Sardinian Seadas: A Sweet Souvenir

Sardinian seadaCooking wasn’t much on my mind when I first arrived in Sardinia five weeks ago. Learning Italian, yes. Writing, yes. Expunging the recent stresses of New York and beyond, yes. That’s what I’d come to do.

But Sardinia and its charms instantly beguiled me, its platters of pane gutiau (a traditional flatbread drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and baked to crackling deliciousness), spicy mussels and garlicky fried shrimp reeling me in ever deeper.

In Alghero, I’ve had the great fortune of not only eating tremendously well but also having terrific food gurus to watch in the kitchen. Among them is a lovely soul — Angelina Demartis, a local high school teacher who comes from a long line of Algherese women who have taken great joy in cooking well and feeding the ones they love.

Angelina occasionally holds cooking class dinners at her home in downtown Alghero and one night, I got to be a part of one of them. Which is how I came to discover the intense pleasure that is Sardinian seadas.

So when my hardy Let’s Lunch club decided on sharing a recipe they’ve brought back with them from faraway travels, Angelina’s seadas instantly came to mind …

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Posted in Dessert, Italian, Italy, Let's Lunch, Recipes, Sweets, Tales From the Road, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Pasta & Co. (Alghero, Italy): Sampling the Sea

IMG_6833One of my first nights in Sardinia and my Italian school classmate Caroline and I are on the prowl in the twilight of Alghero.

After a tough morning of language lessons and a long afternoon in the sun, Caroline, an apprentice chef from Norway, and I are starving. She has a place in mind, one that she thinks looks good. And so we wend our way down a few narrow cobblestoned streets and cross a piazza before coming upon a restaurant sign that I can’t help but wince at: Pasta & Co.

Pasta & Co.? Surely, I didn’t traipse across thousands of miles to eat at a restaurant that sounds like it belongs in the Mall of America.

Since Caroline is in the business though, I figure there must be something to this place. So, in we went …

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The Boat House (South Queensferry, Scotland): Down By The Firth

The BoathouseFor the last year, this question has been the bane of D.B.’s life: When are we going to see the bridge?

I had become slightly obsessed with Scotland‘s Forth Bridge, an almost 8,300-foot, 1890 cantilever railway bridge that stretches across the scenic Firth of Forth, after spying it on a TV show. While I’m not a bridge buff by any means, something about this striking red structure stuck with me. And so the pestering of D.B. began.

Months passed and the question never went away. But just when I thought he might never take me, a nice-ish day appeared that conjured thoughts of sipping a glass of good wine by the water. Now that we had a mission, off we went …

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Ting Thai Caravan (Edinburgh, Scotland): Southeast Asian Street Eats

IMG_6805I’m often intensely skeptical of Thai food made in a western city with no sizable Southeast Asian population.

It’s a cuisine that’s incredibly hard to pull off well — the numerous ingredients that go into many dishes need to be present in just the right amount, or the balance and flavor are likely to get thrown off. Even in New York City, I don’t regularly seek out Thai meals because they tend to disappoint — well, unless bland and saccharine are your thing.

So when a new friend in Edinburgh suggested meeting for a Thai street food lunch, I balked. This city has surprised me though, with its Korean deliciousness and outstanding Indian. So I thought, hey, why not?

And shortly after, I found myself stepping through the glass door of Ting Thai Caravan and into an intense cloud laced with all the scents that immediately push my buttons: garlic, chili, lemongrass …

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The Square & Compass (Worth Matravers, England): A Splendid Little Spot

The Square and Compass Pub A lazy drive along the Dorset Coast in southern England is just packed with delights.

There’s the English Channel of course, that endless expanse of intense powder blue that you can’t quite take your eyes off. The grass is an impossibly vibrant green. And when the sun’s just up there showing off to you on an early summer’s day, it starts to feel as if the moment couldn’t get any better.

But then, it does.

In a little speck of a village perched on the steep cliffs near Swanage, an inviting white stone building surrounded by swarms of bikers and daytrippers in shorts and flimsy sundresses appears. D.B. has promised me a good lunch and so here we are, at the charming Square and Compass …

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St. Giles’ Cafe (Oxford, England): A Literary Lunch

St. Giles' CafeSomewhere along my very first English roadtrip, as my finger trails our route on the map, a massive excitement starts to set in. I’ve realized two things:

1. We have to stop somewhere for lunch.

2. At about the place on the map where we have to stop, I find my finger hovering over a small dot that says “Oxford.”

There are many reasons I’ve long been fascinated with Oxford, though the increasingly sad truth was that I’ve never visited the place. As for the question of where to lunch, once I learned that W.H. Auden used to frequent a little greasyspoon called the St. Giles’ Cafe — well, that was that …

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Cheok Kee Duck Rice (Singapore): Seaside Surprise

Cheok Kee Duck RiceMy mother and I often find ourselves jumping into the car and heading for the beach in Singapore.

We’re not surf-bound or bikini-clad though — what we are is hungry.

Bordering the sand is a lovely outdoor hawker center, East Coast Lagoon Food Village. On weekends, this place can be a zoo, as Singaporeans come from all over the country to canoe, windsurf or bike along the water, then stop for a little nibble or sip.

On weekdays though, this hawker center is charmingly sleepy. The stalls hawking curry puffs, soursop drinks and coconuts freshly hacked open and delivered to your table with a festive straw are all open. But there are few lines at lunch, making this the perfect time to go.

The thing Singaporeans tend to crave in this salty air is often grilled — satay, glistening chicken wings, barbecued stingray (skate) slathered with fiery sambal chili. But there are several other non-beachy foods of note at this hawker center, too — the best laksa in Singapore (Roxy Laksa) is located here, for example. And recently, I’d been hearing about a little stall that’s been serving up some terrific duck rice

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Sum Kee Food (Singapore): Simple Does It


One of my Singapore cravings is a simple dish: Fried braised tofu with a big pile of minced pork on top.

You can find this in some hawker stalls — but you’ll likely find the better versions at zi char restaurants, which are casual Chinese eateries that serve inexpensive homespun dishes. (“Zi char” means “stir-fry” in Hokkien.)

As much as I adore this tofu dish, I hadn’t had a good version yet this trip back, so when my father mentioned liking a little zi char place his old schoolmates had taken him to recently, it was settled. Dinner at Sum Kee Food it was …

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Feng Kee Hainanese Curry Rice (Singapore): A-List Rice

Feng Kee Hainanese Curry RiceOne of the great joys of Singaporean cuisine for me is Hainanese curry rice.

I had my first taste of this as a teenager, at a small stall in Singapore where you pointed at troughs of items in a glass case then watched as the hawker quickly used a big pair of scissors to snip everything you’d picked into bite-sized pieces, piled it onto rice and then sloshed a ladle of curried gravy over everything, turning it into a brownish yellow mound. The final product may look like swill, but each mouthful of this heady combination of flavors and textures is divine.

So when Singaporean writer Colin Goh, a friend whose tastes and appetite I respect, mentioned having a go-to curry rice place in Singapore, I knew I had to check it out. “It opens at 4 am, and you eat with the port workers,” he said. “Make sure you drench your rice with ALL 3 GRAVIES.”

Well, he certainly didn’t need to tell me twice …

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Posted in Asian, Cheap Eats, Chinese, Comfort Food, Hainanese, Hawkers, Singapore, Singaporean, So Good It Must Be Bad For You, Southeast Asian, Tales From the Road, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Xin Heng Feng Guo Tiao Tang (Singapore): Scratching a Noodle Itch

Meepok taMy mother and I sometimes have to do a little sneaking around when we go to our neighborhood wet market / hawker center in Singapore.

You see, if we’re spotted sitting near or even just passing by a certain noodle stall, a sweet lady will pop her head out with a wave and chirpy “Ni hao ma?” Which always makes us feel so bad we’ll drop all other breakfast plans to dutifully belly up to her counter and order a bowl of noodles.

It’s not to say that we don’t like her noodles — sometimes though, I may crave something else for breakfast. My sister, on the other hand, always craves the one dish this hawker makes — mee pok ta, a dry Teochew style dish of noodles with fishballs, fishcakes and minced meat — and has been a faithful fan for years. And that is why this mee pok lady stalks us.

Naturally, for my sister’s first breakfast after landing in Singapore, she has meepok on her mind. So, off we went …

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Posted in Asian, Chinese, Comfort Food, Noodles, Singapore, Singaporean, Southeast Asian, Tales From the Road, Teochew | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments