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Memories of London and Its Gastronomic Variety

Hello internet, I’ve been absent from this blog for a little while, but it was for a good reason. In November, I indulged in a separate writing project and completed my first NaNoWriMo (“National Novel Writing Month”), typing out over 52,000 words of a story which hopefully makes some sense. It was just for fun, and I don’t know what will come from this, but I enjoyed spending some time on fiction-writing, if only for 30 days. Since then, December has been all about the holidays, and I’ve discovered that it is quite difficult to get to the computer when one hand is holding a drumstick or a forkful of mashed potatoes for about half the month.

But now I’m back, if a littler fatter, and I’m bringing the food stories. To start, here are some additional highlights from London, covering a little more ground beyond just a proper afternoon tea:

1) London is the home of a great variety of ethnic cuisines. A top selection, of course, is Indian food. On our recent trip there, DH and I spent our first evening at PUNJAB (map!) in Covent Garden and had the best welcome ever.

The smell of delicious cooking softly wafts outside...

The exterior is fairly unassuming, but a peek through the window and you will see that it is a packed house for dinner. We gladly wandered through the neighborhood during the half-hour wait for a table, and were immediately seated upon our return. The restaurant interior is a bit maze-like, and our table was in one of many cozy rooms filled with people happily chatting and scarfing down their meals. The atmosphere was really fun and boisterous. We spent a long time looking through the menu, which had a lot of tempting options, and in the end, decided to go with the classics of Punjabi and Anglo-Indian cuisine:

PAPADUMS - totally addictive. We asked for a second order. And those sauces/chutneys/pickles! I wish I could take them home with me.

Sweet lassi - makes the yogurt lover in me go woooooo

Butter naan in your face! I could eat this at any time of day, any day. Nom nom smack smack. Mmm, bread.

Butterrrrrr Chickennnnn!!! It was the first time we ever had this classic punjabi dish, and it was awesome. Like, "let's put the whole dang spice rack in this dish" awesome.

Saag paneer. Sassy cheese and spinach ohhhh!

And the British "national dish", chicken tikka masala!

We tried very hard to savor every bite and not eat like vacuum cleaners, but it was really tough when all the food was so soft, tasty, and begging to be devoured. Each dish had its own unique taste and the chicken was super-tender, pairing very well with our side of basmati rice. When we finally came up for air and started digesting, we saw that the patrons around us were a mix of South Asians, Anglos, and tourists, and everyone looked equally satisfied with the plates in front of them. DH and I were convinced when we waddled out of the restaurant that it was a solid choice.

And the price? Yeah, every dish is less than 10 British pounds. Yessss.

2) After our Punjab dinner, we were totally in the mood for more chicken for the rest of our trip. Lucky for us, a dear friend and recent transplant from the States introduced us to NANDO’S (map!). Nando’s may be a chain establishment, but it serves up some mighty good chicken of the Afro-Portuguese variety.

In case you don't know what they're all about. It's CHICKEN. Chicken made with love.

There are multiple locations in London (and astonishingly, in Washington D.C. too! I am so there!), and we went to the one in the clean and spacious Jubilee Place mall in Canary Wharf, where we feasted on “peri-peri chicken” and its accompaniments. I liked the restaurant setup. A hostess seated us, then we went up to the cashier to place our order, and a waitress brought the food to the table a few minutes later. Easy!

Yowza.

We also got some pita bread with a red pepper dip.

Yeah, these were all gone in about 3 minutes.

The chicken tasted ridiculously fresh. My mind is blown as to how something of this quality exists in a fast-food-ish context. Next time I am in the D.C./Maryland area, I have to try the U.S. version to see if it’s just as good. I hope it is! (I also recently saw the Nando’s marinating sauce for sale in NYC, so I’ll be picking up a bottle soon.)

3) And then it was time for some coffee. I try to make a point of visiting a good coffee shop in each city we visit, and by now I’ve gotten just a teensy bit tired of the Brooklyn-hipster aesthetic. Sure, if it’s seriously good coffee, I’ll drink it out of a barrel served by a hobo (SOOO indie), but we’re across the pond now. How is London going to serve its coffee to me?

THE NORDIC WAY. Oh.

I love NORDIC BAKERY (map!). I had researched the location online to find a place to rendez-vous with another dear London friend (who happens to have quite a soft spot for the Nordic countries and was glad to meet there, yay!), and had already fallen for the bakery’s website! (Oh, sweet Helvetica font!) Seeing the space in person confirmed my expectations, and it was a wonderfully simple and relaxing place to catch up and have a quiet conversation.

There are some tall ceilings, and the surprisingly un-tacky wood walls had a nice calming effect. Pretend you're in the woods, now!

The latte and hot chocolate was quite tasty as well.

Sugar and caffeine make the world go 'round. Round and round in cute Teema cups.

When I’m back in London again, I’ll have to come and try the actual baked goods. I was eyeing their pastries, but my stomach was still full of chicken then. Next time, pastries. Next time I will eat you so much.

4) Finally, to top off our trip, what else could we eat except good ol’ British fish and chips? And where else could we eat them except for a place with a name as cool as MASTERS SUPER FISH (map!)? I wanted to eat some super fish. Wouldn’t you? So DH and I took a stroll across the Hungerford Bridge and down to the Waterloo area, which was decidedly residential and unexciting, except for this chip shop. We were the first customers, charging in eagerly just as they opened for business that day.

When it comes to chip shops, does divey-er equal better? Maybe.

Our waitress brought us some bread and fresh cooked shrimp (shell on) as complimentary appetizers and we proceeded to peel and eat the sweet and salty little prawns with gusto.

I would have seriously paid some poundage to eat a whole bucket more (I'm not even sure they were on the menu), but we were there for the fish.

And maybe some calamari…

Batter, A++ would fry again

Fried cod and plaice with chips and mushy peas. YUM.

Goodness gracious, let’s get a closer look:

Ah, lovely fish. Your death was not in vain. It was such a tasty fate. A fate covered in tartar sauce.

This is the kind of fried food no one should ever have to feel guilty about. The crispy coating was so light and clean-tasting that you’d almost think it was good for you! The fish, of course, was very fresh and flaked in just the right places. Totally worth it, and again, very reasonably priced for SO.MUCH.FISH.

So those were my top picks for London, but I’ll throw in two more suggestions: anything at the supermarket section of Marks & Spencer (amazing prepared foods that put Whole Foods to shame; I ate tons of their fruit salad) and the many, many amazing selections at the outdoor Borough Market (produce that puts the Union Square greenmarket to shame; omg tomatoes):

"Fruity Beauty Cocktail", with honeydew AND cantaloupe that tastes good? I'm sold.

It's tomatosplosion here on culturesplosion.

So what’s that they say? Cheers? Yes, cheers. Now go eat!


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Saturday at Smorgasburg!

I have to thank my fav restaurant buddy for introducing me to her colleague as “my friend with the food blog,” because this new acquaintance then went on to give me the scoop about SMORGASBURG (map!), a cool Brooklyn food fair that happens in Williamsburg every Saturday.

Curious about this weekly event (organized by the same people who set up the Brooklyn Flea markets), DH and I picked a glorious day to visit.

Ok, maybe not so glorious. Where's the sun??

The sky was not nearly as beautiful as in all the press photos, but I wanted to try those fried anchovies I had read about, darn it! So we braved the rain and gloom under a tiny umbrella while making our way east from the L-train stop, and thankfully saw that a good number of other people had also made the same trek for a chance to taste some good Brooklyn yums.

So many places to try! First stop: BON CHOVIE (omg, their website is great. I’ll never think of anchovies the same way ever again. Apparently they are the rock stars of the sea?)

Tiny oily fish are effin' metal, dude.

We weren’t hardcore enough to go for “heads on”, but no matter. They were delicious! That smoked paprika aioli on the side was pretty special too.

And to think, you guys could have been canned and sitting on the shelf of a supermarket somewhere for MONTHS. This is a much better fate for you, fishies, I promise.

After that tasty little appetizer, we were on the prowl again. This time, we wanted something carby, with a little more heft. Ooo, what’s that over there?

Pupusas? PUPUSAS.

A little background. Pupusas are a Salvadoran food – thick tortillas filled with any variety of amazing things. (Long confusing story short: the first time I tried them was in Scotland, homemade by a Taiwanese-American girl who learned about them while visiting Latin America. A truly global treat.) And now here was SOLBER PUPUSAS, dishing them out! We ordered a traditional pork one and a fish one. They came with curtido (pickled cabbage), tomato sauce, sour cream, and jalapenos. Then we also grabbed some juices at the Red Jacket Orchards stand.

Time for a bigger photo:

I really like the colors in this picture.

Ohhhhmyyygodddd. These pupusas were totally gold. The combination of the tortilla, meat/fish, and all the condiments was just the most amazing mouth-happy experience ever. Not only was there a good taste, but the curtido gave each bite an excellent crunch, so the texture was great too. We scarfed it all down like animals, it was glorious.

So now we totally had the hunger. More carbs and meat, please?

Hmmm, that BOCATA stand smells pretty good.

Who can say no to sausage on a roll? One please!

I didn’t get the combo, which would have come with a side of fried shishito peppers, but they let me have one as a sample, and it was very good! (On a later occasion I bought some fresh peppers and tried to make an approximation at home. It’s a great healthy snack/app!) The sandwich itself, though, was also top-notch.

*CHOMP* Mmm, chorizo sausage and manchego cheeeeese...

Now, what about dessert? We need a unique baked good:

A stroopwafel. Perfect!

This bit of cookie-caramelly goodness was courtesy of the nice lady at THE GOOD BATCH stand. I haven’t had a stroopwafel since my visit to Vandaag way back (has it been 10 months already??), and this was a good specimen. I also got some AMAZING iced coffee from GRADY’S COLD BREW to go with it.

I am such a fiend for well-brewed coffee. Tiny bit of milk, no sugar needed. ZERO BITTERNESS. That is what I need. NEED I tell you.

I was tempted to buy some of their concentrate. Enough great coffee to last quite awhile! Maybe next time, though.

These lads know their craft well.

And they gave us our change all in $2 bills! Is that so hipster? I think that's kind of hipster.

In case you were ever wondering what the back of a $2 bill looks like. It's the presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. NOT the signing. Factoid for the day.

Although I also really wanted to try a popsicle from the PEOPLE’S POPS stand, I was just a little too full and the weather was getting just a little too cold, so we had to pass on it. However, just a couple of weeks later I stopped by the stand at Chelsea Market (another foodstravaganza under one roof) and got my chance to sample their frozen goodies:

Roasted red plum. CHOCK FULL of fresh fruit. I had no regrets.

I would love to go back to Smorgasburg again on a better-weather day and try more selections. There were a lot of other choices that looked appetizing. If you want an opportunity to sample the new wave of artisanal, independent foods that are originating out of Brooklyn nowadays, this is a good chance to graze all in one place.

And after you’re done stuffing your face, you can open up your wallet at the vintage market around the corner!