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Giving Thanks

j
JeffB Jan 23, 2003 12:18 PM

Recently there have been many posts wherein people wax poetic about the great foods you can't get in Chicago. That's fine; it adds to our knowledge and might prompt someone to start selling those missing foods here.

However, I want to confirm how lucky we are in the broader sense of being able to walk into a huge number of places to get a good meal. I just returned from a business trip to Dallas. Ate steak at Perry's, a new place. Dallas, like Chicago, is a great steak town with healthy competition and Perry's was darn good. (It has an expansive non-steak menu for a steakhouse, kind of like Keefer's.)

Then, I had a meal at Jeroboam, a "brasserie" (with no beer selection to speak of)which has been heralded in every local publication over the past two years as the great savior of Downtown Dallas dining. One of the appeals of this place is that it is supposedly "hip" and "urbane" because it is located in an authentically old building, and not in a Disney-Old building along the freeway and in the center of a huge parking lot, albeit a lot with valet parking. The food? Down there, mama says if you've got nothing nice to say about someone, say nothing. But it's negative 20 outside with the wind chill where I'm sitting now. Steak frites: three thick cubes of ribeye or some kind of roast, well done, and a pile of floppy, wide, flat home-fried potatoes. Cassoulet (the Wednesday special, added to the list for winter): lukewarm beans poured over (ie, not cooked with) a tiny portion of sausage and duck rillettes, topped with bland breadcrums and placed under the salamander for a period of time insufficient to toast the crumbs, let alone heat the plate. Finished with a scoop of "pico de gallo" of cold cubed tomatoes and onions. I'll stop there. Not quite the bubbling meal-in-a-mini-Le-Creuset I had envisioned.

So, next time you are debating the finer points of bistrot fare (Tournesol or Campagne? Kiki's or Bouchon? Are Brasserie Joe and Zinc just for tourists?) or any fare here in Chicago, be glad that the baselines for your discussions are so high.

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  1. d
    Dave R RE: JeffB Jan 23, 2003 03:58 PM

    Jeff,
    Sorry to hear about your experience at Jeroboam. I haven't been there in a couple of years (they were pretty good then). Unfortunately, French isn't one of Dallas's strong points. Perry's wasn't a bad choice, but there are better ones IMO (Abacus, Lola, York Street for non-steak or Bob's or Pappas Brothers for steaks). Next time that you're coming to Dallas, post a message on the Texas board and we can give you a little better guidance. And you are correct about Chicago's dining. You have a lot of great choices (even though I'll miss Zinfandel).

    Dave R

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dave R
      j
      JeffB RE: Dave R Jan 24, 2003 12:52 PM

      Thanks. I really do try to post before traveling, but this was truly a last-minute, no luggage, buy clothes there kind of trip. I'm usually in Dallas a few times a year, and I'm a sucker for cheap chicken fried steak. Next time, I'll post a request for suggestions.

    2. k
      Kirk RE: JeffB Jan 23, 2003 04:47 PM

      Dave's absolutely right, and he gave you a good list to start from next time you are coming here. You, too, are absolutely right about Chicagoans having a lot to be thankful for. I moved to Dallas from Chicago a few years ago, and I still miss the diversity of choices ... not to mention the utter lack of decent Italian beef.

      Dallas, more than many other cities, falls prey to the "restaurant du jour" syndrome. People pile into the place that is currently having its 15 minutes of fame -- Salve, Voltaire and others come to mind -- and when they decide to move on to the next place they often leave only carcass behind. Frequently, the restaurant closes in the wake of such fickle popularity. I wonder whether Jeroboam's current state indicates the downside of the syndrome.

      In any event, let the Texas/Dallas board know when you need suggestions for your next trip. We are ALWAYS happy to share our opinions.

      1. n
        Nazerac RE: JeffB Jan 23, 2003 10:35 PM

        Didn't La Madeleine chain start in Dallas ?

        3 Replies
        1. re: Nazerac
          v
          Vital Information RE: Nazerac Jan 24, 2003 06:14 AM

          Interestingly, La Madeleine never made it in Chicago. I thought their location, on the Broadway/Clark/Diversy intersection was good for street traffic, but they never seemed to attract the crowds. The breads were certainly good.

          I wonder how Michel Sendra will do. Chicago seems to have a history of taking in these Francophile bakeries, enjoying a brief taste, and then spitting them right out. Beside Madeleine, we had St. Germaine for a while, and that did not last either, despite some heady croissants.

          1. re: Nazerac
            e
            Evil Ronnie RE: Nazerac Jan 24, 2003 09:06 AM

            Nazerac,

            Yes. Le Madelaine started out in Dallas, where I lived for sixteen years. The two original stores were located on Mockingbird Lane, next to the SMU campus, and on Lemmon Ave., in Oak Lawn. They soon expanded to Houston and also the French Quarter. As they grew, the quality slowly faded. They are now about the same as your typical Corner Bakery franchise.

            Evil Ronnie

            1. re: Evil Ronnie
              n
              Nazerac RE: Evil Ronnie Jan 24, 2003 11:37 AM

              La Madeleing actually have 4 locations in NO that I know of (FQ, Uptown, Carrolton and Metairie). My favorite French bakery of all times is a small place uptown in NO, it is called La Boulangerie.

              The bakers are two brothers who make everything by themselves, with no "low wage" helpers. I ended up being a regular, and after a long night at Tippitina or other drinking establishment, I would swing by La Boulangerie, knock on the side door, and they'll let me in. At that time, the hot pain a chocolat would be coming right out of the oven, so piping hot that I had to wait a 2-5 minutes before I can eat it. Their artisan bread was also out of this world, I loved their Fougasse bread, loaded with olives and herbs, and their blue cheese bread. Their croissants and breads were much superior than anything I had in Chicago (including Sweet Thang and red ??? on North and Damen).

              They were also much friendlier than the folks at Sweet thang.

              So do the Chowhounds know of any friendly local bakeries around?

          2. v
            Vital Information RE: JeffB Jan 24, 2003 06:58 AM

            I am (obviously) a bit more circumspect about Chicago dining. Last week, the New York Times reviewed Terrence Brennan's new seafood and chop house. It made me think that in New York, the dynamicisim generally comes from chefs not corporations. I know, perhaps these chefs are all famous because they are in New York, but that is not quite what I mean. Charlie Palmer, Jean George, Terrence Brennan, Danny Meyer, the Craft guy whose name I aint gonna spell, Mario Batali, Alain Ducase, and others I did not name, almost all have not one place, but two or more. Maybe that is a bad thing, chef's spreading themselves out, but I'd rather have my scene led by the kitchen than the office.

            OK, enough with the rant. I AM giving thanks. Thanks for the Thai restaurants in Chicago. I am coming to the slow realization, RST style, that Chicago may be the best place to eat Thai food in the USA. No. I mean it.

            Arun's (4165 N. Kedzie) - I have not been in many years, and will remain silent on my opinion on its value, but it has been acknowledged far and wide for bringing a creative, chef-centric approach to Thai food. Jean George may be taking Thai ingredients and cooking them in masterfully in the French method, but Arun is taking Thai ingredients and French ingredients and cooking them masterfully, Thai style.

            Amerind (6822 W. North Ave) - Arun lite - Also gussied up Thai food, at a fraction of the price. Wonderfully plated dishes and wild flavors bursting at you. The crab salad may be the best dish in the house.

            Erawan (729 N. Clark) - I have not been here either, but it also completes in the fine dining Thai catagory. Somewhere pricewise between Amerind and Arun.

            Yum Thai (7748 W. Madison, Forest Park) - Moving on to the real stuff. We mostly thank foodfirst (and chowhound) who unlocked the secrets to Yum Thai. I liked plenty of their stuff before, but when I could fully imerse myself in their full Thai menu, I was transported. Very real dishes made in a slightly harried but always nice way. The killer dish is the "Mon" curry with not too much fermented shrimp paste and autumn vegetables.

            Thai Aree (3592 N. Milwaukee) - There is a reason that several chowhounds (Al, Gary, Joan, Zim, Seth) picked this as their favorite Thai place before comparing notes with other chowhounds. Ask for the spice, and Eddie will not hold back, especially as he has them growing in his secret garden. Me, I am especially keen on his grilled beef. Rumour has it you can find him in back, by a Weber, preparing that meat. I also like their larbs which have a strong hand with the ground rice.

            Spoon Thai (4608 N. Western) - I save the best for last. In my meager opionion, and with the admission of not having been to Arun's in a while or Erawan ever, I nominate this for the best Thai restaurant in Chicago. Not only is Spoon Thai my favorite Thai place in Chicago, it is inching up with La Quebrada and Gene and Jude's as my favorite restaurant period. Throw yourselves in the hands of the most gracious staff and have them create for you a meal based on pure Thai aesthetics. Bracing hot bits of thai chili's, gamey sausage balls, funky to the nth degree nam prik with shrimp paste that will greet your spouse before you do, the dead ocean of preserved crab papaya salad, even extreme coffee. Ask about the daily specials and go from there.

            I've linked below to a bit of an exchange between some hungry hounds in Chicago and our patron saint, foodfirst, about Spoon Thai. If she sees this thread, btw, can she finish the translation (please). Although as I said, if you ask, at Spoon Thai, they will surely guide you to a great meal regardless of your ability to read Thai.

            So, yes, I am wonderfully thankful for our Thai food.

            VI

            22 Replies
            1. re: Vital Information
              v
              Vital Information RE: Vital Information Jan 24, 2003 07:04 AM

              I forgot the link to the Spoon Thai secret menu

              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

              1. re: Vital Information
                a
                Al RE: Vital Information Jan 24, 2003 10:34 AM

                Rob,

                I haven't been to Spoon Thai in a few years, but based on your enthusiasm, I'm going to try it again soon. With the secret menu in hand.

                I had some buffet items at Erawan during a trade wine tasting there last fall. They didn't make me want to return to spend Arun kind of money for dinner.

                Cheers,
                Al

                1. re: Al
                  j
                  joan RE: Al Jan 24, 2003 02:32 PM

                  okay, i cant wait. i've never been to spoon thai and have no one to blame but myself. i've driven by it many times and it always looked empty and frankly, rather lame. i never gave it a chance.
                  al,(or anyone else for that matter), anytime you want company at spoon thai, email me.i've gotta go soon, joan

                  1. re: joan
                    r
                    RST RE: joan Jan 24, 2003 07:26 PM

                    I´d go with you Joan but I´m up in the mountains in Ciudad Hidalgo. Got here an hour ago. Wow! Tiny prosperous, bustling little town in the middle of nowhere with what seems like a bustling nightlife about to heat up at the Plaza Principal (plenty of sidewalk vendors setting up for the night). Remember, this is the town where half the residents have supposedly been at least once to Chicago (see the thread on Los Mogotes + most of the immigrants from this part of Mexico are in Rogers Park). I came hoping to find prototypes of some of our food forms but the first thing that greeted me were pizza parlors with ¨thick¨ (haven´t seen true deep-dish yet) Chicago-style pizzas! I guess that´s what I will be looking for tonight! Was in Celaya and San Miguel de Allende yesterday: the owners of El Colonial and Green House (both with stalls at Maxwell) are sanmiguelenses and I hoped to get an insight into where they are coming from food-wise (more on this later). Before that, I was in Tequila (and neighboring towns: Amatitan etc) searching for artisanal tequila. Found some amazing tequilas made the traditional way: fermented the natural way (i.e. without dry yeast), NOT finished with "extracto de roble" (oak flavoring) and¨"glicerina" like the prestige-and-lifestyle-oriented luxury products that we see in the States etc. Will be in Chilapa, Guerrero for the celebrated Sunday market. On Chilapa, see the pozole verde thread. This is one of the great gastronomic centers of Mexico, notwithstanding the fact that it is nothing more than a dusty town in the middle of nowhere. This is where, supposedly, the pozole was invented. Diane Kennedy has called Chilapa (perhaps with just a little exaggeration) the "Lyons of Mexico". Will be ending this trip with a visit to Aguascalientes to compare the gorditas rellenas of "Gorditas Aguascalientes" (two locations: Cicero and at 26th with the supposed benchmark gorditas at Gorditas Victoria. Aguascalientes is supposed to be a great eating town: this is according to Diane Kennedy herself. I picked through all her books for tips on where to eat (Taqueria Max etc) and hope to cover them all. I saw the extension to the thread on nan hsiang siao lung tang bao and may add something later on this question of prototypes, benchmark forms etc. I read through some of the recent threads recently and am surprised at some of the rubbish posted here without anyone here raising a protest. Guys, I am disappointed in all of you for not responding to that bit about there being no Indian food in Chicago or that ridiculous notion that to be "anti-elitist" we have to support dumbed-down chains like Baja Fresh and Chipotle!!! Come on! We´re all in this together. We can either build a great food city together (for us and our children) or continue to support crass money-making businesses that try to flatten and deaden the richness that is out there. Can´t rant on: this computer at the internet cafe is really slow and I have to find a hotel for the night. Sorry if I was a bit incoherent above: can´t edit this now. Have been eating grandly: chomping my way through what seems like a million food stalls. Had aguamiel (the pure sap of maguey) for breakfast yesterday: am addicted to it now. Had black (actually blue) corn gorditas, red corn tortillas, candied squash wedges to blow the mind away...
                    RST

                    1. re: RST
                      m
                      Mike G RE: RST Jan 24, 2003 08:35 PM

                      Boy, I missed the no-Indian-food thread, and good thing too I guess. So now I'm really curious: do you think the deep dish pizza is because of people coming back from Chicago to home with a desire to replicate Giordano's or whatever, or is it just the fact that "Chicago Style Pizza" has become a universal restaurant category like "Coney Island Dogs" or something (I remember 15 years ago walking out of the Tube at Victoria Station after arriving at the airport, and the very first thing that greeted me in London was... Pizzeria Uno!)

                      I was actually thinking about something related to this as I was driving along Diversey the other day and the second most common category of restaurant in Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago, after Hispanic, must be pizza. Most must be simply standard neighborhood pizza like you'd find anywhere, but there must be Mexican variations on pizza starting to pop up (and I don't mean those awful taco pizzas with lettuce and tomato on them or stuff like that)-- chipotles in the sauce, chorizo as a topping, whatever. Anyone ever had a Mexican pizza of the type I'm talking about?

                      1. re: Mike G
                        r
                        RST RE: Mike G Jan 24, 2003 09:37 PM

                        False alarm. I found only a handful of pizzerias and most of them are of the generic (and not necessarily Chicagoan) "thick" type. Fantastic street food though: not as rich and dizzyingly diverse as in the state of Guanajuato (just the endless forms of gorditas in this state alone would require extensive cataloguing). Most of these Michoacano street food forms are of the familiar "taco stand" sort. But I found some wonderful makers of conserved fruits (a typical product from here): I just ate some beautifully conserved chilacayotes (a kind of squash). But the stunning one was the candied squash being sold by an old lady sitting on the floor just outside one of the markets of Dolores Hidalgo (completely off the tourist area) yesterday. Not sweet at all, perfectly candied, slightly crunchy, with lovely slippery-textured vermicelli-like strands encasing the seeds. I was left so speechless by the sheer quality of it. The mostarda of Cremona is a completely different thing of course but this home-produced product stands tall compared to this famous Italian product. I can see this humble candied squash elevated to become part of the cheese service at a great restaurant just as the mostarda is commonly used in cheese plates of the Michelin-starred restaurants outside Mantova (L'ambasciata etc). Have to go: need to check my mail and do other internet chores while I have this internet place close to me. Found a fleabag hotel: turns out that the clerk has lived in Mount Prospect. He told the whole neighborhood so I am now a kind of local celebrity. Am going out to the cantina with the boys in half an hour so that we can all reminisce about good old Chicago.

                        Ciudad Hidalgo reminds me very much of cities in other countries that I enjoy immensely: Davao, Hadyai near the Thai/Malaysian border etc. Absolutely no museums or "sights" in such places but so full of life and activity that one ends up being completely fascinated.
                        RST

                2. re: Vital Information
                  f
                  foodfirst RE: Vital Information Jan 29, 2003 05:32 AM

                  I'm in the middle of moving house so no translation. I haven't forgotten! --- but it may take a couple weeks. In the meantime gin aroy maak maak!

                  1. re: Vital Information
                    j
                    JeffB RE: Vital Information Jan 30, 2003 12:22 PM

                    I'm with you on Spoon Thai. Based on the raves here and the foodfirst menu translation, I've been going nuts. The Isaan sausages and the hawmook talay (curry custard, napa and catfish steamed in banana leaf) are some of the best foods I've tasted, and completely original to a guy who thought he knew something about Thai food for years. BTW, Chicago already was the best sausage town around. The Isaan makes it a landslide.

                    1. re: Vital Information
                      r
                      RST RE: Vital Information Feb 2, 2003 01:19 PM

                      I just read this post and the responses carefully for the first time (was skimming it when I was in Ciudad Hidalgo). One of your favorite restaurants in Chicago: wow! I still remember being shouted down (yes, by you, annieb, ;) by you!) several months ago for wailing and bemoaning the fact that Spoon is almost always empty while the less-worthy Opart a few doors to the north as well as other on-the-well-trodden-track places (SNR etc) are packed to the rafters night after night with Chicago-Magazine-and-Tribune-reading gringos. I celebrated the eve of my birthday with an amazing meal at the ONLY occupied table in the house. There were two walk-in take-out orders (one for fried rice!) and that was it! Why do we live in a city that cannot recognize true value and worth and has to wait for someone else outside for validation?

                      Jeff, that Isaan sausage is wild, isn't it?

                      Re: La Quebrada and gorditas
                      I will have to go back there soon. Just ate my way through dozens and dozens of types/forms of gorditas in dozens of cities throughout the central heartland of Mexico. Gorditas is a whole genre, not just ONE form of street food! Will do a post on this when I get the chance. Am going to suggest tentatively that there is such a thing as a Chicago-style gordita, characterized chiefly by Chicago-style gigantism, i.e. the extraordinary amount of stuffing packed into each gordita. And am going to suggest that the gorditas that we make in this city (certain forms anyway, more later) are some of the best to be had ANYWHERE in the world outside a private kitchen/that they are a benchmark in their own right. Again, I am going to have to revisit and review all our gorditas (the fried small masa cakes at Maxwell, the huge gorditas rellenas at Quebrada and Taq Aguascalientes etc) before I do a post on this.

                      (Was at the Cenaduria San Antonio in Aguascalientes and met the owner Jesus Romo who invited me to spend a day working with them. Unfortunately, I could not stay a day longer bec of other appointments and had to decline the kind offer. Had the celebrated plato hidrocalido which has EVERYTHING on it: a flauta, a potato-filled taco, an enchilada, a sope, pickled pig's feet, pickled vegetables, a sweet tamal of pinenuts and cherry etc. Here you have THE reference point for what is arguably ONE prototype of a certain kind of Mexican cuisine (Tex-Mex etc) as it is understood in this country. This is one of the great street food places in the world and is a destination in its own right. As it is open late-till 12-it is also one of the great nighttime food places everywhere. And like all great nightime food stand, it is a remarkable sight: it seems like all of Balzac-the rich and the poor, from every walk of life, etc-was in the three little interconnected rooms open to the street, chowing away.)

                      (Have been eating the most delicious things: bocoles in SLuis Potosi; condoches; tlacoyos; the cemitas at the Mercado Carmen-also at Parral Market-in Puebla-JeffB will probably speak up in defense of the Cuban sandwich but the Pueblan cemita just might be the greatest single sandwich of the Americas-more later; pelonas outside the San Agustin church in Puebla; molotes; tacos arabes with meat grilled on a vertical spit not fired by gas-as with our gyros places-but by wood burning on three "shelves" behind the rotating spit; chileatole off the street in Puebla similar to the ones at Cemitas Poblanas on North; the benchmark quesadillas de flor de calabaza at the tiny Mercado Sanchez Pascuas in Oaxaca, tlayudas at Tlayuderia Las Reliquias, memelas on Pino Suarez just a few block from the bus station in Oaxaca, etc etc etc)

                      RST

                      1. re: RST
                        j
                        Joan B RE: RST Feb 2, 2003 04:07 PM

                        RST--Did you get to Zacatecas? I'm going there next week. I plan to spend one long weekend in nearby San Luis Potosi which I understand ia a great eating town. I'd love to hear your food thoughts and otherwise on both places.

                        1. re: Joan B
                          r
                          RST RE: Joan B Feb 5, 2003 06:17 PM

                          Hey Joan,
                          The plan was to spend my last three nights on this trip in Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi and Aguascalientes. I had never been to any of these cities and was very excited about the possibility of exploring the gastronomy of this area. Specifically, I had read in Diane Kennedy's "My Mexico" (which was both a great guidebook and a bible to me on this trip) that Aguascalientes is a great eating town. In another one of her books, she had also made intriguing mention of the use in Potosinan cooking of "delicacies of the desert" (yucca flower buds cooked with egg, pickled maguey flower buds called chochas; cabuches which are the round buds of the biznaga cactus; round grape-like fruit of the organ cactus called garambullos, served as a side to filet of beef) and I was quite intent on finding these and trying them out for myself. In addition, we have here in Chicago a huge representation of immigrants from the state of Zacatecas and I wanted to understand a bit of the context of their food. I was told that most of these Zacatecans are in Berwyn but you will also find a concentration (look at the restaurant signs!) on Armitage (and nearby parallel e-w streets, as far north as Diversey) around-say-Kedzie, California, Sacramento. If the city of Jerez (about 30 minutes from the city of Zacatecas) is not the actual source of immigration in Chicago from this state, I suspect that it is an important transport/gathering point (like Celaya in Guanajuato) for towns and villages nearby (there is a "Taqueria Jerez" on Pulaski just north of Lawrence). As it turned out, I decided to spend extra time at Puebla: there was just one more "chancla" I had to try, just one more tip for a "guajolote" (referring here to the sandwich, not turkey) to check out, a tertulia (i.e. literary gathering; in this case at one of the city's many cafes) that I simply can't miss. Puebla is such an endlessly fascinating food city (the street food alone is supreme!) that I just could not tear myself away. Unfortunately, staying on meant shortchanging the cities planned for the end of my trip and I ended up not making it to Zacatecas AT ALL and spending a mere day cramming in BOTH San Luis and the city of Aguascalientes.

                          If you are planning to spend a weekend in San Luis Potosi as a side trip from Zac, I would suggest making a loop to include a detour to Aguascalientes as well. The cities of Zac, Ags & SLP form the apices of a triangle, are 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hrs drive one from the other and make a perfect threesome on a food trip of the northern margins of the Bajio.

                          The ff are a few addresses/comments for Ags and SLP based on a mere several hours of first-time touring at each city. As I said above, I used Diane Kennedy as a hounding guide (I will do an "appreciation" later of this great great book, "My Mexico") and my explorations and searches in these cities (and many of the other cities on this trip) were inspired to a great extent by close-reading of her text and gleaning her scattered "throw-away" remarks. I tried to reconstruct/speculate about what she could have been seeing in something she mentions (its worth, its importance) and more importantly, where she could have found it in the first place (she doesn't provide addresses, as this is not a guidebook). Her magnificent chapters on the Chilapa and the Zitacuaro markets opened up all kinds of universes for me while I was in situ. I would suggest taking along a photocopy of her chapters on Ags and Zacatecas (pp117-147) and even the recipes to consult while on the road. I hope that my ff annotations could also be of some help:

                          SAN LUIS POTOSI

                          The main plaza is the "Jardin Hidalgo" bound by Othon, Allende, Los Bravo and Hidalgo. The bldg next to the cathedral on Hidalgo is the Palacio Municipal; there is a tourist office in this bldg close to the Los Bravo/Hidalgo corner where you could pick up a map. Hidalgo is a lively pedestrian street lined with department stores. About three or four blocks' walk northwards will take you to the Mercado Hidalgo. About halfway to the market, you will see a nut vendor on the street selling delicious pecans from what I assume is the last crop of the season. Also, on the left, is a cremeria with an excellent selection of a whole range of "Carranco" cheeses which is mentioned in DKennedy. A vacuum-packed fist-sized piece of ricotta-type fresh cheese costed me (I think) $1.80 or so (18 pesos).

                          Mercado Hidalgo is not one of the great markets of the republic but there are still many fascinating things to be found here. There are four (or more?) entrances, one on each side of the square. Market entrances are the most exciting places for me bec this is where you will find the women who could not afford to rent a stall and who lug in baskets of their hand-patted tortillas or their hand-made sweets or village specialties or foraged herbs to spread out on the ground. At the south entrance (near the toilets), you will find several ladies with all sorts of herbs and bunches of a tiny millimeter-long deep-dark-green and fiery chile piquin. It is from these women that you would buy garambullos and those other delicacies of the desrt when they are in season in the summer. Those with baskets all wrapped up in towelling will probably have "enchiladas potosinas" (small, half-moon-shaped, deep-fried, fresh-cheese-filled, orange-colored bec the masa is mixed/kneaded with chile) which are the city's most famous street food form. Wherever you see these mysterious baskets, ALWAYS ask what's inside: there may be some rare and unheard-of regional form of tamal or gordita or whatever inside. To the immediate right just inside this entrance is a set of steps to the second level, where there are several food stalls serving simple meals and/or lovely gorditas with your choice of stew-fillings (generally, the same guisados as the choices we have at Gorditas Aguascalientes and other gordita houses in Chicago: chicharron verde, nopales etc). There is a roving four-man norteno band (guitar, accordion, doublebass and drums) to serenade you should you choose to eat here. Near the east entrance is the Refresqueria San Francisco which also makes delicate, richly-savory gorditas ($.35 each). I spent quite a bit of time chatting with these ladies bec the husband/father lives/works here in south Chicago/Indiana. Close to this stall, towards the entrance are a couple of ladies on the floor with piles of tuna (prickly pears, magenta-colored) and chile-powder-sprinkled-xoconostle. Xoconostle is another variety of prickly-pear, is not sweet like tuna but very sour and acidic and is used/seen in states like Guanajuato, Hidalgo and SLP. It is available in Chicago at a number of markets inclg Maxwell and the market next to Asi es Guerrero on North. Diane Kennedy has a recipe for a salsa made with xoconostle on p197 which is very similar to the salsa recipe described to me by one of these vendors on the market floor. The chile-sprinkled-xoconostle is quite a tasting experience: like an intensified and even-more-acidic version of chile-sprinkled green mango. Near the NW corner of the market, you will find several sweets stalls with regional conserves, candies and "ate". Ags state to the west is a major guava-producing region and the "ate de guayaba" from SLP is famous. There is one man here among these stalls who sells little jars of home-pickled chile piquin. Talking of guavas, near the SW corner is a man selling dried whole guavas. He said that they are for "jarabe"; I could not find a recipe but boiled up my pieces last night with plenty of honey to make a kind of delicious guava tea. Incidentally, "papas del monte" (see Kennedy, who provides recipes) are still in season: these are tiny inch-long potatoes and are known in other parts of the Bajio (Guanajuato etc) as silvestres, locas etc. Here, they are called "papas del monte". DKennedy says that they still grow wild although I have seen bins of it (for instance in San Miguel de Allende) that could not possibly have been foraged. And talking of seasonal fruits, I don't remember seeing zapote negro in this market, but this fruit is distributed throughout the country and I have seen it everywhere else. Grab if you see it: eating zapote negro is one of the greatest hedonistic sensations known to man! (Note zapote negro is not the same as the chicozapote, Zim/Cheeku's namesake fruit. Chicozapote is I think not in season at the moment.)

                          To be continued.
                          RST

                          1. re: RST
                            j
                            JoanB RE: RST Feb 6, 2003 10:07 AM

                            Thanks for a great post. I went back to DK and read about the "delicacies of the desert" which I guess I'll have to save for a summer trip. Interesting about the large Zacatecan community in Berwyn. Only on chowhound would I run across someone else for whom the best part of the Mexican market are often the ladies who sit at the entrances with their little treasures!

                            1. re: JoanB
                              r
                              RST RE: JoanB Feb 6, 2003 09:13 PM

                              Joan,
                              I'll continue on SLP and on Aguascalientes when I get home tonight. Some of the "delicacies of the desert" might actually be available as pickles. I got some leads in SLP on where to find them but could not pursue them while I was there. If you see any in Zacatecas (in markets or even in boutique-type gourmet food stores), pls note down the name of the maker and the location it was found and email it to me. On our email conversation earlier today re the superb market in Guanajuato, I didn't mention that for me the vendors sitting outside the west side entrance constitute one of the most magical such groupings. There are only 10 or less vendors (in two shifts: a different group moves in in the afternoon) in that small clearing but what a splendid little collection of treasures. In the morning, there is a lady with bunches of orange blossoms (to make tisane with) and other foraged herbs (both medicinal and culinary). There is a man with a huge plastic jug of aguamiel (the sap of maguey), which is the most delicious and healthful drink imaginable. The flavor takes some getting used to at first: it is herbacious, mineralic and honeyed with a "cool" creamy texture. DK explains a little bit the way this juice is tapped. The process takes place over the course of days and requires the highest level of care and hygiene to prevent spoilage/contamination. There are two ladies sitting side by side selling fresh cheese, little blue corn gorditas (unfilled), hand-patted tortilla made from masa hand-ground on the metate. And because it is Lenten season, there is tortas de camaron (shrimp fritters) as well.

                              In the afternoon, there are two little girls who come to sell their mother's gorditas and bags of rock! The rocks were lime/chalk-like from a first glance and I thought at first that they might be used for cooking (like cal for cooking corn for nixtamal or tequisquite for leavening tamales etc). The girls called it tierra from San Juan de los Lagos (a major pilgrimage site, celebration was on Feb 2, I saw a lot of romerias/pilgrimages headed in the direction of that town while I was in this part of the country). They could not really tell me much about it other than that it IS eaten, as is, specially in cases of nosebleeding etc. I took a bag around the market and quizzed everyone I met about it. I sensed a lack of forthrightness everywhere and by careful cross-examination and sleuthing came to the conclusion that this must be an object of geophagy. Now the eating of rocks is not something to be ashamed of (I'm munching on those rocks now as I type): it is a well-documented phenomena in many different cultures throughout the world and is used (almost always by women) to supplement the body's mineral requirements naturally. There was an interesting article on geophagy in an issue of Gastronomica from last year that noted examples of geophagy in the American South. The use of salt is also a kind of geophagy. I guess people might have been a little bit unwilling to let a foreigner know that people eat rocks for fear that it might be construed the wrong way. A food-stall-owner finally admitted to me that one of her helpers spent the whole day long at work munching slowly on those rocks.

                              RST

                              1. re: RST
                                j
                                JoanB RE: RST Feb 7, 2003 09:35 AM

                                Will definitely be on the lookout for desert delicacies--I'm sure the people I'm staying with can point me in the right direction.

                                Apropos of geophagy--what a great word--I used to occasionally run across older women who had been raised in the South who ate laundry starch. I myself used to sneak bites of clay when I was little--I thought it was absolutely delicious. I'll ask around about the San Juan de los Lagos rocks. You didn't say how they tasted--not like chicken I'd imagine

                            2. re: RST
                              r
                              RST RE: RST Feb 8, 2003 07:06 PM

                              Corrections/additional notes to above post:
                              Re: Chile piquin, I meant centimeter-long NOT millimeter-long.

                              Re: papas del monte
                              DK has a recipe for "papas locas" on p107 and another for "papas pastores" on p135.

                              Re: xoconostle and guava
                              There are many old family recipes from the Bajio that use this cactus fruit in fascinating ways. DK also records one for a "mole de olla" where she says that the acidity of the xoconostle "brings out the flavor of chile". The Guanajuato volume of the Conaculta "La Cocina Familiar" series has recipes for "duck with xoconostle", "frijoles con xoconostle" and "compota de xoconostle". The best eating in Mexico is still in private homes; again and again, fonda- and restaurant-owners admit to me that what is offered in public houses are merely the popular dishes. Joan, I assume that you will be staying with a local family. Always take the opportunity (when meeting locals) to be inquisitive (DK-style) and see if you can pry out some unknown and unheard-of dish/recipe. DK is a superb guide bec she clues one in on regional/seasonal possibilities. For instance, in her Zaca section, she mentions a caldo de res that includes tiny San Juanera pears (are they in season now in Zacatecas?). In the Ags section, she has a recipe for a lomo de puerco in guava sauce (this is from Jesus Romo; more on him below). As Ags is guava country and as it is still (?) guava season, you might try to find a senora who could teach you how to make one of these dishes with guavas or xoconostles.

                              (The Conaculta series should be available at any bookstore. In Zacatecas, the Conaculta bookstore is located at the Museo Manuel Felguerez. The Zacatecas public library is across from the Jardin Independencia.)

                              Re: zapote negro and mamey in Chicago
                              Saw them at La Casa del Pueblo (on 18th/Blue Island) two days ago while looking for something else. Chirimoyas are also available at the moment. Zapote negro and mameys are $3.99 a lb. A single half-lb zapote negro was priced at $2. The cool guys at the produce area ended up cutting these fruits up for me to taste: we had a fun fruit-tasting party and discussion in the back room! I don't know if the zapote negro was picked while green and ripened too long off the tree but it just simply did not have the same unctuousness and the teasing suggestion of sweetness that should be the hallmarks of this fruit. Theoretically, given the terrific, voluminous transport network linking Chicago and Mexico, we should be getting top-quality fruit of the lusciousness-level of those found in Mexican markets. I was told by the guys that all these "exotic fruits" come in in one special wax-lined (?) box. Could the distribution channels be streamlined to ensure better fruit? I don't see why not. In the meantime, at least JeffB can now sleep in peace knowing that there are "maymeys" (once again) in Chicago.

                              Re: ate and Carranco cheese
                              Fruit pastes/preserves and fresh cheese are a great combination. See DK's recipe for "chorreadas" if you
                              end up buying some of each of the above.

                              Re: Taqueria Jerez on Pulaski/Lawrence
                              Passed by last night and saw that they have both gorditas and what they call "burritos jerezanos". I wonder what these "burritos" are like. Have to give this place a try one of these days.

                              *************************************

                              Continuation of notes on San Luis Potosi:

                              Coming back to the central plaza, walk west on Los Bravo past both the Palacio de Gobierno and the Plaza de los Fundadores. (Keep an eye out for the pretty art-deco-era buildings in this area.) The street is now called Venustiano Carranza. It gets increasingly upmarket until you reach the so-called "zona rosa" (around #1000 plus) which is the smart area with its trendy clubs, sushi bars etc. Not quite in the "zona rosa" yet, at #447, is a charming little restaurant called Rincon Huasteco. This place specializes in interpretating the cooking from the Huastec regions of (the eastern parts of) the state (Huastec country also covers the northern parts of Veracruz and the south of Tamaulipas). They have a "Plato Tamazunchale" which includes 2 bocoles (the round masa cake typical of the Huasteca), cecina and Huastec-style enchiladas (not the same as the Potosi-style enchiladas). The restaurant is very comfortable, beautifully decorated with handicrafts (most of them for sale, I think) and has very enthusiastic and friendly servers.

                              Rincon Huasteco
                              Av. V Carranza #447
                              Zona Centro (444) 8182153
                              (another location at Cuauhtemoc #232, Col. Moderna)

                              Coming back on Carranza, turn right on Ildefonso Diaz de Leon to get to the Plaza de San Francisco area; there is an important cluster of museums (Museo Regional Potosino and the Instituto de Cultura) and churches (Templo de San Francisco, Sagrada Corazon, Templo del 3a orden) here. Along the side of the San Francisco, you will find sidewalk vendors of handicrafts (no food though!) I was told that there is a nice cafe/bakery right next to the Museo Regional at Galeana. Did not have time to check this out.

                              One of the most famous dishes of Potosi is the fiambre potosino. In one of her older books, DK talks about Don Miguel Armijo's fiambre at Restaurante La Lonja.
                              (Don Miguel is also the one who introduced DK to the delicacies of the desert.) Unfortunately, La Lonja was converted into a bar (with an upstairs private club) about 2-3 years ago and is no longer serving meals (there is a small bar menu of 3 or 4 snacking items). It is still a quite pleasant (but smoky) place to have a drink and very atmospheric bec of the politico-and journalist-type clientele. I don't have an address but it is (I think) at Aldama between Iturbide and Othon. The other "fine dining" spot recommended to me (but which I could not check out) is "La Fonda de Orizatlan" at Pascual Hernandez #240, also in the historic center.

                              Some additional notes on San Luis:
                              1.) Excellent enchiladas potosinas could supposedly be had from sidewalk vendors in the Parque Tangamanga to the south. Never made it there.
                              2.) On Los Bravo, on the north side of the street, walking west from 20 de Septiembre and the now-closed train station, there is a "Taqueria Jassos" that offers barbacoa de res cooked in a steel pan lined with "pencas de maguey". You can see the maguey "leaves" draped over the edge of the pan. The tortillas are factory-flipped, and of the sinister 3-inch-diameter-sort that has in the past 2 or 3 years gained the upper hand in sales and usage in large industrial cities like Guadalajara (I will rant above this squandering of the rich heritage of the corn tortilla on another post). Not specially memorable tacos: but as tacos are so cheap, you might wish to stop to sample the excellent chile-de-arbol-based salsa (made in the large displayed molcajete) with one or two tacos of your preferred part of the meat (specify tongue, brain, eye etc).
                              3.) Around the corner (at Constitucion) is a wheat-flour tortilla maker/wheat-flour product purveyor with facilities open right to the street. The name is Escalante (east side of street, across from Cafe Pacifico) and it is (I think) a franchise business as I have seen Escalantes elsewhere. The operation here represents a kind of intermediate level between homemade (as at Polo on 18th or as with the tacos arabes at Cemitas Poblanas on North) and the large assembly-lines that produce our bags of chemically-preserved supermarket tortillas. As you can see, a lot of the tortilla-making here is still dependent on the hand and the eye despite the presence of those old clumsy dinosaur-era machines. The balls of dough are still (I think) hand-formed. They are then pressed one by one on the machine, peeled off by hand, thrown with panache like a frisbee unto the cooking surface. A second woman manages the cooking, adroitly keeping track of some 15-18 tortillas in their diff stages of cooking and flipping now one, now another. Once a tortilla starts puffing up, it is peeled off again and "frisbeed" across the room to land on a kind of steel-screen where electric fans cool it down at once. Great fun to watch these ladies go at it with such verve, such nimbleness, such energy and efficiency. Tortillas are P14 a kilo ($1.40) or P7 for half. Might make a good match with the ate and the Carranco cheese for a quick snack!

                              RST
                              (Notes on Aguascalientes to follow)

                              1. re: RST
                                r
                                RST RE: RST Feb 8, 2003 11:06 PM

                                Additional notes: The La Lonja bar is on Aldama and Madero. From the (sweet) prickly pear (tuna) a fermented drink called colonche is made. I am assuming that the fermentation is simple and straightforward as for tepache, the pineapple beer of Jalisco (can be made in your kitchen, see DK and other cookbooks). I was not able to find an example of colonche when I was in this area. Also: SLP is supposed to have a rich repertory of recipes for nopales.

                                RE: AGUASCALIENTES

                                All the places in Aguascalientes referred to on these posts can be located by using the main plaza (Plaza de la Patria) as the central coordinate. Stand on this plaza with the amphitheater (and the column) behind you and immediately in front of (facing) the gates of the cathedral. The street extending to the right (north) is 5 de Mayo and takes you to the city's markets. To the left, steps leading down from the plaza continue on as Calle Jose Maria Chavez, where you will find Jesus Romo and the Cenaduria San Antonio. Crossing Chavez right after the steps is the Avenida Lopez Mateos, which (going eastwards) leads to the very disappointing late-night Taqueria Max (more later).

                                On the other corner of the plaza (walk through the pretty tree-shaded central section of this plaza), on the Madero and Juarez corner is the shell of the fabled Hotel Francia, the old haunt of bullfighters and city movers-and-shakers. This is the hotel once owned by the de Andrea family. DK notated a number of recipes from Ana de Andrea, who ran the restaurant and a famed catering business. These include a pollo a la uva in an earlier book and, in My M, an intriguing one for chicken and coconut stuffed in guava. This corner building now houses a Sanborn's (department store, open till midnight) and the Hotel Calinda Francia. Presumably, the de Andrea family does not have any stake in the present businesses on this corner and run their catering operations elsewhere (perhaps out of the Hotel De Andrea Avenida). I was quite disappointed to discover the changes as I wanted very much to try some of these de Andrea dishes.

                                Parallel to 5 de Mayo, the next street starting from the side of the cathedral is the calle Guadalupe Victoria or c/Victoria. A few steps from the corner at #110 is the famous Gorditas Victoria, one of the supposed benchmarks of the gordita rellena of Aguascalientes (it's in DK too) and one of my main objects on this trip as I wanted to see how our Chicago gorditas compare. I was told later by several people that better gorditas could be found elsewhere in the city. I myself came to the conclusion that theirs do not represent a huge leap of quality beyond our Chicago gorditas or some of the many other benchmark gorditas I sampled throughout the Bajio (but this topic is for another post). They still make some very tasty gorditas nevertheless and it is great fun to follow the ladies at every step of the process as they shape the masa, griddle-bake the dough carefully, fill it with the various stuffing etc.

                                A very short walk north on 5 de Mayo takes you to the Mercado Jesus Teran, which is the city's central market. This is actually the anchor of a series of tiny market buildings on separate streets but close enough to each other for these all to be called one group. There is a small market (a bit poor) for artesanias on Obregon to the north. To the east (walk east on Teran's east entrance, by the flowers) is the tiny Mercado Morelos which primarily houses food stalls. On calle Victoria, to the west is the equally tiny Mercado Juarez, which is also devoted to food stalls. This Mercado Juarez is of course a mere couple of blocks north of Gorditas Victoria.

                                DK has a bit of information on some of the specialties to be found in the Mercado Teran, but the really don't-miss items are the different condoches sold out of a basket by a girl outside the north side of the market. Condoches are in the family of gorditas (I guess bocoles can be considered so too) but instead of being griddle-cooked (or sometimes deep-fried, as at Green House Steak at Maxwell Street market), they are baked in an (adobe) oven. DK includes the mother's recipes in My Mexico. Actually, I don't know if it is the same woman who makes these. I was in such a hurry on that last morning in Mexico that I did not conduct my usual interrogation ;) but if you run into her, Joan, ask if her mother is Maria (the Maria del Refugio Martinez of the book; chances are she wouldn't even know that her mother's recipe was in a book!) Supposedly, she shows up with her condoches after 9 a.m. but I find that the best time to look for such special items at the market is closer to midday, perhaps after 10 or 11.

                                There is reportedly another place to find condoches in the city but I could not wait for this vendor at all. This is at the side entrance of the main bus terminal (right hand side when facing the building). If you happen to come into the station around midday, you might wish to ask for a peek if you see any ladies with baskets outside that door.

                                Incidentally, outside this same door, is a vendor doing a very brisk business selling pre-made (like tacos de canasta) "burritos". This is the only time EVER in all my explorations of the central heartland ANYWHERE, on this trip or on the previous ones, that I have run into a food form called a "burrito". I don't know if the name has deep roots in this region that pre-date the burrito's misadventures ;) in California or if it is a case of reverse influence (immigrants bringing back California forms: DK has a few notes about this-the use of sour cream in guacamole etc). You might also wish to keep an eye for it while in Zacatecas since I caught sight of a so-called "burrito jerezano" (whatever that is) on the menu of Taqueria Jerez. At any rate, this "burrito" is about 4 1/2 inch or 5 inch long, about as thick as a spring roll, is made with wheat-flour tortilla. As I was running very late and getting really frazzled about missing my bus, I could not stop to grab one to find out about the filling (I assume it's meat and beans).

                                One more note about another gordita variation: there is another type of gordita around in this city which is not filled (stuffed; rellena) but "envuelto". It usually carries the name of its major "flavoring": either frijoles or "migajas de chicharron". Essentially, the bits (migajas) of chicharron are worked into the masa and the whole formed into flat, fat little cakes. There is one place on the way to the bus station that makes four sizes of these (starting from about 2 1/2 inch diameter) but again, as I was on the run, I ended up not taking down notes on the location.

                                To be continued (re: "cuajo" at Mercado Juarez, Taqueria Max, Cenaduria San Antonio)

                                RST

                                1. re: RST
                                  r
                                  RST RE: RST Feb 14, 2003 01:39 PM

                                  (continued)
                                  I just found my copy of Iturriaga ("De tacos, tamales y tortas" Ed. Diana, 1987) and see that he uses the word "burritas" intead of "burritos". I wonder if that vendor at the Aguascalientes bus station actually said "burritas" to me. Zacatecas is according to him just about the southern limit of the "burrita", which he classifies as a form of taco but with the distinction that it is made with tortilla de harina de trigo. He says that the most often-seen "burritas" (but remember, this is from 1987) are those of machaca (often revuelto con huevos) and of cabrito asado (roast goat). Iturriaga's book, by the way, is still the most important book written on these everyday food forms and every single essay/study available out there (including those on the various Mexican food websites) either plagiarize him shamelessly or (at the least) copy and follow his categories and distinctions.

                                  ******

                                  Aguascalientes continued (back to the markets):

                                  The smaller market buildings, Mercado Juarez and Mercado Morelos, are both lined with stalls specializing in birria (Aguascalientes abuts Jalisco to the south) and in menudo. This is where you can find the "cuajo" that is mentioned by DK (she calls it cuajadilla, but everyone at the market calls it cuajo). I am not sure why she chooses to bring up cuajo in this chapter as it is available throughout the country. It may be that she simply found specially good versions here or it may be that, this region being cattle country, the cuajo is specially prized in this city and is more readily found.

                                  "Cuajo" is the fourth stomach (the abomasum) of cows (in this case almost certainly of calf) and corresponds to what the French call caillette and to that great delicacy that the Florentines call lampredotto. This is the rennet stomach, which contains the enzyme (called chymosin or rennin) that catalyzes the coagulation of curds/cheese (Fr. caille = curd). There is a long and venerable history of the appreciation of the different parts of tripe and intestines in European gastronomy, and in Spanish culture, this connoisseurship could be traced back through many complicated shifts of word-usage (historical changes, regional variations etc) through the classic texts of Guzman de Alfarache, Cervantes etc. Mexico follows the old world in this connoisseurship. Authentic French, Italian or Spanish recipes calling for tripe always specify the kind required; this is true of genuine recipes for such specialties as "tablier de sapeur" as well as for classics such as "tripes a la mode de Caen". The original "tripes a la mode de Caen" includes all four kinds of stomach but bec of the non-availability of the rennet stomach in the US (and I think the UK), cookbooks in the Anglo-American world almost invariably list only the honeycomb tripe (the French "bonnet") as the main ingredient. Similarly, menudo in this country always seems one-dimensional bec of the use of only one (or sometimes two) kind of tripe. This is why it was such a luxury for me to be able to enjoy a proper menudo here in Aguascalientes with a choice of different types of tissues with their changing textures, thicknesses, and qualities of savoriness.

                                  Joan, cuajo is to die for! This is one of the greatest delicacies among "variety meats". Unlike the tissues of the other stomachs, the cuajo is blue-black in color (perhaps bec of the presence of the enzymes?), is meltingly tender with a slight quite-exquisite suggestion of chewiness at the end. It also has its own specific savoriness unlike the other tripes (the bonnet or the "book" tripe) which merely absorb the flavors of the other elements of the dish. I am not familiar with Mexican tripe-cleaning processes but note that the cooked lampredotto of Florence is generally tan-brown in color (lampredotto, and quality tripe for cooking, is always from calf; I assume it is the same for cuajo).

                                  There is another part from this fourth stomach that is used in menudo. It is called "manzana" and I was told that it is the "upper part" (parte de arriba) of this same stomach (by "upper" I took it to mean closer to the small intestine rather than closer to the 3rd stomach//see cow anatomical maps: the fourth stomach curves upwards). This is another delicacy: ivory in color, far thicker than the "cuajo" with many layers of thin, soft tissues giving it a spongey character, also meltingly tender but without that delicate toothsome quality of the cuajo. It is also richly savory.

                                  Not every stall has cuajo or manzana everyday: ask first as they might not have been able to acquire it that day or as they might have sold out. I had my menudo at stall #27 of Mercado Juarez, which is run by the most wonderful couple, Joaquin Hernandez and his wife Ofelia. Ofelia had every kind of tripe available: cuajo, manzana, panza (the rumen stomach), callos and libro (omasum) as well as pata (calf's foot). These are all long-cooked at night to be ready to serve the next morning at crack of dawn (all the seats at their stall were occupied when I stopped by at 8). I asked for a small bowl first with only cuajo and manzana so that I could focus only on their contrasting textures and flavors. Senora Ofelia picked out these parts from her pot and cut slivers of the appropriate thickness from each. She then poured a quantity of her menudo broth into an intermediate pot to strain off the oil on the surface while turning to ask if I prefer it with plenty of the oil or not. For those who think that menudo is some fiery crude, grease-and-chile concoction, this menudo is a revelation. The broth is light and elegant with subtle and delicate flavors. The only garnishes are a bit of onion, a bit of cilantro, chopped serrano (and salsa to adjust heat level) and some tortillas (ask for them to be crisped on the grill) on the side. After I had finsihed off half of my soup, I asked her to add a portion of chewy book tripe as well as one of "nervios" (tendon). All the wild textures (the leathery libro, the thickly-gelatinous tendon, the soft cuajo) made for some truly crazy, truly amazing eating. I think that menudo (with the extra portions) came up to about P30 ($less tha $2). Not to be missed!

                                  Since I came back, I have been trying to figure out this puzzle of why cuajo is not available in the country. I stopped at all the large supermercados at all the large Mexican neighborhoods in the city (Carniceria Aguascalientes on 26th, Casa del Pueblo in Pilsen, Jimenez at North/Pulaski, Morelia at Rogers Park etc) but no one has anything other than the standard "menudo moreno" (corresponding to the panza or the first stomach), the "menudo blanco" (the honeycomb part) and "libro" (the French feuillet). (Incidentally, tripe preparation in this country is also diff from that of tripiers in France, Mexico etc: the flavors are almost always bleached out by too vigorous cleaning and processing, leaving only a flavorless piece of leather.) I also stopped at our largest Korean markets (Arirang, Chicago Food Corp, Clark Market) and even Chinese butchers (even if the Chinese are not big beef eaters) but had no luck.

                                  The guys keep telling me that this stomach is banned by the city inspectors. I am wondering if this is entirely true as many other kinds of variety meats are widely available including whole heads of lamb (eyeballs, brains and all) at halal/Arab butchers, pig uterus (at Chinese markets), chitterlings and testicles at African-American supermarkets (try the one on Pulaski and 24th?), small intestines (called tripas) at the Mexican markets. Koreans and Eastern Europeans make and eat blood sausages, Michoacanos here make and sell morongas, the Filipinos have their dinuguan and their papait (bile) dishes; so why not cuajo? We know that Anglo-American food regulations/laws are often needlessly fastidious (which is why true raw milk cheeses, some of the greatest gastronomic treasures of France, are not available here); at the same time, cattle in this country is raised with so much antibiotic and hormones that several offal parts (for instance, lights or lungs, unfortunately; the French mou en civet is delicious!) must be prohibited bec of the presence of trace residue of these chemicals in them. Yet, I could not find a specific law anywhere (in Agriculture Department sites or in Chicago meat inspection check sheets//but my search has just begun) that forbids the abomasum. I am beginning to think that it may not be available bec it is not commercially worthwhile to carry this and perhaps also bec it doesn't have the same shelf-life as the bleached and processed honeycomb/rumen/book tripes. At any rate, the quest for an answer to why RST is being denied his cuajo in this country continues!!!

                                  *****

                                  PANINO COL LAMPREDOTTO AND CHICAGO ITALIAN BEEF

                                  The panino di lampredotto is one of the greatest sandwiches of the world and is the specialty of Florence. It could be found in that city at the Mercato Centrale (San Lorenzo market): the torchbearer is supposedly the food stall called Narbone which dates back to and has been specializing in lampredotto since 1872 (?). I actually prefer the lampredotto sandwich of some of the ambulatory carts outside the market. The abomasum is long-cooked right on the cart, in a "gravy" (or "jus", what was the distinction again? Help, Yourpalwill!) that has just a touch of tomatoes in it. After being cut in half, the inner surfaces of the round rolls are dunked in the jus (if I remember correctly, they actually ask you if you want it "wet") before being stuffed with the chopped-up lampredotto. I can eat three or four of these in a row easily (this is why I never get to enjoy a proper meal at a restaurant in Florence: I am always eating lampredotto). It is a magnificent, lusty, sloppy eating experience! Italians from other regions look down on lampredotto which is why for a long time I could not find a correct translation of it: no one cared to define it properly, not even the great Italian dictionaries and encyclopaedias I consulted. Pull lampredotto up on Google and you will also find all kinds of incorrect translations (one calls it pancreas, another chitterlings).

                                  The panino col lampredotto, is also, if RST is correct, one of the distant (and nobler) relations of the Chicago Italian beef. John Mariani, in his Encyclopaedia of American Food, claims that Chicago Italian beef has absolutely no cognate form or ancestor form in Italy and is purely American in origin. But surely, all those various tripe sandwiches of Tuscany (of which the panino di lampredotto is merely one example) must be antecedent forms of our humble Beef. Surely, there is a memory of the layers of thin, chewy tripe of those sandwiches in the paper-thin slices of meat in our Beef; surely the thin, dark, intensely-flavorful (and garlicky!) sauces are also not unrelated. I have my leads and will expand with more specific recipe comparisons some other time. In the meantime, I am staking a claim to be the first person ever to make this connection. Pls make sure of proper attribution to RST should you see this connection repeated elsewhere or should you repeat this. ;) Just want to guarantee RST's immortality in Italian-beef-history here ;).

                                  RST
                                  (to be continued: re Jesus Romo)

                                  1. re: RST
                                    r
                                    RST RE: RST Feb 15, 2003 01:07 AM

                                    A couple of corrections and notes to above:

                                    *Typo: P30 should be = "less than $3".
                                    *Typo: the place is Nerbone, not Narbone (Da Nerbone at Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo).

                                    *The Hernandezes' stall doesn't have a name; it's just #27.

                                    *The rennet stomach is also called the reed stomach, the "true" stomach or the milk stomach. In parts of Spain, it is called cuajar or sometimes cuaja (with an accent on the final a). All the different words used in different regions of Spain and in the different former colonies to refer to innards/offal could fill a whole book. The rennet stomach also exists in other ruminants (sheep, goat) but I don't know in which country/region this part is enjoyed as food. Despite what I suggested above, I really do not know what milk or the action of enzymes in this stomach have to do with the tenderness and texture of this tissue.

                                    *There is precious little correct information on tripe to be found in English-language cookbooks. Even the English editions/translations of the great French classic cookbooks seem to have suppressed any reference to abomasum (calling instead for honeycomb) even when it is called for in the original. Alan Davidson's entry for "tripe" in the Oxford is itself surprisingly riddled with several mistakes.

                                    *There is another part of tripe offered at this stall in Aguascalientes called the CORRAL. I have not been able to confirm which part exactly it is. Apparently there are names for many individual sections (the fattier part, the smaller section near the opening etc) of each stomach.

                                    *Apparently, abomasum is available in Germany (as Labmagen or Rinderlabmagen). There also doesn't seem to be any bans on it in Canada (I just looked through the meat regulations on their Department of Justice website). Again, I am not completely sure it is forbidden by law here, despite the butchers' uncertainty. In addition to the speculations above on why it is not available, it may also be possible (?) that it is a part sold to the chemical industry for the processing of rennet extract and other compounds (?). In rural areas of Mexico, this stomach is simply chopped up and thrown into the milk to start the coagulation. This was also the way it was done in Europe before the 20th century.

                                    *I was just at Andy's (Kedzie/Lawrence). Boy, do they have a great selection of offal! Lamb, pig and calf hearts. Lamb, pig and calf liver. Kidneys. Intestines. Brains. Bull fries (testicles) at $2.29 a lb. And almost certainly all halal. Also some great Middle-eastern sausages (one thick Assyrian sausage on offer among many others.) But again no abomasum.

                                    Noor City Market at 4718 N. Kedzie (west side of Kedzie, just north of the Ecuadorian video store) is a tiny tiny storefront run by a wonderful Jordanian woman and is a gem among the city's smaller meat markets. She has (in addition to most of the above list of variety meats) whole lamb heads (with intact eyeballs, brain, tongue: presumably to make pacha), spleen and fresh homemade MAQANEQ (this sausage is actually available fresh at several ME meat markets around town; Lebanese Meat Market across the street also makes it in large volumes but freezes it at once for shipping). Al-Khaym also has the whole range of offal meats: the Mexican butcher there gave me a ME recipe today for spleen (sliced horizontally in the middle, without going all the way) stuffed with spice-scented rice. He called spleen "pajarilla".

                                    *I was also at the wonderful Filipino turo-turo at Lawrence/Pulaski (next to Pharaohs) called "Wok Express" (the name of the previous restaurant on this site/they chose not to change it). Had a wonderful meal of quekiam (a Filipino-Fookienese specialty) which is a kind of cooked pork-stuffed sausage (the "casing" is rolled sheets of bean curd "skin"!) and beef caldereta, fragrant with coconut milk. They are primarily a "caterer" and so keep only the most well-known dishes (adobos, nilaga, dinuguan etc) on their turo-turo; but they make very good stuff here. The wife is from Malabon and the cooking is Tagalog.

                                    I chatted with her a bit about offal meat and she mentioned that she is no longer able to buy "abdo" (I think this is gallbladder) which she grinds up for her papait, bec the Health Department seems to have decided to ban it.

                                    Talking of bile, the lovely Sudanese Souliane who waits at Al-Mataam (she studies theater at De Paul) told me that the Sudanese eat a dish called kamuniya which is also cooked in bile. She said that there are places where this could be acquired.

                                    *I suspect that there may be certain kinds of variety meats kept aside and made available here and there only to the community the business serves.

                                    *Penis (for Korean fortifying soups) is almost certainly available at Chicago Food Corp.

                                    *Finally, a link to someone's personal website/diary re a stay in Florence. It's the only image I could find on the net of the panino di lampredotto. I don't know whose page it is as there is no back/home button to the page. There are some inaccuracies in the description of the panino.

                                    RST

                                    Link: http://www.zimut.net/AA%20Nouveaux%20...

                                    1. re: RST
                                      i
                                      ironmom RE: RST Feb 15, 2003 05:23 PM

                                      If you search with Altavista, you'll find lots of other images. I found a good site for sandwiches, but the picture below is very clear as to what you'd be eating.

                                      Link: http://www.lampredotto.com/

                                      Image: http://www.firenze.net/cuts/img20054.jpg

                                      1. re: ironmom
                                        r
                                        RST RE: ironmom Feb 16, 2003 09:17 PM

                                        I saw that image, but was looking specifically for one with the sandwich. I also wanted to give a sense of the weight and the color of the broth of the panino, just for the sake of comparison with the Italian Beef. That seems like an image of a simple bollito.

                                        VI pointed out (in private mail) that pork products could not possibly be halal. Sorry, my bad. I meant to say that the lamb and veal products available at this market (but then, the owners of Andy's could actually be Christian Assyrians from Iraq, does anyone know for sure?) were probably prepared, if not with the strict religious rituals, at the least using the broad guidelines that prescribe extra care and meticulousness in butchering, in cleaning etc.

                                        He also thought that my theory about the origin of Italian beef is preposterous bec he claims that Beef has a southern Italian origin. But whatever ;) He's been taken in ;) by all that PR repeated endlessly at Al's and other places about grandpapa being the inventor of Beef. Incidentally, Tuscany (unlike the south) IS cattle country, thus, you have your Tuscan steaks, the celebrated chianina breed etc

                                        RST

                          2. re: RST
                            v
                            Vital Information RE: RST Feb 2, 2003 08:22 PM

                            I ate dinner at Spoon on Friday night, and perhaps good, perhaps bad, the place jammed. All tables stood occupied. Nearly every table contained Thai Americans eating Spoon's authentic dishes. All the hustle and bustle diminished just slightly the fantasticness of the place, making it mearly great instread of really great.

                            It was all in the little touches. The chicken laab came on one bed of lettuce instead of the individual pieces as before (although the bite sized pieces of romaine with the beef salad about canceled out that issue). The Chinese brocoli just a tad watery. The one bite crispy salad came, at first, without the bits of thai chili's, a needed component to the explosion of flavors that is this dish. It came, but after asking, but you know what I mean about perfection being the standard. Also, with the crowds, no one had time to carve me out some vegetables as at lunch.

                            Be picky!

                            1. re: RST
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                              annieb RE: RST Feb 2, 2003 10:56 PM

                              Let's see, would that be the post where I objected to a thread that made reference to a "secret menu written on toilet paper"?

                              Sorry if I don't like clubby.

                          3. g
                            Gypsy Boy RE: JeffB Jan 24, 2003 11:51 AM

                            Amen!
                            Just returned from a long weekend in Santa Fe. While there, I had the chance to indulge my "chile tooth" for all kinds of wonderful, local specialties. Things I can't really get here and running the gamut from breakfast through snacks and dinner. I had a couple passable meals and a number of truly excellent ones. I regret not being able, for example, to revisit Cafe Pascual on a much more frequent basis or to have breakfast at Tecolote Cafe more often. I even was dismayed to find how much Coyote Cafe seemed to have "improved" since my last visit.
                            But as wonderful as all those things unquestionably were, one of the true reasons I could never leave this town (or could, but kicking and screaming) is the extraordinary variety. Things virtually any other city in the country would be lucky to have, we can count on day-in and day-out.
                            Thanks for your reminder: we really should be grateful!
                            Gypsy Boy

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