187-199/1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die

Sep 4, 2017 by

On this, the final day of Summer 2017, I stand upon an even more important threshold — the 200th food of 1000 Foods to Eat Before You DieLast month, I spent 10 days at home in Louisiana, and checked off quite a few of the foods from the Southern section of the book.  Let’s begin in New Orleans.

Eggs Sardou (187) — American/New Orleanian

Despite having grown up in Louisiana, Eggs Sardou is a NOLA delicacy I hadn’t heard of before reading Mimi’s book.  Luckily, because of my experience tracking down calas cakes, I knew exactly where to find them — The Old Coffeepot Restaurant, my favorite breakfast spot in the French Quarter. Mimi tells us that Eggs Sardou is named after French playwright Victorien Sardou, who ate at the famed NOLA institution Antoine’s sometime during the 1800s.  Chef Antoine Alciatore came up with this dish as a way to honor his famous guest, though the original version included anchovies and ham.  These days, Eggs Sardou is essentially Eggs Benedict with creamed spinach  in the middle.  I didn’t think I would enjoy it, since I’m not a huge fan of hollandaise sauce.  But I split the plate with my two best gal pals, Claudia and Lauren, and we all enjoyed it a lot.  Not my new breakfast go-to, but good.

The Old Coffeepot Restaurant, New Orleans

 

We ate some other stuff, too.

Gumbo (188) — American/Louisianan

It’s a little surprising that it’s taken me this long to check gumbo off the list — definitely not because I haven’t been eating it all this time.  It’s just usually done and gone before I remember that it has a (rightful) spot on Mimi’s list.  Gumbo is home food for me, one of those things that you can have at a hundred different places of all price points, but you’ll never find it as good as your Maw-Maw makes it.  We even make gumbo at our house a few times a year; though I’ve ceded most of the gumbo-making duties to Miles.  For a Cajun-by-marriage, he makes REALLY good gumbo.

Mimi, it pains me to tell you, is a spreader of some misinformation.  DON’T PUT TOMATOES IN GUMBO.  If you see gumbo on a menu somewhere, and it says it includes tomatoes, DON’T ORDER IT, IT’S GARBAGE SOUP.  Also, Mimi says that gumbo will “always include” onions, but she leaves out the other two members of the trinity; all gumbos (indeed, many cajun stews and soups) begin with diced onions, celery, and bell peppers.  But Mimi does get a few things right.  Gumbo came to itself in drafts — first as the french pot-au-feu, thickened with okra by African influence (the West African word for okra is “gumbo”), and finished off with filé powder, which is ground sassafras leaves, contributed by native Choctaw Indians.   And, Mimi gets right possibly the most important thing about gumbo: “All gumbos taste best when held for a day or two and reheated, giving the ingredients a chance to meld into a complex, unctuously flavorful whole.”

Pat’s of Henderson, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Jambalya (189) — American/Louisianan

Equally astonishing to the long-time reader of this blog will be the fact that I haven’t yet checked jambalaya off Mimi’s list.  I make jambalaya far more often than I make gumbo — it’s a much quicker dish and tantalizing even on days that are too hot for gumbo.  I made jambalaya for my cast and crew at Actors Theatre of Louisville when I was there over Mardi Gras this year.

As usual, Marinda is the hero of this photo.

In fact, my jambalaya is award-winning (and you can find my recipe here).   Easiest tip?  Cook your rice in broth (chicken or seafood, depending on what kind of jambalaya) instead of water.  The origins of the dish are muddled, beyond the fact that it came from Louisiana; it may have originally been a derivative of paella or a french dish called jambalaia.  Mimi tells us, “the Cajuns wisely adopted the dish and made it their own, recognizing the appeal of this robust, throw-everything-in-the-pot, crowd-pleasing meal.”  I made jambalaya for my family at our camp (lake house) when I was home.  Here is my brother enjoying it.

homemade, Louisiana

Macque Choux (190) — American/Louisianan

If you’re in New Orleans and you don’t go to Court of Two Sisters for brunch, what are you even doing with your life?  Just go there.  Trust me.  When you do, you can get a bowl of macque choux corn, which won’t be as good as my Maw-Maw’s, but will be very good.  Full disclosure?  I HATED macque choux as a kid, and I’m not the world’s biggest fan of it in my adulthood, but I can appreciate when it’s done right.  Mimi tells us, “Louisiana’s succotash-like vegetable stew is one of summer’s most cherished and colorful dishes, bright with flashes of red, green, and gold.”

Court of Two Sisters, New Orleans

Soft-Shell Crab (191) — American

I love a soft-shell crab SO MUCH.  You’ll have to excuse the informal plating in the photo — I was sharing a bunch of delicious fried foods with my family around my grandfather’s table.  In reading Mimi’s entry about softshell crabs, I came to understand that what I grew up eating in Louisiana is known as a “buckram,” slightly bigger and older than those encountered on the East Coast, which fit in the palm of your hand and are called “peelers” or “shredders.”  Per Mimi, buckrams have thin shells, but peelers and shredders are actually caught during the blue crab’s molting period, and have no shells at all (this fishing window is only about an hour long!).  Buckrams are breaded and fried, but peelers and shredders are gently sautéd in butter.  I want to try one of the little guys!

from Mike’s Seafood and Steakhouse, Jennings, LA

Tostones (192) — Latin American/Carribean

In addition to amazing Cajun and Creole food, you can get really great international food in New Orleans as well.  My pals and I went to a fantastic restaurant in the French Quarter called Cane and Table, and I found tostones on the menu.  I generally prefer my plantains soft and sweet, but I’ll try anything once.  Mimi rhapsodizes that “sweet and salty, crisp yet gently soft, warm and fragrant, fried plantain chips are to so many Latin Americans and Caribbeans what potato chips are to us.”  Well, they’re definitely more flavorful than potato chips.  I liked them okay, but I think I’ll stick with sweet, soft, sticky fried plantains, personally.

Cane and Table, New Orleans

And now, back to life in New York City…

Meze (193), including Baba Ghanoush (194) — Middle Eastern/North African

Is this not the cutest meze platter you’ve ever seen?  Though, as the friend with whom I shared it at Cafe Boulud noted, “these are definitely Upper East Side portions.”  But, something tells me Mimi would approved, since she describes meze as “an often extensive collection of the small temptations we have come to think of as appetizers.”  This plate included hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, cauliflower, hummus, and some kind of delicious green seed balls, served with pita.

The best part of the meze was the baba ghanoush, for sure.  That’s it at noon o’clock on the platter in the photo below.  As Mimi tells us, “this satiny, celadon-colored puree gets its distinctive character from smoked eggplants that are preferably cooked over a wood-fired grill or open flame.  Grilled whole until their insides collapse, the eggplants are peeled and their flesh is whipped into light cloudlets with salt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and an enrichment of tahini.”  I love love love smoked foods, but it’s not easy to find baba ghanoush that actually tastes like wood smoke.  This stuff was amazing.  A++.  I wish I’d had a Texas-sized portion.

Cafe Boulud, New York City

Tarte Tatin (195) — French

Also on the Upper East Side, on a different afternoon, I stumbled upon the adorable Casimir & Co. café.  Because I’d already had lunch, I opted for café au lait and a tarte tatin — what Mimi terms “an elegantly royal take on apple pie.  The name honors the sisters Tatin, the proprietors of a restaurant near Orléans who devised the dessert in the early 1900s.”  Not much more to say about this simple delight — it was a charming café and a charming cup of coffee and a charming piece of pie.  Yum.

Casimir & Co., New York City

Lychee (196) — Chinese

I first had lychee at a rehearsal in Chicago.  I remember that clearly.  Someone had gotten them from the Asian market off the Argyle red line stop, and we shared them and they were delicious.  Several times after that, I picked them up in Asian markets, or selected the lychee-flavored ice cream or martini on a menu.  But for the first time, last week, I found this less-than-common fruit in the fruit section of my corner supermarket.  I scooped them up and ate them as soon as I got home.  Though they look like eyeballs when peeled, lychees are sprightly, delicately delicious.  Mimi describes their flavor as, “floral and subtly sweet, and hinting at dessert wine,” and tells us “lychees have been cultivated in South China since at least the first century BC, and they’ve been the subject of legend and lore ever since.”  With good reason.

from the corner market, New York City

Lindt Chocolate Bark (197) — Swiss

I happened to be on 5th Avenue recently, and I happened to be with my sister, and we happened to wander into the Lindt store and buy some dark chocolate bark, as dictated by Mimi.  According to our gastronomic guide, milk chocolate is an abomination, and “needless to say (one hopes), the only bars that matter are the dark chocolate, also known as bittersweet.”  The dark chocolate bark we bought was spiked with sea salt, and it was TO DIE.  Just, delicious.  It was worth braving the crowd of tourists to procure some and share it with my sister.

Irish Breakfast (198) — Irish

Okay, full disclosure on this one — Miles ate most of it.  Since an Irish Breakfast is mostly meat, and I only eat “happy meat” of whose provenance I’m absolutely certain, I stuck more to the potatoes and eggs portion of this breakfast, which we found at Tryon Public House in our neighborhood.  Miles is a longtime connoisseur of the Irish B’fast, and assures me this was a solid execution of the concept. Mimi tells us this dish should contain: “fried eggs, black and white pudding [sausage], thick and smoky rashers of Irish back bacon or gammon, fried tomato, fried potatoes, bread, and mushrooms — maybe beans, too, — and don’t forget the jam.”  Looks like we missed out on the last few items on the list, not that we were wanting for food.  Couldn’t get into the fried tomato, honestly.  But the rest of it was excellent.

Tryon Public House, New York City

Basmati Rice (199) — Indian

And finally, a simple staple to round out this entry — from a restaurant that’s anything but simple.  Rahi, called “the hottest new restaurant in New York City” by Zagat in 2017, is a place I’d been wanting to check out.  Recently, a friend came to town and requested Indian food, so Miles and I met him at Rahi.  Everything we had was glorious, including the out-of-this-world cardamom margarita.  The dishes are a fusion of traditional Indian dishes with local NY produce, and everything is fantastic, including the side of basmati rice I had with my meal.  I turn it over to Mimi for the backstory.  “Among the more than eight thousand varieties of rice grown across the globe, what is it that makes this particular grain so special?… Basmati means “the fragrant one” in Sanskrit, and indeed the nutty, buttery scent that hangs heavily in the air is more than matched by its rich flavor…Then there’s the rice’s famously delicate texture, partly the result of its aging process.  Customarily the best basmati is aged for six months to a year…Lastly, the rice is beloved for its fluffiness.  Well rinsed in several changes of water to rid it of excess starch, basmati becomes one of the least sticky varieties of rice, a quality that makes it ideal for cooking.”

Rahi, New York City

And there we have it!  The first 199 foods down!

I have now eaten from every section of the book except the Caribbean section.  I think I know where to start with food #200.

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1 Comment

  1. Jean

    Glad to see that both Maw-Maw and Grandpa got a mention. Maybe we’ll get a few from the Carribean list checked off in January!

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