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Archive for August, 2006

My longtime favorite falafel place has been Mamouns, in NYC’s Greenwich Village. I’m probably not alone in this, because everyone knows about Mamouns and its two-dolla falafel sandwiches whose prices haven’t gone up in the past thirty years or something (maybe more, maybe less, I’m not sure). Anyway, I like Mamouns because 1. it’s cheap 2. the falafels are tasty and hot 3. it comes in a pita (this is a big deal- falafel in Baltimore came on french bread) 4. they put onions and enough tahini in the sandwich 5. it’s filling and 6. they always put a perfect amount of hot sauce- enough that it seeps through the whole sandwich, but doesn’t overpower it. It also has a really nice flavor that is complementary to the falafel instead of a strange addition.

BUT!

mamounsali

I was on McDougal St. with Waqas once (where Mamouns is located) and he claimed that Ali Baba’s falafel was better than Mamouns! (Ali Baba’s is the falafel place right across the street from Mamouns- the one with the green sign that always looks tempting as you’re standing in line for Mamouns, because Mamouns always has a line, and Ali Baba’s is always empty). Naturally, I didn’t believe him, because I trust my food opinion more than I do his, but we decided to have a competition- I would buy Mamouns, and he would by Ali Baba’s, and we would each take bites of our own sandwich and then the other persons, for the most accurate and fresh opinion. (We also decided that if I did like Ali Baba’s falafel better than Mamouns, he would have to trade me his sandwich and eat the disgraced Mamouns one- a condition to which he initially agreed but then failed to follow…dum dum dum*). So we commenced the competition. I got my sandwich in two minutes (two dollars, two minutes) and waited for him outside. Then we each took our first bites. Mine was good. Waqas said his was “so good.” Then we traded sandwiches and took second bites. Then I took a third bite from his sandwich because it tasted really good, but I needed to make sure I was tasting the deliciousness, and not imagining it, from what Waq had said. Surprisingly enough, he was right- Ali Baba’s falafel was really amazing. Waqas kept saying “Ali Baba’s falafel is fresher than Mamouns,” when we were arguing about this earlier, and I kept dismissing him. But upon trying it, I think I agree with him: it was as tasty and with as many onions and as hot as Mamouns, but there was SOMETHIING different, and that, I think, was the freshness of it.

*Waqas later commented that since he won the competition, it proved that Pakis were better than Indians. (I think the name “Ali Baba” and the green sign helped in this association.)

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I’m a vegetarian, and I don’t know what meat-eaters consume at the beach, but to me, nothing tastes as good as some hot and crispy onion rings to go along with a hot and crispy day.

yonion rings

Our day was leisurely and long… we were in the sun for six hours, and I got burnt because I didn’t wear sunscreen. Rice lured me to Nauset Beach (cape cod) by telling me that the stand there sold the best onion rings she’d ever had; mmmmm they were so damn good. I like thick cut onion rings; thick and sweet and spiced, maybe a little brown. Bar onion rings. But then I had these super thin, golden ones sitting on that yellow carpet on a sunny, bright day. We ate them while we turned brown. They weren’t spiced, just so very thin and deep fried. They melted in our mouths; we didn’t even need very much ketch-up. mmmm. I’m so hungry.

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block island eggplant parm

I love eggplant parm. But I really love eggplant parm sandwiches. Forget the pasta- chewy, too starchy, usually tasteless, and more of a filler than anything else. In eggplant parm sandwiches, the bread absorbs the cheese and sauces, making the whole sandwich juicy and delicious. I also strongly believe that an eggplant parm sub is the vegetarian’s equivalent to a cheese steak, or chicken fillet sub, or whatever non-veg people eat. It’s thick and substantial and it’s a real sandwich, unlike a couple pieces of cheese a slice of green pepper and two watery tomato slices that most of the world thinks suffice as sandwiches for veggies.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to try three in a week: One in Rhode Island’s Block Island, one somewhere near Port Authority in NYC, and my favorite one in Baltimore, at the lovely Hopkins Deli.

The picture above is from Aldo’s Italian Restaurant, in Block Island. I had this sandwich after a day of sailing on the high seas with a variable sun and fickle wind, and 4 beers starting at 10 am, accompanied by soothing waterbed-like naps in the cabin. The sandwich tasted good. The cheese wasn’t too chewy, and the eggplant wasn’t too fried, or undercooked. I guess I would have liked a little bit more sauce, for a more “wet” and less “dry” taste, but looking back, and looking at the pretty picture, I think it was a good meal. I could only eat half of it, though, and gave the rest to Matt. I was too full after all that beer.

NYC eggplant parm

This next sandwich is the one they made for me special (it wasn’t on the menu) at a pizza shop very close to Port Authority. Getting the sandwich was pretty exciting, because it was all wrapped up and felt heavy, and because I had to wait for about 25 minutes before it was ready. And opening it was exciting too… until I saw the overly brown and very thinly sliced pieces of eggplant piled inside. This might sound gourmet, but it really wasn’t. The eggplant was too thin, too breaded, and too deeply fried, for me to taste any eggplant. All I tasted was oil, and each bite felt like a horribly guilty pleasure, loading my mouth with spoonfuls of oil, except it wasn’t exactly pleasurable and more just guilty. The sandwich did not taste bad. It was just too fried and oily to actually enjoy. Again, I could only eat half, and I saved the other half for my bus ride down to Baltimore. Halfway into my journey, I took it out of the foil wrap. Deeply fried eggplant parm does not taste good cold. I threw it out.

Hopkins Deli, baby

I am getting hungry looking at this last picture. This is the classic, the eggplant parm sub I developed an addiction for during the last 2 months of college. Fresh bread, thick eggplant, perfectly fried (not too brown, but not underdone), plenty of tomato sauce and soft cheese- all with the addition of delicious ripple-cut fries. I think there is something in the sauce at Hopkins Deli- just a touch of spiciness- that makes this sub so good. I rarely felt guilty after eating it, because I was getting such a generous portion of veggie (eggplant) and protein (cheese). Plus, the guys who own Hop Deli are Indian and know how to make good food.

So that is my eggplant exploration. Yum Yum…

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cheese

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of my study abroad experience in India was how much I missed cheese. I am not being facetious. Studying abroad puts things in perspective, so to speak, and one is supposed to realize her greatest fears, discomforts, and priorities while floundering through a foreign world. Living in Rajasthan, India for six months, made me realize that I hold in high esteem the availability of a wide range of cheeses in the US. Blue; Gouda; Smoked Gouda; Wisconsin Cheddar; Mozzarella; Goat; Sheep’s Milk- the list could go on forever. Americans hold cheese in high priority. We like the subtle and dramatic to be present in our food.

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