Before we get into it, a couple of things… to everyone who subscribed in our first week, thank you. Please send my page link to everyone in your email address book and tell them to do it, too. Let’s build our community here at Spilled Milk. And the paid subscription makes a great gift.
In the spilled beans category, and speaking of gifts, everyone asks me where I shop for food gifts for folks? Well, Wednesday’s recipe has a bunch of Japanese and Chinese food shopping tips, but here are some more places that I also tend to hit on the regular during the year — and especially for the holidays.
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For a six pack of the best spice blends that are legitimate food adventures, try my seasonings. The pack makes a nice set for you and for all your friends, and you can buy them in singles too.
All my Italian goodies I get from www.gustiamo.com; they have large tins of NEW Quinta Luna olive oil that make great gifts. Check out all the goodies at Gustiamo.
For all things Spanish and some other locales beyond, I go to www.tienda.com. Spanish hams are on sale, all of them, and I bought a few. And I always love sending the Argentine sausages to friends for the holidays.
I give away a lot of wine every year, and I have to stock the house for folks coming over, I love www.vervewine.com: They are simply the best. The best collections, the best makers, vintages and expert advice. Trust me on this; I haven’t had a drink in 30 years, and I need all the help in this category that I can get. They are the pro’s pros.
I get a lot of things for myself and for friends at www.huckberry.com, especially as much Relwen stuff as I can stuff in my closet.
Most of my T-shirts, denim and other sweet stuff comes from https://imogeneandwillie.com out of Nashville.
Knives, tableware, konro grills and so much more I get from https://www.korin.com in NYC. I have a bowl addiction, and they scratch my itch every month.
I send gifts out every month, including to myself from https://www.russanddaughters.com because they are simply the finest purveyors of smoked fish and other delicacies on the planet. Four generations of Zimmerns have been customers there, from my son to my grandparents, and we know that my grandmother’s father who lived nearby and worked on the other side of it would have walked past the store but most likely couldn’t have afforded to shop there. He was beyond poor … but I would like to think for the holidays he would have gone in and bought one little thing, savored it, shared it with his family.
My friend Jing Gao started her own food company several years ago, her personal story is amazing. I am so grateful to know her, she is inspiring and a SUPERB culinarian, and I’ve made two TV shows with her. She now offers gift boxes, sauces, seasonings and frozen dumplings online. Go get it all at https://flybyjing.com
Biggest news of the week,
Danny Meyer (USHG and Shake Shack etc), who dove into Panera a few weeks back, has taken a $27.5M position to expand Tacombi tacos via his Enlightened Hospitality Investments group. The money will be used to fund an East Coast and then nationwide expansion, and company founder Dario Wolos hopes to grow to 75 locations within five years. Fifteen years ago Wolos was selling tacos out of VW bus in the Yucatan, and opened a shop four years later in NYC. I LOVE THIS STORY! I also love their al pastor tacos and housemade flour tortilla burritos. So the money is for more stores, but plans are to upgrade the company’s tech, start a packaged goods line, etc., etc.
But the real news here is that other chains of this type are a commodity experience, not an emotive restaurant experience. They are transactional in that you simply pay money for goods, as opposed to Meyer’s hospitality model that creates an emotional transaction first and foremost. If you look at how beautifully disruptive a concept Shake Shack was, I think Tacombi can be even bigger with a Mexican owner, Mexican funding as part of the financial equation and Meyer’s eye for building a business that is fundamentally different than other food companies. I think traditional fast food companies are going to take real hits over the coming years from new startups that acknowledge the value of their employees and the needs of the new customer. I don’t think the Taco Bells and McDonald’s of the world really get either of those things. Don’t believe me? Up until 20 years ago Eastman Kodak owned the vast share of the photography world for a century … but they didn’t understand the digital revolution and went bankrupt. Sure they are back, and yes, they logged $1B in sales globally last year, but that’s peanuts compared to where they were — and my kid doesn’t know their name. By the way, he does know Tacombi because his dad likes their convenience, price and locations, preferring to spend money there than in those big heartless chains. So the kid and I have dined there a few times. Check 'em out.
OK, on to the thing that I wanted to start talking about… Cyprus.
Too much coincidence. I was paging through Christina Loucas’ first book "Cyprus Cuisine," looking to make her afelia, pork with red wine and coriander. And then I saw this pop up on my feed: it’s Travel and Leisure’s annual ‘best places to buy a vacation home abroad’ column. I usually toss these in the digital trash because it’s always the same places, all unaffordable for most Americans, and frankly they bore me … but for some reason I popped this open, and I am glad I did.
Of course Venice was first but truly, as much as I love almost EVERYTHING about that city, it’s not so great in winter, crowded beyond comprehension in summer, and you have to be pretty rich to live there and enjoy the best of what that city has to offer.
Number 2 was the Cypriot city of Paphos, a place I love and visited a few times including five or six years ago when I shot a show there. It’s an ancient town loaded with living history, and boasts a balmy average temp of 67 degrees Fahrenheit year round. The food is superb, obviously with a huge focus on seafood, after all it’s a coastal town. And this stat blew my mind. The average cost of living for a family of four is $2,500 a month.
Where to eat??? … ANYWHERE. Yup, the food in Cyprus is that good. In Paphos, book a home for your stay. The hotels are fine, but you want to live here if you haven’t already decided to live there! Drive up the mountain to Viklari, have a souvlaki for lunch and take in the insane views. Oniro is the opposite: It’s literally on the water by the cliffs of Peyia. And while Viklari is open only for lunch, Oniro is open for all meals seven days a week. Down in the bustling harbor is Pelican. All seafood — fresh fish can’t get any fresher. Anesi is a stunner of a Cypriot tavern, family run, with stunning water views from the hills and all the Greek/Cypriot fare you can imagine. Think feta salads, roast pork, lamb and plenty of that amazing Cypriot olive oil.
Paphos is also very close to Limassol (40 minutes drive), a larger town with even more incredible markets bakeries and restaurants; the Saturday market there is fantastic. Local olive oils, hams, sausages, vegetables, fruits and prepared foods are superb and very inexpensive. Paphos is on the eastern end of the island country, Limassol 35 miles west and Larnaca another 40 or so west of Limassol. Those three coastal towns will keep you busy for a lifetime. The hills are filled with goats, farmhouse restaurants and some breathtaking landscapes. The divided capitol city of Nicosia is only 90 minutes or so away if you drive like I do.
And that’s what got me going down this road in the first place.
In 1960, right before I was born, Cyprus gained its freedom from the United Kingdom. In the days and months after that, there was some serious feuding between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot factions about what their new constitution really meant. The UN Peacekeepers arrived in 1964. In 1974 there was a Greek-backed coup, Turkey stepped in militarily and the island country became a divided nation, and has been ever since. The Republic of Cyprus (Greek, southern 2/3 of the country) is the internationally recognized country and the Turks control the northern third of the country. There is a buffer zone between the two parts of the country, with an occupied and divided capitol. There is no other divided capitol like it on the planet. Bring your passport and you can walk from one part of the country to the other. And yes, the northern third of the country has Turkish food with a traditional Cypriot flourish, the flip side of the ROC to the south.
A divided city. A divided country. Some days it feels like that here at home in America where simple truths are debated nightly on the cable news programs. These days even proven science is being needlessly re-evaluated and established laws of the land are now up for grabs at the SCOTUS. Are we a nation divided? It sure feels that way to me some days. Which is why I found myself drifting into thoughts of the best meal I ate in Nicosia at the Kebab House Berlin Wall No. 2. Literally straddling the green line, the food here is exactly how I like to eat, lots of salads and veg with some grilled food to close it out. Sure it’s nothing to look at, all seemingly held together with sealing wax and old nails, with an army guard shack almost sitting in your lap. But everything is grilled over carob wood. Now I have your attention.
Remember, Cyprus is an island paradise, and sits at a crossroads of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern culture. The food at BW No. 2 is a simple set meal with plenty of mezze, from snails to mountain-harvest olives, from tomato and feta salad to brined caper branches dressed with olive oil. The centerpiece of the meal is their grilled meat.
The pork souvlaki can’t be beat but it’s the sheftalia that I think about often, and try to recreate when I am home. Sheftalia are small ground pork and lamb sausage patties that are seasoned with mint, parsley and onion, wrapped in caul fat then roasted over the coals. They’re surprising light and so delicious. Especially with caper vine salads, fresh tomatoes and brined cheese, mashed grilled eggplant, watermelon and fried halloumi, lentil salads and piles of hot fresh flatbread. Don’t miss this place. It’s a hybridized restaurant in the extreme.
So why is that so important? Because as long as we are eating together, sharing food, literally breaking bread, I believe we have a chance to become the United States once again. Like the BW No. 2, we just need more chairs for everyone.
The Kebab House Berlin Wall No. 2
39 Odos Faneromenis
Nicosia, 1011, Cyprus
+357 22 674935
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All the best,