A Memory of Taste Part 4

As I have experienced a little depression over the last 6 months or so I have neglected that which makes me happy, partly due to a lack of inspiration (I attribute this to feelings of depression) mostly due to a lack of will power to write. Recently some of you found the blog and commented and this made me want to get back to writing because the cathartic nature of this blog helps in many ways cleanse my mind of the craziness of the everyday world. So thinking about my experiences of the last 6 months (or so) I have settled on writing about a gem I found in Portland, Oregon thanks to my brother.

Now many different diets encourage some crazy carb counting or avoidance of meat (crazy I know, but why judge when you can eat great food…even vegan food) or the total reliance on juice. Now I have never really dieted…I have cut back on things and tried new meals, I always keep myself open to new food experiences whether or not there is weirdness involved. For this kind of omnivorous diet, Portland is a great town. From food trucks to dive restaurants to upscale eats every type of food is represented here. It is one of these small places in the north Portland neighborhood of Kenton.

Kenton is deceptively enticing, you see the normal trappings of Portland…the Max, a Fred Myers, and other Portlandy sights…my favorite being a sign waver who was dancing his heart out. He was truly captivating as I waited at the red light to move again. But once you get to the “historic” portion of Kenton that changes, a lumberjack statue welcomes you to the area and you are partially transported to a small town. There are many shops lining this road, some pretty damn good restaurants, but my focus is on the Cultured Caveman.

My brother introduced me to this place, he knows I like to explore different foods and so he takes delight in introducing me to places around Portland. However, the Cultured Caveman has some of my current favorite foods. This first trip though introduced me to my favorite…bacon wrapped dates. I had no idea what I was in for when I ordered…after all this is a paleo restaurant, I have known some paleo eaters, but a restaurant? How do you set up the meal without free bread or bottomless fries? It is possible, and to do that you must begin with an offering of something so scrumptious that no one can deny its deliciousness…except non meat eaters of course. Back to the food. The dates were, in a word, amazing. Inside the dates are an almond and the entire thing is sheltered in a covering of bacon…now I am a bacon guy and this dish was amazing. Salty…sweet without a big sugar taste…and the almond at the center added a nougat taste, the entire experience eating this made me want more…my mouth was salivating and my brain cried out to eat them all, so I did. I followed the appetizer with a shepherd’s pie which included sweet potatoes and satisfied me. Now the Cultured Caveman is not your normal sit and be served restaurant, but the experience of it is distinctly Portland. There are many things on the menu from squash based pastas to Vietnamese inspired dishes, and not all are equal, but bacon wrapped dates and shepherd’s pie are worth the trip.

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A Memory of Taste part 3

Most of us can name our favorite restaurant or even our favorite food/dish. When I think about this I have to classify mine by region or cuisine as I have so many favorites, half my reason for wanting to travel is to eat different foods from exotic places. But often times my favorite foods from places comes down to street food.

Now, while my home state’s biggest city, Portland, Oregon, has a great street food industry and tradition. The absolute best street food I ever had was in Bahrain in Shwarma Ally. And I know many of you are thinking “Really? Bahrain?…Wait, where is that?” So this will not only be a trip down memory lane, but it will have a short geography lesson too, Yay!

So as I have said before, in 2002-03 I was in Bahrain which is a small island off the coast of Saudi Arabia just north of Qatar. The island is nicer than it has any right to be, there is a lot of sun and hot, but it makes up for that with some pretty nice beaches and a thriving, cosmopolitan population (at the time). The food there was wonderful as I could experience Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Ethiopian, and many other styles of food. But the crown jewel in my opinion was a local street food vendor area known by many as Shwarma Ally.

Now those of you who have had gyro’s are saying “I know what shwarma is, and its not all that special.” To those people I say you are more wrong than you could ever know. The street itself was among shops which hawk all kinds of different wares, the most fun were the rug shops, which as soon as you walked in you had tea and a best friend trying to sell you a rug at what they would assure you was a price which would impoverish their family. But on the street there were food vendors, some were in carts while others had more permanent facilities.

This particular shop, if I recall correctly, was a large cart which had four upright spits turning different meats slowly next to a heating element. We approached the shop and I asked the man what the different meats were, and he replied; “I have lamb, beef, pork, and meat.” The statement was said so matter of factually that I did not react right away. After I had processed what he said I started a little bit and asked, “What is meat?” He looked at me with an expression which bridged incredulity at the question, offence due to me not knowing the answer, and pity because I had obviously never eaten true meat before. With this look he answered my question, “Meat, is meat my friend.” I chose that one and ate it. It was one of the most wonderful things I have ever eaten, and it has not been topped in the fourteen years since.

Now I could close there, leaving you to believe that all street food is excellent. But that is simply not true. Sometimes you run into something from a food cart that leaves you crouched over or on a toilet bowl for longer than you care to admit or remember. There are trips to the hospital, embarrassing catching of fluids for the doctor to run tests on, and lying half out of your mind on a couch clearly meant for you to only sit on it while other patients pass by whispering and staring at you. So when it comes to street food, eat at your own risk. But often enough you will be surprised by something that titillates your taste buds enough that you find yourself writing about it a decade and a half later.