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Food tourists versus food pilgrims, and the cultural responsibility of both


When food lovers travel it's often to find and enjoy a very specific food, dine at a well-known restaurant, shop at a popular market, or discover the origin point for a certain cuisine. But have you ever wondered about the lasting effect that our food-centric travels have on the people and economy of the places we visit? Dr. Lucy Long not only thinks about, she researches the results as part of her work with Bowling Green State University and the Center for Food and Culture (CFC). As she explained to Emily Thomas, host of the BBC's Food Chain, Long is working to promote cultural responsibility for both food tourists and food pilgrims - and she explained the difference between those two types of travelers.

Lucy Long: I lived in Spain for a year. Part of what I was doing was studying the food culture, and people kept telling me that I needed to go to the north of Spain during a certain season and try their bean soups. I was told that every village had their own variety of bean and would make these into soup or stew. And people who were knowledgeable about this tradition, they could look at a bean and tell that it came from a particular village. They'd spend a day, maybe a weekend, traveling to these villages to eat these beans.

I did go to one or two restaurants in villages and try these. To me, it was just bean soup. I was eating out of curiosity. I didn't have enough knowledge to fully appreciate the distinctions that were being made. I wasn't going there as a pilgrim; I was going there as a tourist. I could definitely tell that some of the other eaters were there as pilgrims because they were eating very carefully, they were tasting very carefully, and they were experiencing this on a much deeper level that just eating some bean soup.

Emily Thomas: What is the difference, then, between a food tourist and a food pilgrim?

Mourad Lahlou
Lucy Long
Photo Courtesy: Center for Food and Culture

LL: A food tourist tends to be primarily motivated by curiosity about a food, whereas a food pilgrim is very knowledgeable. There's a sense of seeking the sacred and seeking the authentic, but authenticity also tends to mean that it's unmediated by marketing concerns or by trying to adjust taste to different audiences.

ET: Why is it that people seek this out? Why do you think people develop these obsessions for certain foods or restaurants?

LL: That's where looking at this as a food pilgrimage is helpful. Technically, pilgrimages were journeys that were assigned by the church to people to atone for something, and at the end of their pilgrimage, they were then transformed back into an innocent person. They atoned for their transgressions. Now, I'm not saying that food pilgrims today are trying to atone for any transgressions, but they are seeking some kind of a transformation.

ET: Can you be transformed through that experience? Does that offer them transformation?

LL: I think that's possible. When you eat food in the context in which that food developed, you start understanding the logic of it. You start understanding why certain choices were made for ingredients or certain preparation methods. You start seeing what that food means to the people in that particular context. You're able to gain a fuller understanding of the food as an aesthetic form, but you also are able to experience it as a cultural form, so that it's not just about the taste. It's about the meanings that are being given to it by the people who developed it.

ET: Do you think there is anything wrong with the way that the tourism industry uses people's interest in food? Is it to be encouraged, these long journeys across the world to experience local cuisine?

LL: Well, food tourism that is done without sensitivity can have massively harmful effects on a food culture, on the host community, the economy, the local environment. Frequently the tourism industry, in order to attract the tourist, focuses on finding dishes, ingredients, or ways of eating that are very different and considered very exotic. That frequently, then, exoticizes the whole culture. It takes foods that are not necessarily the most representative foods of a culture, but because it's different for the tourist, that's the food that's highlighted. A good example of that is you go to Peru and have llama meat. It is something that is eaten occasionally in Peru, but the restaurants that are catering to tourists feature it on their menu. So, now people are thinking the national food of Peru is llama.

ET: Does this have economic effects when one food is emphasized above another for tourism?

LL: Yes. It can end up changing the local economy. If there's a food that is generally used just for celebrations, for example, and now there's much more of a market for it. Then farmers end up shifting from growing one food to another, producing that food just for the tourism market, and it shifts the whole economic commodity chain in that way. It can also have massive environmental impacts. If local farmers are going to mono-cropping – only raising that one thing – that can be very bad for the environment. Overfishing and overharvesting happens, just for the tourism market.

ET: So, there can be irresponsible food tourism, but can there be irresponsible food pilgrimages?

LL: Probably yes.

ET: How can a person be a responsible food pilgrim or a responsible food tourist?

LL: I think, first of all, recognition of the complexity of food, that food itself carries people's identities and carries their histories. If you're consuming a food purely for its aesthetic qualities, that's fine, but when it comes to then creating a market and emphasizing that particular food over others, we need to be aware that these are identities that are being traded off.

Eating your way through history: an international food tour of Dubai


You may think of Dubai as the most wildly opulent place in the world, a city in the desert with both indoor tropical rainforests and ski slopes. But there's a fascinating and important other side to it - Old Dubai, where migrants and refugees from all over the Middle East and beyond have come for safety or opportunity. Arva Ahmed was raised there by parents who came from India, and is passionate about leading food tours in her hometown as a way to tell stories while making you salivate. Her Frying Pan Adventures include tastings and cooking classes in parts of the city that few tourists and newer expats visit, areas called home by dozens of nationalities. She also shares all the culinary treasures of Dubai with the world as co-host of The Frying Pan Diaries podcast.

Francis Lam: You lead food tours through the city for, I'm assuming, primarily international travelers and guests. What tends to surprise them when you take them around?

Arva Ahmed: You'd be surprised that we take a lot of residents in Dubai on our tours as well. Because people live off in their own neighborhood, they're not coming back to the old side of town, which is where I've grown up and where I live. So, there's this sort of disconnect between the two sides of town - both of which are very authentic, mind you. The tallest building, having the world's most expensive cupcake or cocktail or whatever you're having, sitting up on the nth floor of the best building in the world. That is Dubai. That luxurious experience is Dubai.

But at the same time, the side of town where I live is also extremely authentic, and that's the side of town that reminds me of my childhood. To your question about what surprises people - as you mentioned, people see Dubai as this very modern, sleek, luxurious destination. It's sort of this artificial Disneyland of sorts in the region, and they don't expect that you have all of these layers of culture that are stacked up in the communities here. When people come on our experiences, we make it a point to not just feed them, but we use all of the different communities and the cultures and specifically the plates that are coming out to talk about food history and culture in the region.

It's a statement not just about the diversity of Dubai, but about how important food history and culture is in the broader region, and we can do that in Dubai. We are the place that brings together foods of even cultures in conflict. You might not be able to travel to Iraq right now. You may not be able to travel to Syria. You may not be able to travel to Afghanistan. But just sitting where I am right now, I can go out and have those meals within a 15 minute driving radius, and that to me is fantastic.

Arva Ahmed
Photo: Airspectiv Media

FL: If we were to go out with you, looking out your window in whatever direction you want to take us in, what are some of those neighborhoods? Who would we meet there and what would we eat there?

AA: The neighborhood that I've lived in since 1989 used to be primarily Middle Eastern. A lot of people from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and so on. So a lot of the restaurants have that very Middle Eastern focus. For example, we could go one street down and we could have Palestinian-style stuffed falafels, and they're stuffed with chili paste, which we call shatta. They're stuffed with sumac, which is this sour berry that tastes very much like lemons, and they make it in a handmade sort of mold, like an ice cream scoop, but for falafels. They crust it up with sesame seeds and deep fry it. And even their hummus is different because, typically you just serve your chickpeas and tahina, but the way the Palestinians and Jordanians do it is they splash this spicy sauce over it. It's more pungent than spicy. It's green bell peppers, chili peppers, lemon juice and garlic almost blitzed together like a salsa verde, and they just splash it over the hummus and it kicks up the whole flavor level a notch. So you can have Palestinian food.

You can go down the street and have Iraqi food just steps away from that, which means you can have masgouf. Masgouf is a kind of bottom feeder fish that typically, in other parts of the world, you would disregard. I believe in Australia they convert it into fertilizer. But, it's an ancient cooking technique of cutting this massive fish - the minimum weight is about two kilograms. You slice it open. It has to be done is a certain way. You slow cook it around a wood fire to smoke it for about 45 minutes and then you scoop it up with fresh bread out of the tannur oven with mango pickle called amba, tomatoes, a kind of basil leaf that we call reyhan, and onions, and it is simply delicious.

These are walking distance from where I stay now. You cross the creek, you go to the other side and then you land up in India Town. You land up in Meena Bazaar - that's got a lot of really old restaurants, some of which have even been around before the country became a country in 1971 - and you can have a mix of North Indian style street food. You can have dosas, idlis and farahs from South India. So, really, it's this mess of cultures that's just waiting to be tasted.

Arva Ahmed leads food tours of Dubai with Frying Pan Adventures. Stops include restaurants, street vendors, markets and spice shops.
Photos: Airspectiv Media

FL: And I'm really fascinated by what you said before, especially about the people who are coming from places where there's conflict. And they didn't necessarily leave because they wanted a better life or because they wanted to go somewhere else. They left because they had to. And I would imagine that impulse to hold on to what they can remember is intense.

AA: I completely agree. We don't just have people opening restaurants. There are cookbook authors here who feel compelled to write about their recipes, but also the stories behind the recipes, because some of these dishes, they don't taste the same. Not because of the ingredients, but because you didn't have the background behind where that dish was originally eaten, why it was eaten, how it was meant to be eaten. All of that really adds to the flavor behind the dish, because nostalgia is that X factor. It's that flavor component that you just can't replicate. And I think a lot of people feel this need to start showcasing some of the specialty dishes. When I was growing up, it was a lot of the standard Lebanese, but commercial Lebanese - falafel, hummus, shwarma. You had your basic Indian restaurants, a lot of cafeterias doing juices and shwarmas. At that time, we didn't have the nuanced food culture that Dubai has currently. Over time, people have developed this appetite to want to learn. They want to experiment, they want to move past the hummus and the falafels, and they want to start learning about the special Palestinian chicken pie called musakhan from Palestine, or the Syrian fatteh, which is this beautiful crumble dish with warm yogurt, butter, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. There is an appetite to want to start discovering what are those authentic flavors in whatever form that it is replayed today. And I also see some really interesting innovations happening that I think maybe would not be accepted back in their home cultures.

Arva's food tours include a wide range of foods from Middle Eastern countries all often within walking distance.
Photos: Airspectiv Media

FL: Interesting.

AA: So, for example, there's a baker down my street who mixes three ingredients that I'm quite positive are not meant to be mixed together. Because I've had people from the Middle East coming on my tour and they feel appalled that you would mix ful medames, which is the slow cooked fava beans done Egyptian-style with chili paste, which is shatta, and labneh, which is hung yogurt, in one fatire, which is sort of like a calzone pastry. You would never do that.

FL: That sounds incredible.

AA: Yeah. You've broken all kinds of rules. That is blasphemous. And I have found those same people who say that it's blasphemous lurking around on my streets coming back for exactly that. So in some cases I think it's good to break a few rules. You push your boundaries and you start blending ingredients, and isn't that actually how the world evolves and continues to evolve to begin with?

FL: Yeah. Especially there. You're in a new place, you're living a new life, you've got to make your new pastries.

AA: Absolutely.

In defense of flour tortillas: an origin story with Gustavo Arellano


Recently, we had a guest named Jorge Gaviria, who is a corn tortilla evangelist. Francis Lam talked with him about corn tortillas, and it got us more excited about corn tortillas than we'd ever felt before. Since then, we realized that flour tortillas have lost a lot of love. So, we wanted to give them equal time in the Great Tortilla Debate. Enter writer and taco historian Gustavo Arellano, who told Francis that we should be giving flour tortillas a second look - and taste.

Francis Lam: You used to write a column called 'Ask a Mexican', so now I want to ask a Mexican: How do most Mexicans feel about flour tortillas?

Gustavo Arellano: In Mexico, most Mexicans don't even have an opinion about flour tortillas because they're historically situated in The Borderlands of Northern Mexico – right on the U.S./Mexico border. As a result, historically, Northern Mexico has always been considered a land apart - la tierra de los salvajes or 'the land of the savages.' That's in Mexico. Then, of course, in the United States, the great Mexican food evangelists see flour tortillas as a gabacho or a white appropriation of Mexican food, which is totally not the case.

Gustavo Arellano
Gustavo Arellano
Photo Courtesy: Gustavo Arellano

FL: Why is it not the case? Because when I think of flour tortillas, I think of, frankly, Taco Bell and this very commodified version of Mexican food. But, it's not exactly that.

GA: No, because you have never had a good flour tortilla in your life. That's why you think that. Most people who think of flour tortillas as commodified, you're right. I wouldn't even say Taco Bell anymore. I would say most people who know flour tortillas now know the Chipotle model, which is mass produced. And it's funny because Chipotle has historically always liked to promote their organic, fair trade, humanely raised ingredients – they sure as hell don't do that with flour tortillas.

What I would tell those people, first of all, is that flour tortillas are Mexican. They are eaten in Northern Mexico which, last I checked, was a part of Mexico. They are eaten on The Borderlands, which 150 years ago was still Mexico. And, more importantly, to this day they're eaten by millions of Mexican-Americans in the United States all with their own unique traditions. Anyone who hates on flour tortillas, I would say they have not eaten a good flour tortilla. But, this is why there are people like me and you to tell people where the good stuff is.

FL: It's funny you say that because I do feel like I've had a good flour tortilla. I don't know if objectively in the universe of good flour tortillas where it would stack up. But the first restaurant that made me truly love Mexican food - it was my first exposure to Mexican food that wasn't something like a Taco Bell - was a place call La Fiesta Mexicana in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I remember the tortillas were chewy and they had so much texture and character. I'd ask why they were good and the people said, "It's because we make them ourselves by hand. They're not from a machine." But every time I'd ask for them, they would look at me with a sad look of disappointment in their eyes, because they really wanted me to ask for the corn tortillas. Let's talk about the universe of good flour tortillas. You say they're parts of different kinds of Mexican tradition. Are they regional? Are there different styles?

GA: Absolutely. The taxonomy that I use isn't Mexico itself, because obviously to get those tortillas you're going to have to go down to Mexico. But here in the United States you could easily get them if you follow this manter. In Texas, the style of tortilla that you're talking about is the classic Tex-Mex tortilla. It's thick, chewy, and almost like a biscuit because the Texans – those los texanos – actually use baking powder in it. It's a tradition. And the tell-tale sign is when they start puffing up on the comal, on the griddle. They get big. Sometimes they can get as big as a roti, like that Indian flatbread as well.

FL: Oh, wow.

GA: Then you move over to New Mexico. New Mexico tends to be a little bit forgotten in the great flour tortilla wars between Texas and Arizona. I like New Mexico's style of flour tortillas because they're less thick than the Texas type, but they're also wheatier. In New Mexico, when they get their flour tortillas, they're using the wheat from New Mexico. So, in that sense it's very regional. But for me and a lot of people, the king of the flour tortilla is going be the Sonoran-style flour tortilla. Even in Arizona, what people would call Arizona-Mexican cuisine, back there they call it just Sonoran cuisine. This is where you get flour tortillas that are literally as thin as a napkin. They're translucent, pliable, buttery and amazing. They could be as small as your hand or as big as a forearm. The famous tortillas of Sonora that are the super big ones are called sobaqueras. Colloquially they're called sobaqueras, which basically means arm-pitters, because they're as big as putting it from your hand all the way to your armpit.

FL: That's so poetic.

GA: [laughs] That's the colloquial name.

FL: That's huge! I don't even know how much food you would put in that tortilla.

I'm curious about the history of the flour tortilla. We recently talked to two chefs who were looking into the Moorish influence on Mexican food. I think primarily through the fact that the Moors conquered Spain and ruled Spain for 800 years right before Spain came to the new world. So, there's going to be a lot of Moorish influence in that Spanish culture that came to the new world. And this may be goofy – and I'm probably totally wrong – but is it possible there's a link between pita or Moorish flatbreads and the flour tortilla?

GA: There has to be - from the Leventine. And, depending on the decade, sometimes people say it's a Jewish influence. Sometimes people say it's a Moorish influence. The reality is no one really knows how flour tortillas got started in Mexico except that it was done, again, up in Northern Mexico. But here's the key about Northern Mexico. You have to imagine we're talking about the 1500s, the 1600s, where the country of Mexico is still being conquered by the Spaniards. The Spaniards are sending people off to basically subjugate tribes. A lot of the people who wanted to go to the most northern outreaches – we're talking about New Mexico, Chihuahua and all that – these are people that in Spain were already quote, unquote "mongrels." They were undesirables. So, you're getting a lot of people who are Jews – hidden Jews, mind you, because we're still in the Inquisition – and you're also going to get Muslims as well, the Moros. They're going up there and they're going to use whatever they can to be able to recreate not just the foods of the quote, unquote "Spaniards," but also their native cuisine.

I wouldn't even say the tortilla is like a pita. I would call it almost more like a lavash, like a Persian flatbread. I remember the first time I went to a Persian restaurant. Here I have this rice pilaf and fesenjoon, the great walnut stew that I personally think looks like a mole. Here I'm expecting this pita bread. Nope! They give me big squares of lavash. And I'm thinking to myself, "Are they Mexican or something? Because this looks exactly like a flour tortilla."

FL: Oh, that's fascinating. The world is so big, but sometimes it's so small.

GA: I love it!

America's Test Kitchen discovers Wisconsin spicy cheese bread


Wisconsin is a state that prides itself on cheese, cheese production, and cheese loving. So, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that a fan favorite snack at a famous famers market in Madison, Wisconsin is bread baked with chunks of cheese inside. Managing Producer Sally Swift talks with Tucker Shaw, from America's Test Kitchen, about the spicy, cheesy treat and how to make it at home. You can bake the Cook's Country recipe for Spicy Cheese Bread. As Tucker suggests, be sure it set some aside for grilled cheese toast the next day!

Sally Swift: I have been thinking about farmers markets lately, and there is one in Madison, Wisconsin that is just beautiful. It surrounds the capitol and it's been there for years. I have heard that one of the things that people buy all the time at that market is this cheese bread. You guys have done a little work on it?

Tucker Shaw: It's true. As with many farmers markets, thousands of people go every week to look over the tomatoes and lettuce, but they line up for this cheese bread in Madison. Our food editor paid a visit to the Dane County Farmers' Market a couple of years ago and he brought back these stories of this spicy cheese bread that's served by Stella's Bakery, a stall in the market. Just hearing him talk about it, we knew it was something we had to investigate a little bit more.

Tucker Shaw
Tucker Shaw
Photo: America's Test Kitchen

SS: I am quite certain I have never had good cheese bread. Tell me what you guys did to duplicate this recipe. What's the key?

TS: This bread looks like a big, round loaf. Rather than grated cheese that's baked into it, it's got these pockets of cheese, so when the bread is warm, you pull it apart and you get these melty, oozy gorgeous bits. It also comes with a healthy dose of red pepper flakes, so you also get this spiciness that makes you want to take another bite. When you go to the farmers market you get a whiff of bread and you wander around the market the rest of the day tearing off a piece and eating it. We thought that this is great if you're in Wisconsin, but this kind of experience should be shared with the rest of the country. So, as we often do in this country, we take inspiration from this original recipe, then find a way to not exactly duplicate it, but to get something that is inspired by it and sort of hits all the same buttons.

SS: What do we need to do?

TS: To start, this is a great bread if you're not an experienced bread maker. We published the recipe a couple of years ago and it's taken a life of its own; people still talk about this bread. It's a very simple dough to work with, similar to a challah dough, so it's rather soft. You basically take flour, sugar, yeast, and salt, warm water, eggs, and butter, and stick it in your stand mixer; let the stand mixer do the kneading work for you. Leave it in there kneading away from 8 to 10 minutes.

ALT INFORecipe: Spicy Cheese Bread

SS: I'm surprised by the sweet part.

TS: It's not too much sugar, just enough to give it a little bit of a sweetness. It's almost hard to detect when you eat it, but it does even things out a little bit. You've kneaded your bread and put it in a greased bowl and, of course as with any bread, you've got to walk away for an hour or so to let it rise. And then you're going to take it out and you're going to roll it into a rectangle and punch it down. This will help release some of the air that's come in there, because you don't want huge air pockets in this bread. You want it fairly close structure so it'll hold onto the cheese that you're about to add. You sprinkle over the top huge cubes of provolone and Monterey Jack cheese, and a good spoonful of red pepper flakes. You then take this rectangle, roll it into a log, and spiral it into a cake pan. The cake pan is the key to holding this beautiful round spiral shape. The dough will rise – and then also bake – in the cake pan. Once you've spiraled it in there, you don't have to take it out until it's finished and ready to eat.

SS: And you just pop that right in the oven. It sounds great. I can just imagine that toasted.

TS: It's so good. First of all, if you have any left over, which, depending on how many people are in the house, is unlikely. When you slice this the next day and toast it in the oven – I'm not sure I would put it in the toaster depending on how much you love your toaster – it's almost like a self-contained grilled cheese sandwich. You've got the cheese, you've got toasty bread. It's all ready to go for you. If you haven't baked bread before, please do it because you will fancy yourself a bread baker after doing cheese bread.

New restaurant Amara showcases connection between Moroccan and Mexican flavors


Mourad Lahlou came to America from Morocco, not to work in restaurants, but to study economics, until he missed the taste of his food so much that he decided to become a chef. And in his restaurants, he makes beautiful versions of Moroccan food – like traditional hand-rolled couscous and modern, jet-black aerated smoked eggplant purees. Now, he and his chef Louis Maldonado are opening a new restaurant called Amara, where the food is a mix of Moroccan and Mexican flavors – two cuisines with more in common that you might think.

Francis Lam: To be honest, if someone said to me – out of the blue – "Let's go check out this new Moroccan Mexican restaurant," I would have been, like, "Say, what?" That's kind of bananas.

Mourad Lahlou: Exactly.

Mourad Lahlou
Chef Mourad Lahlou
(Courtesy: Mourad Lahlou)

FL: But you don't think it sounds bananas.

ML: Not at all. I mean, when we first started talking about this project, it did not come about because we were trying to do something gimmicky or cute. This whole thing started even before Louis came to work with me at Aziza, where I was working with my staff in the kitchen, and they were all from Guatemala and from the Yucatán. When we would make stuff that was extremely traditional Moroccan, they would have absolutely no problem recognizing the flavors, the spices, even the technique. It was really a seamless kind of thing that we were watching day in and day out. And that's where the connection started. But, it was reinforced when Louis started working with me and we were able to intellectually discuss these things and get to the bottom of it.

FL: What have you found, Louis?

Louis Maldonado: Just conceiving dishes. From my standpoint, looking at it from the outside, it was just seeing the similarities between both cuisines. I see the food and everything else as an American and from the Western standpoint. I don't necessarily know the traditional stuff. I'm seeing it from the Moroccan lens and then as I'm studying Mexican cuisine, it's doing the influences with that.

FL: What are some of the combinations and commonalities between the cuisines that you've found and that you want to work with?

ML: As you said at the beginning, if you told somebody, "We're going to mix Mexican food and Moorish food" – it sounds silly. But the more you look into it, the more you see that there's a huge connection between how it happened when the Moors invaded Southern Europe. Basically, in 711 they invaded Spain and Portugal and they sat up there for about 800 years. The influence of the Moors with all the spices, cuisine, architecture, music, everything was literally put in place in Spain and in Portugal.

Surprisingly enough, the same year they were kicked out of Spain, that's the same year that Christopher Columbus discovered America, and he brought with him a lot of the Moors that were captive. When the Moors were defeated, some of them were enslaved and brought to the New World to work and to cultivate the ground and farm and do all these things that needed to be done.

The connection is there, and you can see it in the food in Mexico. You can see it even today. One of the examples that I can think of is there's a dish in Mexico called Moros y Cristianos – the Moors and the Christians; it's a dish that has rice and black beans.

FL: White rice and black beans.

ML: Yes. The rice was brought in by the Spanish. The Spanish got it from the Moors. And obviously the black bean is something that was cultivated in Latin America. They put together this dish that is simple, beautiful, and tasty. It exemplifies the two cultures together.

FL: It's funny, too, because one of my favorite tacos is tacos al pastor. And if you look at the way they make it, it's a trompo. Basically, it's a rotating rotisserie of all these slices of pork that are stacked into this cone of meat that they roast in a rotisserie and keep slicing off. It's delicious and it looks exactly like shwarma.

ML: Dude, it's a gyro!

FL: Yeah, it's a gyro, right?

ML: There's no doubt about it. It happens exactly when the Spanish go to the New World. It's the idea of roasting meat that is stacked up in a vertical manner. It's totally Middle Eastern. And to put it on a tortilla, instead of the pita, and it has the yogurt sauce; you know it's a gyro!

Louis Maldonado
Chef Louis Maldonado
(Photo: Spoonbar)

FL: I think that happened more with Lebanese immigrants into Mexico, but there are so many flavor similarities that connect.

As you explore the menu you want to do in this new restaurant, what are some of the flavors that you want to play with? What are some of the things that you think will be important in your cooking?

ML: As you said, al pastor is something that is unique and very well known – it's famous. We're going take it a step back and do our own interpretations of what it means when it first happened. We will go back and examine the dish, dissect it, and understand it, to try to come up with a version of it that makes sense to us. Louis, what do you think?

LM: In the case of developing the new dishes, it's also looking at either classic Mexican or classic Moroccan dishes and trying to compare the two. If you look at your classic mole it's going to have nuts or seeds, it's going to have some sort of dried fruit component, obviously the chilies. And then you'd look back at Moroccan cuisine with the dried fruit, the nuts, and then put the two together. We're writing it as we go, but the flavors between the two always work well together.

ML: I do believe that one of the things that Moroccan food does better than most cuisines is marrying the sweet and the savory. The first time I heard of mole and I tasted it, it reminded me a lot of Moroccan food. They were able to take something sweet with something that is savory and combine it into an iconic dish. That was a light bulb moment to me, and I realized that there were so many similarities between the two cuisines.

FL: As you're experimenting right now and you're looking into your research and getting inspired, what are you playing with? What will we taste if we were to walk into your test kitchen today?

LM: Right now it's defining what our mole's going to be. I mean, we have to have a mole. So, right now we're working on an assortment of chilies, we're infusing the steeping water with rose, prunes, preserved lemon so you get the undertones of it. But at the end of the day, you get the sesame seed, the pomegranate molasses, pumpkin seeds, the burnt onions and garlic. We're really trying to write it as we go. But the mole, as the first one, is to bring the two together.

FL: This is fascinating. I can't wait to see what you guys come up with.

ML: We look forward to having you.

Mourad Lahlou is the chef-owner of Mourad restaurant in San Francisco, and Louis Maldonado will lead the kitchen of the soon-to-open restaurant, Amara. If all their talk with Francis about tacos al pastor made you hungry, try this recipe for tacos al pastor (with related recipes for abobo, salsa rojo and faw salsa verde) from Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman.