My favorite "peasant food"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A lot of my favorite foods tend to be traditional "peasant foods", and my mother finds great amusement in this. But hey, look at American comfort foods - most of them started out in the South as "soul food", didn't it?


I know this is the typical college student's staple, but since I was very little, ramen has been something I not only look forward to, but ask for. For me, ramen is a treat! And while my mother insists I add greens and protein to mine, I like it plain, thankyouverymuch.

Fish and chips 

I became obsessed with fish and chips after I saw Mandy Moore digging into some in London on an episode of MTV Diary, which is funny because I liked neither Mandy Moore nor fried seafood.  I still don't particularly care for either, but there's something about fish and chips done the English way that hits the spot. A dash of malt vinegar, a side of mushy peas (an English friend tipped me off on them when I arrived for my year in England) -- mmm, mmm, mmm.


So this is a Chinese peasant food that I didn't care much for as a child because it's basically a lump of steamed, tasteless bready bun. But as I've grown older and my taste buds have "matured", I am able to taste the subtle sweetness of the bun and every once in a while, I will have an insatiable craving for these babies.

Here is some background on the mantou from Wikipedia:

It is typically eaten as a staple in northern parts of China where wheat rather than rice is grown. It is made with milled wheat flour, water and leavening agents. In size and texture, they range from 4 cm, soft and fluffy in the most elegant restaurants, to over 15 cm, firm and dense for the working man's lunch.


Biscuits and gravy

Admittedly, the first time I laid eyes on biscuits and gravy, I was repulsed. I was sat in a Cracker Barrel in western Texas and my eyes probably fell a little out of their sockets when I saw the white gravy. Ever brave (when it comes to trying new things, at least), I dabbled a little of this so-called gravy onto a fork and in my mouth. It had zero flavor and an unappetizingly gelatinous consistency.

I think it was a year-and-a-half later that I tried biscuits and gravy again on a road trip down South with one of my pals. I can't really remember where I was when I tried it, but let's just say there was something very wrong with Cracker Barrel's gravy. If biscuits and gravy are on the menu now, good luck talking me out of ordering it.

Irish soda bread
How fitting, for Saint Patrick's Day, though I read that the Irish soda bread sold in American supermarkets this time of year is not Irish at all, but an American bastardization of the original. From a 1994 Bon Appetit article:
Simple and hearty, this classic peasant bread is found on the dining room table of every home in Ireland.

I had my first taste of Irish soda bread in the first grade, during an international cuisine day. A girl named Michele brought it in, and I was in love. (Strange for a 6-year-old, if you ask me, considering the recipe contains caraway seeds.) My father used to bring home these tea biscuits from a family bakery near his workplace in Long Island that reminded me of Irish soda bread without the extras. Last March, I bought my very own loaf of Irish soda bread and savored the flavor for over a week before it was gone. Tasty and long-lasting!

Other favorite foods that are said to be poor people's foods: risotto, potato pierogies, kale, saltine crackers (not cheap at all, if you ask me!).

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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