Steaming Saimin

The Hukilau (5 Masonic Ave.) is a warm, friendly Hawaiian joint in SF. It seems that every Hawaiian within a 50-mile radius comes to hang out here, get some hearty chow, and listen to the sweet sounds of the live band on Friday and Saturday nights. It's nothing fancy, but the atmosphere is fun, portions large, and there's nothing quite like a dose of good ole' Spam to brighten up your day. No, really - Spam is amazing.

I know what you're thinking - 'You call yourself a foodie and you like Spam?!' Judge not, lest you be judged. I repeat, without shame, Spam is amazing. What is it? I don't know. And I don't want to know. There are some mysteries in this world that I remain
blissfully ignorant of, so keep your knowledge to yourself.

The Hawaiians have a true appreciation for this mystery meat. Actually, Spam is revered in many Asian countries, such as in Korea and Japan. You can point to wartime necessities that introduced this meat to those countries, but Spam has been taken to a whole 'nother level in those places.

The Hukilau serves spam musubi, of course (it's like a spam sushi roll), but they also put Spam in their saimin. Saimin (
comparable to ramen, but not quite the same) is a soup-based dish, with egg noodles. It can be garnished with several different items, such as with Chinese cabbage, char siu, fish cakes, green onions, and of course, Spam. And in case I haven't made my point, SPAM IS AMAZING.


Heavenly Hummus

My recent trip to Tel-Aviv, Israel was one big food fest. Really, it was. But hello - have you met me?! I'm all about food. And really, what better way to get a taste (pun intended) of the culture and passions of a people than through their cuisine? Israeli cuisine is spectacular - a beautiful amalgamation of Moroccan, Arab, Greek, and Eastern European tastes, it's the best of many worlds.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, hummus was plentiful, present in at least one meal a day. But I have to say - that no matter how many hummuses I've tasted over the years in the U.S. (even in so-called Middle Eastern restaurants), I've never been able to get the bitter taste of disappointment out of my mouth. So here I thought the creamy dream was long lost unless I traveled back to Saudi (which is a long shot, because I really have no desire to go back there)...

But eureka! Israeli hummus- what a delightful discovery. No matter which restaurant I went to, the hummus was absolutely divine. But getting people to tell me their favorite hummus joint (and yes, they have restaurants devoted solely to this chickpea delight) was like asking a New Yorker which pizza joint is the best - ultimately, it's all personal taste. And much like pizza, you can get hummus 1000 different ways, with 1000 different toppings (though really, the comparisons stop there). For instance, you can get hummus with stewed black beans, whole garbanzo beans, with tahini (sesame puree) or without, served warm or cold, with a hard-boiled egg or without, and just about every variation therein. One of my favorites was hummus served warm, with whole garbanzo beans tucked away within each swirl, a healthy pour of tahini, a scatter of fresh parsley, and a decadent pool of gorgeous olive oil on top.

As you can see in the picture to the right, hummus is usually served with pita, a simple salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley (all dressed lightly with lemon and olive oil), and pickles.


Wrap me up in a shawarma

Ah, shawarma. My childhood afternoon snack in Saudi Arabia. Every day after school, our driver would pick my brother and me up, and take us to a shawarma stand near our house for a quick snack.

If you've ever had a shawarma in the U.S., I'm sorry...you've been deceived. The gyro that masquerades around as a shawarma is just that - an imposter. A true shawarma is meat shaved off a skewer, wrapped in a chewy pita, and stuffed fuller than your Uncle George on Thanksgiving, with vegetables and sometimes even french fries, and drizzled with tahini. Of course, being the chili head than I am, I always ask them to add some spicy chili paste.

I had a mixture of lamb and turkey meat for one shawarma in Tel-Aviv. The meat was tender, and full of flavor. (Sorry for the blurry picture!)

Shawarmas are considered 'fast food' in the Middle East, so they're usually roadside joints. And let me tell you - there's something about the exhaust-laden meat that...gives shawarmas a special flavor.

Shakshuka. Dr. Shakshuka.

You must be wondering...is that the name of an Israeli spy I met during my travels? No, my friends, surprise: it's the name of a crazy (and crazy popular) restaurant in Tel-Aviv that serves shakshuka.

Shakshuka is an Israeli dish of eggs stewed in a rich tomato sauce. The sauce's deep red color is further enhanced by the liberal addition of sweet paprika. Enhanced with garlic and onion, the eggs are stewed just until the whites harden a bit but the yolks remain tender. You soak up all this goodness with chunks of soft bread.

Dr. Shakshuka, the restaurant, had a rather eccentric decor, mostly comprised of used butane tanks.

But who was paying any attention to the decor? I was trying to figure out a way to smuggle the chef into the U.S. Or more innocuously, how I could convince the chef to part with his precious recipe for this amazing dish...alas, I was unsuccessful on both fronts.

And I swear - it tasted a lot better than it looks in this picture. I should've taken the shot
before I dug into the dish, but...I couldn't help myself! It was either take the picture after a few bites or ruin the entire dish with my drool.


Salad with fried cheese? Yes, please!

After a long stroll through the trendy Shenkin Street in Tel-Aviv, I had worked up a fierce appetite. So I wandered into a little cafe and ordered up a fresh, cold lemonade (with mint sprigs - what a novel idea!) and a healthy salad. After a week of decadent eating, I figured I should veer a little on the lighter side.

Whoa, nelly! If this isn't a big boy's salad, I don't know what is!

But hey - any salad topped with fried cheese (halumi) gets two thumbs up in my book. If you can't tell by this picture, the salad plate took up half my table. This salad had everything but the kitchen sink, and it was dressed in a really delightful dijon mustard vinaigrette.

But let's get back to the halumi. Halumi is a semi-soft cheese, but it's sturdy enough (and has a higher melting point than most cheeses) to be fried. The texture turns a little chewy, but the crispy exterior makes up for that. It's 'meaty,' so the addition to this salad gave it a hearty twist. So much for a light meal! Sigh...