25 x 25 (Five New Foods I Tried)
As a xenophile and self-proclaimed foodie, much of my exploration of the various cities I visited in the past year involved partaking in the local cuisine. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I tried several new dishes with varying levels of enjoyment but none with regret (okay; accidentally eating pig intestine that one time in France will probably haunt me for a while).
Even as a Boston resident for three years prior to my European excursion, I ate a surprisingly small amount of seafood. During my time in Montpellier, which is located right on the Mediterranean Sea (see: 5 Cities I Visited), my desire to try new things coupled with the abundance of fruit de mer compelled me to try oysters for the first time. I then reasoned that if I could swallow a squirmy, squishy sea creature straight from the shell, I should be able to partake in the classic French dish, Moules Frites (mussels and french fries). After a lot of face pulling and squirming, I gave in to my host mom's cajoling and ,to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed my first taste of the popular shellfish; so much so that I ordered it no less than five additional times during my trip. Since returning to the U.S., I've found a few more occasions to enjoy mussels including buying them frozen at Atlanta's international food market and making a mussel in white wine sauce dish myself. Where to find it: I imagine moules frites can be found in most restaurants throughout France perhaps especially along the coast. Although I first tried them in France, my favorite mussels were at a restaurant in Barcelona called Navarra. I asked the waiter for the recipe. He politely declined informing me I was the third person to ask him that afternoon. If you try them and find out the secret recipe, please let me know!
2) Arroz Negros
This is possibly one of the most scrumptious meals I enjoyed during my sojourn in Europe. During the second night of a weekend trip to Barcelona (see: 5 Cities I Visited), my friend, Natalia, and I strolled into a restaurant on La Rambla and asked the waiter to compensate for our unfamiliarity with the cuisine by recommending which dishes we should order. He pointed out his favorites and we promptly ordered one of each including some tapas and arroz negros (or black rice) for our main course. So, what on earth is black rice? I'm glad you asked! Arroz Negros is rice that has been infused with squid ink. Enticed yet? There's more. The rice is bolstered with squid meat, clams, and shrimp and served with a side of aioli dip. In terms of aesthetics, I'll just say I'm glad there were no pictures on the menu or it is doubtful we would have ordered the dish. In terms of taste, well...reread the first line of this section. The flavor was wonderful! The dish had all the humbleness of a one-pot meal and all the luxury one feels in enjoying copious fresh seafood. To top it off, literally, the garlicky smooth aioli perfectly complemented all the other flavors of the dish. Where to find it: The Casa Alfonso also has some wonderful tapas and a bar with live music downstairs from the restaurant.
3) Lamb Hotdogs
One of the first things I did when visiting New York City for the first time was to get a hot dog from one of the famous street vendors. It was delicious; a juicy polish sausage with caramelized onions, ketchup, mustard, and relish. Until my trip to Reykjavik on my way back from Europe last summer, that NYC hot dog was a stand out for me of the cuisine. In 2004, President Clinton visited Iceland and after enjoying a hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (your guess is as good as mine on that pronunciation) made the capital city hot dog stand globally famous. And with good cause. The Icelandic hot dog is made entirely from lamb meat and topped with a ketchup, mustard, some sort of special sauce most closely akin to remoulade, raw onion and fried onions; so many fried onions! It's no wonder the line extends from the stand nearly into the adjacent street. I helped myself to two at ~ $4 a pop managing to get in on some of the yummiest and possibly cheapest food in Iceland. Where to find it: The official address is Tryggvagata 1, Reykjavik 101 but you can also just ask anyone in Reykjavik and they can likely direct you.
4) Samosa Chaat
Atlanta is undoubtedly a city for food lovers. It is one of the largest metro areas in the country with a burgeoning international population and is smack dab in the middle of the South (metaphorically, not geographically). That means we have all the advantage of southern, comfort, and soul food with the bonus and shaping effect of international cuisine. I've been wanting to try more cuisine from the subcontinent and with an Indian street food restaurant across the street from my home, the stars aligned to finally do so. I ordered a dish, Samosa, Chaat, which at Maasti street eats, was at its base a spicy chickpea 'stew' filled with onions, and tomatoes, cilantro and packed with flavor! The 'stew' was topped with two vegetable samosas and yogurt to help balance the fairly intense heat. It was scrumptious. There had to be at least 25 different ingredients each of them making a unique contribution to form a unique and delicious dish. Where to find it: Masti street eats in the Toco Hill neighborhood of Atlanta.
5) Foie Gras
First of all, let's all just acknowledge how fun and slightly pretentious sounding it feels to say 'foie gras'. There's just something amusing about saying that out loud. I digress. Two days before my birthday my brother and sister-in-law took me to a French restaurant here in ATL. For my main course, I enjoyed an exceptional coq au vin. But before we got to our entrées, we ordered a couple of apps for the table; some gougères (cheesy creamy puffs) and (drum roll) foie gras! This is a first-time food that I approached with some apprehension. I've had duck in a few different forms in the past and always enjoyed it but I've also heard exactly how foie gras (which translates to 'fat liver') is 'prepared'. I'll jump to the punchline. It was certainly edible and even tasty as the restaurant served it with sourdough bread and huckleberry jam, however, I wouldn't be lining up to order it again. While chilled, I didn't mind the texture but as it warmed, it took on an almost slimy texture and greasy flavor that I didn't find as palatable. But, now I can say that I've had foie gras! That's one for the books...and the blog. Where to find it: Bistro Niko in Buckhead
This is the third part of a five-part birthday series documenting my 25 x 25; twenty-five things I read, tried, saw, did, and learned before my 25th birthday. Check out the rest of the series below: