95-100/1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die
WOOHOO! BREAKING 100!
I’m now 1/10 of the way done with 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die, after starting this project a year and a half ago.
This weekend, I made a push to break 100 by concentrating on the American and Canadian section of the book — all of the below are from that chapter.
Cinnamon Toast (95)
Growing up, cinnamon toast was a weekend staple — something we asked for on days when there was a little extra time in the morning. My dad would put butter on toast, then sprinkle on some cinnamon and sugar and put it in the oven for a few minutes. I’ve never had cinnamon toast in a restaurant that was better than the stuff we got at home. To make my own this morning, I employed a slightly more sophisticated technique than the one I remember from my childhood, but it still only took 15 minutes and didn’t require my leaving the apartment for any of the ingredients (bread, butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla). Mimi and the Food Network agree, “the only trick is to allow the toasted slice to rest under the broiler until the sugar caramelizes, to achieve maximum candy-crunch.”
The most “exotic” dish in this entry is poke (pronounced POH-key), a Hawaiian dish that’s popping up on menus all over NYC, and is one of my new favorite things to eat. I remember when I first read through this chapter a year and a half ago, I wondered “where am I going to find that?”. But just a short time later, not only have I tasted poke, but I have recommendations: the poke appetizer at The Smith (pictured below) and the poke nachos at 5 Napkin Burger. Mimi gives us the backstory: “Poke…literally means ‘to slice or cut into pieces,’ a simple description for a bright, piquant, vibrantly-flavored marinated fish salad. … The most common version contains cubes of raw fish, usually ahi tuna, mixed with seaweed, sea salt, chilies, sweet Maui onion, and light sesame oil.” It’s a brighter, shrimp-free version of ceviche, and if I’m being honest, I prefer poke (less marinade, firmer texture). The inclusion of jalapeños is crucial for me, traditional or not.
Frozen Milky Way Bar (97)
So this is apparently a beloved New York childhood “dish” — a Milky Way candy bar frozen for at least 24 hours, then eaten outside in the summer as it melts in the sun. Mimi is very dedicated to this treat, going so far as to give pro tips like “For finicky teeth, unwrap and preslice your Milky Way, then firmly rewrap and freeze it.” For my money, I’m not exactly sure what’s added to the candy by freezing it. Part of what I’ve always liked about a Milky Way is the softness of the nougat. I guess that, even though I live here and love it so much, I must concede that there are some things about NYC only natives understand.
New England Clam Chowder (98) and Manhattan Clam Chowder (99)
For chowder, I decided to go straight to the source: Ed’s Chowder House, which has half a dozen varieties, and even boasts a chowder flight (not to mention an excellent bar). Mimi tells us that chowders are as old as New England, real pilgrim food, first referred to in print in 1730. Etymologically, “some claim the word ‘chowder’ comes from the French term chaudière, meaning ‘an iron cooking vessel’.”
I started with a cup of New England Clam Chowder (on the left, below), which is my preferred of the two clam chowders that Mimi instructs us to eat. The basic recipe has not changed much since the early 1800s: “a stew enriched with diced salt pork, tender flecks of sweet onions, and nicely substantial chunks of potato, all offsetting briny clams gentled with milk.” I went through a severe clam chowder phase when I was a tween, eating pretty much my body weight in the canned stuff every week. I just loved it; it was comforting and delicious. It’s still one of my favorite soups, though now I prefer the restaurant and homemade versions to the canned variety.
By contrast, Manhattan Clam Chowder (on the right, below) is not high on my list of favorite anythings. More than once, I’ve been disappointed by accidentally ordering this tomato-based chowder instead of the one I really wanted. It’s an easy mistake to make when you think “clam chowder” only means one thing — and I think most of the country does think it only means one thing. But this red variety exists as well. And, Mimi informs us, “New Yorkers tend to vote in favor of their own Manhattan version, with a light tomato broth that allows the essence of clams to come through clear and briny… it’s a minestrone-like soup, bright with carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, and plenty of chopped, giant chowder clams, accented by the defining flavor of thyme.” Thanks, but no thanks. I may current self-identify as a New Yorker, but when I want minestrone, I’ll order minestrone, and when I want clam chowder, I’ll double-check to make sure I’m getting the pilgrim-approved version.
Potato Chips (100)
Last, but not least, the humble Potato Chip brings us home. While there are a million flavors (some divine, some high-falutin’, some abominable), for our purposes today, I thought I’d stick with the original — comprised of nothing but potato, salt, and oil.
Originally, these delicious snacky snacks were called “Saratoga Chips,” after their place of origin. The story goes thusly: back in 1853, a picky diner at Moon’s Lake House sent his fried potatoes back to the kitchen, complaining that they were too thick. The insulted cook, George Crum, sliced a new batch of potatoes paper-thin and dumped salt all over them, sending them back out to the crotchety customer, and probably flipping him the middle finger for good measure. But the joke was on Crum — the crispy, salty chips were an instant hit. Actually, the joke was doubly on Crum — he became so famous for his chips that he opened his own restaurant, but failed to patent or otherwise protect his creation. Now, as you know, they are ubiquitous, and Crum is dead.
My favorite flavor is salt and vinegar, but Mimi (imagine that) prefers them plain: “the original remains a reminder of how a good one ought to taste: fresh, crunchy, home-made, not greasy or full of preservatives, and generously salted.” If you’re looking for a good restaurant version in NYC, let me direct you back to Ed’s Chowder House, where they fry a mean chip. And if you happen to be in Asheville, North Carolina, you won’t regret a visit to The Gourmet Chip Company, where you’ll find varieties like The Belgium (sweet potato chips with chocolate and sea salt), The Cuban (plantain chips with toasted caramel), and The Napa (potato chips with lavender honey and bleu cheese crumbles). A long way from Saratoga, but delicious nonetheless.
And now, for fun, let’s take a look at the numbers.
Of the first 100 foods from the list that I’ve eaten, here’s how they break down by chapter:
- American and Canadian = 42
- British and Irish = 13
- Japanese and Korean = 10
- Mexican and Latin American = 7
- French = 5
- Jewish = 5
- Italian = 5
- Spanish and Portuguese = 3
- Greek, Turkish, and Middle Eastern = 2
- Indian = 2
- Scandinavian = 2
- Eastern European = 1
- African = 1
- Chinese = 1
- German, Austrian, and Swiss = 1
And I haven’t yet gotten into the following chapters:
- Australian, New Zealand, Tahitian
- Thai and Southeast Asian
- Belgian and Dutch
As a reminder, this entire thing is being made possible by Google Keep. And my adventurous palate. On to the next 100!