Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth
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- 09/01/16--11:00: _Video: This is How ...
- 09/02/16--07:00: _The Hunt for the Gr...
- 09/09/16--07:00: _The Sioux Chef Spre...
- 09/12/16--07:00: _What to Do in Armen...
- 09/12/16--07:00: _The World's First W...
- 09/19/16--08:00: _Everyone in the Wor...
- 09/19/16--08:00: _The Insider’s Guide...
- 09/19/16--08:00: _The Shipwrecked Sai...
- 09/21/16--08:30: _Curtis Stone's Guid...
- 09/22/16--08:30: _Eating Bunny Chow i...
- 09/27/16--07:00: _How a Peruvian Farm...
- 09/28/16--09:00: _Justin Devillier Di...
- 09/29/16--08:00: _Inside Earth's Last...
- 10/05/16--07:00: _A Field Guide to Ea...
- 10/11/16--05:00: _The 140-Year-Old Re...
- 10/12/16--09:00: _Don’t Leave This Gr...
- 10/13/16--09:00: _Inside New Mexico’s...
- 10/14/16--09:00: _This Mashed Potato ...
- 10/17/16--07:00: _There's Never Been ...
- 10/17/16--09:00: _Come Marvel at the ...
- 09/01/16--11:00: Video: This is How You Do a Summer Day Trip
- 09/02/16--07:00: The Hunt for the Greatest Soy Sauce in the World
- 09/09/16--07:00: The Sioux Chef Spreading the Gospel of America's First Food
- 09/12/16--07:00: What to Do in Armenian Wine Country
- 09/12/16--07:00: The World's First Winery
- 09/19/16--08:00: Everyone in the World Loves Dried Cod
- 09/19/16--08:00: The Shipwrecked Sailors & the Wandering Cod
- 09/22/16--08:30: Eating Bunny Chow in Durban
- 09/27/16--07:00: How a Peruvian Farmer is Growing 180 Kinds of Potatoes
- 09/29/16--08:00: Inside Earth's Last Line of Defense to Preserve Biodiversity
- 10/05/16--07:00: A Field Guide to Eating in the Snacker’s Capital of India
- 10/13/16--09:00: Inside New Mexico’s Hatch Green Chile Obsession
- 10/14/16--09:00: This Mashed Potato Pizza Is New Haven’s Secret Handshake
- 10/17/16--07:00: There's Never Been a Better Time to Eat Your Way Through Iceland
Long summer weekends should be easy. You shouldn't have to get up at 5 in the morning for your day-long getaway, and our photo editor Michelle Heimerman is out to prove it. She ventured upstate from stanky hot New York City to the friendly city of Kingston, NY and documented her adventures, from splashing around a watering hole to some day drinking at a wine bar.
She started her day with a dip in the Big Deep Swimming Hole, just a short drive outside of Kingston. From there, Michelle drove down Broadway to Clove and Creek, a "Catskill mercantile that celebrates local makers and fosters community." After that, she checked the incredible variety of drinks at the Kingston Wine Company and took a walk along the Rondout Historic Waterfront District.
Michelle then stopped at Smorgasburg Upstate before heading out to Blackcreek Mercantile, where she checked out some of their beautiful hand-carved wooden spoons. She closed out the day with a snack at Brunette Wine Bar and the music at the Chronogram Block Party. Check out the video above to see just how much you can fit in a relaxing day trip.
The following is an excerpt fromSuper Sushi Ramen Express, a series of essays about author Michael Booth's exploration of the incredible food culture of Japan. Here: soy sauce that goes way beyond Kikkoman. Booth's book goes on sale next week, but you can pre-order now.
The next day, I traveled by bus across the Akashi Kaikyo suspension bridge to Shikoku, in the inland sea, an island so beautiful I regarded it from the window in a kind of blissful trance. There were gentle mountains and gorges packed tight with tombstones; distant glinting seas; giant wheeling tombi hawks silhouetted against a crisp, blue sky; rice-straw wigwams drying in the sun; and ceramic-tiled wooden houses, as seen in dozens of samurai movies.
I was traveling to Shikoku Island to taste the world’s greatest soy sauce, the soy equivalent of cold-pressed, extra-virgin, single-estate olive oil or fifty-year-old Modena balsamic vinegar, a true gourmet rarity produced in the traditional method by the descendant of a samurai family.
But first, the supermarket stuff.
The single most important ingredient in Japanese food is not rice—which is more than a mere ingredient; it is virtually a spiritual element to a meal—but soy sauce. Though the Japanese do use salt in their cooking—and, as I was to discover on Okinawa, they produce some of the greatest salts in the world—the majority of their season- ing comes from this fabulously savory, ebony brown, viscous liquid. They consume on average over two gallons per capita per year of various types: light and salty usukuchi, traditionally associated with the west of Japan; less salty, dark koikuchi, traditionally favored in the east of Japan and accounting for 80 percent of the market; an- other soy made with equal parts wheat and soybeans; one made with added amazake, a fermented rice drink; as well as saishikomi, shiro, and tamari soy, the latter thicker and richer and made using little if no wheat.
One soy company dominates both the domestic and global soy markets. Kikkoman’s distinctive little squat-bottomed bottles with the double-spouted, brittle, red plastic screw tops are ubiquitous the world over, found on every table of every Chinese and Japanese restaurant from Washington to Wolverhampton, and in most domestic kitchens, too. The company has plants in Holland, China, and the United States, producing over a hundred million gallons per year. It is the Coca-Cola of the soy sauce world. And the Pepsi, as well. Well, can you name another soy brand?
Japanese soy has traditionally been made in Chiba Prefecture, in either Choshi or Noda, and sailed down the river to Tokyo. It has been exported farther afield since the seventeenth century—Louis XIV was said to have been a fan. Kikkoman started in Noda three hundred years ago, and it still has its base there. Back when we were still in Tokyo, at the beginning of our journey, almost two months earlier, I took a train there, twenty miles north across the endless expanse of Tokyo’s suburbs.
Noda is very clearly a one-company town. The air was thick with the meaty smell of soy sauce—a kind of sweet, beefy, wheaty aroma—but Kikkoman didn’t appear to have brought great wealth to Noda, which was a rather bleak, ramshackle, low-rise place, dominated by the giant, rusting hulks of wheat storage tanks.
I had hoped to visit Goyogura, the brewery dedicated solely to making soy sauce for the imperial household, but it was undergoing renovation. Instead, Hiroyuki Yano, a nice man from the PR department, showed me around the visitors’ center, starting with the dreaded corporate video (“Defying the passing of time and national boundaries, since times of old, that’s Kikkoman!”), before we followed the process of turning soybeans into soy sauce, or shoyu, via windows into the factory itself.
It is a surprisingly straightforward process, which probably explains why home brewing of soy was commonplace in Japan until World War II. The main ingredients are steamed soybeans and roasted, crushed wheat—in Kikkoman’s case, non-GMO and grown in the United States and Canada (the emperor’s soy sauce is made exclusively with domestic ingredients, of course). These are fermented using the Kikkoman Aspergillus oryzae bacteria, a type of koji, which is mixed with brine to make a mash called moromi and left to develop for six months. Sugar and amino acids combine to create that deep caramel color while yeasts and lactic acid create the aromas—there are three hundred different aromas in soy, apparently, a figure comparable to wine. The moromi, an unpleasant-looking orangey-brown mash, is churned and then pressed in 2,800-yard-long nylon sacks before being pasteurized.
What was the difference between this and how the Chinese make their soy? I asked Yano-san. “The fermentation process is different. Some of the Chinese ones are made by a chemical process.” He sniffed. “They can use acid to take the protein from the beans, for instance.” Some companies also add corn syrup and artificial caramel, or even hydrolyzed vegetable protein and hydrochloric acid, but not Kikkoman.
Until thirty years ago, Kikkoman made its soy sauce by fermenting the moromi in traditional wooden trays, a method originally devised because it allowed the temperature to be easily regulated by lifting the trays to control the circulation of air. These days they use giant, glass-lined, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. There are two thousand of them in the Noda plant alone, although this isn’t the biggest Kikkoman factory—that is in Wisconsin. This vast scale of production enables the company to sell its soy sauce for less than the cost of bottled water in some territories.
I was impressed by the straightforward, relatively “slow food” brewing process at Kikkoman, but a chance tasting of another, far subtler, richer, and softer artisanal soy in a restaurant in Kyoto sent me off on the trail of a rather more refined soy sauce, made at the Kamebishi brewery, on the island of Shikoku.
Kamebishi is the only soy company in Japan still making soy sauce the old-fashioned way, using the mushiro method, in which the fermenting beans are spread out on woven straw mats placed on top of bamboo trays. The resulting mash is left to mature for a minimum of two years.
Kamebishi was founded over two hundred years ago and is still run by the seventeenth generation of the Okada family, originally of samurai stock. The factory remains in the small rural town of Higashikagawa, in the original samurai house, a sprawling, single-story red stucco farmhouse with a heavy ceramic-tiled roof.
In charge when I visited was Kanae Okada, who returned from a high-flying career in the travel industry in Tokyo to rescue the family firm some years ago. “When I was growing up, I never wanted to be a part of it, and my father didn’t force me,” Kanae told me. “I went off to work in the U.S., worked in Tokyo, and had a child. I worked at the Japan Cultural Center, and many of my colleagues there had a cultural specialty, like kabuki or sumo, and I felt so ashamed that I had neglected this part of my heritage. In the States it was the same. Everyone was so interested in my family, but I couldn’t answer any of their questions. So I returned fifteen years ago to start running the company.”
Kanae recognized the cultural and commercial importance of her family’s product and was determined to save the company from the brink of bankruptcy. This she has done with a mix of shrewd business sense, a respect for traditional methods, and some remarkable new product innovations, including freeze-dried soy for use as a seasoning, and a soy sauce that she has aged for—so far—twenty-seven years.
“We are very different from Kikkoman,” Kanae told me as she showed me around. “We roast our wheat on hot sand to 400°F. We use whole soybeans; they use dried beans with the oil removed. We ferment the moromi on straw mats on top of bamboo slats at between 82°F and 86°F. We age it for a minimum of three years in cedar barrels. It is very intensive, very intuitive.”
Kanae is the first woman in Japan to run a soy company. What about her sixteen-year-old daughter? I asked. Will she take over the company one day? “Actually, she isn’t like I was when I was growing up. She is really proud of what we do. She comes with me on business trips and explains things to clients. Many young Japanese are fed up with being white-collar; they want to make things. We used to have a real problem getting workers—you know, we are quite a way from anywhere here—but we get many young people coming to work here now. Only a few can cope with the hard work, but I think they will come back to the old ways. Ten years ago we were having a real crisis. Sales were dead, but now they have doubled.” Perhaps the traditional sectors of the tofu and sake industries could benefit from a similarly dynamic, innovative approach.
We clambered up into the dark, cobwebbed loft where the hundred-year-old cedar barrels containing the slowly fermenting soy are kept—all the better to control the flow of air and, thus, the temperature. Every surface—walls, floor, old pipes, ceilings—was caked with a thick, tar-like crust. We gingerly tiptoed across the tops of the barrels—essentially large wooden tanks set into the floor. It reminded me of Fagin’s London, and I must have pulled a bit of a face, as Kanae said, “You know, it isn’t dirty. It is decades of fungal growth, but actually, the whole process is extremely hygienic even though we never clean it. Someone from the government’s hazard analysis department came and said we had to clean everything, but I had to explain that this environment is exactly what makes our soy taste so special. The mold here is more than two hundred years old! We did tests and found 230 different types of bacteria, yeast fungus, and microbes—all of them are part of our fermentation process. These microfungi produce lots of alcohol, so in the summer it gets above 104°F and really smells of booze.” In other words, the entire building was alive with fertile microorganisms, a giant fermentation chamber.
The floor was slippery, and the barrels about seven feet deep. Had anyone ever fallen in? I asked. “Yes, I did once, when I was four. It was full of soy, too. Luckily there was someone to fish me out, or I would probably have died.” For the first two nights of fermentation, someone has to babysit the mash, stirring it and maintaining the right temperature, but the result of this incredible attention to detail is a soy that is richer and smoother tasting than supermarket soy. It sells for roughly twice the price, but that is still, to me, cheap for an artisanal product.
We retired to Kanae’s office to talk about the future of soy. “I started to make soy salt for the French and Italian chefs because they couldn’t season their food with soy sauce because of the color. Now lots of Italian chefs are using it. It is packed with umami. You can think of it as natural MSG. Pascal Barbot and Alain Ducasse are very interested in using it.”
Then she brought out the “special stuff.” “And this,” she said, proudly brandishing a bottle whose contents were pitch-black and syrupy, “is the twenty-seven-year-old aged soy. The only aged soy in the world. I got the idea when I visited a balsamic vinegar producer in Modena who had a hundred-year-old balsamic, which tasted incredible. We are not going to sell this until it is fifty years old, but you can taste it now if you like.” It was rich and deep, with a powerfully lactic taste, hints of sherry, cedarwood, and grilled steak, like a refined, complex Marmite but without the afterburn.
They also sell a ten-year-old soy for around $150 a bottle—presumably the most expensive soy sauce in the world—which, though not quite as intense, is wonderful drizzled over carpaccio, just like balsamic. Even more exciting were Kanae’s plans for the future, which include soy maple syrup for ice cream, chocolate soy flakes, caramel soy, and balsamic soy salt. “The chocolate isn’t quite ready—it needs more of an umami boost.” (Since my visit, the chocolate has been perfected and is now on sale.)
Wandering around after our meeting, while waiting for my bus, I chanced upon another ancient, artisanal food producer, making wasanbonto sugar. This is the “king of sugars”—primarily sold as ultrafine sugar bonbons, little balls the size of peas wrapped in tissue paper and made by hand from sugarcane for over two centuries. Legend has it that a pilgrim from southern Kyushu, at that time the only place allowed to grow sugarcane in Japan, walked all the way to Shikoku smuggling a chikuto sugarcane plant and, upon arrival, collapsed and died. They planted the sugarcane, and as it turned out, the soil and water here were perfect for its cultivation. The cane flourished, and when processed, by squeezing, then boil- ing the juice, and then stone-pressing the syrup to refine it, it produced much smaller, powder-sized crystals than the same plants grown in Kyushu. At ¥3,000 (around $40) per 2.2 pounds, it is today the most expensive sugar in Japan. I just had time, as my bus came into view, to buy some of the company’s bonbons, which were extraordinarily fine. They dissolved quickly on my tongue, leaving a faintly flowery, sweet aftertaste.
Excerpted from SUPER SUSHI RAMEN EXPRESS by Michael Booth. Published by Picador. Copyright © 2016 by Michael Booth. All rights reserved.
You wouldn’t believe how hard it has been to explain what indigenous food is,” chef Sean Sherman tells me. “I’ve had the same conversation over and over. I have to go back to the beginning all the time.”
For Sherman, a Sioux chef championing indigenous food, going back to the beginning means talking about the unbroken presence of Native people in the Americas, and the food systems that once nourished them. It means peeling back the layers of colonial foods that, over centuries, have coated indigenous diets—sugar, industrial meat, processed grains. It means finding a way to express these traditions in the context of modern urban dining in the restaurant he and his business and romantic partner Dana Thompson plan to open early next year.
The restaurant will be called Sioux Chef: An Indigenous Kitchen, and it won’t serve salmon on a cedar plank or fry bread or macaroni. Sherman’s more straightforward notion of indigenous comfort food includes dishes like smoked turkey soup with burnt sage, bison slow-cooked in spruce boughs, and a sunflower and hazelnut crisp. Using modern combinations and ancient ingredients and methods, he’s after something simultaneously old, and yet new.
Sherman grinds cornmeal for flint corn cakes. He smokes trout and walleye. He pops heirloom corn. He avoids pork, chicken, and beef. No sugar or eggs. These American staples weren’t historically available to indigenous tribes. Sherman’s cooking is a reclamation of identity.
“That’s amaranth,” the chef says, pointing to a brown sorghum-looking weed in a ditch on the side of the road. We’re driving south of the city toward Wozupi Tribal Gardens, a 16-acre farm that specializes in American heirloom fruits and vegetables. “Amaranth grows all around here.” So does goosefoot. And sorrel. Not to mention berries, wild rice, squash, and corn.
Sherman grew up identifying plants. He lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota until moving west to Spearfish when he was 13. He worked in restaurants to help support his family and for the U.S. Forest Service in the Black Hills as a field surveyor sampling and memorizing the canon of Dakota flora.
Angelica Adams, Wozupi's program coordinator, greets us. Established in 2010, the farm grows and sells an incredible array of organic, indigenous plants and products—some of America’s oldest. Cherokee beans. Potawatomi lima. Oneida corn. Arikara yellow squash. Hidatsa shield beans. Lakota squash. Gete-okosimaan (Ojibwe for “old-time squash”). Maple sugar and syrup. Honey. Chokecherries. Wild plums. Apples. Apricots. Tomatoes. And Juneberries. Dark, tart, and plump, the ten pints of Juneberries that Adams brought out for Sherman were the most I’d ever seen in one place. And the first bite transported me back to the ditches of northern Minnesota, grasshoppers clacking in the grass, where my brother and I sought them as kids.
For those of us who grew up with them, these flavors evoke nostalgia. For many others, they will be new and unfamiliar. Tatanka Truck, a Native American food truck on whose opening menu Sherman consulted, has become a point of first encounter for the wider Minneapolis community. Here, the menu includes things like manoomin (wild rice) salad, sumac popcorn, and cedar-maple iced tea, all simple in preparation but surprising to many in their seeming foreignness. Owned and operated by the Little Earth Housing Authority, the first and only urban Indian housing project, Tatanka is—like Sherman’s projects—adamantly indigenous and inherently political.
All over the country, Indian communities that were forcefully divorced from their traditional foodways have suffered from poverty, colonialism, and a lack of fresh food for the better part of a century. In the Plains in the late 1800s, the U.S. Army hunted tens of millions of bison to the point of extinction, specifically to defeat the region’s tribes. In the Northwest, salmon were diminished because of man-made dams along the rivers. In Minnesota, cultivated cranberry marshes and rice beds were maliciously drowned to free up land for logging, forcing Indians to relocate to the White Earth Reservation. By killing the food—from coast to coast—the government defeated Native Americans.
And in turn, these tribes became dependent on the government for cheap, rationed foods—macaroni, white rice, lard, flour, bacon. Over time, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer, afflictions previously absent from Indian life, came to plague reservations. When Sherman prepares bison, turkey, walleye, pike, squash, and hominy for a chronically malnourished community—returning to the earth and, in doing so, eschewing the system—it’s something of a revolution.
Sherman preps most of his meals for pop-ups, catered events, and food summits at the Little Earth kitchen, which has exposed its diverse population of reservation residents and city dwellers to his food. Many have expressed a feeling of connecting to it on a primal level. Sherman’s food gets at the private worry of all modern Indians—that our story is one defined by loss: loss of land, loss of culture, loss of a way of life. And yet we remain. We exist as modern Americans and Indians, but how much is left? How authentic, really, are we? At what point do we cease being Indians, and become people simply descended from Indians?
Sherman’s food suggests that all is not lost. In fact, it says much remains. It’s around us—the amaranth on the side of the road, the berries and fruit growing over our head. Of course, ingredients alone don’t make a cuisine, much less a political statement. Rather, Sherman and Thompson’s intentional approach is a reminder to focus on the richness of our surroundings and the earth from which we came.
So often, when Sherman introduces the idea of Native American food to a crowd, someone asks: “There’s Native American food?” He smiles and nods. His food is an answer to that question: It and we have always been here.
Correction, September 13th, 2016: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Angelica Adams as a Mdewakanton tribal member and the founder Wozupi. We've updated the story to reflect her position at Wozupi.
Must-Try Local Dish
Lahmajoun is a meat-topped flatbread also known as “Armenian pizza.” Try it at Mer Taghe (21/1 Tumanyan St., Yerevan) with a squirt of lemon and a glass of than, a minty-yogurt beverage similar to Turkish ayran.
Read More: The World's First Winery »
Best Wine Bars
The Tourist Trap Worth Trying
Grab lunch at Edem Restaurant, which caters to visitors near the base of Areni-1 but still serves a classic Armenian spread.
How to Hack the Travel Route
Most flights to Zvartnots International Airport transfer through Moscow. Get a 24-hour visa before traveling, and spend a layover day in Russia to make the most of the long haul.
Best Traditional Dolma Purveyor
Head to the aptly named Dolmama at 10 Pushkin Street in Yerevan for the “dolmama” dolmas made with sirloin, rosemary, and chiles.
Stash This in Your Suitcase
Source a locally produced, hand-woven rug from the weekend Vernissage flea market in Yerevan. Aram Street at Hanrapetutyan Street.
Read This Before You Go
William Saroyan’s “Seventy Thousand Assyrians,” from the collection The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze is about flourishing and vanishing civilizations in the Caucasus and the realities of life in exile.
Read More: The World's First Winery
“This is it: the genesis,” exclaims winemaker Paul Hobbs, walking through a tight opening into a mass of monolithic rocks. “The cave where it all began.”
Hobbs and his partners are taking a break from their vines to explore one of the world’s oldest known winemaking operations. It’s in a cave. In Armenia. And not just any cave: a massive, primordial, bat-infested, Transcaucasian caveman cave. The Areni-1 complex, uncovered in 2007, contains a 6,100-year-old winery replete with fermenting vats, a grape press, and subterranean clay storage vessels. Altogether, it’s the best-preserved archeological site in the ongoing search for winemaking’s birthplace. And it’s only 60 miles from Mount Ararat, where Noah is said to have parked his ark after the flood and planted the earth’s first vineyard.
Read more: What to Do in Armenian Wine Country »
When you’re inside the cave, where the National Geographic Society and UCLA are continually excavating, you can’t help wondering what life must have been like back then. It’s quite cool—“temperature controlled,” as Hobbs puts it, meaning wine-friendly. Like a sandy beach, the floor is soft and springy, covered in a layer of fine dirt. Hobbs rests his hand on a guano-encrusted wall and gazes down at the gray-white earthenware jugs sunk into the powdery floor. “These have been sitting here for thousands of years,” he says. “It’s hard to fathom. We don’t have words for this feeling; it’s something mystical, something ethereal.”
Few people outside the former Soviet Union have ever tasted Armenian wine, but Hobbs and his team are part of a growing movement here hoping to change that. In addition to his own winery in Sebastapol, California, Hobbs consults on dozens of projects around the globe, from Uruguay to Ontario. And the 62-year-old vintner played a pivotal role in shaping the modern Argentinean wine industry two decades ago. His Armenian venture is a partnership with two Los Angeles-based Armenian brothers, Viken and Vahe Yacoubian. The first releases from Yacoubian-Hobbs Wines—made in the vineyards of Rind, a short drive from the Areni-1 archeological site—will launch next year.
Visiting Areni-1, it’s easy to share Hobbs’ enthusiasm for the chance to make wine at the cradle of viticulture. The cave is situated at the conjunction of an ancient canyon and a steep, narrow valley. From the fertile base of this X-shaped gorge, sweeping green hillsides give way to immense jagged red stone formations seemingly erupting from the earth’s core. These cliffside spires must have been just as awe-inspiring to the people who began cultivating grapes here millennia ago.
Imagine a band of hunter-gatherers standing on a ridge across the Arpa River, surveying these craggy rifts as a place they might find shelter and protection from the leopards and jackals competing for survival here in the Armenian highlands. Areni-1 was inhabited during the early Copper Age, a transitional epoch between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age also known as the Chalcolithic period. At that point, we were still pretty much cartoon cavemen who hadn’t yet invented writing or wheels. The advent of alcoholic beverages would help kick-start those breakthroughs.
Consider: Only by domesticating animals and tending crops did we evolve away from pure survival and into a mode of life where division of labor and increased specialization developed into critical thinking. This cave is a key locus in that development.
Over the past decade, archeological excavations at Areni-1 have uncovered not just the first-ever winery, but also the oldest known leather shoe and a human skull containing the most ancient fragment of brain tissue in existence. It’s been suggested the skulls and wine were linked in ceremony, and in its earliest days, the mystery of fermentation and inebriation was considered a gift of the gods—something to be ritualized. That’s why, as organized religions arose, wine became linked to divinities like Teshub, Osiris, Dionysus, and Jesus.
Early forms of booze included broken-rice grogs, grain mashed with fruit, and other proto-beers. But wine’s centrality in human history is due to the simplicity with which grape juice transforms itself into alcohol. As soon as grapes release their juices, the yeasts living on their skins break down the sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. A pile of grapes, left to their own devices, will start to ferment automatically. “Other fruits don’t generate the same amount of alcohol as grapes, nor do other fruits turn into juice as easily,” Hobbs says.
The discovery of wine would have been an alluring reason for nomadic humans to give sedentary existence a go. As the pomologist Edward Bunyard once wrote: “We can picture the Father of our civilization, genial and complacent amid the stir of camp-breaking, answering those who urged him to his packing, ‘No! I stay here until this grape juice is finished. It gets more tasty every day.’”
Of course it wouldn’t have been the only reason we settled, but wine's nascence is a key moment in the Neolithic revolution, when humans gave up nomadism for agriculture. Armenia is adjacent to the Fertile Crescent, where founder crops like emmer and einkorn wheat, barley, flax, and lentils were tamed and developed. This particular region is also the place of origin for the wild grapevine.
It’s uncertain where, exactly, viticulture began, but the strongest theories suggest that it arose between the Black and Caspian Seas in Transcaucasia (which includes Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan), as well as in eastern Turkey, the Levant, and northern Iran. The earliest evidence for grape domestication, in the form of 8,000-year-old grape seeds, was found just north of Armenia at Shulaveri gorge in Georgia. The oldest example of wine—7,400-year-old residue on clay pots—was discovered just south of Armenia at Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran. Across the Black Sea in northern Greece, findings from a settlement called Dikili Tash suggest that grapes were being crushed into wine there 6,300 years ago. But Areni-1, at 6,100 years old, is the first place where grapes and winemaking tools have been discovered together. To put things in perspective, it’s not until a millennium or so later that wine shows up in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs.
How the first prehistoric wines were made remains a matter of speculation. One hypothesis entails nomadic humans collecting wild grapes, which, left aside, accidentally fermented, and presto: vino. “When our prehistoric ancestors first drank wine, they felt its euphoric effects,” Hobbs says, “which certainly made them want to keep at it.”
Hobbs and the Yacoubian brothers have also had to keep at it. They've been working on this ambitious project since 2008, and they still haven't actually released any wines. But things are getting closer: Their areni vines are healthy, their nursery with Hobbs' California varietals is in the ground, and the first batch of their wines is imminent. “This is the longest cycle of any project I've ever worked on,” notes Hobbs, who also accepts that things take as long as they need to in a place this remote.
A certain level of tenacity and dedication is required just to access the Areni-1 site. Traveling to Armenia from North America is a multitransfer slog, and the drive to the cave from the capital city, Yerevan, takes a couple of hours along bumpy mountain roads. Throughout the journey, Mount Ararat's snowcapped peak dominates the biblically epic view. The road to Areni is lined with farm stands selling fresh red cherries and plastic gallons of homemade, semisweet, rustic red wine. “Many of them are riddled with microbial sanitation problems, oxidation, or overextraction,” Hobbs laments. “It's a shame, as more and more people are making pilgrimages here to taste great wine in its birthplace.”
Ancient wines have little in common with the roadside plonk available around Areni. Given the relentless global demand for wines with a true sense of place, there are opportunities here. Take the amber wines of nearby Georgia, made as they always have been in underground qvevri amphorae. Unsung until recently, they're increasingly praised in the international wine scene. Armenia, too, is ground zero for wine culture, yet it's still to be seen how it will reconcile the past with the present.
The indigenous areni grape, for example, seems ideally suited for lighter-bodied wines, yet many winemakers use it in saccharine Soviet-style wines or in brawny oak bombs. There's little consensus about what would make for a “typical” Armenian wine because nobody can say with authority what the wines used to be like. Part of the thrill is the desire to try and find out—even though the country's ancient wine culture nearly died over the past couple of centuries.
There's a simple reason why Armenia is simultaneously one of the oldest and the youngest wine-producing nations in the world: It was decreed a brandy-producing country during the 19th-century czarist era. As a result, most grapes here have ultimately ended up being distilled. The emphasis on brandy only deepened during Soviet years, and to this day, 95 percent of the grapes grown on a commercial level are used for spirits.
The rebirth of Armenian wines began only around a decade ago—barely enough time for newly planted vines to come to fruition. The producers moving things forward include Zorah, which ages a Karasì cuvée in reclaimed amphorae; Voskeni of the Ararat Valley; and Kataro, a family-run winery in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. Irina Ghaplanyan, a political science professor and driving force in the revival, makes an excellent red called Zabel. “Armenia's wines aren't yet at their full potential,” she explains, knowingly. “We're still discovering what they can truly offer.”
This is a nation where the tradition of simply drinking wine was broken. Annual consumption of vodka per capita is 5.6 liters, for example, to wine's 1.6 liters. Compare that with Georgia, where the average citizen consumes upwards of 21 liters a year. Granted, Georgia was deemed a “country of wine” in the Soviet-dominated 20th century, supplying Stalin with his favorites, and the tradition of making wine in qvevris was never interrupted. If Armenia can find a way to leverage its own historical position into a vibrant new wine culture, however, its mountainous reds may soon be drunk side by side with Georgia's skin-contact amber wines.
Since the discovery of Areni-1 nine years ago, seismic changes have already taken place in Armenia. The first-ever wine bars in Yerevan opened just a few years ago. The clientele still skews female and young, but it's a significant step in a place where most men consider wine drinking unmasculine. The sense that a new generation is coaxing things forward is palpable. Post-Soviet-style wine (read: dry) is being exported by domaines like ArmAs Estate, Hin Areni Vineyards, and Van Ardi, and there is an increasing uptick in quality. “That's where we come in,” says Hobbs, who is conscious of the need to retain the wines' connection to the land. “The soul of a wine is when it speaks to a place. If you don't have that, then you've missed everything. And that quest is why we're so fired up to be here.”
The quest to bring world-class wine back to Armenia would be a lot more complicated without Vahe Keushguerian, the winery manager for Yacoubian-Hobbs. Born into the diaspora and educated in the United States, he started making wine in Tuscany and Puglia in the 1990s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he bought land in the Areni region, relocated in 2009, and began working with the country's winemakers. These days, he runs a company called Semina Consulting that helps with everything from harvesting to bottling to sales to shipping. “The ringleader of the Armenian wine mafia” is what the media here have dubbed Keushguerian. That may be true, but he's also a nature lover who spends his free time tagging and propagating wild grapevines.
Not far from the cave, Keushguerian walks over to some tangled, overgrown grape bushes. These grapevines haven't been here for millennia, but they've overlooked these cliffs for at least a few generations. The varietals translate to names like “foxtail,” “the shah's empress,” and “a Kurd's forehead.”
“Whenever I come out here it makes me realize the total insignificance of our own lives,” Keushguerian says to Hobbs as they gaze up at the cliffs. As much as Keushguerian is entranced with Armenia's ancestral grapes and Areni-1, it's his opinion that it doesn't matter which country actually came to make wine first. “Being the birthplace of wine is something the countries around here all share,” he contends. “In fact, it's one of the few things we all have in common.”
Relations between Armenia and its neighbors are highly fraught. The borders to Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed. The only land routes in or out pass through either Georgia or Iran, making it logistically difficult to export wines. There have long been disputes over the Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan as well as the mountainous independent territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which shares a currency, legislation, and much of its population with Armenia—but which Azerbaijan claims belongs to it. Perhaps the ultimate symbol for how complex the geopolitical situation is in this region is Mount Ararat itself, which lies in a part of Turkey primarily inhabited by Kurds who consider it part of the as-yet-unrecognized nation of Kurdistan.
Areni-1 is located near Ararat in Vayots Dzor, a province whose name translates as the “Valley of Sorrows.” So many wars have been fought here, and the painful memory of the Armenian genocide a century ago remains fresh. Cross-cultural tension and lingering wounds are part of the country's DNA.
As Keushguerian, Viken Yacoubian, and Hobbs leave the cave site, a picnicking group of older men waves them over. They're drinking homemade white wine and vodka from plastic water bottles. When they learn that Hobbs is American, they kiss him on the cheek and hold forth in Russian about Armenia's tragic past. Keushguerian tries to translate, but the men speak over one another with increasing urgency. Pretty soon, they are crying and hugging as Hobbs attempts to console them. He can't grasp a word they're saying. Still, he's in a land capable of expressing its emotions in ways that transcend language.
To encounter grown men crying here is not atypical. In fact, souvenir stores often sell small figurines of a doleful, bulbous-nosed, dark-haired, flower-bearing man with tears running down his face. Armenians are a deeply emotional and empathetic people; it's part of the reason they've been able to survive in such a harsh environment, but also why their communities have flourished around the world. The global Armenian diaspora is estimated to be between 7 million to 8 million people; the country's population is itself only 3 million.
William Saroyan, the legendary Armenian-American writer, felt that the secrets to life were to breathe deeply, laugh like hell, and really “taste food when you eat.” Meals here are so incredibly flavorful and abundant that it's impossible to not follow his advice. After bidding the tipsy, now laughing picnickers dasvidaniya, the group heads to an outdoor grill restaurant near the base of the cave. (Part of the cave itself was damaged when someone tried to build a restaurant inside its western gallery.)
Lunch begins with platters of brightly flavored pickles, thick Caucasian yogurt, savory pan-seared apricot patties, carrots with dill, thin slices of eggplant wrapped around creamy walnuts, and local cold cuts like basturma and dried soujouk, as well as a briny, subterranean-aged cheese and heaping plates of fresh herbs: chervil, chives, cilantro, purple basil, mustardy arugula, and tarragon. And no Armenian meal would be complete without dolmas, whether cabbage-wrapped rice and meat, or forest-green vine leaves swaddling crayfish. The main course is a parade of grilled sturgeon, trout, pork chops, lamb, and potatoes.
The other tables fill with raven-haired women and muscular men with pale blue eyes wearing Adidas tracksuits. The impression of being in 1970s U.S.S.R. is amplified when Hobbs and the others depart for their nearby vineyards, jostling past blue-smoke-spewing Ladas, donkey-pulled chariots, and a rumbling bulldozer slowly dragging boulders on chains behind it.
“Most of the vineyard practices here are archaic,” Hobbs says, strolling through his vines in Rind. “We've worked to revamp growing methods, slashing yields, and harvesting later to achieve ripeness.”
Viken Yacoubian is a rugged force to Hobbs' Hollywood good looks. He recalls that when Hobbs arrived there was no infrastructure for modern winemaking. “Everything was ancient and dilapidated, left over from the Soviet period,” Yacoubian says. “It really felt formidable to attempt this.”
But now, eight years later, it's coming together. The final blends for their first release will be chosen tomorrow. Everyone takes a moment to inhale deeply. A shepherd pauses with his flock on a ravine in the distance. Purple wildflowers and blood-red poppies dance among the vines. “What I love about this place is the purity,” Hobbs says. “In the air, in the plants, in everything.”
Born in upstate New York, Hobbs notes the similarity between his homeland and Armenia. “The winters here are as cold as the Finger Lakes,” he says. “The flowers and soil and manure and leaves—it smells like my childhood on the farm. Every time I visit the cave, I end up feeling like a kid. I feel like I am my three-year-old daughter here. Everything is so new and marvelous for her, so fresh.”
The next afternoon, Hobbs, Yacoubian, and Irina Ghaplanyan from Zabel gather at Chateau Qvartel, Keushguerian's offices and winery. The “chateau” is an immense, rusting Soviet hangar located in Yerevan's derelict 16th quarter. A number of the buildings around here have collapsed, some are in a permanent state of incompletion, and many are windowless. It's a reminder of post-Soviet dissolution, when supply chains crumbled and the ruble was replaced with the still-precarious dram. Electricity was barely available at night from 1991 until around 2005. During those years, hotels here would give guests a wake-up call if hot water happened to become available for showering. “This part of town is kind of the projects,” Keushguerian says.
Unlikely though it may seem, this urban-bunker facility is central command for the new wines of Armenia—eight or so winemakers all operate under this one roof. Keushguerian makes his own wines here, as do Ghaplanyan, Yacoubian-Hobbs, and a handful of other idealists. There are the usual stainless-steel fermenting tanks and oak barrels for aging, but there's also a large map on the wall to help explain how all these Greater Caucasian and Near East countries fit next to one another.
“The grapes for my Keush Origins sparkling wine come from there,” Keushguerian says, pointing at the region of Khachik. It's right up against the border of Azerbaijan, close to the trenches in a militarized zone. “To make sense of wine in Armenia, we need to accept that it is a combination of history, geography, resilience, and defiance—plus a sense of duty to our ancestors,” he continues. “Wine is a way to introduce people to Armenia. You see its reality through its wine.”
Yacoubian chimes in: “The fact is these wines allow us to discuss identity. I am an Armenian, and I am making wine, but who am I? I was born in Lebanon and grew up in Los Angeles, and I came here searching for a way of defining my Armenian-ness.” Wine is helping him, and his country, define their voice.
On that note, they taste the final blend of their first vintage. The Yacoubian-Hobbs take on the areni grape smooths out its rough tannins, placing it somewhere between a mondeuse from Savoie, a Chianti riserva, and a volcanic red from Etna. It's definitely a mountain wine, but with a velvety, new-world, Hobbsian signature—and it adds density without any of the clunkiness found in other local wines.
Keushguerian and Ghaplanyan recently coauthored a paper on what they call wines from the “historical world,” distinguishing that term from “Old World” and “New World.” They wanted to identify this region—Armenia and Georgia, but also Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon—differently from the ancient world. “The ancient world is a sexy idea,” Ghaplanyan explains, “but it is something that has ceased to exist—as opposed to history, which is constantly evolving.”
Keushguerian interjects: “The ancient world is a fossil, and nobody wants to be a fossil.” Their notion that this part of the world is distinct from old-world and new-world labels allows for historical-world wines to be made with a new-world palate, as Yacoubian-Hobbs is doing, or in an old-world style, emulating European cuvées, or in a historical-world way, as are Georgia's amber wines. “There is room for all preferences and tastes with this framework,” he says.
Ghaplanyan insists that Armenian wine should be in no rush to define itself—or to limit itself. “Our people first lost our statehood in 1045 c.e.—and we only finally became a sovereign republic again in 1991,” she points out. “Twenty-five years to find ourselves again after almost a thousand is a very short time.” Armenia is an in-between place, not exactly European, Asian, or Middle Eastern. “A liminal place,” Ghaplanyan says. “That has to be the source of our strength.”
Armenians have long used wine as a way of maintaining their Armenian-ness. In 2013, the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology published a paper about the spread of early Transcaucasian culture (ETC) across the Near East in the third millennium b.c.e. The Areni-1 site was a prime ETC settlement, and as the Transcaucasians wandered, they brought wine culture with them. The archeological record suggests that winemaking is what enabled them to retain their social identity wherever they settled.
Returning from exile, Yacoubian, Ghaplanyan, and Keushguerian are essentially following their predecessors in a quest to discover themselves through wine. There's a beautiful symmetry to the idea that modern-day Armenians would define themselves in such a way. This is a place where a wine-drinking civilization learned to thrive 6,000 years ago, and where people are once again using grapes to help them find their identity—even as they search for the true nature of their wines.
The Armenian Grapes
Cultivated in Armenia’s rich, volcanic soil at high altitudes, these grape varietals are entirely indigenous and vital to the tradition of winemaking in the cradle of viticulture.
The best known of Armenia's varietals, areni is a thick-skinned, late-ripening grape. It's considered one of the country's finest, and produces fresh, bright red wines with soft, elegant red fruit flavors.
This late-ripening varietal is thinner-skinned than areni, and deep violet-purple in color, with small berries that make for sweet, fresh, floral juice.
Originally from Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory in South Caucasus, sireni is a thick-skinned red grape with tannic structure. It ages and develops reliably well in barrel.
Rare and nearly extinct until recently, tchilar is a grape to watch in the coming years. It's mildly floral with a distinct structure, and falls somewhere between a sauvignon blanc and a grüner veltliner.
Now Cook This
Drink Your Way Through Armenia
In Norway, cod is aged on racks anywhere from a couple of weeks to two months. Called tørrfisk, or stockfish, it's reconstituted and folded into fish soup, stewed with tomatoes and onions for bacalao, and sautéed with bacon and potatoes.
The largest consumer of stockfish outside of Norway. Restaurants in the Veneto make baccalà mantecato, or rehydrated cod whipped with olive oil until dense but fluffy, like a fish mousse.
In French, cod is known as morue, which at one point, was synonymous with “prostitute.” Today, it's more often equated with salt cod, which is soaked and whipped with garlic, olive oil, cream, and potatoes, and baked to make brandade de morue or (the potato-less) brandade de Nîmes.
Called bacalao in Spain, salt cod is commonly used in Basque and Catalan cooking for al pil-pil, a preparation in garlic, chiles, and olive oil, or a la vizcaína, a tomato-and-roasted-pepper-based stew.
Best Watering Hole
In the charming village of Henningsvær, the Climbers Café is the after-hours spot for local rock climbers. Stop in to drink a beer with an adventurous cross-section of travelers and scaling legends. nordnorskklatreskole.no/climbers-cafe
Read More: The Shipwrecked Sailors & the Wandering Cod
Stash This in Your Suitcase
At Engelskmannsbrygga, a one-time cod liver oil factory in Henningsvær, Cecilie Haaland has been making ceramics for 20 years. Many pieces feature images imprinted from fish she has caught herself. Take home a rough-hewn mug or a fish-tail emblazoned vase. engelskmannsbrygga.no
A rare and wild fruit, cloudberries are near impossible to cultivate commercially. Ask locals where to find this soft, yellow, raspberry-like beauty, but beware: Some foragers are territorial about their cloudberry patches.
Best Road Food
In Sakrisøy, a miniscule town, Anita's Sjømat sells fried cod sandwiches topped with shrimp or salmon. This roadside stand doubles as a gourmet general store stocked with local chocolates and cheeses, cod paté, and stockfish jerky. sakrisoy.no/sjomat
Where to Lay Your Weary Head
There is no shortage of lodging in Lofoten, where every town is outfitted with rorbuer, or fishermen's cabins. One of the most charming, Sakrisøy Rorbuer, is outfitted with wood-burning ovens and original log walls still patterned with carvings and graffiti from seafaring residents past. sakrisoyrorbuer.no
Where to Socialize
A self-declared “social shelter,” Trevarefabrikken is a creative center where like-minded travelers and locals can sleep, work, eat, and hang out in a revamped cod liver oil warehouse. lofotenislands.no
The New Norwegian
Fiskekrogen, an ambitious restaurant in Henningsvær, is headed by chef Johan Petrini, and serves a mix of updated classics (fish soup and cod tongues) and refined new Norwegian (whale carpaccio and perfectly grilled lamb). Stop into its new bar, Nord, next door for waterfront cocktails. fiskekrogen.no
Set Your Watch By…
The light. Because it's so far north, Lofoten experiences wild fluctuations in solar exposure. Visit in June for midnight sun, in December for nearly 24 hours of darkness, and all winter for eerie, indigo afternoon twilight plus dramatic displays of the aurora borealis.
“I could tell you the story of the shipwreck,” says Steinar Larsen, smoothing his hands over the belly of a blue-striped sailor shirt. “But,” demurs the brusque proprietor of the Lofoten Stockfish Museum in the village of Å (pronounced OH-ah) “it would take too long.” Considering that the northern Norwegian summer sun never really sets, he's got time.
Larsen fusses with a pair of dry, graying display cod, takes calls on his ancient flip phone, chats with a fisherman on the quay, and explains the minutiae of stockfisk (stockfish)—the dried cod that is this far flung archipelago's lifeblood—to curious visitors. Despite his divided attentions, he manages, reticently, to tell the tale of the Italian ship and the central, almost mystical importance of the fish they found here.
Captain Pietro Querini, a Venetian merchant sailor, and his crew of 68 were bound for Flanders from Crete in the fall of 1431 when his ship was blown off course by ravaging storms near the English Channel. Damaged beyond repair, the drifting vessel was abandoned for two life rafts, one of which disappeared and was never seen again. The other floated up to the North Sea, finally landing on the rocky southern tip of Norway's Lofoten Islands. Near frozen and delirious with hunger, Querini and his 10 remaining men clambered ashore in January 1432.
Larsen, who spends his days pacing between a 19th-century brass cash register and a pot of coffee, explains how a father and son from the island of Røst rescued Querini's crew. A small fishing village punctuating the island chain, Røst welcomed the starving men, feeding them with stockfish, air-dried until stiff as a board and salty as the ocean air ripping along Norway's shoreline. It was this unlikely, petrified beacon of hope and the hospitable people of Lofoten that sparked a centuries-long love affair between Italy and Norway.
Querini documented the shipwreck and subsequent rescue, observing in detail the Lofoteners' benevolent way of life. On the subject of stockfish, he described how they were beaten “with the back of the knives until they become as thin as nerves,” and then drenched in butter and herbs. Restored with dried cod and weighed down with supplies of the stuff, he and his surviving crew set off for Italy over land, likely snacking all along the way. Querini became Italy's first importer of stockfish.
Today, nearly 600 years later, baccalà mantecato—reconstituted stockfish, whipped into a creamy, aromatic cloud—is served at trattorias and cafés all around the Veneto alongside spritzes, prosecco, and tramezzini. To most, its Norwegian roots are invisible. But, like a persistent ghost wife, Italy is the largest consumer of stockfish outside of Norway.
It smells like money.
That's what Norwegians say about the scent that permeates the Lofoten Islands, this tiny archipelago above the Arctic Circle that juts out from Norway's northwestern coastline like a seagull's beak pecking at the choppy, vast sea. A chain of mossy, craggy mountains, intricately tattooed with rust- and mustard-colored fishing villages, Lofoten is the root of the world's stockfish supply, a vital ingredient in Norway's culture, cooking, and economy. Cod—dried on oceanfront racks from February to July in this remote outpost—is Norway.
Norway is cod. That's what Lofoteners say. And the aroma is everywhere. It's carried by the ocean breeze that rushes in with the omnipresent, low-hanging clouds. It wafts along roadsides and slips in through open windows, an invisible salty, fishy mist. Over the course of a week, it induces a sort of olfactory amnesia: You can't remember not smelling it, and so it settles inside the nostrils, replaces neutrality, like a city dweller adjusting to subway funk and idling garbage trucks. But the scent of stockfish is so much deeper—more layered—than just salt and fish. It's aged, like a cave cheese, and faintly alive.
The source of this scent is a beautiful, gruesome sight to behold.
From afar, they appear like thousands of albino bats, their leathery bodies gently swinging in the sea breeze on soaring wooden A-frame racks (hjell), soaking up the 24-hour summer sunlight. When the wind rushes through them, they make an eerie, scratchy rustling, like mummified wind chimes. On closer inspection, they appear as emaciated, withered fillets—beheaded, tied together at the tails—bleached with sun and salt air, solid as bones.
Seafood is one of Norway's biggest exports, with cod as the fishing industry's highest valued catch. Dried cod, also called tørrfisk, is to Norwegian fish as prosciutto di Parma is to Italian pigs. And it's been produced in northern Norway since at least the ninth century, when the Vikings—who traded it for barley and fur—ventured to Iceland, Greenland, and Canada carrying a supply of the wonder ration. The salty ocean air and the climate—never freezing, never sweltering—allowed them to preserve their myriad catch without worry of bugs or rotting. The choice ration for ancient Norse long-distance sailors (e.g., Erik the Red and Leif Erikson) dehydrated cod maintains its nutrition and protein for years. Stockfish is so treasured, so inherent to this place, that it's earned a protected designation of origin, like champagne or Parmigiano-Reggiano, the first Norwegian comestible to do so. Lofoteners beam upon its mention.
For as long as people can remember, cod have come to Lofoten. One day, each February, they appear, swarming beneath the turquoise waters, so plentiful that the fishermen say you can hear them skimming over one another.
“And then, one day, they disappear,” says Kalle Mentzen, who owns and curates a private museum in an old cod oil factory now filled with nautical heirlooms. “Just like that,” he snaps his fingers, “and they're gone.” He compares it with the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. But the rush of theskrei—or “wanderers,” as cod are known in the local parlance—happens every year.
Annually, these oddly resilient fish are spawned along Norway's coast and swim north to the Barents Sea, where they live for seven or eight years until intuiting their way back, carried along the North Atlantic Current (an extension of the Gulf Stream) to spawn in their place of birth. The coursing current that brings the fish home is also what keeps the northerly chain of islands relatively temperate, even when winter's perpetual twilight bathes the coastline in blue shadows, and the sun disappears altogether. Soon after the sun returns, the fish return too.
Lofoten waits for it. The fishermen wait for it. The economy waits for it. And because of this religious following—this dedicated observance—the islands' most minute rhythms have been shaped by cod.
Nowhere is this idiosyncratic method of keeping time more apparent than in Henningsvær, a quaint village clustered on the northeast side of the archipelago. Not unlike the Venetian lagoons, it's a port for seafarers who keep time by the tides. For years, Henningsvær's population ebbed and flowed with the annual running of the cod. In the winter of 1947, the town swelled with 12,500 fishermen. Of the 148,000 tons of cod caught in Norway that year, 48,000 came through the tiny town. “There were three cafés and a hat shop back then,” says Mentzen one July afternoon, as he peels open a swollen sac of cod kaviar and swabs a shimmering orange stroke onto a cracker. The influx of sailors slept in the islands' countless crimson cabins called rorbuers, the first of which were built in the 12th century, and now cater to hikers, rock climbers, and tourists. Today, only a couple hundred fishermen come to the town. The industry remains stable—50,000 tons of cod came through Henningsvær in 2016—but is increasingly mechanized, resulting in fewer vocational fishermen. “But it's still so much a part of our tradition,” he says, munching on a bite of smoked roe, which he bills as a luxury product akin to sturgeon roe.
Despite the shrinking fleets and quieter winters, the near holy presence of cod is layered into Lofoten's culture as visibly as in Querini's day, but with a distinct craving for modernity. There are cod enthusiasts like Mentzen and Larsen who devote their lives to preserving history in museums, and there are people like Johan Petrini, a bespectacled chef who—captivated by the islands while working as a cook on a cruise line—emigrated from Sweden to live a quieter existence. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming,” he says of his life in Lofoten. Petrini is the head chef of Fiskekrogen, a contemporary seafood restaurant on the docks.
When he began cooking with cod and stockfish, Petrini took gradual steps to modernize old dishes, while attracting a larger European audience. He also spent time working through older restaurant kitchens and recounts moments where his pans were moved around and burners were lit without explanation. “People say there are many ghosts here,” he says solemnly.
The timeless and entirely local fiskesuppe (fish soup)—a cream-based fish-and-vegetable chowder found on nearly every Lofoten menu—he preserves for posterity. But elsewhere, he deviates. Rehydrated and sautéed boknafisk (semidried cod) is accompanied by a bright green pea purée. Salmon is served in finely sliced jewels of sashimi, and smoked whale as a blood-colored carpaccio with crème fraîche and thin rings of red onion. These relatively tame but up-to-date culinary gestures were perceived as dramatic departures from dishes that have been served in Lofoten for centuries, much like the baccalà mantecato still whipped with olive oil daily in Venice. “I have tested them out slowly,” Petrini says, “sometimes not telling people what they are eating until they have tasted it.” More often these days, they like what they taste. In high season, the tables are filled every night, and the owners have expanded into an adjacent bar space.
Like many cooks before him, Petrini embraces the fish as a miracle and a way of life. His forearm is tattooed with images of a lighthouse, an anchor, a sea bass, and, of course, an arcing skrei. He's adopted Lofoten's rhythm, memorizing the islands' lunar and solar calendars, and getting to know the kids who sell him cod tongues as their after-school job. Over a plate of fried tongues, Petrini describes the tradition of the children who remove the strip of flesh beneath the fish's head that constitutes its throat. “It's part of living. Using a knife. Seeing the inside of a fish.” He says it's still the only work in Norway that isn't regulated by the government, save that nobody over the age of 16 is allowed to sell them. His kitchen goes through 500 to 600 kilos each summer—sourced from an enterprising 11-year-old girl. “It's different than the way most people grow up,” he says. “Here, kids cut tongues.”
Up the road from Fiskerogen is Kaviar Factory, a stark white rectangle cut against the blue sky. There, in an old cod-roe-processing factory, Venke Hoff runs an art gallery, which is currently showing 38 women artists including Marina Abramovic and Cindy Sherman. “I think Venke is misunderstood here,” Petrini says. Indeed, Hoff makes an unusual character in this town of salt-of-the-earth seafarers. Sweeping around the gallery in chic black designer clothing and red lipstick, Hoff talks about chefs' dinners thrown on her property (Ørjan Johannessen, the 2015 Bocuse d'Or winner, held a dinner at her gallery recently), her last visit to Paris, and her compulsion to create perfect table settings.
“The people here sometimes don't see what they have,” she says as she surveys the point of her cliffside property, a couple of miles down the road from Kaviar Factory. She and her husband, Rolf, bought Henningsvær's decrepit mid-19th-century lighthouse, which she has preserved and reinvigorated with new paint, contemporary art, and truly meticulous table settings. The second floor's original bedroom walls are peeling faded green scales, and the handmade glass in the windows is wavy in the sunlight. The ceiling is still cut out with a square peephole, which kept the former lighthouse keeper privy to the lit flame above him on stormy evenings.
“They wanted to take down the fish racks,” Hoff says about the retired, once-crumbling hjell behind her home. “But we repaired them, because they are part of this place. They are art.” In her own way, Hoff—far removed from the viscera and tactility of fishing—is filling in the lines of Lofoten's present history, inhabiting ancient corners of the island with art in order to keep them alive.
On Henningsvær's miniature square, the corner harbor lot is occupied by a ceramics and glass store and studio called Engelskmannsbrygga. It once housed a cod oil factory but became a vacant space into which ceramicist and fisherwoman Cecilie Haaland—visiting from Oslo—peeked and imagined what her life could be like here. Now, she and her husband, a photographer, have been in Henningsvær for two decades. They outfitted the upstairs floor with living quarters and a darkroom and produce and sell work here year-round.
An avid fisherwoman, Haaland takes her boat out three or four times a week, always half hoping to catch a massive halibut. It's a future legend about which many Henningsvær locals tease her. The next evening, the water still mirroring the near-midnight sun, she navigates her boat between skerries, and eventually catches several fish. There on the deck, she snaps one of their heads back, probes the opening, and raises her palm to display a mackerel's still-beating heart. It pulses in a little pool of blood. The fish's tail flicks slowly in a bucket on the deck, scales glittering silver and green. Often, upon returning from a day on the water, Haaland brings fish for her family—cod in March and April, mackerel in summer—leaves some for the gulls, and delivers the rest to Henningsvær's elderly women.
Many of Haaland's ceramic pieces are layered with cod tails printed from fish she's personally caught. She sees her work and her place in the village as an embodiment of reverence for the past by means of inhabitation. “If you preserve something by walking away from it, it falls down,” she says. “But if you live in it, it lives.”
To encounter Lofoten is to encounter living history. Haaland's work, Petrini's cooking, Hoff's lighthouse, and Larsen's and Mentzen's museums are each a new scale in the archipelago's line of history—past and present mingling together to create the islands' future. Here, the story of the beloved cod stretches across centuries, like a spine—ragged, flayed tail at one end, glassy saucer eye at the other—linking generations of wild, wandering fish and the people who chase and wait for them for a lifetime.
Back in Å, the literal end of Lofoten's road, where the highway tapers off into chartreuse hills and cerulean water, an Italian couple wanders through the Stockfish Museum. They peer at the production line where the fishes' scales are combed off with a saithe rasp, a sadistic-looking wooden-handled object, reminiscent of a hairbrush with bristles like nails. Steinar Larsen has just finished talking about the black-haired children that appeared in Røst after Captain Querini's men departed for Venice. He describes the boys he encountered five centuries later fishing around southern Lofoten as a teenager—dark hair, beautiful suntanned faces. “And that is a true story,” he says, watching the Italian couple. “And there is a great friendship between Norway and Italy.”
Larsen wanders over to the couple and begins speaking Italian, describing the nuance of Norway's stockfish grades in a melodic cadence; the couple nods, firing back questions. Larsen waves his hands around exuberantly, sends them off with a pair of pungent fish, and retreats back to his cash register.
A man darkens the doorway. “C'est la musée de poisson?” Larsen heaves himself up. “Oui,” he says curtly. A stream of reluctant but animated French follows.
Bring Norwegian Cod to Your Table
“It was a big culture shock for me moving to Los Angeles from the UK,” Curtis Stone says. “There were so many restaurants and people and communities that I had never experienced before.” Not a surprising remark for someone moving to a city that’s home to people from 180 different countries speaking 140 languages.
Stone was born in Melbourne. He moved to London in his early twenties and spent ten years there cooking for the likes of Marco Pierre White. As a new Angelino, Stone is fascinated by the city’s breadth and depth of Mexican, South and Central American, Korean, and Japanese restaurants. “I had never been to a Koreatown before,” Stone tells me. (The abundant Asian population in Australia is predominantly from neighboring Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam, not Korea.)
Stone will be the Local Star at the James Beard Foundation dinner at Vibiana in Los Angeles this Friday, the 23rd. The dinner is part of a series introduced in 2013 called Taste America, whereby the Foundation takes the iconic Beard dinners historically held at 167 12th Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village to ten different U.S. cities. “Taste America is a celebration of the best chefs, flavors and American cuisine all across the country,” says Susan Ungaro, Foundation president of ten years. For Stone, who’ll be cooking alongside Scott Conant, Hedy Goldsmith, and Neal Fraser, it’s a chance to take what he’s been playing with at Maude and Gwen, his two LA restaurants, into a different spotlight.
As the star of TLC’s Take Home Chef, Stone “was cooking in a different home every day, shopping at all these different markets in a different part of Los Angeles on a daily basis.” This was his first exposure to the city’s diversity, and he’s since become an authority on where to eat.
This is how he does it.
Strip Mall Sushi
“If you’re going to do sushi,” Stone starts, “there’s a few ways to do it.” Stone’s favorite place is Sushi Park. It’s a small space on the second floor in a strip mall with a sign out front that says “No Take Away. No California Roll. No Spicy Tuna Roll.” Stone says the chef will quickly point out to you how to eat the varieties of fish: soy, no soy etc. “After I first had sushi here I thought, ‘Holy shit!’ What have I been eating all this time that people call sushi?”
Dollar Taco Dos and Don’ts
“The further east you go in Los Angeles, the better the tacos get,” Stone tells me, and goes on about how the best Mexican food in LA isn’t served in restaurants, but as street food. “The way to choose the best taco stand,” he says, “is to look for the biggest queue.” And take note: “Price is no indication of quality. Often, the more you spend the worse it is. You want to find dollar tacos.”
Stone’s wife, the actress Lindsay Price, hipped Stone to Korean barbecue. Her mom is Korean, and a “great cook,” Stone says. He’ll go to Chung Ki Wa for Korean Barbecue, and he loves to shop in Koreatown. “There are great places everywhere,” he says, “and great Korean markets where you can find fresh seafood and beautiful produce.”
One of Stone’s favorite places to eat, though, isn’t a restaurant. “Los Angeles just has such incredible ingredients,” he says. “And one of my favorite things to do is shop and take advantage of this and take a picnic at Hollywood Bowl,” the historic amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills.
Pizza Worth a Trip
Angelinos are used to traveling for good food; the same is true for Stone. He calls out restaurants around town like Bestia, Providence, Birch, and Pizzeria Mozza as places he’ll take visiting friends to. The Field of Dreams“If You Build It They Will Come” ethos is true for Stone the restaurateur too. And he attributes this largely to his staff, and the fact that, “There are so many great chefs coming to LA. It’s becoming such a culinary destination, and the food keeps getting better as the talent keeps coming here.”
It's a sunny winter Thursday, just past noon, and on the streets of Durban, bakkies (pickup trucks) idle double- and triple-parked across wide boulevards as workers heave deliveries in and out of nearby shops. Ears of corn lap up flames on outdoor grills; women get their braids coiled by the side of the road. The heart of the city's Central Business District hums with a scene that plays out daily, with the most minor of variations, across Africa in Kinshasa, Dakar, Bulawayo, and Gaborone.
And yet, the action here unfolds in the shadow of the sprawling Juma Mosque, seemingly plucked from the by-lanes of Delhi, the sun glinting nimbly off its golden domes. Streets named Dr. Yusuf Dadoo and J. N. Singh intersect with Bertha Mkhize and Dorothy Nyembe. Bollywood melodies waft down the street, colliding with pulsating Afropop tracks. A man slaps messy mounds of curry and rice onto flimsy paper plates at a roadside soup kitchen. Businesses like Punjabi Flair and Raja Jee Traders share walls and patrons with shisa nyama, or grill houses. In the century-old Victoria Street Market, among shops hawking embellished ostrich eggs and vuvuzelas, there is R. A. Moodley, selling gaudy dunes of breyani masala to a predominantly black clientele. And across the city, no-frills curry houses are snarled with brisk lunchtime business, serving spicy curries in bread bowls, a dish called bunny chow, by the hundreds. An unmistakable Indian accent is what sets Durban apart.
Thanks to massive waves of migration from India in the mid 19th century—first came the indentured laborers in the 1860s, followed soon after by an opportunistic merchant class who opened businesses catering to this growing community—Durban is now home to one of the largest populations of Indian descent anywhere in the world. But the layered symbiosis of geography, politics, poverty, and the inevitable passage of time means that many South African Indians share little in common beyond appearance with their subcontinental cousins.
I suppose I'd be considered one of those long-lost relatives, a first-generation Indian-American with strong ties to my parents' birthplace of Hyderabad. At first glance, the Indian culture I encountered in South Africa struck me as reassuringly familiar. But after living in Cape Town for three years, the differences became more and more evident: The flavors, the morphed traditions, and even the evolved spellings of common Indian surnames and vocabulary, with Qasim and Qazi recast as Cassim and Kajee, all register to me, an expat who considers India my second home, as pleasingly, disorientingly, foreign.
“Indian cuisine here in South Africa is totally different from India,” says Raj Govender, chief director of the KwaZulu-Natal province's Department of Arts and Culture. When Indians began arriving in Durban from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Karnataka in small numbers, traditions and flavors that never had occasion to interact back home began coalescing on faraway shores. “We found commonalities in some cultural practices and cuisine, and discarded some others,” Govender says.
That pan-Indian influence, combined with the scarcity of familiar spices and ingredients, drove cooks to innovate with readily available produce and regional traditions, and culminated in the development of a new dialect of Indian cookery. Out went the dairy, coconut milk, and hard-to-source spices like saffron; in came amadumbe (taro), calabash (gourd), mielie-meal (maize flour), semp (dried corn kernels), and pumpkin. Lentils found their way into the folds of biryani, which over time became known locally as breyani. Samosas have mutated into samoosas in Durban, though they're often trumped in both taste and popularity by European-inspired pies stuffed with masala steak or chicken.
“Before apartheid, Indians and blacks lived very closely—Indians could speak Zulu, blacks understood Gujarati. And so the food became very mixed, with curries adopting African flavor,” Govender says. “Our practices are not like India. It's evolved into a South African Indian identity.”
No dish is more representative of the South African Indian experience than bunny chow, a Durban street-food classic with an origin story as intriguing as its name. The brutal divide-and-conquer policies of South Africa' apartheid era succeeded in breaking down much of the harmony between races. “Apartheid destroyed the zest to learn other cultural practices,” Govender laments. But it also led to unexpected culinary creativity born strictly out of necessity. No longer able to serve black workers who made up a sizable client base, restaurateurs from the Gujarati bania, or merchant caste, began innovating. They cleaved loaves of white bread into improvised bowls, filled them to the brim with whatever curries they had on hand, and served this portable (if messy) concoction surreptitiously out of takeaway hatches, with nary a parcel or piece of cutlery to betray their lucrative side business. Food of the banias: bunny chow. A national obsession was born.
Patel's Vegetarian Refreshment Room is a dingy hole-in-the-wall on Dr. Yusuf Dadoo Street with patrons ranging from hipsters to hijabis, black laborers to tourists. Patel's, a family business dating to the 1930s, claims to have invented the bunny chow; other reputable sources credit the erstwhile Kapitan's café. No matter who invented the sloppy classic, may he rest in peace, these days there are an abundance of takes to choose from. Patel's is where you head for strictly vegetarian offerings filled with sugar beans, broad beans, moong dal, or mixed vegetables. Nearby Victory Lounge has ardent groupies swearing by its mutton version; in a nondescript shopping mall, Oriental earns the dubious honor of the bunny most likely to incinerate your palate; and perhaps the most unlikely contender, the garishly purple-tinted Hollywood Bets, is a gambling hall with a beloved menu, crammed from 7 a.m. till late with people devouring curried mutton sandwiches, chicken roti wraps, sweet corn and cheese samoosas and, of course, mutton, chicken, and sugar bean bunnies paired with chile vinegars and sambal condiments. The horse races they watch on TV may not always work out in their favor, but patrons know they're guaranteed a sure thing with one of the city's best bunnies.
About 20 minutes away from the gritty environs of the CBD is the posh seaside enclave of Umhlanga. There, the elegant pile that is the Oyster Box Hotel presides over a prime stretch of beachfront overlooking a red-and-white lighthouse. The Oyster Box evokes old-world glamour with colonial touches: turbaned doormen, genteel gardens, ceiling fans spinning lazily above a lavish high-tea spread. It's also home to a lauded daily curry buffet, the pet project of head chef Luke Nair, who oversees the 11 curries and assorted carbs and condiments that accompany them. Nair is a Durban native with more than 40 years' experience in kitchens across the city and has cooked his fiery hometown fare for the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Al Gore, and the Queen of England herself.
I watch as he expertly upturns 100 pounds of lamb in a bathtub-size tilting pan for the day's lunch service: a gallon of oil, three pounds of ginger-garlic paste, 15 heaping ladles of scarlet Durban-style curry powder, entire frying pans full of diced tomatoes chucked into the simmering vat by instinct, not measurement. In between, he barks out instructions to his staff in Zulu and teases his Pakistani pastry chef. “They love me,” he tells me with a wink.
“I'm South African, born and brought up. I think my granny was from India,” he says, not entirely certain. “Honestly, I don't really like Indian food in India—I just have a sandwich there. Our cooking is spicier than theirs.”
To understand what makes Durban's curry-powder progeny so distinct from their ancestors, I head back to the CBD, where the cavernous Spice Emporium has for decades been plying city residents with all their Indian essentials: incense and steel pots, chai and cookbooks, a whole aisle devoted to a rainbow of lentils, and a café specializing in Mumbai-style vegetarian street food. But the main event here is the spice bar in the back, a curved granite slab lined artfully with mounds of spice blends you'd never conceive of finding in a bazaar in the motherland: leaf masala (with coriander and fennel), mother-in-law masala (with turmeric and chile powder), potjiekos masala (with cinnamon). Where Indian Indian food is a carefully orchestrated symphony of individually proportioned spices added to a pot at just the right time—a tablespoon of garam masala here, a touch of cumin there, a pinch of turmeric when the simmering medley looks just so—Durban curry powders are typically premixed affairs primed for easy home cooking, composed of whatever the spice merchants have dictated. Cumin, coriander, cardamom, fennel, turmeric: They're all mixed together in advance for your convenience, with plenty of chile powder thrown in to give each blend its scarlet tint. Add a couple of heaping teaspoons to a pan and you've got yourself a Durban curry.
“During apartheid, a whole generation lost their ties with India,” recalls owner Chandrika Harie, whose father started the business in the 1950s. “You've got to remember, food developed during sanctions. For 40 years, what did people know about paneer? About jalfrezi? Rogan josh?
“So what do you do? You create your own India. It developed out of necessity, and it's totally different.”
It is different, sure, but also inevitable. I'd had so many misgivings about South African Indian cuisine—it's too spicy; it's too oily; there's no nuance; it doesn't taste like home—and yet, what else could I expect? When a cuisine is exiled from its homeland and the threads that bind it become more and more frayed, and when it's pollinated thousands of miles away with politics and oppression, a culinary evolution like Durban's is inescapable. And in that context a bunny chow is not so much a cultural quirk as it is a symbol of survival.
Indian Recipes From Durban
“The path to the sky,” said Yieber Cueva, pointing to a faint track leading upward into the mist. Lowering clouds masked Qullqi Cruz, the Silver Cross, a glacial peak thousands of feet above the unpaved road. Rockslides left gravel streaked like tears down the mountain. It was the rainy season in the Andes. I took it on faith that we were heading in the right direction and clambered after my translator, a stocky former porter on the Inca Trail. My heart pounded.
My head felt as if it might explode. Putting one foot in front of the other took all my will. At this elevation, oxygen deprivation was a threat, and chewing astringent coca leaves, a local remedy for mild altitude sickness, didn’t give me the slightest relief. Yieber paused to wait, his cheerful face framed by a knit wool cap with extravagant tassels.
In Cuzco, everyone kept asking, “When are you going to Machu Picchu?” I couldn’t have cared less about an old pile of rocks swarming with thousands of day-trippers.
“I’m here to see an old man about a potato.” I got some strange looks.
Potatoes predate the ruins anyway. The origins of the potato, Solanum tuberosum, can be traced to the Andes highlands, on the border between present-day Bolivia and Peru, almost eight thousand years ago. According to legend, when the mythical founders of the Inca Empire, Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca, the sun god Viracocha taught them how to sow potatoes. Early hunter-gatherer communities began by domesticating wild plants that grew abundantly around Lake Titicaca. Beyond Cuzco, in the sacred valley of Urubamba, pre-Colombian farmers cultivated other crops—tomatoes, beans, and corn—but the potato proved most suited to the quechua (valley) zones; growers eventually developed frost-resistant species that thrived on alpine tundra as well.
The potato would become fundamental to the Andean worldview; time was measured by how long it took for a pot of spuds to cook. In 1995, a Peruvian-American research team found that families in one mountain valley grew an average of ten traditional varieties, each with its own name. The International Potato Center has documented almost 5,000 kinds indigenous to Peru, many so rare they never get to market but are instead traded within the immediate community where cultivated. They’re still central to the Peruvian diet: Lima-based chef Gastón Acurio, who supports a potato diversity initiative with Andean farmers, connected me with the man I sought, Julio Hancco. Acurio buys potatoes from Julio for his Lima restaurant Astrid & Gastón; so does Virgilio Martinez of Lima’s world famous Central.
Hancco grows 180 different kinds of potatoes.
As Yieber and I slogged up the path next to the waterfall, the sun cracked through clouds long enough to expose ice fields on the lower face of Qullqi Cruz. A glacial stream threaded down, picking up speed and depth, a turbulent white in a viridian green mountain bowl. We passed cultivated plots where furrows were black, in contrast to the ferrous soil of Cuzco.
By the time we reached the cluster of stone-and-loam brick farm buildings, the wind had picked up and the heavy mist had turned to a drizzle. Julio stood in a doorway, waiting. He wore jeans, heavy work boots, a bronze tracksuit jacket. A jaunty cowboy hat topped his knit cap. His narrow face was weathered, guarded. We entered a bedroom hut, where makeshift cots crowded the earthen floors. Clothing and alpaca skins hung from beams. An outdated calendar and a plastic banner that read “Asociacion de Productores de Papa Nativa de Peru” were tacked to the walls. I settled on a pile of wool blankets. Julio sat opposite.
“How did you wind up growing so many different kinds of potatoes?” I asked.
Some varieties, he explained, were inherited from his father. He traded for others and found more in the markets. “It’s sacred to grow these kinds of potatoes,” he said. “The first person to farm in this area was my grandfather; it is easier in Urubamba, but houses and cities are next to there now.” Urubamba was possibly the first valley where the sacred New World crop trio—corn, potatoes, beans—were grown together, but the pressure of development, even on a small scale, has pushed farmers farther out.
When the rain slowed, I followed Julio outside. He climbed into one of his potato patches, protected from the weather by stone walls. We bent to examine tender sprouts. “Our llamas, alpacas, and sheep eat everywhere,” he said. “That’s how we fertilize the soil. One hand of dried guano together with the potatoes. As they grow, I build up the mound, so the older potatoes, the higher the mound. We plant in August, then harvest in April or May.”
Five acres dug by hand, knees bent, back to the wind. Short-handle shovels lay on the ground, along with two primitive furrow hoes fashioned from crooked tree limbs and hammered sheet metal. Julio pointed to a smaller hoe, fit for a child’s hand.
“That one belongs to my youngest son,” he said. “He wants to be a farmer, too.”
“Do all your children grow potatoes?”
“No. My eldest went to Lima to try his luck there.”
“What does he do for a living?”
Julio tilted his head, golden brown eyes serious.
“Sells potato chips.”
Smoke poured from a chimney under the thatch roof of the kitchen hut. I stepped over the threshold into a room lit by a fireplace filled with glowing coals. Two cats napped close to the heat. Shelves held sugar, cilantro, some onions, cooking pots. A propane tank and a new two-burner stove-top unit were stored under the dining table. Julio’s wife, Rosa, spooned panfried alpaca and caramelized onions with pimentón into shallow bowls. She set another bowl of boiled potatoes on a stool. They looked dull gray, unremarkable. I picked one at random, broke it open with my fingers, and discovered a subtle red veining in the flesh.
“Puka Ambrosio,” said Julio.
“That’s what he’s named this potato,” Yieber said. “Puka means ‘red’ in Quechua.”
It tasted sweet.
You won’t find chuño, an age-old freeze-drying technique, in fancy restaurants. Potatoes are left out overnight in low temperatures, then exposed to bright sunlight, and finally crushed to extract more liquid. Used to thicken soups and stews, these squishy, chalk-white preserves suit a locale where electricity and refrigeration remain unimaginable luxuries.
We sat on low chairs around the fire with dishes on our laps. The alpaca was chewy and difficult to cut with a spoon. I peeled a purple fingerling potato, which had a nuttier flavor than the Puka Ambrosio.
“Do you ever leave the mountains?” I asked.
“In the city, there is not enough air,” she said. “For people used to the highlands, the city is poison.”
Julio agreed. “When we go to Lima, there is no chance for work. Here, I am with the llamas and alpacas. If we want corn, shoes, clothes, money for our children’s education, I take potatoes to Lares, about one hour by bus, and trade them for anything we want. Potatoes are like gold.”
Julio donned a poncho to hike with us to the road. Almost half an hour to trudge up, only ten minutes to tumble back down. He had pressing obligations to other farmers in the valley. We were keeping him from this work. Quechua practice ayni, a form of mutualism. A broad definition of the concept involves the exchange of energy between man, nature, and the universe. Among highland communities, where surviving a poor growing season means sharing at the most elemental level, that translates into bending over in your neighbor’s field to help pull weeds.
Before descending, I looked up toward Qullqi Cruz one more time. Still hidden.
“Who is Ambrosio?”
Julio wrapped his neck in a long scarf, his gravelly voice muffled. “Ambrosio was my nephew, my sister’s son. He fell on the mountain and died. I used his name for the potato in order to remember this boy.”
Here, there is poetry in potatoes. Here, a humble tuber can bear a beloved child’s name.
“It’s not easy to live so close to the gods,” I remarked.
Julio nodded curtly.
Shane Mitchell is the author ofFar Afield(Ten Speed Press, October 2016) from which this is adapted.
Justin Devillier grew up eating tacos and beachside bar snacks in a quaint California beach town. “There’s a breakfast burrito from Salt Creek Beach Park that still floats in my mind,” he tells me on an early morning call. Devillier lives in New Orleans now—breakfast burritos are few and far between—but growing up in Dana Point, California exposed the James Beard Award-winning chef to the bounties of the sea and cultural influences other than his own. “My mom is Polish-Irish from Philly,” Devillier says. “My dad is Cajun French from South Louisiana.”
You could argue Devillier moved to New Orleans in 2003 because of these family ties, and you’d be right. Partially. “The cost of living in New Orleans compared to some other cities I was looking at was just crazy affordable,” he says of his search to leave home. But the father of two has always been taken by the juxtaposition between his home in California and his newer home in New Orleans. Dana Point was incorporated in 1989. New Orleans is celebrating its tercentennial next year. “It’s just such a hotbed of culture and history,” Devillier says.
New Orleans cuisine is a product of that lengthy history, and Devillier’s take is on display at his two restaurants: La Petite Grocery and Balise. “The age of the city plays into the style of cooking and the philosophies that people have here,” Devillier says. “This is a port city, and a big city, so a lot of influences came from other countries.” Devillier points out how the cooking of New Orleans differs from the rest of the South due to the accessibility to foreign ingredients the city has historically enjoyed. In Alabama, or Georgia, and other Southern states “people have farms and grow vegetables and have animals, making a lot of Southern food very localized.” He makes a point to note that Southern food and the cooking of New Orleans are the only indigenous cuisines left in America.
On Friday, September 30th, the James Beard Foundation is hosting a dinner at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. It’s part of the Taste America series, introduced in 2013, which takes the dinners historically held at the James Beard House in Manhattan cross-country. Guests will be able to get a taste of Devillier’s take on the Big Easy’s indigenous cooking as he helms the kitchen alongside the likes of Alex Guarnaschelli, Eric Damidot, and Brett Gauthier. But when he’s not prepping for dinner service, be it for the Beard Foundation or an ordinary Tuesday, Chef Devillier is out eating his way through New Orleans for inspiration.
Here’s where he does it.
“New Orleans has really good street food, but you don’t find it trucks or carts like you do in other cities,” says Devillier. “A lot of it is sold in gas stations, and you’ll find different things in gas stations here than you do in different parts of the country.” His favorite is Brothers Food Mart. “They have the best fried chicken in the city,” he says. “It’s always ripping hot, crispy and delicious.”
Coffee and Breakfast Tacos
“Cherry Espresso Bar has top-notch coffee,” say Devillier. But there’s something else that speaks to him there. “They do really killer breakfast tacos: scrambles with salsa verde and crumbled cheese on corn tortillas.” There are sandwiches with herb purées too, and the bar spends a lot of time on sourcing their beans. “They’re very knowledgeable,” Devillier adds.
“There is a great Vietnamese community here, and you’ll find some really good Vietnamese restaurants downtown and on the outskirts,” Devillier says. His go-to is Pho Tau Bay. “They have a big menu, so you can skip around, but you’re not going to go wrong with the wonton soup with clear noodles. If someone had that and was not completely thrilled, I’d be surprised.”
Cocktails and Fish Bowl Punch
“Cane and Table in the French Quarter is super talent-driven. They have amazing cocktails,” Devillier tells me, and that it’s run by the folks behind Cure and Cafe Henri, two other NOLA hotspots for drinks. “It’s a little bit tropical. There’s a tiki vibe, but it’s in an old Creole building with a French colonial feel. I always go for the fish bowl punch with giant straws.”
For the Crescent City’s iconic sandwich, Devillier prefers the famed Napoleon House in the French Quarter. “It was sold last year and the new ownership made very minor changes, nothing drastic. Some of the changes,” he notes, “were in the food quality, and I think they have the best muffuletta in town.” Devillier also digs the muffulettas at Nor Joe, an Italian importing company with no prepared foods other than that cold sandwich, and Cochon Butcher, where chef Donald Link serves a hot version.
“I thought I was going to stay here for one year,” Devillier says of his initial move to New Orleans. “But after a couple months I knew I was going to be here forever. There’s just always something going on.” One of these things is a famous roving vendor who drives by Devillier’s house in a produce truck every Sunday. He has a megaphone and he announces to neighbors what he’s got that day. His name? Mr. Okra.
“There’s a place called R & O’s in Bucktown on [Lake Pontchartrain] just on the other side of the Parish line,” Devillier says. Their menu includes pizza, soft shell crabs (when they’re in season) and po’ boys like Italian sausage, meatballs and mozzarella, and roast beef and gravy. More importantly, “It’s a great tour of New Orleans food with some real Cajun dishes, like crawfish pie.” This is a dish served in a small pie shell, the likes of the “pecan pies you find sold on counters in markets down here.” It’s stuffed with crawfish étouffée and chilled, then breaded and fried, and dipped in sauces like tartar and what Devillier calls “hillbilly remoulade,” which is ketchup, mayo, and hot sauce. Don’t get Devillier going on Louisiana hot sauce though. That’s an entirely different story.
It's impossible to visualize all the varieties of the tomato. I like to compare it to dogs, of which there are only about 400 different breeds. Tomatoes, however, have thousands of varieties, all genetically distinct. A Mortgage Lister beefsteak and a Sara's Galapagos are about as different as a dachshund and a Great Dane. They each have different characteristics, tastes, disease and pest resistance, and culinary uses. Every year, the folks at Seed Savers Exchange, an organization of gardeners dedicated to preserving heirloom crops, grow hundreds of varieties at Heritage Farm and offer them up to the public to see and sample.
Diversity is an essential element for the future of agriculture. Seed Savers makes no value judgments on which seeds to preserve. The answer is simply “all of them.” The goal is to encourage others to grow and perpetuate these garden heirlooms. Seed banks like theirs, as well as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault—which stores more than 880,000 duplicate seed samples from 233 countries securely inside a mountain on an arctic island just north of mainland Norway—are a safeguard for biodiversity, helping to keep as many options as possible open for the future. Seed Savers Exchange contributes regularly to the Svalbard vault, where our remote location ensures the protection of this massive collection from almost any disaster, natural or otherwise.
There's no telling what variety might benefit us most in the future, whether for its high yield or resilience to drought, but it's no small comfort to know that somewhere in a vault, among the thousands and thousands of tomato seeds, will be the traits needed for virtually every scenario—even if it's just for deliciousness.
Cary Fowler is the author ofSeeds on Ice(Prospecta Press, 2016) and is chair of the International Advisory Council for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
In a country that often puts vegetables and pulses before meats, snacking throughout the day is common practice in India. Snacks are also the most common accompaniment to chai, a several-times-a-day ritual within the country. It’s no surprise, then, that Indian snacks are serious business. And the food of Gujarat—a region in the western part of India—is the basis upon which much of that snacking culture is built.
While most Indian regional cuisines—even vegetable-centric ones—have at least a few meat and seafood dishes, Gujarati food is nearly 100% vegetarian. That’s thanks in large part to the high population of Jains that practice a strict, animal-free diet. Absent animal protein and fat, snacks are the building block of Gujarati meals. And those snacks hit every food category that Indians love—spicy, carby, and frequently fried. As a result, they have become beloved all across the country.
Despite being avid lovers of Gujarati snacks ourselves, my father and I are not Gujarati. So we called upon one of my dad’s friends, Manisha Shah, to lend expertise and insight into the grand lexicon of the region’s mini meals—this guide is in large part thanks to her encyclopedic knowledge of all things Gujarati.
Some Snacker Ground Rules
There are a few central qualities shared by nearly all Gujarati snacks:
They are all vegetarian. As mentioned, Gujarat is a mainly vegetarian society, so this one is a bit obvious.
They are often eaten in place of breakfast. Unlike many other Indian regions, there are no formal breakfast dishes in Gujarati cuisine. So if you’re eating breakfast at all in Gujarat, it’s likely a hodgepodge of snacks combined to build a meal.
They go big on carbs. Because they often function as meal-replacements, they’re designed to fill you up.
And the Carb Categories
Nasta (Dry Snacks)
Nasta is my hair after a long time in the sun: dry and fried. This category of snacks is super-portable—kind of like the Indian version of a bag of chips—and popular among Indian schoolchildren as a mid-morning treat.
Muthia: A circular roll made of chickpea flour. “Muthi” means “fist” in Gujarati, a reference to the way that the dough is rolled into a fist-like shape before fried. The star spice here is bittersweet, earthy fenugreek, known—like so many other ingredients beloved by Indians—for stimulating digestion.
Khakhra: Round, ultra-thin crackers made from a mixture of wheat flour and moth (sounds like "moat") beans—a legume native to India. You can spice khakra with any number of seasonings, but I enjoy it with a dollop of chutney right on top.
Farsan (Appetizer Snacks)
Farsan is similar to nasta, except that it encompasses raw and/or steamed snacks in addition to fried ones. These are frequently served as appetizers in a typical Gujarati meal.
Batata Vada: Translates to “potato fritters.” Tiny, spicy, dangerously poppable balls of starch.
Patra: A unique sweet/spicy/sour dumpling-esque creation—the product of a chile-filled rice batter being spread onto taro leaves, rolled, and then steamed or fried.
There is no formal name for this category, but these dishes are the ones that are most often lentil-and-rice based, and therefore hearty enough to function as standalone meals.
Dhokla: A savory snack cake made with fermented chickpeas and rice and topped with curry leaves, mustard seeds, and coconut. Dip in green cilantro-mint chutney for ideal results.
Handvo: A veggie cake containing all the staples of the Indian diet: rice, lentils, and any vegetable imaginable (squash! carrots! peas!). Handvo could be stuffed into a Martin’s potato roll and function very nicely as a vegetarian burger.
Like eggnog or cranberry sauce in the United States, these snacks are exclusively cooked during specific holidays. That said, you may just be able to snag one during the off-season at a sweet shop.
Gujiya: Around Diwali (the festival of lights, in fall) and Holi (the festival of colors, in spring), gujiya—a sweet, fruit-and-nut filled pastry—can be found in any shop. The neat crimping on the outside makes it one of the prettiest Gujarati snacks, too.
Mathiya: A Diwali-specific specialty similar to pappadum. Mathiya combines a bunch of different kinds of lentil flours with sugar and carom seeds—the dough balls then get stretched out, fried and served as fresh as possible.
Priya Krishna is a freelance food writer and the author of Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks. Follow her on Twitter at @PKGourmet. Shailendra Krishna is her father and mango whisperer.
Watch: How to Make Gulab Jamun
Inside the Magnolia Room, the Chalfonte Hotel’s restaurant, a fan beats the thick summer air. Below, customers in madras and linen munch on shrimp and fried chicken. The lucky ones sit by windows with gauzy curtains or outside on the courtly veranda. Air conditioning was installed in 2009, but apricot-colored dining room is always warm—and, somehow, it’s part of the charm.
Here in Cape May, New Jersey, the Magnolia’s white tablecloths and chilled glass salad plates are a throwback to an earlier era. The genteel resort town itself is evocative of New Orleans’ Garden District—but with funnel cake instead of beignets. The area’s oldest operating hotel, the Chalfonte was built in 1876 by Henry Sawyer, a retired Civil War colonel. The 65-room Victorian inn surveys the street from a manicured lawn, a great white birdcage with banks of windows capped in spearmint-striped awnings and double-decker porches iced in lattice.
The scene seems a romanticized version of the South, not South Jersey. But in Cape May, a town with abiding Southern roots, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Four generations of African American women with Southern roots have worked at the Chalfonte. And though they have never owned it, they are the restaurant, which has become one of the last existing links to Cape May’s rich and complicated black history—a history that’s been, both forcibly and subliminally, paved over to make way for ice cream stands and carousels.
Philadelphia, 90 miles northwest, claims Cape May as a summertime colony, but before the advent of modern highways it was an equally convenient getaway via steamship from Virginia, Maryland, and other points south. It’s also nearly parallel with Washington, D.C., placing it comfortably below the Mason-Dixon line. Wealthy white Southerners would travel here each summer with their domestic staffs, many members of whom were just a generation removed from slavery.
One of such a staff, Clementine Young worked for the Satterfields of Richmond, Virginia. After the family patriarch, former Confederate general Calvin Satterfield, purchased the Chalfonte in 1911, Young spent 60 years as the hotel’s head chambermaid. “Or as we would say today, housekeeper,” says Lucille Thompson, Young’s 87-year-old granddaughter, sitting on one of the Magnolia’s hairpin-back chairs.
Thompson, who has cooked there for over half-a-century, learned to make fried chicken and rolls from her mother Helen Dickerson, Young’s daughter. Miss Helen, as everyone at the Chalfonte called her, was the head waitress at the Magnolia Room and a talented home cook. In the 1960s, the Satterfields asked her to step in as chef. Thompson and her older sister, Dorothy ‘Dot’ Burton, followed, and officially took over their mother’s stead when Miss Helen retired in 1990. At the end of every season, they’d claim it was their last. And every April, sure as the tides, they’d return.
Until last year, when Burton passed away, and Thompson returned to the kitchen without her. “We worked and lived together,” she says. “It was hard at home without her,” and cooking was a good distraction. Now, Burton’s daughter, Tina Bowser, is by Thompson’s side at the stove, frying chicken breasts in the family’s century-old skillet.
Ghost hunters say Cape May is full of spirits, but the one people rarely talk about is its once-thriving black community.
Its origins lie on the mainland—over marshes and tidal beaches, past Cape Liquors and the Vanilla Bean Creamery with its lavender siding. Here, in the 1830s, in the offshore woods of Lower Township, settlements founded by freed and runaway slaves thrived. Today, it’s the town of Erma, home to my in-laws’ summer place in a campground with bingo nights and Zumba classes.
“By the mid-to-late 19th century, many [African-Americans] moved into the West Cape May area and other places south of what is now the Cape May Canal,” Hope Gaines tells me from her home, a quaint blue cottage on Washington Street. The director of the Center for Community Arts, a foundation that runs black history tours and funds the ongoing restoration of the city’s once segregated elementary school, Gaines explains that the settlers owned farms and worked in tourism. Harriett Tubman was a cook in Cape May in 1852 and, some say, helped establish the city as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Continuing north on Route 9, modest motels, cheerful farm stands, junkyards, vineyards, Wawa, and Wal-Mart blur by. After crossing into Middle Township, Whitesboro appears. In 1902, George Henry White, a two-term black Republican Congressman from North Carolina, founded a community for blacks fleeing discrimination in Cape May County and Jim Crow in the South. Supported by pillars of church, family and economic sovereignty (White’s bank in Philadelphia helped arrange loans for residents to buy land), Whitesboro flourished.
Over the years, as farming became less viable, residents sought economic opportunity elsewhere. A proud community of about about 2000 remains, but some of the businesses look like they haven’t been touched since I first visited a decade ago. A green cape of algae covers the bottom of the pool at the Hillside Motel. Weeds erupt through the rusted belly of an old oil-drum smoker outside of Tiffany’s Greens Beans ‘n’ Birds. A black mannequin models the latest in 1980s outerwear in an old store window. NOW OPEN, reads its hand-painted sign, but nobody’s been home since shoulder pads went out of style.
In Whitesboro, the shuttered businesses dot Route 9 like gravestones, but in Cape May, where black business really thrived, there are no such markers. The barbershops and bakeries, doctors’ offices and churches, pool halls and beauty shops were razed in the name of urban renewal in the 1960s. Under President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society movement to eradicate poverty and inequality, cities received federal funds for improvements, some of which were given directly to homeowners. “However, in Cape May, the local government claimed its property under eminent domain and transformed the historically black downtown into a historic tourism area,” says Bernadette Matthews, a member of the Greater Cape May Chamber of Commerce.
At the time, African-Americans comprised about 30 percent of Cape May’s population (less than 10 percent now) and were concentrated downtown—parts of which had fallen into disrepair, compounded by the devastating nor’easter of 1962. “Some [buildings] needed help, some didn’t. My husband’s parents had a home on Jefferson Street that didn’t need any repair,” Matthews says. Still, it was claimed under eminent domain. Matthews’ in-laws were relocated to new housing projects, which were simultaneously erected as the old homes were demolished.
On any given summer night on Cape May’s Washington Street Mall tourists swarm like seagulls. The Mall, a pleasant pedestrian lane that occupies the former epicenter of Cape May’s black community, is lined with restaurants and shops—a tobacconist, a lingerie store, a 5-and-10 with a soda fountain and chili cheese dogs. In the theater-like front window of Fudge Kitchen, confectioners whip shimmering fudge in copper kettles with paddles the size of oars. The Victorian mansions’ spires and widow’s walks watch over visitors while they shop for Christmas ornaments, stand-up paddleboards, and Life Is Good sweatshirts in saltwater taffy shades.
I walk the promenade back to the Magnolia Room for dinner, wondering what it would look like if Johnson’s funds had been passed onto individuals for repairs instead of the government’s invasive intervention. You can’t deny the historic district’s charm—like countless others, my family loves coming here—but the human cost of its creation tempers that idyllic summer sweetness. In enjoying this place, are we complicit?
I’m still sorting through the feeling when a host guides me to a table by the window at the Magnolia Room. She hands me a menu, a culinary legacy of Lucille Thompson’s family: shrimp and grits larded with bacon and cheddar, crab cakes, Cajun-spiced stuffed clams, custardy fried oysters and chicken salad, blackened catfish, ribs with coleslaw, famous fried chicken. As I’m deciding, a server with a basket of plush house-baked dinner rolls passes my table.
Like many of the other dishes Thompson cooks from muscle memory, the rolls are her mother’s recipe. “But I changed ‘em a bit,” she says. Into the bloomed yeast go two scoops of vanilla ice cream, a rapid cooling that she says creates the bread’s supreme texture.
Allocated one per person, the rolls come swaddled in a napkin-lined basket with single-serve butter packets. The server bites her lip when I ask for a refill. “Miss Lucille only makes a certain amount each night,” she explains. An extra costs $1, which I gladly pay.
Miss Lucille surveys the room: “There’s a lot of love here; this is my salvation.” But it’s hard work. Thompson will turn 88 this year, and 88-year-old bodies aren’t built for kitchen labor. She says this season, which ended last month, might be her last.
In other words, she’ll see you in April.
“You don't know what the almond wants unless the almond says," Evelina Kappatos tells me as we peer into the vast copper basin that has long churned out the iconic bite of Kefalonia: mandoles.
Take an almond, roast it perfectly, and then slowly enrobe it in layers of stunning, crimson hard-crack caramel. The result is the rough-and-ready cousin of the more refined Jordan almond, something you’d imagine the Olympian gods feasted on if they traded ambrosia for divine Cracker Jack.
All around this Greek island, in every bakery, confectionary, grocery, and convenience store, and sometimes as a nobbly garnish on a restaurant’s dessert plate, you’ll find red mandoles (as well as the more subdued golden brown versions often made with honey or lemon). For a tasting tour, wander the main pedestrian drag, Lithostroto, in Kefalonia’s capital, Argostoli. At the fourth-generation family-run Mavroidis cafe, sip an espresso with your mandoles under the Ionian blue sky.
Or slip down a side street where, at Sesoulas, you might catch traditional Kefalonian kantades being sung outside while you pop in for bags of mandoles (and while you’re at it, honey-sesame pasteli, tidy slabs of quince paste, or traditional Greek pastries). Or visit the Voskopoula workshop where Evelina and her father, Dionisis, tell me the secret to making the best mandoles.
Start by roasting in a copper basin, Evelina explains, which gives the almonds their taste. “If you try to make it in a different kind of basin,” she warns, “you'll fail."
It takes practice to know when to add the sugar. “A lot of people just put in the almonds, start roasting them, and then add all of the sugar” at once, says Evelina. But “you need to give the almonds time to absorb the sugar as well as the heat. You look for the signals. There's no other way to produce mandoles.”
And as you add the sugar, you must find the confectionary equivalent of an Aristotelian sophrosyne, or the perfect medium between extremes. When “sugar is one euro for a kilo but you can't get good quality almonds for less than seven or eight euros for a kilo,” says Dionisis, some producers are tempted to cut corners and overpower the subtle nuttiness with too much sweet. Even though the Kappatos family has been making mandoles for over a century, when it comes to the perfect balance of flavors and textures, he says, “I’m still working on it.”
Even though mandoles are perhaps the most famous local food on the island, I found it difficult to uncover their backstory. Like Tantalus, as soon as I thought I had gotten to the meat of the matter, it would disappear again. What we know for sure is that up until only four years ago, the island’s almonds blushed with a plentiful local product: seaweed, sun-dried and finely ground. It’s the same used to dye those famous claret-coloured Greek Orthodox Easter eggs at home. However, with the progress of time came the push for regulation, hence the shift to the more consistent, traceable, and commercial coloring of today.
But the origins of the mandole remain elusive. As a Renaissance scholar, I expected to find them in the 15th century, when Venice ruled Kefalonia and also served as a gateway for the European sugar trade. But there was surprisingly little to corroborate the Italian connection beyond mandole as a truncation of the Italian word for almond, mandorla.
Then Diana Farr Louis, co-author of Prospero’s Kitchen: Island Cooking of Greece, pointed out a similarity between mandoles and the French rose praline. Could mandoles have been an import during the complicated, if short, Napoleonic occupation of Kefalonia as the 18th century became the 19th? As I went from expert to expert, no one was quite sure of the full story and several wondered why it had never been told.
When Kefalonian food writer Irene Theotokatou took up the challenge, she discovered most stories lead to somewhere in the 19th century. “They were originally made in the homes of wealthy hostesses and offered as ‘kerasma’ (treats) to visitors,” she said. It was a time when almonds were plentiful and sugar was a luxury, I was repeatedly told, but now producers live with the reverse problem. As food historian and author of Cuisine and Empire, Rachel Laudan, reminded me, over the course of the 19th century European sugar supplies became more plentiful and the price dropped. Which explains something of why what was once a luxury is now the number one edible takeway of Kefalonia. How exactly that happened remains unclear, though. If only the almond really could say perhaps it would tell us.
Where to Get Your Own Mandoles
3 Lithostroto Street, Argostoli, Kefalonia (storefront)
41 Lithostroto Street, Argostoli, Kefalonia (workshop)
They ship mandoles to most countries. Email email@example.com.
Elsewhere on the island:
Lithostroto Street 16, Argostoli, Kefalonia
ORLixouri Square, Lixouri, Kefalonia
11 Sotiros, Argostoli, Kefalonia (just off Lithostroto Street)
It’s not hard to get hooked on New Mexico green chile—it happened to me when I lived in Santa Fe, and it’s not a habit I’m likely to quit.
The stuff is is everywhere in New Mexico, a normal part of daily life and the local fare. You’ll have green chile with your breakfast eggs. Your chicken enchiladas will be topped with green chile. And green chile stew made with pork, beef or lamb is part of your weekly rotation.
So, what is it? The fleshy pepper, five or six inches in length, has been cultivated throughout New Mexico for quite a long time. Native peoples there still grow some of the older heirloom varieties, and there are tried and true newer regional varieties planted all over the state. But when we say “green chile,” as in “can I have a side of green chile with that,” we are referring to green New Mexico chiles that have been fire-roasted, peeled, chopped, and made into a sauce—not just a dish of sliced jalapeños. Though mild green chile is available, the usual kind is pretty darned spicy. Restaurant menus have the disclaimer “our chile is hot!” to forewarn tourists. Locals just expect it that way.
In the late summer, when the chile harvest begins, green chile is in the air—literally. Chile-roasting operations pop up at roadside stands and in supermarket parking lots. The aroma of roasting chiles is carried on every breeze, smoky and sweet. It is an annual ritual for families that arrive to buy their supply—usually the minimum purchase is a 20-pound bag. Most people buy much more so they’ll be sure to have enough to get through the winter.
Your bag of chiles is dumped into a cylindrical perforated steel drum, rigged to spin over the blasting flames of a large propane burner. In a matter of minutes, the chiles’ skins are blistered and blackened, ready to peel. Your job now is to take the roasted chiles home, pack them into little zipper-top plastic bags, and store them in the deep freeze, ready and waiting. Most cooks peel them just one thawed bag at a time. In olden times, roasted green chiles were home-canned, and some people still do it.
The majority of New Mexico green chile is grown in the southern part of the state, where the climate is perfect for it—long hot sunny days and cool nights. The epicenter of production is near the village of Hatch, New Mexico. Genuine Hatch chiles. Ring a bell? They’re known to be the real deal.
During all the time I lived in northern new Mexico, trips to the southern side of the state were few. I had never visited Hatch to taste the chiles so close to harvest, so I was thrilled recently when the opportunity arose to attend the famous annual Hatch Green Chile Festival.
Watch: New Mexico's Hatch Life
As we drive south from Albuquerque, the incredibly blue New Mexico sky is awash with dramatic clouds and brilliant light. A couple of hours later, we pull off the freeway and make our way toward Truth or Consequences, the eerily quiet little town formerly called Hot Springs and famous for its mineral and lithium baths and spas. The area’s finest hotel, the historic Sierra Grande Lodge, now owned by Ted Turner, furnishes all rooms with private hot spring soaking tubs. The hotel restaurant serves modern New Mexican fare and features bison from Tuner’s vast sustainable ranching operations. This will be our headquarters for the next few days, installed in an upscale casita with a kitchen and a cactus-filled courtyard. Hatch is only a half-hour away, but we delay gratification till the following morning. We’re distracted by starlight and the silent night.
It’s early rising, if we want to see the Green Chile parade, which we definitely do. In downtown Hatch, the streets are lined with local families and tourists, eager to see the Green Chile Princess throwing candy and all the rest. Music begins and the VFW float goes by, honoring veterans of the area, followed by the source of the music, a highly disciplined marching military brass band; some native American dancers; young cowgirls on horseback and mounted caballeros in full regalia; the 4-H Club’s float; an ornate religious float with children holding statues and paintings; the vintage tractor brigade and the low-riders with ultra-fly hydraulics maneuvers; and finally, a long flank of police force cars and fire trucks with sirens going full volume.
At the nearby Festival grounds, crowds are descending. There are vendors galore, all selling chile paraphernalia or chile-infused treats of all kinds, and there’s a country band playing live music. There’s cold green chile beer on tap in a roped-off saloon section. Many of the booths have roasters going and the sweet-smoky perfume of charring green chiles drifts through the high desert air. The true stars of the festival are the local farmers, most of whom have grown Hatch chiles their entire lives.
We meet Preston Mitchell, the great-great grandson of Joseph Franzoy, a pioneer in the Hatch chile story. His locally revered ancestor was a frontrunner in the transformation of Hatch from a tiny hamlet surrounded by small cotton and wheat farms in the early 1900s to a chile-growing area that now produces millions of pounds of green chile each year. Mitchell seems to have his family’s passion for chile in his DNA and has an online business selling fresh and frozen chile. His grandparents, uncles and cousins are all chile farmers from the surrounding area.
Mitchell is a good person to query on subject of Hatch chile and subterfuge. To be called Hatch, the chiles must be grown in the Hatch Valley. But since the name Hatch has cachet among chile-lovers, “Hatch-type” chiles are now grown in Colorado, Arizona, and Texas. Some are grown across the border in Mexico and there are even so-called Hatch chiles being produced in China. Lawmakers have passed ordinances allowing true New Mexico chiles to be labeled as such, but there is still heated litigation regarding who can legally call their chile Hatch, and that little war is ongoing.
Whether Hatch-bred chiles have intrinsic terroir-driven flavor or the nomenclature is a marketing ploy, I leave to others to discuss. I do know that Nate Cotanch, the man behind the Brooklyn-based Zia Green Chile Company, has an ardent fan base of displaced New Mexicans who need their Hatch green chile fix. Cotanch buys direct from Mitchell, who ships him fresh chiles weekly, straight from Hatch. His company’s T-shirt logo says “Saving City Folk One Green Chile at a Time.” Nate sells fresh-roasted green chile at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg every weekend during the season and also packs his freshly made green chile sauce in jars. Having grown up in New Mexico, he takes great pride in his product and his mission to spread the green chile gospel on the east coast.
On the last day of our visit, we all meet in the fields at dawn for an up-close inspection of Hatch green chiles of every kind. The fertile desert soil has the Rio Grande as its water supply, and vast fields of chiles are planted as far as the eye can see. We’re waist-high in the plantation, comparing the large, fleshy, moderately hot Big Jim to other local favorite varieties like the spicy Sandia, the all-purpose Joe E. Parker, and the super-hot Lumbre. The horticultural labs at nearby New Mexico State University are constantly developing new strains of green chile for Hatch farmers to cultivate.
With so much emphasis on green chiles, it’s easy to forget that at some point all green chiles ripen and turn a brilliant red. There’s a short window when fresh red chiles can be roasted and peeled, but most ripe red chiles are used dried, sometimes braided into garlands called ristras. The end result with dried red chiles is the sauce called “red chile,” as in “can I get a side of red with that,” but that’s another story.
We’re advised not to leave Hatch without a stop at the acclaimed and amazing restaurant called Sparky’s, to sample the burger they call “the world-famous.” The place is fabulously over-decorated with roadside-attraction statuary and antique bric-a-brac of every type. It doesn’t take reservations and the line is exceedingly long, but we are about to discover that the wait doesn’t matter. This Hatch green chile cheeseburger is the stuff of dreams: fat, juicy and topped with a generous amount of mighty spicy roasted green chile.
Of course, we are still not sated. Back in our little hotel kitchen, we concoct green chile margaritas and green chile guacamole, and one last batch of green chile enchiladas. We’re slipping bags of frozen green chile into our luggage.
I feel the wave of nostalgia that surfaces whenever I return to New Mexico. As we head back to the airport, I’m checking real estate listings. For a moment’s fantasy, a little house in Hatch seems like a fine idea.
When talking about pizza in New Haven, the conversation inevitably turns to the clam pie. It's the defining style of one of the country's great pizza towns, and it looms large in a town short on culinary inventions. For decades, clams were also pretty much the only game in town when it came to unique toppings in the celebrated local pizza culture.
But, especially for the younger generation of New Haven County kids, there's another pizza that has edged in on this territory: Bar’s oddly appealing, much loved mashed potato pie. It's become better known in recent years, for sure, but it's still not synonymous with the city in the same way that clam pie is. It's more the secret handshake of New Haven’s pizza scene.
If you grew up in or around New Haven, at some point you went to Bar. Katy Schneider, a coworker of mine at New York Magazine who went to high school in town confided in me that she celebrated a string of consecutive birthday parties at the restaurant. Did she order the mashed potato pie? “Of course—that was the point!" she replied.
In a city that's been starved for quality nightlife seemingly forever, Bar has long served as a refuge for people who want to drink decent beer. It was a brewpub years before craft breweries started opening in Connecticut. Now it's a place for kids returning home and for those who never left, a go-to destination for informal five-year high school reunions. Mashed potato remains a given.
Maybe your friend got kicked out for climbing on things where the DJ spins. But at some point, you encountered the mashed potato pizza. Which, an informal survey of high school classmates and New Haven townies I've met over the years confirms, nearly everyone's first impression of is "this sounds really weird and not good." As one devotee argues, it doesn't sound like it should work. If you didn't go grow up in New Haven, you likely also thought this. Even some of the people working at Bar did.
The pizza is less a menu item than a topping option offered alongside 28 others (plus seasonal options like lobster), which you can order on a red (tomato-sauced) or white (tomato-free) pie. Here is how you should really order it: a white pie with garlic and mozzarella, don’t skip on the crispy bacon that's cooked exactly how you'd want it to be at other pizzerias.
When you hear the words ‘mashed potato pizza,’ you undoubtedly expect a leaden pie and a stomach ache. But Bar makes it work through a careful balancing act. The dough is super-thin but foldable, and general manager and co-owner Frank Patrick says the key to the pizza's success is the way they layer on the potatoes on: "a trade secret," he smirks. It's airy, not overly buttery, and also not piled on with abandon.
“When we first starting making the pizza” Patrick explains, “I never tried the mashed potato for a year or two.” When he summoned the courage, he realized the team was onto something.
There’s no romantic origin story behind this oddball pie. According to Patrick, Bar's original owner Randy Hoder really loved going starch-on-starch. “Like, he would put spaghetti on sandwiches and so forth. When we started making the pizza at Bar, just as an afterthought, we thought it would be a cool idea to try mashed potatoes on the pie.”
One-time regular Hugh Fryer remembers things a little differently. A resident of New Haven and doctoral student at the time, Fryer was part of a small group invited to taste-test pizzas at Bar. A friend and fellow Yalie suggested a Thanksgiving-themed pie, which Fryer says was an instant hit with tasters. One staffer experimented with several versions of the pie, including one with cranberry sauce.
The pizza became a seasonal hit, and the way Fryer tells it, when the time came to take it off the menu, a small but vocal cadre of devotees clamored for it to remain. Eventually the Thanksgiving theme went out of favor, he says, giving way to the current (optionally) bacon-enhanced form. Fryer moved from New Haven and is no longer a regular at Bar, but in his time he’s eaten the pie too many times to count.
This was back in 1994. The mashed potato pizza was then, and pretty much remains now, an outlier on the menu. As Patrick explains, Hoder wanted to keep Bar faithful to the purist New Haven ‘apizza’ tradition, which never adopted the toppings-crazy mentality of some New York pizzerias that specialize in “gourmet” toppings like buffalo chicken and penne alla vodka. Maybe that’s why the mashed potato pizza has never taken off nationally, and the way it’s remained the kind of thing that locals nod knowingly to each other about.
“At first, you know, it wasn’t a big hit,” Patrick says. “We've had the pizza restaurant open for 20 years now, and at first you'd sell a couple of them here and there.”
That's changed within the last decade, but especially within the last five or six years. Now, Patrick says, there are nights when one out of every four pizzas is topped with mashed potatoes. On a busy Saturday, when they can average a pizza a minute, that can mean as many 150 mashed potato (and often bacon, too) pies. The kitchen goes through about 550 to 600 pounds of potatoes a week as well as 800 pounds of bacon, a not-insignificant amount of which ends up on mashed potato pies. Now, one could argue, Bar means mashed potato pizza, and has become a New Haven staple.
“It's almost like a rite of passage to enjoy that,” Aidan Stewart jokes. “Like I brought girls on dates there. It kind of tests them. If they enjoy that pizza, you know, keep 'em around for a little while.”
Stewart grew up in nearby Meriden and came to New Haven, where he still lives, to attend Southern Connecticut State University. He's been going to Bar since 2002, and had his 21st birthday party there. Did they have the mashed potato pizza? “Oh, you know we did dude. If you're in New Haven for the first time ever and are out on the town, like you have to go there. That's it. If you've never had that pizza before, that's it.”
Chris Crowley is the Associate Editor of New York magazine's Grub Street. He was raised on New Haven pizza.
In a nature reserve on the outskirts of Reykjavik, Dill chef Ragnar Eiriksson bends down and pushes away dried grasses to expose a tuft of wild rhubarb, the curly leaves and red stalks newly emerging from hibernation.
This is one of the stops on his regular foraging circuit, hunting the edges of the city to gather lovage sprouting in parking lots, chervil in a little old lady’s backyard, patches of watercress nurtured by geothermal power outflows. He is also enthused by the recent planting of red currant bushes in a public garden two blocks from the restaurant. “Those should be ready to fruit by next year,” he estimates.
The new Icelandic food isn’t about smelly shark or dainty tweezers, but rather, finding comfort in ingredients native to the far north and reconsidering how to present them.
So cooks skip foie gras for seaweed that tastes like truffles. They discard risotto for pearl barley. Mosses clinging to lava fields get used as a binder for baking bread. Farmers tap syrup from the few existing birch forests. Horse is back on the menu. (During harsh famines in the Nineteenth Century, its consumption was considered an indication of poverty.)
Siggi Hall, a founder of the annual Food & Fun Festival, defines the revival of Icelandic comfort food: “We’re an island, isolated through the centuries, it took months to get here by boat. In the old times, we had to be completely self-sufficient. And we had a complex about being so small and far away—it’s not like you can drive over the border and get something nice from France. But that just made us more creative with what we’ve got.”
That creativity is driven by the country’s homegrown ingredients. Here are nine of the essential flavors that define Icelandic cuisine now.
Native to subarctic regions, the herbaceous stems of this fragrant celery cousin grow to three feet and have greenish-white starburst blooms. Traditionally, Archangelica officinalis is used in confections and liqueurs, where it adds a juniper-like flavor, and along with caraway, it’s a key ingredient in Brennivín, a potent Icelandic schnapps imbibed during the Thorablott winter festival, when Icelanders need to counter the taste of rotted shark and other putrefied snacks.
At his Reykjavik restaurant Matur og Drykkur, Gísli Matthías Auðunsson salts and pickles the seeds as a substitute for capers; Ragnar Eiriksson dries and powders the leaves for his larder at Dill. “I dug up some roots this spring and stuck them in vodka,” he says. “I’ll let it infuse for a year and then see what happens.”
A strong tisane of Arctic thyme (Thymus praecox ssp arcticus) was a popular Viking hangover cure. Look for this wild herb, which grows in loose tufts on sandy or gravel patches, in the barren highlands next to glaciers and volcanoes. It has a bitter flavor compared to other thyme species but is a natural pairing for Icelandic lamb, the centerpiece of traditional Sunday roast dinners. Along with moss, birch, and bilberries, Arctic thyme is infused into Islandus Góður bottled juices.
Skeptics mocked Eymundur Magnússon when he started growing organic barley at his farm in East Iceland thirty years ago. The grain was first introduced to the island after Norse settlement, and was used for making bread flour and ale, but then fell out of vogue for almost a millennium.
Now, Magnússon supplies specialty grocers like Frú Lauga in Reykjavik with his Móðir Jörð herb-crusted hrökkvi (crispbread) barley-and-wheat crackers, breakfast cereal, and even barley veggie burgers. His barley flour is a favorite of progressive baker Ágúst Einpórsson at Brauð & Co. At Dill, Magnússon’s pearl barley is paired with earthy carrots. The hulled grains, which have a rounded appearance after polishing, taste like a chewy, nuttier version of puffed rice.
According to The Little Cook Book for Genteel Housekeepers (1800), Icelandic food was cooked in two separate ways. Expensive ingredients were for “respectable” people while the cheaper ones were cooked for the “unseemly.” That included humble cod heads, which were reserved for unrespectable classes after the fish was processed as bacalao for offshore markets such as Portugal.
In the remote Westfjords, cod and haddock continue to be cured naturally while hanging in open sheds—the dry, cold, salt breeze removes moisture and preserves the fish. At Matur og Drykkur, housed in a former fish factory near the old harbor in Reykjavik, a slow-cooked whole cod head lacquered in chicken stock is served with lovage and potatoes. The process turns the bland, sturdy flesh sweet, and the head practically invites you to scrape it with a spoon to discover every morsel clinging to the jaws and eye sockets.
Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) is the intensely dark fruit of a boreal heather species that ripens in early August, when picking wild berries is practically a national sport in Iceland. Crowberries have a fresh, bitter taste suited to jam or schnapps. Reykjavik Distillery, the country’s first micro-distillery, uses foraged crowberries in a syrupy liqueur that tastes like a lighter version of cassis.
Sheep far outnumber people in Iceland, where they graze nonstop under the midnight sun. “Most farms are family owned,” says Sindri Sigurgeirsson, chairman of the Farmers Association. “The lambs are entirely reared outdoors and move about freely. Their diet of sedge, willow, moss campion, and berries makes our lamb instantly recognizable for its distinctive taste.” His own farm, Bakkakot, is close to the central highlands.
Smoked lamb, called hangikjöt, is dry-cured or pickled in brine, then cold-smoked over a fire fueled by dried sheep dung. Thinly sliced hangikjöt layered on scorched flatkökur (flatbread) smeared with intense yellow Icelandic butter is a classic open-face sandwich. It’s like eating a volcano. Or the still warm ash, at least. An updated variation, twice cured until it turns crisp as a cracker, is served with whipped buttermilk at Matur og Drykkur.
A stalk of rhubarb dipped in sugar was once considered a treat for Icelandic children. Rhubarb jam appears on the table at every meal—the Icelandic especially love its tart flavor with leg of lamb. Top crusty sourdough with the housemade rhubarb preserves for breakfast at Bergsson Mathús or order the fizzy rhubarb soda and cake at Slippurinn in the Westman Islands.
When the Vikings first arrived in their longboats, they brought along Irish slaves who introduced söl (dulse) to the Icelandic diet. Icelanders continue to harvest seaweed species that thrive among tidal pools on their coast. Biologist Eyjólfur Friðgeirsson is considered the island’s master seaweed forager. He recently introduced chefs to a species of tufted algae, Polysiphonia lanosa, which tastes remarkably similar to black truffle. In the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar), so named for the Irish slaves who revolted there in the Ninth Century, Gisli Auðunsson clambers over rocks to gather this “sea truffle,” which he turns into an emulsion for sweet langoustines at Slippurinn, his seasonal resaurant in this archipelago](visitwestmanislands.com) southeast of the capital. “I’m rich,” he jokes, pointing to a huge mound growing on the shoreline.
Norwegians first introduced skyr to Iceland over one thousand years ago. While its popularity mostly died out in Scandinavia, this slightly sour dairy product was so treasured by the island’s settlers that they praised it in the Icelandic Sagas. Similar to strained or greek yogurt, but milder in taste, it was originally paired with porridge in a dish called hræringur. Now skyr is a standard on dessert menus, with a dash of toasted oats and berries as a nod to the earlier custom.
Out near the Snæfellsnes peninsula, at Erpsstaðir Creamery, Einar Guðbjartsson and Ingvar Bæringsson produce homemade skyr ice cream and udder-shaped, white chocolate Skyrkonfekt. These quirky candies are also stocked at Burið, a cheese and specialty foods pantry in Reykjavik.
I have always been vaguely familiar with the word "Hatch." I grew up in Austin, Texas, which isn't that far from New Mexico, where the Hatch chile pepper reigns supreme, but I never knew precisely what that meant. Was it just New Mexican slang? Did it mean "roasted?" Despite these mysteries surrounding the word, I knew it was something good—I remember one Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin would host "Hatch chile week" each year towards the end of the summer, and I always made sure my parents took me.
This summer I was lucky enough to head to Hatch, New Mexico on assignment to finally figure out what was going on with this pepper. I learned that Hatch isn't just a New Mexican term for roasted, but a town that grows the best green chiles in the state. I saw four common types (and plenty more heirlooms) at different mom-and-pop stands around the region, and came to appreciate that there's really nothing you can't do with a Hatch chile pepper. It's in sauces, stews, margaritas, queso, and pulled pork. It's stuffed with cheese and wrapped in a tortilla, chopped up in guacamole, enchiladas, and wrapped in a fried chile relleno with cream cheese. It's even found as a sauce on top of a steak, and dried and added to eggs and cucumber.
My New Mexico visit coincided with the Labor Day weekend Hatch chile festival, which comes at the height of the season and is a truly great illustration of Hatch's love for its namesake pepper. People descend on the town from everywhere, filling bag after bag with chiles and stocking up in preparation of a winter chile dearth. It's worthwhile to explore the entire state, but a late summer trip to the southern part of the state will give you a better understanding of what a true obsession is, and that everything tastes better with a little heat added to it.
Here's a taste of what you'll see if you make the trip yourself.
Fresh green chiles and more mature red chiles are picked and braided onto these decorative ristras, which you'll see around homes and businesses. Eventually, the green chiles will turn red.
It's amazing how quickly the crop workers harvest the chiles. Within seconds they've pulled off the ripe chiles and moved on to the next plant. They fill buckets and buckets of chiles, and about every 10 minutes they take their haul to a tractor trailer and load up the bed until it's full. Then they bring the buckets back, and the process starts again.
A Hatch farmer moving kilos of chiles at a time by tractor.
There are several varieties of Hatch chile. These are Big Jims, the most common hatch chile. They have a nice heat to them, and they're used everywhere—I had them in margaritas, enchiladas, and queso. Smaller Sandias are milder and can fit in the palm of your hand. Pointier Lumbre chiles are some of the hottest. As a Texan, I thought I could handle the heat, and I took a bite. The second I did, I regretted it—I felt like my eye was going to explode out of my head.
Farm workers rise early to start harvesting chiles from fields that sit along the Rio Grand. The Hatch region produces 50 to 70 million pounds of chile a year.
Every Labor Day weekend there's a chile festival in Hatch where you can purchase freshly roasted chiles by the bushel. The guys who do the roasting don't have it easy; they stand there all day long in the late summer heat next to flames that reach 1,200 degrees. To avoid turning into heat zombies, they keep it silly.
Preston Mitchell, the owner of The Hatch Chile Company, made these delicious huevos rancheros and the red chile sauce on top. At the end of the growing season, the Mitchell family takes leftover dried red chiles and turns them into a powder. They then make huge vats of sauce that several family members divide up, freeze, and use all year long.
Another statuesque piece of memorabilia from Sparky's. The owners have been collecting antiques and other roadside attractions for 30 years, and their restaurant is well worth the wait for its cheeseburger topped with pulled pork and green chile queso. You can spot it from miles miles away because it's surrounded by these pop culture statues—when you pull up to it, you know you're going to experience something interesting.
An Uncle Sam statue holding a giant green chile about the size of a motorcycle.
Preston Mitchell of The Hatch Chile Store, Scott Adams of Adams Family Farm, and Nate Cotanch of Zia Green Chile Company take a break from checking out the chile crop.
Author David Tanis checking out Ted Turner's massive and beautiful ranch Armendaris. Just another of New Mexico's casually gorgeous landscapes.
We were lucky enough to take a small excursion on Ted Turner's ranch, Armendaris, where we saw living and not-so-living buffalo.
New Mexico was an incredibly beautiful place; between the vibrant colors and the occasional abandoned buffalo skulls, it felt just like a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe.