Meal 93: Lebanon

As I caught myself grumbling about having to clean my two food processors and the mixer with a meat-grinder attachment, I realized how it’s unlikely I’d take on this project without the aid of electric appliances. I shudder to think of how long it would have taken to mash the hummus, emulsify the garlic sauce, and grind or chop the meat with only the power of my arms. I wouldn’t have cooked nearly as many dishes if I’d had to do […]

Meal 83: Israel

One way to look at cuisine is the interface between what foods are available and the cultures of the people who live there. We get a fascinating case study in the foods of Israel, a young country in an ancient land, with most of its population zero to two generations removed from some other place, whether near or very far. Israeli food is very much not what we think of in the U.S. as “Jewish food,” for a few good reasons. I […]

Meal 76: Iceland

It’s kind of astonishing that people have managed to live in Iceland for over a millennium. Trees don’t grow there — for hundreds of years they could only make boats of driftwood — let alone much else, so its natural cuisine is quite sparse and based mostly on eating things that can survive on what’s around, namely sheep, fish, and whatever random birds can be scrounged up. While there’s plenty of influence from outside these days, the traditional Nordic month […]

Meal 72: Haiti

Have you ever pondered what would have happened if something went differently at a given point in history? Compared with the rest of the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is sort of a real-life example of contrarian history. The crux is a slave revolt against French colonial masters that, incredibly, led to independence in 1804. The slave system was ruthless and required a constant influx of slaves, which had the silver-lining consequence of a strong syncretic culture quickly developing that combined French […]

Meal 69: Guinea-Bissau

If you know anything about Guinea-Bissau, chances are it’s the dubious media-granted title of “the world’s first narco-state” and the ensuing coup. Conveniently located just a few days’ boating from South America, the small former Portuguese colony has become a waystation for drugs en route to Europe. The army not only consents but participates, increasingly so since last year’s coup. Not surprisingly, the money hasn’t reached the people; Guinea-Bissau is among the least-developed countries in the world. While the country is […]

Meal 42: Croatia

Thanks to its unique location, Croatia straddles several opposing forces of history and geography, and of course this is reflected in the food. It features a unique shape, a comically long and thin Mediterranean coastline with a big bulb at the north stretching inland toward the heart of the Balkans. Parts or all of it have been subject in turn to Venetian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, which have lent such influences as pasta, lamb, and strudel. And of course it’s […]

Meal 26: Bulgaria

Since we took a break last weekend, I thought I’d be smart and get a head start on Bulgarian shopping and get some exercise in the meanwhile. So I hopped on my bike and rode nearly nine miles to Brighton Beach, only to discover that while it’s the place to go for Russian, Ukrainian, and even Georgian food, they just don’t have Bulgarian there. When I asked for lukanka, a type of dry-cured sausage, the kind lady at a deli said, […]

Meal 22: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Upon stepping into the EuroMarket at 31st Street and 30th Road in Astoria — and residents of Queens wonder why we make fun of their street naming! — I was assaulted by the smell of smoke and meat, from bins labeled suho meso, which a quick search on my phone confirmed is Bosnian smoked, dried beef. I agonized for several minutes over whether to cram a kilo sack of Bosnian flour into my bag, and decided to go for it, since […]

Week 8: Armenia

Armenia has a very long and tough history. The country as it currently stands is a small patch of just a few million people in the south Caucasus, with a diaspora of many million more around the world. As with many diaspora populations, the culinary tradition is a core part of identity, so I was glad to have our friend the nomad, Ed, helping me through it properly. The meal was quite delicious and a heck of a lot of […]

Week 2: Albania

A nation’s food is quite often a reflection of its geographic and historical circumstances. In Albania’s case, it’s across the Adriatic from Italy, not far from Greece, and was a part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries. Hence: yogurt, peppers, lamb, and a hell of a lot of olive oil. (See the shopping list, which doesn’t include the gallon of olive oil I bought later.) But of course, each country adds its own twist. In the case of Albania, it’s […]