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.┬áThat’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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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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Sum Kee Food (Singapore): Simple Does It

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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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