Friday, September 15, 2006

Making the Cut – ‘Foods to Die For’ Meme Items That Didn’t Make It

This is my continuation of a Meme called: ‘5 things you've eaten and think that everyone should eat at least once before they die’, started by Melissa, of The Traveler's Lunchbox. I was selected by Haalo, of ‘Cook (almost) Anything at least once’, to offer my thoughts on the subject. Where upon I promply broke the rules and called mine 'Foods to Die For'. This a special entry of some things that were on the list, but not in the top 5. Item #1 is still to come.

While thinking about the ‘top’ five Foods to Die For, which is a relative thing, and probably would change a bit on any given day, I made up a list. Which I subsequently ‘prioritized’. So, I thought it would be fun to give a brief mention to some things that were on the list, but fell out of the top five spots.

So far, we have:
#5 – The communal sushi experience, three ways (Tokyo, Osaka and Seoul)
#4 – Open air non-touristy food markets
#3 – Steak with all the trimmings at Doe’s Eat Place in Little Rock, Arkansas
#2 – Wines from good vintage years from the Haut-Médoc region of Bordeaux, France
#1 – of course, I’m not going to spill the beans on that just yet!

In my intro, I also mentioned pizza after midnight at Lena’s in Fredonia, NY. As well as Bavarian Weissbier, the national drink of the Free State of Bavaria, enjoyed under giant chestnut trees along the Isar river in Munich.

Other items on the list that didn’t make the top five were:

Blueberry picking in Michigan: In mid-summer, when we lived on the shores of White Lake on the west side of Michigan, just down from Muskegon, in a tiny town called Whitehall, we went ONE TIME, and picked blueberries. Michigan has got to be the blueberry capital of the US. I vaguely remember moving through the short, scrubby bushes on a sweltering day, eating way more than half the berries picked. The main reason it didn’t make the list is just cause the memory is so fuzzy, I can’t really remember any of the emotion associated with the event. So, maybe I just assume it was fun, or maybe I read about other people having fun doing this, and had no actual fun myself. Who would know?

Buying buckets of live crawdads and shrimp along the Mississippi in New Orleans, and taking them home to boil and eat on tables layered with newspaper. Knowing just the right technique for removing the heads, popping out the body meat and consuming as many in as short a time as possible. Hey – it was on the list!

I could probably list a few restaurants in San Francisco over the decades that I liked a lot.

Paris too.

Then there are the roasted chickens at the Lindwurmstueberl restaurant on the Lindwurmstrasse in Munich, Germany. Tears still come to my eyes when I think of all the perfectly grilled chickens and French fries we enjoyed there over the years.

Of course, also in Munich is the world’s greatest open air food market, the Viktualienmarkt, in the center of town. I opted for the open air market in Paris, mainly because it was smaller, more intimate, and such a surprising find. But I went to the Viktualienmarkt with my two kids every Saturday for eight years, leaving at 7 or 7:30 in the morning on my bike, summer and winter, and loading up on amazing things. The kids got a free treat at almost every stand, maybe a pretzel, or a wiener, or a hunk of cheese. I loved it. I think they did too, for the most part. The shops offering 1000 different kinds of sausage, for example, boggles the mind. Or the potato guy, with his 30+ different varieties of potatoes. Sometimes we would get a bowl of soup at the Soup Kitchen, maybe Leberknuedel, or Erbseneintopf mit Wurst. Highly recommended.

Nice (France) has a nice open air food market, as well. Very crowded in the summer, though.

And of course the Biergartens throughout Bavaria. ‘Nuff said!

Or the wonderful hard sausages we bought from the shops all over Italy. In Sardinia, in Sicily, in Milano or Florence. That flavor is unique, intense, and completely addictive. I do not know the names of all the sausages we tried, but they are the hard ones, usually with a sort of whitish papery casing, and often tied with strong twine.

Or maybe being in Tuscany during grape harvesting and wine pressing time. Tasting our way around the tiny villages sitting on top of the hilly landscape. And veal. Tender and delicate, grilled in olive oil. Florence is the veal eating capital of the world.

Or black risotto and spaghetti in Venice, where they flavor the dish with squid ink.

Or just having had the wonderful luck to be able to enjoy 10 years worth of vacations around Italy. Spending weeks in every possible region. Mostly eating. And drinking.

Or the dessert cart that was rolled out to us in a restaurant in Wien (Vienna), Austria. I couldn’t really write about it ‘cause I forgot the name of the restaurant and can’t seem to find any hint of it in all my travel books. But I can say that it was stupendous. Outrageous. Verging on obscene, laden with sweet decadence of every possible sort. You could take a taste of any or all of the items. Whew! They had to pry me out of the restaurant.

Or the equally outrageous sausage cart that was wheeled out at the restaurant ‘D’Chez Eux’ in Paris, piled high with sausages, patês and breads.. Which was rated as a ‘good table’ 20 some years ago, when we tried it.

And Café Latte at any street cafe in Paris anytime in the morning. We had a contest one time to see if we could find the most expensive Café Latte in the city. We gave up a Les Duex Maggots, the ultra-tourist Mecca. It cost a bunch! Of francs, way back then. And it was far from the best (the best was also one of the cheapest!).

I also tried once to find the best baguette in Paris, based on various reviews. That’s worth a day of your life for sure.

A tour of single malt scotch whiskies, whether in Scotland (best!) or at home (with friends) is on the list. Lagavulin 16 year old won.

Aioli in Provence. Maybe served at a bistro on that wonderfully tree-lined street in the center of town.

And just in general, while we’re in Provence, Bourride, that silky smooth fish dish of the south of France, with some Aioli, is something I make every New Year’s eve.

Argmanac is on the list. Along with Calvados. Both of which can be sipped from bottles that are 50 or more years old. For a price!

Appenzell cheese, purchased in the Appenzell region of Switzerland is on the list. They make this stuff in 50 or more varieties. New, aged, aged more, really aged, and so on.

Red currants from Germany. I love love love the huge cardboard baskets of red currents you can buy all over Germany in the summer. Unavailable in SoCal!

Fresh tamales purchased from a roadside stand in Baja Mexico. Sweet corn tamales, green chili tamales, pork tamales, all sorts. Delicious is not a strong enough word. Go for the stands lined with locals. The food is the best and the turn-over is high enough to ensure the food is fresh.

Dropping $1000 at a super hip, super fancy restaurant in Brey, or Montjoi, or even London or Paris, that is rated mega stars. Four plus hours of tongue gymnastics. Flavors and combinations you’ve never dreamed of, with wines to match.

East Tennessee pulled pork BBQ. I didn’t know BBQ till I went to Tennessee. Eastern Tennessee, that is. At the Dixie Barbeque, on Roan Street in Johnson City, for example. Not ribs. But hunks of pork, smoked for hours, and simmered for hours more in their special vinegary BBQ sauces, then the fibers of meat pulled apart and served with additional sauces. Like Dave’s Gourmet Insanity Sauce. I saved a bottle in my fridge for 15 years just on the name alone!

Finally, one of my favorites, but not a food per se, is to experience a foreign culture intimately. So close up that the experience changes your life and lasts for a life time. This happened to me shortly after I moved to Munich. I had been living there for six months. Was learning the language. And was beginning to feel a bit comfortable. And I wanted to try more and more of the local specialties. Like the famous veal sausage ‘Weisswurst’. So one evening, I ordered it. Just like that. We were sitting at a communal table, as is the custom in many restaurants in Munich. The talking stopped. Everyone, and I mean everyone, turned and looked my way. Aghast. The waitress, no lightweight, hiked her foot up on the chair next to me. Set her pad down. I figured she was going to smack me. She declared that she would not be bringing any of these Munich treats, as I had violated seven rules associated with the sausages. Seven! Everyone in the room nodded. Simultaneously. Who knew food could even have so many rules! And that everyone would be in such agreement!

Then she read off the rule violations, one after the other, and the room nodded and gave verbal encouragement to her. Tradition was at stake here!
Rule #1: Weisswurst may not hear the noon church bells. I.e. you don’t’ eat them after noon. It was evening at the time (they get old fast!).
Rule #2: Weisswurst are always ordered in pairs – i.e. one pair, two pairs, etc. I had ordered three individual sausages. My bad!
Rule #3: Weisswurst are eaten with special sweet Weisswurst mustard. I had asked for spicy mustard.
Rule #4: Weisswurst are only eaten with a Bavarian style pretzel on the side. I had asked for potato salad.
Rule #5: Weisswurst are always heated, never boiled, in warm broth. I apparently had inadvertently asked for them grilled, as assumed they were like other brat wursts. That may have been the last straw with everyone.
Rule #6: Weisswurst are eaten with Weissbier, the Bavarian national drink. I may have ordered water (apparently my feet were dirty?), or wine, or possibly even regular beer (Helles).
Rule #7: Weisswurst are eaten in a special manner (more later), that does not require fork or knife. I probably asked for a table setting, because it is common in Munich restaurants to get the table setting based on the order. Turns out, that was unnecessary in this case.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, nodded their heads in total agreement to the list of rules. Needless to say, I got no Weisswurst that evening. In the ensuing years of living in Munich, I became a bit of a Weisswurst expert, sharing tips on the where to get the best ones, how much parsley should be in them, finer points like that. As well as the special techniques for eating them, as the sausage casing is not eaten, and the best way is to sort of suck the tender flesh out of the casing in a method known as ‘Zuzeln’. Working for one of the large companies in Munich, we all stopped work on Friday at 10 am for a second breakfast of Weisswurst, Weissbier and pretzels.

But I never forgot the lecture I got that day, or the realization I came to that there were layers of unspoken collective understanding that bind a culture together that I did not even know existed. I’ve spent the remaining years searching out these unspoken, hidden layers, experiencing them, and gaining a new respect for some of the complexities of the different cultures around the world.

Up next – the #1 Food to Die For.

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