Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An epilogue

Now that I've had a week to relax after finishing the 365 days, I thought it might be fitting to write an epilogue of sorts. It's still hard for me to believe that I actually finished this endeavor, and since I completed, I've definitely had to make some adjustments.

One major thing that's changed is the fact that I don't have to go shopping anymore. Over the course of the last year, the responsibility of shopping always loomed over everything else in my life. Since I found most of my new foods at markets, I was luckily able to stockpile things to last me a few days. Sometimes I was able to get by for a couple weeks, especially if I found something unplanned during a restaurant meal. However, even stockpiling presented problems. If I bought anything fresh, I had to worry about it spoiling before I got to eat it, therefore wasting the purchase. Regarding the actual shopping, it was extremely difficult to find new options that weren't on Buford Highway. The average grocery store rarely offered anything new for me, and even the more exotic markets on Bu-Hi got redundant quickly. I frequently worried that I was repeating myself too often, but that's impossible to avoid when you're trying to eat a new food every day for a year.

Another shopping issue was the money. That was a major concern before I started, and I worried that taking on the project would cause me to spend much more than I anticipated. I tried to keep most of my market purchases under $5, and most of them ended up costing me much less than that. It would have been great if I'd had an unlimited budget to spend on unusual imported cheeses and fancy pates and terrines (both of which I love), but since I didn't, I tried really hard to keep each purchase affordable. The idea of investing too much money into something that might suck wasn't feasible for me, so I tried to make sure I was really interested in anything that was more expensive. I was able to score a lot of items for free (especially at the Whole Foods hot bar), and when possible, I worked a new food into a dinner I was already paying for. I did have a few splurges here and there, but for the most part, I didn't spend nearly as much as I thought I would.

The other big issue was the blogging itself. The self-imposed obligation to blog once a day for a year straight was easy on some days and extremely difficult on others. In addition, I constantly worried that something would happen that would keep me from blogging before the end of the day. What if I got in a car wreck, or got sick or injured? I realize that those things are considerably worse than missing a day of the blog, but if any of those had happened, the whole thing would have been over. I didn't want anything to happen that would ruin all my hard work. Also, trying to write somewhat creatively every day was tough. On some days, I just wasn't feeling it, especially when I ate something new that didn't inspire me. In my opinion, my best posts came from days where I ate something really good - or really bad. I found creative inspiration in the extremes, and the foods that fell in the middle were often hard to write about. Not every food can be good, and that was a lesson I quickly learned.

Now that it's all over, it strangely feels like I should still be doing it. The blog became such a huge part of my routine during the last year, and I've caught myself on several occasions during the last week thinking "wow, I need to go shopping" or "I need to go ahead and write my blog for today." I guess that's to be expected when you commit so much time to something for so long. Despite all that, it honestly feels great to not have the weight of finishing hanging over me. I can eat what I want, when I want, and I don't have to blog about any of it if I don't want to. That feels good.

The only negative aspect of completing the blog that I can think of is how the whole process changed how I feel about discovering new food. Before I started, visiting places like the Buford Highway Farmers Market was thrilling every single time. After getting a few months into the blog, the thrill diminished. I sometimes looked at shopping as just an obligation instead of a fun learning experience, and honestly, there were some days when it was anything but fun. The concept of something you love becoming an obligation was often difficult for me to grasp, and now that it's over, it's going to take some time for me to regain my excitement for finding and eating new things. I haven't tried anything new at all since I finished, but once I recharge, I believe the excitement will return.

A lot of you already know that I'm going to continue blogging. My plan is to keep the original idea going, but only blog when I feel like it. That could mean once a week, once every 2 weeks, once a month...who knows? If I eat something new, interesting, or just plain special that I want to share with my readers, I'll definitely post about it. However, I can honestly say that I will never take on another project like the one I just finished. I had fun and learned more than I ever anticipated, but the daily requirement is one I do not wish to repeat.

This is officially the last post I'll put up at this address. Thanks again to all of you that followed along, and for all future updates, please visit www.whoeatsthatstuff.wordpress.com.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 365!

Haitai Black Garlic Flavor Fish Sausage: Ok, this is officially it. Day 365. It's so hard for me to believe that I completed this insane project. I know I said I'd save the sentiment for the last day, and to be honest, it feels awesome to finally be done. I can't tell you how daunting it was to begin this blog and know that I was taking on the responsibility of doing something every day for a year. How many things do any of us do every day for a year, besides sleep, shower, or brush our teeth? Not many.

One thing I can't stress enough is how important the feedback was from my readers. If no one had cared  about what I was doing, I can't say with certainty that I would have finished. All the positive comments kept me going during times when I wanted to quit, and for that, I thank all of you. Also, I definitely couldn't have finished without the support and input from the "GF" I mentioned a million times during the blog. She encouraged me to keep going when it was the last thing on earth I wanted to do, and for that I'll always be thankful.

Several people have asked me what I plan to do with all this information once I'm done. I'm toying around with a couple of ideas, but even if those don't materialize, I'll always have the satisfaction of what I accomplished. I learned more about food that I ever imagined to, and that's really what the goal was all along. In addition, I committed to doing something every single day for a year, and I succeeded. It feels great to have put it behind me so I don't have to think about it anymore. I cannot tell you how much I'm looking forward to eating like a normal person again, without scanning every market or menu for my next possible blog entry.

Enough talk - on to the last new food! I chose today's entry to be the last because of its ties to what I ate on day 1. Remember the Korean blood sausage called "soon dae" that was my first entry? Well, my last new food is yet another unusual Korean sausage, and I feel like I've now come full circle. There are few things I love more than interesting sausage-y things, especially ones made with off-the-wall ingredients, and this one definitely fits that bill. Strangely, it somehow made sense to end with something similar to what I began with.

I didn't even know fish sausage existed until I saw this Korean import during my last trip to the Buford Highway Farmers Market. Several different styles were available, but I chose the one flavored with black garlic. It had a sort of light tan color that resembled bologna more than a fish product, and it was made from surimi, which is also what's used to make imitation crab (or "krab"). Surimi isn't an actual fish - it refers to a "fish-based food product that has been pulverized to a thick paste and has the property of becoming a dense and rubbery food item when cooked." Kind of like a fish hot dog - thanks, Wikipedia.
Despite yesterday's disaster with cooking the souse, I decided to try pan-frying a couple slices of this one since I wasn't sure if it was pre-cooked. Luckily, it didn't immediately disintegrate when hitting the hot pan like the souse did. Each slice was fairly firm to start with, and I managed to brown each one on both sides after a couple minutes of cooking. Once they were ready, I took one out of the pan and took a bite. Not bad. The flavor reminded me a lot of "krab," with a sweet, slightly fishy taste that was actually pretty good. I didn't detect much garlic, but there was a mild saltiness that didn't bother me at all. Texture-wise, it was similar to a hot dog, and it took my brain a few seconds to register that I wasn't eating one. I'm not sure how this product is traditionally eaten (alone? in a dish?), but I found a recipe for breading and pan-frying it that sounded good. Maybe I'll try that.
Well, folks...that's it. I'm done. Once, again, thank you so much for all the support and comments over the last year - they both mean a lot. I know a lot of you have expressed interest in what's next, so here's what's going on. The whoeatsthatstuff.blogspot.com site will remain as is, but I'm rebooting the whole project at a new address (www.whoeatsthatstuff.wordpress.com). Check there in a few days for more information on what comes next. I'm going to continue blogging about all the new foods I try, but unlike this blog, there will be far less rules, some different content, and first and foremost, no daily posting. I plan on having something up this week, so please check back with me soon. And, as usual, I'll be regularly updating on Facebook and Twitter.

I usually don't type in all caps, but here it goes...I"M FINISHED!!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Day 364

Souse: Wow, so I'm down to my next-to-last day of new food! I'll save most of my emotional sentiment for tomorrow, but I really am amazed that I was able to come this far. I don't know which element of the blog was hardest: the shopping or the daily writing commitment. The eating was the easy part (well, except for yesterday and Friday). It's been a massive self-imposed task that has often left me frustrated, and I'd be lying if I said there weren't several times that I wanted to throw in the towel. Despite that, I'm really glad that I did this - it's allowed me to achieve much more than I ever thought possible.

During a recent visit to my neighborhood Kroger, I noticed something in the meat department that several people had recommended I try: souse. I wasn't entirely sure what it was, but based on what I knew, it was a head cheese-like substance made from pork parts. Anyone who reads my blog knows how much I love stuff like this, so when I saw this version made by the Lee company on sale (only $1.29!), I figured it was time to finally try it. Appearance-wise, it reminded me of the bologna-style "olive and pickle loaf" that's easily found in most delis.
Since I was already past the expiration date (and almost past my blog expiration date), I gave this one a shot early this morning before I headed out of town for the day. Not exactly how I wanted to start my day, but since I was going to be unplugged for most of the trip, I didn't want to take any chances. The package ingredients included pork snouts (yum?), water, pickle relish, corn syrup, and a lengthy list of chemicals and preservatives. If hot dogs are supposedly as bad as cigarettes, souse must be a Marlboro Red.

I couldn't figure out if it was pre-cooked or not, so I heated up a pan and threw a slice in just to be safe. Once it touched the heat, it immediately turned into a jelly-like liquid, so I guess that answered my question. I grabbed a fresh slice from the package and cut off a small bite, and I have to say that it wasn't good at all. I like head cheese, but this was more like thick-cut vinegared bologna that had inedible chunks of fat/gristle mixed throughout. I got through one bite before giving up, which was not what I was expecting with this one. Apparently, my luck with eating tasty food for the last couple days of this project is not good.
In case you were wondering what souse actually is, Wikipedia describes it as "pickled meat and trimmings usually made from pig's feet, chicken feet or cow's tongue to name a few. The cooked meat or trimmings are cut into bite sized pieces and soaked in a brine made of water, lime juice, cucumbers, hot pepper, salt and specially prepared seasonings." I know Holeman and Finch in Atlanta serves their own version, so I bet I'd be better off trying it there. I love any excuse to visit H&F, so maybe I'll do that soon.

One more day left, folks......

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Day 363

Natto: Just when I thought I couldn't find anything more disgusting than yesterday's entry, along came this equally repulsive new food I found during my last visit to the Buford Highway Farmers Market. I'd heard about natto before, specifically in one of Anthony Bourdain's books. It's a traditional Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans, and based on his description, it sounded pretty awful. However, I'll try anything once, so when I saw this packaged version in the BHFM, I gave it a shot. It was only a bit over a dollar, so if it was truly bad, at least I didn't have much invested.
I decided in advance to try the natto today, so I took it out of the freezer last night and put it in the fridge to thaw. Once I opened the styrofoam package this afternoon, I was surprised by what I saw. In addition to the soybeans, the package also included 2 packets of what appeared to be mustard and soy sauce for mixing. When I tried to remove them, tendrils of what looked just like spider webs extended from the soybeans to the plastic. Wow. Not a good sign.
Once I opened the packets and started mixing the contents with the soybeans, the whole concoction took on a viscous, snot-like consistency. I'd never seen anything more unappetizing in my life. When I dug in with my fork, the trails of mucus followed all the way up to where the fork stopped. Oh, and did I mention the smell? Kind of like sweet soy sauce that had been left to go bad out in the hot sun. I knew this was a fermented dish, but that wasn't helping me much here.
Despite how bad the whole thing looked and smelled, I had to try it, so I held my breath and lifted a tiny bite to my mouth. Much like yesterday's food, the overpoweringly bad smell made it hard to even focus on the flavor, but what I did taste was a salty/sweet mix of the soybeans and hot mustard, followed by that putrid rotting soy smell. I can't really say much else - I spit it in the sink and gagged, then guzzled a huge glass of water. It's hard to comprehend how anyone, anywhere could tolerate this dish.

Yesterday and today have been the 2 worst things I've ever eaten in my life. EVER. I'm so glad this blog is almost over.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 362

Lottia Shukti Bhorta: Out of all the foods I've tried over the past 362 days, this one has to be one of the most exotic and unusual, and it also comes with a great story. While doing some shopping on Buford Highway a few weeks ago, I noticed a Bangladeshi grocery that was pretty close to the Buford Highway Farmers Market. I was desperate for new items that day, and since I'd never been to a Bangladeshi market, I figured it couldn't hurt to check it out.

Once inside, I noticed that the inventory was similar to what I've seen at other Indo-Pak groceries, but as I started browsing the frozen section, I saw something that I absolutely could not identify. The small, square package was labeled "lottia shukti bhorta," and there were no pictures at all on the box. Hmm. I looked at the ingredients, and the main ingredient was, umm, "lottia shukti." That didn't help me at all, but the other ingredients included many familiar Indian spices (garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin), so I decided to give it a go despite knowing almost nothing.
Once I got ready to pay, the counter attendant looked at me quizzically and asked "you from here?" I guess he was confused by my selection. I said yes, then he asked me if I'd ever tried it. I said no, and asked him what was in it. He said "fish," and I when I asked him if it was good, he said yes. I'm pretty sure he called his friends after I left and told them about the young American guy who just bought some lottia shukti bhorta.

Anyway, I finally decided to give this one a try tonight with my dinner as a side. Once I opened the box, the contents (which looked a lot like collard greens) were inside a small plastic container, and when I opened the lid, I immediately noticed the smell. Wow - not good. Actually, it kind of reeked of rotting garbage. I really hoped it tasted better, so I microwaved the container according to the package instructions and hoped for the best.

Once the heating process began, I noticed that my apartment was filling up with the rotting garbage smell that I noticed earlier. You know that odor that a garbage truck has on a hot summer day? It was a lot like that. Once I took it out of the microwave, the stench got worse. I didn't know how I was going to choke down a bite, but the show had to go on. I put a small portion on my fork and tried it, but I just couldn't get past that god-awful smell. What I did manage to taste was a salty, fishy, super-spicy mix that wasn't at all palatable to me, and I almost barfed in the sink while spitting it out. Yeah, it was that bad. 
Out of all the things I've tried, this was by far the worst. No question. The smell alone was enough to make me choke, but I had to try it. After I threw it out (sealed in a Ziploc bag), I guzzled a full glass of water, then lit matches in the kitchen to kill the smell. Oh, and I also cleaned the microwave. I'm not joking.

In case you're still wondering what "shukti" is, it refers to a dried fish that's popular in Bangladeshi cuisine. The fish is usually mixed with spices and other ingredients. I don't recommend this stuff to anyone - maybe it's one of those things you have to grow up on to enjoy.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 361

Mozartkugeln ("Mozart Balls"): For today's entry, I originally had plans to tackle another interesting restaurant dish that I'd never had, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to improvise with something else. Luckily, the GF's parents returned from another trip abroad yesterday, and they brought back some candy that I'd never seen before. They apparently found these in Austria, and they were called Mozartkugeln (translation: Mozart Balls). Go ahead and joke about me eating balls twice in one week...I'm way ahead of you.

At first, I thought this candy wouldn't really be able to provide me with anything new, but when I asked the GF what was in them (she'd had them before), she said they were chocolate on the outside, but filled with marzipan on the inside. I'd never had marzipan, but I'd always heard it was one of those love it/hate it things. I'd knew it was made with almonds, but that's about it. How could anything covered in fine Austrian chocolate be bad, right?
Each ball was covered with a thin foil coating featuring Mozart's face, and once I unwrapped it, it's shiny surface reminded me of a Lindt truffle. Once I took a bite, I could definitely taste the marzipan filling. From what the GF told me, marzipan is basically a sweetened almond paste. I thought it was good, especially when mixed with the taste of chocolate. I'm still not sure what the lighter colored ring surrounding the marzipan/chocolate center was, but it was a bit creamy and provided some additional sweetness. The outer chocolate tasted like plain milk chocolate, but overall, it was pretty good. I don't understand why marzipan would ever have a bad reputation, but to each his own, I guess.
That was definitely the last new candy I'll be covering for this blog. Only 4 more days to go!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 360

Toro (Fatty Tuna): Today's new food was an indulgent surprise, but not exactly what I was expecting to eat. Let me explain: I'd been wanting to try uni (sea urchin) for a long time now. I've been eating sushi for years, but never gotten around to trying some of the high-dollar delicacies, like uni or toro. Those are usually out of my price range, and it's not often that I'll devote that much of my dinner budget to something like that (unless I'm in Vegas). I'd been hearing about the deliciousness of uni for years, so my original plan for tonight was to hit the sushi bar at Miso Izakaya (one of my fave spots in town) and finally try it.

My attempt unfortunately didn't go as planned. I eagerly ordered the uni from my server, and she came back a few minutes later and told me they were out of it. Oh well. I thought my plans for finding something new were ruined, but then I saw the toro right below the uni on the menu. And of course, like the uni, only "MP" was listed in the price column. I went ahead and ordered it anyway, price be damned. I'm almost done with this blog, so I deserved to splurge a little for all my hard work.

If you don't know much about toro, here's the scoop: it's widely known as the highest quality raw tuna one can eat. As far as I know, it's usually served alone, without much adornment. Miso's version was simply served as 2 pieces of nigiri over sushi rice, with a twist of lemon as garnish. It didn't have the bright red color of lower-grade maguro tuna, but more of a light pink/beige color. I was curious to find out if toro was worth the hype (and price), so I dug in.
Once I took my first bite, I could tell that it was no ordinary piece of fish. "Buttery" was the first thing that came to mind, and it almost melted in my mouth without having to chew. It didn't have any of the bright, metallic flavor that I've experienced with lower grades of tuna, and it was possibly the richest piece of fish I've ever tried. That's definitely a good thing. I like tuna in almost any form, but this was by far the best. Incidentally, my server recommended that I not use any soy sauce or wasabi with this one, and that suggestion was correct. It didn't need anything at all.

I could definitely see myself eating this again, but only if someone else is paying. Pretty awesome.