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.  There are myriad candidates for this category, and that’s a good thing.

But if I had to choose a nominee right now it would be one that 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 right in front of the historic Galle Face Hotel.  Though the park’s 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 fried 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.


If you could only choose one “best street food,” which would it be?

Georgian Bread Boats, Also Known As Khachapuri Adjaruli

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, Adjari-style

Khachapuri (in Georgian, ხაჭაპური) is the catch-all for cheese-filled leavened bread, whereas “khach” = curd, and “puri” = breadDifferent regions in Georgia have their own methods to prepare khachapuri, but today’s post will focus squarely on the version from Adjara, along its southwestern border with Turkey.

Khachapuri Adjaruli with Eggplant in Walnut Sauce and Cornelian Cherry Nectar

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.

Brooklyn’s Toné Café, where I first tried Khachapuri Adjaruli (notice the slices of butter in the foreground)

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.


Have you ever taken on khachapuri adjaruli?  Did you, too succumb to its cheesy goodness?

Japanese Desserts: The College Potato (大学芋)

Around autumn-time in Japan is when the yaki imo (焼き芋), or roasted (sweet) potato, trucks start to ply the residential areas, as the drivers playing an eerie recording trying to either tempt or frighten human hunger pangs.  Sure, you’ve got the beautiful fall foliage, chestnut acolytes and a gradual decrease in purgatorial temperatures, but none of those things reminds me more that I’m in Tokyo than those mystifying lorries, err trucks.

Except that, I haven’t always had the great luck in finding them.  While living in Tokyo many years ago, my interminable walks normally took me through the commercial and/or high-rise districts, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Ginza, and Shimbashi (for some reason; well they did have cheap eats), but I have an inkling that heading towards Nezu/Asakusa/Yanaka/even Akasaka would’ve been better ideas to pinpoint the truck’s location.

Then again, as much as I love sweet potatoes, they’re quite easy to find around the world.  Not quite as common?  Daigaku imo (大学芋), the college potato.

Daigaku imo became an instant staple food for me while studying in Tokyo, and their super sweet nature has stayed with me ever since.  In essence, they are fried sweet potatoes, coated with black sesame seeds and sugar syrup.

According to the Research Institute of Japanese Potatoes – really – the college potato most likely came about at the beginning of the Showa era (1926 – 1989), when Japan had been going through a difficult economic period.  This was made worse by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, which almost completely flattened Tokyo.  In order for college students to pay their dues, many started to sell what we now know as the daigaku imo.

The sweet – on – sweet daigaku imo reminds me of a couple of northern Chinese desserts;  one is diced sweet potatoes fried in caramel that you’d dip in water to cool off, and the other is bingtanghulu, or sugar-coated fruit skewers.   Has anyone found college potato outside of Japan?  I haven’t yet, but there is a small consolation that deserves mention–

Although it says satsuma imo (さつまいも) yam flavor, the description mentions that it has a hint of black sesame as well, not to mention, look at the photo!  They were quite alright, and much more lenient on the incisors, but the last time I saw them was in 2006…perhaps you, the reader, knows where to get them.


I’d like to try daigaku imo in cheesecake form…how about you?

A Tale of Six Ceviche (in Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru)

Ceviche (seh-VEE-chay) – or, is it cebiche? – is one of Peru’s most famous culinary exports, though its origins are indeed a mystery.  It might have stemmed from the Incas, who discovered that chicha, or fermented maize, could help preserve seafood.  Perhaps it was the Spanish conquistadors from Andalusia, who introduced different citruses such as lime and orange to the region.  Or, did the Japanese, after their first wave of emigration to Peru in 1899, lend a hand in ceviche’s modern-day presentation?

No matter who created it, ceviche is one of my all-time favorite seafood dishes.  But, just like how pizza comes in many forms, the definition of ceviche is wide open to interpretation.

Though many countries in Latin America may make a claim to similar seaside fare, Peru’s is undoubtedly the most celebrated:

Whereas these days there are countless cevichería dotting Lima’s culinary scene, the classic way is to mix up diced fish, salt, chilies, red onion, and lime juice, with that last one added to cook the fish. Finally, place camote – sweet potato on one side, and corn on other.

And now the question you’ve all been wondering…what do you do with the spicy lime juice mixture after you’ve gulped down the ceviche?  In Peru, that delicious stuff is called leche de tigre (tiger’s milk), and can be consumed as a shot; it’s often though of as a cure for resaca, or hangovers.

Now that we know about the standard ceviche, what could anyone possibly want to change with the recipe, especially with something called tiger’s milk?

On that note, let’s switch national capitals, from Lima, Peru to Quito, Ecuador.  Ecuador has some really tasty meals, too, but their typical ceviche tends to have a tomato sauce-base (sometimes ketchup) and shrimp, and is served with popcorn and/or plantain chips:

What these two bowls might lack in aesthetic value, they more than made up for it in flavor!  Still, ketchup in ceviche…I hope it was used sparingly.  But, this does help me transition to the next country on our ceviche trip through Latin America, Mexico…

Why am I skipping over places like Colombia, Cuba, and Chile?  Simple…I haven’t tried ceviche in them.  Also, I could save the “three Cs” for another post.  Gotta strategize!

Moving on to one of my top three food countries, I had a friend in the state of Veracruz who found great joy in showing off her country’s food.  Who am I to argue?  In the case of the first photo, we tried a marisquería (mariscos = seafood) called Mariscos El Bayo.  On the menu, besides freshly caught crab were shrimp ceviche tostadas (tostada = big toasted tortilla):

Whoa, whoa, now they’re taking the liquid aspect away, and instead placing a slice of avocado?  Mixed feelings, to be sure.  Why can’t we have the avocado in EVERY ceviche – even if they are native to Mexico – AND get some piquant leche de tigre action?

Huh?  Now, you’ve taken away the avocado, used a very sweet tomato sauce, but raised the bar with a whole glut of different seafood?  That’s right, at Coctelería Cajun, in Ciudad del Carmen in the state of Campeche, shrimp and octopus are the norm.  Can’t complain about that.  Plus, it had oysters, crab, squid, and snail; no wonder it was called Vuelva a la Vida, or “{it} brings you back to life!”

By this point, you might be thinking, the ceviche looks great and all, but I furl my brow at these inexpensive-looking wares and utensils.  Popcorn, harrumph!

Fine.  I’ve saved the boujee – but equally scrumptious – ceviche for the last.  Enter, Agua & Sal, a cebichería located in the upmarket Polanco district of Mexico City.  They have delectable Peruvian and Mexican offerings of ceviche, as well as separate fish and seafood dishes.  Although I did try Agua & Sal’s mainstay Peruvian ceviche, and an excellent plate of scallops, I will highlight their cebiche a la leña:

Taking ceviche to another level, the leña, or firewood, lended a smoky, earthy flavor to the shrimp and róbalo, or sea bass, and the red onions and chile rayado (dried, smoked chile) salsa provided the welcome heat.  Really, I would go back in a heartbeat to any of these six places, and Agua & Sal…is no exception.


I hope that you’ve learned a bit more about the varying styles of ceviche today, and maybe you could even share where you’ve had your best plate, no matter where in the world it was!

Manado’s Tinutuan (Indonesian Food)

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.”

Waiter, There’s Salt Outside Your Restaurant (Japan)

Years ago, before I went to teach English in Shenzhen, China, I happened upon a satirical video about the traditions of eating in a Japanese restaurant. What can one do, besides wax famished about those daily searches for good eats?

More importantly, what does Shenzhen have to do with this?…

Once settled in there, in order to spice up my daily Chinese meals, I went looking for Japanese food.  After stumbling upon a vertical “Japantown” in Luo Hu, the old commercial center of Shenzhen, I started to explore different floors of the building.  Seedy stuff – with discounts for Japanese businessmen – was located on the top floors, whereas just below those were restaurants.

Hungry, I alighted to find something that had been making me chuckle since watching the sushi video above:

Just what am I pointing to?

Salt.  Right outside of a Japanese restaurant.

The mound of salt is known in Japanese as 盛塩 (morishio).  Why was it there?  I asked the manager, and she didn’t know.  Though, one theory says that it was placed out front by the door sill in the event that your meal wasn’t salty enough.  Other possibilities include a nobleman being present in the restaurant, or that when you pass through the door you’ll be purified.  Another two mention that salt is placed there for good luck for the owner, or to keep evil spirits away from one’s abode (in Japanese).

Imagine at your own discretion, but please, the next time you reach for a bit of salt, think of your kidneys.

Morishio, “lucky salt,” outside of a Fukuoka Sushi Restaurant


Have you noticed this when you’ve gone out for Japanese food?  Have you taken advantage?

Sapporo, Japan’s Miso Ramen (味噌ラーメン)

Considering that today is thus far 2021’s coldest in New York, I feel like there’s no better time than now to talk about the hearty miso ramen.

In addition to Japan’s most well-known home-grown soup, miso soup, there have historically been othershoutou, with pumpkin, mushrooms, and meat, and miso nikomi made in a clay pot – that employ both noodles and miso, or fermented soybeans. Miso is beneficial for immune and digestive support, and has a fair amount of protein, given that it is made of soybeans…there are even different flavors and colors of miso.

However, contemporary miso ramen hails from Sapporo, Hokkaido, having only been created in 1954/5 by Mr. Morito Omori at his Aji no Sanpei restaurant. Two versions of the story exist; one entails Mr. Omori noticing in a Reader’s Digest about how foreigners liked miso, another simpler one recounts a customer asking him to add noodles and vegetables to miso soup.

Either way, Sapporo miso ramen is my favorite bowl of ramen.

I used to think that the broth solely consisted of miso, but in fact it is red miso added to a standard chicken, pork or other type of broth first. Throw in the usual menma (bamboo slices), green onion, and springy noodles, then top it with two Hokkaido specialties, butter and sweet corn. 旨ぇぇぇ! (So tasty!)

What am I still doing writing about it, when I should be making it? This always happens.

Stay warm, folks!

Lost in Translation: The “Hungry for Gold” Edition

Throughout my travels, I’ve come across a heady amount of signs, ads, and menus lost in translation.  Though it’s more fun when I’m able to read the original language, too, it’s very easy to bowl me over with copy that was clearly pasted into an online translator, and then pasted verbatim onto whatever deliverable for which it was being prepared.

Having spent much of my overseas time in East Asia, I can cheekily say that Japan and China share the gold medal for the volume and quality of their Engrish.  However, if I had to nominate two favorites – one from each country – I think it would be these.

Let’s start with China.

In Guangzhou, one of my favorite places to wander and dine is the neighborhood of Xiaobei, known for its population of folks from all around Africa, as well being a de facto hub for Islam.  The extraordinary amount of trade and commerce that occurs in this area, the seething relationship between African expats and locals, and the diverse food options all contribute to making it a unique part of the city, nay, country to visit.

In general, I would go there when hungry, either to get a bite of something Turkish, or for some superb Uyghur bread, called nan, covered in sesame or sunflower seeds:

To get back on topic, on the second floor of the same restaurant where I’d buy the nan, I would get mixed noodles with a cumin-laced soup, and a couple of kebabs.

The menu, however, had already made up its mind about who I was:

First of all, this one is so amusing in that they even got the Chinese wrong.  Whereas the Chinese says 馄饨 (húntun), or wonton, their translation is of the word 混沌 (hùndùn), which alternatively refers to a chaos that existed before earth.

In other words, mentally dense.

For you see, the character 混 means to mix/blend, and the character 沌 is chaotic/murky.  Somehow, when you combine the two, you get sucked up by Chinese creationist theory.  —

As for Japan, it’s a shorter story, but no less risible.

After arriving in the port city of Takamatsu, I started to feel peckish.  Yes, I would eat their famed Sanuki udon later that day, but for the time being, a Japanese bakery was in the cards.

For twenty years, I’ve been a fan of Japanese bakeries, starting with the corn kernel-stuffed buttery loaves, and right up to the tingly “mapo” roll found last year.

But then, I’ve never encountered this:

Even at a bakery named after a Scottish nursery rhyme, I’m still confused.

Is there an explanation?  Yes.  Somewhat.

The name of the bread is – wait for it – translated correctly.  クリーミ (kuriimi) is creamy, and ソフト (sofuto) is shorthand for software.  But,       ソフト also means soft.  Of course, the folks who printed up this label – whose description reads as a “moist and soft bread with custard cream folded inside” – would have chosen more wisely – though less memorably for marketing purposes – if they had gone with the Japanese word for soft,
柔らかい (yawarakai).


Would you have put these two entries in your pantheon of Engrish?  Which would be your two candidates?

Oaxaca’s Crunchy Tlayuda (Mexico)

Mexico, thus far, is one of my three favorite countries in which to eat –the other two being Japan and Turkey.  During my brief time in Southern California, I used to cross over to Tijuana just to get a series of lunches, and then overdo it by chomping on churros while waiting to get back in the US.

CHURROS, at the San Ysidro Border Crossing

After meeting some affable Mexican folks in my travels, my awareness of regional Mexican cuisines grew, as we started taking road trips throughout their delicious country.  I will cover more of these stories in later posts, but for now, we’re going to take a look at the tlayuda, the Oaxacan specialty that might count pizza as a distant relative…all the way in Italy.

In Oaxaca, the word tlayuda generally refers to a fried or toasted giant corn tortilla.   They were first consumed in Prehispanic times — that is, before Hernán Cortés started marauding civilizations in the 1500s; in the native Nahuatl language, tlayuda is derived from tlao-li, or husked corn, and uda, or abundance.

Tlayuda are eaten either with granulated sugar, or with any number of savory ingredients…

Tlayuda at El Milenario (Restaurant), Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Time for the good stuff!  Savory tlayuda are first, smothered in a mix of refried beans and pork lard, the latter called asiento.  Then…whatever!  For the one above, I ordered it with ground chorizo, squash blossoms, quesillo (Oaxaca cheese; roughly similar to mozzarella), radishes, avocados, tomatoes, and a couple of flora unique to the region.

On the left, the green pod (and its seeds) is called guaje.  Although the pod is inedible, the seeds have an eclectic flavor profile, something of a grassy pumpkin seed.  More importantly, the guaje, being plentiful in the region during the time of Cortés, lent present-day Oaxaca its name.  Since the Spanish couldn’t pronounce Huāxyacac, the Nahuatl word for the plant, they abridged it to become Oaxaca.  So much easierright???

And on the right, pipicha, or chepiche.  Does it bear a striking resemblance to tarragon?  Yes…but the flavor is more like a citrus cilantro, with a hint of minty licorice.  Used by Aztecs and other ancient tribes to treat the liver, pipicha also are high in antioxidants, and can be used to cleanse the palate after a meal.  I felt that the flavor was quite strong, so I would recommend using it sparingly.


What would you put on your ideal tlayuda?

Jagalchi Seafood Market in Busan, South Korea

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (10)

Jagalchi Market, one of my favorite food markets in the world – at least for now – is located in the metropolis of Busan, South Korea, in the southeastern part of the country.  You’ve got seafood downstairs, restaurants above, and the possibility of trying some of the freshest crustaceans, mollusks, and bivalves out there on both floors.

Yep, this place is quality.

Likely established in 1876 and named for the gravel (jagal/자갈) that surrounded the food market/port at the time, it only became a major center in the fishing trade after the Korean War, when many refugees from other parts of the country made it to southerly Busan.

With a bit of the market’s history out of the way, let’s take a short tour of the area:

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (1)

If you hop on line 1 of Busan’s metro, you can easily get to Jagalchi market.  In fact, since Busan’s main train station downtown is also on line 1, you could make an easy day trip from Seoul and other Korean cities using KTX, the national high speed rail.  Or…you could just stay where you are, because if you’re already in South Korea, excellent food already surrounds you.

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (2)


Unlike the coy version in Shinjuku, Tokyo, this nearby crab specialty restaurant isn’t ashamed in the least to remind you that you’re in Jagalchi town.

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (7)


A boat by a seafood market?  No way.

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (3)

Jagqlchi Market façade

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (8)

Fisherman taking a very long break

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (9)

Dried squid…and now I’ve pinpointed the exact moment I lost the attention of half of the voters in NYC and south Florida.

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (6)


From the polychromatic family of sea squirts comes 멍게 (meong ge) or in Japanese 真海鞘 (マボヤ/maboya), less commonly known as sea pineapples.  They’re hermaphroditic, spontaneously expel water and are apparently best served raw or pickled.  I didn’t get to try them, and I wouldn’t suggest calling someone a sea squirt either.

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (5)


Seafood.  Count me in.

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (4)

Pretty sure this sign reads something to the effect of “if it’s raw, dig in.”  But don’t quote me on that.

Jagalchi Market, Busan (Pusan), Republic of Korea (South Korea) (11)


The main event.  Oyster.  Soy sauce and wasabi.  Garlic and green chilies.  Some kind of wonderful fermented bean paste, better known locally as doenjang (된장).  Ubiquitous carafe of water.

To sum up Jagalchi in one word…ideal. now just point me to the nearest seaweed buffet, and I will rent a room.


Have you been to Busan and/or Jagalchi Market?