As I’ve said before, I didn’t start this project to create culinary masterpieces.
Sometime about a year ago, I was just getting bored with dinner. We were caught in a rut, and it felt like in this big, wide world of ours, we could do better than a rotation of Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese and Indian inspired dinners.
Meanwhile, in Portland, some restaurants were helping us figure out how. Places like Pok Pok and Toro Bravo highlighted Thai and Spanish cuisine in a way that most never experience without a deep dive. Bete-Lukas hooked Emily and I on Ethiopian food, and since then, we’ve had injera bubbling away in the pantry more than a few times. It’s a wide world out there. I needed an orderly way to approach it.
And thus we launched, making a delicious meal of Qabuli Palao and moving forward with The Big Project. Even after starting it, I didn’t realize how big – at the current pace, it’ll take nearly a decade to get through Nation Plates. Mind-numbing.
The project, for its original purpose, has succeeded. We found some great dinners – Namibia’s Potjiekos comes immediately to mind – and used a ton of ingredients I didn’t know to exist. My spice collection has doubled, and I’m finding ways to use those spices in everyday cooking. Loomi, in particular, is a welcome addition to my pantry.
It’s also helped me become a more adventurous eater on the road. We were fortunate to visit Europe this past summer, and I tried plenty of meals that I otherwise would have turned my nose up at. It’s fun to try new things, and it’s OK to accept that some food will be disappointing.
A bunch of the meals weren’t great. There are plenty of likely reasons: Not suited to my taste, poor preparation, bad recipe research, wrong ingredients. It’s also reasonable that out of 22 dishes, a few would just not be tasty. Again, it’s OK to accept that some food will be disappointing.
Emily deserves a ton of credit for this project. She’s been supportive of the pursuit, even if she also thinks it’s a bit quixotic.
I skipped two meals in Round One, although not permanently, or so I hope. I have yet to find conch meat in Portland, so Bahamas is on hold until that blessed day that I stumble upon it. As for Iceland, I’m still working up to hakarl. It’s got a pretty bad rap, and I feel like it’s best suited for a summertime party when more than a few of us can suffer through eating a chunk of putrefied shark meat. Let me know if you want in on this fun party. I’ll bring the hakarl… and the whiskey.
And so it’s on to Round Two. This is a very Africa-heavy round, with eight countries turning up in roughly the next year. We’ll also hit a fair amount of Europe, although I suspect that I’ll just eat a communion wafer for the Vatican and call it good.
We’ll have a couple of broader meals – one simply can’t assign a national dish for India, so we’ll do something more akin to an Indian feast. We’ll revisit one of my favorites from Round One, Machboos.
And we’ve got two countries where I just have no idea what to do. Both are small Oceanian nations – Nauru and Palau, which combined have about the same population as Lents. If you or someone you know has any ideas on what to do with Nauru or Palau, drop me a line.
In the meantime, let’s get cooking! With any luck, we’ll start with some Albanian cuisine this week.