DCentric » Food http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU Ethiopian Restaurant Finds Success In Going ‘American’ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/05/ethiopian-restaurant-finds-success-in-going-american/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/05/ethiopian-restaurant-finds-success-in-going-american/#comments Fri, 04 May 2012 17:15:01 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15927 Continue reading ]]>

LollyKnit / Flickr

Restaurants around D.C.’s unofficial “Little Ethiopia” have been experimenting lately, hosting everything from rock bands and comedy nights, to serving macaroni and cheese instead of injera and tibs. It’s all been part of an effort to stay competitive and alive in the midst of a struggling economy.

So, is it working? Maybe so, at least for Queen Makeda. The restaurant switched over to American fare and has been holding hip hop nights and hosting bands. It’s been so successful that the restaurant now needs more space. This weekend will be Queen Makeda’s last night at 1917 9th St. NW. The restaurant is closing with plans to reopen in a bigger space in the neighborhood.

“There’s definitely a niche in D.C. for what we do,” said Queen Makeda bartender Jeremy Quarless-Cole. “You have to [change] in that area, simply because there are so many Habesha restaurants serving the same food.”

Perhaps there’s still a healthy market for Ethiopian food in D.C. Just not when it’s all concentrated within a few blocks.

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DCentric Picks: ‘Trouble in Mind’ and Food Day http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/dcentric-picks-trouble-in-mind-and-food-day/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/dcentric-picks-trouble-in-mind-and-food-day/#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2011 20:18:22 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11639 Continue reading ]]>

Richard Anderson / Courtesy of Arena Stage

Brandon J. Dirden as John Nevins, Thomas Jefferson Byrd as Sheldon Forrester, E. Faye Butler as Wiletta Mayer and Marty Lodge as Al Manners in "Trouble in Mind."

What: Trouble in Mind,” a play about a 1955 racially integrated theater company that wants to present a race play.

Where: Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW.

When: The play runs through Sunday.

Cost: Prices vary depending on seats and showtimes. You can find ticket prices here.

Why you should go: The play-within-a-play, set more than 50 years ago, still has relevance today. The black characters are seen confronting racial stereotypes as they work to make it to Broadway. A black and white cast is shown producing a play about a young, southern black man who becomes the target of a lynch mob.

Other events to consider: Monday is Food Day, which seeks to promote healthy, affordable and sustainable food. D.C. is home to a number of events, including the Food Day Extravaganza on Woodrow Wilson Plaza. There will be chef demonstrations, entertainment, educational activities and, yes, free food. The event starts at 11 a.m.

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Gentrification Making Food Cheaper? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/08/gentrification-making-food-cheaper/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/08/gentrification-making-food-cheaper/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2011 18:37:36 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=9933 Continue reading ]]>

Mayela Lopez / Getty Images

On the positive side of gentrification, the process of wealthier folks moving into low-income neighborhoods could mean reduced prices for organic and locally-grown produce. Racialicious digs into how this phenomena may be occurring in Brooklyn:

After leaving Bar Sepia one night, we passed by one of the mister’s old standard bodegas (basically, a convenient store), but he did a double take… and eventually, a full stop.

“Wow, man,” was all I heard. “Gentrification is real.”

The bodega wasn’t simply a “bodega” anymore. It was, apparently, an organic produce store… with respectable prices.

… If increased presence of money means increased produce… then increased produce – by nature of trying to one-up their competitors – means increased presence of organics, which means increased presence of local produce… which eventually means decreased price. Competitors are constantly trying to one-up each other, and they do that by decreasing the price of the necessities while offering special and unique products at a premium.

This is a strange situation. Gentrification, that which has been cast off as such a dirty word (and has people, like the above, ashamed to no longer be poverty-status poor?), is actually making food cheaper. I mean, damn – never in my life have I seen an organic red pepper go for $0.99.

But as neighborhoods gentrify, will low-income residents be able to afford rents to remain? Cheaper groceries are good, particularly for folks with less money, but will they be around to enjoy 99-cent peppers?

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Getting Fast Food Restaurants to Serve Better Veggies http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/08/getting-fast-food-restaurants-to-serve-better-veggies/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/08/getting-fast-food-restaurants-to-serve-better-veggies/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2011 18:26:12 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=9500 Continue reading ]]>

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Living near a grocery store doesn’t mean you’ll have a healthier diet. On the flip side, proximity to fast food joints does affect your eating habits, particularly if you’re low income. So is the fix for unhealthy diets to get rid of fast food restaurants altogether?

Owners of one D.C. restaurant — Amsterdam Falafel, which sells $5.50 falafels — say not necessarily. Instead, they’re organizing a veggie flash mob to encourage fast food restaurants to serve higher quality vegetables. Eater DC reports:

As owner and organizer Arianne Bennett explains, “We walk into a hot dog place or a hamburger place and you smell everything and it smells so good. You should walk into a place where vegetables are being carried and where the place smells absolutely delicious.”

Some fast food restaurants, such as McDonald’s, have answered calls for healthier options by placing salads and other items on menus. Perhaps more people would opt for salads instead of burgers if the vegetables were fresher, locally-grown and still inexpensive.

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Home Cooking: Middle Eastern Italian Food http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/homecooking-middle-eastern-italian-food/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/homecooking-middle-eastern-italian-food/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2011 15:59:11 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=9035 Continue reading ]]>

Josh / Flickr

Does it matter if the tomato sauce recipe was developed by an Italian?

Friday’s post “What Makes a Restaurant Authentic?“, in which I interviewed chefs hailing from countries other than the cuisine they prepare, held a particular resonance with me. I’m Iranian-American, and my family owns an Italian restaurant.

How in the world did that happen? Not much differently than it happened for the other restaurant proprietors I profiled: my father arrived in the U.S., put himself through school by working at Italian-owned restaurants and he paid attention to what worked and what didn’t. He developed his own sauce recipe and, taking a risk, opened his own restaurant.

Growing up, many people assumed we were Italian, particularly since there weren’t many Iranians in our fairly homogenous community. Sometimes we’d joke that my grandmother was part-Italian, or that my father had flown over Italy and that counts for something. Some customers, among them Italians, would tell us how the food reminded them of restaurants in Little Italy or Italy itself.

Stephen Howard / Flickr

Traditional Persian rice with tadeeq.

In our home, my mother’s Persian cooking reigned supreme. But sometimes we’d eat white pizza and eggplant parmigiana from our restaurant, which was also home cooking. At large family get-togethers, we served traditional Persian dishes alongside baked ziti.

Anyone who’s grown up in a family restaurant knows that everything revolves around “the restaurant.” You have to cut vacations short, reply “no” to wedding invitations and drive through blizzards to make sure the kitchen pipes haven’t burst. But you’re also eternally grateful to the restaurant. It’s provided you a livelihood: shelter, food, and in my case, a college education. The loyalty I have to Italian food runs deep.

When many of us are feeling a bit nostalgic, we eat comfort food. It’s the food that reminds us we’re loved and a part of something bigger. In those moments, I eat kubideh, ghormeh sabzi or simply noon-o-paneer. But a hearty bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, made with my dad’s tomato sauce, works just as well. My people may not have been cooking pasta for centuries, but Italian food still feels like home.

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What Makes a Restaurant Authentic? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/what-makes-a-restaurant-authentic/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/what-makes-a-restaurant-authentic/#comments Fri, 22 Jul 2011 13:00:43 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=8850 Continue reading ]]> Hungarians preparing Japanese dishes; Koreans serving Eastern European fare; Salvadorans making kabobs –a number of D.C. chefs and restaurant owners serve cuisine from countries far from their motherlands. Some to great acclaim.

But is the food authentic? Does it even matter?

“There are two kinds of music: Good music, and the other kind.” – Duke Ellington
Washingtonian food critic Todd Kliman answers with a Duke Ellington quote: “There are two kinds of music: good music, and the other kind.”

“Is it desirable [for food] to be authentic? It depends on who you ask,” Kliman says. “Some people say ‘Yes.’ Others say, ‘It doesn’t matter as long as the food is delicious.’”

Bardia Ferdowski opened Bardia’s New Orleans Cafe in Adams Morgan 19 years ago. The Iranian immigrant spent more than a decade working in Louisiana restaurants while attending college.

“We love the food,” diner Don Wilson says on a recent afternoon. “Bardia spent so much time in Louisiana… and he brought it all up here for us.” Wilson mentions photographs hanging in the restaurant of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, a frequent patron. “That tells you a lot.”

“The cross-pollination almost makes it better,” adds Martina Vandenberg, another customer.

Some find the mix appealing, but the appearance of inauthenticity can hurt a business. Some diners post Yelp reviews with warnings such as, “This is not authentic Creole cuisine.” Other Louisiana natives love it.

Take D.C.’s Ethiopian restaurant scene, which has grown over the past decade, resulting in mostly non-Ethiopian customers. “When it becomes a crossover hit, and becomes really popular with non-Ethiopians, it begins to look like an ‘inauthentic’ place” to some people, Kliman says.

Where’s the chef from?

Bardia Ferdowski came to Louisiana from Iran to attend college. He worked at Cajun restaurants for a decade before opening up his own in D.C. Bardia's New Orleans Cafe has been open in Adams Morgan for 19 years. Beignets are a popular dessert item at Bardia's New Orleans Cafe. Owner/chef Bardia Ferdowski says he creates them using his own recipe. Bardia Ferdowski takes empty plates from a couple dining in his Cajun restaurant. Ferdowski is an Iranian immigrant. Jose De Velasquez prepares a pizza at Moroni & Brothers. The Salvadoran immigrant spent years working at Pizzeria Paradiso before opening his own restaurant. Moroni & Brothers in Petworth has a menu that's half pizza, half Central American fare. Jeff Lindeblad eats a pizza with his two daughters at Moroni & Brothers. The Petworth resident typically orders pizza and quesadillas.

Ferdowski feels a special connection to Cajun food. He says the southern hospitality he experienced in Louisiana “was just like home.” And he’s heard it all — people have mistaken him for French, Creole and Russian.

“People are very curious because of my accent,” he says.

Unlike Bardia’s, with its Cajun-only menu, the owner/chef of Moroni & Brothers made his roots very clear: the menu is half pizza, half Central American fare. Salvadoran immigrant Jose De Velasquez worked at Pizzeria Paradiso for 15 years, leaving after he worked his way up to kitchen manager. He opened Moroni & Brothers four years ago in Petworth.

A wood-fire oven blazes in the back of the restaurant. Above it, a picture of De Velasquez making a pizza hangs on the wall, next to an ornament with “El Salvador” emblazoned on the front.

“The most important thing is to know how to combine the ingredients, and the dough recipe,” De Velasquez says in Spanish. “But we’re Salvadoran and we wanted something traditional. This is a good combination.”

At one table, a couple eats pupusas. At another, Jeff Lindeblad and his two daughters eat their usual meal: quesadillas and pizza. The menu “didn’t seem odd at all” on his first visit, Lindeblad says.

“Is it important to have someone from Italy make the pizza? No,” Lindeblad says. “And the pizza here is fantastic.”

Kitchen hierarchies

Moroni & Brothers is a classic example of how a kitchen worker can ascend heights to chef and restaurant owner. And the influx of Latinos in the area and in the service industry means Latinos are among those successfully climbing the ladder. Take Johnny Kabob, a Salvadoran-owned Persian restaurant in Germantown. The owner started out as a dishwasher in a Persian restaurant. Now, he has Iranians telling him his food reminds them of their mothers’ cooking.

“Most of the people doing the cooking in the kitchens, at least in this city and many big cities in the Northeast, they’re Latino,” Kliman says. “It’s one of these things where if you look at it from the outside, you’d say, ‘These people should get much more credit. They’re doing the hard work, the chef is there, a high profile chef who is getting a lot of credit.’ But the reality is the kitchen is [the chef's] vision, and that’s kind of the way it’s always been.”

It’s the same master-apprentice model that’s been practiced for hundreds of years, Kliman says. But even though the original masters may have shared a homeland with the cuisine they’re preparing, now a new crop of masters don’t have a country in common with the food they love and serve.

“If [the food] is good and it comes from the heart,” says Ferdowski, “that’s what matters.”

Your turn: How important is authenticity in a restaurant? How do you judge a restaurant’s authenticity? Let us know in the comments below – and we wouldn’t mind a D.C. restaurant recommendation if you’ve got one.

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The Unemployed Cutting Corners in their Diets http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/the-unemployed-cutting-corners-in-their-diets/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/the-unemployed-cutting-corners-in-their-diets/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2011 20:37:12 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=8881 Continue reading ]]>

pointnshoot / Flickr

Higher calorie foods tend to be cheaper, experts say.

Eating healthy can be a matter of having access to stores, but it’s also about having enough money to buy healthy food and having the time to cook it. And as the economy has worsened, more people are eating unhealthy foods this year than last.

Given those factors comes this article from Huffington Post’s Janell Ross about unhealthy eating and the disproportionately high rate of black unemployment. She writes that since housing costs tend to be fixed, many underemployed and unemployed people save money by eating cheaper and unhealthy foods. She speaks to a Michele Washington, a college-educated single mom originally from Atlanta, who moved into her sister’s Harlem apartment and holds a part-time job. Washington used to cook dinners for her son, Monty. Now, they frequent McDonald’s:

For now, the thought of fishing the pots and pans out of the boxes to try to forge a meal in a cramped kitchen holds little appeal. Most nights, [Washington] is so exhausted by her day, and often so discouraged by her fruitless search for full-time work, that she and Monty eat out –- usually hamburgers or cheap Chinese food.

Once it’s their turn at the McDonald’s counter, Monty wants the value meal burger, but his mother insists on the chicken sandwich -– a nominal nod in the healthier direction. He wants a sundae, but she orders him a yogurt parfait with fruit and granola. Washington relents when Monty can’t chose between a soda and fries: He gets both. Washington orders the same. The bill does not reach $10.

“I’m well aware that I’m saving money now that I might pay in medical bills later,” Washington says.

She worries that her son -– high-energy by nature -– is eating foods that will make it hard for him to sit still in school come fall, interfering with the formative years of his education.

“I worry that his teachers will decide that he’s a ‘problem child,’ and put him on some track that doesn’t include college,” she says.

The story, which also notes that higher-calorie food tends to be cheaper, can be read here.

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Meal Service for D.C.’s Seniors Resumes Full Operations http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/meal-service-for-d-c-s-seniors-resumes-full-operations/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/meal-service-for-d-c-s-seniors-resumes-full-operations/#comments Tue, 14 Jun 2011 21:19:04 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=7926 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: Rich Moffitt

Nutrition Inc., the food service company that delivers meals to D.C.’s home-bound seniors, shut down last week, leaving District officials scrambling to fill the void.

The company, which may have to file for bankruptcy, notified the D.C. Office on Aging of its impending closure a few days before the service stopped. The District is now relying on temporary vendors to fill in and has started looking for a new, permanent one. Initially, about 300 seniors who were the most vulnerable were given priority immediately after Nutrition, Inc.’s closure. The Washington Post reports that there was some disruption in services.

Now John Thompson, the Office of Aging’s acting executive director, tells DCentric that as of this week, everyone should be receiving their meals as normal. Service centers and new vendors have been running spot checks to ensure everyone who should be receiving a meal is getting one.

The District’s senior food service program provides meals at 43 sites, such as senior centers and churches, and to 1,370 home-bound seniors during the week and 525 during the weekend. In order to qualify for home-bound delivery, a social worker must conduct an assessment to identify whether or not a senior can perform basic activities, such as cooking.

WAMU reports that the office has been looking for a new vendor to fill the void left by Nutrition, Inc. Thompson says that many companies can cook the meals, but transporting the meals can become costly, making it difficult for such businesses to survive.

“It’s easy to find food vendors. The hard part is trying to locate vendors who have the necessary assets to deliver food to someone’s home,” Thompson says. “This is just a unique service.”

Thompson says he can’t name the current, temporary vendors that are filling the void since their contracts haven’t been executed yet by the D.C. Office of Contracts and Procurement, but once they have been finalized, that information will become public. The office will put out a new request for proposals for a permanent vendor to serve meals starting next fiscal year, which begins in October. In the meantime, anyone experiencing a disruption in service can call 202-724-5626.

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Buying Organic on a Budget: New Shopping Guides Rank Produce by Pesticide Levels http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/buying-organic-on-a-budget-new-shopping-guides-rank-produce-by-pesticide-levels/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/buying-organic-on-a-budget-new-shopping-guides-rank-produce-by-pesticide-levels/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2011 19:35:38 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=7860 Continue reading ]]>

Sandra Mu/Getty Images

Need strawberries? Try to buy organic if you can.

Buying organic may be better for your health, but it’s not always feasible for those on a budget. Months ago, we posted advice on how to prioritize buying organic. Now, a new list is out detailing which non-organic foods to avoid and which are OK to eat.

The list is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s May report [PDF], rounding up all of the pesticides found in produce. Advocacy organization Environmental Working Group took the data, and created its “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15″ lists. The alliteration and rhyming should make the foods easier to remember, right? If not, you can print the EWG’s brochure, posted below.

NPR reports:

The EWG suggests that people buy organically grown fruits and vegetables for the varieties on its list of the most likely to carry pesticide residues. But the group also says the health benefits from produce mean that “eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.”

Dirty Dozen (highest in pesticides):

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines
  7. Grapes
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/Collard Greens

Clean 15 (lowest in pesticides):

  1. Onions
  2. Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplant
  9. Cantaloupe
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms


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Addressing Food Deserts Without Chain Stores http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/addressing-food-deserts-without-chain-stores/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/addressing-food-deserts-without-chain-stores/#comments Wed, 01 Jun 2011 18:55:46 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=7551 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: Marie In Shaw

Formerly known as Timor Bodega, Field to City market in Bloomingdale offers organic produce, dairy and meat.

Community-owned assets, not big-box stores, will solve the ‘food desert’ problem” according to Grist, an environmental blog.

A USDA report [PDF] to Congress in 2009 suggested that the average food in such big-box grocery stores (as Safeway, Alberston’s, Winn-Dixie, or Walmart) is priced 10 percent lower than its counterparts in independently owned corner stores, roadside stands, or farmers markets. What’s more, the USDA claimed that “full service” big-box stores offer more affordable access to food diversity than do other venues…

The fatal flaw of the Obama strategy to reduce hunger, food insecurity, and obesity in America is that it risks bringing more big-box stores both to poor urban neighborhoods and to rural communities. It categorically ignores the fact that independently owned groceries, corner markets in ethnic neighborhoods, farmers markets, CSAs, and roadside stands are the real sources of affordable food diversity in America. But in its 2009 report to Congress, the USDA conceded that “a complete assessment of these diverse food environments would be such an enormous task” that it decided not to survey independently owned food purveyors. Therefore, it decided to ignore their beneficial roles and focus on the grocery-store chains that now capture three-quarters of all current foods sales in the U.S.

In today’s Washington Post, food writer Tim Carman notes that an innovative concept is coming to D.C.’s food deserts: a mobile farmers market, housed in a converted bus. According to its successful Kickstarter fundraising page, the Arcadia Mobile Market could be “the most visible and direct way to navigate a number of urban spaces to get much-needed fresh food to people in the nation’s capital.”

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