If you’ve eaten at an Indian restaurant anywhere in the world, chances are you’ve mopped up a red slick of butter chicken with a folded wedge of naan. And yet that ubiquitous flatbread, like so much else that defines the cuisine of the subcontinent (potatoes, tomatoes, chilies, tea), is really a foreign dish, prepared using refined flour, which came across the Himalayas from central Asia in the twelfth century, along with Muslim settlers. Before that, North India’s unleavened wheat-based flatbreads—rotis, chapatis, and puris—would have been made from whole grains, while the rice-eating South elaborated its own distinct set of breads from batters of rice and lentils.
Like so much else in India, the bread traditions vary along a North-South/wheat-rice axis (with other grains like sorghum, millet, amaranth, and semolina making occasional appearances). But the staggering diversity of India’s breads also reflects a long history of trade and invasion, of cultural and culinary syncretism. It would be virtually impossible to capture the full diversity of India’s breads (though Saee Koranne-Khandekar makes an admirable attempt in her new book Crumbs!), or even to say what, in India, counts as bread. But here we’ve given it a go. I went about it like this: if it’s starchy and used as a utensil, it’s bread. (more…)
Even in the context of a huge and under-appreciated continent, La Paz, Bolivia’s high-altitude administrative capital, is something of an obscurity. Most travelers barely pass through for a stopover en route to the jewel-like mineral lakes, fuming volcanoes, and the lunar salt flats at Uyuni. All that is about to change.
Ignore what you’ve heard about the city’s lack of obvious attractions. Forget about the protests that used to regularly shut down the colonial center. And cast away all your doubts about the food: notoriously bland mountains of meat and potatoes, washed down with tepid coke or a passable lager called Paceña.
Thanks to an unprecedented period of political stability and peace (courtesy of the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales), improved infrastructure, and a bonafide culinary revolution spearheaded by the co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, La Paz is ready for its moment in the spotlight. (more…)
The line that divides Detroit and Dearborn, coterminous cities in the sprawling grid of roads that traverse southeast Michigan, is invisible — but it’s almost impossible to miss. On one side, there’s a city that lost a quarter of its residents between 2000 and 2010, is home to tens of thousands of vacant buildings, and is at its smallest population since 1850. On the other, there’s a suburb where the number of businesses on its main commercial corridor has doubled in the last decade, the median income is nearly twice Detroit’s, and housing demand has seen bidding wars for single-family homes end over a hundred thousand dollars above asking prices. (more…)
Head to a local market in Bolivia, and the first thing you’re likely to notice is a smell, damp and vegetal, emanating from huge bushels of dried green leaves that are being sold for a few bucks a pound. These leaves are coca, and to Bolivians they’re far more than just the raw material used to make cocaine. Andean peoples have chewed or brewed the leaf for thousands of years, using it to increase stamina, aid digestion, and combat altitude sickness. More recently, it’s become a gourmet ingredient in the nation’s administrative capital of La Paz, a city that has in recent years been transformed from a culinary backwater to an unexpected darling of the global eaterati.
Every morning is a cold morning in La Paz. The capital of Bolivia sits in a steep-sided basin 12,000 feet above sea level—the highest peak in the Rockies isn’t much higher—surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains and the flat expanse of the Altiplano. The sky is the kind of blue that gives its name to my favorite flavor of sno-ball, but that never quite materialized in the hazy Mid-Atlantic, where I grew up. Clouds are so close overhead that you can match them to their freeform shadows as they drift uphill. In La Paz, you often feel as though everything is uphill, the altitude working like a weight on your ankles, your lungs, your head. It can take days to stop feeling tired here, whether you’re a visitor stopping through or a resident returning from a more richly oxygenated sojourn somewhere closer down to earth—which is anywhere at all. (more…)
Forr most of his life, Patrick Schwager was, by his own admission, “a pizza guy.” He’d grown up in a middle-class suburb of Detroit called Garden City (home to America’s first Kmart and Little Caesar’s) raised by a Mexican-American mother (his grandmother had come to Detroit in the 1920s) and a father whom he describes affectionately as “a white guy.”
Like most people in suburban Detroit, Schwager spent very little time in the city growing up. Now he spends his Saturday mornings in the recently opened commercial kitchen at Detroit’s 125-year-old Eastern Market, tinkering with recipes for salsa and guacamole that he sells under the label Aunt Nee’s. It’s one of the 20+ small businesses participating in the Market’s non-profit incubator program, Detroit Kitchen Connect.
It’s a safe bet that when you think of India, you think of spices: cardamom and cloves and peppercorns, cinnamon and cumin and coriander, fennel and mustard and turmeric. And while Indians use these aromatics with as much delicacy and finesse as anyone, they’re far from the only ones that do. Indian spices are world-shaping commodities that have lured colonists and built empires obsessed with the flavors that at one point were only found on the subcontinent and in Southeast Asia.
But it’s a different story for India’s souring agents—twangy sources of acidity that define regional Indian cooking just as much as some key spices. Where an American cook may brighten a sauce with a squeeze of lemon or dash of vinegar, and Indian might turn to powdered green mango to tart up a kebab spice rub, or add a curl of tamarind-like kokum to a seafood a curry.
Since these flavors never really traveled beyond India’s borders, they may not pack the romantic punch (or heady nose) of a north Indian garam masala. But they’re at least as central to Indian cooking—and undoubtedly more unique—than the spices that first made India rich. Here are seven worth knowing. (more…)
I was at a party organized by Democrats Abroad for the many anxious Americans currently living in Mexico City. Attendees were registered at the door and then herded toward a large, metal trailer, hollowed out to serve as a kitchen, where they ordered brisket and ribs and coleslaw. A giant American flag blazed across one wall. Next to it were three enormous, neon letters: BBQ. Dozens of picnic tables were crowded with American families and young Mexicans who had donned Hillary Clinton 2016 T-shirts, purchased for 150 pesos. That was about eight dollars when the debate began; it was a little more just two hours later as the value of the peso rose along with Clinton supporters’ spirits. (more…)
In 1941, Jane Holt, a writer for The New York Times,walked into one of Manhattan’s smattering of Indian restaurants, stuck her face over a simmering pot, and breathed in the scented steam rising from its surface. In her column, “The News Of Food,” she wrote about the “rare Oriental ragout that is called curry” she experienced there, prepared in a variety of styles she described—quite spuriously—as “the true foods of occult India.” (more…)
Victos Fernando had been missing for four days when his body washed up, bruised and salt-soaked, off Sri Lanka’s northern coast. He’d disembarked with three other fishermen on April 2, 2011, from the crowded harbor of Rameswaram, a small island off India’s southeastern coast, to sail for the fertile breeding shoals on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Strait, the narrow body of water that separates the two nations. The day before, the governments of India and Sri Lanka had both issued warnings against going out to sea. The two countries were slated to play a cricket match that day and tensions would be high.