Expat fusion cuisine: combining foreign foods with favorites from home

expat fusionPart of the fun of traveling is trying new and exotic foods. Many travelers try to eat only locally and eschew the familiar, though eating at American chain restaurants abroad can be its own experience. But when you make a foreign country your home, you have to adapt your tastes and cooking to what’s available locally while craving your favorites from home. I’m lucky enough to live in Istanbul with an amazing food culture heavy on roasted meats and grilled fish, fragrant spices, and fresh produce. Some foreign foods like pizza and sushi have been embraced in Istanbul, but Turkish food has remained largely uncompromised by outside influences and passing trends. Convenience foods are still a new concept in Turkey but you can always grab a quick doner kebab or fish sandwich on the street if you aren’t up to cooking.
In my own kitchen, I’m learning to work with Turkish ingredients and dishes and mix in some favorites from home, creating some “expat fusion” cuisine. Meat-filled manti ravioli gets an extra zing with some Louisiana hot sauce. In the hottest days of my pregnancy this summer, I craved pudding pops from my childhood, making them more adult with some tangy Turkish yogurt. One ingredient I miss here is maple syrup, which is generally only produced in North America, and hard to find and expensive in the rest of the world (a small bottle in Turkey costs about $20!). One of my American friends brought me a bottle this summer and I poured it over pancakes (surprisingly easy to make from scratch when you can’t get a mix) and my favorite Turkish treat, kaymak. Kaymak is a clotted cream popular on the breakfast table, served with a crusty loaf of bread and honey, available in most local supermarkets but best eaten fresh in a cafe like Pando’s Kaymakci in Istanbul’s Besiktas neighborhood. I draw a lot of inspiration from my friend and fellow expat Joy, who was a professional pastry chef back in Baltimore and now chronicles her mouth-watering cooking in her Istanbul kitchen on her blog, My Turkish Joys. She posts beautiful food photos and recipes with both American and European measurements to help US and Turkish readers recreate her dishes such as sour cherry pie. Afiyet Olsun (that’s Turkish for bon appetit)!

Gadling readers, have you created any expat fusion foods with ingredients from your travels? Make us hungry and leave us a comment below!

Taking Denny’s Tour of America

Denny’s – America’s Diner – recently introduced their Tour of America menu. The chain attempted to capture the essence of America’s diverse cuisines in seven dishes and three beverages. However, it’s not really a tour if you only order one meal. That simple thought led Gadling to send me to New Jersey with Erik Trinidad, food writer for the Huffington Post and creator of Fancy Fast Food, to sample Denny’s entire Tour of America menu. We ordered all ten items and took a trip around the United States without ever leaving our booth.

Were the dishes accurate representations of their regions? Does Hawaii deserve three dishes when it’s the 40th most populous state? Is eating that much food at Denny’s good for you?

Watch the video to see if we managed to answer any of these pressing questions and read on for more on the Tour of America.

%Gallery-129528%It’s hard to have high expectations when it comes to Denny’s. That said, we always have high expectations for America. This conflict was evidenced in the inconsistency of the dishes.

Philly Cheesesteak Omelette

There are certain things that you expect from a Philly Cheesesteak, not the least of which is the thinly shaved beef. The omelette, however, featured chunks of prime rib. That’s just not right. Add to that the noticeably modest amount of cheese (and it’s not even Cheez Whiz) and lack of bread and nothing about this was related to a Philly cheesesteak. It’s a good omelette, but it’s not a Philly Cheesesteak Omelette.

gadling denny's tour of america shrimp gritsSouthern Shrimp & Grits

Erik and I were nervous about this one. I mean, it’s shellfish…at Denny’s. That said, this was a delightfully delicious surprise. The grits were initially bland, but once you mixed them with the bacon and jalapenos, the dish really came to life. The Lowcountry would be proud!

Georgia Peach French Toast

The french toast was bland. The peaches were most likely from a can. Nothing about this was remotely good. You want to serve a Georgia breakfast? Give me a chicken biscuit and just back away.

Midwestern Steak & Potatoes Sandwich

My favorite dish on the entire menu. How can you go wrong with chunks of prime rib (the same cuts used in the Philly Cheesesteak Omelette, only this time much more appropriate), cheese, french fries, gravy, a cheese roll and a side of mashed potatoes with more gravy. Hearty, comforting and straightforward. Just like the Midwest.

California Club Salad

You don’t need to be from California or a member of any club to know that this is just a salad. A salad loaded with turkey, bacon and avocado, yes, but simply a salad nonetheless.

Hawaiian Tropical Pancake Breakfast

Only three pieces of pineapple? Seriously? The pancakes are bland (would it have killed them to mix some macadamia nuts into the batter?) and the coconut whipped topping is basically just cake frosting. Which is to say, we highly recommend eating the whipped topping and ignoring the pancakes, which are neither Hawaiian nor flavorful.

gadling denny's tour of america menu hawaiian pancake puppiesHawaiian Tropical Pancake Puppies

OK, we get it: pineapples are Hawaiian. As are the coconut shavings on the outside of these pseudo-beignets. But we’ve never seen these little bite-sized confections anywhere on the archipelago. However, they are delicious and most certainly the best sweet item on the entire Tour of America menu. What they lack in authenticity they more than make up for in crunchy goodness. Aloha!

Hawaiian Tropical Smoothie

Easily the most accurate of the regional beverages on the menu. You taste pineapple, banana and other tropical fruits and it seems like it was freshly made. If I closed my eyes and took a sip, I could almost feel like I was in Hawaii…or at least in a better restaurant than Denny’s.

Florida Orange Milk Shake

Quite simply, it tastes like an orange Creamsicle. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not a Florida thing. When I was a kid, my grandmother used to send us packages of oranges from Florida. We’d juice them and enjoy the fresh-squeezed citrus sensation. This drink was not fresh and it was barely orange.

Pacific Northwest Iced Coffee

Folks from Seattle and Portland take their coffee seriously. As such, they should be offended by this offering. It was quite possibly the worst thing on the entire Tour of America menu. It basically tasted like sweetened condensed milk with just a hint of coffee. People of the Pacific Northwest, write to your congresspeople….or to Denny’s. Just don’t drink this beverage.

Some hits, some misses. Overall, the spirit of America was felt (mostly in how this menu could make anyone morbidly obese). However, simply slapping the name of a place on a dish doesn’t make it authentic. Things like Philly cheesesteaks are best left to the experts. Or at least left as sandwiches.

Representatives from New England, New York, Texas (which is its own region and not simply a part of at the South) and the Southwest were sorely missed. Hawaii is over-represented and, if I was Alaskan, I would find that insulting. Seems like we could have had some sockeye salmon in there somewhere!

It was an interesting trip, though, and isn’t that all you can really ask for from any tour of America?

Gadling’s rankings of hotel breakfast buffet foods

gadling hotel breakfast buffet bacon sausage

One of the magical things about staying at a hotel is enjoying the breakfast buffet. At home, you might just have a bowl of cereal, a banana or a cup of coffee for breakfast. Heck, many people just skip breakfast. Does it mean nothing to you that it’s the most important meal of the day? At hotels, however, you can indulge in all of your breakfast fantasies. Rather than studying a diner menu while agonizing over whether you’re craving the sweetness of french toast or the savory goodness of eggs, you can have it all at the breakfast buffet. How you attack the buffet is critical to maximizing your enjoyment. That’s why we’re here with our official rankings of all of the hotel breakfast buffet foods.

The Unquestionable Top Five

1. Bacon

Because it’s bacon. When I was a kid, my mother limited how often we could have bacon. It was a treat. At the hotel breakfast buffet, however, you can have an entire plate dedicated to just those salty, succulent strips. And that plate can be refilled.

gadling hotel breakfast buffet foods fruit2. Fruit

Bet you didn’t see that coming! Fruit, when purchased individually from a menu, can be expensive. Restaurants will rip you off if you just want a bowl of fruit and yogurt. At the buffet, however, you can go to town on some fruit like some sort of crazed monkey. Adding fruit to your plate helps you justify the amount of bacon you plan to consume. If you’ve traveled a great distance, fruit is also an excellent way to prevent scurvy.

3. Omelet Station

Omelets are tricky to make at home because we often don’t have all of the ingredients to truly do them justice. How many times have you found yourself with eggs but no cheese? Or eggs and cheese but no vegetables? Or eggs, cheese and vegetables but no frying pan? Plus, flipping omelets is tricky. That’s why it’s best to just let someone else do it for you while you hover over them and realize that watching someone make an omelet is pretty boring. Maybe just use that time to get yourself some juice.

4. Waffles

This refers only to waffles that you can freshly make on a waffle maker. Firstly, you feel satisfied knowing that you prepared part of your own breakfast. You can survive anywhere! Secondly, you’ll be able to top your waffle with syrup, powdered sugar, butter, fresh fruit and nuts. Sure beats those Eggos that you normally toast up!

5. Assorted Breads

At home, you might have some bread that you can toast up. It’s OK but nothing special. At the hotel breakfast buffet, your cup runneth over with bread options (tip: don’t put your toast in a cup). Muffins, sliced breads with multiple grains, croissants (both mini and standard sizes), bagels, rolls and the holy grail of buffet breads, biscuits. Grab as many butter packets as you can fit in your pockets and carbo load like you’re running a marathon. But, remember what your mother used to warn you: Don’t fill up on bread.

The Questionable Remainders

gadling rankings hotel breakfast foods eggs6. Eggs

Here’s where things get tricky. Buffet scrambled eggs suck more often than they don’t. They’re always bland, often overcooked and occasionally just loose disasters. Our advice: skip the scrambled eggs. If you really want scrambled eggs, however, and there’s an omelet station, we recommend that you ask the omelet sommelier to prepare you some freshly scrambled eggs. Plus, you can ask for omelet items in your scramble. Win-win!

Hard boiled eggs are a nice treat because preparing them at home is just not that enjoyable. They make your kitchen smell, you get shells everywhere and there are more exciting things to do with your eggs. But when ready-to-eat hard boiled eggs are just presented to you, you best take advantage. All other eggs dishes such as frittatas and quiches should be judged on a case by case basis.

7. Sausage

Like eggs, sausage at hotel breakfast buffets can be a mixed bag (tip: decline all offers of mixed bags of sausage). Avoid sausage patties. You’re not at the hotel breakfast buffet so that you can replicate the experience of eating at McDonald’s. As for links, always take a close look to see how shriveled they are. If they look dehydrated, walk away. You want the casing to pop in your mouth, but you want that to lead to a juicy explosion. Dry sausage is not your friend. Besides, your bacon serving should eliminate the need for sausage.

8. Cereal

You can eat this at home!

9. Oatmeal

Unless the buffet is free, don’t get oatmeal. If you’re paying for the buffet, you already threw health out the window. Put down the raisins and start enjoying life.

10. Potatoes

Like the scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes at a hotel buffet tend to be underwhelming. Often, they’re just a big batch of mushy, bland starch disappointment. If you’ve handled your bread decision properly, you don’t even need potatoes.

11. Pre-cooked Pancakes

Bland hockey pucks served with packets of “pancake syrup.” I know that you think that you love Aunt Jemima, but she’s a cruel mistress and you deserve better.

The next time you’re staying at a hotel and wake up hungry, we hope that you’ll remember these handy rankings. Whether you’re on vacation, a business trip or anything in between, you need fuel when you’re on the road. Start your day right at the breakfast buffet. The decisions you make in front of those chafing dishes may just save your life.

Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, anyone?

Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday are one in the same. And if you follow Shrove Tuesday’s pancake-eating rituals, your Tuesday this week is bound to feel fat. Otherwise known as Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the day before Lent. Lent is a Christian tradition and the term is used to describe the liturgical year, the time of fasting and prayer between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

This practice was widely embraced before the Protestant Reformation. Although many Protestant churches still practice Lent, some do not. Growing up, my family switched between Pentecostal, Nazarene, and Baptist churches–I never practiced Lent. And since the practice involved giving up something I liked, I was happy not to participate. But pancakes? Fat Tuesday? I’ll eagerly dig in for these kinds of festivities each year.

With Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day happening tomorrow, the internet is abuzz with pancake recipes for this day of decadence. Thinking about whipping up some pancakes tomorrow? Here’s a little somethin’ to help you along the way.

Consider Pancakes, an informative article on Pancake Day and the pancakes involved by The Guardian.
And for perfectly thin pancakes for Pancake Day, The Guardian offers up this delicious-looking recipe:

“This is the approximate recipe we use at home for thin, crêpe-style pancakes. The batter will thicken as it rests, so if necessary gently stir in more milk until it’s the consistency of single cream. Makes about 20.

200g plain flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
About 500ml milk
A knob of butter or a little vegetable oil, for frying
Lemons and caster sugar, for serving

Sift the flour into a bowl. Beat in the eggs and enough milk to make a batter that’s the consistency of single cream.

Heat a frying pan until very hot. Add the butter or oil and wipe off any excess with a wad of kitchen paper. Add a ladle of batter, tipping and tilting the pan so it’s evenly coated. The underside is done when you can lift it to see its golden underside. Flip or toss it over and cook the other side for barely a minute. Place on a warmed plate while you repeat with the rest of the batter. Serve with lemons and caster sugar”.

Read more pancake recipes from The Guardian here.

Renaissance Hotels let the kids pamper mom with a pancake playdate

Renaissance Hotels wins my prize for the most creative Mothers Day promotion this year (and yes – we get emailed a lot of them!). On Sunday May 9th, participating Renaissance properties will open up their kitchens just for kids – and the hotel chef will guide your little ones through the art of making the perfect pancake.

Prices for this pancake brunch start at just $25, and kids can make mom the perfect pancake using their imagination or one of the specialty pancakes on offer around the chain.

In Boston, the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel bakes seasoned bacon fat into the batter to complement the Lobster Benedict.

In Washington D.C. kids can cook up a batch of organic buckwheat short stacks – with local Tuscarora Farm apple compote and McCutcheon’s wildflower honey.

By far the best sounding creation will be served at the Eden Roc Renaissance Miami Beach with Tres Leche pancakes, featuring caramelized bananas.

Of course, the best way to pamper mom is with a stay at a Renaissance, so head on over to their reservation site. Just be sure to check with the property of your choice whether they will be offering the pancake playdate.

Check out our other Mothers Day coverage here.