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Ethiopian at Caboose Cafe
Photo: Caboose meat combo III, chicken infillay, beef alitcha, doro watt, zilzil tibbs, beg watt, with salad and “harvest veggie” (carrot, green bean, onion, and tomato), and gomen (collards).

You’d never know it from the coffee shop/soup & sandwich decor, but Caboose Cafe in Del Ray serves Ethiopian food at dinner Monday through Saturday. We’ve been back quite a few times for this unpretentious but delicious food. They go easy on the spice for the Del Ray-eans, so we promise the waitress we can take the heat. No raw kitfo, no tej, but a decent selection of dishes from the Ethiopian owners.

I love the “harvest veggie” in the vegan platter. When I asked the waitress what the dish is called in Ethiopia, she didn’t know, but my Time-Life African Cooking from 1970 has a photo/recipe of something that seems very similar called yataklete kilkil (potatoes, carrots, beans, onions, etc.). Why not just call it that on the menu?

They also sell bread (baguettes and rustic loaves) and they serve an ok soup and sandwich for lunch. Blah blah cafe stuff. Mancini’s down the street does a better breakfast. It’s the Ethiopian food that brings us back here.

Ethiopian at Caboose Cafe
Photo: Vegan sampler, miser watt, gomen, cabbage, kik alitcha, and harvest veggie (aka yataklete kilkil?).

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Saturday morning: Wake up! Let’s go to the Del Ray Farmers’ Market. Want some coffee to drink as we walk? We need to get things for dinner tonight with A, P, & E. They used to live in Naples, too. Let’s make a Neapolitan-style dinner, but with whatever we find at the market. Steve the butcher will have sausages. Let’s do a pasta with grilled sausages and a salad.

Del Ray Farmers' Market

Strawberries! That’s dessert. Easy.

Del Ray Farmers' Market

Mixed greens salad. Today our regular yogurt guy has homemade mozzarella. We’ll do a Caprese salad.

Del Ray Farmers' Market

I need some more herbs for the planting bed in the front yard. Dill, more parsley, never enough parsley, basil, they have Genovese basil. I’ll get Japanese eggplant, too.

Del Ray Farmers' Market

Ask the lady at the “Ask a Master Gardener” table when to plant tomatoes. She says we have time because the soil has not warmed up all the way. Next week would be a good time to put in tomatoes. Wanna have breakfast?

Del Ray Farmers' Market
Photo: Salteña from Marcela’s Bakery, 3856 Mt. Vernon Ave, sold at the Del Ray Farmers’ Market. The salsa is heavy on the cilantro.

The salteñas are good, yea? A bit large and unwieldy, but tasty. Today’s filling: beef and potato with celery, hardboiled egg, peas, and olives. Missing the raisins. Sometimes they put cilantro in the filling—not authentic to Bolivian salteñas—but today there wasn’t much. The crust is good, perhaps a bit too flaky.

Del Ray Farmers' Market

Such a talented young girl playing the violin, some local orchestra is having a bake sale. Look at that puppy at the Humane Society booth. He’s six-months-old? So cute. A Pit Bull mix? So sweet, but he’d tear up our new back garden. Sorry we can’t take him home… I love this place.

A Japanese friend who used to live in the Washington, D.C. area told me that I should check out Daruma, a small Japanese grocery store in Bethesda. We finally made it up there last weekend. Before we went shopping, we ate some decent ramen at Ren’s Ramen (the signs said “Sapporo style”), which is attached to the market. Memories of a freakishly delicious encounter with ramen in Sapporo made my mouth start watering when we parted the noren and peered into everyone’s bowls. The pork broth ramen was delicious, especially with a little pat of butter, corn kernels, and bean sprouts, which is indeed Sapporo style. Note: old reviews of Daruma mention a varied Japanese menu, now they serve ramen and gyoza.

Aji
Photo: Back home I made grilled aji (horse mackerel), rice, takuan and nasu pickles, miso soup.

If we shopped for 30 minutes, it wasn’t because we had far to go or much to see. The shop is small and there is not much variety. Yet there were good products and we found everything we wanted, katsuo bushi for stock, fresh unlabeled tofu (as in someone makes it locally), various pickles (takuan, the yellow daikon pickles, aka-jiso nasu-zuke, eggplant pickles tinted with red shiso leaves), and a few surprises: a bottle of good sake, two bags of my favorite Uonuma koshi-hikari rice, and frozen aji hirakiboshi (whole, split-open, lightly dried horse mackerel). I glazed my pleasure by speaking a bit o’Nihongo (“May we pay with a credit card?” never sounded so good) and tra la la off we went.

Next we stopped at a miraculous place that sells wine and beer AND booze in the same store! Thanks D.C.! We bought booze at Burka’s Wine & Liquor Store—a wonderful land where where one may buy wine and liquor under one roof, in large, overindulgent mixed cases. “Do we have enough gin?” Then we drove back to Virginia, land of the (unvoiced linguolabial trill) ABC store.

Tonight I made my man grilled aji with all the fixin’s. I’ve written about this kind of meal before. Life is good.

I may head back to Daruma just for the aji hirakiboshi. Now if I could only find fresh sanma

Cod
Photo: Cod with chips at Eamonn’s in Old Town Alexandria.

Oh chippers, with your golden crispy white flaky steamy fishy treasures. What mixed feelings I have about fish and chips…

Golden Hind: We lived in Marylebone during our two-year overseas tour in London. Carlos would walk to work straight down Baker Street to Portman Square. I took a train from Paddington Station to my office near Oxford. We drank at our local, ate at our favorite Lebanese place on Edgware Road, and shopped at our local butcher and at the Marylebone Farmers’ Market. When we wanted fish and chips, or when we were reenacting Ye Olde English tour for our houseguests, we’d walk down to Marylebone Lane, a narrow one-way, curving street that had once been a cart track beside a small stream. At the hanging sign with Drake’s ship, we’d enter the small chipper, point out the (decoration-only) antique fryer, sit in the “atmospheric” dining room, and order mushy peas and plates of haddock.

The Tool Kit
Photo: Tool kit.

Fryer’s Delight: Hell, every newspaper, every magazine, every Web site in Britain and Ireland does a periodic Best Chipper List. The reviews of Fryer’s Delight—written in breathless prose, which, in a time of no-fat eating, dared you to enter Sodom and Gomorrah—noted that they fried in beef tallow. So of course I headed east from Marylebone to Holborn to sit with the off-duty cabbies in a cloud of cigarette and grease fire smoke. The fish was oily and filling; it tasted of Geroge Orwell and D.H. Lawrence. I was sated but I never went back.

Eamonn's A Dublin Chipper
Photo: Eamonn’s

Eamonn’s, what’s all this Nostalgia? The place carries an aroma of fried food and homesickness for another country and another city culture. It pines for another time when the cod was cheap and plentiful. The chandeliers and wood paneling, the display of Cadbury’s chocolates, the chalkboard menu are trying to hit Joycean notes in an American town founded by Scots. You know this stage setting very well; it’s in every city around the world where there’s an Irish pub. Despite the Pogues playing on the sound system, we’re in America: the ketchup proves it.

Guinness

By the way, grouper doesn’t work for fish and chips. The taste was fine, but the texture too Sponge Bob Square Pants. Haddock was, and still is, the best replacement for cod in these dark days. Some argue, and I’d agree, haddock tastes better anyway.

Grouper
Photo: Grouper with chips.

Fish and chips is a strange delicacy. Two hundred years ago one could walk across the Atlantic on a bridge of cod. Today the Atlantic species are dying of overfishing and of global warming. Cod remains strangely resistant to human efforts to manage the fisheries. Even as haddock has slightly recovered, cod remains desperately threatened. I asked Eamonn’s for the source of their cod. I received a very friendly e-mail telling me it was sourced from Boston, caught by “day boats and shipped daily” to Alexandria. The foodie press, of course, rarely mentions the issue of the cod fisheries. Their silence is the silence I imposed on myself as I ate my meal looking at the front door with the motto: “Thanks be to Cod.” Thank you Cod, fare thee well.

Fish and chips shops must sell nostalgia because what was once the cheapest fish, the fish that fed so much of the Western world, is now expensive and scarce. We can continue to eat fish and chips using the less threatened fish, but a chipper is anachronism, a reminder of common meals for common people. In Old Town’s touristy and upscale streets, we drank expensive Guinness and ate our expensive and rare piece of dayboat cod. Even though the night we went the cod was excellent (the fries were just ok), I don’t know if I’ll be back.

I’ve been in the Washington, D.C. area for almost six weeks. I’ve passed by without regret innumerable cheap sushi and kitsch Japanese restaurants. I haven’t had a sip of sake since slowly getting sloshed in Narita Airport while waiting for my flight. The thought of eating disappointing Japanese food kept me from even looking at the maki rolls in Whole Foods.

But Saturday morning I woke up jonesing hard. I went to Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide (thanks, Mr. Cowen, for your very informative site) and read this:

Temari: Highly authentic, too authentic some would say.

Yes, yes, yes, yes. I needed the sound of Japanese cooking shows blaring from the TV and the enveloping aroma of dashi, grilled fish, ramen broth, and perhaps—did I dare hope?—an irrashaimase when we walked in the door?

Temari cafe
Photo: Temari Cafe. Sake, ramen, grilled fish, donburi, the works.

So off my husband and I went to Rockville, 45 minutes on the metro and a short cab ride to Temari Cafe, a little slice of Japan in Maryland. That is to say, the sort of place from which one would expect a basic home style meal, not a gourmet place: the Japanese equivalent of a diner. The rice wasn’t top quality (it had a dusty taste). The miso soup was tasty, but not extraordinary. The cold tofu was nowhere near the kind of quality I would expect in Japan. The fish tasted good but was not perfectly grilled. Still, it had a taste of a sake marinade, and I picked and picked at the fish bone to get every morsel off it. The tonkatsu was average. Despite all that, we enjoyed the hell out of our meals. Perhaps when one is jonesing for the real thing, one is a bit forgiving.

It was what we were looking for: honest Japanese grub, not trying to be anything too fancy, too Americanized. Was it transporting? No. It was decent food, not exactly cheap, but decent. None of this is new information if you follow the D.C. food blogs. Temari has been written up and written up again. But it was a little taste of home, home? This American is still confused where she lives.

Black cod set
Photo: Lunch set of grilled black cod with rice, pickles, and miso soup.

Salad and tofu sides
Photo: The black cod set also included salad and hiyadofu (cold tofu with scallions and bonito flakes).

Mr. Cowen is imprecise when he writes, “Here you will encounter the other side of Japanese food.” This isn’t the “other side” at all, it is Japanese food. If you have never lived in Japan, you might not understand that what many people think of when they think of Japanese food—sushi—is not daily fare even in Japan. Sushi is expensive, and even if you serve it at home, the fish must be top grade and is never cheap. Yes, there are inexpensive sushi places in Japan, but the best sushi, the transporting delights, the freshest, most wonderful sushi is a treat, a celebratory meal. Sushi is only one small part of how Japanese people eat fish and seafood.

If you really want to make a Japanese friend smile, don’t invite him or her to a sushi place. Invite your friend home for a perfectly fresh piece of grilled fish (whole or at least a piece on the bone) with a mound of grated daikon, a homemade miso soup, and a bowl of high quality Japanese rice.

Tonkatsu set
Photo: Tonkatsu set (fried pork cutlet, miso soup, rice, pickles). A salad was also included in this set.

After our lunch we walked upstairs to Maruichi Grocery and picked up Japanese staples like kombu and bonito flakes for stock, soy sauce, brown rice vinegar, and sake. It’s a tiny place, but they carry a respectable range of products. I was impressed with some of the sake brands they carry, some junmais and ginjos. I saw some old friends in bottles on the shelves, but at two and three times the price in Japan. (Sigh.) I bought a decent Otokoyama tokubetsu junmai for drinking and cooking. Then, I was delighted to find this:

Uonuma rice
Photo: Uonuma rice from Niigata. Top quality, delicious rice. What I’ve been craving for weeks.

Uonuma rice from Niigata is extraordinary rice. I won’t make it every day, it’s quite expensive. But when I make Japanese food, and I want clean, white, fragrant, glorious rice, this is Japan in a bowl.

Temari Cafe and Maruichi Grocery are located in the same strip mall: 1043 and 1049 Rockville Pike (Talbott Center), a five-minute cab ride from the Rockville metro station.

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