White claw summer can never die, only the actors who portray him
Back in the early aughts, I dabbled in blogging. By dabbled, of course, I mean I had a blog that I was always neglecting to update. Once, I started 5 posts in a row with “I’m sorry I haven’t updated in a while.” When I started Snack Cart, I vowed I would never do that. But clearly, I have been an extended break. I took August off intentionally, and much like my plans to get back into running, it just didn’t quite happen. When Snack Cart began almost two years ago when my job was… not that hard. I could afford to spend most of my Thursdays reading and writing. My new job is really hard, which eagle-eyed readers might notice led to less regular Snack Carting even before summer break.
Still, summer has been over for some time, work is getting a bit more manageable, and Midsomer Murders has left Netflix. Time to get back to it. This week’s issue is a bit of an experiment. My mailbag was quite full, so rather than dive into individual cities this is just a very long list of interesting food stories. I’ve tried to break it into ad hoc sections to make it a bit more readable. Some of the articles are old, but consider it a fun chance to relive the summer (remember White Claw?).
This might be the first of many experiments. I’m thinking of changes that make a bit to make writing Snack Cart itself a bit easier. Many of the newspapers I recap are massively expanding their food sections-- The Los Angeles Times is basically doing a weekly issue of Lucky Peach. This is wonderful for the cities served by these papers, but makes it a bigger task to give each food section the attention it deserves. Plus, I’d really like to start reading Soleil Ho regularly.
More on that in the future, but for now, I’m grateful for your continued support. It honestly blows my mind that people (including writers whose work I enjoy) have reached out to ask when the newsletter would be back. Thank you.
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Some of my favorites
If there is an underlying thesis to Snack Cart, it’s that there is a lot of value in smart and informed criticism. While I mostly write about food and media, I think that extends to all things. So I greatly enjoyed this issue of Columbia Journalism Review dedicated to the state of the critic. There’s lots of good stuff, but if you want to focus on food you should read this interview with Ruth Reichl.
I appreciate each and every person who sent me this long feature on competitive oyster shucking in China. It tells a great story of the history of the oyster in China and of competitive oyster shucking across the world. It is a touch rambly, but the rambles paint a compelling picture of the growing inequality in Chinese society.
At least Snack Cart is back in time to include this profile of Altagracia Alvino before the World Series ends. Alvino is the mother of Vladimir Guerrero Sr. and the grandmother of Vladimir Jr, two generations of major league baseball players. For almost 30 years, she’s been cooking Dominican food for her family’s teammates and homesick players across Major League Baseball. Beautiful story.
The Economist reflects on what a Chinese restaurant in Havana teaches us about the new world order. Kind of a lot! (Subscription required).
This TV Guide article about the importance of the Food Network is a bit list-y, but it’s an amazing experience to read through all the shows and personalities the Food Network has created over the past 30 years.
My Twitter friend Michael Miranti writes a lovely essay about why he’s leaving the restaurant industry. He writes about how much it’s given him, and how much it has cost. It made me think a lot about my time in political campaigns. Frequently, jobs that are tied up in the mission and the culture can ultimately be incredibly toxic and draining.
I really can’t tell if this is empowering or terrible or what.
Citylab writes up an interesting story on how Chinese researchers were able to use Dianping (I guess Chinese Yelp?) to come up with uncannily accurate pictures of the social and economic makeup of a number of cities.
Farhad Manjoo’s journey from intentionally obtuse tech reporter to woke and leftist op-ed columnist is one of the most interesting transitions in media. This piece, about how we should stop mocking vegans and vegetarians, is dead on.
Fried Chicken Sandwiches
If you don’t remember (or somehow missed it), this Vox explainer very ably runs down our collective summer madness over Popeyes. Remember buying two sandwiches at once just because one had slightly different mayo? WE ALL DID THAT.
Ernie at Tedium did a deep dive into the patents that brought us the fried chicken sandwich. Definitely click through to this, if only to see the drawings in Taco Bell’s attempted patent of the Crunchwrap Supreme.
Always read Danny Chau about anything, and his take on why we are so obsessed with the fried chicken sandwich is no exception.
You know this is a real trend because there’s a sexy halloween costume.
I am not the kind of person who drives to farms in the middle of Vermont for limited-edition beers, but Rowan Jacobsen’s description of Hill Farmstead makes me understand the appeal. It also makes me miss summer (even though summer is trash do not @ me). I really didn’t expect an article in Yankee Magazine about craft beer to be the best portrait of an artist I’ve read in a long time, but here we are.
Tim Murphy, writing in Mother Jones, tells the forgotten history of New Coke. The beverage had a moment this summer because of Stranger Things. Famous for being a debacle, Murphy argues that maybe it was actually better than Coke Classic. He also makes a compelling case that the death of New Coke was an example of the white grievance politics we know so well.
NPR checks in with the man in charge of America’s ketchup supply. Ketchup Master is an official title at Heinz!
Do you want to read 1500 words on the best butter in the world? OF COURSE YOU DO. Now I know what I’m getting my Dad for his birthday next year.
This Serious Eats story about ramen school makes me appreciate how I could become one. Fanatical devotion to what is essentially a very simple set of base components is very appealing.
I love love love this story by Rohini Chaki in Gastro Obscura. She writes about Manhattan’s only vineyard, Chateau Latif. My new goal in life is to be invited to the grape harvest.
Dan Nosowitz writes in Gastro Obscura about the history of Crab Rangoon. I grew up with it as a Chinese takeout staple, though I haven’t seen it on as many menus now that I’m in New York. Apparently, we can trace its history back to Trader Vic’s. Nosowitz does a great job exploring how Chinese American food and Tiki culture became so blended.
America’s growing acceptance of MSG is opening us up to an explosion of international condiments that the rest of the world has been enjoying for years. Next up: Australian chicken salt, which is vegan and apparently great on fish and chips.
Summer of White Claw
Amanda Mull, as is her wont, perfectly distills the appeal of White Claw. She says it’s our generation’s backlash to a decade and a half of chasing perfect cocktails or specialty beers. It’s cheap, easy to drink, and refreshing. One of my summer adventures was splitting a case of White Claw with a friend while riding the Staten Island Ferry. Mull has a point.
Four Loko walked so that White Claw could run.
Josh Barro writes about the economic reason it’s been the summer of White Claw. The spiked seltzer is fermented (like beer) rather than distilled (like vodka). This means it’s taxed at a much lower rate, making it affordable enough to be the crushable drink of the summer (and fall!).
I was REALLY ready to roll my eyes at this story about why European food is better than American food. Rather than a study abroad lament, author John Miller makes a serious analysis of how food subsidies and income inequality affect food quality. If lower and middle class folks have more money, they spend more on food. This creates more demand for the kinds of fancy and local foods that are currently reserved for the better off.
Y’all, one side effect of my sister living in France is that I have a direct pipeline to French Facebook food videos. They are all WILD.
I really enjoyed this history of the Parisian jambon-beurre sandwich. I didn’t realize that tradition is older than Paris itself.
“If you’re the type of person who prefers to sit outside and people-watch, and you worry about hot candle wax dripping onto your head, then maybe go to Chili’s? Me, I like to go where the real Parisians go. I mean, I didn’t see any Parisians at Chez Colette during my visit, but that’s how you know that you’re at an authentic French restaurant—not even the French will eat there.”
David Lebovitz’s blog is my go-to for Paris restaurant recommendations and aspirational lifestyle content. But, like many chefs and authors whose work I primarily consume via Instagram Story, it’s easy to forget how much he has his shit down cold. This post about salt is the best thing I’ve ever read on the topic for a home cook. My girlfriend recently bought a bunch of what is basically rock salt and I am DESPERATELY trying to use it up so I can stock up with a kosher salt so this never happens again. Also, kosher salt isn't kosher? WHAT?!
Not Paris, but just on the other side of the Chunnel: If you, like me, only know buns as a challenge on GBBO, read this Ruby Tandoh story in TASTE about how the traditional dessert is on decline in the UK. She writes about her affection for buns, and how she hopes that can become a symbol of a new and more diverse England.
New York City (What!? I still live here!)
This is a lovely profile of Dianna Daoheung, the Thai chef behind Black Seed bagels. She reflects on the journey that brought her immigrant family to America and made a Thai woman the bagel queen of New York.
For both sustainability and radically rethinking the restaurant dynamic, this is the most ambitious restaurant opening I’ve heard of. I wish it was slightly closer so I could get a light dinner there 2-3 nights a week.
This CNN listicle of New York’s best classic restaurants is surprisingly good! You would do worse than sending this to a friend asking about places to go in the City.
This is a lovely obituary to the iconic New York grocery store Dean & DeLuca. It paints a picture of a treasured brand being bought and destroyed by incompetent rich people. My only fond memory of the grocery store is from my first two months living here, over ten years ago. My apartment was around the corner and I was too stupid to realize that this wasn’t just what grocery stores are like in New York. I spent SO much money.
Jeff Gordinier at Esquire writes about the opening (or reopening) of Pastis. He does a great job of telling the story of how the original Pastis made the Meatpacking District what it is today. It was a cultural touchstone. Towards the end, he slides a biiiiiiiit into “Oh man wasn’t it great when we could do whatever we wanted and we didn’t have to worry about TWEETS” but I’ll indulge the nostalgia. It probably wasn’t that good, but it was good. It’s good it’s back.
Oh Grub Street diets, I think I’ve missed you most of all. I caught up a bit, and two jumped out at me / were recommended. Bartender Shannon Mustipher opts for the comprehensive version of her calendar. Just reading about her schedule has me exhausted. But she lives around the corner from me, so it’s fun to hear her talk about the bodega I used to go to! Lukas Volger, editor of Jarry Magazine, has a slightly more normal but still idyllic routine. I really do wish the New York editors would do some more normal ones: “Slept until right before work, Starbucks coffee, desk salad, then got home late. Ordered Thai takeout while watching Midsomer Murders. Didn’t need that last glass of wine.”
Because they are easy to mock, I also greatly enjoyed this Leah Finnegan rant about Grub Street diets. She complains that too many of them are about Los Angeles these days. I don’t agree, but this is a super fun read.
This Medium post about the Sweetgreen-ificiation of society got enough attention that it broke through into the larger Internet. It waxes a bit too nostalgic about the democratic nature of the Manhattan deli. However, who our restaurants are for and the increasing stratification of society is an important topic. We can worry about Sweetgreen if we want, but the chipping away of true public spaces like parks or public transit is the real crisis.
Amanda Mull reflects on how it’s still frighteningly normal to food or body shame people in the workplace.
There’s no real point to this New York Times photo essay on lunch. It’s just a series of photos of New Yorkers in the 60s-80s eating lunch. I haven’t seen something more compellingly human in a long time. I want a gallery show of these.
One of the best regional Massachusetts foods that doesn’t get enough national (or even local) attention is bar pizza. There’s not even good reliable bar pizza in Boston! (stfu about Puritan that doesn’t count). Next time you visit Boston, consider driving to the South Shore to eat some bar pizza.
I don’t really know how content works, but it’s very weird to see two almost identical stories about donuts (complete with the same photos) in National Geographic and in Time. That being said, I will link to both because I WILL NOT REST until all of America knows about the Californian Combodian Community’s contributions to donuts.
Los Angeles taco stands sell a large number of dishes that aren’t actually tacos. Subtle variations in topping, tortilla, and preparation define dishes that, to a true connoisseur, are worlds apart. TASTE publishes an investigation by Dylan James Ho into one of them: the vampiro (the pun title is lovely). A vampiro is kind of like a taco where the flour tortilla has been grilled or griddled. Ho visits a number of vampiro stands, exploring the origin of the dish and the name.
The Formosa cafe is one of the weirder Hollywood landmarks. It’s a historic showbiz hangout, but not one that really comes up when thinking about such things. But it’s been completely renovated in order to look exactly the same, and it looks amazing.
We've got a long way to go
The New York Times profiles 16 black chefs who are gaining prominence in the food world. It’s a great article that combines biting commentary about what these folks have had to overcome with joyful and colorful photos. WTF happened to Henry at the Life Hotel, which closed TWO DAYS after this story was published?
Huffington Post writes a fantastic profile of black barbecue pitmasters across America. More than almost any food, barbecue is something that has been appropriated and separated from its black and native roots. This article has some HARSH callouts for publications that are Snack Cart favs, including Texas Monthly and Eater. Queer Eye fans, it also features the Jones sisters!
I was debating including this story from July 4th, but then I realized it’s also from 2014. Michael Twitty writes in the Guardian about how black people were not allowed to eat vanilla ice cream in the Jim Crow south, except on the Fourth of July. This is just as relevant now as it was in 2014, as it’s always a good time to reflect on how insidious segregation and racism really are.
The food story I am generally happy I missed was LeBron James trying to trademark the term Taco Tuesday. Not surprisingly, Gustavo Arellano writes eloquently and intelligently about how James, without realizing it, has stumbled into the opportunity to strike a blow by freeing the trademark.
The Midwest is a bubbling cauldron of horrifying yet treasured food traditions.
The Washington Post features a wonderful long feature by Tim Carmen and Shelly Tan. They break down the history of four dishes - California rolls, Gumbo, Queso, and Spaghetti with meatballs - into their component parts and explore how each dish is uniquely American. This is extremely my shit. My favorite tidbit is that through a combination of marketing and the vicissitudes of corporate America, to of the largest food conglomerates in the world - bitter rivals! - work together promoting queso.
This is very funny web video content. Everything Bon Appetit is doing is so smart.
Texas Monthly has hired the new best job in food media: a taco editor. Jose Ralat made waves in a New Yorker interview by saying burritos are actually tacos, and backed it up with a long essay introducing himself to the magazine’s readers. There was shade from a number of corners of the food world, and I’ll just say everyone needs to calm down. Burritos are obviously ravioli.
Out of Context J. Gold of the Week
Aficionados aren’t content merely to eat a decent plate of pescado Zarandeado, they are willing to commit murder for it. Perhaps you will find one of them in prison one day, shaving garlic thinly with a razor blade, waiting for a crooked guard to bring him the snook he intends to barbecue over a fire made from smashed-up oak chairs. - link