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What they're eating in Washington, DC

Yoghurt soup? Salmon in beeswax? Barack Obama’s favourite hot dog? The US capital has it all

By Audrey Gillan
photographs by Andrew Cebulka
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:04 BST
Sweet potato rolls at The Dabney
Sweet potato rolls at The Dabney
Photograph by Andrew Cebulka

Beeswax-poached salmon
DC has always been fond of a fine-dining restaurant and Plume, at the Jefferson Hotel, is a classic. It recently earned a Michelin star, and the most talked-about dish is king salmon cooked at your table. The fish is placed into a bento box and hot Amish beeswax poured over the top, which slowly cools until hardened. The box is then taken to the kitchen where the chef breaks the wax away to reveal salmon that’s pink outside and juicy inside.

Sweet potato rolls
This not-so-secret secret, off-menu dish at The Dabney has people swooning: a sweet potato bread roll, fluffy on the inside, crispy on top, and usually stuffed with catfish (pictured). The rolls have been described as ‘the bread version of salted caramel’. Unless you’ve got a reservation, you’ll need to queue from around 5.30pm for a table at this restaurant, whose cooking is homely meets hipster.

Chilled yoghurt soup
Hand-rolled filo, homemade pitta bread and lavash chips, and high-quality local produce means the mezze at Zaytinya is among the best in the world. Inspired by dishes from Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cuisine, there’s a vast menu. Chilled yoghurt soup is a favourite: it subtly changes with the seasons, and on my visit is topped with walnuts, rose petals, dill, parsley, chives, raisins and barberries. Not for you? Try the spit-roasted lamb shoulder or octopus Santorini instead.

Chilli half-smoke
A pork and beef smoked sausage on a warm steamed bun, topped with mustard, onions and home-made chilli has been drawing in the crowds since Ben and Virginia Ali opened Ben’s Chili Bowl in 1958. This casual spot is situated on U Street, in the now-trendy Shaw district, and fans of its signature chilli half-smoke include Barack Obama, who has his own special seat.

The queue for Bad Saint, a tiny joint in Columbia Heights, often starts to form hours before it opens at 5.30pm. And one of the dishes they come for is adobo. The national dish of the Philippines, it’s made by marinating meat or seafood in a mix of soy sauce, vinegar, pepper and garlic — but no two adobos are ever the same. Chef Tom Cunanan keeps diners guessing with his version — on the menu you might find tender squid, or turmeric-heavy yellow chicken with coconut and pumpkin.

Follow @audreygillan


As featured in Issue 4 of National Geographic Traveller Food

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