No culinary excursion to Penang is complete without a few plates of char koay teow, rice noodles stir-fried with bean sprouts, Chinese chives, cockles and prawns. The best versions are fried in lard and cooked over charcoal. Credit: Copyright David Hagerman

When it comes to street food in Southeast Asia, Singapore and Bangkok receive the lion’s share of kudos. Yet it is Penang City — an urbanized island off the northwestern coast of peninsular Malaysia — whose street food scene offers all that those cities do and more, just an hour’s plane ride north of Singapore and 90 minutes south of Bangkok.

That’s why Penang, home to former British colonial port and UNESCO world heritage site George Town, is a weekend destination for residents of Singapore and Bangkok alike.

Have a hankering for Indian food? Chinese? You’ll find it in Penang

Like Singapore’s street food, Penang’s is wildly varied. Think wonton noodles, roti canai (flaky and crispy flatbreads cooked on a griddle and eaten with dal and curry) and mee goreng, yellow noodles fried with chili paste. All of this is  prepared and served within feet of each other, thanks to a population made up primarily of Chinese, Indians and Malays.

Like Bangkok and Singapore, Penang’s street food is served from the wee hours of the morning until late at night. And it isn’t limited to officially sanctioned hawker centers. In Penang, sellers serve their specialties from stalls parked beneath umbrellas on street corners and sidewalks, in kopitiam (coffee shops), and within and outside of food markets.

Street food that’s all in the family

In Penang, culinary skills built on the back of experience can be tasted in dishes served from one of the island’s many hawker stalls run by older and even second- or third-generation cooks.

Many on the island still use cooking methods and techniques that are being lost in other parts of the region. They commonly use live fire or coals. Many serve their dishes on banana leaves, which release an appetite-rousing scent when they come into contact with hot food. And, at a time when American cooks are just coming around to the versatility and deliciousness of lard, Penang’s Chinese hawkers have been capitalizing on it all along. They add cracklings to stir-fries and broths and drizzle liquid lard over dry noodle dishes.

Savor Penang with your eyes through this slideshow:

Main photo: No culinary excursion to Penang is complete without a few plates of char koay teow, rice noodles stir-fried with bean sprouts, Chinese chives, cockles and prawns. The best versions are fried in lard and cooked over charcoal.  Credit: Copyright David Hagerman

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An appetizer of marinated raw scallops in

Mexican cuisine has no high or low. Unlike in French, Chinese or Japanese cooking, it is from the humble tradition of everyday kitchens that most Mexican recipes are culled. The difference is more a matter of degree of luxury in presentation than of basic cooking concepts.

In recent years, a culinary trend has emerged from the kitchens of a new generation of chefs called Nueva Cocina Mexicana or Modern Mexican. Utilizing international culinary techniques, but working with traditional Mexican recipes and ingredients, these cooks have created a body of dishes as well as a contemporary context for serving and eating them.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of presentation: Martha Ortiz’s duck in black mole varies little from that eaten in an old Oaxacan home. But it is elegantly served on contemporary designer china in a streamlined, posh venue in Mexico City’s Polanco area, surrounded by less standard accompaniments, and chased with a nice Baja Chardonnay. Or take Patricia Quintana’s salmon appetizer with its vanilla-infused dressing: nothing time-honored here but for the separate ingredients. And Mónica Patiño’s chicken soup perfumed with té de limón — that’s Thai lemongrass sold in every market across the country, but never before served at a Mexican dinner table.

An earlier generation of chefs have paved the way for an extraordinary renaissance of fresh, creative cooking, led by star chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol, now head chef at New York’s Cosme. Young culinary-institute-trained chefs are returning to their roots while exploring contemporary concepts developed in Europe. Mexico City has become an amazing place to discover not only the wide range of classic and regional cooking but also new traditions being forged every day.

Main photo: An appetizer of marinated raw scallops in “ash vinegar” with cucumber and cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sud 777

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Massimo Bottura is considered by many to be Italy’s greatest chef. Credit: Copyright 2015 Max Bennici

Massimo Bottura, considered by many to be Italy’s greatest chef, earned three Michelin stars and his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena is ranked second in San Pellegrino’s ” World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list in 2015, the highest ranking ever received for an Italian chef. Bottura’s jewel of a restaurant that seats 28 requires a kitchen staff of 28 to achieve nightly avant-garde culinary magic. Mario Batali dubbed him, “the Jimi Hendrix of Italian chefs” and says his food is “innovative, boundary-breaking and entirely whimsical.”

Below is an excerpt of a conversation with him at his office in Emilia-Romagna on why he loves American cuisine, tips for home cooks and favorite must-try Italian ingredients.

Tradition, with a twist

Osteria Francescana in Modena is ranked second in San Pellegrino’s “ World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list in 2015. Credit: Copyright 2015 Max Bennici

Osteria Francescana in Modena is ranked second in San Pellegrino’s ” World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list in 2015. Credit: 2015 Copyright Max Bennici

The Wall Street Journal says, “Bottura possesses both a deep respect for local traditions and a drive to keep blowing them up.” How would you describe your approach?

In the entrance way to Osteria Francescana, there’s a 2,000-year-old jug. It’s broken. I break with the past; I don’t want to get lost in nostalgia. I’m always in search of the future. That’s how I respect our traditions. If you just dust traditions, you’ll lose them. Put them in a museum, and they’ll stagnate, they will die.

‘Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef’

"Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef" by Massimo Bottura has "everything I wanted to say." Credit: Copyright 2015 Max Bennici

“Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef” by Massimo Bottura has “everything I wanted to say.” Credit: Copyright 2015 Max Bennici

Your latest book, “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef,” has received international acclaim. The New York Times Book Review wrote that it “demonstrates that food has indeed morphed into an element of high culture.” Now that it’s been published, is there anything you wish you had included? Anything you wish you’d added?

I wrote the book like I cook. I wrote a million things, and then cut them to their essence. It says everything I wanted to say.

Cooking Italian in the United States

The Beautiful Psychedelic, Spin-Painted Veal, Not Flame-Grilled is a work of art as well. Credit: "Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef," by Massimo Bottura

The Beautiful Psychedelic, Spin-Painted Veal, Not Flame-Grilled is a work of art as well. Credit: Copyright 2014 “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef,” by Massimo Bottura

The Italian government invited you to represent its cuisine in the USA last year as part of their “Year of Italian Culture” initiative. Tell us about the trip.

Hillary Clinton said one of the things Americans like best is Italian cuisine, so I was honored that Italy asked me to come to the States representing Italian food. It was an incredible trip. I prepared meals around the USA. In NYC for over 60 journalists, in D.C. for the embassy with the ambassador attending, and in Los Angeles, in Bel Air, Sylvester Stallone even helped us in the kitchen!

 Sylvester Stallone can cook?!

Yes, absolutely. He didn’t sit with the guests in the dining room, but stayed in the kitchen with us all for the entire meal. He was amazingly helpful, very modest. A real delight.

 What did you serve?

We created a menu entitled “Come to Italy With Me,” a sort of trip through Italy by way of our flavors. We started in southern Italy with the island of Pantelleria, then went across Sicily traveling into the Gulf of Naples, crisscrossing Italy and up into the Po Valley and northern Italy.

Advice for home cooks

Bread is Gold, the chef says, is a dessert that's an ode to a dish of stale bread dipped in warm, sweetened milk. It is also a nod to the artist Sylvie Fleury's gold-plated trash cans. Credit: Copyright "Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef," by Massimo Bottura

Bread is Gold, the chef says, is a dessert that’s an ode to a dish of stale bread dipped in warm, sweetened milk. It is also a nod to the artist Sylvie Fleury’s gold-plated trash cans. Credit: Copyright 2014 “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef,” by Massimo Bottura

What was the best American ingredient you discovered while traveling through the States?

Liberty! The liberty of expression. It’s the key ingredient to why American cuisine is so wonderful. In fact, a journalist recently asked me what would be the cuisine of the future and I told him that it would come from America. Americans have an open mind and the resources to push the boundaries of the culinary arts. I’m struck by the great chefs America has inspired, chefs like Grant Achatz and Wylie Dufresne, who leave me speechless.

What do you think is America’s secret to this culinary success?

Pride. America takes pride in its creativity and freedom to push boundaries.

You’ve created several savory dishes with unusual ingredients, like coffee.

I like the touch of earthiness that coffee adds. I added a hint of espresso foam to Snails in the Vineyard, a dish I created that celebrates the snail’s daily meal, with the texture of the soil created with coffee, beets and black truffles sitting atop aromatic greens. Again, with snails in my dish Snow Under the Sun, there’s coffee powder to complement with the earthy raw potatoes and porcini gelatin. I even added a drizzle of sweet cappuccino to a risotto dish I made for the young daughter of NY Times food writer Melissa Clark.

 Is there an ingredient you’re experimenting with right now?

Not an ingredient but a tool. I’m amusing myself tremendously with the Big Green Egg. It smokes, roasts, bakes and even grills at very high heat. I’m exploring the limits of what I can create with it.

 What advice do you have for home cooks?

Go grocery shopping! Buy what’s in season, purchase just what you need for two days. You’ll use it all and waste less. Treat yourself to 30 minutes every two days to get to know your grocer, to establish a relationship with small stores, the fishmonger. If you can, go to farmers markets and meet small artisan makers. After a week or two, these folks will give you the best.

Favorite ingredients

Bottura's red mullet livornese Credit: Copyright "Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef," by Massimo Bottura

Bottura’s red mullet livornese Credit: Copyright 2014 “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef,” by Massimo Bottura

What are your favorite Italian ingredients?

I’m partial to the foods of my own region, to the gourmet foods of Emilia-Romagna.

  1. Parmigiano-Reggiano, preferably aged 24 months
  2. Aceto Balsamico from Modena. Never cook with it, though. It’s best enjoyed poured onto a small ceramic spoon and sipped at the end of a fine meal.
  3. Culatello of Zibello, the boneless center of prosciutto. It tastes to me like the Po Valley, the fog, the mushrooms that grow there. Culatello encompasses the entirety of the flavors of Emilia-Romagna, the taste of our land.
  4. Great dried pasta, like the fine pasta from the Gragnano area of Italy, like Giovanni Assante’s Gerardo Di Nola pasta or Monograno Felicetti, of the Trentino region. Buy great pasta and dress it simply, with just quality olive oil, and you have a gourmet meal. What’s important is to start with the best ingredient.
  5. For the fifth, I suggest a series of flavors of that represent the Mediterranean: Lemon from Sorrento, anchovies from Certara, capers from the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, wild oregano from Puglia and Mozzarella di Buffalo from Campana.

 What’s your personal favorite food?

Coffee is my big vice. I don’t like just a shot, but prefer it strong, sweetened with milk foam.

Main photo: Massimo Bottura is considered by many to be Italy’s greatest chef. Credit: Copyright 2015 Max Bennici

 

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Jerk Lamb Corn and Fruit Kebabs. Jamaican jerk spices rubbed into the lamb add a Caribbean punch to any grilling. The allspice -- key to Jamaican food -- unexpectedly highlights the juicy fruit and sweet corn. Serve with a rum punch. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tami Weiser

Right now, farmers market corn is as sweet as it gets. Soaked in the husk for a few hours and then thrown onto the grill to steam until tender, the corn is salted and a bit of heaven is revealed. It’s summer, and fresh corn on the cob is what everyone wants to eat.

But don’t stop there. The in-season bounty demands experimentation. Fresh sweet corn is crunchy, sweet, light and versatile. Cut fresh from the cob, corn brightens up salads, stews … even ice cream.

We’ve pulled together 14 fresh dishes that will surprise and delight your family. This is the beginning of your corn adventure. Buy a bushel and let the fun begin!


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» This year, try a corn dish from the first Thanksgiving

Main photo: Jerk Lamb Corn and Fruit Kebabs. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tami Weiser

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Wing-chi Ip, the proprietor of a beautiful teahouse in Hong Kong Park in Hong Kong, has been sourcing teas from mainland China since 1986, the first year that China re-opened its borders. Credit: Copyright 2011 Josh Wand

A tea shop can be just what we need on a hectic day. Tea takes time. It steeps. Scrumptious teatime goodies are nibbled, slowly. We read in tea shops; talk quietly with friends; pause to think.

Americans are learning to love the tranquility of traditional tea shops, to savor their distinctive smells, each tea with its signature aromas. With our amped-up lives, we crave their meditative quiet.

Fortunately, the U.S. boasts an abundance of glorious new tea shops designed to meet that need. We’ve collected a few of the best to share with you, coupled with a sampling of some of the best tea shops from around the world. The bar is high for quality teahouses and the U.S. increasingly is meeting those international standards.

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» Afternoon tea vs. high tea: Do you know the difference?
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» Portland tea master Steven Smith sweetens the pot

Main photo: Wing-chi Ip, the proprietor of a beautiful teahouse in Hong Kong Park in Hong Kong, has been sourcing teas from mainland China since 1986, the first year that China re-opened its borders. Credit: Copyright 2011 Josh Wand

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A true farmers market features local producers, not wholesalers, so the produce you see is all in season. Credit: Copyright 2015 Zester Media

Farmers markets are everywhere. Thanks to a rapid expansion in recent years, there are more than 8,000 farmers markets in the U.S., making it possible for almost everyone to buy fresh food directly from farmers. But with so many stalls and so many different foods, farmers markets can feel overwhelming. How do you find the best produce? Who’s who? And what’s what?

Follow our slideshow to learn the tricks to getting the most out of shopping at your local farmers market. In no time, you will be addicted to the super fresh fruits and vegetables and the seemingly endless variety. Shopping for produce and the other delicacies you can find at a farmers market will become a joy instead of a chore.

More from Zester Daily:

» Shopping for a farmer at the farmers market
» Hey growers, be honest with your farmers market customers
» Changing farmers markets
» How to cook up your own romance in a French market

Main photo: A true farmers market features local producers, not wholesalers, so the produce you see is all in season. Credit: Copyright 2015 Zester Media

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Charred ears of corn on a grill. The corn will be used in a Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

An abundance of corn in farmers markets is a delight and a challenge. Having already grilled platters of corn on the barbecue and boiled armfuls of shucked ears, it is time to invent another way to enjoy one of summer’s most delicious vegetables. Borrowing the flavors of elote, a Mexican classic, turns grilled corn into a salad that will delight everyone at the table.

Mexican street food delight

An elote, or corn on the cob, sign at Cerveteca Taco & Torta Joint in Culver City, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

An elote, or corn on the cob, sign at Cerveteca Taco & Torta Joint in Culver City, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Travel in Mexico and you’ll encounter street vendors selling a great number of delicious food snacks. One of my favorites is elote, or corn on the cob, in which an ear of corn is cooked, dusted with dry cheese and seasoned with chili powder and fresh lime juice. The ear of corn is always served whole, sometimes resting in a paper dish or with a stick in the bottom like a corndog.

Elote is delicious but messy to eat. First there is the matter of the whole ear of corn, which takes two hands to manage. And, with each bite, the finely grated Cotija cheese tends to float off the corn and drift onto clothing.

Deconstructing elote

Charred corn kernels cut off the cob in a seasoning pan to make Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Charred corn kernels cut off the cob in a seasoning pan to make Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cutting the kernels off the cobs makes the seasoned corn so much easier to enjoy. In Mexico there is a corn kernel snack called esquites, which employs some of the seasonings used in making elote. This recipe is different because no mayonnaise is mixed with the corn. Mexican Corn Salad can be served as a light and refreshing entrée topped with a protein or as a side dish accompanying grilled vegetables, meats, poultry and fish. The elote salad is the perfect summer recipe.

The best way to cook corn on the cob is a topic of heated debate. There are those who will only boil corn, others who will only grill it. I have seen elote prepared both ways. My preference is to strip off the husk and grill the ear so that some of the kernels are charred, adding caramelized sweetness to the salad.

Just the right cheese

Cotija cheese finely grated to use in Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cotija cheese finely grated to use in Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

What gives elote its distinctive flavor is the combination of finely grated dry Mexican Cotija cheese, spicy chili powder and fresh lime juice. Powdery when finely grated, Cotija cheese is salty so you may not need to add salt when you make the corn salad. Often described as having qualities similar to feta and Parmesan, Cotija tastes quite different.

Mexican Corn Salad

Mexican Corn Salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Mexican Corn Salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 25 to 30 minutes

Yield: 4 entrée servings or 8 side dish servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 large ears of corn, husks and silks removed, washed, dried

1/2 cup finely grated Cotija cheese

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

3 cups Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, chopped

2 limes, washed, quartered

Directions

1. Preheat an indoor grill or outdoor barbecue to hot.

2. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a flat pan and season with sea salt and black pepper.

3. Roll the ears of corn in the seasoned olive oil to coat all sides.

4. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill, turning every 2 to 3 minutes so that some of the kernels char, being careful not to burn the ears.

5. When cooked on all sides, remove and let cool in the flat pan with the seasoned olive oil.

6. To cut the kernels off the cob, use a sharp chef’s knife. Hold each ear of corn over the pan with the seasoned oil and slice the kernels off the cob.

7. Transfer the kernels and the remaining seasoned oil into a large mixing bowl.

8. Add Cotija cheese, chili powder and parsley. Toss well.

9. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the salad and toss.

10. Serve at room temperature with lime wedges on the side.

Notes: Adding finely chopped Italian parsley to the seasoned corn kernels brightens the flavors. Cilantro can be used instead of parsley to give the salad a peppery flavor.

Traditionally, mayonnaise is slathered on the elote or mixed into esquites before adding the cheese and chili powder. I prefer to use olive oil to give the salad a lighter taste.

To use as an entrée, top with sliced grilled chicken, shrimp or filet of fish.

The salad can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator overnight. In which case, do not add the Cotija cheese or parsley until just before serving.

To create a large, colorful salad, just before serving, toss the seasoned corn and parsley with quartered cherry tomatoes, cut-up avocados and butter lettuce or romaine leaves.

After tossing, taste the salad and adjust the amount of Cotija cheese and chili powder.

Main photo: Charred ears of corn on a grill. The corn will be used in a Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Cape May Brewing makes a beer with cranberries and lemonade called The Bog. “We have a hard time keeping it in stock,” lead brewer Brian Hink says. Credit: Copyright 2015 Frank Weiss Photo

Maine lobsters. Peanut butter. Graham crackers. Old Bay Seasoning. Citrus fruits. Craft brewers are dumping out-of-the ordinary ingredients into their tanks to create newfangled beers. “Anything is fair game these days because of the innovation going on among craft brewers,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association.

What better time to try something new or offbeat than during the waning days of summer? We cast a wide geographic net to find anything unusual, surprising or particularly delicious. The results were diverse, from Choc Lobster (Maine lobsters and cocoa powder) from Delaware-based Dogfish Head, to Helluva Caucasian (based on a White Russian cocktail and using peanut butter) from Colorado’s Living the Dream Brewing Co.

These 12 beers represent new or uncommon brews. Like summer, some are fleeting and available for a limited time. Others are available in a limited geographic area, while others are more widely available.

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Main photo: Cape May Brewing Co. makes a beer with cranberries and lemonade called The Bog. “We have a hard time keeping it in stock,” lead brewer Brian Hink says. Credit: Copyright 2015 Frank Weiss Photo

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