Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Feed me Please!

After much anticipation, rain date included, this year's Taste of Cambridge was a sound success. From the turn out, to the food and the weather, this event had it going on.

I always find it difficult to pace myself at such events, there is so much food and so many people, I tend to unleash my appetite within the first fifteen minutes and get so full so fast that I can't really enjoy the many dishes restaurants have to offer. Taste of Cambridge was no different, however I am proud to say that I managed to try pretty much everything and pick out my favorites...my secret weapon? Bring a buddy - this way you can share portions, allowing you to try everything without having to finish the whole dish or feel guilty about throwing food away. (Some places hadn't quite mastered the realistic portion size).
Let's go through some of the highlights! Starting with the apparent trend of the year...tacos!
We had pork tacos from East Coast Grill..

Smoked duck tacos from Upstairs on the Square...

My favorite tacos were actually from Casablanca. The Morocco taco: smoked lamb, fried baby chickpeas and perserved lemon on a corn tortilla. The crispy chickpeas and the slight tang of the lemon made for an unexpected delight!

Another favorite was Oleana's rendition of a greek salad with pita. It was a cornucopia of flavours which all managed to both complement eachother while remaining distinctive...no mean feat!
Of course, I would not be satisfied without a serious dessert showdown. The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts did a good job with some of their inventive offerings; their rum raisin cookies were especially light and tasty.  However it was Veggie Planet, a soon-to-be sister of Veggie Galaxy that really took the cake with their amazing vegan delights. This was in fact the only booth I went back to twice. I couldn't get enough of their coconut citrus cupcakes, taza chocolate chip cookies or their cheesecake. 
Lizzy's ice cream put JP Licks to shame with their interesting flavours, my last taste of the evening was in fact their raspberry chocolate chip ice cream in conjuncture with their ginger...great for digestion:) (this was also part of my master plan...I swear!)
On top of all the food, no less than three bands were playing throughout the evening. It made for a great distraction and much needed break from the seemingly endless food offerings.
The beauty behind events like this is that you can eat a huge amount of food, taste from the very best restuarants in the area and although it may not feel like it at the time, you know you will someday be ready for another meal.  With all the knowledge you have acquired of the local eateries, you will have no issue navigating the sometimes intimidating list of great cambridge tastes. 
As for me, I have a reservation at Harvest tomorrow night, and I know that I will be ordering their Smoked  bacon cotton candy!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The last of Singapore and return to the Bean!

After a tumultuous trip (major turbulence syndrome...yuck) I am back in familiar Boston, safe and sound.
Singapore was amazing, I am pleased with my culinary itinerary. Here are a few of the most interesting things I tried in my last few days (and a special thanks to Ritz Camera, who were able to salvage my corrupted files and put them on a CD...):
Up first, the infamous Durian fruit:
It looks and smells awful, but actually tastes quite nice. It is like the avocadoof fruits, with a rich and particular taste, a bit sweet and a slightly bitter after taste. Not my absolute favorite, but definately something worth trying.

A famous seafood dish most commonly found among the restaurants lining the Singapore River is their Chili Crab. Huge succulent crabs are smothered in a very spicy but sweet chili sauce. This was as delicious as it was messy, there is no way to eat this elegantly:) 
The local coffee pronouned 'Kope' is brewed jet black and sweetened with condensed milk. I had mine to go and was presented with an iced coffe in a bag...it was probably my most favorite discovery of the trip!

Of course, what would a trip to Asia be without a visit to the dumpling house? Din Tai Fung is their most famous dumpling house and they serve up delicious steamed dumplings filled with ground pork and a soupy broth. They litteraly explode when you bite into them...makes for a rather comical experience if you are unaware!
With all of these local eats, I could see myself staying much longer, but all good things come to an end and I would rather leave wanting more than to overstay my welcome.
On another note, it is nice to be back and I have hit the ground running! Today, along the Cambridge Parkway, The Museum of Science, in partnership with Whole Foods, hosted Let's Talk About Food, an event from 10 to 5 promoting the relavence and importance of food in our cutlure and society.

I am also really looking forward to the Taste of Cambridge, a fabulous event which, luckily for me, was postponed until this Tuesday 28th due to bad weather. It will be held at the Charles Hotel from 5:30 to 8:30 pm.  As many of you may know, Cambridge is home to some of Boston's best chefs and restaurants.  To have the opportunity to experience a bit of everything all in one place is something you do not want to miss. I will be going to take a peak around and am very excited! It will be the perfect way to reintegrate myself into the bostonian food scene especially after such a different perspective!
Oh, and on top of being a major culinary event, Taste of Cambridge is a fundraiser for organisations such as The Salvation Army and The Cambridge Program....you gotta love a ticket that works to satisfy your stomach and your conscience!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bubble Tease

 One of my projects on this trip was to get some bubble tea. Now, I am aware that it originated in Taiwan, but it is still a far more popular trend over here in Asia than anywhere in North America. From all that I have tasted and tried so far, there eems to be a particular interest in texture here: from the way they prepare much of their meat, to their love of 'gizzards' and fish lungs (I tried those yesterday!), the tapioca pearls in bubble tea fit right into the food culture.

I had the occassion to get some earlier today as I strolled around Bugis Village, the most incredible market I have seen. You can get your hands on anything and everything and at an incredibly low price! I was litteraly in heaven!

I was contemplating which flavour to get when a lady ordered a papaya milk tea. I saw the girl make it and there was no powder involved, just the milk, ice and huge chunks of fruit all thrown in a blender. I was like...I WANT!

So I ordered the same with boba (tapioca pearls).

It is a very simple thing and yet somehow this bubble tea tasted so different and so much more delicious. Perhaps it is the milk, the fruit, the ice(?). The boba are slightly different as they are flavoured according to their color.
Whatever it was, I enjoyed every last sip and bubble of this drink. I am going to have to find a replacement for it in Boston....the Boston Tea Stop in Harvard Square is just too far away for me to frequent as much as I will be doing once I get back...I shudder to think what I will have to do to find me my asian street food.....

And as much as it pains me to say, I have come to my last day here in Singapore...I really feel an affinity to the place, through its food, its culture...everything! On the bright side, I have seen a lot of the country (which is really pretty much the size of a small state), and tasted many of the interesting food stuffs that are local dietary staples. I of course missed out on a few things, but that just means that I jave something more to look forward to for next time:)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Experiencing the streets of Singapore

One of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip was the famous asian street food.  I remember from my trips to Japan the fast paced bustle of streets lined with all kinds of interesting snack stations to meet any craving.
Yesterday, we went downtown to the shopping district and it was just as well there was so much street food available because shopping in Singapore really works up an appetite!
The first thing we tried is called Tu Tu Kueh and is a rice flour/coconut concoction steamed and served on a banana leaf.

These little treats are quite light and a perfect refresher or boost on the go.
After a few shops and many temptations I completely and willingly gave into, we came to a rest at a 'chicken rice restaurant'.  This restaurant thrives on the idea of fast food, but not in an unhealthy way. How does this work you ask? It is pure genius really, everyone has the same thing, each table gets a serving of duck soup (above), rice boiled in chicken broth, a plate of chicken and vegetables with fried onions. (below)
There is no ordering involved, the kitchen just keeps producing these dishes and puts them out as soon as you take your table.  I was amazed, it was the most well oiled business I had seen in a while, leave it to these guys to perfect such a thing.
After we were whisked out of the chicken rice restaurant (the eating speed is also quite fast..I admit I wasn't quite finished when I looked up from my plate to see other customers at our table..) and a few stores later we stopped for something cool and sweet. Ah, I thought, some ice cream, something I know....wrong! Here they served ice cream bars in waffles or...crazy colored bread.
TADAA! Bonkers...that is all I have to say.
These streets are crazy busy, it's a haven for promoters. In Asia, they have a popular hydrating beverage called 100 Plus. I must say it was pretty handy having guys with huge coolers of it on their backs to fill little sampler cups with the stuff.
Hydrating in this temperature is essential!
After all of this, we wound up at the pool and after a quick dip I thought a young coconut would be just the thing to recalibrate my system before dinner.
I know what you are thinking...how could all of this possibly go down in one day? The simple answer is the amazingly quick pace of the locals.  If I did not have such savvy tour guides, I would have gotten about one quarter of this done.
I am just afraid of what will come of me when I am left to my own devices on Monday, when everyone goes back to work...scary thought!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The art of sushi in Singapore

 Sushi, is a style of cuisine first developed in Japan.  It has since become widely popular all around the world.  I have been lucky enough to have sushi in Japan, where as many people attest, sees sushi as a kind of art, a practice with a particular reverence. Although this is true, as I have come to learn from my most recent expeirnece, that Singapore and I assume many other Asian countries, treat sushi with the same kind of delicacy.  I experienced sushi here as I seldom do, making Singapore a definite contender in the art of sushi.

 Sushi is no mere roll and cut business. At least not here.  Upon entering there is a protocol to follow, you are first instructed to take off your shoes and are then shown to a table that is lower than the floor so that you can sit or kneel by the table. I like to think of this as the acts of reverence towards the sushi gods...tee hee.
Once seated you puruse the menu, or, as in my case, you salivate over the multitude of pictures depicting the different dishes.  The set up of the menu is quite different from what we are used to in North America.  For one thing, sushi rolls are not the center of attention.  Instead, each page showcases a different style of dish, sashimi or raw fish, ramen (noodle soups), tempura (fried dishes), cooked fish, soba dishes and so on.
  Of all the things we ordered, only two were sushi rolls..they happened to be the most delicious rolls (soft shell crab and eel with tamago and cucumber), but so was everything else we ordered. Above are two different soups, one with beef and egg dropped into it and the other a miso soup with loads of vegetables.
The key to this type of food is the freshness and presentation of the ingredients.  Most of it is simple and there is no hidding poor quality.  A simple thing like a seaweed salad becomes a piece of art in itself. Sushi Tei excelled in both quality, presentation, the two most important features of good sushi.
This is a tofu dish served with a garnish of 'wood fish', which is simply a type of fish they shave so that it litteraly resembles wood shavings...it was salty and sweet.
I won't pretend like a meal of this sort and of this magnitude can be considered frugal, but I will say that I think it was worth it to experience this traditional way of eating at a sushi restaurant.
Oh and also of note, the drink of choice here in Singapore seems to be 'Tiger beer'.  As you may know, I am no beer drinker, but this stuff was pretty tolerable, even for me:)
Here's to good beer and even better food...I love Singapore!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The sensory journey begins!

 When arriving in a new place, all the new sights, sounds and smells send you into a compelte sensory overload. Of course, the 24 hour travel day which plagued me intermittently throughout the first day made taking everything in a little more of a challenge...
I still managed to soak in some of the citites basic trends, like its amazing balance between nature and architecture.  The most expansive trees line the streets and neighborhoods and the buildings are all colorful, there are no gray, drab apartment complexes in this city.

After a day at the pool in the sun (:)) my generous hosts took me for a walk around their neighborhood.  They knew I was keen on the food scene and they showed me what they call 'haw kee centers'. (Something I mistakenly thought was spelt 'hockey center'...Canadian...) These places are just like our food courts, except that they are open to the sky and crammed with pan-asian specialties.
Laksa, curries, ramen, pho, you name it, they prepare it.  I was very hungry at the time but knew we were going elsewhere for dinner. It was incredibly difficult to walk through and resist the temptation to order a plethora of delicious smelling and looking dishes.
We came upon a stand that offers these strange crushed ice things. They have bowls of crushed ice over which they pour fresh fruit like lychee or dragon fruit. It's like bubble tea but in a bowl and with ice...you can imagine my excitement!
Luckily we had time for a quick drink. I ordered their Soursop juice. Which was explained as a slightly sour but sweet fruit juice.
Mine came in a cup with a spoon and a straw. I was very excited: my first encounter with a Singaporian specialty drink that was like an upgraded bubble tea. I stirred and took a sip...it was like an explosion of flavour, a mix between lemonade, lychee and dragon fruit...
At the bottom of the drink can be found the actual fruit, smashed to allow for maximal juicing.  I know the picture looks quite like a jelly-fish and maybe not the most appetizing.  Let me tell you that it was the tastiest, most refreshing thing. I polished off the entire beverage and am already craving another.
It is always very warm and humid here and drinks like this are essential.
It's been one day and I am already in love with the culture, the people and the overhwelming presence of all asian cuisine.
More to follow shortly.. Stay tuned:)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Frugal Foodista goes abroad!

I am very happy to say that I have been presented with an opportunity to travel to Singapore! Sure, it is a little last minute, as I am due to leave in a few hours, but how many times does such a chance present itself? Not many.
I will be gone for about 10 days, returning on the 24th of June and although I am sure to be missing out on some great events and offerings in Boston, I am absolutely looking forward to the adventures (particularly the food related ones:)) that await in Singapore...
If anyone has been and has any ideas, please let me know as I haven't been organised enough to do much research. (In fact, I thought my flight was leaving tomorrow evening up until about two hours ago...yay me)
So off I go and I will be sure to document my travels in the tastiest way possible:)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chocolate can turn any sour day sweet

What can we possibly do to prevent the doldrums of winter weather in June? Not much...the sharp winds, cold drizzle and occasional mosoon storms are difficult to get over and yet I managed to have a very enjoyable few hours today, most of which was in fact spent walking around outdoors. The Boston Chocolate Walking Tours, hosted by the Taste of Chocolate, is one of many activities offered by this organisation that features...you guessed it, all things chocolate.
I have been trying to get myself to one of these tours since the middle of April. I am very glad I persevered because the tour is a great way to incorporate local gems, delicious treats and new company all in one.

Chocolate Walking Tours are offered in many different locations around Boston and Cambridge. I went on the Faneuil Hall/North End tour and we started at the Godiva by Quincy Market. It was a strong start!

The fifteen chocolateurs (a large group for such a yucky day!) were greeted and ushered upstairs to a secluded chocolate room.  Here we were given goodie bags with chocolate surprises and coupons as well as an introduction to what lay ahead. This was high quality and intimiate: a great way to begin.

Our next stop catered more to the tourist types as we went across the street to Cheers to try their Boston Cream Pie. I must be honest and say that this was the tour's weak point, I think we could all have done without the boisterous and chaotic atmosphere of the restaurant, particularly as the dessert itself was not great and the chocolate component was a poor rendition, it was most likely Hershey's or some imitation thereof.

Luckily, the next stop, Wagamama (another unlikely chocolate stop), proved much more successful.  Here we were taken to the downstairs area and each given a taste of their delectable five layer chocolate fudge cake.  My qualms were silenced with my first bite of this perfectly rich and moist chocolate cake, the fudge frosting was divine. We were also handed little chocolate chip cookies from the Boston Chipyard at this point and that won me over as I am a huge fan of the little guys.

After a brief lesson on the making of chocolate which I always find interesting, we were taken into the North End, right up to Mike's pastries where we were met with chocolate filled cannoli. I do love cannolis, and have never actually tried the chocolate filling. It was a tasty stop on our tour...albeit a bit chaotic as is customary when dealing with Mike's.

Around a few corners we came to Lulu's, a very pink and pretty cupcake shop. 
Don't be misguided however, the treats served up here are rich, real and to be contended with! I had been completely oblivious to this little whole in the wall, and am very glad it is now on my radar!


The final stop was at Maria's, a pastry shop right on the outer rim of the North End. Here we tried two different homemade chocolate treats. A Chocolate Torrone, which is a chocolate, honey and almond log, and Totos, all-spiced chocolate cookies with chocolate frosting.. Both were great, although we did not get much more out of this stop, it would have been nice to meet Maria, but apparently we had just missed her...too bad:(
All in all, the tour is a great way to spend a bleak Saturday afternoon. It would have been equally enjoyable on a beautiful day however in this area, that would have meant for busier streets.
I would love to try out the other tours around the city, but would recommend this one, particularly to those who are looking for a fun and tasty way to see this part of the city. My only reservation is that it becomes a bit difficult to circulate information to everyone, particularly in areas of high traffic in Quincy Market and on Hanover St.
I would like to just sign off with a big thank you to our guide, Miriam, she was really great and her interest in chocolate was contagious:)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sugar Mine!

As happens every year, from June 7th-9th, Government Center sees its outdoor square full of ice cream and ice cream fanatics. The Scooper Bowl is an event I always look forward to, this year was especially exciting as I missed last year's while on tour in Spain. (You win some, you lose some...)

A fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund Cancer Institute, you pay an entry price of 8 dollars (get 1 dollar off when you text ICE CREAM to 22122) to gain access to all the ice cream you can eat, served up by some of the most famous Ice cream companies around.

As usual, Ben and Jerry's makes its appearance and this year's selection was strong, but not as strong as past years. I realised I am not a fan of their vanilla ice cream which was the base of both A Late Night Snack and Americone Dream. I did really enjoy their Milk and Cookies and Bonaroo Buzz. (Those qualified for a second round)
The winner however, without a hint of a doubt was Ciao Bella, which offered its refreshing Mango Sorbet and an interesting rendition of a Chocolate Smore's.  I actually lost count of how many Mango sorbets I had...

Luckily, water stations are to be found at regular intervals.  On such a hot day, with so many crazed, sugar loaded people, it is essential to take water and shade breaks.  
My friend and I got this down to a fine art. Which is probably why we managed to build such an impressive stack of ice cream tubs...below we have a total of 37, and that's not including a few tubs containing undesirable flavors we had to throw away (i.e the Firecracker from Baskin and Robbins...yuck!)

I feel we did the event justice, my technique is to try everything (unless it is a standard vanilla or other flavour I do not need to waste stomach space on) and then to narrow it down to my favorites. My friend and I went back for Ben and Jerry's Bonaroo Buzz and Milk and Cookies and finished with Ciao Bella's Mango sorbet.
I was on a major sugar high after this event, I wouldn't have it any other way...many people develop a slight ice cream aversion for a few days. My aversion lasted about twenty minutes and I am now craving something sweet and cold...ice cream anyone?