Friday, October 30, 2009

Week #9 Malaysian

I'm beginning to suspect there's not a cuisine on the planet that is unique, none that exist without the influence of any other culture. It just doesn't happen that way. Not that I'm complaining. The tendency to jettison what's dull in f(l)avor of what's tasty ensures that regardless of where you go in the world, chances are you'll find something good to eat.

Certainly, there's no malaise in Malaysian food. Accompanied by our buddies James and Jeff, Himself and I trekked to Yazmin Malaysian Restaurant in Alhambra, where we ordered an appetizer and four entrées to share and savor. Malaysian is a crossroads of food culture that borrows from Indonesian, Chinese and Indian cuisines, to name but a few. Because Malaysia is predominantly Muslim, you won't find pork on most menus. And among Hindu Malaysians, you won't find beef. But with such a wealth of flavor, there's plenty to enjoy and no feeling of deprivation.

Poh Piah (or popiah in Taiwan--if you're writing about food there and getting paid by the word, it's best to use the Malaysian spelling!)

We started with poh piah, spring rolls that are fresh, not fried. The ingredients are cooked but not the wheat-based skin in which they are rolled. These were filled with ground beef and veggies and served with a hot dipping sauce--if you zoom in on this photo, you'll see enough red pepper seeds in there to set the entire neighborhood to crying. Whew! Poh piah is a major street food not only in Malaysia but throughout Southeast Asia. Note the platter: While most Malaysian meals I've had included at least one banana leaf used as a serving dish, the platter beneath the poh piah is actually made to LOOK like a giant banana leaf. At this restaurant I guess they opt for reusable dishes over the disposables. Of course, banana leaves are the ultimate in "green" dinnerware, so I guess this one's a draw, huh?

Beef Rendang
The French have boeuf bourguignon, the Irish have beef and stout, and in Malaysia they have beef rendang. Instead of braising their beef in wine or stout, Malay cooks use coconut milk. The result is similar: a tough cut of beef that is cooked slowly on low heat until it is fall-apart tender. Only the flavorings are different, to reflect what is available locally. It was redolent with garlic, ginger, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. We ladled it over steamed rice, but it would have been just fine on its own. This stuff was heady and rich and wonderful.

Claypot Chicken Curry with Mango
I also fell in love with the claypot chicken curry. See all those chunks of mango in there? They added a rich sweetness to the chicken stew. It was wonderfully fragrant, with cumin and coriander, coconut milk and a hint of peanut. And some chiles, of course. Let's not forget the heat! This dish fired on all cylinders. Yeah, I hid some steamed rice under this, too.

Vegetarian Char Kuei Teow
This char kuei teow, or fresh rice noodles, was served with tofu and greens. If it reminds you of chow mein, that's the Chinese influence showing. Since we already had two chicken dishes and a beef dish, we opted for the tofu and vegetable version for the sake of variety. I admit, compared to the other dishes, this one seemed a little uninspired, but on the other hand, it provided a counterpoint to the more aggressively seasoned dishes. This one wasn't made with eggs, but as with chow mein, it's not uncommon to find them stirred in during the cooking.

Curry Laksa with Chicken
Laksa is to Malaysians what chicken soup is to Americans--a bowl of warmth, nourishment and comfort. But laksa has much more complex flavors and ingredients that make it a richer and more satisfying meal. They simmer a broth base of coconut milk with an array of seasonings, then add in noodles, chicken and seafood. While this was a simpler version, I've had many bowls of laksa dressed with fresh raw ingredients on top, to stir in, for more flavor and varied textures.

That's rambutan in my fruit juice, not eyeballs, thank you very much! To the right is the outrageous Pandan Cendol.
While I had fruit juice with pineapple-stuffed rambutan in it, Himself got pandan cendol to drink--a party in a glass, I'd call it. This wildly colored drink was actually listed in the dessert category--and in fact is a particularly beloved dessert in Malaysia, but I don't think he noticed that when he ordered it. It's made of coconut milk--if you're counting you'll know that's the fourth item on the table with coconut milk--with long noodles made from pandan leaves (that's what looks like green worms in the bottom of the mug), and beans. Yes beans. Sweet, sweet beans, lovely, ruddy azuki beans in this case. The Asian cuisines know how to sweeten beans and use them in myriad ways we've never pondered in the West. But we should. They're surely healthier than some things we snack on and indulge in.

We said "hold the shrimp" on all the dishes, since James is allergic, and we didn't fancy hauling him into the emergency room. But in spite of this omission, each dish still held a bounty of flavor and texture.

From what I'm seeing in the news, tensions are rising between Malaysia and Indonesia, as each is accusing the other of stealing their culture. But let's face it, they're all interlaced, and their cuisines, like their cultures, are more alike than they are different. Looks to me like politics raising its ugly head, and that's a shame. I'd much rather focus on the rich and diverse cultural aspects of this region--of any region.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Week #8 Armenian

 It seemed like a good idea at the time, ordering a feast, and we really thought we were up to the challenge. But the morning after our Armenian adventure, I'm so full that I'm tempted to just post pictures of the meal without writing about it. I'm afraid it'll only make me feel fuller.

Missi and Casey accompanied Himself and me to Carousel Restaurant in that section of Hollywood where Little Armenia and Thai Town flow together and interweave. If you're ever hungry and stranded in Los Angeles, this is the BEST neighborhood to be in. It's jam packed with restaurants of these two entirely different cultures, both of which excel at laying out a generous spread of amazingly good food.

We decided that we were game for the Hollywood Feast, so-named because of the restaurant's location. Our server's eyebrows headed toward the ceiling. "Are you SURE?" she asked. "Yes!" we affirmed in our blind optimism, figuring that if it was on the menu then it must be doable. And if we were going to overdose on food, best that it be really tasty--and reasonably healthy--stuff. But then a tidal wave of dishes began to flow over our table. Every time our server set something down, she warned us that more was on the way.

I counted 23 different items, 25 if you include the lavash and olives--okay, 26, since there were two types of olives. The idea was to enjoy a bite or two of each item and take the rest home, which we did. But the food was so tasty that we couldn't stop after just one bite of each. Fresh and flavorful were the keywords for everything. I'm sure there wasn't a can stashed anywhere in their kitchen, or a boxed mix or anything frozen.

I'm meze-crazy! Clockwise, starting from 12:00:
muhammara, mutabbal, tabbulleh, & hammos
There were the standard meze: baba ghanoush and dolmas--which Armenians call mutabbal and warak enab--hammos, tabbulleh and fattoush salad, all of which were exemplary. We could have made a meal off of these, along with our olives, pickled turnips and lavash.

Fattoush Salad: tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, bell peppers, parsley, mint & pita chips, tossed with a spicy lemon dressing

And the amazing meze just kept coming! Clockwise from 12:00: labneh with peppers, beef liver with tomatoes & onions, sarma & shanklish)

Muhammara is a mixture of ground walnuts, pomegranate syrup and aleppo pepper paste. When that heats you up, you can dive into the labneh, to cool you off, a delicious compensation. The shanklish is a flavorful salad made of spicy cheese, tomatoes, onions and fresh mint leaves.

While I'm not a huge fan of beef liver, this liver was seriously good--good enough that, yes, I'd order it again. It was well-seasoned and cooked with lemon juice, which helped lighten that thick organy-ness. And they didn't bread it, so it wasn't unnecessarily heavy.

Fatayers & Kebbeh
Then we had several types of fatayer, that is, lavash filled with meat, eggplant and cheese (some grilled and some baked), and fried kebbeh, which looked like footballs filled with beef. The rest of our food was and heavy on vegetables--and nothing else was breaded or fried--so we munched the kebbeh and the super-thin breads with minimal guilt.

The maaneh, tiny lamb sausages, were tasty and aromatic--almost perfumed. The other sausages were larger and looked and tasted a little like elk, but I'm not sure just what they were. My ID'ing skills on that one are: 1. It's meat. 2. It's tasty.

Kebbeh Nayyeh
Speaking of tasty, the kebbeh nayyeh, or steak tartar, was amazing. Creamy and rich with just the right balance of seasonings, onion, tomato and parsley.

lovely, lovely roasted meats with lavash

Then a platter of roasted meats arrived--beef fillet, chicken and lula kabab, all possessing just the right amount of char. To some major-league meat eaters, this might not look like enough meat for four people, but with the other meats and all the other forms of protein we'd already had, we were full by the time this arrive. Still, we had to sample it all. And did I mention the rice and bulghur pilafs? Yes, I'm feeling full again, just typing these words--yet hungry at the same time. How does THAT work?!

Himself and I began to feel like amateurs in the eating department. Missi, who had put in a good run that morning, more than replenished what she'd burned off that day. Even Casey, who leads a super-active life in the great out-o'-doors climbing mountains and scouting wildlife, began to slow down at this point. We may have we hit the wall, but at least it was in a good way. It's like being a happy tired.

Ash el Sarayya

Our beverages ranged from the salty tun, a plain yogurt drink that's wonderfully refreshing on a hot day, to the super-sweet jallab, a grape molasses and rosewater drink topped with pine nuts. I think the jallab would have made a good dessert. Believe it or not, we were brave enough (yeah, brave is the word I'm going to use) to order dessert, although the four of us shared ONE item, and we didn't quite finish it. Ash el sarayya is a honeycake topped with thick cream and ground, toasted pistachios. It's actually lighter than this description would lead you to believe.

The cuisines of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean overlap to a great extent. Aside from variations in spelling of the dishes and slight differences in seasoning and cooking methods, the primary difference I find between Armenian food and the region's other cuisines is its bread. While the pita is ubiquitous throughout this region, lavash is the bread of choice on the Armenian table. A super-thin, unleavened bread, lavash is used for dips, sandwiches and wraps. (Pitas may be flat, but they still require yeast to achieve their cushiony texture.) There's something really satisfying about the texture of lavash. It's soft, smooth and delicate but becomes wonderfully crackly when you toast it.

Typically, when I ask someone in a Greek restaurant, or Lebanese or Armenian or Persian or Turkish what makes their food distinctive from those of their neighbor countries, the response is usually, "Ours is the best!" I've eaten many meals from this region of the world, and I've yet to be disappointed. These folks are serious about their food. Our Armenian feast is one of the best meals I've had yet. And the leftovers were just as good.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Doing a Julia?

Over dinner recently, our food-n-cocktail pal Chuck revealed yet another of his myriad talents: He did a dead-on, fall-down-funny impression of Julia Child.

Aside from making my stomach muscles ache from laughing so hard, Chuck's impression got me thinking about an early George Carlin routine on impressions. He said that absolutely everyone could do an Ed Sullivan impression, and that what you needed in order to do a good one was to come up with an off-the-wall variety of acts you could announce using Ed's particular vocalisms and posture. I think this could well be replaced with a Julia Child impression. What would distinguish your impression would be warbling a variety of bizarre dishes and preparation methods using your best Julia voice and posture.

"I'm going to show you how to cut tenderloins from this freshly-killed wildebeest (make a wild gesture, hoisting a large animal carcass high above your head with one hand). Then I'll give it a nice bath in a marinade of red wine, herbs and cigar tobacco, and I'll char it with my trusty blowtorch (fwooot! of the trusty blowtorch). We'll enjoy it with some fluffy mashed potatoes into which I'm going to stir some yak's milk butter and these lovely, fresh lawn clippings.

Today on the French Chefff...!"

Well, they DO say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I hear Julia loved Dan Aykroyd's impression of her in that legendary Saturday Night Live sketch. I wonder how she'd feel about getting the Ed Sullivan treatment?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Week #7 Cambodian (Khmer)

Asian food and I are old buddies. I've had plenty of Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, Japanese and Korean food, but never Cambodian. Not until now.

We trekked out to the San Gabriel Valley, the stronghold of many of LA's Asian populations, in search of a cuisine that most people don't think of first when they think of Asian food. We saw only one other Caucasian during our visit to Battambang in San Gabriel, which is always the sign of an authentic restaurant outside of the West. The menu was immense--it would take us months to sample everything, so we had to do the best we could with just the two of us. This is definitely a place we want to return to and bring a group of friends. The large round tables with giant lazy susans in the middle certainly encourage parties and sharing food.

All the dishes arrived simultaneously, which is the custom in Cambodia, an overwhelming sight. There's no easing into the meal with the beverage and then the appetizer and then the salad. It's Ta-da! time in rapid order.

 Bánh He
 Our appetizer was Bánh He, a plate of fritters filled with rice and shallots, deep fried and served with a sweet-hot dipping sauce. The combination of shallot with the sweet sauce in the rich fried coating make this the perfect food to order in large quantities with a pitcher of beer. Seriously, Bánh He should make it onto bar menus. It would be a great alternative to jalapeno poppers and those overdone fried-onion monstrosities.

Pork broth, chunky style

Among the dishes on our table was a large bowl of pork broth. We didn't order it, but apparently this is as standard to a Cambodian meal as salt, pepper and sugar would be on most Western tables. It was quite literally pig juice, with three large bones in the bowl, and some shallots and cilantro leaves stirred in. We enjoyed a sip of this broth after every few bites of food--a great digestive aid.

Fish Curry

Himself ordered a fish curry that we ladled over a bed of jasmine rice. I could have made an entire meal off this--it was fishy-salty, with some heat on the back end. No doubt, it was made with prahok, a salty fish paste that's used a lot in Cambodian cooking. I can imagine this being a great thing to eat the morning after a night out on the town. Satisfying and rejuvenative. I could use these words to describe everything on the table. (If we'd been there for breakfast, this fish curry would have been served with a baguette, a culinary holdover from the French colonial period.)

 Beef Luc Lac on a bed of jasmine rice, with pickled veggies on the side
My Com Bo Luc Lac, a.k.a. "shaken beef" was really good, too. I kept expecting to find a sweetness, but that didn't seem to be too prominent in the array of flavors we sampled. The richness of the meat was tamed by the tang of the accompanying pickled vegetables and lightened by the jasmine rice. (By the way, the method of cooking, by agitating or tossing the beef in the wok is what makes it shaken.)

An assortment of cool, green veggies: cucumber, cabbage, lettuce, green beans and one I still can't identify--the one in the top middle of the photo with all those peppery seeds.

In addition to the pickled vegetables, we had a plate of assorted raw green veggies to crunch along with our rich, cooked foods. We were surprised by the melon-looking vegetable that tasted smooth and cucumbery, but that contained seeds that were quite peppery when we bit into them. This item remains a mystery, even after questioning, cookbook perusal and internet research. It was difficult to ask too many questions, since the amount of English spoken by those working there, including servers, the manager and a busser--all of whom tried to help us--was quite limited. Even if we could speak a little Cambodian, it would probably be confined to "hello," "good-bye" and "where's the bathroom?" Questions like "What kind of bones are in my soup?" and "What is this vegetable called?" don't typically show up in basic language courses, either Cambodian OR English. Still, such mysteries are great fun. I felt like we were in good hands, so it didn't bother me at all that I couldn't identify everything I ate.

Pennywort Drink
Himself blanched when I suggested ordering the durian drink (I'm sure he'd have been able to smell it from across the table), so I opted for an intensely green beverage made of pennywort leaves. It wasn't bad but then it wasn't exactly scrummy, either. I think that if you boiled, puréed and strained a big bag of iceberg lettuce, then added sugar and green food coloring, you might have an idea of what it was like. I did a little research on pennywort and discovered that it's also known as gotu kola, which you find in abundance at health food stores as an ayurvedic remedy. It's supposed to be good for curing leprosy and helping opium addicts kick the habit. That's good to know, should my life ever change in ways I don't anticipate.

Unlike in Thailand, where dishes contain a balance of salty, sweet, sour, bitter and spicy, Cambodian food is either salty, sweet, sour or bitter, with various hot condiments that you can add as you wish. They don't typically blend these four flavors--instead, you get a separate dish with each component of the flavor spectrum.

Cambodian food reveals simplicity and adaptability. There aren't a lot of what you'd call traditional dishes in their repertoire, because culinary evolution (among other things) has suffered in this country that has been savaged and ravaged by a succession of invading armies. But the food is good, and the hospitality in abundance. We'll be back, and we'll take friends next time.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Week #6 Irish

I forge into this particular blog entry with some trepidation, because I've spent a good deal of time in Ireland over the years, and I get really annoyed by pretend-Irish food on the menus of faux-Irish pubs in the United States. Much of it is basically the same pub grub you'd find in fern bars and chain restaurants with lots of polished brass and fake Tiffany lamps (those places Anthony Bourdain refers to collectively as T.G.I. McFunster's).

"Blarney wings?" THAT'S Blarney. They're Buffalo wings with an Irish moniker. If you find them on a menu in Ireland, it's in a place that caters to American tourists (we once stumbled into one of those by accident. Gak!). And corned beef was embraced by Irish immigrants to America who settled in around the Jewish neighborhoods of Boston and New York City. They had to make do with corned beef because they couldn't get their beloved pork loin from their local Jewish markets. You'd be as hard pressed to find corned beef in Ireland as you would pork in a kosher deli.

All this to say I'm picky about food that claims to be Oirish.

So Himself and I went to Finn Mc'Cool's in Santa Monica, which features traditional Irish fare on its menu, along with an all-day Irish breakfast. I selected this place because the chef/owner is from Northern Ireland, and I figured that if she's not cooking Irish, no one is. Granted, they make a number of concessions to American tastes and expectations (they must, since they're in the middle of a major party zone), but they offer more Irish food than any other place I've found around LA, many of which are Irish in name only (you can spot those right away because they're decorated with shamrocks and leprechauns and such). And I appreciate that Finn Mc'Cool's doesn't try to glam it up in a SoCal sort of way.

a full Irish breakfast (well, maybe not the Guinness!)

I had the full Irish breakfast (a.k.a. the full English breakfast) of eggs, sausage and bacon with black pudding, mushrooms, tomatoes, boxty and soda bread (okay, the last two are Irish). Eat all of this first thing in the morning and you're ready to spend the day farming, fishing, cutting peat ... You get the idea. It's more or less a relic of an earlier time. While there are plenty of people in Ireland performing physical labor, the majority these days work in offices, shops and the like and live much more sedentary lives. Toast and tea usually cover them just fine until noon. I normally opt for the full breakfast when I'm in Ireland, because it fortifies me for a day on the go, so that I don't need to eat again until evening. And it's usually included in the price of my lodgings.
detail of the black pudding

Puddings (we call 'em sausages around here) are made from the internal organs of pigs and sheep. Black pudding includes animal's blood, while white puddings look essentially the same, except for the color. Depending on the region you're in, your pudding may have spices and barley or oatmeal mixed in. These appeared not to have any grain in them. They were dense but good in their organy fashion. Soda bread is heavy--it's hard to get around that--but with plenty of butter (not margarine) and jam, it's a satisfying accompaniment to the meal.

Here are a couple of packages of pudding I just pulled out of my freezer. You'll see that the black pudding contains beef blood. Both contain oatmeal and spices, as is common in the south and west of Ireland (these come from County Cork). Some puddings contain breadcrumbs or flour.

 boxty filled with Guinness beef stew and champ

Instead of admonishing their children to eat their boxty because there are starving people somewhere in the world, Irish mums have traditionally sung to their children:

Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty in the pan,
If you don't eat your boxty
You'll never get your man. (some versions say "a man.")

Hmm. Well, Himself had a large, thin boxty (the potato pancake you see here) filled with champ and Guinness beef stew. (The small potato cakes you see on my plate are boxty, too). The champ, mashed potatoes with green onions mixed in, along with potato-laden stew inside of a potato pancake means you have not one, not two, but THREE forms of potato in the same dish! This tripling of the starch is common in England as well. I once sat down to a plate of college cafeteria food in London that included rice, potatoes and pasta--along with bread.

If your local Irish pub menus are filled with caesar salad, jalapeno poppers and hamburgers, try making a bacon loin. While you can't just breeze into any chain grocery and pick one up, it's worth seeking out a proper butcher and asking if you can special order one. And try your hand at making soda bread, too. I'll provide the recipes if you'll give 'em a try.

Here's our spread from a visit to Bord Bia (clockwise-ish, starting from the left foreground): bacon loin, white soda bread, cabbage, colcannon, whole grain soda bread, and beef & Guinness stew. Bord Bia was established by the Irish Parliament to educate both the Irish and their guests about indigenous food.

P.S. When you run "boxty" through the spellchecker, it suggests "booty." Now that's a very different blog entry!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Culinary Tripod

I know someone whose stroke damage has caused some scrambling of her words. Still, her thoughts are clear, even if the word she sometimes comes up with isn't the one she wants. And sometimes her word mis-choices reveal that her thoughts are very much intact.

Once while trying to recall the word "mirepoix," the flavor triumvirate of classic French cooking, the word she said was "tripod." That's appropriate, since mirepoix is made of the three ingredients on which well rounded stocks, sauces and dishes are built. Onion, carrot and celery harmonize, each bestowing its unique sweetness, depth and body to the dish.

Mirepoix makes a sturdy, three-footed culinary foundation, so she's right. It IS a tripod!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Week #5 Spanish


You're groaning right now, I know it. And you're rolling your eyes, too, right? Yes, tapas are trendy (although I think we're on the backside of that wave now), but I've always thought the idea of tapas made great sense. A few small plates shared amongst a group of friends is a smart way to sample more dishes than you can or should consume in one sitting.

I first heard of tapas a dozen or so years ago, when Himself's parents went to Spain for a few weeks and returned with a whole new food vocabulary (they got a lot of mileage out of making it sound like they'd been to topless bars all over Madrid and Barcelona!). They were impressed by the logic of the tapa, and I am, too. A small plate with a few bites of food sitting on top of your drink--that's the way they do it in Spain, where tapas were born. While they were originally intended to provide a little pre-dinner nosh with your post-workday drink, an assortment of tapas makes it possible to eat all you need to see you through to breakfast tomorrow. Maybe the Spanish can eat dinner at 10 p.m., but I can't!

I looked around LA for a restaurant with an enticing menu and found The Three Drunken Goats, which has an enticing name as well. It refers to the practice of washing goat cheese with wine before it is put back for aging. There were no goats in this Montrose restaurant when we were there, either drunk or sober (or on the menu). I don't know if I was more disappointed about that or relieved.

 golden beets with arugula, hazelnuts and goat cheese
We started with a salad of golden beets and arugula, topped with toasted hazelnuts and herbed goat cheese. The sweetness of the beets, the bite of the arugula, the richness of the hazelnuts and the tang of the cheese made each bite a perfect little harmony in my mouth. Just lovely, like a late summer day.

mushroom tapenade with goat cheese and crostini

The mushroom tapenade did the same, but in a different way, with richer, more autumny flavors and the slightest bite from the piquillo, flavorful without being spicy hot. This tapa included a bit of goat cheese too, and its tartness helped cut through the unctuousness of the tapenade (uh oh, I just said "unctuousness." I swore I'd never employ overused food-writing words like "unctuous" and "eponymous." This is worse than belching loudly in the middle of the restaurant!)

patates topped with cabrales and served with aioli
And then there was winter... The patates were my favorite tapa. They were smooth and rich, made moreso with musky truffle oil and cabrales, a lovely blue cheese (a triple punch of cow's, sheep's and goat's milk), softened by the heat of the potatoes. With aioli to dip them in. I could have ordered a couple more servings and eschewed the rest of the menu items. But I'm glad I didn't. There were still lamb chops to come...

 lamb chops with chickpea, mint and garlic purée
...and they were delicate and quite fine all on their own. The chickpea purée wasn't really necessary, but it was good, so we anointed the chops with it just the same. (I still can't pick up a Frenched bone in a restaurant without thinking of the poor soul in the back of the house who's scraping and scraping. Thank you, poor soul!)

Basque salad with roasted garlic and grilled bread
The Basque salad with roasted garlic and crostini was a nice marriage of light and fresh with rich and earthy, sort of like early spring. To be honest, the lettuce was almost a needless distraction from the superstar, all that lovely caramelized garlic, which I could have just squeezed right into my mouth, without the benefit of the bread to carry it there daintily. Not to disparage the crostini, though, which showed up on several of the plates. Makes me want to set my toaster oven out on the curb. Grilled bread is tasty stuff. (On a side note, I'm not sure why they called it Basque salad, as there were no discernible elements of the Basque table represented in this tapa, not even a hint of anchovy in the Caesar dressing.)

 churros with bittersweet chocolate
The churros were simply amazing. I've had them in Mexico City, where they know a thing or two about frying sweets, but these were much lighter--while still being really rich. The chocolate for dipping was slightly bitter and slightly sweet, a nice balance. It was a great finish to our meal. To drink, Himself had cali mocho and I had sangria, the way the Spanish make it. It was much tastier and more well balanced than the typical cheap-wine-and-fruit-juice-in-a-pitcher-with-some-fruit-slices-chucked-in. And I was glad to sample the cali mocho and see how the Spanish make it. It tasted like a combination of about 3-to-1 cola and red wine, really refreshing on one of the last hot days of this summer.

We decided to veer from the ubiquitous paella and gazpacho in favor of tapas, so we could try more dishes--and so I could write about more dishes. I feel a little guilty posting a Spanish meal with no seafood in it. As much water as there is surrounding Spain, it's rare to find a meal without at least a shrimp or an anchovy tossed in. The possibilities for tapas are practically unlimited, so this is scarcely a representative sampling. We decided against a plate of cheeses, as happy as that would have made us. No jamon or other Spanish cured meats. But the sheer variety of choices is one of the best things about tapas. I don't think I could ever get bored with them. One meal could be boquerones, croquetas and peppers stuffed with dried cod. And the next mussels, bunuelos and albondigas. Or clams or fresh tuna with beans and olives. Or squid and baby octopus. Or stuffed calamares. Or one of an endless array of salads.

I need to find a non-tapas restaurant sometime during my 52 Cuisines sojourn, so I can represent a little more fully the bounty of Spain's table. I could easily write 52 blogs on just about any one cuisine I'm sampling during this adventure. The downside is that I never feel I'm doing justice to any cuisine in these entries. But the upside is that there's so much more to explore, write about and enjoy.