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 ūüėČ

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, Ta√≠no/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! ūüėČ

‘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 B√°ez, 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 ūüôā

Mis tios, Dominican Republic

Mis t√≠os 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 Ta√≠no, African, and Spanish cuisine. As its neighbor Puerto Rico, you may ask? My answer to that question would be “same same but different” ūüėČ ¬°Buen provecho!

Mang√ļ

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. Mang√ļ is as traditionally Dominican as the turquoise Caribbean waters that bathe La Espa√Īola‘s coasts. Very similar to Puerto Rican mofongo, it is a West African dish made of mashed, boiled plantains. The main difference is that mang√ļ 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 (acompa√Īamientos) of the mang√ļ: Dominican salami, eggs, and fried cheese. Albeit a heavy dish, mang√ļ is more-often-than-not eaten for breakfast — although it can be mang√ļ time at any hour! ūüėČ

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 (aj√≠es dulces), cilantro, and¬†Saz√≥n 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 pastel√≥n¬†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 ūüėĬ†Plantain pastel√≥n, 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 pastel√≥n 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 pl√°tano, stuffed with melted cheese! (star5112, Flickr)

Ready for some snacks? The Dominican bollitos can be made of either plantain (bollitos de pl√°tano) 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! ūüėČ 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 ūüėÄ

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 ūüôā 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

√ěorramatur: A traditional Icelandic food plate. On left: Hangikj√∂t, Hr√ļtspungar, Lifrarpylsa, Bl√≥√įm√∂r, H√°karl, Svi√į. Plate on the right: R√ļgbrau√į, Flatbrau√į. (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 √ěorramatur¬†(Wikipedia). Above, you see the not-so-foreign rye bread (r√ļgbrau√į) and flatbread¬†(flatbrau√į) alongside some interesting-looking meats & sides.¬†Hangikj√∂t 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 b√©chamel sauce).¬†Hr√ļtspungar 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¬†Bl√≥√įm√∂r, 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 Svi√į? 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¬†whale,¬†puffin¬†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)

B√¶jarins Beztu is infamous, known for being the best place to get a hot dog in all¬†Reykjav√≠k. 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?

Traveling through Spanish food (photo essay)

Traveling Through Spanish food on this week’s¬†Cultural Tidbits Monday!¬†As you already know, on this mini series, I‚Äôll be featuring some of my favorite ethnic foods and restaurants through educational (and quite yummy) photo essays. Let’s get started!

When someone utters “Spanish food,” what comes to mind? Typically, it is a misused term in America, where all kinds of Latin American dishes are called “Spanish food”¬†indiscriminately¬†by gringos and even American Latinos alike. Properly, though, Spanish food refers to cuisine that comes from that European nation that was once filled with Conquistadors heading West to discover (and dominate) the New World. Now, are you ready to discover some Iberian delicacies?!

Spanish food Museo Del Jamon

AHHHHHH!!!!!!!! *runs inside*

Bocadillos

First, I’ll start with bocadillos (or “mini bites”). Every time I visit Spain, I must visit El Museo Del Jam√≥n (literally “The Ham Museum”) to eat a tumaca, cros√°n mixto and ca√Īita at least 3 times a day. Daily. During my whole stay. Just ONE EURO each. My body basically requires them! Everyone at Museo Del Jam√≥n knows me by name (and country) now: “La Mar√≠a, directamente de PUERTO RICO!” such a lovely thing to hear as I walk in =D

Spanish food Museo Del Jamon

You have arrived to your destination: Museo Del Jamón

Spanish food Museo Del Jamon

Me @ El Museo Del Jamon (Ham Museum) - Plaza del Sol, Madrid. Most bocadillos & ca√Īita (beer) for ONE EURO. Naturally, the best Spanish place EVER.

Spanish food Museo Del Jamon

My favorite Spanish snacks (from left): A half-destroyed tumaca, piece of bread with garlic, olive oil tomato sauce & topped with Serrano ham * Chorizo tapas, sweet and salty varieties * Cross√°n Mixto, elongated croissant topped with Serrano ham, your choice of Spanish cheese & olive oil. Lastly, ca√Īitas (beers) to wash it all down. Can I go back NOW, please?

As you can see, I have a slight obsession with Jam√≥n Serrano *grins* umm, yeah. It is basically one of the most amazing pieces of meat your mouth will ever touch. Savour. Enjoy. I chew each bite ever so slowly. It is one of those heavenly things that you just can’t explain, but rather have someone eat in order to understand

Spanish food Museo Del Jamon

Where the magic happens (Museo Del Jamón display)

Spanish food Jamon Serrano

Glorious, glorious ham (Photo: Hector Garcia, Wiki Commons)

Another¬†important ingredient in most of my favorite bocadillos and Spanish tapas in general are cheeses: Such a delightful variety!¬†Combine them with amazing Jam√≥n Serrano or Ib√©rico and…

Spanish food - Serrano ham and cheese tapas

...transport your palate to the 8th Heaven (Photo: Juan Fern√°ndez, Wiki Commons)

Spanish ham and cheese

Spanish ham and cheese - ate them all!

Wine, cheese and Serrano ham party, Madrid

Me (far right, red top) at a wine & cheese (and Serrano ham) party in Madrid, Spain

Other typical ingredients of tapas are olives/olive oil, garlic, onions, chorizo (hot, mild or sweet), almonds, chillies, parsley, basil, orégano, paprika, peppers and tomatoes.

Spanish food - tapa de patatas

Patatas (potato) tapas - by Tamorlan, Wiki Commons

Tapas: Not just appetizers

In Spain, tapas are not simply appetizers, though. In fact, it is quite common to group several tapas¬†and make up a whole meal. Furthermore, the same items may be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or a midnight dinner! There’s a very blurred line of things to eat in the morning or at 10 PM, which is another thing I loved about Spain since I’m the gal that typically has pizza for breakfast because she is too hungry for anything less ūüėČ

Spanish food - meatball tapas

Tapa de albóndigas (meatballs), typical on a cool autumn night or winter day (Photo: Tamorlan, Wiki Commons)

eggplant with salmorejo tapas

Deep-fried eggplant with salmorejo dip sauce (tomatoes, bread, oil, garlic, vinegar). Photo: Tamorlan, Wiki Commons

Another quintessential Spanish food is paella. This dish, a hearty rice concoction, is nothing short of amazing as well. There are many different types, so I recommend a culinary tour around Spain to sample them all!

Valencian paella

Valencian paella (Photo: Wiki Commons)

paella negra

Paella negra - black rice paella (Photo: Ralf Roletschek Marcela, Wiki Commons)

Shellfish paella

Shellfish paella (Photo: Manuel M. Vicente, Flikr)

Now that I have given you a broad overview of Spanish food, I will share my favorite dishes of Ceviche, a chain of Spanish restaurants in the state of Florida. Surprisingly, very very good chain! I have visited both the Tampa & orlando locations and my favorite tapas tasted exactly the same. I go there often and absolutely love their sangría, too!

piquillos rellenos

Piquillos rellenos: Roasted red peppers stuffed with ground veal and mild chorizo sausage, served with a Spanish sherry sauce. Photo not from Ceviche, but dish looks very similar (Photo: chefclaudianotebook.blogspot.com

Champi√Īones de Sevilla

Champi√Īones de Sevilla: Four types of mushrooms saut√©ed with sherry over goat cheese and toasted bread, which is not pictured (Photo: tiffanycsteinke, Flikr)

That shall be it for part four of the mini series, Traveling through food! Hope I piqued your interest (and appetite) for Spanish food further and you venture out to try something new.

Spanish sangria

have a Spanish sangría - SALUD! (Photo: Frank K., Flikr)

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

Traveling Through Indian Food (photo essay)

It is Cultural Tidbits Monday and we continue with our new mini series. Today, we are traveling through Indian food! As you already know, on this series, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite ethnic foods and restaurants through educational (and quite yummy) photo essays.

My obsession with Indian food

Ahh, this post will make me really really hungry, because Indian food happens to be my favorite cuisine in the world. Actually, it is more an obsession with any Asian curry, and well, Indians happen to have a heck of a lot of different varieties. Mmmm, thinking about thick curries perks up all my senses: they look, taste and smell incredible.¬†First, I’ll describe one I tasted for the first time last week:

Chicken khorma

Indian food chicken khorma

Indian food: Chicken khorma in all its glory (photo: bellaonline.com)

I basically told my server at India’s Grill Kennedy: “it’s been a while¬†since¬†I’ve eaten Indian food and I’m bad with names, so please just serve me the thickest curry you offer.” The big grin of the server was priceless, as he pointed to the menu and exclaimed “Chicken Khorma!”

Definitely could not refute his choice after he said it was a very thick yellow curry and the menu read “boneless chicken cooked in a creamy almond sauce.” I could not help but think: “amazing in my mouth, good for my skin. BINGO

That’s not all I got on the massive entree, oh no. In addition to a huge portion of chicken khorma and accompanying basmati rice, I also got two additional decently-sized sides: paneer butter masala and fried spinach pakoras:

Indian food paneer butter masala

Indian food: Paneer butter masala and some naan *melts*

Paneer butter masala

Paneer is Indian cottage cheese, while butter masala means it is cooked in a buttery tomato sauce. To me, it smelled and tasted like another delicious curry. My gosh. I want it again.

Indian food spinach pakoras

Indian food: Crispy spinach pakoras app (photo: eatnstayfit.blogspot.com)

Fried spinach pakoras

The crispy, fried delicacy, are made of what seems to be batter and, well, spinach. Flavourful and a bit spicy, they are not as heavy as they look. Perfect!

Samosas

My dining buddy this time was my roomie Alan, and since he had never had Indian food before, I had to order the famous Indian samosas as the app. Of course, it is pretty tough to mess up a samosa, especially when the place you walk into plays nothing but Bollywood movies on a big screen. Then, I just knew they would be fantastic:

Indian food samosas

Indian food: Samosas (photo: lifesambrosia.com)

Lamb masala

Talking of my dining buddy, he is Jewish and can never say no to lamb whenever it is offered, so he went for the lamb masala: tender lamb cooked in a creamy, tomato-based curry sauce. I had a bite and it was heavenly Рwill have to order a full portion next time!

Indian food lamb masala

Indian food: Lamb masala

Malai kofta

I have a special relationship with this particular Indian food, as the first time I tried it¬†was at the Sub Kuch Milega hostel¬†for Eid el Adha in Israel…ahhh, brings back so many wonderful memories! I grin every time I remember that trip and that hostel *happy sigh*

Coming from the Hindi phrase (and meaning ‚Äúeverything is possible‚ÄĚ), this funky Tel Aviv hostel is the epitome of how I imagined a hostel to be before I ever stepped into one. The bright colors, permeating Indian spices scent due to its 24-hour Indian food kitchen, the 32-shekel-all-you-can-eat Indian food buffet, 24-hour bar‚Ķyou can only imagine. The vibe of the place was unique and got to meet several locals that simply hang out at the place to eat and drink. We were fortunate enough to meet a group of Israelis that were planning a Palestinian solidarity ‚Äúpeace walk‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ now that‚Äôs something you won‚Äôt see on the news! Sad isn‚Äôt it?

Ok, I got drifted away! Back to malai kofta: they are croquettes made of ground vegetables, nuts, raisins, and cheese smothered in a thick, creamy sauce. Once again, that thick sauce is shock-full of Indian spices goodness, bringing Asian curries to mind again.

Indian food malai kofta

Indian food: Malai kofta (photo: evernewrecipes.com)

Mmm, can’t wait to eat Indian food again! Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to travel to India yet. When I do though, I know I’ll be a very, very happy camper. This fascinating subcontinent is in my Top 3 destinations to visit.

Do you like Indian food? What’s your favorite dish?

Traveling through food: Ethiopian cuisine (photo essay)

Hope you guys had a great weekend ūüėÄ as many of you already know, I kick off every week with Cultural Tidbits Monday. And so today, I decided to start a new mini series: Traveling through Food, starting with Ethiopian!¬†On the series, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite ethnic foods and restaurants through educational (and quite yummy) photo essays.

Last night, I went to Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant in Tampa, FL. I had heard about it several times and never found the time to go until this weekend. Please note, this was an impromptu trip while I was at a friend’s house watching football, so I didn’t have my camera with me. However, I did my homework and still found some pictures of the dishes we savored for your viewing pleasure ūüėČ

Ethiopian food

Ethiopian platter by ethiopianrestauranttampa.com

It was my first time eating this exotic African cuisine, so I decided to go for the Appetizer sampler and The Queen’s Eight–just to get a feel of Ethiopian food. First piece of advice, by the way: Always order your Ethiopian food spicy. In my experience, asking for the dishes to be “medium spicy” was futile and actually made them quite bland (ahem, “Westernized”). I should have figured, asking for anything less than Ethiopian spicy would strip the meals’ original flavors. Lesson learned!

With that said, the meals were still tasty, if quite different from what my palate is used to. The appetizer sampler included:

Ethiopian hummus

Buticha, yellow dip on top, azifah & a sambusa by denalovesfood.blogspot.com

Buticha (aka Ethiopian-style hummus: Ground chickpeas mixed with olive oil, diced onions, garlic, hot pepper and mustard). Very mild

Azifah (Whole lentils blended with diced onions, green peppers, jalapeno pepper, mustard and olive oil). Ordered medium, which ended up being not spicy at all. Gotta go Ethiopian spicy next time!

Ethiopian food sambusa

Beef sambusa

Ethiopian¬†beef sambusa (homemade thin flat bread hand-wrapped and stuffed with a blend of minced beef, fresh garlic, onions, peppers and ginger and parsley. Served hot) – my favorite of the bunch. So flavorful, even better than all the Indian sambusa varieties I’ve ever had! I think this little pastry in Ethiopian spicy would be a little too much for my tongue…but that’s just me

Injera (Ethiopian-style bread). Looks exactly like crepes, but slightly fluffier, brown, and rolled. You could either take the little injera roll for dipping or unroll it, which I found better for bigger bites. Fair warning: it is so filling! I almost didn’t finish my meal

Ethiopian food, injera bread

Injera bread by imonlyhereforthefood.com

Speaking of injera — no real utensils are provided, except for a little spoon with the appetizer. The point of the “Ethiopian meal experience” is to eat with your hands, using the injera to grab the sauces, veggies, and/or meat. Having lived in the Middle East fr 16 months, I was thrilled to have an excuse to eat with my hands again =D haha!

Vegetarian Ethiopian food platter

Vegetarian platter by hungryvegantraveler.blogspot.com

After our appetizer, my friend Will and I decided to go for the Queen’s Eight platter (a variation of it pictured above), just to sample several Ethiopian dishes and pick a favorite for next time. Our other friends chose the doro alicha (classic Ethiopian chicken) and yebeg tibs (Ethiopian lamb saut√©ed in berbere sauce). In all honesty, my favorite plate was the lamb tibs! So sad it wasn’t included on my combination platter–but at least I know for next time =)

My Queen’s Eight platter included a big spoonful of all of these dishes:

Ethiopian food, Doro alicha

Doro alicha Ethiopian chicken by imonlyhereforthefood.com

1. Doro Alicha (free range chicken, hardboiled egg stew seasoned with turmeric, garlic, ginger)

Ethiopian food, gomen

Gomen by hungryvegantraveler.blogspot.com

2. Gomen (steamed collard greens simmered with minced onions and garlic)

Ethiopian food, Keiy Sire (beets)

Keiy Sire (burgundy-colored cubes on left) by thespiceisland.blogspot.com

3. Keiy Sire (sliced beets sautéed with onions, tomato sauce, and olive oil)

Ethiopian Tikikl Gomen

Tikikl Gomen by hungryvegantraveler.blogspot.com

4. Tikikl Gomen (chopped cabbage, carrots and other vegetables in a mild sauce)

Ethiopian food, Ye Kik Alicha

Ye Kik Alicha by hungryvegantraveler.blogspot.com

5. Ye Kik Alicha (split peas simmered in finely chopped onions, garlic, ginger and turmeric)

chicken tibs

Ethiopian chicken tibs by midtownlunch.com/los-angeles

6.¬†Ethiopian Chicken Tibs (free range chicken saut√©ed with onions, jalapeno peppers, turmeric, Ethiopian spices, and rosemary in a mild sauce) – ordered mild, so no jalape√Īos on my plate–adding them next time!

Ethiopian food platter by gojoethiopiancuisine.com

7. Atkilit Alicha (carrots, potatoes and string beans in a mild sauce)

8.¬†Ethiopian Foul (fava beans saut√©ed with onions, garlic, jalepenos, fresh tomatoes, seasonings and olive oil) – can’t remember if this was the 8th thing of my platter, though! I am guessing…there were too many weird names to remember =P I do know for sure that the lamb chops my friend ordered also had some foul in them, which made me smile as I had the Egyptian variety (pronounced “fuul“) every day for breakfast when I lived in Egypt.

lamb tibs

Yebeg Tibs by culinaryannotations.blogspot.com

The yebeg Tibs (lamb) plate was bigger, plus had a side of foul, all placed on a thin layer of injera bread. And you guessed it–no fork provided! =)

Yum, it was quite a feast indeed! I must emphasize again though, I feel that asking for the dishes to be mild took away most of its distinct flavor. In my opinion, my dishes were a bit bland, which I doubt is the case of authentic, spicy Ethiopian food. So if you have the opportunity to¬†savor¬†an Ethiopian meal, gather the courage to eat it as-is! And don’t forget to have a full pitcher of water ready on your table before you begin to eat *wink*

That shall be it for part one of the new mini series, Traveling through food! I personally can’t wait to burn my tongue (and throat and ears lol) at Queen of Sheba restaurant next time! =D I must add, the servers were very¬†friendly¬†and accommodating–always a plus =)

Have you ever had Ethiopian food? What’s your favorite dish?¬†