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Foods that would be sought after


Shalmanese
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I was struck while reading the recent Daily Gullet article Reflections on the product

Until recently, it was a given that going to a gourmet restaurant meant eating products that were expensive: caviar, foie gras, truffles, lobster and other products that had become veritable myths of cuisine. We too had this view of haute cuisine, but in 1994 we began to consider the scant logic of this concept if it is thought about completely objectively. In fact, the price of a product is set by the law of supply and demand: if the product is scarce and much sought after, its price is high; if there is a glut, and not many people want it, then it is cheap, with all possible conditions in between. This is how the situation stands. A good example of this phenomenon is salmon, which was the luxury fish par excellence until salmon farming began a few years ago. Since then, its consumption has spread widely and it is affordable to a large public today.

This new perspective opened our eyes to the fact that every product, regardless of its price, is magnificent as long as it is of good quality, and can play a role as important as any other product. A young almond does not enjoy the same gourmet prestige as a Norway lobster in traditional terms, but we believe that both products have the same culinary value. So we decided that as far as we were concerned, a sardine was as important as a sea bass, or an artichoke as a truffle, and that what should govern our choices was sensibility, not price or prestige. This does not mean to say that we place little value on products that, like truffles, caviar or many others, we consider to be divine.

And, when you think about it, it's true. The percieved quality of a food seems to depend, irrationally, on the price and rarity of it rather than it's inherent qualities. Slaves used to protest being fed Lobster in New England, Oysters were so abundant in London they were bar food for the working class. Glass eels were served also as bar snacks until the population plummeted and they are now one of the most expensive foods around. The prized chu-toro or fattiest cut of tuna used to be thrown to the dogs , and sturgeon used to be so prevalant in the Hudson river that caviar was used as bait.

On the flip side, foods that were once valued due to their rarity have become largely ignored once the price plummets. John Locke was so enamoured by pineapples he devotes an entire section of his treatise "Essay concerning Human Understanding" on the impossibility of describing it's taste. Shrimp was a decedant luxury in the 50's but is now sold at Popeyes and Red Lobster. Various spices at one point or another in history have been raised to exalted levels because of the cost and logistics of transporting them.

To me, this shatters the entire myth of gourmandism. In fact, to be a gourmet is a complete folly if you claim to believe that you are solely guided by taste. A $1 lobster and a $100 lobster are going to taste exactly the same when they hit your tastebuds. In essence, the eating of luxury foods is like buying in at the wrong time of the market. Your buying high and selling low.

However, I wouldn't go as far as Adria in culinary relativism. Somehow, I don't think a cucumber, however extraordinarly grown is ever going to inspire paroxysms of joy like a truffle would. Some flavours just seem to enchant and draw us in and others do not, regardless of the price.

Thus, the logical and rational way of enjoying foods would be to identify what foods would become prized IF they suddenly became rare and exotic luxuries and enjoy them today for their great value. Can you imagine if a single potato chip costs $1? If a carrot cost $10? A slice of watermelon for $100? What would we do with them? How would we enjoy them? Would a poster on egullet from 2100 be amazed at how we chowed down on buckets of popcorn at the movies when they now spend $500 to eat a single grain?

I doubt it for those particular cases but there are others for which this doesn't seem as absurb.

Berries

Sweet, intoxicating. What if a single strawberry costs $10? Simply dipped in some aged balsamic or lovingly sprinkled with a bit of pepper, it would become an aphrodisiac and romantic food du jour. A special fruit for anniversaries and celebration. Prized and bathed in mysticism. I can see this happening.

Chocolate

While relatively expensive now, what if a chocolate truffle costed the same as a real truffle? Would people buy a block a year and just sniff it every day to soak in the intoxicating aroma? Would there be advice to keep it stored in sugar so the chocolate aroma gently infuses the sugar? Cream sauces delicately laced with shavings of dark chocolate to top off a dessert would be the height of decadance.

Tomatos

Sweet, tart, and complex. Heirloom tomatos lovingly grown for $20 a pop. Simply sliced with some fleur de sel and balsamic vinegar perhaps. People would gasp and be agape at the sheer wanton wasteful abandon that we use tomatos for today. ketchup, salsa, pasta sauces... Such a waste of a beautiful fruit to be cooked like that. And hidden under so many complex flavours you never let the tomato taste shine through.

Bread

What if we ran out of wheat? Fresh, soft doughy rolls of bread. Hand kneaded and individually baked on demand for $25 a dinner roll which is then shared between 4 people so each can get a taste of that ethereal lightness. Again... shock and awe. People actually deliberately let bread go stale so that they could use it in a coating?

Bacon Fat

I can't really see how this would become rare without the entire pig becoming rare but lets run with it. Bacon fat would become like the finest olive oils. Used drizzled into a dish to infuse it with a wonderful flavour. There would be vintages and tastings and heated debates about applewood smoking vs cherry wood smoking and ageing times.

Fond

Again, something not realistically able to become rare but such a prized ingredient. Fond would be carefully scraped, dried and stored, used like saffron is today to infuse an entire dish. People would be amazed that so many people today would just let the fond wash away when washing the dishes.

Theres a couple more I'm less certain about but I'm interested in what other people manage to come up with. I know it's very hard to place yourself in such a mindset but imagine transporting yourself back into the 1950's and carefully explaining to a couple of baffled fishermen that this garbage piece of fatty tuna belly would soon be one of the most prized pieces of flesh in the world.

Edited by Shalmanese (log)

PS: I am a guy.

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Fond

Again, something not realistically able to become rare but such a prized ingredient. Fond would be carefully scraped, dried and stored, used like saffron is today to infuse an entire dish. People would be amazed that so many people today would just let the fond wash away when washing the dishes.

This really stood out for me in your terrific post, Shalmanese. Have you ever tried doing this -- drying and storing it, for use later? It's so true; when I see people whining about this as they scrub pans, when they've opened a jar for gravy, it makes me cringe. I'm going to teach my students how to use fond.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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This really stood out for me in your terrific post, Shalmanese.  Have you ever tried doing this -- drying and storing it, for use later?  It's so true; when I see people whining about this as they scrub pans, when they've opened a jar for gravy, it makes me cringe.  I'm going to teach my students how to use fond.

In the limited occasions where I can't find a use for fond immediately, I have been known to deglaze the pan with a little water and then stored it in the fridge. It has to be used within a few days though otherwise it goes bad. It's really good in noodle soups. I imagine drying it would prolong the shelf life but it seems like way too much effort for a measly few specks of fond. (besides, I don't know how I could resist licking my fingers to "clean them" every so often until all the fond was lapped up).

PS: I am a guy.

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How about some fruits that are common in some parts of the world and rare in others?

Lychee

This is my favorite fruit, and though good ones are no longer rare in New York, they are strictly seasonal, and I do pay a premium for them (~$9-10/3 lbs.). I would pay more, if necessary. The combination of juiciness, sweetness, and fragrance is about as near to perfection as any single foodstuff I know of. Eating top quality lychees can be an ecstatic experience for me.

Bananas

Yes, bananas are common now. But how easy is it to find a truly great tree-ripened one outside the tropics? The bananas that have a tangy tartness are truly one of the great pleasures in life.

Rambutan

Another great fruit. Decent ones are essentially unattainable in places like the US.

Durian

Like it or hate it, but this is a valuable fruit. Even in durian-growing areas, people pay somewhat of a premium for this -- unless they have their own durian trees!

Mangosteen

Again, an equatorial fruit with a perfume, and one that's difficult or impossible to find in many places.

Rosewater

Another fragrance. Some people don't like it, but for those who do, it's lovely.

Salt

Can you imagine what it would be like if salt were scarce? Well, yes, actually we know what life was like. It was expensive, and salt mines were big business. There are still people in the Ethiopian desert who make their livelihood by cutting chunks of salt, but that kind of work used to be a lot more lucrative. Salt is the most important flavoring of them all.

And the number one ingested substance that would be expensive if it were scarce? That's obvious:

Water

And we are starting to see what happens when increasing populations have to share scarcer water supplies. I hope I'm wrong, but it seems to me and many others that the number one source of conflict in the remainder of the 21st century is much more likely to be water than oil.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I can't see having enough fond to save, but maybe, in a Food Saver bag..

But the word reminds me of fronds, and they will be available free in April, or as high-priced fiddleheads at the greengrocer in May...mmmmmmmmmm!

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But the word reminds me of fronds, and they will be available free in April, or as high-priced fiddleheads at the greengrocer in May...mmmmmmmmmm!

Fiddleheads, chanterelles, morels, ramps, and plenty of other things are either free or really expensive. I know that we treat wild mushrooms very differently when they're abundant. During the few weeks of the year that porcini are up we put them in everything - the rest of the year we're very careful with how we use what little we've dried. When I used to pay $20/lb at the store for chanterelles I carefully brushed each one and used them very carefully. Now I think nothing of filling a colander with the ones we've foraged, cleaning them quickly under running water and using half a pound to make scrambled eggs.

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How about something as simple as Onions? or Garlic?

These things I use in abundance right now. I feature them both in many dishes.....and I for one would not be able to live without them.

And then there are the utilitarian uses: Stock...etc.

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That is why I'm eating skate: it will be the new lobster in a few years!

The hell it will! There's nothing more disgusting than scraping that slimy flesh off those knuckles, and anticipating actually putting it in your mouth. Ugh. Excuse me, I have to go and hurl now. :sad:

I think if this does happen, and I do expect it could be a distinct possibility in my lifetime, I expect it won't be a plant, but rather will be meat. I think BSE and avain flu are just the tip of the iceberg and we'll begin to see more and more mammalian plagues. But then, we'd probably just find new animals to eat. :smile:

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Bananas

Yes, bananas are common now. But how easy is it to find a truly great tree-ripened one outside the tropics? The bananas that have a tangy tartness are truly one of the great pleasures in life.

When I lived in Greece back in the 70s, bananas were very rare and expensive. The dictatorship, in a frenzy of nationalism, said "Why should we be buying bananas from Africans, when we can grow them ourselves, right on our island of Crete?! So they banned banana imports. The Cretan ones are good - they are small finger bananas - but a kilo, back then, ran close to 12 dollars. It got absurd when kiwis came onto the market in the 80s - cheap as dirt - but bananas were still unattainable. I'm not sure when the ban finally lifted but the standard bananas are everywhere now. I can't remember having seen the Cretan ones in quite a while.

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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The hell it will! There's nothing more disgusting than scraping that slimy flesh off those knuckles, and anticipating actually putting it in your mouth. Ugh. Excuse me, I have to go and hurl now.  :sad:

Agreed with you there, Sugarella. There is no more disgusting and difficult fish to clean than skate unless it is octopus - and that might not even be quite as horrid. Neither one will make the list in my opinion! (Though I'll happily eat either if someone else wants to take on all the work! :biggrin: )

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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There is no more disgusting and difficult fish to clean than skate ....

Hold the phone.... You mean skate is supposed to be served already deboned!? No wonder I was horrified. Scraping it off its bones right there on the plate just looks like something you'd see on the surgery channel. Gah.

Dumped the guy that cooked and served it, so all's well that ends well. :rolleyes:

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How about something as simple as Onions?  or Garlic?[...]

Good point. That reminds me of an old Eastern European Jewish story about two merchants and a fierce kind on an island...

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Oh, Fiddleheads! In season it's about 6 bucks a lb. in CT. We went to a family reunion in ME last summer and ate TONS of them, for FREE! They grow in the wild there and people pick them, and then blanch and freeze them and can't understand why some girl from CT gets so excited about the whole thing. For instance: " What? Fiddleheads? Yup, s-longs the pigs don't eat em first". "Good with pork" was another reply. I love fiddleheads so much with a splash of balsamic vinegar. I would pay a lot to have some, even if it meant only as a special treat once a year.

Melissa

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How about some fruits that are common in some parts of the world and rare in others?

Lychee

This is my favorite fruit, and though good ones are no longer rare in New York, they are strictly seasonal, and I do pay a premium for them (~$9-10/3 lbs.). I would pay more, if necessary. The combination of juiciness, sweetness, and fragrance is about as near to perfection as any single foodstuff I know of. Eating top quality lychees can be an ecstatic experience for me.

Bananas

Yes, bananas are common now. But how easy is it to find a truly great tree-ripened one outside the tropics? The bananas that have a tangy tartness are truly one of the great pleasures in life.

Rambutan

Another great fruit. Decent ones are essentially unattainable in places like the US.

Durian

Like it or hate it, but this is a valuable fruit. Even in durian-growing areas, people pay somewhat of a premium for this -- unless they have their own durian trees!

Mangosteen

Again, an equatorial fruit with a perfume, and one that's difficult or impossible to find in many places.

Rosewater

Another fragrance. Some people don't like it, but for those who do, it's lovely.

Salt

Can you imagine what it would be like if salt were scarce? Well, yes, actually we know what life was like. It was expensive, and salt mines were big business. There are still people in the Ethiopian desert who make their livelihood by cutting chunks of salt, but that kind of work used to be a lot more lucrative. Salt is the most important flavoring of them all.

And the number one ingested substance that would be expensive if it were scarce? That's obvious:

Water

And we are starting to see what happens when increasing populations have to share scarcer water supplies. I hope I'm wrong, but it seems to me and many others that the number one source of conflict in the remainder of the 21st century is much more likely to be water than oil.

Pan: Will you marry me? :biggrin:

Throw in chocolate, and that's my list too--and strawberries, and peaches, and nectarines, and mandarin oranges....

May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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Eggs. I think that most cuisine from pastry to fried rice would become decadent luxury.

Think about the current worldwide bird health issues, and it's closer than you think.

Edited to add - Pasta. Dear Lord, what would we do without pasta...

Edited by FistFullaRoux (log)
Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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Eggs. I think that most cuisine from pastry to fried rice would become decadent luxury.

Think about the current worldwide bird health issues, and it's closer than you think.

This is exactly what I was getting ready to post :laugh:

Look at how important and expensive certain spices were in the past: i.e. sugar, salt and pepper. Empires were created around them.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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What about chicken. In the 70,s [Yes I know I am showing my age] :wink: a roast chicken was a special treat. It seems these days that chicken is cheaper that pet food and a very common dish on the table. I have taken it upon myself to return to buying only free range organic chickens. They are expensive $20 - 25 AU dollars but the difference is uncomparable. Its now a real treat again and I won't be returning to to the mass produced meat of the 00. Actually I have found myself eating less meat an only buying the choice cuts with both fish and meat are in the same catagory. Much more enjoyable and no more expensive in the long run given my satisfaction levels.

Smell and taste are in fact but a single composite sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and its chimney the nose. - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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Eggs. I think that most cuisine from pastry to fried rice would become decadent luxury.

Think about the current worldwide bird health issues, and it's closer than you think.

This is exactly what I was getting ready to post :laugh:

Look at how important and expensive certain spices were in the past: i.e. sugar, salt and pepper. Empires were created around them.

How could I have forgotten this? I spent most of November/December without eggs and chicken because my dad announced that we shouldn't buy eggs. :wacko:

May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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Great food can't be purely objective and instinctual. A lot of our taste is aquired. Obviously culture plays a huge role in dictating what we like. If a french chef introduced sashimi to a world where Japan did not exist, it probably wouldn't go so well. Does anyone really get sashimi on their first try? Not to mention alcohol.

1) shrimp. It's better than lobster.

2) crab. Again, better than lobster.

3) oranges.

4) bananas. I feel sorry for the banana. It's so ignored.

5) ice.

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Salmon used to be very expensive but is now fairly affordable thanks to aquaculture. It is one of my favorite fish and, if circumstance dictated, would be willing to pay up to $20-30/lb.

Salmon roe is also delicious, even better than any of the caviar I've tried. If salmon roe and caviar switched prices I'd still rather pay for the salmon roe.

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But aside from that great food that only Mayhaw Man has the right to name, there are some others. Classics - that have stood the test of time. Olive oil. Anything in the allium family. Rice. Beans and Legumes. Bread. Green herbs and spring lettuces. Asparagus! Bananas, the entire spectrum from sweet to starchy. Potatoes. Cherries, apples, plums. Litchees would be worth their weight in gold. Tea, coffee (Starbucks is planning already for the day to occur).

Beer, Wine and Spirits. Even the most vile-tasting sorts. :wink:

Shrimp? Maybe. Chicken, too.

And any pork at all.

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