Verts Introduces Houstonians to Germany's Most Popular Street Food: The Döner Kebap

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Chicken kebap on the left, veggie kebap on the right.
Schwarma. Gyro. Trompo. Döner.

The popular fast food has many names, but only one of them is taking Houston by storm: The döner kebap, a German street food staple brought to the Bayou City by two Austinites who own the restaurant Verts. Sound complicated? It's gets more tangled.

The Germans claim the döner kebap was invented in Berlin in the 1970s by a Turkish immigrant named Mahmut Aygun. According to an obituary in The Telegraph from 2009, Aygun was born in Turkey and moved to Germany at the age of 16. He opened a snack stall there and sold kebab meat cooked on a rotating spit and served over rice. After noticing drunk people struggling to stumble home with the food in tow or reticent to sit at his counter and eat, he decided to invent a more handy means of edible transport. He stuffed the meat into a pita and sent diners on their merry way.

The Telegraph reports that the first such sandwiches--if you can call them that--was served at Aygun's restaurant, Hasir, on March 2, 1972. Today, Verts Kebap is serving the same sort of meal right here in Houston. The first location on Yale north of Washington opened last week, and the owners are planning on opening at least four more locations in the coming weeks and months.

But Houston has Turkish food. We have trompo and gyros. What's the big deal with the döner?

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2014 International Festival Celebrates Australia...But Hold the Vegemite, Please

Image courtesy International Festival
This year's poster was designed by local artist Carlos Hernandez. You can buy one online!
I'm excited about this year's International Festival highlighting Australia for two reasons: One, it gives me an excuse to post the music video for Men At Work's brilliant 1980 song "Land Down Under" (see the next page), and two, I honestly don't know much about Australian food.

Being that the festival is hosted here in Houston, a number of local chefs will be coming out to showcase their cuisine, but there will also be Australian chefs and vendors introducing Texas to the wonders of food from Down Under.

Hot on the heels of Houston's Second Annual BBQ Festival, the International Festival is hosting a "Texas vs. Barbie Cook-Off" competition on May 1 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Hermann Square Park featuring local chefs and restaurants. The festival will also have a concession area with food from more than 40 restaurants, some of whom will be trying their hand at Australian cuisine.

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State Rep. Jason Villalba Pleads Once Again for Sriracha to Bring Operations to Texas

Photos from Wikipedia
Rep. Jason Villalba is once again trying to bring the troubled Sriracha plant to Texas.
In January, we told you about Texas state representative Jason Villalba and his quest to convince Huy Fong Foods, Inc. to move to our fair state. At that time, complaints from the city of Irwindale, California, where the plant that makes Sriracha is located, threatened to force the company to halt production of the addictive red hot sauce because of the fumes that were purportedly affecting citizens in the community.

Villalba got wind (so to speak) of the issue, and sent a letter to David Tran, chief executive officer of Huy Fong Foods, Inc., inviting him to move the plant to Texas: "As a public official and a corporate attorney for small businesses, I am extremely troubled by excessive government interference in the operations of private, job-creating businesses like Huy Fong Foods. You have worked too hard and have helped too many people to let government bureaucrats shut down your thriving business."

Huy Fong, Sriracha and Villalba are back in the news this week, as the Irwindale City Council passed a resolution deeming Huy Fong Foods "a public nuisance."

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The United States of Desserts: Key Lime Pie

Photo by Wally Gobetz
Key Lime Pie from Joe's Stone Crab

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections, and desserts associated with American states.

I have to admit, I really don't love key lime pie. I've never made it at home, and I don't think I've ever ordered it at a restaurant. The handful of times I have eaten key lime pie were usually prompted by others urging me to try some of their portion. After a bite or two, I always think, "This is good. But too tart to eat an entire slice."

I recognize, however, I'm definitely in the minority. Key lime pie appears on many, many restaurant menus, and the flavor is so popular that food manufacturers have piggy-backed off of its broad appeal to launch successful spin-off products, such as ice cream and yogurt.

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The United States of Desserts: Shoofly Pie

Photo by sisterbeer
Shoofly Pie

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.

I can't write about the pie without hearing the song in my head.

Shoo, fly, don't bother me,
Shoo, fly, don't bother me,
Shoo, fly, don't bother me,
For I belong to somebody.

I didn't realize that shoofly pie was a regionally specific (Pennsylvanian) dish until I went to college in New England and mentioned casually to a roommate from Michigan that I prefer that type of pie over most others.

"Is that some sort of new, trendy dessert?" she asked, wrinkling her nose. (I think she had interpreted the name as "Shoe-Fly!")

Widely considered to have originated in the Pennsylvania "Dutch" (actually, German -- Deutsch) community, shoofly pie is actually fairly old in terms of American desserts. A recipe can be found in the 1915 edition of Mary at the Farm and Book of Recipes Compiled During Her Visit Among the "Pennsylvania Germans."

(Side note: Aren't old book titles the best?)

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Ramen Documentary to Premiere in Houston

Photo courtesy Spilled
Get ready for Carl Rosa's ramen documentary.
If you're tired of hearing about ramen, stop reading right now. The craze isn't dying down anytime soon. In fact, many think that, at least here in Houston, it's just getting started, and we're about to go even more gaga over the Japanese soup, thanks to Carl Rosa, founder and president of the Sushi Club of Houston, and his new film, Spilled: A Documentary About Real Ramen.

This morning, Rosa released the trailer on the Ramen in Common Facebook group, and various Spilled websites went live, a move that will probably increase the local demand for the dish, which was once largely thought of as college-dorm fare in the United States. Rosa is crazy about all things Japanese--particularly the food--and he spends his days teaching Americans about the ins and outs of Japanese culture and cuisine. He's already tackled sushi in Houston, so now he's onto the next big thing: Ramen.

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The United States of Desserts: Smith Island Cake

Photo by Alison
Smith Island Cake

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections, and desserts associated with American states.

Maryland's Official State Dessert is a cake after my own heart.

I've long been a proponent of equal cake-to-icing ratios, which is why I ultimately favor the layer cake over the cupcake for celebrations.

The bakers of Smith Island, Maryland's only inhabited island, exceed these expectations by pairing eight to ten thin layers of yellow cake with the same number of layers of chocolate icing.

All cakes should aspire to such equal representation.

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The United States of Desserts: Buckeyes

Photo by Kim Keegan
Buckeyes (the candy)

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections, and desserts associated with certain American states.

Buckeye. I can't think of another word in the English language that simultaneously denotes a professional sports organization, a tree, a butterfly species, a breed of chicken and a type of candy.

Because I'm uninterested in college football or botany, slightly afraid of butterflies and indifferent to chickens, the focus of this post will be buckeyes the candy.

For those unfamiliar with these confections, which were created in and are strongly associated with Ohio and its residents, the buckeye candy is basically a ball of peanut butter, powdered sugar and butter, half dipped in semi-sweet chocolate.

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Who Will Be the First Houston Bakery to Copy the New Cronut?

Photo courtesy Dominique Ansel Instagram
Are milk and cookie shots too much of a good thing?
Clearly it's not actually a cronut, but Dominique Ansel, New York pastry chef and inventor of the croissant/doughnut hybrid that took the country by storm last summer, is at it again, and this time he's debuted his creation at SXSW.

The treats, which are not yet named, appear to be chocolate chip cookies fashioned into shot glasses and filled with milk. How big are they? How does the cookie hold the milk in without leaking? What's so special about milk and cookies?

We're not really sure, and that's why we want someone here in Houston to tackle this cookie conundrum. It didn't take long for cronuts to catch on across the country, and if these are as good (initial reports from diners at SXSW are not available), it shouldn't be too long before we're all downing cookie shots on Saturday nights and finding ourselves hungover on milk come Sunday morning.

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The United States of Desserts: Mississippi Mud Brownies

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Mississippi Mud Brownies

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections, and desserts associated with certain American states.

Mississippi was the second state whose name I learned how to spell (the first, naturally, being my home state of Pennsylvania). If you uttered the letters in a certain repetitive rhythm, their order was easy to remember: M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.

I didn't actually got to Mississippi until I was a sophomore in college (Faulkner roadtrip), but I wanted to because I thought of it as home to one of my favorite chocolate desserts: Mississippi Mud Brownies. (Or "Pie" or "Cake" depending on whom you ask.)

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