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I Confess: I’m a Donut Enthusiast

The Donut: under-represented, belittled as merely a breakfast food, often the victim of foodie scorn and pretension. Maybe some of you will think I should turn in my foodie badge for saying the following, but I think donuts are simply wonderful. They are highly undervalued in the dessert world and are sadly often written off as a convenient pastry to accompany one’s morning coffee.

a delicious box of donuts

I disagree – and here’s why.

For starters, the texture of the donut is unlike most other baked desserts. Cakes tend to be denser while other baked desserts such as the cookie or a bar are usually chewier. Contrastingly, the donut is incredibly airy and light, even though it is fried in the cooking process.

Additionally, the fact that the glaze is usually only on half of the donut gives the consumer a varied eating experience: you can alternate bites with the glaze and sprinkles with bites of the underside of the doughnut which has a plainer yet just as satisfying doughy taste. What’s better? If your doughnut isn’t made fresh (which really does make all the difference between a good doughnut and a great doughnut), you can stick it in the microwave for ten seconds and doughnut seemingly melts in your mouth.

Furthermore, making a good donut requires a lot more skill and patience than most other dessert. Chances are that you’ve probably made many more cakes than donuts, if ever. Why? It’s a rare skill to be able to make donuts (which are fluffy, sweetened moderately, and perfectly shaped) in your own kitchen.

Lastly there are hundreds of different cultural variants for each individual’s tastes. For those too sophisticated to enjoy a donut, there is the French beignet – usually square in shape and topped with powdered sugar and syrup. Or, one may be a fan of the Greek doughnut, also known as loukoumades, which are similar to doughnut holes but are soaked in honey and cinnamon. Surprisingly, the doughnut also makes appearances in Asian cultures. For example, in Northern Indian and Pakistani cuisine, one will find balushahi, fried rings of refined wheat flour.

So, have I convinced you that the doughnut should be considered a dessert? Or are you still a believer that the doughnut is a satisfying breakfast food but nothing else? I’d love to hear your opinions!

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Urbann Turbann: “the Indian Chipotle”

Indian fast food is pretty rare at Berkeley. Sure, there are places like House of Curries and Naan ‘n’ Curry where you can get your favorite Indian dishes to go, but none of them are really “fast food” in the traditional sense of the word. Urbann Turbann, located near the North Gate of Berkeley, boldly defies Indian food norms.

Urbann Turbann's interior

Known to many Berkeley Students (and aptly so) as “the Indian Chipotle”, Urbann Turbann is organized in the similar fashion to its (faux) Mexican counterpart — pick a bowl or a wrap, select a meat, choose your vegetables, finish with chutneys. The entire process is just as fast as Chipotle’s (perhaps faster) — when I arrived at Urbann Turbann on a Thursday evening, there were at least 8 people in front of me, but I had my food in my hands in around 15 minutes.

I ordered a tandoori chicken naan wrap — because it consisted of so many different ingredients, let me go component by component:

1. The naan was satisfying but largely standard. It was freshly made and had a good balance of a slightly crispy outside with a fluffier interior. Urbann Turbann’s portions are pretty large so if you aren’t very hungry, I would suggest considering getting a rice bowl instead because the naan will get soggy if not eaten right away.

2. The tandoori chicken was nicely flavored and tender. The best part? The sheer amount of meat they put in my wrap. Seriously. The meat-to-everything else ratio was probably around 2-1. Next time I look forward to trying the seekh kabob (spiced beef) for a greater kick of spice.

Tandoori Chicken Wrap

3. The vegetables were fresh and crisp. I got diced cucumbers, onions and tomatoes in addition to green chiles. My only complained regarding the vegetables is that I wish their green chiles were spicier — I couldn’t even tell my wrap had freshly sliced chiles.

4. The chutneys (“Indian salsas”) — I chose three different sauces: first, the hot mint and cilantro, which, to anyone who is familiar with Indian food is the classic green sauce served with most Indian appetizers. This sauce is nice because the mint adds a certain freshness that is hard to achieve in most other shops. The second sauce I tried was fiery tomato, habanero, and cumin chutney. This was rather disappointing — either there was not enough in my wrap or it was not actually spicy (given that it has habanero chilies, I am guessing that this is likely not the case). Lastly, I tried “mild coconut”. This was a confusing “sauce” given that it appeared more to be shredded coconut rather than an actual sauce, but it still gave the flavors of the wrap another dimension. All in all, the sauces were hit and miss. Next time, I will definitely ask for more of the sauces and hope my wrap turns out to be more adequately spicy.

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S’MAC: Mac and Cheese Like Never Before

S’MAC, also known as Sarita’s Mac and Cheese, takes the simple dish of Macaroni and Cheese and brings it to an entirely new level. This quick and simple restaurant has quite a few different flavors that can cater mac and cheese to any audience.

Here is a list of the flavors that I have tried, ranked in order.

(Note: that these are merely my opinions. These opinions are all fiercely contested among S’MAC fans.)

1. The Four Cheese-this is the holy grail of mac and cheese. The “quattro fromaggios” featured are Cheddar, Gruyere, Muenster and Pecorino. Although some disagree about what the best flavor is, the Four Cheese is, on balance, the most popular. The fresh cheeses are all seperated on to different sections of the pasta, so you can enjoy four distinct flavors in the same meal.

2. The Cajun-this is quite good. It has a balance of meat, cheese, and vegetarian flavor. The green pepper and onion give it a crunchy texture and a bit of heat. If you like a mild amount of spice or like Cajun food, you won’t be disappointed.

3. Napoletana-simple mac and cheese with an Italian spin. As its name suggests, it is quite similar to the basic Italian pizza, featuring chopped up tomato, basil, and garlic. My opinion on it is similar to the classic Margherita pizza: great, but simple without much innovation over the traditional mac and cheese.

4.The All American-this is the classic and original flavor that we associate with mac and cheese. Although it is nearly impossible to dislike, it is designed to be plain and simply. For most, it lacks enough flavor, but if you are in the mood for classic mac and cheese, this isn’t a bad option.

5. Buffalo Chicken-this is the most divisive item on the menu. Certain people love this, while the others rank it at the bottom of the list. Although the sauce does give the pasta a bit of extra flavor, I thought it overwhelmed the cheese and breadcrumbs–I could only taste buffalo sauce. However, others, like Ishita, enjoyed the chicken and buffalo sauce. As a general rule: if you love buffalo wings, you’ll probably like this.

6. Parisian-“overly ambitious”. It features shitake mushrooms and figs, as well as rosemary. Although it sounds good and elegant on the menu, S’MAC is a delivery mac and cheese shop. Most people agree the ingrediants don’t jive well. My advice: avoid this.

After the Four Cheese, the best thing about S’MAC is that it delivers to most areas in Manhattan. The restaurant is fun to go to, but nothing special. It is a bit small and can be crowded sometimes.

But, when you don’t want to leave your room, nothing beats S’MAC. It is really good food, with great value and a convenient delivery service.

(Note: the delivery guy never lets you keep the receipt. No one really knows why, but since he doesn’t speak English very well, you should let it slide and go with the flow.)

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Num Pang Sandwich Shop: The best sandwich in New York

No, the best sandwich in New York is not a pastrami sandwich from Katz, or any other classic New York delicatessen. Zagat gave the award to this quick and informal Cambodian sandwich shop near Union Square, on University and 12th Street.

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Num Pang Sandwich Shop

(Note: the anonymous hipster is not guaranteed during your visit.)

The sandwiches are an interesting fusion of European and Asian cuisine. While the legacy of French occupation has influenced this particular Cambodian food item, the meat and veggies within the sandwich have a very particular Asian flavor. The foundation of Num Pang is the soft, freshly toasted baguette roll, while the flavors inside the sandwich can vary from sweet Asian sauces to spicy styles of meat familiar in Thai restaurants.

Inside, each sandwich comes with a homemade chili mayo sauce, cilantro, carrots, and cucumber. The sauce complements the meat with both a creamy essence and a bit of heat. Similarly, the veggies do not distract from the flavor of the meat, but give the sandwich an interesting crunchy texture.

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The Grilled Khmer Sausage sandwich

Ishita and I ordered two sandwiches:

The Pulled Duroc sandwich is very sweet. The quality and taste of the pork itself is quite good, but the base of the dish is a spiced Honey sauce. If you enjoy foods like sweet flavors with meat, like sweet and sour sauce or teriyaki, you will enjoy this.

The Grilled Khmer Sausage sandwich takes a different approach. The sausage was leaner and thicker than the pork. The taste was characterized by a bit of spice and heat, as well as the smoky, lean taste of the sausage. Even as an avid lover of sweet foods, this sandwich was the better option.

In addition to the sandwiches, there are a multitude of interesting Asian drinks, ranging from teas, Ginger Beer, and watermelon juice. I personally recommend the “blood orange lemonade”.

The restaurant itself is designed for take-out and on to go eaters, but there is a small eating area on the second floor if you feel like sitting down. The restaurant can be a bit busy sometimes, but it’s well worth the wait.

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Filed under Greenwich Village, New York Restaurants, Uncategorized

Welcome to The Gourmet Life

Hey there!
We’re two college students living in the food capitals of the US — the Bay Area and New York City. We enjoy sampling food from a wide variety of cuisines and exploring unique gastronomical creations. On Welcome to The Gourmet Life, we hope to share some of our favorite restaurant picks and general food commentary.

Hope you enjoy and bon appétit!
Robert Baldwin and Ishita Arora

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