Its taken awhile to settle back into normal life and deal with all of the issues of not being home after 4 1/2 months. The cats are getting along again, most friends caught up with and now I have time to start work in earnest on the book that inspired me to do this in the first place. However, life still gets in the way. I sliced the thumb on my right hand open and having issues with handling a knife. Or a fork. Especially chopsticks. Still, I have created a outline and have worked on several recipes already. Here is a selection of the food I am working on as of now.
This dish here saved Moroccan food for me. All across the land, I found tasteless dishes. Well cooked, but lacking the flavors I expected from eating at restaurants here in the states and from cookbooks. Under salted and under spiced. We did use Trip Adviser and other online tools to try and find good places to eat but they were the safe places. On the edge of the gritty city. This dish here was served by a small eatery near the Blue Gate in Fes. Just another small restaurant amidst the dozens of others sprawling out from the plaza. The server no less aggressive than the other eight currently vying for our business. Luckily we chose this spot and had several great meals. This particular dish was a hearty stew of lamb and prunes. The lamb flavored refined by the sweetness of the dried prunes and the sharp, earthy, taste of cinnamon. The sauce was not overly sweet, the meat moist and tender. The large chunks of meat could be cut by your fork. Maybe not the best dish during the midday heat of late spring but for my disillusioned taste-buds nothing could have been more refreshing.
This next food took awhile to track down in the streets of Istanbul. Our original plans were to head to central turkey where the dish is supposedly quite popular but the end of Ramadan prevented us from acquiring any transportation to Istanbul in time for our flight to China. I asked several restaurants throughout the city and only found them in a posh one near the Hagia Sophia. Only wanting this one item that was an appetizer, we ordered and despite much reluctance by the waitstaff to serve two guys one small dish we eventually got what we came for. Manti are dumplings from Muslim China and have spread through most of Central Asia. Having had it before it an Afghan restaurant in Baltimore, I was expecting either pot-sticker or ravioli shaped but instead the restaurant had made tiny dumplings the size of a penny. Inside was onion and lamb, and it was all topped in a tangy yogurt and tomato sauce. Creamy and acidic, it dripped from each tiny dumpling. Then they garnished with a generous sprinkling of dried chile flakes and mint, before mixing it all together.
A debate has gone on a long time between a friend of mine and myself. There is a dish in Japan called okinomiyaki and there are two distinct styles: Hiroshima and Osaka. While the name translates as, "as you like it", the preparation differs. In the Hiroshima style, each layer is crafted and cooked separately before being layered together. First is the crepe, then the cabbage, then the chosen fillings and sauce. It is all finished with another crepe on top. Osaka style has everything mixed together into a thick, savory, pancake. While both good, I finally relented and must agree that Osaka makes the better okinomiyaki. The flavors have more time to come together and the generous topping of sweet sauce and mayonnaise (about 1/3 cup) really makes it a tasty dish. Not a everyday dish once you count the calories that would include the mayonnaise, bacon, fried egg and cheese.
The last two dishes for today are both from Bulgaria, although you can find variations throughout the Balkans. Sofia was a difficult city for us. Unlike the majority of the places we visited, there is no similarity in the alphabet and the people were not as openly friendly. Most of the places we found to eat was simply fast food. Luckily for us the city of Sofia has a non-profit group that does culinary walking tours of the city. Completely free and they will take you around and show you the restaurants serving the best of the local food and using the freshest ingredients. The first is a national dish of Bulgaria, tarator. This is a great summer soup. Dill, garlic, walnuts and cucumber are whisked together in yogurt before being thinned by water. The chilled yogurt and cooling cucumber provides respite from the heat while the fresh garlic and dill is healthy for you. The crushed walnuts and cucumber provide texture to the soup.
Another great meal was cabbage rolls. These are fairly ubiquitous throughout Europe but despite being a common dish, it can still excite the taste buds. We got ours at a small eatery and decided to head to one of the numerous parks in the city to enjoy the nice weather and watch the people of Sofia. These had a filling of a mixture of pork, veal and rice. A hint of mint was also present to cut through the heavy meat flavor. The meat was wrapped in cabbage leaves covered in a tomato sauce. Paired with a bowl, or this case glass, of tarator and you have a great Bulgarian meal.