From Georgia to Germany

By , January 1, 2014 11:40 am

After a long cold flight from Fargo, ND to Chicago, IL Kate is making me write this blogpost under Burnsian duress. If I don’t get it done before our flight to DC she plans to sic the dogs on me. So let’s jump straight in.

[Update: I did not finish the blog in time but only because the airport wifi was only free for 30 minutes. When I ran out of time I lost half of this blog post.]

As mentioned in the previous post during our travels to NY in November we hit up both German and Georgian restaurants. Both were delicious although a tad expensive for my taste – especially two nights in a row. The first night we met our friends Ashley and Renae for dinner and a play in Brooklyn. The dinner at the German restaurant Berlyn was much better than the play which was a confusing story about family, lovers, and climate change. Dinner, however, was much less confusing, also had some lovers, and hardly touched on the subject of climate change. Germany of course is a leading nation for renewable energy and produces more than 20% of its electricity from renewables.

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Renae, Ashley, and Kate outside the restaurant Berlyn.

We started the meal with in-house potato chips made to order and a hot pretzel with stone ground mustard. Renae and Kate discovered a mutual love of chips, and decided that the one true food is: Chips.

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Fresh made potato chips

Next we progressed to our main courses. Kate and I shared a plate of sauerkraut and a vegetarian strudel. Both were good but I think we can both agree the sauerkraut was the winner. I know what you are saying, “Good sauerkraut! Are you kidding?” But it is true. It was delicious.

Sauerkraut and a vegetarian strudel

Sauerkraut and a vegetarian strudel

Ashley and Renae shared a bratwurst and a bowl of brussels sprouts. I am told both were also excellent.

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Ashley with a bratwurst and bowl of brussels sprouts.

The evening was a hit and it was so much fun to spend some time with our friends from Utah who we rarely get to see.

Eccentric enough? Notice the butterflies on the wall made from plants!

The next night we met with other friends for some Georgian food in Manhattan at one of the most eccentric restaurants I’ve been to, called Pepela: Georgian Cuisine and Gallery. Georgia is located on the Black Sea squished between Turkey and Russia. Its food therefore shares both Mediterranean and slavic flavors.

When we arrived at the restaurant an art show happening and so the small restaurant was crowded. Our friend Thelma and Arie and one of their other friends joined us that night.

Friends at Pepela

Friends at Pepela

So, on to the food. Since we were a tad broke from the night before we did not order a full dinner and instead got a smattering of starters and a main dish to share. The first items we received were eggplant rolls made from – quoting the menu – “Traditional Georgian walnut paste rolled in thinly sliced eggplant,” Gebjalia which is “Suluguni Cheese rolled in fresh Mint Leaves,” and Khachapuri or “Legendary Georgian Baked Flat Cheese Bread.” All were scrumptious, especially the cheese bread.

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Eggplant rolls and Gebjalia (cheese)

Kate loved the Khachapuri and it was all I could do to try and get a taste before she ate it all.

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Kate eating a slice of Khachapuri

 We finished out appetizers with a plate of Buglama of Salmon or as the menu put it “pan fried pieces of salmon cooked with tomatoes, fresh greens and white wine served with rice and olives.” It was amazing and really felt sorry Kate was too vegetarian to try it. Finally, Kate and I also splurged on two sodas from Georgia, the first being a cream flavored and the other tarragon. The sodas were tasty, especially the cream soda that tasted similar to American cream soda – strange, I know!

Salmon dish and Georgian sodas

Salmon dish and Georgian sodas

At the end of the evening the best possible outcome occurred when the owner of the place stopped us on our way out to chat. He was super friendly and told us all about the restaurant and his home in Georgia. He also made sure to tell us that President Clinton had eaten then a few times and proved it by showing us the photo on the wall. He said that Clinton came to the restaurant once with all of his entourage, but loved the food so much he came back the next day on his own incognito. The owner even paused for a picture with Kate and I.

The owner of the restaurant with President Clinton and Kate and I with the owner...so by association Kate and I have posed for a picture with the President of the USA

The owner of the restaurant Gabriel with President Clinton and Kate and I with Gabriel…so by association Kate and I have posed for a picture with the President of the US.

All-in-all the Georgian restaurant was a success, our trip to NY was also a success, and our lives to that point también.

A Nice Finnish to a New York Trip

By , December 28, 2013 12:20 am

Kate and I went to New York in November because Kate was attending a meeting at the Union Theological Seminary and I wanted to tag along to visit friends and have a grand old PIG Project time. On the way up Kate rode the train because her work was reimbursing her and I rode the bus because it is so dang cheap. While the train is a more comfortable and faster than the bus, the bus stops at a Cinnabon in Delaware.

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During the trip we ate at both Germany and Georgian as well as visited the Scandinavian House to get a few treats from Finland. I also enjoyed taking Instagram pictures around NY. 

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Time Square at dusk more at my Instagram: neilDMV

The Scandinavia House touted a restaurant with Scandinavian food, a gift shop, and some cultural displays. We were excited to try some Finnish food but unfortunately nothing on the menu was from Finland because, according to a Scandinavia House employee, “Finland isn’t really known for its food.” Lucky for us they had a small gift shop loaded with treats from the region including many items from Finland.  We also discovered a Finnish bakery in NY called Nordic Breads that sold hard Finnish rye bread and so got some as well. 

 

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Finish bread sold from the Nordic Bakery

The best part of course was the tasty Finnish candy. We got an assortment of candies including some very strong black licorice.

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Finish candy

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Me with some Finish licorice

We spent the last hours in NY walking around shops and watching ice skaters at the Winter Village in Bryant Park. In one of the shops we saw a homemade purses with the words “I ate everything in NYC” printed on it. Never before have five simple words rang so true.

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An accurate statement about the trip

Again, another plug for my Instagram @ neilDMV. Please follow me!

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Hell’s Gate in NY take by me and posted on Instagram @neilDMV

Ethiopia

By , December 26, 2013 4:23 pm

DC is a huge hub for Ethiopian cuisine. Perhaps the highest amount of Ethiopian restaurants outside of Ethiopia. The DC Metro area has over with its 200,000 people of Ethiopian descent. Which is the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia itself.

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This is a special edition of the PIG project because Neil’s mom Patty was able to join us.

We did takeout Ethiopian from a place near Neil’s brother Jesse’s house in Bethesda called Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant. Normally at an Ethiopian Restaurant everyone gathers around a single, circular metal platter the size of an extra-large pizza covered with a soft crepe-like bread called injera. Spicy, thick stew-like mains, amazingly tasty seasoned vegetables and pureed legumes are placed around the injera in small piles. The injera is used to scoop up the meal.

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Gomen, “chopped collard greens steamed and tastefully heightened with onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeno peppers and traditional spices” and Doro Tibs “Lightly marinated Chicken Breast sautéed with onion, jalapeño and fresh tomato and other seasonings.”

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Egg Wot, homemade berbere sauce served with two hardboiled eggs and Cabbage with Carrot cooked with tomatoes and onions deliciously seasoned with garlic, ginger and turmeric.

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Ethiopian got mixed reviews from our 3 year old niece June, but we love it!

In law school I represented a client in immigration proceedings. Zewdie is from Ethiopia, so I learned a great deal about the country from her. She is also a fantastic cook! She invited us to her house for a home-cooked Ethiopian feast to celebrate her winning her asylum claim.

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Zewdie came to graduation to cheer me on, even though she speaks no English and couldn’t understand any of the ceremony. She is the best!

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Zewdie meeting my mom at graduation.

Keren Eritrean Restaurant

By , December 26, 2013 2:20 pm

Only in DC would you find a plethora of not only Ethiopian restaurants, but also a distinct cadre of Eritrean Restaurants as well. We went to Keren Eritrean Restaurant in Adams Morgan.

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Thelma is one of our most dedicated PIG Project devotees. She doesn’t let the fact that she moved to NYC get in between her and PIG!

There are several main types of stews as the “main dish” served with  injera, the most heavenly sour (like sourdough) flat bread/ large crepe-like bread (made from teff, wheat, or sorghum). At this Eritrean restaurant the injeera was served rolled up, not under the dishes like I’ve had before at Ethiopian restaurants, but that might just be a personal preference of the restaurant. It’s much better this way, because it doesn’t get soggy. But, pretty much any way injera is served, it’s delicious.

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You use the injera instead of utensils to pick up the food.

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The dishes are shared communally.

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Sean, Thelma, Kate, Neil, Amy, Edmundo, Shane, Courtney & Christian!!

There are plenty of absolutely delicious vegetarian dishes. The Eritrean Orthodox Church observes long periods of fasting, up to 40 days, which people can eat food and drink, but cannot eat meat or animal products, so there is a strong vegetarian lineup of dishes.

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The salad is also delicious eaten with injera.

Eritrean and Ethiopian food are very similar, which makes sense given the close proximity and shared history of the two countries (Eritrea only gained independence in 1991). But, I found Eritrean dishes be a little lighter, perhaps with less butter or oil than the Ethiopian dishes I’ve had before.

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Egypt: Cairo Cafe in Alexandria (Virginia)

By , December 25, 2013 11:51 pm

We went to the Cairo Cafe in Alexandria for our first foray into Egyptian cuisine.

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Neil & I with owner/ chef Fatma Nassef

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Like all of the best restaurants in the DC area, Cairo Cafe is tucked away in a strip mall in suburban Virginia.

Luckily our friend Caroline, who is doing a PhD in the same program as Neil at George Mason came with us. Caroline is Egyptian and helped us order the tastiest food.

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Caroline was our guide to authenticity.

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We had a delightful turnout despite the restaurant being pretty out of the way & us choosing to randomly go early Saturday afternoon. Ann W. & her friend even biked over from DC… now that’s PIG dedication!

We started off with Egyptian mint tea, Bazinjan Mekhalil– marinated indian eggplants that were extremely delightful, hummus and papa ganouj (chick pea & eggplant dips).

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Hot tea served in a tall glass

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Bazinjan Mekhalil

Foul mudames—or just ful (pronounced “fool”)—is a kind of meatless chili made of cooked and mashed fava beans served with vegetable oil. It is so ubiquitous in Egypt that for some there is rarely a meal served without it, including breakfast.

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Foul mudames

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Egyptian flafel, made with split flava beans

Koshari, Egyptian Lasagna, is made with rice, macaroni and lentils mixed together, topped with a tomato sauce, some add spaghetti garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions. Koshari is the national dish of Egypt.

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Bonus = it’s vegan!

Everything down to the dessert was absolutely divine. We were literally the only people in the place (due to the odd hour we chose to dine) and the service was excellent. Fatma Nassef, the owner, was bustling back and forth from serving us to cooking in the back. The place is also a hooka bar, but being a crowd of largely Mormons, we did not partake. But, ever since seeing Alice and Wonderland, the Disney version, hooka has always looked as cool as a caterpillar.

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We did, however, indulge in the desserts. Yum!

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Egyptian Baklava

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Basbousa, a semolina, coconut and honey cake

Caroline told us that so much has changed lately in Egypt that it’s hardly the place she remembers from visits growing up.

This year the RFK Center gave the Human Rights Award to Egyptian human rights attorney Ragia Omran, so I got to spend some time with her. She was very involved in the revolution (a revolution she believes is in continual process to this day). She is featured in the film The Square. Ragia does amazing work, including women’s rights issues and the “Say No to Military Trials” campaign in Egypt. She’s quite an inspiration.

¡Viva la República Dominicana!

By , December 23, 2013 1:25 pm

We went to Los Hermanos Dominican restaurant in DC to celebrate my swearing in to the DC Bar!

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Not sure why I look like I have the fist of Sylvester Stallone, but the enthusiasm of actually being barred (por fin!) shines through!

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Gracias for the fun feast & support DC friends!!!

You can get a great feel for this place from this Google maps image. It’s kindof the best. It is owned by two identical twin brothers (hence “Los Hermanos”) and serves cafeteria-style Dominican food. The owners are about THE nicest people I have ever encountered. They told us that next time we come by to let them know & they’ll make special dishes just for our project.

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Gahhhhh Could they be any more precious???

After we finished our meal, they chased after us to give us some Dominican beer to taste.

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We gifted that to loyal PIG Project devotee Edmundo, but sheesh they were nice!!!

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They had mangu (smashed Dominican style plantains), bacalao (cod fish), arroz con gradules (rice with pigeon peas), tostones (twice fried plantains with a garlic mojo sauce), amarillos / maduros (fried sweet plantains), “Country Club” brand Dominican soda, and coquito (coconut candy)… ALL fantastic!

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Mangu

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Plenty of vegetarian options… always a +!!!

In 2012 I traveled to the Dominican Republic to work with Dominicans of Haitian descent who had been discriminatorily denied their citizenship there.

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Don’t be fooled by the serious look on my face, we were reading a children’s book on my laptop!

Statelessness is a huge problem in the Dominican Republic right now, but it is a beautiful country.

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Amazing beaches

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Beautiful capital city, Santo Domingo

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And, of course, lots of dancing!!!

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Me getting roped into Salsa dancing in a public square in Santo Domingo with a crazy old guy. Salsa escapades!

 

 

An Ecuadorian Feast!

By , November 17, 2013 10:54 pm
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Kate in front of Don Churro Cafe

Sometimes restaurants in strip malls can surprise you, and this time around Don Churro Cafe in Chantilly, VA was really unexpectedly good. Kate and I solo-ed on this outing because we figured none of our friends would commute out to Chantilly for any reason– except to catch the last airplane from Dulles Airport during the zombie apocalypse. The 20 minute commute aside, Kate and I enjoyed the food, atmosphere, and friendly staff. The only unfortunate thing was we were only able to try two dishes and so did not get a full sampling of the diversity of cuisine in Ecuador.

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Kate sipping Incan Cola and nibbling on arepas de caso

We started our meal with some delicious cheese-filled arepas and an Incan cola. The arepas were amazing – especially with slices of perfectly ripened avocado. Arepas are traditionally from Venezuela and Columbia but are also eaten throughout the region. I am not a big cola drinker so the Incan cola to me was…eh. Additionally, Incan cola is from Peru but you can find it throughout Latin America.

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Me and my churasco.

I had the churaso which is a medium rare flank stake with a sunny side egg onto and roster plantains and salad on the side. It was delicious! I am not a big meat eater and can’t remember the last time I had a steak. Needless to say is was good tasting but also a little too much meat for me in one sitting. The plantains were also great. I am not sure if the egg adds much to the overall flavor, but it was kind of fun.

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Caldo de pollo

Kate went with the caldo de pollo, a very traditional Ecuadorian soup with a thick broth, vegetables, chicken, avocado, and cheese. The soup was definitely the winning dish of the night. It was so flavorful and rich you could almost die and go to heaven.

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Me getting ready to eat a churro relleno (filled)

Of course we had to finish out meal with a churro – it’s in the name of the restaurant for heaven sakes! We shared a churro relleno dessert that included two churros – one stuffed with Nutella and the other with cajeta (goat milk caramel). They were amazing!

 

Denmark Domku

By , November 17, 2013 10:14 pm

For our Danish delights, we headed to a fantastic little place in the DC Petworth neighborhood called Domku.

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Domku

The place is pretty small, but delightful and they have a “eclectic menu of mostly Slavic and Scandinavian fare.” The first person to introduce me to Danish Æbleskivers was actually my mother who has her very own specialized Æbleskiver pan and makes them with all kinds of delightful fillings. Essentially Æbleskivers are wonderful little pancake balls with filling inside.

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You have to cook Æbleskivers in a special pan and turn them with small wooden sticks.

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Domku Æbleskivers didn’t have any filling.

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I also had Mushroom Benedict which was delicious.

Neil, always the adventurous one when it comes to food, opted for a gravad laks sandwich aka raw spiced salmon.

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Gravad laks

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Perhaps reconsidering the wisdom of his choice…

 

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Jen joined us for this delicious trip to Denmark!

 

Finally we found something from Bulgaria

By , November 17, 2013 10:12 pm
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Bulgarian tourist brochures and Bulgarian flag bracelet

As hard as we searched we had been unable to find a Bulgarian restaurant in the DC-NY area. Fortunately, our friend Jill invited us to join her and her boyfriend David at an international festival hosted at the NYU Washington, DC campus. We scoured the festival looking for any country we might have missed and just as we were about to give up…we found the Bulgarian booth! The booth was delightful and the lady running the booth was kind enough to share her experiences and love for Bulgaria. Also fortunate, they had free samples of banitsa - a spinach pie similar to Greek spanakopita – and boy did we sample!

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Kate sampling banitsa

Now, I realize this might be cheating, but the truth of the matter is we were desperate and still have so many countries to do that I am going to let it slide…just this once.

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Kate showing off her brochures and samples

We also tried some other samples from countries on our list but decided not to count them.

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Kate with free candy from some other booths in the festival.

Gallo pinto… Costa Rica, c’mon now, that’s no respectable national dish!

By , November 17, 2013 9:35 pm

Neil and I spent 3 months in Costa Rica in 2011 for a summer internship at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

While there we had lots of tasty food, but NONE of it was Costa Rican. (sorry, but, it’s true!) The national dish of Costa Rica is “gallo pinto” which is literally just rice & beans. Pretty much served plain, or next-day fried. That’s it!! Not exactly fine cuisine. This is an actual line from the Wikipedia entry on the dish: “The dish may contain more rice than beans, or more beans than rice. It could also contain equal amounts of beans and rice.”

But, I guess we should have known what we were getting into when the President of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, was sitting next to me on the plan ride there and advised us to “get out of San Jose, because it doesn’t have the best to offer.” That is the gospel truth.

1st class to San Jose

Sitting next to the first female president of Costa Rica in first class.

We took Laura’s advice and did go to a lovely cheese festival outside of San Jose that had all kinds of different Costa Rican cheeses.

Cheese Festival

Santa Cruz Feria Del Queso

But, culinary lackluster aside, this is really what Costa Rica has to offer, and it is sweet:

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

 

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