I'm jumping on this bandwagon about a week late, prompted by an invitation (OK a 'tag', but we're not doing memes in the food blogosphere anymore - thank heavens - so I won't call it that) from this Bangkok-based photographer/food blogger. I'm a bit uncomfortable with the theme - 'Things to Eat Before You Die'. I mean, really, my standards of deliciousness are mine and mine alone; I'm certainly no arbiter of taste. So I'll call my list 'Five Things to Eat Before You Die - if You're in the Neighborhood'. I'd hate for anyone to fly halfway around the world, sample something on my list, and be disappointed.
Cheeseboard pizza. When we lived in (and then, near) Berkeley, California, Thursdays were food-in-front-of-the-tube night. The rules for dinner were: no more than one or two plates/bowls per person, so it can fit on the coffee table in front of the TV, and kitchen 'active time' must not exceed thirty minutes. We rotated between mussels in white wine and butter, with thyme, whole spuds wrapped in bacon and baked in a covered casserole ('smoked' potatoes, as it were), and a 'half-bake' pie from the Cheeseboard. As much as I love, and miss, my Thursday night mussels, it's the pizza that makes this list. Fresh, simple toppings (my favorite, red cabbage with walnuts and gorgonzola is, unfortunately, defunct) and a not-thick but not-thin-and-crispy crust with just the right amount of chew. <sigh> I recently turned a San Francisco food blogger with a pretty refined palate onto Cheeseboard's pies (she'd lived across the Bay for years and had never tried one!).
Manti at the source.
I was in love with Turkey within an hour of our plane touching down in Istanbul. Aglimpse of the domes of the Blue Mosque against a midnight sky from our taxi window did it. Breakfast the next morning - fresh bread and butter, sweet fragrant honey, thick yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, olives (three kinds!!), vine-ripened tomatoes (in January!), and multiple tulip-shaped glasses of tea, served by a jolly man with one of the biggest moustaches I've ever seen, cemented it. I fell so hard - for the people, the breathtaking vastness of the Anatolian plateau in winter, and (of course) the food - that I spent the next three years studying Turkish. We've had so many divine eats in that country, in Istanbul and in the hinterlands, on three coasts and in many towns, cities, and villages in between... but when it comes to food, for me Turkey will always first and foremost be manti ('mahn-tuh'). It's an unlikely combo - silky pasta knots stuffed with seasoned lamb and sauced with thick, warm yogurt - but it really, really works. The kicker is what adorns the finished dish: a generous scattering of dried mint and a hefty drizzle of butter seasoned with crushed red pepper (earthy, ballsy Urfa pepper - from the southeastern city of Sanliurfa - preferably). The Anatolian city of Kayseri is Turkey's 'manti central', but look hard enough and you'll find it just about everywhere (this dish was 'mmmm'd over in a mom-and-daughter lean-to in Antalya's Kaleici district). Smaller - a smidge of lamb bound in a pasta parcel the size of the tip of your little finger - is better, but I'm not too picky. This Istanbul blogger recommends a spot in her town where, she says, the manti is just like (her) mom's.
Sweet corn in season, Anywhere USA. It doesn't happen too often, but right about now I'm wishing I was back in California, or in just about any corn-producing part of the States. It's sweet corn season, that time of the year when I can put away four cobs in a sitting, no problem. Corn that's grown just for eating is light years away from the fairly-decent cob product we can buy here in Kuala Lumpur - pig fodder, it's certainly not! American sweet corn kernels are smaller, more tightly packed, and plumper (the cob won't get bought if they're dented) and packed full of sugary, corny goodness. Boiled and then dabbed with butter and salt is good, but shucked, buttered, salt-and-peppered, wrapped tightly in tin foil, and placed on the grill until the juices start to seep, mix with the now-melted butter, caramelize, and, in a few spots, scorch just a bit - is the best.
Noodles sauced with lard.
Since moving to Malaysia I've come to appreciate the value of lard - as a sauce component. Lard elevates a plate of wonton mee or a bowl of Hakka noodles to something the angels might sing about. I've nattered on about my love of lard here and here, so I won't belabor the point. Suffice it to say, if you visit Malaysia and leave without partaking of at least one serving of larded noodles, you're crazy (assuming religion and/or diet allows, of course).
Liver pate at Sean's Panorama, Bondi Beach, Sydney. I'm not a liver fetishist - I don't seek out foie gras and I don't dream of liver and onions. I don't even eat that much meat. But I do think about this dish at least once a week. 'Nuff said.
For more food blogger 'Must Eat" lists, head over to Traveler's Lunchbox and have a gander at at Melissa's master list at the end of her post.