Travel

Taste of Alabama: New Market BBQ

photo 2Just your typical lunch at yet another fabulous BBQ joint in north Alabama. This one, at New Market Bar-B-Q in New Market.

A Taste of Alabama, BBQ Edition

FINALLY! Where have I been??? Sorry folks, my busy work schedule has kept me away from routine Paestry-posting. It’s high time I update this baby.

I’ve been living in Huntsville, Alabama for about eight months now. This has been enough time for me to do some food exploring in the area and report my findings. What else could I possibly discuss for my debut Alabama post than — you guessed it! — good ol’ southern BBQ.

Let me begin by saying the BBQ here is fantastic. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever had back home, of course. Phil’s BBQ remains dear to my heart but the pulled pork and ribs here have won me over.

Everyone has a go-to BBQ place. The “best” one varies, depending on who you talk to. I’ve tried countless places by now and noticed each restaurant has a unique way of preparing BBQ. You’ll be sure to see pulled pork plates, pork ribs, chicken, and brisket on the menu but they’re different at every place. Particularly, the very important BBQ sauce makes or breaks the dish. So without further ado, here are a few examples of what I’ve tried:

Dreamland BBQ
This place originates from the Tuscaloosa area. I like Dreamland because of the delicious sauce on the ribs. It’s vinegar-based, peppery and more runny. The mac and cheese is so amazingly bomb and those baked beans you see there — atomic bomb. No picture, but they also have an unforgettable banana cream pudding made from scratch.

Big Bob Gibson, Decatur
This place has appeared in food shows so it has gained its share of hype. I went there with my brother months ago and it was very good. The sauce is thicker and sweeter. But the real winner is the stuffed barbecue potato loaded with cheese, sour cream, and pulled pork. BAM-ah!

This place is famous for its white BBQ sauce. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of it but it’s a nice sauce that reminds me of thin ranch dressing. This description could be argued among white sauce aficionados.

Gibson’s BBQ, Huntsville
Another place with a similar name in Huntsville. I liked their ribs very much. The sauce is sweeter but I remember the pork was very tender and perfect. The deep-fried okra is also good. Crispy on the outside, pleasantly slimy inside (not pictured, sorry).


This is actually where I discovered a very particular style of coleslaw. I’m used to eating slaw with creamy dressing but here, nearly every BBQ joint serves it in a vinegar-based dressing. The cabbage is chopped more finely and tossed with vinegar and something else that makes it a little sweet. Tangy, if you will. I had a hard time truly enjoying it but the more I have it, the more I like it.

Gibson’s is also known for good pie. Here we have coconut pie. Great with a cup of black coffee.

On a final note, almost everywhere you go there is sweet tea. It’s just sweetened iced tea but for whatever reason, it is so damn refreshing here. I like it with a lemon wedge to cut some of the sweetness.

Just tonight, I went to a really good place in Madison called Greenbrier. Wonderful pulled pork but what wowed me was the most mellow baked sweet potato I’ve ever had. It came whole with the skin still on. Served with brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter for a DIY mash. Just simply good. I wish I took a picture! Next time…

Stay tuned for more updates on a Taste of Alabama.

San Diego Brewery Tour

If you enjoy beer, there is a great service that lets you take advantage of visiting a number of San Diego’s breweries without having to sacrifice someone as the designated driver. The Brewery Tours of San Diego is one such service that shuttles groups to and from various beer makers in San Diego county for a day of fantastic ale imbibing, the most popular destination being Stone Brewery Co. in Escondido. My favorite was the Lost Abbey brewery in San Marcos, but maybe that’s because it was the first one we went to. It is housed in what looks like a boring, dry office complex, making it bizarrely more appealing as it does not look like beer is brewed and stored there at all. Kind of like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, my friend mentioned when we pulled into the parking lot.

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The Lost Abbey specializes in beers made in the way of Belgian monks. The owners of the Lost Abbey are also involved in brewing the fine ales served at Pizza Port, San Diego north shore’s signature brewing company that has meshed with the Lost Abbey’s beers and branding. Beers varietals are extensive and beyond the fragrant Belgian types, from chocolatey stouts (I like) to hoppy ales (dislike) and nutty lagers (like).

Then we moved onward to Stone Brewing Co., which was also interesting, but it did not have the same occult beer warehouse culture that made the Lost Abbey so delightful. At Stone, we pretty much kicked back at the brewery’s outdoor patio bistro and had a few samplers:

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Then we ordered a few sausages to round it off. I believe this appetizer is called “Artisan Sausage Times 4.”

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The only thing I wished for was a chance to visit Stone’s actual brewing sites to learn about the process of making their ales, as they do for the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam or the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. Overall though, I was thoroughly surprised by San Diego’s microbreweries! I highly recommend going to one.

The Gourmet Ghetto at Berkeley

With this post I am christening my new food blog! It is really just a place for me to talk about food exclusively, since my personal blog often featured various topics on eating and travel eating. What you see below this post are my past food-related writings.

What better topic to discuss for this first post than my recent trip to Berkeley. During this short, impromptu trip up to the Bay area, my cousins and I decided to make sure we ate at all the good and popular spots. These include The Cheeseboard Pizza Collective, La Note, wine from a shop in a municipal building, and of course, your obligatory overpriced cupcake.

What I didn’t realize while discovering these places, is that these fine eateries are located along Shattuck Ave., in an enclave known as the “Gourmet Ghetto.” It is mostly popular for Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse and co-op specialty food stores.

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One place that immediately stuck out is the Cheeseboard Collective. In addition to selling really fresh breads (the slim baguette was astonishingly fresh, flaky and perfect), and an impressive choice of cheeses, the Cheeseboard sells fresh-baked pizzas promptly at 4:30 p.m. to waiting customers who claim the Cheeseboard is the king of pizza in California. The wonderful catch is, there is only one type of pizza to be had. If you don’t like spinach on your pizza or you can’t deal with goat cheese, then too bad. I think this is actually more appealing for it opens our minds to what pizza could be.

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An astounding list of choices. A cheese lover’s dream.

On the day we went, we stepped inside the cheese store to ask about the pizza. Realizing that we needed to wait until 4:30, (it was around 2:30 when we walked in), we decided to make do with a wedge of brie and one of the baguettes I mentioned earlier. With these in hand, we walked down Shattuck to side streets that suggested there would be other interesting stores. We were right! I saw a sign that says, “Love at First Bite.” We walked in the cupcake specialty store and indulged ourselves with two cupcakes, priced at $2.50 each. One was lemon blueberry, the other Pretty in Pink, code name for strawberry.

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I then asked a lady in a paper shop about any wine shops around. Surely, at a neighborhood where there is a cheese store and upscale cupcakes, there would be a place to buy wine. And there was! She directed us to a wine store just a few steps from where we were. As we approached what looks like an old fire station, we read the sign, East Bay Municipal Utility District. No way could this be a wine store! But we walked in and that was exactly what it was. It is called Vintage Berkeley. My cousin quickly picked up a Malbec ($7.50) and my other cousin picked up a Grenache blend for around $18. We walked out feeling great. We got wine, cheese and cupcakes!

The Malbec, by the way, was remarkably good for the price. That is a wonderful thing about wine shops — the owners choose the good wine for you and all you have to do is pick the style you like and get down on it. Another wine tip is to drink two of the same type (like two reds or two whites. NOT one white and one red) in order to appreciate their contrasting subtleties even more.

Two hours later, having finished both bottles and having devoured the bread and cheese and cupcakes, we decided to venture out and see about that pizza. But before we went back to the Cheeseboard, we made one more stop at the the wine store and bought three more bottles. We felt a little embarrassed because just an hour ago, we were there.

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Finally, we ambled our way back to the Cheeseboard. A line zigzagged out of the restaurant annex where they sell the pizza. A chalkboard sign indicated that day’s pizza flavor. It was a pizza with no name but with the following toppings, if my memory serves me right: Fresh white corn, peppers, cilantro, and red onions with a wedge of lime. Only now do I realize it had a Mexican twist. The pizza was very tasty. Not California’s best necessarily, but thoroughly delicious and exciting.

This post is turning out to be longer than I thought it was going to be. But as I started writing, I felt myself being very appreciative of that day, mostly because everything was so delightfully serendipitous. The surrounding north Berkeley neighborhood was as picturesque as it could be, with full foliaged trees, a fresh Bay breeze, people sitting in outdoor cafe tables and people whizzing by in bicycles. Just a simple walk along Shattuck allowed us to make these small and wonderful food discoveries. It proved to me that one does not have to be in Paris to be a flaneur.

The next day, my cousin made sure to take me to her go-to breakfast place whenever she is in Berkeley: La Note. It is also located on Shattuck but closer to the UC Berkeley campus. The waiting line was ghastly but it was worth it.

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The coffee is good, the outdoor patio seating charming, and the menu convincingly French. I ordered Les Oeufs Lucas, or eggs softly scrambled with goat cheese and chives. I think all there is to good breakfast is careful preparation, right down to how well the toast is toasted.

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I also indulged myself to a single lemon gingerbread pancake with poached pears. It was tasty but a tad bit too dense for a pancake. It was more like eating gingerbread than a light fluffy pancake. My cousin ordered the eggs with ratatouille — it was actually the first time I tasted ratatouille and I liked it.

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Again, it was just real wholesome brunch. Nothing fancy but very satisfying.

The Food of Istanbul, Turkey

My family and I very recently went on a trip to Istanbul, Turkey and it was one of the most intriguing places I have ever visited. If any of you have the luck and grace of traveling the world, definitely make a stop at this gateway to the East where so much religious history went down. We happened to go during a religious holiday so the city was crowded with people celebrating what is commonly called “the feast.” Many locals were in the mood to celebrate and eat and it was such a pleasure to watch people with their families and in high spirits. There is too much to say about the trip so this post is dedicated to the food of Istanbul. Ah, the joys of eating in a foreign country!

First off, the much anticipated tasting of “Turkish delights,” a.k.a. “lokum,” was a tiny bit disappointing. I was expecting something so beyond scrumptious, as the little boy in the “Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” thought they were. They’re actually just O.K. in my opinion. The texture of these delights is very much like jujube candies and moderately sweet with flavors like rose water, vanilla or pistachio — sounds great but somehow the flavors did not translate well. Despite the lack of taste, they were gorgeous to look at.

The bread there was wonderful and fresh and good. Very much unlike a French baguette, which can be chewy and tough. Every morning when we stepped outside we breathed in the yeasty smell of fresh-baked bread! Can you imagine it? Mmm.

Here is a man piling the vertical spit with seasoned chicken breasts, getting ready for hungry customers. These “kebap” spits roasted and sizzled all day, through the afternoon and into the evening while the man carved out the tasty roasted parts as they cooked, slabbed them in-between aforementioned crusty bread and served them as sandwiches. Later that day when we got back from the boat ride we saw that the chicken kebap shrank in size after many carvings.

Okay. By far, the tastiest and most fulfilling thing I ate at Istanbul was the mackerel fish sandwich. While we waited for the boat to take us to the Asian side of the city, throngs of people crowded around seaside vendors selling what I’m guessing is typical street food. In addition to kebap sandwiches, sesame-encrusted bread and roasted chestnuts, were these bomb mackerel sandwiches. The aroma wafting from the grilled fish was so tantalizing, we just had to sample one! At first I was a bit skeptical, since it did not look as great as it smelled. Buy we, especially my brother, were determined to try. We saved it for the later part of our trip like dessert and ohhh lordy, it was so worth it. I don’t know how many of you are fish fans, particularly “fishy” fish fans, but my family and I love the oily, salty fish (we eat it often at home).

For about $2, you get one of these suckers served with shredded lettuce, sliced raw onions and sprinkled with salt and lemon juice. Truly a memorable and surprising experience. As we ate them along the sidewalk, I watched how everyone crowded around the fish waiting for a sandwich and enjoying them as heartily as we enjoyed ours. Those things sold fast!

What amazed and delighted me was the way in which everyone savored the food. One such place I witnessed this was at a little restaurant that served a few choice items like mussels and one type of sandwich. We ordered what everyone was eating, which were these mussels packed with spiced rice. It was good but I found myself not enjoying it as much as the surrounding diners who ate them slowly and washed it all down with milk — yes, milk!

A cup of Turkish coffee. It was indeed very strong. Imagine a really strong, unfiltered cup of espresso. As you finish, the silty sediment of coffee beans sink to the bottom in a muddy pile. I didn’t enjoy it too much. In fact, the tea was far better.

This is a cup of strong, black tea at breakfast. I found that most locals drink tea instead of coffee, at least from what I observed. I don’t have a photo of the tulip-shaped glass that most people drank it in; I almost never saw people drink from a cup. Instead, they drank tea from small, short glasses.

Grilled sea bass that was also so bomb. The squashed wedge of lemon you see there was also unexpectedly different. Sort of like a cross between a lemon and an orange.

Another example of street food. People walked around munching on roasted corn.

The breakfast buffet at our hotel. A typical Turkish breakfast comprises sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, plain yogurt, olives, hard-boiled eggs, cheese and bread.Even though we ate this breakfast six times in a row, I never tired of it because it was so good and the tomatoes and cucumbers so fresh.

A common sight was this combination of oranges and pomegranates. They were literally everywhere! Here, we see a juicer waiting to take its next victim.

I will never forget this fantastic trip. I have never been to a predominantly Muslim country and it’s the closest I have been to the Middle East, though Istanbul being a much Westernized city felt both European and Middle Eastern at once. This only added to its appeal. It was also my first time in Asia, technically.

For more photos of Istanbul check out my Flickr set.