United Noshes is a series of 194 dinner parties, one for each member of the United Nations, in alphabetical order. We started in July 2011 in Brooklyn, squeezing friends and strangers alike into a 500-square-foot apartment, and in August 2014 moved to Portland, Oregon.
We strive to create as authentic a meal as our capacity and resources afford, carefully researching recipes and investing the necessary time in traditional preparation methods. We love it when someone who’s from, lived in, has family from, or otherwise familiar with a country helps us figure out what to make and how. It’s even better when they join us in the kitchen and at the table.
We feel so lucky to be able to eat for enjoyment and share food with our friends through our United Noshes dinners. We recognize that so many people around the world struggle to meet their daily needs, so we ask our guests to bring a donation in support of Mercy Corps, an international development and relief non-profit organization, which is then matched.
Think Out Loud | Oregon Public Broadcasting | January 19, 2015
United Noshes: Dinner Party Aims To Eat Its Way Through Global Cuisine | NPR | January 17, 2015
The Food Show (about 43 minutes in) | KBOO | October 15, 2014
United Noshes: The Alphabet Foodies (article + video) | Jewish Daily Forward | August 5, 2014
United Noshes: Tasting One Meal From Each United Nations Member State | Denizen | October 14, 2013
Solving World Hunger with Dinner Parties: Meet United Noshes | EcoSalon | January 26, 2013
United Noshes: 170 Dinner Parties from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe (sic) | America’s Test Kitchen Radio | October 19, 2012
Celebrate World Food Day With Meals From Every Country (VIDEO) | Buzz60 | October 11, 2012
United We Nosh | Scoutmob | October 10, 2012
United Noshes: Meals Around the World | Food 52 | July 13, 2012
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe: Cooking through the United Nations | CNN Eatocracy | June 7, 2012
United Noshes Supper Club Has Served Meals From 34 U.N. Countries (and Counting) | Grub Street New York | May 15, 2012
Journey Through World’s Cuisine Teaches About Community | State Department IIP Digital | April 24, 2012
United Noshes in Washington D.C. | World Food Program USA Blog | April 24, 2012
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
No, really, these are the questions we get the most. We didn’t just make these up!
How many meals are you cooking, and how did you decide what’s a country?
We’re cooking one meal for each of the 193 UN members, plus the two permanently observing non-members. We did the Holy See along with Honduras, so the total meal count will be 194. The UN member list is an imperfect proxy for the cuisines of the world — some countries like India feature intense culinary variety, whereas some countries have almost identical cuisines to their neighbors — but it’s the world’s most widely recognized list of nations so we’re rolling with it.
How long will it take you?
We’re hitting halfway with Meal 97: Libya after nearly four years. That means we’ll probably finish up around 2019, after eight years.
What have been your most and least favorite meals so far?
With the disclaimer that it is impossible to decipher an entire country’s cuisine within the limitations of one meal and recipes found from the internet, we were most disappointed by Andorra, expecting some incredible synthesis of the foods of France and Spain and instead ending up with bland boiled meat and limpid vegetables. Bhutan also turned out pretty poorly, as my attempted yak-dairy substitutes just didn’t work out. The most surprisingly tasty one so far has been Georgia, though all those red-wine toasts may have had something to do with it. A few others that have particularly delighted us so far include Afghanistan, Argentina, Cape Verde, Comoros, Egypt, Iran and Laos. (As expected, France and Italy rocked.)
Who attends the meals? Can I come?
We usually have a combination of friends, friends of friends, and people we’ve never met before. We particularly love working with people who are from or familiar with the country whose food we cook. Check out our currently open meals or sign up for our mailing list.
Who does what?
Jesse researches the food, does the shopping, cooks the meals, and writes the blog posts. Laura manages the invite list, designs the website, compiles the music, takes the photographs, and makes sure no one injures themselves.
Is this a potluck?
No, Jesse wants to cook the dishes so he can learn. But he welcomes help in the kitchen, and instruction on technique! Guests can also contribute by bringing something to drink, and of course a donation to Mercy Corps.
How much money have you raised?
As of the end of 2014, we’ve raised over $22,800, including dollar-for-dollar matching from Google. Through our first 88 meals, we raised over $21,300 for World Food Program USA. After moving to Portland, we now fundraise on behalf of locally-based Mercy Corps.
What does your pantry look like?
Something like this:
How often do you cook these meals?
We’re on about an every-other-week pace these days.
Where are the meals held?
Most of our meals are at our home in Portland, Oregon, but we do a few meals a year on the road in places like Bay Area, New York, Seattle, and DC.
How do you figure out what to cook?
There’s a few approaches. If the meal lands near a big holiday with special food, such as Day of the Dead in Haiti, I (Jesse) will use that to frame the choices. If it’s a country with a ton of variety, like China, I’ll do my best to pick a variety of regional dishes that make a coherent and representative whole. Otherwise, my goal is to make a feast worthy of a special occasion such as a birthday, that highlights what’s distinctive about the country’s cuisine. (This is tough, but not impossible, in parts of the world like Central Africa and the Caribbean, where the distinctions from one country to the next can be quite subtle.)
I start by finding a summary of the country’s cuisine, often on Wikipedia. I then start searching for the names of what seem to be the most distinctive and representative dishes, trying to find multiple recipes or descriptions to see what ingredients and techniques are consistently referenced. In particular, I try to avoid Westernized/Americanized recipes that might swap out ingredients or use different techniques. If I’m in contact with someone who’s familiar with the cuisine, I will eagerly work closely with them to develop a menu.
Where do you get your ingredients?
In New York, we were blessed to have populations from pretty much everywhere in the world big enough to sustain at least one market. I discovered bitter gourds in Kensington, Balkan smoked meats in Astoria, frozen cassava greens in Bed-Stuy, and breadfruit in Crown Heights. Aside from the odd stroke of luck, such as fresh armored catfish in the Indo-Guyanese section of Ozone Park, the most challenging category of ingredient is fish, for which I often have had to substitute.
Portland is a smaller metro area without such incredible breadth of immigrant communities, but we’ve still got sufficient representation from all the continents that I can find just about everything I need and improvise the rest. When I can’t find a sauce or a spice mix, or even sometimes when I can, I’ll make it from scratch if I can find a recipe.
Where did the idea come from?
Soon after moving to New York, we grew tired of meeting up with friends in bars and restaurants instead of in living rooms and backyards, and Jesse missed having crowds to cook for. We also wanted to find a way to explore the incredible abundance of nations that the city offers, and to give back in acknowledgment of our good fortune. The spirit of global exploration through the dinner party has followed us to Portland, and helped us see how much diversity there is even this notoriously homogeneous city.
What are you going to do for the United States?
We’ll make that the last meal, as ending on Zimbabwe might feel a bit anticlimactic. Our ambition is to invite someone from each of the 50 states to contribute to one huge potluck.
Are you writing a cookbook?
I (Jesse) am unqualified to tell people what to cook from any given country — it’d be like writing a guidebook to a city I visited for a night — but I’m learning a whole lot about the history, language, and similarities and differences of the foods of the world. Accordingly, I’ve been exploring more synthetic writing, such as this essay on what turkey’s called around the world. Topics I’m musing for future articles include the huge variety of ways people cook rice around the world, and country-specific interpretations of other countries’ foods (such as Indian Chinese).
Jesse Friedman – Chef / Shopper / Blogger / American
Jesse hails from Oakland, CA, where he learned to cook from his dad and bake from his mom, who for many years ran the Friedmans Microwave Ovens store in San Francisco. At the University of Chicago, he studied linguistics, studied abroad in France and Switzerland, and got his start cooking for crowds as the food coordinator for a folk festival. He’s a product marketing manager at Google, where he helps the Crisis Response team reach more people around the world, organizes millions to stand up for the web with Take Action, and plans the office holiday party. His favorite food type is eastern Mediterranean, and he finds fresh mozzarella cheese incredibly addictive.
Laura Hadden – Dishwasher / Photographer / Webmaster / Canadian
Laura is from Tacoma, WA by way of Vancouver, Canada. She is a documentary media artist and multimedia producer whose work has been featured at Frameline Film Festival, Hot Docs, UnionDocs, and on The Documentary Channel and BBC News. Her collaborative short, Matthew 24:14, won best film and best directing as a part of the 2011 International Documentary Challenge. Along with her collaborator Tennessee Watson, she was the 2013 Live Interactive Resident for AIR (the Association for Independents in Radio) and free103point9, where they began the Wage/Working project addressing the issues of income inequality and the concept of wage through an audio installation. For three years, she served as the media and communications manager for The Moth, a non-profit storytelling organization, where she produced their popular podcast and assisted in production of their Peabody award-winning public radio show (The Moth Radio Hour). She has facilitated workshops at the Center for Digital Storytelling as a part of the AmeriCorps VISTA program and a graduate of KPFA’s First Voice Apprenticeship Program. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Integrated Media Arts at Hunter College. She considers herself a reluctant foodie and her favorite cuisine is Thai.