Horseburgers: Slovenia’s Unusual Delicacy

horseburgers
Sean McLachlan

The horse has been with us for thousands of years. A loyal steed that has pulled plows, helped us migrate to new lands and carried us into battle, there is no more noble animal. We’ve honored the horse in myth, art and song, so what more fitting end to this fine beast than to eat it?

Horse meat is a good source of iron and is a free-range meat that’s low in fat. Horses produce far less methane than cows, so they’re easier on the environment too. As I mentioned in my post about Slovenian cuisine, Slovenia is one of the many European countries where horse is considered a delicacy. I’d never tried it before so while I was in the capital Ljubljana I decided to set out to one of the most popular places to eat horse – a horseburger stand called Hot Horse.

The branch I went to is in Tivoli Park, a large green area filled with families enjoying a sunny weekend. Hot Horse is located right next to a kid’s play park offering slides and games. No pony rides, though. That would have made my day.

Hot Horse looks like pretty much any other fast food place you’ve seen, with garish colors and plastic furniture. I ordered a horseburger, small fries, and a Coke for €6.50 ($8.67). As you can see, the thing was huge and slathered with ketchup and mayonnaise. I had to scrape much of this off to actually taste the horse meat.So how was it? OK. It does have a distinct flavor, a bit like beef but more mild with kind of a nutty taste. I enjoyed it but wasn’t converted. Of course, I was eating a horseburger in a fast food joint and not a horse steak at some fine restaurant, so perhaps I wasn’t experiencing horse meat at its best. Still, I came away more glad for the experience than impressed by my meal.

This made me think of all the other exotic meats I’ve tried – kangaroo, bison, alligator, ostrich – and how I wasn’t converted to them either. There’s a reason that beef, chicken and pork are the most popular meats around the world. They’re the most flexible, able to take on all sorts of different flavors depending on the recipe. They’re also cheap and easy to raise.

While the big three aren’t my favorites (venison takes first place, followed by game birds) they constitute 95 percent of my meat intake because they are easy to find, easy to prepare and easy to afford.

So if you’re in Slovenia, try out some horse. Just don’t expect Hot Horse to rival to Burger King anytime soon.

Check out the rest of my series, “Slovenia: Hikes, History and Horseburgers.”

Coming up next: Ten Random Observations About Slovenia!

horseburgers
Sean McLachlan

Five American-style North Korean restaurants for foodies

This may not have been the case a few years ago, but Pyongyang is definitely on its way to becoming a culinary destination … well, maybe not. Nonetheless, it is pretty wild that the self-isolating regime has let slip some pretty wild information about the dining options available in the capital. If you can finagle a way into North Korea and somehow get yourself a bit of freedom to move, there are now some interesting restaurants for you to visit.

Swing an eating trip to Pyongyang, and you may find yourself munching on the familiar. There are several western-style restaurants popping up in this strange city, so eating like a local may mean eating like you’re home.

Let’s take a look at five restaurants in Pyongyang and how you could scarf that grub in style:1. Okryu Restaurant: just opened last week, this soon-to-be hot spot garnered a mention by the Korea Central News Agency, which means its launch was intended to be made public. The claim is that this place can accommodate thousands of customers, so live on the edge and skip making a reservation.

2. Samtaesung:
a relatively new addition to the Pyongyang culinary scene, this burger joint is open 24 hours a day and still recommends making reservations to pick up your food. This is a place to see and be seen, especially if you’re tight with the regime: Kim Jong-il‘s sister, Kim Kyong-hui, is said to benefit personally from all the cash spent there.

3. Pizza (no name given): dine on pies with ingredients shipped in from Naples and Rome. The first North Korean pizza parlor is said to have been created at the request of Kim Jong-il himself, so you know the quality is going to be top notch! So, without a name, how can you expect to find the place? Ask where the pizza joint is; it’s not like there are dozens.

4. Beach (outside the city): get outside of Pyongyang, and you still have some options. In Wonsan, at the beach, you can find even more pizza. Just remember to wait at least 20 minutes before jumping back into the waves!

5. Cubby’s: this is the restaurant that never happened in Pyongyang. Originally the dream of a New Jersey BBQ joint owner, plans to expand Cubby’s to Pyongyang were explored. The owner, Bobby Egan, befriended some North Korean diplomats assigned to the United Nations in New York City and even took a few trips over to his buddies’ homeland. Alas, according to his recent book, the plans for a DPRK franchise never came to fruition.

[photo by John Pavelka via Flickr]

Pyongyang burger joint opens to wide popularity

Pyongyang has its first hamburger joint, and the locals who can afford it are flocking to the place. With a name rooted firmly in propaganda – not exactly surprising – the restaurant serves distinctly American fare, though I doubt there’s a disclaimer on the menu.

Samtaesung, the name of the fast-food spot, translates to “Three Huge Stars,” an obvious reference to current leader Kim Jong-il, his father Kim Il-sung and the first dictator’s first wife, Kim Jong-suk.

Like the cuisine – and unlike the name – there is a distinctly capitalist flavor to this undertaking. The profits, such a loathsome term in a Communist regime, are going right to Kim Kyong-hui, the Dear Leader’s younger sister. The Korea Times reports:

“Samtaesung (Food) and Cool Beverages is Kim Kyong Hui’s personal operation. It is run by Light Industry Vice Minister and member of Kim Kyong Hui’s inner circle Kim Kyeong Oak, who is in charge of all operations of the hamburger joint, from management to overseas fund transfers,” the official said.

To pick up a burger at Pyongyang‘s Samtaesung, the crowds have made reservations necessary; you have to place your order a day in advance to grab some grub between 6 AM and 11 PM. You can’t make a reservation after 1 PM, because of the long lines that still pressure the 24-hour stand. In a further nod to the regime’s pride, North Korea has not adopted the word “hamburger,” as its neighbor’s to the south have. Rather, they call it “minced meat and bread, reports the Korea Times. Waffles, also on the menu, carry the appellation “baked dough.” Most people do use the term “hamburger,” though.

A burger will set you back around $2 at Samtaesung, making it an unattainable luxury to the average North Korean citizen. The fact that you can make your purchase in U.S. dollars, euros or Chinese yuan – in addition to North Korean won – further indicates the exclusive nature of this establishment.

Curiosity brought the traffic initially, but the locals have developed a taste or “minced meat and bread.” According to the Korea Times, “The third time you eat a hamburger, you really get to appreciate it. By the time you’ve had your fifth, you’re already addicted to the taste,” he said.

Times Square Fairfield Inn to celebrate “straight 10s” with Shake Shack

If you kept track of my Shake Shack odyssey a few weeks ago and built up an appetite, you’re a few weeks from being able to satisfy it. On October 10, 2010 … that’s 10-10-10, in case you didn’t realize it … the Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Times Square is going to make it easy for you. To celebrate the day of straight 10s, the hotel will give a $10 gift card per room for guests to use a few blocks away at the Shake Shack on 44th Street and Eighth Avenue (the last stop on my trip).

This deal is pretty wild. Too often, hotels try to ship you over to local tourist trap restaurants, where you really don’t experience the best the city has to offer. Fairfield Inn, on the other hand, is working with a Manhattan institution, making it easier for guests from out of town to dine like a local.

So, is the midtown Shake Shack the “tourist” one? Well, I can tell you from personal experience that it isn’t. This Shack can hang with the other three in Manhattan, and the staff uses the same techniques that it employs at the other locations (e.g., providing menus to customers when the line is long) to keep the process moving easily.

There is one catch, however. Keep your receipt: you may need it to get into the bathroom!

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Four views of Shake Shack burgers in New York City

The line always seems to be long in Madison Square Park. Shake Shack, known for its burgers as well, always draws a crowd, and it isn’t unusual to spend an hour or more waiting to sink your teeth into its greasy delights. I’ve done it, and I know I’m not alone. Well, the stand’s popularity has led to expansion, and there are now four locations across Manhattan, with a fifth in Queens at Citi Field. Since those that follow never compare to the original, I was curious as to how they all compare. Could the concept withstand such rapid growth?

I set out with the noblest of intentions. Fellow travel blogger and friend Laurie DePrete (who took some of the photos) and I planned to hit the four Manhattan Shake Shacks on one Saturday afternoon. Scott Carmichael reached out to me over Twitter just wish me luck and let me know I was nuts (thanks, Scott). With my heroic appetite, I planned to down a double cheeseburger and fries at each location: Upper West Side (Columbus Ave and W. 77th Street), Upper East Side (E. 86th Street between Lexington Ave and Third Ave), Madison Square Park (Madison Ave and E. 23rd Street) and Midtown (Eighth Ave and W. 44th Street) – in that order.

My plan was to start on the Upper West Side, where I live, cut across Central Park to the Upper East Side, shoot down to Madison Square Park and then cut up and over to Midtown. Fatigue and the prospect of getting full never entered my mind. Neither ever does.

Below, you’ll find the results of my excursion, a look at the four Shake Shacks in Manhattan:


Eating all this @shakeshack food will be tough. 4 in all! RT @ScenebyLaurie: Stop #2 on the #NYC @shakeshack crawl http://4sq.com/covAmRless than a minute ago via ÜberTwitter

1. Upper West Side

This was the second Shake Shack to pop up, and I was excited to have an option close to home. The line frequently stretches around the corner onto W. 77th Street, though it’s rarely as intimidating as the original at Madison Square Park. On the Saturday I undertook this endeavor, the line was short, and I was able to order in about 10 minutes. Seating was tight, as expected, by Laurie and I were able to grab a spot on the counter, standing but with some space.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the cheeseburger, a double, but it struck me that I’d have to change course to survive the day. Though the burgers are a bit small (at all locations), they are filling. On the Upper West Side, expect to find the fare a little less greasy but still enjoyable. The taste was a bit flat. You’ll still be happy as you chomp away, but there better Shake Shack options in the city.

Where the Upper West Side restaurant stands out is in seating. There is plenty of it indoors, and don’t forget to look downstairs if you find the street level to be crowded. Also, there’s a bathroom on the premises, which is always helpful when you eat burgers and gulp lemonade.

After this first stop, we agreed to walk to the next location. To make it through four, it seemed like a good idea to move around a bit in between to keep the blood flowing … and the extra pounds at bay.

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2. Upper East Side

Unlike the first stop, I wasn’t hungry when I got to this one – but I wasn’t not hungry. I switched to a single cheeseburger and fries, cognizant of the road ahead. From across E. 86th Street, I saw that the line was out the door, but my concerns receded as I got closer. The stretch up the stairs from the cash registers to the front door isn’t long, so I figured the line would move quickly (it did). To help the process along, there are menus hanging outside, and a Shake Shack staffer walks by periodically to hand them out.

Seating inside is a bit scarce, but there’s plenty outside, perfect on a day like the one we used to tackle the four Shake Shacks. And, like the Upper West Side, there are bathrooms on the premises. The décor is a bit sleeker on the Upper East Side than in the other locations, and the staff was swift: the lines moved quickly because they moved quickly, too.

I was impressed by the burgers on the Upper East Side. They were soft and moist – nice and greasy, which is how a burger from the Shack should be. Hold yours with the wrapper to keep your shirt from getting drenched (learn from mistake I’ve made a number of times on visits to Shake Shack). As for taste, this spot’s burger was bursting. I devoured it shamelessly.

When I tried to stand from the bench in the outdoor dining area, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to. I was three burgers and two orders of fries into the adventure, and I was full … with two more locations to go. I was satisfied – and I definitely wasn’t hungry any longer. I was also tired. I turned to Laurie and saw a look implying the same feeling, but we decided to soldier on, slogging over to the subway for a ride down to Madison Square Park.

This project was becoming work.

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3. Madison Square Park

The original was our third stop simply for logistical reasons. Given the starting point and the way the subways work, it made sense to take this one on third. Also, we’ve both eaten there countless times, so we had a reasonable benchmark against which to compare the Upper East Side and Upper West Side locations.

As we walked through the park, a familiar sight emerged: a long line. We braced ourselves for a wait of at least half an hour before realizing that we needed it. I’d be able to rest my stomach for a while, try earnestly to build up an appetite again and prepare myself for the home stretch. I sat on the ground for a moment to gather my courage.

You’ll find free water at every Shake Shack location, and at this point we needed it. I headed over to pick up a few cups from the urn (the other three have running water) and rehydrated, something I’d been neglecting. Slowly, we advanced to the counter, where I ordered another single and fries. I wasn’t eating to alleviate hunger at this point, I was just looking for the taste.

The original remains the best. Grease dripped from the burger (though not as much as on the Upper East Side), and the familiar flavor erupted in my mouth. The first bite was incredible – everything you’d expect a burger from the Shack to be. It was soft, warm and thoroughly enjoyable. Then, I looked down at my tray and saw that I still had the rest of the burger in front of me. I was only able to make it through half – likewise for my fries – before deciding I had enough information and giving up.

While Madison Square Park wins on taste, the surroundings can be a challenge. There is lots of seating, but it’s all outdoor. Given that the crowds tend to be largest here, they fill up quickly. During the lunch rush, with people spilling out of the nearby office buildings, you may have trouble finding a chair anywhere. Protect your food from the occasional bird (I speak from experience), and bring change for the bathroom (a freestanding public one is your only option, and it’ll set you back a quarter).

After giving up before finishing, groaning and shaking our heads, we decided to keep going. Again figuring it would be a good idea to keep the blood flowing, my burger buddy and I started the trek back uptown, dreading the final stop. It was getting close to 10 PM, leaving us just enough time to get to the Midtown location – our final stop on the Shake Shack tour. My feet felt heavier with each step. My stomach hinted that a mutiny was on the horizon. After swapping knowing glances, Laurie and I decided to leave the Eighth Ave location for another day.

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4. Eighth Ave

We waited a little over a week before resuming the tour, a natural reaction to overloading your body with some of the finest burgers New York City has to offer. Situated on Eighth Ave, I expected this restaurant to have frightening wait and no available seating. It’s close to Times Square and Port Authority, which led me to believe there would be endless tourist traffic. To my surprise, however, the line lasted only about 15 minutes. As on the Upper East Side, Shake Shackers armed with menus came out periodically to help people make their decisions before getting up to the counter to order.

The Midtown Shake Shack offered a tasty burger (I found Madison Square Park and the Upper East Side to be better) that came fairly quickly. It wasn’t terribly greasy but was enjoyable nonetheless. Seating was tough, as people seemed to take a bit more time with their meals while the kitchen was able to turn over orders quickly.

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Like the other indoor locations, the Midtown spot had bathrooms for customers. To use them, though, you needed to enter a code on the door. Unlike most places, which use a token or a key from the counter, Shake Shack was savvy enough to put the code on every receipt, minimizing the time it takes to get where you need to go. The Eighth Ave restaurant also had a more powerful faucet for water, which led to shorter lines for those fighting thirst. It’s clear that the company learned a few lessons before opening its newest space.


Getting the last of the #manhattan @shakeshack stops in!!! (@ Shake Shack w/ @scenebylaurie) http://4sq.com/dhBg7Bless than a minute ago via foursquare


And that was it.

Toiling through four Shake Shacks, even if the last was left for a later date, was far more challenging than I expected, and I learned just how much my stomach can hold. If you’re headed to Manhattan, it’s worth visiting one Shake Shack – but only one. Don’t try to cram them all into a demented burger tour. You really are only hurting yourself if you do.