We’re nearing end of the Ugo Boncompagni calendar, which means I will be sharing my favorite meals of the 2021. Though 2020 understandably didn’t get much love in terms of culinary travel, 2021 flipped that pandemic fear around a full 180°.
Without further ado, let’s go eating around the world – fine, two continents – and discover the best of 2021.
You might be thinking, he’s talking about the soup. He loved the soup.
Actually, whereas the sopa de lima – Yucatan lime soup, and jugo de chaya – a Yucatan variety of spinach – were good, the star of the show was the sikil p’aak, a pumpkin seed and habanero salsa. Both the pumpkin seeds – pepitas – and habaneros were roasted, and mixed with fresh tomatoes and chives from the restaurant’s garden.
I had a lot of salsa this year, but this one might be the winner. Fortunately, tens of other salsas are all tied for second.
From the city of Guadalajara, I took the metro to its satellite city of Tlaquepaque, hoping to see its famous upside-down umbrellas. Nope, sorry, not this time.
However, the day trip wasn’t a complete loss, as I had stumbled across a real hole-in-the-wall by the name of Tlaquebagre.
Seafood was the name of the game, and I was craving shrimp. I ordered an aguachile – “chili water” – a Mexican dish in which shrimp is prepared with lime juice and serrano or chiltepin chilies, and served immediately. Add in avocadoes and red onions, and you’ve got yourself a delectable puddle of briny heat.
Eating seafood on the beach in Mexico. Yep. And I’d do that all day long…eat seafood, that is.
Mc-Fisher, unusual name notwithstanding, was something else– Stingray soup, octopus with melted cheese tacos, marlin tacos, a taco with all three of those ocean dwellers, SHRIMP and beans. My only complaint was that the tortillas were meh, but I was pretty sure that the rest of the country could make up for that.
If you want good seafood, you want Mc-Fisher.
Over the summer, I had a long layover in Chicago. Having already tried the adopted Chicagoland favorites – deep dish pizza, hot dogs without ketchup, and my pick, giardiniera – I looked up hyperlocal spots.
Enter, Calumet Fisheries.
All the way in South Chicago, Calumet Fisheries opened in 1948, and became known for smoking fish on oak logs, in a smokehouse adjacent to their shop.
An order of sweet potato tots complimented the deliciously smoky, melt-in-your-mouth hunk of salmon that I ended up eating as if it were an apple. It needed no extra flavoring, and would be most welcome as a Christmas gift sent directly to my plate.
Don’t get me wrong, that mixed seafood tostada on the right was a treat. It’s Contramar, after all, one of the more well-known seafood restaurants in Mexico City.
But I must say that their eggplant tostada – tostada de berenjena – was my vegetable dish of the year. Or, berry dish?
It was buttery, yet you could still discern the mild sweetness of the eggplant. Specifically, I ordered it since I seldom notice eggplant on menus in Mexico. If Contramar, or any other Mexican eatery would do a grilled eggplant/meat combo, that would likely be on my list for 2022.
Shrimp on a pizza, what in tarnation???
(On closer inspection, there’s no meat on this list. That has to change.)
The cashier said they don’t “normally allow shrimp as an add-on,” so I reminded me that they worked on tips. A fistful of dollars later, and I had my slice of the year– breaded eggplant, shrimp, and ricotta cheese.
Next time, I will see if they could put all of that stuff in a calzone.
It’s my first time in Paris in 23 years, what am I going to eat?
Cheese, butter, and pastries, obvi.
Hey Paris, where’s “the best” pain au chocolat? Hard to say, but Blé sucré is one recommendation.
So, I take my walk to the 12th arrondissement – district – and queue up for my first ever Parisian pain au chocolat.
However, as I stared at the empty space where that would have been, a baker whips out a tray of something even more tantalizing (in the photo, on the left). I don’t know the name of it – perhaps you could help out – but it was a flaky, buttery, frangipane-filled viennoiserie.
Was there a more decadent dessert eaten in 2021? Perhaps. Was that decadent dessert more delicious? It’s not on this list, now is it?
What were your top meals of 2021?