Tea Tuesday: Masala Chai Tea

Featuring an aromatic blend of black tea and Indian spices and herbs, Masala chai tea is a very popular type of tea. Spices like ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon are important components to a true Masala Chai.

As its name might suggest, Masala Chai means spiced tea. In Indian culture, masala means a blend of spices while chai is the name for tea. Spice blends can vary, especially in Indian homes where families are producing their own masala chai. Look for recognizable ingredients like star anise, cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg, allspice, coriander, and more.

Masala Chai

Masala chai tea (photo: Flickr, Nomadic Lass)

It’s very common to see milk added to masala chai — the more rich and full the milk, the better the flavor will be. Sugar is also typically added so many people forego the whole milk and add condensed milk to cover both the milk and sugar bases.

Traditionally, masala chai is made via a process called decoction. Decoction extracts chemicals, oils, and organic compounds from herbal or plant materials by boiling. When it comes to masala chai, the mixture of milk, water, loose leaf tea, sweeteners, and spices are all boiled together to produce a quality spiced tea.

Some people believe masala chai has a wealth of health benefits including helping Type 2 Diabetes sufferers maintain regular blood sugar levels and reducing PMS symptoms and bloating, fatigue, and more. However, while masala chai has a lot of health benefits, the added sugar and milk (especially for those of us who are becoming lactose intolerant as we get older) may not be the best to consume in large quantities.

Do you drink masala chai? If so, do you purchase it store bought or make your own? Next time I’m going to experiment with making my own at home!

 

Photo of the Week: Liechtenstein Wine

Liechtenstein wine

Liechtenstein wine

The first time I visited Liechtenstein, I was blown away by how much I fell in love with this tiny country that is often just a passthrough for visitors traveling around Austria and Switzerland. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the country was its culinary scene — all locally sourced products, fresh seafood, and wines produced just down the road. In two days, I managed to try both of the top restaurants in Liechtenstein and, both times, the degustation menus were paired with Liechtenstein wines. And it’s not any surprise the wines are quite good — the Prince of Liechtenstein is the powerhouse behind the winery!

Street Food Eats: Kushikatsu in Japan

Many people feel Osaka is more the food capital of Japan over Tokyo and in many instances, I won’t disagree. When it comes to street food eats, I’ve definitely experienced some of the best during my visits to Osaka. One of the specialties in the area is Kushikatsu. The Shinsekai neighborhood is among the most well-known areas for this Japanese specialty.

kushikatsu in osaka

One way to spot a kushikatsu restaurant is to look for a giant skewer outside

Kushikatsu is simple — it’s basically a deep-fried kebab. It can be made with meat, vegetables, pork, seafood, and even cheese! The word kushi refers to the skewers used in holding these tasty treats together, while katsu refers to the deep fried cutlet. One of my favorite dishes is katsu, especially with a curry sauce.

kushikatsu menu

Menu of some Kushikatsu offerings in Osaka

Kushikatsu are often served plain or with a Worchestershire-based sauce called tonkatsu sauce.

kushikatsu skewers

A variety of kushikatsu dishes

I ate at several kushikatsu restaurants in Osaka and tried everything from quail eggs and vegetables to Camembert cheese and chicken organs. The options are varied and rather extensive so it’s easy to sample a number of specialties, even if you are not keen to try some odd or bizarre eats.

 

And don’t forget the ‘golden rule when dining at a kushikatsu joint — only dip once as it’s a community sauce bowl!

Have you tried kushikatsu in Japan? Where is your favorite spot?  

Foodie Friday Foto: Jellyfish Salad

jellyfish salad

Jellyfish salad at dim sum in Taipei, Taiwan

I still remember this day well as it was the first time I tried jellyfish salad — the team of Our Tasty Travels was at dim sum with out of country travel friends visiting and the server said jellyfish was one of the day’s specialties. This pretty simple dish is typically made with rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and is sometimes topped with sesame seeds. This particular version I tried had thinly sliced carrots, peppers, and cucumbers. I am not 100% sold on it as I didn’t get a ton of flavor, just the very chewy texture.

Have you tried jellyfish salad? Thoughts on this dish? Love it or skip it? 

Wine Wednesday: Horizontal versus Vertical Tasting

One of the coolest tastings you can do when wine tasting is either a horizontal or vertical tasting. Unfamiliar with what these terms mean? Here’s an introduction to get you started on your way to learning how to elevate your wine tasting experience.

Horizontal Wine Tasting

As the name suggestions, you are tasting wines of a similar nature — whether it be a particular year’s vintage, a region’s production, etc. Common horizontal tastings are the same year’s vintage of a particular wine from various producers, i.e., 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, or 2009 Rieslings from Washington State. Typically, horizontal tastings are done with wines from varying wineries to establish differences in winemaking styles, however it is interesting to sample the same producer’s offerings from a particular vintage as you might be surprised at how different they can be, even with the same winemaker!

Two of the most interesting horizontal tastings I’ve done were both in Napa. The first was from single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon powerhouse Nickel & Nickel. We sampled all their Cabs from a particular year from across the Napa Valley region. This tasting highlighted the terroir and actual vineyard differences that make their wines so special. These wines are pricey, but Nickel & Nickel produces some of the best Cabernets in the Napa Valley. I love their wines because they do a stellar job of showcasing the importance of the proper grape growing process and how vineyard location, climate, soil type, and such (all part of terroir) heavily influence the final product.

The other intriguing horizontal tasting was the comparison of a particular vintage of Rieslings from Hagafen Cellars in Napa Valley. With different vineyard locations and varying sugar levels, these wines were strikingly different. If you don’t understand sugar levels in Rieslings, tasting them side by side is a great way to figure out what sweetness level is your ideal match.

Hagafen Rieslings

Horizontal (and vertical) Riesling tasting from Hagafen Cellars in Napa Valley

Vertical Wine Tasting

If horizontal tasting is similar wines from the same vintage, it stands to reason that a vertical tasting is the same wine from multiple years. It’s not uncommon to have the opportunity to taste the same Cabernet Sauvignon from three different vintages when you are visiting a winery in Napa Valley. If you are extremely lucky, you might visit on a day when they are treating visitors to library editions or older reserves you may not otherwise get to sample (or afford in some cases). I’ve lucked out with tasting some older Cabs and Zinfandels that are well above the $200 bottle range on a regular basis. Vertical tastings are ideal if you love a particular wine as you can see the vineyard’s characteristics over time.

Just recently, the team of Our Tasty Travels did a vertical tasting of library Cabernet Sauvignons in Napa. We both fell in love with a particular label from Silverado Vineyards, and we were able to sample a number of vintages. Based on our preference for the older, more aged characteristics of this particular wine,  we purchased a bottle that was several hundred dollars without even trying it! We were able to tell enough about the consistency of the winery’s production and we opted for one of the prime years for Cabs in Napa. Now to find a special dinner to pair it with!

Have you done a horizontal or vertical tasting? What has been your experience and did it enhance your wine knowledge and understanding?

Tea Tuesday: Genmaicha

Growing up I was a coffee drinker, but only at breakfast or after dinner with a dessert. I couldn’t stand drinking hot beverages during lunch or dinner. Moving to Taiwan where tea was served with every meal was definitely an adjustment or me. Surprisingly, I instantly took to Chinese teas — so much so that I’ve become a bit of a tea connoisseur.

Of all the teas I sampled in Taiwan, my favorite is called genmaicha. It’s a Japanese green tea that contains brown rice, some of the kernels which have popped. It has a toasty, nutty quality that cuts the bitterness of some green teas. Some people also refer to it as popcorn tea because of the toasted rice kernels.

genmaicha

Genmaicha tea with green tea leaves and toasted rice kernels (Photo: Flickr, Frédérique Voisin-Demery)

Historically, genmaicha was consumed by poor people in Japan as the rice was used as a filler to reduce the price of tea leaves. Today, it is typically consumed by all sectors of society. I’ve seen a number of premium versions as well, which can be quite pricey.

Have you tried genmaicha before? What is your favorite brand? 

Photo of the Week: Foie Gras Macaron from DN Innovacion in Taipei, Taiwan

Foie Gras macaron DN Innovacion Taipei Taiwan

Foie Gras macaron from DN Innovacion in Taipei, Taiwan

Although many people are against its consumption, I admit that one of the foods I enjoy most when frequenting a high-end dining establishment is foie gras. I love to see the creative applications chefs find to incorporate foie gras into a tasting menu. One of my absolute favorites was this foie gras and rose macaron from my dear friend and chef Daniel Negreira from DN Innovacion in Taipei, Taiwan.

This post is part of the 2014 A to Z Blogging Challenge. Coming up tomorrow for Tea Tuesday is a look at my favorite type of tea — Gen Mai Cha! 

Previous Posts on the A to Z Blogging Challenge:

A is for Announcements: Updates and Where Our Tasty Travels is Headed Next

Understanding Wine Terminology: Botrytis or Noble Rot

C is for Carlsberg Brewery — Copenhagen, Denmark 

DimDimSum Dim Sum in Hong Kong

Street Food Saturday: Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize

 

Street Food Saturday: Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize

I will never forget the first time I ever tasted an empanada. I was 18 and working with a girl from Argentina who brought them in one day for us to try.

I was immediately hooked. 

Those empanadas were definitely integral in opening my eyes to the world of culinary travel an unmentionable number of years ago.

For today’s post on the A to Z Blog Challenge, I can’t resist sharing a photo of my favorite empanadas here in Belize. They are masa based, stuffed with fish and served with a cabbage relish that is divine. They are lighter and less filling than many other empanadas I’ve had, which means I can easily scarf down an entire order on my own.

If you visit Belize, I definitely recommend giving these a try! Also, try the coconut shrimp curry – it’s one of my favorite dishes of all time! 

Empanadas Elvi's Kitchen Belize

Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize

DimDimSum Dim Sum in Hong Kong

On a recent trip to Hong Kong, we were hoping to find a new dim sum joint to check out and DimDimSum Specialty Store came highly recommended from a number of ‘foodie’ resources, including from several notable Hong Kong chefs.

There are several locations including two in Kowloon (Jordan and Mongkok), Wan Chai, and Shatin. We attempted to locate the one in Wan Chai, which proved to be quite a challenge at first. After several attempts of getting lost, we finally landed in front of DimDimSum.

DimDimSum in Hong Kong's Wan Chai District

DimDimSum in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai District

DimDimSum was named one of the top 101 places to eat by the 2012 Newsweek Foodie Awards, Time Out Hong Kong named it best dim sum in 2011, and it’s part of the book “Where Chefs Eat — The Ultimate Insiders’ Guide”.

After a pretty short wait on a Sunday morning, we secured a table for two in the corner and ordered every recommended dish we could. The verdict? While it was definitely good and reasonably priced, it didn’t knock my socks off or wow me a lot more than any other dim sum place I’ve tried. Don’t get me wrong, it was one of the better dim sum joints I’ve been to, but perhaps my expectations were too high based on everything I read? I will definitely go back on a future trip and try one of the other branches as well.

My favorite dim sum joints in Hong Kong are still the original Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok, Langham Place, Mongkok’s Two-Michelin starred Ming Court, and Ritz-Carlton’s Two-Michelin starred Tin Lung Heen

Here’s a look at the dishes we tried at DimDimSum:

BBQ Pork Buns (Cha Siu Bao) 巧製叉燒包

BBQ Pork Buns (Cha Siu Bao)

BBQ Pork Buns (Cha Siu Bao)  巧製叉燒包

 

Apple and BBQ Pork Pastry 蘋果叉燒酥

Apple and BBQ Pork Pastry 蘋果叉燒酥

Apple and BBQ Pork Pastry 蘋果叉燒酥

 Pan-Fried Radish Cakes 香煎蘿蔔糕 

Radish Cakes

Radish Cakes

Rice Flour Rolls with BBQ Pork 蜜汁叉燒腸

Rice Flour Rolls with BBQ Pork

Rice Flour Rolls with BBQ Pork

Stuffed Bean Curd Wraps with Oyster Sauce 蠔汁鮮竹卷

Stuffed Bean Curd Wraps with Oyster Sauce

Stuffed Bean Curd Wraps with Oyster Sauce

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) 晶瑩鮮蝦餃

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow)

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow)

Deep Fried Dumplings with Wasabi 芥末咸水角

Deep Fried Dumplings with Wasabi

Deep Fried Dumplings with Wasabi

Pork Dumplings with Crab Roe (Siu Mai) 蟹子燒賣皇

Pork Dumplings with Crab Roe (Siu Mai)

Pork Dumplings with Crab Roe (Siu Mai)

Pan-fried Stuffed Eggplant with Teriyaki Sauce 燒汁釀茄子

Pan-fried Stuffed Eggplant with Teriyaki Sauce

Pan-fried Stuffed Eggplant with Teriyaki Sauce

Roast Pork Belly and Taro Bun 芋香燒腩卷

Roast Pork Belly and Taro Bun

Roast Pork Belly and Taro Bun

Shanghai Soup Dumplings with Black Truffle 黑松露小籠包

Shanghai Soup Dumplings with Black Truffle

Shanghai Soup Dumplings with Black Truffle

DimDimSum Dim Sum Specialty Store

Jordan Shop: 23 Man Ying Street, T: 2771-7766 H: 10am-1am
Mongkok: 112 Tung Choi Street, T: 2309-2300 H: 11am-2am

Wan Chai: 7 Tin Lok Lane, T:2891-7677 H: 10am-12am

Shatin: 1st Floor, No. 108, Citylink Plaza, T: 2285-8152, H: 8:30am-10:30pm

DimDimSum website

 

This post is part of the 2014 A to Z Blogging Challenge. Upcoming tomorrow for Street Food Saturday is Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in Belize! 

Previous Posts on the A to Z Blogging Challenge:

A is for Announcements: Updates and Where Our Tasty Travels is Headed Next

Understanding Wine Terminology: Botrytis or Noble Rot

C is for Carlsberg Brewery — Copenhagen, Denmark 

Understanding Wine Terminology: Botrytis or Noble Rot

Officially called botrytis cinerea, most people just refer to this fungus as “botrytis.” Botrytis affects a number of plant species, but when it comes to wine making, it can actually be a benefit.

Botrytis can cause two different infections on wine grapes. The first is grey rot, which causes a loss in overall yield, making it an undesirable quality. However, the second type is “noble rot,” which produces some of the best dessert wines in the world.

Botrytis Cinerea on Wine Grapes

Botrytis Cinerea on Wine Grapes

What typically happens with noble rot is the grapes become exposed to botrytis when they are ripe and the fungus extracts water from the grapes, leaving more solids and resulting in a richer, more intense wine. Ever had a dessert wine with a pronounced honeysuckle flavor?

If you’ve heard of the renowned Chateau d’Yquem, it is one of the best examples of the positive effect botrytis can have on wine grapes. Other notable ‘botrytised’ wines include Tokaji from Hungary, Sauternes from France, and even a few American wines like Dolce. Dolce, often called “liquid gold,” is produced in Napa by the winery powerhouse of Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel. The combination of soil, microclimate and vines create the perfect environment for noble rot.

Have you had a botrytised wine? What is your favorite?

Photo credit adulau on Flickr Creative Commons

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