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Culture Archives - foXnoMad

Category: Culture

The Center Of Birmingham’s Balti Triangle: A Review Of Adil’s Restaurant

Did you know there was a balti triangle in Birmingham, England? Literally, an area so famous for introducing this northern Pakistani cuisine to the United Kingdom, the unofficial “Balti Triangle” is even listed in Google Maps. Don’t know what balti cuisine is? One of the best places to find out in the UK is at Adil’s, in the heart of the Balti Triangle.

You can see more in the video above or read on.

What Is Balti?

Originating in northern Pakistan, specifically the Baltistan region bordering China, balti is the name of the wok style dish the food is served in. Not only is the balti reminiscent of the Chinese wok, many flavors of course blend over ancient borders as well. Balti is a solidly spicy base of tomato sauce flash fried and traditionally served with vegetables as well as goat or lamb meat. At Adil’s you can order vegetarian varieties (no meat, more veggies) if you prefer.

balti adils birmingham

Why Adil’s?

Adil’s, in the 1970s might very well have been the first restaurant to serve balti cuisine in the UK. It’s in the southeastern part of Birmingham which has an Asian population of roughly 26%, 13.5% from Pakistan. Adil’s is well known in the area although opinions vary to whether or not it’s the best balti food in town.

Meals typically begin with a starter of papadum, a flat, thin fried bread cracker you can dip in various sauces. Those sauces vary from yogurt-based in garlic, to mint, plus onions or sweet and sour. You’ll also find more familiar appetizers like samosas as well. Keep in mind that alcohol is not served at Adil’s but they don’t restrict anyone from bringing their own. Literally everyone at the restaurant came in with their own bottle of wine so don’t feel uncomfortable doing the same if you want a merlot or Amstel with dinner.

Inside The Balti Triangle

Being “the best” might be subjective but the preparation of balti at Adil’s is straightforward, using flash frying techniques in vegetable oils with traditional masala spices.The restaurant itself isn’t very large, holding about 50 customers, getting much more crowded after 7 in the evening.

balti cuisine

Each balti has a spice flavor that will slowly creep up on you, requiring the occasional break for your taste buds to recover. The food isn’t so hot though that you can’t taste anything, it’s satisfying without being heavy or extreme. Anyone who can’t do spicy though, make sure you tell the server you want your balti as mild as possible. Make sure you get some rice (cooked with or without more vegetables if you prefer) or over-baked naan bread to continually cleanse your palate.

The Balti Triangle is a culinary adventure in Birmingham, a surprisingly low key city considering it’s England’s second largest. Most of the south Asian cab drivers I spoke with had a favorite balti place, giving me plenty of recommendations. Inside the triangle is certainly a good way to spice up a trip to Birmingham, worth taking more time to explore.

Asen’s Fortress Is A Hidden Day Trip In Bulgaria

asen's fortress

More than a few visitors coming to Sofia or Plovdiv tend to miss Asen’s Fortress, an easy day trip from either city tucked away in Bulgaria’s mountains. Likely built by the Thracians roughly 2500 years ago, its unassuming remains obscure the fort’s interesting past. Only two hours away from Sofia and less than 30 from Plovdiv, there are several tour operators running shuttle buses here but if you’re up for it, renting a car gives you more options with fewer crowds.

asen's fort bulgaria

During the fall, winter, and colder days of spring you’re likely to be the only visitors around, having the entire fort to yourself. Walking around the grounds though might not be for everyone, there are a lot of stairs and steep climbs to be aware of. Even so, just stepping out to the front entrance can give you nice views of below.

asens fortress church

Well preserved and restored if you do make the climb up you’ll see the Church of the Holy Mother of God. Built in the 12th or 13th century, it was the only remaining part of Asen’s Fortress which was mostly destroyed in the 14th century.

asen's fortress

Asen’s Fortress was strategically located close enough to the Ottoman capital Istanbul to be a viable staging ground for competing brothers warring to become sultan. Fratricide was common through this era of Ottoman history meaning brothers would murder one another to become sultan.

Church of the Holy Mother of God

Seeing the obvious issues a place like Asen’s Fortress might cause, it is thought Sultan Suleiman destroyed it to prevent a figurative thorn in his western side.

bulgarian flag

You can often catch wonderful views, even on a cloudy day as the winds tend to carry breaks in between the mists of the mountainside below.

asens fort

Asen’s Fortress is open Wednesdays through Sundays from early in the morning through later in the day (8am-5pm). There’s a nominal fee to enter this beautiful place to explore. During the colder months remember to wear good shoes, watch your step, and make your plans around any potential snow.

Further north you can find Belogradchik, a fort built into the natural rock formations, climb Vitosha if you’re staying in Sofia, while all the time keeping in mind they nod backwards here. So when ordering one of these local dishes at a restaurant, they will be bringing you a coffee – unless they’re nodding up and down.

Holy Everest Is One Of Berlin’s Best Restaurants And Inspiring Immigrant Stories

Rajesh Lama’s life is the kind of story you might probably associate with America and it’s well marketed the dream. What you might not know is that Germany is the world’s second most popular destination for immigrants, creating opportunities for both locals and the new members of its society who now call it home.

Berlin in many ways is a city that embodies what multiculturalism can be and at Holy Everest you’ll not only enjoy a good meal, but leave with a strong affinity for a country you may never have visited. You can watch Rajesh’s full story in the video above or read on.

Nepali Cuisine From Every Elevation

10 years ago, Rajesh was a trekking guide in Nepal’s Himalayan mountains, where he learned to cook hearty foods at altitude for his guests. Cooking is an important mountain skill to have, especially in case the other cook happens to come down with altitude sickness. Nepal has roughly three broad groups of cuisine, all representing various climate altitudes in a country that’s 75% mountainous.

holy everest berlin

As a guide he met a lot of people from around the world, first visiting Europe as a tourist, eventually relocating to Germany. After some time Rajesh made it to Berlin, a city with no mountains or obvious application of his Himalayan skill set. Yet with an instinctual sense of German efficiency fueled by a contagious passion to obtain contentment through purpose, Rajesh began to analyze his situation.

Learning The Cultural Landscape

As a guide Rajesh was exposed to many cultures, different types of people, and ways of thinking. At first in Berlin he began an intensive German course to learn the language, later working in hotels where he could put his language skills to use. As time passed, he eventually got to know Berlin, coming across the street food festival at Markthalle Neun.

Noticing there wasn’t any Nepalese food at the fair combined with the disappointment that most of the “Nepali” food in Berlin was actually Indian or Pakistani sparked an idea with Rajesh.

Momo Man Begins

I can’t include all of the paperwork, permits, and other German bureaucracy required to open a food stall – let alone restaurant in Berlin – but red tape is a part of everything here. Papers plus concept took nearly two years before Rajesh began selling momos, Himalayan soup, plus other mountain staples at Markthalle Neun.

rajesh lama

That’s where I first met Rajesh and his smile is infectious. The food is great too but the cook and delivery are part of the enjoyment. At that time, Rajesh was hoping to open a Nepali restaurant one day. In August this year, Holy Everest opened at Gleimstrasse 54, in the north part of Berlin.

Hours at Holy Everest are from noon to 11pm on most days, closed on Mondays.

Nepali Infusion

Part of what makes Rajesh happy is seeing other people happy. A reflection of his personal and Buddhist beliefs that are combined with a strong sense of motivation with attention to detail. The mandala in the background of our conversation was hand painted in Nepal, for instance. Holy Everest’s design is open and bright with touches of Nepal true to its roots – just look to the embroidery above or the prayer wheel by the entrance.

holy everest berlin

The staff are also all Nepalese and ingredients sourced from various organic, local Berlin markets. (Including Markthalle Neun.) I can continue to describe some of the dishes on the menu – designed by his wife – like badam sadeko (spicy roasted peanuts with garlic and coriander) which goes well with Nepali beer, of course the momos… or Nepalese spiced chana masala (cooked chickpeas) plus other vegetarian and vegan options.

I could describe more but it wouldn’t capture the experience you have here. I’ve focused on Rajesh’s journey to the first day Holy Everest opened its doors, because that path is infused in every aspect of the dining experience here. Enjoying the food is not enough nor profit an indicator of success. Rajesh, everyone, and everything involved to get a plate of Nepali cuisine in front of you at Holy Everest is meant to put a smile on your face. That is the true meaning of success at this restaurant and there’s nothing artificial about it, you’ll be smiling too after having a meal at Holy Everest.

Where To Find The Best Street Food In Berlin (Vegan Options)

Being a crossroads of creativity and culture, Berlin has quietly been cultivating one of the best street food scenes in the world. For years craving the tastes of nonconformity, Berliners are open to many things, including food from around the world. Spice does not scare locals here, uncharacteristic of many other parts of Germany.

In a city where anything goes, finding an option for your particular preferences or dietary restrictions is easy enough. Starting with some of Turkish street foods that are unintentionally vegetarian and in many cases, vegan.

Breakfast Options – Akin Simit

There are two places in particular I would recommend visiting during the morning hours. During the week, if you’re in the Kruezberg area Akin Simit Fruhstuckshaus serves a variety of Turkish pastries. Straightforward and vegan, you can have a simit (a sort of Turkish bagel) or vegetarian pogaca (baked dough ball of butter and happy thoughts).

akin simit berlin

Sunday Mornings – Klas Backerei

On Sundays though, if you’re looking for Turkish breakfast, it’s better to head to Klas Backerei. They’re open all other days of the week (except Saturdays) which is a shame since Sunday is when they expand their breakfast menu. Before you walk in though if you’re just hungry enough for a quick snack, there’s a window where you can pick up gozleme. Those sell out very quickly and it’s the best place to find these flat hand-rolled flat dough pies stuffed with spinach, cheese… it varies.

klas backerei

Further inside, Klas Backerei has lentil soup, menemen (Turkish omelet), olives, strong tea, Turkish coffee plus a few other morning staples. Meat eaters, it’s worth getting a sucuk omelet, which is a greasy beef sausage that’s slightly so spicy on top of runny eggs. Gozleme on the side and some soft white bread to soak up what’s left is a small secret near Gorlitzer metro station.

Raw Meatball Without Meat. Also Not Raw

Cig kofte literally translates into raw meat ball in Turkish but these days it’s actually cooked bulgur wheat kneaded into spicy bites. Originally the spice was used to eliminate bacteria from raw beef – a version that still exists – although in a place like Berlin, going vegan is a smart business move.

  • Cigkofte Berlin (Herrfurthstraße 32) – you can find several other Turkish foods that have been made vegan, like icli kofte (kibbeh).

There are a lot of good options at Cigköfte Berlin with a vegan or vegetarian plate option – either are a good choice. You’ll get a variation of cig kofte (you can wrap in lettuce leave or flat bread), stuffed grape leaves, and other veg items you can choose from.

Curry 61

Honestly it’s hard to get a bad currywurst in much of Germany although many would argue it’s hard to get a good one. A large pork sausage covered in cheap ketchup with a sprinkle of curry doesn’t leave a lot of room for culinary expression. I’m highlighting the rather popular Curry 61 since they also have a vegan option of the otherwise meaty street food.

currywurst

Markthalle Neun – Thursday Only

If you’re in Berlin on a Thursday night, this is where you need to go. A large street food festival happens in Markthalle Neun every Thursday from around 5pm-10pm. There’s street food from all over the world – momo man is also there! – lots of German beer, and a wonderful atmosphere. It’s impossible not to be happy here as you try snacks from Uruguay, Syria, Japan and more at close to 100 food stalls.

Keep It Going

One of the nice things about Berlin is that many traditionally meat based dishes have their vegan counterparts but the reverse is also true. Meat lovers will love Berlin but if you’re traveling with a mixed crowd of herbi-omnivores, in most cases you can all enjoy a meal at the same place.

A few other restaurants that are a good examples of this are Heimweh in Kreuzberg where you’ll find kumpir – a massive baked potato you can fill with over 30 ingredients. Vegan, vegetarian, regular person – it’s all about the toppings you choose. Finally, across much of town doner kebab stalls like Tekbir Doner will almost always have a hellim (halloumi cheese) option. A native cheese of Cyprus that’s found a home in Berlin for its growing vegetarian population.

The Best Pizza In The Washington D.C. Area Is Arlington’s Pupatella

I’ve written about Pupatella before, back when it was a food cart in 2007 and shared a slice with you a few years later. Since then Pupatella, Arlington’s Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) certified pizzeria, has grown but still retains a unique flavor in the D.C. area. Since you’ve already read about Pupatella, let me show you why you should visit in the video above. Enjoy!

Washington DC’s Best Chinese Restaurant Has A Spicy Secret Menu

There’s a pleasantly stubborn hole in the wall restaurant in Washington D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood that serves Szechuan cuisine, with an ingredient missing on most menus. For the longest time at Great Wall Szechuan House you could only find this mouth numbing taste in Chinese, at the back of the menu.

These days though, the special Ma-La section is on the first page of Great Wall’s menu but as the surrounding shops and restaurants reflect the new money in Logan Circle, it’s still something of a secret to outsiders. You can watch my video above or read on.

Give Me The Ma

Szechuan food originates from the Chinese province of the same name and most distinctly distinguished by it’s brightly colored punch you in the face sort of spice, which is the “la”. A great number of Chinese restaurants around the world are typically based around the Szechuan name but don’t often include the “ma” part of the equation.

great wall szechuan house dc

The “ma” is a mouth numbing effect that comes from a naturally occurring chemical in the Szechuan peppercorn (hydroxy alpha sanshool in case you were wondering). Combined with garlic, fennel, and a few other ingredients mala dishes likely originated as a working class food to add flavors to the bland original ingredients.

Great Wall’s Secret

Mala dishes have evolved since then but remain a mind-body experience of heat, not for timid tongues. In the kitchen of Great Wall Szechuan House’s small dining area (seats around 40 maximum) is a chef who knows Szechuan (also spelled Sichuan) flavors and has the spices to implement them. Locals living around the area are familiar with Great Wall but visitors and newly implanted government-corporate types are likely to pass it by for the larger, more polished hipster-elite restaurants all around.

great wall szechuan house menu

Right on the first page of the menu is where you’ll find the once secret Ma-La Specials at Great Wall. Order your choice and great ready for a hot roller coaster. If “hot roller coaster” sounds frightening to you, go with some of the blander, more traditional international Chinese restaurant choices on the menu. But if the thought of assaulting your senses with mouth fire and sweat as flavorful chilies seep into your skull sounds like fun, Great Wall Szechuan House is the restaurant for you.

great wall washington dc

Doorstop To A Shift

Great Wall Szechuan House reflects the steady movement of investment and gentrification up into the north-central part of Washington D.C. area from downtown. A little over a decade ago, a lot of the places around Logan Circle and Adams Morgan a few blocks up were hole in the walls. New residents with higher rents have lead to a changing face of the eateries here. Amid its polished upscale neighbors, Great Wall Szechuan House stands out where it matters most, on the menu.

You can find Great Wall Szechuan House at 1527 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005, open everyday from late mornings to late evenings.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More


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