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Archive for August, 2009

Aaruul, Mongolian cheese

Aaruul, Mongolian cheese

Mongolia has been on my short list of countries to visit for a while, sandwiched tantalizingly as it is between the radically different cultures of Russia and China. Tonight I found a new reason why I have got to go: apparently dairy products–delicious, delicious dairy products–are a key component of the Mongolian diet, and a vital part of the country’s culture and traditions.

Conversely, the general absence of all things lactic from the Asian diet probably explains my lack of urgency about a visit to China or Southeast Asia. Not that I’m not suitably chastened by the observation–an excellent reason to write off a country, I know–but being excited to sample local foodstuffs, or at least theoretically on board with ingredients, can be a fun as well as sensible consideration when deciding where to travel.

Still: Yurts + ponies + cheese. Beguiling as hell.

Which raises the question: why haven’t I heard of people making cheese from horse milk? Someone’s got to be doing it. I see some evidence that horse milk cheese might be tangy and/or sour, but people enjoy all kinds of flavors and aromas from cheese, so that’s not a satisfying explanation for why it’s a virtual unknown.

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I understand that some people don’t wIMG_1305ake up hungry, and think it’s weird to, but I really enjoy rolling out of bed with such an achievable, practical want, and find no cuisine as worth desiring in the morning as Mexican.

During my recent visit home to the Bay Area, I ate Mexican food for breakfast every day. Tragically–and tangentially–the only favorite food for which I didn’t have time was the Round Table green pepper pizza I usually carry onto the plane for the flight back to New York.

Tlaquepaque, in San Jose (there are 3 locations now), will have my heart forever for reasons including but not limited to their spicy but not deathly hot salsa and thick-cut, warm, fittingly greasy chips. I did however manage to try out another place on El Camino Real called Taqueria El Grullense (of which there are dozens in the area, though I don’t think it’s a chain). The standout there was huevos rancheros, for its tantalizing and unique sauce that hovered somewhere near the intersection of salsa fresca, buttery vegetable sautee, and enchilada sauce. I wasn’t able to get to it before my sister started, and I finished, the dish, so pictured are only our leavings.

Suburbia gets knocked around a fair bit in general conversation, but I find the possibility of pulling into a scalded-looking strip mall and eating at a great Mexican place, or even a great sushi spot, to be thrilling. Some much-lauded restaurants and sandwich counters in New York seem to receive extra marks for being unassuming in appearance, but it’s New York, how surprised can a person reasonablly claim to be by encountering a great restaurant? To not overlook a depressing strip mall takes a larger leap of faith, I’d say, and there are plenty in the Bay Area for the finding if you aren’t road-blinded by the admittedly steady stream of Taco Bells and Burger Kings.IMG_1293

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IMG_1369While back in the Bay Area for a friend’s wedding, my sister and I were giving my other friend the world’s fastest, and probably shoddiest, tour of San Francisco. The lion’s share of it involved driving around Dolores Park (no parking spots…) and stopping for a beer at a nearby bar in the Castro.

Our beers were served on the rainbow-bedecked Bud Light beer mats you see here, which elicited an immediate internal WTF. A swathe o’ rainbow jauntily sweeping around the stick-straight man-hips of a bottle of Bud Light? “Be Yourself?” Seriously? Budweiser has historically marketed itself as the everyman’s beer, if not the rough and tumble working man’s beer, so I was surprised and somewhat amused to see them courting the gay bargoer so unabashedly, as if a critical mass of patrons’ entire previous collection of Bud associations might be blown away and scattered like dandelion fluff in the face of such a dazzle of LGBT identity-affirmation.

Spreading your branding messages a little thin, Bud Light. Just be yourself. Budweiser tastes better than PBR, anyway (at least in a can-to-can comparison).

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