Big news from our friends at Worldview- they've selected the judges for their International Food Smackdown. Last week we asked for your stories of your best food experience abroad. Now Worldview staff has selected their three favorites. The honors go to Robert Launay, Margaret Czopor and Robert Stigger! What do they win, you ask? The privilege to come to the station tomorrow and judge the dishes Worldview contributors are preparing! Tune in to Worldview tomorrow at noon on 91.5FM (or click the "Play WBEZ" link at the top of this page) to hear it all go down LIVE! Click through for the winners' essays.
Robert Launay In the mid 1980s, we were living in Cote d'Ivoire, where I was conducting anthropological research. The country was still prosperous, though the Ivorian economic "miracle" was beginning to wear thin. Throughout the country, though particularly in the richer southern half, a whole new crop of restaurants had emerged. They were known as "maquis" in Ivoirian French. Don't ask me why; the word means "swamp" in France. They were small restaurants serving African food to a middle-class clientele. The best of them were marvelous, where you could eat a fantastic meal for what was (for us, not for all Africans) a very modest sum. In the process, they created a distinctly national cuisine, with dishes that you would not normally find anywhere else, even in neighboring countries: foutou (pounded yam or plantain) with a rich red palm oil sauce; attieke, grated fermented manioc, served with chicken in rich tomato sauce or simply with grilled whole fish; and, most special of all, kedjenou. A kedjenou is cooked in a largish ceramic pot, in which layers of meat -- chicken or a wild rodent known as "agouti" in Ivoirian French -- alternate with layers of vegetables: tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers (the heat depends on the ingredients, but the dish is typically fairly mild). The chicken is generally a "poulet bicyclette" -- a bicycle chicken -- raised uncaged, small, scrawny, tough, and incredibly tasty. The pot is covered with a moistened banana leaf, and the meat and vegetables simmer in their own juices. You know the dish is ready when enough steam has built up to lift up the banana leaf cover. The meat is done perfectly, the vegetables have blended into a kind of puree, and every bite is pure heaven, with only the flavor the ingredients coming together in a harmonious whole.
Robert Stigger Our students in Pul-i-Khumri, Afghanistan (where we were Peace Corps volunteers teaching high school English in the early 1970s) regularly invited us to dinner. Of course the hostesses strove to outdo one another. One evening while we were enjoying an appetizer of "Awshak", the most delicious imaginable concoction of leek ravioli, tomato sauce, yogurt and mint, our host continually beseeched us to save room for the special surprise main course. We reluctantly didn't finish the bowl of Awshak. Whereupon we were served the piece de resistance. Fried spam.
Margaret Czopor I am a Chicagoan, born and raised. I currently live in Chicago. My parents are Polish and my mom still has family that lives in the Polish country side. The best food I've ever had was from that Polish country side. My aunt had chickens and the chickens egg yolks were always different shades of orange. So I find it strange that when you go to the store all the eggs are the same in color. She also had a goat which she would milk. So I've tried fresh goat milk. I've had fresh rabbit meat, which was the juiciest/ most tender meat I've ever tasted. I've also had thick sweet cream from fresh cows milk. The best thing in the world. I've never tasted anything close to it in America. It's like whipped cream but thicker, and no whipping needed. And good old fresh Polish sausage of course.We'll have more on the competing dishes as well as recipes later today.