Saturday, April 30, 2016

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 32 - COLOMBIA

I could not take my eyes away from the T.V. screen at El Portón Colombiano. Not only the places that appeared on the screen were breathtaking but the people looked absolutely beautiful. If you want proof, have a look at the singer Shakira and actress Sophia Vergara and imagine a country full of them. Contradictory to all that beauty, the walls of the restaurant was decorated with the art of famous Colombian painter Fernando Botero who depicts all humans quite large. One of my favorite of his is his interpretation of Mona Lisa:

Obviously food from where everything else is beautiful raises your expectations for satisfaction - we were not disappointed!

Our drinks were authentically Colombian. My native soda Colombiana - which the waiter called "the national drink of Colombia" - was a sibling of Peruvian Inca Cola with a prettier color and a similar bubble gum taste.

Rick's two drinks were both creamy white. First one was Limonada de Coco - yes you guessed it - lemonade mixed with coconut milk topped with shaved coconut.

His second drink was Jugos Naturales en Leche with Soursop.

Empanadas have become a natural appetizer for us to compare with other versions from other countries and these were very different in their texture. Also were smaller and less doughy.

From the appetizer menu, we also ordered Aborrajado. Even though what came to the table looked like a strangely shaped potato, it actually was slices of fried plantains wrapped around a cheesy center.

Last appetizer was Yuca Frita con Hogao. The large chunks of Yucca fried and served hogao sauce tasted like potatoes of an elite kind.

Rick's order of Bandeja Paisa had so much meat on the plate, it came with its own knife as usual. The meat was accompanied with white rice, beans, fried plantains, a small round corn cake, slices of avocado and a sunny-side-up egg.

My Tamal Paisa plate was much smaller in comparison. Cornmeal stuffed with various meats and vegetables were wrapped in plantain leaves like an edible gift.

After having the leftovers packed to go, we ordered one Obleas con Arequipe to share. This is a seemingly simple dessert blending Dulce de Leche, Blackberry Sauce and Cheese between two layers of thin wafers.

We each had two cups of world famous Colombian coffee while watching food travel to other tables deciding what to have next time we visit.

¡Buen provecho!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 31 - CHINA

"That's too much food!" is a sentence we've gotten used to hearing from the servers taking our order during our culinary adventure so it was no surprise to hear it again at Chef Chen's Restaurant as we kept adding to the list. Since we are aware that not all Chinese food is Chinese food in the U.S., we asked the server what on the menu is the most Chinese dish, she pointed at a picture of a fish dish aptly named Whole Fish. She pointed to several other things and we ordered all of them, two appetizers, two main courses and a side of vegetable rice noodles. Now, don't let the number of dishes fool you, the main courses are large enough to feed a family of four .... twice.

Instead of taking your drink orders, they simply bring a pot of hot tea to the table. First plate of food to arrive was the Vegetable Rice Noodle with bright colors enhanced in its rising steam.

The two appetizers were arranged on the same plate so that the Jelly Fish did not mix in with the Sliced Beef Szechwan Style. Jelly fish has the texture and taste of squids. The sliced beef was mixed with pieces of tripe and was spicy hot that stayed with you for a while.

My eyes grew wide when the Dong Puo Pork Leg Shank was brought to the table. It was enormous! Thankfully the server cut it into manageable pieces making it easier to eat with chopsticks.

The Whole Fish plate almost took a quarter of the space on the table! Laying on a bed of noodles and some red garlicy sauce, it looked and smelled like something that would come out of your Chinese-Italian grandma's kitchen. The waitress told us that the fish was Rock Cod and she was clearly proud of this dish.

There were no desserts on the menu so we asked if they served any. She said "I'll have it made for you!". What we got was (as she explained it) rice balls filled with black sesame paste in a fermented rice and egg porridge. This warm dessert is elegant not only in the way it looks but also in its subtle sweetness.

I was wise enough to not take a picture of the fortune cookies that came with the bill, since everyone knows those are not a true Chinese tradition. The waitress packed all of the remaining food for us right at the table and made sure we enjoyed every bite we had. 

吃好 (chī hǎo) - eat well

Sunday, April 10, 2016

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 30 - KOREA

I think we broke the speed record with our trip to BCD Tofu House in Irvine in this adventure. We were in and out under 40 minutes and we still managed to sample a wide variety of Korean food. I guess it is part of the Korean hospitality to bring small dishes of Kimchi, marinated cucumbers, pickled strange vegetables and the saddest looking fried fish.

I could not decide whether to use the metal chopsticks or the long spoon, so I used my fingers to eat the fish. We were also served two raw eggs to be added to our boiling hot Dumpling Tofu Soups.

We ordered Kimchi Dumplings from the appetizer menu. I love dumplings of any kind from all the countries that have them but the Korean version took its place in my top five list.

The word Bibimbap always makes me giggle but the Hot Stone Bibimbap combo special made me moan with colorful delight. 

Rick's Hot Stone Bulgagi combo also came in a scalding hot stone bowl with a side of rice even though it had glass noodles mixed in with it.

Since it was a workday lunch we went with some hot green tea to help with digestion of this fast meal.

I felt bad for leaving some of the bibimbap and soup behind, but I'm sure we will go back and enjoy other Korean specialties.

맛있게 드세요 (masitkke deuseyo)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 29 - AUSTRALIA

Sunday night and I'm craving fish and chips. We look up several British restaurants from out 52 countries list but they are all closed early on Sundays. Our last resort is an Australian restaurant in Costa Mesa. We pull into the parking lot and see that Pie-Not is an Aussie Style Bakery so no fish & chips here. BUT the way the store is laid out is so inviting, we just get pulled in and find ourselves peering into the glass case where savory pies of all kinds are on display. All of a sudden we are really into Australian food. Within minutes and with some help from the pretty lady behind the counter, we pick four different pies and two soft drinks and are seated at a table outside enjoying the warm November evening.

According to the lady that helped us pick pies, Dog's Eye is the most popular Australian pie in the store. It is a meat pie filled with premium angus ground beef with finely diced onions and tomato sauce in a shortcrust pastry shell with a puff pastry lid. And it came right out of the oven to our table!

Next is Drunken Cow! This also is a meat pie filled with red wine and roasted garlic braised premium chunky sirloin steak and pearl onions in a shortcrust pastry shell with a puff pastry lid. We are starting to love this unexpected turn in our adventure not only because of the creative names of the pies but because how incredibly delicious they are.

Drover is next in line for the pie try-outs. This pie gets its name from the word Aussies use in place of "shepherd" and borrows its filling from the Dog's Eye with added petite peas & diced carrots in a shortcrust pastry shell with a garlic mashed potato topper. This one is a true winner all-in-one pie with unequal parts of meats, carbs, and vegetables.

Last but not least was a vegan pasty aptly called Ghandi. Admittedly, a pasty is not a pie but a close relative since this also was pastry wrapped around a filling of sweet indian spiced chickpeas, potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, and butternut squash.

Of course all those pies and pasty needed to be washed down with some very Australian beverages of Ginger Beer and Lime Lemon & Bitters of Bundaberg brand.

We picked up The Lamington as our dessert to-go since we were too full to continue eating. The Lamington is a very traditional and unique Aussie dessert that is simply a vanilla butter sponge cake rolled in chocolate and desiccated coconut. 

It's perfectly ok to use your hands when eating Aussie pies just don't burn your fingers since these pies are super freshly made and are hot. 

Bon Appetite, Mate!

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 28 - RUSSIA

Moscow Deli of Orange County is essentially a Russian grocery store with two tables that serve as the dining area. Two feet into the store you find yourself surrounded with nesting dolls, samovars, freezers full of Russian dumplings and ice cream, and cards in Cyrillic to a background of conversations in Russian. The deli food is displayed in windows on the countertop and it is not hard to tell that the owners make all of the food fresh that day.

We browsed the food windows along with the very short menu and started ordering our food with great help from the pretty lady on the other side of the counter. For beverages, she pointed at the fridges on the other side of the store where we picked up two glass bottles of soda. The light colored one was a non-alcoholic Mojito - lemony and minty. The bright green was called Tarhun which had a stronger taste due to the tarragon it was made of.

First the Pirozhki and Zrazy appetizers arrived. Both were filled with chicken

Then came the soups! It makes sense Russians have a lot of soups considering the climate. The Borscht soup is a bright red colored cabbage soup.

Spicy meat soup Solyanka had enough heat to linger but not so much to burn your taste buds to oblivion. We added pieces of the toasted Russian bread served with the soups into the soups and spooned them down like we were in the middle of a winter storm.

The Riga sandwich looked funny with the tails of sardines (sprat) sticking out. Like many other Russian sandwiches and salads, this one was savory with a thick layer of mayonnaise. Honestly I do not usually favor fish sandwiches but this one was very flavorful and did not leave a fishy aftertaste.

Moscovskiy sandwich is one of the most colorful sandwiches I've ever experienced. It looked beautiful. The layers of meat and cheese were interspersed with chopped lettuce, carrots and Russian sauce.

Even though we wanted to try one of the homemade desserts on display, our stomachs stopped us. So we picked up a bag of Russian Prianik cookies to have with tea later in the day.

As we got up to pay for our food, a flood of customers came in. It felt good to see that this small deli got a lot of business to keep them around for our future visits.

Приятного аппетита!

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 27 - AFGHANISTAN

When we saw the banner for a little boy's aqiqah at the entrance of Chili Chutney Afghan Restaurant, we hesitated to enter thinking it was closed for a private event. There was a buffet for the event that was going on so we were seated at one of the low tables to the side and were handed menus to choose from.

With the low seats and richly colored velvet fabrics and paintings surrounding us, we were distracted from the food. We ordered Sheer Chai and continued to take in the cultural event that was going on around us. Sheer Chai is an authentic Afghan tea with milk and cardamom but because of the different ratios it is slightly different than the Indian tea.

The soft flat bread they brought to the table disappeared pretty quickly thanks to the colorful and spicy chutneys that were already at the table.

Sambosas filled with savory potatoes and spices were ordered for comparison with others we tried from other countries and those disappeared quickly as well proving their deliciousness.

Rick also ordered Mantu since it seemed very similar the Turkish dish mantı and wanted to see if they were indeed similar. The meat dumplings were much richer than the Turkish version because of the meat sauce they were served in and sour cream replace the yogurt making it even richer.

Quabili Palau was simply beautiful in the way it looked as much as it tasted. This colorful dish is made with basmati rice cooked with lamb shank and spices and garnished with carrots and raisins.

Beef Chapli Kabob came cradled in a large piece of flat bread and a side of creamed spinach that helped tone down the spices blended in the shish kabob.

We did what anyone who cannot choose from the dessert menu would do and ordered all of it: Bakhlava, Sheer Birinj, and Sheer Yakh!

We shared bites from all and sent the rest for boxing to continue the feast later. Meanwhile the celebration was winding down and the little baby boy was getting sleepy from being handed from relative to relative. We felt happy for the family for their newest arrival and happy for us having to witness something so unique.

(bil-hanā' wa ash-shifā') بالهناء والشفاء / بالهنا والشفا
may you have your meal with gladness and health

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 26 - THAILAND

We got stuck in Thailand! 

Not literally of course but since we visited the Thai Bite Restaurant, we could not write the post describing our experience. Perhaps it is because we love Thai food so much and eat it on a regular basis, it felt like trying to write an exciting post about something so common to our lives. Finally, with great help from Rick, I'm typing the finishing words to this post so that we can post about all the other countries we continued eating while agonizing about this particular post.

For the appetizer we selected the Thai Bite sampler.  This included Thai spring rolls, which are thinner than and Chinese egg roll and deep fried until crispy.  a small crispy fried roll filled with cabbage and bean sprouts.  Poh Pia Tod - Golden fried spring rolls stuffed with seasoned ground chicken, cellophane noodles (woon-sen), and vegetables served with Thai sweet sauce. The Thai chips were Golden fried wonton sheets stuffed with seasoned ground chicken, served with Thai sweet sauce. Thai Dim Sum - Golden fried dumplings of minced chicken and onions served with a savory ginger sauce. Spicy Balls - A cluster of ground chicken, ground pork, cellophane noodles, corns and diced onions blended with Chef's special chili paste then fried to perfection. Plah Goong - Grilled shrimps marinated in Chef's special roasted chili dressing. Served on top of fresh lettuce. These were served with a hot and sour dipping sauce and one that was based on soy and fish sauce.  

Tom Kah Goong - A delightful coconut soup (Tom) with chicken or shrimp, cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, fresh cilantro and a touch of aromatic galangal root (kah) - came in its traditional serving bowl with fire in the middle.  Today we choose to include shrimp (goong).  

Pad See-Iew (Ayse's favorite Thai dish) is stir-fried fresh wide rice noodles with your choice of chicken, beef, pork or shrimp with black bean sauce, white pepper, broccoli, carrots, and eggs.

Pa Nang - Chicken served in a Thai red curry paste and coconut milk sauce, enhanced with fresh peppers and distinctive Thai basil leaves - came with a side of rice.

All this wonderful food was accompanied by our favorite Thai Iced Tea – Iced black tea with sweetened condensed milk.  

kŏr hâi jà-rern aa-hăan!