Boston Herald: Boston hosts top cultural restaurants
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Published for The Boston Herald December 15 2018 Issue
Boston is one of most culturally diverse cities in America, according to a recent study, but finding the real tastes of those cultures takes some digging.
Four of the most culturally true restaurants — representing the food of Senegal, Poland, Morocco and the Philippines — are all within easy reach. Here’s a snapshot of the options:
Polonia, what the Polish call their home country, is the place for Polish comfort food. From Kielce, Poland, Tadeusz Barcikowski and his team go all-in on the Polish experience, with stone walls, authentic Polish woodwork, and Polish music in the background.
The South Boston restaurant has been featured in Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”
The recipes come from Barcikowski and his mother. Taste the whole experience with the Polish Plate, which has three pierogis, golabki, bigos (sauerkraut), and grilled kielbasa. Authentic, strong (9.5 percent alcohol) Polish beer like Porter and Zywiec are available.
Take the Red Line to Ashmont, then a bus to Jervin Erasquin’s traditional Filipino restaurant in Quincy. The 11-year-old restaurant offers an informal setting, with Filipino television programming in the background, the menu written on the wall with black markers, and the food prominently displayed.
Turo-Turo means points point. Erasquin designed the space like a typical Filipino carinderia restaurant, where guests come to the counter and point to the food they want. From Manila, Erasquin learned the recipes from his parents. He goes to Kamman, an Asian supermarket in Quincy, four times a week.
For a really exotic taste, order the dinuguan, a pork blood stew. The pork is cooked in vinegar and soy sauce then cooked with pig’s blood. The strong flavor of vinegar and soy sauce cuts the taste of pig’s blood. The black stew is garnished with green peppers.
“They come to the store for them to eat or feel at home,” Erasquin said. “Eating sinigang or adobo, you start eating it like ‘Oh this feels like home. This is how my mom cooks. This is the food that I grew up with.’ It’s comfort food.”
The taste of Senegal can be found in the South End in Marie-Claude Mendy’s restaurant. Teranga means hospitality, but in the Senegalese language Wolof, it means a way of life, a thinking.
Every three months, Mendy’s mother sends a big package of essential elements: baobab fruit powder, bissap, millet flour, dried and smoked seafood, honey, and palm oil. Mendy cooks the dishes herself. The other cooks mostly just do the prep.
Senegal’s national dish is ceebu jen — rice and fish. The food is served with broken jasmine rice, yucca, other vegetables, and whitefish, over a tomato broth. Mendy serves the fish bone-in, traditional in Senegal.
Fruity drinks from Senegal include buoye, a dried fruit from the baobab tree. The drink tastes like yogurt, almost like a dessert. Mendy calls it an African smoothie. Sorrel or bissap is an aromatic, fresh fruity drink.
In Somerville, sisters Amina Ghallay and Nouzha Ghallay offer the foods they loved growing up in Rabat, Morocco, at their eatery Moroccan Hospitality.
The space looks like a traditional Moroccan house, dimly lit but colorful, with orange walls. On both sides are long sofas with colorful pillows.
Recipes are handed down from their mother, the sisters say, using authentic ingredients from Safy Market in Malden. They buy oil, couscous, lamb and spices like saffron and cinnamon.
The chicken bastilla is an interesting blend of spices; it’s not the normal appetizer — it takes two days to make. Chicken and roasted almonds are cooked together and wrapped in phyllo dough, baked, then dusted with powdered sugar. Hints of cinnamon emerge, turning a dessert flavor into a homey, savory dish.
Moroccan Hospitality’s most popular dish are their lamb tajines. The lamb is cooked in saffron and served with a sweet tomato jam that takes 2-3 hours to make, with a side of mastica spiced pears. The lamb falls off the bone and the sweet tomato jam perfectly cuts the strong flavor of the lamb with sweetness.
“I always tell customers ‘We bring Morocco to you so you don’t have to go there,’ ” Nouzha Ghallay said.