Where to eat at the airport?

A dear friend of mine from high school, who is now settled in Australia, sent me a note the other day saying “I am a picky eater and don’t know what to eat at the airport when I am travelling. Should I try a new cuisine while I have a layover in a foreign country?” I promised her that I will respond in detail, so here it is.

Airport is not the place to experiment with food or try a new cuisine that you are unfamiliar with. Generally, airport gourmet consists of fast food or sport bar like restaurants. Very rarely, would you find a palatable freshly cooked meal at an airport (with some exceptions). My recommendation is to stick to what you are familiar with. If there are certain brand names that you have tried and liked before, eat there.

Since an airport caters to people from different cultures, ages and preferences, the choices tend to be more international than local. You will tend to find pretty much the same categories of foods – American, Chinese, Italian, Coffee Shops, Bars, etc. at each airport without fail. There may be one or two restaurants that would offer regional fare based on the location. For example Mexican is quite common in Southwestern United States, steaks in the Midwest. Again, if you have eaten a stake before, go ahead and have one. But if you are a newbie, please don’t make the airport a place for your virgin foodie experience.

Frequent travelers often complain about not being able to eat healthy while on the road. Your choice of what you are consuming is perhaps the most important decision factor in picking an airport restaurant. I have found that if you do pay attention and look around, you can always find healthy options such as soups, salads and sandwiches at the very least. The hardest part is to control your mind that may be wandering off to the tempting smell of French fries and doughnuts.

Some common sense should also be used when picking from the menu. You don’t want to eat seafood in a fast food restaurant. A lot of people are conscious of where their meat comes from and I bet your airport restaurant will not be able to provide you this information. Best option is to stay vegetarian as much as you can, but go easy on the cheese and white flour. Eating too many carbohydrates can leave you feeling bloated in the sky.

I like to pack my own snacks before I leave home. Granola bars and dried fruits (almonds, raisins, etc.) are my favorites. That ways, I always have something on me in case of delays and I am not famished and reaching out to the first available food joint that I spot. These days, there are outlets for frozen yogurt and nuts everywhere, so you can forego the free peanuts, pretzels and cookies.

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Cooks across borders

I was talking to a friend last night who is a jazz singer. She works long hours and wants to have a light snack that is quick to prepare, when she come home late in the night. She said her favorite treat was homemade popcorn sprinkled with chaat masala. That got me thinking I should write about this!

Have you ever tried blending flavors from two different countries to create one stunning dish? The art has come to be known as “Fusion” and has gained significant popularity over the recent years.  I believe there has always been some degree of fusion taking place but it’s been geographically limited to neighboring countries. For example, the Mediterranean countries borrow cuisines from each other.  In the Far East, Singapore adopts spices from India, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Restaurants and chefs have gone a step further by combining distinct cuisines into one meal. Vermillion in Chicago, Mesa Grill in New York City and Lukshon in Los Angeles are a few top rated ones. Even on the show, Top Chef, the contestants were asked to create something by picking flags randomly. The Mexican-Chinese pairing was quite challenging!

If you want to experiment with international flavors at home, you need not be a Master Chef.  Even if you know a few basics, proceed confidently.

Trick #1: You family already enjoys pasta. Why not grab a sauce from another country and add it to your favorite pasta. Here are some ideas to get you started…

Thai+Italian=Make a thai red curry with penne pasta, then add shrimp or chicken depending on what your family prefers.

Indian+Italian=Top chicken tikka masala on a flat bread or pizza.

Mexican+Italian=Serve a gazpacho with shells or macaroni pasta.

More tricks coming each week.

Have any tips of your own? Please share in the Comments section.


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Chicken Tagine with Lemon and Olives

Ingredients

 

  • 1 whole large chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 large bunch parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup green olives
  • 1/2 half preserved lemon

Directions

First rub the salt into the chicken pieces and then wash the chicken in the white wine vinegar and water. Leave for 10 minutes. Rinse and dry and place onto a clean plate.

For cooking, use a Tagine (traditional Moroccan dish) or a deep, heavy bottom casserole dish. Heat the dish on high and add oil to the hot dish heat for 3 minutes until the oil bubbles. Then add salt and chicken. Flip it over after 2 or 3 minutes. Then add saffron,  more salt, 1 onion, garlic, cumin and ginger. Mix all these ingredients into the chicken. Mix everything and try to place the onion under the chicken. Add the rest of the onion on the top then lemon, Two cups of water. Cook in medium heat for 45 minutes. Finally add olives 5 minutes before it is done.

Serve with fresh bread or couscous.

An Introduction to Moroccan Cuisine

Moroccan cuisine is unlike other Arab, African or Mediterranean foods that you may be familiar with. Although it has influences from other regions around it, Moroccan gastronomy offers an interesting offering of meats, vegetables and spices. Characteristic flavorings include preserved lemons, unrefined olive juices and dried fruits. Spices such as saffron, turmeric, cumin and paprika as well as herbs like parsley, cilantro and mint are heavily used.

A typical Moroccan meal starts with a variety of hot and cold salads. Some of these are relatively easy to prepare, such as boiled beets or carrots seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Moroccan salad is a mixture of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. Zaalouk is a mixture of crushed eggplant and tomatoes mixed with garlic and spices, served cold. Harira is Morocco’s famous lentil and tomato soup, which is also used to break the fast at Ramadan. Khobz, traditional Moroccan bread is served at all meals. You would see everyone from street peddlers to small stores selling it.

The main entrée is almost always cooked and served in a Tagine, a dome shaped heavy clay dish that is sometimes painted or glazed for decoration. The Tagine has a flat circular base in which you cook the food and a large cone shaper cover that retains the moisture while cooking. Tagine of meat (beef, lamb), chicken and vegetables is most common.  There is also an array of vegetables prepared in Moroccan cuisine. Roasted whole artichokes with peas, diced pumpkin with cinnamon, quince and green beans are a few staples. Although Morocco has a large coastline, seafood is only found in upscale restaurants.

Couscous is one of the most popular entrées found here and is said to be of Berber origin. Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa from west of the Nile Valley. Couscous is made of semolina and wheat flour by rolling it into fine granules. The end result is of almost powdery consistency which is steamed and served at room temperature with vegetables or meat stew, and sometimes seasoned with saffron to add color.

Pastilla is an elaborate preparation of layers of phyllo, eggs, almond paste and ground cooked chicken or mixed seafood. It is then topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar and can be served as an appetizer or entrée.

Desserts traditionally consist of fresh fruits. There are a number of bakeries and patisseries in Morocco but most of these sweets are eaten with tea between meals. Puff pastry, honey, nuts, dried fruits and powdered sugar are common ingredients used to make the traditional desserts which may remind you of baklava but are far more diverse in flavors. Green tea soaked in fresh mint leaves and Copyright Go Eat Givelots of sugar is indispensable throughout the day. The Moroccan tea culture involves pouring tea from a beautiful silver kettle into small glasses and is enjoyed leisurely with friends and family.

For breakfast or snack, a popular item found everywhere is the Msemmen, a crepe made of whole wheat flour with layering of butter and oil. It can be eaten with jam or honey. Pain cake and doughnuts are also served at tea time as snacks. Walking in the Medina’s, you would find vendors selling boiled chickpeas in paper cones, steamed snails by the bowls, caked and dried fruits. Juice stands sell freshly squeezed orange, tangerine and grapefruit juices that cost under $1 per glass. Although alcohol is not permitted in the Muslim religion, a lot of Moroccans drink in the restraints and bars. While liquor stores may not be so common, beer and wine is available at supermarkets.

As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in January 2011.

Eat Round the Clock in Montreal

The city of Montreal is just across the border, yet an entire world away. Crowned as City of Festivals and Paris of North America, the French influences are found everywhere from architecture, language, culture to cuisine. While there are a number of great eateries to choose from, here are my personal top choices that you could cover in a day.

Nocochi Pâtisserie Café, Montreal

Start your day off at Olive et Gourmando, a lively bakery located in Old Montreal. There is a good chance there will be a wait to get in, but its well worth it! You can chose from dozens of freshly baked croissants, pastries, muffins or my personal favorite, the banana chocolate brioche. It goes well with a hot cappuccino after which you have enough energy to stroll through the neighboring attractions including Basilique Notre-Dame, district’s riverside edge and Pointe-à-Callière (Museum of Archaeology and History).

fresh pastries at Olive et Gourmando, Montreal

For lunch take a stroll through the neighborhood of petite Italie ( Little Italy) which will transport you to a street in Naples. While there are dozens of restaurants to choose from here, restaurant Casa Napoli offers the best value for money. A family business of over 28 years, the owner offers northern and southern Italian cuisine in an ambience of The Godfather. There is also a dainty sidewalk patio too where you can watch Italian families shopping for traditional items or catching up with friends. There is plenty to choose from the menu. The mozzarella is so fresh that it melts in your mouth. The pizzas live up to the restaurant’s name as well. It is the closest you can come to going to Naples being in Canada.

Take the metro to Sherbrook and a bus ride over to Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts). You could visit this extensive and one of the most famous museum’s firs , and then walk two streets over to Nocochi Pâtisserie Café (2156 Rue Mackay, Montreal, QC H3G 2J2, Canada, (514) 989-7514). This small delectable café is perfect for afternoon tea. Here you will find a variety of petite size melt in your mouth cookies, cakes, chocolates, nut filled dates, nut filled apricots, marzipans and Turkish delights. They are not cheap and you can get by eating a lot. They also have some nicely packed boxes to take back home as gifts.

Vieux-Montréal is home to a considerable number of restaurants catering to most tastes and wallets. However, a must try right off the bustling Place Jacques-Cartier is a French bistro called Le Jardin Nelson for dinner. It gets quite busy on weekend nights and they don’t take reservations. If the weather is nice, ask to be seated in the back patio where you would feel like you have entered a tropical garden paradise. There is live jazz music almost always. It even has raincatchers to protect you in case the weather is uncooperative. While the menu can cater to picky eaters as well, try the traditional crepes that are offered with a variety of fillings from mushrooms, rabbit, and duck to lobsters and shrimps.

Le Jardin Nelson, Montreal

Visit one of the three locations of Juliette e Chocolate for an after dinner treat. They serve traditional or old-fashioned, dark, milk or white chocolate as shots, milk shakes or smoothies, combined with fruit or if you are more adventurous with spices, and even married Liquor for cocktails, hot or shakes. And that’s not all! If you still like a dessert to go with your chocolate, you can order crepes, pastries or fondue. And please don’t forget to take one of the many varieties of brownies they make to have later. “The only thing I can’t resist is temptation!” – Oscar Wilde.

After partying at the numerous bars and clubs that Montreal is famous for, night owls usually end up having La Poutine. It is a fast food invention of Quebec consisting of French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy. You can find it in surprising combinations (even with foie gras) at pretty much any corner of Montreal. It is not the healthiest snack but a must try in this region.

~ As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in September 2010.

More on where to eat in Montreal