My introduction to 馒头 (mántou), steamed wheat bread originally from northern China, is actually one of my fondest food memories. In 2004 I visited Singapore with my dad, and a couple of natives invited us to try chili crab. Not only was the crab delicious – but it was equally fun to sop up the chili sauce with fried mantou.
It’s easy to satisfy salty and umami cravings in China, but what if wanted to grab me somethin’ sweet?
From having lived all over Shenzhen, China – a city built by and on internal migration – I had come to get familiar with menus from regional Chinese cuisines. However, based on those experiences, there seemed to be no better way to conclude a meal drowned in reused cooking oil and loaded with MSG than by getting served A) sliced tomatoes covered in granulated sugar, B) caramelized potatoes that will singe your mouth or C) durian anything.
Or, occasionally, there was choice D) fried (金炸 jīnzhà) mantou with 炼奶 (liànnǎi), or sweetened condensedmilk.
Have you tried this combo before? If you’re really looking to overdo it, order it with can of root beer.
Often translated as “cottage cheese bread,” khachapuri might be the most well-known home-grown meal in Georgia. Though many regional varieties of khachapuri exist — one Georgian site estimates no less than 53 types throughout the country — one version in particular has claimed my heart, and not only for its unhealthiness.
In the western Georgia city of Batumi, the mountains of Mtirala National Park provide a spectacular contrast to the calm Black Sea, newfangled and bizarre apartment complexes overshadow their older, dilapidated counterparts, and bread boats are a dime a dozen.
I’m talking about Adjaruli khachapuri.
Hugging the Black Sea coast is the region of Adjara, of which Batumi is the capital and largest city. Due to its littoral location, Adjara’s most famous khachapuri comes to us in the shape of a boat; I always thought it resembled a kayak, with the irony being that after you eat it, you won’t be able to fit in a kayak.
Sulguni, a briny cow’s cheese, eggs and, of all things butter combine make the “passenger seat” of the boat an exceedingly delicious one, yet also one that all too easily erupts. According to the BBC, the egg is supposed to represent the sun, and the cheese, the Black Sea.
Given that Adjaruli khachapuri was one of many, many dishes on my must-eat-in-its-native-habitat list, I further added to the craziness by having it with a bottle of tarragon soda. Although tarragon originally hails from Siberia, it has been a popular ingredient – and soda flavor – in Georgia for decades.
And now, here’s the video for part 2 in the Georgia food series:
As much as I love eating food, I also like to learn where things in the culinary world come from, and even the etymology of ingredients.
Of course, there are a number of edibles in every language that stand out, and I’m not referring to their taste or health benefits. I’m talking about the food’s name, and how similar it can be to a subject completely unrelated to the food world.
You know, the homophones – words sounding alike, homographs – words written alike – and homonyms, which encompass the two.
Other languages will follow in a later post, but for today, I will focus on a few standouts from English.
Here’s a good time to ask “what’s in a name?”
To make apple cider vinegar, yeast is added to apple juice, which begets the breakdown of sugars, turning them into alcohol. Thereafter, certain bacteria are added, to convert the alcohol into acetic acid, eventually becoming vinegar (acetum is Latin for “vinegar.”)
Pea/Pea Coat (and no, not that other similar-sound word)
Peas, the oft-derided legume of many a Western childhoods, haven’t gotten a break even in many folks’ adulthood. (Pea ice cream, pea protein powder, pea…salmon?) I’m a fan of peas – particularly those from Nando’s – but admittedly I look askance when they try to invade my frozen desserts.
This phrase doesn’t include a homonym; rather, it’s more of a euphemism.
Though reports of the phrase “how do you like them apples?” date back to at least 1895 – in that case, the reporter was gloating that one particular cotton vendor outsold every other – the phrase was popularized during World War I used mockingly to demonstrate levity. German troops fashioned grenades and mortar shells out of apple and plum tin cans, which led to US and British soldiers calling those improvised devices “toffee apples” and “plum pudding.”
There are certainly many more examples , but these were the first ones that came to mind.
I briefly visited the country of Georgia twice, in 2008 and 2018. For my first visit, I was a bit wet-behind-the-ears, unsure of what I was doing there, and more importantly, what to eat.
After a random meal at a wine cellar in Tbilisi, its capital, I was floored by the deliciousness not only of the food, but also the wine. And even after piling on the kebabs, the pomegranate seeds, the walnut sauces, and the spontaneous lessons in viniculture by the waitstaff, I wanted to know more about Georgian food. So, I sampled baklava, cherry juice, quince jam, and khinkali (dumpling)…all excellent.
Yet, it took me the return trip to New York to find out about the mother-ship of savory bread, that being khachapuri.
Khachapuri Adjaruli, quite simply, is a carbohydrate AND fat paradise. What does that mean? Inside of the bread canoe, you will find butter, eggs, and briny Sulguni cheese. Nothing leafy and green – i.e. healthy – to get in the way, just pure corporeal malevolence.
How do you eat it? Mix up the butter, eggs, and cheese to create a “soup,” then start tearing off the bread bit by bit, dunking it into your the heady mix. After you’re done, you may not want to eat for the rest of the year – make sure you’re trying it on December 31st to cheat – but oh is it ever worth it.
On my second visit to Tbilisi, I literally took a cab from the airport to Cafe Khachapuri, not because I read that it was good, but because just look at that name.