Nigeria’s No. 1 Street Food

As a child visiting Nigeria, Kwame Onwuachi desperately wanted to eat beef suya, the country’s ubiquitous grilled street snack seasoned with ground nuts and spices. Except his grandfather forbade it, disapproving of street food.

“It actually made it more appealing,” he says.

Years later, the “Top Chef” alumnus and former cook at New York’s Eleven Madison Park returned to Nigeria and immediately sought out the formerly forbidden delight, making friends with a baggage guy at the airport who took him to his favorite suya spot.

The street vendor scene reminded Onwuachi of Thailand: “A lot of darkness and then, out of nowhere, a pocket of lights with many stalls selling the same thing, but with their own twist.”

There was a man, a grill, a counter covered with newspaper. “One, please!”

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Claire Ptak wants to change the way you bake

Inside Claire Ptak’s white stucco East London bakery, Violet, staff are moving in careful syncopation. From the open doorway to the small kitchen and café, freshly baked feta-sour cream-and-chive scones and herb-laced quiches call to a steady stream of customers who stop to chat with Ptak and admire 5-month-old daughter Frances West, sitting in her lap.

A native Californian, Ptak is a rising star on the culinary scene—hailed by Jamie Oliver as “one of my all-time favorite cake-makers.” But Violet and Ptak are about more than being an of-the-moment patisserie. It is here that she carries out a fairly revolutionary approach to baking—Soft-whipped egg whites! Flour licking!—that sets her apart from the cookie-cutter mold.

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Scotch Hop

ABERLOUR, Scotland (AP) — Forget the three Rs. I went to Speyside, Scotland’s “single-malt capital of the world,” to brush up on the three Ws: whisky, wool and walking.

And it was while striding beside the River Spey on a misty afternoon, a warm sweater from a local mill wrapped around my shoulders, an even warmer dram of whisky awaiting me at my hotel ahead, I realized I’d reached peak Speyside status.

Educational mission accomplished. Or, to quote Scottish poet and noted whisky fan Robert Burns, “Gie me ae spark of Nature’s fire/That’s a’ the learning I desire.”

Dreaming of drams and doing a little whisky wandering of your own? Here are a few pointers to the Speyside region’s must-sees.

Click here to read more of this story, published by the Associated Press.

Confessions of a Picky Eater

Chuck Thompson, a producer for CNN, has written a terrific piece on the problems of being a traveler and a picky eater. Go here to read it.

We have different issues. He has a long list of foods he just doesn’t like. I am open to most foods but am thrown into digestive uproar by anything with a lot of fat or tricked up with fancy sauces and other gourmet refinements. Roast potatoes with a side of steamed broccoli? Sign me up! Creme de casserole de potatoes a la Michelin etoile avec le chef’s sauce de secret, no thank you.

One of these days you have to ask me about the time I was served a four-course meal made almost entirely of cheese. Continue reading “Confessions of a Picky Eater”

Hooked on Haggis

I was in Cognac one hot summer day, trying to make conversation with a producer who spoke about as much English as I do French, and the situation was getting  sticky in every way when he suddenly asked me whether I had been to Scotland.

Yes, I had.

Well, then, he asked, how did I feel about haggis.

“I LOVE it,” I replied. “It’s the perfect pairing for whisky.”

“Madame,” he said. “It’s the only reason to drink whisky.”

I would not go quite that far but I do feel that haggis is a sadly misunderstood comestible.

The name doesn’t help – Is that a disease or a dish? – and no one can claim that the product in its natural state is a beauty.

And then there’s the offal truth of what goes into haggis, at least in the traditional recipe – sheep’s pluck, which is not about spunky sheep but rather refers to the heart, liver and lungs. Recipes vary, but often the meat is minced with onion, oatmeal and suet (animal fat) and is mixed with stock and spices and baked as a kind of sausage, or savory pudding. Back in the day, the casing was the sheep’s stomach, conveniently to hand, but modern haggis comes in artificial casings.

And it is delicious!

Click here to read this story, published on Palate Press.com.