Meme: Things to Eat Before You Die
I've been tagged by fellow foodblogger friend, Passionate Eater for the Things to Eat Before You Die Meme, started by Traveler's Lunchbox.
The concept is simple, name five food items or experiences that you "know and love and couldn't imagine not having tasted".
So without further ado, here are my five.
1. Soto Ayam - Indonesian Chicken Soup
This is one of my favorite dishes. What is it? Chicken soup, Indonesian style. The best version (other than my mom's), in my opinion, comes from my hometown of Semarang. In a ramshackle structure built of spare aluminum siding and tattered fabric, the family that owns this street-side "warung" wakes up every morning before dawn preparing simmering vats of soto, a shredded chicken soup seasoned with turmeric and other spices. Order a bowl and you see them assemble your breakfast. Rice, bean thread noodles, celery leaves and diced green onion go in first. Then it is doused with the clear, hot chicken broth, garnished with aromatic golden fried crumbled garlic and shallots. But no bowl of soto is complete without some sort of side dish. The most common one is perkedel, a deep-fried mashed potato fritter. My favorite side dish, though, is a bowl of soy-stewed bloody-clams and a hard-boiled egg. The kecap manis it is steeped in imparts a deep, sweet flavor and a dark, brown color; the perfect accompaniment to the bright yellow of the soup.
2. Aged Steak
Remember the scene in The Matrix when one character decides to betray his friends, Neo and Morpheus, in exchange for a return to life inside the Matrix where he could be blissfully unaware of reality, and occasionally enjoy a dinner of rare steak? Besides the fact that he's a backstabber, can you really blame him? Is life worth living if you have to eat gruel everyday, never able to indulge in a melt-in-your-mouth, tender-as-silk, carnally-satisfying, bloody-as-hell, flavorful-beyond-words piece of aged beef steak?
3. Nigiri Sushi
And I don't mean just any nigiri sushi. It must be prepared by a sushi master, like Shibutani of Sushi Shibucho in Costa Mesa or Urasawa in L.A. These chef-owners have a vested stake in their establishments and a reputation to uphold, so they take it upon themselves to trek out to the dockside seafood supplier every morning at the pre-dawn hours to claim the freshest, most vibrant specimens to bring back for their patrons. These guys know as much about buying fish as they do about the craft of making sushi. And when you do them the honor of requesting "Omakase", they will reward your trust with one of the most not-to-be-missed food experiences of your life.
It's been called the vilest fruit on earth. Its aroma is likened to decaying flesh, rotten onions, dirty gym socks, fetid cheese, and not just individually, but together. Hotels in South Asia forbid the consumption of it on their premises. At the sight of splitting one open, Tony Bourdain said the durian lobes looked like premature human fetuses. Hyperboles aside, it really isn't that scary. Stinky yes, but is it delicious? Absolutely! The taste, look, and texture of it, to me, is similar to soft, yellow egg custard that's been permeated with methane gas. The smell of it does travel into your sinuses when you eat it. It snakes down your gullet and up into your nostrils, enveloping your entire head in a durian-induced haze.
5. Sate Gule Kambing - Indonesian Goat Satay and Goat Curry
This is actually two dishes made from goat ("kambing"); one is a murky soup and the other is the grilled meat skewered on sticks. Eventhough both dishes are unique in and of themselves, these two distinct preparations are meant to be eaten together. Like "fish and chips", you simply cannot have one without the other. Unlike fish and chips though, the soup is the "yin" to the sate's "yang". The whole meal becomes a perfect balance of asymmetric flavors and textures. The soup, called gule (pronounced 'guh-lay'), is curry-based. Made from simmering the bones and the fatty, gristly meat of the goat in a big pot, it is rich and unctuous. But the consistency is surprisingly light and thin on the palate -- more like a finely tuned broth than curry. The subtle creaminess of coconut milk balances and tames the complex spices at work. The sate (pronounced "sa-tay"), on the other hand, is simply prepared. To make it, the most tender pieces of the goat is cut and threaded onto bamboo skewers. Then the skewers are cooked quickly over a smoky charcoal fire. As soon as they are just about done they get brushed with a glaze made from a simple mixture of kecap manis, lime juice, and white pepper. As soon as the goat satay is plucked from the fire, the two dishes are enjoyed in concert with hot rice. I alternate between tearing a chunk of meat from the sate stick with my teeth and then taking a long sip of the hot soup.
Now, customarily, I would tag five other bloggers to continue this meme, but then I thought, why should bloggers have all the fun? If you are reading this, then you should have five items of your own to add. The comment board is always open.