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You thought our Hoi An food crawl was over, didn’t you? Well clearly you’ve underestimated the power of our appetites.
Actually, Scott said he was full from the gigantic bahn mi and bowl of Cao Lau but I convinced him to soldier on (in the name of research, of course). I was so happy with my powers of persuasion that I neglected to realize one thing: making food decisions when you’re already in a food coma is generally not a good idea.
But two stops does not a food crawl make, so we headed toward the Hoi An food market, wandering under a mosaic of overlapping green and blue tarps while looking for something enticing. Word on the street was that the food there was good, and we eventually saddled up to a stand and ordered two specials:
A crispy stuffed pancake called bahn xeo was the Vietnamese equivalent of the taquito: greasy with a little bit of a crunch, and not as flavorful as you’d think.
Next up is the noodle dish bahn cuo, for which I had high hopes. Thinly shredded herbs and carrots make the long, flat noodles look like they’re filled with confetti, and they fall prettily as they’re hand-cut with a pair of shiny scissors.
But they’re served cool—and I’m never been one for anything that tastes like leftovers the first time around. I forced a few slimy noodles down before giving in. Luckily, at $1.50 for the whole shebang, I don’t feel so bad about leaving food on the plate.
Plus, I didn’t have time to feel bad. I had a $1 manicure to attend to. Oh Hoi An, you make life so hard.
If there is one rule that governs travel food, it is this: the worse the seating, the better the eating. To get the true essence of a country’s cuisine, one must eat on as many plastic stools, lawn chairs, and street curbs as possible. So when we saw dozens of locals sitting down at the plastic kiddie tables at this Cao Lau stand, we knew we wanted to eat there.
Cao Lau is special soup with a lot of stuff in it. Technically it’s special because it can only be made using water from one well; but what really makes it special is all the stuff that goes on top. The earthy-rich broth is laden with thick noodles, salty pork loin, crunchy rice crackers and fresh greens. Holy texture combination heaven.
The owner agrees: the stuff makes it special. We can’t communicate through words but she won’t let us touch our chopsticks until we add condiments that she presents to us like Christmas gifts. She nods as we load the bowl with chopped pickled peppers, dried peppers, fresh peppers and pickled onions. I’ve never been so glad to like peppers.
But even if I didn’t like peppers—even if I thought they were terrible—I’d add them for her. Because she hauled that soup water out of a specific well on the outskirts of town just to make her famous Cao Lau, and she’s not about to let someone eat her masterpiece wrong.
A masterpiece it is. $1.25.
It was less than two days into our Hoi An stay when Scott and I started getting soft. I’m not sure if it was the tropical air or the king-like service at the Ha An Hotel, but we were spending far too much of our time lying in hammocks drinking tequila-laced mango juices. If we were ever going to make it to Saigon, we had to earn our traveler street cred back, and there was only one way to do it: the Hoi An Food Crawl.
We devised a plan, readied our stomachs, and set out on a pair of rusted beach cruisers. The first stop? A cluttered sandwich stand that we had spied locals crowded around the evening before.
$3.25 for two bahn mi with the works, plus a coke and a water to wash it all down. It set the bar high.
Layers of pork, cilantro, peppers, cucumber and tomato are stuffed inside crusty French bread doused with just enough earthy au jus to make your jaw happy But the hearty portions came at a heavy price: it was our first stop and our stomachs were starting to feel full. More seasoned travelers would’ve known to save their stomachs by splitting just one sandwich amongst themselves.
Next up: Cao Lao.
The first Thanksgiving at the Gorsuch household was far from perfect. The rolls didn’t rise and the turkey needed reheating but no one cared a bit. In fact, I don’t think anyone really noticed, what with all the love and laughter and pie and football and the big black Friday bible! Lesson learned: if you ever mess up in the kitchen, just distract your guests with coupons. Works like a charm.
I know what you were thinking.
You thought I was holding out on you.
No, not about the governor, although you know I had to slip that in there one more time. I can’t help myself. I don’t get out much. So no, I wasn’t holding out about the governor at all. (Okay I swear that’s the last time. I’m even annoying myself now).
You heard I went to Wing Wars and you thought I was going to hold out on the results, didn’t you?
You were waiting on the edge of your seat, wanting to know the best wings in the city, weren’t you?
Well, friends, let me first say that I would never, ever, hold out on you guys like that. I take my wings seriously and I take my Wing Wars seriously, even if this was the first one I’ve ever attended. And folks, I ate not one, not two, but more than FIFTEEN different types of wings this weekend just because I
have no willpower wanted to report the results to you. And I didn’t even charge you for the jumbo-sized box of Tums I needed afterwards! See, see what a good person I am? I’m not a person who would hold out on you!
So, without further ado, here are my favorite wings from the first ever Charm City Wing Wars:
- Alexander’s Tavern – These were hot but not too hot, with depth of flavor and flecks of what I believe to be horseradish, although I can’t 100% vouch for that because it was hot outside, and I was focusing on trying to figure out a way to hold my beer, balance my plate and napkin, and eat a wing all at the same time while ALSO not spilling said beer, getting sauce from said wing all over my face and/or clothing OR looking like someone with grossly underdeveloped motor skills. These things do not come easy to me people. Tables: I like them.
- Michael’s – These were perfectly spicy and tender, and they had a richness to them that I really liked. They reminded me of Alexander’s but without the extra kick from the don’t-quote-me-on-it horseradish.
- Delia Foley’s – I’m not usually into sweet-n-spicy flavored anything (insert joke here) and I certainly wasn’t expecting an Irish place to deliver anything extraordinary, but Delia Foley’s wing (a special mix of their garlic parmesan and orangeman wing being added to the menu next week) was well-balanced, with really bright flavors and a nice kick. Also, I’ve been watching a lot of Top Chef re-runs lately, if you couldn’t tell by that last sentence.
Runner up: Mother’s wings were really good, but then again anything would be really good dipped into their insanely delicious homemade blue cheese sauce-of-the-gods. I would buy that stuff from the case if I could.
Honorable mention: The originality of Looney’s honey Old Bay wing deserves a mention, though it was just a tad sweet for my taste.
*Disclaimer: While these are my winners, I don’t know that they are the winners. I didn’t stick around to hear the results because after eating my weight in wings, I naturally went a block over to the Oyster Festival to eat my weight in raw oysters. Naturally. Ohhh good decisions, good decisions all around.
I don’t even know who I am anymore.
This weekend started out innocently enough–there was a nice run around Lake Montebello, margaritas and quesadillas for Mexican Friday, then a long bike ride Saturday for delicious soup and salad (this place can truly do no wrong). Then, all of a sudden I’m looking at the seating chart for my friend Christine’s wedding and realize that my husband and I are seated next to the Governor and his wife. Eeps! Christine used to work in his office – isn’t it so sweet that he came? It was the perfect day for a wedding, and the venue was gorgeous. We had a ball.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one weekend, on Sunday I got to check out the brand new Urban Outfitters in Towson, plus rank wings from local restaurants at Charm City Wing Wars. I capped it all off with oysters from my number one shucker, though I wasn’t brave enough to tackle one of the ginormous whale rocks he’s holding above. I think it would’ve just put me over the top.
You guys, I’m officially pooped. Hope you had a sunshiny, fun weekend too! Now I’m off to take a nap… xo
The other night Scott and I were hanging out at the house, killing time before our dinner plans later that evening. We were playing a tough game of Mario Kart and I decided I needed a drink to deal with my losses (seriously, I’m pathetic). When I looked in the fridge all we had as far as mixers was water and milk–typical–so we decided to experiment with the blender and came up with this deceivingly delicious peach cocktail. It’s super easy to make and I like to tell myself that it’s healthy because it has fresh fruit. I mean, any way you can get those 8 servings a day, right?
Here’s the recipe, if you’re interested. I promise you won’t regret trying it out!
Healthy Peach Cocktail (makes two servings)
1 fresh peach, pitted, skin on
2 ounces good vodka
2 big handfuls of ice
Big squeeze of agave nectar (I’d say 1 ½ tablespoons)
Place all ingredients in a blender, with the peach on the bottom and the ice on top. Mix until smooth. Drink while blaming your Mario Kart losses on the slowness of Peach and her Bubble Bike.
The other day, a friend of mine asked me to recommend a few restaurants for his upcoming trip to Ocean City, Maryland. The request caught me off guard—despite growing up there and going back pretty regularly to visit, far too much of my time in OC is spent devouring my mom’s rice krispie treats instead of enjoying the town’s hidden restaurant gems. Still, after 17 years of living there, I have a few favorite spots, and I thought I’d share them with you. Hope you enjoy!
- For me, the Captain’s Table will always be the gold standard for fine dining in OC. They serve incredibly fresh fish—the specials are often caught by the executive chef that morning—and the newly renovated atmosphere is lovely (especially the flowers, which my green-thumbed grandmother helps to pick out). You can never go wrong with the macadamia-crusted halibut.
- Mickey Finn’s is situated in the Ocean City Fishing Center, and when you go there for a drink or bite to eat you can watch the boats unloading fresh fish and filleting it right in front of you. As if that’s not enough, their dinner and cocktail menus are among the best in OC. It’s definitely worth the trip over the route 50 bridge.
- I’ve tried orange crushes all around the state, and nothing comes close to Harborside. Enjoy yours alongside their amazing waffle-cut french fries as you watch the boats come in. The smell of salt water is on the house.
- There’s no hangover cure like breakfast at the Satellite Café on 46th street. They have a bunch of different creative dishes and good coffee that will erase all those orange crushes from the night before. Just get there early to avoid the lines.
- Growing up my favorite lunch spot was Mad Hatter’s, and I was heartbroken when it closed. Lucky for me, this summer the same owner opened up Malia’s Café in the Spinnaker Motel on 18th street. The menu has a few new things, but the classics—like the to-die-for lemonade and veggie burger pitas—are still there. Just go there. Trust me.
- Ok, ok, so the Globe Theatre isn’t exactly in OC, but its food is worth the short drive to historic Berlin. I don’t care if you go there for brunch (they have the best eggs benedict in town), lunch (get the tuna steak sandwich) or dinner (the pesto pasta is delicious), just make sure you go there. You won’t regret it.
- Mother’s Cantina is a new-ish Mexican place on 28th street that has great happy hour deals and a menu that expertly walks the line between classics you love and beachy twists you want to try. The service isn’t always great, but with ahi tuna fajitas on the menu, you won’t really care.
- Ken’s Pizza is a teeny little joint off of Route 54 in Fenwick, but what they lack in location they make up for with an amazing pie that has the. best. sauce. ever. It has just a touch of sweetness which offsets the thick mozzarella, putting this pizza far above that awful G-word place that makes me cringe. Plus, they deliver. What more could you want?
- You can’t go wrong at the Southside Deli in Ocean Pines or Belly Buster’s on 44th street. Southside’s sandwiches are fresh and well-made with high quality meats, and their specials are always awesome. Belly Busters is right off the beach and has a jerk chicken wrap that is so good that I made it my first real meal after getting my wisdom teeth out and eating applesauce for two weeks. It was well worth the pain from a few stretched stitches.
- Can you tell I like Mexican food? Plaza Tapatia has the best classic Mexican menu on the shore. Go to the one in West OC while you’re vacationing, or stop by the one in Easton on your way home for delicious, authentic dishes, including an awesome pollo loco. Oh, and don’t forget the completely addicting chips with fiesta ranch sauce.
- I’ve never really eaten at M.R. Ducks, but I’ve had my fair share of great nights on the bay listening to live music and challenging friends to chug a duck (that’s right—a hollowed out duck filled with a can of natural light and a shot of amaretto) there. The music stops at 9, so get there early, and pace your ducks or you won’t make it to the beach the next day.
Where do you like to go in OC? Do you have any secret haunts from your hometown that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear! xo
Heaven on earth, also known as Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered almonds with turbinado and sea salt. Excuse me while I go polish off another
Image via Frenia