Beignets!!

Oh God.  I absolutely LUV eating beignets.  Actually even looking at them makes me salivate.  Perhaps it’s really a good thing that I don’t live in New Orleans!!  If I did, I’d weigh 400 pounds—all of it being beignet weight—okay okay with some rice and tempura and dim sum thrown in.

Here is a blog site with a wonderful wonderful take on the beignet:

http://cozywalls.com/2012/01/23/beignets-in-bourboned-butterscotch/

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TONKATSU 豚カツ, とんかつ, and KATSUDON カツ丼

Another favorite Japanese food of mine!!  I won’t explain too much.  I’ll let the video speak for me!

Good Katsu カツ  is breaded with crisp and light, crystal-like panko breading and the meat inside is soft and moist.  If the meat is chewy and gummy, and/or if the breading is greasy and slimy and drippy………..well, suffice it to say that the chef/cook is not  a chef or a cook!

Tonkatsu, is PORK cutlet.   Chicken katus, Salmon katsu, and other forms of katsu are also Tasty as hell.   I love all the Katsu!

Katsu is the Japanese abreviation for CUT, which is the english word cut from CUTLET.

So KATSU is CUTLET.  The original word for Cutlet is the Japanese transliteration: Katsu-Retsu.  It is shortened to Katsu.

As with other foods I have mentioned, this food is Japanese.  However, the Portuguese were the ones who brought it to Japan in earlier centuries, as tempura (tempreira in Portuguese) was during that period.  Before the massive use of soy sauce by the Japanese, the more common sauces such as Ponzu were used in many dishes, including with the Katsu dishes.  Recently in Japan, there has been a revival of ponzu sauce use and is gaining popularity there.  The more well-known sauce used with katsu dishes is the katsu sauce, which is a rich Asian version similar to worcester sauce.

There are many variations on how the cutlet can be served.  All delicious!!  There is the traditional way described above, with a little bit of the katsu or ponzu sauce, with rice and a palette-cleansing salad, and perhaps shaved daikon.

There is also one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITES:  Katsudon!! Katsudon is when the cutlet is put together with a nice delicate sweet sauce and onions, with eggs, cooked together briefly, then set on top of the rice.  Traditionally, it was served in a bowl with a lid on it.

There is also Katsu Curry.  The Katsu can be served with Curry sauce.  Japanese curry is made differently from Indian or Southeast Asian curry, and has just a few vegetables in it such as potato, onion and carrot, nothing more.  So the Japanese curry goes great with the katsu, not distracting from the taste of the katsu.

I’ve included two videos.  They are both for katsudon (the egg/onion/cutlet dish).

The first is a good British video version introducing the dish.  However, I wanted to also give a cooking instruction for those interested.  There are quite a few videos on YouTube explaining how to make Tonkatsu and chicken katsu, but most of them are not very good in translating from Japanese to English, or they are shortened versions that don’t give some of the finer points in good tonkatsu.  I’ve included a second video here that does present the best version I’ve found on YouTube to date.   ENJOY!!  My mouth is getting watery!

Cha-han 炒飯 : Fried Rice: Chow-han & Omu-Rice (omelette rice)

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If  I were on my deathbed, coherent and in my right mind (hopefully), and I was asked to order one last food before I passed on, I would definitely say CHAHAN.  Fried Rice.

Some people, I bet, are thinking:  ‘HUH???”

Fried rice has many different ways it is presented.  Most of what I’ve tasted is FANTASTIC.  Some are just too greasy and too much.

I grew up in Japan and grew up eating Chinese, Japanese, and Korean style fried rice.  They are all different.  And within each nation/culture are differences by region, class, heritage, neighborhood/ecology, and personal tastes.  In Japan, for instance, the thrown-together style and slightly burned for crisp and charcoal taste (cooked over an original Japanese grill) kind of fried rice, is called: Yaki-meshi (literally Fried-meal).  It is usually made in the more traditionally impoverished neighborhoods, although it is enjoyed as a fried rice type all over Japan. It is distinctly different in approach and taste, than Chahan, which is the more elite version from the Chinese style of making fried rice.  If you order Yakimeshi, it will be different from Chahan, even though they are both ‘fried rice.’  There is a class and regional difference.

In Japan, too much taste takes away from what it is.  the RICE of the ‘fried rice’ is supposed to be tasted.  It is not covered over.  So when preparing, the ingredients work together harmoniously.   EACH BITE that you take of fried rice, should taste differently according to what has entered your mouth and taste buds.

I found that in the US, you just ‘mix things together’ and it tastes like ONE THING.  It doesn’t matter anyway–most US people are reading or talking at restaurants or with their family and friends, to taste anything anyway, right?   For those of you who truly LOVE FOOD, then we must appreciate Fried Rice.

Fried Rice, as is Chow Mein, has been a dish that is used from LEFTOVER RICE.  Chow mein, the noodle counterpart, is from LEFTOVER NOODLES.  I’m always smiling when I see gringos making fried rice with freshly made rice and wondering why their rice is so gunky.   Hmmmm…… hint…..make fried rice after it has been in the fridge overnight.  Same goes for leftover Asian noodles for your chow mein!  Chow Han (fried rice) and Chow mein (fried nooodles) are both exoticized Asian dishes in Europe, Australia/New Zealand, the US and elsewhere.  In traditional Asian homes, it was a way to use leftover rice or noodles from the previous day, mixing it with whatever vegetables and meats were around so as not to waste food.  Of course, it has also been developed into a ‘dish.’

Fried Rice comes in many kinds of flavors and meats and combos.

Tomato/ketchup fried rice with chicken and onions and scallions with peas, covered by an EGG, or wrapped into an OMELETTE is quite popular in Japan and China.  In Japan, this is called OMU-RICE (omelette-rice).  Of course, the rice dish is red.  USUALLY in Asia, we DO NOT DROWN the fried rice in Sauce.  The sauce should compliment everything.  It is more than subtle, but not overpowering.

Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, char-siu sauce, are other sauces are also great as flavoring.

In Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and in Hawaii, fried rice is frequently made with pineapple chunks, and/or mangoes, green bananas, papaya, mint leaves, etc.   Often you may find SPICY fried rice too.  This can be done with just putting TABASCO sauce over the fried rice at the table or wherever you’re eating, or it can be cooked with chili sauce, peppers, etc.  One can use cashew nuts, almonds and other things in a subtle manner, enhancing the pacific/tropical flavorings too.

Korean fried rice is awesome too!  Often, Koreans may use Kimchi, which gives it a KICK!  and then topped with a fried egg (instead of scrambled within the fried rice itself–which is the usual way).

In making CHAHAN (fried rice)– remember– DON’T load more ingredients than the RICE.  It’s fried RICE– NOT fried other things WITH RICE.

And for all you ORIENTALISTS out there—Fried Rice is NOT eaten with CHOPSTICKS!!!!!    Usually in East and Southeast Asia, FRIED RICE  is EATEN WITH A SPOON!  In East Asia, Fried rice is a main course, and is served with soup that is not overpowering.

Please, if you see me by the roadside on my deathbed, bring me FRIED RICE!  🙂

Köfte in Ankara!

I once had the displeasure of eating, or trying to find a place to eat, with some very unadventurous people when it comes to eating. This was after my trip to the Netherlands and Turkey in 2008. These were not friends of mine, but friends of someone I knew in the USA’s San Francisco Bay Area. I almost, but not quite however, had the prejudiced assumption that since we were living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are many ethnicities, nationalities and cultures, and it is considered one of the top restaurant cities in the United States, that people were fairly adventurous about new foods to try. But I wasn’t quite that presumptuous. An aspect of diversity is that ‘diversity’ means ‘diverse’–there are people who don’t eat much, who don’t go out to eat much, who only like certain foods, who only eats to digest but not for pleasure, etc. Hmmmm……. who was I with that night? I was with people who couldn’t get US American ideas out of their brains when it came to descriptions. Add to this, my not having words able to translate something or an experience or a person to them, etc. We need to practice new languages on new terms.

So I asked if anyone wanted to eat at a Turkish restaurant since I craved köfte. I got cringing faces and “ewww! what’s that?” I explained that they were lamb meatballs, sort of.” Oh please, we’re not going out for meatballs? I might as well eat Chef Boy-ar-dee! ” said one person. No I know what I was dealing with. A poverty of thought and palate.

When I visited the Netherlands and Turkey in 2008, I had the privilege of my hosts taking me to a great restaurant while in Ankara, where the bulk of my stay was while in Turkey (the other being Dersim (or Tunceli as it is called today in the mainstream and on maps) and two days in Istanbul).

Üstünel Köftecisi is a wonderful place, not gourmet or anything, just homey and tasteful, its front doors hidden by tall green. When inside and you order food at the tastefully strong and deep-textured wooden tables and chairs with nice clean table cloth, I wasn’t prepared for what pleasantly followed.

The presentation!!   Two waiters carrying a huge piece of clean bright sheet of plastic, come and spread it onto the table in front of myself and my two hosts, like a second tablecloth. Then the waiters disappear and soon one of them appears with a huge tray of vegetables. Bright green. Lettuce leaves, different other leaves of texture and aroma. Very bright, busting out in colors, and bright red cherry tomatoes and deep red/pink radishes and beautiful parsley. Froom the tray, the vegetables are laid onto the plastic (there are no plates) in a neatly arranged circle with the middle left open. The colors and pattern are symetrical but not stiffly angled or monotonous.

The second waiter brings another sheet of plastic with huge onions. I mean HUGE. They are wrapped in aluminum foil and hot. You can smell the wonderful fragrance! There are other vegetables that are hot. Then the little tasteful silver Ottoman Turkish receptacles of yogurt with finely chopped cucumber and spices.

The meat and tender rice come last. The rice is tender and has a fragrance of a subtle spice that I don’t know and my hosts could not explain to me. The meats came piping hot, along with pattican (paht-tee-john: eggplant). I ordered myh favorite by then: köfte. These came wrapped in aluminum foil, the waiters bringing them with nicely foldd damp towels with nice Turkish pattern colors. Lastly, one of the waiters brings three different kinds of olives in nice silver cups, ayran, cola, tea.

The term ‘meatballs’ does not begin to describe what köfte is. They are finger-sized minced lamb meat patties, hand-mixed with chopped onions, perhaps with cumin and parsley chopped, and other spices. Sometimes they are put on skewers and are kebabs. In any case, I devoured them! The hosts like this restaurant too.

You can find this in Persian restaurants, Kurdish, Arabic, Assyrian, and Armenian and Greek restaurants as well. However, each has their own versions of it. To add, like any other foods (or music or anything else for that matter), the regions and socio-economic class and other influences change it within a nation or culture or ethnic group. In other words, it is a shared history. Sometimes it was irritating to hear arguments about who originated a food–where a food was first made and who has ownership rights.

Upon tasting the food, the tastes are powerful. No, not from the spices or salt or sugar. You can taste everything powerfully, distinctly. I found this to be everywhere I went in Turkey and quite a bit in Holland as well. When I returned to San Francisco, I found that it was not my imagination.

Whenever my Kurdish, Turkish, Assyrian, or Armenian friends in the San Francisco Bay area, who were from those respective areas, would take me to eat at a restaurant in the US, they used to say that food tastes dead in the US.  Now I had to confirm what they’ve said.  I have even heard the same from people I know from Central and South America.  In the US, we are accustomed to the flatness. So we want sugar and salt and that is what replaces the taste of the foods.

When you think about it, the chemicals that bombard food in the US, and the processing and the drugging of animals and the pumping into the soil of chemicals to grow foods faster and make them bigger, etc. suck the food tastes out of them. There is a dullness. That is why when sometimes I eat with some US American friends at a very good Japanese restaurant, they complain of things not having any taste. There needs to be more sugar and or salt or the sauce needs to be stronger. The tastebuds are weak.

But for the moment in the Ankara restaurant, I enjoy the sensual delights of eating! On my tongue, it was Mmmmmmmmmmmm!!!

Zirfet – a Kurdish food

Zirfet, is just one of the names for this, one of my favorite favorite favorite of Kurdish foods.

It is basically a bread dish, made in the oven.  First the dough is made and put into a pan, much like a pie crust.  After the bread is baked for a short while,  it is taken out and the middle of the pan is cut out into little pieces and mixed with yogurt and some spices.  It’s heaven!

The people of Anatolian cultures, which for hundreds and hundreds of years, existed and developed in the area that is called Eastern Turkey today, share many things between the distinct cultural heritages of the people in the Middle East and Central Asia today.  One of them is the variations of foods.  Zirfet, which is the Zaza name for this dish, has its names in Kurmanji as well – which is the Kurdish Northern language dialect where most of the Kurds of the region which is Turkey today live.

I was introduced to Zirfet twice.  Once in San Francisco by a Kurdish family who was granted asylum in the US from the Elazig area of Dersim. The family speaks Kurmanji and were culturally Sunni Muslim and secular.  I had the privilege of tasting Zirfet that day in their home, coupled with the big-hearted hospitality that Kurds give.  I couldn’t stop eating the Zirfet until they practically had to roll me out of the house.

The second time I had the pleasure of consuming Zirfet was when I visited a group of Dersim people who had been granted asylum in the Netherlands.  I visited the Netherlands and Turkey in 2008, to do research on Dersim cultural survival and had the privilege of meeting these wonderful people.  I won’t say that the Zirfet they made for me made it more awesome than not.  Let’s just say that I loved Zirfet again!

Tempura !

One of my favorite, favorite, favorite foods  –   Tempura!

It’s a Japanese dish.  Most places in the US do not make good tempura.  Japanese chefs in the US adjust their cooking for  US Americans who have diverse, different. and ‘American’ preferences.  Traditional elite Japanese tempura make the batter crisp and very crystal  light and no grease dripped.   It melted as it crunched in your mouth.  Drooling now.

Tempura, is originally of Portuguese origin.  Portuguese landed, by accident during a storm, onto the shores of Japan during the Muromachi Period (roughly the 15th to 16th century) of the old Japanese calendar.  The Portuguese were the first non-Chinese foreign peoples to establish trade relations with the Japanese government on a large scale.  With this came the introduction of the Jesuit priesthood and Christianity to Japan.  The Jesuits, unlike most of the other Western Christians and nations to visit Japan, took careful time to learn the Japanese culture and their leader-priests took time to learn Japanese to  a good degree.  For this, the Japanese respected them.  Later, of course, it was found that some of them engaged in black market trade and viewed as betrayers.  Before this happened, though, they introduced many Portuguese words into the Japanese language.  There are many!

One of them is Tempura!! The original Portuguese word for deep fried shrimp and vegetables, is tempoeira.  Everyone now, thinks of this as Japanese.  It is, really, because through time, the Japanese added and molded their own style and presentation skills to create  tempura.  Mouth is drooling…..