Griffin’s Cookie Bear Hundreds and Thousands
Articles on this Page
- 06/23/17--08:30: _10 Snacks That Prov...
- 06/28/17--11:00: _Where SAVEUR's Edit...
- 06/30/17--10:00: _Doughnuts and Dream...
- 07/05/17--09:45: _Celebrating the Fou...
- 07/06/17--12:00: _Yemeni Lachuch is W...
- 07/10/17--05:00: _Are Fighting Bulls ...
- 07/11/17--10:45: _The Sweet and Spicy...
- 07/13/17--11:00: _We Met Some Fungis ...
- 07/14/17--08:30: _Is This the Best Ph...
- 07/17/17--08:00: _Meet Cuba's Strawbe...
- 07/18/17--10:00: _The Steward of Aust...
- 07/18/17--12:30: _How Much Can Breaki...
- 07/19/17--13:00: _A Day With the Texa...
- 07/20/17--06:00: _4 Great Edible Souv...
- 07/21/17--12:00: _Is This the Best Ma...
- 07/24/17--11:30: _Life at the Two-Res...
- 07/25/17--09:30: _Inside Turkey's Anc...
- 07/26/17--09:15: _What Would it Take ...
- 07/27/17--13:00: _What Kids Eat for S...
- 07/28/17--08:30: _Why Are Germans So ...
- 06/23/17--08:30: 10 Snacks That Prove New Zealand's Supremacy in the Junk Food Game
- 06/28/17--11:00: Where SAVEUR's Editors Traveled in June 2017
- 07/05/17--09:45: Celebrating the Fourth of July in America
- 07/06/17--12:00: Yemeni Lachuch is What Happens When Pancake Meets Pita
- 07/10/17--05:00: Are Fighting Bulls Spain's Next Great Delicacy?
- 07/13/17--11:00: We Met Some Fungis in the Morel Capital of America: Wisconsin
- 07/14/17--08:30: Is This the Best Pho in Hanoi?
- 07/17/17--08:00: Meet Cuba's Strawberry Whisperer
- 07/18/17--10:00: The Steward of Australia's Original Food
- 07/19/17--13:00: A Day With the Texas Law Man Who Catches Cattle Thieves
- 07/21/17--12:00: Is This the Best Margarita in Texas?
- 07/24/17--11:30: Life at the Two-Restaurant Town on the Mexican Border
- 07/25/17--09:30: Inside Turkey's Anchovy Obsession
- 07/26/17--09:15: What Would it Take for an American Guy to Become Danish?
- 07/27/17--13:00: What Kids Eat for School Lunch Around the World
- 07/28/17--08:30: Why Are Germans So Crazy for White Asparagus?
There are some great snack cakes in kiwi country
New Zealand is justifiably celebrated for its lamb, seafood, and sauvignon blanc, but this distant nation of about 4.5 million floating in the Pacific has a secret: it’s also home to some of the world’s greatest snack food. In a land so otherworldly that it’s a convincing stand-in for Middle Earth and so remote that it’s occasionally left off of world maps altogether, it makes sense that these unique snacks seem airlifted from an alternate reality.
The first thing a new snacker in New Zealand notices is a novel palette of companies. Yes, Cadbury has a presence (I’ll get to that later), but apart from that, the snack scene is anchored by the Griffin’s family of biscuits, Whittaker’s chocolate, Bluebird potato chips, and national treasure Cookie Time.
Notably, all of these are New Zealand-born companies that still produce their goods on the islands. On a practical level, it just doesn’t make sense for a country like New Zealand to import all of its chips, cookies, and candies. Conversely, these snacks are mostly unavailable outside of the country except through online expat-emporiums like Kiwi Corner Dairy and Shop New Zealand
Simple yet impossible to stop eating, Cookie Bear Hundreds and Thousands channel the overall textural and gustatory experience of one of my favorite bygone American snack foods, Dizzy Grizzlies. Made by Nabisco during a far too brief window of the ‘90s, Dizzy Grizzlies were a variant of Teddy Grahams, but featured a more extreme species of bear (grizzlies) performing more extreme activities (e.g. skateboarding). On one side, they were coated in chocolate and covered in tiny spherical rainbow sprinkles, which lightened the mood and made them less threatening. The New Zealand analog does away with any anthropomorphic X-Games; these are just circular cookies, nondescript light pink frosting, and the titular hundreds and thousands (of rainbow sprinkles). A delight.
It’s fitting that I first tried New Zealand’s most cherished cookies—Cookie Time Original Chocolate Chunk—aboard its flag carrier, Air New Zealand. Less fitting that it was on my outbound flight, but better late than never: these are a treat. I first learned about the brand while driving past its corporate HQ outside of Christchurch, and at the time I had no idea how large Cookie Time’s mascot (a fuzzy, bucktoothed red monster) loomed over the national psyche. With a decidedly Pepperidge Farm vibe, the cookies are crumbly yet toothsome, with sizeable chunks of milk chocolate. Like Sausalitos, but with a better mascot.
Certainly not the most appealing sounding candy, Pineapple Lumps might be an acquired taste, but they are undeniably brilliant. A thin layer of chocolate reveals a pleasantly artificial tasting pale yellow pineapple filling best described by the onomatopoetic British adjective “squidgy.” Something about the whole thing reminds me of an energy bar, the thinness of the coating, maybe, or the chewy yet yielding texture of the filling. Pineapple and chocolate are a rare pairing, some may say for good reason. To them I respond: “try a lump.”
A point of national pride, the Whittaker’s Peanut Slab is honest, old-timey confectionary at its best. Wrapped in golden packaging, the slab itself is noticeably thicker than any American candy. In both appearance and flavor, it is like several Mr. Goodbars stacked atop one another. The chocolate is more chocolatey, the peanut is nuttier, and the whole thing gives a satisfying snap when it yields at first bite. Indeed, one of the chocolate’s best qualities is its utter sturdiness; part of me wants to claim that it would survive being run over by a car. But what kind of person would run over a peanut slab with a car?
I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to buy a bag of chips with a surfing penguin on it, but Bluebird’s genius doesn’t stop at marketing. To start, this is a company that boldly espouses the principal that ridges should be an intrinsic quality of potato chips. Furthermore, the chips are relatively thick-cut, lending them both a satisfying crunch and dippable structural integrity. Finally, the flavors are fantastic, and their salt and vinegar is a great showpiece of the genre. Sharp and salty, it has the tingling piquancy that so many salt and vinegar chips lack, while the rich, starchy backbone can perhaps be attributed to NZ-grown potatoes.
New Zealand is home to some of the world’s most sought-after honey. But for those who can’t afford Manuka, there’s always hokey pokey—what Kiwis call the crisp faux-honeycomb that turns up in several homegrown desserts. Hokey Pokey may reach its apex as an ice cream flavor, but a very close second is within the Griffin’s Hokey Pokey Squiggle—a treat comprising a layer each of soft cookie and hokey pokey covered in milk chocolate. Like a Cadbury Crunchie bar converted into cookie form, Squiggles have the unmistakable shatter of all golden syrup-based toffee, but they aren’t as cloying. The cookie provides an alluring textural counterpart, while the chocolate ties it all together. One of the best.
While not exactly a “snack,” New Zealand’s 110-year-old local soft drink L&P is both so unique and so popular that it would be remiss of me not to mention it. The beautiful union of zingy, almost gingery citrus flavor and (once upon a time) mineral water from a small town on the North Island, Lemon & Paeroa’s irresistible taste has, in some instances, been transferred to the edible realm. Whittaker’s infused the stuff into its white chocolate L&P Slabs, while Griffin’s deployed it (along with an interesting diminutive of “biscuit”) in its L&P Bikkies. Probably best as a drink, it goes particularly well with Bluebird Salt & Vinegar Chips.
I know, I know—Cadbury is a giant multinational, but they do have a factory in Dunedin that produces the New Zealand-specific Perky Nana bar alongside the company’s international staples. Similar to Pascall Pineapple Lumps, Perky Nana features a smooth artificial banana filling sheathed in Cadbury’s signature milk chocolate. It’s a dependable flavor combination, but somehow not very common in the U.S. or Europe. Though not a New Zealand-bred company, Cadbury nailed the fanciful name, and if their NZ website is to be believed, the bars grow on an eponymous tree in a candy forest. Which must be near the factory.
One of New Zealand’s most unassuming snacks is also one of its most—to borrow a British term—moreish. Usually this means that the consumer wants to eat more than one. With Krispies, I’ve found it hard to eat fewer than four in one sitting. Brittle shortbread cookies with an attractive scalloped periphery, Krispies have a deep toasted coconut flavor accented with a hint of saltiness. Texturally, as the name suggests, they have the crispiness of a Tate’s cookie, but with a little more body. If I lived in New Zealand, these would be permanently stocked in my pantry. I mean larder.
Traditionally made in home kitchens with cornflakes, chocolate icing, and walnuts, the Griffin’s version of these beloved chocolate cookies is a bit pared down. To start, there are no walnuts. Cornflakes are replaced by “wheat flakes,” which provide necessary crunch. And while the whole cookies are covered in a chocolate icing, it’s different than the dabs that would likely crown homemade Afghans. These are relatively straightforward, but to an outsider with no frame of reference for the home-baked version they tick all the boxes that a chocolate cookie should.
From softshells in the city to beer brats in the middle of nowhere: the Americana edition of our Field Notes
At SAVEUR, our obsessive quest to unearth the origins of food and discover hidden culinary traditions sends us from our test kitchen in New York City to all the corners of the globe. This month, we went everywhere from Germany's wine country to the tiny American towns of the midwest. See all our field notes below.
Probably no wine has a more polarized reputation than German riesling. Sommeliers and other wine dorks love it for its versatility with food, potential to age for years, and ability to thrill in a huge range of styles from chalky and dry to honey-sweet. But most drinkers still stay away, I guess through some mixture of an aversion to sweetness and horrifying reminiscences of Blue Nun.
A few days spent driving around meeting winemakers and touring cellars in Germany's Mosel region forever cemented my place in the first camp. It also left me with a newfound respect for the work that goes into each bottle: I've always known that riesling grows best on steep slopes, but it wasn't until I huffed and puffed up the Enkircher Ellergrub vineyard, pictured, that I really appreciated how much really goes into it. — Chris Cohen, senior editor
I love lobster. I love pulling it apart, all the satisfying crunches and snaps, and I even love all the whooshes of weird liquid that come out when you're tearing into the good stuff. I didn't even hesitate to order it when I saw it was on the list of options at a friend's Provincetown wedding, and I was excited for one of the fringe benefits of ordering lobster: figuring out which of the other attendees was a "lobster person."
Lobster people, in my experience, are awesome. They're adventurous, they're willing to work for their food, and they don't mind being photographed with a goofy plastic bib around their neck. And there's something particularly telling about people who are willing to do that in suits or cute dresses.
My friends didn't disappoint. They dug in without worrying about the mess. Special shoutout to my friend Jack, who one-upped everyone at the party by immediately going for two lobsters. —Katherine Whittaker, assistant digital editor
Flushing, New York City
I just love the 7 train.
Besides the fact you can actually see something from the windows, it’s the most culinary route I’ve found from New York, during these 10 months I’ve lived here. Cuisines from all around the world—Greek, Indian, Irish—welcome you to endless food adventures.
Not to mention the last stop: the bustling Chinatown of Flushing. During my last visit, I had two lunches (both dumplings) and one between-the-lunches snack (Japanese rice cakes, motchis) and I wished I could have eaten more. The beauty of the dumplings in Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao charmed me. People seem to have mixed feelings about this place, but I was taken by the looks, chewy dough, the rich, fresh vegetarian filling and the price: $5.99 for the generous portion that is served with green tea. —Pauliina Sinauer, editorial intern
Central Park and the Upper East Side, New York City
After work on a sunny Friday, I headed to the Central Park reservoir, binoculars in hand, hoping to spy a horned grebe that had been reported in the area. My husband, Jock, and I met up and strolled the 1½-mile path, sidestepping joggers and tourists. We never saw the grebe but did spot a female Baltimore oriole, a wood duck, and a black-crowned night heron along with the many gulls, geese, and mallards.
Bird-watching worked up an appetite. We wanted to try Little Frog (littlefrognyc.com), a newish French bistro. Every time we’d been by, the place was full, but the nice thing about summer Fridays in the city is that many residents decamp for weekend getaways, leaving tables free even at the hottest restaurants. We chose a quiet table next to the bar over the noisy main room.
The bartender, with severely styled black hair and a waxed mustache, could have stepped out of an Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec poster. My Mezcal Mule in a bright copper mug was a smoky twist on a Moscow Mule. Jock had his usual Manhattan. The mustardy steak tartare, with capers and mâche, came with sweet potato chips for scooping. Two delicious softshell crabs were piled on a soft corn cake with peas and a white wine sauce. Little Frog, we decided, was a welcome addition to the neighborhood. — Donna L. Ng, copy chief
I recently took a short vacation to Italy, which is to say I ate many, many meals of pasta, pizza, and panini, followed up more often than not by a scoop or two of gelato. In one case, dinner was preceded and succeeded by the dense and magical Italian treat.
The stuff at Milan's Gelateria Borsieri was that delicious. The lemon sorbetto was perfectly tart and the Sicilian pistachio full of rich flavors. But the one that really won me over was the gothy fondente—a 90% cacao chocolate that was so jet-black and slick it looked lacquered. —Andrew Richdale, deputy editor
Blawenburg, New Jersey
Moving day: The day I had to say goodbye to my childhood home in Montgomery, New Jersey forever. My parents finally decided to downsize and rent a 900 square-foot townhouse that barely fit their furniture, let alone two cats. While I packed the remaining memories left in the old house, I planned to be filled with nostalgia, longing for the days when I played kickball in the backyard with my neighbors. The only thing I could think about was how loudly my stomach was growling. The fridge had already been cleaned out... I was stumped.
My mom was also on the verge of a hunger-crisis, so we took a break from packing to head to the closest place with food, Blawenburg Café. I hadn’t been there in years and it was almost unrecognizable. It now resembled a modern space, but the café kept its small-town country feel through decorations, which I was grateful for. Families with children and dogs filled the outdoor seating. My mom and I laughed at ourselves, covered in dust and dirt from the day while everyone else was neatly dressed. It didn’t matter, though. We were finding happiness from a melancholy day that began more stressful than fun. I ordered a grilled vegetable sandwich on whole grain bread and was pleasantly surprised with how simple, yet satisfying, it was. No ingredient overpowered another, although I may be saying this only because I ate the sandwich so quickly. I’m glad the service was speedy; I’m not sure how much longer I would have lasted without a meal. Allie Mannheimer, social media intern
Tiny Town, Ohio
I'm a Midwesterner, a congenital condition that I didn't embrace until recently. Specifically, I'm from Ohio. When I tell people this, they inevitably ask, "Which part of Ohio?" to which I reply, "You've never heard of it." And truly, no one has ever contradicted me when I name the tiny Northwestern town.
I've been home a lot, recently. An uncle passed away, and then my little brother graduated from college, and then my little sister from high school. Each time I go back, I'm reintroduced to something beautiful that I never took notice of growing up because it was just woven into the fabric of my reality—dilapidated barns, wheat fields at sunset, cheap-as-hell bars.
On my most recent trip, I was reintroduced to another beautiful thing: bratwurst in beer. No, not bratwurst and beer (though, that is always acceptable). Bratwurst in beer. There's a big German contingent where I'm from and they love their kraut and sausage. Even more, they love their sausage cooked in Budweiser. It's an intuitive move, really. Toss a bunch of fresh bratwursts into a pot, dump in four Budweisers, and poach until nearly cooked. Then throw them on the grill, serve with more Budweiser, a pile of tangy cabbage, and a squirt of coarse-grain mustard. Voilá: Ohio, on a bun. —Leslie Pariseau, special projects editor
Non-profit Emma's Torch is giving survivors of persecution and human trafficking a crucial start in the culinary industry
“I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!” Boubacar Diallo, 40, rushes into a small rustic cafe in Red Hook, Brooklyn, scared and yes, very sorry. Kerry Brodie, the founder of Emma’s Torch Classroom Café, had been worried: Diallo hadn't show up in time to his dishwashing shift. It turned out he misunderstood the new weekday opening hours.
“It was a misunderstanding, it's okay, it's okay,” Brodie says to calm him down. But Diallo doesn't want to be late. Today is important: it’s the day this refugee from Guinea gets his first American paycheck.
Refugees and migrants often turn to the restaurant industry because it has a low barrier to entry: skills matter more than what language you speak and you don’t need a degree. But for many, getting a foot in the door isn’t that easy. “Even if you owned a restaurant in Senagal,” Brodie explains, “it doesn’t mean anything to people here. You have to start from scratch.”
Emma's Torch aims to close that gap. The non-profit social enterprise trains and empowers refugees in the culinary arts, helping them turn a passion for food into real jobs. Applicants don’t need any cooking skills to enter the program; just a passion for food. Once accepted, two students at a time train for six weeks, running the café with the main chef and receiving $15 an hour. That means they can get the money to open an American bank account—just one of the many small but vital steps refugees must take to fully participate in American life.
In the program, the students receive technical culinary training and licensing, attend English language classes tailored towards the culinary industry, and get work experience at the classroom café. Emma’s Torch is supported by foundations and individual donors, and it collaborates with large domestic refugee organizations to find students.
The students hail from all over the world and have different reasons for coming to America. Some have fled wars and political instability; others have sought asylum for personal reasons, such as persecution for their sexuality; and others are survivors of human trafficking. “They have been brought here as slaves,” Brodie says. In New York City, for instance, “there is a thriving sex slavery practice in Queens.”
Back in the kitchen, Diallo swoops into action washing dishes. Next to him, a young man from Nepal is carefully chopping mushrooms for a frittata sandwich.
On one wall there’s a sheet of paper with DOUGHNUTS written on the top in tall letters. The recipe below is written in clear, simple English so everyone can understand. Addwa Alsubaie, 19, is following the steps, measuring flour. Chef Mandy Maxwell shows her how to sweep extra flour off the top for an even measurement.
“What’s the hardest part in learning how to cook,” I ask the students. “The scaling!” they cry out, and start laughing. While many of Emma’s Torch’s students are used to home cooking, working at the café requires them to sizes batches up—in unfamiliar American units. Plating courses in order also means planning ahead, all in an unfamiliar language. It all makes for an immersive, hands-on English-language experience.
Though the students hail from Guatemala to Nepal to Russia, the menu at Emma’s Torch is very American: avocado toast with poached eggs, waffles, spinach salad, blueberry corn muffins. Maxwell uses these basics to focus on techniques. “Potatoes are perfect to practice your knife skills. For example, the last two weeks we’ve had home fries on the menu. They are pretty boring, but perfect for practicing medium dice.”
As her students’ skills increase, the dishes get more nuanced. “This week we’ll switch to crispy fingerling potatoes.” She’ll also add more flavors and dishes from the students’ global backgrounds to the menu.
The doughnut dough is sticking to Alsubaie’s fingers and she looks a little worried; it needs more flour. She starts to bring the flour bin to the floor to keep it close. “Oh no,” Maxwell warns, “that’s a health violation. We can’t put anything on the floor.” Together, they move the bin to another space and work on the dough.
“I like doughnuts, sure, I always eat them,” Alsubaie says. “But I love Italian food!” Back home in Saudi Arabia, the popularity of Italian restaurants gave her an interest in the cuisine. “Actually, I want to be a chef, and I want to have my own restaurant, an Italian restaurant.”
“Not a Saudi restaurant?”
“Well, that too. So maybe I’ll open two restaurants!”
While Emma’s Torch can’t guarantee job placement after students complete the program, it does give connections. As Brodie puts it, those initial connections are the greatest hurdle to overcome in a city where 9 percent of jobs are in the restaurant industry. The certificate Emma’s Torch provides doesn’t have the weight of a culinary degree, but it’s a strong vote of confidence. The organization is currently partnering with Eataly to develop the curriculum, and more collaborations are on the way.
“I feel happy when I make food,” Alsubaie goes on. “I love the smells, the colors, even the sounds in the kitchen. I wish I could explain it better. And of course, I love to eat!” Chef Maxwell gently reminds her not to forget to knead the dough while talking. After all, customers are waiting.
Two immigrant families, one from Burundi, another from Pakistan, gather friends around the table—and the drum set—for festive meals in their new homes
There’s a playful rhythm on the drums as eight-year-old Furaha and her twin brother Baraka run around their front lawn with wide smiles and mallets in hand. Smoke and spice wisp out from the kitchen as their parents, Francis and Solange Muradi, prepare a typical East African lunch at their home on the northside of Syracuse, New York.
I’ve returned home to Syracuse for my first Fourth of July in nearly ten years, which was just around the time that the Muradis immigrated from a refugee camp in Tanzania, where they had lived since 1990. Before that, they stayed in a refugee camp in Rwanda for 18 years. Francis was 3 when he left Burundi. Now they call Syracuse home.
Since 1970, this upstate city, one of the poorest in the nation, has been home to tens of thousands of refugees and immigrants from dozens of countries around the world. Here is how a few of them celebrated America’s independence.
The best sauce-sopper-upper in the Middle East
When life gives you hummus and shakshuka, make flatbread to scoop and sop it up. And while pita, in all its forms, is the dominant breadstuff across the Middle East, Yemeni lachuch may be an even more effective stuff-sopper-upper. Why? Look to the nooks and crannies.
Like baghrir, ployes, and crumpets, lachuch is made with a yeasted batter that's cooked in a pan without flipping, which causes the already bubbly batter to develop little air pockets that set into a honeycomb-like pattern. The flatbread's spongy and floppy like a pancake but resilient like soft pita, and the naturally leavened dough has a pleasingly mild bready flavor. The best part: and all those little holes drink up sauces, stews, soups, runny egg yolks, and Yemeni hot sauce.
In the video above, reporter Keren Brown and videographer Aviram Frige capture one captivating lachuch maker in Tel Aviv's HaTikva market, who flips perfect lachuch to order. Watch the master work, then try making your own with this baghrir recipe as a template. (The dishes aren't the same, but this'll give you a starting point.) Just don't forget the schug.
As the nation's infamous bullfights plummet in popularity, ranchers—and the historic ecosystems they tend—are suffering. But now a cadre of chefs and activists are trying to convince diners that the meat is as precious as jamón Iberico
The toro bravo, or fighting bull—a hulking ton of muscle bred to fight matadors—doesn’t necessarily sound like an appetizing source of meat. But Mario Sandoval, the co-founder of Madrid’s two-Michelin-starred Coque, thinks it could be the next premium protein of Spain.
“Ten years ago, no one ate fresh Iberian pig meat—they only ate it as cured sausages and jamón,” he says. “Today, you can find pluma or secreto [tender cuts of Iberian pig meat] in any restaurant.”
For centuries, ranchers throughout southern and central Spain have raised toro bravo for bullfighting. But as animal welfare concerns and other factors have sent the sport’s popularity on the decline, those ranchers are now struggling to turn a profit from their once-famed breeds. In 2015, the Spanish newspaper El País, citing the Ministry of Culture, reported that the number of yearly bullfights had decreased from 953 to 398 between 2007 and 2014, and a 2016 online poll by Ipsos MORI for the organization World Animal Protection found that only 19 percent of Spaniards support bullfighting in comparison to the 58 percent against.
Chefs like Sandoval have taken notice, and enticed by the challenge of preparing a hardy cut, the bull’s lean, flavorful musculature, and the low environmental impact of raising the animals, are giving diners a taste of the fighting bull’s prowess beyond the ring.
Eating toro bravo itself isn’t new; people have been doing so for as long as ranchers have bred the animals for bravura, or the driving animus behind a bullfight. But the practice was historically limited to local festivals and agricultural fairs. As Dr. Ismael Díaz Yubero, author of The Gastronomy of the Fighting Bull puts it, consuming fighting bull meat was typically a communal event.
“The most aggressive bulls were the ones chosen to fight in the corrida [bullfighting ring],” Díaz Yubero explains. “For those bulls, after the fight was over and they were killed, they were fed to the entire town.”
Evaristo Castro Lópel, a butcher at Mariscal, a delicatessen in Granada, says today, fighting bull meat is rarely prepared in people’s homes. “It’s a tougher cut, and you need to age it for at least a month,” Castro Lópel notes. The typically low commercial prospects for fighting bull meat’s strong, gamy-tasting cuts are reflected in its price: Castro Lópel claims it costs, on average, 4 euros per kilogram, compared to 9 euros per kilogram for meat from a regular bull, while others state it can run as low as 2.80 euros per kilogram.
While some may be drawn to the appealing price tag, others just enjoy the challenge of the animal’s seemingly prohibitive characteristics. At Restaurante Terraza Carmona in the northern city of Vera, Antonio Carmona runs the annual “Fighting Bull in the Kitchen” festival. For over two decades, this week-long event has drawn chefs from around Spain (and more recently, the world) to experiment with the meat of the toros de lidia, or fighting bulls sacrificed in the plaza. There, chefs have transformed the carcass into tataki-style steak as well as stewed fighting bull “bombones” (ersatz chocolates) with kanafeh.
“The meat is richer, so it can absorb more flavorings,” Carmona says, and goes on to explain that aside from the slight challenge of aging the cut, meat from fighting bulls is surprisingly versatile. “You can use traditional [beef] recipes and make them extra special by adding toro de lidia, adding an extra kick.”
Spain’s fighting bull population is shrinking, from 251,231 in 2010 to 199,662 in 2016, according to census data from Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment. As Fernando Huidobro, president of the Andalucian Academy of Gastronomy and Tourism explains, this isn’t just a problem for ranchers; it also is causing a negative environmental impact.
Unlike commercially raised cattle, fighting bulls are raised on dehesas, the meadows throughout southern Spain and Portugal that also nurture the Iberian pigs destined for premium jamón Iberico. And like those pigs, fighting bulls are an integral part of that ecosystem, along with oak and cork trees and other endangered species. The bulls, Huidobro goes on, roam free to munch on grass, but also other vegetation that could grow unchecked into a thick, undesired brush. Others have argued that the bulls and ranches protect the land and its inhabitants by restricting public access.
Chefs and curious eaters who agree with Huidobro have pushed to popularize the culinary use of the fighting bull meat and, potentially, even increase its value among consumers. Díaz Yubero’s book, which was published in 2013, includes a number of recipes featuring toro bravo meat; the fighting bull ranch Valdellán recently began to produce cecina del toro de lidia, a dried meat similar to jamón Iberico, while more restaurantsare celebrating weeklong festivals featuring menu rife with toro bravo options.
The loudest support has come from Mario Sandoval of Madrid’s Coque. Last year, at the gastronomic forum Madrid Fusión, Sandoval presented his research with the Spanish National Research Council on fighting bull meat. There, he emphasized its health benefits (low fat and high vitamin levels) and environmental merits (organic, ecological, sustainable) and even demonstrated how to transform cuts into cecina and chorizo. Ultimately, he hopes its popularity will bleed into the mainstream, allowing the general public to reap its benefits.
“The fighting bull breeders help support the rural population and boost its economy, especially in the most depressed areas,” Sandoval said. “The breeders are environmental managers. They have a model that’s based on tradition, and they take care of the natural environment like it’s a legacy that is passed on from generation to generation. So with this method of breeding, everyone wins.”
Named for a sweet and spicy Mexican candy, the paleta shot goes above and beyond your college drinking days
When you think of tequila, bygone college days might come to mind. Maybe you think of the classic “one tequila, two tequila” rhyme, or perhaps you try not to think of anything because your last night out with Jose Cuervo left you with only one shoe and a camera full of ill-advised dancing selfies.
The paleta shot is here to the rescue.
Named for the Mexican candy, a watermelon lollipop covered in chile powder, you can find it throughout southern Texas and northern Mexico along the border. Kids from my middle school would get paleta candies from a convenience store across the street and would snack on them all day long. At that age, I wasn’t a fan of the spicy red powder combined with the tart hard candy. Truthfully, I’m still not really a fan, but I’d have one now just out of homesickness and nostalgia (the shot, however, I'd drink till the sun comes up).
Michelle Fierro of The Black Orchid Lounge in El Paso, Texas tells us that nobody knows who invented the shot, but the candy has been around for around 40 years, and the shot appeared around 10 years ago. She also says there are different takes on it in different parts of El Paso.
To illustrate this, she sets out five glasses to prepare the shot five different ways. The one served at The Black Orchid features tequila, mango and strawberry juice, some lime and Tabasco, and a Tajin-lined rim (pro tip: fresh juice will help you avoid a sugary hangover). The next version comes with watermelon schnapps. An east side El Paso take on the shot involves rum, and the next one has vodka. Then, Fierro whipped up a mezcal special, which was nontraditional but a favorite—the smoky taste was a perfect complement to the watermelon.
They're all fruity, spicy, and a perfect throwback to bygone candy and shot-pulling days.
Though many have tried, the elusive morel mushroom refuses to be tamed. Which is why come spring, generations of Wisconsin families head out to secret spots in the woods to hunt their own
For as long as hungry folks have wandered into the woods in search of a meal, people have foraged for mushrooms. Much of North America is temperate enough to support a diverse crop of edibles, and the Midwest and Pacific Northwest are particularly celebrated by mycology enthusiasts. In the state of Wisconsin, it’s all about morels.
Come morel season, generations of families come together to hunt, cook, eat, and celebrate my absolute favorite mushroom. And when I learned the hilly, rural Driftless region had a whole festival devoted to morels, I started looking up flights to Madison.
Strains of morels can be found all over Europe, Asia, South and Central America, and the Middle East, but, according to Britt Bunyard, PhD and editor of Fungi Magazine, the “highly prized culinary mushrooms” originally arose “from a common ancestor in western North America...about 174 to 100 million years ago.” In 2011, Nancy Weber of Oregon State University reported that “since then, morels have evolved into 177 related species.” They can be as tiny as a grain of rice or over a foot tall, and range in color from yellow to grey, brown, or black. Despite these variations, morels are easily identified by their completely hollow body and their honeycomb textured caps.
Since all true morels are nontoxic when cooked, they are an ideal starter-mushroom for budding mycologists. Travel and nature photographer and two time Midwestern Morel Mushroom Hunting Grand Champion Liza Wallner explains that the morel is “one of the easiest fruiting bodies to identify. Their pitted cap exteriors and hollow interiors with the stem attaching directly to the cap make them rather foolproof.”
They’re also ideal to forage because the mighty morel refuses to be tamed. While a patent for cultivating morels has existed since 1986, growers have struggled to produce a mushroom with the same nutty, meaty, slightly smokey flavor as the wild ones, so foraging retains its appeal.
In Wisconsin, morel hunting is a source of both connection and competition. The Wisconsin Mycological Society hosts regular forays: friendly group outings to find and identify morels and other edible fungi. But plenty of members prefer to guard their hunting grounds and techniques. WMS president Steve Shapson tells me that “Group forays are a great way to learn how to forage, but now we go out by ourselves when we're foraging for serious bounty. We still love to forage in groups, as the camaraderie is very rewarding.”
A few days before the festival in Wisconsin, we met up with Shapson, Madison chef Jonny Hunter, and two WMS members, landscape architect Jeremy Holmstadt and environmental scientist Lynn Diener. Sworn to secrecy about their hunting grounds, we set out to poke around the wooded paths in search of those signature rippled caps. After a tense 45 minutes or so of nothing, Jeremey glanced off the path, seized up to squint into the brush, then jumped into the air with a startling “Wup, wup! Right there!”
Ten feet off the trail, there was a path of perky yellow morels, nearly the size of my palm, magically camouflaged but plain as day. As we gathered them up, Jeremy admitted that he’d “been losing sleep all week,” worrying that we wouldn’t find any so late in the season. As we meandered back to the road, it seemed like there were suddenly morels everywhere we looked—nearly four pounds in less than an hour.
The small town of Muscoda, in the hilly Driftless region of the state, takes competitive morelling to another level. During the weeks leading up to the festival, locals watch the weather and obsessively comb the surrounding areas for morels. Volunteers from the local American Legion buy them at a wholesale rate and store them until the annual 3-day Muscoda Morel Mushroom Festival. The festival features a tasting room of morel products (Morel beer! Morel brats!); forager prizes for the largest and smallest morels, most morels on a single clump of earth, and “most unusual”; foraged food cooking demos; butter-fried morels; a steak-fry; and a morel parade. The American Legion sells bags of the morels and the proceeds go to the Legion’s youth scholarship program, baseball league, and upkeep of the town’s Veterans Memorial.
The festival is Muscoda’s biggest event of the year; many locals participate, and morel enthusiasts from all over the state make the pilgrimage. Liza Walner comes in from Milwaukee every year and when she met up with Matt and me there, she was undeterred by the unseasonably cold and rainy day.
After buying several bags of fresh morels at the festival—she tells me they are priced much more reasonably here than they are at morel auctions and farmers’ markets back in Milwaukee—we all get in line in the rain to wait for our little cups of butter-fried morels and cans of Miller Light. The morels are slippery with salted butter, warm and absolutely wonderful, but not nearly enough, and the beer reminds me of my freezing sandaled toes. Fortunately, Liza has the goods on a café not officially affiliated with the festival that serves whole deep-fried morels.
When we walk around the corner into Vicki’s Cozy Cafe, a frazzled waitress tells us the wait for morels will be over an hour, but Wallner lifts her chin and grins with pleasure at her own preparedness. She had put our order in hours earlier, and we are able to sit down to plates of crispy fried morels almost immediately. They are lightly breaded and very peppery; the most delicious, umami-filled chicken nuggets of my dreams.
When I ask Wallner about differences in flavor she has noticed between strains of morel, she tells me that “the younger morels have a more intense woodsy mushroom flavor. Their tissue is more dense as well. A musky tasting version can be found in the black morel. Some people prefer them over the grays... Young fresh grays have a subtle sweetness that is exquisite when fried in seasoned flour. Very old school but very delicious.”
All the Mycological Society, folks we spoke with had their own favorite morel recipes to share. After our earlier foray in Madison, Jonny Hunter had brought us back to his charcuterie commissary, Underground Meats, for a tour; he ground our haul of mushrooms into a batch of pork sausage with spruce tips and ramps. While eating at Vicki’s, Wallner shared that she likes to chop her morels up, sautee them with onions, and mix them into bison meatballs. Holmstad emailed me once I was back in New York to suggest making a simple risotto with morels, peas, and asparagus; Shapson likes a recipe for morel ragout over polenta from the upcoming Mycological Society cookbook.
So long as you’re cooking them thoroughly, there is really no wrong way to use them. I’ve known chefs to suggest soaking them to remove any grit or bugs from the textured caps, but the WMS folks all agreed that that is a silly way to end up with waterlogged, flavorless mushrooms. Instead, they all suggest cleaning them with a soft brush or clean towel.
When I asked Holmstadt why foraging for morels was so popular in his home state, he explained that “the rural, farming, and game hunting cultures in Wisconsin are important to this. Many people are exposed to morels at a young age, and it creates this affinity for them...Morels are common here due to the rainy climate, lime-based soils, and favored tree species. With that abundance combined with their popularity and early childhood exposure, many people...love, and eat them.”
As a busy test cook and recipe developer, I don’t have much opportunity to interact with people outside of the food business, and it was heartening to be welcomed into a new cult of enthusiasts with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. And even better: I hear there are some parks here in New York where I might find some next spring. But I’m not going to tell you where they are.
Tips From the Experts: How to Forage for Morels
Dress the part: When preparing for a foray, The Wisconsin Mycological Society advises, “The terrain will vary so wear appropriate shoes. Not all sites have groomed trails so be prepared for hilly, muddy, rocky, or rough ground. Use a sturdy container such as a wicker basket or plastic bucket to carry your specimens. Use only paper bags, wax paper bags and tin foil for delicate specimens. Do not use plastic bags; use separate bags for each specimen.”
Play it safe: Guidebooks like Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois and Surrounding States, The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, and 100 Edible Mushrooms are a great introduction to safe identification, but the New York Times suggests, “In addition to reading books, novices should always hunt with veterans and never eat a mushroom without professional identification. The mantra is: when in doubt, throw it out (and remove it from other discarded foods that a cat or dog might scavenge).”
Look out for imposters:“False morels” is a term that refers to several different species including Gyromitra esculenta, Gyromitra caroliniana, Verpas, and Helvellas. They are mushrooms that look like morels but are not. Most false morels are toxic, but they can easily be distinguished from true morels because they are not hollow all the way through the stem and cap. Don’t eat them!
Avoid polluted areas: Steve Shapson, president of the Wisconsin Mycological Society, reminds foragers that “One doesn't want to forage morels or any mushrooms on roadsides where many motorized vehicles are dispersing poisonous gas fumes.” Stick to the woods!
When and where: Morels tend to grow under and around ash, poplar, elm, maple, sycamore or fruit trees, and they most often appear under trees that are dying or recently dead. Most of the morel fungus exists underground and it only sends mushrooms up to reproduce when its ecosystem—the tree—is somehow threatened. Wisconsin Mycological Society member Jeremy Holmstadt explains that, “with elm, it’s important that the tree is dead for at least a year or two but not “too dead” where the trunk has completely lost all of its bark. With ash, the best producing trees seem to be with clusters of other ash nearby.”
Travel and nature photographer and two time Midwestern Morel Mushroom Hunting Grand Champion Liza Wallner prides herself on her morel hunting skill, but acknowledges that patience is essential:
“When deciding where to hunt, I use areas that I have previously scouted during the summer and fall mushrooming seasons. Finding the right trees is critical. Finding lots of them takes work and long hours on the trail. I am usually out hunting other species but am always mindful of where the dead elms are...
When to hunt is a bit more tricky. This depends on a trinity of factors: ground temperature (50 degrees), precipitation and gentle/slow spring heat (60's-70's). Social media is a great outlet for watching the fruiting as it begins south in Georgia in early March. Folks are proud of their morel finds and post them on many different mushroom sites along with a location. It becomes easy to track the morel progress online nowadays. Depending on the weather morels seem to travel north at about 100 miles per week thereafter. With the unpredictability of temperatures in recent years I have picked morels from early April all the way until early June in Wisconsin. Peak season though is usually around May 15th. I like to go out after a big rain. Usually when humidity is high and lots of little frogs are hopping about the mushrooms will be up.”
Be patient if you don’t find them right away; Holmstadt reassures budding mycologists, saying that “you may need to look at a hundred different trees before you find a morel. Think of it like fishing or hunting, where you may go away empty-handed. When you’re lucky enough to find one, stop and look for others before you carelessly stomp toward it; there are often more mushrooms hiding nearby. And after you see that first one, then you see the rest all at once. I live for that.”
Don’t pull! The morels that poke up above the ground for us to enjoy are only a small part of an elaborate underground “mycelium” system. Yanking at the mushroom can potentially damage the rest of the organism and prevent morels from growing back in that place. Either cut or pinch them at the base of the stem to harvest.
Or does a back-alley journey just make one excellent bowl even more tempting?
The search for the best pho in Hanoi leads me to a nondescript alleyway, as does the search for the best of most things in this ancient, labyrinthine city, where poking one's head behind a storefront and detouring up rickety stairs more often than not yields the reward of discovery. It's a sweltering, windless June day in the Old Quarter, whose colonial French structures stand beside crumbling, millennia-old temples and landmarks. A stark contrast to commerce-driven Saigon, where much of history has been torn down and replaced. Here in Hanoi, the streets are named after the wares hawked in the old days, things like silver and jewelry, candies and dried fruits, and bamboo goods.
Our guide today is Hanoi native and Vietnam excursion guru Tran Thuy Hai, but today, she’s taking a break from swinging through Vietnam's caves (including the world’s largest, Son Doong) to go on a different sort of adventure: locating the sidewalk corner pho joint she'd frequented in years past. She's promised us unforgettable pho, an endorsement that perks up my ears since I've long committed myself to the endless task of seeking out the "world's best pho." (I should detour here to say that the "world’s best pho” isn't a single dish in a specific place, but rather an abstract ideal, a noodle-soup nirvana, its broth found simmering, under the vigilant surveillance of Vietnamese parents and grandparents, in the well-worn pots of Vietnamese kitchen all over the world.)
But if, as goes the age-old Vietnamese adage, rice is a man's wife while pho is his mistress, wouldn’t a little pursuit make that first slurp of broth all the more alluring? I won’t tell you I’ve resolved my quest to find the best pho in all the land, but what I have found is a damn good street bowl that’s hidden in plain sight.
It’s dusty as motorcycles weave in and out of bicycle fruit vendors, narrowly missing each other as well as clusters of tribal-pattern–clad backpackers and elders smoking thuoc lao, or Vietnamese tobacco, out of huge bamboo water pipes. By now, we’ve already wolfed down a bowl of bun cha, Hanoi’s lunch-only noodles with pork cakes, and put away a mound of banh gio, a Vietnamese street snack reminiscent of China’s zongzi, made with glutinous rice and pork steamed in banana leaves. I’m not sure I can eat another bite of anything, let alone pho, a dish I know to be reliably hearty and filling and comforting.
As we pulled up to the intersection of Hang Trong (trong translates to drums, and hang, the market street where they were sold) and Hang Gai (silk street), where Hai expected to find the street stall she’d been raving about, we were surprised to find the corner empty. Disappointed, we begin to walk away, but Hai asks a nearby shop owner if he’d know where to find the pho and the woman who makes it. He nods to a nondescript alley behind the local seamstress. Lo and behold, at the end of the alley hangs a sign that reads: “Looking for pho? This way—>” pointing to a set of stairs.
Standing at the top, my stomach starts rumbling as soon as I catch a whiff of that fragrant beef broth laced with star anise, cinnamon, and Vietnamese cardamom, wafting down a hallway. "It’s not time yet," says a woman sitting over a pot of beef bones in a small courtyard. “Come back at 3 p.m.” We reluctantly shuffle out, our pursuit of pho delayed just a bit longer.
Food writers have long waxed poetic about Hanoian pho, that lightly-garnished, clear-as-consommé bowl of healing powers. If ever I’ve tasted one outside of my grandma’s house, this was it. At 3 o’clock sharp, we’d taken our spots, as we would on a street corner, sitting on red and blue plastic stools at plastic tables perched precariously close to the ground—except we were in Ms. Minh’s living room. The mastermind behind the pho, Ms. Minh herself, explained that after hawking pho on the street for nearly 15 years, she'd been forced by the police to relocate indoors just a few months earlier, as part of a recent country-wide (perhaps region-wide?) move to remove street vendors, the lifeblood of Southeast Asia's cities, from sidewalks.
Ms. Minh’s late ancestors, peeking out from picture frames behind burnt sticks of incense and platters of fruit offerings, watch over us while we eat, and a small child is sleeping on a day-bed across the room. We hardly mind as we noisily stuff our faces. The broth is perfectly clear, so much so that I can see every noodle down to the bottom of the bowl, with the flatter, fresh banh pho noodles that tangle around the thinly sliced sheets of lean beef. A sprinkling of freshly chopped scallions and a duo of Thai chilis crown the top.
As my broth-to-noodle ratio reaches a precariously low level, Ms. Minh swings by, unsolicited, to pour some more of the steaming liquid into my bowl. (In my experience, it’s hardly worth protesting when a Vietnamese woman offers you more food). We ask her how business is going after the meal, and she explains that despite the loss in foot traffic, her repeat customers have remained faithful. “People come from all over to eat my pho,” she proclaims, with a bit of old Hanoian pride. “From China, Korea, they all know the pho of Hang Trong street and they always come back.”
We also ask, sheepishly, how her pho is made, to which the paranoid Ms. Minh waves our camera away for fear of exposing her "secret family recipe." But as we cleaned our bowls, she nodded approvingly, warmed slightly by our enthusiasm, surrendering a few sparse details about her philosophy as we were on our way out: The beef bones are set to simmer a whopping 24 hours before she opens the following day, with all traces of fat skimmed off the top periodically to preserve the meaty flavor while yielding that signature translucence.
That pho, only served from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., is meant to be a Hanoian afternoon snack, according to Ms. Minh: “This pho is a light meal that provides good energy for the day so you don’t have to wait long hours for your dinner.” Sure enough, as we stumbled out from the alleyway into the daylight, having just finished our third lunch, mind you, we hardly felt bloated, as if our stomachs had turned into endless black holes. But I wager you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s had a bite of this pho and not feel that the experience, even in the sweltering heat, was just a little bit magical.
Pho Hang Trong
8 Hàng Trống
How one man brought California berries to Cuba
Ernesto Alpízar didn’t taste a strawberry until after the revolution, when he was 34 and living in Eastern Europe. As a kid in the 1930s, he recalls seeing the fruit from afar in Bauta, the rural village outside Havana where he grew up. A farmer there cultivated them exclusively for wealthy Cubans and expats. Like Coca-Cola and cars, the first strawberries had arrived from the United States in the early 1900s. But the plants didn’t fare well in the tropical climate and remained a rarity.
As a young man, Alpízar taught English in high school. After the revolution, he was given the opportunity to study abroad as part of a Castro-sponsored program to train citizens and reward supporters of the revolution. (Alpízar’s father, the head of a baker’s union, had backed the dictator.) Working in Romania, he was assigned by the Cuban government to cultivate fruits exotic to the Caribbean, including strawberries. At the time, Alpízar was more interested in grapes and winemaking. “I wanted to enjoy the outdoors, the fresh air, and eat to my heart’s content,” he says.
He returned to Cuba in the mid ’60s and grew strawberries on a collective farm in Banao, a mountainous valley of Sancti Spíritus. “I spent so much time with strawberries that I began to talk to them,” Alpízar says. “They were so delicate, they were like babies.” The higher elevation and cool microclimate was conducive to growing strawberries. But the breed—Mission—was too delicate, more akin to raspberries in size and texture, and the project lasted less than a decade.
“Strawberries will tell you when they’re sick,” he says. “If the petals fall, they need water; if the leaves have holes, bugs are bothering them.”
In 1972, the government tasked Alpízar with finding a firmer, more transportable variety. He spent two months traveling around Mexico with Cuban commerce officials, but found that many of the plants there were diseased. Hardier strains (notably the Parker strawberry) were grown in the U.S. To skirt the American embargo, officials made contact with a German-Chilean businessman connected to California growers. “With the embargo, I’m making tons of money,” the man told Alpízar. “Aside from drugs, I can get you anything.”
All Alpízar wanted were the strawberry plants. He arranged to meet the German-Chilean in Santiago and personally accompanied 80,000 of them—frozen, dormant, and bought for a quarter each—back to Cuba on a Russian Tupolev plane.
In San Antonio de los Baños, the small town where he now lives, Alpízar began cultivating them with the help of some 300 high school students. In an echo of the Cultural Revolution in China, Castro had begun sending thousands of students to live in rural boarding schools, where education was divided between the classroom and fields. Alpízar’s program produced enough fruit to supply Coppelia, Cuba’s hugely popular ice cream parlor. In the well-received 1993 Cuban film Fresa y Chocolate, set in the ’70s, fresa (strawberry) appeared as a daring alternative to mainstream and Communist chocolate.
As the Cuban economy went into a tailspin in the early 1990s, an era known as the período especial, government-mandated strawberry cultivation died out. By then, Alpízar had retired from a job at the Academy of Sciences and was living on a plot of land the government had awarded him. When the crisis hit, he and his family could no longer survive on his pension, so he began multiplying Parker plants and carrying the fruit to Havana to sell door-to-door.
At 89, he makes the two-hour journey to Havana—via a mix of horse carts, creaking buses, and rusty 1950s cars—several times a week during strawberry season. Most Cubans still don’t have access to strawberries. At $5 a pound they are an expensive luxury in a country where state employees earn about $25 a month. Few of Alpízar’s clients—mostly paladares, or private restaurants, and a small but growing affluent population—would recognize the retired agronomist as the Johnny Appleseed of the Cuban strawberry.
Even in his older age, Alpízar spends almost every morning working on the several-acre plot of land behind his apartment in San Antonio de los Baños. “Did you know that strawberries are in the rose family?” Alpízar asks no one in particular. “You wouldn’t think it, but they are. They really are beautiful things.”
By challenging myths about indigenous foodways, Bruce Pascoe helps Australians rediscover their true culinary heritage
Bruce Pascoe waded through the shallows at the mouth of Mallacoota Inlet, an estuary in southeastern Australia, on the Tasman Sea. He had a slight frown on his weathered face and a plastic bucket in hand as he lifted tree snags caught on sandbars.
“Not a one mussel left,” he said, climbing back onboard his runabout. “I can’t understand it. There were plenty last week.” Pascoe gunned the boat’s engine and headed for another bed. A lean man in his late 60s, he found more success after digging around with his bare toes, the tip of his long white beard damp as he bent in deeper water to grab up a dozen clams. He passed me the bucket and hauled up the anchor. I looked at the unfamiliar contents—like Pascoe, they were bearded and crusted in mud. “Blood cockles,” Pascoe said. “My people ate them when they were starving.”
Pascoe is descended from the Bunurong people of the Kulin nation, an alliance of indigenous groups that occupied south-central Victoria for some 40,000 years before European settlement in the early 19th century. A writer whose work is based on that legacy, Pascoe has lately turned to the subject of indigenous food. Australia has only recently come to recognize the debt owed to its First Peoples, after nearly two and a half centuries of abuses and land seizures. To Pascoe, food and agriculture are tied to acknowledging sovereignty, and may also create a pathway to reparation for an ages-old culture that thinks of land in metaphysical terms, not as mere real estate.
We cruised farther inland, where the waterway narrowed and turned brackish, cheerfully waving to fishermen casting for bream at the verge of a dense melaleuca forest. “That’s where we get clay for our initiation ceremonies,” he said, pointing to a curve on the riverbank where the soil turned from ochre to rust in hue. For aboriginal people of both sexes, this rite of passage occurs as they approach adulthood, when elders decide it’s time to pass on the mystical aspect of their language group and country. (Intricate body painting with clay is part of this tradition.) Pascoe told me he had helped initiate his own son Jack—a rare honor for both, because another elder belonging to the same clan usually takes on this responsibility rather than a parent.
A sea eagle circled overhead, hunting prey.
Pascoe was born in Richmond, a working-class suburb of Melbourne. As a younger man, he built farm fences, dove for abalone, worked as a bartender and rural schoolteacher. He crewed on a salmon fishing boat in Alaska and was a dog wrangler for a veterinary clinic in the Northern Territory. Now he is a professor in the educational support program for aboriginal students at the University of Technology Sydney. His 30-some books include novels, historical fiction, children’s stories, and a work on aboriginal language. Dark Emu, one of Pascoe’s most recent, refutes the widely accepted idea that precolonial inhabitants were primitive hunter-gatherers wandering the continent in search of sustenance. Rather than being haphazard foragers of witchetty grubs and such, aboriginal people, Pascoe argues, formed a highly sophisticated agricultural society with an ingrained, near-spiritual stewardship of the land. After the publication of Dark Emu, Pascoe took on yet another mission: building awareness of lost foodways through the rediscovery of native ingredients and an appreciation of the continent’s first caretakers. “Our whole culture is about sharing,” he said. “I know how important it’s going to be for the country and for aboriginal people to be involved in the resurgence of old crops, but you can’t eat our food if you can’t swallow our history.”
Pascoe now lives with his wife, Lyn Harwood, in Far East Gippsland, a rural corner of Victoria at the convergence of the Genoa and Wallagaraugh rivers, where cellphones are practically useless and the community newspaper, the Mallacoota Mouth, is stapled together by high school volunteers. It is one of Australia’s untamed landscapes, filled with alpine ranges, old-growth rain forests, coastal heathland, rare orchids, bushfire-scorched stands of eucalyptus that smell alkaline and resinous, and a vast network of rivers and lakes that empty into the Tasman Sea.
A pelican squatting on Pascoe’s dock ruffled its feathers in alarm at our arrival. “Don’t worry, brother,” Pascoe said. “We’ll be out of your way in no time.”
He transferred the cockles to a mesh bag and dunked them in the water to rinse them free of sand. As we headed toward his house, he pointed to lime-green succulents fringing the shoreline. I picked a handful. “That’s samphire,” he said. “It’s salt tolerant.” It tasted like juicer, saltier raw asparagus. In a shaded area next to his steep driveway, Pascoe stopped again, then kneeled to gather dense groundcover atop a compost pile. “We call this warrigal, but it’s also known as Cook’s cabbage,” he explained, offering me a cluster of spade-shaped leaves. “When James Cook landed in Australia, he fed this plant to his crew on the Endeavour. Without it, they would have died of scurvy.” Harwood uses the plant to make pesto with macadamia nuts from the orchard.
In Dark Emu, Pascoe describes the cultural practices of Australia’s indigenous population as a kind of “jigsaw mutualism.” Individuals served as temporal custodians of trees, rivers, pastures, and mountain ranges. Their conservancy of each piece of country was inevitably connected to those in the care of their neighbors. Astonishingly, this communal responsibility extended great distances, with an abiding trust that those elsewhere, in parts unknown, even with different dialects and totems, were upholding the same law of the land.
That balance changed drastically when colonial pastoralists introduced livestock to croplands that had been carefully tended for millennia. Yam daisy pastures in Victoria disappeared within a few years. Vast plains of kangaroo grass, once so abundant that those who harvested it were called the Grass People, turned to dust.
Later in the afternoon, Pascoe and his neighbor Denise Parker tackled his overgrown vegetable garden, patching fences and yanking out end-of-season tomato plants. “Did you hear about the fellow who was poaching mussels?” Parker asked, as she gathered unripe tomatoes in a burlap sack. “Caught trying to sell them up in Pambula, almost 50 pounds’ worth.”
“No wonder I couldn’t find any,” Pascoe said.
The pair were working to make space for native millet, Panicum decompositum, a staple grain of the aboriginal diet that is milled and baked in ashes into a cake. The seeds were delicate, tawny, attached to feathery pappi that aid wild dispersal by wind. Pascoe uprooted one of his yam daisies—the star-shaped dandelion-yellow flower and stalks were attached to a stubby tuber the size and color of a baby parsnip. “I’ll get a decent crop of these next year if I can keep the bush rats out,” he said.
One of Pascoe’s current outreach projects involves a prison work scheme for young offenders willing to participate in the next harvest cycle. It’s hard work, and he could use the extra helping hands. I asked him if he regretted the detour from literature and history into food advocacy and he sighed, trowel in hand. “I resent the time,” he admitted. “But I really can’t let this opportunity go, because I can see so many possibilities for young people, of whatever color, to get involved in looking after the ground.”
Dark Emu was a bestseller and recipient of several prestigious literary awards, but it resonated most with Australia’s leading chefs, including Ben Shewry of Melbourne’s Attica and Dan Hunter of Brae, in Victoria. Thanks to Pascoe’s writing and garden experiments, the yam daisy is about to join other native ingredients—wattleseed, saltbush, finger limes, quandong, lemon myrtle, muntries berries—finally finding their way into the mainstream Australian pantry. Shewry, who became a fishing buddy after reading Dark Emu, raised a test crop at his Ripponlea Estate kitchen garden this year on Pascoe’s urging. He served me a yam daisy for lunch one day in Melbourne. Simmered in salted water, then fried until caramelized, the tiny tuber tasted sweet, almost like a white yam.
“Bruce’s legacy will be that he helped educate Australians on what their true ingredients are,” Shewry says. “Not the ones that the first settlers brought here. I’m talking the plants that belong here, the endemic species that have been here for more than 50,000 years and that aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have always known about, cared for, grown, and use as one of the most integral parts of their culture.”
Pascoe’s two blue heelers, Wangarabell and Yambulla, greeted us with joyful barking when we returned to his house. Harwood was proofing bread dough in the kitchen. She paints watercolors of songbirds and drives the Mallacoota fire truck, a red behemoth that barely fits on the narrow road into town. Both she and Pascoe are Country Fire Authority rural wardens. When we sat down to dinner, Harwood cut me generous slices of her spelt and kangaroo grass bread, still warm from the oven. It had a pleasant, herbaceous aroma.
Prehistoric grinding stones excavated at a dig in New South Wales have led Australian archeologists to propose that native grasses were ground into flour almost 38,000 years ago. It’s the oldest evidence of bread baking in the world. Harwood used a simple tabletop hand-crank grain mill to grind the kangaroo grass that Pascoe discovered growing wild in an unfertilized field next to the local airstrip. She showed me how they snapped the stems from the reddish brown seeds, smaller and thinner than grains of wild rice. The amount of labor required—harvesting, winnowing, grinding—for a single cup of flour was daunting.
Reviving these lost traditions has not been easy. “Even if it means separating the seed by hand, we’ve just got to keep going until we can make a loaf of bread,” Pascoe said.
He cracked open a blood cockle and blanched it in a pan with a red wine vinegar reduction. Thanks to the high level of hemoglobin that gives this muscular bivalve its name, the blood cockle is about as unlovely to look at as it sounds. But I slurped, then chewed, and was surprised by the mild briny taste and a texture that reminded me of abalone. Harwood’s warrigal pesto on grilled chicken took less effort to appreciate. The puréed leaves were close in flavor to spinach. Cook’s crew apparently put up a fight when forced to eat this alien superfood. (Not every sailor is a natural Popeye.)
Harwood cleared the dishes while Pascoe tuned into National Indigenous Television to watch the Marngrook Footy Show. The dogs jumped up next to me for couch time, so I scratched Wangarabell’s dappled head as indigenous commentators rehashed the weekly Australian rules football matches. “My neighbors up here to the west, their totem is the blue wren, and the other totem is the emu wren, slightly smaller. And my friends put them on their football jumpers. How cute is that?” Pascoe said. “These big bold men running around in footy jumpers with tiny birds on them and feeling no shame because these creatures represent the power of the earth.”
I asked Pascoe to tell me what the “dark emu” represents. He beckoned me outside to look at the night sky, where we located the Southern Cross. As the constellation defined by dark nebulae came into focus, the distinct outline of a bird resting its head under the cross became clear in the negative space. He explained the myth of an emu totem spirit that left earth to reside in the Milky Way. The story varies in interpretation from group to group, but Pascoe said the bird is linked with the wide grasslands of Australia, because Aborigines used the seasonal movement of constellations to know when to harvest.
“Our people would always choose to sleep outside with a view of the sky if they could,” he said. “We were such great astronomers, because we knew the sky so well. Europeans stare at the stars, but aboriginal people also see the spaces between, where the dark emu resides.” Perhaps that’s how Pascoe knows to look at an overgrown field on the edge of an airstrip and see a loaf of bread in Australia’s past—and another in its future.
An ambitious program in Philadephia is gathering groups in conflict around the dinner table to discuss some deep-seated issues. Drew Lazor reports from the front lines of sharing food for social understanding
“To listen,” Harris Sokoloff instructed the name-tagged onlookers stuffed around the stove, “is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.”
That silky strand of page-a-day calendar wisdom, which originates with the spiritual writer Mark Nepo, was the perfect pleasantry to kick off a recent evening centered on cultivating common ground. Hosted inside Philadelphia’s venerable Reading Terminal Market (RTM), “Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers” is an ongoing dinner series that encourages communities at odds to connect over food, using what’s on the plate as an on-ramp toward shared understanding.
Made possible by a Knight Cities Challenge grant, “Breaking Bread” is built around a simple but powerful act: relying on the equalizing power of food to build bonds between people who don’t see eye to eye. It’s the perfect undertaking for the 125-year-old market space. In his study The Cosmopolitan Canopy, sociologist Elijah Anderson identifies the Terminal, a Center City destination trafficked by tourists and locals alike, as an “urban island of civility” free of segregation and discrimination.
“[There are] increasingly few spaces where strangers of completely different backgrounds—different ethnicities, different incomes, different races, different geography—come together, intermingle, build relationships,” said RTM general manager Anuj Gupta. This makes his 80,000-square-foot office the ideal proving ground for a big-picture idea like “Breaking Bread.“ The goal is to learn directly from people different from you—first by watching (and often helping) them prepare their food, then by sitting down and eating it with them.
Organizers lean on contacts in the non-profit and community-organizing worlds to recruit diners of all stripes, especially those with documented histories of friction. Much of this conflict falls along racial lines. So far, they’ve tackled relations between Koreans and African-Americans coexisting along 52nd Street, and encouraged longtime South Philadelphia residents to chop it up with their Cambodian neighbors. African immigrants have shared meals and stories with their African-American counterparts. Another month, they welcomed a group of Syrian refugees to the Terminal.
Gupta says he’s heard positive feedback from within the participating communities so far—dinner is not an instantaneous solution to a complex problem, of course, but having real conversations through the prism of cooking is a good place to start.
June’s installment, the sixth in the series, brought together reps from three Philly communities: Chinese, Mexicans, and Mummers, who over the years have managed to piss off Chinese people, Mexican people, and pretty much anyone who isn’t straight and white.
A practice that stretches back centuries, Mummery has its roots in old European folk performance: garishly dressed players recreating historical events to amuse and thrill a crowd. In Philadelphia, this plays out in the form of a city-sponsored parade that’s taken place every New Year’s Day since 1901. The Mummers, a mostly Caucasian, mostly male, and largely Italian-American affiliation numbering in the thousands, show off dance routines, amazing costumes, elaborate floats, and live musical numbers as they hit their signature struts up and down Broad Street. The parade seems to be an absolute blast for the performers, and it’s fun for spectators, too—as long as you don’t end up on the wrong end of a racist and/or homophobic sendup.
As Billy Penn puts it in their detailed timeline of January 1 misgivings, “the Mummers really do provide at least one WTF moment every year.” Performances have featured buffoonish caricatures of Indians (both Native Americans and people from India), cringeworthy minstrel show tributes, children and adults in brownface, and Caitlyn Jenner-themed skits of highly questionable taste, with touches of blatant homophobia. There have been violent incidents, too. And that’s just in the past couple years. Blackface was not officially banned from the parade until the 1960s, but some contemporary participants have decided to sidestep that longstanding decree.
It’s important to note right up front that most Mummers troupes are not this way. But basically, if you are a minority like me, it’s easy to witness the bad stuff, say “fuck the Mummers,” and leave it at that.
It’s this exact attitude “Breaking Bread” aims to address. The Mummers have a large presence in the city. We start our year with them. I’d love to watch the parade, an only-in-Philly undertaking I’ve never seen replicated anywhere else, thrive in perpetuity, as a welcoming event for everyone. But not every Mummer seems comfortable with the idea of change, or willing to hold their ranks accountable for what they put out there.
Some Mummers bristle at any criticism, responding with a chorus of justifications: This is an important tradition, lighten up, you’re too PC and sensitive, it’s all in good fun, people are so easily offended these days. A more forward-thinking element, however, realizes that passing these practices on to the next generation means they must distance themselves from the exclusionary aspects of the culture. That’s how this commingling came about.
Dr. Sokoloff, a University of Pennsylvania prof who directs the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, served as the emcee for the event, which started in the Terminal’s brightly lit open kitchen. Here, cooks representing each of the communities seated at the table demonstrated how to prepare their plato tipico, a dish that represents their culture and cuisine.
Alice Ye of Five Spice Philly talked the crowd through her pork and vegetable dumplings, yanking volunteers from the crowd to pinch dough with her. The audience involvement continued with Ben Miller and Cristina Martinez, the outspoken chefs behind South Philly Barbacoa, as they pressed tortillas from freshmade masa to go with their verdolagas con pollo, chicken legs cooked with purslane. The Mummers, meanwhile, were represented behind the burners by Steven Mastero and Rocco Gallelli, genial caterers who showed off their New Year’s special pork tenderloin, stuffed with roasted peppers, spinach, and cheese, then rolled and tied porchetta-style before slow-roasting in the oven.
After the cooking demos, the food made its way into steam tables, and attendees made plates and found their seats, assigned randomly to guarantee intermingling. Each table was looked after by a moderator to lead the discussion. Ezekiel Mathur, a enthusiastic rep from the city’s Commission on Human Relations, opened our 11-person table’s discussion with a broad talking point: What do you like about culture?
“You might know what’s outlined in a book, but when you talk to people, it’s really, really interesting,” answered John Pignotti, a loquacious full-blooded Italian Mummer from South Philly. “Keep an open mind…sometimes you bump heads and sometimes you don’t.” Jim Ervin, a member of the Avalon String Band, described how much he enjoyed discussing holiday and wedding traditions with coworkers of different nationalities.
This sentiment was echoed by Lorraine Lew, a Chinese-American librarian sitting across the from me: “The more you know about different people, the more you realize that people are basically the same.” Lew went on to describe her childhood, growing up the only Asian kid in a nearly all-white Jersey town. I really related to this. This is cool, I thought. Maybe we can find some real common ground here, internalizing each other’s experiences.
Then they all started talking about gravy.
Gravy is South Philly slang for red sauce, the stuff in a gently bubbling pot Italian cooks like to fuss over for hours before ladling it out to the Sunday dinner crowd. Every Mummer at the table had so much to say about gravy.
“When you walk down the street and you smell that garlic cooking in olive oil, you know somebody’s cooking gravy.”
“Some people make gravy and they put onions and peppers in it.”
“I went to Disney World and ate in Epcot and the waiter had no idea what gravy is!”
Lord, we talked about gravy for what felt like forever. Yes, “Breaking Bread” was meant to be an equal-opportunity exchange. I was very happy to learn about what Mummers love to eat. The problem was that none of the non-Mummers at our table could get their stories to stick the same way.
Yaroslava Camacho, a half-Mexican, half-Russian employee of Philly’s Mexican Cultural Center, offered up anecdotes about both sides of her clan, fondly remembering her abuela’s tamales and her babushka’s tendency to crush all house guests with huge spreads of food. Instead of asking her follow-up questions, the Mummers nodded and started talking to each other about their mothers.
I expressed how much I identified with Lew’s upbringing, as one of just a few minority kids in a mostly white town, recounting aloud how kids would leer at me for brown-bagging Tupperwares of Filipino food as they munched on Lunchables and Capri Suns.
"I remember Lunchables!" one Mummer replied, following it up with a tangent about meatballs.
Much of the discussion went this way—non-Mummers throwing personal stuff out there, Mummers pulling the conversation back to themselves. I’m not exactly sure how it went at other tables, but at mine, we didn’t seem to make much progress. Nearly an hour passed before I even got the chance to broach the topic of long-standing insensitivity among the ranks.
“Seeing those skits on Broad Street and sitting down to eat with you all are two very different things,” I said. “Are there misconceptions out there about Mummer culture?”
“Absolutely,” the Mummers responded nearly in unison, rattling off various ways they’re maligned in the public eye.
To be fair, many Mummers have been making sincere efforts to improve the parade in recent years, attending sensitivity trainings organized by the Philly HRC and encouraging the creation of diverse, non-traditional troupes, like the Vaudevillains. But the pervasive negativity hasn’t left, and not everyone thinks this can just be fixed. “Are there some problems with the parade sometimes?” asked Bill Burke, vice president of the Philadelphia Mummers Brigade Association. “Yes. With people we have no control over.”
That’s not good enough. I believe the Mummers I broke bread with are good people. I don’t believe they are racist. I know that the number of bigoted Mummers pales in comparison to those who work to keep it an inclusive, family-friendly event. But that doesn’t change the fact that very visible rotten element remains, and shrugging that off with a tired bad apple excuse is not helping. Failing to really hear people who are making an effort to explain how bigotry affects them is not helping, either.
“Breaking Bread” is an ambitious operation, and I’m thankful it exists. But after attending, I realized that the process is only as impactful as its participants permit. One Mummer, who was quiet during the table session, pulled me aside as everyone was packing up to leave. “There could be things that could be offensive,” he explained earnestly. “It’s not meant to hurt. It’s an attempt to be funny. Sometimes I’ll say something thinking I’m being funny and I’ll offend someone. It happens. That’s not what the parade’s about.”
Putting myself in his position, I can understand how he’d feel that way. So why can’t he do the same for me? This is the real problem, and no amount of chicken and dumplings is going to change that.
In Texas, cow-nabbing is alive and well. Special rangers like Wayne Goodman spend their days tracking down the bad guys
Tires crackle over a gravel lot and roll to a stop. A rusty latch clangs loose. And amid the manure and mud of a rural, open-air sale barn—a place where beef and dairy cattle are auctioned—in Stephenville, Texas, a 1,300-pound cow ambles out of a trailer, belly swaying side to side.
“See that right there?” Wayne Goodman asks, prodding me in the ribs with his elbow. “That’s your steak in motion.”
A slight, spry 60-year-old with fine white hair and robin’s-egg blue eyes, Goodman is like a character straight out of a Western: He catches cattle thieves for a living.
Cow-nabbing is alive and well in Texas, and as one of 30 special rangers with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), Goodman, a former police detective, spends his days tracking down the bad guys (“No gals, really,” he says) who “rustle” cattle from their rightful owners.
“Can I call them rustlers? Do people still do that?” I ask. Goodman grins. “Of course, kid, what else would you call them?”
Stealing cattle in the country’s largest beef-producing state can prove to be highly lucrative—a single cow can go for a grand on the black market, a bull for closer to $3,000—but the penalties are also fierce. In early 2016, a man was sentenced to 30 years in prison (with Goodman’s help) for two counts of first-degree felony cattle theft, and this kind of weighty sentence isn’t uncommon. Working in tandem with local police departments and district attorneys, the special rangers also solve a host of other agriculture-adjacent crimes affecting cattlemen, from stolen saddles to pilfered farming equipment, and recover a whopping $5 million a year on average through their sleuthing. When it comes to bovines (and beyond), they’re the law.
Goodman, who has family in both the dairy- and hog-farming trades, worked for decades to achieve ranger status. The position is a highly coveted one, and for years before being called to duty, Goodman put in an application each time a slot opened up.
Now, he relishes every minute of it. In his eight-county district just south of Fort Worth, Goodman is constantly on call.
Driving past wildflower-dappled fields, he’s working six cases at once, sipping coffee from a thermos and phoning market inspectors and fellow rangers in pursuit of lost steer and cattle-selling con men. Most phone calls end with a fraternal “Alright, Bubba.”
“I got a call from a woman who thinks her six miniature donkeys were stolen,” Goodman says, rolling his eyes. The TSCRA represents more than 50,000 people in ranching and beef production who manage 4 million head of cattle, but it helps out other types of farmers, too. “You can’t give those things away, but she thinks someone took them, so I’m still looking into it. If anything, the coyotes probably got ’em.”
Goodman’s getup is about as Walker, Texas Ranger as it comes. While his ten-gallon hat, official badge, and boots are impressive, it’s the carved leather, double-buckle belt that steals the spotlight. With a monogrammed holster for his 1911-style pistol (also monogrammed) and a handcuff pouch, it’s the Swiss army knife of accessories.
“When a cow goes missing, I go to the sale barns and say, ‘Watch for these types,’ ” he explains. When a cow is branded, it’s much easier to track, though unlike many states, Texas doesn’t require cows to have a brand. “The ranchers we work with mostly aren’t big, monster producers, so when one or two head of cattle are taken, it really hurts them. If you need more insurance to cover your cattle in case of theft, that’s passed down to the consumer and beef prices go up.”
Goodman asks around after the whereabouts of a rogue bull at the sale barn, where an auction is set to take place at noon, and I watch as dozens of wobbly-kneed calves are led into pens, bumping into one another like schoolchildren on a playground.
“See now, this one doesn’t want to come on out,” a barn worker explains about the runt of the bunch, a black-and-white mottled baby hiding from the others. “Here’s what you have to do to get ’em.” He sticks his pinkie into the calf’s mouth, and she immediately latches on as if it were a bottle—happy now, comfortably following the man toward the other calves.
There’s a level of familiarity, almost intimacy, with the cows that comes naturally to everyone involved. Cow-print couches in offices, walls lined with livestock-judging photos, and display cases full of bovine trinkets are committed kitsch. Cow puns are de rigueur. For those in any part of ranching, working with cattle isn’t just a trade, it’s a way of life—one that will be protected for a long time to come, if Goodman has anything to say about it.
“We’re all in this together to make sure our ranchers, and the cows, are protected,” the special ranger says as he waves toward an incoming heifer-hauling Ford F-150. “What job could be better than this?”
How to eat and drink the best of Ishikawa—and where to buy it even if you can't make the trip
If you love Japanese food, you should know about Ishikawa. A few hours away from Tokyo by bullet train, it’s a lush coastal prefecture where mountains, and farmland meet the Sea of Japan. Those microclimates produce a bounty of ingredients—sea urchin harvested by ama (a long tradition of female divers), rare herbs and mushrooms from the mountains, rice grown in terraced fields framed by snowy peaks. And shokunin (lifelong craftspeople) transform raw materials into sake, fish sauce, and sophisticated ingredients.
Kanazawa, Ishikawa’s most cosmopolitan and best-known city where the train from Tokyo will deposit you, displays local cuisine and crafts at their most refined (it’s one of the few cities in Japan where tea ceremony still holds a strong place in the culture). You can find most of the region’s best things to eat without even leaving Kanazawa Station: the underground souvenir hall sells an embarrassment of riches, from delicate sweets to giant dried fish. Venture a little south to the mountainous hot spring villages of Kaga to pick up local sake and wooden cups (a craft called Yamanaka shikki) to drink it from. If you’re really dedicated, you’ll rent a car to explore the Noto Peninsula, where culinary traditions developed in isolation and remained nearly untouched, even as the rest of the country has sped towards modernization and convenience.
This is the tranquil tradition-rich Japan we idealize, but that’s increasingly hard to find.
You shouldn’t try to take home the winter snow crab that draws gastrotourists from all over Japan, or the 15 colorful designated regional vegetables harvested in Kaga (I did once, unsuccessfully, attempt to smuggle back a bunch of incredibly fragrant mountain mint), but there lots of edible souvenirs that will pack neatly in your suitcase (or ship to your door). Here are some culinary treasures to keep an eye out for.
Japan’s finest fish sauce is made from cuttlefish innards (or sardines) and fermented in ancient wooden vats for one to three years until it mellows into a deeply savory seasoning. It’s less sharp and bright than its Southeast Asian analog, more meaty and earthy, faintly smoky. After that long fermentation, the sauce is concentrated by simmering over a wood fire and clarified by filtering. A tiny bottle of this potent stuff will last you a year, dashed into soups and sauces—anything you’d add fish sauce or anchovy to—for depth and complexity. The most famous use is probably ishiri nabe, a soup made with dashi, squid, nappa cabbage, and other vegetables.
Eaters the world over have begged Flatt’s, a small inn that brews cuttlefish ishiri according to an old family recipe, to ship the stuff abroad, but you’ll still have to go to Noto to get it. In Wajima (the most popular/accessible destination in Noto) you’ll see ishiri (also called ishiru)—in the fish market that’s made with sardines and/or mackeral, or a combination of fish and cuttlefish innards. It has a slightly lighter flavor; the cuttlefish stuff has the highest amount of amino acids (aka umami) of any fish sauce in the world.
Outside Noto, where roadside souvenir stands and food markets sell an assortment, ishiri is hard to find even in Japan. Japanese grocers in the U.S. often sell shottsuru, a more common Japanese fish sauce. There’s at least one ishiri seller on Amazon, and Mutual Trading Company in New York carries some.
Noto’s salt is considered by many chefs to be the best in the world. A drive along the narrow coastal highway through Suzu, at the far tip of Noto peninsula, is a journey through the history of sea salt making. A tiny museum offers salt flavored ice cream (the reason your author pulled over) and concise exhibits about the industry’s progression through the ages. As you drive past various producers you can see the methods in action from historic terraced sand fields, where seawater is raked across until syrupy and the strained and crystallized over a fire, to thoroughly modern factories, and all manner in between.
Shinkai (recommended by Ben Flatt, the chef at Flatt’s) uses a mixture of traditional and modern methods to produce large flaky crystals favored by chefs, and well, anyone with eyes and tastebuds who has the luxury of enjoying good salt. A quick tour of their factory, where cauldrons of concentrated sea water boil over wood fires, is itself worth a trip to this remote peninsula (you can also buy their nigari, the liquid minerals drained from the salt, which is used as the coagulant in tofu making). But if you don’t venture that far, you can find Noto salt all over Ishikawa (as well as salt soda, candy, etc), and via some badly translated links on Amazon, or at an exorbitant price (still cheaper than a flight to Japan) from The Meadow.
Imagine a tea that tickles your nose with grassy, toasty steam, then mellows into a faintly sweet roasted nutty flavor as you sip. That’s the special tea of the region, a perfect example of how Kaga excels in making ordinary material into extraordinary products. Kukicha or boucha—twig tea—is sometimes thought of as a common (in the derogatory and/or proletariat sense) because it’s made from the stems of the camellia sinensis shrub rather than its prized leaves. But in Kaga this tea is refined it into an brew fit for an emperor—to the point that producers now cultivate the plants specifically for quality stems.
The story goes that Emperor Showa (who reigned from 1926-1989) prefered hojicha (roasted green tea), and the first Kaga boucha was prepared for him by Maruhachi tea company during his 1983 visit to Kanazawa. Since then, it’s become a specialty of the region.
Because it’s roasted, kaga boucha is richly nutty and fragrant, yet it’s mellow enough to drink with anything—sweet or savory—or all on its own (it’s easy on the stomach and lower in caffeine than standard green tea). My favorite way is to make ochazuke at the end of a meal: pour it over a bowl of rice with an umeboshi (salty pickled plum) and mix it up into a savory porridge. I got used to drinking it daily while staying in Kaga, and brought back four large packages for gifts; I have to confess, feeling nostalgic I drank up three of them myself.
If you’re passing through Kanazawa Station, stop by Maruhachi’s counter in the Anto souvenir market for brewed or packaged tea. (You’ll also see this tea in any Kanazawa or Kaga gift shop worth its salt.) Can’t get to Japan? Try ordering from Lupicia. If you’re a DIYer, you can toast green kukicha in a dry pan (as you would spices) just until it turns golden-to-reddish brown, making a tasty approximation, and filling your house with the perfume of toasted tea.
Ishikawa Sake: I’m Biased, but it Really is the Best
It seems all but the southernmost regions of Japan (where shochu is the thing) claim sake as a prized product. I’m biased towards Ishikawa, because that’s where I developed my palate for Japanese drinks apprenticing in a small but respected sake bar. It turns out, lots of other people also think this sake is especially good. Ishikawa has the combination of cool winters, good water, and good rice (historically, though now it’s brought in from all over Japan to supplement what each brewery grows in the off-season) that make for good sake.
My favorite brewery (again, I’m biased because of a personal connection, but sake expert John Gauntner lists it as a favorite too) is Shishi no Sato. In spite of pleas from exporters, they refuse to distribute outside Japan—in fact, you’ll seldom see it outside Kaga, where they extract their water from the mountainside under Ioji buddhist temple. But, you’re in luck! My other favorites, Tedorigawa (featured in the documentary The Birth of Sake) and Tengumai, are in sake shops, restaurants and Japanese supermarkets around the US (distribution varies by state).
You have to drive through mountains and across deserts, but the drinks at the White Buffalo Bar in the tiny town of Marathon are worth the journey
Margaritas flow like water in Texas. Some are delicious and refreshing; others gross and hangover-inducing. And there are plenty of signs outside bars trying to convince you they have “the best margarita in the state.” Drinker beware: most are not as advertised.
From decades of living in and traveling around Texas, I've found the best are often where you least expect them. And my personal favorite—don't hate me—comes from the White Buffalo Bar at the Gage Hotel in the tiny town of Marathon.
Over in far west Texas, just north of Big Bend National Park, Marathon is one-horse town so small it doesn't have a single traffic light. But the Gage, which dates back to 1927, is making margaritas that meet any modern standard for greatness.
This corner of Texas is almost otherworldly in its beauty: remote and grandiose, dry and jagged, intimate and enormous all at once. “The stars at night are big and bright” only makes sense once you’ve seen the night sky in West Texas. The first time I saw this part of the state was on a road trip I took with my brother, who was more familiar with the area. So of course, he took me to the White Buffalo and ordered me their house margarita, which was limey and tart and mildly sweet and salty and just the right amount of boozy. Of course I quickly ordered a second. Okay, then a third. Fresh and bright with lots of lime, rounded out by the gentle hum of orange liqueur, and built on a base of fruity, funky blanco tequila, the drinks were pretty close to perfect.
I've never stopped thinking about that trip, and that margarita; it became a kind of legend for me. And on a recent trip around the Texas-Mexico border, I had a chance to stop by the Gage for another drink.
Was it as good as I remembered? Absolutely.
Welcome to Boquillas del Carmen, population 300, that you visit by rowboat across the Rio Grande—unless Washington's border policies change everything (again)
The best way to cross the border to Boquillas del Carmen is aboard the Boquillas International Ferry—a $5 round-trip rowboat ride. A village of about 300, Boquillas is on the south side of the Rio Grande, nestled inside Big Bend National Park, which straddles the Mexican-American border. There are signs at border control discouraging swimming, but some tourists wade through the green water on hot days.
After September 11, the crossing here closed. Until then, this stretch of border had always been fluid, devoid of checkpoints. Tourists seeking tacos at the town’s single restaurant and tequila at its only bar entered freely, and Boquillas residents could run errands in Rio Grande Village (the nearest Mexican town, Santa Rosa de Múzquiz, is 160 miles away). When the United States sealed this corridor, Boquillas, which depended almost solely on American tourism, changed overnight.
The town’s original restaurant, José Falcon’s, opened in 1973. When its owner and namesake died in 2000, his wife, Ofelia, and daughter Lilia took over, serving a small menu of tacos and burritos made with this region’s ubiquitous chewy, fresh tortillas filled with meat, cheese, green salsa, and the occasional diced tomato or potato.
At Falcon’s, locally made beaded jewelry and painted ceramic bowls are for sale, and tables are draped in hues of blue. A framed, weathered photo of José hangs over the cash register. Lilia watches her daughters take orders. Nearly every table is full, and residents reminisce about crossing without security, and the propane trucks that would arrive daily to power refrigerators keeping their beers cold.
“When the border closed, I remember seeing my mom pack the blankets and onyx figures that she and my dad sold here,” Lilia says. “It’s still very hard to think about that day.”
She was no longer able to cross into the U.S. to buy ingredients, and her American customers disappeared. Eventually the restaurant closed, and for 11 years, the town was suspended in a sort of limbo. Its 50 families dwindled to four. Some went to Santa Rosa de Múzquiz to the southeast, and others left for the U.S. to look for work. They didn’t know when, if ever, the border would reopen.
But in 2013 it did, and Lilia’s staff was ready. The work still isn’t easy—once a week she makes the 160-mile drive on a dirt road to Múzquiz to buy basics like eggs and soap—and the present border fluidity feels precarious, but for now, the town has settled back into its routine.
Families have returned, and just past the bar, the church, and a few brightly colored homes, a small garden of solar panels has been installed. Financed by the World Bank in 2015, the panels introduced permanent electricity to Boquillas, allowing the Falcons to run a refrigerator for the first time without propane.
At Park Bar, a Spanish singer croons over crackly speakers and bartender Miguel Valdez chats with customers. Valdez is one of the town’s two ambulance drivers. The town judge is the other.
“Everybody who left started to return, and the town came back to life,” Max, a Boquillas resident, recalls. “Kids born when the border was closed were shocked by the newcomers in their tiny town. They had never seen a gringo before.”
The future is still uncertain, though. Max, like other locals, is worried about the border closing again. “If it does happen, everyone will leave,” he says. “Our economy is tourism.”
More Scenes From Boquillas
Come hamsi season, as they're called in Turkish, the silvery, sweet fish are everywhere on the northern coast
On a bright, brittle January morning in Sinop, Turkey, fishmonger Mert Kanal barked into a headset, “Where are the hamsi?!” Agitated customers milled outside his family’s fish shop and restaurant, Okyanus Balik Evi. They weren’t waiting for the shimmering blue-striped bonito, pink mullet, or gargantuan flounders heaped on the restaurant’s tables. They wanted hamsi—anchovies from the Black Sea that Turks call “the prince of fishes.”
Most mornings between October and February, commercial trawlers on this part of the coast disgorge hills of anchovies at the pier. But for almost a week, violent squalls had prevented them from docking. The previous night, the skies had finally cleared. The big boats were back, and crews worked feverishly, loading crates into refrigerated trucks. Sinop residents wanted their share of the catch—and so did I.
“Hamsi are best when the snow falls on the sea,” Kanal said. This is because the fish develop an extra-thick layer of fat in frigid water. I first met Kanal in front of his shop on my initial visit in 2011 (I have made the pilgrimage for hamsi most years since). “I’ve come to eat anchovies,” I told him, and two hours later I watched as Kanal and his colleagues prepared hamsi tava—anchovies coated in corn flour and fried—in a skillet set atop a single gas canister. They were crackly-crunchy outside, firm-fleshed within, briny like the sea from which they’d just been scooped.
Anchovies are a lifeblood on the Black Sea, employing thousands of idle off-season workers from farms and hazelnut orchards annually. And the fish are an indelible part of local culture: They are said to have inspired the twitchy upper-body movements of a Pontic Greek Black Sea folk dance called the horon. During the season, they’re eaten as many times a day as the supply will allow, and in all sorts of ways—grilled, fried, poached, stewed, stuffed, baked into breads, or piled into pilafs.
So it’s been for centuries. Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi visited the Black Sea in the 15th century and described fishmongers announcing the arrival of a catch by blowing trumpets: “By God’s dispensation, if people praying in the mosque hear it, they will immediately leave their prayer and come running for the hamsi.”
In late autumn of 2011, the catch was so thick that an industrial grinder was brought to Sinop’s pier to turn the fish into fertilizer on the spot. But the next year, warm waters and a surfeit of bonito, which prey on young anchovies, made for a dismal catch. Many fishmongers, Kanal included, were reduced to selling inferior specimens from the Sea of Marmara, inland waters that connect the Aegean to the Black Sea.
Perhaps it’s the disappointing seasons that make anchovies so beloved. “Hamsi is not a fish. Hamsi is hamsi,” say Black Sea dwellers, as explanation for their obsession. As for me, I’ll continue to make the trek as often as I can, no matter the size of the catch.
Saveur’s resident Scandiphile eats and drinks his way through Copenhagen in search of cultural transformation
“What is a good kiss?”
Chef Bo Bech and I are sitting on the canal-side patio of his restaurant Geist talking about what makes a Dane a Dane. He’s greeted me with a steady gaze that makes me feel, too much so, seen. I’ve met him for drinks (lemon-thyme cocktails—he’s decided for us both) so he can help me understand what it is that makes his fellow countrypeople tick.
I travel a lot, but I keep coming back to Denmark. On each trip I’ve noted and envied the invincibly chill vibes of this fine city, and each time I’ve returned home with arms full of asymmetric T-shirts and clean-lined ceramics hoping to infuse my New York life with some semblance of Nordic order and ease.
This time, I explain to Bo, I want more. I’m back in town with the earnest, specific (and probably impossible) goal of going native, of turning myself into a Dane.
What this has to do with kissing I don’t know—but Bo is studying my face, waiting for a reply.
No teeth? Good breath?
“What is a good kiss?” Bo asks again, resolutely unmoved by my attempts to solve his riddle.
When you just know?
Bo nods. It’s thoughtless, organic. Natural. It’s his way of explaining the state of being Danish.
“To be Danish,” Bo says, “is to be present. To go with the flow. Go explore! When I go somewhere, I want an authentic, emotional, punishing experience. I want a fist in the face.”
I do not want a fist in my face, but I see his point. Lesson one: Have a wide open mind.
It’s worth noting that Bo is not a typical Dane (or human for that matter). People here are, stereotypically, humble to a fault. Bo starred in a reality cooking show that loosely translates as “Knife to the Throat.” He’s been called a Danish Gordon Ramsay. I’d liken him more to Oprah if Oprah were a fierce advocate for self-actualization and public urination. But he embodies the Scandinavian ethos of absolute candor—zero patience for idle chatter. He cuts to the chase with a directness that borders on violence.
“So, what have you planned to do this week?” Bo asks, stroking his beard, turning his attention to my concrete efforts.
“Well, to be honest—”
“No!” Bo snaps. “That! That was not Danish. We do not say ‘To be honest’ in Denmark! What you just told me is ‘Oh, now I will begin being honest.’ To be Danish is to not be afraid of saying exactly what is happening at any moment, with elegance and wit.”
I ask Bo how to shake the feeling that I’m a self-conscious visitor passing through a foreign land—how to, instead, feel I belong.
“Do you ever Instagram certain obligatory places or dishes to prove you’ve properly ‘done’ somewhere? I know it’s bullshit but—”
“Andrew! What is this thing you have, this real you and this other you?” Bo asks. “The way you live—you are in danger.”
A bit embarrassed, I ask to be excused, to go to the bathroom “real quick.”
“You can also do it real slow!” he shouts as I walk away.
What is it about traveling that inspires us to become other people? We take home these habits and traditions like souvenirs.
Maybe you’ve gone to Paris and picked up an ironic shrug, a taste for andouillette, and reflexively contrarian views. Or returned from Italy with a tendency for daily spritzes and exaggerated gesticulation.
For me, Denmark’s mind-expanding food and eerily serene design has always been a draw but my love can be traced to this one moment: Out one night at 5 a.m., well after the summer sun had tapped the horizon and drifted back into the sky, I witnessed a band of locals peel off their clothes, let out giggles and roars, and dive into a canal. What fantastic freedom! I thought. To have a perfectly logical drunken whim that wasn’t thwarted by modesty or the absence of towels or a fear of mutant waterborne diseases. I jumped in, too.
To wade into the current of real life here, I’ll need to remember how to ride a bicycle. Fifty percent of Copenhagen residents get to work on two wheels. Instead of renting one, Bo had implored me to buy one (“You will not truly care for it if you don’t own it—I can already tell you are not going to do this”), so I wander into one of the many bicycle shops in Nørrebro, a neighborhood known as much for Turkish kebab joints as stylish bars and canteens. I try to explain to Abdullah, the store owner, why I want to purchase this Scandinavian-gray fellow in the window for my seven-day stay.
“I do not understand what you are trying to say,” he says.
“I want to feel like the bike is truly mine,” I explain.
“But this makes absolutely no sense!” he says. “I cannot allow this. You will rent the bike.”
Worn down by sensible demands, I hand over the money and ride off.
Merging into Copenhagen’s wide, cerulean bike lanes is a trust fall of sorts, especially when the sky is spitting hail, as it is this afternoon. I wobble into a procession of speedy locals and do this move where my front wheel skims the curb, my bike skids to a halt, and I skip along on one foot in search of my balance. A woman in high heels breezes by while lighting a cigarette with both hands.
Eventually, I catch a rhythm in the right-hand slow lane. When you move through the city by bike, it opens up. Pedaling anywhere is twice as fast as a cab, bus, or metro, plus you’ve got the added thrill of moving among locals in the way that locals prefer to move.
It’s Friday, late afternoon, and I’m heading down the central drag of Gothersgade with no particular destination in mind. I take a right at the King’s Garden and point my three-speed Cykelstad toward the first place in the city that really charmed me, Ved Stranden 10, a waterfront wine bar that sits opposite Christiansborg Palace.
As the Danish welfare system has attempted to organize happiness, Ved Stranden 10’s owners Christian Nedergaard and Sebastian Rind Nellemann have attempted to organize another unorganizable state: spontaneity. Situated in what looks like a minimally decorated living room, their wine bar has no list. All that stands between you and the cellar’s thousand or so bottles is a conversation with another person, one trained in the art of wine matchmaking.
“I wanted to create a space where I and other people could function as humans,” says Nedergaard, who served in the Danish army before getting into hospitality. “I don’t hire drones—I hire people with a certain empathy.”
It’s a common complaint that Denmark has chilly service, but I’d wager no one who’s said that has been greeted by Alisa, whose presence is warm and serene. She leads me to a communal table and asks what I’m in the mood for.
I usually, thoughtlessly, fall back on a few preferred varietals and can’t remember the last time I’d considered how wine can mirror your emotions in a particular place and time. Challenge me, I say. I’m open to lots of weird things that aren’t a heavy red.
“Oh, I wasn’t thinking of red for you anyways,” she assures me.
Alisa returns with two bottles: a white that tastes like burgundy but is actually from the Loire and an Austrian pétillant naturel—both pretty but not quite right for whatever mood I’m working to feed. In New York, I’d feel so awful someone had spent 5 minutes rooting around to find something I liked that I would have just faked loving one. In the spirit of Danishness, I pass on both, in a direct and friendly manner. She seems delighted and promptly returns with a third: a viscous, briny, oxidized rosé from a Greek producer, Ligas. It’s bizarre and perfect.
Later, after a tall pour of chalky sancerre made by Sébastien Riffault, whose vineyard Alisa once worked on, I’m buzzed and my phone is nearly dead. It’s 5 p.m. and the bar begins filling up with locals whose precise 37.5-hour work weeks have come to an end. A rowdy group of four joins my table and orders a bottle of pinot noir. Sayeh, one of my new tablemates, a glamorous, self-possessed, shoulder-padded doctor who could have starred in Dynasty, leans over and cracks a joke, in dansk. “Oh, you’re not Danish!” she says.
“Well, 20 percent if you believe a website I mailed my spit to.”
“Oh, she did one of those, too,” her friend Henrik says. “Watch out! She is Russian.”
Before I can refuse the offer, they’ve poured me a glass of their wine.
Where French and Germans cheers to your health, Scandinavians literally yell “skull”—as in pass me the skull of the human we just scalped, the skull that, in Viking times, would have spilled mead between hands. The no-nonsense thing runs deep.
Sayeh’s group invites me to join them for dinner next door. “Come, you’re going with us,” they say while handing me my jacket. I’ve learned there’s not much use in arguing with one, let alone four, resolute Danes. So I go with the flow.
We settle the bill and walk across the street to Christian Nedergaard’s second act, the new Japanese-inflected Admiralgade 26. There, we guzzle plenty more wine, including an orange so coppery and savory it reminds me of a soothing broth, and eat beef tartare and charred leeks blanketed in pecorino.
I’ve spent a lot of time traveling alone and am a fan of eating whatever, wherever, whenever I want. But you know what you can’t do by yourself? Take a heaping bite of delicate lumpfish roe—a short-lived springtime darling that is to Copenhagen what ramps are to the Eastern United States—and turn to another soul, spoon in hand, to affirm your ecstatic delight. Shared food tastes the same as solo food with the added benefit of drawing you closer to other people.
We part ways around midnight but not before they point out, aha!, I’ve got a bike made for women, which, as it turns out, is a very postmodern Scandinavian move. I proudly ride my misgendered bike home. As I pass over Queen Louise’s Bridge, the city lights glitter in the still lakes and a digital monitor clicks. I’m counted among the 27,893 Danes who’ve crossed today.
“Picture an American entering a room,” Kristoffer Albris says, sitting under mismatched curtains and a mounted transistor radio at a bohemian café in the inner city that he has rightly suspected would remind me of New York’s East Village. “They would probably greet someone and proceed with skillful small talk.”
Small talk, like smiling at strangers, is one of the Americanisms I’ll need to shed if I’m going to succeed in my quest to become Danish.
Albris, an even-tempered anthropologist who teaches Danish culture classes at the University of Copenhagen, says Danes don’t have the same switches for casual conversation. “A Dane might feel as if they’re placing a burden on someone to enter into a relationship they didn’t ask for.”
It’s a radical degree of consideration that relates to a national Ten Commandments of sorts. The Law of Jante, as it’s known, boils down to this: Us before You. It’s the opposite of individualism, and while it’s a weak doctrine today in modern cities like Copenhagen, its presence still lingers everywhere.
Later that afternoon, I get some real-life lessons in the Law of Jante while indulging in a peak Danish fantasy: baking lowercase-D danishes, with Danish people, at prolific restaurateur Claus Meyer’s cooking school.
I’m early to class and find a seat at a table with a selection of breads, local cheeses, and beers from nearby brewery Nørrebro Bryghus. Slowly, my 15 other classmates trickle in, all in duos except for one other solo guy at the opposite end of the table. It’s like the first day of school except that here there are no handshakes, no hellos. It’s as though we are a room full of ghosts who can’t see one another. I, lonely ghost in the corner, spread blue cheese on a crusty roll in silence.
Our instructor, in a white uniform and severe platinum hair, arrives. “Hej studerende,” she begins.
I’ve been warned the class would be in Danish but, American privilege, assumed there would be some occasional English-translation sidebars. There are not. Remembering us before me, I keep quiet. At points I even nod—Brød? Hell yeah, we’re making brød!—and, for a brief moment, feel like one of them, too. Until we begin the clockwise introductions: Agnes, Kasper, Christina…
“Hej hej!” I say, savoring my last moment in hiding. “My name’s Andrew, and I have no clue what just happened for the last 20 minutes.”
Yes, there is laughter but also sounds of pure shock. The woman next to me moans and grips her chest. “Why would you do that to us!” She feels terrible I’ve not known what’s going on, and I feel terrible that she feels terrible. Finally a young woman named Benni speaks up: “Don’t worry! We will help you!”
Benni, her friend Sophie, and the other solo baker, Tonni, volunteer to take me under their wing: “Team NY,” Tonni says with a sweet grin. We tie on aprons while the teacher begins a demonstration.
“She’s just telling us to make a basic pastry dough,” Tonni translates. “I’ve made it before and can walk you through it.” We’ll be using the dough to make frøsnapper, poppy-seed twists that have a hint of marzipan but are savory enough, I’m told, to fall under the “breakfast danish” species.
The presentation ends and the other groups sprint to the mixers, frantically cracking eggs and measuring flour. At one point, a woman holding a bowl weaves between stations and shouts “Corner!” “Jesus, I don’t know what they’re in such a rush for!” Benni says, passing me a lager. “We’re not on the Great Danish Bake Off.” (It really exists.) Unlike anything else named after New York, our team moves at a mellow pace. We alternate mixing, kneading, laminating, and chilling the dough with Tonni’s guidance.
I ask Benni if these classes are popular and she shrugs.
“Not really. We just thought it would be fun to do as friends,” she says, as Sophie Snapchats her pounding chilled butter into the dough. “Here, you try. It’s fun,” she says, handing me a rolling pin.
I give it a few whacks. Tonni then shows me how to fold the dough in thirds. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a team of any kind that, with so little negotiation, took such equal turns. When the twists eventually emerge from the oven, we enjoy them, our little quad, in the corner.
Before I leave, the woman I nearly sent into cardiac arrest looks my way, flour rimming her brow, and ekes out something like a smile. I make the same pained face back since I haven’t learned the word for sorry.
Before leaving for Copenhagen, I explained my mission to Ambassador Anne Dorte Riggelsen, Consul General of Denmark in New York. In the gentlest of terms, the ambassador informed me that I had failed before I even began. “I love that Americans have such a playfulness with identity,” she said. “But Danes, we have a strong sense of who we are.”
Though full assimilation would be impossible, she did have some useful, easy-to-follow advice for me.
“Danes are storytellers,” she said. “While you’re visiting our beautiful restaurants, ask ‘What are they trying to say?’ You’ll understand something about us.”
I eat my way through town with open ears.
At Geist, biting into coffee-braised shiitake mushrooms sprinkled with cashews and an assertive wasabi toffee and cream dessert, I can almost hear Bo Bech proclaim: To be Danish is to be curious and bold! Christian Puglisi’s religiously organic Bæst shows me that the story of pizza is not complete. There are still new things to be done, like top blistered pies with preserved pine and housemade ’nduja using Denmark’s exceptional pork. Palægade, a wildly popular new spot for smørrebrød, tells me that the city’s cool kids aren’t too cool for gnarly throwbacks, like towering open-face sandwiches of stinky cheese, raw onion, veal gelatin, and sprinkles of rum. At the popular brunch spot Møller in cool-kid zone Nørrebro, I find there’s no line to order. Instead, I observe a crowd slowly approach the register, one by one, in the order in which they arrived, according to some mysterious system. My silent number is called and I ask for a bowl of øllebrød, a porridge made of dark rye bread crumbs and beer, which doesn’t speak back but does taste delicious, like richer, tangier oatmeal.
One evening, I meet an expat friend, Lisa, a professor and food writer, at the opening party of Apollo, a new restaurant housed in a majestic fortress that faces a row of Crayola-colored townhouses. The chef is Frederik Bille Brahe, whose meatless Atelier September is a hit with the fashion set and René Redzepi alike. There’s no guest list or bouncer tonight, just an open gate welcoming whoever wants to wander in. And an open bar serving natural rosé.
Lisa, it turns out, is friends with Alisa from Ved Stranden 10, who gives me a familiar hug. I’m reminded of a friend of a friend in New York whom I’ve met no less than seven times but who still pretends we’re perfect strangers.
Things Danish People Like
The Read: British writer Michael Booth loved Denmark so much, he wrote The Almost Nearly Perfect People, an ode to the Danish good life. Spoiler alert: He moved there.
The Block: On Jægersborggade, one short but mighty street, you can buy handmade ceramics from Danish artisans at Vanishing Point, pick up a cup of single-origin pour-over from Coffee Collective, and dine on stellar beef tartare and veggie-friendly plates at Manfreds.
The Reservation: Located by a harbor in the heart of the city, Bo Bech’s Geist has a delightfully surprising menu that marries left-field ingredients. Don’t miss the coffee-and-cashew shiitakes.
The Hotel: At SP34, the suites look like a modern Scandinavian design store’s showroom; the breakfast of Danish breads, meats, and cheeses is painstakingly organic; and the central location is an ideal jumping-off point to the city.
The Perfect Picnic: Start at Torvehallerne. Browse the kaleidoscopic wall of offbeat local beers at Mikkeller, grab rosemary Danish hot dogs at Pølse Kompagniet, and pick up local fruit like currants from the produce stands. Then enjoy them by the lakes under Queen Louise’s Bridge.
The Wine Bar: Wine bar Ved Stranden 10 has no list. In a space that feels as intimate and spare as a Dane’s home, wine-obsessed servers assess the tastes of guests and unearth rare natural wines from a thousand-plus-bottle archive.
The Local Gem: On a quiet alley in the city’s Meatpacking District, Spisehuset serves a nightly tasting menu of modernized Danish comfort food that incorporates the season’s best produce.
“I was actually watching the door and didn’t guess that you would be the American,” Klaus Thomsen says, when we meet at the airy, industrial Frederiksberg outpost of his Coffee Collective, which brews distinctive beans that have been traded directly with their producers.
Entering a room in the Danish way means doing the opposite of making an entrance. Trying to acclimate to local custom, I’d walked into the coffee shop gazing down, attempting invisibility, and approached the barista asking for Klaus in a decibel range that was potentially inaudible.
Apparently it worked.
“You seem to be naturally…” Klaus says, but stops short of saying it. “I sense you understand the Danish mentality.”
Shyness, he means, a quality we both share if we’re being perfectly honest, which we are. Klaus may just be the most Danish Dane I’ve met so far. He’s remarkably earnest, self-assured, and infectiously humble.
We talk about coffee (the Danish sweet spot is around 4 p.m.) and the ubiquity of sustainable foods (available even at the most basic of convenience stores) before he shatters a fantasy of mine. No, locals don’t get off work early and casually dine on nasturtium and buckthorn. He believes the most Danish thing one can do in the capital of New Nordic cuisine is actually to eat at home.
“I dine out maybe once a month, but I know people who go out just once a year,” he tells me. “We eat in with loved ones here. Our homes are our nests.”
As it happens, I’ll have a chance this evening to observe life in the Danish nest. On my first night in town, I’d met a guy, Anders. This wasn’t on the syllabus. It just happened. And it was the sort of meeting that would usually be a one-night kind of thing but has grown to become a five-night kind of thing, which is to say I dig him, a lot. I find him refreshing. Unlike American guys, I don’t have to read tea leaves to understand what he means. He’s invited me to dine with his friends because he wants me there.
I pick up a bottle of wine, head to Anders’ apartment for dinner, and am greeted by a kiss and a pile of shoes by the door. Anders and I are both journalists. My circle of friends is 75 percent media. His, I’ve noticed, includes off-duty drag queens, members of parliament, and standing in his kitchen now, Max, a German psychology student, and James, a Canadian expat and dancer in the Royal Danish Ballet. This chromatic assortment makes me wonder how many connections I’ve passively declined over the years.
We pour wine and migrate to the dining room, which is lit with a constellation of candles. The table is set for tonight’s feast: a roasted root vegetable salad of parsnips, beets, and carrots; chickpea frikadeller (pan-fried meatballs); and a lactose-free tiramisu that Anders requested Max make after observing me, lactose-tolerant human, order a soy milk in my coffee the day before. I apologize for the consequences of my silly American affectation.
“Oh, it is okay,” Max says. “I had to add a little cream to it anyways.”
We laugh, skål, and take turns gathering food.
James asks me about my baking class and I explain it went well—besides the part where I sat at a table with 15 strangers for half an hour who didn’t say a word to me.
“This is not normal,” says Anders.
“Oh my god! No, this is the most Danish thing ever,” argues James, who’s spent nearly a decade in the city. “You’re not even supposed to smile at children here!”
“You are not supposed to smile at the children?” Max asks.
“No! It violates the Danish bubble.”
To Anders’ credit, I’m not sure he lives under the same bubble. Just as some Americans are trilingual with low cholesterol, Anders jokes with strangers and makes first moves on first dates. A lot has been written over the past year about hygge, the untranslatable feeling of comfort that Danes cultivate in their homes (which is perhaps better understood by its antonym, uhygge, abject horror). But as the candles burn, and a Nordic R&B singer coos, and Anders grabs my hand under the table for the entirety of our shared meal, I approach an understanding.
“There’s this theory in social science about the front and the back stage,” Kristoffer Albris, the anthropologist, had told me when we met. The front stage, he explained, is the person you aspire to be. The back stage is your true self. I sometimes find the distance between these two exhausting.
“Ah! This is probably why you aspire to be Danish,” he said. “The gap between the front stage and back stage—it’s short here. Perhaps the most offensive act in Denmark is to behave inauthentically.”
It reminds me of my attraction to Anders. This curly-haired Dane, who butters his croissants and holds the most startling eye contact, isn’t bogged down by the tyrannical irony I struggle to evade. He seems profoundly himself. Being with him feels as effortless as being alone.
Before I leave, we spend one perfect day together, which begins with breakfast.
“Don’t forget the candles!” Anders yells from the kitchen.
“For any Danish meal!” I poke around and discover a cabinet full of candles. I light one and then two and then, why not, three. Anders emerges from the kitchen with an expectant smile.
“Try this,” he says, feeding me a piece of toasted rye slathered in butter and piled with razor-thin sheets of chocolate called Kæmpe. “Every Dane eats these as a kid.”
And I get it: the slick of good cultured butter, the ghostly sweet chocolate, the comfort of this hearty, sensible, altogether familiar bread. What’s not to like? Eating it by candlelight at breakfast, I experience an easy equilibrium, an absentminded contentedness that’s maybe, humbly, just a little bit Danish.
How to Eat Like A Dane
Reporting by Stacy Adimando
The wheels on the bus go yum, yum, yum
We may be used to seeing burgers and fries on school lunch trays in America, but elsewhere around the world, the mid-day meal looks a little different. From Asia to Europe, where the EU is funding a large-scale program to provide more nutritious meals, school lunches are as diverse as the cuisines of their nations and the students who eat them. Take, for example, Germany, where the average student might eat German staples like sausage, potato and some veggies, or Vietnam, where lunch consists of rice, leafy greens, and pork or even a noodle soup. Of course, there's no one school lunch for each country—who remembers pizza day at school?—, but we've rounded up a few examples of what types of foods students across the world might eat on any given day.
The United States
No surprises here.
While many schools in Germany finish classes before lunchtime, an average school lunch might consist of potato salad and some type of sausage, or wurst. Fresh fruit and vegetables are some healthy sides. Other options could consist of traditional main dishes like fried fish with potatoes, stuffed potato pockets or potato pancakes, or pasta.
In Argentina and other South American countries, school usually begins and ends before or after lunch. Many children eat at home, but for those who have school lunch, a European-influenced Latin arrangement of breaded meat with starch and vegetables is typical for an average school lunch.
This spread of cucumber-tomato salad, veal marinated with mushrooms, broccoli, cheese, and an apple tart is definitely not what Americans are eating. This looks like something out of our France issue. It's no surprise though, considering France's respect for the long, leisurely lunch, that French children would learn from an early age.
South Korean schoolchildren typically enjoy a balanced lunch that incorporates a soup element, noodles, meat, kimchi, and maybe an egg dish such as pajeon (scallion pancakes). It seems like it’s working—a whopping 93 percent of students graduate high school in South Korea, almost 25 percent more than the United States.
School lunch in Madrid is balanced and delightful. This one comes with eggs, vegetable soup, and a banana yogurt. Banana yogurt makes sure that kids get a serving of fruit before siesta.
The Finns take their health seriously, with vegetables covering half of the average school lunch plate. Fish or other meat share the other half of the plate with some grain, usually potatoes or pasta. Berries come last for a nutritious dessert.
In rural Vietnam, students often go home for lunch. At schools where there is an on-site kitchen, lunch can range from rice with leafy greens and meat to a noodle soup, such as this mi Quang, a pork dish native to central Vietnam.
A journey on the Spargelstrasse—Asparagus Road—to find out
In late May, the medieval German town of Nienburg crowned a new asparagus princess in the garden of the Lower Saxony Asparagus Museum. It was the day after the annual asparagus run, and the winners of other local pageants put on party dresses and sashes to welcome the Spargel Prinzessin to their royal court. There was an herb princess in a green skirt, a harvest princess in a floral headdress, and two rhododendron princesses in red gowns. “I can get used to being around so many beautiful women,” the potato prince, who wore a brown suit and was the only male pageant winner, told the emcee.
The asparagus princess, a shy teenager named Nicole Cybin, had an exalted place among her peers: In Germany, Spargel, or white asparagus, reigns supreme among vegetables. Every year the German people eat 140,000 tons of asparagus, nearly all of it the white variety. German farmers devote more land to Spargel than they do to cabbage for sauerkraut. From April until June, you find white asparagus on the menu of nearly every restaurant, prepared almost always the same way: boiled and topped with hollandaise or brown butter, served with a side of boiled peeled potatoes and a plate of sliced ham, smoked salmon, or schnitzel. What is it about this colorless vegetable that drives Germans crazy?
Nienburg is a good place to find out. The town is along the Spargelstrasse, or Asparagus Road, in Lower Saxony, a 460-mile path that grows more asparagus than any other part of Germany and attracts thousands of pilgrims every spring. Nienburg’s attractions include not only the Spargel museum but also a Spargel fountain in the center of town. This year’s Nienburger Spargelfest fell on one of the first warm days of an overdue spring, and sunshine soaked the museum garden so intensely that the shrubs and flowers seemed to bleed around the edges. Attendees sat at picnic tables among old statuary from the House of Hanover. They proclaimed Nienburg Spargel to be the best in Germany and attributed white asparagus’ popularity to its nutrient content, its local cultivation, and the arrival of the harvest with warm weather every spring. Some lauded the beauty of the white stalks, while a German friend noted their undeniable resemblance to a phallus. “That’s why Germans love it so much,” she said. Many people emphasized the vegetable’s delicate and nutty flavor.
And what did the new princess have to say about the national obsession? Cybin wore a pink dress and carried a basket of asparagus, each stalk pale and slender like a bone. She was easy to pick out in her tiara among all the heads of gray hair. I asked her why Germans love white asparagus, but before she could answer my question, a large man from the Consortium of Nienburg Spargel interrupted with a loud and long-winded explanation in German. Cybin translated his monologue into a few tentative words of English: “Asparagus cleans the body and allows the sun to come in.”
Everyone emphasized the healthfulness of Spargel as they mopped butter and hollandaise off their plates. And they praised the simplicity of a vegetable whose cultivation is actually painstaking. Before the party, a farmer named Ernst August Theisinger took me into an asparagus field. He had buried the asparagus plants in mounds of soil, in order to block out the sunlight that would produce chlorophyll and turn them green. He waited two or three years for each asparagus stalk to mature, at which point he and his workers harvested them individually by hand.
His demonstration reminded me that the popular stereotype of German efficiency is not really accurate. What Germans love even more than efficiency is procedure. White asparagus embodies this trait at every step from farm to table. Markets sort white asparagus into different “choices,” like cuts of meat, with the thickest stalks commanding the highest price. And the straightforward boiled preparation of Spargel belies the fact that every stalk of white asparagus must be peeled. The difficulty of this task has allowed Germans to scratch another national itch: the construction of extremely specialized machinery. The German company Hepro manufactures nine different models of asparagus-peeling machines.
It is hard to imagine such a labor-intensive food really catching on in a country as convenience-obsessed as America, where most people would probably rather stick to frankfurters. The thing about Spargel, though, is that it is worth the effort. It tastes like an asparagus grown on a cloud rather than in the soil. It’s less like eating green asparagus and more like fresh lobster: The flesh is wan and tender, the flavor is sweet and subtle, and everything swims in butter. It is a shame white asparagus is not as iconic as other German foods, like wurst and beer. In a better world, the Nienburger Spargel Princess would be as famous as the St. Pauli Girl.