Traveling through a St Pete Beach Russian restaurant: What an experience!

If there’s one thing I love to do when not traveling is to still travel. That is, Travel Through Food! Of course, I’ve tried yet another new cuisine, despite the fact I haven’t traveled outside of Florida in about a month. Buckle up as I present a St Pete Beach Russian restaurant review and my first experience with Eastern European food!

St Pete Beach Russian restaurant, Florida

St Petersburg Nights in Florida?

Uninviting all-black building. Tacky decor. Odd vibe. Half-off discount coupon in hand. “What have I gotten ourselves into?” I thought, as I looked at my handsome date. Little did I know, 2 hours later, I would walk out thinking “This is the best date night we’ve had in a long time”

After having experienced it all, I can’t stop smiling. Even today: Two days later!

St. Petersburg Nights: St Pete Beach Russian restaurant review

What happened at this St Pete Beach Russian restaurant?! We waited more than hour and half for our food. Then, the food was just ok–spices so foreign to my palate. The Russian vodka had already hit me in the head. The entertainment was a cheesy Russian man, sax in hand, with auto-tune and midi-like karaoke songs. Oh, let’s not forget the Russian lady in the black lentejuelas dress, occasionally jumping in.

St Pete Beach Russian restaurant

Inside St. Petersburg Nights restaurant

Ahh, I’m traveling.

For 2 full hours, Blaine and I were transported outside of Florida and into Russia. According to other reviewers, this St Pete Beach Russian restaurant is as authentic as it gets. The ambiance includes a full bar, dance floor, hookah, and even belly dancing (every 2nd Tuesday of the month) and burlesque shows (every Thursday).

The menu: At a glance

What about the menu? Several varieties of the staple dish perogies, in addition to chicken, liver, kabobs, pastries, and other Eastern European favorites. An even greater selection of Soviet-era vodkas and beers. While we thought the food was bland, maybe we are just not used to it. Besides — the smooth vodka and tasty Oreshki more than made up for it.

Our apps and drinks

We ordered a round of Stolichnaya vodka shots and a Baltika 6 Porter to start. Not a minute passed before the shots went straight into our heads. Oh boy, this is the good stuff.

For our app, we chose the assorted cold cuts. The Russian smoked meats were not really what I was expecting. But then again, give me anything smoked and I’ll like it.

St Pete Beach Russian restaurant drinks

Apologies for the overexposure — bad camera, but good Russian drinks

The entertainment

Then it was time for Mr Boris and his sax. Boy, is he funny. In an all-white John Travolta suit he came out, trying to teach us Russian. Then, he was off, playing along Spanish cha-cha songs and ballads (but, of course, sung in Russian). I found this quite particular: Is Spanish music that popular in Russia? How were they influenced? All I can tell you is that Russians are, imho, are some of the best Latin-dance and ballroom dancers out there.

 The long food wait and our main courses

We waited for a good hour and half before getting our main entrees. Yes, this would be unacceptable to most Americans. However, we later learned that the reason food takes long to come out is because they want you to enjoy the surroundings, the music, your drinks. In short, it is a Russian tradition to truly enjoy your time with your friends or date when you go out to eat.

Ironically, the long food wait is the reason why we thought this was the best date night we’ve had in a very long time. We were not in a hurry. We took all the strangeness in. We went with an open mind. We laughed at the quirkiness. We talked about our future travel plans and how we both love being in “uncomfortable situations.” How happy they make us.

Ah, this is why we loved this St Pete Beach Russian restaurant so much!

St Pete Beach Russian restaurant, forester roast

Forester roast: My date’s pick

Eastern European Lobster pierogi

Eastern European lobster pierogi: My pick. An interesting cream sauce with caramelized onions, plus the perioges seemed to have been stuffed with crab too

Once the main entrees were placed on our table, my date couldn’t help but whisper “wow, I can taste the hardship.” I looked at him kind of angrily, but I know he didn’t mean to be offensive. Eastern European and Russian food can be quite foreign to the American palate. Even a well-traveled Puerto Rican like myself had a hard time processing the flavors. Oddly enough though, I still enjoyed my lobster pierogi. A “safe choice” at first glance, they were actually quite different from what I was expecting! (By the way, my date, ended up kind of liking the tamed spices of his Forester roast)

Our dessert? Oreshki! We ate those delicious cookies as we walked to the beach after dinner.

St Pete Beach Russian restaurant review, oreshki

Oreshki (or walnut cookies) at this St Pete Beach Russian restaurant looked similar to these (Photo: su-lin, Flickr)

St. Petersburg Nights restaurant: In a nutshell

I’ll be the first to admit it: Most Americans would hate this place. “Slow service, bland food” are adjectives most have used to describe this St Pete Beach Russian restaurant in their online reviews. However, those that come with an open mind and understand they are taking a peek at a radically-different culture and cuisine will sure have a wonderful time at this establishment. Bonus: The beach is just a block away (perfect for a romantic post-dinner walk!).

Just remember: Only bring open-minded people, with whom you love to spend time with. Otherwise, your may feel like you’re in prison…

Have you ever been to a Russian restaurant? What was it like?

Puerto Rican piononos and spices: Photos and recipe inside!

Good morning! Welcome to another edition of Cultural Tidbits Monday. Today we’ll have a brief Travel Through Food post, as my freelance travel writing duties are calling loudly. Yes, I still got some deadlines to meet. In light of this, I’ll be introducing you to another dish of our cuisine: Puerto Rican piononos.

Learn more: Puerto Rican food or discover other world cuisines from Travel Through Food series

Puerto Rican pionono, beef and egg

Traditional fried beef pionono with cheese and egg (Photo: dylanheaney, Flickr, All Rights Reserved. Photo used with written authorization)

Puerto Rican piononos, crab stuffing

Puerto Rican piononos: Crab stuffing variety from New Yorican chef in Maine (Photo: Dana Moos, Flickr)

Puerto Rican piononos: What are they?

I like to call Puerto Rican piononos savory cinnamon rolls. Substitute the dough strips with sweet (ripe) plantain slices, then stuff them with marinated ground beef and cheese instead of cinnamon and sugar. Now, bake them or deep fry them. Yum! While ingredients may vary from town to town, the most common variation is the way the ground beef (or seafood) stuffing is marinated.

Puerto Rican piononos: The main spices

Typical spices in Puerto Rican piononos, and most Puerto Rican dishes, include adobo and sofrito. Both are concoctions of vegetables and spices, made differently across the island. Thus, flavor of the ground beef can vary from sweet to fiery hot. Just to give you an idea of the spice variations, I have included photos and descriptions of different Puerto Rican sofritos and adobo mixes below.

Puerto Rican piononos spices

Puerto Rican piononos: Spice blend options for the ground beef stuffing

Sofrito may be made at home or bought pre-made at the store. There are 2 kinds: Recaíto and regular sofrito. The main difference between the two? The sofrito base is typically red, made with red cubanelle and tomatoes. Conversely, regular recaíto base is made without red cubanelle and tomatoes, so it is typically green.

Other ingredients shared between the two varieties are olive or annatto oil, sweet ají peppers, garlic, inions, roasted red pepper, oregano and sometimes cilantro. Both recaíto and sofrito are very aromatic, concentrated, and flavorful.

Puerto Rican piononos, dry adobo varieties

Adobo dry mixes are almost always bought pre-made at the store. Nowadays, very few families still make it from scratch at home. Base typically includes dry oregano, salt, garlic and onion powder. The “flavors” described on the bottles above are ingredients that are either added or omitted to the base mix.

A sample of dry mixes is pictured on the right. In the pink cap, is adobo seasoning with saffron. To its immediate right, with burgundy cap, is a bottle of adobo with hot/chili pepper. At bottom left, adobo bottle with bitter orange. Lastly, in the blue cap, is a bottle of light adobo, which has 50% less sodium and contains no black pepper.

Puerto Rican piononos: recipe twists

Now that you know what Puerto Rican piononos are, I’ll leave you with a recipe twist video for you to try at home. Let me know how they turn out! 😉

Low-cal diet? Got a Puerto Rican piononos recipe for you, too! Click here

Have you had Puerto Rican piononos? Would you try them?

Asian curries list: Traveling through my favorites (photo essay)

Travel Through Food series is back this week and today’s feature is an Asian curries list. That’s right: A deliciously spicy photo essay, showcasing the different types of Asian curries that I love, descriptions included! Hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed eating many of them last week 😉

types of Asian curries photo

Photo: Sandy Austin, Flickr

Asian curries list: Vietnamese

Vietnamese curry is considered a “Southern dish” and it is the more soup-like of all types of curry I’ve tried. I love thick curries (specially Indian!), not going to lie. However, there is something about a vibrant orange cà ri gà made with big chunks of taro roots, sweet potato, carrots, rice vermicelli, coconut milk and big amounts of crispy fried onions and cilantro garnish that make me melt!

The Vietnamese also serve goat curry, but its strong taste must be acquired in order to really enjoy it.

Another interesting fact? The only reason Vietnamese have any type of curry in their cuisine is because of contact with the Siam from India back in the 17th century.

Aha! It all makes sense now 🙂

Asian curries list, Vietnamese curry soup

Mmm, look at that glorious Cà Ri Gà (Vietnamese curry soup)! I could eat this every day

Vietnamese goat curry

Vietnamese goat curry with coconut cream – less common, but served in some areas (Photo: lensfodder)

Asian curries list: Malaysian

Malaysian curries can also be attributed to Indian immigrants. Thanks to them, curries have become a staple in Malaysian cuisine as well. Common ingredients in Malaysian curry mixes are turmeric, chili peppers, garlic, coconut milk, shallots, ginger, and belacan (shrimp paste).

I had this type of curry for the first time during my first visit to London. I was Couchsurfing with many travelers from all over the world, including a sweet Asian girl named Hyejin.

On our last afternoon in town, I expressed how I was dying to have a new type of Asian curry. So, she excitedly took me to a popular Malaysian joint where we ordered “mild curry” or else I would die.

How does this story end? Well, I died anyway.

My new Asian friend and cute waiter could not understand how “a curry so mild!” could have left me with this face:

Asian curries list, me after eating Malaysian curry

My dazed and confused face after having a fiery Malaysian curry in London

Asian curries list, Malaysian curry soup

The apparently-mild Malaysian curry that killed me–EVEN MY CAMERA SHAKED!

Asian curries list, Malaysian shrimp curry

Malaysian shrimp curry (Photo: beavela, Flickr)

Asian curries list: Chinese

Chinese curries tend to be much milder in comparison to other Asian types. Also, Chinese curry sauce is typically yellow and the dish consists of onions, potatoes, green peppers and either chicken, lamb, fish, or beef.

I had Chinese yellow curry chicken for the first time in Dahab, Egypt (from all places!) at the only Chinese restaurant in the area. Unlike how it is typically described (watery), the Chinese curry I had was a thicker sauce with chicken that seemed to have been marinated with a dry rub beforehand.

It was delicious, but I wonder if it was the real thing?! All my servers, and the chef, looked Chinese…in Egypt…so maybe?

The mystery remains.

Chinese curry

Chinese curry at Seven Heaven restaurant in Dahab, Egypt

Chinese yellow curry noodles

Chinese yellow curry noodles with chicken (Photo: whity, Flickr)

Asian curries list: Indian

This is, by far, the longest Asian curry affair I’ve had! Indian curries are the first type of Asian curries list I ever tasted.

I’m not sure why I never tried any other types of Asian curries for a while...

I guess I was unsure whether Eastern spices could live up to the Indian spices I had fallen in love with?

I know, newbie mistake.

Anyway! Below are my favorite types of Indian curries.

Indian goat vindaloo curry

“Goat Vindaloo, Butter Chicken, Spinach and Black Eye Beans with half rice and roti” (avlxyz, Flickr)

Indian chicken korma curry

Chicken korma: Yellow mild curry made with almond and coconut powder. I usually like to kick it up a little and add some chili powder to it (Photo: hisc1ay, Flickr)

Indian lamb pasanda curry

Lamb pasanda curry (bottom of plate) is mild and made with coconut milk, cream, and almonds. Other items on this plate: “Red lentil dhal, rice, cabbage and potato curry” (Denni Schnapp, Flickr)

Indian bhuna curry

Look at that gorgeous bhuna curry: Medium spicy and a thick sauce, my favorite mix! Common ingredients include fresh coriander, cumin, chili, cardamom, paprika, turmeric, garlic, lemon, yoghurt, oil, and garam masala (Photo: kiyanwang, Flickr)

Asian curries list: Thai

Yet another long list of my favorite Asian curries comes from Thailand. From Panang to Massaman curry, to the red, yellow, and green-colored sauces…from khao soi to kaeng som!

Oh, I could just write about them all day as well…!

But instead, I’ll sign off with some delicious photos:

Asian curries list, Thai panang curry beef

Panang curry “traditionally includes dried chili peppers, galangal, lemongrass, coriander root, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, garlic, and salt, and sometimes also shallots, peanuts, and shrimp paste” (Wikipedia. Photo by Ariane Colenbrander, Flickr)

Asian curries list, Thai Massaman curry

Massaman curry: My favorite Thai dish! Originally from central Thailand, it came to existence thanks to a Persian trader in the 16th century CE. Typically, it is made with coconut milk, roasted peanuts/cashews, potatoes, chili, cardamom pods, star anise, palm sugar, fish sauce, bay leaves, cinnamon and tamarind sauce (Wikipedia. Photo by Pabo76, Flickr)

chicken Thai green curry

This Thai green curry, served with roti on the side, was made with “shredded kaffir lime leaves, yardlong beans, makhuea pro Thai eggplant, makhuea phuang pea-sized eggplant. For garnish: Holy basil (bai kraphao) and sliced large red chillies for color” (Takeaway, Wiki Commons)

Thai khao soi curry

Northern Thai khao soi, which means “cut rice,” is a soupy coconut milk curry made with deep fried egg noodles, pickled cabbage, shallots, lime, ground chillies fried in oil, and meat (Takeaway, Wiki Commons)

Asian curries list, Thai pumpkin curry

Thai pumpkin curry: Not in the list, but delicious regardless!

What are your favorite types of Asian curries? Comment below!

Pupuseria in Tampa and Central American food staples (photo essay)

Howdy! This week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday post will be about a Salvadoran food staple, the pupusa, and a pupuseria in Tampa that I visited for the first time a few days ago.

pupuseria in Tampa and Central American restaurant

pupuseria in Tampa and Central American restaurant

Why didn’t I write about this pupuseria in Tampa earlier, you may ask? Due to carpal tunnel pain, I couldn’t write or blog much last week. And so today I swallowed the pain, took a deep breath, and typed a bit slower so I could finally post…

What is a pupuseria, or a pupusa for that matter?

Naturally, a pupusería is a place that sells pupusas. And what are they again!? Like a taco is to Mexico, a pupusa is a thick corn tortilla and traditional food staple in El Salvador. Pupusas might remind you of arepas, although their taste is wildly different.

pupuseria in Tampa, pupusa with curtido

My cheese and chicharron pupusa, topped with curtido

pupuseria in Tampa, pupusa con tostones

My pupusa and fried plantains (tostones)

The pupusa corn flour mixture typically contains cheese, pork, refried beans or loroco flower bud. Once hand-stretched, the pupusas are fried and then topped with curtido, a Salvadoran side dish similar to coleslaw. They can be eaten as snacks, an appetizer or even a meal. I ate my pupusa with a side of crispy tostones, for instance (see second photo above).

Only pupuseria in Tampa

The cafeteria and pupuseria in Tampa that I visited is more like a family-run restaurant. Not only does the Pupusería y Cafetería Centroamericana offers pupusas and other Central American staples, but they also serve full-blown meals such as Salvadoran steak, combinación Guanaca, and fried pork chunk with cassava (see their Central American food menu here).

pupuseria in Tampa, combinacion guanaca

Their combinacion guanaca dish includes a tamal, a pupusa, beef and a side of curtido, rice and refried beans

While I waited for my carry-out pupusa (made in the premises from scratch!), I got to chat with the son of the owner for a bit. He told me that there are no other pupuserias in Tampa, or in much of the south for that matter, and that this has helped his family business stay afloat despite a dim economy. It made me feel good that I was contributing and helping a small local business! Which is why I decided to link to their website and talk about my positive experience there, even though I paid full price for my order and no freebies were given to me for reviewing the Pupusería y Cafetería Centroamericana.

pupuseria in Tampa, restaurant decor and signs

Decor gave me a good laugh (click to ENLARGE, then read 2nd sign on upper left)! If you can read Spanish, you know why 😉

This pupuseria in Tampa is within walking distance of the house I just moved into, and with a 6-month lease, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample more of its menu items. I love traveling through food, so I’ll be coming back with my gringo boyfriend soon!

What are your favorite international rests. in your neighborhood? Why?

Pupuseria & Cafeteria CentroAmericana on Urbanspoon

Travel Through Strange Food: Cultural Tidbits Monday photos!

Alo! This week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday post will be a tibit alright, but you’ll learn something new still by Traveling Through Strange Food photos from around the world. Let’s see if you are left hungry or nauseated by the end of it 😉

Balut: Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines

strange food, balut

Balut! (Photo: chadedwardus, Flickr)

Boiled, nearly-fully-developed chicken or duck embryo eaten right from the shell — that’s Balut for you! It is common street food in the Asian countries of Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Strange food to some (especially animal lovers), but just like regular eggs to others. What’s your take?

Thousand-Year Eggs: China

strange food, thousand year old egg duck

Thousand-year-old duck egg (Photo: Laughlin Elkind, Flickr)

Speaking of eggs, what about preserving those duck and chicken ones, with a mix of lime, salt, rice straw in clay and ash, then wait several months? Not a thousand-year process alright, but the penetrating ammonia-sulfuric smell will make you think they were kept underground for that long before putting them on your plate. Yay or nay in your book?

Fried beetles: Thailand

strange food, fried beetles

“Like beetles for a snack? Fried?” (PlanetStar, Flickr)

Not that strange food to some, but strange enough to me. A crunchy protein snack that you may find in Khao San Road…one I don’t think I’ll ever be able to try. Would you try these in Bangkok?

Casu Marzu: Sardinia, Italy

strange food, Casu Marzu maggot cheese

The Maggot Cheese in all its glory (Photo: Carol Spears, Wiki Commons)

Fancy some fermented cheese and larvae? Then head to Sardinia and eat some of their Casu Marzu (also known as MAGGOT Cheese)! Naturally, this delicacy tops my small Travel Through Strange Food list. The insect larvae is added to the cheese in order to promote fermentation, to such a level that it is borderline decomposed. Eat it with the larvae, which can jump at you when biting into it, or simply remove in order to enjoy the strong cheese without the crunch. Yikes…!

What strange food have you eaten? Share your list in a comment below!

Martinique drinks and food: Caribbean Cultural Tidbits (photos)

Welcome to another edition of Cultural Tidbits Monday! Today we venture out to the sunny Caribbean once again, to learn more about Martinique drinks and food.

Martinique drinks and food, accras

1) Accras, fritters made with fish, are an appetizer not only in Martinique, but also other Caribbean islands such as St. Lucia

Martinique food

As you already know from this blog, the Caribbean is more than just beautiful beaches. Caribbean food and drinks are a wonderful mix of European, Taíno/Amerindian, and African flavors. The island of Martinique isn’t an exception! However, I had the opportunity to visit back in 2002 and noticed some nuances. Instead of Spaniard flavors, you will see a mix of Creole and French cuisine, in the likes of New Orleans, mixed with other African and Amerindian root vegetables, common in other Caribbean cuisines such as Dominican Republic and Puerto Rican food.

Fried malanga patties

2) Root vegetables are a staple in Martinique's cuisine as well. Here, malanga patties before being deep fried

Martinique drinks and food, ouassous

3) Ouassous, or freshwater crayfish, is a popular dish in Martinique and Guadeloupe

Today, though, our descriptions are focusing on Martinique drinks. Like your rum, like your sweets? Then you’re in for a treat! 😉

‘Ti-Punch

Martinique drinks, ti' punch setup

4) Ti' punch setup!

A strong mixture of rum, lime juice and cane syrup, with a dash of bitters. It is a popular beverage not only in Martinique, but across the West Indies. Click here for a traditional recipe.

Planteur

Martinique drinks and food, planteur punch

5) ready-to-drink planteur punch

The Caribbean sure loves its rum! Planteur is another rum punch and traditional Martinique drink. The flavor of this tall drink is emphasized by a balance of grenadine (pomegranate) and orange juice notes. Click here for a simple recipe.

Shrubb

Martinique drinks, shrubb

6) Among the classic Martinique drinks is the Clement Créole Shrubb!

As I explained on my second post of Christmas traditions around the world, shrubb is a distinct Martinique liquor with a strong orange flavor. It is made out of white rum (of course!), sugarcane syrup and the dried peels of oranges and tangerines. It is a tradition to make and consume shrubb during Christmas time, but I’m sure it is a practice that remains alive year-round, even if not as common. Want to give it a shot and try to make your own homemade shrubb? Click here for recipe and some extra cultural tidbits!

Have you tried Martinique drinks and food? Been to the Caribbean?

Flickr photo credits: 1) purdman1 * 2) Jason Riedy * 3) funkyflamenca *
4) rockdoggydog  * 5) SBPR * 6) Steve Bennett

Travel through Dominican Republic food and dessert: Photo essay

Happy Cultural Tidbits Monday! Today we are Traveling through Dominican Republic food (and dessert!), continuing our series of delicious photo essays, introducing you to traditional dishes from all parts of the world.

Dominican Republic food, flag food plate

Dominican Republic food plate looking just like the nation’s flag – genius party idea! (Photo:Sharoliz Báez, my cousin!)

I lived in Dominican Republic for a month, when I was just 12 years old, with my aunt Lissett. The beautiful Puerto Rican married a Dominican cardiologist named Rafael (“Rafelito”) and moved to the neighboring island short after I started elementary school. I have fond memories with this particular pair of relatives because I would see them daily, even more than my always-hard-working mother, as they would take me and pick me up from school, cook me breakfast and dinner, and watch me study until mom picked me up after work in the evenings.

It was a sad day when they moved away, so mom thought it would be a great surprise to send me to Dominican Republic for a month after graduating from 6th grade (end of elementary school in Puerto Rico).It was a little more than mom wanting me to spend some quality time with my favorite aunt, though. Of course, she knew I’d been wanting to scratch my itchy travel feet! Ahh, mom does know best 🙂

Mis tios, Dominican Republic

Mis tíos are awesome! (Photo from a Halloween house party at an undisclosed location in the Domican Republic…bahaha)

Now that you know a little bit more about my connection to the Dominican Republic, with no more preambles, I introduce you to the Dominican Republic food! A succulent mix of Taíno, African, and Spanish cuisine. As its neighbor Puerto Rico, you may ask? My answer to that question would be “same same but different” 😉 ¡Buen provecho!

Mangú

Dominican Republic food, mangu

Mangu (bottom) topped off with onions and fried cheese loaves (Remo del Orbe, Flickr)

I don’t think any article talking about Dominican Republic food can start with any other dish. Mangú is as traditionally Dominican as the turquoise Caribbean waters that bathe La Española‘s coasts. Very similar to Puerto Rican mofongo, it is a West African dish made of mashed, boiled plantains. The main difference is that mangú firmer than mofongo, in addition to having 3 special Dominican ingredients, typically dubbed as los 3 golpes. Meaning “the 3 hits” in Spanish, these are the traditional sides (acompañamientos) of the mangú: Dominican salami, eggs, and fried cheese. Albeit a heavy dish, mangú is more-often-than-not eaten for breakfast — although it can be mangú time at any hour! 😉

Mondongo

Dominican Republic food, mondongo

Dominican Republic mondongo with plantains (Remo del Orbe, Flickr)

Another dish brought by the African, mondongo is beef stripe soup. It is also a traditional dish in Puerto Rico, although it is more commonly eaten (and a favorite!) in DR. The best thing about the dish, naturally, is the spices that go on the sauce. All-purpose seasoning, celery, tomato paste, spicy sweet peppers (ajíes dulces), cilantro, and Sazón Goya with culantro y achiote might not seem like much…but they can be magical together! Oh, before you try to make mondongo yourself, though? Mrs Diana Cruz warns: “It can take anywhere between 15-20 minutes to cook it, so its all about observing and checking for tenderness. DO NOT OVER COOK OR YOU’LL HAVE SLIME FOR DINNER.” Noted!

Pastelón

Dominican Republic food, pastelon

Pastelon with extra plantains, please! (Joan Nova, Flickr)

Another quintessential Dominican Republic food, I personally dubbed it “plantain lasagna” when I first ate it. Others think it looks more like a Dominican Shepard’s pie. Regardless, this is how I can best describe pastelón to you: Think of the noodles/pasta being replaced with layer upon layer of sweet, ripe plantains instead. Then, stuff with adobo-seasoned ground beef or chicken, but without a chunky sauce. Finally, top it off with a mix of cheeses, cheddar preferred. Pop it in the oven and listo 😀 Plantain pastelón, however, is only one of about 6 variations of the dish. Other kinds are made with yuca (cassava) in lieu of plantains. Want to try it out? Here’s a good Dominican pastelón recipe I found!

Sancocho

Dominican Republic food, bean sancocho

Bean sancocho with longaniza (sausage) and sliced plantains (Yensy Gonzalez, Flickr)

Sancocho is a very chunky, hearty soup made of a myriad of ingredients. It is similar to the asopao, but even thicker. Both are traditional dishes in several Latin American countries. However, the unique Dominican varieties are sancocho de siete carnes (7-meat sancocho) and sancocho de habichuelas (bean sancocho).

Bollitos

Dominican Republic food, plantain bollitos

Bollitos de plátano, stuffed with melted cheese! (star5112, Flickr)

Ready for some snacks? The Dominican bollitos can be made of either plantain (bollitos de plátano) or cassava (bollitos de yuca). As its Spanish name suggests, they are like little   deep-fried dough balls filled with cheese — the “dough” being mashed plantains or cassava. Think of light-colored hush puppies with different ingredients and you get the idea. A delicious blend, of course!

Lengua picante

Dominican Republic food, spicy tongue

Sliced spicy tongue – allegedly, not the rubbery texture you expect! (joo0ey, Flickr)

Of course, I had to add the “odd dish” to this Dominican Republic food post! 😉 Direct translation is “spicy tongue” — and comes from a cow. Allegedly, it is not the rubbery flavor you expect! If cooked right, it should melt in your mouth. Today, I also learned that it can be a perfect treat for Rosh Hashanah. Nope, I haven’t tried it yet…

Habichuelas con dulce

Dominican Republic food, habichuelas con dulce dessert

Habichuelas con dulce dessert – for the whole family! (Sindy Santiago, Flickr)

As a Dominican would say, in order to close this post with broche de oro, here’s a sweet delicacy from the Caribbean nation. This dessert means “beans with candy” and it is just that: Red beans, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut milk, condensed milk, raisins, butter, sugar and salt (Katrina Taveras, Daily News NY). What I didn’t know before is that this is actually a soup! All you do is puree the boiled beans with salt, then add the coconut and condensed milk, along with the rest of the ingredients. Interesting! If you want to give this a try, here’s a recipe for you.

Have you tried Dominican Republic food and dessert? Comment below!

Travel through Moroccan food: A photo essay

Moroccan food: I could not stop thinking about it since I wrote a photo essay last week about couscous history on my Travel The Middle East blog. Those succulent tagines and fluffy Couscous Fridays when I studied abroad at Al Akhawayn University…oh how I miss thee! For this reason, we are Traveling Through Moroccan food on Cultural Tidbits Monday this week 😀

Couscous

Moroccan food, couscous

One of the many variations of Moroccan couscous: Sweet and savory! (Photo: Khonsali, Wiki)

Known as the National Dish of Morocco worldwide, couscous has even been adopted by the French as a traditional dish. Initially a Berber pasta dish made of semolina, it dates back to the 9th Century. Couscous can be smothered with a variety of toppings, sweet and savory. Combinations include sweet almonds, sugar, and cinnamon to savory lamb tagine on top. However, the most common is a savory-sweet combo, including several vegetables, raisins, tons of onions, and even legumes. Yum!

Tagine

Moroccan food, chicken tagine

Savory chicken tagine. The top covers the bottom while being cooked (Photo: Boris van Hoytema, Flickr)

Moroccans really love to mix the savory and the sweet. This is also seen on this other Moroccan food staple: Tagines. Another delicious Berber dish, they receive their name from the special clay pots they are cooked in (pictured above).

But, what is the tagine dish about? They are slow-cooked stews usually accompanied by either olives, quinces, apples, pears, apricots, raisins, prunes, dates, and/or nuts, with fresh or preserved lemons (Wikipedia). The spices used make tagines extremely aromatic. Indeed, eating a tagine is a full-sensory experience: All 5 senses are engaged!

I particularly like to eat tagine with bread instead of utensils — somehow, this makes it taste even better to me 🙂 Just so you have an idea of what this flavorful concoction is like: Spices added may be cinnamon, saffron, ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, pepper, and the spice blend ras el hanout spice blend (Wikipedia). Moreover, traditional combinations also include chicken or lamb.

Harira

Moroccan food, hearty harira

heartier-than-usual harira (Photo: George Wesley & Bonita Dannells, Flickr)

Yet another Moroccan food that I would eat almost daily. Harira is particularly popular during Ramadan in Morocco, as it is one of the first dishes eaten during iftar (“breaking of the fast”), alongside hard-boiled eggs (dipped in salt and cummin) and a plethora of sweets.

Harira is a thick tomato soup with chickpeas, lentils, herbs (celery, parsley, coriander), spices (saffron, ginger, pepper), and sometimes noodles. Typically, small pieces of chicken, lamb or beef are added to the ingredients list as well. And yes, you guessed it: It is yet another Berber dish!

Other Moroccan food favorites: Pastilla, Mechoui, and Merguez

Of course, there’s no possible way I could describe each Moroccan dish on a single post! For this reason, I decided to post a couple of photos of other Moroccan traditional dishes with a short description as caption. Bon apetit!

Moroccan food, pastilla

Pastilla, one of the most unique Moroccan dishes. It is very sweet and slightly salty, stuffed with chicken or pigeon meat, cinnamon and then typically sprinkled with white powder sugar on top (Photo: Mayu Shimizu, Flickr)

Mechoui, Moroccan food

Mechoui, Moroccan roasted lamb (Photo: freecandy13, Flickr)

Merguez, Moroccan food

Merguez, spicy Moroccan lamb sausage (Photo:Andrew Scrivani, Flickr)

Have you ever had Moroccan food? What’s your favorite dish? Why?

Travel through Icelandic food: Photo essay

Continuing the popular series, this Cultural Tidbits Monday we Travel through Icelandic food, sampling some dishes of this isolated, yet spectacular island of Iceland. Hope you enjoy the brief photo essay!

Icelandic food: Appetizers, meats and sides

Icelandic food and sides

Þorramatur: A traditional Icelandic food plate. On left: Hangikjöt, Hrútspungar, Lifrarpylsa, Blóðmör, Hákarl, Svið. Plate on the right: Rúgbrauð, Flatbrauð. (Photo: Creative Commons)

I’ll start this Icelandic food photo essay with the dishes that were the most foreign to me. A plate of Icelandic products, cured in a traditional manner, is called Þorramatur (Wikipedia). Above, you see the not-so-foreign rye bread (rúgbrauð) and flatbread (flatbrauð) alongside some interesting-looking meats & sides. Hangikjöt is Icelandic smoked lamb, which is eaten cold or hot and also happens to be a popular side dish in a bigger meal (typically including green peas and potatoes bathed in béchamel sauce). Hrútspungar are lambs’…balls, soaked in sour whey. Lifrarpylsa translates to “white pudding” and it is in fact a meat dish made out of oatmeal, bread, suet, pork meat and fat, then shaped into a big sausage (only a slice pictured above). The black version of the pudding, named Blóðmör, is made out of lamb’s blood, oats, rye flour and stuffed inside pouches that…happen to be the lamb’s stomach. Oh and the Svið? The most popular of the group, it is a singed head of lamb. Ummm so! What’s next!?

Icelandic food, appetizers plate

Whale (top left corner), puffin (center) and smoked lamb (bottom right). We could dip them on raisin reduction (bottom left)

Above is an appetizer plate that I ordered at a restaurant when I visited Iceland. It consisted of whalepuffin and smoked lamb. Whaling is frowned upon almost worldwide nowadays, but I was told by my hosts while Couchsurfing in Iceland that I had to try it. In fact, he offered me some smoked whale as an appetizer when I came back to his place that same night. I feel kind of guilty admitting it, but it was delicious. But then again, you feed me smoked anything and I’ll love it. Oh, and you must be wondering what a puffin is?

Puffin, Icelandic food

These are puffins. (Photo: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons)

And yes, I did feel really guilty for eating one as well…

Icelandic food: Fast food and other entrees

Icelandic food, mink whale kebabs

Mink whale kebabs (Photo on right: Creative Commons)

Mink whale (hrefna hvalur) is typically served on a stick with peppers and veggies — aka “kebab” style. It may be found in restaurant menus or supermarkets (ready to be cooked). I could not bring myself to eat this much whale, however…

Icelandic food, fish and chips

Icelandic fish and chips

These are more hybrids between fast food and a main entree: Icelandic fish & chips. My travel buddy went down the traditional route, with fried fish sticks (left). I decided to have the haddock in delicious garlic pesto sauce (right). Our chips (real-cut red potatoes bathed in a type of aioli) came with curry (yellow) and rosemary/garlic (green) dipping sauces. All delish!

Icelandic food, Vikivaki

Vikivaki: Best place for late-night, fast Icelandic food

I’m surprised I even have a photo of this place. Most nights we would stumble upon Vikivaki after hard-partying with the locals or right after pre-gaming (read: Still somewhat intoxicated). Thus, no photos of the actual food. From what I remember, I would always order some delicious sausage and/or hot dog with tons of cheese and chili. Yum.

Icelandic food, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

Bæjarins Beztu, an infamous Icelandic food stand (Photo: Richard Eriksson, CCommons)

Bæjarins Beztu is infamous, known for being the best place to get a hot dog in all Reykjavík. I made sure I tried one of their creations before I left the country and rumors are right. From what I remember, they were even better than Vikivaki’s. Make sure you get a hot dog with chili on top! It is so good.

And that’s it for my introduction to Icelandic food! Next week we’ll be traveling through the culinary treasures of a different country. Got interesting country suggestions? Drop me a line!

Have you ever had Icelandic food? Any favorites not mentioned above?