Tag Archives: food

Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, Naaan Hut!

One of the things I miss the most about SF is its variety of good, cheap eats. There is always some place tucked away on a busy street, selling a fantastically yummy meal for under $10.

I know such places exist in LA, but such is the urban planning of southern California that they’re almost impossible to stumble across because this is not a pedestrian friendly town (more on this later). Good ethnic food are hidden in a myriad of identical seeming strip malls, clustered in their own counties, requiring a drive and an infuriating search for parking.

So when I was exploring my new neighborhood last year ON FOOT, I was happy to come across the Naan Hut, its nondescript storefront, tucked in between a frozen yogurt shop and a swiss bakery.

Naan Hut doesn’t actually make naan, the Indian bread most of us are familiar with. What it specializes in, is sangak, a crispy, chewy flatbread, speckled with sesame seeds. You can get a generous scarf sized piece of this bread for only $3. And you have to wait for it, because the oven is on the premises and they prefer to give it to you fresh, wrapped in brown paper. Like an awesome present of bread!

The first time I went into the shop, I passed by a woman who was smiling ear to ear, arms full of bread. I bought the same bread that day, and then returned a few more times when I realized that they also used the bread to make a uniquely delicious pizza.

At the time, they only opened for lunch and served the aforementioned pizza as well as a few wraps. All delicious and inexpensive. There were a few rickety tables and a television bolted to a corner, so the ambiance was somewhat lacking.

But a few weeks ago, I discovered that it was now open for dinner. Not only were aesthetic and gustatory improvements made, it is also open late, for those craving a late night meal that isn’t diner food.

Its owners have installed a large refrigerator case that houses all kinds of treats, both prepackaged and homemade. I spent a good deal of time googling the names, and everything sounded delicious, (as well as unpronounceable.) Among its shelves, there were saffron puddings, eggplant stews, and hummus, all neatly stacked and labeled. The rickety tables have been replaced with comfortable cafe style tables and chairs and I spotted a samovar bubbling away in the back; must come back for tea!

I’ve been back twice for dinner already, and the host was extremely hospitable and enthusiastic. I don’t know if he’s the owner, but if he isn’t, he should get a raise because he is clearly delighted and proud of what the establishment offers.

Anyway, if you find yourself in L.A. and on the Westside, pop into the Naan Hut!

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(This is some kind of tomatoe-y, eggplant stew thing that is so good, and has a lot of garlic. So only eat it with someone who loves you already, or someone you don’t care if they love you or not.)

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OMG! Pie!

I have no desire to get into the hugely controversial pie vs. cake debate. For one, why must there be a debate? Forcing people to choose is just cruelty, and one of the many casualties in this current climate of polarization!

Anyway, pie and cake. Both good, and  the fact that I recently visited two places that focus on pie, is not indicative of me taking a side on this issue. #foodpolitician

The first place I visited Atticus Creamery and Pies, located in West L.A..

So the name instantly makes me think of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, but as far as I can tell, there is no egregious miscarriage of justice requiring the services of a good, noble man, taking a doomed stand against the racism emblematic of his time.

The second part of the name is accurate and not mysterious; you can get ice cream and pie. There are clever, somewhat hipster foodie combinations like lemon lavender and salted caramel popcorn.  But there are also plenty of options for people who complain “What’s wrong with just chocolate and banana cream!?!”

The pies themselves are more like tarts; small, single crust confections, with cold fillings; think coconut cream rather than apple pies. Atticus offers free samples of both their pie and ice cream options, which is a really nice touch.

It’s located across from the Landmark theater, so it’s easy to drop by before or after a movie. However, seating is limited and not really designed for socializing, so don’t plan on hanging out with there. I did smuggle some of my pie into the theater with me though.

For those whose pie in the sky dreams run more towards meat pies (cue: Sweeney Todd music), Aussie Pie Kitchen in Santa Monica is the place for you.

Now, I knew I was predisposed to liking this place because I have more of a salty than sweet tooth, and I was not disappointed. In addition to flakey, buttery crusts surrounding chicken, beef, and lamb fillings (with a vegetarian one for you joyless souls out there) they also offer what are essentially sausage rolls, but with croissant pastry, bacon, and cheese!  SWOON! I am coming back for you, bacon roll!

You can order said pies plain, or with any combination of mashed potatoes, minted peas, or creamy thyme gravy. For those who are unsure about the sides, the staff happily makes up little sample cups. I went for all of it, and it was delicious. The coffee was good too.

The pies are solidly into meal time, rather than snack time, territory, especially with the sides. Seating indoors is limited, but comfortable, and if you swing by slightly before or after lunch, it’s not a problem to snag a seat.

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I caught a little bug…and ate it?

There’s a restaurant in Santa Monica that serves bugs.

I don’t mean that families of cockroaches hang out, ordering drinks. I mean that bugs are on the menu.

Specifically, scorpions, crickets, ants, and pupae.

I know.

Gaaaaahhhhhh.

Recently, NPR did a story about “cricket flour” which is exactly what it sounds like: flour made from crickets. The creators of the product extol its virtues: high in protein, low cost, and gluten free! Although I guess not vegan or vegetarian friendly, since it’s made from crickets. You can even buy it on Amazon.

I’m hippie enough to understand, appreciate, and even respect all these pro “eat bugs” arguments. I also understand that the “ick’ factor of foods are largely cultural, and that there is nothing more inherently icky about eating crickets than say, eating shrimp, which are pretty much the insects of the sea.

But knowing something logically fares poorly when pitted again decades of cultural conditioning. I did not grow up eating bugs, so insects viscerally read to me as unsanitary. A few years ago, I had found a cockroach in my dish at a Thai restaurant, and my response had not been:

“If only they had put EXTRA cockroach!”

However, if you’re the kind of person who does have that response when finding an unexpected, exotic protein on your plate, then I highly recommend going to Typhoon in Santa Monica, CA.

My more adventurous friend ordered a plate of the fried crickets and I was impressed when he actually FINISHED it. He described the flavor as slightly grassy and reminiscent of something else, but he couldn’t pinpoint what.

The apocalypse, perhaps? I don’t know. I didn’t have the guts to try. Although I did like, in true gourmet fashion, the menu lists the provenance of the insects. Were I a connoisseur, I would have been able to debate the merits of Taiwanese crickets over say, those from Vietnam.

Instead my reaction was a pretty solid…ewwwww. Ew ew ew ew ew!

Typhoon is located at the Santa Monica airport and does serve a lot of other dishes. So even if you’re not inclined to eat bugs, you can order a drink, some non creepy crawlers, and watch the planes fly in, feeling rather continental.

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Lay on the Meat Chips!

One of my favorite things about traveling is exploring the local cuisine.
By which I mean the junk food that you get at the grocery store.

You can learn a lot about a place by what the local citizenry consider an acceptable snack food flavoring.

For example, go into any Asian grocery, and you will find prawn/shrimp flavored chips. In England, you can get “lamb and mint”, “roast chicken and thyme”, “roast beef”, as well as “prawn cocktail” chip flavors. While in France, there exists both ham AND bacon flavored chips. They are all delicious and equally bad for you.

What’s interesting is many of these chips are from the U.S. based brand, Frito Lay, makers of Lays potato chips; they simply adjust to the tastes of their consumers. So clearly the international market is not only WAY more adventurous, but considers various meats as valid flavor options.

I have no idea why this isn’t the case in the U.S., and it makes me sad. There must be something in our psyche that flinches from the idea of meat as a seasoning, because we clearly do not object to eating meat in general. Do we think there’s a slippery “meat” slope, and if we accept meat flavored potato chips, we will suddenly be awash in meaty milkshakes and steaming cups of beefy tea*?

There is also this tendency for Americans to prefer sweet over savory, so even our salty items tend to be spiked with a bit more sugar than would be found in other countries.

However, this may be changing! Americans have started to enjoy spicy much more in recent years, there’s been an uptick in hot-sauce flavored potato chips, such as Tapitio, Sriacha, as well as the continued popularity of Flaming Hot Cheetos.

Could this be the precursor to a meatier snacking future!?

Maybe! Last year, Lays introduced this:

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And while it did not win their new potato chip flavor contest, it is currently available for now.

The question, does it taste like chicken and waffles?

Well…it tastes like something kind of chicken-y. The truth is, I could do without the waffle part, but this validates my dual theories of “fear of unadulterated meat flavor” and “savory also needs to be sweet.”

They can’t hold a candle to the “Roast Chicken and Thyme” chips I had in England a few years back. I had brought a bag home to share with friends, and it’s something we still reminisce about.

(Not in a weird way…but over explaining never makes anything less odd, does it?)

*a real thing, called Bovril. For close readers and fans of Roald Dahl, Matilda in his book “Matilda” actually makes herself a cup.

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The New(ish) Hotness!

In California, the hot sauces of choice are Tabasco, Sriracha, and Tapatio. I’m guessing the provenance of sauces are something like Tex-Mex, Vietnamese-American, and Mexican…but in the last five years or so, you can basically find them in most restaurants, regardless of ethnicity. They’ve become like ketchup; ubiquitous, and really good with fries.I really didn’t like hot sauces until a few years ago, and now every time I eat something, I think “This could be a little bit spicier.”

But in a recent trip to Israel, I discovered this:

Schug

This is schug, and is pronounced  like “Zhoog”, which sounds like you’re referring to a hostile alien overlord.

But despite this, it’s delicious! I had some in a nondescript bottle at a schwarma place in Tel Aviv, and then wondered how I could get some in the States. So thrilled when I found it at an Israeli market in North Hollywood.

Anyway, I’ve put it on eggs, tuna, pretty much everything. If you want  spicy, and want to try something different, try a little “hostile alien overlord” sauce!

 

 

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Tuna, tuna, tuna…

Lately, I’ve been on a tuna kick.

Not sushi tuna (which I also love, but would be prohibitively expensive to get addicted to) but the stuff that comes in cans.

I’m not sure what triggered this sudden non-stop tuna craving. But if I suddenly find elevated levels of mercury in my blood, it’s really not going to be a mystery where it came from.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about buying canned tuna that I will share with you. I’m a tuna salad sandwich kind of person, as opposed to a tuna Niçoise salad kind of person, so keep that in mind re: the following:

  • Get the kind packed in olive oil. It tastes better. Also, olive oil is good for you. As is tuna (except for the mercury part)  Also, if you buy the kind in olive oil, you’ll need less mayo, if you like mayo in your tuna
  • buy capers to mix in with your tuna. Or dill.
  • Or a bit of chopped celery, scallions, shallot. Or all three.
  • A little sea salt sprinkled on top is great too
  • Toast your bread. Or use crispbread. Tuna gets everything soggy and I think my childhood heebie jeebies about tuna salad sandwiches comes from having tuna on soggy bread.
  •  Open faced sandwich-style is better for maximum tuna-ge. Tuna salad is gloopy and shoots out the opposite end of an overloaded sandwich when you take a bite.
  • As tasty as it is, tuna salad is fundamentally low on plate appeal. It helps to dress it up with slices of avocado or tomato. Also, the more dill, celery. capers, etc that you use, the less it will appear like cat food.

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Agenda-less vacation observations in Israel

Happy new year everyone!

So I ended last year by traveling to Israel. It was amazing, and I feel I should tell you all about it.

Like most Americans, my familiarity with Israel before visiting, consisted of biblical stories and the occasional news story. Not only has A LOT happened between those two markers, but neither religion nor news falls within the “frivolous” category of topics.

And I’m resolute in keeping this blog untaxing, emotionally and intellectually.

Therefore, here is a list of random observations that I made while on my trip that are of no religious or political importance.

-The temperature in the winter is not unlike California, but the angle of the light is sharper and brighter.
-The yellow light at traffic signals indicate that the light is about to change, so it turns yellow before a green light as well as a red one.
-People stop at the yellow light. I did not see any red light runners. However…
-I was not impressed with the general populations’ ability to park.
-Roundabouts are more frequently used in traffic than they are in California.
-Signs are written in Hebrew, English, and Arabic
-Because Hebrew and Arabic are read right to left, anything that is numbered, is numbered right to left. The first time I saw a calendar in Israel, I had trouble figuring out what day it was.
-People work six days a week, although some take a half day on Fridays.
-Everything is scaled smaller. Doorways, lamp posts, electricity towers. I felt tall!
-A particular shade of blue is used a lot. Bus stops, railings, lamp posts, public garbage cans.
-There are mezuzahs on every doorframe so that the Orthodox Jews can enter freely.
-The pita bread is fluffy and delicious; not the unpleasant flat, dry, “eat this instead of chips because you’re dieting” stuff that we get here.
-Yemeni food is deceptively heavy. It is the Tardis of cuisines; bigger on the inside.
-Israeli food is not the same thing as Jewish food (as understood by most Americans)
-Italian food is apparently popular everywhere in the world.
-There is a prominent café culture.
-There are stray cats in every city, just hanging out. It is fun to imagine the lives of these cats.
-American culture is very pervasive. I went to a bar that was designated as an “American style” bar, and they weren’t kidding, I could have been in SF. The music, the hipsters, and the food, were identical. The only thing different was that people spoke Hebrew.
-I was informed that it is not illegal to piss in public in Israel. I did not test this.
-Even dry cuticles, much less any kind of scratch or cut, BURNS when floating in Dead Sea water.
-They have wild ibex!

And my non-Israel based observation regarding my flight to Israel:

-Turkish Airlines keeps their flights unpleasantly warm. Also, I think it would have been more comfortable had I been a double amputee.

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