortable with carrying over 200 pounds of DB on their back over steep dunes on shifting sand.

I know this isn't food related, but its an awesome picture. That's the head of my camel, which I named Sal. The camel in front was Zach's, which he named Richard. Both names were well chosen

Shortly after sunset, our camels completed their seven kilometer trip into the desert and dropped us off at the Berber camp where we would spend the night.

We were freaking exhausted from a long day and I was stunned by how comfortable and amazing this sleeping situation looked

Over in the main tent, which was about the same size, we waited anxiously for our guides to cook dinner since we ate an early lunch and hadn’t settled at camp until long after dark.  The first course of khobz and soup, that I think was made from bones, vegetables and pieces of lamb fat, was one of the most welcome and enjoyable eating experiences of my life.

I guessed it was just a vegetable soup until I got a nice big piece of tender lamb fat

I inhaled this soup due to hunger but it was definitely good. Not an overwhelming amount of saltiness, and the occasional white blob of fat that gave the soup it’s meaty flavor.  Next up was a tagine of chicken, root vegetables, and couscous.

Civilized Jae with his fork and plate, everyone else used the bread to reach in and grab bits of food

The chicken was a half bird with heart and liver still attached to the ribs.  Pretty strong tasting, but a great meal to put us all to sleep.

We woke with the sunrise to head out of the desert.

Souvenirs from the desert included about 400 photos, a plastic water bottle filled with sand, and the privilege of still finding the distinct red sand in random pockets of my backpack to this day

Over the next two days we made our way to Marrakech at a leisurely pace.  We stopped often to take in amazing sights like the Dades Valley and gorges, the High Atlas mountains, Ait Benhaddou, and the film studio at Ouarzazate.  I also got pretty sick of eating tagines and looked forward to the food that Marrakech would have to offer.  It didn’t disappoint.

The main square in Marrakech is called Djemaa el Fna.  You should have seen how I spelled that before googling it; it looked like I sat on the keyboard.  During the day it’s mostly street performances along with dates, juice, and spice vendors.

Nuts, dates, and dried fruit

Fresh OJ. Really good, especially since we were all run down and needed the vitamin C

Spices

Its a pretty intimidating place because its huge and there is constantly someone trying to sell you something or throwing some sort of animal on you.

Thank you sir, but my glasses are now crooked

You take a couple pictures with said animal, and then pay the guy ten dihram so that he doesn’t tell the animal to rip your eyes out.  I got lucky; Danny had a giant snake thrown onto his shoulders, which would have ruined my jeans and given me nightmares for a few months.

Around sunset the food vendors hit the square.  Each food stall is numbered and is basically an outdoor restaurant with tables and chairs

It was drizzling that night, hence the covers around the food stalls

I had seen shows about this and was extremely excited for the tremendous amount of new eating experiences that I would be able to choose from.  Right after we arrived the first night, I hit one of the many snail stalls.

I was a little apprehensive due to the allergic history, but it also smelled good and I was hungry

The cooking liquid is loaded with spices and bay leaves and has a flavor that mixes shellfish saltiness with sweet and spicy.  The broth is considered to have medicinal qualities and many people pay one dihram for a bowl of just liquid.  I went for the 5 dihram small bowl of snails.

They looked pretty funky as you pulled them out using toothpicks but by this point I was getting pretty good at it

The snails were very tender and had good flavor.  Considering that a small bowl had 12 of them, I can’t imagine eating a large bowl which was more than double the size for 10 dihram.

If you like french-style escargot, you might not like this since it doesn’t have the butter and garlic that makes escargot great.  However, it is a good reference point that 12 snails cost about 60 cents vs. the $15 you’d pay for 6 in a French restaurant.  Also, no allergic reaction, guess that allergy might have gone away.

We ate dinner at a funny nightclub that featured people dressed like sailors and Michael Jackson impersonators that sounded out the lyrics to entire songs.  First odd item of the following day was this fruit.

No idea what these are...

The guy on the far right would cut into the hard outer shell and pop out a round ball that looked like, and had the staining potential of, a cooked beet.

...which of course didn't slow me down

It also had the texture of a cooked beet with a couple small seeds and a mild sweet and sour flavor.  If you know what that fruit is, please comment.

After walking around for about 6 hours and heading back to the hotel to shower and take naps, we were ready to hit the square for dinner.  The previous night I saw one particular food item that really scared me but seemed like a unique experience.  My apologies to the squeamish, but I was looking forward to trying sheep’s brains.

I was legitimately trembling with adrenaline and fear when I took this picture

I ordered and watched as they quickly poached the brains, cut them, and put them on a plate with some cheek meat from the sheeps head (just to the right of the brains in the picture).  They added a piece of bread dipped into the poaching liquid as well.

Thanks for the picture Danny. That piece of bread was as sticky as it looks in the picture

The first bite didn’t go so well.  I ate it completely unadorned and as I was chewing/getting an idea of the texture I started thinking a little too hard about what I was eating.  The texture is creamy, and the flavor is mildly lamb-like and livery.  I had to take a little pause, eat some cheek meat and drink some water.  The next bite was much better and led me to take several more, since I figured out the importance of a sprinkle of cumin salt and wrapping in a piece of dry bread.

Ma Dowley won't be calling the local Connecticut radio station on my behalf; cleaning my plate wasn't going to happen

The dipped bread was really the funkiest part.  It tasted fine, but stuck to my fingers and teeth and anything that came into contact with it.  Time to move on.

The diners shown here must have been ecstatic when the annoying Americans got up, stopped taking pictures and let them enjoy their dinner. Which was steamed sheep head and brains

We headed over to stall #1 which was by far the most packed and is noted on travel sites as having the best food on the square.

I welcomed normal food and avoided the stuffed organ meat they offered

You pick your meat or side dishes and they grab a few skewers and throw them onto the grill.  The eggplant and grilled sweet potato balls were really awesome, and all of the meat was fresh and had nice flavor.

Finally, desert:

This was recommended to us by the riad owner, so we had to try it

The cake has a pleasantly mealy texture (if that’s possible) and tasted like it was entirely made of cinnamon.  The tea was very heavily spiced, almost to the point of being spicy.  Each of these on their own wasn’t that great, but when you took a bite of the cake followed by a sip of the tea, it was actually pretty tasty and unique.

If you are somehow still reading this post, I will wrap it up with one last meal that also happened to be our best.  On the last day, we finally found an alley that is nicknamed Meshwi alley and arrived right at noon when they opened up.  Meshwi is lamb that is hung vertically in an underground clay oven to cook whole.  Just as we arrived, the first lamb of the day hit the table.

This smelled and looked sooooooo good

As we stepped up, the cook took a couple small crispy pieces from the shoulder and gave them to each of us to sample.  A truly ridiculous piece of food.  Crispy and salty outside and incredibly tender inside.  We ordered a half kilo which he took from all areas of the lamb and lead us to a table behind the stall where we could sit and eat.

After one bite Jae got up and ordered another half kilo

As we walked to the table, we stepped over the lid to the underground clay oven.  The cook was nice enough to take the lid off and show us the inside.

Lot of heat coming out of this. The buckets are filled with the meat that was taken off the lamb we were eating and kept warm in the oven for people who weren't as punctual as us

Right as we finished up our meal, the butcher showed up with a fresh lamb that he prepared for cooking.  I was completely mesmerized by how quickly and precisely this guy worked.

This dude split a whole lamb perfectly down the center of the spine using only a machete, while wearing designer jeans, sunglasses, and a leather jacket. I think his website is mohammedisadb.com

As he finished binding the lamb around the metal hook that it would hang from in the oven, he cut two slits at the shoulder joints and stuffed balls of fat into both openings.  Explains how the meat stays moist throughout cooking.

Probably been done this way for over a thousand years, but with less panache. The bundle of fat is visible in the opening made by the shoulder joint

And that was it.  We went to a fantasia show for dinner (think Moroccan Medieval Times) and then I boarded a plane for home the next morning.

Sorry for the long post, wanted to give some context along the way by showing what we did and there was a lot of amazing food to cover.  Will be back to cooking my own food for next week’s post.

Pete’s Travels: the Markets of Morocco

When I was growing up, I would watch MTV Spring Break and think to myself, “I can’t wait to go on spring breaks like that when I am older!”.  Then I went to college and instead of spending my spring breaks in Panama City playing Truth or Date with a bikini-clad coed, I spent them with the rest of the Bates Crew team not drinking, waking up early, and generally appalled by the opposite sex.

When I got to business school, I wondered if I would finally take that tequila-fueled spring break I dreamt about so many years prior.  But, I realized I am happily married, would swim wearing a t-shirt if it was socially acceptable, and find Ed Hardy clothing to be a reasonable sign of poor education.  So instead, I introduced Morocco to this DB.

Leather hat, sunglasses, business school shirt, muscle kiss. Thats Pete's Recipe for being A DB. Write that down

The trip location was decided somewhat haphazardly, but we all agreed it was a place we likely wouldn’t visit with our significant others and that there was a lot we wanted to see.  I was most excited to visit the markets (or souks) in the Fes and Marrakech medinas, since they’ve both been in business for over 800 years.  Neither dissapointed.

First stop was Fes where we stayed at a small riad (or inn) just inside the medina walls.  On our second day, we hired a local guide named Mohammed to show us around the medina since there are a lot of sites to see and its an incredibly confusing place to navigate yourself.

This is a typical way to cut across the medina, a 50 yard long alley that is narrower than my shoulders. Without a guide I likely would still be lost in the medina

After walking for about 15 minutes and taking a few confusing turns, I recognized that we were in the heart of the food section of the souk.  The most surprising thing, was that I was surrounded on all sides by meat and produce yet it had none of the off-putting smells I had encountered in markets in Italy and China.  It smelled clean and kinda delicious.

We arrived in the market section of the medina around 10AM and it was crowded until we left at 4PM, Mohammed is the way too cool for school dude in the jellaba

The most notorious food item that I was interested in finding was khelea, a breakfast food that nearly made Andrew Zimmern throw up when he ate it.  I asked our guide about it and he made it sound like it was as common a part of breakfast as bacon or sausage in the U.S.  Which he must have assumed was pretty common since he was talking to me.  He pointed out a butcher that was making it.

Big bucket of kaleah. Moroccan vendors have an obsession with presenting food in a conical manner. Looks great with spices, kinda foul with meat and fat

This stuff was everywhere.  From my understanding, its meat (I think beef) that is cooked, salted, then packed in animal fat or olive oil to keep it preserved at room temperature.  Its taken from that cone and put into smaller containers for sale to the multitudes of Moroccans looking for it.  Aside from the olive vendors, it was the most common item we saw.

I was happy that I traveled with three idiots who didn't like olives so that the free ones served with meals were all mine

Back to the kaleah.  Most stalls offered a variety of cuts of meat and animal fat vs. olive oil.

These containers were everywhere, I counted at least 20 stalls that had it

As it turns out, this stuff isn’t nearly as gross as it sounds and we ate it mixed in with our eggs without even knowing what it was.  The texture and flavor was similar to the air dried beef in creamed chipped beef.  Not entirely sure what grossed out Zimmern so much.

Once we got past the overwhelming visual of being surrounded by kaleah, we realized that we were right in the middle of the meat market.  They specialize in beef and lamb and all parts of the animal are available.  Individual vendors specialized in the prime cuts or the organ meats, but rarely carried both.  The latter was definitely the more photogenic subject matter.

The prime cuts

The organs. Hows that for a contrast? Fresh fava beans on one side of the stall, and what I have since discovered but didn't notice when taking the picture is a pair of testicles on the far left edge of the picture. Cow, not fellow traveler

Kidneys, brains, hooves, tongues, bones, and whole sheeps heads.  Sounds like what Pop Ryan used to tell me was in hot dogs.  At this point I was excitedly asking Mohammed way too many questions which he happily answered with only the slightest hint of fear in his eyes.

Boiled brains and steamed sheep heads are both very common foods in Morocco, while the other sheep organs like kidney, heart, and pancreas are usually stuffed with other ingredients and grilled or fried.  Check out how much larger the beef counterparts are.

I was even overwhelmed by this stall. All of these organs were enormous

The beef heart I cooked last summer was half the size of the one at this stall, but that was nothing compared to the stuffed pancreas the guy next store was selling.

I mean, what the hell?

Apparently this is like Moroccan scrapple, stuffed with other chopped organs and rice, but it was ten times more terrifying to look at.  I am still not positive that this was pancreas since I can’t find any images online of anything similar, but thats what Mohammed said.  Here’s a sliced version.

Those red onions and tomatoes aren't making the main event look any less scary

At this point, we had seen every single part of these animals except for their skin, until I turned around without looking and somebody carrying about 30 skins ran into me.  He was heading to the tannery, which is also located inside of the medina, to drop off his haul.

That's dye in the foreground, not blood. It'll make more sense in the next picture

The tannery made up for the complete lack of foul smells in the food market.  This facility processes camel, cow, and sheep skins primarily, and does it all in the labor intensive manner that its been done for hundreds of years.

The white containers in the back are for the initial treatment, the front containers are where the skins are dyed and scraped

The initial treatment needs ammonia in the mix.  In Morocco, they stick with their traditions and use pigeon poop as the source of ammonia, which definitely doesn’t help make a funky smelling process any less funky smelling.  Regardless, it was a very cool process to watch and explained the extremely large amount of leather goods available in the medina.  Including the hat from the first photo that cost me $10.

Back to the food, this time the seafood and shellfish section.  Lots of fresh stuff coming in from the coast daily.

Again, no overpowering odors. Smelled like a high quality fish market

The fish looked amazing but without a place to cook, much like the meat stalls, it was somewhat painful to look at.  We also didn’t see much seafood on menus or at the street food stalls, which made it a little worse.  What we did see at a lot of food stalls were snails.

These little dudes were trying to escape left and right

The last time I ate snails I was twelve and had a serious allergic reaction.  I came to Morocco prepared with antihistamines and an asthma inhaler since I was very excited to try this local delicacy.  There are a lot of things wrong with that previous sentence.  More on that in a future post.

I was starting to recognize that there was more challenging food available for eating than I could possibly handle.  Feeling intimidated, I distracted myself with the woman making crepes a few stalls down.

I could have been completely hypnotized watching this process for hours

This was really cool to watch.  That sphere is metal and very hot, so she would drape the crepe dough around the entire dome where it would instantly turn transparent and then slowly turn the opaque yellowish color you associate with french crepes.

After about a minute, she would peel it off and fold it on itself which made for a layered crepe with air inside, kind of like pita bread.  Most mornings these were served with breakfast at the riads we stayed at.  A little fresh sheeps milk cheese, a little honey, with a cup of coffee on the side, and you had a delicious start to the day.  Speaking of sheeps milk, these stands were on the fringes of the market for easy pickup.

Note the kaleah above the sheeps milk products

The glasses are filled with sheeps milk yogurt that is similar to the texture of a smoothie; the plates have a cheese that is closest to ricotta.  You couldn’t stand and look for too long since there were a lot of donkeys being led into the market at the entrance by this stand.  You know, since the narrow alleys aren’t crowded enough without lumbering, stupid donkeys.

Throughout the day we constantly had to press ourselves against the wall so a donkey could get by. Most of the time, they were carrying nothing heavier than something a human could carry in themselves. So, Morocco is full of lazy donkey owners. How's that for a sweeping generalization?

The other crazy thing about the medina relates back to an expression Mohammed said was very common in Morocco, “Don’t judge a palace by it’s door”.  Kind of an equivalent to “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” but they mean it literally, unlike our meaning of not making assumptions about an unattractive person until you see how funny they are (hi).

Every door in the medina looks the same, but we would duck into certain ones with Mohammed’s guidance and discover a beautiful palace inside.

This place had an average door, followed by an unassuming staircase straight down, opening up into an enormous open indoor courtyard with ornately decorated mosaic walls

There was ton of great things to see in the souks, but my personal favorite was the community bakery.  Aside from the people carrying animal skins, the most common sight was people carrying their homemade dough to the community bakery to make khobz; the local flat-ish, round bread that is plentiful with every meal.

This is the least blurry the baker looked in any picture I took and I had no idea how to say "slow down so I can take an awesome picture for my occasionally viewed food blog!" in Arabic

This guy works in a basement-type setup all day baking bread.  Most people mark the top of their loaves with a unique set of slash marks to make sure they get their own bread at the end of the day.  They pay about 1 Dihram (or 15 cents) to the baker per loaf to get it cooked in this huge wood-fired, honeycomb-style oven.  The loaves are constantly cycled in and out of the oven and thrown onto the floured floor to rest.

This was so cool for someone who loves food. This guy essentially has a role in hundreds of family meals every day

Morocco was a country that made me hungry at every turn.  There were so many unique food items and you could tell that people really put a lot of care into the food that they made and sold.  My next post will dive into the foods that I had the courage to try, and also unique experiences like a tagine cooked in the Saraha by our Berber hippie guide.  It was a very cool trip.

Sorry for the long post and the hiatus.  As usual, I will try to be more regular with posts and get into a groove again.

Weird Crap I Eat: Everything Italy

A few quick notes before the post:

1) Trip was great, thanks for asking.  We flew directly to Rome and spent two nights there, then three nights outside Siena, three nights in Cinque Terre, and two nights in Florence.

2) I don’t really consider any of the food that I ate to be that weird because they were all common food items in Italy.  But they were a little different from standard U.S. fare.

3) I know nothing about music.  My taste in music is similar to my general pool of knowledge; I know a little bit about a lot of things.  Meaning that my itunes probably has 3,000 songs from 2,000 bands across all genres.  And I like those songs, but see no need to have the whole albums.

4) I am 30 and my lifelong love affair with mixes is as strong as ever.  It started with mix tapes, then mix CDs, and now we’re in the evolved world of mix “playlists”.  Instead of the dates and seasons that used to serve as titles for my old mixes, I now have playlists with titles like “bachelor party”, “Tahiti”, and, my current favorite, “Hangin”.

With those details out of the way, I decided to do something a little different with this blog post.  After two nights in Rome, we picked up our Fiat Panda rental car and spent the next 6 days driving around the Tuscan countryside and on the coast near Cinque Terre.  The radio stations were miserable, and after hearing Haddaway’s “What is Love” for the third time in 24 hours I decided to make three CDs to relieve us from the radio for the rest of the trip.  A total of 55 songs fit onto those CDs, and this post will attempt to relate individual dishes I ate on the trip to a few of the songs on those CDs.  Let’s give this a try.

Por Ti Volare – Andrea Bocelli

Our first day in the car took us to Spannocchia, an organic farm just outside Siena that we stayed at for three nights.  The next morning we hopped in the car and loaded the first CD in as we drove to San Giminano via small country roads.  The first song was this one, my favorite aria (what?).  The combination of the Italian opera and the rolling hills gave me one of those “holy sh*t, Italy is beautiful” moments that nearly brought me to tears.  Similar emotions to those caused by this:

Can’t believe I paused long enough to take this

After landing in Rome at 9AM and immediately sightseeing on foot for 8 hours, we finally paused to eat something substantial.  For me it was a simple, warm pizza rustica stuffed with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella.  Crispy outside, salty meat, buttery cheese, and a borderline emotionally-moved DB.  Definitely a pure happiness moment.

Sundown – Gordon Lighhtfoot

No matter how many times I hear this song, it always has a knack for relaxing me and never seems to get old.  Kinda like limoncello in Italy.

Seeya latah feelings!!!

A great way to end our first day and Rome and ensure that I would sleep well for the following 10 hours.  I love limoncello but it never tastes as good in the U.S. as it does in Italy so I generally only have it when I am there.  Also, Kristi hates that picture.

Touch the Sky – Kanye West

Early in our relationship, Kristi was getting used to my (awful) taste in music and I was surprised when she particularly enjoyed Kanye West.  Basically, I underestimated her and she surprised me.  Six years later I was similarly surprised when she adventurously tasted pretty much every odd food item I ordered in Italy.  Starting with fried anchovy cakes our last night in Rome.

They looked disturbingly similar to fish ladyfingers

Since each cake was a stack of 10+ fresh anchovy filets, not the salted or oil-packed version we get in the states, the flavor was very fresh and the texture was most similar to whitefish.  Really light and tasty.

Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) – Looking Glass

When I added this song to the Italy playlist, it really seemed like a good idea.  It reminds me of bad radio on LBI, and generally makes me happy when I hear it randomly.  But every time it popped up on the CDs I had the overwhelming urge to skip it.  I would describe fried, meat-stuffed olives as the food equivalent to this song.

Rich creamery meat filling? Check.  Thank god they gave me ten of them.

I got these as we dined on the campo in Siena.  The place was a tourist trap, and this item was the most unusual sounding one on the menu so it had to be fresh, right?  Wrong.  The fried coating was rock solid, the olives were bland, and the “meat” filling was creamy and unappetizing.  Clearly came out of some sort of Italian TGIFridays frozen foods box.  The 4 I had sat like a stone in my stomach for the next few hours.

Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright – Hub Hollow

This song, as performed by my brother and friends’ bluegrass band, has to be listened to and enjoyed any time it shows up on shuffle or on a random playlist.  Its that good and it always puts me in a happy mood.  When traveling in Tuscany, the same rule applies for any time cinghiale pasta shows up on a menu as it did at a restaurant in Sovicille.

After 3 days of fresh made pasta like this in Tuscany, I threw miniature tantrums any time I recognized that I was eating dried pasta.

Cinghiale is wild boar, and it’s flavor and texture are like pork crossed with beef in the best possible way.  Kristi and I ordered it a combined three times in 36 hours while we were staying at Spannocchia.  I will likely attempt to mimic the flavor and texture of the dish with pork shoulder some time in the next few months.

The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash

When I hear this song I am always impressed by what a badass Johnny Cash could sound like when he was in the final year of his life.  He consistently made you believe he was planning to drink a fifth of scotch, smoke a pack of cigarettes, and beat the crap out of someone as soon as he finished singing.  Then wash it all down with some rare steak smothered in cheese.  Me, I’m only man enough to handle that last part.

The San Giminiano version of a philly cheesesteak.

Beef carpaccio smothered with a warm gorgonzola cream, sage, and black pepper.  So freaking good.  Thanks again for the restaurant recommendation Anne-Marie, I am glad I quietly obeyed your instructions without debate for the first time in my life.

Sweet Virginia – Rolling Stones

Though not my favorite Rolling Stones song, I love how simple and amateur this song sounds; just a few DBish 20-something brits playing around in a basement studio somewhere. It’s a little dirty and uniquely enjoyable.  Very similar to the first squid ink pasta I had on the trip at the same restaurant in Sovicille as the night before.

No contrast adjustment will make this any easier to see. It was completely black.

Tagliatale made with squid ink then dressed in a sauce of chopped squid braised in its own ink.  It tasted the way a pot full of steaming clams or mussels smells when you take the lid off.  I thoroughly enjoyed every single mouth blackening and grimey bite.  Probably my favorite pasta dish of the trip.

Arms of a Woman – Hub Hollow

Tim Ryan and the Hub Hollow gang learned this song for Kristi and my wedding and have dedicated it to us at a few additional performances as well.  I dedicate my performance on the following pile of food (my last before heading to Cinque Terre) to Tim Ryan. Fried sardines:

It kinda looks like they’re all playing and having a good time and stuff. But they’re dead and lightly battered.

Sardines are a staple of the Ryan family diet along with liverwurst, butter, and Jesus Christ Superstar song lyrics.  In related news, none of us are good at sports.  Back to the sardines, they were very good but way too many of them.  The heads had a nice fatty crunch, the body was light, and the tails were like fish potato chips.  I could have made it through the whole plate with a dipping sauce of some sort, but I was outmatched with only lemon to work with.

Georgia On My Mind – Ray Charles (live)

In complete contrast to Sweet Virginia, this is the aging musician who has done the song a million times and made it better with each performance.  You got an orchestra, an applauding Radio City crowd, and the raspy, aged voice of Ray Charles.  The second squid ink pasta I had on the trip (in Cinque Terre) was equally different from the first one.

This one is even viewable in pictures.

The simple tomato sauce let the rich seafood flavor of the pasta be the primary flavor.  None of the strong shellfishy flavor of the first squid ink pasta.  Although I liked the first one more, I could eat this one every night for dinner because it was delicious without being overwhelming.  I ended up having it twice in three days.

Bad Romance – Lady Gaga

At this point my love of this song is indefensible, and every time I hear it I enjoy it more than I should.  When it comes on, Kristi looks at me the same way that she looked at me when I marched out of the Mercato Centrale in Florence with a tub of chicken liver pate from one vendor and a fresh hunk of focaccia from a different vendor.

Will spare you the close-up of the pate

Rich and greasy with a fluffy and heavily salted focaccia for dipping.  I love this stuff.

Sleeping With a Broken Heart – Alicia Keys

This song was first presented to me by my friend Marshall on the camping trip that featured a buried hogs head.  He has a knack for playing a song 4-5 times an hour when he thinks it is important for it to be stuck in everyone’s head.  When I told him I was heading to Florence where he had studied abroad with his wife 10 years ago, he used a similar approach to pushing the tripe sandwiches by the mercato.

I made Kristi walk around looking at crappy stuff available from street vendors for two hours to rebuild my appetite from the chicken liver enough to eat this. If you get a souvenir from us, its from those two hours.

Looks chewy, but its as tender as great barbeque.

Boiled tripe sitting in a liquid heavy with chili oil before it is chopped and stuffed in a bun with chili sauce, parsley salsa verde and salt.  Thank you for making it the only requirement I set for myself on the trip, Mooman.

Whatever You Like – Anya Marina

I know that the entire musical movement of quirky covers to pop, hip-hop, and classic rock songs is quickly becoming really, really stupid.  But I can’t help myself, and this sweet female voice singing nasty T.I. lyrics is very enjoyable even if its bad for me.  Like lardo and head cheese at Giostra.

Lardo closest to the camera then head cheese.

Lardo is basically just the cured fat of a prosciutto ham.  It spreads like butter once it hits room temperature.  Butter that tastes like great ham or bacon.  I am appalled at how much I ate of that pile.  The head cheese was one of the best I’ve had in my life.  The flavor and texture had none of the unappetizing notes that you usually associate with head cheese.

November Rain – Guns & Roses

When I was in middle school we requested this song at dances so that we would have a solid 8+ minutes to work up the nerve to smooch with the braces-heavy gal you were dancing with.  That hyphen could have easily been replaced by a comma for me.  Anyway, while I still love the song it does run a little long.  Too much of a good thing, like white truffle carbonara.

Those cornflakes? Truffle shavings.

I love the flavor of truffles but the raw almond texture is not that enjoyable when its mixed with rich, creamy pasta.  Plus, I ate this at around 11PM and then woke up to fly back to the U.S. at 4AM the next morning.  Not a pleasant morning belch, for me or Kristi.

And with that the trip was over.  Thank god this post is over.  It was the type of idea that sounds great because you have 2-3 songs/dishes in mind and then you realize how awful its going to be after you’ve spent too much time to give up on it.

My apologies to anyone who put in the time to read this whole thing, I will steer clear of music moving forward.  Will also try to get back on a 1-2 posts a week schedule.

Weird Crap I Eat: Everything Asia

In general I like to eat food that some people would consider weird.  Some stuff I grew up eating (liverwurst, sardines, anchovies, etc.) and never considered odd until I saw other people react to me eating it.  But I also love trying food I have never eaten before which can lead to some interesting and gross experiences.

I knew when I signed up for a trip through Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul in May that I was going to have a whole lotta chances to try new foods.  I knew that some would sounds gross but be delicious, some would be passable, and some would just be foul.  Here are the highlights and lowlights of the trip.

Hong Kong was the first stop which offered a tremendous amount of options for western and international food, but also traditional Chinese dishes.  The second night we went to a famous restaurant that served a set family style menu.  They kicked things off with Century Eggs.

Ugh. The bile is creeping its way back up my throat looking at this

Century Eggs are eggs that are packed in a mix of clay, ash, salt, and lime and aged for a while.  Basically, it tasted like a rotten egg.  Glad I tried it for the experience, but it was completely disgusting.  I would sooner lick the floor of a gas station bathroom than eat another one of these since the indigestion and belches after this were twice as horrifying as the actual consumption.  Lets move on.

The following day I spent an hour wandering around the Hong Kong version of Whole Foods and eating things as I went.  My favorite item by far was jellyfish salad.

I really hope I can find a good place that serves this in Philly

Jellyfish salad is great and I would recommend it to anyone who loves seaweed salad.  Good texture, tossed with sesame oil and chiles, with only the slightest hint that you are eating seafood.  Really delicious.

The following night we headed to a popular Yakitori restaurant.  Yakitori translates into something like grilled skewers of meat in Japanese, and this place was amazing.  Everything that came off the grill was seasoned perfectly, and I think that most everyone at the table would say their favorite bites of food on the trip were at this restaurant.  The grilled goose liver and filet were big hits, but my favorite were the duck tongues.

Tongues on the left, roasted garlic sauce and salt on the right. i was about five seconds from licking the remnants of the sauce until Jay gave me his

The tongues had a hard piece of cartilage running down the center but the meat was the best part of the duck.  Rich and fatty with a strong duck flavor, I could have eaten 100 of them in one sitting.  Rereading the previous sentence and standing by the claim is a reminder of why I am consistently sweaty, out of breath, and waiting for Brooks Brothers to create elastic waistband suit pants.

After four nights in Asia, I was beginning to wonder why I hadn’t eaten more street food so I headed to a more authentic area with a few friends to wander around eating.  When I saw Andrew Zimmern’s nemesis the Durian, I knew I had to try it.

The spikey one is the durian

I purchased one that was cut open and put into styrofoam.  I really expected to be knocked over by the odor but markets smell terrible anyway and it was impossible to differentiate the durian from the other funky aromas.

I remember being nervous about my hands smelling like crap from touching it. Sooooooo, why did I eat it, and more importantly, why do I look like I have a big toe for a thumb?

As mentioned numerous times on Bizarre Foods, it had the texture of custard and smelled like rotten onions.  But, it also tasted like sweet mild melon.  I actually liked it a lot, kind of like a melon custard once you got past the smell.  Tons of plum sized pits in there, though.  Washed the durian down with some street dumplings that were ten for $1.25

No idea what the meat was, but I liked them

The next day we headed to Shanghai where our hotel was surrounded by a lot of street food vendors serving food that was ill-advised for our western systems.  But this scallion pancake stand became an important part of my daily diet.

Little pillows of dough stuffed with scallions and herbs frying over a propane flame

I ate about 10 of these over my five days in Shanghai.  Not an adventurous item, but I had to include them in the list just because of how cool it was.

This guy was the friendliest person I met in Shanghai. He recognized that I could represent his retirement fund depending on my length of stay

I will likely never be able to enjoy the cardboard-like pancakes I get the in the U.S. again but it was worth it.  Later in the stay I got bored at a museum and once again went searching for food on the street where I discovered a great Takoyaki place.

I took down two of these trays and could have had a third if I hadn't shut down the store for the day

Takoyaki are Octopus dough balls.  Each partially cooked one has an undercooked center with maybe one or two pieces of chewy octopus but the traditional unidentifiable garnishes on each one make it delicious.  I hope Dunkin Donuts starts making Takoyaki munchkins soon.

Last food item in Shanghai was unfortunately from KFC.  At KFC in China they serve two sandwiches: a dark meat spicy chicken sandwich, and a shrimp burger.  I got the shrimp burger, basically 20-30 small prawns kept whole, made into a patty and fried.  It was gross and delicious like fast food should be.

Ten days into the trip and I was starting to think i would need a scooter to get around Walmart when I got home

The next stop after Shanghai was Beijing where we spent four nights.  There was only one notable meal which was a traditional hot pot banquet that caught us all a little off guard.  The garnishes and items put out in advance were a plethora of odd foods to try including chilled sliced pig ear (pre-hog head roast), jellyfish salad, century egg-style quail eggs, and bean paste sweets.

The pig ears look very cool, and they taste better than they sound. There is an ear joke to be made in that sentence but I couldn't come up with it

But the hot pot was the oddest item since it was a turtle-based hot pot.

The idea of this didn't bug me at all, but it made the dumplings and other items they cooked in the pot less appetizing for the rest of the people at the table

The turtle meat tasted like slightly fishy chicken and was pretty boney, but the toughest parts were small inflated green sacks of liquid that tasted exactly how you expect a reptile to taste.  Not my favorite thing but a good experience.

The final stop on our trip was Seoul, South Korea.  On the last day, after eating safe meals at the hotel and Korean barbeque I got the urge to seek out some final odd foods before I left.  So I headed to the market and found what I assumed I would be able to sample regularly but hadn’t had the chance to: insects.

A cup of deep fried silkworms, not the most appropriate serving size. Thats not my arm (thank god) and I didn't eat that arm. Not really sure how it got so close to the picture without me sampling it

I heard that various insects had a shellfish-like flavor and intended to sample a wide range of them during my travels but didn’t have the opportunity.  These silkworms were the first edible insects I had seen and they were everywhere in the market.  No other insect offerings, though.  So I took what I could get.

Eating worms, holding a cup, and taking a self photo = talent

They had a texture and taste that was reminiscent of soft shell crab with a musty flavor added in.  This was the second food I ate on the trip that I would describe as musty after the deep fried fish heads in HK that I didn’t get a picture of.  Anyway, I had a few but had no chance of finishing the cup so I moved on to other stuff.

Unclear whether she was staring at me because of the camera or because I was so anxious to eat something to get the memory of silkworms out of my head

This was deliciously junky and the Korean equivalent of a Lewiston, Maine Luigis spaghetti calzone: celophane noodles, kimchi and beef wrapped in a rice dough and deep fried.

A welcome flavor change

Next up was a bean paste “donut” that I thought was gross texture-wise and also way too sweet.  The cooking process was pretty cool, though.

Looked better than it tasted

As a grand finale, I decided to give a shot to one of these stands that lined an entire street.

I mean... what the eff is that?

I eventually decided on one that had a long line of locals and requested a small portion.  My guess is that it is some sort of smoked pig trotter though I really have no idea.  The woman manning the stand took it apart expertly.

Speaking loud and slow, "Small! So! What! Is! This! Yes, Small!"

She put it all in a small plastic bag and I headed back to the hotel.  En route I started to get nervous about eating it because it appeared to be intended to be cooked more and it was handled with some bare hands along the way.  I went to a friend’s hotel room to decide.

This bag intimidated the hell out of me. And looking at the size of my thigh in the picture might have aided the final decision

Thankfully, the instruction to “do not f***ing open that bag in here!” led to me throwing the bag away.  A little bit of a pathetic end to a great eating expedition, but since I spent the following 36 hours traveling by bus and plane I am happy about the choice.

Future “Weird Crap I Eat” entries will be much shorter, but wanted to share this trip as a whole.