One of the best things about new world countries like Australia, Canada and the US is that they are populated by immigrants from all over the world, and (in the cities at least) the restaurants reflect that diversity and multiculturalism. Here are some of the things i picked up in Winnipeg, Manitoba and the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis/St Paul and surrounds) of Minnesota.
The opening shot is from Yafa Café in Winnipeg, an Arab street food joint. Clockwise from the top is fattouche (salad with vinegar dressing and bread chips on top), foule mudammas (hot fava bean dish, similar to refried beans), hummus (i assume everyone knows what that is), basbousa (a sweet, heavy cake made of honey and semolina flour) and a couple of pitas. I was so happy to get this stuff, some of these flavors are things i haven't tasted in years.
Next is one of my most treasured Chinese street foods, a flavor that will take me back to visiting Hong Kong as a child in the 1980s - 叉燒包 char siu bau, aka BBQ pork bun. It is from Sam Po dim sum restaurant in Winnipeg's Chinatown. This tasted like heaven itself, although i might be amping up my enjoyment because the last time i had a real one was last time i visited Hong Kong, which would've been months before the pandemic broke out, when i lived just across the border in Shenzhen. On the right of the pork bun is a Chinese sponge cake, i'm pretty sure it's made of rice flour and it is super light and fluffy. When you buy them on the street in China they just lift the sponge cake off the large bamboo steam basket into a plastic bag, which they then turn inside out and give to you to munch on.
Also from Sam Po is this cup of tea and their 麻婆豆腐 mapo tofu. This was still a little bit Canadian Chinese influenced, with the addition of peas and carrots, but the sauce was acceptably 麻辣 mala (numbing and spicy). I would've been disappointed if i got it that mild in China, especially after i specifically asked for it to be made Sichuan-style mala, but in Canada it was fine. At least it didn't taste like a shepherd's pie like the one i had in Milk River, Alberta.
Here is a chocolate éclair from La Belle Baguette, a patisserie in the French Quarter of Winnipeg. I got there just before closing, so most stuff was sold out and i suspect this éclair wasn't all too fresh, but it was alright. I've never had an éclair with chocolate mousse inside - i always think of a chocolate éclair as being a regular cream-filled éclair with chocolate icing - so this was especially gluttonous. The pastry itself was drier than i remember (i haven't had an éclair since i was a child), but i figure it must be a local take on the dish.
Here is my most disappointing restaurant in Winnipeg - Copper Chimney. I think i have probably been spoiled for good Indian food having lived in Toronto and having worked with lots of Indian colleagues who always knew the best (and cheapest!) places to visit in every other town i lived. Copper Chimney is one of those fancy suburban strip mall "premium casual" type restaurants, where there are dozens of seats and pictures of the dishes on the menu and the food costs twice as much as it does from a hole in the wall greasy spoon/mom'n'pop type place. I really hate these kinds of restaurants, but unfortunately it was one of the few places close(ish) to my hotel, so i tried it anyway. I should have known better.
Anyway, this is the vege pakora (called pakoda on the menu), and actually was the best thing i got.
Here is the vege samosa, which was fine. It cost and tasted the same as the vege samosa you will get from any South Asian owned gas station, fruit stand, snack bar or whatever.
This was my disappointment. It was the cumin spiced potato, which i asked for it to be spicy, and it was... eh. I mean, it was oily and cumin-y, but it wasn't very chili-y, so i didn't get that satisfying spicy potato hit that i was looking for. What i was hoping for was an Indian version of the Chinese spicy potato street food, where street vendors fry up roughly-cubed potatoes and then toss it in gobs of garlic, ginger, chili oil and cilantro, to present you with a fantastically oily and spicy carbolicious flavor bomb that would make even the most loaded western baked potato hang its head in shame. Alas, this was just... like... aloo gobi without the gobi. I didn't hate it, but i didn't think it was worth what i paid. And they forgot to give me my side pickle. The roti was decent, but oversized strip mall restaurants that cater to the well-heeled suburban crowd continue to be poor value for money in my books. There's just no soul.
Now this is more like it. Ordered from Banh Mi King in Winnipeg, here is some really modern pan-Asian cuisine. On the left is a bao burger, which is a burger made with Asian components like a steamed bun instead of a western-style bun. This one has tofu inside instead of meat. On the right is a kim chi poutine, which is to say french fries with kim chi and mock duck and cilantro on top. Not pictured is the spicy cheese sauce, which tasted something like a chili con queso, and acted as both gravy and cheese curd in one. Fusion cuisine at its finest! This sort of food is what you get in hip world cities like Berlin, Toronto, Taipei, LA and so on. It's brilliant.
Also from Banh Mi King, a dessert of shaved ice with coconut milk, mango and pearl sago. Took me right back to those 糖水 tong sui dessert places in Dongguan and other towns in the Pearl River Delta.
Fast-forward now to Minneapolis, and a little café i randomly wandered past yesterday called Sassy Spoon. I found out afterwards that it was a gluten free restaurant, but i just thought it was an interesting little hipster joint serving an odd mix of cuisines from around the world. I ordered this dish, which was a take on a Vietnamese rice noodle salad, with cabbage, cucumber, carrot, jícama, cilantro, peanut sauce and some other stuff. It tasted exactly like you would imagine it to taste. Not very spicy or interesting, but fresh and healthy and the kind of thing that makes you feel like you did a mitzvah just by eating it. I paired it with a lemonade, and felt suitably refreshed afterwards.
This was my "fuck this shit, i'm not walking all the way to Edina just to buy oats after i hauled my damn bike box all the way to Highland Park and already spent 3 hours hiking back to the hotel" meal. I gave up halfway and went to Andale Taqueria & Mercado in Richfield instead. It is a Latin American market with lots of great ingredients that i would've loved to buy if i actually had a kitchen, and a taqueria, where i ordered pork three ways: chorizo, al pastor and carnitas. I also got a vanilla caramel flan. This food took me back to living in California. I don't know if this taqueria was as good as the Californian ones, but it was leaps and bounds better than any taco truck in BC, and so far ahead of anything you can find in Europe or Asia or Australia it's not even funny. Last time i had tacos this good was 5 years ago, probably when i was passing through Reno, Nevada. This was some Real Fucking Tacos. Asking for a vegan dish at a place like this would get you laughed out of the room.
This afternoon, meandering through midtown Minneapolis, i couldn't decide what i wanted to eat. Eventually i stopped at a place called Lu's Sandwiches, which is a very straightforward bánh mì joint. They only have one thing - bánh mì - and you choose the protein. I got it with mock duck and all the fixins. It was an excellent bánh mì. Light, fluffy, crispy bread. Oily, fatty, flavorful mock duck. Fresh vegetables. Spicy jalapeños. Just right.
But i was so cold and wet that even the big sandwich didn't warm me up. So i biked a little further and found a place called Isles Bun & Coffee. I really like buns and coffee, so why not? Turns out they are a little American bakery that is mostly known for stuff like cinnamon buns, but they also had a vegan scone, which i think had some apricots and dates in it. In America they don't put jam and cream on scones, which is just fine by me, because the dense - and slightly salty - dough was just the kind of sustenance i needed to warm me up ready to face the outside chill.
When i got back to the hotel i pondered my next steps. I didn't want to order any big, lavish dinner, but i did want to order something special for my last meal in the city before heading out to smaller destinations where the pickings will surely be slimmer. So i hunted around and eventually found a snack bar called Master Noodle, which served many classic noodles like 紅燒牛肉麵 Taiwanese braised beef noodle soup, 蘭州拉麵 Lanzhou lamian (ramen), 重慶小麵 Chongqing xiaomian (small noodle) and 涼麵 Sichuan-style cold noodle. I ordered a 葱油餅 green onion pancake and cold noodle. The nice thing about living and ordering food in China meant i could write in both Chinese and English my request for 麻辣 mala spicy and 加香菜 add cilantro, which would be the default if you were in Sichuan or the rest of China's chili belt, but in Guangdong and probably in the US you will not get those stronger flavors unless you ask for it. They set it up and they delivered. The noodle had a bit too much noodle to topping ratio for my taste, and might've been missing a solid MSG punch, but that's probably to fit the American expectation. It still hit the spot, although i have yet to find a great cold noodle outside of mainland China. The pancake was OMG good. Perfect. I loved it.
Also pictured is the 康師傅 Master Kong honey green tea and some of the 豆乾 tofu jerky i picked up at the Asian grocery store earlier in the day to try improve my mood. The tea went perfect with the noodle and pancake, and i will save most of that jerky to make sandwiches with when i am on the road again.
And that's all she wrote for the big city foods. I know i could just keep on eating grocery store food when i am in the city and save a bunch of money (not to mention remain 100% vegan), but one of the things i love doing most when i travel is eating the local food. Whether it is local specialties, or foreign favorites made by local people and for local tastes, to me this is one of the most important parts of visiting a town. And it's in these bigger towns where the food really shines. Some small towns do have surprisingly good diners, but they'll rarely have any dishes with bold or opinionated flavors, because there just aren't enough people whose tastes swing that way. So i'm making the most of being in the city, finding stuff that's local but also pleasing to my taste buds. I expect soon i'll be back eating a lot of plain old burgers and fries. Let's see.