Gourmet Survivor 2004: Third Challenge Fulfilled, “On The Street Where You Live”

Ah, what a nice set of submissions from our seven remaining contestants. This week’s challenge was to showcase something specific to your locale; allowing for a virtual culinary trip around the world, no baggage necessary. Readers, you’re the judge this week: vote for who you think should get immunity in the comments below. And now, please fasten your seatbelts, the captain is ready for takeoff… (posted in order of receipt)…

Wendy’s Entry

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Tourist Sushi: An Expose

TT = Trisha Takinowa: hungry journalist

W = Wendy, Toronto resident

Toronto, EXT, lunchtime.

Wendy is relaxing outside in the crisp, almost-autumn

weather. She’s about to dig in to her lunch, when she

is approached by a curious reporter.

TT: Are you from here?

W: Well, I didn’t grow up in Tronna, but I live here

now.

TT: Great, I work for the food section of a local

paper, do you mind if I ask you some questions?

W: Uh, sure.

TT: What’s your favorite Toronto dish?

W: Working for the food section, you should know that

there’s no “Toronto dish”, right?

TT: Yes. That was a trick question. But can you

elaborate on what you just said?

W: This city, well don’t they say it’s one of the most

multicultural in North America? So, like it has no

definitive personality. It’s an amalgam of cultures,

just a melting pot.

TT: You said you’re not from Toronto?

W: Nope, I grew up in Nova Scotia.

TT: So does Nova Scotia have a food personality?

W: Oh, yeah totally. I mean, it’s very maritime,

almost old fashioned. Lunenburg puddin’ and

hodgepodge, the way we do it, you really can’t find it

anywhere else.

TT: You musta thought, coming to Toronto – it would be

so different for you.

W: I really loved it, getting to try all these

cuisines. But I’ve yet to find something that’s a

Toronto original.

TT: What’s that you got there?

W: Oh, they’re CN Tower and Skydome rolls.

TT: Well, isn’t that unique to Toronto?

W: Um, sort of I guess, but it’s just…sushi.

TT: You can’t get CN Tower rolls in Iowa.

W: That’s very true.

TT: I don’t think you’d find them in Sicily.

W: You’re probably right about that.

TT: So then…?

W: I guess…they’re unique Toronto food.

TT: There you go. What’s in them?

W: The Skydome roll has, let’s see – well it has

salmon, clam, crab, cucumber and mayonnaise. The Tower

is…um…shrimp tempura, cucumber, lettuce, pickle

and mayo.

TT: Pickle in sushi?

W: That’s what I said.

TT: Are they tasty?

W: I’d say Skydome is just glorified California roll,

really. The salmon beefs it out a little. Plus, it

doesn’t really look like the Skydome. But the CN Tower

is for sure a new taste experience.

TT: In a good way?

W: Yeah, well I wouldn’t get it all the time, it’s no

spicy salmon roll. But the combination of shrimp

tempura and pickle is actually sort of…well, good.

They do the foxtrot in your mouth. You wouldn’t expect

it.

TT: Can I try it?

W: Ummm, I guess so.

TT: Sweet. (Grabs tray and starts to walk away

quickly)

W: Hey! Can I at least keep one of each, to take a

picture?

TT: Whatever, dude.

W: You’re not a reporter at all, are you?!?!

(Trisha flees down the street with Wendy’s sushi)

END SCENE

Nick’s Entry

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Many a food-eating human being will tell you that: sliced or shredded steak + cheese + fried onions (optional) + a roll = a cheeesesteak. That’s correct. The equation evaluates to true, returns 0, whatever you want to say – they’re absolutely right in saying that steak, cheese, onions and a roll is a cheesesteak. However. There is something that makes a Philadelphia Cheesesteak different. Now many will argue that the cheesesteak did not originate in Philadelphia and that the attribution of the location in a lie – that it shouldn’t be associated with the city. Fine – whatever. But we make ours better than you make yours – sorry, it’s the way it goes – people come here for ours, regardless of whether or not we created it. That’s why I chose the Philly Cheesesteak as my submitted food for Round Three of Amateur Gourmet: Survivor.

What makes a Philly Cheesesteak different from one gotten in Chicago, Los Angeles, or Cheyenne? Two things. One: those cities, in all likelihood, are not fans of using Cheese Whiz with their food products, period. At least I hope not, as it is the most disgusting substance on the planet, but does taste okay with a cheesesteak. The other, and far more distinguishing characteristic of a Philadelphia Cheesesteak is the bread. Amorosso, a baking company in Philadelphia, makes the rolls for all the best cheesesteak places in the city, and for many of the cheap-ass bad-tasting semi-gross street vendors that litter (both literally and figuratively) the city’s streets. The roll is what makes the sandwich. It’s not a factor of the steak, the cheese, the onions or the sauce. It’s a factor of the bread. If the bread is soggy, the creation can fall apart. If the bread is too dry, you’re chewing cardboard more than anything. Too salty and you’ll never taste the beef, too bland and the grease will dominate. The bread is what makes the sandwich, and the city is what makes the bread.

I was only allowed one photo for the submission, and while it looks like I may not be “enjoying” my sandwich, I was – my displeasure is only due to the fact that the steak was as big as it is and caused my jaw to lock up, and even then the masterfully created cheesesteak was good enough to make up for a temporary pain in my jaw. The whiz, the onions, the beef all in a brilliantly baked Amorosso roll all came together in my mouth to form the most delicious taste sensations encountered by man or beast, at least as pertains to grease (I almost rhymed!).

So to you, my fellow foodies, I submit my cheesesteak, my PHILADELPHIA Cheesesteak, as a unique creation of the city of Philadelphia, right or wrong. We may not have started it, but we perfected it. Grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected. Some Edwards guy said that, and I’ll riff on it to say this: Grace is but glory begun, and glory is but the Philly Cheesesteak.

Harry’s Entry

Delicious

Due to the advent of the Jewish New Year, my indigenous food options were more limited than usual. Israel is at times a pseudo-theocracy, so whenever a religious holiday comes about the country pretty much shuts down. No major problem though, because not every citizen was ushering in the year 5765. My country is a cultural melting pot. This is not only evident in the myriad of authentic ethnic restaurants throughout the country but in the street food as well.

The Abulafia bakery, located in the predominantly Arab city of Jaffa next to Tel Aviv, is 125 years old. This landmark bakery is open 24 hours a day and always has a crowd waiting for everything fresh from pita, Arab style pizza, honey drenched sweets, bagele and numerous other breads, as well as the hot Middle Eastern beverage, Sahlab. As usual there was a line when I arrived, giving me ample time to decide what I wanted to eat. I chose to eat a great deal more than what I have chosen to share with you below. Let me just say that all Abulafia treats were delicious, but one was more geographically rooted than others.

I bought an Arab style pizza with Bulgarian cheese, olives, olive oil and zahtar. Everything at Abulafia is fresh. The turnover is so great that the odds of buying something that isn’t fresh out of the oven are close to none. Needless to say, my pizza was hot. Too hot to handle actually, we had to wait a good ten minutes in the hot Middle Eastern sun for the damn thing to cool down in order to take a photograph. I describe it as a pizza only to serve as a frame of reference. The only thing it has in common with pizza is the fact that it is a flat bread with toppings. The comparison ends there. What I ate is called lachmajun in Arabic. Every Middle Eastern country has its own version. Bulgarian cheese is like feta but sharper and far more salty. The saltiness of the cheese contrasts nicely with the sourness of the olives and the zahtar seasoning. Huh? Zahtar?  No, Zahtar is not the name of a bounty hunter from the Degobah system but rather a Middle Eastern spice.

Zahtar, the herb, as opposed to Zahtar the spice blend, is from the thyme family. The word Zahtar can refer to both a class of herbs and to the spice blend of za’atar, sumac, sesame seeds and salt. Now, I’m no food writer, but sumac…damn! Definitely one of my favorite spices, its sour properties often replace lemon or vinegar in recipes. Ok, enough herbal tangents. This wonderful concoction was served on top of a steaming, thick and yeasty pita fresh out of a traditional clay oven.

A hodgepodge of folks can be found at Abulafia at any time. During the day, passersby grab a quick bite on the way to work. On Friday mornings the lines of people buying fresh pita before the Sabbath begins are tremendous. And the lines are equally as long at three in the morning when Tel Aviv club goers and party folk want something delicious in their stomachs to soak up all the alcohol in their bellies after a night of dancing to that damn techno music. (and the party people go, Oooh! Oooh!) Abulafia is an institution in Israel and the food that the family has been serving at the same exact spot for 125 years is as authentic and indigenous as it gets.

Historical note: Napoleon Bonaparte captured Jaffa in 1799, eighty years too early to enjoy the delicious baked goods of Abulafia, but no matter because he was probably too short to look over the counter.

Andrea’s Entry

New York is chock full of native cuisine, the likes of which is available nowhere else in the world. Bagels, pizza, falafel, black and white cookies, dirty water dogs… it’s just too bad I don’t live there, huh?

Long Island, on the other hand, is a culinary wasteland. Sure, there’s Long Island Duckling, but we stole ’em from Peking. Sure, there’s the Long Island Potato, but Idaho’s got the potato crown pegged. Long Island Iced Tea? Yeah, baby, we have a winner!

The Long Island Iced Tea is a beverage whose origins are cloaked in the shadows of Prohibition. Sometime in the 1920s, somebody came up with the clever idea of mixing together as many kinds of hooch as possible, adding in a splash of cola, and calling it “iced tea.” Because, no, you really can’t smell the alcohol from five feet away. That’s the aroma of a sunny afternoon in Hindoostan, officer! An alternate history says that bored, alcoholic housewives in the 1950s invented the drink. Nobody would notice such a small amount of several liquors gone from any one bottle, and they’d always seem to be drinking iced tea. Me, I like the Prohibition one better.

My barhopping days are years in the past, so I was forced to make my own LIT. Vodka, check; gin, check; triple sec, check; hey, wait, where’s the rum? Fortunately, my pirate friend Phil was coming to town for Talk Like a Pirate Day, bearing the finest rum the islands have to offer. Long Island, that is.

We mixed shots together with abandon, resulting in a tall, cool beverage. In honor of the occasion, I biggified my hair and drank up.

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The taste is a lot like, well, paint thinner. At first. But then you find you dno;t mund it as muxh as yo ukeep derinkking. Teh boottm hqlf invh is danb tzsty! Man, I lovey uo guyts. Yoi’re th BEST. No, Imean itfrr rael. I AM NO TDRUNXJK, so jusdt shuyt up. Cvan spmeone driovbe me homwe.?/

Fae’s Entry

Ahoy, me beauties an’ buckos! I hope ye fair well on this fine Talk Like A Pirate Day. T’is the Dread Cap’n Fae-Fae, with me round three entry.

Be us lucky that th’ winds ‘ave carried meself to the stretch of land named as Kentucky. For in the cursed waters of Ohio ‘ave little to offer for grub. But, in Kentucky, they make every manner o’ foods, filled with grog!

Known across th’ seven seas is th’ Mint Julep, but ye have fair little luck in finding any t’ fill yer tankard if ye not be watchin’ th’ horses in May.

Ye may ‘ave heard of Derby Pie, an’ known as Bourboun Pie if ye be wishin’ to avoid legal pirates. Aye, and I did crave me some Derby Pie, but th’ local purveyor is known far an’ wide t’ be a cantankerous womanizer, and yer Cap’n ‘as no patience fer like folks, and ‘d quicker send ’em t’ Davy’ Jones’ locker than look at ’em.

There as well be a stew called Burgoo, but t’is a vile swill, without any grog at’all, that even th’ scurviest pirate’d dare not try.

That leaves us with th’ localest o’ local grub, made near within sight, Rebecca-Ruth bourbon choc’lates. Back in 1919, the proud beauties Rebecca Gooch an’ Ruth Booe – cunning businesswenches who answered t’ no man – found themselves ill-fit’ fer teachin’, an’ started t’ make candies in-stead. They made choc’lates in a pub closed by prohibition, where they originated th’ concept o’ bourbon choco’late. Through th’ depression, fire, and death they did go, an’ th’ shop does still stand proud today.

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Here ye see yer Cap’n, feelin’ greatly improved by a dose of choc’late. Ye can see me wearin’ th’ swag I pillaged just afore!

We did come away with a mighty sack o’ choc’lates – bourbon-filled, what could splice yer mainsails aft’ a few, mint julep creams, as sweet an’ smooth as the seas on a calm night, rum…

WHY ARE ALL TH’ RUM BALLS GONE?

Aye, we didn’t ‘ave any rum balls. T’is a fair shame. Even if it not be local.

Dallas’s Entry

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Now technically, I go to school in Indiana, and I’m a resident of North Carolina, but I truly live where I camp.

Every chance I get, I meet up with the Full Moon Bus Club at Volkswagen Bus campouts around the country where we camp, relax, and talk about the many times our buses broke down along the highway. At every campout, no matter where it is held, there is one tradition that is constant – we always have breakfast burritos. Even when I camp without my bus friends, I still make them. This weekend I enjoyed a breakfast burrito while camping at Yellowwood State Forest in Indiana.

Breakfast burritos are not difficult to make, especially when you are camping with a group. Everyone brings an ingredient and we all cook the burritos together. The stragglers who sleep in get to do the dishes. :) As for ingredients, anything is fair game since it is served buffet-style, but I have listed my favorites below.

• spicy ground sausage

• crumbled bacon

• scrambled eggs

• sautéed red peppers and mushrooms

• grated cheese

• sour cream

• warm tortilla

Cooking starts when enough people wake up and climb out of their buses into the cool, crisp air. We gather our propane stoves, pots and pans. Then one person starts by scrambling the eggs. Frank, who we refer to as the best egg scrambler, adds milk and cheese to make them creamy. Since we are usually cooking for a large group, all the eggs are cracked into one pot and stirred until they are all scrambled. Another person cooks the sausage and bacon – sometimes the smell of it cooking will draw the late sleepers out of their buses. The veggies are diced and then sautéed in the leftover grease from the meat. They are just right when they are soft on the outside and still hold their shape. Finally, we heat the tortillas. I steam them by laying them over the top of the hot pots.

All of the ingredients are then spread out on a table where people put together their burritos. I start with a tortilla, and add the eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, and red peppers. Then, I sprinkle cheese on top and add a couple dollops of sour cream to seal the tortilla.

Everyone gathers around the campfire to enjoy their burritos. Many flavors are mixed together in this meal and many smells from the environment, such as a campfire, strong coffee, fresh air, help enrich them. The meats are rich, the eggs and cheese are creamy, and the veggies are sweet. Breakfast burritos are one of my favorite parts of camping. Besides, it doesn’t take much to taste good when you are roughing it.

Michelle’s Entry

Whenever I tell people I live near Seattle, they make some mention of either Microsoft or Starbucks. Well, Microsoft doesn’t make food (yet?), and I’m not sure that anything from Starbucks could be considered ‘unique’ anymore. Did you know that I went to four different Starbucks, all within the same square mile, and not a single person at any of them was willing to be photographed flicking me off? What’s up with that? One guy even went so far as to quote Corporate Policy to me! But, I digress.. where was I? Oh yeah, unique cuisine…

Before I moved here, I thought there were only two kinds of salmon: the kind you pull out of a Great Lake and then throw back because the Great Lakes have some nasty stuff in them, and the kind you buy from the store (or restaurant) that just isn’t all that great, but, hey, it’s pink and salmony. I used to hate salmon.

Here, there’s like 34342 different kinds of salmon. There’s a salmon hatchery down the road, a salmon festival in October to celebrate spawning, and salmon available everywhere in a variety of species, shades of pink, and mercury content for all your eating pleasure. If I were to venture into the city, I could watch fishmongers throw fish at each other for the tourists at the market.

Alas, I didn’t feel like dealing with the city and went to my local seafood counter instead. Faced with a multitude of choices, I finally settled on sampling some Sockeye Salmon, smoked over Alder wood. Alderwood is also a shopping mall somewhat north of here, but, since I didn’t hear news of it burning down in the name of fish cookery, I can only assume they mean the tree. My package of smoked Sockeye came with a pamphlet assuring me it was wild (not farmed), locally smoked using the “centuries-old curing and smoking methods of the Great Pacific Northwest”, and guaranteed to be delicious? Was it?

Mmm, yeah.. delicious! The flavor is stronger than the salmon I grew up with in the midwest, and has a richer color, even after being smoked. It seems less fatty and oily, too. I can’t really tell if there’s any ‘alder’ flavor from the wood (or the mall) – I don’t really have anything to compare it to. It doesn’t have that icky fishy flavor that I associated with salmon back when I hated it. I tossed the salmon on top of a spinach salad, which worked pretty well.

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And, being one of the locals now, I of course washed it down with a Grande non-fat extra-hot half-decaf no-sugar raspberry white chocolate mocha, no whip. It’s too bad an order like that wouldn’t get the Starbucks guy to give me the finger. At least, not on camera.

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