Delightful Seafood at Marajillo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

pulpo zarandeado / octopus nayarit-style mexico
Pulpo Zarandeado, Restaurante Marajillo, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I’ve got to show a hint of appreciation to a lackluster Airbnb for having introduced me to one of the best octopus dishes I’ve ever tried.

Marajillo, a small, noisy restaurant and bar in the middle of nowhere touristy Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was mostly a bright spot during my brief stay in that tourism hub. Although I cannot recommend the comparatively bland and insipid ceviche Vallarta, the pulpo zarandeado, chicharrón de pescado (fried fish resembling pork rinds), and aguachile were excellent.

Although the verb zarandear generally refers to shaking and jostling something, in cooking, it refers to a style from the central western Mexican state of Nayarit. In this case, it means to split something — usually fish — from head to tail, and grilling it on a rack over hot coals. My dish at Marajillo was pulpo, or octopus, one of my favorites from the wide world of mariscos mexicanos, or Mexican seafood:

Gaziantep, Turkey: City of Baklava and Pistachios

It’s not so easy to determine which place can call itself the true inventor of baklava, since it’s existence isn’t well-documented prior to the 19th century. It may come from present-day Iran, Turkey, Syria, Greece, or Armenia, although its popularity certainly spread throughout the Balkans and beyond because of the Ottoman Empire.

Years ago, the European Union (EU) did Turkish cuisine a solid by considering Turkey to be the creator of baklava, placing it on its list of items protected designation of origin, as well as protected geographical indication. However, one joy of eating is to appreciate food without getting caught up in a geopolitical kerfuffle.

Koçak Baklava Gaziantep Turkey
Sampler Platter of Baklava and a Turkish Coffee at Koçak Baklava, Gaziantep, Turkey

Forming part of a hub of Turkish food in southern central Anatolia, if you want to eat like a local, the city of Gaziantep is known for two things– baklava, and pistachios. There’s also baklava’s cousin, katmer, but it’s not nearly as well-known overseas.

Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted my video of Karagöz Caddesi, or what I consider to be Gaziantep’s “baklava street,” but there are plenty of other sweets shops around to reel you in. However, I did prepare a brief baklava tour of the city; given the deliciousness of the country, more videos of Turkish gastronomy will undoubtedly follow!

Semolina Halva/İrmik Helvası (Turkey)

My first trip to Turkey was in 2006; I went with my family to Istanbul, Kayseri, and Göreme, the epicenter of Cappadocia and its unusual fairy chimneys:

Cappadocia fairy chimneys
Göreme, Turkey, Home of Cappadocia’s Fairy Chimneys

Now, even 16 years ago, I realized that Turkish food was excellent; the kebabs, baklava, dried fruit … just about everything was delicious. But those were already well-known foods before visiting Turkey. How about something new?

While on a tour of Cappadocia, we were invited to eat with a local Turkish family. Although I recall the entire meal being good, only the dessert is still memorable to this day. Why? Perhaps because it was the only dish that I was trying for the first time– the main ingredients were some sort of grain, mixed with copious amounts of butter, sugar, and pine nuts.

I didn’t know the name of the meal until a chance encounter last year in Skopje, North Macedonia:

pistachio halva with peanuts
Helvacı Ali, Skopje, North Macedonia- Semolina Halva (İrmik Helvası)

I couldn’t believe it. After 16 years, I had finally rediscovered the very same dessert, and perhaps more importantly, found out its name– irmik helvası, in English, semolina halva.

Of course! Semolina, the milled wheat product also commonly used in pasta and couscous, was the grain. More embarrassingly, I’ve had nearly identical semolina-based desserts — similarly called halwah — in India.

But this version, found at a Turkish dessert chain called Helvacı Ali, was a dolled-up one, flavored with pistachios and topped with peanuts.

Last month, I popped by the same chain in Istanbul, for an even more ridiculous exemplar– pistachio and chocolate halva topped with tahini and crushed pistachios:

pistachio chocolate semolina halva
Helvacı Ali, Istanbul, Turkey – Semolina Halva (İrmik Helvası)

It’s customary to have semolina halva with black tea during the winter, and Turkish ice cream, called dondurma, during the summer.

Recipe!

Kerala Set My Mouth on Fire, Part 1: The Fish Dish of Kovalam

After a 16-year hiatus, I revisited India, spending one week in the South Indian state of Kerala.

Although it sounds like a short trip, I was able to cram a lot of different meals into those days, spread out over three primary locations: Kovalam, Trivandrum (aka Thiruvananthapuram), and Kochi (aka Cochin).

south indian set meal
Truly One of the Best Fish Dishes I’ve Ever Tried, Kovalam, Kerala, India

Starting with Kovalam, a beach-centric suburb of Trivandrum in the southern part of the state of Kerala, one particular lunch was a feast; I can gladly say that it was one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had, the bizarre presence of grape juice notwithstanding.

A typical South Indian set meal is called sadya (സദ്യ, in the predominant Kerala language of Malayalam), and is served with a variety of vegetable curries surrounding a heaping portion of white rice. You scoop it all up with your hands, and can even ask for refills!

If you’d like to see me embarrass myself struggling with the chilies while attempting to scoop up rice, check out the video below–

Although it’s much easier to find North Indian-influenced cuisine in the United States due to immigration patterns, I’d highly recommend seeking out sadya, or even try preparing one yourself … though banana leaves might be in short supply!

Four Eats – and One Beer – in Antwerp, Belgium (VIDEO)

Since my last visit to Belgium was in 2007, I figured that it was time to go back to the land of fries, chocolate, and although I rarely drink it, beer.

antwerp belgium train station facade
Antwerp Train Station, Belgium: Very Cool Façade

With just a couple of days in Antwerp — home of a beautiful train station, massive diamond trading, and court portrait artist Anthony Van Dyck — I had to make tracks in my food quest.

How many stone do I weigh now? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Belgium once again proved that its chocolate, fries, and beer are a dangerous trifecta too good not to want to try.

Need proof?

Adjaruli Khachapuri, aka Georgia’s Bread Boat, and Tarragon Soda

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.

mountains batumi marina
A view of the Batumi marina with Mtirala National Park in the background

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.

adjaruli khachapuri cheese bread
A plate of Adjaruli khachapuri at Porto Franco restaurant in Batumi, Georgia

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:

Video: Eating at Toma’s Wine Cellar, Kutaisi, Georgia

Let the record show that, at 00:22 on February… 23, 2022, I chose to spice things up with Finding Food Fluency–

More videos!

More food in the here-and-now!

More wanderlust!

With that digital intro out of the way, today I will take you all on a brief tour of Toma’s Wine Cellar, a restaurant in Kutaisi, Georgia specializing in food from its home region of Imereti.

It’s a family production where Toma is the host, first shows you where the wine – and chacha, a Georgian firewater made of grape pomace – are made. Then, you’re treated to a supra, a feast of local specialties, all washed down with good conversation and relaxing vibes.

Since it’s at the family home, you must call or email Toma first; the info is in the video.

For your reference, the first vegetable in the video is called jonjoli, or Caucasian bladdernut (wow, so appetizing!). Thereafter, things start make a bit more sense.

გაამოთ (gaa-mot), or bon appétit!

The Borojó Fruit (Ecuador)

market borojo fruit
Borojo (Borojó) Fruit, Mercado Santa Clara, Quito, Ecuador

I have good food memories of the Mercado Santa Clara (Santa Clara Market) in Quito, Ecuador.  Not only did I try a delicious ceviche with fresh squeezed lime, I added a new food to my glossary, the borojó.

The borojó is native to rainforests in Ecuador and Colombia in South America, and has also been found growing in Panama.  The etymology of the word comes from the Emberá (aka Chocó) language, in which boro means “head,” and {ne-}jo is “fruit.” Borojó requires constant high humidity, plenty of rain, and warm temperatures, hence being relatively limited to the tropical climate zones of northwestern South America. Its trees can reach heights of up to ~16 feet, and last for roughly 4 years (via Candelaestereo).

Among its culinary uses, the fruit is generally mixed with milk and sugar to produce marmalades and preserves, and makes for a good batido (shake) if you you blend it up with coconut milk.  For more moribund purposes, it is used to embalm corpses in Atrato and San Juan, Colombia, and for budding casanovas, it has mythical aphrodisiacal properties.

In terms of health benefits, borojó contains a good deal of phosphorous – useful for your teeth, bones and much, much more – amino acids, protein, and vitamins C & B.

Want to try it?  It’s a cumbersome fruit, so I recommend you either visit South America, or try a bottle of this.


Have you heard of the borojó?

A Brief Food Tour of Mexico City, Part 1

As I mentioned in the latest post, Mexico City is one of my favorite cities in the world.  And how might a city enter that hall of fame?

Having good food is a start.

I’d like to share with you a few highlights from a recent trip to the world’s largest Spanish-speaking city, in what I hope will become a series documenting Mexico’s variegated cuisines.

But before we dive in, we might want to consider…

La Vacuna Restaurant, Mexico City, Mexico

“The Vaccine.”  What an unusually timely name for a restaurant.  Though, I’d say for eating out on the town, washing up with soap with suffice.

OK, let’s start with two examples of comida callejera, or street food.

Street Food Vendor Preparing Chorizo Verde on a Comal (Flat Griddle)

Green chorizo, what?!  Yes, chorizo verde was something I only discovered at a brunch buffet two years ago in the Mexican capital.  Hailing from the city of Toluca in the state of Mexico (which surrounds Mexico City on three sides), chorizo verde consists of pork, and mix of herbs, spices, and chilies.  Standard chorizo – the reddish one given a smokiness by the cayenne pepper (pimentón)  – is quite filling, so the green version allows one to…eat even more.  That’s my experience, anyway!

Tacos de Chorizo Verde, Mexico City

Chorizo verde is not one of the more common street food options, but keep a look out for it if you want an herbal, slightly lighter take on its Iberian cousin.

Having consumed just two tacos for the day, I was still feeling peckish.  Enter, one of the best food stalls I’ve seen in Mexico City, nay anywhere, in the Colonia Juárez district.

It’s easy to get distracted by the deliciousness surrounding you in a place like Mexico, yet even in that lofty position, there exist stand-outs:

An Array of Meat and Salsa (and Guacamole), Mexico City, Mexico

On the comal – a flat griddle (historically made of clay) used for centuries in Mexico -these three chefs had chorizo, campechano (a mix of beef and pork of various cuts), suadero (fried beef), carnitas (shredded pork shoulder braised in its own fat), something akin to a burger, papas (potatoes), and nopales, or cactus.  What really sold me was the “fixins’ bar” of condiments– guajillo salsa, tomatillo salsa, beans, avocado tomatillo salsa, guacamole (!), pickled carrots, onions and cilantro, and a bevy of Veracruz limes.  Wow.

What did I order?

Two chorizo tacos with melted queso para asar (grilling cheese), potatoes, and onions, and a plate of the fun stuff.  Naturally, by the time I was finished chowing everything down, I had two more plates of salsa, and three more tacos.

Time for a drink break.

Namiola in Spanish, means wave.  It’s also the name of the first brand of sake produced on Mexican soil, in the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa.  Although the brewery, called Sakecul, produces three types of sake – junmai (純米 – pure rice without added alcohol/sugar), junmai ginjou (吟醸 – highly milled rice), and junmai daiginjou (大吟醸 – very highly milled rice, usually considered the top-tier of sake) – they also produce a beer called Haiku.  Nami was founded in September 2016, and can be found throughout major Mexican cities.

I sample the junmai and the daiginjou at Hiyoko, a modern yakitori restaurant in what has become the capital’s de facto Japanese barrio (neighborhood).

To top off my first review of Mexico City eats, I bring you la Señora Torres (named after the restaurant owner):

La Señora Torres, Mi Compa Chava, Mexico City, Mexico

Basically, I was searching in Spanish for popular restaurants in Mexico City, and came across Mi Compa Chava (My Pal Chava), a relative newcomer in the chic Roma Norte section of town.  It’s a seafood restaurant focusing on fresh catches from Sinaloa, the same state where the sake originated.

It’s also the home of that unbelieavable tower (torre coincidentally means “tower” in Spanish) of seafood, as shown above and below…

The edible skyscraper had layers of octopus, raw shrimp, cooked shrimp, cucumber, yellow fin tuna, red onion, avocado, and callo de hacha (scallops). Upon serving the tower, the waiter poured a blend of lime juice, charred tomatoes, Morita chilies, and a house salsa over it, returning the seafood back “to the sea.” Actually, that’s just my take on things.

The dish was a delight to conquer, and showed how fresh each ingredient could taste, in spite of being a couple of hours flight time from the Sinaloa port of Los Mochis (Mexico City is, after all the home of the largest seafood market in the country, and the largest wholesale food market in the world).


What’s that you say?  You want to see more of Mexican gastronomy?  Perhaps a churro, some tacos al pastor, or even a tour of the retail section of the wholesale food market?

I think that can be arranged.

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