Is Access to Healthy Food a Basic Human Right?

Is access to healthy food a basic human right?
That’s the question being asked by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Not just food, but healthy food.
Food access is a right. That one has been with us since 1948, the result of the experience of the Second World War. At the end of that war, vowing that the world would never again see such suffering, the international community created the United Nations and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among the various protections, guarantees, and liberties is the individual’s right to food.

Back in 1948, nobody thought to specify the type of food. When those words were written, the Big Mac was just a gleam in Roy Kroc’s eye, and the Colonel had yet to fry his first chicken. Who could have imagined a time when nutrition would be so divorced from food that malnutrition could go hand-in-hand with obesity?
This is the paradox of modern-day poverty.

It’s like the line in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink
.
Millions of Americans are adrift in a sea of junk food. They are surrounded by cheap and abundant processed foods, with little access to healthy foods. This landscape has been dubbed ‘food deserts,’ to describe low-income communities with plenty of processed foods at convenience stores and fast food outlets, but little or no fresh food, and the nearest supermarket is one mile away if it’s an urban community, and 10 miles away if it’s rural.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that this is a reality for more than 20 million Americans, and 1.7 million of them are living in California. The bill on Governor Brown’s desk would create the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative. It enables the state to collaborate with public, private, and philanthropic entities to bring loan and grant financing to the under-served neighborhoods. The goal is to encourage existing businesses to expand their healthier offerings, and to attract grocery stores, food cooperatives, farmers’ markets, and other fresh food retailers.

Is access to high quality food a basic human right?
The State Assembly and the Senate in California think so; in fact they have thought so twice. The previous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was inclined to believe that healthy food is a privilege earned by the state’s wealthier residents who own cars or live within striking distance of farmers markets; last year he vetoed a similar bill after it passed both houses of the legislature. Once again, it sits on the governor’s desk where it is a signature away from becoming law.

Find out where they are: the Economic Research Service of the USDA created a Food Desert Locator based on census tract-level data.

The Food Environment Atlas lets you go deeper into a community’s statistics, looking at factors like restaurant expenditures and meals cooked at home.

 

 

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Smelling and Selling

Your appetite perks up the minute you walk into the supermarket.
There’s the homey smell of roasting chickens as they take a slow turn around the rotisserie, a faint herbal-citrusy scent rising from neatly stacked pyramids of produce, and of course the fresh-baked aroma of yeasty cinnamon goodness floating through the air of the in-store bakery.
What are you really smelling?

Supermarkets, restaurants, and other retailers are pumping more and more artificial fragrances through their stores. The practice goes by lots of different names–retail atmospherics, neuromarketing, sensory branding, olfactory marketing, scent logos–whatever you want to call it, it’s making you spend more money.

Sure, food smells make you hungry, but there’s more to it than that. Your sense of smell is directly connected to the emotional control center of your brain, where it triggers a response that influences your behavior. When a particular scent taps into the right emotions, you’re more inclined to make a purchase.

This stuff really works.
According to the Scent Marketing Institute, Nike was able to boost its customers’ intent to purchase by 80% when certain scents were added to their store environment. Gas stations can triple their mini-mart coffee sales, nightclubs serve more cocktails, and toy stores can get parents to linger longer with the right scent (it’s orange-seawater-peppermint for nightclubs and piña colada for toy-shopping grown-ups— go figure).

Food is a natural for scent marketing. Most of what we perceive as taste actually comes from our sense of smell. Our taste buds perceive only bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and umami flavors, and we already rely on odor molecules for specific taste sensations. Plus, it’s easy to perfume the air with chocolate or freshly baked bread, and not so simple to devise a suitable smell for sneakers or Legos .

Sensory marketing is nothing new.
A breakthrough in nebulization technology, in which a scented oil is converted into a dry vapor, has made fragranced air more commercially viable, but for years hotels have pumped a little bacon smell into elevator shafts in the morning to boost room service breakfast business, and theme parks have been tempting you to buy popcorn and sweets with scent machines hidden in the landscaping. More recently, Starbucks became so convinced of the power of scent marketing that it nearly abandoned its successful line of hot breakfasts because of the way the smell of heating sandwiches interferes with the coffee aroma.

Reeking of deception
Aggressive scent marketing by a New York supermarket has opened an ethical debate. Brooklyn’s Net Cost market has had great success with five nebulizers that pipe different fragrances through strategic store locations, seeing sales rise by 7% for the corresponding foods. The problem is that the store also disperses cooking smells for items that aren’t prepared on the premises, and for items it doesn’t even carry. Customers have complained that the store is misrepresenting its products, and that they feel misled and manipulated by the scents.

You can get a good overview of retail atmospherics at the website for ScentAir, the scent supplier to Net Cost markets, among its tens of thousands of global installations. ScentAir offers 350 smells by monthly subscription from its fragrance library, although to me, separate entries for funnel cake and waffle cone feels like so much hair splitting.

Last month’s New Scientist looks at the ways in which smells shape our moods, behavior and decisions while barely registering in our conscious lives. Read The unsung sense: How smell rules your life.

From the Gigabiting archives, February, 2011: Food might be the way to a man’s heart, but the smell of food aims a little lower. Read Better than Viagra: Arousal by Food Smells.

 

 

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You Can Bring a Gun into a Restaurant in 49 States

image via the Chattanooga Pulse

 

Ohio recently  became the latest state to open its bar and restaurant doors to gun-toting customers. Ohio joins four other states, Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, and Virginia, that enacted laws explicitly allowing loaded guns in bars, while 17 other states allow weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol. The status is fuzzy in another 20 states, including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where legislatures have not explicitly addressed the question; by default they are allowing their residents to carry guns into establishments that serve alcohol.

These laws are the latest wave in the country’s gun debate, and represent progress made by the gun lobby as it seeks, state by state, to expand the realm of guns in everyday life. They follow last year’s Supreme Court rulings affirming that citizens have an individual right to keep a loaded handgun for self defense. The rulings opened a floodgate of lawsuits challenging various state gun laws. Some of the most extreme proposals have come from gunslinging Governor Rick Perry who thinks Texans should always come to the table strapped, even when that table is in a school cafeteria.

The laws in most states allow people licensed to carry concealed weapons to take them into taverns, hotels, and restaurants. Armed customers are not supposed to drink, although that’s little comfort to servers and bartenders, many of whom feel that the mix of guns and alcohol-emboldened customers creates an unsafe work environment. Bars and restaurants are free to post signs banning weapons, but compliance can be iffy, with local gun-carry forums springing up to point out loopholes, and of course the weapons are concealed in the first place.

The logic of the madhouse
On November 1, when Governor Scott Walker signs Wisconsin’s Personal Protection Act into law, Illinois will be the nation’s last hold-out; the only state to prohibit the  carrying of guns into restaurants. It’s a sad day when a state’s General Assembly thinks its citizens need to carry weapons to be safe in restaurants.

We know that alcohol and firearms are a dangerous mix, but we seem to have lost touch with common sense on this life-and-death issue.

Keep up with the latest gun legislation with the public interest law center Legal Community Against Violence.

The NRA website has an interactive, state-by-state map of current firearm laws.

 

 

 

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Their Last Meal on Earth: What the Chefs Would Choose

It’s a morbidly perverse little parlor game.
Chefs have been playing the My Last Supper game for years. Alone together with some down time, in the kitchens and after-hours back rooms of restaurants around the world, they ask each other the question: As the big clock is ticking down, what would you eat?

Like The Aristocrats joke told among comedians, it was always a kind of secret handshake for chefs. Then a few years ago, photographer Melanie Dunea asked 50 prominent chefs to describe their ideal last meal, and she compiled their answers, along with portraits informed by their responses, in an absorbing, intimate volume titled My Last Supper.

The answers are as varied, imaginative, and distinct as the chefs, and it’s a diverse list that includes Ferran Adria, Jamie Oliver, Anthony Bourdain, Marcus Samuelsson, Gabrielle Hamilton, Tyler Florence, and Thomas Keller. Some of them would pile on luxurious ingredients like truffles and foie gras; some would seek perfection in the simplicity of a hot dog or a BLT; and others would return to their early taste memories choosing scrambled eggs, rice pudding, or Mom’s fried chicken. Each also shares the wished-for setting, dining companions, and even background music (count on lots and lots of early Rolling Stones).

Last week, Melanie Dunea launched a website bringing the concept to life. Every other Tuesday at noon, EST, she’s releasing a video in which a different chef shares the manner in which they would bid adieu, complete with recipes. The current episode features the ultimate meal of chef Daniel Humm of New York’s Eleven Madison Park.

You can watch the latest installment of My Last Supper here.

In October, Dunea will release a follow-up book, My Last Supper: The NextCourse. Asking the question that drove the first volume: “What would be your last meal on earth?” it features a new roster of chefs including Grant Achatz, Heston Blumenthal, Paul Bocuse, David Chang, Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay, Todd English,  Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, and Joel Robuchon.

 

 

 

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The Hungriest Organ

 

image via Walk the Road Less Traveled

According to the Journal of Physiology, your brain is just 2 percent of your body weight but sucks down 20 percent of your daily calories. Feed it right and you’ll be perky, productive, and alert. Junk it up with the wrong foods and you’ll never remember where you put your keys.

Breakfast
A little coffee and sugar can get your brain going in the morning. Caffeine fires you up pretty much instantaneously, and a sweet on the side adds to the effect: the duo can improve physical energy, short-term memory, and problem-solving skills, but it’s temporary, and there’s an equally fast drop in all of those as the caffeine wears off and your body has burned through the sugar.

Keep coffee and danish to a minimum; the better choice: citrus or berries (complex sugars to power up, anti-oxidants to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment), and cereal (protein for long-lasting brain energy, memory, and attention).

Lunch
An omelette and a salad are perfect midday brain food. The antioxidants in a salad can mop up the cell-damaging free radicals you’ve run into all morning from the ozone and pollutants, and the combination of vitamins C and E can improve cognitive skills and stave off Alzheimer’s Disease. A sprinkle of sunflower seeds, nuts, or dried herbs will add the vitamins, and dark green (romaine, spinach) or orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes) are full of the antioxidant beta-carotene. The eggs are rich in choline, which your body uses to produce a neurotransmitter that snaps your brain to attention and boosts memory.

Have a little yogurt for dessert and you’ll produce dopamine, the happy neurotransmitter, and noradrenalin, the perky hormone. Together they will help you face the afternoon with a smile.

Snacks
Your brain loves a good snack. A couple of pints of blood move through it every single minute, and the brain is always on the the lookout for nutrients in the flow; its favorite would be 25 grams of glucose in there, which is exactly one banana. Avoid junky processed foods with their trans-fatty acids. Rodents that are fed a steady diet of junk food get seriously confused by the classic rat-in-a-maze experiment, while in humans, highly-processed chips and baked goods have been implicated in a slew of mental disorders, from dyslexia and ADHD  to autism.

Dinner
Have a cocktail or two to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Eat fish to rebuild the cells and gray matter you were losing all day, and finish up with a dessert containing strawberries or blueberries, which seem to help with coordination, concentration, and short-term memory.

According to Men’s Health, you can tailor your food choices to suit specific mental tasks, from picking the best American Idol contestant to refinancing your mortgage. Check out its list of the best and worst brain foods for the job, which it claims can boost your brain’s productivity by 200 percent.

 

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Food Stylists: Dirty Tricks of the Trade


It was the scandal that rocked the vegetarian world.
Vegetarian lifestyle magazine VegNews admitted that it routinely ran photographs of meat-based dishes to illustrate its meatless recipes. Examples included pseudo-vegan ice cream made from actual cream, beef frankfurters posing as their vegan counterparts, and pork ribs with the bones airbrushed away to look like a soy substitute. Bear in mind that these were stock photos used for budgetary reasons, and that no animal products touched the VegNews test kitchen. Still, readers were outraged, immediately offering up their online condemnation. They called it hypocrisy of the highest order, a betrayal of their trust, a show of contempt springing from deliberate and systematic deceit.

Food journalists, though, mostly responded with a collective shrug.
Food is, for the most part, supremely unphotogenic. It’s the law of nature that frozen will melt, crisp will wilt, and moist becomes dry. Food stylists have always relied on an arsenal of inedible ingredients and unsavory techniques to get the money shot, in the same way that celebrity stylists enhance their clients with hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras.

Take roasted chicken. If you make it at home, you know that the flesh shrinks and the skin wrinkles and deflates as it roasts, but in the pages of food magazines it always appears plump with taut, evenly browned skin.  That’s because the picture-perfect chicken has been stuffed with materials like cotton balls and paper towels, its skin was sewn tightly together, and it was roasted just long enough to give it a little texture. Then, still raw on the inside, it’s sprayed with a soap-based mixture and blasted with a blowtorch to achieve the ideal, deep golden-brown color. Bon appetit!

Here are some other tricks of the trade:

  • motor oil substitutes for pancake syrup, and the pancakes are treated with water repellent fabric spray to keep the ‘syrup’ from soaking in
  • barbecued meats are colored and glossed with wood stain, and grill marks are drawn on with eyeliner
  • nuts are fixed in place with super glue, and berries get touched up with lipstick
  • Elmer’s glue is a stunt double for pouring milk; stick a straw in a glass of whipped Crisco and you’ll swear it’s a milkshake
  • aerosol deodorant gives fruit a just-picked look
  • cotton balls, soaked and microwaved, provide the steam for ‘steaming hot’ soup
  • hairspray gives new life to a dried out slice of cake
  • brown shoe polish is applied to raw meat for a crusty, ‘well-roasted’ surface
  • hamburger patties are propped up with cardboard so they don’t sink into the perfect frill of lettuce atop the fluffy bun

There are purists out there who only use the real thing, and if the photographs are destined for advertising, the governing laws dictate that the food product that is the campaign’s subject must be the authentic item, although alterations and enhancements are perfectly kosher. The public should understand that commercialized food imagery is a hyper-idealized version of reality. It’s been gussied for its magazine appearance like a movie star that’s styled for the red carpet.

Like stars without their makeup
Ultimately, we gladly turn to our home-roasted chicken—homely and imperfect, but perfectly delicious. In the same way, we know that our romantic partners are not Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, but we are no less satisfied.

 

 

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BabyNes: Like a Coffee Maker for Babies

Eager to repeat the success of its Nespresso coffee makers, Nestlé has rolled out machines that make tea, smoothies, and now baby formula.

The BabyNes works just like a single-serve coffee maker, minus the cappuccino frothing wand. Add water to the tank, pop in a capsule, push a button, and you’ve made perfectly warmed and mixed baby formula. The company’s  press release emphasizes safety, convenience and hygiene, touting a ‘microbiological’ filter built into each capsule to eliminate bacteria present in the water.

An extravagant new mouth to feed.
Naturally, such convenience doesn’t come cheap. The machine costs around $300, and the single-serve capsules cost more than $2 a pop. That’s 2 to 3 times the cost of canned, pre-mixed formula, which is itself a few times the cost of powdered formula (and, if you were curious, triple the price of an espresso pod). Figure that the capsules alone will run you an extra $650 each year.

What else is wrong with this picture?
Nestlé has engaged in a decades-long tug-of-war with public health advocates over baby formula. The two sides are always going to be at odds since breastfeeding is key to improving health, nutrition, and child mortality rates, especially in developing nations, and Nestlé is the world’s largest manufacturer of breast milk substitutes. Now, global health advocates are gearing up for a new tussle over the BabyNes.

The BabyNes machine has been cited for 130 violations of the World Health Organization standards, mostly for Nestlé’s misleading and inappropriate marketing claims touting its superior nutrition. The most serious charge is that it fails to meet basic standards for use in markets outside of the U.S. and Western Europe. The BabyNes reconstitutes powdered formula with water heated to 40 degrees celsius, a temperature that is pleasing to a nursing infant but far below the 70 degrees necessary to kill water-borne bacteria commonly found in developing nations, even after it’s passed through the capsule’s filter.

Nestlé is hoping that the pricey BabyNes will join the ranks of high status baby products like thousand dollar all-terrain strollers, digital video baby monitors, and electric baby wipe warmers. It’s a market with little price sensitivity, and presumably one with few concerns for water-borne bacteria.

Nestlé's BabyNes: This is NOT a coffee maker

Nestlé's Nespresso: THIS is a coffee maker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Far Would You Go For a Meal?

A strange little story got picked up recently by the national news agencies:
Man Drives 1,400 Miles for Pizza.
It seems that David Schuler, a resident of  Jackson, Mississippi makes regular pizza runs to Town Spa Pizzeria in his former hometown of  Stoughton, Massachusetts.

Traveling for a special meal is nothing new. The Michelin guidebooks turned it into a provincial French industry nearly a century ago, and today, a third Michelin star is a global event. 100,000 out-of-towners tried to book dinner and a hotel room when that third star was awarded to Noma, a Nordic/Scandinavian restaurant that’s rather obscurely located in a warehouse on Copenhagen’s Greenlandic Trading Square.

The International Culinary Tourism Association defines a destination restaurant as “a restaurant that is so interesting, different, or special that people travel just to eat there.” Usually this means that the food, the service, the decor, the setting—any or all of these factors—are so distinctive, so unique, or so authentic and typical of a place or style, that the restaurant creates a singular culinary experience.

Mr. Schuler’s trip raised eyebrows because Town Spa Pizzeria doesn’t seem to fit the bill as a culinary destination. There are no Zagat ratings or stars, Michelin or otherwise; it doesn’t even make the Globe’s cut for the top 25 pizza’s in the greater Boston area. And let’s not forget that his road trip took him through more than a dozen states, including such pizza strongholds as New York, Philadelphia, and New Haven.

What the culinary tourism professionals don’t understand is that the best food destinations are more than just notable dining experiences. They are great adventures that are etched in our memories—the time zones crossed, the inaccessible location, the sheer audacity of the journey can all punctuate a meal with a piquancy that’s all its own.

By that definition, Town Spa Pizzeria made for a worthy culinary destination for Mr. Schuler.

For the record, he placed a takeout order for 150 frozen, par-baked, vacuum sealed pies, evenly split between cheese, linguica and onion, and pepper and onion.

 

 

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The Latest Food Startups: At the Intersection of Food and Technology

Foodia. Foodzie. Foodily. Foodbuzz. Foodspotting. Foodista. Foodtree. Foodler. Foodoro. Fooducopia. Foodcaching. Food-Ex.
Did I forget anyone?

It feels like every day there’s a new food and technology venture competing for our attention, and still, the food-related startups just keep coming. There is no end to the interesting and innovative ways we can now search for recipes and nutrition tips, track down rare ingredients and bargains, or find out where all our Facebook friends like to go out for dinner. It’s all good, but still, you have to wonder if we really need three different services that can page us when a table is available in a popular restaurant (No Wait, Textaurant, and ReadyPing).

Does it feel crowded in here to you?
Aren’t all the programmers, designers, and entrepreneurs supposed to be building up that ‘cloud’ computing thing? Instead, they’re poking around the food space and even bringing the capital with them. Money managers took notice in August when a chain of grilled cheese restaurants launched with an estimated $10+ million in funding from the same group that backed Google, Yahoo, and Pure Digital. Now every seed fund and venture incubator program worth its salt has at least a couple of food startups in its stable.

It shows no signs of slowing down. Here are some of the newest entrants focused on technology, innovation, and market trends in the food world:

MooBella has developed an ice cream-on-demand vending machine that takes 40 seconds to churn out a fresh scoop that can be customized with 96 different variations of flavors, mix-ins, and butterfat.

Tasted Menu has users rate, recommend, and review individual restaurant dishes to create a database of the best of the best (and worst of the worst) for each city it covers. It joins Foodspotting and Forkly in a crowded field of crowdsourcers.

You’ll never eat alone: Grub With Us plans family-style dinners for strangers to meet at restaurants (currently in 7 cities), and SpoonDate lets you arrange a spontaneous blind date based on location and food cravings.

Culture Kitchen hosts authentic, ethnic cooking classes taught by new immigrants.

Foodcaching consolidates offers from daily deals sites like Groupon and Living Social and turns them into a location-based treasure hunt for food and drink bargains.

Foodoro and Fooducopia have joined the old-timer, three-year old Foodzie, in the marketplace for buyers and sellers of hand-crafted foods that let you set up your own etsy-style shop.

Jeffrey Peden, founder & CEO of CraveLabs looks at why the food industry is so ripe for the tech invasion.

Looking for a piece of the action? Kickstarter is a funding platform that lets you in on the ground floor of start-ups for as little as $5. It’s currently seeking micro-funding for a caffeinated breakfast cereal, a maker of fancy cake kits for home bakers, a crowd-sourced cookbook, and a few dozen other food-based projects.

Food and Tech Connect is an information company that produces networking events connecting innovators—the entrepreneurs, technologists, researchers, policy makers, farmers, and producers—at the intersection of food and information technology. It’s the premier place to stay on top of what’s happening on the cutting-edge of the food world.

 

 

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A Terrorist Attack on Our Food Supply: Not an IF but a WHEN

For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do.
—Tommy Thompson, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at his farewell news conference, December 3, 2004

We may be blindsided by an intentional food-based attack on this nation sometime soon… At present, our primary detection capability is the emergency room.
—John Hoffman, former Department of Homeland Security senior adviser, testifying before a Senate subcommittee on counter-terrorism, September 14, 2011

In the the wake of 9/11, one of our deepest fears was that terrorists would poison our food.
Vowing to draw a protective shield around our food supply, President Bush made food defense a focal point of our National Security Policy and the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security. Presidential directives were signed pulling food into the realm of our nation’s critical infrastructure where it joined priority sectors like communications, energy, transportation, and emergency health services.

10 years have passed, agencies have been created, $3.4 billion has been spent; and a congressional watchdog report, the subject of last week’s Senate hearings, suggests that we remain as vulnerable as ever to the nightmare scenario of food terrorism.

No big surprise.
The past decade of food counter-terrorism activity has been bogged down in bureaucratic tangles and inefficiencies. Food monitoring activities are far-flung and fragmented: there’s the oversight of federal agencies like the USDA, FDA, Department of Defense, and Homeland Security; and in many segments of agriculture and manufacturing, there are parallel systems of self-regulation and voluntary compliance on the part of the private sector. Lines of responsibility are blurred, communications between unrelated entities are scattershot, and there is no one with the authority or accountability to take charge.

The public has also dropped the ball, losing its post-9/11 sense of urgency and lulled into complacency by the relative domestic quiet of the intervening years.

72% of deliberate contaminations take place at the end of the food supply chain—the rat poison in a husband’s dinner or tranquilizers in the city council’s coffee pot. Another 23% take place at the retail grocery or restaurant level. These tend to be mostly thrill crimes, or crimes of passion, revenge, and retribution.

Direct attacks on the food supply are rare. Most have targeted water supplies, food processors, and manufacturers. Conventional contaminants like cyanide and mercury are most common, although in recent years we have seen an increase in the use of biological agents including salmon­ella, ricin, and radiological matter. They are often politically motivated, like a 1984 salmonella attack directed at voters that sickened nearly a thousand Oregon residents, and the more recent poisoning death in London of the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed with a lethal dose of radioactive polonium-210 in his tea.

Some might argue that despite our apparent vulnerability, we have little to fear because the world has never seen a large-scale act of biological warfare on a food supply. But then again, the world had never seen anything like 9/11.

You can view a webcast of the recent Senate Subcommittee session, Agro-Defense: Responding to Threats Against America’s Agriculture and Food System, and see transcripts of witness testimony at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs website.

 

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What’s Hot in Cold Beverages

What we’ve been drinking:

Infographic via Beverage Marketing Corporation

We worry about an obesity epidemic, but in 2010, we were still chug-a-lugging soda, which remains the most consumed beverage at an average of 45 gallons in a year. And our professed concern for the environment? Last year we drank more bottled water than ever before.

As 2011 winds down, the prognosticators are turning toward 2012. The Food Channel combined the results of its reader survey with intelligence gathered from the market analysts at Mintel, Culture Waves, and the International Food Futurists to identify the top 10 beverage trends that will shape our drinking habits in the coming year.

What we will be drinking:

1. Do-it-Yourself Flavor
 Beverage companies have been experimenting with a profusion of flavors looking for the new blockbuster. Refrigerated cases overflow with lychee water, ginger-peach iced tea, and rhubarb-lemongrass soda. We’ll be taking matters into our own hands with powdered and liquid flavor enhancers that are added to water or seltzer; coffee and tea creamers in new flavors like honey-vanilla crème and white chocolate caramel latte; and Coca Cola’s new Freestyle machine with a touch-screen that turns you into an instant mixologist with more than 100 flavor variations.

2. The Buzz Around Chocolate Milk
Chocolate milk is all over the map. While school districts are questioning its place in their cafeterias, new studies seem to indicate that it’s a better choice than sports drinks for athletes looking to develop more muscle and less fat, and improve oxygen uptake during workouts. New products include straws imbedded with chocolate beads that flavor each sip, and a boozy chocolate milk for grown-ups with the tagline: “Retaste your youth at 40 proof.”

3. Cold Coffee is Hot
The iced coffee market has grown by 20 percent in the last five years. Dunkin’ Donuts, the nation’s largest retailer of coffee—hot and iced—reports that more than a fourth of the yearly, billion cups of coffee it serves are now iced. Iced, frozen, and slushie coffee drinks are available everywhere. Home brewing systems are growing in popularity and you can always grab a pre-bottled iced coffee or ready-to-mix concentrate. Iced coffee is not just for summer anymore.

4. Drink to Your Health
The category of functional beverages is exploding. Bottled waters are enhanced with vitamins and fortified with minerals that claim to battle diabetes, improve digestion, and promote improved bone and cardiovascular health. Sugars are being reshuffled as we steer away from high-fructose corn syrup and back to cane sugar; and away from artificial sweeteners toward natural, zero-calorie plant-based sweeteners like stevia and agave nectar. You can fire up with an energy shot, mellow out with a stress busting anti-energy drink, or sharpen cognition with one of the ‘think drinks.’

5. Simple, Seasonal Sips
The local foods ethos is coming to your highball glass. Beers are going seasonal, artisan distillers are cooking up local spirits, and bartenders are embracing a style that’s been dubbed ‘Market Fresh Mixology,’ whipping up cocktails with natural mixers made in-house and freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. Even the hotel minibar is now stocked with local brews and regional wines.

6. Fizz-free Combo Meals
Fast food and quick-serve restaurants are looking beyond fountain drinks. McDonald’s is urging its customers in ads to ‘drinkcessorize’ with its new smoothies and frozen lemonade, and Sonic Drive-In is promoting milk shake happy hours. Popeye’s is experimenting with soda-lemonade blends, Burger King has toyed with a breakfast cocktail of orange juice cut with Sprite, and they’re all testing the waters for alcoholic beverages.

7. Craft Beer is Booming
Sales of craft brews are seeing double-digit increases, even while overall beer sales are flat. In the midst of a mature industry, craft brewers are acting like frisky teenagers as they tinker with ingredients and techniques to brew experimental batches with ingredients like fruit, tea leaves, lavender, chiles, and Nutella. There are so many small, independent artisan brewers popping up around the country that most Americans now live within 10 miles of at least one specialty producer.

8. Bourbon’s Rebirth
It’s the biggest bourbon boom since Prohibition. Just a few years ago, distillers were ready to consign the bourbon category to that great liquor store in the sky; today, inspired at least in part by the popular period TV series Mad Men, classic cocktails are making a comeback as the twenty- and thirty-something crowd bellies up to the bar for whiskey—specifically bourbon whiskey. Small batch premium and super premium bourbons are now commanding the same respect and high prices that had been the domain of single-malt scotch. 

9. Drinks and a Show
Restaurants like to dazzle us with presentation: the pampering turn of a peppermill; the deft, table side deboning of a whole fish; the oohs and aahs of a made-to-order zabaglione that’s whisked and flamed in its copper bowl. Now we’re seeing the same star treatment for cocktails. Juices are squeezed a la minute, syrups and purees are ladled right under our noses, and mixed drinks are given a deliberately theatrical, tooth-rattling ride in cocktail shakers.

10. How Low Can They Go?
Happy hour has always been a diet disaster, and drinkers, especially women, have always pushed for lower calorie choices. There’s a caloric arms race as the big players compete for the title of the lightest of the light beers on the market. Miller had just released its MGD 64, claiming it to be “as light as it gets” at 64 calories, when Bud Select 55 stole the title with a mere 55 calories in a 12 oz. bottle. Pre-mixed, low-calorie cocktails—a category that barely existed just a year ago—is giving a boost to liquor store sales, and restaurants like Morton’s Steakhouse, McCormick & Schmick’s seafood restaurants, Applebee’s, and even that ode to caloric excess, the Cheesecake Factory, have developed low-calorie cocktail menus.

 

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5 Must-Try Dumplings

Is there anywhere on the planet where dumplings aren’t eaten?

Everybody loves dumplings.
Italians have ravioli and the Germans have spätzle. There’s Japanese gyoza, Polish pierogies, African fufu, and Cuban papas rellenas. Dumplings soar to new heights with the culture and traditions of Chinese dim sum, and you can’t be Jewish without yearning for a matzoh ball now and then.

At its most basic, a dumpling is the simplest of concepts: a cooked ball of dough. It can be made from potato, flour, rice, or bread. Dumplings can be sweet or savory, filled or unfilled, steamed, simmered, fried, baked, or boiled. They can appear as any course at any meal, at any time of day or night. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, there’s a dumpling option for you.

The Essential, Must-Try Dumplings
It’s not all wontons and ravioli; there’s a great big world of dumplings out there. Here are 5 to try:

http://thumbs.ifood.tv/files/images/food/vareniki-03.jpgVarenyky (Ukraine)
Savory varieties are usually topped with melted butter, sour cream, fried cubes of uncured pork fatback, and fried onions. Fruit-filled sweet ones are usually topped with melted butter, sour cream, honey, or raspberry jam. Either way, Time Magazine once called varenyky the greatest of all European foods.

File:Pelmeņi.jpg

Pelmeni (Russia)
Smaller than varenyky, with thinner dumpling skins, pelmeni are always savory and have a higher filling to dough ratio. Frozen bags of pre-made pelmeni are so ubiquitous that they are seen as student or bachelor food, kind of like our instant ramen.

 

http://www.spicemagazine.com.au/Tortellini.jpgTortellini (Italy)
You can readily buy tortellini that is dried, frozen, and  canned in soup. But don’t. You want it freshly-made and served in a rich meat broth—the classic tortellini en brodo—in a shape that pays tribute to Venus’ belly button.

 

 

Xiaolongbao/Soup Dumplings (Shanghai)
Thin, chewy dumpling skins, mild, gingery filling, all bathed in a few spoonfuls of steamy broth— the first bite of a Shanghai soup dumpling is a rich, juicy explosion that plays like a symphony in your mouth.

 

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_d76A8FQ9xm0/SNRtp0XsOAI/AAAAAAAAApE/KytPF1r9ruI/s400/DSCN7795+-+apple+dumpling+1.jpgApple Dumpling (U.S.-Amish)
It’s a whole apple sweetened with sugar and cinnamon encased in a flaky pastry, and you get to eat it for breakfast, Pennsylvania Dutch-style. Think of it as a precursor to the Pop-Tart.

 


http://gourmaverett.pbworks.com/f/aushak.jpgAushak (Afghanistan)
Aushak’s closest relative is the Italian ravioli with meat sauce; but that is merely a reference point. The dough is thinner and more delicate, the filling is a sharp puree of leeks or scallions, and it’s topped with two sauces, one of spiced, finely ground lamb, and a second sauce of yogurt that cools the kick of the other.

 

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Celebrity Beer

You know you’ve made it when food is named for you.

Consummate New Yorker Woody Allen has his own sandwich at the Carnegie Deli. Carmelo Anthony got one when he joined the Knicks this year. Jerry Garcia, Stephen Colbert, and Elton John all have Ben & Jerry’s flavors. But there’s nothing quite like your own beer.

Belgian monks, Catholic saints, and Irish folk heroes have long inspired beer names, but the first celebrity-named brew of the modern era would be Billy Beer, named for Billy Carter—the endearingly buffoonish, hard-drinking, Southern-fried gas station owner whose big brother Jimmy had just been elected president. After a brief, faddish existence, the distinctively tacky cans enjoyed a second life in the collectibles market—a kind of boozy Beanie Babies of the early ’80s.

There will never be another Billy Carter, but brewers are always on the look-out for celebrities that can gain them a bit of traction for their brands. Here are some of the celebrity beers that are vying to be future collectibles:

Kiss Me, Kate
As if marrying royalty isn’t already enough, Kate Middleton now has a beer. The head brewer says that his addition to the royal wedding souvenir bonanza is “elegant, tasteful and British to the core.”

Git-R-Done Beer
Evidently, there is a reality TV show on the History Channel called Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy. Evidently, it has a beer.

Kid Rock’s Badass Beer
Er..um..tasty.
With his affinity for wife-beater undershirts and reputation for sweat-drenched, stringy-haired performances, the rocker’s image doesn’t make us all that thirsty. But he has brought brewery jobs back to his home state of Michigan.

State House Brews
Kansas has one—Sam Brownback Wheat Beer. So does Colorado—Hickenlooper’s Inaugurale. The governors of the other 48 states will have to be satisfied with Gubna.

 

No one draws the brew masters like Barack Obama.
In 2004, early in his political career, a brewery in his father’s native Kenya released The Senator. We were drinking Hop Obama Ale on Election Day 2010, and by the time the inauguration rolled around we had The Audacity of Hops, Presidential Porter, and Ommegang Brewery’s Obamagang Belgian Brown Ale. The president went on to top them all, making White House culinary history in the process, when he and First Lady Michelle Obama served the first White House home brew, White House Honey Ale, made with a pound of honey from the White House beehive.

 

 

 

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The Middle East Falafel Conflict

image via Falafel Road


The Arab-Israeli conflict is playing out over a pita sandwich.

Does the falafel belong to the Arabs or the Israelis?
This is no ordinary food fight. It might seem like a silly and inconsequential question, but it captures the essence of a conflict that has been one of the most world’s most complex and intractable struggles for nearly a century. Whether it’s the falafel or the West Bank, it boils down to the same issue of the legitimacy of claims, and in the Middle East, both sides take it very seriously.

Here in the U.S., we have a hard time comprehending its significance.
We’ve always been culinary magpies. We’re content with borrowing hamburgers from the Germans and pizza from the Italians, and tossing it all into our great melting pot. Cultural expressions like food take on new meaning when your society is threatened with eradication. To Arabs and Israelis, dominion over the local dish demonstrates a toehold on the land.

In the 1960s, there was a deliberate effort to create a collective Israeli identity along side the nation building campaign. Falafel was an obvious symbol: it’s made from local, desert foods and is a parve dish that fits with kosher laws. It had been eaten for centuries by the Mizrahi, the Middle Eastern Jews who then comprised 70% of Israel’s Jewish population and are still the majority. It quickly became an icon of Israeli culture and the official national dish of the young state.

The problem is that falafel is also a staple of the Arab diet. Israel’s Arab neighbors saw it as another way in which the European-descended Jews appropriated what was theirs. It became part of the wider conflict, finding its way into debates over territory and history.

The debate has spilled over into international courts, with the Lebanese Industrialists Association claiming copyright infringement over falafel recipes. Arts groups like Falafel Road and the theatrical production the Arab-Israeli Cookbook have examined issues of culinary colonialism through culture. And there is an ongoing battle for supremacy in the record books, as national teams compete to fry up the world’s largest chick pea fritter. It’s even crossed oceans to Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue, where a long-established Palestinian falafel stand is facing a challenge from an Israeli-American owned food truck.

At the center of the controversy is the humble falafel, a spicy fried rissole made from mashed chick peas or beans that is the most unlikely of political footballs.

You can see the conflict play out in the West Bank Story, a musical spoof of West Side Story that tells the story of the forbidden love between David, an Israeli soldier, and the Palestinian cashier Fatima, the children of rival falafel stand owners in modern day Israel. It won the 2007 Oscar for best live action short, and is available on Netflix.

Read about McDonald’s failed foray into the falafel : McDonald’s Israel. But is it McKosher?

 

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The Genius of Trader Joe’s

It doesn’t work for everyone.
Trader Joe’s store locations are second-rate and their parking lots are impossibly small. The aisles are cramped, there are so many missing product categories you’ll never knock off a whole shopping list, and the lines at the register rival July 4th at Disneyland. It should all add up to the retail equivalent of waterboarding, but instead, the population of admirers continues to swell.

Trader Joe’s has figured out how to take its many shortcomings and weave them into its mystique.
There’s just one brand of olives and one box size of polenta, but customers will bet that if Trader Joe’s picked them, those olives must be fabulous and it’s the best damn polenta out there. Employees are scruffy, laid-back, and Hawaiian-shirted, but also customer-friendly, always out on the floor to answer questions, and quick to open a package to give you a sample. Beloved products spontaneously disappear from store shelves, but they’re replaced with new and offbeat culinary discoveries that are often a half-step ahead of our palates (anyone for adzuki bean chips and dried green mango?). Instead of a chore, shopping at Trader Joe’s is a cultural experience.

Trader Joe’s carries around 4,000 products, compared to the typical grocery store’s 50,000. It’s a mix of foodie-friendly staples, like cage-free eggs and extra virgin olive oil, plus affordable luxury and exotic items, like frozen truffled ricotta pizza and Moroccan tagine sauce. This is not inexpensive food, but the offerings are unique and the prices are often the lowest in town. If this is not how you shop, cook, and eat, you just won’t get it.

To make sure its customers get it, the company looks at demographics like education levels and cooking magazine subscriptions to divine its next store locations. And they sure do get it: Trader Joe’s has average store sales of  $1,750 per square foot—that’s double the sales per square foot of Whole Foods and triple the amount of a typical Publix or Shaw’s supermarket. For Trader Joe’s, it adds up to $8 billion in annual sales.

The genius of Trader Joe’s is its marriage of cult appeal and scale. It doesn’t just masquerade as a neighborhood store with its bad clip art and folksy hand-lettered signs; it is a neighborhood store, with a tight customer focus and an ability to curate each store’s offerings to suit local tastes.

With 361 stores and counting, individual store oversight is less manageable, and a buying error can cost the company millions. Let’s hope as Trader Joe’s grows, it can hang on to the quirks and surprises that make it a special place to shop. Although no one will complain if they expand their parking lots.

If you do nothing else today, be sure to watch this video. If I Made a Commercial for Trader Joe’s is one man’s unauthorized tribute. It’s a complete, warts-and-all portrait; a love song celebrating the customers, employees, and eclectic merchandise of his favorite store. And it’s charming and very funny.

 

 

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Will Restaurant Menus Go the Way of the Album Cover?

photo collage via Popphoto

Some of us are still mourning the passing of the album cover.
First shrunk to CD jewel box size, it’s all but disappeared into the straight-to-iPod download.  A once vital contribution to the culture of music, album art and liner notes are increasingly the preserve of gray-bearded collectors.

Could the same thing happen to restaurant menus?
Many of the quick-serve and national chains now use electronic menu boards, self-serve ordering kiosks, and digital table projections. iPad menus and wine lists are popping up at even high-end restaurants, and a restaurant’s website has become the ultimate ambassador for an establishment’s brand identity.

The menu used to be the heart of any restaurant.
Like album covers, menus reflect social, cultural, and artistic values. They are big canvases where restaurateurs can create a visual and tactile experience that invites us in and tells us a story about the meal to come.

Thankfully, there are some who will carry the torch into the digital age.

The preeminent design champions of Under Consideration recently launched Art of the Menu to catalog what they call “the underrated creativity of menus from around the world.”

The fine art publisher Taschen has just released Menu Design in America, a yummy, coffee table-sized book that provides an epicurean tour of dining in America over the past 100 years.

The Italian gastronomic society Academia Barilla has a rich collection of menus dating back to the early 1800’s, giving us a rare view of regional Italian cooking that predates the unification of the individual Italian states.

The Harley Spiller Menu Collection documents one man’s love affair with Chinese takeout. 6,000 of the 10,000 menus in his private collection are of the tri-fold variety that urban dwellers find stuffed in their mailboxes.

The New York Public Library has one of the world’s largest historical menu collections, with more than 40,000 menus that are regularly perused by historians, chefs, novelists, and everyday food enthusiasts.

You can help carry that torch.
For years, the librarians at the New York Public Library have been slogging their way through the process of digitizing their massive menu collection. The progress has been slowed by the idiosyncratic nature of menus. The Optical Character Recognition technology is stymied by handwritten menus, unorthodox layouts, and fanciful typography, and the digital scanners aren’t able to read the menus in a way that creates indexable, searchable data.

The library has created the What’s on the Menu? project to enlist the public’s help in transcribing the menus, dish by dish. Eventually they plan to formalize the process a bit, but for now there are no user accounts or tracking systems. You just click on a menu and type what you see. It’s easy and it literally takes just a few seconds of your time for you to contribute to this important preservation of our culinary past.

Give it a try—you can start transcribing right now, right here!

 

 

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6 Condiments You Really Should Get to Know

In the beginning there was ketchup.

Ketchup has reigned supreme for nearly 200 years. At its peak, it was found in 97% of U.S. households.
But global influences have perked up our palates. There’s a big world of flavor out there. Clear out some space in the pantry and push aside the ketchup bottle in your refrigerator. It’s time to make room in your kitchen and your cooking repertoire for six new condiments.

Sriracha, oh how I love thee. Squeezed on vegetables, drizzled over noodles, mixed into dressings, dips, and sauces; a moderately spicy chili base with a healthy garlic kick, Sriracha is a condiment chameleon. It transcends cuisines and national boundaries meshing equally well with dishes from Asia, Latin America, and the American South. It rivals ketchup as a tabletop catch-all.

 

Fish sauce requires a leap of faith. Comprised largely from fermented anchovies, on its own it is potent and smelly. Use it judiciously as a dipping sauce or an ingredient in curries, casseroles, and stir fries. The flavor is pure magic.

Chimichurri sauce can be green or red (with added tomatoes or peppers). It’s primarily a blend of parsley, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and pepper flakes, with different spices added to suit the dish. It’s used as a marinade and as a sauce, mostly with grilled meats. It’s popular throughout South and Central America; especially in Argentina where they know a thing or two about grilling meats.

Doesn’t this look familiar? Canned tahini has been found on supermarket shelves in the kosher aisle forever. A creamy paste made from sesame seeds, tahini is most closely associated with the Middle East, where it is a familiar ingredient in hummus, falafel, and eggplant dishes. Tahini has the consistency of peanut butter but with a milder taste, and adds nutty richness as a sandwich spread, salad dressing, and dessert ingredient.

Harissa is a chili sauce that appears on every North African table; sometimes in every course at every meal in all kinds of dishes. To my taste, a little goes a long way: a dab added to stews, sandwich spreads, soups, and sauces adds a distinctively tart, fiery finish. It is available in cans and jars, but for me, the little tube, as shown, is plenty.

Cook Moroccan food without preserved lemon and it just doesn’t taste Moroccan. These are lemons that have been essentially pickled in their own juices along with salt and some spices like cloves, coriander, pepper, and cinnamon. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but whatever the preserved lemons are added to take on complexity and a kind of exoticness. Beans or vegetables, sauces and salsas, dips and desserts will all have a little Moroccan je ne sais quoi.

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Food Addiction: When food is like heroin, only worse- it’s everywhere.

image via Health Freedoms

The American Medical Association just got a lot closer to defining food addiction as a disease.
A new study from Yale University measured the brain activity of women tempted, and then rewarded, with a chocolate milkshake. For all the test subjects, neural activity surged in regions that govern cravings, identical to the neural response of alcoholics and drug addicts when they’re given their drug of choice. In the food addicted, activity fell off in the brain regions involved with self-control, just like the brain response of substance abusers. The findings suggest that setting a chocolate milkshake down in front of the food addicted is just like dangling a dime bag of heroin in front of a junkie.

There are more than 70 million food-addicted adults in the U.S. according to David Kessler, a biostatistician and a former commissioner of the U.S Food and Drug Administration; and they’re sick of being a pop culture punchline. To them, willpower is not enough to just say ‘no’ to french fries; they hope the biological basis of the Yale findings will bring understanding and compassion to their plight.

Food addicts are forced to confront their demons three times a day. Every meal challenges them to resist the pathology of the brain’s reward center. They reel from the constant temptations on the calendar—Halloween candy gives way to Thanksgiving dinner followed by Christmas and New Years feasts. Just when they’ve made it through the back-to-back candy holidays of Valentines Day and Easter, the doorbell rings and it’s the Girl Scouts hawking those damn Thin Mints cookies. How long do you think sobriety would last if a glass of whiskey was placed in front of an alcoholic as often?

Then there’s the pervasiveness of foodie culture, which runs amok on dedicated cable channels, in the food porn everyone is snapping, and in countless tweets and food blogs. For too many, food appreciation has become an obsession. While some of us feel food fatigue, for the food addict it’s a constant, punishing minefield of temptation.

Foodies have created an environment in which celebrations of narcissism and gluttony are socially acceptable, blurring the line between preoccupation and pathology. Disordered, compulsive eating can be hard to spot. It rarely has the rock-bottom, aha moment of other addictions, but instead tends to be a slow, chronic creep of abuse of a substance we’ve indulged in our entire lives.

Are we all food addicts waiting to happen?
CBS News has an online test of addictive behavior based on the Yale Food Addiction Scale underlying the study.

 

 

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Back to School with McDonald’s Hamburger University

McDonald’s Hamburger University
click on image to enlarge

It’s not the special sauce on the Big Mac or even the legendary french fries. McDonald’s is McDonald’s because of Hamburger University.

The school turned 50 this year and has 275,000 alumni, most working as store managers, franchise owners, and executives in McDonald’s headquarters. There’s no tuition, no SAT scores, and with 36,000 people vying each year for franchises, Hamburger University claims to be more selective than Harvard, with an acceptance rate of less than 1% compared to the Ivy League school’s 7%.

Most students at Hamburger U train at the picturesque Illinois campus near McDonald’s headquarters. They are a combination of current employees selected for their store management potential, mid-managers looking to move up, and potential franchise owners who have a minimum of $500,000 of non-borrowed personal resources and have demonstrated a kinship with the McDonald’s ethos, usually through a low-man stint as a floor mopper and french fry maker.

There’s some prep work before students arrive on campus, 5 days in residence spent in auditoriums and interactive classrooms, kitchen labs, and service training labs. Graduates also participate in follow-up course-work with one of the 22 training teams around the country. The average restaurant manager completes the equivalent of a semester of college–21 credit hours–that some colleges and universities will accept as transfer credits.

Like 60 per cent of the senior management of McDonald’s Corporation, CEO Jim Skinner began his career as a restaurant crew member. A Hamburger University grad, in 1971 Skinner was a McDonald’s manager trainee with a high school diploma. As CEO of the company (with annual personal compensation of around $18 million), he’s overseen the global expansion of Hamburger University, which has opened 6 additional campuses: in São Paolo Brazil; London, England; Munich, Germany; Tokyo, Japan; Sydney, Australia; and the newest Hamburger University in  Shanghai, China.

McDonald’s is the world’s leading global food service retailer with more than 32,000 locations serving approximately 64 million customers in 117 countries each day. Bloomberg Businessweek looks at the company’s plans to leverage the leadership skills of Shanghai’s Hamburger University graduates to fuel its big expansion plans in China.

 

 

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A Most Unusual Restaurant Map

CLICK !

 

You ate what?! You ate where?!

You know the feeling. Chinese—been there; pizza—done that. The taste buds are feeling a little jaded, the neighborhood spots are old hat. If only there was a restaurant where you could be served by monkey waiters. Or nuns. Or a restaurant with an all-blueberry menu, or one with straw-hatted donkeys wandering between tables waiting for leftovers.

The Google Map of The Most Unusual Restaurants in the World is here to rescue you from the same old, same old. The map, assembled by an eccentric Russian foodie, is marked with hundreds of little map pins, each with the promise of a unique dining experience. There are rare delicacies, exotic settings, quirky service, and wacky themes.

Restaurants with unusual settings.
You can dine in a quarry or a tree house, underground, or under the sea. There are working prisons, churches, cemeteries, and sewage treatment plants with restaurants open to the public. You can dine at the rim of an active volcano, in a Mediterranean fishing hut, or feast on cabbage soup and pelmeni in Stalin’s bunker.

Restaurants with unusual service.
Yes, there really are monkey waiters at Japan’s Kayabukiya Tavern; they prefer their tips in edamame. At Rome’s L’eau Vive, the serving nuns (who favor the title  ‘Missionary Workers of the Immaculate,’ or  ‘Daughters of the 44th Psalm’) dish up a fine plat du jour—today’s is steak served with an eggplant mousse and potato croquettes—or you can always order from the John Paul II Beatification Menu.

You can find meals delivered by robots, model trains, and catapult (at Bangkok’s Ka-tron Flying Chicken). Child labor laws are skirted at Holland’s Kinderkook Kafé, and good taste goes out the window at Hobbit House and Dwarfs Island (yes, little people do the serving).

Restaurants with unusual food.
There’s plenty of exotica; the bats, snakes, and sheep heads of foreign menus, but the map also points you to the prosaic. In addition to blueberries, you can find menus with nothing but potato dishes, grilled cheese sandwiches, apples, eggs, cheese, or breakfast cereal. For the truly undecided, one Thai restaurants checks your blood type and personality traits and then brings what it thinks is best; or you could try a restaurant where the customers choose each others meals.

There are restaurants where you catch your own fish or cook your own meal; others lend lonely diners a cat or bunny for company. You can eat in a recreated Jewish ghetto, Alice’s Wonderland, a vampire’s lair, or  a hospital room.

The Google Map of The Most Unusual Restaurants in the World  links to websites, menus, and directions. It’s a work in progress that welcomes your suggestions.

 

 

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