Monthly Archives: April 2010

YUM! A Taste of Immigrant City is in Three Days

WhatYum!  A Taste of Immigrant City

When?:  April 30th, 6:00-10:00 PM

Where?: Somerville Armory

How much?:  $40, more to sponsor

YUM! A Taste of Immigrant City features both a past (Machu Picchu) and future (Fasika) Gastronauts destinations.  Not only will the food be interesting and delicious, but the proceeds go to support a great cause.  The Welcome Project is a Somerville based non-profit that serves the city’s immigrant community through direct service and advocating for social justice.  Fill your stomach!  Support the cause!  F#%* Arizona!

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Double Downs in Brighton (Or Anywhere Else)

Illustration by Andrew Abbott

Ché’s Take: American Fat, American Meat, The American Spirit

“KFC Double Down ‘Sandwich'” by Mike Saechang.  It uses the Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons License. “Victory Gardeners” from the Library of Congress database.

The problem is not the Double Down. The sandwich was a personal problem for me on Sunday, when we ate the things. Even when Andrew and I went to Café Polonia, which serves lard as its butter and probably used the same to fry my potato pancakes, I didn’t feel as awful about myself and the world as I did after eating this sandwich. But the Double Down itself is not the problem. Nobody will live on a diet of Double Downs, in fact, because the Sandwich itself is not actually all that tasty, it will probably die a slow death, following in the footsteps of the Hula Burger. No, the Double Down is not the problem. America’s fascination with fat, especially meat fat, is the problem. Luckily, this is a problem that can be solved.

When food critics write about the Double Down, they live up to their prissy reps. Take for example this blog post by Mark Morford. He rips on the executives of KFC, saying:

“Hell, even the oil titans right now raping Canada can claim to be supplying a commodity that runs the engines of the world. Even Wall Street ogres can claim to be partaking of a time-honored tradition of gutting the U.S. Treasury at the expense of the ignorant masses. But head of marketing for, say, Kentucky Fried Chicken? Oh, you poor soul. Hell hath a special room for you.”

Really now? There are two problems here, first of all assuming that the three have nothing to do with each other, and secondly, the Double Down is any worse for you than the rest of fast food. Many of the news stories point out that the Double Down actually has fewer calories than the McDonald’s Premium Crispy Chicken Club Sandwich. The lie of chicken as healthier comes into complete focus when something can compete with the Double Down as a less healthy option, especially another chicken sandwich.

Americans have always been obsessed with meat because it has always been so prevalent here when compared to the rest of the world. A month ago, I cited Hasia Diner’s discussion of what it means to eat meat daily. Diner and Werner Sombart, who Diner discusses, saw this as one of the crucial differences between America and Europe. Jeremy Rifkin in his book Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture, explains how American beef specifically moved from an almost feral American Longhorn to the fatted, grain fed, British influenced marbled beef that we have today. Uncle Sam gives this beef his stamp of approval. Rifkin describes how the USDA created its grading system based on beef’s “fat content and started with the assumption that fatty beef was of higher value and preferred by consumers over leaner cuts of beef.” America loves fat, and as humans, we biologically love fat as well. Still, the fattiness of our beef, and now our chicken is a relatively recent development, and has less to do with a protein-heavy diet than a fat-heavy diet.

In the end, this love of all things fatty isn’t even American in origin, as I mentioned above. In Rifkin’s book, he has an entire chapter called “Corpulent Cows and Opulent Englishmen.” In this chapter, Rifkin describes how the British grew to love fatty beef, a love which they exported by buying up much of the American range to raise their obese cows. An American preference for marbled beef soon followed.

The food critics who deride the Double Down as too “American” and the Tea Partyers who hope to return to a nostalgic (also racist and jingoist) vision of the American past are really two sides of the same coin. Both make an arrogant claim to describe what America is, and always has been, based on a strange kind of nostalgia or anti-nostalgia. The Tea Partyers, if they truly lived up to their name, would move from Red Coats to red meat, and fight against a British culinary choice that is now killing millions of Americans. The boogie liberals who write against the Double Down and hate it for being too American take a very narrow view of what America is, and give the whole of American history up to the right wing and the politics of free consumption. To say that this or that is American because it is conservative denies that Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine, Tecumseh, Frederick Douglas, Crazy Horse, Joaquin Murieta, Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Caesar Chavez etc. are not only part of American history and identity but crucial to it. One thing that all of America seems to agree is that what is crucial to our culture is self-sufficiency. Diabetes, obesity, and agra-business are some of the largest enemies of self-sufficiency today, and they are all intertwined in a net of governmental and corporate complacency and profit. Grass roots movements, from the community gardens movement in Detroit to the Re-Vision Urban Farm right here in Boston do just that, and with a little support, these models could be used throughout the United States, like Victory Gardens during World War II. To reiterate, the Double Down is not the problem. The entire food industry and its governmental sponsors are the problem. Fighting against it, and for healthier and self-sufficient eating and livelihoods is not un-American, but comes from the truest patriotism in the American spirit.

Katrina & Andrew’s Take:

Photos by Katrina Thorne

I’m going to preface this entry with the fact that me and this particular KFC have some personal history. One time when I was really jonesing for a chicken pot pie after a long day of work I placed my order with the nice lady behind the counter and decided to use the restroom in the mean time while waiting. I went in back and knocked on the door. I knocked again just in case. There was no answer and when I checked the knob it wasn’t locked so I went right in. What did I find? One of the gentlemen who worked trying to pee into the toilet from all the way across the room. Needless to say now but I’m already nervous at this KFC even when I’m not about to devour a double down.

As gastronaut adventures go this wasn’t the most far out food we’ve encountered. Our team included a few new recruits and we made the trek out to that wonderful land of chicken, that little bit of Kentucky away from Kentucky, KFC. There we purchased the new “double down sandwiches.” For those not in the know this “sandwich” is two pieces of chicken with two pieces of bacon, two pieces of cheese, and some sort of sauce slathered in between. This sammich isn’t going to double down anything but it will double up your cholesterol.

Amongst the members there was discussion about how this could be considered a sandwich. It’s marketed as not needing any bread but can it still be called a sandwich? I guess that technically the chicken included in this disaster is breaded but I call shenanigans and I’m sure John Montagu the 4th Earl of Sandwich would also. In fact you can consider me the Earl of Shenanigans when it comes to the Double Down.This thing also comes in a convenient little sleave in case you were wondering how you eat it without making a mess. But before you finish eating, the sleave is soaked with grease and is pretty much rendered useless.

The sandwich may seem small upon first glance but it is extremely dense. It even feels heavy when you’re lugging it around in that little brown paper bag. And once its in your stomach it sits there like a rock. Like some sort of deep fried dark matter from down south. Some members felt extremely sluggish after consuming the chicken while others complained about stomach and general body aches. Extreme motion after eating this is not recommended. Although you may feel like you need to take a nap after eating it that would probably be the worst thing you could do.

This may in fact be the antithesis of the “naked” burgers that are wrapped in lettuce instead of using a bun or any of those other new fangled healthy options popping up in resturants all over. While all these other restaurants are trying to save us KFC just might be sneakily dooming us. The convenience of fast food is too strong for the masses. Even when some of these places advertise “fresh” options you still know it’s most likely going to be waiting for you under a heating lamp. The Double Down is a conundrum in itself in that you could easily make it yourself, but you don’t want to because then that just makes you feel like the evil one rather than Colonel Sanders.

This isn’t the first mess in the long line of fast food trying to top everything. McDonalds had the Super Hero burger that combined three burgers into one sandwich. One burger is enough to handle let alone three. And Burger King has put the Quadstacker into rotation which is four layers of patty, cheese, and bacon. These weren’t the first nor will they be the last in the long line of ridiculous fast food items that soon may be incorporated into some people’s normal diets.

YUM:  A Taste of Immigrant City in Somerville


One last thing before we close.  Instead of Agra-business and KFC, in a couple of weekends you can support immigrant rights and independent restaurants.  The Welcome Project, a Somerville based immigrant advocacy group, is hosting a fundraiser featuring local Somerville restaurants and entertainment.  Find out more information here.

When?:  April 30th, 6:00-10:00 PM

Where?: Somerville Armory

How much?:  $40, more to sponsor

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Filed under Allston, Fast Food, KFC

Tongue Sandwiches in Allston/Brighton

Illustrations and photos by Andrew Abbott

The Resturant

Taqueria El Carrizal

254 Brighton Ave
Allston, MA 02134

Yelp

Andrew’s Take:

Before I get into this weeks post I’d like to take you, the reader, into the Boston Gastronaut’s very own time machine and go back to March 19th to add onto the post from couple weeks back. Seeing that I missed the week Che went to Machu Picchu for beef hearts and tripe, I met him there this past Tuesday to conduct our interview with Emily Gonzalez of Blast Magazine. The interview went well and if you’ve already read the article you can tell we had a lot of fun. The food was also pretty amazing. Needless to say it made me regret missing it the first time. What most people don’t think about is that the meat they’re usually eating is muscle. So when confronted with beef heart you should just know that you’re essentially eating the same thing. The beef heart was served on skewers and if you hadn’t been told it was beef heart in the first place you probably couldn’t tell the difference between it and any other cut of beef beyond the fact that its much more tender. The way it’s prepared and served with fresh corn and potatoes is really simple but perfect.

The tripe came the same way. Tripe on the other hand is a bit different. We’re talking about organ meat here so there’s possibility of texture issues for some people. The best comparison I could draw, for myself anyway, was it was a lot like beef flavored calamari. The consistency was a little bit firmer than straight beef fat and it was chewy like squid. So if you don’t dig chewiness then tripe might not be for you but I urge anyone to try it if given the chance. The beef flavor was strong throughout the tripe which was nice. Both dishes were accompanied by different sauces. One was a bit spicy the other more savory and both were creamy in their base. They also gave us “fancy” ketchup. I’d definitely recommend both the hearts and tripe for anyone new to adventurous eating. (Jumps back into the time machine)

So this week part time Gastronaut and full time roomate Mike took me to one of his favorite spots near our apartment. El Carrizal boasts having Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan food on the menu. It’s quite an impressive array of choices you have going in there. We got there around lunch time and the place was packed. We got one of the last tables which could seat four when Mike told me about how once when he was there on an equally crowded day they sat him down with a table already full of people eating. I was thinking we were about to end up having lunch with two complete strangers, but the crowd started to thin out and we ended up keeping our own table. Not that I would’ve had any problem eating with strangers. If anything it would’ve added to the experience. Everyone at the restaurant was really nice and the service was good.

Hearing that the pupusas were tasty there I ordered some of those to start. Pupusas are the Salvadorian equivalent of pita bread. They’re like thick tortillas fried and then filled with some combination of cheese, meat, beans, or veggies. What doesn’t sound good there? That’s right. Nothing! The Carrizal pupusas were filled with pork and cheese and served with jalapeno coleslaw and some zesty red sauce. Nothing to strange here just incredibly delicious. They also had pupusas served with beans and squash. I’m assuming those were the vegetarian option, and would also be quite delicious.

On the menu they have what’s listed as the “Mexican Sandwich”. It comes with cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and spicy habanero sauce all stacked on a nice airy loaf of white bread. You get to choose what kinda meat they stuff in there. Your choices are beef (alright), chicken (okay), and lengua (whaaaaat?). That last one’s the tongue meat. It’s chopped up and spiced up and covered in melted cheese so really it’s kind of hard to taste it with everything going on in this sandwich. There’s a ton of lengua on the sandwich itself so every once in a while you get a big mouthful of it. Again the tongue is another muscle that people shouldn’t over think eating because it’s not much different from any other beef you’d eat. It’s apparently much more fatty then a normal cut of beef. I also felt it was much more tender, almost like stew beef. The cavemen loved to eat it back in the Paleolithic era according to Wikipedia. Not that they had that many good ideas back then, but they did manage to figure out fire. So if you feel up to it, release your inner caveman and eat some beef tongue cause its really quite delicious.

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Filed under Allston, Guatemalan, Mexican, Organs, Peruvian, Salvadorean, Somerville, Tongue

Boston Gastronauts Interviewd in Blast Magazine

Read it here!

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Jellyfish, Squab, Bitter Melon, and Duck Feet in Chinatown

Illustration and photos by Andrew Abbott, unless otherwise noted.

The Restaurant

The Best Little Restaurant
13A Hudson St
Boston, MA 02111
Yelp

A pretty good restaurant in Chinatown with an inexplicably cropped sign.

Andrew’s Take

Wow. So this week was interesting. For one the food itself overwhelmed the atmosphere. I actually think I went into this week’s meeting a little nervous. Our meal included duck feet with jellyfish (served cold), pigeon (with the head), and frog legs again but this time served with bitter melon! We also got whole fried shrimp, which were delicious, but for me they were more like eating a soft shelled crab. Which I’m totally cool with. Something about eating an animal in its entirety is really exciting to me. Going into this taste and texture adventure I was psyched. Then seeing that the feet/fish dish was going to be cold I got cold feet myself. Not that I didn’t dive right in anyways.

Usually eating something entirely new to me goes something like this: I try it and the more I eat of it the more I realize I’m liking it. This weeks meal tended to head in the other direction for me. The more I ate the less appealing it became. After the first bite of both the jellyfish and duck feet I was thinking: “Wow! How come I haven’t tried these before??”. They were seasoned with some red pepper and something else that gave them a nice subtle spicy taste. The jellyfish as best I can describe it has the consistency of jello that’s been left out over night. You know when it gets the skin on it and it’s a little tough to chew. Then on top of that imagine a uniquely fish flavored jello. It tastes like where it came from. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It also didn’t occur to me until someone asked, but if you’re wondering if the jellyfish still stings you when you eat it the answer is no. Unless you believe in karma and you’ve recently been added to the naughty list then maybe you might get a slight tingle.

The duck feet on the other hand were like any poultry you’re used to. Most like duck especially if you’ve eaten it before. Like eating the skin off chicken except the crackling doesn’t come from the crispy skin, but from the connective tissues. It’s all good to eat but I could definitely see it not being up everyone’s alley. Again with this part of the meal after four or five feet the texture and the inner crunchiness was getting to me so I moved onto the next part of the meal. At first I was quick to jump to the conclusion that I didn’t like the jellyfish and duck feet, but now that I’ve had time to reflect I’d be willing to try them again prepared differently, possibly deep-fried.

Next up was the pigeon. A little scary to think about when you think it might have been trapped right outside the front door. I didn’t even notice they had included the head in the dish, a la the scene from “A Christmas Story“, until further inspection. The meat was surprisingly dark like a grayish color that might turn some people off, but I grabbed a tiny drumstick and dug in. The bird was fried so the meat was a bit greasy but no too much so. It was also a bit sweet and extremely tender with a nice crispy skin. I was much more into this than the previous options. Speaking of options when you order the bird they give you the option of having one or two brought to your table. What I learned from this experience is go for two. Theres not a lot of meat on a pigeon to begin with, but also theres like ten billion of em in the city so who’s gonna miss one more?

Lastly we ordered the frogs legs again. We were really only in it this time to also get the bitter melon. OOPS! I mean the first bite of this ugly vegetable was alright. It reminds you of a lot of different things until the unpleasant after taste kicks in. Like green pepper or asparagus but kind of mushy. Maybe it was how they cooked it but I have a feeling no matter how you cook bitter melon its going to have a consistency problem. Then upon the second and third attempt to place this odd similarity the bitterness hit me full on and left me with what reminded me a lot of the taste you have in your mouth post puking. I may or may not apologize for the bluntness but honestly instantly these tastes connected in my head. I gave this veggie the benefit of the doubt (because that’s the kinda guy I am) and tried it three or four times, but it just wasnt working out. Nobody else seemed to have the same problems with the bitter melon as I did, but maybe they were just better at holding it back. Luckily for me the flavor of it doesn’t cling to the frogs legs accompanying them in this dish so they were just as enjoyable as the last time we had them in Dorchester.

At the end of the meal they gave us complementary sweet red bean soup which was really good. Which sadly, for me, was probably the most solid part of the meal. I can honestly say I wouldn’t go out of my way to that restaurant to order any of these dishes again. Nothing really got me in any good way, and I kept finding myself seeing food being taken to other tables and wishing we had ordered differently throughout the meal. I don’t regret trying anything because I learned a thing or two and I’m always up for expanding my list gastronomical experiences. I also feel that it’s still pretty early on this journey we’re undertaking and I’m sure there’s going to be much more “interesting” food to find its way into my gut.

On a lighter note after dinner we headed back towards the T to find our respective ways home and wound up wandering into one of the many Chinese bakeries in Chinatown. I can’t recall the name of the one we stopped in particular but there are plenty of them in the area with tasty and affordable pastries both savory and sweet. What may sound like a strange combination may quite possibly be one of the best things you’ve ever eaten. You’ll never know until you try it. I myself tried a sweet melon cake upon the recommendation of a fellow gastronaut and was pleasantly surprised to encounter a new unique flavor hidden between the sweet flaky crust. The filling was both smoky and sweet with a ricy/ pasty texture. I enjoyed it a lot and would consider that the highlight of the night (possibly only second when one of the waiters inexplicably burst out into a rendition of some Lady Ga Ga song in the kitchen). I definitely urge anyone in the Boston area to check out Chinatown if you’ve never had the chance. You never know what you’ll find there and there’s always interesting people, places, and especially food!

Ché’s Take

The pigeon and che child is a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike Licensed product. Please find the license here. The original can be found here.

We’re not supposed to eat pigeons. We are supposed to eat chickens. This is something we all know. If we had to point out why, we couldn’t really say. The main difference seems to be that pigeons live in cities, and chickens live in poultry factories.

For centuries, people have eaten and revered pigeons. Dovecoats, which housed free range pigeons in the Middle Ages, allowed people to eat fresh pigeon throughout the year, and can still be seen dotting the European countryside. One of the positive aspects of the New World for settlers was how easily a person could hunt pigeons, as attested by the frequent mention of pigeons in the lists of edible game found in A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America by James Williams. This became a sad fact for the native passenger pigeon, a species that became extinct both because of over hunting and a loss of habitat.

Unlike the passenger pigeon, the normal rock dove flourished with the sprouting of cities. In the wild, these birds make their nests on cliff faces, and a handy roof ledge works just as well. Hundreds of roof ledges and a ready supply of leftover hot dog buns are all you really need for a healthy population.

A healthy population that just might be good enough to eat. However, the social stigma attached to pigeons does not allow this. Livestock keeping in urban areas. A review of traditional technologies based on literature and field experiences, a manual on urban livestock written by Hans Schiere and Rein Van Der Hoek, marvels, “Surprisingly, in spite of being easy to raise and cheap to produce, this species is very rarely considered in urban food security programs.” True, true, but as soon as people start calling an animal a “rat with wings,” they begin to lose their reputation as a food source.

They do also s#*$ in their nests, but then again, as Eric Schlosser reminds us in Fast Food Nation, there is “far more fecal bacteria in the average American sink than on the average American toilet seat,” because of unsanitary meat production. Pigeons do not carry avian flu or West Nile Virus, and have been kept as pets and eaten for centuries despite some unsanitary habits. In fact, their lack of parasites makes them one of the few birds that can be safely cooked rare. Given the actual state of their salmonella laden brethren, pigeons deserve a makeover.

Free range chicken has already received such a makeover, and weekend-green activists keep them in their backyard both for their eggs and later their meat. The eggs part makes perfect sense. The meat part, maybe not so much. For years, as related Andrew D. Blechman’s book Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird, pigeon production competed with chicken production in the United States, with individuals trying to get rich quick using their own personal dovecoats. It wasn’t until the advent of industrialized farming that chickens, birds once thought to be “difficult to raise, prone to predators, and utilized mainly for their eggs,” (Blechman) became America’s primary poultry. When people raise chickens, they have internalized the marketing of industrial farming, trying only to recreate its conditions on a small scale. Eating pigeons, a bird that feeds itself and finds its way home, would make more sense. It would mean that people, especially working people, could raise their own food with little investment. That is the point at which the green revolution moves from an middle-class diversion to an actual revolution.

P.S. Pigeons also taste much better than lame, flavorless chicken.

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Filed under Chinatown, Poultry, Seafood, Uncategorized, Vegetable