RASA’s Indian Bowls Bring the ‘Essence of Enjoyment’ to DC

The rise of the fast casual trend in DC has been very welcome in our household for both our stomachs and our wallets. But there’s a new spot in town that’s about to turn the fast casual scene upside down – in the best way possible.

RASA is a “fine fast casual” restaurant located in our old Navy Yard stomping grounds, serving up a tantalizing selection of customizable Indian flavors. The concept is the brain child of Rahul Vinod and Sahil Rahman, who grew up in the restaurant industry. Ever since they were young, they’ve wanted to share the meals they grew up loving with people unfamiliar with Indian food and to broaden diners’ understanding of how expansive Indian cuisine really is. Their labor of love has finally come to fruition, and the results are outstanding.


The Space

RASA is a combination of Rahul and Sahil’s names, but is also a Sanskrit word that translates to “essence of enjoyment”. That enjoyment starts the moment you walk up to the gorgeous blue front door, custom-made in India, and swells as you walk into the vibrant, rainbow-hued dining room.

Rasa blue door

good luck symbol

local art at RASAThe colorful artwork was all painted by local artist Nandita Madan. I’ve been to a lot of fast casual restaurants, but never one this beautiful and fun.

RASA decor

RASA decor

RASA swing chairs

The Drinks

While grab and go is certainly an option at RASA, the welcoming space encourages diners to stay a while. And for that, you need a drink. There is a vast selection of teas and juices available, along with fresh young coconuts, beer and wine and – my favorite – a masala gin and tonic.

masala gin and tonic

The Bowls

Of course, the main event is the food and it does not disappoint. Rahul and Sahil have put a lot of thought and effort into creating their menu. In fact, they spent two weeks last Fall traveling across India looking for inspiration. As a result, the menu features both common flavors and ingredients along with those that are less known among Western diners.

The menu is divided into two sections. The “We Got You” section offers signature creations that take the guesswork out of ordering. The “You Got This” section allows you to create your own customized bowl.

Rasa bowlsTom and I dipped into both sections. He ordered the “Tikka Chance On Me” featuring chicken tikka, roasted tomato sauce, basmati rice, sautéed spinach, pickled radish, kachumber, toasted cumin yogurt, mint cilantro chutney and lentil crisps.

Tikka Chance on MeOne of the menu items I was most excited to try was the South Indian rice noodles. Most people (myself included) don’t realize that noodles are a part of Indian cuisine. I used them as the base for my customized bowl and added lamb kebab, peanut sesame sauce, charred eggplant, cucumber cubes, masala beets, mint cilantro chutney, mango coconut yogurt and micro greens.

Rasa You Got This bowlWe both loved our bowls, brimming with fresh veggies and incredible flavors. There are so many culinary discoveries waiting to be made at RASA. I can’t wait to taste my way through the rest of the menu. As is common with build-your-own menus, the options can be a little overwhelming. But I’m definitely up for the challenge.

The Sides + Sweets

The sides and sweets are tempting as well. We tasted the pumpkin soup, which is rich and comforting. The Kulfi pops (Indian ice cream pops) were a big hit, both delicious and fun to eat.

Kulfi pop - Indian ice creamIf you’re looking for a fun, delicious addition to your fast casual repertoire, get yourself to RASA stat. I have a feeling it’s about to become DC’s newest addiction – it’s definitely mine.

Here’s How MezzeCulture is Changing the Travel Experience through Local Pop ups in NYC, Austin and DC

If you really love travel and culture, I’ve got a message for you this holiday season that I hope you will share with others.

It wasn’t because there was any particular pride in a culture that was behind our start. But, rather, the opposite.

We started in 2015 to give folks a platform to cultivate a sense of understanding, empathy, and love by experiencing them all—led by our local partners and HUNDREDS of member travel enthusiasts in Austin, NYC, DC and growing.

(If you haven’t already subscribed your email to get our event invites, you can here: www.mezzeculture.co/subscribe)

As we start the holiday season, in a time when our immigrants and their cultures have been alienated when they should be embraced for the perspective they have brought for over two hundred years, this message of LOVE is important.

Because in actuality, culture is a beautiful illusion.

Why? Because it is something that we perceive with our senses so that it’s only a reflection of people and places.

The smell and taste of food.

The sights of travel.

The sound of music.

Think about it. It’s all just a reflection of the person or people who created it and the place that adopted it.

There are nearly 200 nations but over 6,000 organized cultures worldwide. In the U.S., we are fortunate to get a “taste” for nearly all of them, I’m willing to bet.

How often do we really get to know the person or place intimately—in a way that’s beyond our own perception of it? I mean, how often do we perceive with our mind and heart what culture is trying to tell us about people and places through these reflections of food, drink, music and more.

When we read a book, a blog or watch a show about a country, its great, but we still absorb and translate it OUR way because it’s handed down through a secondary resource, whether that be a blogger or a friend.

But what if we learned from the source? From someone who is a first hand expert in the culture.

That’s why we see international restaurant owners, boutique curators, musicians, and other artisans in our backyards and their craft as the ultimate resource at MezzeCulture—immigrants and representatives of the world at our fingertips.

We are a community of travel enthusiasts who come together at our pop up events hosted by these local partners who share a unique cultural narrative through their craft—to encourage those half of Americans without passports to travel and those who have to do more of it.

If you choose to subscribe, I thank YOU from my heart for being a part of US.

If you identify with our message this holiday season, please do share us with your friends in Austin, Washington DC, New York, and even Miami, Houston, and San Francisco where we will grow soon.

And please don’t forget to subscribe your email for invites to our exclusive events and check out our upcoming list.


With love,


Founder, MezzeCulture

MezzeCulture is the sister event company of Mezze Weekly Magazine.

Experience DC’s MOLA: Brunch from the Spanish Coast

Need plans for the weekend? There’s a new brunch in town that you definitely don’t want to miss. Mola is a new restaurant (from the team behind Nido) in Mount Pleasant serving coastal Spanish cuisine in a bright, airy setting. We were invited in to preview their brand new brunch, and the experience was a real treat.

Mola dining room

But First, Cocktails

Mola has a wonderful selection of Spanish brunch cocktails that go far beyond the usual suspects. We tried a classic mimosa with beautiful fresh-squeezed orange juice. The vermouth and soda was my favorite, a light concoction featuring Capitoline Rose (DC-made vermouth), soda and Guindilla peppers.

Mola DC brunch

vermouth & sodaWe also enjoyed the rebujito with sherry, muddled mint and limonata, an Andalusian version of the mojito. This was nice and refreshing with a notable punch from the sherry.

Mola DC cocktail


Classic Spanish Tapas

A lot of the time when I go out with friends for brunch, we don’t want to eat big, heavy entrées. Mola’s brunch is perfect for groups who want to snack their way through a weekend afternoon while catching up.

Mola DC brunchAs with any Spanish restaurant, small plates are abundantly available at Mola. We were over the moon sampling our way through several of the offerings, each more vibrant and beautiful than the next. The labneh and chickpea purée with ground spiced lamb were my favorites, but everything was fresh and tasty.

tomato bread with anchovies
Tomato bread with house-cured anchovies
house-cured sardines
House-cured sardines with aioli and piquillo peppers
housemade labneh
Housemade labneh served with flatbread, cucumbers, carrots and olive
chickpeak puree ground spiced lamb
Chickpea purée and ground spiced lamb with Guindilla peppers
olive oil and sherry braised artichokes
Olive oil and sherry braised artichoke with herb, egg and pine nut sauce

Savory Mains from Coastal Spain

Those with heftier appetites have plenty of options as well. I loved all of the fresh veggies featured in the main dishes, many of which are topped with perfectly cooked eggs. You can’t miss the huevos rotos, served paella style in a cast iron pan and the fluffy tortilla Española. Like the snacks, these are all great for sharing.

tuna confit salad
Tuna confit salad with piquillo peppers, potatoes, capers and thyme
tortilla espanola
Tortilla Española -with aioli and pea shoot salad
huevos rotos
Huevos rotos – four eggs over a mix of potatoes, onions, peppers and spinach (serves 2)
huevos rotos with serrano ham
Huevos rotos with added Serrano ham
squash pisto
Squash pisto with two poached eggs and Manchego cheese
patatas bravas
Patatas bravas with chili sauce and aioli

Don’t Forget the Sweets

Finish off your meal with a sweet touch. The torrijas are incredible – cinnamon and orange flavored French toast with orange blossom honey that is sinfully reminiscent of funnel cake (in the best way possible).

torrijasBrunch at Mola offers something for everyone with beautiful, fresh plates of food and tasty cocktails. This is the kind of good best enjoyed with friends and family, sharing a delicious meal and catching up. Consider your weekend plans made.

Kacy Kish, DC Contributor

Kacy Kish writes for Mezze Weekly in Washington, D.C. and with our readers she shares her own international culture experiences through food, drink, while highlighting cultural events and more to check out around the DC area. Kacy also writes for her blog, Bad Sentences where you can follow her own journey through food, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

A Peek into DC’s Espita Mezcaleria’s Community Spirit from Oaxaca

When I traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico through the Vista Leadership Academy last November, I became really interested in mezcal. Created from the agave plant, the same plant tequila is made from, the word mezcal stands for elixir of the gods. Making mezcal is a lucrative business, with many families and small farms creating the smokey spirit alongside their crops in Oaxaca. So lucrative in fact, that now it’s in high demand across the United States.

D.C.’s Espita Mezcaleria serves the largest selection of mezcal in the United States. Their bar is piled high with many different mezcals, which you can drink straight or have in a cocktail.

A slice of orange and crushed worm to chase the shot with.

What’s interesting about this restaurant is that the owners buy from truly local Oaxacan sellers. The server taking care of our table travels to Oaxaca pretty often himself to learn how to make it and aspires to one day work as a distiller.

Besides the mezcal, their food is delicious as well. I reminisced about the street food stands surrounding Santo Domingo, the main church marking the center of Oaxaca city, when I dove into a chorizo tlayuda.

Chorizo Tlayuda

I can’t wait to go back and try the mole and tacos. Sustainable restaurants that benefit local communities are incredibly important, especially in today’s restaurant scene.

Do you have a favorite restaurant with this concept?

Pop into DC’s Bantam King’s Chicken Ramen 101 Class and Learn Everything about this Popular Japanese Dish

The first time I ever had a bowl of ramen at a restaurant, I was completely at a loss as to how to eat it. The giant bowl of spicy broth and tender noodles tantalized my senses, so I dug in anyway. Don’t quote me on this, but there may have been a fork involved which I may have used to twirl the noodles on the spoon like a bowl of spaghetti. As such, I may have gotten a few funny looks from fellow diners. I was hooked after that first bowl, but still never quite knew if I was doing it right until I was properly educated.

Bantam King Chicken Ramen 101
Our education began this summer when we previewed Shaw ramen shop Haikan, but really came full circle after we attended Bantam King’s Chicken Ramen 101 class recently. Led by Chef Katsuya Fukushima, Daisuke Utagawa and Yama Jewayni, the masterminds behind Daikaya, Haikan and Bantam King, three of DC’s top ramen restaurants.

For those who haven’t been to Bantam King yet, I suggest you make a trip immediately. The space, which is housed in a former Burger King (get it?), is lively and fun and just a joy to look at.

Bantam King decor

chicken ramen
This was my first visit, and I instantly fell in love with the Japanese pop culture decor, the ample light streaming in from the windows and the laid-back atmosphere that plays heavily on the building’s fast food past. I have to admit I’d somewhat avoided Bantam King in the past because, well, I don’t love chicken and chicken is definitely king at this ramen shop.

Don’t get me wrong, I like fried chicken and will certainly eat a nice chicken dinner at home but it’s rarely something I seek out at a restaurant. However, I quickly learned that nothing about the chicken offered at Bantam King is ordinary. Far from the slimy, chewy poultry I’ve come to dread eating, every morsel I tasted was high quality and full of flavor.

Bantam King DC

Chicken Ramen 101

Each Chicken Ramen 101 class includes complimentary soft drinks, including a selection of Japanese tea, iced coffee and sodas. The Royal Milk Tea is a delight, and a nice cooling drink should you choose to indulge in a spicier ramen at the end of class.

Bantam King soft drinks

What is Ramen?

This is the first question tackled during the very entertaining class at Bantam King. In order for a bowl of noodle soup to be classified as ramen, it must contain four essential components: stock, tare (basically, the seasoning), noodles and aromatic oil. It must also be prepared after it’s ordered, and not pre-made. Toppings exist to enhance the ramen, but even with topping it’s still ramen as long as it meets the requirements above.

Why Chicken Ramen?

There are approximately 32 different types of ramen in Japan. Daikaya and Haikan both focus on serving authentic Saporro-style ramen, but Bantam King broke the mold by offering strictly chicken ramen varieties. This type of ramen is relatively new in that it doesn’t have a specific region of origin and its reputation and techniques are still forming.

According to Utagawa, “if the soup has chicken as the prominent and dominant ingredient, people call it chicken ramen”. So, you can have a bowl of chicken ramen topped with pork and it’s still chicken ramen. But Bantam King is taking things one step further by offering no other meat but chicken in their ramen.

Chicken Ramen 101 at Bantam King

Stock It to Me

Bantam King makes two delicious chicken-based stocks, a delicate chintan that is light in color (but not in flavor) and a richer paitan, which is darker in color. These stocks are made using such ingredients as seaweed, onions, garlic and ginger as well as chicken necks, feet, skin and bodies. The use of black chicken (also known as a silkie) also serves to enhance the rich flavor.

ramen stock tasting

One of the best parts of the Chicken Ramen 101 class was getting to taste the various components. We were given the opportunity to sample several types of stock. First, we were given a taste of the stock without any added tare. I was worried the taste would be too “chickeny” for me to handle, but I threw caution to the wind and took a long sip.

The verdict? Shock, awe and delight. The stock, made solely from the ingredients listed above with no added salt, was comfort personified. I whispered to Tom that this was exactly what we needed the next time one of us was sick. And it only got better from there as we sampled the shio and shoyu stocks, created by the addition of tare. All of Bantam King’s tare is made in Japan using a top-secret recipe, adding to the authenticity of every bowl.

What’s in a Noodle?

The noodles are arguably the most fun part of eating a bowl of ramen, and Bantam King takes their noodles very seriously. That’s the thing about these guys, they have an incredible commitment to honoring the culture and authenticity in every ingredient they bring to the table. It’s apparent when you listen to them speak, and even more so in each slurp you take.

Good quality ramen noodles should be springy, pleasantly chewy and actually have flavor. It’s a misconception that the noodles should simply soak up the flavors of the liquid; they should actually have their own distinguishable taste. Like the tare, Bantam King’s noodles are shipped from Japan to ensure consistency and authenticity. Both an innovative milling technology and the use of Saporro well water set these noodles apart from any you could find outside of Japan.

ramen preparation

Topping It Off

While toppings are not an essential part of ramen, they are still a very important factor. The toppings should work in harmony with the rest of the ramen. All components should taste delicious on their own, but should not overpower the bowl. We sampled two of the most common toppings – menma, or fermented bamboo, and nitamago, or soft-boiled egg. Bantam King also offers shredded chicken, dandelion greens, white onions, nori, corn and roasted chicken quarters as toppings, just to name a few.

ramen bowls

How To Eat Your Ramen

Class concludes with the best lesson of all – how to eat your ramen. Utagawa is an expert on eating ramen, and will give you the full lowdown on exactly how to dig in so as to avoid looking a fool like I did on my first try. In the meantime, here are the basics.

ramen made to orderFirst, you should begin eating your ramen as soon as it’s set in front of you. Don’t worry about being polite, that doesn’t matter here. You don’t want your noodles to continue to cook in the broth and get soggy.

bantam king chicken miso ramen
Lift the bowl up and let the steam and aromas captivate your senses, and then take a sip of the broth. Next, pull out the noodles, making sure to smell them first, and then slurp them while looking down, face over the bowl. Do not worry about what you look like or if you’re getting anything on your shirt – just go for it!

shoyu chicken ramen
I could not believe how delicious these bowls were to my once chicken-resistant palate. We went simple on the toppings, but did opt to add bata (butter) at a server’s recommendation. The dandelion greens were one of my favorite elements, the subtle bitterness deepening the already complex flavor profile in these harmonious bowls of goodness.

We learned so many other fascinating details throughout the hour-long class, but I’m not going to give them to you word for word because this is definitely something you should experience for yourself. If you’re a ramen enthusiast, or just curious what the fuss is all about – go! If you’re looking for a fun first date or an unusual outing with your friends – go! If you need a new way to entertain your kids – go!

While you’re there, be sure to try the boiled gyoza. These may be my new favorite dumplings in DC, with flavors that build and shift in mesmerizing ways as you eat them. Trust me on this.

Bantam King dumplings
And of course, don’t forget the fried chicken, either the platter or on their brand new fried chicken sandwich.

Bantam King new chicken sandwich
These tasty sandwiches are available for dining in or carrying out. Rumor also has it that ramen to-go is in the works as well. Stay tuned for more details on that!

Each Chicken Ramen 101 class costs $35, inclusive of tax and tip, and comes with a soft drink and bowl of ramen. For more information, future class dates and reservations call (202) 733-2612.

Kacy Kish, DC Contributor

Kacy Kish writes for Mezze Weekly in Washington, D.C. and with our readers she shares her own international culture experiences through food, drink, while highlighting cultural events and more to check out around the DC area. Kacy also writes for her blog, Bad Sentences where you can follow her own journey through food, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Tips for Eating Well in Belgium from DC’s Chef Bart Vandaele of Belga Café

If you’re planning a visit to Belgium, take these tips from Chef Bart Vandaele of DC’s Belga Café. A native of Belgium whose worked under renown chefs in Belgium, and served as executive chef for European dignitaries in the U.S. capital, Chef Bart is a master of Belgian cuisine. In fact, after opening his flagship restaurant nearly fifteen years ago he became known as ‘the Belgian guy’ for putting Belgian food on the map in the area.

Belgian ingredients are literally based on down-to-earth cooking, Chef Bart shares and why he implements this down-home cooking at his restaurant. “I call it down to earth because literally it’s food that’s very closely connected to your backyard in Belgium. It’s your chickens or rabbits, or if you’re close to the sea, it’s mussels and scallops, and root vegetables, those are essential. It’s really about the cabbage, that Brussel sprout, and the potato—the potato for example is really big, there’s no meal without the potato.”

Brussels Sprouts at Belga Cafe | Facebook

It was during our recent #MezzeTravel Twitter chat, Chef Bart shared among the best things about Belgian culture expressed through food is that Belgium is the land of the good life. Food is Belgian culture, a type of friendship, with warmth, a feast, and way of life.

During the chat, he also shared that Belgian food can be characterized regionally, for example, in the northern coastal region of Flanders food is centered around the fish and mussels, and in the South, the region of Wallonia it’s about the hams, wild game, and essentially winter fare that are a must-try. Popular things to eat in the capital city of Brussels include traditional street foods and down-to-earth classics like mussels, carbonades or stews, frites or fries, and of course, famed Belgian waffles.

Moule Frites, Mussels and Fries at Belga Cafe | Facebook

When it comes to Belgium’s classic dishes, ingredients are like a circle of life and presentation is just a part of it, he believes. “[The food] is like a fashion and things are coming back, and that’s why you have tradition to reference. If the dish doesn’t endure it’s a fluke; if it doesn’t become tradition then it’s not really part of the culture. Real tradition lives in the books from the 1970s, for example, and things will come back if they’re truly part of the culture. A time is coming when people will come back to tradition, the values of food.”

If you’re wondering how to discern a truly Belgian food experience, Chef Bart advises that qualities of Belgian cuisine start with the culture and look at tradition. It is in that same vein that he develops his own menu for his restaurants, Belga Café and even the more contemporary B Too. He says it’s important to maintain definitive characteristics while keeping the dish relevant to modern times.

“You look at classic recipes, and if they have endured they’re there to be referenced, restudied, redone,” so that the main ingredients are essentially drawn forward generation after generation. If it wasn’t for the creative process of bringing forth tradition, he wouldn’t be a chef.

Belgian-style Shrimp, with butter and garlic at Belga Cafe | Facebook

But, if you’re out wondering the popular streets of Brussels where countless tantalizing menus and even tourist-catching photographs on signs vie for your attention, don’t get too caught up in the fleeting visuals. Like it is at Belga Café, to eat well in Belgium is, “really about the food and the love that was put into it, not about the fringes and décor on the plate—that comes and goes,” Chef Bart shares.

“It’s the meat and potatoes, that love in it, that stew you make, that people eat over-and-over again. That’s tried and true tradition really. You can tweak, to make [a dish] lighter in summer or heavier in the winter, but the recipe itself because of its tradition will endure.” He means that though inspiration is found to innovate Belgian dishes, there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed for classic recipes to remain, and to maintain their warmth and heart.

Braised lamb with papparadelle pasta at Belga Cafe | Facebook

At Belga Café, for example, DC-area patrons will find traditional dishes like Brussels sprouts deep fried and prepared with bacon and topped with gobs of yogurt sauce, as well as steak tartare that’s prepared classically and served with cornichons, capers, but rather than just onions and raw egg yolk, Chef Bart’s version features fried onions and a fried quail egg.

Among Chef Bart’s favorite Belgian food and drink include, Een pintje or a little pint of beer like Stella Artois, Duvel or Brugse Zot, fries from a sidewalk friet stall, shrimp croquettes, and the Flemish dish Waterzooi, a stew dish made traditionally with fish or more commonly now, chicken. For the sweet-tooth Chef Bart enjoys famed Belgian chocolate and the Liège waffle, Belgium’s tiny, traditional and rich caramelized sugar loaded treat.

Belgian Beef Tartar at Belga Cafe | Facebook

If you’re near DC, stop into Belga Café to try some common dishes from the sidewalk café of Brussels like traveler-favorite Moules Frites, mussels and fries, but also very quintessential Belgian dishes like Pappardelle Met Gesmoorde Lams Shouder, a plate of braised lamb shoulder with pappardelle pasta and herb butter, tomatoes and a red wine sauce, as well as Vlaamse Stiverij Met Frieten, a Flemish beef stew with Corsendonk Brune sauces, Belgian fires, mayonnaise, and braised red cabbage.

Chef Bart Vandaele Shares 6 Ways to Experience Belgium Like a Belgian

When it comes to experiencing Belgium, Chef Bart Vandaele of Washington DC’s original Belgian restaurant knows a thing or two. He grew up in Belgium before moving to the U.S. twenty years ago. Known as a master of Belgian cuisine, he specializes in Belgian food and beer, having cooked for European dignitaries in Embassy row and even appeared on Bravo TV’s Top Chef.

Today, Chef Bar is at the helm of several DC restaurants, including Belga Café his flagship Belgian eatery in DC, alone the restaurant features a vast collection of over 100 beers on the menu which we wrote about here. In a recent interview and #Mezzetravel Twitter chat with Chef Bart, we asked him what were among his favorite things to see and do in Belgium and what travelers could take away about Belgian people and culture.

If you’re planning a trip to Belgium soon, here are six ways Chef Bart recommends travelers experience the country like a Belgian.

1. Pay attention to the details of local life.

For Chef Bart Vandaele, the best thing to do in Belgium for him is revisiting things he’s seen and was familiar with growing up in Belgium. Take, for example, the highest point in Belgium Signal de Botrangewhich he’s seen countless times. “Sure, you’ve been there on a trip as a school kids, but it’s different each time—or, to just drive around through the town you grew up in or that your friend grew up in, and then think to yourself ‘Hey, that street wasn’t there, or this changed, or not,’ that’s how I like to experience Belgium,” he shared.

 2. Don’t be in too much of a hurry.

When it comes to things to see and do, one of the things Chef Bart encourages travel enthusiasts to do is to simply sit. It’s one of his favorite pastimes in Belgium. “Visiting too much is never good. Taking the time to sit at the table and talk to people—sitting at a sidewalk café and just watching people or talking to the people who sit next to you and observing. Belgians are really focused on nothing and a lot at the same time,” he laughs.

 3. Rent a bike.

“Belgium is small, it’s fun. It’s not like you have a long journey to go most anywhere, and you can literally go from café to café, and see people passing by with their bikes,” he shared.

4. It’s normal if you don’t have a favorite city.

What Belgian city is Chef Bart’s favorite? He can’t pick just one, but Antwerp, Ghent and Brugge are among his favorites for wonderful reasons. Located in the most northern Belgian region of Flanders, Antwerp is his favorite Belgian city for its shopping and museums, and Ghent for its food, and simply strolling around. Brugge is a favorite for its pleasant outdoor dining, and of course Belgium’s capital city Brussels is on his list for its rich history and delicious and famous waffles.

5. Extravagance can be a way of life.

For people who travel and like to take souvenirs, we asked Chef Bart what spirit about the Belgian people should travel enthusiasts take with them. His answer: happy people with a love for Belgian food and beer.

Essentially, taking back with you a bit of the Burgundian lifestyle. Burgundy is a region in France but the phrase has its meaning in Dutch (that requires a history lesson), but it simply translates to a flare for ‘enjoyment of life, good food, and extravagant spectacle.’ To us, this means Belgians like to have the best time life can give.

6. Maintain a fun-loving spirit.

In the capital city, Brussels, for example the people have a fun rebellious spirit, one personified in Brussels famous Manneken Pis. Take this small bronze statue near town hall of the “little pee man,” in Flemish, which has a varied story of origin. Not just famous with tourists, the people of Brussels simply adore it and celebrate the statue as part of annual festivities—even replacing the water stream with beer on occasion!

Chef Bart tells us that, locals from Brussels are also especially proud of its sprouts, and that a stop in the capital city isn’t complete without a visit to the Atomium, which boasts a restaurant at the top of its fifth sphere. Quite the extravagant building.

What’s certain, I think, is if you’re planning a trip to Belgium you’ll have a really good time. You’ll surely find the culture of Belgium to be rich and beautiful, a wonderful place to travel, easily experienced through its easy-going people, and you’ll easily carry a lot about Belgium back home with you.

DC China Chilcano’s Chef Carlos on Growing up in Peru, and Serving Up Multicultural Influences

When he was 15, Chef Carlos Delgado knew he wanted to be a chef. In Peru, we learned from him that kids cook, families do things together, and that Peruvian people carry a deep sense of pride in their food and multicultural influences, and embrace it all to make every day unique. A native of Callao, a district in the port city Lima, the capital of Peru, today Chef Carlos’ journey and influences has culminated in his role as Head Chef at Washington, DC restaurant China Chilcano.

“I grew up with a grandmother who was a cook, and she cooked every meal, every day. We treated [home and the process of cooking] like a restaurant, so we never got bored of what we ate,” Chef Carlos shared of his passion for expressing Peruvian food. He was born in a country where food is a part of the people. They eat every day, but each generation has a hand in daily meals, he explained.  Each day, his family would see it as an opportunity to find good products, and then better products to incorporate into every meal.

It’s really the cultural norm for Peruvian children to play a part in food, in cooking, and in home life. Many children accompany their mothers to the market and help with meal preparation, he said cheerfully. “There is no Peruvian mom or Peruvian child who doesn’t know how to cook as a young kid. As a kid, whether you’re making it or helping to buy it, there isn’t a kid in Peru that isn’t involved in the cooking process of the family,” Chef shared.

China Chilcano Peruvian Cuisine | Facebook

At the restaurant, a creation of Chef José Andres and his talented team, you’ll find a hybrid of Chinese, Japanese and indigenous Peruvian cooking showcased in a trifecta of popular dishes. For those unfamiliar with Peruvian cuisine, these influences are deeply rooted in Peru through centuries of the migration, mingling and making of traditional cuisines with local Peruvian ingredients. A look at China Chilcano’s menu, you’ll find these cultural fusions displayed through Chinese Chifa, Japanese Nikkei and Peru’s Native Criollo Cuisine.

Peruvians always find inspiration though how diverse Peru is, Chef explained, and having his grandmother teach him all these things, had him only wanting to learn more; that’s why when he was just a kid he knew he wanted to be chef.

“Depending on the subject, there is criteria that you grow up with as part of the culture as a Peruvian to know what is really a good or fresh ingredient and what isn’t—it’s what makes us who we are because we have a wide variety of food,” he explained. “Peruvians are very needy when it comes to food,” and because of this they know to expect fresh ingredients all the time. Today, with the boom in Peruvian gastronomy topping the global food scene, you’ll find more than 80,000 restaurants in Lima alone, he told us.  That’s not even including the hundreds of thousands of hidden gems tucked away from the crowds.

China Chilcano Washington DC Peruvian Food
China Chilcano | Facebook

At China Chilcano, every dish has its own story. Each part of the menu showcases a part of Peruvian cuisine that has become influenced through Chinese, Japanese, and indigenous cultures of Peru. The whole story requires a history lesson that dates to at least to the 18th century, but as Chef Carlos explains at the restaurant, “whether it’s connecting or combing the two or three cuisines or simply allowing the original to come through, since we’re combing Chinese and [traditional] Peruvian ingredients some people unfamiliar with the history think that it’s fusion, but it’s not.” It’s more about culture, he explains.

The Chinese migrating to Peru, marrying their traditional dishes with Peruvian ingredients then the standard becomes normal to you, to me, to them. That’s how, after chatting with Chef Carlos, I understood what he meant: “This is Chinese-Peruvian, this is Chifa. All the dishes at the restaurant are representations of these stories.”

Even as Peru has become a popular food destination in recent years where you can sample these cuisines in its cosmopolitan cities, the Peruvian palette is even more diverse than even the stories shared through the dishes at the restaurant. “Lima has been the food capital of the world for the last four years, and young Chefs like me are showcasing that; and I’m from Lima, so I’m going to showcase it, but Peruvian cuisine goes beyond that. There is still the cuisine of the Amazon, and the Incas, for example, that still hold on to their own traditional culture.” At China Chilcano, there’s yet a wonderfully diverse gastronomy for a taste of modern-day Peru.

China Chilcano Washington DC Peruvian Food
China Chilcano Peruvian Sanguches (Sandwiches) | Facebook

When it comes to defining dishes at China Chilcano, the “Aji Gallina is very homey; something a grandmother would make, and we’re still showcasing it a very traditional way. It’s not something you can really mask or redo,” Chef tells us. Another very popular dish, “Our ceviche—we take a lot of pride in it; we respect all the ingredients for what they are. We try to mimic as much as we can its traditional preparation as in Peru. This fish comes in fresh every day, and it lets us showcase the fish and the techniques to pronounce the fresh ingredients—to allow them to tell an actual story of Peru,” he explained.

China Chilcano Washington DC Peruvian Food
Trio of Ceviches: Clasico Pulp and Jaladito Norteno at China Chilcano | Facebook

By paying attention to the freshness of ingredients in its dishes, China Chilcano is true to Peru. Chef tells us, “At the end of the day we cook to tell a story. Whether you’ve gone or will go to Peru, you’re tasting quality. We’re able to leverage the back-end of things, like the trueness of preparation, to show you what Peru is about.”

Stepping into the restaurant, there’s an overall experience that visually echo’s the multicultural diversity of Peru. “We’re about telling you a story through the restaurant because there is a deep and unique story behind how Peru started, and how the Chinese and Japanese migrated and how these cuisines were born—how they are now under one umbrella in Peru” Chef explains about the features of the restaurant that evoke the senses through a balance of décor, ambiance, music, and especially the bold flavors and aromas; a slice of Peru in the U.S. capital.

China Chilcano Peruvian Cuisine Washington DC
Aji De Gallina at China Chilcano | Facebook

In terms of the menu, the restaurant also strives to preserve the Peruvian norm for local ingredients. As Chef explains, while you can’t serve tomatoes, for example, on the menu year-round like in Peru because of its climate, his team respects the seasons of the Washington, DC area by incorporating its local and seasonal ingredients.

Take a visit to China Chilcano for lunch or dinner any given day and you’ll surely discover that each cuisine has its own persona, the sort of magical mingling of South American and Asian flavors. Bite into any dish and we think without words you’ll start to understand the vast and diverse history of Peruvian cuisine. “The presentation of the countries that migrated to Peru is something that Peruvians are very proud of because it makes our cuisine more diverse than if they never came,” chef shares proudly.

Chef José has said of Chef Carlos in this article from his website, “He’s the Head Chef at China Chilcano because he’s super talented … He’s gonna help us keep telling the story of HIS Peru to Washington, and to America, and to the world.”

We wholeheartedly agree, and he’s got the heart to do it.

Capitol Hill’s Belga Café Offers DC the Warmth, Tradition and Sidewalk Cafes of Brussels

Passing recipes from generation to generation, that’s the part of Belgian culture Chef Bart Vandaele finds most inspiring for his flagship Belga Café. With its beautiful patio leading into the eatery along historic Barrack’s Row on Capitol Hill, at the heart of Washington DC’s original Belgian restaurant is a menu steeped in a kind of tradition that endures.

The character, practice and culture of Belgian cuisine runs deep for the Vandaele family—in fact, it was the ethos behind the restaurants of his grandparents and parents, including his chef father, which led Chef Bart to decide at the age of 11 or 12 that he wanted to be a chef. It was this passion for expressing Belgian tradition practically fed from a young age, that established his formal journey as restaurateur after studying culinary arts for restaurant and hotel management in Brugge.

Chef Bart Vandaele, Belga Cafe | FacebookWhen it came to developing the menu for the restaurant, Chef Bart shared, “For Belgians, food comes natural; you love the food, you live in the country and you eat it, but when we came to the U.S. I really wanted to highlight Belgian food, to share it, and for people to understand what it was because in DC there wasn’t any.”

Diners at Belga Café will find recognizable and traditional dishes that people in Belgium grow up with. Dishes that are common in the sidewalk cafes of Belgium’s capitol Brussels—food that is cherished and continues from family to family. “If you have a husband or wife that can cook very well in Belgium, you’re lucky—some say, next to being a doctor having someone in the family that does is important in Belgian culture because it’s used to bring people together.”

Following his studies in Brugge, Chef Bart worked for renown Belgian restaurants and served under well-respected chefs. After arriving in America in 1997 he became executive chef for the European Union’s head diplomat to the United States, then for the Dutch Embassy before the opening of Belga Café nearly fifteen years ago. A master of traditional Belgian cuisine, he has appeared on Bravo’s ‘Top Chef’, and earned the moniker ‘the Belgian guy’ for putting Belgian food on the map in Washington, DC.

Diners at Belga Cafe | Facebook

Chef told us because food is a conduit in Belgium, it’s why even though there was similar food such as several French restaurants and even Belgian beer when he arrived in DC, the capital needed a café like Belga, because culturally, the traces of the cuisine needed more tender love and care, essentially the Belgian touch. That’s why patrons will note that the restaurant isn’t a French-Belgian restaurant or even a European restaurant, but truly Belgian at its heart.

Situated around the pillar of politics in America, Capitol Hill, Chef Bart chose a unique structure—a decision not to get into Belgian politics through the restaurant’s menu. So, you won’t find geographical specialties mentioned or sectioned off. “It’s simply a Belgian restaurant—dishes close to my heart, my favorites—not based on regions like Flanders or cities like Waterloo. Although, you will find the pronunciation of the café’s dishes in French or how they’re known to be called in their place of origin, whether also Flemish or Dutch, and translated in English,” he explained. To us, that seems to translate into a place for everyone simply using recipes of love.

Moules Frites or Mussels and Fries at Belga Cafe | Facebook

Bricks are also culturally important in Belgian culture. “For me, as the Belgian saying goes, I was a boy born with a brick in his stomach.” Literally, there’s a Belgian folk saying, Een baksteen in de maag which means bricks are essentially an anchor. For example, chef told us when you buy a house in Belgium it’s usually made of brick and it stays in the family because it’s home, and it means home. The restaurant is built with lots of bricks. In fact, the interior was laid brick-by-brick, a process that seemed for Chef Bart a natural path, a destiny. On the design of the restaurant, he explained, “[You] really stand behind your country more-so when you’re outside of it, you cherish and focus on things about it that when you’re there you simply take for granted.”

While his second restaurant, B Too, is more contemporary, Belga Café features down-home cooking, he tells us. “I call it down to earth because literally it’s food that’s very closely connected to your backyard in Belgium. It’s your chickens or rabbits, or if you’re close to the sea, it’s mussels and scallops, and root vegetables, those are essential. It’s really about the cabbage, that Brussel sprout, and the potato—the potato for example is really big, there’s no meal without the potato.”

He likens local Belgian cuisine to a friend in your backyard who waits on you to comfort you and that you gather with, that, he said, is real local food. “It’s like, [the food] simmers, and outside it’s raining and cold and you’re out working a bit, and then you come around the table to that steamy pot of mussels or that great chocolate mousse on Sunday’s from grandma because she has this amazing, enduring recipe. Those recipes that you gather around are what make up Belgian culture.”

Belga Cafe Washington DC Belgian Food
Warm and savory Belgian dishes are served at Belga Cafe | Facebook

Beyond the wonderful food, guests will find the cues of a Belgian beer garden in a vast selection of over 100 beers offered at Belga. From popular brews like pilsners, to white beers, red, brown, golden, and Belgian ales, Saisons, to even innovative beer cocktails, and more, the selection is quite extensive. Little details like serving the beer in the correct glasses is traditional, whether served against the façade of the brick wall of the bar or to people drinking outside on the terrace on a beautiful day.

There’s a beautiful patio outside Belga that beacons to the famed sidewalk cafes in Brussels. “When we opened, it wasn’t common to have sidewalk seating and it’s something I’m very proud of. I wanted to have a sidewalk café because that’s Belgium, that’s Brussels. At the restaurant, you can just sit and watch the world pass by,” chef shared.

Belga Cafe Washington DC
Belga Cafe features an outdoor patio | Facebook

Sensory cues like steaming Belgian music, an open kitchen with the light but warm and inviting scent of steamed mussels and fries welcome you in for a warm meal. You’ll see on the walls subtle homage to Belgium from simple décor like the colors or the letter ‘B’ on the wall, to interesting features like the crown molding around a central chandelier that came from an old Belgian castle. A saxophone sits behind the bar because it was a Belgian who invented it.

Whether inside or outside, the café is collectively and proudly Belgian. Simply by walking by it you’ll be invited in because there’s a simmering pot of tradition and warmth waiting for you. Like a friend waiting at a sidewalk café in Brussels for you to pull up a chair and sit with them for a while, Belga Café represents everything there is to love about Belgium.

Belga Cafe Washington DC Belgian food
Belga Cafe features an extensive wine and beer menu, over 100 beers | Facebook

Patrons to Belga Café can come for lunch, dinner, as well as brunch on weekends. The restaurant also offers daily two course prix-fixe lunch specials, a Tuesday Mussels special which includes crunchy fries for just $16.95, as well as half-priced happy hour on cocktails wines, draft beers, and small plates on weekdays from 2:30pm to 6:30pm and Sunday’s from 4:00pm to close.

DC Georgetown’s Via Umbria Will Transport You To Italy

A trip to Italy is at the very top of my bucket list. The wine, the food, the ancient architecture – it all beckons to me on a regular basis. Until I make it there, I’ll be spending a lot of time at Via Umbria in Georgetown.

Via Umbria DC

This new cafe and market brings the best of Italy to DC by offering cooking classes, authentic Italian products and luxurious Italian dinners in a beautiful and welcoming space.

Via Umbra groceries

Italian fabrics

Via Umbria fresh produce
Via Umbria also offers an extensive selection of Italian wines, many from lesser known regions. I was surprised by how affordable many of the bottles were.

Via Umbria wine shop
I was invited to try one of Via Umbria’s Italian dinners highlighting cuisine from Liguria, a small coastal region in the Northeast part of the country near the border of France.

Dinner started out with a brief wine tasting of Ligurian wines for purchase to pair with dinner. I had never tried these varietals before, but enjoyed them both very much. We chose a bottle of the Pigato, which was light, crisp and refreshing.

Via Umbra Ligurian wine
We were also excited to find a very affordable bottle of Sciava that my friend Diane had recently recommended. This wine is beautiful, and if you ever see it you should definitely grab a bottle or five. It goes with practically anything, and is also pretty delicious on its own.

2014 Galea Schiava
After choosing our wine, we went upstairs for dinner. The beautiful, bright space and gorgeous table piled with Ligurian antipasti was a true delight.

Via Umbria communal dining space

Ligurian Dinner with Alessandro Anfosso

Via Umbria Ligurian dinner
I loved the communal seating, which gave us the opportunity to chat with the other diners at the table. We sat next to a lovely couple from Denmark and across from the dinner’s host Alessandro Anfosso. Sharing food, wine and stories with fellow food lovers always makes me positively giddy.

talking about Italy
Via Umbria’s head chef Johanna Hellrigl outdid herself with the night’s spread. The antipasti course consisted of baked mussels with pomodoro and Parmigiano Reggiano, tuna stuffed peppers, calamari and crostini with an assortment of spreads from Alessandro’s family company based out of Liguria.

Via Umbra antipasti
The primo course offered a paste duo of traditional Pansotti ravioli in walnut sauce and Ligurian trofie pasta with sage pesto. The pesto was out of this world. We picked up a jar to recreate this dish at home.

Via Umbria pasta
For secondo, an involtini of salmon with olives and sun-dried tomatoes, served over spinach.

Via Umbria chef
This may have been the first salmon dish I’ve ever eaten in its entirety, the sun-dried tomatoes and salty olives wooing me past my distaste for salmon.

Involtini of Salmon
After a dessert course of Italian cookies, we returned to the shop to shop some of the flavors we’d tasted at dinner and spent the entire ride home talking about everything we want to buy next time and events we want to try out.

Via Umbria Georgetown
If you’re looking to learn more about Italian cuisine or purchase hard-to-find Italian products, meats and cheeses you cannot go wrong with Via Umbria. Check out their upcoming events page for a list of upcoming wine tastings, cooking classes and special dinners.

About the Author
Kacy Kish writes for Mezze Weekly in Washington, D.C. and with our readers she shares her own international culture experiences through food, drink, while highlighting cultural events and more to check out around the DC area. Kacy also writes for her blog, Bad Sentences where you can follow her own journey through food, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.