Ever since getting my first taste of Vietnamese food back in high school, I’ve been completely enamored with the unmatched balance of flavors in each humble meal. That first slurp of phở… discovering exotic fruits like rambutan… this was all very special and revelatory, but they were nothing compared to my introduction to bánh mì, the Vietnamese sandwich masterpiece that may actually be my favorite dish on earth. (Though if this was a Sophie’s Choice situation with banh mi up against pizza, I don’t know what I’d do.)
So when my dear friend Andrea Nguyen—blogger extraordinaire at Viet World Kitchen and fellow Ten Speed Press author—told me she was working on a cookbook dedicated to banh mi, I got REALLY excited. And I instantly blurted out that I’d be happy to make a vegan banh mi recipe (with plenty of Sriracha) for her, if she was looking for anybody to contribute. “Sure!” she says. Wait. Really?! (more…)
Huh. I turned 30 today. Weird.
I feel a need to take inventory of all the good in my life, because really, there’s a bunch. Sure, I deal with struggles, both internal and external, but I’m here. Despite all the odds. Do you realize how inhospitable outer space is? That humans even had any chance of evolving into a species, on a giant rock (with a blazing hot core, mind you) that’s hurtling through the universe at incomprehensible speed? And how lucky am I to have what I have? Not so much in the material sense, though, yes, I’m also lucky to have a nice roof over my head. But let’s just acknowledge the basics here: clean water, nurturing/support from friends & family, access to food, and freedom. As much as we take these things for granted—and not that we negate them, but we just don’t think about them… because we don’t have to. Most people reading this, I’m guessing, have these fundamental things and don’t worry about where they’ll come from each day. But there are millions in the world that aren’t free. That don’t have clean water. That don’t know whether they’ll have three meals tomorrow, let alone one.
Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.
Now I decided that I could: a) feel guilty about it, though that doesn’t really help anyone; b) feel nothing about it, and just sweep it under the rug; or c) I can do something about it. Karma, the Golden Rule, and the idea of “pay it forward” have really come to guide my decisions. The work of countless people before us has allowed for the developments of technology that lets us focus on bigger questions. How would someone ever be able to design a spaceship if they had to worry about whether or not they’d have access to food or water? (more…)
I just recently returned from a whirlwind trip through Europe and Southeast Asia, which included my first visit to Myanmar (previously known as Burma). I’d traveled with friends through Europe and Vietnam, but for Myanmar, I joined up on a culinary tour with Robert Carmack and Morrison Polkinghorne. In addition to operating their culinary tours as The Globetrotting Gourmet, they’re also the authors of The Burma Cookbook: Recipes from the Land of a Million Pagodas. It was amazing to get to try many new foods and walk through the markets with these seasoned experts, plus we had the added benefit of being accompanied by Ian Hemphill—author of The Spice and Herb Bible—and his wife Liz, who collectively own Herbie’s Spices, one of Australia’s preeminent spice shops.
I’m a pretty lucky guy. Just before heading back to southeast Asia last month, I got a new cookbook in the mail from my publisher called Asian Pickles: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Cured, and Fermented Preserves from Korea, Japan, China, India, and Beyond. (We’ll just call it Asian Pickles for the purposes of this blog post, though.) I’d met author Karen Solomon at a little author party Ten Speed Press threw for us at Omnivore Books in SF a while back, and I was immediately taken with the idea for her book! (more…)
Last July, I’d traveled to Spain for the very first time, getting to spend five wonderful days in Madrid. In addition to wanting to drink a ton of dry Spanish cider—aka sidra—and try countless tapas, I was also dying to get my hands on a tall glass of traditional horchata de chufa, the predecessor to the Mexican and Salvadoran versions of horchata I’ve come to know and love over the past few decades.
I’d written about horchata de chufa for Saveur magazine many moons ago, and had made it at home, but had always wanted to try it *in* Spain. Enter Horchatería Alboraya, a traditional producer of horchata de chufa that’s been open in the heart of Madrid since 1980. There are several traditional horchaterías in Valencia that are much older—like Horchatería El Siglo (since 1836) and Horchatería Santa Catalina—but I didn’t have time to get out of Madrid, so I was extremely glad to find Alboraya, as I’d long dreamed of trying this chufa magic in its home country.
So what is horchata de chufa and what makes it different? The horchata most commonly found in the U.S. is typically from Mexican restaurants: a rice-based drink that’s spiked with cinnamon and plenty of sugar. Salvadoran versions use morro seeds, sourced from an indigenous plant, that lend a slightly sweet, subtle licorice flavor of their own. Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, and other flavorings can make their way into other countries’ versions of horchata as well, but they’re all thought to be descended from the Spanish variation, which uses chufa nuts for its base. (more…)