From the Black Sea to Borneo, from the Andes to Arabia, we've visited five continents through the seventeen United Nations members beginning with B. We hereby present the second round of the Noshies, our wrap-up of what worked, what we ate, drank, didn't make enough of, and threw away half-eaten. Note that our experience is cumulative, there are inevitably repeated elements, and those won't be eligible — so although we had red palm oil in the B's, it's not going to win for "most exotic purchase" again. We're also shaking up the categories, getting rid of "Best Cultural Activity" since we don't consistently do those every meal, and changing "Most pleasant surprise" to the more relevant "Top repertoire addition."
Best cuisine: Bulgaria, runner-up Belgium
As a crossroads between Ottoman and Slavic cuisines, Bulgaria offers a tasty and rich, yet not overly heavy, cuisine that we just really loved. I think it helped that we were able to get the right ingredients such as truly tasty yogurt and cumin-spiced sausage. Belgium was also so tasty, with its famous mussels, fries, waffles, and beer.
Best drink: Krupnik (Belarus), runner-up Bissap (Burkina Faso)
The warm cordial of vodka, honey, and spices was so tasty, and fueled a really fun dinner with lots of old friends. It'll definitely make a re-appearance during a cold-weather parties in years to come. In a very different direction, the elixir from tangy red flowers with perfumey orange blossom and vanilla is so nicely tropical and refreshing.
Best dessert: Gaufres de Liège (Belgium), runner-up Guava duff (Bahamas)
This was my first true Belgian waffle, with a three-stage yeast rise, obnoxiously expensive pearl sugar, and way too much butter, and it was utterly amazing. The duff, on the other hand, was the slow but steady type, a lovely and rich steamed pudding spiked up with some rum sauce.
Best main dish: Shisanyama/Braai (Botswana), runner-up Fish stew (Brunei)
This makes two out of two Noshies where the best main dish came off the barbecue. Yet whereas the Argentinean grill was all about quality meat and natural fire, what did it for Botswana was the fantastic marinade and seasoning that made me regret not buying more meat. A big surprise in this category was the tangy, tasty, spicy stew that singlehandedly redeemed the otherwise bizarre Brunei meal.
Best side dish: Frites (Belgium), runner-up muhammar (Bahrain)
Even though it was annoying to cook on the stovetop and I didn't have the perfect type of fries, oh man these double-friend, tender yet crispy fries were just spectacular, especially with a bit of homemade aïoli. The sweet rice was also a real treat, with both fantastic flavor and texture that paired surprisingly well with fish.
Best condiment: Sauce d'arachide (Benin), runner-up Kajmak (Bosnia)
A rich sauce of peanuts, veggies, hot pepper and salty bouillon is so tasty slathered over just about any dish in the African repertoire, while a homemade, super-thick and tangy clotted cream is a sensation with the foods of the Balkans.
Best bread: Pão de queijo (Brazil), runner-up Belarussian dark rye
With manioc flour and lacking any form of leavening, these cheesy balls aren't exactly a traditional bread, but man it's tasty, especially straight out of the oven. The rye bread, with an overnight malting, a small amount of sourdough starter, and almost no bread flour, keep me on edge during the long rise process, but came out rich and beautiful and tangy.
Worst dish: Shokto (Bangladesh), runner-up Ambuyat (Brunei)
This veggie dish came out so unappetizingly bitter that I wonder if I did something really wrong. The ambuyat I know we screwed up, and I'm pretty sure we used tapioca instead of the sago palm starch we needed, and instead of bland and smoothly goopy it was plasticky and lumpy.
Most difficult: Bezar (Bahrain), runner-up Conch (Bahamas)
This mix of many spices turned out great as the crust of fried fish, but not before an hour of roasting on a big pan over the barbecue, and then nearly breaking my Cuisinart in grinding. The conch required a lot of boiling, then tedious and slippery peeling, and finally a good pounding, to be rendered chewable. (I should note that mashing the yam for Benin was a lot of work for Anna, but she handled it with such aplomb that it hardly looked like it was hard for her.)
Most exotic purchase: Cupuaçu (Brazil), runner-up Bitter melon (Bangladesh)
Cupuaçu is an Amazonian fruit, a relative of cacao that's rarely seen in the US, and I was thrilled to see it in the Brazilian supermarket. Bitter melon looks like a comically ugly cucumber, with tons of warts and ridges. Both, unfortunately, turned out to be pretty unappealing.
Most fun to cook: Salteñas (Bolivia), runner-up Boza (Bulgaria)
I've been getting into pastry a fair amount through this project, and the annatto-colored, Crisco-laden dough for these empanada relatives made for some of the easiest dough I've ever worked with. I also enjoyed that the meat filling was made with gelatin the day before, so it was both manageable while cooking and juicy after cooking. These B countries also marked my first attempts at home brewing, and while the ginger beer was sure nice, making a drink (and a halfway decent one at that!) out of millet and sourdough starter was just too fun.
Best music: Bulgaria, runner-up Burundi
We were simply unprepared to be so impressed by Bulgaria's hauntingly beautiful womens choirs and mideast-inspired chalga dance tunes with intriguingly syncopated rhythms — listen to the Spotify playlist. Burundi's music blends hip hop with traditional sounds, and spans several languages to make some music that's full of energy and melody — here's a YouTube playlist.
Top repertoire addition: Bhutanese red rice, runner-up Cashew apple juice (Brazil)
The only thing preventing this, Bhutan's only agricultural export, from being the next big thing might be the presumably limited supply: it cooks as quickly as white rice, but with the health and texture of brown rice, and such an appealing a fruity and nutty flavor. (Look for it at a Whole Foods near you!)I'm also surprised that cashew apple juice, made from the tropical fruit out of which the more familiar nut grows, isn't more of a thing: it's got a pleasantly rich texture and a distinctive flavor, and goes fantastically with rum or mixed into a caipirinha.
I'm proud to say we're right on schedule: in the Noshies for the A's I predicted we'd give our awards for the B's in late March, and here we are! We've got another 17 countries for the C's, from Cambodia to the Czech Republic. It's a riskier prediction with summer travel schedules, but I'll bet you a few rials or korunas that we'll get there in mid-October.