The Philly cheesesteak. The club sandwich. The Reuben. Anything between two slices of bread at Katz’s Delicatessen. These are all, frankly, ridiculous sandwiches. And as such, Americans may think they have a monopoly on ridiculous sandwiches.
But they’ve got nothing on Portugal’s francesinha, almost certainly the most ridiculous sandwich of all.
According to Tiago Passos, the madness began at A Regaleira, a restaurant opened by his grandfather back in 1935 in the pleasant northern Portuguese city of Porto.
Passos describes how in the early 1950’s, the restaurant hired a chef called Daniel Silva. Silva, who had worked a chef in Angola (a former Portuguese colony) and France, came home from these stints with the notion to do a take on the croque monsieur using local ingredients. According to Passos, Silva supplemented his invention with a sauce that was heavy on the malagueta, a spicy chili from Angola.
“He said that French girls were hot,” explains Passos of Silva’s inspiration for both the dish’s unique seasoning and its name, the latter of which is the feminine diminutive form of the Portuguese for “French”, approximately translatable as “little Frenchie”.
“Girls in Portugal didn’t wear miniskirt then,” adds Passos.
A Regaleira claims to follow Silva’s original recipe to this day. To make the sandwich, a thick, palm-sized slice of pão forma, plain white bread, is toasted and topped with a slice of ham, fresh sausage and linguiça, a type of Portuguese smoked sausage:
This is pressed in a modified sandwich press until the sausages are cooked.
They’re then topped with a slice of roast pork, another slice of toasted bread, and a couple slices of queijo flamengo, a mild cheese, and put back into the press. When heated through, they’re then drenched in the molho, a thick, spicy sauce that unites stock, beer, whiskey, port, tomatoes, milk, mustard and chili — allegedly, that is.
“The sauce is secret,” we were told by a waiter. “And not everybody’s sauce is the same. If you eat here, the sauce is different than another house.”
The waiter slid the finished sandwich on our table and said, with confidence, “The best sandwich in the world.” And indeed, it is pretty damn good. The francesinha is, despite all its fillings, relatively (again, relatively speaking) small, and voluminous contents merge together in an almost cake- or pie-like way, undoubtedly aided by the rich, binding sauce and all that melted cheese. And if you feel the sandwich is lacking somehow, you can always order a francesinha especial, which comes topped with a fried egg and a side of French fries.
Rua do Bonjardim 87, Porto, Portugal
+351 22 200 6465
Cafe Santiago, in business since 1959 and ostensibly Porto’s second-most famous place to get a francesinha, can’t claim to have invented the sandwich, but they’ve upped the ante by cramming it with even more stuff. Here’s a cross- section:
Between these those slices of bread, you have cheese, ham, beefsteak, cured sausage, fresh sausage and mortadella. Yet the sandwich (shown at the top of this post) has less character, perhaps due to its uniform appearance and distinctly mild sauce that packs none of the spiciness of A Regaleira’s.
But it’s still, frankly, ridiculous.
Rua de Passos Manuel 198, Porto, Portugal
+351 22 208 1804
I’ve made francesinhas twice now, and my recipe is a blend of the two styles described here: the over-the-top fillings and tidy, symmetrical appearance of Cafe Santiago’s version, and the full-on spicy sauce of A Regaleira.
Makes six large sandwiches
For the molho
250g beef bones
300g beef shank
1 small onion, peeled and halved
1 medium carrot, peeled and quartered
6 small dried chilies
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic
6 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 can (140g) of double strength/doppio tomato paste
1 can (330ml) beer
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon piri-piri oil or sauce
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
For the sandwiches
12 slices relatively thick white bread, toasted
6 slices/200g mortadela
6 small/250g fresh sausage links
3 small/130g linguiça
6 small (approximately 100g each) beef steaks, pounded until thin
6 slices/200g ham
24 slices/450g queijo flamengo (or Edam) cheese
To a large stockpot over high heat, add beef bones, shank, onion, carrot, chilies, bay leaves, garlic and water. Bring to the bowl, reduce heat and allow to simmer for 1.5 hours.
Strain stock, discarding solids. Set stock aside.
To large stockpot over medium heat, add butter onion and garlic. Saute, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and translucent, about five minutes. Add tomato paste, stirring frequently, until combined and oil begins to re-emerge, another five minutes. Add reserved stock, beer, milk, mustard, piri-piri, salt and cornstarch. Increase heat slightly, stir to combine and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for five minutes or so until slightly reduced and somewhat emulsified. Using an immersion blender or via pouring mixture into a blender, blend until thoroughly uniform and emulsified. Return to stockpot and allow mixture to simmer until reduced by nearly approximately a third, is thick, spicy and meaty, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.
To a griddle or a frying pan over medium-high heat, add the fresh sausage links and linguiça and fry on both sides until done, about five minutes. Remove and set aside. Increase heat to high, add steaks and sear on both sides, about a minute on each side. Set aside. When cool enough to handle, halve linguiça and sausage links lengthwise.
While molho is still simmering, prepare the sandwiches. On a large oven tray, arrange six slices of toasted bread. Top each with one slice of mortadela, half a linguiça, two halves of a sausage link, one steak, one slice of ham and a slice of bread. Drape four slices of cheese over each sandwich, covering it completely. Assemble sandwiches on tray and bake at a high heat or broil until cheese is soft, but not bubbling, about five minutes.
To serve, put one francesinha in a shallow bowl and pour approximately 3/4 cup of the molho directly over the sandwich.
I travel a lot, probably about six months out of the year. But nearly all of that travel is work-related, which for me means going back to the same places time after time to update Lonely Planet guides. It wasn’t until April of last year that I came to realise that I hadn’t been to a new place — nor travelled simply for the sake of travel — in three years.
So, I went to Jordan.
This was my first visit to the Middle East, a region that couldn’t be more different than Southeast Asia in just about every way. I knew a bit about the food, but my only experiences eating it were at relatively generic, pan Middle Eastern restaurants in Thailand and Europe. I was pretty excited to encounter the real thing on its home turf, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but if there’s one food item I was looking forward to tasting, it was the region’s sweets. Luckily in Jordan, I didn’t have to look far, and if a town had only a couple places selling food, one of them was inevitably a shop boasting a huge selection of nutty, crunchy, crispy, syrupy sweets.
Coming from Thailand, it struck me that Middle Eastern sweets are about exotic as it gets, in particular those made with pistachios (unequivocally the best nut):
But of the country’s sweets, I, like most visitors, was most taken with knafeh (or kanefe, kunafeh, kunafeh, knafeh, or kunafah). Imagine a crispy, buttery base of fine threads or semolina crumbs topped with a layer of warm mozzarella-like cheese, which is then drizzled with scented syrup and garnished with crushed nuts. That’s knafeh.
The most famous vendor of the dish in Amman, if not Jordan, is Habibah:
Like nearly all sweets shops in Jordan, Habibah is to-go only, and customers would carefully escort their foam dish to a nearby square (shown at the top of this post), not doing a lot of talking, but solemnly savouring every bite; I did the same — on several occasions.
Al-Malek al-Hussein St
I also really enjoyed ful (or foul), stewed fava beans, served drizzled with olive oil and sometimes a lemony, garlicky, chili condiment that’s not unlike the dip served with seafood in Thailand. I can’t read Arabic, but I learned to spot ful by keeping my eyes peeled for the chubby, narrow-necked vessel the beans are cooked in:
Coupled with a warm, floppy flatbread, a few pickles and mint tea, a bowl of ful is one of the world’s best breakfasts.
The type of places that serve ful also tend to do felafel, hummous, baba ghanoush and other standard Middle Eastern dishes. This is probably the most common type of restaurant in Jordan, followed closely by the type of place that does skewered, grilled meat served, again, with flatbread:
I ate this meal many times, but the one that stands out was served at a grungy restaurant in As Salt, a small town outside of Amman:
Here, the Syrian and Egyptian staff (just about everybody in Jordan is an immigrant — not to mention is also extremely friendly and speaks some English) did simply-seasoned, smokey minced lamb and beef kebabs — nothing terribly unique.
Most interesting was when they took the ubiquitous grilled vegetable sides — tomato, onion and mild chilies — and whizzed them in a food processor with a bit of lemon juice and salt. Served as a side, it was somewhere between a slightly tart gazpacho and a smokey salsa, and became a regular in my summer barbecue repertoire.
I also really came to love a mint tea and a nargileh (water pipe), occasionally taken in an fantastically atmospheric tea houses such as this Ottoman Empire-era place in As Salt:
That said, with the exception of the odd fast food or foreign cuisine restaurant, I didn’t encounter much of a restaurant or street food scene in Jordan — at least compared to that of Southeast Asia — and the above are just about all the types of outside-the-home dining I encountered. In terms of an all-around restaurant with a menu, the best I came across was probably Al-Quds:
Also known as Jerusalem restaurant, and boasting a charmingly old-school vibe, it’s here that I tried mansaf, said to be Jordan’s national dish:
It takes the form of lamb that’s been simmered in a lightly spiced broth with jameed, fermented, dried yogurt, and served over saffron rice, artfully topped with slivered almonds and a thin sheet of dough, and coupled with a bowl of the broth/jameed mixture. The lamb was fall-apart tender and broth was intensely rich, sour and funky all at the same time.
King Al Hussein St 8, Amman
A few other restaurants I enjoyed:
Fakhr El Din
Housed in a beautiful villa, this is claimed by many to be the best Lebanese restaurant in Amman. We ate kibbeh (raw minced lamb; 6 o’clock in the pic), a salad of a Roquefort-like cheese, an incredibly fresh tabbouleh, Lebanese sausages, a dip of walnuts, and grilled lamb w a spicy chili paste.
Fakhr El Din
2nd circle, Amman
Probably one of the most famous restaurants in Jordan, this busy place does the usual repertoire of felafel, hummous, baba ghanoush and ful.
Al-Amir Mohammed St, Amman
Charming restaurant in Madaba where I had a very good ‘kifta sawani’, patties of minced lamb in a tart sesame paste sauce with slices of potato and pine nuts, and baked in a wood-burning oven
Talat St, Madaba
Are you in Chiang Mai? Want to learn about northern Thai food? Or perhaps even buy an original print such as the one above? Then be sure to stop by my exhibition, Ancient Roots and Culinary Crossroads, on display at Tamarind Village until until May 31.
There’s nothing more fun than discovering a new noodle dish. That is, unless that noodle dish has a funny name.
Ban Na Ton Jan, located in the far north of Sukhothai Province, is a beautiful village that’s home to an award-winning homestay programme. But more importantly, it’s also home to khao poep (ข้าวเปิ๊บ), a unique noodle dish, the name of which is pronounced a lot like “cow burp”.
To make the dish, rice flour and water are combined and left to ferment for three days. The batter is then poured on a taut cloth elevated over simmering water:
The cloth is covered with a lid and allowed to steam for a minute or so, which results in a fresh noodle of sorts. A fistful of vegetables — bean sprouts, water spinach, and young Chinese kale — are then put on top of the semi-steamed noodle:
the lid is closed again, and the vegetables are steamed until just tender. The noodle is then folded — poep being a dialect word for the central Thai phap (พับ), meaning “to fold” — around the vegetables:
resulting in a neat package — something of a vegetable-filled wonton. The noodle is then served in a bowl of homemade pork broth, topped with an egg that has been steamed in the same fashion, and a couple slices of barbecue pork, and garnished with coriander and chiffonaded sawtooth coriander (shown at the top of this post).
Khao poep combines ingredients and techniques I’ve encountered elsewhere in the Tai culinary world, but is not a dish I’ve encountered anywhere else. That’s because the eponymous owner claims to have invented it. Yay (grandma) started selling khao poep nearly 40 years ago, and today the dish has become associated with Ban Na Ton Jan.
They also sell something called kuaytiaw bae (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแบ):
It may look like a fried noodle dish, but in reality it’s more like a ‘dry’ noodle soup.
To make the dish, dried rice noodles are put over the same steaming device:
topped with bit of broth, some ground pork and vegetables, and allowed to steam. When soft, they’re removed from the steamer, topped with a couple slices of barbeque pork, ground peanuts, crispy deep-fried pork fat and a healthy drizzle of garlic oil. The dish is served on a banana leaf with section of lime, along with the usual optional noodle condiments: fish sauce, sugar, dried chili. Why banana leaf? An ancient tradition? A dogmatic adherence to the Old Ways? “We don’t have to wash the dishes,” according to Yay Khrueang’s daughter. “It’s less work.”
A YouTube video, in Thai, that shows how khao poep is made:
Ban Na Ton Jan, Sukhothai
Being generally food-obsessed, and in the course of travelling to new places, I’ve often wished for one thing: to encounter some sort of introduction to the local cuisine, something that goes beyond the cursory descriptions found in your average guidebook or Wikipedia entry. Ideally something with pretty photos and perhaps a bit of interactivity. Something that puts the cuisine in context, touches on the culture and history, and highlights a few must-eat dishes.
With the kind support of Chiang Mai’s Tamarind Village, I’ve been lucky enough put together my fantasy introduction to the cuisine of Thailand’s north. I’d never call myself an expert on northern Thai food, but in nearly 20 years of visiting the region, eating the food, talking with cooks, cooking with cooks, and writing about the cuisine for books, newspapers and magazines, I’ve assimilated a fair bit of information and photos on the topic. I’ve sifted through all this, and have put together what I think is a pretty solid introduction to a cuisine that few outside the Thai-speaking world know much about.
If I were visiting northern Thailand for the first time and wanted to know what to eat, it’s the introduction I’d want to encounter.
The exhibition opens on February 28 and runs until May 31.
“We don’t know what day she was born — they didn’t keep track of that stuff back then.” This about Khun Yay — “Grandma” — the mother of my landlord in Mae Hong Son.
What is known is that “back then” was 90 years ago, so at some point, somebody chose December 31st, New Year’s Eve, to be Khun Yay’s birthday. An excellent choice, as come this time of year in Mae Hong Son, the sky is inevitably blue and the weather is cool: perfect conditions for a celebration.
I’ve mentioned Khun Yay before. Born in Ayuthaya, she got married at a young age, and not long afterward, she and her policeman husband were posted to Mae Hong Son. Even today, Mae Hong Son, tucked into Thailand’s mountainous northwestern corner, feels relatively remote, but when they arrived in in approximately 1939 it must have seemed like another planet. Indeed, Khun Yay claims that the trip took three months and involved riding on an elephant.
Like many Thai celebrations, Khun Yay’s 90th birthday celebration began with a Buddhist component, bringing together monks from the more important temples in town, as well as VIPs, relatives, friends and neighbours:
Prayers were recited, holy water was sprinkled and money was donated, but one suspects that most people came for the food.
And, indeed, there was a lot of it, mostly central Thai-style dishes prepared by a caterer in town:
But I was more interested in the local stuff, all of it made at home by neighbours and family.
As an appetiser, we were given little bowls of a salty, savoury salad that combined slices of deep-fried tofu, deep-fried nuts and sesame, salt, garlic oil, deep-fried shallots and slivered ginger:
It was distinctly Burmese — both in terms of its flavour and ingredients — and distinctly delicious. And if too heavy or oily for some, it was seemingly strategically coupled with Mae Hong Son’s tart, fragrant, juicy oranges.
There were countless tiny bowls of khao sen, thin rice noodles in a light, tart broth made from pork bones and tomatoes:
Relatively easy to make in large quantities, khao sen is a staple dish at celebrations in Mae Hong Son. And drizzled with garlic oil, topped with crispy deep-fried noodles (ostensibly to provide a bit of crunch — a Thai effort to pack just about every possible texture and flavour into a dish) and eaten with the intensely spicy local chilies and a squeeze of lemon (more common than limes up here), the dish is, for me at least, Mae Hong Son in bowl.
And because there was khao sen, there was, of course, khaang pawng, deep-fried fritters of shallots, an obligatory accompaniment to the noodle soup:
If you like deep-fried shallots, imagine a crispy, ping pong ball-sized knot of them supplemented with lemongrass, turmeric, dried soybean powder and dried chili, and you begin get an idea of khaang pawng. I ate two plates.
There were also delicious local-style sweets made by Khun Yay’s family the day before.
And what I suspect was Khun Yay’s first selfie:
It’s no secret that the Thais love noodles. Noodles are some of the most ubiquitous dishes in the country, available on nearly every street corner and in just about every restaurant. And it’s easy to understand why people love them: they’re cheap, satisfying, customisable, and come in a huge variety of shapes and forms, and from a variety of culinary and cultural influences.
Yet despite all this, I have to admit that I’ve never been crazy about Thai noodles.
I’m a rice man. I’ll almost always opt for a plate over a bowl. And being a fan of savoury, salty, spicy flavours, I’ve long found that Thai noodles tend towards the sweet end of the spectrum. Given that noodles are so ubiquitous and cheap in Thailand, I’ve also found that they’re frequently made with poor quality ingredients, the worst culprit being broth made from MSG-laden powder. Yet occasionally, when pointed in the right direction, I encounter a bowl that makes me reconsider my allegiance to rice.
The most recent case for noodles was made at Lim Yuu Hong, a longstanding Thai-Chinese place off Bangkok’s Th Charoen Krung. The owners claim that the restaurant has been in operation for more than 50 years, a fact clearly evident in its ancient noodle cart, marble-topped tables, condiments held in ancient pop bottles, and other charming, old-school touches:
I ordered kuaytiaw kai tun (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวไก่ตุ๋น), chicken braised in a broth seasoned with Chinese-style spices:
which the owner suggested I couple with what he called poh, flat, squiggly egg-and-wheat noodles.
It was exactly what Thai noodles should be: rich, fragrant and balanced — the bowl barely needed any additional seasoning. And no wonder: as the owner was happy to share, he makes his own broth from scratch with bones (chicken and pork), bags of dried spices and fresh herbs — not a cube of Knorr to be seen.
If you order the duck version, it’s combined with a scoop of pet phalo, duck braised in five-spice powder, a rich dark broth that also contains duck blood, heads and feet. The phalo also results in a sweet bonus: when braising the duck, the owner ladles off the fat that rises to the top and uses it to fry garlic until crispy, a topping that garnishes most of the restaurant’s dishes:
These include similar soups revolving around pork bones and pork stomach, as well as the rather elusive khao tom pet (ข้าวต้มเป็ด), rice soup with braised duck.
Come earlier in the day, and Lim Yuu Hong functions as a coffee shop:
serving old-school-style “bag” coffee and sweet toasted buns with coconut jam.
But it’d be a pity not to order the noodles.
If you’re hungry for more, here’s a video about the coffee shop side of Lim Yuu Hong narrated by a man with a funny voice and hosted by self-professed “sexy” woman, Bowie:
Soi 43, Th Charoen Krung
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The area surrounding Bangkok’s Haroon Mosque is one of the city’s largest and most traditional Muslim enclaves. The original mosque, a wooden structure, was built back in 1828, but was subsequently torn down, with some of the original wood used in the construction of the current building:
Over the decades, a neighbourhood grew around the mosque, one that today is almost exclusively Muslim, densely populated and relatively poor. It’s a pretty sleepy place until Friday prayer, an event that draws local and international Muslims, beggars taking advantage of mosque-goers’ adherence to the fifth pillar of Islam:
and vendors, from those selling Muslim paraphernalia:
to those selling food. The latter includes general Thai dishes such as noodles:
to more characterstically Thai-Muslim dishes such as mataba, a type of stuffed pancake:
A couple vendors also sell unique Thai-Muslim sweets, including phudding (พุดดิ้ง),
which, as the name suggests, is a type of pudding — in this case bread pudding — with a dense, moist consistency, a faint floral aroma and a topping of raisins and cashews; tubs of suuyee (ซูยี), a Thai-Muslim take on sooji, Indian-style semolina pudding:
semolina simmered with milk, sugar and spices; and, well, because this is still contemporary Thailand, donuts stuffed with hot dogs and deep-fried:
But probably the most interesting vendor is an older couple who sell a handful of unique and distinctly Thai-Muslim dishes, take-away only, from a cart.
On a previous visit, they had a big pot of kaeng waan, a soupy curry of lentils and dried spices, a dish I’ve never encountered previously in Thailand. This week, they had a fish curry packed with lots of dried spice, okra, eggplants and a fish head, and usually, made tart by the addition of an entire sour mango; the pit can be seen below:
They also do a dish of birds (and chicken) deep-fried, then fried again in a spicy, oily, thick curry:
There was the remnants of one unidentifiable curry and a curry of hard-boiled eggs, and a woman prepping samosas:
But most the stall’s dishes had already been sold out by 11:30am. Like Jiw, this is another place where you’ll want to arrive early.
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For Muslim food in Bangkok, one of the best areas is lower Th Charoen Krung. Formerly Bangkok’s foreign enclave, today the European-run shipping offices and the Portuguese Catholic community that used to border the Chao Phraya River are long gone. But much of the area’s Muslim community remains, including — thankfully for us — its food.
Other parts of Bangkok may have a higher volume of restaurants serving Thai-Muslim dishes, but none can claim this much history. Some restaurants along this stretch of Th Charoen Krung (formerly known as “New Road”), such as Muslim Restaurant, have been in business nearly 80 years, and continue to offer both food and atmosphere that have seemingly changed little in decades. (Although not all have made it this long: it appears that decades-old Thai-Muslim staple Naaz has now shut its doors for good.)
Open for 55 years now, Jiw is known for its khao mok kai (ข้าวหมกไก่) chicken biryani, probably the most ubiquitous and lauded Thai-Muslim dish. Yet the version sold here has little in common with the light, typically sweet street stall staple. Instead, the khao mok kai here is more similar to the Bangladeshi-style version of the dish: relatively heavy and hearty, with short, dense grains of rice and little of the fluffy consistency many westerners tend to associate with rice.
Also unlike most places in Thailand, the rice and the chicken are cooked separately. The latter is actually cooked in a curry, and to order, a thigh is piled on the rice, along with a dollop of the curry:
The result is hearty, mild and fragrant. My dining companion, Ung-Aang Talay, who estimates that he last ate at Jiw in 1987 (!), claimed that, despite the passing of decades and the death of the original owner, the flavours of the dish had not changed.
The khao mok kai is served with ajaat, a tart/sweet dipping sauce with chunks of cucumbers, and a common side is a bowl of sup kai, chicken soup:
the latter, well-balanced and not as assertively sour as elsewhere, with lots of tender, tart tomatoes and even some chunks of potato.
The biryani is what draws most locals to Jiw, and is worth seeking out. But for me, the real reason to come is plaa duk phat khreuang kaeng (ปลาดุกผัดพริกแกง) catfish fried in curry paste:
a dish that one doesn’t encounter too often these days, particularly at Muslim restaurants. The catfish is tender, meaty and clean-tasting, and the curry paste — still made in house following the original owner’s recipe — is an almost perfect balance of spicy and herbal flavours. The dish has a pleasantly oily consistency, and includes a few crunchy eggplants and some torn Thai basil. By Thai standards, it’s a relatively simple dish, but like the best Thai cooking, one that encompasses a seemingly disproportionate array of flavours and textures.
Note that Jiw’s closing time of 1pm is deceptive; although the restaurant only has three tables, it does a brisk business in take-out orders, and most of the dishes are already sold-out by noon (often earlier for the catfish).
Soi 43, Th Charoen Krung, Bangkok
084 640 5775
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Several communities in the Inle Lake region play host to a revolving market. Once every five days, a particular town’s market will swell to several times its normal size, practically bursting with vendors, shoppers and exotic (and not so exotic) produce. Some of these markets are found at remote locations only generally accessible by foot or boat, while others take place in already established markets in bustling market towns.
Nyaungshwe, the town Myanmar’s Shan State that essentially functions as the gateway to Inle Lake, is an example of the latter. It has an already large, diverse market, but once every five days, it spills out beyond its usual walls, packed with exotically dressed Pa O and Danu shoppers, Shan-run food stalls and Burmese traders. Not surprisingly, given that the village is adjacent to Inle Lake, the wares include a huge selection of fish. But there’s also produce from the surrounding hills, lots of Burmese-style sweets, Shan-style noodles and savoury dishes, and housewares from China.
For images from Nyaungshwe’s market day, hit the play button above; click the button in the corner for full-screen mode and captions.
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