The 614ortyPlatter – The Food Encyclopedia (A through M)

More often than not, the genuine article taco trucks, like
Taqueria Las Costeñas on Columbus’s West Side
have the more adventurous proteins like lengua available

Maybe I’m betraying my nerdy youth with this admission, but I still get a thrill when I see a set of old-school encyclopedias in a thrift shop.  Before the Atari 2600 and video games entered my life with a bang, perhaps my favorite way to pass the time was to pull out a random volume of our family’s encyclopedia set, open it up to a random page, and start reading away.

Inspired by a recent sighting of an encyclopedia set on the television, my mind got to thinking – why not cobble together an alphabetically ordered, randomly picked out topic list related to food?  So here, without further adieu, is the first half of my list, covering the letters A through M, with some appropriate music to accompany this very educational endeavor (playlist embedded at the end of the post.)

1) Alphabet Soup – Often a term used for the plethora of government agencies known mainly by their acronyms, the culinary version of the term dates back to late 19th century Paris, where grocers sold bits of pasta shaped like letters for use in soups.  Interestingly enough, one of the current occupants of Columbus’s Budd Dairy Food Hall, Alphabetical, started off as a food truck selling lunchtime favorites like alphabetical soup.  We couldn’t think of a better way to start our list musically with a Motown classic from Gary, Indiana’s Jackson Five, whose “ABC” is a delightfully peppy way to get our exploration going.

2) Brownies – A staple dessert for bakers all over the world nowadays, the humble brownie is something of a latecomer in terms of a recipe appearing in print.  Most sources trace the origin to the Sears Roebuck Catalog, a Boston-published cookbook, or a Bangor, Maine housewife roughly around the same time (plus or minus a few years from 1900), but no matter what the actual source, sweets-loving people are thankful nonetheless.  Frankly, we’ll all be “Finding My Way Home” when brownies are baking…or in this case, Brownie McGhee, the Tennessee-born folk blues singer and guitarist best known with his collaborations with harmonica-specialist Sonny Terry.

3) Caipirinha – An alcoholic cocktail based on fermented sugar cane juice, this drink has become the national drink of Brazil, with many stories attributing the drink as a way to combat the effects of the Spanish Flu pandemic which struck the world in 1918.  For you blog readers, you’re sharing a cocktail with none other than the members of Swing Out Sister with their own version of “Caipirinha” from their 2005 album “Where Our Love Grows” (this Manchester, England band is best known for their Top 10 hit “Breakout.”)

4) Detroit Style Pizza – One of a number of regional pizza styles, Detroit Style has seen an uptick in popularity in the past few years.  The style originated in the late 1940s in the Detroit area when automotive drip trays were used to cook up a pizza characterized by a thick, crispy cheesy crust along the edges, pepperoni pressed into the crust, and the use of Wisconsin brick cheese, lending the pie a creamy, buttery texture. While many songs are possible here, I went with the one song that immediately popped into my mind – the iconic hard-rockers KISS and their rendition of “Detroit Rock City.”

5) Egg Foo Young – One of those dishes born of both ingenuity and a touch of racism, Egg Foo Young was created by Chinese immigrants to feed hungry Americans of European origin. Discriminated against in the gold fields of California, these immigrants often went into the hospitality and culinary fields, one of the few lines of work available to the Chinese. These immigrants ended up adapting traditional Chinese dishes to accommodate less-adventurous palates; the hybridized version of this traditional Cantonese dish used locally available vegetables and a brown gravy topping. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is the legit item though, and to help reinforce that, we present the Trap Music grooves of Egg Foo Young and “All For You.”

6) Frogmore Stew – Known by a number of names, the Frogmore Stew is essentially a seafood boil, with shrimp combined with corn on the cob, sausage and potatoes with various seasonings. The seafood boil in general seems to be a trending type of restaurant, judging from the number of eateries specializing in this group-oriented treat. Paul Reichle and Eddy Truman, a duo out of Fayetteville, NC, are a lot like the stew – they mix in a little of everything (rock, jazz and blues) into a tasty blend, including their rendition of “Frogmore Stew.”

7) Giblets –  Essentially a collection of the interior organs of a fowl bird, giblets have a role in a number of recipes, including the Turkish dish iç pilav or the French dishes pâté and alicot.  However, most people know it here in stateside as an essentially ingredient in gravy, as does renowned jazz guitarist George Benson, who named his 1969 album “Giblet Gravy”, coating his distinctive style on a cover of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” (which reached #2 on the Billboard charts six years prior.)

8) Harissa – Many people in this country are starting to go beyond the typical Mediterranean favorites; one such instance lies in the emergence of Harissa, a hot chili pepper paste which originated from the country of Tunisia in the 16th century and spread into surrounding countries like Algeria and Morocco. Appropriately enough, “Mount Harissa”, originally released in 1966, comes from Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite album.

9) Idli –  Idli is less known in the U.S. than naan or dosa, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious.  Originating in India, Idli is savory cake-like snack created by steaming a batter consisting of rice and black lentil, and is a common sight in Southern India and Sri Lanka. Hailing from Chennai, musician Sean Roldan, known for his work for scoring a number of Tamil-language films, takes a humorous and even philosophical view of Idli with his catchy “Idli Chutney.”

10) Jackfruit – A tropical fruit from the Moraceae family, jackfruit has become an increasingly common meat substitute, appearing on a number of menus in vegan and vegetarian preparations.  But don’t discount its sweet properties, such as its inclusion in summer-style desserts like Halo Halo, a Filipino shaved ice dessert that combines a number of different textures and flavor profiles. Describing their sound as “Queer kid bedroom pop”, recent newcomer NYC-based Jackfruit (aka Jack Braun) has released a series of singles and EPs over the past year-and-a-half, including our selection “Aries Moon.”

11) Korean Fried Chicken – the history of this uniquely delicious variation dates back to just before the Korean War, where African American military troops stationed in South Korea opened up fried chicken stalls in various cities. Eventually, various franchises selling the Korean version starting dotting the local food scene, including Bonchon and Pelicana.  Speaking of the latter, K-Pop supergroup BTS has specifically endorsed the latter as one of their favorites; I think you can ask them, a KFC outlet can indeed be a “Magic Shop”, off of their 2018 album “Love Yourself: Tear.” 

12) Lengua – Here, we focus on the venerable taco truck.  While it’s easy to please with the more familiar ingredients such as pollo (chicken), asada (steak), or carnitas/al pastor (pork), it’s often the more unusual ingredients that show off a taco truck’s skills, such as lengua (aka beef tongue.)  “Lengua Larga” represents the Afro-Cuban funk sound of the Miami-based PALO!, a conglomerate of talented musicians that has earned a number of local and national honors (including a Grammy nomination for their 2015 “PALO! Live” album.

13) Marzipan – While nowadays often associated with Germany, this sweet almond paste concoction, used in cakes or shaped into small animals or fruit, has several origin stories ranging from Spain to Persia to Sicily to China.  Regardless of its origin, we’ll sweetly end this exploration with College Park, Maryland-based Velocity Girl’s version of “Marzipan.” Formed in 1989, the band managed a decent seven year string of singles and albums on both the influential Slumberland and Sub Pop record labels.

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