Discovery: The joy of the unexpected

Look, I don’t really believe there’s much out there left to be discovered. Even the most remote, mysterious bits of the Amazon have pre-contact tribes of people who call the areas home. There’s really no foods that someone hasn’t eaten (in a practical sense), or any great surprises left in the world that someone hasn’t already been startled by. Okay, fine, there might be, but these aren’t things that I’m even remotely likely to discover for myself. When I speak of discovery, I speak of the joy of simply trying something, going some place, or experiencing something new.

I’ve discovered a few things in the past year or so that have made my life much richer, more satisfying, and more likely to end in a shallow gravy of cholesterol and shame. Whatever. This post is about discovery, so I’m going to share some of my favorite discoveries with you right now.

The Primate’s list of discovery!

Macau - Portguese Chorizo

Chorizo cooked tableside. Hello.

1. Portuguese Food – Dude. I never expected that my favorite discovery of our trip to Hong Kong would be the Portuguese food we ate on Macau. Delicious, simple, vaguely familiar yet new at the same time. This was a great discovery.

Taking a dip betwixt two hongs.

Sea Kayaking in Thailand

2. Sea Kayaking – I don’t particularly like boats. I don’t particularly like boats without engines. Who knew that loading up some snacky-snacks in a Kayak and taking off from the beach could be so much fun? On our trip to Thailand, Carolyn and I made a day of sea kayaking. I didn’t even get seasick.

Lawson red chicken

These “RED” chicken nuggets are delicious and cheap. They’re surprisingly…real…and the cheese flavor isn’t bad either.

3. Japanese Convenience Store Food – You’ve never eaten a chicken nugget like the ones they fry up at Lawson convenience stores in Japan. The “red” flavor is mildly spicy, the “cheese” flavor tastes like a chicken breast wrapped around cheetos, breaded in crushed cheetos, and fried in a vat of cheese. If liking this kind of crap is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

4. Gyeran Bbang (Egg Bread) – Carolyn and I discovered this the last time we visited Seoul before leaving Korea. It’s like a sweet cornbread muffin with an egg up in it. It was delicious. There’s not a ton of Korean street foods I would say are must eats, but this one ranks right up there. *Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of good food on the street in Korea, but not a lot that compares to banana roti.

Thai style roti - the best damn banana pancake you've ever tasted

Thai style roti – the best damn banana pancake you’ve ever tasted

5. Banana Roti – Okay, speaking of street food. Banana roti. It’s kinda my ultimate street delicacy. Bananas fried in neon orange margarine or coconut butter or whatever it is wrapped up in a thin pastry and cooked until it’s crisp? Yes, please. This is the one discovery from Thailand that I can’t seem to get at home.

Vietnamese Coffee by mhaithaca, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  mhaithaca 

6. Vietnamese Coffee

Ironically, this life-changing discovery happened at a restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. Vietnamese coffee is simple. Coffee, sweetened, condensed milk, ice. It’s a flavor that your soul recognizes, that your mouth loves, and that your stomach welcomes. It’s probably also a caloric bomb that will help guide you towards that shallow gravy faster than you’d like.

So surprise, surprise. What started out as a post about travel has once again turned into a post about things I like to eat. What’s a primate going to do about that? The answer is polish off the Ben and Jerry’s Liz Lemon frozen Greek Yogurt I have in the freezer. (Attention Ben & Jerry, I’ll give you that plug for free. Please keep producing the Liz Lemon flavor. kthxbai.)


Caldo Verde – a hearty green soup perfect for a cold night

I’ve watched almost every episode of Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations at this point. It’s like comfort television for me. I think that a T.V. show can become comfort television in one, specific way. You have to be sick. Really, really, sick. Like, too sick to get up off of the couch. For me it gets even worse, because certain specific episodes become invaluable panaceas that are somehow comforting on a bad day after that.

Anyhow, what I’m getting at is that a few years back I was sick. Really sick. With the freaking flu. A coworker had thought it was funny to cough in people’s faces after returning to work from his bout with it, and what do you know, fever, cramping, vomiting, terrible. I was home for four days after seeing a doctor. I spent those four days curled in a tiny ball on my tiny IKEA couch watching TV, and two episodes of No Reservations became instant-feel-better TV. The episodes talked about the local foods of The Azores and Osaka.

I guess Mr. Bourdain has a special affinity for Portuguese cuisine, as he’s worked alongside a lot of Portuguese immigrants. Portuguese cuisine was even a central point of his episode featuring Macau, and as you might have noticed, we did our best to find a little restaurant in a colonial building selling Portuguese food when we visited. The one thing we didn’t order that I knew we should have was caldo verde, the traditional Portuguese soup involving Kale, potatoes, garlic and various proteins depending on whose grandmother is cooking it for you. It was just too warm out for soup.

After our flight back to Korea, we bought a ton of vegetables to make up for our sins in Hong Kong and Macau, and we just so happened to have kale. We made a soup, and it was pretty good, but it didn’t take us long to discover that we were two ingredients short of a caldo verde, so literally the next night, I tried again. Now, we looked at a few recipes on the interwebs, but they’re all kind of different, and I have a way that I like to do things when I make a soup. I’m not Portuguese myself, but this caldo verde kinda tasted like what I would have expected to get in Macau. At any rate, this is my caldo verde, an easy to prepare green soup that will warm you up from the inside out on a cold night. Did I mention it was cheap?

The Primate’s Caldo Verde:

Buy this stuff:

  • Four large kale leaves – vein and mince these
  • Four garlic cloves – minced
  • Two large carrots – diced
  • Four stalks of celery – sliced
  • One medium onion – diced
  • Two medium potatoes – diced
  • One can butter beans, drained
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I guess vegetable stock if you want it to be vegetarian)

The chopping, dicing, cooking, and stuff

  1. We’re going to get all the vegetables ready to go before we turn on the stove. Get to mincin’, dicin’ and drainin’.
  2. What the hell do I do with these leaves? It’s simple. Cut the vein out, roll them up tight like cigards, and slice them like you would a whole carrot. The thinner you slice, the better, and I’m going to suggest going ahead and rotating your cutting board 90 degrees and just kinda chopping the hell out of the resulting pile of what looks like freshly cut grass. The smaller the better. You don’t want long chunks of kale slopping up against your chin, do you?
  3. Get some oil heating in your soup pot, and toss in your garlic until it’s light brown.
  4. Add the celery, carrot, and onion. Okay, so this is pretty French, but I really love the way a mirepoix (the combination of celery, carrot, and onion) gets a strong aromatic flavor going for a soup. Let this saute for just long enough to get a little bit of a sear on the edge of the carrots, and until the onions are translucent.
  5. Add the potatoes. Saute until they get just a tiny hint of gold on the edge.
  6. Add chicken stock, and then cover everything with water. Bring this to a boil. Salt and pepper to taste, because at this point it’s going to be kinda bland and vegetable-y.
  7. You can let this cook until everything is nice and tender. Need to vacuum? Cool. Video games? That would work too. Just give it a stir every once in a while.
  8. 10 minutes before you want to serve, add the kale. Stir it in, don’t just let it float on top. It’s going to take a few minutes for this to get tender. Your soup should be quite green. Check the flavor again, the kale has a strong flavor and you might want to add more salt and pepper.
  9. 5 minutes before you want to serve, add the beans. They just need to heat up. Once it’s all back to a simmer, serve it up.

This soup is filling, hearty, and tastes great, but wait, there’s more! It’s even better on the second day! You know what would make this more amazing? If you tossed some Portuguese chorizo in the soup, and served it with some quijo fresco on a hot piece of bread, this would be a perfect meal.