Tag Archives: spring break

International Foods of NYC: Poutine, the greasy, Canadian staple

Poutine – the ultimate comfort food.

Instead of escaping to the sunny beach, I decided to venture to chilly Montreal during spring break. It is a relaxed city with a very fun nightlife, perfect for students. A Montreal staple is poutine, French fries covered with gravy and topped with cheese curds. The gravy gives the fries a soggy texture and the cheese curds add chewiness. It’s as gluttonous as it sounds.

Classic Poutine

A common tale about poutine’s origins tells the story of Fernand Lachance who asked for cheese curds on top of his fries, exclaiming how it would be such a mess. He called it a ‘poutine,’ which means mess in French. Gravy was later added to keep the fries warm. Eating poutine is truly a messy process so there definitely is a reason for its name.

‘Frites Alors!’ is a restaurant in Montreal that specializes in poutine, selling the classic along with several different variations. The most popular combination is the ‘Frites Alors!’ special which comes with sautéed onions, peppers, and mushrooms on top of the traditional toppings. It adds flavor to the rather bland mix. However, the lethargic and stuffed feeling that comes after eating poutine is inevitable, no matter what is put on top.



Frite Alors! Special

New York is the city with all kinds of food so surely there must be places that serve this not-so delicate delicacy. In fact, there are two rather popular Canadian restaurants that both reference the Mile End district of Montreal, the equivalent to New York’s Soho, in their title. Zagat has rated both these restaurants, ‘Mile End,’ located in Noho on Bond Street, and ‘Mile End Delicatessen,’ located in Brooklyn, amongst the best fries in New York City. They are both given very high ratings on Yelp, Google, and Zagat.

Note, while eating poutine, it’s important not to be self-aware. Or else you begin to freak out about the high calories and total lack of nutrients that you’re consuming. Thus, it’s the perfect late night food that warms you and puts you to sleep. I can see why it is such a staple in Quebec given the cold and wintery climate.



Street Food in Rio de Janeiro


Spring break came and went and while everyone was waiting for Spring to spring, I decided to go to Brazil, and what a trip it was! I was in Rio de Janeiro for about a week, and spent a night in Buzios, a beautiful seaside town three hours from Rio.

One of the great things about Rio was the incredibly diverse and inexpensive variety of street food that was offered. From churros to popcorn (yes, popcorn) to other stuff with unknown names, Rio was a gastronomic delight.

On my first night in Rio, I saw many small pushcarts that were set up around a town square. I had just indulged in a rather heavy dinner of the carnivorous variety and was looking for something sweet to balance out the intense saltiness of the meal. Unlike the churros in the U.S. that come with a cup of chocolate sauce, the churros in Rio had the sauce inside the churro. You could get either chocolate or caramel, and obviously I chose to get both. Upon ordering, the man would stick the churro into a contraption and pull on a lever, dispensing oodles of chocolate and caramel sauce into the churro, so that when you bite into it, the sauce oozes out into your mouth.


Later we decided to pop into a bakery in Lapa, the nightlife district of Rio. People go to Lapa for the clubs, the samba, and the dubious roadside stalls serving up caiparinha, the national cocktail of Brazil. I thought I needed something sweet (again) and got myself these cakes that were sitting in a display in the bakery. Few people I met in Rio spoke English well enough for me to ask them to describe the food to me, and I had absolutely no ability to converse in Portuguese myself. What transpired was a rather intense session of pointing and gesticulating – and I eventually got three desserts to share with my travel companions. The first I guess was an egg custard tart, similar to the Portuguese egg tarts that I get back home in Singapore. The other was similar to a creme caramel that are a staple in mid-price French eateries, which I felt was just a little too sweet even for my sweet tooth. My favorite was a yellow cake with a crunchy brown bottom. I have no idea what it actually was; but I guessed it was a sort of tapioca cake with lots of brown sugar at the bottom. It was extremely tasty, although it was impossible to gorge on because it is quite heavy.


One of my favorite dishes was from a stall at a market near Ipanema Beach. The market is there every Sunday and is a place for local artists to showcase and sell their unique creations. What I got was an amazing sandwich of doughy fried bread, some sort of lentil mash, okra stew and shrimp with its shell on. It was a wonderful combination of some pretty funky flavors with crispy bread and fresh shrimp. The best part was that it was less than 3 US dollars!



I had many other interesting dishes in Rio and I wish I could feature them all. What I can say about Rio is, go there and try whatever you can find on the streets. There are fantastic flavors and intriguing dishes and nothing is really too strange or too out there. Brazilian food is not the most elegant and can be a little heavy, but it is an absolute delight. Brazilians, and Cariocas (people from Rio) especially, love to have a good time without too much fuss, and that is reflected in the food of this city.

Sweet Tooth Recipes: Pina Coladas

Hop on a flight at JFK with your drink and your bikini because we are taking this sweet tooth recipe down south. Whether you’re going to Miami for spring break, staying in New York City, or going somewhere even colder (you can find me trekking through the landscape of Nova Scotia), this recipe will be sure to keep you warm. Sip it poolside or in a cabin in the snow, and enjoy your spring break because after those midterms, you deserve it.


  • 4 cups of Ice
  • 2/3 cup fresh Pineapple (cut into chunks)
  • 3 oz. Cream of Coconut
  • 4 oz. Pineapple Juice
  • 2 tbsp. Lime Juice (preferably from a fresh lime)
  • 3 oz. Light Rum


  1. Cut up pineapple into chunks.
  2. Throw everything into a blender.
  3. Blend Blend Blend
  4. Add more ice if the mixture is too liquidy.
  5. Pour into a fun glass (or coconut if you’re feeling extra fun) and garnish with a slice of pineapple or a sprig of mint.
  6. Treat Yo’ Self. Enjoy.



A Home-Cooked Meal for Spring Break

Warm Waraq Dawali, with stuffed grape leaves, zucchini, and lamb chops

Much of what we associate with home is the food that we grow up eating. Many people will tell you that nothing is better than mom’s cooking. When we are homesick, what we miss most is our favorite home-cooked meal. After making the 12-hour-long trip back home for spring break, I could not help but ask my mom to prepare my favorite meal, and I’d like to tell you about it. This dish has many names depending on where you’re from. My family calls it waraq dawali, others call it waraq ‘inab, others dolma. Stuffed grape leaves (waraq in Arabic), are the main component of the dish. It is believed that the word dolma comes from the Turkish dolmak, to stuff. There are many varieties of stuffed grape leaves. In Greece and Turkey, they are served as cold mezzes, whereas in Egypt they are eaten hot, accompanied by other stuffed vegetables such as eggplants and cabbages.

My favorite dish, waraq dawali, is a pot with layers of stuffed grape leaves, stuffed zucchini, tomatoes, and onions, and lamb chops on the top. These layers are tightly packed in a large pot, cooked, and then inverted on a plate. The stuffing is usually a mixture of rice, minced meat, and tomatoes, although different households will have different varieties , just like different American homes have different varieties of Turkey stuffing on Thanksgiving.  While the pot is on the stove, the juices of the grape leaves and zucchini flow, trickling down through the layer to give moisture and a lot of flavor. The lamb chops at the very top of the dish (or the very bottom of the pot), are juicy and tender. This dish is really one of the most popular among people from the Middle East. It’s a perfect meal; it offers lots of protein from the meat and the stuffing, a healthy serving of carbs from the rice, and rich nutrients from the grape leaves and zucchini. It is a very filling meal, and can keep you warm when the temperatures in that part of the world occasionally drop below 60 degrees.

Appetizers: Lahmeh Mabroumeh on the left; Kibbeh on the right

Lunch in the Middle East is, of course, never complete without some delicious sides. The day I had my favorite meal, my mom also prepared two of my favorite side dishes. The first is called Kibbeh and originates in the Syrian city of Aleppo. A kibbeh is prepared by encasing a minced meat and onion mixture in a dough-like shell made from bulgur wheat, lemon juice, and even more meat. This oval-shaped dumpling is then deep-fried, giving the case a crunchy texture. No one ever said that all Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food is diet-friendly, but kibbeh is a really popular side-dish found all over the Levant and Iraq, with many different variations and shapes. The other side dish that I had was specifically a Palestinian pastry that consists of rolled up filo dough stuffed with, again, meat. Its name, lahmeh mabroumeh, is accurately descriptive because it literally means “rolled up meat.” Usually, this pastry is found as an appetizer accompanying other savory pastries like spinach or cheese pies (fatayer sabanegh w jibneh).

As you may have guessed, after eating all of this food in one sitting, I was too full for dessert, but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t have any. In my next post, I’ll tell you about my favorite Middle Eastern dessert, the knafeh. 

Thirty Minute Gourmet: Fennel, Prosciutto and Pomegranate Salad

Fennel, Prosciutto and Pomegranate Salad - Image courtesy of smittenkitchen

So even though it was spring break this last week, somehow I managed to have little to no time to cook for myself. Is it just me, or do breaks seem to fly by too quickly?

In any event, thankfully I had this recipe to fall back on for this week’s post: Fennel, Prosciutto and Pomegranate Salad. It is a great, simple way to showcase one of my favorite ingredients: prosciutto. Paired with the sweet-tart pomegranate seeds and peppery, fresh arugula, this salad has got it all going on: richness, sweetness, saltiness and of course, big meaty flavor from the prosciutto. Paired with a flatbread and a glass of chianti, you’re in for a fabulous, not to mention speedy, meal.

Fennel, Prosciutto and Pomegranate Salad
Adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2008 Continue reading Thirty Minute Gourmet: Fennel, Prosciutto and Pomegranate Salad