Food has become a trendy topic. We have a TV network dedicated to it. Dining is trendy too, with endless possibilities for table décor and ambience, whether you eat in or out. There truly is something for everybody. Of course, like most things, we tend to all jump on the same bandwagon, and so there are more popular and more trendy ingredients. Interestingly enough, this seems to be a regional phenomenon, much like clothing fashions. I thought I would share a list of what has now become “overrated” in the trendy foodie-friendly cities, according to Zagat (the company that is famous for restaurant reviews in North America). Let’s see if we agree…
The first ingredient listed was ramps, a member of the onion family that resembles a small leek. It is sometimes called spring onion or wild leek. In the locavore movement, this was an easy pick, as it is native to the eastern side of North America, and its French name is where the city of Chicago got its name (there was a field of them near Lake Michigan when the area was discovered). I suppose an onion being trendy is considered too much, since it is such a pedestrian food. They sound interesting to me, though.
The second ingredient was truffle oil. It is true that oil infused with the essence of truffles could easily be produced in various ways, allowing for a huge degree of difference in the quality of the product; even the oil can be of varying qualities. It does usually leave a bad taste in our mouths if we spend much more money on a dish and discover that we have not seemingly got our money’s worth. I think that the musky flavour of truffles is an acquired taste for many people, and as such, it could easily become something people consume just to say they did. True truffle oil is pungent, and not something you would want every day, even if it is good in mayo with homemade French fries… (I couldn’t eat ketchup every day either though.)
#3 was Kobe beef. Here in the Okanagan we had our own version of specialty beef (the wine-fed cows from Sezmu have the same even marbling that Kobe beef does). Again, this is an ingredient at a premium price and so it has lesser versions for those who want the prestige but not the price; they are now cross-breeding cattle to claim Kobe status while not having 100% Kobe characteristics. I think the true secret here is eating premium ingredients prepared by a premium cook. If good food is cooked well, it always tastes sublime.
4 – Quinoa. This one surprised me, as it seemed to have just become the new thing. Quinoa is an ancient “grain” (it’s actually a seed, related to spinach and beets) that is often used in salads or as a substitute for rice. The writer of the article claimed “Eating quinoa is the culinary equivalent of wearing an alpaca poncho while listening to Michael Buble.” Well, if you like that sort of thing, why not?
Fifth, we have bacon, and this was the one food listed that drew the most comments from readers, many of them devout bacon fans. The writer claimed that bacon had “gotten out of hand”, being used to flavour everything from vodka to ice cream. While I wouldn’t suggest eating bacon every day even if you do love it, I don’t think that we can ever count this quintessential cured meat out of the diet in our house :)
Number six was pork belly, which was described as bacon without curing and smoking. Again, here is an example of cooking food well. Pork belly is not a cut of meat many of us cook often, so it’s understandable we might not prepare it to show off its best features. Chefs do like a challenge, and so perhaps that is why it is a popular restaurant ingredient. At least this ingredient is not expensive! I think the local version of pork that has become trendy is pulled pork. Good pulled pork is fantastic; like anything else it can also be very beige in character if there is no attention put to the details of the flavour or the cooking.
#7, the second-to-last mention, was fiddlehead ferns. This is a real delicacy, both in its availability and its appearance. You know when you see these things that they must be special. And either you are adventurous and you want to try them, or you think that perhaps the cook has had to root at the bottom of the bin to find the last possible green in the area. (The picture this week is a fiddlehead, in case you have never seen one.) I enjoy them as a sign of early summer, but I have to admit I couldn’t eat them often.
Last, at number eight, is “hand-carved ice cubes”. Here I think the writer might have run out of ideas, as I don’t know that I would call an ice cube a food. Sure, I suppose a big-city bartender might like the idea of a cube with as many sides as possible, so the ice touches the drink with more surface area. (But isn’t that why you swirl your glass and enjoy that clinking sound?) If I was going to choose, I think arugula would have to be my entry. As much as I love it, and grow it in my garden, it seems to have become more popular than spinach as an alternative to lettuce. I am a firm believer that variety is the true spice of life, not a spicy salad green.
Here in our less urban valley, I don’t think most of the items listed are a danger to the variety in our diets. I am quite proud of the fact that the ingredients we have lots of we do use often – Okanagan fruits are offered on menus across the region in a plethora of dishes, and our markets supply an incredible range of delights. However, I do think that we should try something new on a regular basis. Whether it is a new ingredient or a different way to prepare an old favourite, being adventurous and having fun with our food keeps us connected to the process of eating. We have the ability to enjoy our food and not just eat it to sustain us. Let’s make the most of that advantage and count our blessings.