We’re Bringing the Puerto Rican Food Party to Atlanta

The coast, the mountains, and the home: that is the landscape of authentic Puerto Rican cuisine painted by Atlanta-based renowned Chef, Hector Santiago. Known for his stint on Top Chef, Santiago has made a name for himself through his restaurants Pura Vida, and his most recent foray in the Atlanta food scene, El Super Pan.

INSPIRED BY THE WORLD – El Super Pan boasts traditional dishes from all around the Spanish Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic), some of which have very non-traditional fusion elements from other international cuisines, particularly flavors from East Asia. One would never see pork belly buns, fish sauce, or anchovies in Puerto Rican cuisine, but Santiago is a firm believer in the expansion of what we know about food. He is inspired to create by the fresh ingredients grown in whatever environment he happens to be cooking in.

El Super Pan's pork belly bun, a fusion of Spanish-Caribbean and Korean cuisine
El Super Pan’s pork belly bun, a fusion of Spanish-Caribbean and Korean cuisine

Santiago, along with other Atlanta-based Puerto Rican Chefs, Julio Delgado and Andre Gomez, will be planning a menu for Go Eat Give Destination Puerto Rico that provides a true glimpse into the everyday food in Puerto Rico; a real slice of life. But don’t get me wrong, there is nothing “run-of-the-mill” about everyday Puerto Rican food. It is full of layers of spices, textures, and strong flavors, because food and eating is such a big part of Puerto Rican culture. Santiago said that when he was a kid in Puerto Rico, cooking at a young age was extremely common, and all of his friends used to come to his house to cook together, laugh, play, and eat. 

Two staples of Puerto Rican cuisine that you will see as a base for just about every Puerto Rican dish are Sofrito and Adobo. Sofrito is a rich mixture of peppers, onions, tomatoes, salt and pepper that serves as a starting out place for much of Puerto Rican cuisine. Adobo is a complementary mixture of spices that one would be extremely remiss to leave out of their Puerto Rican dish: cumin, corriander, oregano, black pepper, garlic, etc. These spices and vegetable bases make cuisine so flavorful and bold, it’s easy to take for granted. Santiago recalled the first time that he tried oatmeal in the mainland United States, and he thought, “what is this?” “Puerto Ricans hate bland food,” he laughed “at home oatmeal has vanilla, orange zest, cinnamon, sugar, a little salt. It’s one of those big differences.”

YEAR-ROUND FOOD FESTIVALS – Santiago explained that there is an immense festival culture in Puerto Rico. There is always something going on and with that, comes the food. He joked, “If you’re not drinking Cerveza in Puerto Rico, you’re probably eating!” There is truly a festival for every occasion on Puerto Rico and for the harvest of every possible staple food you could think of. There are coffee festivals, banana festivals, taro festivals, corn festivals, tomato festivals, orange festivals and more than five different festivals dedicated to crab. Puerto Rico is also a growing home to very large, internationally recognized culinary festivals, like Saborea (savor) where over 70 chefs, brewers, mixologists, and baristas come together to celebrate the best the country has to offer.  I’m not sure there are many other places in the world where food is SO central and so celebrated–that’s how you know it’s going to be good. 

Bacalaitos--fritters of salted cod, a common beach snack
Bacalaitos–fritters of salted cod, a common beach snack

THE COAST – To start, the chefs will present a taste of the coast. Attendees will taste bacalitos, which are fritters of salted cod. Santiago says bacalaitos are a very traditional Puerto Rican dish, despite the fishes’ natural cold water habitat. They are a food tradition left over from Spanish influence, so they import the cod to keep the tradition alive. There will be a variety of empanadas and alcapurrias. Alcapurrias, unlike empanadas, are made with a batter of mashed root vegetables like plantains and taro, and are often stuffed with fish or crab. This is the food people think of and crave in the coastal regions of Puerto Rico: little, deliciously crunchy, fried seafood snacks that are easy to grab and go.

An example of mofongo, a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine
An example of mofongo, a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine

THE MOUNTAINS – For the main courses, Santiago, Gomez, and Delgado will prepare a taste of the mountains, a frequent weekend escape destination for many Puerto Rican families. One of the dishes include Mofongo. Although you will find similar cuisine throughout the Spanish Caribbean, mofongo is thought of as originally Puerto Rican. It features green plantains mashed, fried, and served with crispy pork chops spiced with, of course, adobo and garlic. Pork is a common and celebrated form of protein in Puerto Rico. So, we will also get to taste Lechon Asao, pork slow roasted until the skin is thin and crispy, which will be served with arroz con gandules (pigeon peas).

Arroz con leche, a puerto rican rice pudding
Arroz con leche, a puerto rican rice pudding

THE CASA – For the final course, we’ll get to taste Puerto Rican desserts commonly served at home such as flan, arroz con dulce, rice pudding with cinnamon, coconut and raisins, and a Puerto Rican favorite: papaya con queso. As I was speaking with him, I could tell Santiago clearly favored the latter as he nodded and said, “It’s amazing.”

All of these thoughtfully planned out and expertly prepared dishes, combined with the live music and dancing always present at Puerto Rican food festivals, we are all going to feel as if we are actually there. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate this amazingly rich culture than through a fiesta of food, one of the things it holds most dear. So let’s eat!

GET YOUR TICKETS TO DESTINATION PUERTO RICO TODAY!
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Read more about Hector Santiago and El Super Pan

Read more abut Julio Delgado and JP Atlanta

Read more about Andres Gomez and Porch Light Latin Kitchen

Burritos for Go Eat Give

Support your favorite Atlanta non-profit by eating at your favorite, socially-responsible, burrito bowl spot! Come out on July 6 between 5 and 9 pm, and bring the event flyer, show it on your phone, or tell them you’re supporting Go Eat Give and 50 percent of proceeds will be donated to Go Eat Give.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is committed to sourcing the very best ingredients and preparing them by hand, because they understand the connection between how food is raised and prepared and how it tastes. With every burrito bowl they fill, they are working to cultivate a better world.

Global Businesses Thrive in Minneapolis

“Supporting new small businesses, creating jobs and stabilizing communities.” Sounds like a tag line that every city in the US aspires to achieve. But thanks to the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) in Minneapolis-St Paul, this has become a thriving reality.

I visited the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis during TBEX North American conference. At first glance, the 50,000 square foot indoor market seemed like a diverse food court selling Indian, Mexican, African and many other cuisines, scattered with a few global art and jewelry stores in between.

Then I discovered that this vacant Sears regional distribution center had been converted into an incubator for immigrant and small businesses. Located in a low-income community in South Minneapolis (over 32% of the population living below poverty line), the building is home to 40 independent small businesses selling food and gifts from all around the world. NDC provides these family-owned business loans, entrepreneur training, technical assistance, real estate incubators, and marketing materials so they can follow their passion, be self sustainable, and grow their businesses.

Visitors to Minneapolis come to the Midtown Global Market primarily to experience the culinary diversity. My tour starts with Turkish coffee at Mapps Tea & Coffee where owners Yildiz and Erdogan Akguc offer coffee and teas from East Africa, Turkey and other corners of the globe. Since I need a treat to go along with my coffee, I head over to Salty Tart Bakery to try one of their award-winning baked everyday from scratch coconut macaroons. Owner and chef Michelle Gayer-Nicholson has been nominated for the James Beard Award twice and been named “Best Pastry Chef” by the editors of Bon Appetite magazine.

Salty Tart Cafe

The corner where Holy Land Grocery, Butcher Shop & Deli stands breams with excited shoppers, as they pick up fresh olives, cheese and Middle Eastern breads. At the food counter, the Palestine owners serve falafel, shawarma, burgers, and rotisserie chicken.

At Safari Express, brothers Sade and Jamal Hashi sell many of the same classic East African dishes that have made his Eat Street location a smash hit, including their delectable sambusa, homemade chapatti bread wraps, and rich meat and vegetable stews.

For authentic Mexican tamales, head over to La Loma Tamales where owners, Enrique and Noelia Garcia, cook like they would back home in  Mexico. The family now has 6 locations around the Twin Cities area.

I had to check out what Hot Indian Foods was all about, specially after I saw that you can get a discount if you do a Bollywood dance move! The food truck and restaurant serve fusion Indian food, such as burritos, and tacos stuffed with Indian chana masala, chicken tikka or aloo gobi.

Hot Indian Foods

Even if you are already full, Manny’s Tortas is a must visit, not just for the Mexican sandwiches, but Manny (the chef/ owner) himself. He moved to MN to learn English, worked his way up in restaurants, and opened 2 locations serving authentic Mexico City style sandwiches that everyone loves. Try the Manny’s Special with Steak, Onion, Mushroom, Tomato, Jalapeño, grilled together then topped with Ham & Cheese.

Manny’s Tortas

Grand Italian Ice is a good place to end the tour, with homemade Italian ice and Swedish wish cookies. It is believed that you will have good luck if you can break the cookie into 3 pieces with a slight press with your finger.

Grand Italian Ice

If you want to take produce to-go, stop by at Grass Roots Gourmet, which sources meat, cheese, and condiments from producers within 100 mile radius. They offer grab and go lunches, and delicious shortbread cookies.

Midtown Global Market

Most of the restaurants have bar stools or few tables, but there is more seating in the center of the market. Diners can also enjoy free live performances on weekends at the market’s stage. One thing you will not miss at the Midtown Global Market is diversity of people, cultures, cuisines and music. It is a great place to learn about the world without having to leave the building!

 

Do You Picture Sydney as a Culinary Destination?

What comes to mind when you think of Australian cuisine? Steaks, meat pies, kangaroos and backyard barbies? Sure, Australians love grilled meats, but there’s a new trend emerging in the Australian dining scene that may surprise you.

According to The Australian, the local population is diverting their income from expensive housing to somewhat affordable dining. People are going out to eat more often, as popularity of celebrity chefs and cooking shows increase. From formal white tablecloth restaurants, to casual cafes, and hole-in-the-wall take-outs, Sydney offers a delicious range of choices to match any budget.

seafood1Sydney is home to many immigrants, which explains the heavy cultural influence on the local food scene. Chefs are well trained in international cuisines. Many have gone on to attain celebrity status. Within the city, you can find some of the best Japanese sushi, Chinese dim sum, homemade Italian pizza and pasta, French patisseries, Indian curry houses, and more. The food is as cosmopolitan as any big city in the world.

But Aussies are not just consumed with eating. The residents of Sydney are health conscious too. You can see people running, walking, biking, and playing sports throughout the day at neighborhood parks and beaches. They like to eat well, exercise, and look good. Recently, there’s been a strong emphasis on eating local and fresh. Most restaurants offer seasonal menus using ingredients sourced from New South Wales. Even the wines and beer are produced in the surrounding areas.

Sydney Fish MarketPhoto courtesy Sydney Fish Market

As prices of meat go up, seafood is becoming the preferred source of protein. Instead of importing fish, Australia has turned to farm raising barramundi, cod, trout, and Australian salmon. The Sydney Seafood School, established in 1989, is the largest market of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the third largest seafood market in terms of variety in the world. The curriculum includes classes in how to safely handle and prepare seafood. Over 12,000 students come through The Sydney Seafood School each year. Behind-the-scenes tours (held on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) offer a chance to witness seafood tradition on the auction floor and learn about the operations of fisheries.

From fisherman baskets to sushi, here are the top places to enjoy the best catch in Sydney:

seafood2Photo by Sucheta Rawal

• Freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters are sourced from the best growers on the New South Wales coast at Catalina Rose Bay
• Chilled in-the-shell succulent Moreton Bay Bug (slipper lobster) at Cafe Sydney in Circular Quay
• Crab Gazpacho with Bloody Mary vinaigrette and salmon caviar at The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room
• Cuttlefish cooked with garlic and chilies at The Fish Shop
• Cone Bay Barramundi with tamarind, coconut, and mint at Flying Fish
• Beer Battered Fish and Chips at North Bondi Fish
• Snapper Pie with Smoked Tomato and Mashed Potato at The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay
• Maine or Connecticut Style Lobster Rolls at Waterman’s Lobster Co.
• Blue Swimmer Crab Lasagna at Manta Restaurant
• Sizzling Garlic Prawns at Sydney Cove Oyster Bar

Sydney Fish MarketPhoto courtesy Sydney Fish Market

Top 5 Meals of 2015

It has become an annual tradition. Each year, I write a blog about the 5 best meals I ate. This is very hard to do since my job involves eating and traveling “for a living.” This year, I traveled to 14 countries and 5 states in the US. Needless to say, I ate a lot of good food!

After considerable thought, these memorable meals made it to my top 5 picks of 2015:

Machneyuda Restaurant in Jerusalem – This concept restaurant is run by three genius chefs – Yosef “Pappy” Elad, Assaf Granite, and Uri Navon. They run the business like a party. The quirky website and non-descript menu that offer dishes like “Entrecôte Django Unchained Style,” and “Lamb with lot of tasty stuff,” with pairings like “yummy stuff, some sauce” offer some clues. The waiters are not just friendly, they are singing, dancing and even doing shots in the kitchen…at work! The food is served in unpretentious sharing plates and is absolutely to die for. Ingredients are sourced from the surrounding Machneyuda market.

The biggest surprise for me was the dessert. Our server cleared out our table (we were 5) and laid out aluminum foil to cover it. On it, was orchestrated a symphony of cake, chocolate sauce, caramel, candies, nougats, cookies, ice cream and whipped cream – spread around the entire table within matter of minutes. It looked very haphazard as it was happening, but then appeared to be a delicious pile of artful looking happiness. We dug in with our spoons feeling like kids, and started dancing to the Israeli pop tunes.

Catalina Rose Bay in Sydney – Located on the world-famous Sydney Harbour, this family run restaurant is known for serving the highest quality meat and poultry sourced from all over Australia. Sydney Seaplane Highlights Flight Fly/Dine experience, included lunch at Catalina overlooking the Rose Bay. We start by enjoying fresh oysters on the shell paired with an Australia white that is produced not too far from the bay. The warm Sydney sun refreshed us as we watched the Seaplanes go by. I had the Poached Western Australian Marron Tail (something I had not had before), and the small sushi plate with delicious fresh tuna, salmon, prawn, kingfish, tataki tuna and Catalina roll. Dessert was caramelized fig with bitter caramel mousse, brik pastry and sugared pistachio. It was a memorable dessert, though the others I took bites off were pretty good too.

best seafood in Sydney

Boulanger Patissier Le Fournil Notre Dame in Marseille, France – My husband and I got to this bakery in the South of France early Sunday morning when the aroma of fresh baked goodies were oozing out of this tiny neighborhood bakery. There were sleepy residents, some still wearing pajamas, lined up to get bread, croissants, pastries, macrons, and Tropezian cakes. We got a few assortments to share with our cappuccinos. Till this day, we still talk about how the croissants flaked into a thousand pieces and melted the moment it touched our tongues. It was so good, that we had to eat another. Though so simple, it was by far the best breakfast I had this year!
best croissants in France
Marea in New York City – My close friend know that I am a big snob when it comes to Italian food. I can just about dismiss majority of the Italian restaurants in the U.S., but when I find a good ones, my heart melts into clarified butter. This is what happened at Marea, 2 Michelin star restaurant located on Central Park South. My friend and I had to wait for a long time to a spot at the bar (reservations few days in advance are highly recommended), but it was great people watching too. Everything at this high end Italian eatery boasted freshness of ingredients, integrity of flavors, and perfection in cooking. Some of my favorites were the tender Noca Scotia lobster and burro found in Astice; al dante and earthy Funghi Risotto; flaky and dressed Branzino: as well as the fried doughnuts dipped in lemon ricotta and dark chocolate Bomboloni. The portions are not small and you may end up eating 10k calories, but now you can die and go to heaven on earth.
best Italian in New York
Yachiyo Ryokan at Himeshima Island in Japan – It’s hard to imagine that one of my top 5 meals was at a 1-lady run Bed and Breakfast in a sleepy island off the coast of Kunisaki. I stayed at this beautiful family run 8-room inn surrounded by gardens, where we were served a delicious seafood dinner with ingredients that were probably swimming just a few hours ago. I had eaten a lot of good sushi throughout my stay in countryside Japan, but this was an unbelievable spread. Every inch of the table was covered with a fresh piece of fish or vegetable that was delicately prepared and artful served. The Japanese chefs take great effort in presentation as you can see from this picture. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t have a website and the manager, Michuri-San, speaks limited English, so good luck finding it.
best sushi in Japan

Ten Best Things I Ate in Israel

During my recent Food and Wine Tour to Israel, I got a crash course in the cuisine that has spanned a few thousand years. I spent most of my days wandering around local markets, meeting chefs, taking cooking classes, drinking at bars and wineries, and dining at all kinds of restaurants (some had no name, while other’s were run by award-winning chefs).

There is no exaggeration in saying that I tasted over 200 dishes over the course of 7 days, yet I was only scratching the surface. Israeli cuisine cannot be defined in a sentence. Like it’s people, the food of Israel has roots everywhere in the world. Influences of Italy, France, Spain, Russia, Poland, Lebanon, Morocco, Iraq, Bulgaria and many more, can be found everywhere.

If you are planning to visit Israel, make room for a larger appetite because there’s a lot of good food to try. Here were my top 10 dishes from eating in Israel.

hot hummus israel

1. Hummus at Shlomon & Dorrone, Carmel Market. Ms. Moran of Delicious Israel took me on a walking/ tasting tour of the market. She told me that hummus is an integral part of the Israeli diet. Of course everyone has their own recipe and there is an ongoing competition of who makes the best hummus. Israel recently won over Lebanon for making the largest hummus bowl, at a whopping 11 tons!

The proper way to eat hummus though is as a meal, not as a side or a dip. It is always warm, with the chunkier part on the outside and creamier mashed garbanzo beans placed on the inner part of the dish. It can be topped with shakshuka, chick peas, cumin and parsley. You may see a brownish looking boiled egg in the middle, which has been cooked in black tea water. On the side, I am served raw onions (cut like scoops), long peppers, lemons and warm pita bread.

israel-food-falafal

2. Falafal – Like hummus, there are debates on who makes the best falafel. It is a simple recipe using ground chickpeas, parsley, and tahini, but the art is in balancing the texture vs flavor. A good falafel should be soft and flaky on the inside, and crisp on the outside. It shouldn’t be dull and allow for one ingredient to overpower another’s flavors.

israel-food-shawrma

3. Shawrma at Al-Shaweesh, Jerusalem. Oh the aroma of meat roasting on an open fire, as you walk past no-name cafes in the colorful Arab markets can be quite overwhelming. The best shawarma I had was at family-run cafeteria in the Old City of Jerusalem, called Al-Shaweesh. The meat was soft and peppery taste, and it was served with a variety of colorful side salads.

israel-food-maknuba

4. Maqluba at Eucalyptus restaurant, Jerusalem. A traditional Palestine and Jordanian dish, maqluba is one of those comfort foods, that when cooked right, goes straight from your mouth to your soul. The one I had at Eucalyptus had tender pieces of chicken, lots of root vegetables and turmeric rice. I helped the chef invert the pan in a maqluba turning over ceremony and enjoyed the delicious scrapes from the bottom!

Mahaneyehuda

5. Shakshuka at Mahaneyehuda Restaurant, Jerusalem. Similar to the Mexican breakfast dish huevos rancheros, shakshuka is a ragout of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoeschili peppers, and onions, often spiced with cumin. The version at Mahaneyehuda, a happening restaurant in the famous Mahane Yehuda Market, also had flavorful ground beef mixed in. I just couldn’t stop eating!

sabich

6. Sabich at Sabich Tchernichivoski, Tel Aviv. Sabich is an Israeli sandwich, consisting of pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hummustahiniIsraeli salad, boiled potatoes (in some versions), parsley, amba, and hard boiled eggs. It is a popular street food of Israel and it’s origins stem from the Iraqi Jews who ate it on Shabbat mornings. I tried it at few different places and found Sabich Tchernichivoski to be the most fresh and flavorful. I could eat this everyday!

israel-food-sambusa7. Sambusak at Wahad Falafel, Iraqi Market in Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem. These fried savory turnovers were stuffed with spicy chickpeas and potato curry, and served with amba. They reminded me of their Caribbean cousin, Doubles. The kiosk was very small, with only 2-3 tables. It served only sambusak and falafel in take-away paper bags.

israel-food6

8. Majadara at Pnina’s house, Maghar village. I took a private cooking class at the home of Pnin, a Druze woman, through GalilEat. Lentils and rice is pretty common combination all over the world, but this lentils and bulgur wheat recipe was so simple yet delicious. Brown lentils were lightly seasoned with baharat seasoning and made for a great vegetarian entree or side.

 

boureka9. Bourekas at Syrian Bakery, Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. There was a little shop in the corner that looked like a tin shed that was about to fall. No name plate, address, menu or showcase. You had to step inside the bakery and point out to what you wanted (unless you spoke Hebrew). This family run operation has been around for 100-years but only the locals know about it. They undoubtedly make the best boureka, a phyllo pastry made with margarin and flour, and stuffed with either sour cheese or mashed potatoes. You can tell what’s inside by the shape of it.

Uri Buri Akko

10. Seafood at Uri Buri Restaurant in Akko – Located on the Mediterranean, 12 miles from the Lebanese border, Uri Buri Fish Restaurant is a fisherman/ chef restaurant that serves the catch of the day like you have never tasted before. As part of the chef’s tasting meal, I tried tuna, salmon, shrimp, octopus, calamari, roe, anchovies, scallops, and much more. Every single dish was cooked very gently with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and lemon juice, keeping intact the integral flavorful of the seafood. This is by far the best seafood I ate in Israel!