Hey all – I’m back from my trip. Pittsburgh was a lot of fun. Since this blog is about food, I’m only going to talk about the cooking and eating part of our trip. We did do other things though – I promise. You can see all my photos here: Pittsburgh Flickr Photos.
Immediately after arriving at the airport, we went downtown to explore the historic strip district. At the strip district, you can find lots of international grocery stores (Mexican, Lebanese, Korean, etc.) all on the same street. This is where I’d do my shopping if I lived in Pittsburgh. We stopped by a large Asian market and I bought some sugar snap pea, loufa gourd, and edamame seeds to plant in my garden. We also collected some odd food items, such as green tea pumpkin seeds, tomato flavored “towfu cake”, a $10 durian fruit (I’ve never tried one and I really wanted to). I watched as a mad rush of people stormed a man bringing out fresh 30 cent tofu slabs and I cut into the mob to get a few before they were all gone.
On the way back to the car, we saw a sign for Vegan Chicken Curry. But since we had already eaten, we figured we’d come back another day. The next time we went to check out the restaurant, we got there after 3:00 and it was closed. The third time we went to check it out, it was a success. They were open, the owner was friendly, and the food was good, spicy, and cheap. (The only down point is that everything is served in styrofoam to-go boxes with plastic forks). We were wrong about the Vegan Chicken Curry sign – which was meant to be two separate things. Chicken curry was the only meat dish they had, while everything else they serve is vegan. There seemed to be a lot of regulars because the owner knew most of them by name. When the restaurant was about to close for the day, he packaged all the left over chick peas for customers to take home. We got a big box of them!
You can read about Sree’s Foods at their Web site: www.srees.com/about.html
One of my favorite things to do near my grandma’s house is visiting a place called Soergel Orchards in a town called Wexford. I always liked going there to feed the animals and look at the plants but I never realized until this trip that they carry a large amount of gourmet vegan and gluten free foods. We were able to find vegan pizza dough, vegan rella (the best vegan cheese brand in my opinion), earth balance shortening sticks, homemade sun dried tomatoes, garlic artichoke tomato sauce, fresh basil, a bunch of organic vegetables, and lots of other fun things. We took them all back to the house and made the best pizza I’ve ever had.
Another day we went to North Park and had a picnic. We had spring rolls with peanut sauce, chips and salsa, apples with lime, sesame sticks, and cranberry juice. It was a pretty day, but cold and windy…so we didn’t stay that long.
After all this shopping, cooking, and eating…we completely forgot about the durian fruit we bought at the strip district. Worried it was starting to rot, my grandma and I took it out to the backyard (they’re supposed to smell really bad) and cut it open – You got to give her credit for being so adventurous. It didn’t smell as intensely as I expected, but I’m pretty sure that was because it wasn’t fresh. We both tasted a tiny piece (it tasted kinda almond like, but mostly like a fermented pineapple.) It was gross. We left it in the fridge for a few days so Miguel could try it. It made him gag. Then we tossed the rest of it outside in the yard. I’m hoping that when I get to Indonesia, I can give durian one more try – hopefully with someone who can identify how to pick a ripe durian.
Another great place we ate at was the Double Wide Grill on Carson Street. I found out about it from VegGuide.org, a vegetarian food guide. It was a pretty cool place – a converted gas station with lots of outdoor seating and vegan options (which were clearly marked). They had a wide selection of beers with funny names such as “Rouge Dead Guy” (Miguel tried that one) and “Magic Hat Circus Boy”.
We tried the Seitan Wings as an appetizer (half of them spicy, and half of them bbq).
I had the Tofu with Chimichurri Sauce.
Miguel had the Vegan Lentil Burger.
Another night we had a bonfire. Miguel and I were talking about how much we like campfires and hobo pie makers and my grandma found her pie iron in the basement. It’s a lot heavier than mine and with a longer handle. She gave it to us and I’m so excited! We made a mix with soy crumbles, potatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, sundried tomatoes, and chinese broccoli. We buttered the tortillas with earth balance and made some damn good hobo pies. My grandma said she used to use the pie iron to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so this was a new experience for her. She approved.
One of our last days in Pittsburgh we went to The Taj Mahal, my absolute favorite Indian food restaurant. I wish I had gotten a picture of the cook. He kept emerging from the back room with a white apron splotched with turmeric, red chiles, and whatever other delicious spices he uses to make the food taste so good.
Miguel ordered the Palak Aloo (Spinach with Potatoes).
Grandma ordered the Aloo Mattar (Potatoes and Peas).
The one thing about this place is that if you order the food “extra spicy” like I did, be sure you really mean it. And be prepared for your eyes to water, your neck to sweat, and your nose to run. I ordered the Baingan Aloo (Eggplant with Potatoes). I have a very high tolerance for spice, but wow! – it was so hot I had to dilute it with a bunch of rice to eat it. I heated up the leftovers in a pan the next day and the spices made us all cough for a good while. Kinda miserable actually, but so good it was worth it.
The last night at grandma’s house, we all pitched in to cook the leftover vegetables from the fridge. Grandma grilled eggplant, portabella mushrooms, and zucchini. I made a quick batter with flour, soy milk, earth balance, bragg’s, salt, pepper, and mustard so we could made breaded, fried cauliflower.