Posts from the ‘Food’ category

How to eat chicken-fried gator? Chomp it quickly

The fried gator is buttery soft, surrounded by a thin layer of crunchy batter.

This is a story about food: about longing, and the yearning for comfort. There are many words, but no photographs; you have been warned. May the words flow with you, and may hunger strike at your desire for more …

Comfort food, comfortable chomps

It all began innocently: a sudden rush, a deep craving for comfort food: southern-style fried chicken and waffles.

But “chicken and waffles”? Definitely.

Depending upon what I’m feeling, I crave all kinds of comfort food; for example:

•   A steaming bowl of wonton (wuntun) noodle soup, because that’s my childhood in Vancouver.
•   A peameal bacon sandwich from the St. Lawrence Market, after seven years in The Big Smoke (Toronto).
•   A “Juicy Lucy” burger with a side of tater tots, after a couple of years in the Minneapolis/St. Paul.
•   An “empanada de pino” (baked meat pie) and a bowl of “cazuela de mariscos” (seafood chowder), after five years in Chile.
•   Döner kebab and currywurst, because 14 consecutive years still aren’t enough in Germany.

But where am I going to find “chicken & waffles” in Vancouver?

I’m at a seminar about social-media by Rebecca Coleman, and she also writes a lot about food. I inform her of my quest, and her recommendation is swift, straight to Chewie’s.

They have two locations: one downtown by Coal Harbour, and the other in Kitsilano. Their online presence leads me to their brunch menu, helpfully listing “chicken and waffles.” But I’m chomping at the bit, when Rebecca mentions chicken-fried alligator, and Chewie’s has half-price happy-hour afternoons.


SOLD! Where do I sign up?

I soon realize this first visit to Chewie’s is going to be different: no camera, no photographs. Why?

I want the experience to be free of burdens: to photograph the setting; to photograph the food as it’s brought to the table; to find the “right light”; that I need a shot, any shot, a perfect shot.

I simply remove the idea from my mind, and I’m free.

But is an online post worth reading if there aren’t any photographs, especially if there’s food?

Some would say “no”, but that’s the challenge and opportunity, to see if the following description can hold readers to the end of this post.


Full with 2 Apps

It’s 330pm on a Thursday afternoon, and I see soon after entering their Coal Harbour location that the place is alive with sounds of activity from conversations and cooking. The restaurant is at about one-third capacity, which is fine because I won’t feel rushed dining on my own. Some well-dressed business folks have occupied a couple of tables by the far end, getting their weekend off to an early happy start.

In time for their half-price Happy Hour, my eyes go to their “First Bites” or appetizers. Recent experience has shown appetizers tend to be small, and I’ve already decided I want two. Instead of beer, it’s hot tea; there’s more writing afterwards.

Little time passes, and my two requests are brought to the table at the same time.

1. Pan Seared Calamari: B.C. Humboldt squid (not breaded) with smoked paprika aioli, and cucumber and onion jalapeño mint-vinaigrette salad.

Because it’s easier to hide the quality of the squid behind breading, I prefer calamari unbreaded. The mollusk is sliced strategically for guests; from a distance, the plate appears suspiciously like penne pasta in a creamy sauce. “Best seafood penne ever!” Closer examination shows there’s bite-sized squid in small tubes; no knife is necessary. Removed are the little tentacles so often disconcerting to some, but I find I miss the wae tentacles.

The squid “tubes” are cooked perfectly: undercooked and it’s too chewy, overcooked and the tubes hang limp on the fork. The smooth creamy spicy aioli complements the flavours of the pan sear and the deep sea. The accompanying cucumber and onion salad provides another counterpoint with fresh garden textures and the jalapeño vinaigrette pushes out a slightly sour edge balancing the oil used in the sear and the cream in the aioli. Eating a couple of tubes with the salad in the same forkful works very well.

2. Chicken-Fried Gator & Hush Puppies: buttermilk-soaked chicken-fried alligator, corn hush puppies, jalapeño jelly

I’m sure the first thing anyone thinks on first sight is: hey, chicken fingers and a fried carb! Come to think of it, “fingers & fries” are a comfort food, too.

Both gator strips and hush puppies appear golden, fried at the right temperature for the right amount of time; neither is burnt or undercooked. The first bite blows away the thought of “chicken fingers”. Marinated for hours in buttermilk, the strips of alligator meat is lightly breaded and fried. Tearing easily, the meat is not chewy; the soft gator meat is a nice contrast with the crispy exterior. As the batter is lightly seasoned, the jalapeño jelly dip for the gator adds another sweet-and-spicy layer to the flavours. Instead of the ubiquitous fries, that “fried carb” are tasty savory spheres of fried cornmeal batter. They have a touch of sweet, reminding me of Tim Hortons’ Timbits, but I can see from the open kitchen the hush puppies are made on order. The accompanying salad garnish composed of crispy bitter arugula leaves and thinly sliced sweet beet slivers provide additional balance to colour, flavour, and texture.

As appetizers go, each is sufficient as a starter to be shared among two or three people, and with two full-sized appetizers consumed, I am very content. The hot tea is a great choice, as the sharp bitter drink cuts through and helps to “wash down” the fatty food. That’s an important lesson after hundreds of dim sum/yum cha sessions.

I enjoyed both appetizers, but the clear favourite is the gator. If you must have images, you can bank on the Internet:

Chicken-fried gator :
Rebecca Coleman for VanCity Buzz | Eatiful | Gastrofork

Pan fried calamari :
Food and Wine with MyWinePal | Eat With Jenny | Jeremy Lin (in Flickr)


Inevitably, return for more

I’ll have to go back and try their crabcakes; it’s only fair to compare and contrast against the famous crabcakes I had in Baltimore. I have to go back for weekend brunch to dig into their chicken and waffles. And they have oysters: lots of `em. So that’s another visit yet …

I visited Chewie’s Coal Harbour on 6 November 2014, and I shelled out my own clams for all food and drink. After paying the bill, I informed the staff of my visit as an interested and hungry travel-writer. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I did not receive any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the restaurant or food mentioned herein (cmp.ly/0).

A “Main” taste of Istanbul in Frankfurt

“This is like being in Istanbul,” my friend says, in between bites of his sandwich.

Ömer, his fiancée, and I are sitting on the south bank of the river Main in Frankfurt, Germany. We’re soaking the late-summer sun. The grassy meadows are full of people: some in animated conversation; some surrounded by a big spread of food, beer, and wine; others kicking the soccer ball back and forth with their children.

There’s a whole lot of happiness here, but there’s a long line of people, waiting to purchase food and drink at the boat parked by the riverbank.

We just left that very same line after waiting for an hour. What we’re eating now made the wait worthwhile.

Over the ten-plus years I’ve known Ömer, he’s never been wrong about food in Germany.

Meral's Imbiss, Mainufer, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, fotoeins.com

Meral’s Imbissboot

Meral's Imbiss, Mainufer, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, fotoeins.com

Speisekarte | Food menu

Meral's Imbiss, Mainufer, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, fotoeins.com

Hamsi (Sardellen) fried-fish sandwich, “Ominade”

We each have a fried-fish sandwich: lightly fried fish in thin crispy batter, crunchy lettuce, slices of juicy tomato, stuffed in fresh soft Turkish bread. There’s a choice of Sardellen (anchovies), Makrelen (mackerel), or Doradenfilet (gilthead seabream). Ominade, freshly-squeezed lemonade according to Oma’s (Grandmother’s) recipe, is the right amount of sweet-tart, providing cool refreshment for our afternoon snack.

“The guy, the family who runs that boat, they’ve got this right, and I’ve gotta admit this feels like we’re on the Bosporus.”

High praise from Ömer: born in Istanbul, raised in Köln, and who’s gone back to know Istanbul very well in adulthood.

We’re silent over the next few minutes, chewing slowly and contemplating Istanbul. I’m realizing the obvious. If the food is any indication, I’m missing out; I’ve not yet visited Istanbul.

But right now, I’m eyeing that long line. I want another fried-fish sandwich and lemonade.


If you’re visiting Frankfurt am Main, make your way to the Main river to the boat called Meral’s Imbissboot (Meral’s Snack Boat). Naturally, they serve Döner, but their fried fish is too good not to try. Subject to weather conditions, the boat is open for service every day from noon to 11pm, between March and October.

Public transport: nearest U-Bahn station Willy-Brandt-Platz or Schweizer Platz.

I made the photos above on 3 October (German Reunification Day) 2011. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

My Heidelberg: first time sweetness at Café Gundel

Moving to Germany

In 2001, I moved across the big Atlantic pond from Canada to Germany. Knowing only “bitte” (please) and “danke” (thank you), I flew sight unseen to Frankfurt am Main, followed by a shuttle-bus to the German university town of Heidelberg. I would live and work in Heidelberg for two years, and I couldn’t have known the experience would change my life.

Heidelberg is one of my favourite “hometowns” in Germany, my adopted country.

1st Time in DE, 1st Time in HD

An early memory is a stroll down Heidelberg’s Hauptstrasse (“main street”). I spend a long afternoon up and down streets, through small cobbled alleys, learning locations of stores and services, and getting an immediate lay of the town.

At the eastern end of the Altstadt (Old Town), I step into an attractive and brightly lit Café Gundel and sit down at one of the tables. My eyes are bigger than my stomach. I decide to do the sensible thing, and order the first reasonable thing that comes to mind: Apfelstrudel and a latté macchiato.

It’s relatively quiet in the café, and I’m quickly served “coffee and cake”. The strudel has large chunks of apples, surrounded by very light flaky pastry and topped with a fine dusting of powdered sugar. The cake isn’t too tart or sweet, and there’s a generous mouthful of cinnamon and nutmeg. Did I also mention there’s fresh whipping cream (Schlagsahne) on the side? That’s not spray-on stuff from a can, which, as I learned later, is sacrilege of the highest order.

I walk up to the counter to pay and I express my gratitude. With hand gestures and attempted English, I ask to buy an additional selection of cookies, small cakes, and sweets. I’m sure the lady behind the counter thinks I’ve completely lost my mind. In broken English, she tells me there’ll be more tomorrow, and plenty more the day after that.

This memory has served as an introduction to both Heidelberg and Germany, and has stayed with me over the years. I’ve returned many times to Heidelberg since leaving in 2003, but I’ve returned to Gundel only twice.

Guess it’s time to go back “home”, back to Gundel, and make some new memories …

Cafe Gundel, Hauptstrasse (Karlsplatz), Heidelberg, Germany

Café Gundel

Cafe Gundel, Hauptstrasse (Karlsplatz), Heidelberg, Germany

Do I have room for these? Why yes; yes, I do …

If you’re in Heidelberg, walk to the eastern end of Hauptstrasse to Café Gundel. Press your nose up against the window, and look, drool at the sweets on display. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head inside, relax, and enjoy your “Kaffee und Kuchen” (cake and coffee).


Café Gundel is both Konditorei (pastry shop) and Bäckerei (bake shop), making a wide assortment of sweet pastries and hearty breads. The main and larger Gundel is located at the eastern end of the Hauptstrasse at Karlsplatz (Charles Square). The smaller version, Der kleine Gundel, is located at Universitätsplatz (University Square).

You can easily walk the mile-long Hauptstrasse. Alternatively, you can take a bus or tram from the train station to Bismarckplatz, and transfer onto a bus into the Altstadt (Old Town).

This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

Aussie Aussie Aussie, Pie Pie Pie

January 26 in Vancouver, Canada marks a great convergence of two events. It’s Australia Day, and running concurrently is the Dine Out Vancouver Festival.

I’m at the North Plaza of the Art Gallery in the city’s downtown/CBD. Here over 20 food trucks are participating in the Street Food City in conjunction with the Dine Out festival. This is the third consecutive year for food trucks to highlight their street food over a period of five days.

One thing I’ve learned after spending time throughout Australia and New Zealand is I’ve frequent serious cravings for their meat pie. Months ago, I looked for meat pies in Vancouver, and with a quick online search, my eyeballs made a beeline to Aussie Pie Guy.

Aussie Pie Guy, Street Food City, Dine Out Vancouver Festival 2014, Vancouver Art Gallery
Street Food City, Dine Out Vancouver Festival 2014
Aussie Pie Guy, Street Food City, Dine Out Vancouver Festival 2014, Vancouver Art Gallery
Aussie Pie Guy, Street Food City, Dine Out Vancouver Festival 2014, Vancouver Art Gallery

I’ve had the smooth stylins’ of their chook (chicken) pie previously, but I see today they have Kangaroo Pie: “kangaroo mince with sweet potato mash, bacon, and pepperberry spices.” Without hesitation, I get the kanga pie “epic” style, complete with peas, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

First bite in is a winner: savory ground meat with smoky BBQ-like hints from the bacon, the blend of sweet and spicy flavours from the sweet potato and pepperberry, a golden flaky pie crust shell, all topped with just chewy mashed peas, creamy mashed potatoes, and a generous portion of warm thick brown gravy.

I feel loss in the final bite, because the pie is done and gone.

(Watch how I stuff me piehole at the 1 minute 9 second mark in the video here …)

EPIC Kangaroo Pie, Dine Out Vancouver – 26 Jan 2014.

A photo posted by Henry Lee (@fotoeins) on

Epic Kanga Pie

Doesn’t that pie make you want to reach over and dig in? For addicts like me, the Aussie Pie Guy food truck is out and about Vancouver, ready to satisfy everybody’s need for Australian meat pies.

Aussie Pie Guy, Street Food City, Dine Out Vancouver Festival 2014, Vancouver Art Gallery

Amy & Hayley

Thanks to the Australian ladies for their hospitality and conversation! I made all of the photos above on Australia Day (26 January) 2014. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein (cmp.ly/0).

Mum’s cooking at Auckland’s Food Alley

Long distance recollections

A number of years ago, I stopped in Auckland, New Zealand for a few days on my way back from Sydney, Australia to La Serena, Chile.

I was stunned to find mum’s cooking.

I immediately called mum in Vancouver to let her know someone stole her recipe for claypot rice.

She was skeptical and told me to get back to Vancouver for the real thing.

I told her the commute back home from the southern hemisphere was a little rough, but I’d be back to visit in a few months …

The holy urban trinity

It might be an odd combination, but when I’m in a city for the first time, I look for three things: green spaces, art spaces, and decent food.

With subsequent visits to Auckland, I’m happy to have found all three in New Zealand’s largest city.

Getting around Auckland isn’t as difficult as it might seem, as various Link Bus services are an inexpensive and effective way of getting around the city for both residents and visitors. After my visit to the Auckland Domain and the Auckland Museum, I step off the Inner Link bus on Albert Street, and I make the short way to Food Alley for dinner.

Food Alley in Auckland’s CBD

Recommended as a cheap-eat by various sources including the New Zealand Herald, Food Alley is an unassuming looking no-nonsense food court, consisting of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian, Korean, Malaysian, Thai, and Vietnamese stalls.

While some might express disapproval at eating in a food court, Food Alley is similar to the Cooked Food Centres (the old “dai pai dong”) in Hong Kong or the hawker centres in Singapore. Drawing comparisons with southeast Asia is a very good thing.

In late-afternoon and early-evening, Food Alley is packed with people, and every stall is seeing some action.

This is a first indication of a good thing.

Many minutes of indecision ensued when faced with all of the choices. But I feel an invisible force tugging at my sleeves, and I’m “pulled” toward Claypot Rose, where a number of dishes are cooked in … well … claypots. They even include little pictures of how the dishes appeared.

Now, a common piece of wisdom is avoid places with pictures of food, but every stall in Food Alley has little pictures showing what they have on offer. But it’s busy here, and people are quiet as they’re digging eagerly into their food. They’re in animated conversation once their plates are empty.

This is the second indication this place is going to be good.

Food Alley, Auckland, New ZealandFood Alley, Auckland, New Zealand

I remember looking into our family’s kitchen while mum prepared steamed chicken with ginger and Chinese sausage on a bed of rice and bok-choy. I see that memory come alive in front of me: “claypot chicken rice with Chinese sausage” (煲仔雞飯) consists of chunks of steamed chicken and sausage, seasoned with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and crowned generously with chopped green onion and red chiles. To augment my round of gluttony, I order an extra BBQ-pork egg foo yung.

Pure taste was my third indication and the ultimate clincher.

Like a question of what came first or, simply, what’s better, both chicken and egg are really good, but the claypot chicken rice brings me back to the past with the familiar flavours. I never thought I’d experience that taste outside of my childhood home, until I stepped into Food Alley and discovered the replicated stylings of mum’s cooking.

Address & Map for Food Alley

Food Alley is located in Auckland’s Central Business District at 9 Albert Street, just minutes on foot from Britomart Train Station. They’re open every day from 1030am to 10pm. The Link Bus, including the City-, Inner-, and Outer-Link services, runs in both directions on all routes with 10- to 20-minute frequencies every day until about 11pm.

Other recent commentary about Food Alley: The Selfish Years, and The Food Pornographer.

I made the photos above with a 4th-generation iPodTouch on 31 July 2012. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein (cmp.ly/0).

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