Who Knew Desserts Were Sweet? India’s Rasgulla

Dhaka - RasgullaGiven Name: Rasagola
Alias:  Rasgulla
Place(s) of Origin: Odisha (Orissa), India
Place Consumed: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Common Features: chhena*, maida*, sugar syrup, (lemon juice)
Background: I’m a sucker for South Asian desserts, but oh are they cloying(-ly sweet).  More so than simply popping a few sugar cubes in your mouth, I think.  That sounds disgusting, please don’t do it.  But measuring mithai* by the number of times you have to take a break while eating is a good reminder that your pancreas does serve a purpose.
Apparently, rasgulla is one of the oldest Indian desserts, and coupled with that, it was often used as an offering to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Verdict: Rasgulla however, is one of the more approachable Indian sweets.  Although it’s soaked in sugar, I feel that the lemon juice and maida helped reduce the sugar’s potency.  Sometimes cardamom and/or rose water are added, as well as pistachios, though the latter serves more as a garnish.  Still, upon looking at that giant bowl of sugar syrup, how could you not want to go bobbing for rasgullaOne good reason- it’s not water.  Flies will become your best bud.  Another?  It’s on a street in Dhaka.
Recipe: Rasgulla

*chhena (Hindi)= a curd cheese made from water buffalo milk
maida= refined and bleached wheat flour, common in Indian breads and desserts
mithai= sweets/confectionery

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Pani Puri (Puchka)

Dhaka - Puchka

Given Name: Puchka
Alias:  Panipuri*, Phuchka, Gol Gappa, Gup Chup
Place(s) of Origin: India
Place Consumed: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Common Features: Potatoes, chickpeas, puri, tamarind, water, a newspaper (taking the place of banana leaves)
Verdict: Believe it or not, I can be skeptical about street food.  Considering that one of the main components of puchka is water, I did take a step back from the stall before making my way to the rusty stool.   And for those of you with food texture issues, puchka is a bit of a gray area.  The puri is crunchy, the potatoes and chickpeas mushy and the water, if you’re lucky, wet.  The tartness of the tamarind was an unexpected pleasure, helping to lessen the richness of the potatoes, chickpeas and various spices.  A success, not only for the taste, but also for being able to keep up with days old news.  Slightly more productive than learning about another person’s kidney problems.
Recipe: Making the puri; Recipe 1; Recipe 2;

*(Hindi) Pani= Water
(Various Indian languages) Puri= Puffy and fried unleavened wheat bread

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Chinese Street Food: Bingtanghulu (冰糖葫芦)

China might not be one of the first twenty countries you think of when you want something sweet, so I’ll give you a couple of delicious options for starters.  

And now, it’s time for a third.

Have you ever wanted to get rid of those pesky teeth as quickly as possible, all while enjoying it in the process?  Today, I bring thee, the Chinese equivalent to candy apples, better known as 冰糖葫芦 (bīng​táng​hú​lu), also called tanghulu:

Actually, the thought of this street food is making my stomach churn just a bit.  Originally, the tanghulu was made with haw, a sweet and tart fruit similar to crab apples.  Being that it also had sour notes, the caramelized sugar paired quite well with the haw(thorn).

However, as you can see in the above photo, some vendors have gotten a bit too carried away with their wares, and started coating already too-sweet fruits such as oranges, kiwis, and cement (sorry, I can’t get over it) with sugar.

By the way, did you notice the (cherry) tomatoes?  I was caught off-guard, too.  Basically, since they’re botanically fruit, China considers them desserts.  Don’t be surprised if you see a plate of sliced beefsteak tomatoes liberally sprinkled with granulated sugar at the back of a Sichuan menu sometime.  So…watch out, eggplant, okra, and string beans.

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Manado, Indonesia’s Tinutuan

Working in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, had been an incredible eye-opener to the (understatement of the year) diverse world of Indonesian food.  Specifically, I’m referring to makanan Manado, or food from the mostly Catholic city of Manado on the island of Sulawesi.

My office at the time was a three-minute walk to a Manadonese eatery, which first introduced me to the fiery, no holds-barred cuisine.  It is best known for its smoked cakalang, or skipjack tuna, spicy sambal, or chili pastes, and for cooking basically anything.

After a visit to what is likely one of the world’s more colorful wet markets in Tomohon, Indonesia, I was inconveniently feeling peckish.  I say that because, I went to the market specifically on an empty stomach, but left with an even emptier one.  None of the wet market stalls had anything ready-to-eat, so it was up to visiting neighboring street vendors for a bite.

After a few days of chowing down on a veritable Noah’s Ark, it was time for something…tame.  Enter, tinutuan/bubur Manado, or Manadonese porridge:

OK, so the word tame was used above in somewhat jocular manner.  You see, although tinutuan is a hot watery local rice porridge made with pumpkin, corn, water spinach, and other ingredients less likely to harry PETA worshipers, it is still typically served with a piquant sambal.  Tinutuan, like bubur in other parts of the country, is much more common as a breakfast dish; it’s fast, ingredients are cheap and plentiful, and no street vendor ever has to worry about washing dishes for the next customer.  Whoops, the cat’s out of the bag.

By the way, the Indonesian version of “there’s no use crying over spilled milk” is nasi sudah menjadi bubur.  Which is to say, “the rice has already become porridge.”

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Geographically Uninclined, the Holy Edition

Ever end up in the wrong city?  I ask this, because I read a story a few years ago about someone flying to the wrong “Taiwan.”  Which is to say, the passenger meant to go to the rogue state, but ended up in Taiyuan, China instead.  Never mind that the two places are spelled differently – in both English and Chinese – and that the former isn’t “a city,” but I decided to see how common this type of mistake was.  It happens from time to time, but you’ve got to be a real winner to do so.  Just ask them.

On a lighter note, I’ll pose this question to y’all– if someone offered you a trip to Mecca, which would you choose?:

Mecca, population ~ 8500, in California, USA?  Close to the fascinatingly dubious Salton Sea, which I’ll get to in a later post?


Mecca, population ~ 1.5 million, in Saudi Arabia?

I’ll pack the enthusiasm if you remember the suntan lotion.

Posted in Languages, North America (non-NYC), Turkey, Southwest Asia/Middle East & North Africa | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sugar Bombs of the World: Malaysia’s Teh Tarik

Batam, Indonesia - Teh TarikIn fact, I had this drink at an Indian restaurant in Batam, Indonesia, but that island, as close as thirty-five minutes to Singapore by boat,  is so filled with unscrupulous Singaporeans – like the city-state itself – that it remains a valid place to try today’s subject,
teh tarik.

Yes, teh tarik, a sweet drink composed of black tea and sweetened condensed milk, calls Malaysia its home, though it’s nearly as ubiquitous in Singapore.  Though, I have a few bugaboos when it comes to food and drink, and not one is terribly logical.  The one involving teh tarik regards my mostly blanket disapproval of artificially sweetened beverages – does passion fruit juice really need Splenda? – but this Malaysian specialty is a notable AND rare exception.  I mentioned that it’s not a logical gripe, primarily because I have no problem with pairing teh tarik with kaya toast, aka buttery Singaporean joy.

As for the meaning of the name, teh signifies “tea” and tarik is “pull” in Indonesian and Malay.  Pulling tea sounds like an act of torture in that part of the world, and in some respects, it is.  The origin stems from the act of the vendor having to quickly pull the concoction between two vessels, in order to skillfully mix the condensed milk with the tea.  For a clearer example of what that means, check out this video (it’s the same thing on mute).  The allure to some customers is that, while the peddler is preparing the sugary stuffr, not even a drop of it is splashed onto them, even though your expectations lead you to believe you’d become a teh tarik manusia, or human pulled tea.

Have you tried this before?  Feeling bushed after just two sips?

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Best Street Food Nominees: Seafood Vadai in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Clearly, I haven’t thought this through.

What do I mean?  The winner of best street food.  Yikes, that’s never going to happen.  What I mean is… there are myriad candidates for this category, and that’s a good thing.

Today’s entry comes to us all the way from Staten Island Colombo, Sri Lanka.  I think highly of the presence of pumpkin and beets in contemporary Sri Lankan cuisine, and have equally fond memories of strolling along Galle Face Green, a downtown Colombo park.  Though its other selling points include a boardwalk along the Indian Ocean, as well as pick-up cricket matches, the highlight for me was the vadai:

Vadai come in many forms, but these particular snacks are flattened lentil flour patties.  Some enterprising character decided that these weren’t filling enough, so, in a master stroke, decided to top some with fresh crab and prawns.  Slather on lime juice, chili sauce, and mix with chopped onions for an even greater meal.

Have any other suggestions for Sri Lankan bites that don’t ignore the Hippocratic oath?

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