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Memorable & Valuable Food Experiences....


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#1 Ellen Shapiro

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Posted 06 February 2004 - 08:35 PM

I'd be interested to know, from Robb and from others, what has been your single most memorable and valuable food-travel experience of all time -- and why?
Ellen Shapiro
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#2 Robb Walsh

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 04:06 AM

Ellen-

Eating shellfish I'd never seen before on a dive boat off the southern coast of Chile was pretty memorable. But I'd say the most moving travel and food experience I've had was going to the Ukrainian culture center in Chicago and having a bunch of old ladies that looked like my grandmother recreate an ethnic Christmas Eve feast that I remembered from my childhood. (As described in "A Ruthenian Christmas Carol," the last essay in Are You Really Going to Eat That?)

#3 Ellen Shapiro

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 07:18 AM

After asking this question I realized I might have to answer it, and that isn't easy. But I'm reminded of a trip I took right after graduating from university, when I traveled around the world on my own for about half a year. I had almost no money, so I participated in various programs aimed at students such as homestays, and I wound up living for awhile with a Thai family in Chiang Mai.

At our first dinner together, the foods were all rather unfamiliar -- some I recognized components of but it was still hard to sort out. The food was served family style and you took just a little bit on your plate and then ate it. One of the dishes seemed to be a green vegetable with little white seeds, so I designated this one as "safe" and took some on my plate. I was then informed that the white "seeds" were actually ant eggs.

For me this was pretty freaky, but it's not the point of the story. The punchline came after I had eaten a few leaves of the stuff. The father said, "Oh, you like the ant eggs? It's too bad you missed grub season. You'll have to come back next year!"

I carefully noted the dates of grub season.
Ellen Shapiro
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#4 John Whiting

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 07:41 AM

It just shows how alike people are everywhere. In Texas also you might be invited to drop by for a bit of grub. :biggrin:
John Whiting, London
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#5 russ parsons

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 11:08 AM

jeez, that's a hard question because i have them all the time. nice job, eh? the last one was last weekend at the knights of columbus hall in mendocino. they were doing a fundraising dungeness crab feast for the women's group of the local fishermen. absolutely amazing event. probably a couple of hundred people crammed into an old church hall eating crab, drinking (mostly) local wine. there was a raffle of contributions. one of the rafflers was a priest, the other a local worker who was plainly of mexican origin who would spontaneously break out in acapella ranchera songs. all in the building still known to locals as the portuguese hall.

#6 Ellen Shapiro

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 12:21 PM

Russ and Robb, it's interesting that you both mentioned community-based experiences as favorites. It reminds me that right now we're in the midst of a very special community: eGullet. In what other community group can you find Russ Parsons and John Whiting even though they're 8,000 miles away from one another? I hope, if you haven't already, that you both get the opportunity to attend some eGullet community events in your area. eGullet is both local and global -- a new kind of church or community group.

One of my fondest recent food memories is of attending the eGullet pot luck on the New Jersey/New York border at the Bobolink farm. I only wish I could have made it to Varmint's Pig Pickin'!
Ellen Shapiro
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#7 John Whiting

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 12:37 PM

In what other community group can you find Russ Parsons and John Whiting even though they're 8,000 miles away from one another?

That's why we're getting on so well! :laugh:
John Whiting, London
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#8 Robb Walsh

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 02:14 PM

That's funny Ellen, I've eaten ant eggs in Chang Mai myself. I think I mentioned them in the very first lines of the introduction on the book. It was at a Laotian restaurant. The same place I sampled the mang da beetle sauce that smelled like blue cheese.

And Russ, I was lucky enough to hit one of those Dungeness crab feasts up in Oregon. It was at a fire house on the coast and they were raising money for something or other. You paid ten bucks and they handed you a wooden hammer.

It's true though--when you're lucky enough to write about food for a living, everyday is a memorable food day.

#9 John Whiting

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 02:44 PM

On tour in Sweden in the dead of winter, we had a concert in a school/community center in the middle of a snow-packed plain with not another building in sight. A hundred people showed up out of nowhere and afterwards in the dining hall there were half-a-dozen huge steel bowls set out full of fresh shrimp, thousands of them. Shrimp, bread-and-butter and mugs of cold beer. Basic.
John Whiting, London
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#10 Robb Walsh

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 02:50 PM

They say that the Swedes have ruined the crawfish market in Louisiana. They pay top dollar for the really big ones. So whereas you used to get a good mix of sizes when you bought five pounds of boiled crawfish, now you get only little ones because the pick out the big ones and sell them to the Swedes. Any idea how Swedish crawfish are prepared, John?

#11 John Whiting

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 04:16 PM

Any idea how Swedish crawfish are prepared, John?

None whatsoever. I wonder if the shrimp I ate there several years ago also came from Louisiana? They certainly didn't shovel them out of a local snowbank. :sad:

Edited by John Whiting, 08 February 2004 - 12:42 PM.

John Whiting, London
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#12 Ellen Shapiro

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 09:46 PM

I'd also like to cast a vote for haute cuisine as memorable food experience.

Right up there on my list of top food experiences ever was my first trip to France as an adult with the means to eat in Michelin-starred restaurants. We reserved at several and our first meal was at Maisons de Bricourt in Brittany, the restaurant from chef Olivier Roellinger. I remember being a bit fearful that the language barrier would be a problem and that the whole experience would be stressful in various ways. Instead, we were almost immediately put completely at ease by the waitstaff and soon came an avalanche of unusual and fascinating food in a multi-course tasting that seemed never to end (and that I didn't want to end). More importantly, what I had feared most -- that the Michelin-starred places would be Disney-fied versions of fine dining -- was decidedly not the case. Roellinger, and many others (Cote St. Jacques in particular), were in the final analysis family run restaurants that happened to be serving the world's finest cuisine. I also loved that, especially in the more rural fine-dining restaurants, a real cross-section of the population was dining there. Working-class French folk were there celebrating big birthdays and the like. I had not expected such a lack of pretentiousness at this level.

The next couple of weeks took us through Brittany, Burgundy, Alsace, and Champagne. We ended the trip in Paris at Abroisie, which takes the term "temple of gastronomy" to its logical extreme -- you really feel like you're in a temple. I don't think I've ever dined so well so much in such short a time. Too bad 90% of my photos didn't come out. This was the one time in my life that a busted camera did me in. Try to get a Leica fixed in France on short notice. Go ahead, try.
Ellen Shapiro
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#13 Robb Walsh

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Posted 08 February 2004 - 06:12 AM

I did an article called the "Ultimate Dinner Date" once. My girlfriend and I visited four Michelin three star restaurants that also had accomadations. We ate dinner then retired to our chambers. Gerard Boyer's joint La Crayere in Reims took the cake. Champagne in the elegant room while we got ready. Dinner of squab stuffed with foie gras and covered in truffle sauce with an old Burgundy, then Cognac back up in the room.

But the best food and travel discovery I ever made was the French "Ferme Auberge" system. These are French farms that run restaurants and bed and breakfasts. The restaurant has to serve food produced on the farm. I have eaten at snail farms, dairy farms, duck farms, cattle farms and a foie gras farm. The foie gras farm didn't actually serve foie gras, better yet, they started with garlic soup, then rilletes and Bergerac wine, then duck confit and potatoes cooked in duck fat. Some of these places also have bed and breakfasts. It's tough to organize your trip though because the program is run by the French Agriculture department and they have divided the places into regional booklets. There is no overview. You have to request the booklets by region. But you can see the Ferme Auberge signs on the road whereever you drive in France. Whenever I see one, I pull over and check it out.

#14 John Whiting

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Posted 08 February 2004 - 12:42 PM

Although I spend a great deal of time advocating "a better standard of ordinariness", honesty forces the confession that my most memorable meal was a menu degustation last year at Arpege. Marlena Spieler has written it up supurbly and her review is forthcoming, so I won't comment further except to say that, course by course, it was a meal of such perfect simplicity that each element would have been appropriate to a great restaurant of any class whatsoever, from star-spangled Michelin down to simple bistro.

Robb, the ferme auberge system is indeed wonderful. Our approach is to arrive in our VW Westfalia camper and ask if we can eat dinner and then spend the night in their parking area. The answer is invariably, "Oui, monsieur!"

Edited by John Whiting, 08 February 2004 - 12:49 PM.

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