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Taste the capitalism in this discussion of Russian food, Soviet food, and semantics with Sofiya Alexandra. You can listen to Smart Mouth on iTunes, on Stitcher, on Spotify - or any other podcast player!
Related Episode: Borscht with Olivia Smoliga
Image: Madison Rea
Longing for Stella’s Hot & Spicy Cheesebread
When my mother took me grocery shopping as a toddler, she had to take special precautions. As family legend has it, my good manners extended to all sections of the supermarket but one: the cheese aisle. As mom dropped our weekly ration of two bricks of sharp cheddar into the cart, my eyes would remain averted, feigning indifference. But no matter how closely she surveilled me, she would inevitably return to the cart to find me grinning through a mouthful of cheddar, tiny toddler teeth having sliced through the plastic wrappings.
Although I no longer resort to foraging for a fix, my passion for cheese endures today. As a Wisconsinite transplant to France, one could say I’ve optimized my prospects. But while my scheming has largely paid off, I do have one complaint about the country often crowned capital of cheese: there’s no Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread.
Stella’s Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread is a Madison institution. The loaves, comically swirled like the frozen custard Wisconsin is famous for, arrive in steaming batches every Saturday to dominate the Capitol Farmers’ Market. Back when I lived in the cheddar state, I would join my family as they dutifully queued before Stella’s tent, bleary-eyed from the early morning bike ride. Scores of other equally observant families from the surrounding area wound with us around the square, blockading any pesto merchant or green grocer foolish enough to camp nearby.
On those mornings, the sun beat us into the concrete, but we waited because we knew at the end we’d be rewarded with sticky messes of sweet bread rippled with provolone and Monterey Jack carving through it like lava. Whoever got first hack at the loaf would handle its undercarriage, searching for the quadrant of dough with the greatest ratio of cheese. This ritual ceased when Stella’s launched the hot & spicy cheese rolls, promising every market-goer the sacred right to an equitable hot and spicy cheese to bread ratio. If only such rights extended overseas. -Bella Dally-Steele
Negroni: A Tale of Two Counts
The Negroni is a wildly popular cocktail right now, and I find myself considering the origins of this aperitivo that shines like a ruby-orange beacon on a sunny day. The Negroni originated as a variation on two cocktails, the Milano-Torino and the Americano. The former is composed of Campari (born in Milano), and sweet vermouth (from Torino, known as the Italian birthplace of the wine). As one story tells it, soda water was then added to the mix to appeal to the palate of American tourists, and thus became “the Americano.” One has only to replace the soda with gin to arrive at the familiar recipe we know and enjoy.
However, there has been quite a heated debate regarding the true inventor of the Negroni. Many have tried through the years to discern fact from folktale. As the renowned late bartender Gary Regan said, “A classic drink can be counted on to start fights and stir controversy, and the Negroni certainly fits that bill.” It all comes down to the stories of two men of noble birth: one Corsican, one Italian.
As the old bar tale goes, Count Camillo Negroni had returned to Florence from his travels around the world, bringing with him a taste for gin. In 1919 he was a patron of the local Caffé Casoni, where the Americano cocktail was riding high in popularity. Desiring something a little stronger, he asked bartender Fosco Scarselli to substitute gin for the soda water, and the Negroni was born.
Despite allegations that Count Camillo Negroni never existed, evidence to prove otherwise was found in identification documents unearthed by Chanticleer Society founder Robert Hess. In addition, Florentine barman and historian, Luca Picchi, tracked down more accounts for his book, Sulle Tracce del Conte: La Vera Storia del Cocktail Negroni (On the Trail of the Count: The True Story of the Negroni). Picchi further corroborated the wide-spread notion that this Count Negroni first traveled to the U.S., becoming a cowboy and a gambler, before eventually making his way back to Florence where he invented the drink.
Enter one Count Pascal Olivier de Negroni, the other claimant to the title. He was a brigadier general in the French military and at one point was stationed in Saint-Louis, Senegal. The Negroni family believes he invented the drink in 1857 as a digestif for himself and his wife, to whom he toasted with the cocktail on their wedding day. As romantic as that sounds, absolute proof has been hard to find - and Campari was not invented until 1860. An article published in 1980 by the Corsican newspaper, Corse Matin, records him as having introduced his “vermouth-based cocktail” at a military officer’s club, but there still remain inaccuracies. While descendants of the Count have traveled to Senegal in recent years to find letters and personal accounts from those who knew him, no evidence appears to be concrete.
Regardless of which story you believe to be authentic, few can disagree on how truly delicious the cocktail is. Here is the recipe with a disclaimer that can be summed up by the late Anthony Bourdain, “those things hit you like a freight train after four or five.” 🧊
1 oz. gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
Stir together in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into a cocktail glass or serve on the rocks. Garnish with an orange twist or slice.
Laghman Noodles, a Comfort Food for the Ages
Some foods stay close to home. Others end up circumnavigating the globe, setting up shop on city streets, in high-end restaurants, among frozen food sections and at kitchen tables in equal measure.
Chinese food is one such global cuisine, but there’s so much that falls under the rubric “Chinese food” that there is always something more to learn.
To that end, Uyghur food, and its go-to noodle dish, laghman, is a must-try.
Uyghur food pulls from central Chinese culture and mixes in flavors and techniques from neighboring countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
Laghman is a thick, wheat noodle made by hand in delicate and deft movements; it can be rounded or flattened but must always be chewy. If you thought tossing a pizza dough was a tricky cooking technique to learn, try to master pulling noodles.
Laghman is eaten at any time of day with any number of toppings and sauces including combinations of potatoes, chicken, beef, lamb, fungus, bok choy (or really any vegetable available) along with cumin seeds, chili oil, dry chili pepper flakes and black pepper and salt. But at its base are always garlic, onion, tomatoes, and bell peppers.
The Uyghur are Turkic Muslims from Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwest China. A minority population, they’ve become the victims of ethnic cleansing through “reeducation camps.” The diaspora is multi-continental now and Uygher restaurants can be found in many cities. London has had the distinct privilege of getting only one fully Uyghur restaurant—Etles, in North London. (There is also Dilara in Finsbury Park, whose owners are Uyghur, but they also serve traditional Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine.) Uyghur food has been getting a bit of recognition in Sydney and Istanbul and across the U.S. The more widespread it becomes, the more people will be introduced to the culture, and the more people, we hope, will support the human rights of the Uygher people. -Valentina Valentini
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