for the love of Pho

Hungry Ghost Contributor Julian Richards writes in from Saigon. Read his tongue twisting tale of Pho.

First morning in Saigon, alone.  Asian jet-lag is akin to being forcep-birthed underwater: thoughts percolate but become slurry en route to the mouth.  Lips are earthworms, eyes jaundiced lychees webbed with capillaries, moist fish balls.  Gerbil tongue.  Moss teeth.  I slither down the staircase of my one-star on Búi Viện, thin haired, darkly bespectacled and retaining water, like a cheap, hungover Elton John.  Out onto the street into a seething pirhana-shoal of motor-scooters.  A suety white man perhaps five years my senior is instantly, mercilessly sideswiped a mere 10 feet from where I stand. He goes down hard, flopping like a carp.  I turn round and go back into my hotel.  The receptionist and her friend look at me gravely.  "Phở", they say.


Da Nerbone at The Mercato Centrale/ Florence

See this man's face? Remember it. Don't forget it! He is the man you will  want to find when you are Florence, for he will hand over one of the most delicious sandwiches you will ever eat!!!

When I went for a semester in Siena, Italy many years ago, one of my favorite things to do was to take the bus early Saturday mornings from Siena to Florence to The Mercato Centrale (the great food hall), located in the center of the Mercato San Lorenzo near the Basilica San Lorenzo. It was at this market that I ate my very first panino bollito. Last Summer, I found myself standing in front of  Da Nerbone, a small unassuming food stall, there since the 1800's, once again! Da Nerbone is inside the Mercato Centrale tucked into a corner on the outer ring of the market. It is popular with both locals and in the know tourists. During the week it can be quite crowded with the lunch time working crowd. Go early, for the panino bollito con salsa verde (a boiled beef sandwich with a green herb sauce) on a crusty Italian roll.  though popular at lunch, I think it is the  perfect breakfast sandwich. Take some time to wander through the market, have a sandwich, wander some more  then come back to Nerbone for lunch. You can't go wrong with a plate of pasta and a glass of local Tuscan wine. You might have to stand in line for a bit as it is very popular, but have faith! If they are out of the beef as sometimes does happen quickly, they will offer up their other specialty, lampredotto a tripe sandwich.

The Mercato Centrale was designed in the mid 1800's by Giuseppe Mengoni, a famous Italian architect. Mengoni used a beautiful design of cast iron and glass to create this gorgeous landmark market. He based his design on the grand market halls of Paris, Les Halles. The Mercato opened in 1874 soon after an older market was torn down.The building still stands today, much as it was when it was built. Stalls on the first floor sell meat, fish, cheese and pasta as well as some prepared foods and food made to order. Vegetables are sold on the upper floor where you can see the gorgeous vaulted  glass ceiling. If you have never been to one of these amazing European food halls you must go! You will find everything from rabbits to wild boar (cingale) to locally harvested mushrooms and the tiniest most flavorful Fragola di Bosco'!(tiny Alpine strawberries) Buy! don't touch or the Italian fruit vendors especially the ladies will get quite cross with you! If you are patient and kind they will most likely give you a taste.

While doing a little research on the market I came across another bloggers ruminations and admiration for the Market and for the very same sandwich at Nerbone. Samin Nosrat is a chef, teacher, writer, and from what I can tell a gastronmic dervish, liviing and working in San Francisco. She came up through the ranks from bussing tables to cooking in the kitchen at Chez Panisse, where she trained before moving to Italy to work with butcher Dario Cecchini and chef  Benedetta Vitali. Samin was somewhat obsessed with finding and eating the panino bollito from Nerbone as soon as she set foot in the magical city of Florence. Another chef at Chez Panisse had been somewhat obsessed with it as well and told her she must try it upon her arriaval. In her post for the  Food Sectionwhere she guest curated an entire week of posts on Florence, she talks about that experience. I think her post is worth sharing as she has many great personal recommendations for vendors at the market that she got to know quite well while living there. See her post below and check out her blog at

If you are lucky enough to live in SanFrancisco, you can take one of her home ec classes such as a hand pulled mozzarella or fresh pasta . Samin is the co founder of Oakland's Pop-Up General Store  along with former boss Chris Lee of Eccollo  and if that isn't enough... she partners with Tartine Bakery for the dinners Tartine Afterhours.  Tartine Afterhours is a  three course family style dinner occurring  once a month or so at Tartine Bakery  for the way economical price of 35 dollars.

I am more than a little sad that she does not live in NYC!



Check out her full week of posts on Florenece!


Stall #292, 1st Floor, Mercato Centrale (Central Market), entrance on Via dell'Ariento, Florence, Italy +39 (055) 219-949


Samin was kind enough to  supply me with a recipe of her version of the famous Nerbone sandwich!

thank you Samin!





Panino Bollito al Nerbone


Serves 6-8

3-4 pounds beef brisket, trimmed of major fat



1 onion, peeled and halved

1 carrot, peeled

2 ribs celery, chopped finely, plus 1 whole rib celery

1 bunch parsley, picked and finely chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

2 shallots, peeled and finely diced

Red wine vinegar

1/2 cup pickled red chilies, such as these Calabrian peppers

6-8 Crusty round buns (in a pinch, seedless Kaiser rolls will do)

The day before you plan to cook the brisket, season it generously with salt and pepper.

The next day, place the brisket in a large pot, cover with cold water, add the onion, carrot, and celery rib and bring to a boil.  Add a healthy pinch of salt to the water for good luck.  If the brisket floats to the top and is exposed, place a plate on it to submerge it.  Reduce the heat and keep the water at a simmer.  Cook until the brisket is knife tender, about 3.5 hours.  

In the meantime, make the sauces.  In a small bowl, cover the diced shallot with red wine vinegar.  Let it macerate for at least 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the finely chopped parsley and celery with enough olive oil to make an unctuous sauce.  Season with salt.  

For the chile sauce, you can either chop the peppers by hand or whizz everything in a blender or food processor.  Mince the peppers however you like, then mix them in a separate bowl with a generous amount of olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, and season with salt.

When the brisket is cooked, remove it from the cooking liquid and slice the meat thinly against the grain.  

Slice the buns in half.  Finish the salsa verde by combining the shallots and red wine vinegar with the parsley oil.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  

Skim any fat from the cooking juices, then lightly dip the inside of the bottom bun in the bollito broth.  Assemble the sandwich with sliced meat and each of the two sauces.  

Serve immediately.  


:: samin nosrat ::

writer, cook & teacher 

honey hoarder

I am somewhat of a honey hoarder. I say this to myself as I look at the many half used jars of honey in my cupboard that I have collected from all corners of the Earth.

I buy honey everywhere I travel. I have Bhutanese honey, Italian honey, French honey, Upstate New York honey, Mexican honey  and now Brooklyn Honey after the city has lifted a decade old ban on beekeeping in the city.

This hording would be ok if I just consumed all the honey I purchase, but you see… I like to keep some of the more special jars just to look at because they are so beautiful!

To me honey is the ultimate gift to bring back from afar; it is the sweetest way to later remember a  trip. It is available practically everywhere, you need only to open your eyes and it will find you.

I have jars of honey I have purchased simply for their sheer beauty. One of these is a small glass purchased at a famers market in the South of France. I admit to finally eating this honey, but I still have the empty jar, and the hand painted bee reminds me of that trip. Another I am particularly partial to is from France as well, and the typography and color of the honey made me swoon. It has long since separated out into two distinct and beautiful layers, and I have every intention of leaving it that way.

The most interesting thing about honey is the wide spectum of flavors and scents. Honey ranges in color from dark brown to almost black to the palest of whites and everthing in between. Some honey is dark and robust while others are the color of straw with flavors of maritime flowers and sea spray.

The flavor and color of the honey is dependent on what the bees are eating. The nectar of the flowers mixes with enzymes from the bee's saliva to create a sticky liquid that is honey. The bees then come back to the hives and deposit the liquid into the hives. The flavors come through accordingly. Honey is the perfect litmus test to the the bee's immediate surroundings be it herbascious or otherwise. Take for instance the the Red Hook honey, Bees where found to be producing red honey tinted with flavor of maraschino cherries because they were greedily drinking up the syrup from the Red Hook Brooklyn maraschino cherry plant! According to an article in The New York Times  Andrew Coté, the leader of the New York City Beekeepers Association, has said

“Bees will forage from any sweet liquid in their flight path for up to three miles,” Mr. Coté said. While he has not yet visited the factory, he said that the bees might be drinking from its runoff, and that solving the problem “could be as easy as putting up some screens, or providing a closer source of sweet nectar.”

The Brooklyn beekeepers were somewhat dissapointed to find that thier bees had produced a cloying dye riddled substance, but this just goes to show you how honey is the perfect example of surrounding environments. Hopefully the problem has been solved!

You can imagine that bees that frequent such a factory in Brooklyn will produce vastly different tasting honey than bees that live in sunlit pine forests of Italy or in the wide open wild flowered fields of Southern France or the windswept hills of Sardinia.

Bees are the ultimate mixologists. Local honey flavors can range from any of the following: sea, pine, chestnut, sunflower, truffle, forest, blackberry, mint, orange blossom, clover, eucalyptus, cardoon, millefiori, corbezzolo, and in the case of the Brooklyn bees... maraschino. These are only a few of the local flavors you might find if you choose to branch out beyond the good old honey bear.

For me, honey is a vehicle or the starting point for inspiration when it comes to cooking. I am usually first inspired by the  flavor of honey, then comes the food. You can't go wrong with a combination of fresh ricotta and honey.

A couple years ago I found the recipe below in Gourmet, and I have been making it ever since! It really couldn't be easier.




 I always start with this simple recipe. This ricotta is delicious in fresh pasta or on a crostini, it is really good paired with toasted semolina raisin bread or fresh rhubarb compote. be inspired and go crazy!

below I made fresh ricotta crostiini with millefiore (a thousand flowers) honey and thyme and coffee with chestnut honey. My friend Paola always starts her day with honey in her coffee.

All of the gorgeous handmade ceramics used in this shoot  are from the very talented michele michael of elephant ceramics.  Food inspires me but so do vessels...but that is another story altogether. Look for her very coveted sales on line and follow her blog at, be quick because she sells out fast!



Richard Ferretti's fresh riccotta from Gourmet 2006.

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


Line a large sieve with a layer of heavy-duty (fine-mesh) cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.

Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.

Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered; it will keep in the refrigerator 2 days

Crostini with fresh ricotta, honey thyme and sea salt

lightly toast some of your favorite rustic bread

spread some fresh homemade ricotta on top

drizzle with your favorite honey

add a little herb, in this case lemon thyme

and finish with a pinch of grey sea salt.


If you read Italian pick up Dizionario Dei Mieli Nomadi from Liccu Manias, the leading authority on honey in Italy! I am definitely visiting his farm next time I am in Sardinia. 

teatro del sale

Last year I had the occasion to meet and photograph the Italian whirlwind that is Fabbio Picchi. Picchi is the mastermind behindCibreoTrattoria CibreoCafe Cibreo and  Cibreo Teatro del Sale, all located in the  Sant'Ambrogio neigborhood of Florence, quite near the Mercato di Sant' Ambrogio. The trio of restaurants are just doors apart, creating a little gastronomic empire.

All the restaurants are worth a visit but the most interesting is Teatro del Sale, the private dinner club and theatre. Teatro del Sale is a members-only restaurant/theater/club housed in a former convento. Patrons are required to become a member for a minimal one time fee and then are treated to an interesting spectacle of food and theatre. The theatre part comes after dinner when the room is transformed and all chairs are pointed towards the stage.  The entertainment, which is organized by artistic director Maria Cassi, a famous Florentine actress (and Picchi's wife), can range anywhere from comedy, to a lecture on Bob Dylan's Music to the 1970's children's film, Pete's Dragon. It is ever changing and completely fascinating. Picchi and his staff in an open glass windowed kitchen, are somewhat of a show themselves as guest sit at long communal tables eagerly awaiting his food. In the kitchen they whirl around one another seamlessly preparing the evening's unique menu until suddenly and without warning Picchi charges out of the glass windowed kitchen and announces with great gusto and force whatever the primo piatti may be! Guests then rush the buffet table . After several courses and dessert, at 9:30 or so, the room is cleared for the theatre portion of the evening. Once you have become a member, you are part of the club for life barring that you don't lose your membership card which entitles you to private breakfast lunch or dinner at Teatro del Sale. You may feel free to stop by during the day to have a coffee or a pastry or lunch and to sit in the many comfortable chairs and just relax or eat. The shop is open to the public but you must be a member to partake in breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

While at Circolo, pick up one chef's shirts or pants or handsome silk ties designed Picchi himself. There are also beautiful wine glasses from old recycled wine bottles for sale in his emporio/ piccolo store (and they ship!). His shop is full of sea salt and marmalades and pickled vegetables he has made himself!

If you go to Caffe Cibreo in the morning after the market, do not miss the ciambella, an italian donut. There was a warm and enticing pile of them sprinkled with sugar when we were there. They are quite delicious. If you want to feel Italian you can order a caffe doppio and cornetto integrale con marmelata. 

Try to go ahead of time to make a reservation and to join the club. Dinner is quite hectic and quite a draw so you should definitely cover the logistics well in advance!

a note on Picchi's other resturants...

Cibreo was his first restaurant, opened in the early 1980's . He does a lot of classic Tuscan dishes at Cibreo but no pasta, so be forewarned. If you want pasta go to Trattoria Cibreo, it is less formal and less expensive. 


Don't miss the neighborhood hardware store in the square, it sells everything but the kitchen sink!

This weeks Menu: 






Cibréo ristorante           

Via del Verrocchio, 8r


Tel. : 055 234 11 00
Fax : 055 24 49 66 


Cibrèo trattoria

(detta il Cibrèino) 

Via de' Macci, 122r                 




Caffè  Cibrèo

Via del Verrocchio, 5r


Tel. : 055 234 58 53


Chiuso Domenica e Lunedì. ( closed Sunday and Monday)

e-mail :


the gathering

At 7am on a terribly rainy Saturday, I made my way up Broadway through the ultra quiet streets of Soho to The Union Square Greenmarket to meet my friend and fellow gastrophile, Nancy Jo. After much indecision about what to do for Easter this year, I decided to stay in the city and cook with friends.

Nancy and I decided to set some parameters for the meal. We would be inspired by our shared Southern Italian roots and the bounty of Spring. At the market we bought pink oyster mushrooms, ramps, Arucauna and pheasant eggs, dinosaur kale, french radishes,  spicy spring greens, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, rhubarb, cippolini onions, escarole, baby artichokes, artisan bread, mint and other herbs. Then, over a soft boiled egg at  Le Pan Quotidian, escaping the rain...we plotted our menu.


crostini with ramp

crostini with poached rhubarb, thyme and fresh ricotta

crostini with sauteed pink oyster mushrooms

hard boiled arucauna  and pheasant eggs with sale di cervia and crushed black pepper

 french radishes with sea salt and butter

assorted meat and cheeses, fennel salami and Prosciutto di Parma

homemade ricotta with miele di castagno

frittata de menta

raw kale salad

escarole pie

onion pie with anchovies and black olives

bucatini with ramp pesto

fried baby artichokes with lemon and sea salt inspired by the artichokes at Maiolino


maple cheesecake

and a beautiful cake from Fortunato Brothers 

guests brought Lambrusco and various other wines and drinks!


recipes to come.


gastrophile/ noun.

One who loves good eating and plenty of it.

fiddleheads and greens

The weather in New York City yesterday really made me feel as though Spring had arrived. The balmy wet day gave me hope that I could soon traipse through the upstate New York woods and gather ramp and fiddleheads, a favorite springtime ritual. I am bound and determined to pickle some ramp this year. So yesterday, with the season at our door, I came across some spring greens from another country far from here. They are from a market in Burma, a very simple but beautiful market. I remember that the vivid greens seemed really exotic to me when I came across them in the wet Burmese market. Upon closer inspection, I realized they were not so exotic after all, just gorgeously fresh and seasonal! There was Thai basil, mint, tamarind, baby cucumbers, fiddleheads, kafir lime, coriander and one delicate thin lily pad-like green used in soups apparently, as I was told by the ladies selling the greens. They thought I was really funny as I walked along and picked up this and that. They laughed and smiled as I bought small bunches of greens tied with a little straw thread. When I got to the lily pad green they yelled "SOUP! SOUP!".

The greens in Burma are often grown hydroponically along the waterways and canals. I have never seen such beautiful and intricate gardens. In the humid market the greens are sold in giant piles. The women call out their wares creating a melodic cacophony echoing under the shade of the wet tents.

Whenever I am in a foriegn country, I always seek out a green market.  Both the market in Burma and the market in Jaipur India made me want to hole up for a month or two, rent an apartment and do nothing but cook and eat. I am always so eager to try out all those beautiful fruits and vegetables. People the world round are excited by food and the shift of seasons. Spring greens, whether at the greenmarket in Union Square or the market in Burma, excite all of us in the same way. Take this change of seasons to welcome in one seasonal dish that is an old favorite, or better yet, to make a  seasonal dish  you have never tried!  

Though I have lived through many Springs, I am still excited by finding the first wild ramp in the woods, and I can't wait to see what this season unfurls... 

the organic market of san antonio, mira flores, lima, peru



In the tiny neighborhood of San Antonio, located in Miraflores, in Lima Peru, there is a small organic market on Saturday mornings. The market rotates around Lima so if you don't catch it in Miraflores, look for it in other locations.

The market is an organic local Peruvian food market. A market of this kind is still something of a rare thing in a country totally obsessed with food. I imagine as the Slow Food movement takes hold and people start to see the value of local and organic, these kinds of markets will become easier to find. Our Peruvian chef, friend and Slow Food member, Gonzalo Angosto took us to the market in his neighborhood of San Antonio. The market is only 3/4 of a block long but is jam packed with fruits and vegetables, organic eggs, Peruvian coffee, local honey and Peruvian street food. Oh, and I can't forget the most delicious little sweet caramels individually wrapped by nuns! I think Peruvians are obsessed with these salty, nutty little caramel treats as I saw them in many incarnations across Peru.

I bought some brilliant yellow canary beans (frijol canario) and a mixed bag of organic beans ( (frijol pusacc punuy) as well as some red (quinua roja) and black (quinua negra) quinoa and a couple dried peppers (aji and aji amarillo) and some pink sea salt.

The dried goods are beautiful, easy to pack, make great gifts and travel well.

We had to buy some pecans with caramel covered in chocolate, and wrapped in individual little blue and white papers. These had to be consumed immediately as it was too hot for them to travel... but there were no complaints. Go to the market early, if you can, and have a local peruvian coffe and some street food. There are many kinds of Peruvian pork breakfast sandwiches and they are absolutely not to be missed! (more on this later)

Wander a bit and pick up some things to take home, once you are back you will be happy to have them and I guarantee it will make the trip that much sweeter.


A note.

I always bring honey and sea salt back for my own pantry and for friends because it is a unique gift and you can virtually find it anywhere. The Peruvian sea salt is a soft pink and very strong in flavor, so if you get it use just a tiny amount at a time!

link to Gonzalo's hostel

hartwood tulum


Last night we ventured about 1000 yards from our hotel, just up the dusty dirt road  to the jungle side of Tulums beach road, toHartwood, a new restaurant from chef Eric Werner and Mya Henry.

After working for many years at Peasant on Elizabeth Street in Manhattan and Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn, they decided to give it all up and move Mexico and open a restaurant here in Tulum. Together, they bought a piece of land and built the restaurant from the ground up. The construction took about four months to complete but the whole process of finding the land and building took well over a year. Everything is intentional and equally beautiful. Drinks are served in mason jars and glass hurricanes line the long hand hewn wooden tables.

The couple has made a lovely place to gather and eat. There are two open fires, one a grill and the other a brick oven. Crates of local fruits and vegetables line the front of the open kitchen. All the food is seasonal and local as they have established relationshiips with local farmers and fishermen and even the Mayan bee keepers who sell the miel de selva (jungle honey) from their backpacks on the beach. the Mayan jungle honey has a distinct and unique flavor, it is complex and reminds me of the miele de foresta of italy. We tasted some last night with our appetizer of whole wood fire roasted eggplant drizzled with olive oil sea salt and Mayan honey.

We shared a spicy red snapper spread and a lentil salad with pickled grapes, ricotta salata, plums and pea shoots. We then moved on to a whole roasted local fish and beer braised pork ribs with house made slaw and a rabbit lasagna.

Everything was delicious and a welcome change to the rice and beans we have been making over here in our little bungalow.

 Hartwood is open for dinner at 6pm .

The menu changes nightly.

cash only.