"It’s like garnishing a dish with money" —Allison Adato hunts for white truffles in the slow-food heartland of Italy.
[Photo by Kelly Marshall]
If you know what this picture is, you know why we are indulging in a celebratory drink right about now. We started on Tumblr a little over a year ago, and today we got nominated for two of these bronze beauties. The full list of finalists, which includes many of our heroes, is here.
The Year in Food
The world reveals itself to us one bite at a time. Want to better understand the explosive relationship between Georgia and Abkhazia? Swirl a bit of adjika into your next beef stew. Trying to get a grasp on the complexities of Chile and Peru’s shared political history? Drink a pisco sour. Looking to see how American culture has impacted the lifestyle of Mexican immigrants? Order a carne asada super burrito.
By that measure, we’ve covered quite a bit of ground in 2012, from the barbecue pits of Lockhart, Texas to the ice cream parlors of Mogadishu. Many tasty dishes have been consumed along the way, but deliciousness isn’t always the measuring stick when we talk about the meals that matter most.
To better understand the people and the places we’ve come to know this past year, we’ve compiled a list of the most memorable meals from 2012. These aren’t necessarily the best things we ate this year, but these dishes tell important stories about the people who dedicate their lives to feeding others, about regions that give birth to remarkable feats of taste and texture, and about a little online magazine taking shape one bite at a time.
From The Year in Food on Roads & Kingdoms
It takes almost no effort at all to eat well in Sicily. Stumble into a gas station off the autostrada and you’ll find panini lined up like runway models and an old man playing a $3000 espresso machine like a fine violin. In fact, it’s safe to say it takes more effort to have a bad meal in Sicily than it does to have one you’ll still be dreaming about months later. The only problem? Where to put all that food.
The full gallery: Around Sicily in 41 dishes
As our friends keep saying, this is the perfect prep for today’s Barca v Chelsea matchup. Calçots, not far from Camp Nou. New video from R&K on Catalunya’s spring grilling ritual.
Foreplay: Food Porn Just Before the Lunch Hour
Late night Khinkali on the Black Sea Coast
This was a long night, you can tell from this grainy mugshot of a photo, complete with the pack of cigarettes on the table (Kent 4’s in Russia, always Kent 4’s, because as the photographer reminds me as he smokes his heavy Kent 8s, I am a rank amateur).
If the Burmese enjoy their biggest meal of the day during the lunch hour, the people who live and fight and eat along the Black Sea coast, half a world away, eat big meals with fever late into the night and on until daybreak. How they do it, though, makes you rethink everything you thought you knew about drunk food. No plate of fried mess, no Denny’s Transfat Explosion. Rather, in Sochi, Russia, where this dish is handed out to night owls, each dumpling is made by hand. The dough is a thick, warm sheet folded around ground beef and lamb that luxuriate in a spiced sauce within. Even the haziest mind knows instinctively how to eat them: grab the dumpling at the top, where the dough is cinched, take a first small bite to drink the sauce from inside. Then eat the dough the meat your fingers in whichever order pleases you.
People who know the Caucasus will tell me that these are not generic dumplings: they are Khinkali, a signal Georgian dish made with pride by most all the non-Russian peoples of the Black Sea region. That is correct. But such is the willful blindness of the Russians of Sochi, a city that extends to the border of what was once Soviet Georgia. Sochi is the South Beach of the Black Sea, which is to say that it is a bit poorer but just as tastelessly neon and as relentlessly ordered around house music and hair gel. And Russian partygoers, from Omsk or Tomsk or Tula or the Taiga, can order what they call “local food” and still pretend that the food did not originate from—and still tastes better in—the land of their enemies, the Georgians.
That is the essence of Sochi, a place that just wants to look ahead to the 2014 Winter Olympics, that would rather not have any past. But it does have a past: at the same time as Americans were fighting the last of their genocidal Indian Wars, the Russian empire was taking the Circassian people who had always lived on this shore and putting them to death by war, disease and exile. The Abazas, Abkhaz, Ubykhs have survived elsewhere, just not really in Sochi. But here, drinking manfully after a long day of reporting—in part about the sad and forgotten history of the Circassians—I felt like the old tribes had left the photographer and I these gifts. Ground beef and lamb, wrapped softly in dough, paired with a half-dozen beers to help us all to eat, smoke, drink and forget. —NT
Foreplay: Food Porn Just Before the Lunch Hour
Adjarian Khachapuri, Batumi, Georgia
Pity the Adjarians. In Soviet times, at least, they had their own autonomous republic along the coast, a territory shaped much like this dugout of dough, and were able to live on their own, as not-quite Georgians, part-Muslim, part-Christian, uniquely Adjarian. Then came the fall: wars of the early ’90s and the rise of a spectacular shithead, Aslan Abashidze, who murdered his comrades, plundered the commonwealth and bartered chunks of the capital Batumi to the equally venal mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov.
Abashidze could not resist the Rose Revolution, though. Mikheil Saakashvili may have failed to bring in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but he succeeded in Adjaria. Abashidze fled, the central Georgian government took over. Now Batumi has become Saakashvegas, Georgia’s gleaming, bleeping neon crown-jewel. The president’s pride: twice I met Saakashvili in Batumi, twice while flying above the city with him on the butter-leather bench seats of his executive helicopter, he got the pilot on the intercom and ordered him to make low, deep sweeps over the blittering coastline to show me the carnival below. I am appalled, impressed, amused. I can say this: Batumi entertains, which is what Saakashvili promised.
Do not pity the Adjarians. They live on a naturally blessed curve of Black Sea coast, and with the drapes drawn, they are untroubled even by the neon lights outside and they can close their eyes and dream of doughy shores ringing a dairy sea. Just a little north of Batumi, one of Saakashvili’s deputies told me once that the water was like boiled milk. But it is not just that. Adjarian Khachapuri is shaped like a boat from bow to stern. The ship is taking on water, but it is not boiled milk, it is a mix of salty suluguni cheese, that melting block of butter, an egg cooked only by the heat of the fresh-baked bread/boat.
Every race of Georgians has its own version of Khachapuri. Imeretians form it in a circle, Ossetians add potatoes, even the savage Svaneti—true warriors of the Caucasus—add gracenotes of herbs and greens. But Adjarian Khachapuri, eaten after a long day of keeping pace with the manic president of a half-united Georgia, is the dish as it should be: a song of salt, of milk, of yeast, of yolk. It’s a reminder that the heifer, the hen, the warlord, the president, and the reporter all came from the sea, and that we live now with saltwater running through us, and we will return there soon enough, when our minute in khachapuriland is done.
Roads and Kingdoms dines al fresco in the street stalls of Rangoon with acclaimed cookbook author Naomi Duguid. And a monk.
Video Flashback! Roads and Kingdoms did not get detained in Myanmar for being journalists entering on tourist visas. But Nathan still hit an unexpected roadblock on the first day in Burma: a plate of chili-slathered, rancid crab.