138-150/1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die

Apr 30, 2017 by

Well, hey!

I’m back from two months in Kentucky, where I premiered my new play AIRNESS at the 41st Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville.  You can learn much more about that, including seeing awesome production photos like the one below, and reading rave reviews, over at www.ChelseaMarcantel.com.

photo credit: Bill Brymer/ATL

While in Kentucky, I checked a few items off the list, and coupled with those I’ve yet to blog about from NYC, it’s quite lengthy list to catch up on.  So I’ll try to be brief but interesting on each point.

To begin, my book club and I went to a lovely Russian restaurant here in NYC last week, called Mari Vanna.  I highly recommend it!  The food was delicious, the ambiance is like being in someone’s grandmother’s parlor, and the house-infused vodkas and vodka cocktails are outstanding.  At Mari Vanna, we enjoyed…

Blini with Caviar (138) — Russian
& Sour Cream (139) — Eastern European

Well, this was a delightful treat, and one that Mimi justifiably swoons over.  Blinis are thin, mini buckwheat crêpes, and the caviar we were served here is the red variety.  Mimi exclaims that “The combination of warm, soft, thin buttered crêpe and saline, chilled roe is at once subtle and rich (almost obscenely so), velvety and satisfying.”  Couldn’t agree more.  A++.  Will consume again.

Sour cream is to me so ubiquitous that it has always seemed to have no country of origin — but of course, everything started somewhere, as I’m finding out.  That’s just one of the reasons I’ve so loved reading 1000 Foods To Eat Before You Die and taking this food journey with Mimi.  Turns out, Eastern Europeans eat sour cream on pretty much everything — sweet AND savory.  This is a cultural practice I can completely embrace.  Mimi tells us that the best sour cream is made with full-fat milk, which comes as a surprise to exactly no one.  The stuff is excellent with blinis and caviar.

I couldn’t snap a photo before the book club started digging in. I blame them not at all.

Feta Cheese (140) — Bulgarian

Behold a feta cheese pie that I was brought and was, by then, too full to consume.  Good news — it reheated like a dream the next day.  Mimi educates: “Made with the milk of goats, sheep, or cows… and cured and packed in a pickling brine, blocks of the cheese emerge nicely salty with a sophisticated hint of earthiness.”  She also recommends what you find in a specialty cheese market over what you find prepackaged at your local grocery story.  No surprise there.

Personal Pan


Afternoon Tea (141) — English

From Russia we move to Britain, and the lovely Saturday afternoon tea I shared with my good pal Holly on the day before Easter.  We went to the original Alice’s Tea Cup on 73rd Street, and despite my face in the photo below, the whole thing was a terrific delight.  Afternoon Tea is actually the very first entry in the 1000 Foods book, and coincidentally, one of my favorite things to do with a friend.  I’ve often had afternoon tea on my birthday — the whole thing feels relaxed and civilized and fancy all at the same time.  Also, as I’ve said many times, all I want to do is eat finger foods and hors d’oeuvres instead of meals.  Mimi backs me up: “A custom that originated in the nineteenth century, when life grew busier and the dinner hour grew later, a sustaining afternoon tea is a nibbler’s paradise.”

I had a chai! In a nibbler’s paradise!

Clotted Cream (142) — English

Clotted cream is pretty integral to the whole afternoon tea enterprise.  And it’s region-specific, according to Mimi.  “Only cows grazing on the grasses of [Devon and Cornwall] are said to produce milk rich enough in butterfat and the proper enzymes to result in this sublime dessert cream, much favored for afternoon tea. … It is traditionally prepared with the thick cream that rises to the surface of raw milk left to stand for twelve hours, then scalded.  Its luscious ripe flavor and satiny clumps or “clots” make it a delectable treat.”  Spread it on a scone, top with a dollop of homemade jam, and you’re really in business.

Mixed berry scone and homemade jam are the perfect accompaniments.

Schnitzel (143) + Spätzel (144) — German/Austrian

Moving out of NYC and into the culinary landscape of Louisville, I had to stop for a German meal in the Germantown neighborhood, at a charmingly hip place called Eiderdown.

This is the “schnitzel with noodles” you’ve heard Maria von Trapp sing so much about.  The Spätzel (yellow noodles in the small bowl there) was AMAZING.  And not accidentally — it’s apparently a labor-intensive creation process.  Mimi walks us through it: “The chewy nuggets of dough called spätzel are made with nothing more than flour, eggs, and water, or sometimes milk.  But form is everything where German noodles are concerned, and well-made spätzel must be tiny and ethereally light… Their simple dough requires no kneading, tossing, resting, or rolling, but must be pressed through a sieve or colander, or better yet, through a dedicated spätzel press, directly into salted boiling water — an acquired skill.”  After boiling for a few minutes, the noodles are sautéed or fried in hot butter.  Then they are served with gravy, and everyone wins.

The Schnitzel (under the fried egg there) is of the chicken variety in this case.  But Schnitzel can be any kind of cutlet, pounded flat, and fried up with pillowy breading in unsalted butter and a few drops of oil.  Mimi is not a fan of chicken or turkey schnitzel, preferring the more traditional veal or pork varieties, but I don’t eat veal and pork wasn’t on offer, so here we are.  The preparation here was perfect, according to her exacting standards: “Fried to a bright golden brown without any hint of black, it must be served at once, ideally with a wedge of lemon… or a fried egg.”  I’m not a huge fan of fried chicken in any of its forms, but I will admit this was a tasty supper, and made a delightful cold breakfast the next morning as well.

Raindrops on Roses

Uni (sea urchin) (145) — Japanese

Now we’re back in NYC, and onto Japan!

Had a lovely sushi dinner with my pal Rowan at Tenzan the other night, and took the opportunity to check a few items off in this section of the book, starting with some sea urchin.  I gotta say — this is one of the few instances in which I didn’t at all enjoy a Mimi suggestion.  The meal overall was delicious, but to me, the quivery pieces of urchin tasted fatty and not particularly flavorful, like the headfat inside a crab or crawfish if the boil weren’t seasoned (if you’re from Louisiana, you know exactly what I’m talking about).  Reading Mimi’s description of the dish didn’t do much to up my appreciation.  “The edible parts of the urchin, described as tongues, are not roe but the sex glands.”  Great.  And though there are a few avant-garde restaurant that will fry them, “it is doubtful that any conscientious Japanese chef or home cook would serve fresh sea urchins any way but raw.”  Apparently they are a delicacy in the Mediterranean, Europe, and Japan, where supply cannot keep up with demand.  I herewith donate my portion.  I don’t think I’ll be having these again.


Wakame, Kombu, and Agar (Seaweed) (146) — Japanese

Per Mimi: “Although seaweed has been eaten for thousands of years by everyone from the Irish to the Aborigines, it will forever be associated with Asian food, and specifically with Japan.”  I love seaweed.  Dried as a snack, wrapped around sushi, and especially in a seaweed salad.  Seaweed is a superfood, referred to by modern scientists and cooks as a “sea vegetable,” so you don’t even have to feel bad about eating a ton of it.  Which I did.  It was awesome.

sea veggie!

Yakitori (147) — Japanese

Yaki means “grilled” and Tori means “bird” — I think you see where this is going.  I wasn’t nuts about this dish, which I think was due to a combination of the fact that I’m not super into chicken to begin with, and that Mimi says proper Yakitori is made with dark meat, and this was definitely white meat.  Mimi says that the chicken should be “marinated in a glaze of dark and light soy sauce, rock sugar, and the sweet cooking wine mirin… [then] cooked over hot coals until lightly charred or caramelized.”  I don’t think I found the Platonic ideal of Yakitori here, so I’d be open to trying it again if I’m ever in Japan — Mimi specifically recommends the Roppongi district in Tokyo.

Meh. Tastes like chicken.

Waffle (148) — Belgian

Now there’s a thing of beauty.  At Eataly in NYC, I got that gorgeous Nutella latte you see there, and a plain waffle with cinnamon and sugar (I figured there was enough chocolate on the latte).  Waffles are, of course, Belgian in origin, and I have had them many times in Belgium, bought piping hot from a street cart, equipped with an appreciation for international pastry and a seventeen-year-old metabolism.  The closest you can get to that experience in NYC is the Wafels & Dinges (dinges means “toppings”) food truck.  If you see this bright yellow joy wagon parked on the sidewalk, get in line.  Stay in line.  I don’t care what you’re going to be late for.  It’s a real Belgian waffle made in front of you, and you can get Nutella and strawberries and whipped cream on top of it and walk away floating on a cloud.  Mimi tells us that waffles traveled to the New World with the Pilgrims, which is why we consider them such a staple of the American breakfast canon.  We’ve been eating them longer than we’ve been a country.  And with good reason.  Waffles are the best.  Just don’t get them out of a box from the freezer.

Could maybe use a little more dinges. Looks a bit sad.

Tamarind (149) — Southeast Asian

That’s a taro cake on the right there (why is taro not in this book??), and the tamarind in question is found in the sweet/sour dipping sauce.  The uses of the tamarind fruit are legion, in both savory and sweet dishes.  As Mimi says, “Across the equatorial band, different parts of the tamarind are prized and put to use in a variety of ways.”  From candies to soups to sodas to stir-fries, there seems to be very few things that don’t benefit from a little kick of the “pleasantly sour, citrusy zing” of the tamarind — it’s even an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce.  I’m a big fan of the stuff when I’ve tasted it, mostly in its sweeter incarnations, and this sauce was no exception.  It paired perfectly with the nutty taro cake (which should be in this book).

Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad) (150) — Thai

When I got this salad, I said to myself, “Where is the papaya?  Is it under all these noodles?”  Turns out, the “noodles” were in fact strings of green, unripe papaya.  As Mimi says, “the unripe fruit is refreshingly acidic and crunchy and, because of its firmness, can easily be grated into this slawlike dish.”  I’m not a fan of traditional slaw, but this, I’d eat any day.  The salad was simple, but very flavorful.  “The secret to this mix is the rather incendiary dressing, which beings with a paste of garlic, hot chiles, roasted peanuts, dried shrimp, and palm sugar, and is then thinned with splashes of … fish sauce and lime juice.”  I had never heard of Som Tam before, and probably would never have ordered it except at Mimi’s suggestion, but now I’m a big fan and will probably order it in many fine Thai dining establishments.  Mimi works her life-enlarging magic once again.

Zero noodles

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1 Comment

  1. Jean Marcantel

    So many of these are so exotic. You are in a great place to be able to find things to add to your list.

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