sexiest mango ever

IMG_2145A rose is a rose is a rose, but a mango in any hands other than those of Empellon Cocina chef Alex Stupak wouldn’t taste nearly as sweet. The popular combo of mango, chili and fresh lime so often found hawked on street corners by machete-wielding Latin American women is upended by this chef into an ethereal, yet composed, plate of paper-thin ripe mango mounded into a pillow of sorts, dusted with chili powder, and accompanied by a bracing lime foam and dollops of chili sauce. But that’s not all: hidden beneath the fruity pillow – like a gift from the tooth fairy – is a peeky toe crab salad, which manages to elevate an elegant fruit plate into a savory-sweet appetizer that tickles every part of the tongue.


fruit with ‘tude

mangoes and attitude

The attitude of this girl selling bags of boiled peanuts and mango-on-a-stick at the side of the road was fantastic. You just know I had to buy some.


comfort me with mangoes

The green hue of palms and ferns might predominate in the Blue Mountains but there’s no shortage of fruit trees, either. My only regret: I’m just about a month shy of mango season.


red hooked on food trucks

Contrary to what I had always been led to believe, Brooklyn’s celebrated Red Hook food trucks are not Mexican but a veritable Pan-American exposition of south-of-the-border flavors – with particular attention heaped upon the cuisines of Central America. I trekked out to the soccer fields where the trucks set up shop each weekend – just south of a huge tract of public housing and west of the bend in the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway as it meets the Gowanus Canal – in search of the authentic huaraches, sopes, and tamales that occasionally haunt my daydreams only to discover ceviche, a crazy-delicious take on traditional horchata, and something called pupusa. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. At the easternmost stall on Bay Street, the mixto ceviche comes Ecuadoran-style, in a sweet and sour stew brimming with lime, red onion, cilantro and a substantial quantity of shrimp, squid, octopus, and fish that belie the thrifty $9 price tag. Add a few spoonfuls of the fiery green hot sauce and you’ll want to finish by drinking down every lick of the remaining broth. An icy horchata is the perfect complement to all that sweet and sour fire. However, unlike the traditional rice and water variety I’ve encountered, the Honduran version offered here incorporates milk, cinnamon, and peanuts to bring a whole other dimension of savory and salt flavors to the forefront. Round one over, I head to the line forming for pupusa, a traditional grilled corn cake from El Salvador that traces its roots back to the Maya. Resembling a tortilla, it can be stuffed with a variety of meats, cheese, or vegetables. I opted for cheese and loroco – a traditional flower bud heretofore alien to me – and watched as the pupusera shaped the dough and stuffed it to order. Accompanied by pickled coleslaw, tomato salsa, and onions, the loroco had a complex taste similar to the flavor of sea beans. I could have easily gobbled another. One thing was certain: this was no street fair arepa, thank you very much. Sated, stuffed, I nevertheless pined to continue eating my way across the continent. Yet for once I practiced a smidgen of self-control, opting for a fresh mango dusted with lime and chili, those twin ingredients which so often elevate Latin food to a sublime place worthy of the occasional gustatory daydream.


yes, we have no bananas

Lots of bananas in Curaçao, just none ripe enough to eat.  Anyone who’s indulged in the creamy sweetness of a freshly picked banana understands how torturous this is.  We don’t get ripe bananas in the US; we get green bananas left to slowly rot until they’re soft enough to eat.  There’s nothing to compare with a local banana.  Except maybe a mango.  Or papaya.


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