Criolla Food in Peru

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Papa rellana ready for frying, above bags of choclo. 

Peru is also a “melting pot” and the Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian immigrations added to this pot. But what did the Peruvians eat before?

The original inhabitants of Peru ate the foods that today are called “criolla” or creole. I think of “queso y choclo” — cheese and corn — when I think of local food. The “queso fresco” or fresh cheese is just that, non-aged cheese so think feta but not salty or sour (which feta should not be, but that’s a whole different discussion.) Some creole dishes are tacu tacu (refried hash), beans, habas (roasted fava bean snack), rice with duck, papa rellena (large stuffed mashed potato croquette), tamales, soups (sopa criolla is a noodle soup with cubed beef and milk), butiffara (a pork sandwich), and anything with an egg on it. Every single restaurant will know how to make a delicious home made soup called “sopa dieta” which is what would be called “Jewish noodle soup” in other places. It’s a soup that can cure all.

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A word about “dare” or “scary” foods. Guinea pig or “cuy” in Peruvian is convenient and easy to raise. A Peruvian told me that traditionally you would only be served a portion — not the whole thing with head frozen in its death scream. Cuy, pronounced “koo-wee” is more common in the mountains. Yes, one can also eat alpaca, llama, vicuna, and other camelids. And, the one that people always seem to “dare” tourists to eat — the suri worm or maggot. Maggots are fatty sources of protein (According to experts, bugs could be the protein of the future). Many cultures eat bugs — crickets, grasshoppers, ants, and so on. But, you don’t have to eat it. Many modern restaurants will serve cuy or llama in a way that you might find more palatable. At Astrid and Gaston’s, the cuy is served as a mini Peking Duck bite. My “word” about scary or dare foods is that you don’t have to eat them. Many Peruvians don’t. There is so much available that is much more delicious.

The weirdest thing I ate in Peru (no, I didn’t eat the maggot) was a vegan “jerky” stick. So odd. I don’t know what was in it, but it wasn’t criolla!

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Viet – Vietnamese Food in Lima?

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Summer rolls with peanut sauce.

Oddly enough, yes, but that’s not the important thing about this restaurant. Viet, located in San Borja, on Avenida Aviacion 2590, is a nice restaurant, whatever the food. It’s got a nice ambiance, it’s easy to find on Aviacion, and the staff are very friendly. The restaurant is open 12:30-11 Tuesday-Saturday and 12:30-4:30 on Sundays.

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Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.

I’d say to those who have been to Vietnam or know Vietnamese food from the U.S., don’t use those standards (for good and bad). The owners are Chinese Peruvians who decided to open a Vietnamese place. Why not? The place has been in existence for three years and the owners are thinking of opening a new location in Miraflores. I hope that they do.

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Pho rolls.

The pho (here they have a pho roll — as in the photo — so you can eat pho soup as a handroll) is not aromatic but it’s still a nice clean broth which can work wonders if you have a cold. That’s how I convinced a sick friend to join me. She got the chicken pho and added some Sriracha to make a chicken soup with kick!

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Shaking Beef – their version of “lomo saltado” with egg.

I liked the service as the staff cut up food into shareable portions, recommended child-friendly berry ice tea, and made us feel tended to but not bothered. The tables are stocked with hand fans to cool down your soup or your face. There are coolie hats for selfies, and for those who care, I think I counted ten Asian looking people in there. Plus lots of families.

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Vietnamese “crepe” but more like a mango sticky rice/bibimbap.

I’ll be back. I’m still missing a few items on the menu. The crepe, done here as an omelet on rice in a Korean earthenware pot, had coconut rice with mango and shrimp. I think this may have been the hit with my Peruvian guests. I liked the desserts including the sushi style mango sticky rice.

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Garlic wings.
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Beef on noodle.
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Spring rolls, cut up for us to share.
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AHmazing taro (a tuber) chips.
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A view of the interior.
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Mango sticky rice with the coconut sauce on the side.
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Not sure of the name but it was cut up fruit with sweet airy cake.
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Deep fried banana.

The one dish that I would have liked is papaya salad. I will have to try a Thai place for that, I guess.

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Banh mi sandwich with taro chips.
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Beef pho and the condiments (sriracha and hoisin sauce not pictured) and summer rolls in background.

Dim Sum in Caracas

14642356_10154595409009618_7761823639592039314_nYup, that’s a thing here. The dim sum places serve “brunch” and it’s best to go fairly early in the morning — like at 7 a.m. or no later than 9.

14670721_10154595407759618_8734189639895963433_nThe dim sum restaurants in Caracas have their own ordering system. There are no carts pushed by waiters here. Here you have to go up to a buffet and pick your items. The waiter will still notate it on a chit which you take to the cashier to pay. In addition to the usual items in a dim sum selection, they have a few local varieties of food. The pork is crispy and less red than in other places.

14670790_10154595406654618_7352959441999699665_nNext to the dim sum restaurants (I think there are two or three main ones), there is a Chinese market which only happens on Sundays. This is another reason to go eat dim sum on Sunday morning. The market has everything you could need to make Chinese food, from seafood, bean sprouts, instant noodles, to fresh tofu. The dim sum restaurants are in an area called “country club” near the river.

14642271_10154595327849618_5591894706066765038_nOh, and another thing, there were a lot of chicken feet.

Asian Vegetables in Bogota

Marinated perilla leaves.
Marinated perilla leaves.

The Chinese porcelain cat with the waving paw is the give-away. In the U.S., it’s called “napa cabbage” but in Bogota, it’s called “Chinese cabbage.”  Whatever it’s called, it’s almost impossible to find in Bogota, I guess because it’s not a normal part of the diet here.

Kimchi in the making, raw napa cabbage.
Kimchi in the making, raw napa cabbage.

I went on the hunt. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination but I feel like in the months that I’ve lived in Bogota, more and more grocery stores are offering “Asian” vegetables like napa cabbage, daikon, and leafy greens other than spinach. But, in most of the stores, the Asian vegetables are droopy and expensive (whenever I buy bok choy in the market, it’s never the tiny ones served to me at Gran China but I guess they, as a restaurant, get preference). It’s better to go to Paloquemao. In particular, “Peter’s Fruits and Vegetables – Chinese Products Available” which I call “Peter’s Chinese Vegetable” just because I think it would sound better. There are quite a few stands in the same area of the market selling asparagus, giant daikon, arugula, chives, and leafy greens.The last time I went, I bought two large backpacks worth of vegetables and it cost me 24,000 pesos (about $11). There is a separate lady who sells nothing by chiles. The other “Asian vegetable” which is hard to find even in the U.S., is perilla leaf. Maki Roll on Carrera 11 sells that.

Japanese-Korean seafood pancake with long green onion-chive vegetables.
Japanese-Korean seafood pancake with long green onion-chive vegetables.

As an aside, Peter’s also sells sweet potato (yams to Americans and “Peruvian camote” here — a sweet potato with an orange color, used in Peruvian ceviche and North American food) and kale. Some of the vendors even use the English words and if they see a foreigner, they’ll call out “kale” or “sweet potato” to attract customers.

Getting Yelled At In A Restaurant In Mandarin, Again

The spread of Chinese food.
The spread of Chinese food.

One day, I had the brilliant (so I thought) idea of ordering a whole bunch of items at my favorite Chinese restaurant in Bogota. I figured that given the price of ingredients, I might as well buy the food ready-made. Also, ordering many dishes would allow me to nibble from many different dishes… I got an accomplice who rather fancied the idea for herself. So we ordered quite a few dishes including a few repeats (sometimes you just don’t want to share the appetizer, am I right?).  — Pause here… we waiting in anticipation… —

Suddenly, the chef came out of the kitchen. He yelled at us in Mandarin for five minutes. Five minutes of gesticulating and yelling. I kept smiling. Five minutes of the chef yelling at us that we had ordered too much food.

Baby greens.
Baby greens.

Finally, the Colombian waiter stopped him by saying the Chinese word for “to go.” The chef stomped back to the kitchen. Then I laughed. I had leftovers all week long.

The bean dish is called "ants on a log" but it's different than the celery, peanut butter, and raisin dish with similar name.
The bean dish is called “ants on a log” but it’s different than the celery, peanut butter, and raisin dish with similar name.

The following time, I took a larger group and when a Mandarin speaker tried to get chummy with the chef, the chef recognized me and said, “She knows.” And this time I completely understood him.

FAQ: Where’s the Best…. in Dhaka?

As I mentioned in previous post about the 100 restaurants I’ve eaten at in Dhaka, I will now answer some of the most frequently asked questions I receive. Most of these places are on my map of 99 expat places.

Where is the best sushi in Dhaka? At Izumi. This is probably the leading Japanese restaurant in Dhaka. On road 119 or nearby.

Where is the best sashimi in Dhaka? If you want sashimi (raw fish), then go to Goong, the Castle (a Korean restaurant that does many seafood dishes, raw and cooked).

Where is the best Thai food in Dhaka? Pan Thao on road 12 in Banani. Thai Kitchen in Gulshan is okay too. There is a new Thai place in Banani (two parallel streets behind Banani Supermarket) called Luam that makes a few dishes that are passable as well… Thai food is one of those ubiquitous cuisines you find advertised everywhere in Dhaka (along with Chinese and Italian).

Best steak? Goong. Even though it’s a Korean restaurant, they have imported beef there including Kobe beef (also called Wagyu — the famous Japanese breed of cows that get fed beer and get massages). The Steakhouse also has good steak. As does Diner 360 which has a bargain price as well.

Kobe or Wagyu beef at Goong restaurant.
Kobe or Wagyu beef at Goong restaurant.

Best Korean? Goong, the Castle.

Where is the most romantic restaurant in Dhaka? Mermaid Cafe has a few booth cabanas. Spaghetti Jazz has candles (well most do) and is dark. Panini in Banani has seating arrangements that allow for canoodling. See question below.

Where should I take my wife for our anniversary dinner? Le Souffle (it’s fancy and French), Spitfire, Saltz, Soi 71, Panini, Goong, Steakhouse. The restaurants in the Westin are expensive but they are romantic.

Which restaurant is best for taking children? Soi 71, Diner 360, Goong all have play areas or rooms for children. Istanbul has a castle for children.

Where is the best pizza in Dhaka? For American style, La Forchetta and Pizza Hut. For Italian thin style, Spaghetti Jazz and Bella Italia.

Where is the best burger in Dhaka? Have not found one I could eat all of but some like American Burger and the one at Panini was not as bad as I thought it would be.

What is the best ice cream in Dhaka? Movenpick.

Best cafe to hang out in? Northend Coffee Roasters, Cafe Italiano, Roll Express, Gloria Jeans

Where can I get the best dessert in Dhaka? Movenpick (eat in the cafe), Mr. Baker, King’s Confectionery.

Best bakery? King’s Confectionery, Mr. Baker, Do Mi Ok, Northend Coffee Roasters, and Bellagio.

Where are there nachos in Dhaka? Panini.

Where is the best fruit juice in Dhaka? Panini (ask for no added sugar, watch them make it in the sound muffling room), Roll Express, Saltz, and most places.

Best Turkish? Istanbul on road 118.

Where is the best fuchka (many spellings) in Dhaka? That guy in Lalmatia that I blogged about. If not him, Malaka (go up the escalator) in the mall next to the Agora shop on Gulshan.

Where is the best biryani in town? I can’t say. The Dhansiri restaurants do good local food.

Where is the best dhosa in town? Best in town is Roll Express, Time Out, or Dhaba.

Best Bangladeshi? Someone’s home but otherwise, it depends on what you want. Go to BBQ Tonight, Dhaba, or Nirob.

I will try to update this if I get asked other questions. These are my personal opinions since I have not been to the thousands of other restaurants in Dhaka.

***Is there an Ethiopian restaurant in town? Nope.***

Restaurants in Dhaka – Part Five

80 down… here are 61-80. Read roundup part one, part two, part three, and part four to read about the previous 60 eateries I’ve tried in Dhaka. Other than word of mouth (!), read about where I find the restaurants to try. I also scout for new places when I’m out and about and I welcome recommendations.

The lunch buffet at Istanbul is only 1000 taka.
The lunch buffet at Istanbul is only 1000 taka.

Orange and a Half cafe (7/13): New place! Cafe with coffee, shakes, desserts, and sandwiches. Located in Tejgaon, the industrial zone. The cafe is hip looking and located in the Shanta Western building. The owners want a “western” level place. Let’s see if they can reach it. For not, it’s coffee is okay, some of the sandwiches and cakes are okay… let’s see how they do once they have been open for a while. Their goal is to match Gloria Jean’s.

Ideas Manzil (11/13): International guest house with private set menus – Bangladeshi, Indian, Thai, European, and seafood. All the food was fresh. The antique shopping was also fun. Unique location much like a secret garden in Dhaka. You must contact them ahead of time to arrange the menu. Owned by an expat.

Mallika Snacks (8/13): Phoughka. It’s a local place and it’s more a snack place. Best phoughka in the Gulshan area. Very local place.

KFChicken (9/13) on Road 13: Batter fried chicken. The best fried chicken in Dhaka.

Sakura Golden Rice (5/13) near road 118: Chinese/Japanese/Bangladeshi. Reopened and still mediocre watered down food.

Istanbul (12/13): Turkish. Road 118. You can’t even tell you’re in Dhaka. It’s a massive multi-world restaurant with wood fire oven, Las Vegas painted sky ceiling, and a two level castle for children. They have a creamery on location and sell fresh cheese and bread. Soon will have a level with hookah/nargile/water pipe.

Topkapi (6/13): Buffet. Mostly Bangladeshi and Thai food. The papaya salad was not bad and it was spicy!

Emerald Thai (8/13): Thai. Located in Uttara near the flagship Arong store but very hard to find… interior decor is elegant but the food is not Thai spicy. Made for the Bangladeshi palate.

New Cathay (10/13): Chinese. This new location in Banani, on Road 11, is modern looking but the food and the waiters are as good as they have been for 25 years.

Gloria Jean’s (7/13): Cafe with food. Nice enough atmosphere inside and a place to hang out and grab a light bite to eat. Wi-fi and perky staff seem to be some of the reasons there’s hype about this place. I’m not really into it but then I don’t need a cafe to work from.

Nagasaki (7/13): Japanese. This place is like stepping back in time 50 years… there are holes under the tables so that you sit Japanese style but don’t have to sit on the floor if you are out of practice. Soggy rice. Not fresh sashimi. Located out in Uttara.

Just Juice (4/13): Juice and sandwiches. Has a few seats out in front and is otherwise a very small shop.

Attin (9/13): Arabic. Located on Road 27 in Gulshan, this is a hipster sort of place with a rustic loft feel. The middle eastern appetizers are not bad and the waiters are talkative.

Cuppa Coffee Cafe (7/13): Continental/Bangla-Asian. Located with a great view of Gulshan II circle, the people watching is the best thing about this place. Usual hit or miss with dishes covered in mystery white “special sauce” or red ketchup chili.

Baristo (8/13) – Road 6, Banani: Cafe/Italian/Smokers Lounge/Lounge. Opened in February 2013. Have the coffee while sitting in a car… this is a large place suited for large groups. Will soon have hookah/nargile/water pipe.

American Burger (7/13) – Road 11, Banani: Burgers and fries. Okay fries. Burger was okay. Small, take out sort of place with three tables.

Rush Tex Mex (7/13) – Road 6, Banani: Burgers and fries. The advertised Mexican dishes were mysteriously not available… small place with two booths. Fries were okay.

Spicy Restaurant (4/13) on Kemal Attaturk: Opened March 15, 2013. Usual burgers, kababs, banglese (bangla/chinese) stuff. Also has Wifi, I think. Has four booths (or half of the table is booth and the other side is chairs) and a table for six.

Atrium (7/13): Chinesey Bangla food. Some Indian. The lunch buffet for under 600 taka is okay. The exterior Japanesey garden and tables could be nice if it weren’t right on one of the busiest roads in the area.

Quesadilla (5/13); The quesadilla was actually okay. Not greasy and edible. The “Mexican pizza” was like a basic frozen pizza with some charred crumbled beefish added plus a few loops of green pepper. The nachos were a plate of fried wonton skins covered in brown beans, cheese, and decorated with swirls of “mexican” sauce — a slightly sweet pink sauce. The garlic bread with melted cheese was so tasteless as to be useless.

Istanbul restaurant bakes their own bread including this round bread called a simit.
Istanbul restaurant bakes their own bread including this round bread called a simit.

I’m encouraged by the emergence of new places. I’ll blog another time about the best places where I go more than once. Go out and explore!