116-137/1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die
Well, it’s been a skinny minute.
I wanted to get all of the foods in this post recorded before new year’s day, but holiday insanity being what it is, that didn’t happen. Now, I want to get these entered into the archives before the end of another era. Here are the rest of the foods I ate while Barack Obama was still the sitting President of the United States, and Michelle was still killin’ the game as FLOTUS. (On a non-food-related note, if you’re as worried about the incoming administrations as I am, GOOD just put out an excellent, comprehensive, and empowering guide to what we can all do to be well and raise hell. Check it out here.)
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so these entries will be shorter than usual.
Brownies — American (116)
I made these myself at home, for my New Year’s Day Open House. Double fudge brownies dipped in white chocolate and sprinkles. Heavenly. Mimi says that a proper brownie should have a “shiny, glistening top,” and mine did, so — success!
Charlotte Russe — American-Style (117)
Ironically, I procured the American-Style Charlotte Russe at the French Café Un Deux Trois. Mimi describes a traditional push-pop sort of configuration, which this obviously is not, but all the components are the same. It was good, but I wasn’t a huge fan.
Gehatke Leber (Chicken Livers) — Jewish (118)
These were found as a appetizer at Gramercy Farmer and the Fish in NYC, a restaurant I highly recommend. Mimi says that often in Jewish delis, the “chopped liver” you get is beef liver, which is too bitter from the start, and adds to the bad reputation of the foodstuff. I confess I’ve never been a fan of any of the liver iterations I’ve tried before, but I did like this version a lot. It was served as a spread, which Mimi says is correct.
Scotch Egg — English (119)
At Gramercy Farmer and the Fish, I also ordered a scotch egg. This is real pub food — a soft-boiled egg, dredged in egg and flour, then wrapped in ground meat, rolled in bread crumbs, and quickly deep-fried in oil. Apparently in England, you can also get an Anglo-Indian version made with onions, garlic, and a rainbow of Indian spices, which sounds just delightful. The traditional version, while tasty, is a little too heavy for me.
Chow Mein — Chinese-American (120)
When in San Francisco, eat in Chinatown, right? That’s what I did — I found this dish at Brandy Ho’s Hunan Food on Columbus Avenue. I’m a huge fan of noodles, of course, but I’ll admit that I prefer lo mein to chow mein. Mimi educates us that chow mein is an Americanization of the Mandarin chao mian, which translates to “stir-fried noodles.” This dish has been a staple of American Chinese cuisine since the 1930s.
Mexican Hot Chocolate — Mexican (121)
While in San Francisco (well, Berkeley, actually), I also had some Mexican Hot Chocolate. This is truly one of my fave bevs on the planet. Don’t let my crappy photo put you off, this is magic stuff. As Mimi rhapsodizes, “Even when the rich and satiny wonders of France and Belgium are taken into account, Mexico just might have the edge when it comes to hot chocolate — mainly due to the addition of the richly flavored, almost brandylike Mexican vanilla, and (most importantly) of cinnamon.” And, I would add, I like it best when there’s a hit of cayenne or some other spicy spice in the mix as well. This version in Berkeley was just okay. I’ll keep an eye out for the good stuff in NYC; so far, I haven’t found any as good here as I used to get in Chicago.
Marzipan — German, Danish (122)
In the hip Hayes Valley section of San Francisco, I found the world’s most adorable candy shop (Miette), where I bought and ate some marzipan cherries. They were pretty, but I am not including a picture of them here. I am instead including a picture of my very own wedding cake, from 2011, which you can see is covered in marzipan fruits. I do this to demonstrate my love of marzipan — I didn’t want any decoration on my cake at all, except for marzipan fruits. I will spare you the saga of how my mother and I searched the internet for THE BEST (ie, most beautiful AND tasty) marzipan fruits. It’s enough to know that I’m a huge fan of this delicious blend of almonds, sugar, and egg white, which can be crafted into pretty much any shape under the sun, without losing its intensely almondy taste. I need you to know how deeply dedicated I am to marzipan, and that it is probably THE one gift on the planet that is guaranteed to delight me, no matter the circumstances.
Simit — Turkish, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Arabic (123)
In New York, there are several locations of Simit + Smith. I’d seen them around from time to time, and had a pretty good feeling that I could find a simit there, and thus check this item off the list. So one day I popped in — and I was right! Simitler galore — many flavors, served alone with spreads on top, or in sandwich form. I’m a convert. The sesame-encrusted, butter-topped version that I had was a yeasty delight. I’ll be back. As Mimi says, “the aroma of these toasty rolls is hard to resist.”
Dolmas — Greek, Turkish, Middle Eastern (124)
Ah, dolmas! Very delicious food, not a great photograph. These were eaten at The Hummus Place in NYC, one of my fave lunch spots, because the food is inexpensive, delicious, and doesn’t weigh you down. The word dolmas actually means “stuffed” according to Mimi, and you’ll often see them advertised as “stuffed grape leaves” on menus. In an entree portion, they may be stuffed with meat or vegetables, but in an appetizer setting (like those seen here), they are stuffed with a deliciously savory rice pilaf dotted with pine nuts and raisins. I could eat these every day of my life.
Mint — Greek/Turkish/Middle-Eastern (125)
While having lunch at The Hummus Place, I also had some mint in my tea (though it wasn’t mint tea). Mint is one of those ingredients that’s so ubiquitous, I don’t think of it as having a national allegiance, but I suppose everything starts somewhere. I’ll also admit that we used to have a mint plant, and I could never find a way to use it in cooking — except for in drinks. So, obviously, I don’t know a ton about the stuff. But Mimi does! “A known stimulant, it is believed to invigorate the mind, ensure loyalty, keep milk from curdling, and settle the stomach.”
Hoisin Sauce — Chinese (126) // and Sriracha — Thai, Vietnamese (127)
Both of these accompanied a meal that Miles and I ate at a Vietnamese restaurant in the suburbs of Orlando, while we were there for Christmas. Hoison sauce (hai xian jiang, the Chinese word for “seafood” as pronounced the Cantonese dialect), Mimi says, is “a flavor base that lies at the very heart of the Chinese food tradition.” Despite the name is usually not made or served with fish. The base is actually fermented soybeans, and the flavor is a plummy, mellow sweetness. I love the stuff!
Sriracha is a very oft-used condiment in our household (though is has been usurped, recently, by Habanero Yellowbird Hot Sauce). Sriracha sauce is chili- and garlic-based, and was created in the 1970s by a Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant who couldn’t find a hot sauce in the US that he liked. He modeled his creation after a Thai-style sauce that was popular in Vietnam; it’s named after the coastal town of Sri Racha in Thailand. As Mimi says, “The American-made, Chinese-Vietnamese-Thai sauce can be considered a classic example of the global culinary melting pot.” You can find the enormously popular sauce everywhere these days, which is great, because it pairs well will pretty much anything that needs a little extra kick.
Pho Bo — Vietnamese (128)
What else did we eat at this Vietnamese restaurant in Orlando, you ask? We ate pho — one of Miles’s absolute favorite dishes. As you can see, he’s extremely serious about it. He’s a real connoisseur of the stuff, having eaten it all over the country, and credits this flavorful beef soup with getting him through the long, icy Chicago winters when he lived off the Argyle red line stop (near some of Chicago’s best Vietnamese restaurants). Pho shops are springing up everywhere now, and with good reason — the stuff is delicious. The complex broth is simmered for between five and twelve hours before anything is added to it, Mimi says. And, though many different varieties are available, “Pho bo [beef] really is the Vietnamese national dish.”
Thai Mussels — Thai (129)
We also had Thai mussels in Orlando. I love mussels of all kinds, but I hadn’t had any like these before. Grilled and then soaked in a broth, then dressed with herbs and peanuts, they made a delicious appetizer. I think I prefer my mussels swimming in garlic, butter, and shallots, though — if I’m being totally honest.
Scallion Pancake — Chinese (130) // and Soy Sauce — Pan-Asian (131)
This place in Orlando really had everything! I love a scallion pancake, so I ordered one for an appetizer. More like a fried flatbread than a breakfast pancake, chung yau bang are traditionally a Shanghainese dish. Mimi tells us: “Flour and water are the sole ingredients used for the dough… the scallions’ oniony bite accentuat[es] the mild, slighly oily dough. Delectable accompaniments to soup, the pancakes also benefit from a dip in soy sauce.” And they were served with…
Soy sauce! The #1 most-frequently-used condiment in our household. Mimi tells us that soy sauce has been made in China for at least three thousand years, and that the ingredients “don’t vary much from brand to brand: soybeans, yeast, water, salt, and sometimes wheat. But the quality of the original ingredients and the care with which they are treated can make the difference between a subtly delicious condiment and a boring salty brew.” Unexpectedly, after many paragraphs about the merits and heritage of soy sauces made in Asia, Mimi points us toward an American-made small-batch sauce made from southern Kentucky wheat and aged in bourbon barrels. I will definitely be checking this out (it’s called Bluegrass Soy Sauce).
Hoppin’ John — American, Southern (132)
This is Southern food, but not from the part of the South I hail from (North/South Carolina is where you can traditionally find it). Nevertheless, I attempted to create this rice-and-black-eyed-pea recipe at home, and met with real success the first time out. This, as we say, is good eatin’. Traditionally a New Year’s dish, I can see myself making this hearty and easy meal throughout the winter.
Mince Pie — English (133)
Right before Christmas (the traditional time for them) I found a house-made mince pie at (where else?) Myers of Keswick in the West Village. Very, very sweet. Back in the sixteenth century, the fillings did include meat, but now these are dessert treats, filled with “chewy, flavorful jewels of dried fruits… and crunches of walnuts or almonds, enriched by brandy, rum, whiskey, sherry, or a heady combination of several spirits.” A little too much for me (and that’s saying something), the English expat friend who was with me the day I ate the mince pie said that to her, they taste exactly like Christmas. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
JEEZE, I’ve eaten a lot of cool stuff in the last two and half months!
Quinoa — Peruvian (134) // Edamame — Japanese (135)
The trendiest grain around — and a particular fave of mine. I love to use it in place of rice in all kinds of ways, but the best might be to make “bowls” for a satisfying lunch, like this one I had at Pret-A-Manger. Mimi tells us that quinoa, “though prepared like a grain… is actually a relative of spinach and chard that produces great quantities of edible seeds, which have been a staple food since the days of the Aztecs and the Incas.” Neato!
This lunch bowl also featured edamame, the lightly-salted soybeans I love so much that I have been known to sneak them into the movies. Seriously, they are so pop-able. They are the popcorn of the legume world. And with truffle salt? Forget it. Hands-down, one of my fave snacks. Luckily, the frozen boil-at-home version has become so popular, I can buy it at my corner market. Mimi tells us that soybeans are a superfood as well: “the beans are fully 35 percent protein, in addition to being loaded with essential amino acids, fiber, and phytonutrients.”
Tagine — North African (136)
I tried Tagine for the first time about a year ago, and was instantly sold. This heavenly, substantial stew is named after the earthenware vessel it’s cooked in, no matter the ingredient combination (akin to calling something a “casserole” in America, because it’s baked in a casserole dish). The version I had here contains fish, but Shalel Lounge in NYC also makes chicken and lamb versions that are to die for. Run, don’t walk.
Raclette — Swiss (137)
And, finally, we come to the end. I found raclette at the holiday market in Bryant Park, just before Christmas. Half the fun of this food is watching the guy slough slowly-melted cheese off a giant wheel and onto a piece of bread for you (the wheel was almost gone by the time I got mine). The French word racler, “to scrape,” gives both the cheese and the dish its name. The other half of the fun, after mustard and tiny green gherkins are stuffed into the bread, is eating it.