Monthly Archives: May 2010

Boston Gastronauts Video Blog Ep 1!

Hey everybody here’s the first episode of the highly anticipated Boston Gastronaut Video Blogs. In this episode Che and Andrew devour some delicious pickled sausages! Check It out, and enjoy!

Starring: C. Che Salazar & Andrew Abbott

Camera work by: Katrina Thorne

Animation, After Effects, & Editing by: Andrew Abbott

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Goat, Cow Feet, and Ox Tail in Mattapan

Illustration by Andrew Abbott.  All other pictures by Katrina Thorne unless otherwise noted.

The Restaurant

663 Morton St
Mattapan, MA 02126
(617) 296-4972
Yelp

Although you can’t really sit down, the food was great, as were the portions.  Service is quick and easy.

Andrew’s Take

This week looked like a challenge. Genitals! Many jokes were made so there’s not much more to be said before we bit off more than we could chew… Luckily (*phew*) our info was a little off and there were no genitals to be found at the restaurant we ventured to this week. Flames is this neat little deli style Jamaican restaurant out in Mattapan that has plenty of unique options for the adventurous eater along with other tasty options for the less daring. Their prices are good and their helpings are overly generous. As Katrina and I waited for Che and Christina to meet us we saw plenty of people filing in and out of the joint. To be fair it was probably just getting into the dinner rush, but I feel like from what we saw they also do a decent amount of business.

This week we got curried goat, ox tail, and cow feet! The challenge this week was eating around all the bones included in our meal. Each meat had it’s share of bone left in, which provided for a bone sucking good time for Che and me. All were delicious and interesting in their own ways. The goat was the highlight of the meal for me so we’ll start there. The goat itself was slightly green in color, I’m assuming from the curry, but I’m always excited to see unusual colors in food either way. Each meat we got was served with huge servings of beans and rice and cabbage. The goat went really well with both of these sides. The curry wasn’t especially spicy but gave the goat a nice subtle flavor that for the not so goat inclined would distract you from knowing you’re eating goat. The meat was tender and familiar though I’d never had goat before. I realized it was, for me, a lot like lamb but almost more like turkey or chicken which has light and dark meat. Lamb is the white meat and goat is the dark meat. The goat bones were the most troublesome in that they were also dyed the same curry color and were cut in similar sizes to the cuts of goat meat so be sure to fork through all your goat meat before popping any in your mouth.

Next up was the ox tail, which was really fun. We got some tail and spine in our order so it was kind of a new experience encountering a vertebra with your mouth. They aren’t exactly the easiest bones to eat around, but it was worth it cause the meat was incredible. Just like any other unusual beef we’ve run into before on here it was much more tender and tasty then you’d expect it to be. The sauce it was cooked in was tomato based but a bit sweet which complemented the meat really well, and also went well int the cabbage and rice. Che and I discovered with the tail and vertebra that the marrow was very accessible. Marrow is another one of those things on our list of interesting foods we’re looking for, but I feel we can find better examples of marrow prepared to eat. One vertebra I found in particular created an incredibly unique sound when I tried to suck out the marrow. If only I could’ve kept it!

Finally the cow feet. I liked them. They would definitely present a consistency issue for some. It’s a lot like a meaty jello made in a hoof shaped mold. It’s very fatty and gelatinous in texture, but it’s much firmer. It giggles all over they place when your trying to eat it and then there also the bones. Big round bones that make you realize your sucking meat off the “knuckles and toes” of the cow. While that might not float some people’s boats I was diggin’ it. It has the unique texture accompanied by a unique taste. While it’s not quite beefy it’s more of an anonymous meat like taste. It’s like you know it’s from a cow just by looking at it so possibly your brain plugs in hint of beefy flavor but you don’t really believe it’s there. Basically the foot meat looks like what you trim from a fatty steak. So if you’re the kinda person who eats the whole steak you’d probably be fine with cow feet. I’m not saying I’d go out of my way for cow’s feet but it was a new and interesting thing for me.

Ché’s Take: Goats are Not Your Typical American Food, but That Depends on Your Definition of Typical

“Severed goat head hung from Harry Caray statue at Wrigley Field” originally by Flickr user guano.  It uses the Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License. “Amaa Hugging Goat” by Flick user *saipal.  It uses the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Like my grandfather, my grandmother grew up poor, but they always had enough food. Much of the Mexican cooking tradition in my household came directly from her family, the Robles. They were migrant workers, and so they knew how to farm.  One summer, my dad grew to think of one of their goats as a pet.. Later in the year, he was at a barbecue and his grandfather came up to him and asked him if he liked what he was eating. He said “Yeah. It’s good grandpa.”

His abuelo continued, “Do you really like it?”

My dad nodded.

“Sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Well you should. It’s your goat.”

My dad cried, as anybody might, but let’s take a look at this story again and see what it means on a broader scale. People used to be close to the animals they ate. My grandparents were about to become the only Mexicans in a suburban Denver neighborhood, so the story represents the very cusp between being close to the food you ate, from birth to death, and having no idea from where it came. The other important fact, and the focus for this post, is the blank where goat should be in America’s culinary history. The death of a goat was part of my family’s oral tradition. Why isn’t it part of the greater history of American cooking?

American colonial food histories do mention goat, but only in regards to the Carribean. A book mentioned frequently in my posts, A Revolution in Eating by James E. McWilliams, talks about goat as part of the independent subsistence farming culture of the Carribean’s enslaved people. After emancipation, goat continued to be a part of the diet. Of course, Carribean immigrants, like all immigrants in American history, brought their cooking traditions with them, making their food part of the American experience.

And so the Gastronauts could drive about a mile into Mattapan to get goat. (There are a couple of places much closer, but we wanted to try Flames, mainly because we thought we could get Cow Cod soup.  Andrew mentions this at the beginning of his post.) Yet goat products are rarely mentioned in American food histories, except as a cheese. Hasia Diner does mention Italian urban goat farming in his book Hungering for America, but does not talk of eating the meat. Instead, he mentions later how immigrant families shared “homemade goat cheese.” Harvey Levenstein’s book The Paradox of Plenty also makes several references to goat cheese. Histories of American meat, such as Putting Meat on the American Table, and Tied to the Great Packing Machine, make no mention of goat meat (or chevon, if you’re a pretentious a%&-hole) whatsoever.

Goats, like pigeons, are not easy industrialize, but are easy for individuals, like this woman in Oakland, to keep. In fact, Tom Standage reports in An Edible History of Humanity that they possibly were the first animals domesticated as a food source in the West. The reason that they are not industrialized as a meat probably is they are both small, and bony, unlike cows, which are large and fat. Milk is an entirely different issue. All you have to do is strap some pumps to udders, and you can be making goat cheese. It should be noted also that goat cheese is fancy cheese, and so consumed by the rich. It’s a cliché to say that history is written by the winners, but that doesn’t mean the sayings not true.

Goat meat wasn’t fancy until recently. Henry Alford, a recent convert to the stuff, writes how throughout New York fancy restaurants have started to put goat on their menus. In a rare show of self-reflexiveness, he also reports that a frustrated reader of a magazine posted on its website “Here are white people again!!!! Acting like they invented goat meat.” A recent news story in the San Francisco Chronicle by Janet Fletcher reports that “this flavor-packed red meat, long a staple in Bay Area Latino and South Asian markets, may finally be broadening its reach.” What does broadening its reach exactly mean? Let’s take a look at the actual demographics of the Bay Area. According to the 2006-2008 American Community Survey, 57% of the Bay Area is white. Considering that the Survey does not separate out people of “Latino or Hispanic Origin” the number of people that are not both counted as white but not as Latino is 45.6%. Goat is eaten as a major part of cuisines throughout the rest of the world. In fact the Alford article calls it the “most widely consumed meat in the world. If we take that into account, and that there are white Americans who eat goat either as part of their own culinary tradition or just because they like it, then goat is as mainstream as anything else in the Bay Area, or the rest of the United States for that matter.

The reason that newspapers can write about it as a novelty is because it is not middle-class American, and historically, has not been marketable as an industrialized meat. But, as much as the state of Arizona would deny it, the immigrant traditions and peoples are not just invading the United States. They’re already here, and have always been here. Goat is as American as apple pie, perhaps even more so. Where apple pie has a clear, almost unchanged link to the British and European past, and so only one part of the American landscape, goat in the United States, whether it is Jamaican curried goat or grilled Mexican goat, arises out of the complex interactions of various cultures, a phenomenon unique to this continent.

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Hot Pot in Chinatown

All images by Andrew Abbott unless otherwise noted.

The Restaurant

Hot Pot Buffet
70 Beach Street
Boston, MA 02111-2104
(617) 338-0808
Chowhound

Andrew’s Take

So this week we didn’t really settle on what we were doing until right after a lengthy phone conversation at around eight that morning. Che mentioned this place he had been to a few days earlier and had noticed a few interesting things on the menu. It sounded good so I was game. For those not in the know this past Saturday was Free Comic Book Day and I was thusly engaged with hunting down all the free comic book related swag all over town, so I met up with Che later for a late lunch/ early dinner type situation. Going back to our last Chinatown gastroventure walking through the area is always a treat cause you never know what you might see or run into. This day in particular Che and I would notice a heavy bike cop presence on the streets in China Town. Which would later come into play at the very restaurant we ate at this week.

Hot Pot Buffett, previously known as the Imperial Seafood Restaurant, is in my opinion a hidden gem of China Town. With it’s unique blend of old school and modern presentation, you might not know what your getting yourself into. I myself had never tried the whole hot pot thing so I had no idea what was going down when we got seated in front of our own little hot plates. Che kinda gave me a walk through before one of the waitresses came and asked for our soup orders and dropped off a menu. There were like five or six different soups to choose from for your base. It seemed that they were all based on the same original broth with flavor tweaks to suit your taste, but it’s really the ingredients you order that make the soup.

If you’re familiar with a sushi menu where you check off which pieces and how much you want it’s remarkable similar to that, but in a way even simpler. Being a buffet you can check off however much of anything you want and they just bring it to you. The only thing that costs extra is the lobster, but hey, that’s to be expected right? Seeing that this was previously the Imperial SEAFOOD Restaurant you know the seafood is good so we ordered what we could of that off the menu and man was it good. Fresh octopus and cuttlefish were highlights for me but the best had to be the clams. We both got one and they were about the size of my fist. Before I get into the food though let me tell you how this goes down.

The waitress brings out a pot of whatever broth base you ordered and puts it on the hot plate to boil. You wait till it looks good and hot and drop your raw food right in and in a matter of minutes or seconds even your food is cooked in the boiling soup and ready to eat. The experience is a really similar mix of Fire/ Ice if you’re familiar with that restaurant or a classic Hibachi/ Teppanyaki style restaurant like Benihana just applied to soup. The whole doing it yourself aspect is really neat to me too. I mean sure they bring you everything you’re throwing in the pot but your doing the cooking so yeah. When else could you call your parents and tell them you made cuttle fish and quail egg soup?

The last time Che was here he recalled seeing pork blood on the menu. Unfortunately this time they weren’t offering that item, but we managed to make it interesting anyway. Among the choice items we ordered were cuttlefish balls, quail eggs, pig skin, beef tongue and beef tripe, winter melon, and copious amounts of mushrooms. Including black mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, king trumpet mushrooms, and button mushrooms. I want to know who gets to name mushrooms and how do they get this job because I want it! Don’t get me wrong though we didn’t just order the unusual stuff we also got some other might tasty options including whole shrimp and lean cut lamb. The options presented to you here are incredible and that’s why I included a copy of the menu just so you know.

A few highlights of this meal like I said before was the seafood. The clams were incredible and I want to get back there and try the mussels because I didn’t notice them on the menu before looking at it just now. The cuttlefish balls were also pretty darn tasty. Like a mix of octopus and squid but much sweeter and less chewy. Winter melon was a unique surprise for me. It was much like a squash with the consistency and firmness of a potato with both a bitter and sweet taste to it. A couple things I’m on the fence about were the tripe and quail eggs. The tripe we had at Machu Picchu weeks previous was delicious and I could see myself eating it again. What I ate here, even when cooked in the delicious soup, was still too bland and chewy to be interesting and proved to be a far more formidable texture challenge presented this way. It was a lot like devouring a mouth full of rubber bands, but it didn’t put me off the meal in any way so its not a big deal. I know Che had trouble with the quail eggs. I dunno I kinda was indifferent towards them. What confused me was that they were given to you already hard boiled. When you put them in the soup they just seemed to rupture or the yolk got all goopy so when you ate them you got a hot squirt in the mouth. (HAHA!) All kidding aside I was mostly just confused by them.

One theory I had was that they were possibly just meant to be a flavor element to the broth. When you receive your soup there’s already a whole lot of stuff floating in it. Some of which you can eat and others you probably want to avoid, but all contributing to the overall flavor and taste of the soup you ordered. I was thinking when the eggs rupture from the boiling soup maybe the yolk adds something to it, but I couldn’t be sure. I’m not a professional soup taster (yet…). The quail eggs themselves are a lot like tiny hard boiled eggs. Though when the yolk gets all goopy after being in the soup for too long the yolk tastes a lot like the yellow “mustard” you get out of crabs when your eating them. The overall flavor of the eggs was much gamier then the usual chicken egg also which is surprising for how tiny they are.

Over all it was a great new experience. Everyone who worked there was extremely friendly and courteous. The atmosphere like I mentioned previously is very modern and comfortable. Che and I managed to chill there for a little over two hours just sipping on soup and chatting about which one of us was the messier eater. They weren’t that busy but I’d like to think they have their busy days because it is a really nice sized restaurant. It’s really open with plenty of seating and good light coming in. For $14.95 you get all you can eat sans the lobster but thats still a decent price including all that other seafood which is also incredibly tasty considering at other restaurants they usually charge extra for any seafood. I had a great meal and would encourage anyone to give Hot Pot Buffet a try next time they’re down in China Town.

Ché’s Take

Part 1: So Fresh and So Clean

On our most recent excursion, something happened that usually doesn’t anymore; the host sat down for a second and talked to us. The host had a brother, who owned a hot pot restaurant in China a lot like this one, and he told us that the reason people like this way of dining was that it was healthy. Imagine that, a way of dining that appeals not for its indulgences but for its good qualities. What would it take for this to really take hold in the United States?

Go back and take a look at the beef and lamb in Andrew’s picture. How does that compare to a steak at an American restaurant? Let’s take a look:

First Steak in 15 Years” originally by Erika Hall.  It uses the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

This steak has one thing going for it, its size. It’s a big slab of meat. For Americans, over-consumption has become a way of life, from the way we eat to the way we solve national tragedies. This was not always the case, but when Jimmy Carter encouraged Americans to spend less, and was booted, instead, for a president that only encouraged self-interest, it meant America had moved from an old Roosevelt idea of democracy and economy to something quite different. Instead of slowly destroying the rich, and getting rid of material wants, the rich now would run things as they saw fit. Luckily for Reagan, enough people believed that they were among the rich to make this possible.

Now, in the greatest recession since the Great Depression, and with unemployment benefits giving out, this whole ideal falls apart. With it must come a return to frugality. Does hot pot actually represent this? No. We still went to an all you can eat buffet, just with a different method. But like SPAM, it could be marker of a new change. What hot pot does encourage is community and responsibility. People do end up cooking together. Instead of celebrating consumption for its own sake, it encourages the healthier aspects of eating. This is what the new landscape will have to look like, at least in transition. Welcome to the new food order, but be careful. It’s hot!

Part 2: It Had to Happen

Something happened on this most recent trip that hasn’t happened before. I didn’t like something. As Andrew mentions in his take, the quail eggs did not go down easy. For me, it was like biting into a rubber ball filled with lamb juice. It wasn’t good.

I don’t know how to feel about this. When I had that durian shake on our very first trip, it became easier with each sip. By the end, I kind of liked it. This did not happen with the quail eggs. Each one was just a return trip to awful town.

Of all the foods that we’ve eaten so far, I’d have doubted that an egg would be the thing that really turns my stomach. It doesn’t really matter how open to different foods I am. There will be some things that I just don’t like. In spite of a couple of tough mouthfuls, that’s part of what makes the Gastronauts great. The excitement comes not only from liking foods that I haven’t tried before, but the knowledge that I will despise some of the foods that we come across. It’s all part of the fun.

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SPAM Buffet in Brighton (Andrew’s Apartment)

Illustration by Andrew Abbott.  Photographs by Katrina Thorne, unless otherwise noted.

Andrew and Katrina’s Take

SPAM SPAM SPAM! What can I say about this myth of the ages that hasn’t already been said? The can itself boasts that it is in fact “Crazy Tasty!”. What other super processed mystery meat can say that? I hadn’t ingested any SPAM in quite some time. This was another one of those things my dad introduced me to when my mom wasn’t paying attention and I was too small to know any better. Don’t get me wrong SPAM didn’t have any lasting impression on me. I didn’t remember the taste or smell that well. Or even the fact that you have to squeeze it out of the can. I don’t usually go out of my way to devour this pink spongy brick. Except in this case I did.

The gross meaty smelling KY jelly like substance that accompanies the SPAM on its rebirthing into the un-canned world was also a little much, but I was determined to follow this gastroventure through to the finish. We had planned on a feast of epic proportions. Just doing SPAMwiches or SPAMburgers wasn’t going to cut it. We had three bricks to utilize. We searched the internet to find the most appealing recipes and wound up making classic SPAMburgers, SPAM dip, and Hawaiian SPAM skewers. Unintentionally we also wound up with deep fried SPAM. Mike recently acquired a deep fryer for his birthday, so this was almost necessary.

You, the reader, must be thinking at this point “Are you mad!? That much SPAM would kill any normal man!”. Well luckily for my fellow Gastronauts and I, we are no mere men. In fact there was a fine lady amongst our company that night! We spaced the SPAM out over the evening as to avoid any SPAM overloads. We started with the SPAM dip accompanied by the Ritz crackers. The dip was mostly comprised of the SPAM meat mixed with sour cream, horse radish, and dill relish. It was good. Better then any of us thought it was going to be considering some of the other recipes we looked at included ingredients to help with the taste of the SPAM. The dip was fine although quite salty. Just think of it as some sort of fancy ham/fish hybrids caviar if it helps you sleep at night. Good stuff!

Next up was the unexpected deep fried SPAM. Mike’s deep fryer had been sitting around since our last frying adventure when we tried fried nutty bars with funnel cake batter. OOPS. They were good. Although we forgot to freeze the bars so a lot of the chocolate melted off into the oil. So after a quick rinse and an oil change (what am I talking about a car here?) we got it ready to fry some SPAM. We might’ve also snuck a pickle or two in there for good measure. We looked up a quick and simple batter recipe online and got to it. The SPAM fried up pretty quickly and held the batter well. It was a lot like crispy sliced hotdog. Really greasy and fatty but not too terribly gross. Not nearly as gross as you’d imagine it to be.

Now that we’ve got the appetizers out of the way onto the main course. We still had two cans left so we decided to make some extra skewers. The skewers we made included SPAM marinated in barbeque sauce alternated between chunks of pineapple. The question was raised if SPAM could even be marinated. No one was sure but we assumed it was a safe bet and went ahead anyways. The BBQ sauce stuck to the spam well and it tasted pretty good too. One good thing to know is anything you add to SPAM can only improve the flavor. We tossed those on the good old George Foreman and got the SPAM burgers ready. We just sliced the SPAM and threw it in a pan on the stove top. It cooks up fast and then your burgers are good to go. Classic SPAMburgers are general garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheese with optional mustard or mayo. We all got our burgers ready and by then the skewers were all done.

No wonder SPAM was such a hit in Hawaii. It goes so well with the pineapple just like real ham! You might even be able to fool some people into thinking it is real ham. That’s how close it is. If you prepare it just right and don’t let any of the can impressions show you just might be able to pull it off. Not that I’m advocating tricking your dinner guests, but you know it would be funny. I’d even go so far as to say that SPAM get’s a bad rap. It had been so long since I’d eaten it that all the stuff I was reading and hearing about how gross it was really started to get me a little worried. But it’s all bull hockey! While I can accept the fact that it’s just too gross for some people I’d definitely recommend anyone to give it a try at least once. Especially if you like to cook. I like to think of SPAM itself as a lot like the Playdough of the food world. (Although I guess non-toxic Playdough could technically be like the Playdough of the food world. Kids love that stuff!) but really you can do a lot with SPAM when cooking with it since it’s extremely versatile and susceptible to seasonings, spices, and sauces.

Ché’s Take: SPAM Is What it Is


“Soldiers Eating” from the Library of Congress Digital image collection and is in the Public Domain.

Last week I discovered I liked SPAM. Especially SPAM dip. Some friends might make fun of me for that. It doesn’t embarrass me, though. My grandfather also loved SPAM. His early childhood was like a much more impoverished version of Bless Me, Ultima, and his relationship with food did not really start until he was drafted to fight in WWII. From his life before his service, he only had two stories about eating. One was gathering pine nuts from the deserts of New Mexico with his brothers. The other was, when he had not eaten a full meal in days, going to the hills above the rez to smell dinner being cooked there.

The first foods that my grandfather could eat as much as he wanted of were SPAM and the other wartime foods, and so, for me, SPAM has always represented the promise of American plenty, the reality of American want, and space between the two. Like Victory Gardens, which I talked about last week, SPAM originated in the scarcity of the Depression and WWII. Hormel Foods helped the war effort like many other companies, and went to work packing meat for soldiers. SPAM was, for a moment, like the rest of American industry, fighting for something beyond simple profits. As Americans learned to grow food to feed themselves, companies learned to feed something beyond themselves.

SPAM and victory gardens are actually not that different. SPAM got its start as a way to use leftover pork-shoulder. SPAM also does not need to be refrigerated and its packaging is completely recyclable, making it the “greenest” processed food that has ever existed. The flip side of this is that it’s terrible for you. Full of saturated fat and sodium, with almost no vitamins, the best thing you can say about it is that it’s a source of protein. That’s like telling somebody they look alive when they ask if they look healthy.

But from another perspective, that’s one of the other great things about SPAM. Nobody questions for a moment that it’s bad for you. It existed before the revolution in artificial flavors and mass marketing.  It only has five ingredients; pork, ham, salt, water, sodium nitrite, and potato starch. It is what it is, which, like most processed foods, is kind of delicious and kind of disgusting. SPAM has almost no commercials or print advertisements.  Nobody eats SPAM and tries to justify it. When you make the choice to eat SPAM, you do it in an honest, unadulterated, and un-coerced way. If that doesn’t make it a force of good in the world, it at least means it represents a larval stage of processed food, before it became the monster it is today.

Note:  Most of the information on SPAM I had read before, but I brushed up on it from the TLC Web Post on the history of SPAM. I should have read this book by Carolyn Wyman before I started writing, but I didn’t have the chance.  Sorry folks.

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