The Terroir of the Shopping Mall Food Court


Alaskan food court favorite Hot Dog on a Stick


Mall dining is much more than a shopper’s pit stop.

There’s an uninspired sameness to mall stores.
Close your eyes and you could be in any mall, anywhere, with the same overstuffed department stores at each end and the predictable mix of national retailers and ear-piercing kiosks. But if you’re looking for a sense of place, you just need to head to the food court. In between the ubiquitous soggy pizza and cinnamon buns you’ll find surprising expressions of regional preferences, and even, dare we say it—terroir.

Terroir, which is usually used to describe wines, is that ineffable sense of place that comes from the sum of the effects of a local environment. It takes in geography and geology, climate and heritage, class and culture. Instead of Mosel Riesling and Loire Valley Muscadet, shopping mall terroir is embodied in regional affinities for grilled subs, bubble tea, and cheese steaks

Terroir is where you find it.
While many restaurant chains are named for localities, they can be surprisingly popular outside of their namesake regions. Boston Market and Uno Chicago Grill are both more beloved in Mid-Atlantic states than in hometown malls, while Moe’s Southwest Grill and Ted’s Montana Grill are Southeast favorites. The Great Lakes embrace Texas Roadhouse in greater numbers than native Texans, while Jersey Mike’s Subs are all but shunned in the Garden State but have become a favorite on the West Coast. California Pizza Kitchen and South Philly Steak & Fries both are true to their names, and everyone everywhere loves A&W All-American Food.

Cupcake and donut bakeries are disproportionately represented in New England malls. Mid-Atlantic shoppers take more bagel and bubble tea breaks than anyone else, and in the Great Lakes they like to sit down with a bowl of soup. Southwesterners like to nosh while they shop with gelato and roasted nuts. They line up for buffets in the Plain States, and a single mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania is home to five separate Auntie Anne’s soft pretzel outlets.

Mall food courts are so much more than Cinnabon and Sbarro. See what you’re missing with Thrillist’s coverage of lesser-known delicacies: REGIONAL FAST-FOOD CHAINS THAT NEED TO BE EVERYWHERE, IMMEDIATELY.



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Wine + Coca Cola = Quelle Horreur!



Coca-Cola Bottle Cap Wine Bottle Stopper via WillowbendCottage Etsy Store

Coca-Cola Bottle Cap Wine Bottle Stopper via Willowbend Cottage Etsy Store


So much for that famous French snobbery.
The ungodly combination of red wine and cola is this summer’s newly popular refreshment. Hausmann Famille, a branch of the French winemaker Châteaux en Bordeaux, has introduced Rouge Sucette—which translates as Red Lollipop—a blend of 75% wine with 25% sugar, water, and cola.

Wine consumption is in a free fall.
Wine was always served with dinner. For generations of French drinkers it was a daily occurrence, the norm for a majority of French citizens. Today the number of daily wine drinkers has fallen to 17%, with 38% reporting that they never drink wine at all.

Wine and Coke is nothing new.
In Argentina it’s known as Jesus juice; South Africans call it katemba; Croatians mix bambus; and in Chile the combination is known as jote. It’s most widely drunk in Spain where it’s a sort of unofficial symbol of Basque culture. It’s believed to have originated there as a cheap method for making rough, local wines more palatable.

To the French, the mixture’s history just serves to compound the indignity.
The country is fighting an uphill battle to preserve its culinary heritage. Earlier this spring the government imposed a ketchup ban on all French school cafeterias, fearing that the nation’s distinguished cuisine is being buried—literally and metaphorically—under a flood of foreign influences. And now wine flavored with sugar and cola has captivated a younger generation’s sweet tooth while masking the true nature of their vaunted varietals.

None for me, thanks, but if you feel the need…
Don’t bother looking for Rouge Sucette on these shores. It retails in France for barely three euros a bottle; hardly worth shipping, especially when we have plenty of our own liters of Coke and Two Buck Chuck.

A better idea is to order yourself a Spodee and Sody, a red wine and Coca-Cola cocktail based on Spodee, the latest of the hip spirits from the makers of trendy Hendricks Gin and Sailor Jerry rum. On its own, Spodee is a rather tasty and strongly fortified concoction of wine, cocoa, and some kind of moonshine liquor. The mix of grape and chocolate flavors end up tasting a little like Raisinets, but with a 36 proof kick.


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French Foodie Flash Mob Turns 25


Diner en Blanc, Notre Dame, Paris 2012

Diner en Blanc, Notre Dame, Paris 2012  via Diner en Blanc International


Wikipedia traces the origins of the flash mob to 2003 when 130 New Yorkers synchronized a visit to Macy’s ninth floor rug department. 
Apparently they’ve never heard of the Parisian pop-up Dîner en Blanc.

For 25 years thousands of Parisians have dressed entirely in white, packed a picnic dinner, and converged on the city’s most notable public locations: Notre Dame, Versailles, the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, Champs-Elysees, Arc d’Triomphe. The location is always a closely guarded secret kept by organizers until the very last minute when guests literally walk onto the site and start setting up tables and chairs, white tablecloths, glasses, and place settings—no paper or plastic allowed.

Dîner en Blanc (Dinner in White) began in Paris in 1988 as a reunion of old friends. 10 of them met for a picnic dinner in the Bois de Boulogne, a large public park, and they all agreed to wear white so that they could spot each other. The next year the original group of friends invited friends, and those friends invited more friends; 400 white-clad picnickers showed up in 1989 and 800 in 1990. They switched venues and adopted the current method of concealed locations in 1992, but the numbers continued to escalate. In 2010, 12,000 showed up for Dîner en Blanc at the Louvre, filling the space from the I.M. Pei pyramid to the Tuileries.

The Paris dîners have evolved to accommodate the crowds. Events are now split between multiple dates and venues, transportation is arranged, seating coordinators manage the tables and crowds, and there are bands and DJs reflecting the presence of the next generation of picnickers. But every one of the thousands of attendees still comes dressed in white and toting a formal meal with proper cutlery. And every one of them is an invited guest that can be traced to one of the original 10; they are friends of friends, and friends of those friends, and their kids, and their kids’ friends… no one gets on the list without an invitation from a previous participant. There is tacit approval of city officials, but a Parisian Dîner en Blanc is a private affair, discreetly under the radar of most residents.

Dîner en Blanc has come to America.
Asia, Africa, Australia, and across Europe too. The international effort is spearheaded by the son of one of the original reunion picnickers who works with local organizers to hold events around the globe. The international dîners are public events, coordinated with municipal authorities and openly publicized on Facebook and Twitter. Locations are still a secret, but they can be attended by anyone who signs up online and pays a facilities fee of around $30. A second round of dinners is in the works for this summer in Chicago and Boston; New York will see its third (the waiting list for the last one contained 30,000 names), and nine more U.S. host cities have been targeted for future events.

Sign up for a dinner near you at the Dîner en Blanc website.
If they’re not coming your way any time soon, go see the movie. Dîner en Blanc: the World’s Largest Dinner Party is a new documentary film about the evolution and orchestration of the dinners and it’s currently making the rounds of film festivals. The filmmaker’s Facebook page posts updates of the screening schedule.


Diner en Blanc, Lincoln Center, New York 2012 via Diner en Blanc International


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The Edible Stay-cation

You haven’t booked your Michelin tour yet?

That’s right, Michelin, publisher of the eponymous hotel and restaurant guides, bestower of stars to the crème de la crème of restaurants worldwide, has created a set of world-wide culinary vacations. The drool-worthy itineraries include cooking classes with renowned chefs, wine tastings in celebrated cellars, and of course plenty of Michelin-starred dining.

Are we forgetting something?

Oh yeah; time and money. But don’t despair. With a little online browsing, you can find recipes and ingredients for any and all of the world’s culinary traditions.

International is a recipe exchange with more than 34,000 members in 90 countries. I’m not sure what this means, but it’s a little disconcerting to see that the most requested recipe from the U.S. is Olive Garden’s tiramisu.

Food in Every Country covers culinary history, traditional holiday dishes, mealtime customs, and the political, environmental, religious, and economic factors that define each cuisine. The database is broad, although every country is a bit of an overstatement.

In Mama’s Kitchen focuses on authentic, home cooking from around the world.

Soup Song and Rice Gourmet focus narrowly on these two, universal foods.

Say it like a local– Forvo is a pronunciation guide for 258 of the world’s languages.

Sometimes they do things a little differently. Worldwide Recipes has conversion tools that adapts weights, measures, and temperatures for the American kitchen.

Ethnic Foods Co. sells a global selection of spices, pantry goods, prepared foods, cookware, and even some fresh herbs and produce.

Massachusetts blogger Sarah Scoble Commerford began her world tour in April, 2010. She is cooking her way through each of the world’s 193 countries (give or take, depending on the dynamism of national political agendas). Working alphabetically, beginning with Afghanistan, she is preparing a representative meal from each country’s traditions and ingredients. She just started cooking her way through the T’s (goodbye St. Kitts; hello Thailand). She documents one or two meals each week in her blog,  What’s Cooking in Your World? At the current pace, the ETA for Zimbabwe is spring of 2013.

Why not put away your passport, save on airfare, and indulge in some kitchen table travel?


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The Edible Stay-cation

image via Betelgeuse


You haven’t booked your Michelin tour yet?

That’s right, Michelin, publisher of the eponymous hotel and restaurant guides, bestower of stars to the crème de la crème of restaurants worldwide, is now booking culinary vacations. The drool-worthy itineraries include cooking classes with renowned chefs, wine tastings in celebrated cellars, and of course plenty of Michelin-starred dining.

Are we forgetting something?

Oh yeah; time and money. But don’t despair. With a little online browsing, you can find recipes and ingredients for any and all of the world’s culinary traditions. […]

Posted in recipes, travel | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Is Everything Better on a Stick?

   image courtesy of the Kentucky State Fair


You coast dwellers can keep your Jersey shore and your Venice Beach. August is state fair season, and the middle of the country is happy to stay right where they are, thank you very much. There are 4-H exhibits and livestock competitions, country music stars and carnival rides, but the real draw is the food.

If it’s worth eating, it’s worth eating on a stick.

The state fair tradition of food-on-sticks dates back to the 1947 introduction of the Pronto Pup, a corn dog-like deep-fried hot dog encased in a pancake batter coating. The modern food-on-sticks era can be traced to the seminal 2001 season of the deep-fried candy bar-on-a-stick. When macaroni and cheese-on-a-stick was introduced the following year, it was game on; competition and creativity merged as vendors vied to outdo one another to create the best-selling, the tastiest, and the most outlandish food-on-a-stick.

Frying the unfryable.

State fairs are synonymous with crowd-pleasing fried foods. Since the stick is a handy vehicle to dunk skewered products into a deep-fryer, crispy foods-on-sticks abound. Past successes from the genre include deep-fried kosher pickles; Big Fat Bacon (a one-third pound deep-fried slab); mashed potatoes, and turkey stuffing-on-a-stick, the last two of which emerge from the oil like over-sized bread-crumbed lollipops. Less successful were batter-coated spaghetti-stuffed meatballs, fried corned beef reuben sandwiches, too-chewy pig ears, and crispy, crumb-coated chopped liver-on-a-stick.

Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona— they all have their stick cultures, but nowhere is the competition fiercer and the passion more fervent than at the Minnesota State Fair. One-upmanship has resulted in 81 foods-on-stick at last year’s fair, known as the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

As they say in Minnesota, If you can’t eat it on a stick, then my goodness, why bother eating it at all?

Preview the 2012 lineup when it goes live on the Minnesota State Fair Food Finder. Fittingly, on-a-stick is a search term.


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Eat like a South African

If you want to know what South African food is like, it’s easier to jump on a plane for Johannesburg than to track it down in the U.S.

The population of South Africans in the United States numbers in just the tens of thousands. With barely a handful of markets and restaurants catering to the homesick expats, the foods are unfamiliar to most Americans.

It’s a true polyglot cuisine. There are a few enduring, indigenous dishes, but most South African cooking reflects the contributions of settlers from Portugal, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Germany, France, India, and the U.K. As soccer fever engulfs the planet, let’s take a look at some popular dishes of the World Cup’s host nation. […]

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AirFork One: rethinking airline meals

This fall, Continental joins every other major U.S. airline when it ends free economy-class meals on domestic flights. Like checked luggage and bulkhead seats, in-flight meals join the list of existing amenities that airlines are looking to spin into upgrades. The stuff of jokes probably since the dawn of aviation, few are mourning their passing.

Entrees On Trays

Prison food, hospital food, school cafeterias— has anything good ever been served on a divided tray? In fairness, serving meals at 40,00 feet poses unique challenges of logistics, space, cooking technology, and security. On top of all that, the altitude messes with the body’s sense of taste. […]

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Fantasy Camp for Cooks


You’ve heard of rock and roll fantasy camps where aging boomers go to dust off their Dionysian rebel dreams and jam with classic rock legends. There are the fantasy sports camps, where 20 years and 40 pounds is never a barrier to living out big-league dreams.

If you had three wishes…

For those of us who dream of running a kitchen, who fall asleep counting Michelin stars and long to wear chef’s whites and slip-proof clogs; we get our own fantasy camps. […]

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