Dal bhat power 24 hour

My diet during the two weeks I spent volunteering at an orphanage in Pokhara, Nepal can best be summed up by something I saw on a t-shirt at a local souvenir shop: Dal bhat power 24 hour.

Dal bhat, you see, a combination of lentils and veggies (that’s the dal) and steamed rice (the bhat), is pretty much THE staple dish of the nepalese diet. And no kidding, they eat it 24 hours. What’s for breakfast? Dal bhat. How bout lunch? Dal bhat. And dinner? Yup, more dal bhat.

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All day, every day

Sure, there are lots of variations on the traditional dal bhat plate, and in cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara, which have seen a large influx of international travelers over the last few decades, you can certainly find other things to eat, but generally speaking, dal bhat is the national culinary star. At a self sustaining rural orphanage that grows and provides all of its own food this was certainly the case.

I should pause here for a moment to say that in no way am I complaining about my dal bhat heavy diet, nor did I complain at the time when I was eating it twice a day. The women who ran the orphanage and prepared the food were pros and worked magic with herbs and spices. Simple lentils, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes and other things grown right behind the orphanage turned into rich, delicious, saucy, curried meals that left kids and volunteers alike scraping their plates and going back for seconds.

My fondest memories of my time volunteering in Pokhara will always be those when we huddled around picnic tables outside in the January chill with a group of giggling, goofy, squawking kids, pouring rich lentil soup over fluffy white rice, mixing in chunky, comforting curried veggies over it all. Makes me kind of wish I had bought that t-shirt.

 

An old favorite in a new way

Even though I was born in Costa Rica and raised in Miami, mine wasn’t the typical Hispanic household. (My dad, a crotchety old Italian-American, is to blame for this.) We never salsa danced,  celebrated Noche Buena, or had abuelitos and dozens of assorted family members.

But if there’s one stereotype we absolutely perpetuated, it’s eating sweet plantains, or platanos maduros as my mom calls them.

They’re usually a side dish, served alongside rice and beans as I most frequently had them growing up, but really I could eat a whole mountain of plantains just on their own, I love them so much. So recently, during my visit to San Francisco, when I saw a burrito at The Little Chihuahua that was stuffed with plantains instead of meat, I HAD to have it.

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A not-so-great photo of a fantastic burrito stuffed full of sweet plantains

The Little Chihuahua’s plantain burrito is first of all, anything but little. It’s a hold-it-with-two-hands heavy affair of sweet fried plantains, black beans and rice, pico de gallo, roasted red peppers, sour cream, cheese, salsa, cilantro and onion.  And as I thought it might be, this burrito was freakin’ delicious. The plantains added a nice sweet flavor to the otherwise savory, zesty, spicier flavors and a soft, almost creamy consistency.

As a lifelong plantains lover, I would order this kind of burrito every time if places other than The Little Chihuahua had it. Add a plantain burrito to my long list of reasons for loving San Francisco.

The Little Chihuahua on Urbanspoon

Cozy up with congee

As it happens every year in January, the twinkling lights are gone, once happy Christmas trees are now piled up naked  on sidewalks, and the holiday parties have all dried up. But the thing everyone seems to be bitching about most is the cold, the frosty temperatures and face numbing gusts of winter in the city.

But as it also goes every January, I’m eating it all up with a spoon! A soup spoon, that is. Soup season is upon us, people, and just that should make everyone quit their pissing and moaning.

Christmas night, when it was blustery and frigid, a friend and I went out for Chinese food at Congee Village on the Bowery, and for the first time ever, I tried congee. Game changer, guys, game changer. Congee, not really a soup but a savory Chinese rice porridge instead, is exactly the kind of thing meant to be eaten on cold nights. It’s a reason to wish for cold nights, if you ask me.

It's not exactly soup, but this chicken congee will give any ol' chicken noodle a run for its money

It’s not exactly soup, but this chicken congee will give any ol’ chicken noodle a run for its money

We shared a few things over dinner but the chicken and mushroom congee was far and away my favorite. The chicken added just enough salty flavor  to spruce up the otherwise plain rice, making for a subtle, satisfying and just all around comforting winter meal. Creamy and warm, with the  consistency of oatmeal, I could eat a bowl of this stuff every night for the rest of winter. And it’s only just begun, so cozy up and get yourselves some congee, winter haters.

Sorry vegetarians, this lunch isn’t for you

Lumpiang barquillos: crispy, crunchy, meaty tastiness

Recently, while hanging out with one of my quasi-vegan friends, she pointed out that I’d been neglecting my non meat-and-dairy eating blog readers. (All two of them.) Looking back at my recent posts, she has a point. And while I fully mean to write something soon that will appeal to my herbivore friends, this particular post is not the time. In fact, if you’re still reading and you don’t want to hear about me eating various parts of a pigs face, then you should probably just come back another time.

For someone like me, who constantly wants to be somewhere else in the world and would be content to spend the rest of her life traveling, New York is the best place to live. Where else can you eat from every corner of the world without leaving the city? Last week, during what was one of my days off from both work and my pseudo-diet/healthy eating regime, the beau and I had lunch at  Maharlika, a Filipino restaurant in the East Village.

We started our lunch with a shared order of lumpiang barquillos, long, thin, crispy, crunchy rice paper rolls filled with a blend of beef, pork and water chestnuts. With them came a tangy, chili sauce and a little mound of sweet shredded carrots, both which were great garnishes and enhancers for the meaty, yet delicate barquillos. Their long, rolled up shape reminded me of the taquitos we used to eat in college (usually not in a completely clear state of mind) but way better. These Filipino barquillos would be dangerous during a bout of the munchies…

Sisig: a skillet full of piggy deliciousness

But now the part where I eat pig face. Pampangan-style sizzling sisig seemed almost like a tongue twister when I read it on the menu but once I got past the name and on to the description, I was all about it. Pig ears, snout and belly, (cooked three times) with garlic, fried egg, bird chilies and lemon with garlic rice. Seriously, how, unless you were like one of my aforementioned non-carnivore friends, could you not be curious about a plate like that? I wasn’t sure what that would look like, or if I was really ready to see a snout in front of me, but when it came out, a small skillet with what looked like corned beef hash topped with a fried egg on top, I was so ready. The waiter chopped and mixed everything up in front of me at the table, putting down a small wooden bowl filled with fluffy, white garlic rice  and a tiny dish of garlic and chili infused vinegar next to the skillet. And let me say, for those of you interested in a foray into eating animal faces, this is the way to go. The sisig, with its mix of meaty, rich pig parts, spices, bright tangy flavors of vinegar and chilies was delicious, like the cooler, more exotic, more interesting cousin of a plate of breakfast hash.

You can always bet on the greatness of food topped with a fried egg

The beau, ever along for the ride on my search for good eats,  had the iLog lunch. (Not an Apple product, but a play on Ilog, a municipality in the Philippines.) This particular entree comes with your choice of sausage, so Flaneur went with the longsilog, a spicy sweet longganisa, or pork sausage made with garlic. Inside, the meat was orangeish in color and had a bright, spicy sweetness that was delicious in its own right but even better when dipped in the bright orange-yellow yolk of the sunny side egg. Also on the plate, was a a mixture of pickled Filipino veggies to add a sweet, tangy edge to the rich meat and egg. And like the sisig, the iLog lunch also came with garlic rice, the best base for all of the colorful flavors on the plate.

So vegetarian friends, I’m sorry there wasn’t much for you here this time. Everyone else, get yourself some pig parts Filipino style. It’ll make you appreciate the fact that you eat meat.

When you need it to be cheap and greasy

I would love to hear the scientific explanation behind greasy food being so richly satisfying when you’ve been drinking. That’s a lie, actually. I don’t really want to know the science behind it because science isn’t really my thing. I rather just skip to the good stuff: the greasy food.

Recently, during a night out with friends, someone suggested getting something to eat after our first drink and before several more that were to come after it.

Mango chicken at Yamo: cheap, greasy and obscenely filling. Everything I look for in my drunk munchies.

“Well, what do you guys want to eat?” asked one person I was with.

“Something greasy,” was the fast and firm answer from someone else.

This night could’ve been any night, in that when is that not the answer?  I mean the above dialogue happened between two people I was with but really, I’ve had that same dialogue internally with myself. Sometimes when I’m sober, I actually want a salad, or some fruit, or a bowl of oatmeal. But after a few drinks? I want greasy pizza, street meat and Mc Donald’s.

On this most recent occasion, a friend had a better idea, (thankfully sparing us all from the golden arches).  In response to the request for greasy, we found ourselves at Yamo, a tiny, almost literal hole-in-the-wall Burmese lunch counter in the Mission.

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Classic cuisine from the De Angelis kitchen

Growing up, having dinner at my best friend’s house pretty much guaranteed a big, juicy steak and a side of potatoes. That’s just the kind of family they were: one of those wholesome, all-American families that ate meat and potatoes at least once a week, every week, always.

The equivalent of that meal in my house, where my Costa Rican mom did the cooking, was a plate of black beans and white rice, with a fried egg on top, cooked just enough so that when you punctured the middle with a fork, the runny, orange yolk oozed out and mixed into the beans and rice.

A throwback to meals past.

My mom made this constantly. On nights when she was tired and wanted to make something easy. On nights when my sister and I didn’t want to eat what she and my dad were having. On nights when we asked for it. On nights when we didn’t. On all sorts of nights. Like being dysfunctional, it was just part of our family.

Now, a note about my mom’s cooking: there’s not much that she ever made (or still makes) that I will bother recreating in my own kitchen. I’ve never been that much of a fan of her cooking. She knows it and I know it. But when it comes to rice and beans, well, like 18 years worth of nutty-family memories, I still carry that with me, from the moment I left the nest after high school. The only time I didn’t make this was during my stint in Italy and only because I could never find black beans.

So I dedicate this entry to a culinary staple of my childhood, a reliable standby edible, a satisfying eat of the past in the present, and a testament to  memorable family moments centered around food: the good ol’ plate of rice and beans. (This particular one from a very recent dinner at home with Flaneur, who made the egg.)