Nicaragua = surfing (tried to) + eating (nailed it)

Thanks to Rubes for immortalizing the moment.  Now I can quit pretending I know how to surf.

I got up on one! Thanks to Rubes and his water treading skills for immortalizing the moment. Now I just need to figure out how to make the wave look more giant.

A mere week and a half ago – plus a few days and add a few more days depending on when I actually post this and when and if you read this – I found myself in Nicaragua along with nine other fellows to help our buddy, Chris A (aka White Chocolate),  celebrate the big 4-0 in style… Nica style.  And by Nica style, I mean we spent a week in Miramar, Nicaragua at an awesome surf camp run by the great folks of Surf Tours Nicaragua.  It was kind of funny because with the exception of three of us, none among us would remotely consider ourselves “surfers” – unless you count the internet.  But, we were game to try and over the course of several days with expert instruction provided by Greg, Carter and Hector everyone pretty much succeeded in getting on at least one solid wave and having a boat load of fun – while avoiding serious injury. Also, we were  pretty much in bed by 10 pm each night. Yup, this is 40.

Fortunately, when we weren’t flailing – I mean shredding the sick swell – we were lying in hammocks on the covered deck overlooking the beach, watching the waves and discussing the beach break as if we knew what we were talking about. Okay maybe that was just me.  All in all, it was an awesome time – totally relaxing and punctuated by good food and many Toñas.  The staff at the camp  cooked consistently solid and tasty breakfasts, lunches and dinners (upon which the overwhelming fan favorite, Salsa Lizano, was liberally applied).  But there were  a few meals in particular that blew my flip flops off.

One evening we made the five minute walk to a neighboring woman’s house where she had set up a several tables under a roof in her front yard to accommodate the 16 or so of us hungry for dinner. She cooked nearby in her outdoor kitchen and with just two cooking fires, she prepared a feast of lobsters, rice and tostones (green plantains).  It was la bomba! Check the photographic evidence below.

The next day, the surf wasn’t so good (as if that really mattered to us amateurs) so the whole surf camp took a field trip to 1) Volcan Masaya – an active volvanoe 2) the town of Masaya, home to an artisan marketplace (aka souvenirs) 3) an amazing lunch at Bakus restaurant located above Laguna de Apoyo, a lake in extinct old volcano crater – not that the location mattered because we were all entertained by the copious amounts of meat and a DVD of  this year’s Billboard Music awards (Nikki Minaj giving a faux lap dance to Lil’ Wayne should be required lunchtime viewing) 4) swimming, chilling and participating in a hold our breath underwater contest in the fresh pristine waters of the lake.  Then we drove back that evening (eight of us in the back of the surf truck driven Carter -aka Carlitos the Heartbreaker) through the most torrential thunder and lightening storm just to make things more exciting. Que buen dia!

The next day, a few of us woke up early and took the boat to try our hands at spear fishing.  Okay, I’m going to chalk this one up to the poor visibility caused by river run off from the rain storms because basically we didn’t see shit.  Well, except for PK whose spear “misfired” when he had his target in sight (so much subtext there) and our guide and surf camp head honcho Greg who did see a trigger fish well enough to shoot through the eye!  The rest of us had no luck so we trolled a bit and ended up catching three pretty good sized fish, two of which were Spanish mackerel.

Later that evening, Greg made fresh sashimi with the mackerel.  Oh. My. God. So fresh, buttery, and melt in your mouth delicious. Que ricissimo!

All and all, it was a great trip hanging with the fellas.  And of course we all had our wives to thank for being the type of wonderfully supportive partners who held it down on the home front so we could surf (kind of), eat ridiculously well (or not – do cheeze puffs and skittles have any nutritional value, Chris A?) and chill in such a beautiful part of the world.

Sunset view from the deck: pretty ideal.

Sunset view from the deck: pretty ideal.

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Pupusas at Los Cocos

Pupusas and caldo de pollo.

Pupusas and caldo de pollo.

Pupusa.  Just say it. “Pupusa”.   I don’t know if onomatopoeia would quite qualify in this instance, but doesn’t the word “pupusa” just sound like something bursting with savory goodness?  Indeed these Salvadorean treats rank up there with some of my favorite foods for a number of reasons.  Basically they’re fat tortillas (corn usually) stuffed with any number of ingredients (beans, cheese, pork or chicken, a even flowers -loroco) and fried on a griddle so the outside becomes nicely browned and crisp while the inside corn meal and fillings remain soft and moist, like a tamale.  The best part is when a bit of the cheesy insides ooze out onto the hot the griddle and add another layer of delicious crispy crust to the pupusa. They’re then served with a tomato-y hot sauce and a nice vinegary cabbage and carrot slaw, the acid of the sauce and salad perfectly complementing the rich savoriness of the pupusas.  They are supremely satisfying both to the palate and the stomach.  They will fill you up.

My first taste of pupusas was not in El Salvador but in Guatemala, when I was a young lad many many years ago doing the young lad backpacker thing down in Central America.  I was studying Spanish in Quetzaltenango  and one day I was searching for a late afternoon snack in the parque central .  I sampled a pupusa (not even that fresh of the griddle) from one of the food venders who’d set up shop. Mind blown.  And then when I crossed over into El Salvador and encountered more and different varieties of pupusas, what was left of my mind was blown further.  Living in SF – still as a young lad – I was ecstatic to find that I could find fresh and delicious pupusas at such favorites as Panchitas and El Zocolo.

But eight years living in NYC, meant a long hiatus from great pupusas.  Sure, I could occasionally get some good ones at the Red Hook Ball fields (at least before they became over run by hipster foodies), but there were few Salvadorean restaurants that I was aware of where I could indulge to my heart’s content.  Then a few months ago, we moved back to the Bay Area and I’ve been reunited with delectible pupusas once again.   We live in Oakland, just a stone’s throw away (or a nice bike ride) from Los Cocos, one of the sole Salvadorean restaurant in the Fruitvale district, a neighborhood where Mexican taquerias predominate (not a bad thing, just stating a fact).  I first ate at Los Cocos years ago with my friend Matt and when we feasted on pupusas and incredibly flavorful caldo de pollo (chicken soup). So, it was a real joy to bring Shef and K to this spot a couple months ago when we were newly arrived to Oakland. It was just as I had remembered it – decorated with Salvadorean tchotchkes, the air inside hazy with cooking grease.  In other words, perfect. K got her first taste of pupusas and it’s fair to say, she loved them.

Eating at Los Cocos (with Matt again) a few weeks later, I asked Rosa the cook and owner of the restaurant if I could make a short vid of her cooking pupusas process.  She said, “sure!” So, this is the result.  Please enjoy and go find pupusas near to you because this vid will make you hungry.

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Thai Cooking Made Easy! (Well, as experienced in a touristy cooking class…)

Along with cooking we also learned how to carve these carrots out of flowers.  Can you tell which one is Shefali's and which one is mine? (hint: mine looks like it was carved using a knife and not teeth)

Along with cooking we also learned how to carve these carrots out of flowers. Can you tell which one is Shefali’s and which one is mine? (hint: mine looks like it was carved using a knife and not my teeth)

I’m sure if you saw the previous post about pad thai, you’re aware of how highly I regard Thai food, both for its preparation and its dynamic flavors. Also, I’m a fan of employing badly shot vacation video from almost two years ago to give the few lucky readers of this blog an opportunity to savor more Thai food and watch Shefali and I stumble through the preparation of some basic Thai dishes.  You see, the summer before last, before Kaya and her voracious appetite made themselves known – actually, I think Shef was in the early stages of pregnancy with K (aka “The Eater”) – we were fortunate to find ourselves in Chiang Mai, Thailand, recuperating from our trip to India.  Believe me, Northern Thailand is the place to go for relaxing and eating.  As full fledged tourists, we enrolled in a one day cooking class at the Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. Now, I fancy myself as somewhat knowledgeable about food and the way its prepared – Asian food in particular. Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I’m ASIAN? Sheeit! So I didn’t know how much I’d really get out of this class. Well, feed me some humble pie, because I got a whole lot of spicy goodness out of it. It was great!  The recipes were obviously dumbed down for farang students, but what really came through (bubbled up to the surface as it were) was the importance of using the freshest ingredients and cooking things quickly and with the intensity of high eat to seal in flavors. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but some of dishes I cooked in this class, I’d consider among the best Thai food I’ve eaten.  So without further ado, please enjoy these two videos which chronicle both our trip to the market and our cooking class. Please enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2

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The Perfect Pad Thai? Quite Possibly.

About a month ago Shefali, Kaya, and I had the pleasure of spending almost twenty hours on two planes (with one layover) to travel 8,651 miles to Bangkok, exactly twelve hours ahead (timewise), where we would spend four short days before another two and a half hour flight (on one plane) to Hong Kong for another four short days. Then we came home. End of story. Actually no. We went to Bangkok and Hong Kong to spend our winter break with Shefali’s family in Bangkok and my family in Hong Kong. But more on that in a future (possible) post wherein I just talk about all the “first” foods that Kaya ate. Yeah, I’m that dad.

This post is about pad thai, specifically the pad thai found at Luang Pha Pad Thai restaurant in Bangkok. You know, that place on Maha Chai Road, a stone’s throw from the Wat Saket? Yeah that one. Ok, to be honest, we had some insider knowledge. Shefali’s sister  (not Thai) and her husband (Thai) told us about this place a year and a half ago when we visited them. And boy were we appreciative.  The flavor of that pad thai and the simple but elegant way it was prepared were etched into my memory. Plus I took lots of photos.

Shef wants this pad thai and bad... This is from our first trip to Luang Pha.

Shef wants this pad thai and bad… This is from our first trip to Luang Pha.

This small woman is a giant among cooks

This small woman is a giant among cooks

But seriously, watching this diminutive woman wielding this massive wok reminded me of what a pleasure it is to watch someone who is really good at what they do.   Each  gesture and motion is effortless, the perfect expression of thought into action. There is no wasted effort – efficiency epitomized.  Or, maybe it’s because this is her job and she does it everyday. In any case, the results are ridiculously good.  So, this past trip, Shefali and I brought her mom and her sis (and of course Kaya) along to experience quite possibly the perfect pad thai.  Please enjoy some photos and be sure to watch the video above which shows this awesome cook in action.  You might even learn how to cook some real pad thai.  Though good luck finding the shrimp fat oil…

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Memorable Meals in India: Part 3a – Camel Trek Lunch

Tourists of the desert: Shefali and I show off the latest look from the Thar desert. Okay, maybe not so glamorous but we did avoid major sunburn.

As I mentioned in the last post, one of the more touristy and totally worth it things we did in Rajasthan was an overnight camel trek in the Thar desert outside if Jaisalmer.  It was basically like backpacking except with camels doing all the hard work of carrying all of our stuff and also doing all the walking. Oh don’t get me wrong.  We’re still hardcore.  I mean it was really hot – being the desert and all. We had to drink a lot of warm/hot plasticky water that had been  roasting in the sun, not to mention having to reapply sunblock like seven times. Also, riding camels is really hard on the groins.

Shefali and I with our camel trek guide/ cook extraordinaire: Amaan

Fortunately, we had an excellent guide named Amaan who prepared all of our meals and was generally, a very upstanding young man. And by young I mean he was only 20 or 21 and newly married at that. Please enjoy the following video of my our amazing camel trek lunch prepared by Amaan and eaten by us.

 

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