Around the world in 80 dishes: NEPA offers world wide adventure through cuisine
Imagine swimming in the south of France, then relaxing on a shaded veranda with some rosé wine. Picture exploring the Black Forest, the Schwarzwald, in Germany and refueling with braunschweiger followed by apple strudel.
Think about a boat ride along the Ganges — snacking on some sweet Gulab Jamun while anticipating the first moment your eyes see the Taj Mahal.
OK, back to reality. World exploration and killer vacations sound great, but who has the money or the time? Sometimes an overnight in the Poconos is all you get.
We’re here to fix that — sort of. We can’t fly you around the world but we can offer you a way to tour some countries — through food — right here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. It’s easy on the wallet and chances are you won’t have to call out from work.
So, use your imagination (and this menu guide edition) and join us as we take a trip around the world in 80 dishes.
Our journey starts at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. We’ve left plenty of time to get through airport security and want to bring some food. We opt for a Philly cheesesteak instead of suffering through unpalatable airplane food.
There’s no shortage of places to grab the shaved steak, cheese, onions and mushrooms. There’s Cosmo’s Cheese Steaks in Scranton, Philly’s Phinest or The CheeseSteak Factory in Wilkes-Barre, just to name a few.
Sandwich in hand, we board our plane of imagination and head for destination No. 1 — Mexico.
There’s no shortage of tequila, tortillas or tamales in Mexico and in NEPA, there’s no shortage of Mexican restaurants. Tequila’s Mexican Bar and Grill in Scranton, La Tolteca, El Zocalo and El Rey Azteca Mexican Restaurant in Wilkes-Barre serve some of the classics.
Let’s get the fiesta started with a margarita. Frozen, on the rocks, with or without salt, the tequila-based cocktail is a great way to unwind and relax. The traditional margarita has a sweet-tart lime flavor with a salt rim (some people opt for sugar).
Why the salt? Some say it’s to even even out the drink’s sweetness. Others say the salt was used to mask the harsh taste of cheap tequila (we’ve come a long way thanks to Patron, Don Julio and Cabo Wabo).
Margaritas come in a wide variety of flavors —from original to strawberry to raspberry, there’s a taste for everyone. At Tequila’s there are more than a dozen varieties. More Mexican must-haves include salsa and guacamole —the classic tomato and avocado based dips, respectively. Spice up your palate with chorizo fondue, a melted cheese sauce mixed with spicy sausage. Ceviche, although a traditional Spanish dish, is found on many Mexican menus. If you’re a seafood lover, this is up your alley. Fish or shrimp is cured with lime juice. Chili peppers and avocado are added for additional flavor as well as onions, salt and cilantro.
Quesadillas, tacos and fajitas are also popular dishes and, on this vacation, we’re going all in. Marinated steak and grilled shrimp topped with cilantro and other seasonings is served with a side of beans and rice —come to think of it, everything is served with beans and rice.
It’s time to say ‘adios’ and head to destination No. 2 — Brazil.
There may be a few hidden gems in NEPA where you can get traditional, home-cooked Brazilian food, but if you want more of an experience, Ipanema Grille Brazilian Steakhouse is your place. At the beginning of your meal, a waiter drops off a “flipper.” One side is green, the other, red. When it’s green, Rodizio-style service begins; waiters come to your table with skewers filled with filet mignon, sirloin, lamb, pork sausage, chicken legs, chicken hearts and more. When the flipper is red, they stop.
If you’re a vegetarian, there’s a buffet set up with a variety of salads and side dishes.
While in Brazil, or at the steakhouse off I81, check out the drinks. Cachaca is a rum-like spirit distilled with white sugarcane. It’s the main ingredient for the caipirinha, a traditional Brazilian drink that resembles a mojito sans the mint. You’ll see sangria on the menu, too. This beverage is popular all over but got its start in Spain. Traditionally a blend of sweet red wine, some rum, and other fruit-flavored liqueurs, fresh fruit is cut into bite sized pieces and added to the mix.
On to destination No. 3 — Lebanon. The small country packs a lot of flavor in its food influenced from surrounding countries. Lebanese cuisine is inviting to adventurous eaters, especially those who like Greek food.
Savory Maza in Scranton offers such a dining experience. The Tour of Lebanon platter offers a sampling of tabouli, a salad of chopped parsley mixed with tomatoes, onions, cracked wheat and olive oil; grape leaves, stuffed with a mixture of meat, rice, tomatoes and mint; hoummus, pureed chickpeas with tahini sauce, olive oil and lemon juice; Kibbee, fried croquettes filled with ground lamb, pine nuts, onions and spices; spinach pies (fatayer) and meat pies.
Other popular dishes include falafel — fried mixture of ground chick peas and fava beans served with tahini sauce — and cucumbers and yogurt, diced cucumbers mixed with homemade yogurt, olive oil and mint.
Kabobs are also popular menu items and vary from beef, lamb, shrimp to steak.
Our time in Lebanon is short, so we’ll get a few samples of dessert to go. Baklawa is phyllo dough stuffed with pistachios and simple syrup, very similar to baklava. Maamoul is similar to a shortbread cookie, some of which are filled with chopped dates. Nammoura is a sweet mixture of farina, cake batter, butter and simple syrup.
What do you think of your dream vacation so far? Not what you imagined? Well, try harder because we’re off to destination No. 4 — India.
That Gulab Jamun from before are similar to munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts. They’re soaked in honey and sugar and melt in your mouth.
But let’s get some savory food in our stomachs first.
If you avoid curry because it scares you, don’t. At Letts Eat in Wilkes-Barre, patrons can sample a variety of dishes during the lunch buffet. There’s something different every day. Start off easy with some naan — leavened bread often cooked in a tandoor, a type of oven, commonly made from clay or metal.
At the buffet, you can keep your adventure in check with some chicken Tikka Masala, meat cooked with onions, green peppers and broiled in the tandoor or get a little crazy with Navratan Korma, a mix of vegetables in a cream sauce. This dish goes great over rice.
Samosas are fried Indian pastries stuffed with a variety of food. Many are vegetarian-friendly, and most are served with mint sauce on the side.
If you’re thirsty, don’t be surprised to see items such as “salty yogurt drink” on the menu. If you’ve got a sweet-tooth, there is a mango yogurt drink. And, of course, chai tea.
For dessert, there’s the Gulab Jamun, Gajar Halwa, a dessert made from carrots, and Phirni or rice pudding.
We arrive at destination No. 5 and 6 — Japan and China. We’re only staying here a short time because, chances are, you’ve got your favorite stops. NEPA offers a wide variety of both cuisines. There’s no shortage of buffets, take-out joints or sit-down restaurants.
Some of our favorite Japanese restaurants include: In Wilkes-Barre — Katana, Shogun Japanese Restaurant at The Woodlands, Mizu Sushi. Akita in Moosic and Osaka in downtown Scranton.
Maybe the best place to eat Chinese food in on the couch with a movie playing, but if you’re looking to get out, try some of these restaurants: Golden Palace in Wilkes-Barre, Beijing Chinese Restaurant in Kingston, or China King in Scranton.
Thailand is destination No. 7 and while the Thai food we get locally may not be quite what you’d get abroad, many restaurants have menus packed with flavorful dishes.
Try some curry puffs, made of minced chicken,potatoes and peas served with a sweet dipping sauce. Thai dumplings — pork dumplings, wrapped in wonton wrappers and steamed — are a mild choice for those new to Thai food.
Tofu, chicken, duck, pork and vegetarian options are added to noodle dishes, some of which are very hearty, for example, Pad see aew. The dish is made from thick, flat noodles. Broccoli and a choice of meat is added and garlic lovers who enjoy a little sweetness will be in heaven.
Duck is popular with American style Thai food and honey duck is one very sweet dish that’s available.
Don’t forget to try bubble tea — a smoothie-like drink with tapioca pearls. Need a pick-me-up? Thai coffee is likely to do that. Whether it’s the caffeine or sugar is up for debate though.
Thai restaurants aren’t always known for their desserts, but if you’re feeling adventurous try the custard. It’s a sweet concoction made with coconut milk, palm sugar and rice paste. It’s served hot and if you’re turned off by texture, this may be one to pass up.
A few Thai restaurants in the area include: Thai Rak Thai in Scranton and Thai Thai with locations in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.
THE FINAL LEG
We’re almost back to reality, but we’re stopping in Ireland, France, Germany and Italy first. Whew.
The Blarney Stone, castles, lush green hills and Guinness await us in destination No. 8 — Ireland.
While not as easy to come by in NEPA, CrisNics in Wilkes-Barre and Kildare’s in Scranton, offer some traditional food even when green beer isn’t served.
Sausage, potatoes and vegetables are the main ingredients in many dishes. At CrisNics, an order of the Dublin coddle will get you some seasoned pork sausage, bacon, onions and diced potatoes — similar to hash browns. If you order bangers, a healthy portion of sausage, mashed potatoes and brown gravy will be delivered.
No trip to Ireland would be complete without Shepherd’s pie. CrisNics acknowledges their pie is different from what you’d expect. Their pies are open faced and packed with chopped meat, peas, carrots, mushrooms and thick brown gravy, topped with mashed potatoes.
Don’t forget to take a shot of Jameson.
While pasty shops and coffee spots abound in destination No. 9 — France — in NEPA there’s only one. Le Manhattan Bistro in Wilkes-Barre offers French cuisine. From traditional onion soup to quiche, the bistro hits the nail when it comes to French food. They even serve escargot (once you get over what you’re eating — snails, the butter and garlic makes it a delicious and fun appetizer. Hey, you’ll have a story to tell).
The bistro has a section on its menu that includes items such as Le coq au vin, braised chicken in red wine, duck confeit, duck leg with garlic and herb potatoes, beef bourguignon, braised beef stew in a red wine sauce and Nicoise salad topped with ahi tuna.
On to destination No. 10 — Italy.
Pizza, pasta, wine — it’s all Italian and all amazing. While nothing beats an over-the-counter Margherita pizza from Rome, some NEPA restaurants come pretty damn close. Leggio’s has locations in Plains and Dallas, Cafe Toscano in Wilkes-Barre, Pasquale’s Ristorante in Wilkes-Barre and Sambuca in Scranton can all bring a big amount of Italian spirit. Oh and don’t forget about La Festa Italiana in Scranton in the fall.
No Italian meal is complete without some gelato. If you can’t find a gelato stand, try the closest grocery store. It’s everywhere now.
One more stop, destination No. 11 — Germany.
It’s not for everyone but, The Alpine Wurst & Meat House in Honesdale is an experience. The outside resembles an authentic Brauhaus and the menu is concise. There’s a deli next door so if you clean your plate you can still go home with a little something.
The restaurant offers traditional German meats (bratwurst, knockwurst and kielbasa), smoked ham and Kassler Rippchen (pork chops).
Babka (a sweet yeast cake made popular with help from a Seinfeld episode) and apple strudel can end the German dining experience on a sweet note.
HOME AT LAST
With all that traveling, we’re sure you’ve worked up an appetite.
Check out Weekender’s menu guide insert for a wide variety of places to comer, essen, manger, tabemasu, manfiare, ithe — you know — eat!