28.7.06

eating in amsterdam, duck style (part 2).

















IMPORTANTE: This post is from 2006, a long time ago. Much has changed. Please don't hold me responsible if things aren't as good as they were X years ago (and counting)....

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Man, does Blogger suck. Welcome to Installment 2 of this 4-part series, necessitated (the parts) by a ridiculous bug in Blogger that begins adding tags indiscriminately if you edit the same post a number of times. Confusingly, here is Part One of this series.

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6) Loempia and Maiskoekjes at Toko Ikan Mas, 1e Constantijn Huygensstraat 61. (link)

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UPDATE, Jan 2007:
Recent visits to Toko Ikan Mas have been disappointing...their loempias seem to have degraded into something more doughy and bland. Bummer.

UPDATE: Jan 2009: Loempias at Toko Ikan Mas seem to have recovered...not quite the same as they used to be, but headed back in that direction. Los Pilones, on the other hand, has been increasingly disappointing on our last two visits. BOO. Both visits have been to the new Jordaan location, it's true, but the changes aren't execution-related, they seem conceptual: there are fewer authentic menu options, and in general the food seems much less spicy and interesting.

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Toko Ikan Mas
is a bit of a nostalgic favorite from when we first moved here and lived right across the street, but we still find their vegetarian loempias to be the best in town, primarily because they try harder.

Terminology check: A toko is typically an Indonesian food shop that sells take-away snacks and full meals as well as produce and supplies for the home chef. A loempia (or lumpia in most other languages) is very similar to a Chinese egg roll, a Vietnamese spring roll, and a Thai popiah. They were introduced to the Dutch population in the early- to mid- 20th century, probably by Chinese and definitely by Indonesian immigrants, and they are now everywhere, at least in Amsterdam. It would be a challenge to find an Amsterdam snack bar that did not have something it referred to as a loempia.

Unfortunately, these may be the some of the worst loempias in existence. Thick, soggy wrappers around fillings that don't taste like much more than salt and cheap, old frying oil. To be fair, 90% of Amsterdam snackbar loempia makers probably use the same 3 brands of frozen loempias, so there's really no comparison with someone who puts some effort into it.

Toko Ikan Mas makes its own loempias. They use a paper-thin wrapper that doesn't retain much oil, and fill it to bursting with the usual suspects (cabbage, carrots, tauge/bean sprouts) as well as vermicelli noodles and some good heat from a sambal. These loempias are about 6 times the size of the standard borrelhapje loempia/vlammetje (a tiny loempia that was invented so that loempias could participate in a borrelhapjes plate (bar snacks) without scaring off the bitterballen and osseworst).* One is a reasonable order for one person. I should stress, though, that their size has nothing to do with their goodness: they're good because they're fresh and light.

The other item to pick up here is a maiskoek, or Indonesian Corn Cake (also called frikadel jagung in Indonesian maybe?). It's also fried, but wrapperless; this is basically a corn fritter with actual corn, lemongrass, leeks, and a little sambal. As always, I recommend scoring a tamarind or young coconut water drink from the fridge to wash it down.

Again, as with most of these Indonesian/Surinamese snack places, the closer you can go to lunchtime, the better the food will be and the more likely they'll have what you're looking for. These aren't all-night places, they're typically open til 7 or 8 at the latest, and by then (if they've calclulated correctly), they'll be out of just about everything perishable.

* The actual reason for this size issue may have something to do with the fact that Malaysian spring rolls are actually traditionally quite small.


7) Chicken Mole or Cochinita Pibil at Los Pilones, Kerkstraat 63. (link)

European-Mexican food. Just seeing those first two words next to each other should be enough to put a scare in you. If you've ever been gallivanting around Yurp and thought it might be fun to try a restaurant called A Taste of Texas, Buenos Nachos, La Cantina, or anything remotely Mexican-sounding, you know what I'm talking about.

It's not that the cooks in these places don't have the skillz necessary to prepare authentic Mexican dishes, they've just never actually tasted authentic Mexican food before. So everything is (at least) slightly off, like eating in a bad dream. Guacamole can be toothpaste-colored and creamy, as in, it has cream in it. "Salsas" can run the gamut from simply crushed and unseasoned canned tomatoes with jarred jalapeno slices to highly seasoned spaghetti sauce. Corn tortillas? Sadly, no. Same goes for tomatillos, poblanos, epazote, nopales, hoja santa, chipotles, anchos, pasillas, Negra Modelo, moles, pipians, etc. etc. etc.

Unless, that is, (get ready for a transition here...) the European-Mexican restaurant in question is Los Pilones, run by two brothers from Mexico City (smooth!). You can tell that Hector and Pedro aren't creamy guacamole guys as soon as the chips are brought to your table. They come with not one but three excellent salsas. The non-creamy guac is simple, chunky, and otherwise perfect as well. For entrees, we usually stick with the chicken mole and the cochinita pibil because they've been great every time and nothing else on the menu has been able to distract us from them.

Now...as great as it is, Los Pilones is not a Mission burrito joint, or a taco truck, nor is it many of the things that we American Eaters of Mexican Food are homesick for, authentic or not, so don't expect any of that. But, it is a lovingly-designed, artfully-managed fun spot for dinner or drinks that serves carefully-prepared, as-authentic-as-possible Yucatecan and Oaxacan food. In Amsterdam!


8) Bocadillos at Hollandaluz, Haarlemmerstraat 71. (link)

This shop can do no wrong in my tiny little mind, or at least not much (they could maybe carry some better canned tuna...Ortiz for example). Before Mara took off for Scotland this summer, our sunny day plan went like this:

Her: "OK, see you at the park. Get the one with the membrillo, and something else."
Me: "The artichokes with aioli?"
Her: "Hmm. We just had that one."
Me: "But it was fantastic."
Her: "Right. Get one. And something else."
Me: "That's two humongous sandwiches already. How many days are we going to be at the park?"
Her: (frown, with extended lower lip).
Me: "OK, what else?"

The items in question are bocadillos (sandwiches) from Hollandaluz. We've had all 10 of them (or at least I have), and my favorites in order are....well, it's just easier to list the ones I wasn't bowled over by: both of the roasted red pepper bocadillos might actually be fine, but compared to everything else they were a bit boring. If I were going right now, I'd get a tuna/aioli and a manchego/membrillo. Their aioli is the best I've ever had, I think, and any sandwich that they put it on is one you're going to want to bite the shit out of. But...their albondigas are also the best I've had, and the warm chorizo with onions is the shit as well. They also have a morcilla (blood sausage) option that's a bit hard to see on the menu, but it's there, and it's good if you're up for it. Make sure to ask for a little extra olive oil on any of these sandwiches, because the olive oil they use here is out. of. sight.

I haven't even mentioned any of their other homemade stuff: great non-fishy marinated fresh anchovies; paellla; gazpacho, croquetas. And unflaggingly friendly service, even in the deepest throes of our Summer Deathwave of Heat.


9) Gambas and Homemade Ginger-Pear Tart at Van Kerkwijk, Nes 41.

This is my fail-safe "dining out with guests" option in Amsterdam. I've eaten here at least ten times and been thoroughly pleased every time. It's not really "fancy" cooking, but you won't find any hutspot or kroketten here. It's a quietly cool (but not quiet) and classy neighborhood restaurant run by an ever-changing number of sisters that prepares fresh, creative food with a pronounced Spanish influence, but more than that (to me) seems very Dutch in its appropriation of "whatever sounds good".

My most memorable meal there was a beautiful, perfectly cooked filet of beef in a strawberry/balsamic/olive oil sauce, simply plated and delicious. In fact, the steaks here have always been very very good (for Americans reading this, it's worth mentioning that you will not see a charcoal-grilled steak here very often, they're more often pan-fried in butter I believe). Some nights we just go for starters, interesting cheeses and gently modernized pan-European tapas/antipasti. The menu changes often, and there are usually interesting seafood and salad options. We almost always order the gambas, large whole shrimp baked in a clay pot with lots of garlic, good olive oil, and red chile pepper. And for dessert, we order the homemade perentaart when there's still some left (mom makes it for them every day the restaurant is open). Excellent, friendly service and an overall good vibe. OK, the music is occasionally a little...mmm, lounge-y for my tastes, but with cool music Van Kerkwijk would probably be too devastatingly attractive for its own good anyway.


10) Bara at Toko Hangalampoe, 2e Nassaustraat 7.

I just had one of these this morning, as this is my downstairs Surinaamse toko, and the baras are only 1 euro...how can you not get one when you walk by? A bara is a deep-fried black lentil doughnut (bet you never thought you'd see all those words in the same sentence) of Indian/Nepalese origin. The Indian influence on Surinam cuisine seems surprising for a South American country, until you find out that 37% of the Surinam population is East Indian/Hindustani (the largest ethnic group in the country). I know this is true because Wikipedia told me so.

Anyway, Toko Hangalampoe's bara participates in the noble tradition of Indian lentil fritters, but takes it in a totally different direction by adding to it a ridiculously spicy Madame Jeanette (habanero relative) salsa smeared liberally on top (less liberally if you don't speak Dutch, I've heard). This is the spiciest food I've had in Amsterdam, in fact it can be too hot (depending on who is behind the counter). If you're not a chile-lover, you might want to ask for the peper separate (it comes in a little plastic bag this way) so you can regulate your dosage. But you definitely have to get your bara met peper.

This is probably not the best bara in Amsterdam, but it is above-average, for sure. It's possible that you will get a not-completely-reheated bara. Take it home and put it in the oven to reheat, or the toaster if you got your sambal on the side.

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25.7.06

peaceful co-existence.

Well, my Middle Eastern "Bridge to Peace" dinner on Sunday was, if I do say so myself, surprisingly excellent. I'd make it all again. Here's one of the recipes:

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borani-e bademjan (persian/iranian eggplant and yogurt dip)

2 large eggplants (unless you're in America, then 2 medium eggplants)
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup plain yogurt, drained (I used whole-milk Turkish)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pinch salt, or to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
juice of 1 lemon, or to taste

Preheat oven to 200C. Wash eggplants and stick all over with a fork to prevent bursting. Place whole eggplants on rack and bake for 45 minutes. They might leak, so you may want foil under them. Remove eggplant from oven, cool, peel, dice flesh, and mash it. Add olive oil, yogurt, crushed garlic, and chopped mint. Salt to taste, then add lemon juice to taste.

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23.7.06

eating in amsterdam, duck-style (part 1).















PRE-2009 CAVEAT UPDATE: It's now 2012, and the below now-terribly-out-of-date post has kind of been superseded/supplanted by this one.

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2009 CAVEAT: This post is now 3 years old, and some things have changed, as they do. Toko Ikan Mas is not as reliable as it used to be, I don't think Abyssinia is the best Ethiopian in town anymore (it's still as good as it used to be, but I think Fenan Klein Afrika is better, and totally worth an evening of your time), etc.

Some things haven't changed: my favorite pom in town is still De Tokoman. I still really like the sopropo at Surima Tropische Markt (Kinkerstraat 184) but could never remember the name of the place so it never made the list. Etc.

ALSO: I think my eGullet foodblog is good complementary reading for this list. It also has some additional pictures.

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Inspired by a recent visit to eGullet, and an especially relevant topic called "The Foodlover's Guide to Amsterdam" which you can check out here, I decided to finally unfurl a perpetually-postponed post about my absolute don't-miss eats in our fair city.

At least that was the idea, but it's turned into a more personal list than that...these are things that I would really pine for if we were somehow separated, Amsterdam and I. It's almost all "street food", primarily because since we've been here we've experienced a serious dip in our enthusiasm for restaurant meals, probably attributable to many factors which are mostly beyond the scope of this mfkn list.

There are also a couple of esoteric things here that are great memories for me, but might be like "so what" to anyone else, or might not even be experienceable by anyone else because they were really one of a kind moments. This is the kind of thing you can include on your top 20 or 30 list when not many people read your blog.

Provenance aside, I say it's still good eatin' any way you slice it. I'm going to furnish the entire list first (for those who are coming to Amsterdam imminently and need some tips for cheap eats) and den fill in the details as I has time. BTW, should you be unfamiliar with any of the terrain, Mappy is a stupendous way to get directions to these places. OK, in the order I thought of them in:

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1a) Broodje Pom at De Tokoman, Waterlooplein 327.

Above: a broodje pom, not from De Tokoman.

As you probably know if you've eaten in Amsterdam before, a broodje is a sandwich. As you may not know, pom is a glorious Surinamese sort of casserole. I think its full name might be pom tajer nanga fouroe. It's a slowly baked, kind of Thanksgiving-y seeming dish with pomtajer (malanga), chicken legs, orange juice, a sort of bacon (zoutvlees), and nutmeg, with a bit of of room for embellishment and variations. As soon as I can find an English recipe, I'll post it, and if I can't...well then I'm just going to have to fire up my Translation Engine (which is sitting on blocks in the back yard right now).

When you order a Broodje Pom at De Tokoman, one of the invariably pleasant ladies behind the counter will ask if you want "zuur and peper" on it, and you definitely do: in this case zuur is a yellow cabbage/carrot/onion relish called atjar tampoer. Peper is fiery madame jeanette (scotch bonnet relative) pepper sauce or paste.

Anyway, what we have here: the creamy comfort of the pom combined with the tart relish and the (usually) gentle smoky heat, all on a crispy baguette...you get the picture. Totally dreamy. The Hete Kip broodje (spicy chicken) is also nice and perky (but can be a tad dry if you go later in the day), as are many of their other sandwiches--I just never really got over those first two I had there. They also have some nice vegetarian choices if you're so inclined. Buy a cold coconut water or tamarind drink to cool off with. ALERT: all pom broodjes are not created equal. I've had some rather gross ones at other places in my quest for More Pom. So don't improvise on this one: go to the Tokoman. ALSO ALERT: They run out of pom at about 4pm every day, sometimes earlier. So this is probably best done as a lunchtime thang.


1b) Broodje Chili Kip at De Hapjeshoek, Metrostation Waterlooplein 6.

Another Surinamese/Indonesian sandwich place, across the street from the Tokoman. This one's down in the subway station underneath the opera house (Stopera) and Waterloomarkt. Same general setup, but I find his pom to be less appealing. Instead, order a broodje Chili Kip (also 2,50 i think, maybe 3,00). It's "just" sauteed chicken with both mild and hot peppers and onions on freshly baked bread, but done perfectly and spicy as heck. Same drill, when he asks if you want peper and zuur, say yes...he makes his own zuur, which in this case are pink-tinged homemade cucumber pickles (compared to the Tokoman bright yellow, off-the-Albert Heijn-shelf atjar...both work well). Another great sandwich here is the Kip Ketjap, a dark sweet Indonesian chicken with ketjap manis, but like the Tokoman almost everything here is pretty swell.

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2) Lamahcun/Turkse Pizza at Mercan Patisserie, Rozengracht 148.

Pictured above: Turkish pizza, not from Mercan.

They have great boreks and baklava here as well, probably because they're primarily an actual bakery (as opposed to a bakery storefront, where everything is made offsite) and they make everything themselves. But, they also do a fine, fine version of the ubiquitous lamahcun (called Turkse pizza on Amsterdam menus), which is an oven-blistered flatbread coated with ground lamb, pomegranate syrup, garlic, tomato, and spices. When you order, they'll ask you if you want everything on it (they might say, "Alles erop?") and you say yes. A handful of chopped onions, lettuce, and red cabbage are placed on top of the flatbread, and then you get a squirt of a garlic-yogurt sauce and a squirt of spicy red sambal sauce on top. It's then rolled tight like a burrito, and you walk out as happy as anyone else in the city for the next 5 minutes.

This is totally not the only place to get a great Turkse pizza, but this is one of the few I've had that is truly excellent and reliable in the center of town, and where I can heartily recommend the rest of their roster as well, especially the pastries. Actually everything. Another very reliable lamahcun source is Kismet (Kinkerstraat 350), but they're a bit further off to the west (the rest of their Turkish food is also nice, if the tiniest bit bland, mostly stuffed vegetables, more of a sit-down lunch place but without table service). Kismet also has an Albert Cuypmarkt location, but last time I visited they didn't have a pizza oven at that location, which meant they also had no Turkse pizzas.

And having said all that: like the "bad pizza/bad sex" joke/truism, a "bad" Turkse pizza is still really not that bad. And if you don't like it, you're usually only out 2 euro or so, just like with sex. What I'm saying is, at least have a lamahcun somewhere if you can't get to Mercan or Kismet. The Albert Cuypmarkt and surrounding streets offer an especially good chance for your hits to outnumber your misses (I'm thinking specifically of the southern corner of Van Woustraat and Albert Cuyp).

















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3) Kibbeling , Gebakken Mosselen, Krabsalade at Volendammer Vishandel 't Centrum, Haarlemmerdijk 4.

Well, I've listed three of my favorites above (fried cod, fried mussels, and crab salad), but every single thing I've ever eaten here has been sterling, which explains the constant line out the door (I say out the door, but it's a small place. The line's never longer than 10 people), I guess. So, in order to not have to stand in line more than once: if I were you, I'd definitely get 1) something fried, 2) a sandwich, and 3) some herring. At least. Their smoked salmon is also pretty terrific. Let's tackle these in order.

When you hear the words "something fried", don't think of generic cheapie-style fried seafood, 3 parts breading to 1 part marine life. This is just the barest coating of thin batter, and the other 90% or so is fish. Cod, or kabeljauw, is the most common choice, but their fried mussels are perfect as well. So, to order, you want a bakje (a little plastic tray) of kibbeling or mussels, this is typically 150 grams or so (6 ounces?). Or you can order by the gram. The extremely Dutch girl behind the counter might tell you that it's only lukewarm and do you want to wait for a fresh batch. I wouldn't, it's still great lukewarm. She'll ask if you want sauce, and your choices are the Viswinkel Holy Trinity of ravigotte/tartar, knoflook/garlic, and cocktail/whisky. Cost: I think it's 2 euro per 100 grams, so 150 grams is..............3 euro.

















Sandwiches? They make their own fish salads: smoked mackerel, herring and beet, paling (smoked eel), tuna, etc., and you can get all of these on a sandwich. They're all good, but I'm a sucker for the "crab salad", which is really surimi (sucka), but it's in an amazing dressing of mayo and oranges, just perfect on a hot day. So in this case you'd want a broodje krabsalade, or broodje makreel, etc. There's a menu on the counter.

And then herring. I'm not truly a convert to non-pickled herring yet. As in, I like zure haring in a jar a lot, but if it's the fresher stuff (Hollandse Nieuwe, which is only very lightly salted), I still have to be in the mood for it, like oysters. When I am though (beer is usually involved), I ask for it with uitjes (onions) and zuur (pickles). Some would say that's wrong (Amsterdammers can be criticized for adulterating the haring with accoutrements when it should really just be dangled and swallowed), but I'm just not ready for the sea lion approach yet.

Pay, and then squeeze your way out the door and walk across the street to the little bridge where there are some benches upon which you might sit and eat your catch.


4) Okonomiyaki at Japanese Pancake World, Tweede Egelantiersdwarsstraat 24A (link).

Considering the voluminousness of my original post about the Osaka-style food love called okonomiyaki, I think I could probably just refer you to that post, but that's mostly about the food. I should mention that this "pizza joint" may have been the best restaurant experience I've had in Amsterdam.

It was a dark and stormy spring day just like any other in our fair city, except that three days before, on Queen's Day, I'd had the luck to amble past JPW while cruising for cheap vinyl. The JPW crew had a stand outside where they were nonchalantly griddling these incredible-looking discs of unidentifiable origin, kind of like ring-molded hash browns, and then suddenly executing a startling series of ninja-like (ed. note: racist) moves to squirt and spackle and baste it with all manner of viscous substance. Finally, the cook reaches into a tupperware bin and with a flourish coats the top of the cake with live butterflies.

I wasn't even high. I'd just never seen katsuobushi in action before. The shavings are so thin that when they come in contact with anything hot, they flutter and move, making your dish look very eerily alive. I swear I was not on any drugs. Look, I'm not alone. Does this man sound like he's on drugs?

Anyway, aside from the amazingly complex taste of such a simple dish, and the fact that JPW is a charmingly cool little space to eat in, another reason to go is that the chef (Frank, I think) could not be more inviting. I came in totally rain-drenched on the Tuesday after Queen's Day, and flopped down at a table near the front door. He came over and asked if I wanted to come upstairs to the teppan bar and watch him cook my food. Turns out I did, with him explaining everything he was doing and passing me the odd tidbit to taste. Very educational. BTW, I ordered plain Osaka style and plain Hiroshima style and preferred the Osaka by a nose.


5) Roti Canai at Nyonya Malaysia Express, Kloveniersburgwal 38.

The interior of NME is quite possibly the mathematical opposite of JPW above. Just imagine a well-architected, gezellig, candlelit two-level dining room with subtle modern touches, quiet bossa nova on the stereo and a good shade of red on the walls....then reverse everything about it and you've got NME. I've never eaten there, I don't even wait for my takeout food there, I pretend to have an errand to run so I can order, leave, and come back. And come back I do, bitches...for the Roti Canai, y'all (sound of muffled, somehow severely injured beatboxing fades in...).

(...and out, just like on NPR) If you've never had Malaysian roti, it's quite different from the Indian version after which it's named. The ghee-rich bread seems flatter, thinner, and more stratified than the Indian ones I've had, which is great because the more layers there are, the longer it lasts. And instead of dipping your bread into dal or chickpea curry, you dip it into head-lollingly rich and spicy coconut chicken curry broth. It's the kind of thing you hate to stop eating because it's doing everything right. But I'm sure it's a gazillion calories as well, so maybe it's best that they only have an appetizer portion on the menu. I think it's 2,50 euro for a 1-person serving. Get two, you won't want to share.

Everything else we've had there has ranged from good to excellent...I had the Malaysian equivalent of an ikan boemboe bali (Indonesian fish curry with candlenuts) and it totally rocked. Girlfriend is addicted to the Nyonya Fried Rice, which seems expensive for 10 euro until you realize that it's really just chock full of chicken and whole shrimp, more like a biriyani than Chinese fried rice.

They're very sweet there. But geez guys...can we dim the lights a little? Or turn down one of the TVs? And exactly how many simultaneously screaming kids is too many? No matter. Take your grub 50 feet away to a bench on the Kloveniersburgwal canal and prepare to receive inner beauty.

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Yet to be elaborated upon (where are 6-10? about to be posted):

11) Falafel at Maoz, Leidsestraat 85 (also Muntplein 1, others). (link)
12) Frites/Patatje Oorlog at Vleminckx, Voetboogstraat 31.
13) Beer at The Movies, Haarlemmerdijk 161. (link)
14) Smoked Anything from Frank's Smoke House, Wittenburgergracht 303. (link)
15) Tofu-Kerrie Broodje at Bakkerij Paul Annee, Runstraat 25.
16) Uitsmijter at Kat in de Wijngaert (Lindengracht 160) or Daalder Cafe, Lindengracht 90. (link)
17) Fresh Oysters at De Engelbewaarder, Kloveniersburgwal 59. (Fridays only, and not every Friday either. And not all night either. It's a bit of a secret. I'll explain.)
18) Thyme or Lemongrass Chocolates at Puccini Bomboni, Staalstraat 17. (link)
19) Appeltaart at Latei, Zeedijk 143. (link)
20) Silsi at Abyssinia, Jan Pieter Heijestraat 190hs.

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22.7.06

kitty melt.















This is basically a picture of my apartment, except that instead of clocks draped over everything in a state of gooey uselessness, I've got cats. The kitties have been too hot to do anything all week, so they just sleep in hilarious positions until that gets boring then they see if maybe now there's some interesting food in the bowl, which there still isn't, and then they meow once at me to complain about how frigging boring it is around here and then they go off in search of the next nap.

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I'm been on a bit of a cooking tear since recovering from Nickelsdorf, and most of it has been Middle Eastern in some way. This shows no sign of abating, so in acknowledgement of the events of the past two weeks, I think I'll be making a "Why Can't We All Just Get Along" dinner for Sunday night, featuring Borani-e Bademjan from Iran (a garlicky eggplant and yogurt dip with mint); Muhammara from Syria (walnut and pomegranate relish/dip); Libyan fish couscous; Fattoush from Lebanon (salad with tomatoes, cukes, and a sumac-flavored dressing); and something else Levantine, haven't figured it out yet. It sounds like a lot of food, but I'll only make 3 tbsp of each dish, it'll be fine (this is mostly sarcastic, but not completely).

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21.7.06

r(es)ea(r)ch the beach.
















This summer's Wave of Infernal Hotness has provided the perfect incentive to deploy my oft-postponed, veiled-in-secrecy Beach Sampler project (because in this weather, the veil just makes sense), wherein I visit as many recommended beaches in The Netherlands as my moderate tanning profile allows.

Yesterday's target was Zandvoort. I'd have to say that the reality of Zandvoort is somewhere between the two. More peaceful than a roundhouse kick*, but not quite as idyllic and undisturbed as the rustling dunes would have us believe. I spent my initial efforts trying to get to the south side of the Zandvoort beach, the "quiet" side I was told many times, where apparently there is almost no one except for the inhabitants of a nice quiet nude beach. I've never done the ol' commando sunbathe before, but it's been so hot I thought I could be persuaded. However, to everyone's dismay and chagrin, I got a late start out of A'dam so I had to abort my Journey to Self-Nudity in order to come home and start cooking for a BBQ that eve. And really, how often can you say that about your Friday?

I actually didn't even mean to go to Zandvoort...my intended destination was IJMuiderstrand again, which I enjoyed a whole dang bunch last week. But I forgot that despite what the Connexxion website implies, the IJMuiderstrand buses (583 and 83) don't stop at the Marnixstraat/Rozengracht stop where I was.

Last week in this same spot when I flagged down the 83 and got on, I told the driver where I wanted to go, and he said, "This bus doesn't go there". Easily believing that I'd made a mistake, I turned around to de-bus, but the doors suddenly closed and the bus sped off. Trapped! I turned to him with a confused "But..." on my lips (ha! say that out loud), half-expecting to see him rubbing his hands together with psychotic glee and bared fangs, maniacally and unnecessarily turning the windshield wipers on and off...(?)...

But he only said, "You want to go to the beach, right?", and I said um, yeah, but this bus doesn't go there, right? And he said, "No, it doesn't. Next time you take the 583." And so I sat down, not sure if I was about be taken somewhere else as an annoying punishment for not knowing the bus routes, or if I would in fact end up at the beach.

I ended up at the beach, IJMuiderstand. Not much to report really, it was a very non-touristy hang along a nice sandy walking beach (not too many rocks or broken clamshells to wince about), the water actually looked inviting, the shoreline not as development-free as Castricum for instance, but most of the ugliness was concentrated in a single clot that was back from the water a bit, so you didn't really see it unless you looked for it or your head was just swiveling around willy-nilly.

Anyway, that was last Thursday. Yesterday, I tried a repeat and ended up with no psychotic IJMuiderstand busses stopping at my stop. So after about an hour of alternately waiting and ducking into a shoarma place for cold water (the buses only come every 30 minutes), I broke down (crying*) and got on a Zandvoort bus, because one would swing by every 15 minutes and it was hot hot hot outside and my beach afternoon was melting away into a beachless pile of busstop sweltering nothingness.

* not really.

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It's interesting to eat in these small beach towns, or any small town, because while on one hand there can be less variety because of the reduced number of suppliers that care about servicing less-central, smaller markets...this same remoteness means that there are almost always local/regional food oddities that never make it to your nearest bustling metropolis.

Thankfully, this was exactly the situation in Zandvoort: every fish cart/truck guy looked like he bought his catch from the same place...I mean everything looked exactly the same from stand to stand. On the upside, there were some liberties being taken with the standard Amsterdam viswinkel offerings of kibbeling and lekkerbekjes.

For example: deep-fried surimi flakes. I didn't have a camera with me, and searching Google and Flickr leads me to believe this is rather rare, so I guess I'll have to go back and take a picture. These seaside fish trucks seem to treat their fried fish like belgian frites: fry them once early in the day to get the actual cooking done, and then throughout the day briefly fry them again to order.

The surimiflakes. You may already know this, but to distinguish between these and the silo-shaped cylinders you usually see: surimiflakes are roughly the same size, but are cut roughly and asymmetrically so that they appear more natural and less like they came out of a tube:


(surimi photo removed out of respect to people who love taking awful photos of surimi).

The deep-fried version were dipped in a very thin, very light batter, just like most fried Dutch fish...the coating is barely there. They're then sprinkled with viskruiden (fish seasoning), which I haven't fully researched yet, but it seems like it's usually a mix of dill, thyme, paprika, coriander, bay leaves, and juniper berries. Pretty sure it usually has E621/MSG in it, though...it's got that taste, which I don't necessarily mean in a bad way at all. Anyway, these crabby fries are served with your choice of sauce: ravigotte, (tartar sauce), knoflook (creamy garlic), or cocktail (also called whiskysaus, something like Thousand Island, but mmm not really). These sauces are kind of worth a post in their own right, not because they're delicious, but because as Vincent Vega said, "They fucking drown 'em in that shit" over here like they do with mayonnaise, and they're everywhere. I went with cocktail.

The results: well....I like surimi, as I've mentioned. And I liked this: something happens to the already semi-alien texture during the frying process and it becomes almost glutinous, retaining the slight chew of unfried surimi, but with an extra softness that is something like luxurious, plus an extra-crispy outside. There's also a serious note of cognitive dissonance, as with deep-fried ice cream maybe...you're just not used to eating this substance warm. But it was, overall, totally interesting and close to great. They also had some other status quo-challenging items which I'll hopefully have pictures of very soon. By the way, the vendor of these wacky snacks is Boudewjn's Visservice, and this is actually what it looks like at the fish stand:


(broken link)

It's going to take some getting used to, this European casual nudity.

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* I know this is not a roundhouse kick. I just don't know the names of any other kicks.

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19.7.06

injured.






















Yesterday (Tuesday?) at about 7am outside a German gas station, I said, "This is the most tired I have ever been in my entire life," and not only was I not exaggerating in the least, but that feeling was immediately seconded and very probably thirded, which I probably dozed off during.

Should it take 30 sleepless hours to get from Nickelsdorf, Austria, to Amsterdam, The Netherlands? The easy answer is: it should not take 30 sleepless hours to get anywhere, a formula whose potency is increased exponentially by the number of preceding days (4) that were very nearly sleepless as well. It doesn't matter how wonderful the people you are trapped in a large yellow van with are (How's my English?), 30 hours is about twice too long.

All I really have to add at this point is... no matter how much you love and trust the driver, not only as a driver but as a human in general, no matter what his reputation for indestructibility, no matter how many times he has managed to put diesel gas in his diesel gas tank (rather than non-diesel petrol, which apparently makes the van stop working after awhile) with the correct amount of sleeplessness, he too can fail.

Quit your crying, O'neill would say. He's right. It was an excellent (4-, no, 5-day) weekend that was so exhaustingly bittersweet that the whole thing literally seems like an dream, emotionally vivid, visually hazy, and resonantly powerful in ways that somehow real life is usually amazingly not.

Really? Maybe that's a bit much. But the reality is so little less true than the above that it's not worth the effort to re-write it. Good eating (a post on wiener schnitzel and goulash is forthcoming), good wine, and of course, no sleep. And good people, 100% Jumbo-Style All Night Long People, the best. Is there a point to all this? Yes. I won't be posting or answering comments until I've recovered somewhat. See you in a bit.

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16.7.06

expiring, mine.

I think my cooking might be getting better, I don't remember this ever being as good as it just was. Plus, the way I did it tonight was simpler and easier than the Bayona recipe. Secrets: longer cooking times for onions and kraut (20 minutes?), lots of black pepper, beer instead of wine, and the only spices involved are generous amounts of thyme, juniper, and caraway. Salmon sauteed in butter then placed on already-caramelized onions and beer-soaked kraut. Skillet into the oven for 10 minutes.

Or...maybe it wasn't the recipe changes. My sauerkraut expired a month ago. Which raises the question exactly when does "expired" sauerkraut become inedible or dangerous.

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13.7.06

haarlemmerstraat new food fair.

Hmm, this looks interesting, but maybe because I'm remembering how it's done on the Zeedijk: totally without pretension. Worrisome is the proclamation that the Haarlemmerstraat/dijk is the "best street for eating in Amsterdam".

This may actually be true, but the fact that they're marketing it that way makes me think that prices will begin to reflect that self-assessment. Maybe not.

Is it in fact the best eating street in the city? Who are the other contenders:

1) Zeedijk
2) Albert Cuypstraat
3) Dappermarkt
4) Kinkerstraat/Jan Pieter Heijestraat/Ten Katemarkt
5) Utrechtsestraat
6) Nine Streets

What does the Haarlemmerstraat offer that these others don't? Other than authentic Spanish and Portugese food. There are two average cheese shops. Three pretty good bakeries (a high concentration for an Amsterdam street). One really excellent fishmonger place. No Indonesian or Surinamese takeaways. Three chocolatiers. Not a lot of "real" dinner restaurants that aren't Indian or pizza.

Is it strange that most of these streets have their own website? Do most streets have their own websites these days?

8.7.06

muy bonito: part deux.

So, on my way down the Haarlemmerstraat to the gym today (good boy!), I was walking past Meeuwig & Zn., and I had some sort of xtra-sensory twitch that told me that they stocked one of Mr. Rosengarten's top-shelf tunas. Actually I knew this because I'd been in there on Thursday buying stuff for that dinner party, and when I saw the Great Tuna Taste-Off (which this post assumes you've examined), I knew one of the brand names rang a little mental ding-a-ling but couldn't 'member whichie one.

Turns out it was Ortiz, who came in 4th place in the Ventresca tasting, and 1st place in Rosengarten's olive oil tasting (Google reveals that Ortiz also took first, second, and third place in a Cook's Illustrated tuna tasting). Meeuwig & Zn. had 7 different Ortiz products, and I marshalled every functioning brain cell I had in an attempt to remember which product he'd tasted.

As Eddie the Dane would've said, turns out I was half-smart: I got the right Ventresca, but I got the wrong Atun Claro...this one's not actually bonito del norte (light), it's albacore (white). Here's a rather half-assed breakdown of tuna varieties from the Palm Beach Daily News.

Anyway, I'm going to try not to further geek out with excessive, florid tasting notes or anything, but I will try to pinpoint what's so different about this stuff. First of all, they both strike a crushing deathblow to my Dani Bonito del Norte that I was so in love with yesterday. I'm still so in love with it, actually, because it's half the price of the Ortiz Atun Claro stuff, and one-fifth the price of the Ortiz Ventresca. And I can get it right downstairs at the Turkish place.

Right. The first thing I opened was not actually either of these, it was a tin of sardines in olive oil made by a man named Lou Ferrigno. Why would I trust the deaf, bodybuilding, former Incredible Hulk to deliver a superior sardine? In retrospect, good question. It was the one (of a possible three) the sales guy suggested. In his defense, he said he'd never tried it but that it was "popular". Not in this house it wasn't. I expected a cleaner, fresher aroma and taste from a top-shelf sardine (3 euro per tin), but the best thing about the scent here was that it smelled like good extra-virgin olive oil.

Good olive oil in which three very average-smelling sardines sat. The Moroccan brand I normally buy, Tagine, is far superior, definitely in scent, but even more so in texture...the Ferrignade were worryingly soft. Me no like. Into the trash. This made me a bit nervous about my own imminent personal Tuna Taste-Off. Had I just spent 13 euro on mushy, fishy filth muck?

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I had zero to worry about. The Atun Claro was first, and...it just looks good. Mara has the camera with her, so I'm left with only a scanner to document this...and while it worked fine with the packaging, I'm just sure that putting the actual tuna in the scanner would've caused problems. I'm no techie, though, so what do I know: send me your tuna/scanner stories in the comments.

So, Atun Claro. It was as much better than the Dani bonito (I just said this out loud. You try it. Dani bonito.) as the Dani bonito was better than the regular ol' grocery store tuna (UPDATE: after re-tasting the Dani against the Ortiz, I have to scale this back a little bit. Where the Ortiz really beats it is: in elegance [you would immediately guess that the Dani stuff is not freshly cooked tuna, good as it is]; texture [the Dani is a little too firm], and complexity [the Ortiz is ready to serve, whereas you'll want to do something to the Dani because it still seems like tinned tuna]).

Even more so than the Dani product, there's nothing canned-tasting or generically "fishy" about it at all. The cats didn't even come snooping around after I popped the top, and that never happens with grocery store tuna. The Atun Claro tastes like a fully-cooked fresh tuna steak, but with none of the unpleasantness that that connotes: board-stiff, bone-dry, chewing forever, a challenging swallow, etc. The olive oil is so fundamentally integrated with the fish that, while it's still very firm, it's completely juicy and full of olive-oily goodness. And it's salted perfectly, on the aggressive side of moderate. Great stuff.

OK. I thought, how much different can the Ventresca be? The good news is, it doesn't proportionally extend the Atun Claro: Dani Bonito: BumbleBee trend. This is good news because I can't afford to buy it very often. It is, however, even more refined and more like a finished dish than the Atun Claro. Most of this has to do with its startling appearance (not my photo, totally stolen):










So it's these long, thin strips of firm, white tuna belly...perfect for artfully fanning across a plate for an appetizer. The above photo is of course not what they look like when they come out of the can, this is a picture of an Argentinian recipe: ventresca on a sandwich with red peppers, olives, garlic, and vinegar...sounds devastating. But I just ate them out of the can, unadorned, and it's like Rosengarten says, it's not really like anything else. The texture is much more like salmon than any tuna I know, firm and silky (Penthouse Forum?) without really flaking at all, and the taste is sweet and mild, with just the tiniest tang of what you think of when you hear the words "fully-cooked tuna steak".

Whew, that was hard work. I'm no food writer, obvs. I just had to follow this Dani Bonito thing to its logical conclusion. Which I think I've done. I'll probably end up renting Romancing the Stone, or Get Shorty, or something else he was in, and then trying some more fancy tuna brands at some point and documenting their supple breasts and heaving thighs, so don't be surprised if we see a Chapter Three, hookas.

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THE USUAL HEAVILY PARENTHESIZED UPDATE: I had the rest of the Atun Claro for breakfast, and in this non-gourmet context (coming out of the refrigerator), to my tastes, it was every bit as enjoyable as the ventresca (although I couldn't do a direct comparison because the ventresca was, well...gone), although the ventresca is definitely prettier to look at. I'm sure that the oil had...emulsified? is that what olive oil does is the fridge? In any case, I think that this actually had a weirdly positive effect on the texture. It was kind of...luscious. Call El Bulli. Do they serve refrigerated oil dishes yet? Anyway, I had some of this by itself, and then with my new BFF, toasted blanched almonds, golden raisins, and mint leaves. Simply great. Pitts (code name for dear Mother): buy some now.

SOURCES: It would be remiss of me to mention Meeuwig & Zn., where I very rarely shop, and not mention Hollandaluz, which is right across the street from Meeuwig, and where I shop at least once a week, three times a week if I'm lucky. In fact, I don't know why I haven't tried any of Hollandaluz's tunas...I guess I never get any farther than the refrigerator full of home-made albondigas, aioli, gazpacho, and paella. Or the warmer full of empanadas, croquetas, morcillo (um...blood sausage), and (Spanish) tortillas. Or the counter where they sell (among others) a perfect bocadillo of membrillo (quince paste) and manchego on crusty, freshly baked bread. OK, so tht's why.

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Prices:

Ortiz Ventresca de Bonito del Norte €7,50 for 110 grams.
Ortiz Atun Claro €5,50 for 250 grams.
Dani Bonito del Norte €1,50 for 110 grams.

for comparison's sake:

John West (the StarKist/Bumblebee of Holland) €1,17 for 200 grams.

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7.7.06

recipe lab: imagine...a blueberry.


I
magine...a blueberry.
Now....imagine it some more.
I never did like you.


-Terrill Soules.


File this post under work-in-progress. Aren't they all. Had one of my infrequent duck-eating experiences last night. The preparation was simple (briefly saute 1 cm-thick duck breast slices in a very hot pan to get some browning; add chicken or ideally duck stock, a couple splashes red wine vinegar, and a little cassis; reduce for 10 minutes or so, add chopped mint and whole blueberries, I believe), while the results were nearly amazing, definitely in a way that other birds never are for me. But I don't really want to start eating duck, do I? My little duck friends at the park would look at me differently, and they way they currently look at me is so cute that I don't think I'm ready to change our relationship. So I thought maybe I'd consider a non-duck version of a savory blueberry dish. By the way, here's a nice Slate article on the magic of a warm blueberry.

After poking about on Epicurious and Foodtv for non-dessert blueberry recipes, I entered all of the ingredient lists into the massively malfunctioning computer that is my brain, and threw out the obvious bonehead plays. While it's nothing at all like last night's duck (couldn't really find a featured player), here's one possible outcome. This might be hard to fully recreate since I can't remember if you can readily find ginger syrup in America. I imagine not, but reg'l'r ol' sugar'll do right fine.

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field greens with green apple, gingered almonds, feta, and blueberries.


two big healthy handfuls of young leafy greens
1/2 to 1 granny smith apple, chopped
1/2 to 1 red onion, thinly sliced
up to a cup of blanched almonds, lightly toasted and salted
you could also sub pecans for some or all of the almonds
1 to 2 tbsp ginger syrup (gemberstroop), or some darker sugar (palm, cane, etc.)

3/4 cup mild feta, chopped in 1cm cubes
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

1/8 cup walnut oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup maple syrup

1 to 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped fine
salt and pepper

Put the greens in a bowl. Toss with the onion and apple. Take the feta cubes and roll them in the thyme leaves to sparsley coat. You can also buy feta that already comes this way, that might be smarter/easier but the pre-herbed stuff always seems harsher. Add the feta to the bowl with the greens.

Make dressing: whisk together the walnut oil, vinegar, and maple syrup. Set aside.

Heat a dry saute pan on medium-low. Add the almonds/pecans and the ginger syrup or sugar, stirring constantly until the syrup or sugar dissolves and the nuts are caramelized and lightly crunchy. Add the nuts to the salad bowl. Sprinkle mint on top. Mix everything around a little and add dressing. Serves 2-4.

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This could also have gone the direction of a blueberry chutney (onions, thyme, balsamic, pecans, maple syrup) over a nice soft goat cheese and greens. Which is still a salad, really, isn't it. A bacon-eating person could probably add a little chipotle and a little bacon to this, replace the balsamic with cider vinegar, and have them a real nice carnivorous moment.

muy bonito! part one.

I'm talking about fish, see? I now understand seafood in cans.

I've been eating a lot of seafood in cans lately, mostly tuna and sardines, and here I wanted to try and just verify that I'm buying the very best I can afford, because it's just great already.

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Instead of doing my own taste-test research, I found out that David Rosengarten conducted "The Great Tuna Taste-Off" after being sucked into the same vortex of wonderfulness in which I found myself after eating European tinned tuna. I'll quote a little bit here:

"...I must confess: it took me a while to put canned tuna on my personal hoo-hah list. That's because the supermarket tuna I grew up with-the main ingredient in my beloved tuna-salad sandwiches-was doing the job perfectly well for me. Bumble Bee solid white in oil, some mayo, coupla slices of white bread-who needed something better in 1977? This stuff wouldn't have won any prizes in gastronomic competitions, but it did its job extremely well.Then came the Great Supermarket Tuna Quality Decline. I'm not sure when it began, exactly, and why. It may have had something to do with the passion for water-packed tuna that transformed the industry about 15 years ago....Apparently, there are a lot of Americans these days willing to buy tuna cans at the supermarket that contain muddy, gritty, falling-apart bits of fishy fish, tuna that I think would be hard to distinguish from cat food in a blind tasting. Firm-textured, mild-and-buttery hunks of tuna in supermarket cans are nothing but pure nostalgia now."

Right, that's the tuna I grew up with, the post-1977 tuna. I never thought anything was wrong with it until I lived in Italy and had "tuna salads" that redefined the name.

So, Rosengarten tests 200 tins/jars of tuna and concludes:

"Did I find tuna that replaces my beloved Bumble Bee of old for the preparation of tuna salad? Yes I did, to be sure. What I've found, in fact, in that style, is even better than Bumble Bee ever was. But there's more. The most important thing is that I found canned tuna out there that goes beyond, that I would never, ever use in tuna salad-canned tuna so good that you'd be crazy to do much to it at all, other than take it out of the can."

I haven't really had any of the latter category yet...but my Dani Bonito del Norte (Spanish, packed in olive oil, at 1 euro 50 per tin) is a huge step in the right direction. I can't stop eating it. Here's the salad that I've been eating at least twice a day lately:

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bonito del norte with sweet onions and mint

1 135g tin of bonito del norte, drained (not rinsed)
1/2 large sweet onion, coarsley chopped
1/2 cup toasted almonds, pistachios, or hazelnuts
1/2 cup currants or golden raisins
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
as much fresh mint as you'd like, I like about 2 tbsp.

Mix everything together. Serves 1.

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It's just horn-tootingly addictive. And, it's less than 300 calories, full of heart-healthy nuts, olive oil, you get it. I made two rather complicated things for a dinner party last night, and I really really should've just made this and saved myself a few hours in the kitchen.

By the way, what is bonito del norte? Far as I can tell it's maybe a breed of tuna that swims near the shore off northern Spain? As far as I know, they're line-caught, dolphin-safe, etc. They may be overfished, in which case the world has my apologies. I'm also not eating very locally, am I. My shame almost outweighs my desire for another bite of this salad. C'mon, I'll do other things right, I promise.

Part Two (fingers crossed): Building a Better Sardine.

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5.7.06

disillusionment lite.

Don't you hate that moment when someone you think you sort of like, at least from initial or casual impressions, says or does something that you not only kind of disagree with, but more importantly upon digging a little deeper, you find their justifications for their position to be rather unconsidered, selfish, or generally dismissive, and you kind of slump your shoulders and move on with your life because you know that if you were passionate about this issue, that any discussion with them about it would lead to an argument that they wouldn't be willing to lose?

Luckily I'm not a passionate vegetarian. Or even actually a vegetarian. In weather news: the citizens of Amsterdam are melting. It was 93F here yesterday and while that's nothing like Phoenix or Atlanta summer weather...we doan got A/C mang. And in a 4th-floor apartment, ooooh-weee! It was too hot to eat. Except for the Maoz Salad Box that I had before seeing United 93 (which I did because I couldn't think of anywhere colder than a movie theatre). Is it me, or is their quality slipping a little bit? Maybe it was the heat (no A/C in Maoz either), but their salads/toppings seemed less perky than usual. Well, everything all over the whole city was less perky than usual. And no I'm not even talking about that. It was too hot to look, that's how hot it was.

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