Eat Your World, pentaquery edition

Last week, I came across the website of Eat Your World, a relatively new concept that merges two of my favorite things: wanderlust and essenlust (that’s right Germans, I’m inventing new words in your language!). So I tossed them five questions by e-mail. (Also known as a pentaquery. Yes, I’m neologizing up the wazoo.)

1) How and when did EYW get started? Where are you based? What’s been the best thing you’ve eaten since you started this? Most surprising?

Scott: In late 2009 we were traveling through Colombia. We’ve always traveled a lot, selling stories as a freelance writer (Laura) and photographer (me). As we normally would do in our travels, we were searching for the most authentic local dishes. While in the beautiful city of Cartagena, we looked at each other and realized we should be doing this for a living. Nothing makes us happier than finding the dishes that define a city or even a culture—well…except eating them. Within an hour we came up with the name, and I ran to the nearest computer to buy the domain. It was literally $10 and a dream.

Laura: We’re based in a super diverse neighborhood of Queens, called Jackson Heights. It couldn’t be more suited to us—you often feel like you’re in another country here, for better or worse. And the food is wonderful: authentic, unpretentious, cheap, and delicious. It’s proven an awesome place to learn about other cultures’ foods in our own backyard.

Scott: New Orleans was one of the first cities we chose to highlight after starting the site. I think we made ourselves sick eating so much amazing food (which started a recurring theme for many of our trips). When Laura told me one of the dishes was BBQ shrimp, I thought of shrimp grilled on a barbecue. However, it instead was giant shrimps with probably a pound of butter and the most delicious, unique flavor. We ate it for breakfast because we had so many more dishes to try that day. It was surprisingly beautiful and hit all the senses. It was a shame we had no time to go back for a second serving.

Laura: “Best” is a really tough call—we seem to find something we love in every city we cover. Some all-time favorites include a perfect taco al pastor in Mexico City, Delhi’s chole bhature (a.k.a. best breakfast ever), this historic take on “meat fruit” by Heston Blumenthal in London. Surprising, well—as far as foods go, I was pretty surprised by how much I liked this chicken-fried steak in Austin, Texas. It’s one of those famous regional foods, but having grown up in New Jersey, I’d never had before. I didn’t get it—but now I get it.

In terms of cities, Detroit surprised me; it’s so diverse and has such great Middle Eastern, Polish, and Greek influences on its dining scene, but even its really old-school foods, like basic sliders and city chicken, were terrific. Same goes with Buffalo, NY—the wings are perfection, of course, but its sponge candy has become one of my favorite sweets—and even Amsterdam and Prague — always the cities whose food you hear dissed all the time. I don’t get it!

2) What do you make of the hipster/organic/upper-class/trendy aspect of food? Do you consider yourselves a counterweight to that?

Laura: I wouldn’t lump all those things together—I guess there’s the trendy fetish with food and Top Chef-dom, and then there’s the organic aspect, which might be seen as “upper class” but at heart is really a backlash against the industrialization of our agricultural system. Of course, it can go too far—I don’t understand the point of $4 organic bananas!—but it all means well, I suppose. Same goes with the trendy side: I think it’s mostly a good thing, if it means more people paying more attention to food, what they feed themselves and their families. A “locavore” menu that sources ingredients locally is now a very hip thing to offer, and though it’s admittedly easy to poke a little fun at how extreme the local-artisanal craze can be, I love the idea of supporting local farms and producers whenever possible. But even though Eat Your World’s definition of “local food” is not exclusively what’s actually produced in the area, we recognize that local soils, waters, and climates definitely influence what’s eaten in a place, especially when you’re looking at a region’s past. So along with food that’s indigenous or traditional, locavore is our third criteria for what gets covered on Eat Your World.

To answer your second question: I don’t think of us as counterweights to anything; we just take a unique approach. We examine food through a cultural prism, considering a locale’s history, past and present demographics, native ingredients. We were travelers long before we were professional eaters in any sense, and food has always been our favorite jumping-off point for exploring new places. To us, that’s just what makes sense. It’s not going to be everyone’s idea of what they should eat in a city, but there are plenty of other sites out there covering a city’s hottest restaurants. And hopefully everyone eats some of that city’s distinct foods while in that city. What’s the point of traveling if you’re only going to eat Italian food everywhere you go? (That is, when you’re not traveling in Italy!)
 

3) How can people incorporate EYW into their everyday lives, whether they live in Winnipeg or Wellington?
 
Scott: Unfortunately, we have not yet covered the two cities you mention, but locals (or travelers) in those areas can add their local foods to our site and help build our database. For example, someone from Winnipeg can upload some smoked goldeye; from Wellington a traditional pavlova. If you’re not into taking pictures of your food, you can write a Food Memory on virtually any topic that’s food-related (e.g., your favorite meal ever, a childhood memory of food). On the site, you can read our weekly updated blog, which features Q&As from local-food producers, recipes, news, and travel photos/stories, or you can just browse the content we have on the site and learn about 28-plus cities and the foods that define them. Maybe you’ll plan your next trip!

Laura: In the sense of applying the EYW philosophy to day-to-day living, we’ve had users tell us that thinking about our criteria—what foods might be considered native, traditional, or locavore—and applying them to their own hometowns is a fun, even challenging learning experience. We’re hoping that people take pride in whatever foods and drinks their area has contributed to the world, and that they want to show them off! And people anywhere can otherwise make the extra effort to eat locally sourced foods in their town. (Those foods can be shared on EYW, too.)

4) Do you guys make money off the site? What are your day jobs?

Laura: We do aim to monetize the site via advertisers, but it will be a while before we quit our day jobs. Since 2003, when we started traveling more seriously, I’ve worked as a freelance writer and editor. Currently I freelance regularly for two different magazines as a copy editor half the month and spend the rest of my time, about two weeks, working from home on the site and any other writing assignments that crop up.

Scott: I’m a freelance photographer, but have been working in educational publishing for about seven years. I’ve done everything from shooting the photos you see in books to licensing and researching images. Now I manage a staff and deal more with operations and budgets. I look forward to working full-time on the website one day soon!

Laura: The fact that we’re both freelancers has been key to being able to travel as much as we can afford, and think outside the traditional-career box.

5) What’s your culinary guilty pleasure?

Scott: The website gives me an escape from the rules and regulations I put on my relatively healthy New York lifestyle. When traveling, I’ll drink amazing new beers daily, as we did in Amsterdam. I don’t eat beef when I’m not working on the site, but in Prague I ate a raw-beef dish called tatarák (similar to steak tartare) twice, it was so delicious! I am also not a big dessert eater normally, but it seems that in every city we visit, I fall in love with another sweet, unhealthy piece of deliciousness, like sticky toffee pudding in London.

Laura: Oh, I have so many guilty pleasures. Late-night greasy pizza—or street meat—in New York City. Late-night eggs at a New Jersey diner. Salt-and-vinegar potato chips on the beach. Cold leftover Chinese food out of the fridge. Pigs in a blanket with spicy mustard. Swedish Fish [the candy] and Kit-Kats and chocolate-peanut-butter-crunch ice cream. I’d go on, but I’m getting really hungry.

Longest California Roll record returns to the Golden State

Yesterday afternoon, I reported on the creation of the longest California Roll yesterday for an upcoming edition of The California Report. The event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Center for Japanese Studies at UC Berkeley. The new record, set at 330 feet, apparently defeated the old record set in Hawaii in 2001 by 30 feet.

I interviewed student Zach Brown, Chef Ming Hwang, Prof. Duncan Williams, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, and Consul General Yasumasa Nagamine, who certified the new record.

NBC, AP, Oakland Tribune, The Daily Californian all have stories up, too.

It was pretty freakin’ rad.

Pumpkin Scones: Sunday morning baking

Last night, I had the sudden urge to make pumpkin scones, so Bex and I hit the new Berkeley Bowl West for supplies, before getting drinks at Marc 49. By the time we got home, I decided that they were obviously they’re better over breakfast. So I woke up this morning at about 8:30 and went to work. Within an hour, this is what came out of my oven. They were shockingly easy to make.

I used the recipe from the Cheese Board Collective cookbook, page 44.

Pretty flippin’ good, if I do say so myself. However, I just realized I forgot to put in the buttermilk and cream. Good thing I have enough materials for a second batch.

Fruitvale taco truck bike tour with Cyrus (Oct. 25, 2009)

Before it gets too rainy, I thought I’d take whoever would like to join me for a taco truck bike tour of my four favorite trucks in Fruitvale this Sunday:

When: Sunday, October 25, 2009
Meet: 12:30 pm, Lake Merritt BART station (9th and Oak St., Oakland).
Start: ~ 12:45 pm
End: ~ 3 pm ish, Fruitvale BART station

Itinerary:
1) Tacos Sinaloa at 22nd Ave./International Blvd. (via 10th St., International Boulevard)
2) Tacos El Grullo at 26th Ave./International Blvd.
3) Mi Grullense at 30th Ave./International Blvd.
4) El Ojo de Agua at E. 12th St./Fruitvale Ave.
5) Nieves Cinco de Mayo (ice cream) at 3340 E 12th St.

When it’s all said and done, feel free to bike or BART home. Anyone is welcome to join up or leave at anytime, obviously.

Afterwards, I might even be up for a beer at The Trappist (8th/B’way, downtown Oakland).

Bring: bike, helmet, $10-$15 for tacos+ice cream, camera if you want to document the deliciousness

RSVP: Email me cfarivar [at] cfarivar [dot] org. Put “Fruitvale taco truck bike tour” in the subject line.

All are welcome!

Creating a new SF Bay Area Farmer’s Market map

So I have a set of data in a Google Docs spreadsheet of SF Bay Area Farmer’s Markets. Each market has data for the following columns: Day, County, Location, Hours, Months, Intersection, City, State, ZIP, Phone, URL. There are entries for over 100 markets.

What I want is a simple web page (ideally iPhone-friendly) that will have a few text input fields: ZIP, City, Day (or even a pull-down menu for each one). Then based on those inputs, the program would pull the five nearest farmer’s markets and list them (and ideally plot them on a Google Map).

Example:

Today is: Tuesday
I’m in: Oakland
My ZIP is: 94618

Click here to show me the markets!

I think this should be pretty easy. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just functional. Who can do this and/or show me how to do it myself?

August 7: Cyrus on Morning Edition (NPR)

Dear Friends,

I’ve been informed that my piece on TCHO chocolate is on Morning Edition today (August 7).

It will be available on any of these stations (and their Internet streams).

New York – 5 am to 9 am Eastern – WNYC – 820 AM – www.wnyc.org
Washington, DC – 5 am to 10 am Eastern – WAMU – 88.5 FM – www.wamu.org
Los Angeles – 2 am to 9 am Pacific – KPCC – 89.3 FM – www.kpcc.opg
Boston – 6 am to 9 am Eastern – WGBH – 89.7 FM – www.wgbh.org
San Francisco – 3 am to 9 am Pacific – KQED – 88.5 FM – www.kqed.org

It will also be archived at npr.org and at my site if you miss it.

Lemme know if you hear it!

Update: Audio is here.

Michael Pollan on cooking in America (or lack thereof)

For the record, I *love* to cook, as evidenced by the photo above. Just made some flippin’ fantastic pizza last night, too. Still, this article is pretty thought-provoking. -CF

Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch
by Michael Pollan
The New York Times Magazine
August 2, 2009

But here’s what I don’t get: How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves? For the rise of Julia Child as a figure of cultural consequence — along with Alice Waters and Mario Batali and Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse and whoever is crowned the next Food Network star — has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking.

That decline has several causes: women working outside the home; food companies persuading Americans to let them do the cooking; and advances in technology that made it easier for them to do so. Cooking is no longer obligatory, and for many people, women especially, that has been a blessing. But perhaps a mixed blessing, to judge by the culture’s continuing, if not deepening, fascination with the subject. It has been easier for us to give up cooking than it has been to give up talking about it — and watching it.

Today the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food preparation (another four minutes cleaning up); that’s less than half the time that we spent cooking and cleaning up when Julia arrived on our television screens. It’s also less than half the time it takes to watch a single episode of “Top Chef” or “Chopped” or “The Next Food Network Star.” What this suggests is that a great many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves — an increasingly archaic activity they will tell you they no longer have the time for.

NYT: A New Iran Overture, With Hot Dogs

The New York Times, June 1 2009:

SAN SALVADOR — Having sent the Iranian people a video greeting on their New Year, President Obama is now inviting them to help celebrate a quintessentially American holiday, the Fourth of July.

Last Friday, the State Department sent a cable to its embassies and consulates around the world notifying them that “they may invite representatives from the government of Iran” to their Independence Day celebrations — annual receptions that typically feature hot dogs, red-white-and-blue bunting and some perfunctory remarks about the founding fathers.

Administration officials characterized the move as another in a series of American overtures to Iran. The United States has not had relations with Iran since the American Embassy in Tehran was seized by protesters in 1979; the country’s diplomats have not been formally invited to American events since then.

“It is another way of saying we are not putting barriers in the way of communicating,” said one administration official. “It is another way of signaling that there is an opportunity that should not be wasted.”

A second official said the ban no longer made sense, at a time when the United States was actively engaging with Iranian officials elsewhere. In March, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, chatted with Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Mehdi Akhondzadeh, at a conference in The Hague.

The authorization to issue the invitations was disclosed by a senior State Department official on the eve of a three-day visit to Latin America by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the new policy was not public.

While I love the idea of Iranian diplomats (ahem), hamming it up with American diplomats over a barbecue, I do hope that the Americans remember to bring some halal — or at the very least, non-pork — sausages to grill.

Maybe one of the Iranians can even bring this grill and tea set as a gesture of goodwill.

Big ups to Andy Raskin!

Big ups to my buddy Andy Raskin, whose memoir The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life has just been released.

I attended a reading of his at Booksmith last night in the Lower Haight.

But don’t worry, he’s on tour in SF and points beyond this month and throughout the summer. Check his site for details.

Andy wrote and produced one of my all-time favorite pieces of radio — on the subject of Ramen Jiro in Tokyo — which aired on NPR’s All Things Considered on January 19, 2004.

Congrats, Andy!