Category: Des Moines

I Got My Ethiopian Food Fix At The World Food And Music Festival, Des Moines

As a new Iowan, I have a lot of exploring to do.

Since we just moved into our new house, I haven’t gotten to venture very far. However, I did make it to Des Moines this past weekend to attend the World Food And Music Festival with friends.

The festival weaves through Des Moines’ East Village and includes food demonstrations, live music, and blocks of food vendors.

When I was younger, I looked forward to attending the Festival of Nations in the Twin Cities. This World Food Festival was even better. I even found its food more compelling than the MN State Fair’s, which is blasphemy, I know. The sheer number of vendors astounded me and they offered dishes that ranged from Ecuadorian to Czechylslovakian.

In Fargo, ND and Mason City, IA, we’ve had to adjust to having a smaller variety of restaurants than we did in the Twin Cities. We can’t just call for Korean take-out anymore, but on a positive note, I’ve learned how to cook more foods myself. When I saw and smelled all of the food possibilities at the festival, I didn’t know where to start.

Some of the vendors were run by local restaurants while others were operated by cultural groups. Every vendor offered a tasting item for only $1 and these proved to more than substantial for the price. Plus, vendors’ regular menu items did not exceed $5.

The dollar treats I tried included this steamed pork shumei dumpling with a vinegary dipping sauce from the Filipino Store, an minty spring rolls and fried egg roll from the New Oriental Food Store and a pork taco from a Korean vendor (unfortunately, this particular version did not taste very Korean).

The afternoon became very hot and we cooled down with strawberry and winter melon flavored bubble tea shakes dotted with boba pearls and fruity jellies.

Most of all, I enjoyed this plate from the Ethiopian Association of Iowa.

It included spongy rolls injera that tasted like sourdough bread, spicy beef seasoned with berbere and a flavorful mixture of tender cabbage, carrots, and green beans. It was really, really good. I vowed to learn how to make these dishes at home, although I know I’ll never be able to compete with the grandmother who I saw sitting by the stove, cooking everything fresh.

Still, this doesn’t mean I won’t try.

My friends also tried dollar samplings of chicken laarb, a sweet egg roll filled with banana, iced milk tea and toasted marshmallows from Beaverdale Confections. They made them in many flavors and customers could pick two.

This stand also prepared gooey s’mores melted between waffle cookies.

While we were at the festival, we made sure to visit Raygun who sold $10 t-shirts on the sidewalk. This only served to double my joy.

Des Moines, you have such a good thing going on with the World Food And Music Festival!

A Weekend In Des Moines: Bosnian Cabbage Rolls & 24-Hour Beef Brisket

Staying with our parents on the weekends is nice, but sometimes it’s fun to give them a break and visit friends.

This past weekend, some friends invited us to their home in Des Moines and provided a quiet place to land. They were lovely hosts and showed us some of their favorite places to eat and drink. Plus, they shared their dog Winston. I was delighted when he wiggled his way into our room one morning and curled up on our bed.

Teddy bear face and wagging tail. 

He’s a well-mannered fellow with a gentle temperament. Puppy cuddles go a long way to soothe the hearts of weary travelers.

We began our weekend with beer and nachos at Saints Pub on Friday evening and headed to the sprawling downtown farmers market the next morning.

Like the State Fair, except better.

70 degrees and partly sunny felt refreshing. Less like summer and more like a fall.

Five years ago, old college friends took me to the market where I felt awestruck by the variety of food and beverages from around the world. It was here my friends introduced me to my first pupusa, an experience that’s become pivotal in my culinary growth. Taking my first bite of a pupusa reminds me of how Anthony Bourdain describes tasting his first oyster. I’ve eaten many other pupusas since, but this one’s still the best.

We ate no pupusas on this trip. However, we did visit a Bosnian food vendor selling savory meat pastries and cabbage rolls from this bubbling cauldron.

I ordered a roll for only $3. The silky cabbage leaf was filled with ground beef and rice.

The vendor placed a small square of bread into the dish and it soaked up the tangy sauce. Nothing flashy, but comfort food at its best. We hydrated ourselves with homemade ginger beer and people-watched over Bloody Marys at Mickey’s Irish Pub.

Jake enjoyed a peanut butter and chocolate ice cream sandwich from Thelma’s and we shared sweets from a vendor offering Moroccan pastries made with semolina flour. We bought one of the last two sticky lemon cakes that remained at 11:30 a.m.


Afterwards, we wandered the East Village. Jake and I bought clever t-shirts from RAYGUN, sampled tea at Gong Fu Tea, and paused at El Bait Shop where we sampled from their massive beer selection (120 on tap, 150 bottled).

After a three hour nap, we were ready to meet more friends for dinner at Flying Mango.

I chose a large piece of seared yellow-fin tuna served over creamy black beans and rice and topped with mango salsa. I snuck a bite of Jake’s 24-hour Beef Brisket. The slices were fork tender and had a visible smoke ring, but the serving was scant for $18, even with his choice of two sides.

I was surprised to find that my favorite bite all evening was my friend’s grilled portobello mushroom sandwich with creamy goat cheese and red onion. In this mecca of smoked meats, the humble mushroom reigned supreme.

Our Des Moines friends also shared tastes of their favorite side dishes; cornbread with honey butter and cinnamon-intense, fire roasted apples. Leave it to the locals to know best. The margaritas cost $8, but they were well-sized and strong. I especially appreciated how my mango margarita was minimally sweetened.

After dinner we wandered through the Italian American Heritage Festival and returned home, too full to join our friends for slices of pizza at Fong’s.

We’re so grateful for the hospitality of friends who have shared their homes, kitchens, and pets with us.

A Morning In Des Moines: La Mie Bakery & Spam Musubi

One of my favorite things about living in Mason City, IA is its proximity to family and friends.

While Fargo-Moorhead was a 3.5 drive from the Twin Cities, Maosn City is no more than two. Plus, it’s a mere hour and a half south to Des Moines. Our move to Iowa has provided an opportunity to connect with old college friends and I remind Jake that he’s in “Wartburg Country.” It feels like a homecoming of sorts.

Breakfast At La Mie Bakery
I left bright and early on Wednesday morning to meet friends at La Mie Bakery. The author of Road Tips had suggested I stop there, anyway, for croissants. This past weekend, I had stopped at Rustica, a bakery near Lake Calhoun, and brought home a bag of croissants and kouign amanns. My family promptly devoured them and once we returned to Mason City, I wished for more.

La Mie was very busy, just as my friend had warned. Customers grabbed boxes or plates and hovered over trays of glistening pastries displayed on two large tables. I quickly grabbed a small box and filled it with croissants.

They had a pleasant lacquered crust and true buttery flavor, though their pastry layers were a little thicker than Rustica’s. Warmed in our microwave, they helped ease the monotony of hotel life.

For breakfast, I gingerly ate this salmon tartine in which a piece of toast was loaded with cream cheese, silky smoked salmon, avocado, sprouts, shaved red onion, and a hard boiled egg. An ideal breakfast for a savory-minded person and only $6.95. 

When I ordered a macchiatto ($1.85), the barista warned me their version consisted of espresso topped a little milk foam. This was exactly what I wanted. A friend asked me what my drink was called and expressed surprise when I called it a machiatto. She pointed out how different it looked from those offered at Starbuck’s. No wonder they provided a disclaimer upon ordering. 
Alahona Hawaiian Grille
On the way home, I stopped in Ankeny at the Alohana Hawaiian Grille for SPAM musubi. I was surprised read about this Hawaiin restaurant on the Slaking Fool’s blog before I visited the SPAM Museum in Austin, MN. 
I ordered two to go for $1.75.  They were tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and piping hot. I wondered if they were microwaved. 
Either way, the lightly vinagered sushi rice, oceanic seaweed, salty SPAM, and sweet soy sauce made for a guilty pleasure and there wasn’t much to dislike. I never imagined I’d try my first SPAM musubi in Des Moines, IA and look forward to returning for a Loco Moco plate lunch or short ribs.
We’re returning to Des Moines to spend the weekend with more friends. It’s Jake’s first visit. We’re planning to experience the amazing farmers market downtown (it’s where I tasted my first pupusa five years ago) and have been encouraged to visit Fong’s Pizza & Flying Mango
Where else should we visit? Please don’t say Potbelly. 

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