Sunday, June 28, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 8 - ETHIOPIA

This week's food adventure started out with a huge detour! We left home mentally prepared to experience some Romanian cuisine, however the door to the restaurant told us they are only open for dinner on Sundays and it was only 11:00AM. It is times like these I once again appreciate the forward-planning and preparedness of Rick. Within minutes we set a new course to our new destination of Merhaba Restaurant just a few miles away.

There was no one in sight when we entered the restaurant except for the welcoming smell of incense. We stood by the door, not sure what to do, until a beautiful young woman appeared through the kitchen doors, with the warmth of someone welcoming visitors to her own home. 

She sat us down, handed us the menus and disappeared to the kitchen to give us some time and space to browse the food items with strange names. Our first lesson to Ethiopian food was on the front cover of the menu. We learned that Ethiopian food is served in big round plates called Ma'adi, made to be shared and enjoyed with good company. Another tradition about Ethiopian meals is kulaso: to feed your companion with your own hands as a show of respect and appreciation.

When she came back to take our drink orders, we asked for the traditional coffee Dunn which took her by surprise, signaling to us that maybe that was against the etiquette. We asked her what the traditional way is, she said "food first, then coffee" with her lovely accent.

So we ordered food first! Unable to decide what to eat, we ordered the Traditional Combo combining pretty much half the menu items: Kelwa Keyih, Zengy Keyih, Dorho Tsebhi, Shiro, Tsebhi Ayne Ater, and Hamli (spelling taken directly from the menu).

Apparently, she was also the cook. While we listened to the pleasant cooking sounds from the kitchen, we educated ourselves about this eastern African country that is a hub of many different languages, and religions, where some of the oldest evidence for anatomically modern humans has been found.   It also is the most populous landlocked country in the world with over 90 million inhabitants.

Other patrons had started coming in by the time the Ma'adi arrived accompanied by the appetizing spicy scent and a basket of rolled up injara. The bottom of the large plate was lined with a large injara as the background to the colorful chicken, beef, lamb and vegetable piles. 

Injara is somewhere between a lavash and a thick pancake and serves as your utensils!

Everything tasted amazing perfectly blending the meats, tomatoes, green peppers, and spices for every dish to yield different tastes. Our shared plate was almost cleared when she re-appeared from the kitchen with a sizzling smoking pot of coffee beans to show us how freshly our coffee would be roasted and ground before it became our after-meal beverage.

The next time she came back to our table was with the entire coffee regalia of a high tray topped with two small porcelain coffee cups, a gourd looking clay coffee pot called jebena with a side of incense. This was perfect for Ethiopia is where coffee has its origins and where it is celebrated the most.

We poured the coffee into our cups noting the stringy filter stuffed in the spout of the coffee pot. Finding out the stringy filter was actually horse hair did not deter us from tasting the very dark coffee.

Sugar in our coffee was our dessert and the coffee itself was the perfect punctuation to end our meal. 

I was secretly happy that our adventure took an unexpected detour to take us to an unintended country today. What can I say - I love surprises!

መልካም ምግብ (melkam megeb)

Monday, June 22, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 7 - JAPAN

Eating  a Kaiseki meal is like slipping on a soft silk kimono: a long intimate process that moves you through impeccably designed steps that awakens your senses.

We walked into the very small dining space of Kappo Hana to find our reserved table set for the special menu we were about to experience. We pulled our chopsticks out of the paper covers being careful to abide by the chopstick etiquette.

Among the whispering tones of the other guests, the quiet calm of the room was the beginning of our meditation on tonight's food. Our choice of the shochu tasting to pair with the Kaiseki may have sounded strange to our kind Japanese waitress at first but she caught on very fast and throughout the meal our table was decorated with a selection of beautifully cut miniature glasses.

Appetizers started with a combination of lobster and white fig in a creamy yogurt sauce served with a "welcome drink" of fragrant apples. This unexpected combination of tastes and textures was a foreshadowing to the most delicious dishes that would pour onto our table from the chef's imagination.

Next set of appetizers ranging from Sea Urchin to Sesame Tofu to Lotus Roots to Squid Wasabi to Chicken Matsukaze were delicately positioned on a small tray inside small dishes.

The sashimi dish was arranged like a small garden with a pond in the middle. Even the littlest detail was thought out to not only feed your appetite but all of your senses.

Broiled dish was a large warm piece of Potato Stuffed Salmon resting in a sea of white sauce and carefully arranged vegetables and caviar. Even the selection of the plates the food was served in beared the careful consideration of the chef.

Next was the fried dish hidden inside a hexagonal mesh basket. The almond crusted shrimp was the jewel of the seafood and vegetable treasures under the cover and a touch of the "green tea salt" served with the dish added enormous amounts of flavor to each piece. 

We were halfway through the Kaiseki menu when the refreshment was served. Marinated slices of Abalone were nested inside a half shell reflecting beautiful colors of the mother-of-pearl from around the edges. The green innards served on the side complemented the colors, taste and the texture of the Abalone meat.

Crystal Eggplant and Yam Stems were the more interesting pieces of the steamed dish adding subtle colors to the Tai served in broth. The little wooden spoon was a nice decorative and functional touch to this hot dish. 

Our dinner reached its climax when the rice dish came to the table in its very authentic container. Opening the wooden lid, we found meat and vegetables covering the rice. 

We spooned some into our bowls that was complemented with the red bowl of soup. 

We were the only ones left at the restaurant when the dessert was served at the end of the three-hour feast. The miniature glass of Soymilk Pudding surrounded with mochi icecream and pieces of melons, nectarines and strawberries looked like another tranquil garden through which we strolled hand-in-hand yet to another week of culinary adventures.

ご馳走さまでした (gochisōsama deshita) 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 6 - GERMANY

We sampled another European country's cuisine this week that is dear to both of us for we have heritage and family ties to her. We found Germany at Jägerhaus German Restaurant in Anaheim where our immediate reaction upon entry was "smells like German food!".

Since Jägerhaus means 'hunter's house' in German, I browsed the menu items with game meat and picked the Braised Rabbit. Rick, on the other hand, was hunting for a more rare and special dish so he picked the Gebratene Schweinshaxe (Ham Hock). Our choices for sides were as German as it could get: Spätzle, Creamed Spinach, Cucumber Salad, and Red Cabbage. We also asked for the White Asparagus appetizer with sautéed onions and cheese which they had as a limited time special for Spargelfest. Did you know white asparagus is the same plant as the green ones, but kept covered under soil to hide it from the sun so that it does not have the green pigment? 

All food came at once, turning our table into a true festival of comfort food. German food is very manly! The Gebratene Schweinshaxe looked glorious with the enormous chunk of meat and a knife stabbed upright into it, garnished with the warm red cabbage in deep shades of bordeaux.

My Braised Rabbit definitely looked more delicate with the lean and long leg bones and tiny ribcage. The meat was too white for game meat but possibly it was because my rabbit came from a farm rather than the belt of a true Jäger. The sides of Spätzle and Cucumber Salad perfectly complemented the delectable flavor of rabbit.

The good thing about this food adventure is, we order a lot of food but try not to clean up our plates to spare room for any special desserts. The rest is always packed up to supplement another meal. Since we are eating Germany, we succumbed to the temptation of getting a piece of Apfelstrudel and were greatly rewarded with a large slice to share.

You'd think we would've asked for the check after dessert but, no, we were not done yet. The last thing to top off this extremely fulfilling meal was to get a bottle of Underberg that is served in its very special and elegantly tall glass.

Underberg is the German bitter digestif, that saves you from the pains of overeating. The etiquette for drinking this digestif is you never sip it; it all goes down in one shot with all your senses engaged to enjoy the deep scents and flavors of mysterious herbs and spices of this concoction. Nobody knows what is in this little bottle for the Underberg family has successfully kept the long list of ingredients a secret for over 165 years!

Please join us next week for another trip to a different country's kitchen.

Guten Appetit!

Monday, June 8, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 5 - SPAIN

Everyone knows you should never judge a book by the cover. Olé! Spain Delishop looks like a small grocery store from the outside, what awaits inside is a feast of genuine Spanish deliciousness.

We have been to this delishop before but still we stood and stared at the menu hanging overhead hand written on blackboards with chalk. We picked the Catalana sandwich because almost all ingredients were mysteries to me and Madrilena because it had fried rings of squid in it.

We washed down these delectable meat and cheese sandwiches with Sangría Señorial followed by the Iberica tapas plate with olives.

When we were asked if we wanted dessert, answering 'Yes!' was enough to get this lovely plate of Carlota over to our table. Silky smooth, milky and fruity simplicity of this dessert was the perfect climax to our Spanish meal.

Well fed and ready for a nap, we left this little portal to Barcelona and reluctantly started the drive to the afternoon portion of our workday.

It is our good fortune that Olé! is just around the corner from work and a sure destination for many-a-lunch breaks.

¡Buen provecho!

And keep following us around the world-cuisine!