The Digest

Disappearing Desserts & Other News

14th April 2018

Words: James Hansen

This week’s food media round-up features the politics of cheese, a sandwich both remarkable and unremarkable, and a definitive guide to fast food desserts

Zahra Hankir reports on the disappearing dessert of Beirut, Lebanon for Roads & Kingdoms. The dessert in question is mfata’a, a rice and tahini pudding that has fallen out of favour owing to its labour-intensive process: “Patience is a key ingredient at Makari Sweets. In the middle of the shop is a large metal urn with a ladle, used to stir the pudding on low heat for hours until it thickens to a paste-like consistency.” Such stirring gives the pudding its name – or visa versa – mfata’a means “unsewn” or “come apart”: “referring to the manner in which the ingredients are stirred so thoroughly and aggressively that they lose their individual consistencies and blend seamlessly into one another.” Abu Abdullah Makari and his fellow “mfata’a guru”, Khaled Kobrosli, stir on against low demand, keeping an historic pudding alive for those who seek it out.

Daniela Galarza and Ryan Sutton keep us on desserts with a noble mission: ranking America’s fast food sweets for Eater. If you have never likened McDonald’s’ soft serve to the “alabaster walls of a vacant rental apartment”, you will now; to rank these desserts is to survey “[their] country’s most horrific edible disasters and our most cherished culinary treasures.” A customised Wendy’s Frosty comes in for highest praise; Burger King produces “cereal refuse”; that alabaster swirl from McDonald’s is likened to “industrial sealant.” Dairy Queen and Taco Bell do well; there’s a drink that tastes of “chemical asphyxiation and saccharine death”; it’s all very entertaining indeed. For an interesting counterpoint, Pete Wells has issues with ice cream sundaes and the general decline of exciting desserts at The New York Times.

Polly Russell speaks truth to power: wine glasses are just getting biggerWriting in The Financial Times, Russell reveals that between 1700 and 2017, wine glasses have grown sevenfold, as discovered by a British Medical Journal study. Don’t be fooled: “the diminutive size of the Georgian wine glass was nothing to do with abstemiousness”, and the boom in British glass making that occurred around the end of the 17th century was an invitation to be artful, creative, at times tawdry: size was a function of design rather than drinking. Unsurprisingly, the movement from service à la française (all dishes at once) to à la russe (a succession of presented plates) led to an increase in the number and volume of wine glasses at the table, ushering in the idea of wine pairing. With it, simplicity and size overtook complexity in glass design, and so the glasses grew.

Samin Nosrat reflects on an unheralded and unbeatable sandwich for Port. The sandwich in question is the panino bollito, served at Florence’s central market: boiled beef, salsa verde, chilli oil, dipped in broth. Nosrat arrives at Nerbone (the stall) in search of the sandwich that her colleagues at Chez Panisse revered, even though to her “it was, after all, essentially just boiled meat on a bun.” An unexpected encounter with tripe and Tuscan dialect follows. A more successful second visit unlocks all the mysteries: “The tender meat melted in my mouth. The bun had absorbed twice its weight in savoury broth, which amplified the flavour of the meat … Not only was the panino better than any burger I’d ever tasted, it was the best sandwich, of any kind, I’d ever eaten.”

Soleil Ho and Erica Carson look at the relationship between cheese and class for Munchies: “To paraphrase legendary gastronome Brillat-Savarin: Tell me what cheese you’re eating, and I’ll tell you your tax bracket.” “Consumers, artisans, and advertisers have changed cheese from an economical way to preserve milk into an expression of social status and ambition”, and Ho and Carson smartly point out that the decline of processed cheese from timesaver to treachery is a useful bellwether for what has happened to cheese in America. Convenience and speed can enable social action; chastising these qualities means chastising what they enable. Reflecting on cheese’s innately continental mythology, Ho and Carson also show that these complexities apply across the ocean.

Image: Ice Cream Sundae by Wayne Thiebaud

Posted 14th April 2018

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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