Brighton Beach and Beyond, Part 2: Carrot Cake, Durian, and Pupusas
FOOD OF MANY NATIONS!
In my humble, food-obsessed, and possibly "deprived of conventional joys" opinion, few things are as fun as oogling at the aisles and shelves of ethnic grocery stores packed with unfamiliar items, sometimes laugh-inducing by way of ungrammatically correct English names and descriptions. I was more than happy (+1 happy) to drag my dumpling and vodka-laden body to Russian (and more) supermarket wonderland M&I International Food under the watchful eyes of my friends, who were afraid that I would keel over from the surge of alcohol in my bloodstream.
Although I wasn't about to flop over in a heap of "drunk boppy," my head was definitely in a sub-healthy, mildly woozy state. Instead of carefully browsing the aisles, I mostly stayed close to my friends and caught glimpses of sausages, breads, desserts, drinks, etc...oh, and the wall just past the border of the prepared food section into the "employees only" kitchen that was plastered with an interestingly diverse selection of nude women photos. No, I didn't take a photo of that.
We gathered around a table on the second floor of the market to feast on our main reason for visiting the market in the first place: a fresh, hefty brick-like slab of brown and orange-speckled carrot cake. Why would anyone go as far as Brighton Beach for carrot cake? Because it's the best carrot cake ever. Don't be fooled by its unassuming appearance—this baby doesn''t need frosting. Before I attempt to describe it's awesomeness, I shall quote Kathy:
The cake was INCREDIBLE. A thin, super crisp crusty surface and innards that will blow your mind if nothing else. Thick forests of shredded carrots (not the thin shredded carrots you find in American carrot cakes, but thiiiick shredded), handfuls of walnut chunks and tons of raisins, of both the dark and golden breed. The cake itself? Incredibly moist with soft tender crumbs.
Actually, that pretty much sums it up. The crust de-crispifies after sitting out for a while, but we were lucky to get ours fresh. Each glorious mouthful was laden with shredded carrot, raisins, and chopped walnuts embedded in a mildly sweet, moist, tender cake. All these ingredients pushed it a bit towards the heavy side—this ain't no weaksauce cake—but it wasn't too heavy. It's just wasn't light either. It was already dangerously easy to eat; any lighter and we would've devoured it too quickly, probably putting our digestive systems at risk for something explosion-related in the process.
Let the devouring begin.
I'm not sure how long it took for all six of us to demolish the cake, but we did. Unintentionally. You know how time flies when you're just sitting, talking, and poking at a cake with your fork—before you know it, no more cake.
There was also this.
Olia also bought another dessert whose name we've forgotten. It looked cake-like at first, but it was more like a almondy meringue filled with dried cranberries, raisins and almonds. The flavor wasn't bad, but it was dry (as meringues are) and hugely overshadowed by the Carrot Cake of Awesomeness. As most things would be.
All this for $1.20 a pound!
When we got back to Manhattan we stopped in Chinatown to introduce Natty (and torture Jeremiah) to the wonders of durian, also known as the "King of Fruits," although in my circle of friends it's more popularly referred to as, "Noxious Dog Shit in a Spiny Shell." I don't think it deserves this title, but the smell seems to vary from person to person. I say "garlic and onions;" someone else may say, "canine excrement." (Jeremiah just makes this face.)
We bought our freshly disemboweled durian innards from an outdoor vendor off the corner of Grand and Mott streets (or somewhere in that vicinity; just look for the string of HANGING DURIANS, can't miss it). A few times after pulling a pod out of its armored shell with his gloved hands, the vendor would offer us a taste of the fresh fruit. And by that I mean he would push the wobbly, yellow mass into our faces as though it were a handful of something highly desirable—like gold coins or a baby kitten—and tell us to eat it. Kathy went first, but I think Natty was also a subject of the vendor's feeding. Jeremiah, on the other hand, fled behind a plastic partition between the durian vendor and a neighboring produce seller. Can't blame him, really.
I didn't get to partake in the durian madness that occurred that night at Natty's Oscar party since I planned on meeting Tristan and John for dinner, but Kathy captured the durian in its final resting place...next to a bottle of beer. Mm, goes down smooth.
Tristan, John and I went to Bahia, our favorite neighborhood Salvadoran restaurant (besides being the only one we know of), for a small dinner. At least, it was small for me since I had already eaten too much that afternoon.
One mixed pupusa filled with pork, beans, and cheese accompanied by a refreshingly raw vegetable-based avocado salad was all I needed to feel satiated. Because nothing pairs better with crisp lettuce, thick cucumber slices, and rich chunks of avocado like a mash of pork, beans and melted cheese sandwiched between layers of griddled corn dough. I had trouble even finished those two things, actually. I probably should've just stuck with the salad and saved my stomach some trouble, but I can't imagine going to a place that sells pupusas without actually ordering one. That's just...dumb.
I'll leave you with this photo of Natty and Jeremiah posing with a Russian suitcase.
Taken by Kathy with Kathy's camera...OH THANKS
...And this. I'm not even going to explain this.
I love my friends; it's just too bad that they're doomed to end up in hell.
Please don’t hate me if I haven’t included you. I tried to whittle this down to a manageable list, but there are just too many food blogs out there that I like! I shall update this list every so often.