Banh Mi for Beginners


Bánh Mì Thit Nuong (Vietnamese Barbecued-Pork Sandwich)

 
I’m normally not in the habit of eating two lunches, however much the idea might secretly appeal to me, which is why the decision I was faced with one sunny summer day in Seattle was so agonizing.

The decision might have not had to be made at all if I’d had more time on my hands, but like always when I’m home, I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in, and in this case I had one afternoon left in Seattle and two places on my list for lunch. Tempting me from one side was the opinion of nearly the entire food world that no trip to the Emerald City is complete without a meal at the famed Italian restaurant-cum-sandwich shop Salumi; on the other, however, was a lone newspaper review of an obscure Vietnamese joint called the Seattle Deli. For many the decision might have seemed obvious – where else can you get a sandwich made by Mario Batali‘s father, chock-full of artisan pork he’s lovingly cured himself? The problem was that one of my goals on this particular trip was to hunt down one of the elusive Vietnamese sandwiches called bánh mì I had been reading so much about, and this day was my last chance to do it. To be honest, I didn’t even know anything about bánh mìs apart from the fact that everyone adores them, but as luck would have it, in the free Seattle Weekly paper I picked up there was a recommendation for this deli in the International District (Seattle’s Asian epicenter) which makes “the best bánh mì for beginners.” Since that obviously applied to me, it seemed like a pretty foolish recommendation to pass up. But considering that I possess only one stomach, I had to choose, and after much deliberation, weighing of the variables and rationalizing (I’m a Libra, don’t forget), I settled on Salumi, for the simple reason that it was closer to the ferry I would be taking into downtown Seattle, and I wasn’t at all sure I could make it out to the International District before collapsing with hunger.

I arrived at Salumi at five minutes to twelve – plenty early enough to beat the business-lunch crowd, or so I thought – and found a line already extending halfway down the block. Shrugging my shoulders, I joined the line – just ahead of a large family from Baltimore, whose constant bickering kept me entertained for the next 25 minutes as we slowly snaked our way along the sidewalk and into the tiny, closet-like restaurant. The upside was that I had plenty of time to figure out what I wanted (Libra, remember?), as I shamelessly peered into the hands of everyone who had to squeeze back past me on their way out. The thick, rustic salami sandwiches looked good, but when somebody passed me with a baguette dripping glistening juices and emitting the most unbelievable aroma of rosemary and garlic, I knew what I was having. When I finally made it to the counter, I ordered a porchetta sandwich, and left Salumi cradling a massive slab of crusty bread piled to bursting with moist pork shreds, onions and peppers, which I unwrapped with all the elegance of a starving hyena and began to devour, right there, standing on the sidewalk. It was delicious, full of deep, comforting flavors, and as I chewed I congratulated myself on my choice, secretly relieved that I wouldn’t have to brave the bánh mì experience quite yet, particularly as that line “for beginners” kept repeating in my head like a warning. What could possibly be so hard about ordering a sandwich that different levels of expertise were required?

I was about halfway through the mammoth porchetta sandwich, my hands and chin covered in slippery pork juice, when I realized I was no longer standing in front of Salumi. I had been so focused on my sandwich I hadn’t realized that I had started walking east – not the direction I had intended to go – and was now deep inside the International District, surrounded by businesses advertising their services in  Chinese first and English second. “I’ll just take a look around,” I told myself, continuing to chew on my sandwich as I perused the offerings of Asian produce markets and admired the plastic facsimiles of dishes in the windows of hole-in-the-wall restaurants. After what seemed like an eternity of chewing, I finally finished my messy, belly-stretching sandwich, cleaned myself up the best I could with the two measly napkins provided, and took my bearings. I was at a busy intersection a few blocks east of the freeway overpass, and as I examined shop fronts I realized the Chinese characters had been replaced with the slightly more familiar Latin alphabet, albeit with lots of strange accents, circumflexes and tildes. I had somehow stumbled into Little Saigon, I realized, and stranger still, beckoning from just across the street from where I stood was the Seattle Deli. Could this be fate at work?

Not one to ignore fate (no matter how stuffed), I crossed the street and peered in the window. All I could see was people pressed up against it on the other side. “I’ll just step in and take a quick look,” I told myself, “and if those sandwiches look good maybe I’ll buy one to take home.” I gingerly opened the door and stepped inside, into the space described as “spacious, bright and well-organized” by that Seattle Weekly article, and found instead a seething mass of people, both Asian and non, packed six deep around a small deli counter. There was no apparent order to the chaos and no line to join, so I hung back near the door, trying to make sense of the large and confusing menu board – and quickly coming to the conclusion that maybe I wasn’t ready to be initiated into the mysterious rituals of bánh mì after all – when a new crowd of people entered through the door behind me and started propelling me forward. One lady, perhaps catching the glint of terror in my eye, tapped me on the shoulder and said “just muscle your way up to the counter”. Nodding, I inched forward, looking anxiously at the faces of the people around me to see if I was breaking bánh mì etiquette. Nobody paid me any attention, though, and before I knew it I was at the counter, opposite a small, squat Vietnamese woman taking orders. She eyed me up and down and barked “what you want?” My palms started sweating. “A bánh mì, please,” I said in a near-whisper. “Pork, chicken or meatball?” she shot back. “Um, pork,” I said, hoping I’d made the right choice. “Hau-ma-nee?” I didn’t understand her, and the thought crossed my mind that this was some secret phrase that only true bánh mì aficionados knew, and by not I was exposing myself as a neophyte just asking for ridicule. “Excuse me?” I said timidly. “HOW MANY?” she replied, nearly shouting in my ear. “Oh, just one.” She stopped in her tracks and looked at me with a mixture of astonishment and exasperation. “Just ONE?” she repeated incredulously. I nodded, and sighing and muttering to herself, she disappeared into the back, probably cursing the Seattle Weekly for coaxing bánh mì imbeciles like me into her shop.

At this point, as if things weren’t confusing enough already, they got worse. I was still standing at the counter, my $2.25 clutched in my hand, when she re-emerged carrying an armful of wrapped sandwiches. “Two chicken and meatball!” she called out, waving them in the air, and suddenly hands shot out from behind me to grab them and give money. “Three pork!” she said, and I timidly reached for one, only to have her cluck in disapproval as she handed them all to someone reaching in over my head. I stood there awkwardly for another moment before it dawned on me that the crowd of people behind me were not waiting to order or waiting for large orders to be assembled, but simply waiting for sandwiches like me, and shamefacedly slipping my money back in my wallet, I slunk to the back of the crowd and waited. And waited. After a small eternity I heard “one pork!” and looked up to find the counter woman glaring straight at me. I grabbed my sandwich, plonked the cash into her hand, and made a beeline for the door with my hard-won bounty. If this was bánh mì for beginners, I decided, I didn’t want to ever find out what bánh mì for experts was like.

Back on the street, I unwrapped my sandwich to see what the payoff for this traumatic experience might be. I found a small, crusty baguette, light and fluffy and quite unassuming. But then I pried it open and gasped. Inside was a dazzling array of colors: a vivid clump of finely-shredded carrots was nestled next to a few translucent slices of cucumber, and a long strip of burnished-mahogany pork lay cradling a scattering of chopped chilies and a fringe of jade-green cilantro. And then I took a bite, just to satisfy my curiosity. The flavors catapulted all over my mouth: spicy, salty, sweet and sour, with an incredible interplay of textures and temperatures, crisp and soft and cool and hot… That bite was so good, I had to take another bite, and before I knew what I had done, I had devoured the entire sandwich. And oh, how I wanted another. It certainly didn’t matter that I probably would have needed stomach-rupture surgery if I had; all I could think about were those flavors. In fact, the only thing that saved me from a trip to the emergency room was that I simply couldn’t bring myself to face that woman again – she would probably have laughed in my face had I tried to order another sandwich. So I did the only thing I could, given the circumstances. I went back home and figured out how to make my own.

I’m not much into morals, but if this story had one, it would probably be some wise saying about never squandering opportunities, particularly when it comes to lunch. Then again, maybe it should be this: should you ever find yourself in a bánh mì deli, whether in Seattle, Saigon or Southampton, for heaven’s sake order more than one. Not doing so is the surest sign of a bánh mì beginner.

Bánh Mì Thit Nuong (Vietnamese Barbecued-Pork Sandwich)

Yield: 8 sandwiches (count on at least 2 per person)
Notes (edited 08/2010): This sandwich has gone through a few different incarnations as I’ve worked to get it as close as possible to my Seattle Deli ideal, as well as incorporate some banh mi wisdom from our recent trip to Saigon. At the beginning I made the pork into a kind of Chinese char siew, but eventually decided I was barking up the wrong tree. Now I do a much simpler roast pork marinated in fish sauce, honey, garlic and pepper. It’s very quick to make, and tastes much more authentic (not to mention crazy delicious; watch out you don’t eat too much straight from the pan!). I’ve also started sprinkling a little Maggi sauce which we saw them doing in Vietnam; it adds a base note of umami which harmonizes beautifully with the other flavors. As far as the bread goes, don’t go for anything that can be described with the words ‘chewy’, ‘dense’ or ‘sturdy’ – so basically, avoid the artisan bakeries. For this sandwich light baguette-type rolls are the way to go, preferably ones that have a thin crust that shatters when you bite in and a flufy crumb that collapses to almost nothing between your teeth.

For pork:
1 (1-pound/450g) piece boneless pork loin
2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon finely-minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

For sandwiches:
2 cups (500ml) warm water
1/2 cup
(60ml) rice or white vinegar
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt, or enough to make a moderately salty brine

1/2 lb (250g) peeled and shredded carrots
1/2 lb
(250g) peeled and shredded daikon radish (traditional, though not too sorely missed if you don’t have it)
8 small, crusty baguettes (petit pains), preferably from a Vietnamese bakery

1 hothouse cucumber, halved and cut lengthwise into eighths
thinly-sliced fresh chilies, to taste
fresh cilantro sprigs
mayonnaise

a squirt of Maggi or fish sauce (optional)

To prepare the pork, remove and discard any sinew and trim off large pieces of fat on the exterior. Cut the pork across the grain into at least eight 1/4-inch- (1/2-cm-) thick slices (if you’re having trouble with this, it helps to partially freeze the meat first). Transfer pork to a large sealable plastic bag. Stir together remaining ingredients in a small bowl until well combined. Add to pork and turn pork to coat, then squeeze bag to eliminate as much air as possible and seal. Marinate pork, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.

Meanwhile, make the pickles: mix together the warm water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir until everything dissolves and add the carrots and daikon (if using). Let stand for at least 1 hour. Drain well before using; keep what you don’t use in the brine and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220C. Remove the pork from its marinade and position pork strips 1 inch apart on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with any remaining marinade. Roast on the center rack for about 10 minutes. Brush meat with any juices that have pooled on the baking sheet and turn each piece over. Roast pork for another 10-15 minutes, basting once or twice more, until the pork is browned and glistening. Cool slightly, then cut into pieces that will fit inside the baguettes (if necessary).

Cut the baguettes open on one side and rewarm in the oven to revive their crispiness (the ambient heat left in the oven is usually enough to do this). To assemble the sandwiches, slather one side of the interior with mayonnaise and sprinkle the other with a few drops of Maggi or fish sauce. Next, nestle in a few slices of chili, one or two small pieces of meat, a cucumber wedge, a sprig or two of cilantro and a tangle of carrot-daikon pickle. Be somewhat spartan in the filling department; this shouldn’t be a Dagwood-type sub, but rather a crusty roll with a few flavorful morsels inside. One of the beauties of this sandwich is that each bite is different than the last.

Eat soon, while the pork is still warm and the cucumber still cold.

Book Spotlight: In a Cajun Kitchen

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Chicken and Sausage Gumbo 

 

My purchasing habits when it comes to cookbooks are, I suppose by now, no big secret. As is usually the case with addicts, I have an ample and well-worn list of rationalizations I frequently invoke to justify my ever-more destructive behavior. Sure they’re expensive, but by not stopping at Starbucks for a quadruple venti latte every morning I save so much money! Sure I already have ten books on the same topic, but this one definitely contains a crucial piece of gastronomic wisdom none of the others do! The issue of physical space, however, is a little harder to rationalize. Of course I can convince myself that a house overflowing with books is cozy instead of cluttered, but when Manuel nearly kills us both by disrupting the equilibrium of the stack of cookbooks which live on the shelf above our bed because there is nowhere else to put them, even I realize some boundaries need to be drawn. At least this is the only way I can possibly explain the madness that momentarily possessed me as I promised my traumatized husband that effective immediately, I will only buy books that I REALLY TRULY NEED. "And when this last shelf on the bookcase we bought last spring is full," I foolishly said, "I won’t buy any more until we move into a bigger apartment." Which shouldn’t be that long, right? Gulp.

So with this is mind, imagine my dilemma when an email from a major publisher arrived in my inbox one morning asking if I would be interested in receiving a promotional copy of Terri Pischoff Wuerthner’s new book, In a Cajun Kitchen. A quick glance at the publicity materials revealed that this is a glossy, stylish hardback focusing on the secrets of Cajun home cooking, painstakingly researched and brought to life with exquisite photography by the award-winning Maren Caruso. So far so good, I thought, but do I really need this book? I certainly couldn’t let myself forget that I already own multiple books on Cajun cooking and this coupled with the fact of Wuerthner being an unknown name to me – not to mention the alarmingly large percentage of my remaining bookshelf space I would be relinquishing – certainly gave me pause for reflection. But after deliberating long and hard – for at least ten seconds, I would say – I fired back an email with an enthusiastic YES!!! I mean really, bookshelf-space, promises or not, you don’t think I’m going to turn down a free cookbook, and particularly one about Cajun cooking, do you??

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The Book
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I’m quite a Cajun-food groupie. During nearly four years of residence in New Orleans I tasted a lot of it and learned quite a bit about it, but the truth of the matter is I’ve actually cooked very little of it myself. For those who are not that familiar with Cajun food, this book – part memoir, part historical record and part cookbook, should serve as an excellent introduction. Wuerthner (who grew up in San Francisco herself, but comes from a long-established family from Ashton, Louisiana) explains how true Cajun food (not to be confused with Creole, which is specific to New Orleans) is the French-based cuisine brought to Southwest Louisiana by the Acadians, French settlers kicked out of Nova Scotia in the eighteenth century. They brought their old-world style of cooking with them to this new subtropical environment, adapting it to the local flora and fauna while creating new versions of French favorites (like bisques and fricassees), as well as inventing plenty of new ones, many of which (like gumbo and jambalaya) were influenced by the cuisine of the African slaves on their farms and plantations. There were noticeable absences in ingredients in their new home, however, which led to a fundamentally different character for the new cuisine; dairy and wheat, for example, did not thrive in the Louisiana climate, and as a result vegetable oil and lard are more widely used than butter and cream, while corn and rice take the spotlight away from bread as the primary starches. The other defining characteristic of Cajun food, as Wuerthner points out, is the time it takes to cook it. This is not an à la minute cuisine, but instead one that gains its character from long, slow cooking times, which not only made the most of the ingredients available but freed up the Cajun housewife for her myriad of other duties (such as child-rearing – those Cajun families were huge!). What never changed as the cuisine adapted was the pleasure people took in it – Cajuns are known as some of the most passionate eaters and generous hosts in the world, and the heartiness and robust flavors that are the hallmarks of Cajun cuisine certainly reflect this.

The Recipes
The recipes in this book represent Wuerthner’s attempt to collect and archive her family’s recipes. Some of them she learned to cook from her family in California, while others she learned about while researching her family’s history in Louisiana. While no means an encyclopedic treatment of Cajun foods, there are recipes for just about everything well-known in the Cajun repertoire, as well as many less-traditional family favorites. The usual suspects are all there – jambalaya, ettouffe, gumbo, beignets, hush puppies and bread pudding, for example, often in multiple variations – along with plenty of less-usual ones: crispy cayenne french toast, baked tomato casserole, and spicy syrup cake. What I love about all the recipes in this book is how Wuerthner has personalized them with stories and anecdotes – each section begins with a lengthy reminiscence about her extended family and their relationship with food, and each recipe is preceded by a small note indicating the history or importance of that particular dish to this family. For me, at least, it inspired great confidence in the recipes, both for their authenticity and reliability, as nearly every one has been passed down through several generations before appearing in this book. Above all, though, what struck me as I scrutinized potential recipes to try, was how approachable and uncomplicated they are; this is home cooking at its best, a cuisine based on thrift, imagination, and plenty of good taste.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

A gumbo is a long-simmered stew usually containing some kind of meat, sausage, and/or fish (though vegetarian versions do exist), and very frequently calling for both okra and filé powder (powdered sassafras leaves), which act as flavors and thickeners. In addition, one thing gumbo always includes is a roux – a long-cooked mixture of flour and oil – that adds thickness and a deep, nutty flavor to much Cajun food. Upon this first layer of flavor are layered a myriad of tastes and textures which are
slowly simmered together to make a rich, thick, mildly spicy dish.

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (she admits that bone-in, skin-on dark meat chicken pieces, such as legs, thighs and wings are more traditional as well as flavorful in Cajun cooking, so that’s what I used – a much better idea, in my opinion)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup corn oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 quarts warm chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced 1 inch thick (or other spicy smoked sausage, such as Kielbasa, though my advice is to add the following if you don’t use andouille: another 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 1/2 pounds fresh okra or 20 ounces frozen okra, defrosted, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons filé powder (I left this out, as I couldn’t find any locally)
chopped fresh parsley, to garnish
cooked rice, to serve

Season the chicken cubes (or pieces) with the salt, paprika and cayenne pepper; set aside. Heat the oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring constantly, until the flour has turned a medium-brown, like peanut butter. Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the seasoned chicken and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly (and reducing the heat, if necessary, to prevent burning).

Add the stock and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the hot sauce and sausage; reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add the okra and simmer for 30 more minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the filé powder just before dishing it up. Serve in soup bowls with a mound of rice in the center of each portion.

 

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Pecan Pralines

Pecan Pralines

These deceptively homely – but extremely delicious – treats have a reputation for their difficulty, something I understood all too well in the process of making them. The first problem is achieving the correct temperature so that the finished pralines will spread around the nuts like molten lava and cool to an opaque firmness that crumbles softly under the teeth. A candy thermometer, needless to say, is quite essential here. The second hurdle, which is even greater in my opinion, is getting all the pralines made before the mixture cools to an unworkable grainy sludge, which it does faster than you can imagine, especially if you’re not a praline-forming pro yet. I found a way around this by returning the mixture to the heat, along with a spoonful or so of water, and remelting it for a minute or so until it was the correct temperature again. It was quite a production, though, and out of an entire batch, I got maybe half a dozen really perfect pralines. The others were certainly tasty, but would probably not win the approval of a true connoisseur. In any case, even the rejects are delicious chopped up and sprinkled over ice cream.

2 tablespoons softened butter plus 1 tablespoon butter
4 cups brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecan halves (8 oz) (I toasted them lightly before using – about 8 minutes at 350F)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper or waxed paper. Use the 2 tablespoons butter to coat the paper, the interior of the medium saucepan to be used, and two cereal spoons (which hold about 1/2 tablespoon in volume). Combine the remaining ingredients, except the pecans and vanilla, in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring often, to 236F on a candy thermometer – just under the soft-ball stage (about 6 minutes).

Remove from the heat, immediately add the pecans and vanilla, and stir vigorously until the mixture loses some of its gloss, about 3 minutes (I found it took much less than this). Working fast, drop half-tablespoons onto the prepared paper using the two buttered spoons. Allow to cool before storing in an airtight container, at room temperature, with the pieces separated by waxed paper. 

 

The Verdict

Simply wonderful. The gumbo came together almost effortlessly, and although it was quite a bit lighter in color than other gumbos I’ve had due to a shorter cooking time for the roux, the flavor was still hearty and robust. I’m not a huge okra fan (particularly in soupy-type preparations, where it has a tendency to get quite slimy), but here it adds a delicious silkiness and bite, and the sausage (I used Kielbasa) anchors everything with a wonderfully savory, smoky depth. With a scoop of rice it was an easy, filling one-bowl meal. The pralines were a bit trickier, but certainly tasted as good as any I had in New Orleans – I’m tempted to make another batch just so I can make my own pecan-praline ice cream. If these two recipes are representative, which I certainly have reason to assume they are, I have no qualms about highly recommending this gem of a book, which is both an excellent introduction to Cajun food and a heartwarming read all in one.

And free cookbook or not, it’s definitely deserving of a place on my bookshelf. 

 

A Book, a List and a Lot to Read

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Being woken up by the thud of a heavy padded envelope falling from our mail slot to the floor is not that unusual for me, nor is quickly jumping out of bed to retrieve it. It’s certainly not unusual to rip the envelope open and find a cookbook inside, and these days, not even unheard of to find it’s a free promotional copy sent by a publisher hoping for some good press. Getting back into bed to leaf through my new book is certainly not out of the ordinary, nor is flagrantly disregarding the fact that I should be getting ready for work rather than lounging around in bed reading cookbooks. What is unusual, however, is to open such a book and find, buried about halfway through and looking for all the world like they actually belong in such a strange place, my own name and more than two thousand of my own words staring back at me.

I’d been waiting for exactly that moment for quite a long time – ever since, thanks to a tip-off from Tea (who is a contributor as well!), I submitted a story just in time to make the deadline for a book about learning to cook around the world, the latest in a line of critically-acclaimed anthologies from Traveler’s Tales, and even more so since I’d heard back from Susan Brady that my story was accepted. Nothing really prepared me for the thrill of actually holding the book in my hands, however, and of noticing how different my words look in print than they do on a computer screen – more confident, more shapely, and certainly more permanent. I didn’t dwell on it for too long, though, because I quickly realized that this book has a lot more going for it than just my piece. In fact it is a goldmine of brilliant writing, exotic destinations and incredibly tempting recipes. There are tales from just about every corner of the globe; amusing, poignant and heartwarming pieces about teaching chefs in China to make southern fried chicken, conquering culinary demons in cooking school in Sydney, and, of course, learning to make the perfect Spanish tortilla (my own contribution). And as if that weren’t enough, the final chapter of the book is chock-full of enough practical information to make any travel-addicted foodie (or food-addicted traveler) drool: international cooking schools and culinary tours, books, magazines, internet resources, etc. The highest praise I can give this book, however, is to tell you that I would buy it even if I hadn’t contributed to it, and I suspect that if you’re the kind of person who likes food and travel (and especially both in one package), you will no doubt love it too. And with copies available in both the US and the UK, you should be able to get one delivered to you no matter where in the world you are.

In other news, I want to extend a massive THANK YOU everyone who has contributed to my Foodblogger’s Guide to the Globe project. When I sent out a tentative request for participation three weeks ago, I certainly didn’t expect quite the tidal wave of responses you’ve provided! A quick count shows the list at 1,220 items suggested by (if my math skills don’t fail me) 243 contributors (excluding myself) containing descriptions of edible delights from Cambodia to Cape Town, Bali to Brazil and New Zealand to Nantucket. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed combing through everyone’s lists, and this has also been a great excuse to discover dozens (even hundreds!) of new blogs in the process.

As for the food, I have been fascinated to see certain things pop up again and again; things like foie gras and truffles, just-picked fruit and garden-fresh tomatoes and homebaked bread, oysters and macarons and real pizza napoletana. I have also realized that not just taste, but the experience itself also plays a major role in our appreciation of food, as many of you have demonstrated in your advice to have a meal in the dark, eat something with a challenging texture, conduct a taste test, enjoy a fish we’ve caught or a vegetable we’ve grown, or even (this is one of my favorites) relive those dreaded school lunches! Then there are those things I’ve heard about but wasn’t aware of just how badly I need to seek them out – Krispy Kreme donuts, Philly cheesesteaks, Texas Hill-Country barbecue, jamón ibérico de bellota, dampfnudeln and real dim sum to name a few – as well as things I’d never heard of but found my mouth watering at their descriptions: sakura ebi, Samoan oka, mutsch and black sapote. Much to my delight I now have handy lists of what not to miss should I find myself in Japan, Cambodia, India or Montreal, and I even know what to ask for if Judy Rogers ever offers to cook me dinner! My thrill-seeking alter-ego will never be content until I partake of fugu, drunken prawns and deep-fried alligator, and at the other end of the spectrum, I have had my appreciation (and appetite!) for home-style comfort food like buttermilk-fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, BLTs and New York-style cheesecake reawakened. It turns out I have a lot of private homes to visit too, evidenced by the number of must-taste dishes made by contributors’ mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, uncles and aunts - I hope they’re ready to accommodate all the foodie pilgrims like me who will soon be knocking on their doors! And lest we think this is all about food, think again – it turns out no life is complete without Château d’Yquem, Mariage Freres Tea and beer from Oregon.

I’m not even close to having read through each and every contribution yet, but one thing is pretty clear already – we foodbloggers have a lot to live for!

p.s. If you’d still like to contribute to the list please read the original post for guidelines and leave a comment there with your link! I’ll be accepting submissions as long as they keep coming…