The food world reacts to the Russian invasion of Ukraine
Scroll down to the Chicago section for one article to read that will catch you up on Chicago's food trends.
All of us turned our eyes to the Russian invasion of Ukraine the past few weeks. José Andrés and World Central kitchen are on the scene. This invasion is likely to increase food and gas prices even more. Eater goes deep into the hospitality industry’s reaction to the war. The Russian Tea Room sides with Ukraine. Some states and bars are banning Russian vodka (which is extremely stupid). Restaurants are renaming the Moscow Mule. Stoli’s Instagram bio says “made in Latvia”.
In 2018, I went to Russia for the World Cup. In the interest of being extremely on brand, I took a tour of the Moscow subway. Our tour guide was a young Moscovite who was doing tours to make some extra money. While we had mostly avoided mentioning politics to anyone during the trip, my wife struck up an immediate rapport with her. At a certain point, my wife felt comfortable enough to broach the topic of what it really felt like to live in Russia. The woman paused for a long time and finally said, “I mean, you know what it’s like to live under a horrible President who has a bunch of support from old people in the countryside, right?” It’s nothing compared to the horror being endured by Ukranians, but I think about that woman and the thousands of Russians arrested for demonstrating against the war. I hope she’s OK.
Many food folks are holding fundraisers, but I did a bit of homework and decided to give $200 to Mercy Corps, an organization providing emergency direct cash assistance to Ukrainian refugees. Join me, won’t you?
Naureen Khan, writing in Bon Appétit, writes an ode to the all-you-can-eat Chinese food buffet. For many Americans, this was their first exposure to Chinese food (It was for me!) and the very concept of a buffet had an ineffable sense of getting a “deal” that was part of the charm. This may be something future generations won’t get to experience. Khan points out that buffet restaurants have been on the decline since well before the pandemic.
I’m not going to link to it but there was another tweet from a prominent Twitter user joking “recipe bloggers, please skip the long intro and just give me the recipe”. Anywho, if you’ve ever said this please read Jenny Zhang on the topic and understand you are being a dick.
Reem Kassis, author of The Palestinian Table, writes a great essay on the concept of national cuisine for The Atlantic. It’s an inherently fake idea, as cuisines are deeply regional and easily cross political borders, but Kassis says the dishes of our homeland can unite and comfort us in ways few other things can.
The New York Times dives into… there’s no way to say it other than… insect poop. Sabrina Imbler follows up with industry experts on a new scientific paper that proposes the waste from insect farming could be very useful as a natural fertilizer. Insect farming itself is a nascent industry, but considering it produces a massive amount of waste it could be a really efficient part of more sustainable farming practices.
You can’t spell “lapsed Catholic” without “Lent” (I know that doesn’t work but it’s SO CLOSE to being good). But it’s Lent, and local New Jersey media outlet nj.com recycled an old article ranking fast food fried fish sandwiches. Service journalism!
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has a book out, which you’ve probably heard because he has been evvvvvvvvverywhere. However, this blitz feels like there’s a lot of introspection in it. This GQ profile covers his rise well. He talks about how he’s given up on a lot of the things that drove his popularity: science-driven labels like “best” and “ultimate” and a certain charming combativeness. Helen Rosner holds him more to account over the toxic parts of his legacy, which he seems really willing to own. I just need one piece of media around his book to explain why I should buy a wok when my stove doesn’t get hot enough.
“Frank Capri, a former mobster turned government witness turned developer who scammed The Banks with a Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill-branded restaurant, was sentenced last week.”
I haven’t been writing about D.C. since bringing back Snack Cart for space/sanity reasons, and the thing I miss most is reading Laura Hayes. Fellow fans, she is leaving the Washington City Paper and posts a goodbye with some of her best work. I hope she keeps writing, she is one of the best local food journalists in any city anywhere, constantly finding interesting and innovative stories.
The thing most people sent me over the past week: Kirsty Bosley, a writer for BirminghamLive, goes to her first really fancy restaurant meal. She’s “common as muck” and associates fancy restaurants with tiny plates and huge portions. However, I’ve never actually read a better description of the magic a truly special meal can provide. I laughed out loud at “my bouche was adequately amused” and teared up by the end. I think reading and writing a ton about food can make you a bit cynical about it, and it was so lovely to read something so direct about why a great dinner just fucking rules.
30% of the wontons ordered for delivery were suddenly dropped back into their container after a prosecutor with a loosened tie and rolled-up sleeves realized they’ve just made a huge break in the case.
The Independent provides a closer look at the struggles facing the Russian Tea Room (which was started by emigres fleeing the Soviet regime). Meanwhile, Lower East Side’s Ukrainian standby Veselka is jammed with people eating borscht, a portion of the proceeds from which is going to Ukraine.
Mayor Adam is driving vegan Fridays in New York City schools, and kids aren’t thrilled. This article is far too credible of the claims of students who want “food from the street like fries, hamburgers, pizza” but food for kids should be taken seriously, especially if we are trying to get them to eat better.
To-go cocktails may become a permanent feature of the New York landscape. Do outdoor dining next!
RIP my chances of ever getting into Bonnie’s. Pete Wells visits and writes up an essential review. “Without wonton soup and char siu, there is no New York”. Even if you are never going to visit Bonnie’s, this review is essential to understanding more about Cantonese (and Chinese more broadly) food in America.
Scott Lynch visits Lore, a new pandemic restaurant project in Park Slope. Seems like the moves here might be to skip the mains and go all-in on the diverse small plates.
I’ve been intrigued by the rise of 15-minute grocery delivery and the team at BetaNYC has a map of all the “dark stores” around New York. Dark stores are grocery stores that *only* serve delivery. They are rapidly growing, joining dark kitchens as a new part of the urban landscape.
This week’s Grub Street Diet by Julia May Jonas is chaotic and poetic. I deeply worry about my eating habits when I have kids, and reading a parent doing OK through the chaos is nice.
Bemelmans, the Upper East Side Upper Crust standby, is newly popular with the Instagram set. New York Mag reports from the bar. I’m deeply upset that these Johnny-come-latelies will make it hard for me and my friends, who are TRUE patrons and have been going regularly for at least three years.
Adam Platt reviews Saga, where the food and experience is technically excellent but feels dated. You need to read Platt’s review to get it, but he marvels (as do I) at how every aspect of the meal feels so… 2019.
The Globe rounds up the James Beard nominees in New England. A couple classics but a lot of new names! Which as someone who is a Boston watcher rather than resident is exciting.
Craving a bit of Route 1? The Moxy Boston Downtown has a new pop-up serving tiki drinks à la Kowloon. Here’s hoping the Kowloon does even more expansion.
People are coming back to their offices and Downtown has a new food hall. According to Snack Cart tipsters. High Street Place was slammed the first few days. It’s a great mix of food, groceries, and bars, which a lot of food hall projects don’t nail.
New voice (to me) Lamont Price writes in Boston Magazine that we should ditch clam chowder and name Boston a barbecue town. This is a fun piece and I love seeing more about the food of black Boston, but Boston is probably not a barbecue town (though Pit Stop *owns*).
I’ve never actually been but I STILL can’t imagine Newbury Street without Cafeteria. I had no idea it had closed.
You had me at “New England spin on izakaya-style dining”.
I haven’t linked before but I’ve been enjoying the Globe’s new feature “five places we supported this week”, where a rotating cast of reporters highlight local restaurants where they’ve ordered takeout. This is the kind of local food writing project that more newspapers should try.
Friend of the Cart Gary Dzen travels to Schilling Beer Co. in New Hampshire, which he declares the best beer in New Hampshire.
Happy Birthday, Chicago! Both of my favorite papers use the fake occasion of the City’s birthday to drop their annual review of food sections. Reading them made me realize why Chicago is so great: it’s a modern megacity with the traditions and community spirit of a much smaller town. Reading The Chicago Tribune’s list of essential Chicago Food Experiences (multiple contributors) has a universality that you’d see in a smaller town like Boston, but the list goes on forever!!! Also warning, this WILL crash your browser.
If you want to read one thing per year and stay on top of Chicago’s food scene - The Tribune team also dropped their Critics’ Choice Awards, a new feature I already love. The awards are free-ranging (“best food court” and “Pizza Trend We Can’t Get Enough Of”), and really mostly an excuse to highlight the places and trends that the food team at the Tribune saw across the city (it’s also short enough to read quickly). They are also opening the voting for Readers’ Choice awards, so actual Chicago folks head over!
Chicago Reader, as is its wont, is slightly more quixotic in its best-of list. But it’s still a great read to find out which local chain serves tomato soup that you can enjoy without grilled cheese or where to find more Thai food than you can eat for less than $9.
Mike Sula, possibly in a small act of protest or just complimentary content, highlights the best tortillas, period. He profiles a couple that has turned a gluten intolerance into a startup making amazing corn tortillas out of heritage Michigan corn.
Block Club Chicago visits a store in Humboldt Park where everything, including food, is free. The entire project is the brainchild of an association of hospitality workers.
Real ballers know the actual splashiest thing to order is a seafood tower. However, I had not considered the taco tower. I’ll take two.
L.A. Taco profiles Juan Cruz, a former coyote who has become a master of mariscos. The food sounds amazing, but I really enjoyed a humanizing look at a coyote (someone who smuggled immigrants across the border for a fee), the only figure universally reviled in the immigration story.
Sometimes “top X” food stories are disposable, and something they blow your mind. Javier Cabrel at L.A. Taco says it will tell you six places to get Mexican meatless dishes during Lent. It gives you that, but it also outlines the history of Mexico’s relationship with Spain and the rise of Lent as a concept. Really cool stuff.
I have read a lot about Russian and Ukraine (in general) over the past few weeks, but nothing has felt so visceral as this story of ordering tacos in Kyev. It’s basically a simple travelog, but honestly I haven’t seen too many of those! It’s nice to think about the city at (relative) peace instead of just a setting for war.
SoCal is in for some problems with certain varieties of Girl Scout cookies. The reason? Supply chain issues.
Speaking of cookies, I have never heard of local startup “Last Crumb” but apparently Chrissy Teigen fans have? Los Angeles Magazine profiles the rise of this subscription cookie service.
If you like your inspiring startup stories with less grustle, then Los Angeles Magazine also profiled Farmlink, a startup connecting food pantries with farms with extra capacity. It starts with a hilarious story about driving 10,000 eggs in a U-haul down the 405, it ends with helping a ton of people. This was fun to read.
Out of Context J. Gold of the Week
Until it cools down a bit, soontofu looks more like a scene from the “Rite of Spring” sequence of “Fantasia” than it does like actual food. If you like, the waitress will break an egg over the seething, volcanic mass. The white of the egg sets at once, while the yolk remains pleasantly viscous, a nice, subtle contrast to the velvety smoothness of the thumb-size chunks of tofu and the thick broth. link.