August 24, 2006

Five Foods to Eat Before You Die

Playa Avellana, Costa Rica, it'll make sense at the end.

Fine. The oven mitt is thrown.

Melissa Kronenthal, aka The Traveller's Lunchbox, set the challenge: create a list of food bloggers' top picks for things you've eaten and think that everyone should eat at least once before they die.

I was amazed by my answers. I thought I'd get all sophisticated and snotty - truffle omelettes, souffle this, lobster that - but my body trampled my ego shut and hurried on its way to simpler foods.

It's true.

I mean, who, or should it be what, makes better fries than a chip truck? I remember being on a shoot out on Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula. We were heading home on a two-laned highway that spread off one way into rocky, undulating farmland, the other to a grassy crest that hinted at the light that comes only from the open sea. The road was more crowded with roadkill than cars. Yet every mile or so was an isolated chip truck. It was very weird. I was beginning to wonder if they were mirages.

I almost squared the wheels of the rental car as I slammed the brakes and the car onto the shoulder as the next one came into view. And we nearly peed our pants laughing when we discovered our team in the car behind us had been honking, flashing their lights, trying to get us to stop at a chip truck, any chip truck. Just arretez-vous, s'il vous plait.

Best not to think of the pure lard the chips must have been doused in. But a large, hairy, masculine arm handed them through the window, covered in grease and salt, oozing through the paper bag - chips from paradise...on a grassy hill, the wind blowing off the ocean, playing the grass like an instrument, the sky clear blue through to space, the clouds bleached and fluffed - how could I resist them?

Taste and setting - good food karma...

Okay. The five foods...

1. Fig bruschetta, unbelievable layers of flavour. Toasted bruschetta rubbed with garlic, spread with a mixture of blue cheese (I use stilton), marscapone, and chopped parsley. On top, a quarter of a fresh fig braised in balsamic vinegar and sugar in a pan, which is then thrown under the grill to get the cheese going. If you try this, get them out of the oven and stand back - beware of stampede. Hats off to the creator: Donna Hay and eternal thanks to my friends Lauren and Mark who discovered this gem and are among my favourite cooks.

2. In keeping with the stilton theme: fresh mussels in a white wine, shallots, cream, garlic, stilton cheese concoction - this was born at a local pub up the street from me. I asked the owner how to make it. The freshest of bread for dipping is essential. Throw the cheese in right at the end in chunks and just let it barely start melting before serving. Again, stand back. Fair warning.

3. Linguine with tomatoes and basil. Ingredients nature intended to blend. This one is also courtesy of the above-mentioned Lauren, via the Silver Palate Cookbook. The pasta is cooked and doused with a bowl of chopped, beautiful tomatoes, shredded basil leaves, chopped garlic, and a pound of brie (without the rind and ripped with your hands into small pieces) all of which has been marinating for a few hours in very good olive oil. The heat from the pasta oozes the cheese into its most fragrant self - you can just imagine.

4. Any fruit that comes right off the tree. My husband remembers eating pomegranates off a tree in California and I remember grabbing oranges off trees in Portugal. Nothing in the world like that. The fruit bursts in the mouth, the juice explodes in multiples of flavours getting more intense, then settling as it goes down your throat.

5. A tuna sandwich? Not just any tuna sandwich. This is also one of those good foods where setting adds to the flavour - we discovered this at a beach restaurant in Costa Rica, which I hesitate to recommend, but I'm sure you'd respect. Playa Avellana is an undiscovered, unspoilt beach south of the touristy, overstimulated, teenaged, party-animal-filled town of Tamarindo. Avellana is known mostly to surfers (duuude) and those who have invested in property nearby. And sitting like a jewel in a nation of uninspired food and few inspired restaurants, is Lola's. They only serve lunch, the menu is all excellent, but the ahi sandwich is how all self-respecting tuna want to go. It's a lightly-grilled ahi steak, laid out on a ciabatta bun layered with mixed greens, olive and sundried tomato tapenade, and garlic aioli. When we returned to the region a week later, we walked 14kilometres along the shoreline to get another sandwich.

...and on the side? What else? Chips...The fries came standing in a beautiful white cup, with small dishes of ketchup and mayonnaise on the side for dipping. No chip truck in sight, but plenty of ocean, wind, and clear skies. Now that's good food karma, not bikini karma, but food karma.

Come share your thoughts...

Go nuts.


Tea said...

I'm in love with that tomato, basil and brie pasta from the Silver Palate as well. So good!

Welcome to the world of food blogs!

Kim The Reporter said...


Thank you for your fantastic blog. Your five favorite foods inspired me to cook (I'll have the fig bruschetta, please!) and actually made my mouth water. Love your clean, spare, descriptive style. I am a writer on UPOD and have a "blog" here, but I am a poor excuse for a blogger. I actually forgot how to update it (yessss, I am embarrased!). Any tips are welcome! Kim

Julie said...

I found you via Traveler's Lunchbox.

Wonderful list. The fig bruschetta, the mussels, and the linguine with basils, tomatoes, and brie all sound amazing.

Nicola said...

Hi Kim, thanks for the kind words. I'm really enjoying this and getting a real kick out of the reaction from all over the place. Being new, not sure I have worthwhile tips for you (or what exactly you need tips for, since I looked at your blog and you're doing fine!) - Do you mean, how do you find your way back to your blog? Email me if you need to - I'll help in whatever way I can. best...Nicky

Nicola said...

Hello Tea! Thanks for the welcome. I also tried to name my blog something to do with tea (tea and biscuits for example) since my DNA is swirling in it. I love the community feeling blogs have.

I haven't made much else out of silver palate...many of them have too many ingredients and are too complex. And it feels dated now, do you find that?

Nicola said...

Julie...thanks for know i don't think i've had chip truck chips since that trip to the gaspe.

I've bookmarked your blog...and I haven't been to Baltimore except on a plane that got diverted for refuelling. I hate flying.

See you in your blog! Nicky

sam said...

of all the answers i have read so far (I am going through Melissa's list chronologically), yours is the first I have come across that all sounds absolutely delcious to me. Unfamiliar yet familiar all at the same time.

good job

deccanheffalump aka Jyotsna Shahane said...

Oohh this is a list of foods to die for.!

Honeybee said...

I love all the foods on your list. The pasta with tomato, basil and brie sounds exquisite! I made a mental note to try it soon. I only started my food blog very recently, too, how did you get so many hits in such a short time? It's amazing, it seems that very few people go to my blog... so far. See ya!

Tox Man said...

We've served the fig bruschetta, the mussels and linguine dish on numerous occasions to our dinner guests. They were a resounding success.

Oven baked garlic spread onto fresh lightly toasted French baguette with a thin slice of brie on top is also to die for.

It always pays to steal from the best.