The Supermarket Chronicles XII: Shuck and Slurp

Cigna's first oyster. Sarah's not much of a raw shellfish fan

Cian’s first oyster.  Sarah’s not a fan

Faithful readers may recall a couple years back my sister’s fiancé’s daring initiation into Cape Cod cuisine.  That particular post was featured on the Cape Cod Times website and to this day is still one of my most viewed articles (you’re welcome, Nathan!).  Clearly, my family has an unusual fondness for seafood.  Now, you may not feel that landlocked Vermont would be the ideal venue for shellfish experiments.  We were visiting the Green Mountain State to enjoy winter sports (post coming soon), and the Powell clan descended on The Farmhouse Tap and Grill in Burlington for a sumptuous New Year’s Day dinner, including $1 raw oysters from choice New England beaches.  If you’re trying to navigate the array of downtown Burlington restaurants, The Farmhouse comes highly recommended.  My father and I sucked down a half dozen oysters each before our meal, and intrigued by the process, Cian wanted to try one (he’s our more adventurous eater.  There are only about seven foods Áine deems acceptable).  Since consuming raw shellfish in Nigeria is, um, not suggested, we thought we’d give it a go.  Tender, sweet and cheap, it was the perfect opportunity, and Cian was feeling brave.

 

The Supermarket Chronicles XI: Discovering the Tastes of Morocco

As you know, the Supermarket Chronicles showcase the restaurant or grocery store treasures of our travels, ranging from the unappetizing to the bizarre.  I jot down a brief description, throw in a picture or two, you read it in horror, and I sit back and laugh like Bram Stoker’s Renfield.  It’s really a great relationship.  This episode of the chronicles, however, is going to take a 180° turn, perhaps just this once.

That’s because we just returned from Marrakech, Morocco, and my perspective on dining has done a 180° turn.

Lunch of chicken tagine and Moroccan bread

Lunch of chicken tagine and Moroccan bread

Tagines simmering at a traditional restaurant

Tagines simmering at a traditional restaurant

I don’t cook much, even less now that we’re living abroad, but I was raised to be at the least food savvy, so you can imagine my shame when I knew next to nothing about Moroccan cuisine.  Most meals are centered around the tagine, a large terracotta dish with a cone-shaped lid that originates from the indigenous Berber people of Morocco.  You load the dish with meat, veggies and spices, put it under a low heat, replace the cover, and let the whole thing stew.  The lid traps the evaporating water so precious to desert dwellers, while the terracotta gives a slight earthiness to the dish.  Like a slow cooker, the process makes the vegetables tender, the meat pull apart with a fork and the flavors blend for unbelievable results.

Each sunset was enjoyed with a bottle of luscious Moroccan wine, peanuts, and the only olives I've ever enjoyed, so fresh some still had stems.

Each sunset was enjoyed with a bottle of sumptuous Moroccan wine, peanuts, and the only olives I’ve ever liked, so fresh some still had stems.  Photobombed by Aine.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Breakfast was a refreshing assortment of traditional Moroccan breads, yogurt, fresh fruit and cheeses.  We were so impressed by our “hotel’s” restaurant (not really a hotel- I’ll explain in the next post), we never felt the need to venture out for dinner.  Each evening we put the kids to bed and relaxed for a delicious three course meal; those meals that, despite being full, you keep eating anyway because the taste is irresistible.  As a former French colony, France’s expertise in the kitchen combines with Moroccan exotic and fresh ingredients, resulting in sheer brilliance.  There was only one set menu per night, often a dish that I would never have chosen regularly, but each evening was more fantastic than the last.  Let me show you some examples:

Stay tuned, faithful readers, because there’s a post coming soon about our Moroccan adventures.  It’s just emotionally difficult to type now that I’m home scrounging my kids’ uneaten chicken nuggets and trying to exercise off the five pounds I gained on vacation while dreaming of my next tagine.

Morocco

The Supermarket Chronicles X: The Joy of Cooking

Not ordering from here (the blurry picture is because I took it covertly)

Not ordering from here (the blurry picture is because I took it covertly)

I don’t blame myself for avoiding Nigerian food.  Although street sellers are everywhere, fillets of raw meat sitting in the sun and covered with more flies than a Save the Children commercial isn’t that appealing.  There are many Nigerian restaurants as well, but when we’re eating out, we tend to eat where we can ease our homesick taste buds.  I do have the occasional shawarma, which is not Nigerian, and I’ve ordered the suya from our school’s cafeteria, but that isn’t anything more than spiced meat on a stick.  Before I left for the summer, I wanted to have a genuine Nigerian meal without getting intestinal worms.  So, I turned to Joy and the sanitation of my kitchen.

Preparation

Preparation. That log at the side is a yam.  Please disregard our mountain of laundry Joy can’t work on because she’s making me lunch

Our housekeeper has worked with expat teachers for years, and cooks for the Western palate well.  The pizza Joy baked last week was outstanding.  Joy and I have a great relationship.  I love to poke fun at all things oyingbo (white people) and make her laugh about things she’s not supposed to, and we joke that I take over for her as the night shift (this is true- my nightly chores earn me dart playing rights).  When I asked her if she could make me a Nigerian lunch she agreed, but I could tell she was suspicious of my motives.  Why would I ever want to do that?

Serving

Serving

The Nigerian staple is the yam, not to be confused with sweet potato we in the States sometimes call yam. The enormous tuber accompanies many Nigerian meals, boiled and sliced or pounded into a mashed potato-like paste and eaten with your hands.  Joy decided on a simple Nigerian food warm up: onion, tomato, piri-piri and egg mixture with sliced yam.  Piri-piri is a hot chilli pepper pervasive in subsaharan African cuisine, which Joy cautiously toned down for my lunch.  She said it was too hot for oyingbo.  As the yam boiled away on the stove, she fried the vegetables in a bit too much oil and let it thicken before adding the whisked egg at the end.  The starchy yam disks were lightly salted and delicious, especially when eaten with the vegetable/egg relish.  I made reticent Sarah try a forkful, and suddenly I had to defend my plate from her having “just one more bite”.  I’ll admit I didn’t have much promise for Nigerian cuisine, but this beginner’s lunch put me ready to explore more when we return in August.

Yam with vegetables and egg

Yam with vegetables and egg

The Supermarket Chronicles IX: Where’s the Beef?

While in Cape Town, South Africa this week (more of our vacation adventures soon), we were exploring the city’s scenic waterfront looking for something to tide us over in the afternoon before dinner.  In his typical Britglish, Adrian was feeling “peckish”.  We bumped into the exceedingly trendy Waterfront Food Market, a large, open brick building with a number of artisanal food venders.  You know, the type of place where hipster sellers are tripping over themselves to be food cool and try to outdo each other with words like “vegan”, “organic” or “raw”.  Spinach and artichoke heart samosas, homemade ginger and lemon yogurt, Indian dal empanadas, fancy infused vinegars in oddly shaped bottles, blah, blah, blah.

Cooking on the braai

Cooking on the braai

In the back corner, however, was Kubu, a kiosk specializing in venison, which in Africa means game meat.  Adrian and I immediately ordered one of everything and Sarah, appalled, diverted the kids to get ice cream so they wouldn’t see what cute African animals we were about to eat.  They grilled our selections inside, and the large amount of meat cooking at the same time soon fillied the lower part of the building with smoke.  We smiled devilishly as venders selling vegan desserts frowned with disgust.  The meat was served with chakalaka, a spicy South African vegetable relish.  We met up with Sarah and the kids moments later at a picnic table outside and dined under the bulk of Cape Town’s Table Mountain, beginning our survey of African meat.  Here’s a quick gastronomic review:

Ostrich:  More dense and steak-like than chicken, but with a chickenish taste.  One of my favorites.

Crocodile:  Rubbery and tough.  Not one of my favorites.

Zebra:  Filled with sinew and not very flavourful.  Lots of chewing with difficulty swallowing.  May not have have been the best cut of meat.

Warthog:  Tender and delicious, like a gamier flavor of pulled pork. My top choice.

Springbok:  A moist, flavorful steak.  For those of you that don’t know, we’ve been avidly following the rugby world cup.  As a Wales fan, I ate this cut of meat like a rabid dog after last Saturday’s game.

Kudu:  More dense and gamier than springbok.  Also very good.

Impala:  Very dry- I had to swill it down with sips of water of each bite.

By the time I had finished, I was full enough to feel like I really had eaten a safari.

This fearless gull kept trying to steal something from our plate

This fearless gull kept trying to steal something from our plate

The Supermarket Chronicles VIII: Cape Cod Cuisine Customs

Chatham harbor

Chatham harbor

While spending the summer on Cape Cod, our vacation destination since childhood and a place that owns a part of our hearts, we trialled the area as a potential future home base in America.  Our rental cottage became a hub for visiting family and friends, such as my sister Jen and her exceedingly patient boyfriend Nathan (patience is an absolute necessity for dating my sister and spending time with the Powell clan).  Cape Cod requires the indulgence of certain delicacies, and Nathan has only been to the Cape a couple times, so it was our responsibility to provide an authentic experience.  Little neck clams raw are somewhat advanced for the uninitiated, so we started with them lightly grilled and topped with a bit of lemon juice, melted butter and Cholula sauce.  Apologies for the blurry pictures, but we were laughing so hard Jen couldn’t hold her phone still. Start at the top left picture for the unfolding drama.

A traditionally well documented rite of passage in the family is eating your first lobster, and when my parents came to visit for a few days, it was decreed by the current reigning matriarch (my mother) that it was time for Cian to attempt this milestone.  The kids had enjoyed going to the local Falmouth fish monger and peering into the lobster tanks, but actually bringing one home to cook was something else.  We adhered to the normal, strange and perhaps morbid customs of naming, petting, and racing the poor ocean bugs before unabashedly guillotining them lengthwise for the grill or dropping them live into boiling water.  Cian only had a few bites, but it was all that was needed to induct another member into the tribe.

How funny that we dignified Americans are disgusted by the “bizarre” foods of other countries.

The Supermarket Chronicles VII: Hook to Plate

On our recent island hop to Gili Air (one of our favorite trips this year; more on this soon) with friends Brent and Caitlin, restaurants used a brilliant strategy to lure in customers eager to take advantage of the fresh seafood.  Their catch of the day was displayed along the shoreline road that ran through the main tourist area of the island.  You pick from the array of fish, kebabs, fish steaks or shellfish, then relax at your table on the beach while they prepare and grill your choices.  The kids would play in the water and sand, taking small breaks to grab a snack, while the adults sat back with a beer, listened to island music and gazed over the beautiful aquamarine waters and the islands beyond.

Cian, however, still processing the “we eat dead things” concept, wasn’t quite sure how he felt about looking eye to eye at his forthcoming dinner.

Processing

Processing

The Supermarket Chronicles VI: Scarves and Snacks

Yep- Vietnam strikes again.  We were touring a silk factory, watching women laboriously boil silkworm cocoons in large, metal tanks, then expertly thread the cocoons onto a spinning machine.  Doing so, the cocoons bob and spin like tops floating at the water’s surface as their silk quickly unravels onto the spool above.  What’s left is the brown, alien looking pupae, which are skimmed from the surface and set aside.  I asked Mr. Chien what happens to the pupae once the process is complete.  You know that feeling when you’re shutting a locked car door while looking at the car keys laying on the driver seat?  As my mouth was asking Mr. Chien the question, my brain was screaming to shut up.

“We eat them as a snack,”  Mr. Chien said.  Of course you do.

Quickly I changed the subject to the next stage of silk production, the weaving machines, but the jinx had already been placed.  On our way out of the factory, just as I started to feel safe, I encounter this at the door:

Not roasted peanuts

Not roasted peanuts

Damn you, Supermarket Chronicles!  I liked this series better when I wasn’t doing any eating.

(Actually, I ate a few.  Warm and salted with a cold beer, they wouldn’t have been half bad.)