A pupusa is a magical entity of foodliness. Mention it to someone who knows of the tasty corn-based delight it brings and you'll get an enthusiastic, wide-eyed—teetering on the edge of maniacal—response more appropriate for the ending of a college football game, like, "YEAAAH, PUPUSSAAAAS, THE OTHER TEAM CAN SUCK IT!"
Kathy and I met up with Janet at Bahia, a Salvadoran restaurant in Williamsburg, to indulge in some PUPUSSAAAAS, thick corn tortilla-stuffed patties cooked to some degree of crispiness on a griddle. (Kathy already wrote about our meal a week ago. You should read it!)
As we waited outside the restaurant for Janet, Kathy said something comical about not wanting to indulge in anything too heavy (such as the "fried yucca with chunks of fried pork" that I had my eye on). Huh? She said...what? Her request was completely reasonable, but at the same time something I couldn't fulfill—experience has shown us that the combination of the Chan and Lee stomachs tends to result in gut-busting meals that most nutritionists would warn against eating, unless their patient were anorexic and needed to gain 20 pounds, stat. We have do this while we're still young and packed with healthy, vivacious organs. It's not like we're underaged binge drinkers or drug addicts, you know? (Somehow I always use that reasoning that I'm not doing anything illegal to make me feel less guilty about eating the way I do.)
I started with a horchata, one of the few drinks I will always go for when spotted on a menu. My reaction to horchata is similar to my reaction to pupusas: freaking out, pointing, flailing, etc. As Kathy said, this was some intensely sesame-flavored stuff, unlike any other horchata we had ever tasted. 'Twas the dawning of a new horchata. I may as well pull this description from her blog as well (originally from Nadia Mokhtar's review):
"It's an eclectic mix of roasted then grinded sesame seeds, cinnamon, cocoa, and a Latin American fruit called 'Morro' which she (mother of the owners) ships from El Salvador to her sons every three months. The powder is then blended with sugar and water and served in a huge glass for $1.75."
I think the morro may have given it that extra "what the heck am I tasting?" flavor. It tasted kind of medicinal in that natural home brewed way, as though someone ground up a bunch of stuff with a mortar and pestle and made it into the sweet, mildly grainy liquid that was sitting in front of me. It was pretty awesome. Make sure you order it.
The three of us shared six pupusas (I democratically cut each one into neat thirds) in addition to the five other items we got (oh yes, you will see). Six different pupusas, of course: pork, cheese & loroco, refried beans & cheese, cheese & zucchini, chicken & cheese, and a combination pork, refried beans & cheese. Pork is good enough to stand on its own, but we decided everything else would be best with the addition of a melted cheese blanket. And the ones with the cheese did taste the best. The texture of the gooey cheese perfectly matches the thick corn pancake. And bread. And chips. And hamburger. And tuna salad. And fries. Etc.
Melted cheese goes well with a lot of things is what I'm trying to say.
I sadly do not have a classic "pulling of hot, stringy cheese tendrils" photo, but here's a little chunk of pupusa, methinks filled with cheese, pork and beans. The gutbomb trio. Wrap that in a layer of thick corn tortilla and you've got yourself 3/5ths of the food pyramid (or whatever the hell this is) in one bite. You're only missing fruits and vegetables! Heh!...euh.
But there are some vegetables! The pupusas came with a simple curtido—a side of crunchy pickled shredded cabbage—and a thin, spicy tomato-based sauce. The tart cabbage and the hot sauce increased the deliciousness of the pupusas by a buttload. And by that I mean "a lot." The corn dough soaked up the sauce and the cabbage also gave crunch to what was mostly soft and a little chewy. Make sure you get this stuff.
Janet ordered chirmol, a mixture of diced tomato, radish, red onions, scallions, cilantro and lime juice. Like the cabbage and the hot sauce, this also went well with the pupusas. It probably goes well with everything. And it has nutrients! If you want those!
My first thought upon seeing the empanada de leche—a fried sweet plantain pattie stuffed with homemade pastry cream with cinnamon—was that it looked like a sugar-dusted turd. That's just how my mind works. Of course, it didn't taste like turd (not that I...know what one tastes like), but like a super-ripe plantain filled with cream. I don't think I can handle plantain at super-ripeness. It had this taste...the taste of plantain, to the 10th power. Right. Apparently I'm not very used to it. Not that I'd want bland plantain either, but this tasted a bit off-key to me. Oops. :(
I love fried yucca. It has that light, kind of flaky, mealy texture underneath a crisp carbonized shell. Carbonized. Is that what happens? I don't really do science.
I found the fried yucca a little bland, but with a few squeezings of fresh lime and flicks of the salt shaker, it was all good. Better under-seasoned than over-seasoned anyway. I remember one time when my friend put too much salt on her fries. HELLO, SODIUM POISONING!
Kathy insisted we get both tamales—chicken and corn—after I revealed the shocking fact that that I never had a tamale. Or maybe I did once. Basically, my tamale eating experience was embarrassingly nonexistent and something had to be done about it.
Unfortunately, the chicken tamale was boring, as Kathy pointed out. I thought maybe all tamales were supposed to be smooth and nearly jello-esque. Nope. No character there. The chicken filling was tender and moist but the rest was off.
The fresh corn tamale with a side of homemade sour cream saved us from tamale-induced sadness. It was like eating...corn. Just like eating fresh, super-sweet corn. But in the form of a condensed, semi-grainy log dotted with smashed corn bits. There's probably other stuff in it, but as far as I could tell the tamale was made by ravishing a field's worth of corn and reforming the collected kernels into a little log, just for us.
The three of fully covered a little table by the front window. Until the boys came.
John, Tristan and Lihan rolled in an hour or so after us due to various transportation mishaps. Luckily we had a giant table right behind us. With the help of our waitress we easily moved all our dishes over.
"We'll have what they had," said Tristan to our waitress. She responded with a brief look of surprise. Or horror. Or both.
"...Everything?" she confirmed.
I'm not sure they actually got everything we had ordered, but they definitely got the main stuff: pupusas, tamales, and fried yucca. Sadly the pickled cabbage and hot sauce had been forgotten, but they were so hungry that they ate the pupusas without even noticing the missing condiments. They also ate some of our leftovers. Damn, putting the girls to shame.
Ooh, I did have a stringy cheese shot! Courtesy of Tristan's blurred hands.
Despite that Kathy, Janet, nor I were hungry enough to polish off all of our main dishes (mostly Janet, who, with her fluttering eyelids, looked like she was going to slump over into a pupusa coma), Kathy craved a sliced of flan. AND KATHY GETS WHAT KATHY WANTS! The flan was quite good, just sweet enough and not too heavy or light, although Kathy pointed out that it could've been smoother. You can see the little air pockets as darkened spots.
Our final bill came out to about $10 for each of us, for more food than we could comfortable consume. I love cheap eats. So much. If I lived near Bahia I'd make it a regular dining spot and subsequently turn into the human equivalent of a whale.
Alas, I live in NJ. Poop.
After roaming around Brooklyn for a while, John, Tristan, Lihan and I parted with Janet and Kathy to go museuming. ...Except we started too late and by the time we got to the Upper East Side most museums would be closing within the next hour. So we did the next best culturally enlightening activity.
Jumping photos in Central Park. The sunlight wasn't optimal whatsoever, but you do what you can. I used flash in the above photo, which scared John's scarf, causing it to attack his face.
And there's me with an odd hair floop. This photo fails to capture the aftermath when my face winced in response to my not-so-well-padded boots failing to absorb the shock of hitting the ground. Note to self: it's much less painful to jump off the ground than off a higher structure onto the ground.
We headed down to Saint Marks to wander around (took a look through Other Music and a pee-break at Starbucks) and at my request stopped at TKettle for a dumpling snack. (None of us were up for a full dinner after our late lunch. We have our limits.)
Kathy stopped by since she was already in the area doing some Christmas shopping. She wasn't hungry enough for dumplings but couldn't resist an avocado milkshake. ...Except the liquidy, somewhat icy and chunky substance in her cup wasn't a very satisfying avocado milkshake. :( I've only had an avocado milkshake once before from Shopsins, a deliciously thick, creamy, sweet and fat-tastic light-green river of frozen daaairry. Yeah, that was awesome.
My order of 10 boiled pork dumplings came with two sauces: something that was either Sriracha or Sriracha-esque (I don't eat Sriracha enough to know) and what I assume was soy sauce mixed with vinegar. Although the dumplings didn't blow me away, I thought they were very good. I liked the not-super-thin skins, which were well stuffed with juicy morsels of minced pork. I could probably pack away 20 of these dumplings for a meal.
I tried one of Tristan's vegetable dumplings. Also above average—I forgot what vegetables were actually in it, but the ones I call "non-sucky"—although not as good as pork. Because pork tastes like pork and those vegetables do not. I didn't say my reasoning was fair.
I'd love to recommend a good vegetable dumpling, but my favorite place to get them, Lin's Dumpling House, closed a few years ago. They had these bulbous dumplings whose vegetable-stuffed bellies pulsated with...um, deliciousness? I went there a few times just for those dumplings. Those were the days.
I just wanted to post that photo because I thought it was funny.
The night ended at Teany where Tristan, Lihan and I shared two pots of tea. Of course, I was the only one who added a shitton of sugar to each tiny cup I filled. I lost count of how may cups I drank since they all tasted so good, i.e., like sugar.
And isn't that what goodness is? Sugar? Yes.
Two mornings later...
I met Tristan at Antique Cafe for a quick breakfast on Monday morning so we could say goodbye before he and Lihan were to drive back to Charlottesville that afternoon. This was when my flu-like symptoms (which continued to this day) started to kick in, just not to the point where I was hacking up phlegm and walking around with a disoriented head that felt like it was full of helium.
It's a nice cafe. Cozy and antique-feeling (unique furniture, random art on the walls, a shelf of dusty books) as the name promises. It was also kind of deserted at 9:30 AM, if you want some quiet.
For $5 we each got a generous plate of an omelet (filled with Swiss cheese and mushrooms in my case) accompanied by potatoes mixed with onion & pepper, and two slices of whole wheat toast. It was huge to me at least, not being used to eating breakfast. Tristan finished my leftovers. Good boy!
There aren't many notable eating places around where I work (across from FIT), but I see myself going back to Antique Cafe...especially since it's a less than 10 seconds walk from my building.