Charleston, a town with many a restaurant opening these days, has picked up a doozie this summer. Leon’s Oyster Shop, on upper King Street, is raising the bar for casual (but impeccable) new Southern food in Charleston.
It’s all about simplicity, and the details. Brooks Reitz and Tim Mink have put their stamp on everything, from the seamless, warm design, to the way in which the three different fresh herbs in the Siam Salad are sliced.
When I’m cooking at home with Southern ingredients common in farmers markets throughout the South — like sweet potatoes, watermelon, corn, rice, okra, and more — I think about places like North Africa, Peru, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, and the links between those places and the South.
With that connection in mind, here are a few shots from my trip to Southeast Asia earlier this year. The image above is of rice paper being made at a delta-side production facility I visited. Rice goes into just about everything in Vietnamese cuisine, and Charleston, of course, was once the world’s largest rice producer.
Click Read More, below, for more pictures from my trip to Vietnam and the Mekong Delta.
Good bread, good ricotta, good olive oil — a simple crostini — hitting the spot this Saturday morning.
I’m thinking back today on my trip to Peru last week, and what made the food there so amazing. In part, it’s the diversity of Peru’s landscape and climate types. Lima is nestled against the West coast on the Pacific Ocean, so Lima itself is almost desert / Mediterranean-like, similar to San Diego. But the Andes quickly rise up inland to the East, meaning cheeses, potatoes, and meats are made, grown, raised, and cured in the cooler clime. Still further East, the mountains drop down to the Amazon basin, where tropical fruits and vegetables grow and freshwater fish swim. The variety is unbelievable, and that, along with the influence of native, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and European cooking, makes for a mind-blowing cuisine.
On my recent trip to Vietnam, I went to a floating market in the Mekong Delta, about two hours west of Ho Chi Minh City. We saw more sweet potatoes and watermelons than any other vegetable at the market. I didn’t expect sweet potatoes (and okra, watermelon, and squash) to be so common in Asia, but they were everywhere I went, making me feel at home in markets, restaurants, and on the streets, from Japan throughout Southeast Asia. In Ho Chi Minh city they were a common street food snack, usually served with hard-boiled quail eggs and a fiery dipping sauce. It was all good inspiration as these ingredients start coming into season here in the South.