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Wednesday, April 18

Ethnic food

Since our transition into the apartment months ago, we’re always looking for local neighborhood restaurants as well as ethnic places nearby. The type that we feel comfortable ordering from and either picking it up or eating there last minute. We have found amazing German restaurants that do the local cuisine spot-on and are thankful for the availability and accessibility. On the other hand, we’ve tried few places here and there and liked a couple however in general great ethnic restaurants in this city are few and far in between. We’ve found decent Greek, above average Thai and memorable Turkish food but Mexican is always dreadful, Chinese is unheard of and Middle Eastern doesn’t exist.

Thankfully, both Turkish (homey, grandma made it) food and döner kebabs are all over town and each Turkish person you ask for their favorite place will name one that’s different from the last referral. Regardless, Turkish cuisine is well represented and is a hit with us each time we try it. Like Greek, Italian is done exceptionally well. We’ve found two restaurants that we like a lot and visit regularly.

There’s a comprehensible explanation for these three cuisines to have such an impact in the food scene. After the war, Germany signed an agreement with many countries to receive guest workers (Gastarbeiterin) from their respective nations. These individuals would help rebuild the country and drive the economic development by working in unfilled jobs. Turkey, Italy and Greece were some of the countries that participated in the agreement and by some accounts had the largest percentage of population sent for the program. Over the course of the period these guest workers helped rebuild the country, and in most cases of migration, many didn’t return home. Due to their large resident population, the rest of us benefit from their authentic food.

Unfortunately meat wrapped in bread or pasta aren’t our idea of take out; we generally prefer Thai, Chinese, or Mexican. Sadly, except for Thai, the rest are either unavailable or not worth it. The Thai place that I initially raved about isn’t close to our apartment (it was closer to our hotel) and the food quality has declined slightly. When I went there with my friend last month, they served Pad Thai with a noodle that didn’t resemble a rice noodle (the norm for Pad Thai) and the taste of the dish was just okay.

Few months ago, we tried a Korean place, Seoul Kitchen. I ordered bibimbap and he had a Korean version of pork soup. Both were well seasoned with a hint of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), deliciously spicy. The banchans (side dishes) were limited but still flavorful and functional for our meaty main dishes. We had potatoes (don’t be so surprised), pickled radishes and sautéed spinach. Overall a good experience at the restaurant. Sadly the restaurant is 20 minutes, walking, from our apartment so we only go there on planned nights.

So the hunt for ethnic take-out restaurants continues. In the meantime, I am cooking foods at home for the lack of varied restaurants.

This is loosely adapted from this recipe.

Pork, Kale and Mushroom Stir Fry

1/2 kilo (1 pound) pork loin, thinly sliced on an angle, against the grain
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wine
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic chili sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1/2 of medium onion, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon fermented black beans
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
3/4″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small hot (Thai) chile, thinly sliced on the diagonal
4 dried Shitake mushrooms, soaked and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 cups kale, stems removed and cut into 2” pieces (any hearty green will work- Spinach, Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan), Yu Choy)
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

In a medium bowl, combine pork with shao hsing wine, oyster sauce, light soy sauce, garlic chili sauce and cornstarch. Marinate for 30- 45 minutes.

Place dried mushrooms in a bowl and add boiling water to the bowl. Soak the mushrooms in hot water for 20 minutes. This reconstitutes the mushrooms. When ready, remove the mushrooms from the water and thinly slice.

Heat a wok or non stick deep curved pan until it smokes and then add peanut oil. When oil is hot, add onions and black beans and stir fry for 1 minute, or until the onions are golden and fragrant. Add garlic, ginger and chile, and stir fry 30 seconds more.

Push the onion-garlic-ginger mixture to the sides of the wok and leave room in the center for additional ingredients. Add pork (without its marinade) in a single layer on the bottom of the wok. Allow the pork to brown on one side without stirring, approximately 1 minute. When pork is browned on one side, begin to stir fry. Add the sliced mushrooms in the bottom of the wok and stir fry the meat and veggies.

Deglaze the wok with soy sauce, scraping up any browned bits of marinade clinging to the sides and bottom. Stir in the pork marinade from the bowl and cook for 30 seconds.

Add kale and water and stir fry, scooping the browned pork over the kale. The heat from the pork will cook the greens. As soon as kale begins to wilt, 3 minutes, add oyster sauce and continue stir frying until the meat is cooked through. Kale should be cooked through but still hold its shape and have a slight crispness.

Remove wok from heat and drizzle in sesame oil over the stir fry and stir to combine. Serve hot or warm with steamed rice.

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