Bali Kitchen

MEET THE RESTAURATEUR

Jazz Pasay, Owner of Bali Kitchen

Nestled right at the heart of East Village, New York City, is a small and chic Indonesian restaurant. Bali Kitchen, owned by Indonesian immigrant Jazz Pasay, features an industrial chic decor which blends in well with the East Village aesthetic. This neighborhood is unique because the 1960s brought about an influx of musicians, artists, and hippies drawn to low rent prices. Bali Kitchen’s white-painted exposed brick wall and dark wood tabletops contrast with the silvery metal chairs and the stark black exterior. This combination with a glass storefront creates a beautiful setting to eat delicious food.

Bali Kitchen Exterior

Bali Kitchen is only a few blocks away from the iconic New York deli, Katz delicatessen. But not to worry, Bali Kitchen holds its own.

Jazz Pasay, the owner of Bali Kitchen, is a warm and put together individual who is a confluence of Indonesian culture. His passion to share Indonesian food as a vehicle for culture is contagious. He was born in Manado, a city on Sulawesi island but grew up in Surabaya, East Java island spending much time in Bali and eventually moved to the capital city, Jakarta. His menu is inspired by his vibrant and island-hopping style upbringing. Pasay takes the best dish from every city and showcases them in his menu, thereby bringing the best of Indonesia to New York City.

Jazz Pasay, the owner of Bali Kitchen, holding a plate of fake rambutans (an Indonesian fruit)

“I immigrated straight to New York City,” said Pasay. He worked for American, Chinese, Korean and Japanese restaurants before ultimately opening Bali Kitchen.

Pasay opened this restaurant in September of 2017 with the mission of sharing Indonesian culture to New Yorkers. New York City is already well known for its ethnic diversity and charming multicultural society, so introducing Indonesian food and culture is another great addition to this already breathtaking city.

Pasay’s mother owned a small catering business in Jakarta where he was introduced to the importance food plays in shaping identity and forging relationships among people. While Pasay helped his mother in the kitchen occasionally, he still owns a fashion business in Jakarta that has been operating for the last 20 years called Jazz Pasay & SAMAR costume & beyond.

Head Chef, David Silva Perez, cooking in the kitchen of Bali Kitchen

Pasay gets his aromatics, spices, and ingredients from an Indonesian grocery store in Chinatown as well as from Amherst, Queens. According to Pasay, there is a large and thriving Indonesian community in Queens and supermarkets with imported Indonesian goods are abundant in the area.

Interior of Bali Kitchen.

Pasay’s genuine need to share his culture comes through when asked about his clientele. He knows them very well, already categorizing the restaurant eaters into three groups. His familiarity with who eats at his restaurant reflects his passion to share his culture to both those who don’t know it and those already familiar with it. He explains the first group are local New Yorkers who live in East Village. Second come New Yorkers who have, according to Pasay, “certain connection to Indonesia, either they have been to Indonesia or they have family members or friends who are Indonesian”. And thirdly, are Indonesian tourists who need some taste of home after traveling to the States.

BEING GAY IN INDONESIA

Pasay immigrated in 2012 through his husband. Pasay said, “Gay marriage over there [in Indonesia] is very illegal so I just moved here [New York City].” Pasay married his husband in June 2012 while in the process of applying for gay asylum, he said, “Lucky us, before submitting the file, the US federal government legalized same-sex marriage in June 2013.”

The Indonesian LGBT community is subject to discrimination and hate crimes. Indonesia is a Muslim majority country and religion is very closely tied with politics, thereby affecting public policy. Religious norms hold strong beliefs that make it dangerous for Indonesians to express their sexuality and many face threats to their lives, such as flogging punishments in Aceh. Same-sex marriage is not recognized and same-sex couples are not protected under the eyes of the law. Recently, the political climate is increasingly hostile as sharia-supporting terrorist fundamentalist Muslim groups have gained more support.

OBSTACLES FACED IN AMERICA

Pasay talks about the hardships he faced with opening a restaurant in America. For instance, Indonesian cuisine may simply be too exotic and therefore practically unheard of to many Americans. This lack of exposure is a significant barrier to bringing customers to his restaurant. Pasay said, “Not many people are familiar with Indonesian food so it’s hard for them to instantly get drawn to it.”

Further, there was a difference in workplace dynamics that needed to get some getting used to; such as the relationship between employer and employee is more hierarchical back in Indonesia. Pasay said, “It’s just harder to manage people because this is America and it’s not like in Indonesia where you can just ask people to do things. Here it’s a different dynamic.”

Pasay also mentions health regulations as an unexpected obstacle. Pasay said, “In Indonesia, you serve food at room temperature and it’s okay. But here everything has to be hot and cooked right away. If you leave the food out for a long time the health department would give us sanctions.” What makes it difficult, according to Pasay, “our food has different varieties [of cooking methods]: one is baked, grilled, fried, steamed and so you really have to be able to manage the time.”

THE CUISINE

Indonesia is home to over 300 ethnic groups and this presents a uniquely diverse and incredibly wide range of dishes. Indonesia is a large exporter of spices which leads to crazy flavor combinations in their food. From his menu, Pasay recommends Nasi Campur Bali, Rendang, and Nasi Goreng. He said, “Those three are very popular.”

Bali Kitchen’s food is authentic and traditional, with hardly any American influence. According to Pasay, the taste may seem diluted to some people “because of the spice itself. We [him and his chefs] cannot get the fresh one so we’re subjected with the dried ones so as a result, it’s not really rich like in Indonesia. But in terms of authenticity, we employ/add the whole thing according to the traditional authentic recipe.”

Bali Kitchen Menu

My first visit I decided to order the house special Nasi Campur Bali, which literally translates to Rice Mix Bali. This dish is incredibly complex with nine different toppings (yes, nine) on top of rice plated over banana leaves served with a side of extra hot chili paste. Nasi Campur Bali acts much like a microcosm of Indonesian cultural identity- separate components that all come beautifully together in a delicious dish. Nasi Campur Bali includes chicken marinated in a combination of Indonesian herbs topped with grated coconut flakes, peanuts, egg topped with chilli sauce, tempeh (fried fermented soybean), green beans, fried shallots, krupuk (deep fried cracker), sate lilit (chicken skewer marinated in Indonesian herbs) and some battered and fried miscellaneous vegetables. If you like your food sweet, I definitely recommend topping it off with the in house sweet soy sauce called kecap manis that they provide on the countertop next to the cutlery.

Going clockwise: Jamu drink, chilli sauce, krupuk and Nasi Campur Bali (House Special dish).

For the accompanying beverage, Bali Kitchen has a wide range to choose from, including but not limited to durian juice, coconut water, iced lychee or rambutan, and sweetened iced teas (famously teh botol and teh kotak). I chose the traditional Indonesian drink, Jamu which is a blend of turmeric, tamarind, black pepper, and yacon syrup. The thin, dark orangey liquid was surprisingly pleasant despite the unconventional mix of ingredients and perfectly complements the main course because it cuts right through the intense spiciness of the added chili. Traditionally, Jamu is a medicinal drink but here it takes on a milder taste, while still staying true to the health benefits of its original inspiration.

My second visit I ordered Nasi Goreng Kampung, fried rice with dried fish and shrimp paste. This dish is topped with eight toppings: sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, shrimp crackers, pickled vegetables, fried onions, fried egg, dried fish and dried shrimp. Nasi Goreng Kampung is a staple, everyday food for Indonesians and has an incredibly strong flavor profile that can only be achieved using a variety of spices.

Nasi Goreng Kampung

Bali Kitchen doubles not only as a restaurant but a catering service- with a secret menu. Pasay mentions that with the cold New York winter season, offices and private events order food for large groups. They famously prepare Nasi Tumpeng, an elaborate and colorful feast centered around yellow, aromatic infused rice shaped in an inverted cone. Pasay smiles when he mentions that those who call for this service are almost always Indonesians because they are familiar with what they want and ask him to prepare special orders like terasi and ikan asin which are sometimes unfeasible to cook in the small restaurant kitchen. But don’t be intimidated, Pasay is very friendly and is willing to cater to newcomers who have no idea that they would be in for such a treat!

Nasi Tumpeng catering order. Image courtesy of Bali Kitchen.

Nasi Tumpeng is an extremely significant dish to Indonesian cultural and historical identity. It dates far back to ancient Indonesian tradition that revered mountains as spirits. Read more about the symbolic and philosophical meanings and the complex beliefs about Nasi Tumpeng in this article.

SITUATION NOW IN INDONESIA

Indonesia was hit particularly bad throughout 2018 by a series of earthquakes and tsunamis that caused numerous casualties namely in the regions of Java, Sumatra, Lombok, and Sulawesi. The worst of which struck Sulawesi last September which killed over 2,000 people. Despite Indonesia’s unfortunate familiarity with earthquakes and tsunamis, there is a lack of infrastructure available to prevent high casualties. Death and injuries could have been mitigated or avoided but instead, the government failed to maintain warning systems that would have saved many lives.

CNN covered an article about what went wrong with Indonesia’s early tsunami warning system, which highlights the country’s failure to warn its citizens due to “vandalism, limited budget, and technical damage to tsunami buoys”, according to Supoto Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management.

Despite the natural disasters that occur seemingly frequently in the area and questionable human rights issues, Indonesia remains a fascinating place to visit. To get a small taste of that Indonesian spirit, visit Bali Kitchen, right here in the Big Apple. You won't be sorry.

 

Visit:
Bali Kitchen
128 E 4th Street • New York, NY 10003
646.678.4784
Hours: Everyday from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

About the Author

Isabel is an adventurous eater and will happily go out of her culinary comfort zone. She’s constantly obsessed with finding her new favorite food and trying the craziest foods. As an avid traveler, she believes food is the perfect way to bridge the gaps between people of different cultures.

Mahope Restaurant

“Ma’s Hope”- Cambodian Restaurant

Location:

Mahope is located in the North Side, Cincinnati. Northside is on the west side of town and is known for their historic, yet eclectic nature. In a sea of eccentric buildings, Mahope stands out with its bright blue exterior.

Meet The Owners:

Vy Sok is the owner of Mahope along with her husband and business partner, Mike. Vy was originally born in Thailand after her family fled from Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge genocide. In 1984, Vy and her family moved to America, where Vy eventually realized her dream of opening her own restaurant. Vy fantasized of having her own family recipes on a menu of her own. As a young girl, Vy’s mother was hopeful she would turn her dreams into reality. This inspired a name for the restaurant. The direct translation of “Mahope” in Cambodian is “food”, but the English translation “Ma’s Hope” was perfectly fitting for what Vy and her mother had envisioned years ago. Pursuing her passion, Vy completed the Mortar program in Cincinnati, Ohio, a program supporting young urban entrepreneurs. In 2017, she opened a Mahope food truck at Urban Artifact, a food, craft beer, and music event in downtown Cincinnati. In 2018, Mahope was at Cincinnati’s Taco Fest, where Vy received an award for her  now famous “cheesecake taco” (see below). Transitioning from a pop-up patio at a restaurant in downtown Cincinnati, Mahope finally found its home in North Side.

The Food:

I asked Vy to describe traditional Cambodian food in three words and she said: “savory”, “earthy” and “fresh”. Cambodian food is traditionally cooked with a lot of herbs and fresh ingredients including lots of lemongrass, turmeric, kaffir lime and cilantro! Mahope is sensitive to different types of eating styles. For example, there is no fish sauce included in any of the recipes (although it can be added on the side) to cater to vegetarians and because the recipes are made with vegetables and rice noodles, most of the items on the menu are also gluten-free. In addition, a Cambodian classic, pickled papaya is also included in many of the recipes!

To begin, I started with the Ban Chao Roll which consists of cabbage, onion, scallions, ground pork & cilantro rolled in rice flour crepes served with Sweet & Sour vinaigrette with roasted peanuts. A crunchy, fresh and flavorful appetizer!

Next, I had the Bone Broth Kathiew with shrimp, a Cambodian soup with rice noodles is garnished with cabbage, cilantro, and lime with rice noodles. This soup, similar to Vietnamese pho, is a perfect combination of earthy and savory in flavor and soft and crunchy in texture.

The Cambodian Chicken Taco is a Cambodian twist to tacos. When I asked Vy if there was a challenge integrating Cambodian cuisine to the Cincinnati culture, she replied in the affirmative, but mentioned how the chicken tacos at Mahope are a good stepping stone for someone who may have never tried Cambodian food. The tacos consist of grilled and marinated chicken, cabbage, pickled papaya, sriracha aioli and cilantro served on a grilled corn tortilla. The chicken was perfectly marinated and moist, with the pickled papaya adding a Cambodian touch to a Mexican classic.

The cheesecake taco referred to previously features homemade cheesecake within a Sopapilla taco shell, topped with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and some more cheesecake. Not Cambodian, per se,  but a perfect dessert to an excellent meal nonetheless!

The Experience:

Mahope is a family friendly restaurant that offers an excellent eating experience for those curious about Cambodian cuisine.  It is a spotlessly clean restaurant, with a large Buddha that greets you at the entrance, along with the aroma of delicious South-east Asian spices. I can’t wait to go back and highly recommend to anyone in the Cincinnati area.

Visit: 

Mahope
3935 Spring Grove Ave,
Cincinnati, OH 45223
513-499-7176

Hannah Thornsburg is a Cincinnati local with a creative palate and a passion for food. As a young professional, she loves to try different cuisines around town!

Ha La Sushi Restaurant

Hidden behind a bundle of trees in a small shopping plaza in Alamo, California,  Ha-La Sushi buzzes with frenetic energy. As the regulars pile in, they are greeted with a beaming smile by an amiable, middle age man with a fun, spiky haircut. Hugging regular patrons, Ken Ma- the owner of the restaurant, always seems to remember everyone’s name, as well as what was going on in their lives. Customers seem genuinely happy to see him and the other employees of Ha-La Sushi.

Ken Ma makes sure to treat everyone who comes to Ha-La Sushi, along with his employees, as a family. It’s no wonder that most of his employees never want to leave and still work with him after many years. He accepts and values people as they are, and sympathizes with challenges - his life after immigrating to the US has taught him not to take anything or anyone for granted.

In 1996, Ken moved to the United States from Hong Kong, right before the sovereignty over Hong Kong transferred from the United Kingdom to China. This handover marked the end of the British Empire rule, along with significant trepidation in the hearts of citizens of Hong Kong regarding their future. The major fear was that Chinese culture of control and corruption would undermine Hong Kong’s economic development and free political expression.

Ken’s life flipped upside down as he left his country a prosperous businessman and came into the United States as a nobody. Instead of managing a business, Ken found himself behind a kitchen sink in a restaurant, washing dishes. While not ideal, this 2-year stint gave him the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of running a business in the United States.  From dishwasher to the waiter, to sushi helper, and finally to becoming a sushi master chef - Ken paved the way to his success by working 2 jobs with no days off for several years until he had enough money saved for a down payment on opening his own restaurant.

As Ken began to look for his own place to develop a restaurant, a major setback came crashing down on him - the loss of all the family savings. He found himself back at square one, the shining ‘end of the tunnel’ to his dream even further away. The consequences that followed had Ken battling with depression and despair - he had worked 60 hours per week for 7 years with no breaks saving every penny he was given - only to have it all vanish right in front of him.

Yet, Ken rose from the ashes once again and started his long, laboring trek by asking his family and friends to help him in finance the down payment. Because of his trustworthiness and work ethic, everyone reached out to help and Ken was soon able to open his first ever sushi restaurant in Benicia, CA  in 2003. Word about Ken’s wonderful food got around quickly wonderful food and his business grew despite being in what many would consider a “sketchy” or “unsafe” locations. Even non-local customers would come from across the bridge just to eat at Ken’s sushi restaurant.

Things started looking up as his business grew. Shortly after his restaurant opened, Ken bought his first house, got remarried and had a son. But even with his success, he never relaxed and kept working around the clock- a new idea of owning a restaurant across the bridge in the East Bay hovered in his mind.

A developer who visited and immediately fell in love with Ken’s sushi place searched him out and offered a new location in Alamo. Ken opened Ha-La Sushi in 2005. Currently, Ken owns 2 restaurants: one in San Leandro and the other in Alamo, managing his time between the two places. He is diligent, hard-working, and never takes anything or anyone for granted. He always appreciates the people in his life, his employees, and most importantly, his family. When you come to Ha-La Sushi, you are treated not just as a customer, but as a friend too.

Ha-La is an Asian fusion, a sushi restaurant that combines Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Ask the owner for a recommendation, and you will be in for a special treat. Ken might ask you when you come in: “What do you feel like?”, and somehow makes any desire happen. Anything from oysters, and extra special Toro, to rolls and udon, and of course, Ken's famous lamb chops - will make you happily satisfied.

Since we were at the restaurant in Alamo, we had to order the Alamo Roll. This roll has deep fried shrimp & crab on the inside, tuna & salmon on the outside, and it is completed with tobiko & spicy sauce on top.

Pork Katsu- breaded pork cutlets, is a comfort-food in Japan. Ha-La sushi is able to make these cutlets especially delicious by ensuring that the pork was filled with juicy flavor and the coated bread crumbs had just the right crunch.

Tempura Vegetables. Tempura is a Japanese dish filled with battered and deep-fried vegetables. At Ha-La, tempura tastes clean, fresh, and delicate. The coating was extra crisp, lacy and feather light.

Salmon Sashimi - The secret in Ken’s exceptional quality of food lies in his long-established relationships with produce supplies. While also being treated as one of Ken’s good friends, they are expected to deliver only the best and freshest fish. Although basic, the Salmon sashimi we ordered melted in our mouths and still lingered long after devouring it. If you are adventurous and open to trying new food, ask Ken for the Special Fish of the day and follow the question up by asking him if he has Toro. If he does, you are in luck. Toro is a term for the fatty part of the tuna, found in the belly portion of the fish. It is more expensive due to their relative scarcity, but worth the experience.

The Super Lion King Roll was a creamy, mouthwatering treat for my brother, who is a California roll fanatic. The Lion King rolls is essentially a California roll with the exception of being wrapped in salmon and also baked and topped with Ha-La’s special sauce. The crunchy decorations were a wonderful touch in tying the roll together.

The Caterpillar Roll at Ha-La Sushi was very carefully crafted. With unagi and crab meat on the inside, wrapped in fresh avocado, the roll looked like a beautiful caterpillar creation. We learned that Caterpillar rolls were completely an “American” invention, so it is unlikely to be found in Hong Kong or Japan. The Unagi inside the roll was grilled to perfection - crisp and coated with a sweet sauce on the outside while being tender on the inside. Ken told us that unagi is very good for one’s health: high in omega-3 helps to improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol and reduce the risks of diabetes and arthritis.

In my opinion, HaLa sushi embraces what I consider to be a truly international restaurant. A chef serving cuisine they did not grow up with in pursuit of the American Dream.

Visit:
Ha La Sushi
115-C Alamo Plaza
Alamo, CA 94507
(925) 838-5583

Yara Elian is a 10th grader at Northgate High in the San Francisco Bay Area, who loves languages, cultures, food, and writing.

Casablanca Moroccan Cuisine

It has a very unassuming exterior. If you were in the area, you may stop at the Starbucks on the opposite side or the Raising Cane’s next to it. Perhaps you would just drive by the huge eyesore that is the Chase drive-through ATM next to it, and never notice its diamond-in-the-rough neighbor – “Casablanca Moroccan Cuisine”. But that is how hidden gems are – hidden in plain sight, humble and inconspicuous.

The first time I walked in, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. Outside the restaurant, a few men were sitting on metallic patio furniture having hookah and tea. A traditional samovar sat on their table, along with two glass teacups stuffed with fresh mint leaves to the brim. Walking past them I entered an elongated room with orange walls and modest decoration reminiscent of Persian and Moorish times. A tiny door chime rang my entrance and its sound was quickly replaced loud Arabic music playing on the LCD in the top left corner of this softly lit space. Towards the front, a small alcove displayed some dusty paraphernalia from distant lands unknown behind a wooden hostess stand. At the back, a small refrigerator stood displaying all kinds of soda.

Basic, comfortable and warm – I thought to myself as I took a seat. Two minutes later, the owner Khalid Boujaidi, walked out of the kitchen and greeted me asking what I would like to eat. I asked him to get me his best dish – and I have never looked back ever since.

Like his restaurant, Khalid is a simple man – modest and unpretentious. When you meet him the first time, he seems like a man of few words who lets his food do the talking for him. But become a regular (and for Khalid that is anyone who visits his restaurant more than three times), and you will have earned yourself a friend as well as a gifted chef.

Khalid’s chicken Tagine is now one of my favorite meals, the true definition of comfort, soul food – prepared fresh every day with rich, wholesome ingredients and painstaking attention. His menu is minimal and easy to navigate. To start up an appetite you can order some robust falafel or hummus. If you are in the mood for something light, there are salads and wraps. But for the real taste of his cooking, order one of the entrées with saffron rice and salad. Round off your meal with some special Moroccan tea.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Khalid, rather, I stood in his kitchen as he prepared his masterpiece Tagine, to ask him how he decided to become a chef and ended up as the owner of this little Moroccan gem in the middle of San Antonio, Texas.

‘It’s not been easy. When I came here at first, it was very hard. For the first three months, I just wanted to go back. My wife would keep asking why we moved. I kept questioning my decision, I wondered how I would succeed, what I would do. I don’t like remembering those days too much. It wasn’t easy’. He shakes his head as his hands chop the vegetables almost automatically for the side salad that goes with the Tagine.

Khalid’s kitchen is systematic and functional. He has distinct corners (and stoves) for rice, meat, vegetables, and his tea. This ensures that his service always runs like a well-oiled engine. At any time you will find at least two kettles of his special Moroccan mint tea brewing in the kitchen. There is a large salad bar that doubles up as his chopping and assembling workspace as he lowers a granite slab over it. In one seemingly forgotten corner, there are two mini microwaves stacked atop each other, collecting dust. Khalid admits that they are almost never used since all his food is made fresh, to order.

The outfit opened its doors in 2013 and Khalid has been running the whole show on his own. The one-man front means that his patrons may need to wait a bit longer than usual on busy nights, but as fresh as his food comes out, it is always worth the wait. He takes immense pride in his process and it shows. Many restaurants of this size sometimes fail to run efficiently and get enough business, let alone maintain a stellar sanitation record. Moroccan Cuisine boasts a 98% Health Score from its latest inspection, displayed proudly next to the hostess stand inside the restaurant.

Like many immigrant chefs, Khalid’s cooking is laden with nostalgia and remembrance of his homeland – Casablanca in Morocco – where he grew up. He confesses that when he decided to open up this place, he knew there was nothing else he could name it, it had to carry a piece of Casablanca – where his journey began.

His earliest memory in the kitchen is when he was just 10 years old – the youngest among his siblings – always a keen helper in the kitchen. ‘My mother knew how much I enjoyed cooking and saw that I was good at it, so she would let me help at times. My father was away a lot on business and when he would come back, sometimes I would cook for them. They always enjoyed my food’.

Even though his commitment to the craft continued into young adulthood, Khalid explored many other professions before becoming a full-time chef. In his late teenage years, he ran a business importing and exporting clothing brands into his country from Europe. He even tried his hand at fitness training for a while. During this time he would travel to Europe frequently. That is where the amalgamation of different cultures and the possibilities it held enamored him.

‘But wherever I was, I always loved to cook for myself, somehow I never wanted anyone else to cook for me’. He tells me as he shakes his special in-house dressing for the salad in a steel flask – a mixture of Mediterranean herbs, olive oil, and lime juice.

The salad for his special Tagine was ready. He arranged a small heap on a plain white plate next to him and then in two take away containers as well. Then he scooped a few spoonfuls of his fragrant saffron rice next to the greens. Here he asked me to move closer and smell the delicious aroma of the steaming rice as he plated them: ‘Notice how every grain is separate from the other? This is how you know that your rice is perfectly cooked’ he said proudly.
Khalid made his way from Europe to America in 2005, when he finally moved to San Antonio. This is where he decided to start a new life by zoning in on his lifelong passion – cooking. It started off by taking a few cooking classes and then joining a local French restaurant in the area. French cooking is a big departure from what he makes at his own restaurant but for Khalid, it was important to learn the best techniques in the industry so he could turn his passion into a hard-earned skill. He worked as a line cook and then a chef for nearly a decade at the French place, before finally taking the leap to set up his own restaurant. ‘I knew I had moved here (USA) to build something of my own. To make use of the opportunities available here. I was not going to work under someone forever, even though he was a great boss. That was not why I came to America.’

If on a weekday night, you came into his eatery and found it relatively empty, it will be because Khalid has been packing away his glorious food in take away containers long before you arrived. On a busy day, he can get as many as 30 take away orders. His location in the city’s medical center makes it a popular spot for students and health professionals looking for wholesome food on the go. By night, the restaurant transforms into a tea and hookah café as well for shisha enthusiasts because it is among the few in the area that stays open until 2 am.

But I was here for the star of the show: the Tagine meat. The Tagine is a clay or ceramic container characteristic of Moroccan cuisine, shaped like a pyramid that is used to cook this style of meat. It helps to trap the steam inside so that the meat becomes amazingly tender and flavorful as it cooks. For me, he plated a juicy, tender piece of chicken on the bed of rice. For the takeaway containers, he approached a second pot and pulled out a scrumptious lamb shank. He finished off the plating with a few drippings of his special white sauce, a blend of sautéed chickpeas and onions, and finally some olives.

I sat down to eat and everything on this plate complimented everything else perfectly. The saffron rice is creamy and distinctly fluffy. The meat is tender and falls off the bone effortlessly and the fresh salad compliments the richness of the meat and rice.

After the delicious meal, I poured myself a cup of Khalid’s warm and hearty mint tea as I marveled at the care and joy he put in cooking and serving his food. I asked him to share what it was that he liked most about the process of cooking? He glanced into the distance and smiled, shaking his head, ‘It is just that I love it. You cannot explain it. It is like Love, how do you explain Love?’

Chef Khalid

Visit:
Casablanca Moroccan Cuisine
7959 Fredericksburg Rd Ste 215
San Antonio, TX 78229
Phone number (210) 549-4031

Author: Qudsia A. Rana - https://medium.com/@qudsia.rana

Anatolia Turkish Restaurant

This adventure in dining begins like many others I’ve experienced over the years: in a nondescript strip mall.

Some of the best food can be found in strip malls of course, in establishments with harshly lit rooms and plastic chairs. So regardless of atmosphere, the anticipation of awesome Turkish food made me giddy. Turns out, I had totally prejudged the book by its cover.

The soft lighting and tasteful decor was downright elegant. Linen tablecloths were framed at the tables by beautifully upholstered chairs. Lovely Turkish art and woven rugs adorned the walls. Cozy was the adjective my brain finally settled upon.

Seductive aromas of sautéing garlic, onion, and spices greeted us. I tried to guess… was that oregano? Maybe cinnamon? Whatever magic they were conjuring back there had us all salivating.
Anatolia’s owner, Huseyin Ustunkaya has a warm and easy smile. The restaurant is packed, and he seems to know the majority of his customers by name. Since things were so busy, I told him we’d talk after the rush died a little. “It’s fine!” He says, “They don’t really need me out there!” I believe him, but I told him I wouldn’t feel right for taking up his time. Besides, we were all starving.

THE CUISINE

Fresh bread with herbed oil was brought, giving us time to look over the menu. I asked our server, Deniz, to pick some of his favorites for us to try.
His choices did not disappoint. We started with the Anatolia sampler platter: Stuffed grape leaves, rolled phyllo filled with salty cheese (these went over HUGE with my kids), and house made hummus with pita. Accompanying this beautiful spread was rose petal jam which I had never had before. Now I kinda want to bathe in it.

At the request of my kiddos we had calamari as well, which was perfect. Crispy, without the consistency of breaded rubber bands. They disappeared fast.

Next came the entrees…

He also recommended a Turkish wine I had never tried. It was a great table wine, dry and light on the tannins.

The lamb stew was amazing. Cubed lamb, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, green beans, bell peppers, garlic and onions all baked harmoniously in a stone oven. The gravy forged by this process was delicate, and it balanced the rich flavor of the lamb beautifully.

Up next was Turkish gyros, seasoned and marinated beef cooked on a rotating skewer and thinly sliced (as all proper gyros should be in my humble opinion). It was also served with rice pilaf, yogurt sauce and grilled vegetables.

Because my children are carnivores and love all things lamb, they also had the lamb shish kabob: lamb cubes marinated in Turkish spices chargrilled on skewers served with rice pilaf, yogurt sauce and grilled vegetables. Believe me when I tell you this dish was amazing!

Finally, also at the recommendation of Deniz, I had the vegetarian sampler. It was a magnificent dish of eggplant stuffed with onions, pine nuts, tomatoes and parsley; artichoke stuffed with pine nuts, rice, and currants; and grilled vegetables. It was served with rice and that ubiquitous  yogurt sauce. I generally like vegetarian dishes, this one is now my favorite.

After stuffing ourselves like Christmas turkeys (no pun intended), I had the pleasure of sitting down for a while to speak with the man running this finely tuned show.

How it all started…

The Ustunkaya brothers, Huseyin and Harun, worked in a resort located in Antalya, an idyllic beachside town on Anatolia’s southwest Mediterranean coast.

Owned by Marriot, the resort was an excellent place for the brothers to gain experience, and as Huseyin told me, learn English. He said learning English would be one of the most difficult, and most vital pieces of the process of immigrating to the US.

“My passion wasn’t with resorts, I knew that. I knew what I wanted above all else was to open my own restaurant, serving the food I grew up with and love so much.” He says.

The Ustunkaya brothers come from a family surrounded by food. His father ran restaurants when he was young so the boys had exposure to the business from early on. Later, his father started a family business distributing vegetables to commercial restaurants and resorts. Fun fact: most of his business came from selling purple carrots, which are especially in demand because of a popular drink brewed there called Salgam Suyu made from purple carrots, bulgur wheat, salt, and yeast. I asked him why it wasn’t on the menu. He laughed, “I’m not sure my non-Turkish customers are ready for that yet”.

Of course this made me really want to try it. Challenge accepted, Huseyin.

His mother was a strong influence in the kitchen. She taught Huseyin and Harun how to cook traditional recipes. He especially credits her with kindling the spark which led to his love for cooking.

But competition was harsh in Turkey for independent restauranteurs, and the bureaucracy involved was messy and inconsistent. They had friends here in the U.S who encouraged them to come follow their dream, so they took the leap and came to the U.S in 1998.

Coming to America

Relocating from the resort in Turkey to the Airport Marriott here in Nashville made for an easier transition, but the long term goal was to pave the path toward owning their own place.

Although he has travelled to pretty much every area of the country, he says he feels most at home in Nashville. His neighbors, work colleagues, and community are very supportive. “Nashville is a good place to be because it has a slower pace yet the influx of people moving from bigger cities makes it a melting pot.”

It helps a lot also that he has a nephew and niece who live in Santa Monica, both of whom also in the restaurant business. His brother and sister are here in Nashville. His wife eventually immigrated here as well after he got settled in. Apparently, she too is an amazing cook. “She’s a better cook than me!” Huseyin says, once again with a hearty laugh.

Sharing the culture

Huseyin has found that people are very interested in learning about his culture, and he loves to educate his customers about Turkey. Upon looking around the restaurant that night, I had noticed there were people of all ages, races, etc. He considers himself kind of a casual virtual tour guide, telling people what to see and where to go in Turkey. He gives advice if they’re worried about security, cultural differences, things like that. He especially loves to talk shop about the food.

Hopes for his family, and for others like them.

His face brightens when I ask him what his hopes for the future are here in America.

“I would love to see the little ones find their passion here.”

He says he feels fortunate to have been able to reach the goals he had set for himself, goals that have made him a successful businessman and a well liked member of the community. He’d like to see others have the same opportunity.

When I asked what advice he could give to any immigrated restauranteurs just starting out, he paused thoughtfully for a second.

“The secret to success for any restaurant is happy employees. “This is why we have very little turnover“ he says, “there’s ownership from everyone who works here. We all share the same passion for what we do.”

He also sites steadfastness as a contributing factor. “I stayed persistent when I was first starting out,” he says, “throughout the challenges of financing, all the way around to the everyday ways we try to make dining here a special experience for our customers. It’s not hard to stay persistent when working for something you love.”

Right on time, to punctuate the “special experience for our customers” concept, Deniz shows up to the table with dessert.

“It’s called Kunefe, it’s a special dessert, you won’t find it in too many places here.” He says.

I have never had anything like it. “Divine” may be an understatement. It’s super thin layers of rolled pastry, shredded and baked with unsalted cheese drizzled with light syrup.

It was a sweet way to cap off a wonderful, educational evening. If you’re in the Nashville area, try Huseyin’s place, you won’t regret it.

Visit:
Anatolia Turkish Restaurant
48 White Bridge Road / Nashville, TN 37205
(615) 356-1556 ~or~ (615) 356-1551

Author: Laura Crowley-Gunnoe - http://Writing.Com/authors/lollycrow