Some Fun Links for You

You'll laugh, you'll get hungry


I, for one, love these Twitter threads:

Potatoes baked in foil in The Boxcar Children #1.

Big-ass bags of cheap grocery store candy.

1) Hummus, salami and cheddar 2) Massaged kale, tomato jam, aaaaand cheddar.


Tabbouleh (and Lebanese Food) with Nicole Georges

A vegan who ate raw meat as a baby now finds joy in parsley.

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Photo: kuvona

Russians and Their Rye

By Tatiana Claudy

Russian proverbs are full of odes to rye. “Rye bread is the head of everything.” “Buckwheat porridge is our mother and rye bread, our father.” The word itself gives away its importance: the Russian word for “rye” has the same root as the word “give birth,” and another word for rye, “zhito” (used in Southern Russia), has the same root as the word “life.” Moreover, the Russian word “khleb” (bread) used to exclusively mean rye bread.

Archaeological findings show that people in Russian have cultivated rye (Secále cereále) since 900. In 1080, Nestor the Chronicler documented the monks of the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves eating rye bread daily. As time passed, the popularity of this bread increased even more: in 1626, Tsar Michael Romanov’s decree on bread weight mentioned twenty-six varieties of rye bread.

Rye, being frost resistant, was especially suitable for the Northern regions and Siberia. For Russians, it was not only food but also a symbol of prosperity, hospitality, and familial unity. Mothers placed ears of rye in cribs to protect babies from evil spirits. Honored guests were welcomed with round loaves of rye bread and salt. The phrase “Let bread and salt be in your home!” expressed a wish for abundance. Additionally, to attract good luck, people started and finished their meals with slices of rye bread.  

Russians, being used to this sour bread, suffered mentally and even physically without it. When, in 1736, during the Russo-Turkish war, Russian soldiers at the Crimean Peninsula had to eat wheat bread, many of them got sick. And a Russian traveler in 19th century France complained about how bad was his life in Paris with “nothing to eat” because he could not find rye bread.

“With an edge of bread there is a paradise under a spruce.” 🇷🇺

[Bibliography]


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Learning From Musubi

And thinking about tiki

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Coconut Shrimp with Julia Loken

“Mercury in retrograde” is finally explained. Julia is an astrologer with a sense of humor about it, and a lover of exquisite foods such as coconut shrimp.

Tiki: is it still acceptable?

Leave a comment

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Learning From Musubi

By Rosamund Lannin

My Honolulu-born hapa father-in-law doesn’t like musubi. He’s not crazy about poke, either. The last time I visited, he pulled off Kamehameha Highway into the parking lot of Kahuku Superette with a bemused smile, watching from the front seat as my husband and I dove into plastic containers of shoyu tuna and rice. Despite not liking two Hawaiian classics, he can get behind regional specialties like plate lunch, haupia, and manapua. Like the snacks he spurns, his culinary opinions have a complex history.

Much like my father-in-law, musubi was born of two cultures. The rice, canned meat, and seaweed treat is the product of American imperialism: Spam was introduced to Hawaii via US military occupation, and quickly made its way into the population’s diet in a big way. Sometime in the second half of the 20th century, Barbara Funamura, a Japanese-American woman from Hawaii, probably invented Spam musubi. (Others lay claim to it as well. It’s eminently possible that more than one person had this great idea.) Today, you can find musubi everywhere from 7-11 to museum cafeterias to the grocery chain Foodland, and its influence is spreading beyond the island, making its mark in trendy restaurants from coast to coast. (In Chicago, you can only find musubi at H Mart and Aloha Eats. I’m still waiting for my local 7-11 to get with the program. I can and will wait for as long as it takes.)

Photo: DAVID

American soldiers weren’t the first invaders to step foot on Hawaiian soil; the history of colonialism runs long and deep. Well before GIs arrived with processed pork, the British sailor James Cook landed on the island of Kauai in 1778. The Hawaiians had a word for Cook and his men: haole. Originally meaning outsider or foreigner, over the centuries haole has come to mean “white person.” 

My husband’s extended family says I’m pretty okay for a haole. I’ll take it. Every time I sink my teeth into a rice patty topped with perfectly grilled Spam and wrapped in nori, I think about approaching a culture through its food. I listen to my father-in-law talk about how he’s not local enough for all the locals, but not quite like anyone on the mainland, either. I read about an islands in the words of Native Hawaiians. I eat more musubi. Even if I still don’t understand my father-in-law’s aversion, I understand him a little more. 🍙 

Related:

Spam with Helen Hong (transcript)

Hawaiian Food with Sarah Kuhn (transcript)

Rice with Sheldon Simeon


Consider signing up for a paid subscription. The money goes toward paying our contributors around the world and, starting in March, an extra edition every month. (If you like, you can choose any amount over $5 in the “supporter subscription plan” field.)

*If you would like to give less than $5, you can do that via Patreon, and it is very helpful and appreciated! You can give just $1/month, and you’ll get podcast episodes a week early.


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A French Love for Bad Bagels

And next door, a worship of tomatoes

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Tracing the West African Diaspora with Ozoz Sokoh

West Africa’s influence on global cuisine: it’s there if you look for it.

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The French Love Bad Bagels

By Ciara McLaren 

At a suburban shopping center outside Pau, France, there is a life-size statue of Michael Jordan wearing the number 32. (This was not his number.) It sits in front of a restaurant serving something called a “Sloopy Joe.” 

That restaurant is called Memphis Coffee. It is very popular.

Memphis Coffee is just one of several American-themed restaurant chains operated in France, with French owners. Buffalo Grill, a Wild West take on American cuisine, is the most popular sit-down restaurant in the country. 

In a place renowned for its cuisine, why do so many people frequent imitation American restaurants? 

According to Abigail, a student from the Loiret region of France, cuisine isn’t really the point. On trips to Memphis Coffee, Abigail found the food barely memorable — “mainly burgers and bagels if I remember correctly” — if mediocre: “the fries were obviously from the freezer.” 

The real draw is the setting: a cartoon version of America. “It seems to me like they want to recreate a stereotypical and romanticized version of what it is like,” says Abigail. “What French people imagine when thinking of an American diner, all the while knowing that this representation is exaggerated.” The novelty, and low prices, attracted Abigail and her friends.

For Americans, walking into a cartoon version of their country is a very different experience. “It was really strange,” says Megan, who is from Memphis. “It felt like a mix of multiple decades of a diner,” with ancient license plates on the walls, a jukebox in the corner, and modern table settings. To French people, it is all simply American. To Americans, it is a bizarre mishmash.  

The same pattern applies to the food. Memphis Coffee serves something called “American Eggs:” poached eggs over potato patties garnished with julienned ham, covered in Emmental, and served with a choice of side salad, green beans, or “American rice.” 

What is so American about the American eggs? It’s unclear. But the differences that don’t faze French people (green beans? With eggs?) are marked to Americans.

At times, the differences are not just bemusing, but harmful. During a trip to Buffalo Grill, Heather, who is from Northern Virginia, was “horrified” to see a mounted faux head of a Native American. “It was like a hunting trophy,” she says. 

Char Kol, a pop-up Korean barbecue restaurant run by white Americans, prompted protests earlier this year as it became clear the owners didn’t know anything about Korea.

When asked what a restaurant with the roles reversed would be like (a Paris cafe-themed chain in the strip malls of America, for instance) Abigail mused on the decor — “pictures of Paris streets, the Tour Eiffel and so on” — and the music — “old-timey singers such as Edith Piaf or Jacques Brel” — before landing on the food. 

“They'd have to strike a balance between the well-known dishes and what American people would actually like to eat. I know that, for example, snails can be off-putting.” 🥯 


Consider signing up for a paid subscription. The money goes toward paying our contributors around the world and, starting in March, an extra edition every month. (If you like, you can choose any amount over $5 in the “supporter subscription plan” field.)

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The Best Tomato in Madrid

Located on Calle de Ponzano, a Madrid street so known for its gastronomy that it has its own hashtag (#ponzaning), Javier Bonet’s Sala de Despiece began as a one-location eatery with no reservations and a constant queue down the block. Bonet’s menu is rooted in the concept of cocina del mercado (cooking that uses only the freshest market ingredients) and is chock-full of dishes you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. One of them is his famed “Solomillo de Tomata” — the first item on the menu and an absolute must. Peeled by hand and infused with a homemade brine of fresh tomato, sugar, and basil, it’s served drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and topped with sea salt and flash-fried basil. Juicy, piquant, and velvety, this tomato alone is worth the queue — but this year, fear not. If 2020 were to be acknowledged for anything, it’d be for the end of the lineup: Sala de Despiece now takes reservations. So go over to its website, reserve a table like your next mind-blowing dining experience depended on it, and make sure to start with the tomato. —Margarita Gokun Silver 

Ponzano 10, 11, and 13, 28010, Madrid, Spain. saladedespiece.  


From the Smart Mouth archives:


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Eating Well in Seattle and Sri Lanka

Good grub in hard times

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Broccoli in Iceland with Jewells Chambers

I talked to the host of All Things Iceland about expat vs immigrant, explaining Trump to foreigners, and what we’re doing on social media - no, really, what are we doing. Plus, on being a vegan in Iceland, and the joys and sorrows of broccoli.


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Photo: Honey Court / Yelp

Eat Your Way Into the ID

By Brooke Jackson

Visitors to Seattle always put Pike Place Market and the Space Needle on their must-visit lists. But head a little further south and you’ll find one of the most culturally vibrant areas in the city: The International District.

Destroyed by the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, what was once known as Chinatown re-emerged from the ashes to establish a new foothold in the developing cityscape. Though Seattle has changed a shocking amount in the last two decades, vestiges of an older, more homespun city are most easily spotted in this neighborhood. Especially in the restaurants.

Throughout the last century, a plethora of locally-owned Asian restaurants have found a home here. However, business owners are facing a struggle previous generations knew, too. 

Asian and Asian American residents have faced both blatant and passive racism in Seattle since the 1800s. While some would like to believe that this social injustice is a plague of the past, current events show that not to be true. 

While almost every segment of the travel and hospitality industry has been drastically affected by COVID-19, Chinese restaurants in particular have been targeted as places to avoid due to the fact the virus originated from Wuhan, China. 

Washington Department of Health secretary John Wiesman even had to explain that Asian people are not any more likely to be vectors for COVID-19 than anyone else, explaining “Viruses have no idea of what race or ethnicity you are, [race or ethnicity] has nothing to do with the transmission...This virus is not about one particular community."

But neighborhood businesses are still impacted by ignorance.

An article in the local food-focused outlet The Stranger reported that the Vietnamese restaurant Green Leaf, located in the International District, saw a revenue decline of 40% between February and March of 2020. The business’s owner said that colleagues in the neighborhood reported losing up to 60% of their usual income during the same period. 

All this to say, whether you live in Seattle and can order delivery, or you’re planning a post-COVID trip, here is an itinerary of locally-owned Chinese restaurants in the International District to visit:

Fortuna Cafe 2.0

Gourmet Noodle Bowl

Mike’s Noodle House

Hong Kong Bistro

Honey Court

Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Hela Bojun Hala in Kandy, Sri Lanka

By Robbie Galvin

It was the distinctive "clickety-clack" noise of kottu (a dish made with sliced flatbread) being chopped that first enticed me into Kandy's Hela Bojun Hala. A few weeks after first noticing it, I began to automatically associate the sound with lunch.

Though it had lured me in with a familiar noise, the Hela Bojun Hala I visited in Kandy, Sri Lanka's second-largest city, is an endeavor strikingly different from any other kind of market in the country. Firstly, only women, dressed in identical green aprons, staff the neatly ordered stalls, each selling different Sri Lankan specialties. These range from breakfast treats like pitu (steamed cylinders of coconut and rice flour) and pungent kola kanba (a leafy green broth) to delicious jackfruit curries and mallung (a spicy salad of kale leaves mixed with shredded coconut and chilies). Notable too were the prices, clearly marked and remarkably low: 50 rupees (30 cents) for a delicious curry complete with fiery sambal (a mixture of onions and chilies) and egg hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes with exquisitely delicate edges). 

However, the most significant difference is that a Hela Bojun Hala is more than just a market. Translating directly into "traditional food court," the Hela Bojun Hala initiative was started by the Sri Lankan government in 2006 to provide culinary incubation spaces for women. Their purpose: to give female traders an alternative to competitive and male-dominated informal marketplaces while meeting a growing demand for high-quality fresh food. Today there are more than twenty Hela Bojuns across the island nation.

The markets are run by the traders themselves. As individual entrepreneurs, they rent their stalls from the department of agriculture after a period of training and accreditation. Pitching in to pay communal expenses, the women work as a collective while supplying their own equipment and produce. The prices are low, but both research and local sources show that through the Hela Bojuns, hundreds of women have achieved financial independence.

Despite being a regional leader when it comes to gender equality in education, Sri Lanka is still home to one of the world's most gender-imbalanced workforces. With an inherent expectation that married women don't work (and harassment of those who do), alongside highly unequal pay, women make up only 30% of the workforce. For now, the women working in Hela Bojuns across Sri Lanka serve as an exception to cultural norms. Perhaps their success will change the culture. 🇱🇰


More Food Reading:

  • Oh my goodness: if you’ve ever thought, “why don’t poor people know that healthy food is inexpensive?” you absolutely must read this. Share it around, too, because a lot of people don’t understand food microeconomics, and this is the best explanation I’ve ever read.

  • “Food grammar” is the term for what is culturally acceptable around eating - for instance, in Japan sandwiches can be made with fruit and cream, which is not proper American food grammar. (h/t reader Peter Stern)


This newsletter is edited by Katherine Spiers, host of the podcast Smart Mouth.

TableCakes Production.

Want to contribute? Here are the submission guidelines.

The Legend of Ofada Stew - and a Recipe

Everyone's talkin' tuna

Photo: Alexis Lamster/Flickr

Lunch Counters With Max Falkowitz

Three or so years ago my friend, the writer Max Falkowitz, took me to Eisenberg’s for a taste of old-fashioned New York lunch counter food and attitude. We almost got the famous tuna melt (the very one pictured above), but ordered a whitefish melt instead and watched the counterman go quietly wild with rage. The sandwich was life-changing.

So naturally Max was the one to talk to about, well, all of the above. We discussed the non-accidental creation of the tuna melt, the difference between lunch counters and delis, and why lunch counters were the perfect places for civil rights protests. You can listen here.

As it happens, tuna and canned fishes are in the news this week. How zeitgeist-y!

  • The tuna sandwiches at Subway may or may not have any tuna, much less seafood, in them. No one’s saying, but they are suing.

  • Canned salmon is all the rage. Or a little bit of the rage. As Max noted in the podcast, that’s great for smaller fisheries.

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Hey check it out, you can

The Legend of Ofada Stew

By Linda Egbuna

It’s time for everyone outside of West Africa to know more about Nigerian foods. From jollof rice and pounded yams, to pepper soup and all the other abundant and diverse local soups, there are classic Nigerian dishes for every home, regardless of where one lives. Each of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria have their own traditional cuisines, but the Yoruba near-obsession with food is simply legendary.

The Yoruba saying “Oun t'a óję l' àgbà oun ta o se,” which directly translates to “what we eat is, on the hierarchical scale, superior to what we do” is a testament to this. Visit any Yoruba-dominated region in Nigeria and you are bound to see bankers and mechanics alike sitting in crowded bukas and sweating it out over hot plates of amala, ewedu, or other homegrown favorites. And visitors won't find a traditional restaurant here that doesn’t offer at least one ofada stew-related dish.

Ofada stew is a simple, spicy one-pot dish usually comprising some mixture of tomatoes, poached eggs, onions, seafood, meat, Scotch bonnets and bell peppers, flavored with smoked dried shrimp and fermented locust beans (iru). This dish originated with the Yoruba tribe in the southwestern regions of the country and is a delicacy often shared in their communal gatherings, festivities, and owambe. Over the years, ofada stew’s allure gradually brought it to other ethnic groups, and now it reigns supreme over the entire country’s palate.

This dish is also referred to as Ayamase (meaning “wife of Mase”) stew. According to Yoruba folklore, Ayamase was the young woman who invented the recipe. As the story goes, she was trapped in an unhappy marriage and came up with the ofada dish for her lover. She found a sort of freedom in making this dish, pairing it with locally grown rice and serving it on freshly picked banana leaves. Over time that rice became so associated with ofada stew that now it is referred to as ofada rice in every corner of Nigeria.

To make this dish, you need: 

5 large bell peppers

3 Scotch bonnet peppers

4 large red onions 

goat meat or an alternative (braised with 1 red onion, 1 scotch bonnet pepper, 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. bouillon)

80 grams smoked dried fish

20 grams smoked dried shrimp 

½ cup palm oil 

2 tsps. bouillon

salt to taste 

1 tbsp. iru (fermented locust beans)

Cut the peppers and two of the red onions into small chunks and blend roughly. 

Boil the blended peppers on medium high heat till it reduces to a paste. 

While the peppers are reducing, slice the remaining two red onions and in a separate pot, sauté them in palm oil on medium heat till the onions turn slightly brown. Add in the smoked dried fish and the shrimp and continue to cook for another 10 minutes.

Add in the reduced pepper paste and cook for about 10 minutes

Add in the braised goat meat (or your vegan alternative) with the braising liquid and continue cooking for 15 minutes. 

Next, add in the iru and bouillon, stir, and continue cooking until the stew separates from the oil (this could take about 7 minutes). And just like that, your ofada stew is ready to be served with boiled ofada rice, any organic rice, air fried plantains, roasted potatoes or pretty much anything else in between.

For a completely vegetarian option, feel free to omit the crayfish in the recipe. You can also toss in some chopped carrots, sweet corn, and mushrooms for a more vegetarian feel. If you are a meat lover, your options include grilled or roast chicken, fish, or some poached eggs. This dish is served on fresh banana leaves in Nigerian restaurants and homes.

In my part of the world, ofada stew is not complete without emu, or oguro, a delicious local brew tapped from palm trees within the community. For a more wholesome experience, and I suspect it will always be.

One last thing: don't pick up a knife and fork to devour your ofada stew. While spoons are more popular now, the traditional way to eat this dish is to scoop up the sauce with your hand and dip or roll it in the accompanying rice (and relishes) before sending its amazing flavors straight to your taste buds. 🇳🇬


More Food Reading:

  • I bought fonio from a company called Yolélé in the hopes of, you know, saving the world, and after reading this interview I’m feeling VERY smug about it.


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This newsletter is edited by Katherine Spiers, host of the podcast Smart Mouth.

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