Think Globally, Eat Locally At Culinary Backstreets

culinary backstreets - Istanbul fish restaurantBudget-savvy and food-loving visitors to Istanbul have found an excellent resource in Istanbul Eats for several years, and now can find more authentic and off-the-beaten-path tips in Athens, Barcelona, and Shanghai, with Mexico City on the way. Culinary Backstreets was launched this week as an extension of IstanbulEats.com, a blog reviewing Turkey’s best street food, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and unique dishes. Founded in 2009 by two American expats, Istanbul Eats launched a book in 2010 (now in its third edition, and available at nearly every bookshop in Istanbul and online, in English, Turkish, Greek, and even Korean!) as well as culinary tours through the Old City, Beyoglu, and even cross-continent. Istanbul Eats has garnished a devoted fan base who’ve been wishing for “an Istanbul Eats-like guide to restaurants in every city,” hence the creation of Culinary Backstreets.

Culinary Backstreets is a site for travelers who eschew tourist menus, ask cab drivers where to dine, and frequently find themselves the only foreigner in a cafe. Each city will be covered by local food writers who regularly comb the streets in search of the tastiest tidbits. So far, each city has posted a “State of the Stomach” guide, outlining the current food scene, the eats locals line up for, and practical tips for following your stomach to the traditional and the trendy restaurants. Culinary walks are currently being offered in Istanbul and Shanghai, with more cities coming soon.

Get hungry at CulinaryBackstreets.com.

[Photo courtesy of Yigal Schleifer]

Berkeley’s Edible Cities Guide Leads Urban Foragers To Free Good Eats

plum treeAnyone who’s ever snagged fruit off of their neighbor’s trees or bushes (oh, don’t look at me like that) will appreciate the new online Edible Cities guide from Berkeleyite Cristian Ionescu-Zanetti.

Berkeley is ground zero for the localized food movement, and “urban foraging” has been growing in popularity amongst local chefs as well as home cooks.

As a former resident and recent subletter, I can attest to just how many tasty treats grow in this region, which is composed of many microclimates. All manner of citrus – most notably Meyer lemons – heirloom varieties of plums, cherries, loquats, avocado, raspberries, blackberries, pomegranates, persimmons, rosemary, wild fennel, miner’s lettuce, wild watercress, mustard plants…they all flourish here, sometimes in backyards, but often in public spaces.

Hence, Edible Cities, which uses a Google Maps interface that denotes where specific species are free for the picking. In a recent interview in Berkeleyside, Inoescu-Zanetti, who is originally from Romania, stated that urban foraging’s “most important aspect is education: Kids need to learn where food comes from, and adults need a refresher, as well.” Here, here!

According to its mission statement, Edible Cities’ goal is to promote local food security by “mapping publicly available food sources” and “enable a more sustainable mode of food production that lessens our environmental impact.” In plain English, you can have free fruit and preserves year-round, instead of buying tasteless, imported crap sprayed with God knows what.

Oakland has a similar program, Forage Oakland, which began in 2008. Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Tampa also have fruit gleaning projects, which are variously used for residents and to provide fresh food for those in need.

[Photo credit: Flickr user OliBac]

How to Choose Ripe Fruit

Cinco De Mayo: Five Fiesta-Worthy Foods To Make Or Try

elotesIn the United States, Cinco de Mayo (“fifth of May”) is essentially yet another excuse to get hammered. In the Mexican state of Puebla, however, the holiday commemorates the Mexican Army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Cinco de Mayo is also celebrated in other regions of Mexico; as in the States, it’s a day of honoring Mexican pride and heritage. This year, instead of the standard chips and guacamole (and crippling hangover), try some beloved Mexican foods that are well suited to serve a crowd. They’re easily made, or purchased if you live in a community with a sizable Hispanic population. Buen provecho!

1. Flor de Calabaza (squash blossoms): Available now at your local farmers market or specialty produce shop, and a favorite of Mexican home cooks. Try sautéing them and tucking into quesadillas or dipping in batter and frying (stuff them with fresh goat cheese mixed with chopped herbs for a really special treat; click here for the recipe).

2. Elotes: Whether served as whole, grilled ears of corn or kernels-in-a-cup, these mayonnaise, lime, and chile-slathered street eats are worth every ripple of cellulite they produce. True, corn isn’t in season right now; see if your favorite local farm stand, market vendor, or specialty grocer has frozen kernels for sale.

3. Churros: Fried, sugary goodness in phallic form: what’s not to love? Uh, except maybe churros con cajeta (filled with caramelized goat milk).

4. Antojitos: Traditionally found in the fondas, or beer bars of Mexico City, these small, fried or griddled masa dough “cravings (antojos)” or “little whims” are now more commonly associated with street food, and have regional adaptations. The differences in shape and fillings are often subtle: a chalupa (not to be confused with the Taco Bell concoction) is a thin, fried cup with a slight depression for holding meat and/or beans, shredded cabbage, crumbled fresh cheese or crema, and avocado or guacamole, while a huarache is like a slightly thicker tortilla in the shape of a sandal (hence the name). In Oaxaca, regional antojitos such as tlacoyos (like a skinny huarache) and memelas (think round huarache) may be topped with black beans and complex salsas indigenous to the region. In a word, addictive.

5. Michelada: Forget margaritas. This refreshing beverage has hair-of-the-dog built right in, and indeed, it’s a traditional Mexican hangover helper (as is a steaming bowl of menudo). Combine one icy cold Mexican beer (My pick: Pacifico) with fresh-squeezed lime juice, tomato juice or Clamato, a dash of hot sauce and a pinch of kosher or celery salt. The variations are many, but this recipe from Food52 is a winner.

[Photo credit: Flickr user the queen of subtle]

Want more antojitos? Check out this assortment, below:
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Cheesey Street Foods Of Latin America

With the possible exception of Argentina, most people don’t associate Central or South America with cheese. Like all of Latin America, these countries are a mix of indigenous cultures, colonizing forces, immigrant influences, and varied terroir, climatic extremes, and levels of industrialization. They possess some of the most biologically and geographically diverse habitats on earth. As a result, the cuisine and agricultural practices of each country have developed accordingly.

The use of dairy may not be particularly diverse in this part of the world, especially when it comes to styles of cheese, but it’s an important source of nutrition and income in rural areas, and a part of nearly every meal.

While writing a book on cheese during the course of this past year, I tapped into my rather obsessive love of both street food and South America for inspiration. As I learned during my research, the sheer variety of cheesey street snacks from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego are as varied as the ethnic influences responsible for their creation. Read on for a tasty tribute to queso.

Arepas: These flat little corn or flour cakes from Colombia, Venezuela and Panama may be grilled, baked, boiled, or fried. They’re usually stuffed or topped with a melting cheese, but may also feature meat, chicken, seafood, egg, or vegetables.

Anafres: Essentially Honduran nachos, composed of giant tortilla chips, refried beans and melted cheese. Named for an anafre, the coal-fired clay pot the dish is served in.

Pupusas: This Salvadorean staple is similar to an arepa: a thick, griddled corn cake stuffed with meat, cheese–usually a mild melting variety known as quesillo–chicarrones (pork cracklings), or queso con loroco (cheese with the buds or flowers of a vine native to Central America).street food vendorChoclo con queso: Boiled corn with slices or a chunk of mild, milky, fresh white cheese may not sound like much, but this roadside and market staple of Peru and Ecuador is irresistible. The secret is the corn, which is an indigenous Andean variety with large, white, nutty, starchy kernels. It’s satisfying as a snack all by itself, but it’s even better between bites of slightly salty queso.

Empanadas (empadinhas in Brazil): Perhaps the most ubiquitous Latin American street food, riffs on these baked or fried, stuffed pastries can be found from Argentina (where they’re practically a religion) and Chile to Costa Rica and El Salvador. The dough, which is usually lard-based, may be made from wheat, corn or plantain, with fillings ranging from melted, mild white cheese to meat, seafood, corn, or vegetables. In Ecuador, empanadas de viento (“wind”) are everywhere; they’re fried until airy,filled with sweetened queso fresco and dusted with powdered sugar.

Quesadillas: Nearly everyone loves these crisp little tortilla and cheese “sandwiches.” Traditionally cooked on a comal (a flat, cast-iron pan used as a griddle), they’re a popular street food and equally beloved Stateside.

Provoleta: This Argentinean and Uruguayan favorite is made from a domestic provolone cheese. It’s often seasoned with oregano or crushed chile, and grilled or placed on hot stones until caramelized and crispy on the exterior, and melted on the inside. It’s often served at asados (barbecues) as an appetizer, and accompanied by chimmichuri (an oil, herb, and spice sauce).
provoleta
Queijo coaljo: A firm, white, salty, squeaky cheese from Brazil; it’s most commonly sold on the beach on a stick, after being cooked over coals or in handheld charcoal ovens; also known as queijo assado.

Croquettes de Queijo: Cheese croquettes, a favorite appetizer or street food in Brazil.

Coxinhas: A type of Brazilian salgado (snack), these are popular late-night fare. Typically, coxinhas are shredded chicken coated in wheat or manioc flour that have been shaped into a drumstick, and fried. A variation is stuffed with catupiry, a gooey white melting cheese reminiscent of Laughing Cow. Like crack. Crack.

Queijadinhas: These irresistable little cheese custards are a popular snack in Brazil. Like Pringles, stopping at just one is nearly impossible.

Pão de queijo: Made with tapioca or wheat flour, these light, cheesy rolls are among the most popular breads in Brazil.

[Photo credit: Empanada, Flickr user ci_polla; food vendor, Provoleta, Laurel Miller]

Lafayette, Louisiana, Named ‘Tastiest Town in the South’

french press cafeLooking to plan a delicious food-focused trip? While the southern United States is well-known for its mouth-watering soul food and rich flavors, Southern Living has recently named Lafayette, Louisiana, the ‘Tastiest Town in the South.” The criteria for choosing the winner was based on how the food identified the culture, how the area’s cuisine influences the local community and tourism, an array of price points, sustainability, media buzz on local chefs and an abundance of food-related events and festivals.

Writers Senior Editor Paula Disbrowe, “Lafayette’s distinct culinary identity as the capital of Cajun country, its spicy, sausage-laden roots, and a new generation of locals devoted to preserving their heritage while putting a fresh spin on tradition have made it an incredibly satisfying place to eat.”

So, where should you go to get some of the city’s best cuisine? First there is the French Press Cafe, a trendy eatery serving dishes like smoked duck breast with sweet potato spaetzel and prime filet mignon with blue cheese, fried poached egg, caramelized onion, potato pancakes and a Cognac demi. Their signature dish is Sweet Baby Breesus – biscuits stuffed with bacon, cane syrup and fried boudin. There’s also Johnson’s Boucanière, a BBQ joint serving items like fried boudin-stuffed grilled cheese with BBQ sauce, slow-smoked beef and pork sandwiches loaded with the works and smoked brisket cooked for 13 hours.

Want to taste the flavors of Lafayette for yourself? The magazine is running a contest until April 30, 2012, where one lucky traveler can win $2,500 toward a trip to their favorite tasty town. For details and to enter, click here.

[Photo via French Press Cafe]