Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011 Year in Food: The December Post-a-Day Project

For the month of November, a friend of mine writes a thanks-a-day and posts it on Facebook. It's her way of observing Thanksgiving all month long. 

Inspired by her idea, I've decided to post my favorite food memories of 2011, one every day through the month of December. The reason is to appreciate better what I have, but also to share some of the memories that come with it all. Food is never just about food, but also family, culture, and emotion.

I hope to dig up some good photos, too!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Updating 'I've Eaten Recently At' and 'I'm Eating Next At' Lists

I just finished updating one of the sidebars on the right edge of this blog. The lists show restaurants where I plan to eat next (the one I just updated) and where I've eaten recently.

The "I'm Eating Next At" list now better reflects places I actually will go in the next three to six months. Prior, it named a number of restaurants that were on my long-term list for New York City, meaning a lot of expensive restaurants. It would take me several years to get to half of them. So the list is now more focused on my local neighborhood and affordability.

Image: Chairman Bao from Bao Haus: pork in steamed bun with chopped peanuts. 
Photo by saebaryo via Flickr (CC license).

The "I've Eaten Recently At" list is updated at least once a week, unless I haven't eaten anywhere new. I started it in May 2008. A few comments about what makes that list:

First, it's chronological.

Second, I only add places where I've eaten for the first time. For example, I had dinner at The Fatty Crab in August, but you won't find it on the list under the August 2011 entries because I also eat there several years ago.

Third, it doesn't necessarily mean I enjoyed the meal. Email me if you have questions about a restaurant that appears on the list.

Fourth, it only includes restaurants where I've eaten food. If I only had a drink, I usually don't list the restaurant, although there are a few exceptions. If I go to a coffee shop or bar, I won't list it. But I do include bars and pubs that serve food, when I actually eat there.

Fifth, and last, what appears in the sidebar is only the most recent 25 restaurants. You can see the complete list that began in May 2008 here.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why I Ate a McRib


For the first time in approximately 11 years, I went to McDonald's.

My last visit happened in 2000. I had been living in London and felt a longing for something from home, and ventured out to find a milkshake. That's when I learned (or as they say in British English, "learnt") that the U.K. version of a milk shake is thick, sugary milk — not blended ice cream. I was so disappointed that I went to McDonald's and bought myself a real American shake. It was... okay, I guess. It satisfied my longing for something from the States, although it had a strange banana base flavor with which I have still not come to terms.

Eleven years later, here I am without a milkshake and instead holding a McRib sandwich. Known in 1980s and 1990s school cafeterias as the rib-a-cue, the McRib is allegedly a slab of processed pork made to resemble a rib-like construction, smothered in sweet barbecue sauce, presented in a roll or bun. The modern day McDonald's version tops the "meat" (there is some controversy over what's in it, so the scare quotation marks are indeed warranted) with sliced pickles and raw white onion so pungent you can taste it hours after ingesting. I've been reading that the pickles and onions appeared in the original McRib sandwich, but I don't remember them, to be honest.

A Total Aversion to Fast Food
The journey to the McRib was an experiment in nostalgia. Aside from the shake, I haven't eaten anything from McDonald's for years. I don't support the company, nor fast food companies in general, nor their business philosophies. On the whole, I think most fast food taste horrifyingly like deep frying oil, salt, and sugar. I can't even bring myself to even inhaling while walking by a McDonald's, as the smell of it alone turns my stomach.

Call my complete aversion to fast food a type of snobbery if you will, and I won't fully disagree. One side of my simply cannot eat that processed garbage, yet the other side of me refuses to for reasons other than first-hand experience. After all, I haven't eaten the food the chain restaurant makes for more than 11 years, so how do I know if it's really as bad as I remember it being?

Young, Hungry, Pudgy
The McRib supposedly first appeared at some test markets in the 1970s, but it hit the McDonald's mass markt in 1981, according to Wikipedia. It was then pulled from the menu in 1985. Years later, it returned, but only in some markets. Now, restaurants can choose to carry it year-round or not, and those who don't must carry it when McDonald's brings it back as a nostalgia food, drawing suckers like me in to spend our $1.99-$2.99 for some disgusting, stinky sandwich that we don't want to so much eat as buy and own like a piece of memorabilia.

What's shocking to me about those dates is just how young I was when I got my hands on a McRib. I was six and younger.

The school cafeteria food version, of course, lasted much longer and may still be on some menus today. By far my favorite school lunch food, the rib-a-cue came in an ever so slightly crusty French roll that held up to the fake ribs and sauce better than the McD's bun. I remember it being tangy and sweet, with sauce that stuck to the edges of my mouth. Ridges on the patty resembled faux bone and cartilage.

When I was a kid, I had the same deep-rooted sweet tooth that I have now, the same one that drives me to eat jam directly from the jar or devour an entire chocolate bar in one sitting. As a adult, I have more restraint and rules for my sweet binges, but as kid, nothing could come between me a the finger-licking rib-a-cue. Before the McRib was an option, my go-to McDonald's food was chicken McNuggets with sweet and sour sauce, primarily for the sauce. I didn't care what I was dunking in that well of goo.

I remember having an insatiable appetite as a kid, but I guess I had convinced myself that four, five, and six years old would have been too young to be such a glutinous pig. But apparently not. If Wikipedia's dates are correct, I was McRibbing it up a much younger age than I realized before.

Today's McRib
Curiosity and a desire to have some first-hand basis for my anti-fast food snobbery are what prompted me to buy and eat a McRib today. My sister and her boyfriend came with me. They eat fast food occasionally, so it wasn't a momentous event for them, although I believe they had never had the McRib before.

How was it? The short answer is: better than I expected, but not as a good as I remembered. The fresh parts of the sandwich, namely the bun and onions, were actually fresh. The meat tasted as much like pork as a chicken McNugget. It might as well have been vegetarian fake meat. The sauce was not as gloppy as I imagined it would be. The pickles were pickles.

I don't regret eating it, but I'd be hard pressed to eat anything else from a McDonald's for the next 11 years.