Food and Drink

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, which I believe must be read as a whole.  Nonetheless here is one brief excerpt, noting that the premise is the escape of bobcat Ollie from the National Zoo:

The saddest part of the Ollie saga is that, believe it or not, not everyone cares so much about freedom. Zoo officials had suggested that Ollie could live comfortably in Rock Creek Park and feed off a diet of mice, rats, chipmunks and squirrels. Our nation’s capital had a chance for its own D.B. Cooper, Butch Cassidy, Bigfoot and Jersey Devil, all rolled into one lovable feline persona, standoffish or not.

It was not to be, but not because a team of Navy SEALs hauled her in. Ollie, after a few reported sightings about town, returned to the zoo and was caught in a trap baited with food. She was found by the bird cages, shortly after the zoo reported it was giving up the search. It seems she is more of a homebody, preferring federal rule, federal housing and a heavily regulated diet to a tax-free life on the lam.

Do read the whole thing.

San Francisco dining

by on January 30, 2017 at 2:21 pm in Food and Drink, Uncategorized | Permalink

Mandalay was the best Burmese food I’ve had, probably ever (NB: I’ve never been to Myanmar).  Get the noodle dishes and soups, not the meat-based curries.  In the Richmond neighborhood.

Angor Borei is very good Cambodian, I enjoyed the pumpkin curry.  Then you can walk down Mission and spot dozens of other interesting ethnic places.  Along that stretch is Prubechu, the first Guam restaurant I’ve seen (NB: I’ve never been to Guam).

Banana House, Thai food at Kearny and Bush, surprisingly good for such an unfruitful part of town; get the duck salad.

Al’s Place, expensive with one Michelin star, is the best and most original set of vegetables I can recall eating in this country.  But when they tell you to eat the salad with your fingers, is that a sign of pretension or lack of pretension?  If you have to ask, the answer is pretension.  Still, on both the tastiness and originality scale this place ranks highly.

Amawele’s South African Kitchen, serves Durban food more than anything else.  Right in the heart of downtown, charming, imperfect, but where else in this country can you get Bunny Chow (NB: not made of bunnies)?

A pop-up in Helsinki, Finland might have just stumbled upon the answer to a question nobody was really asking: How can I order delivery and also go to a restaurant at the same time? Sure, table service restaurants kind of do that already if you look at them from far away — customers enter a restaurant, they order, and food is delivered to their table — but the AmEx-sponsored Take In goes a step further.

With no kitchen, guests at Take In choose from a curated selection of dishes from roughly 20 restaurants via an app called Wolt, the other sponsor of the pop-up. Guests eat their dinner in the Take In dining room. Take In offers bar service, and “hosting service,” helping get orders to the correct table. Guests who just want to drop in for a drink are welcome to do so. While it seems like a concept designed for solo diners, a Wolt spokeperson tells Monocle that the restaurant offers a solution for groups who can’t decide on what they all want to eat. The Take In pop-up started at the beginning of November, and will run through April 2.

Here is the full story, via Steve Rossi.

Mark is the most brilliant food mind I have met, here is the opening summary:

Mark Miller is often called the founder of modern southwestern cuisine, but his unique anthropological approach to food has led him to explore cuisines in over 100 countries around the world. He joins Tyler for a conversation on all that he’s learned along the way, including his pick for the most underrated chili pepper, palate coaching, the best food cities in Asia, Mexico, and Europe, the problems with sous-vide, why the Michelin guide is overrated, mezcal versus tequila, the decline of food brands, how to do fast food well, and why the next hipster food trend should be about corn.

Here is the text, audio, and video.  Mark is a blizzard of information density, and I don’t know anyone else who has his experience with the food world, most of all with Asia, Mexico, and the American Southwest.  (You may recall he was an interlocutor in my dialogue with Fuchsia Dunlop, and so we recorded this session with Mark afterwards.)

I thought the highlight was Mark’s six-minute riff on tasting chiles, it really shows Mark in his glory — this is one of those cases where I definitely recommend the video over the text:

Elsewhere in the conversation, see why he picks Seoul, Tokyo, and Bangkok as the three best world cities for food tours.  And:

COWEN: You don’t need brands, right?

MILLER: You don’t need brands anymore. The consumer used to have brands as guide and trust. Today there are other ways of developing that. We’re in consumer level 3. Consumers are defining brands, and how brands get used. I think that the idea of brand is probably — you’re an economist — dated. [laughs]

There is this:

MILLER: You go to a bus station in Monterrey: you can see a hundred of the best tacos in the world.

The questioner was Megan McArdle.  I enjoyed the entire exchange immensely, and hope you do too.

That is a request from an MR reader.  Getting past the “because I am weird” answer, I will offer a few observations:

1. I think my view, or broadly speaking some version of it, is in fact pretty popular,though far from dominant.

2. The eating and dining of many people is geared toward socializing and also drinking.  So when I write “go where the diners look grim, not smiling and happy,” or “avoid the beautiful women and the riverfront views,” many people don’t listen.  They like beautiful women, too much perhaps, and they like being surrounded by smiling others.  I have more of a single-minded obsession on the food, at least when I am seeking food.  So you can think of my methods as a form of extreme compartmentalization and unbundling of quests.

Of course there may be other methods related to beautiful women, and yes you should hold a diverse portfolio of methods, so think of me as someone who is suspicious of “method-blending,” as instead I prefer an intertemporal substitution of methods for different goals.  The time for food is a time for food, not for pursuing some weighted average of goals summed into a mediocre total, “…and a time to every purpose under heaven.”  Call it the Ecclesiastes approach.  Ultimately this may involve preferring a certain kind of focus over indiscriminate attention-switching.

NB: This hypothesis also may imply that those who are good at intertemporal substitution may miss out on some of life’s integrative experiences, such as riding a bicycle along a bridge with the wind blowing in your hair; “intertemporal substitution” and “integration” may in some ways stand in tension, and perhaps developing a propensity for one limits our ability to engage in the other.

3. My dining methods are in fact wonderful for socializing, but only if you are with either a) the oblivious, b) those who lexically prefer food quality, or c) those who enjoy talking analytically about food.  Most of my friends fall into one of these categories, but that is not the case for most people.

An MR reader sends me this request:

You land in a new city – an urban area – without other commitments.
What’s the first thing you do?
What’s your first day look like?

The first thing I do is make sure blog is ready for the day to come (though that is usually pre-arranged if I am traveling).

The second thing I do is decide whether the country is worth wasting a meal on breakfast.  I might just skip it.  If not, the next thing I will do is get breakfast.  I evaluate breakfast options by walking and by sight, not by using the internet, as I find that old-fashioned method better training for all that life brings us.

Then I try to walk through at least two neighborhoods, to get a general sense of the city.  More importantly, I can then later take some time over lunch without feeling I haven’t seen anything yet.  These neighborhoods should be connected to the main drag in some way but not the main drag itself.  The main drag is often boring, though essential, and it is more likely to get a fuller treatment on day two, with only a quick peek on day one.

The best art museum will come after lunch, and then be followed by more neighborhood walking, perhaps in a more distant part of the city.  A major food market will come on day two, a vista or city lookout will come on day three.  It means less if I go to either right away, because I have less information about what I should be noticing and looking for.

The real question is what to postpone, not what to do.  Don’t attempt the most fully integrative experiences right off the bat, because you are squandering some of their potency.

I’ve been getting lots of vaccinations in preparation for my sabbatical in India. A Canadian friend recommended Dukoral. Dukoral is a vaccine for cholera, a very serious disease although one that’s rare for travelers even in undeveloped countries. (It’s roughly comparable in prevalence to Japanese encephalitis, however, which most travel physicians recommend vaccinating for.) As a side-effect, however, Dukoral is also quite effective (60%) against the most common cause of traveler’s diarrhea, that caused by enterotoxigenic E. coli.

Dukoral was approved in the European Union in 2004 but it has not been approved in the United States (a different cholera vaccine was approved late last year but it is not yet widely available). Moreover, Dukoral is available without a prescription in Canada (and also I believe in New Zealand). It’s a big seller in Canada and widely used by Canadians abroad.

It has long been my position that if a medical drug or device has been approved in another developed country then it ought to be approved in the United States. If it’s good enough for the Canadians then it’s good enough for me.

Never let it be said that I don’t follow through on my beliefs. I arranged for someone to buy me some Canadian Dukoral and ship it over the border. Unfortunately, my “connect” is not as practiced in the art of evading U.S. customs as would be ideal and in a fit of regrettable honesty wrote “gift, diarrhea medicine” on the package. The ever-vigilant U.S. Customs intercepted and confiscated my package, thus saving me from the dangers of FDA-unapproved medicine. So I am out $150 (2 doses) and will be less than fully protected on my trip.

If my son or I become “indisposed” in India, I will know who to blame.

The answer may surprise you, here is part of an abstract from Derek D. Headey:

In this article World Bank poverty estimates are used to systematically test the relationship between changes in poverty and exogenous changes in real domestic food prices. We uncover indicative evidence that increases in food prices are associated with reductions in poverty, not increases. We empirically explain this result in terms of relatively strong agricultural supply and wage responses to food price increases, and the fact that the majority of the world’s poor still heavily rely on agriculture or agriculture-related activities to earn a living.

Here is the full (gated) article, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Much of the food is good but not excellent.  For the very best, I recommend two places in particular:

The Yellow Chilli: All the dishes seem to be quite good, but arguably the jollof rice and the seafood okra are standouts.  Simply coming here for each meal probably beats doing a lot of search that will fail to find equal quality.

Sappor Cuisine: That’s if you are looking for street food and eating on the run.  It’s set in Freedom Park (worth visiting in any case), just get the weird Nigerian dishes you’ve never heard of before, plus some fish.  I’ve had four dishes there, and with not the slightest rumble in my stomach, in case you were wondering.  You might not think that steamed yam powder can be transcendently good, but it is.  At night there are worthwhile concerts in the park, so you can eat from here while you sit and listen.  The best suya I had was on the beach.

His words, “Yesterday, I had jollof rice and shrimp. It was delicious, fantastic. I was told not to compare Nigeria’s jollof rice to that from other neighbouring countries.”
While he did not say Nigeria has won the battle, Nigerians did not care, they took to Twitter to celebrate this significant victory.
Since I do not own a company, you know I am sincere in stating Nigerian jollof rice is the very best.  Here is a short video Jollof Wars: Ghana vs. Nigeria.  Here is the debate on Quora.

Peak San Francisco?

by on December 31, 2016 at 4:37 am in Food and Drink, Web/Tech | Permalink

San Francisco’s Quince made news this October when it was awarded a third Michelin star, but in a sign that even the most prestigious restaurants are struggling to maintain their cutting edge we learn today that its chefs have cooked up a bold new plan to grab the Instagram-ready eyes of customers: Dishes served on iPads. And to make matters even lamer, they didn’t even come up with the idea themselves.

Chef and local firebrand Richie Nakano tweeted out the news this afternoon, and a quick Yelp search confirms the existence of the questionably plated “a dog in search of gold” dish (we called the restaurant for further details, but they were closed).

Described as “white truffle croquettes on iPads playing videos of water dogs on the truffle-hunt” by whoever sent the photo to Nakano, the plating raises some obvious questions. Namely, does the San Francisco Department of Public Health have an acceptable washing method for iPads? And, this being San Francisco, how long until someone reprograms one of those things to display one-star Quince reviews on Yelp?

According to the Daily Mail, chefs serving up dishes on iPads has been a thing in the United Kingdom since at least 2015. In other words, Quince’s idea isn’t just bizarre — it’s a rip-off as well.

Here is the link, via Michael Rosenwald.

“Surge Pricing Solves the Wild Goose Chase” is the title of the new paper by Juan Camillo Castillo and E. Glen Weyl, here is the abstract:

Why is dynamic pricing more prevalent in ride-hailing apps than movies and restaurants? Arnott (1996) observed that an over-burdened taxi dispatch system may be forced to send cars on a wild goose chase to pick up distant customers when few taxis are free. These chases occupy taxis and reduce earnings, effectively removing cars from the road and exacerbating the problem. While Arnott dismissed this outcome as a Pareto-dominated equilibrium, we show that when prices are too low relative to demand it is the unique equilibrium of a system that uses a first-dispatch protocol (as many ride-hailing services have committed to). This effect dominates more traditional price theoretic considerations and implies that welfare and profits fall dramatically as price falls below a certain threshold and then decline only gradually move in price above this point. A platform forced to charge uniform prices over time will therefore have to set very high prices to avoid catastrophic chases. Dynamic “surge pricing” can avoid these high prices while maintaining system functioning when demand is high. We show that pooling can complicate and exacerbate these problems.

Perhaps it is an analogy to suggest movie theaters might use more surge pricing if a low valuation buyer took up the seat for several showings of the movie rather than just one.

Yup, I’m here.  I made this list before setting off:

1. Popular music: Few from any country come close to Fela Kuti, the main question is how many you should buy, not which ones.  Most of them!  On the CD medium, that old series of “two albums on one CD” was the best way to consume Fela.  On streaming, you can probably just let it rip.  And rip.  And rip.  Other favorites are King Sunny Ade and I.K. Dairo, I don’t love Fema Kuti.  You also might try Nigerian psychedelic funk rock from the late 60s and early 70s, for instance found here.  Most of all, there are thousands of wonderful local performers in Nigeria, you can watch a few of them on the Netflix documentary on the Nigerian music scene, titled Konkombe, recommended and only an hour long.

There is now a good deal of hit Nigerian and Nigerian-American music, such as Wizkid.  It is enjoyable but does not compare to Fela in terms of staying power.

2. Basketball player: The Dream is one of my three or four favorite players of all time.  My favorite Hakeem was watching him pick apart David Robinson play after play after play…see the final clip on the immediately preceding link.

3. Novel: Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.  Honorable mentions go to Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, and my colleague Helon Habila.  There are also the Nigerian-American writers, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Teju Cole is worth reading, including his non-fiction.

4. Movie: Well, I’ve seen parts of some of them, and you should at least sample some Nollywood if you haven’t already.  It’s kinetic.  The documentary “Nollywood Babylon” (Netflix) gives you some background.  As for “Movie, set in,” I draw a blank.  “Album, set in and recorded in” would be Band on the Run, Paul McCartney and Wings.

5. Actor: Chiwetal Ejiofor, he starred in “Twelve Years a Slave,” and is from a Nigerian family in Britain.

6. Presidential name: Goodluck Jonathan.

7. Artist: Prince Twins Seven Seven, or more formally Prince Taiwo Olaniyi Wyewale-Toyeje Oyekale Osuntoki.  He received his nickname because he was the only surviving child from seven distinct sets of twins.

prince_twins_seven-seven_1

8. Food dish: At least for now I have to say jollof rice, a precursor dish to jambalaya, further reports to come however!

The bottom line: Lots of talent here, plenty more on the way.

Nigerian fake rice update

by on December 25, 2016 at 12:06 am in Food and Drink, Law | Permalink

Artificial food products such as fake rice recently confiscated by Nigerian customs officials are intended for restaurant displays and not to be eaten, according to manufacturers.

The fake rice was made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, “and should be labelled “artificial”, they said.

Nigerian customs recently confiscated 2.5 tonnes of fake rice but officials couldn’t discern what it was made of, according to a BBC report on Wednesday.

…Zhou Tao, a sales manager with an artificial food manufacturer in Yiwu, Zhejiang, said it was only intended for use in restaurant or store displays.

The artificial food products are popular with restaurants to display menu choices as they always look fresh and never rot. Artificial rice is made of PVC, a white, brittle plastic.

…He said he was puzzled why anyone would smuggle artificial rice to sell as real in Africa, as the product his company sold cost more than 70 yuan for 1kg, or 10 times the price of real rice in China. In Africa the cost would increase due to shipping and other costs.

Xiong Heping, the manager of another manufacturer in Shenzhen, said the rice was labelled “artificial”, when shipping to buyers in China or overseas.

Here is the full story, via George Chen.

Nigeria has confiscated 2.5 tonnes of “plastic rice” smuggled into the country by unscrupulous businessmen, the customs service says.

Lagos customs chief Haruna Mamudu said the fake rice was intended to be sold in markets during the festive season.

He said the rice was very sticky after it was boiled and “only God knows what would have happened” if people ate it.

It is not clear where the seized sacks came from but rice made from plastic pellets was found in China last year.

Rice is the most popular staple food in Nigeria.

Here is the full story, via Jodi Ettenberg.

Addendum: Here is an update, as the story spirals into increasing confusion.