Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Who Let the Perros Out! Colombian Hot Dogs

I want to thank you so much for your kind words about my disclosure, and not calling the hypocrite police. I’m not saying you have to eat carrots and celery 24/7 (unless you’re a bunny, or you enjoy that sort of thing), but I’m also not saying everyday should be a Colombian hot dog day. 

Too much of anything isn’t good, and the point of a treat, of an indulgence, is to make it worthwhile, to have it once in awhile. Speaking of once in awhile, this is an example of something that, if enjoyed on occasion, can be a part of a balanced diet. I wouldn’t want anyone to be lacking in hot dogs, potato chip crumbles, and seven sauces! Believe me, it gets crazier.

My understanding is Colombian hot dogs, or perros calientes Colombianos, is an American food but with Colombian influence. I find it fascinating how one culture takes someone else’s food, and makes it their own, turning the original idea on its head. Apparently hot dogs got to Colombia some kind of way, and in Colombia they decided to go crazy with their toppings, a kind of competition among hot dog carts. 

The usual hot dog has ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salsa rosada (a ketchup/mayo blend but apparently is own sauce), pineapple sauce (and sometimes raspberry too), and crumbled potato chips. Others include bacon, ham, cheese, or even quail eggs. One’s culinary imagination is the only thing holding back the perro architect.

If you are so inclined, here’s a recipe from a blog who has great recipes, but, I think it needs a few more toppings to really make it crazy and messy (and that’s part of the allure!)

I was inspired to check these out after reading one of my favorite foodie blogs, but I totally disagree with their assessment. That’s the great thing about blogs and such, we all can have our opinions, and that’s all this is, an opinion. Their opinion got me to try something I wanted to try for a long time, and I hope I inspire you. Maybe you’ll agree, and maybe you won’t. All I ask is you try it. You might like it.

We checked out El Perro and Xtasis, both in Jackson Heights, and both on Northern Boulevard within close proximity to each other. Do I smell a perros showdown??

First, at El Perro, it was a really small restaurant. A few stools, an impressive juice bar (that sadly was not very popular, probably since it was April and not really jugo or batido season). The menu was quite impressive. The Fisherman and I decided to go for a Perro Regular and a Perro Especial. The Regular was on a nicely toasted hot dog bun, a hot dog, cheese, crumbled potato chips, ketchup, mayo, mustard and salsa rosada. The Especial was a hot dog on a toasted bun with bacon, cheese, raspberry sauce, pineapple sauce, cheese, crumbled potato chips, ketchup, mayo, mustard and salsa rosada. I’m not gonna lie, the raspberry sauce intrigued me. I heard of the pineapple sauce before, but raspberry??

And here’s our dogs. Crazy flavorliciousness? Yes. Sloppy as can be, yes. Quite an experience. Some would think “how would all of this work??” But work it does. A hot dog compounded with the smokiness and meatiness of the bacon, the sharp sour sweet ketchup with the creaminess of mayo, playing against the salt crunch of the potato chips, the zip of mustard cutting through the richness. Then, to counterbalance that salt bomb is the sweetness of the fruity sauces. It’s unusual, but so are other sweet savory pairings, like chocolate and pretzels, brown sugar and bacon, or my favorite, a Wendy’s Frosty and fries dipped into the Frosty. Try it, and see what I mean.

El Perro doesn’t limit itself to hot dogs, with burgers, sandwiches, antojitos (street food/snacks, but it really means street food), juices, and cold concoctions like cholados, sundaes and floats.

The Fisherman was quite tempted by the Super Hamburguesa (burger, cheese, bacon, ham, quail eggs, crumbled potato chips, ketchup, mayo, mustard, salsa rosada, lettuce, tomato and onions) but we wanted to continue our hot dog quest. Until then, Super Hamburguesa…

Now, what was interesting with these is we got actual hot dogs, but other perros places like to switch up their meat tubes of choice.

At the famed brightly pink Xtasis, we had choriperros, or Spanish-style sausage dogs. This gave us a more spices, and meatier thicker texture to play against the onslaught of toppings. They also had regular perros, but who could resist a choriperro?

Their menu, which runs the gamut of sandwiches and burgers, much like Perro. But at Xtasis the options are incredible, from the Super Sandwich Xtasis (bread, turkey, chicken, roasted pork shoulder, ham, cheese, garlic sauce, pineapple sauce), to the Burguerarepa Super Xtasis (bacon, ham, cooked onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato, potato chip crumbles, seven different sauces, served on an arepa). I believe six of the sauces are ketchup, mayo, mustard, salsa rosada, pineapple sauce, and garlic sauce. The seventh alludes me.

They also have options like chuzos (or kebabs), arepas, maizitos (seems to be corn mixed with cheese and other toppings), patacos or maduros (sandwiches made with either savory or sweet plantains replacing the bread), antojitos, and LOTS of cholado and dessert options. I’ll elaborate on cholados in a bit.

Back to the choriperros, The Fisherman and I chose the Choriperro Super Xtasis and the Choriperro Super Hawiano. The Super Xtasis contained the bun (a sesame seeded mega hot dog bun, nice texture-wise), the sausage, bacon, ham, cheese, cooked onions, crumbled potato chips and seven sauces. The Super Hawiano had the bun, sausage, bacon, ham, cheese, cooked onions, crumbled potato chips, pineapple sauce and seven sauces. While they were lacking in raspberry sauce (with so much pink d├ęcor, you’d think raspberry sauce would be up their alley!), I think The Fisherman and I really like Xtasis, more than Perro. The flavor combo was incredible, the harmony was like nothing I ever had before.

Not for eating when you have something nice on, the mess factor adds to the fun. The contrast in textures and flavors is so wacky it works. The chips add nice salt and crunch, versus the meaty, spicy chorizo, versus the creamy, zingy, spicy, sweet sauces, the seeded bun adds softness and crunch at the same time, the smokiness of the bacon and ham, the sweet and savory onions, and of course the sweet and sour zip of pineapple. The only drawback I found was the cheese, which kind of hardened into a mantle, made it harder to get the various strata of tastiness.

A glorious cross section, so many layers of flavor!

Then, after all this super savoriness, I had to try a cholado. I’ve seen these forever and never tried one before. It looks so pretty! Pale orange cantaloupe, light green honey dew, yellow pineapple, some fluffy shredded coconut, crunchy apples, creamy banana, and a pretty pink wafer cookie. Even for a sweet fiend like me, this was intense. Even with The Fisherman and I splitting it, we couldn’t finish it, it was that sugar laden. A great thing to try though.

You would think after this adventure, we’d have our fill. Oh, no, we needed one more trip. The week after, we returned to Xtasis to try the Burguerarepa Super Xtasis. Another ridiculously delicious conglomeration of nicely grilled burger and tons of toppings. Another sloppy meal, but with grilled beefiness. I also loved the mild crunchy creaminess of the arepa. Normally considered bland, I really like arepas because I don’t find it as bland. It’s a mild base, usually good for sopping up something wonderful like the gravy from rice and beans, or in this case, to soak up all those flavors.

And, to top it off, what better end to a Colombian foodiethon than a can of Colombiana, a sweet soda similar in flavor to bubblegum. It’s an acquired taste, but fun to try nonetheless.

Up next, a visit to Peru, via the very popular restaurant, Urumbamba. Until then, mangia!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Full Belly Disclosure, Or, Loving Food the Right Way

So, something I thought about for a good while and decided to share since I’m a firm believer in honesty. I don’t want to give the impression that I eat all this with no repercussions. That and I think of Paula Deen and other celebrity chefs who are under fire about promoting food that’s delicious, but maybe not the best for us. It’s a complicated issue, just as it is for restaurants, whose job is to make food delicious. No, one is holding us at gunpoint to eat Gooey Butter cakes, or Big Macs, or HUGE sodas, soft drinks, or sweetened teas.

On the other hand, you do have to do a bit of work to figure out what you should be eating. Read labels, ask questions. Yet many people don’t, they don’t hold themselves responsible, and they should. That’s why children can’t smoke, or drink alcohol, or gamble, but adults can. It’s called being able to determine what’s best for you. And granted sometimes it’s hard, and granted, having a family can be more difficult to make better choices. It may not be easy, but it’s necessary.

In my case, I’ve been heavy just about my whole life. I’m a sedentary person by nature; I love to read and paint. I’m a huge klutz so physical activity was never my forte. I really don’t drink soda, and now when I do it’s diet, I don’t really eat junk food, and eat a mostly vegetarian diet during the week. On the weekend I loosen up a little but mainly don’t consume anything ridiculous (regularly). I ate healthy foods, yet was heavy. It’s affecting my health in a small way, but it’s only a matter of time before other issues pop up.

I decided a couple of years ago to get the ball rolling on making better choices for myself because only I can do that for myself. I’ve gone to the doctor and am working on my health issues, which are mainly the result of being heavy. I need to lose some weight to see improvements. 

So, now I walk a lot, I take the stairs more often, and I recently joined a gym. I also decided to join Weight Watchers to help me figure out what I was eating, or not eating. So far I learned that that what I was eating was fine, but my portions were WAAY too large (see, this is called being educated!). I’m fairly savvy about healthy eating and what not, but thought eating lots to healthy food was the way to go. Not necessarily.

Since increasing my activity, and joining Weight Watchers in April, I’ve lost 15 lbs, and 10 more previously (5 on my own and 5 after the cruise, strangely enough. Seasickness will do that I guess).

What I’m trying to say is that as an adult I have to make my own choices. I will reap what I sow in terms of my choices. I have chosen to eat healthier overall, but I still love food, and will continue to do so. I just won’t eat A LOT of it. What I really like about Weight Watchers is I can choose to eat whatever I want, but I have to keep track of what I eat, and how much. To me it’s like my bank account; I don’t have infinite dollars (I wish!), why should I have infinite calories?

So, I’d like to write about the fun stuff I eat, as well as what I eat the other days. To show that, you can love food and not cause harm to your health. You can also be healthy and not eat rabbit food (but seriously, fruits and vegetables are really important!!)

The key is moderation, really, truly. Sometimes that isn’t easy. In America, we have a penchant for “more is better,” and that doesn’t always translate well. For some, none is better than some, and I understand that (which is why bread in my house is highly regulated J). But, I think many of us have to learn to love food, but not to an extreme.

I want to love food, but not have it kill me, or cause damage. I want to enjoy my life and be happy, but also be around long enough to enjoy the ride, to enjoy my friends and family for many, many years. Perhaps it’ll inspire you to really think about something like this, to think about your food, where it comes from, and how much you really need. How, like with physical activity, if you don’t use it you lose it.

If anything else, I’m not trying to convince you that what I post is not what I eat every day, and you probably shouldn’t either. This is me being honest, and hopefully it is appreciated.

I’ll sprinkle in some of the foods I make that I eat during the work week, but first, I really have to highlight the incredible concoction, the Colombian hot dog. Yes, even these can be included in a healthy diet as a "sometimes" food, not an "always" food.

Until then, mangia!