Tag Archives: food

Erik

24 Jun

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(click)

These are “erik,” plums, or “can erik,” as some people call them (“life” or “soul” plums?).  They’re not a particular type of green plum.  They are just completely unripe, green ones and for a couple of weeks in June Turks go mad for them.  They must be the small fruit culled off the trees so that the more promising ones can grow to full ripeness and size.  I think they’re probably the kind of plum that the Japanese pickle and are so delicious with saké.  You don’t wait for them to ripen or anything.  You eat them in all their incredible, sour, mouth-puckering glory.  They remind me of the unripe krana we used to eat in my village.

Every time I’m here I discover some new quirk in the sophistication of Turks’ aesthetic sensibility that surprises me and fills me with wonder.

I was at the bar at the Hilton the other night.  Full confession: I love the Istanbul Hilton; of all the hotels built on that ridge and gulley between Ayaz Paşa and Maçka — one of the most abused pieces of Istanbul real estate — it’s the only one that respects the terrain; it’s a modernist classic; the engagement party scene from The Museum of Innocence segment that takes place there ranks right up there for me with most the brilliant ballroom/party scenes in War and Peace and Lampedusa’s The Leopard; and I have very emotional memories of staying there with my father once in 1983.

I was sitting there at the bar one night and the bartender brought a middle-aged British couple sitting next to me a bowl of these plums.  They each bit into one and looked at each other with their faces twisted into shock at the sheer unexpected sourness of them.  The woman said: “This can’t be right; they don’t really eat these, do they?”  I looked over and nodded.  “What? You mean, like this,” she said to me, “Completely raw and unripe?”  I nodded. They actually each gave them a few more tries and then gave up.  “Interesting…”she said to me and smiled.  I nodded.

Apparently for Queens readers, they’re available in Sunnyside markets these days too.

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Vintage photo of the Istanbul Hilton.  Just once glance over to the Asian side.  Now nearly impossible to believe the City actually ever looked like this.

Return to Paris: “Ode to the Classic Bistro”

19 Jun

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From the New York Timesan article by Elaine Sciolino that makes me physically hurt not to be there again…

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Money quote:

“None of that for me. Call me old-fashioned, but my idea of the perfect bistro is a place where the dishes are traditional, the ingredients seasonal, the service attentive, the price acceptable and my relationship with the chef close enough that I can visit the kitchen when the meal is over. Julia Child put it best in her posthumous memoir, ‘My Life in France’: ‘The kind of food I fell in love with,’ she wrote, was ‘not trendy, souped-up fantasies, just something very good to eat.'”

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(All photos by Ed Alcock for The New York Times — click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

A Reader Writes: “Athens = homogenity? = racist? = just boring?” — “…this is the state of Neo-Greek cultural awareness…”

23 May

Philopomeon writes: in response to Athens = homogenity? = racist? = just boring?

“I’ll never forget getting my cousin to concede trying a Syrian/Lebanese restaurant in Panourmou. His shock when he realized 75% of the menu was identical to taverna food. He had no idea– this is the state of Neo-Greek cultural awareness- to eat souvlaki and mezzes with tzaziki or yemista is somehow “Italian” (???).

The Chinese restaurants in Athens seem to do alright though. Everytime I go to a Bengali place in Omonia, I am definitely the only non-immigrant there.”

Yeah, if you can call that stuff Chinese food.

And WHERE is there a Bengali place in Omonoia???  Don’t think you’re keeping that a secret from me now!

 

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Athens = homogeneity? = racist? = just boring…?

19 May

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere she is, the gigantic poured-grey-cement Balkan village of five million people: who all think alike, look alike, act alike, talk alike and can’t agree on anything.  Απολαύστε την.  (Double-click to take in all the rich architectural detail.)

Sorry, I was just thinking to myself about what parts of my Balkan trip I needed to post next; people who kindly gave me interviews or let me photograph them and how I have to get on it…  And, how I’ve been wasting my time engaged in a running war with everyone in Athens to prove basic things like the fact that Albanians are a tall, extremely attractive people.  People in mono-cultural societies say the most deafeningly racist crap — you can’t imagine.  If one more person smirked at me when I said: “You know, Tirane is actually kind of a nice city…” things would’ve ended badly.  If it weren’t so offensive, it’d be fun to hear ignorance trumpetted with such certainty.  But it is.  Good timing to head to Istanbul.  Where I can’t understand the racist crap people are probably saying.

And I thought to myself, what? is it going on twenty-five years now that Athenians have been freaking out about immigration?  And it doesn’t seem to have crossed the brain of even the most intelligent or open-minded Athenian’s to make that an asset for the city and not a “scary” liability.  Where is this immigrant Athens?  In all these years, malaka, not one person has said to me: “Yo, Niko, there’s apparently this great Pakistani place in Patissia; you wanna go check it out?”  Everyone knows I’m into South Asia.  “Wanna go to the laike (market) on Saturday in Kypsele and see the stuff the Afghans sell?”

Or, all these tens of thousands of single, alone and lonely Albanian men…  There must me some woman somewhere they hire to make them börek or baklavadhes for bayramia and namedays and things.  Like the Mexican women who make tamales for parties in New York.  Where is she?  Where are they?  In New York she’d have a full front-page spread on the “Metro” or the “Food and Wine” sections of the Times and she’d be taking orders from Upper East Side ladies by now and have her own thriving business.

All the cement-cave-dwellers have had sushi though — without exception mediocre and psychotically over-priced…

Provincials, vlachadera, isolationists…μικροαστά, petit bourgeois συχαşιάρεδες…

Taco stand on Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, Queens, about five blocks from where I grew up, where for three to five dollars you can have a full meal of some of the freshest, most complex tastes of any of the world’s cuisines.  I know Athenians who have been coming to New York for years and who I haven’t been able to convince to try one of these places one even once.taco-cart-99th-and-roosevelt

Actually, what I’d really love to do is bring a Kurdish kid home to New York with me from Istanbul with a big tepsi of stuffed mussels and watch him become a millionaire.  I don’t know where I’d set him up first though: Astoria? Sunnyside? or straight to Manhattan? or Long Beach or somewhere?  Or get him a booth at the Italian summer festival circuit…

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

On the other hand, this is some vegetarian food that is also a real cuisine

12 Apr

A Culinary Pilgrimage to Punjab

Trashing France Again

12 Apr

Two dumb articles from the Times: one on “saving” “dying” French food: “Can Anyone Save French Food?” and another condescending screed: “Letter from France – A Vegetarian and Gluten Free Guide to Paris” — so patronizing and culturally presumptuous about so many things that if it had been about any other country we would call it colonialist — about how France is finally becoming a civilized country and giving Vegans and other related creatures more dining options.  It just doesn’t stop.

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Chef James Henry of Bones. Jonathan de Villiers for The New York Times (click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“The Nasty Bits”

28 Feb

I guess I’ve already missed the end of pre-Lenten meat-eating by a week, but I thought, as my last day in Paris coincides with the last day of Apokries, I’d take the opportunity to volley a few more visual missiles at my Vegan-Anti-Offal enemies’ positions.

These are from my new favorite place in the city.  One very cool development in France lately has been the proliferation of almost Spanish-style tapas bars, where you can try lots of different dishes instead of having to sit through the traditional three-piece suite.  I hope that will always be available in all its ritualized confidence, but this meze phenomenon is a welcome break.  And except for the absence of ankle-deep garbage on the floor, this place is as chaotic as any place in Spain and makes me mindful of the French’s own anarchic impulses.  You only get half the things you ask for; you have to scream for them over a counter that’s packed three-people deep; the check is always wrong; people are eating out of your plates and vice-versa, but the flavors there are nothing short of miraculous.

My favorites:

kidneys

The kidneys in a quick onion and vinegar sautee

Boudin

Their boudin, (coagulated pig’s blood — just a reminder…) which they don’t put into a casing but make into a loaf, kind of like a Penn-Dutch scrapple if the analogy isn’t too weird, served with a very hot green pepper and roasted apples

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A soft-fried egg dish swimming in butter and buttery croutons that’s made with some mushroom that has all the foot-like smell of truffle but none of its subtlety; they wouldn’t tell me what it’s called: “Il n’y en a pas là-bas…”  (I think) “You don’t have them over there…” was all I managed to get from them, irrespective of where “over there” was.

Pig's ears

The pig’s ears, slimy and gummy on the outside with the cartilage-crunch core, sauteed in a Basque-like red pepper combo

butter

The most delicious cheesey, slightly sour butter on earth, always sitting on the counter sweating, with bits of other people’s food always stuck in it (“eeeeewww…” a definite “C” rating from Bloomberg) and served with bread that’s leagues beyond the Poilaine stuff that’s everywhere and is so not great that I’m beginning to think is a gigantic hoax.

Finally, the pig cheeks — yep, hog maw — (see: “Hog maw, cornbread and chitterlin” ) braised in lentils:

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…which really reminded me of how much great food, especially great French food is based on the slow, laborious breaking down of animal collagens, something I tried to capture in this second pic a little better (forgive the quality — yes, yes, I’ll buy an IPhone; click on these for a better view in the meantime); it’s the secret to the perfect texture of good mageiritsa too, though everyone thinks it’s the augolemono.

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Why such conspicuous animus to the anti-offalers?  επειδή μου σπαν’ τα νεύρα….  Because they irritate me.  And I wouldn’t be so irritated by just their bad taste and limited palates and squeamish, plasticked alienation from the realities and depth of good food, if they would just shut up about it: it’s what in one of this blog’s first posts — “Chitterlings…and mageiritsa” — (the Jadde started just before Easter 2011) I call their “anthropology tes poutsas” that drives me mad: the rationalization that poverty made people eat this food and that now we’re beyond that.  (See also:  “What I managed to put away in a day-and-a-half in Paris and some thoughts on the “crise;” or, “…the brevity of time and the immediacy of pleasure.” )  Believe me; none of the people who eat here are poor.  It’s not in an impoverished southern village: they don’t exist anymore, are either depopulated or bought up by ex-pat Brits; it’s not in a dying northern industrial city; it’s not in a destitute banlieue.  It’s dead in the center of chic-as-you-can-get St. Germain (there’s an argument to be made that this food’s appeal is about reverse snobbery — an argument I’ll listen to), right down the road from the Odeon and around the bend from the Luxembourg.  If you even hover around the edges of New York foodie-dom you’ve heard about this place, but, sorry, as a matter of blog policy, I don’t give out names.  You’ll have to dig up its delights yourself.

The rest of you can have the salmon.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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