As usual, it was difficult to create a top five list of an entire year’s worth of eating. There could easily be numerous top five lists; after all, the periscope is always up in the search for the most clickbait-friendly of titles.
But that’s tiresome. Instead, I will present you with a single list of my top five eats of 2023.
Let’s start with … Georgia.
Firstly, I’m going to start calling Georgia by its native name, Sakartvelo (საქართველო). This is to distinguish it from the U.S. state with countless streets named after peach trees.
Secondly, Sakartvelo cuisine is too good to limit it to one meal. The same could be said about any of the countries on this list, but I will allow myself this one opportunity to present a collage.
For translations of the above goods, here’s a small glossary:
- Adjaruli khachapuri (აჭარული ხაჭაპური) – bread canoe filled with Sulguni cheese, eggs, and butter.
- Mchadi (მჭადი) – fried bread made of cornmeal.
- Nigvziani badrijani (ნიგვზიანი ბადრიჯანი) – fried eggplant rolls filled with garlicky walnut paste.
- Pkhali (ფხალი) – appetizers par excellence, pkhali are vegetables mixed with garlic-laden walnut paste. Typically, the most popular pkhali are beets, white or kidney beans, and spinach.
- Rachuli lobiani (რაჭული ლობიანი) – flaky bread filled with beans (these days, usually kidney beans) and onions.
Plus, if you’re into wine, Sakartvelo is the home of viniculture; don’t forget to try an glass or two of an amber.
Mexico City, Mexico
I’m not cheating this time, because half of the picture is a beverage.
On the left, I ordered a juice made of ginger, lime, guava, alfalfa, and Veracruz oranges. The ginger was to add some heat, and the lime to cut down on the sweetness of the oranges and guava. The alfalfa … let’s just say it was a random addition. And the results were excellent.
On the right, an plate of two tacos — chorizo verde, and chorizo with habanero — and guacamole at Ricos Tacos Toluca. And that guacamole was self-serve, so go crazy.
As for chorizo verde, it’s a specialty of Toluca, the capital of the state of Mexico, a neighbor of Mexico City. The verde (green) color stems from a mix of cilantro and tomatillos. It’s probably my favorite taco ingredient, although nearly everything else is in second place.
Japan, like Sakartvelo, is back for my top five eats of 2023.
I inhaled this fantastic tuna sashimi at the Shiogama Wholesale Market in Shiogama, northeast of the city of Sendai.
The fishmonger had a giant bluefin specimen de-chilling on the table. I couldn’t resist pescado that fresh.
The mouth feel — the Japanese word is shokkan (食感 /しょっかん) — was slowly melting butter.
Once China reopened to international tourism, I pounced on the opportunity.
It was also a good reason to revisit one of my former homes, Shenzhen.
After a ridiculous quest to cross the Hong Kong border, I finally made it to downtown Luo Hu, my old culinary stomping ground. There were plenty of late night options available, but I had only one regional cuisine in mind.
A random walk down a once familiar street had some potential. It was a Hunan specialist, but could they make 擂 辣椒 茄子 (léi làjiāo qiézi, or mashed eggplant with lots of chilies)? The dish is seldom on menus outside of Hunan province, so I decided to cut out the middleman, and go directly to the chef.
Coincidentally, the owner of the restaurant had heard my question, and told the chef to make it, along with a few other surprises.
On the left in the wooden bucket, perhaps the best version of 擂辣椒茄子 I’ve ever tried. The textures, the spice level, and the temperature were all on point. The lagniappes included crawfish, peanuts, and a Tsingtao beer.
Throughout my meal, both the owner, and another particularly drunk table invited me to eat with them.
The name of the restaurant — Hunan friend — rang true that night.
Over at FindingFoodFluency, I wrote a review about Jiwan restaurant in Doha. Overall, the meal had its ups and downs, but two particular things stood out. One, the view from Jiwan, both of the National Museum of Qatar, and of the Doha skyline/harbor, were neat.
Two, the octopus:
I can’t resist grilled octopus. But what really helped this dish excel was an off-menu ask of the Sri Lankan chefs to whip up a spicy condiment.
I don’t know what exactly was in the blue and white container, but it was hot, and meshed all too well with the charring of the cephalopod.
I could go on, but I won’t. We will simply have to wait until next January to see what food discoveries were made in 2024.