travel

cheap eats

Another wedding weekend, another full belly.  I met up with Julie to hang out in my old digs, Maryland and specifically Baltimore, to attend a high school friend’s wedding that left us feeling really old.  So of course, we self-medicated with Italian pastries and an assortment of open-air goodies at the farmer’s market.   But first, I’ll tell you a secret.

There is only one place on Earth where the food is as comforting as my mother’s own and which I seek out every time I’m back near DC.  I couldn’t tell you how to get there or where to find it, I only know that once Linda took me there for Korean food many years ago, it’s been a deciding factor into schlepping down to Northern Virginia to visit her. “Hi Linda, I’m coming to visit you – oh, and get tofu stew.”  It’s called Lighthouse Tofu House in Annandale and of course after I moved from Maryland, they open one there, too.  So here’s how it works, you order a tofu stew from the short menu (with vegetable, mushroom, seafood, beef, or pork) and you help yourself to the really refreshing barley iced tea.  Next, you’ll be served a small bowl of cold kimchi soup with some daikon radish, cabbage and jalapeno and you’re going to try really hard not to finish it before everyone else at the table, because it’s amazingly delicious.  Then they’ll serve some panchan: small accompaniments of kimchi, pickled cucumber, bean sprouts, etc.  Lastly, you’ll get a piping hot cauldron filled to the brim with spicy tofu stew.  In an instant, your sinuses will be clear and everything will be extremely lucid.  You then crack your egg into the bowl and bury it under the tofu to poach.  You can add some fresh cooked rice to soak up the rich broth.  Let me assure you, you will not leave this place hungry.  I’m pretty sure the equivalent of an entire tofu block is in a bowl of stew and the more you eat, the more you can not stop, until you’re unbuttoning your pants so you can finish off the bowl.  At the end of it all, cool down with the delicious rice crust left over to soak in some barley tea.  There are other Korean dishes there, but I can not bring myself to have anything else.  And at 10 bucks for the whole meal, you can save your money for tomorrow – because that’s the next time you’ll be hungry again.

Now, Baltimore.  I love Baltimore – there’s a reason it’s called Charm City.  (Although, the charm is not immediately apparent, I understand).  But as a poor student, I have a lot of great food-related memories of a city that fed me well on the cheap.  Once you step away from the tourist trap that is Inner Harbor and explore the neighborhoods, the charm starts to become apparent.  Mount Washington’s creperie is owned by French ex-pats, Federal Hill’s Irish seafood stew will warm you up on a cold winter night, Mount Vernon’s Afghani jewel The Helmand is a heartbeat away from Hamid Karzai, Greektown’s souvlaki gets better one shop to the next, and Little Italy (truly little) has Vaccaro’s.  No matter how late, no dinner in Baltimore is complete without a pit stop at Vaccaro’s for some fresh filled cannoli.  Or in Julie and mine’s case, tiramisu and a chocolate napoleon.  Yes it was midnight and we weren’t even hungry but how can you pass up such sweet deliciousness?  I’m amazed we got the treats home, usually I end up eating everything in the car while still parked outside the shop.

My own corner of Baltimore was Charles Village.  When I wasn’t my usual lazy self, I dragged myself out of bed Saturday mornings over to the Waverly farmer’s market up the street.  In a hardened city where the grocery stores in poor neighborhoods don’t make fresh healthy food a real option, the Waverly farmer’s market offered some hope.  I’d grab some French rolls, a wedge of farmer’s cheese and whatever fruit was in season and shuffle back to my place with a portable breakfast.  If I couldn’t wait, I’d have the mushroom stand’s famous grilled portabella mushroom stuffed into a pita with feta cheese and greens, or the Asian food stand’s fresh mango and sticky rice and steamed shrimp shumai, or the curry shack’s flaky caribbean veggie samosa.  For a humble neighborhood market, it was surprisingly worldly – much like the city itself.  That was Saturday.

mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms!

mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms!

steamed shrimp shumai and bean buns

steamed shrimp shumai and bean buns

caribbean veggie samosas

caribbean veggie samosas

On Sunday, if I were really inclined to eat well (cheaply) for the rest of the week, I’d haul myself to the city-wide farmer’s market under the JFX expressway.  That behemoth gets thousands of people per weekend and there is no shortage of veggies, fruits, herbs, flowers, baked goods and prepared treats.  So with hours before my flight on Sunday, Julie and I stopped there to sample a bit of everything and cobbled together a delicious breakfast from a hodge-podge of delights.  All my favorite stands were there, plus a donut-maker, a crepe stand (5 dollars for a meal in your hand!) and someplace selling maryland-crab-jambalaya over omelets – how can you go wrong??  After we ate, I grabbed some clover honey, a loaf of sunflower seed bread, and a bag of raisin-studded tea cakes and stuffed them into my luggage to bring some Baltimore goodness back home with me.

under the JFX

under the JFX

over 20 varieties of apples

over 20 varieties of apples

fresh baked loaves of artisan bread

fresh baked loaves of artisan bread

colorful cauliflower

colorful cauliflower

a rainbow of cherry tomatoes

a rainbow of cherry tomatoes

pumpkins of all shapes

pumpkins of all shapes

a whole lotta mums

a whole lotta mums

sweet and savory crepes

sweet and savory crepes

fresh herbs

fresh herbs

real baltimore 'hon (ey)

real baltimore 'hon (ey)s

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