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A Vegan on the Lam, Native American Cuisine, and More Great Reads

Worthy weekend reading material

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Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Find a diverse selection of histories, essays, and interviews among this week’s food-inspired stories. First prime your palate with the story behind the doughnut hole-shaped Cheerio and find a little humor in the horrible preponderance of house-made ketchups on restaurant menus with The New Yorker. Take a break from reading and tune into The Atlantic’s Gastro Pod-cast, which features Sean Sherman, better known as the Sioux Chef.

Texans — Leslie Brenner aside — will likely not take kindly to the Wall Street Journal’s queso factoids but all can probably appreciate the strange story of Sarma Melngailis, a one-time owner of New York’s celebrity haunt Pure Food and Wine who became a wanted vegan fugitive. In “Searching for Lady Kung Fu” The New York Times recounts the story of a different kind of disappearing act and Atlas Obscura documents the last days of a New York City dairy. Don’t miss out on Keith McNally’s interview. Here are eight great stories Eater editors were reading this week.

How Cheerios Got Their Shape

Extra Crispy

Any American old enough to wield a spoon can probably pick out a Cheerio in a lineup of other breakfast cereals, thanks to its iconic “O” shape. But what may come as a surprise is that General Mills, the creator and manufacturer of Cheerios, tested out more than ten shapes and sizes before selecting the now-recognizable doughnut shape that floats in cereal bowls worldwide. The humble Cheerio was not always destined to be an “O”—it could have been a spiral, a star, or a sphere.

We Do Our Own Little Take On Ketchup

The New Yorker

Hi! Welcome to the Stetson Café. The specials are on the board—I would highly recommend the veal shank. Also, we’re sort of known for our burger. It’s a half-pound of grass-fed beef, your choice of blue or Gruyère cheese, and it comes with our signature house-made ketchup. That’s right. The ketchup here at the Stetson is made in-house with freshly diced tomatoes, a pinch of sugar, a touch of paprika, and it’s disgusting. It truly is gross. Nobody likes it, and all the customers secretly wish we just served Heinz ketchup instead.

The ‘Sioux Chef’ Reviving Native American Cuisine

The Atlantic

Chef Sean Sherman had been working in restaurant kitchens for decades. Then a strange fact struck him: The food of his people, the Oglala Sioux, was completely unrepresented in American cuisine. He’d grown up on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, one of the largest and poorest reservations in the country, and his childhood diet consisted of a combination of processed, boxed, and canned government-donated commodities, supplemented by hunting and foraging indigenous plants such as choke cherries and wild turnips. He knew, though, that the Oglala Sioux cuisine was much richer than the handful of Native foods his family hunted and foraged.‘’

Don’t Tell Texas, But Arkansas Is Laying Claim to Queso

Wall Street Journal

Nick Rogers, a former lawyer now working on a doctorate in sociology, presented evidence in his 2009 documentary “In Queso Fever: A Movie About Cheese Dip” that the world’s first cheese dip might have been served at Mexico Chiquito, a North Little Rock restaurant chain that opened in 1935 and now has four locations. Mexico Chiquito serves vast quantities of cheese dip, often by the gallon, its owners say.

Inside the Final Days of New York City's Last Dairy

Atlas Obscura

Delivering milk has always been hard work because time is critical and milk is heavy. In New York City it also requires strategic thinking. As Vasquez wheeled stacks of 50-pound crates on a handcart or lugged them up and down stairs, he fine-tuned his route for maximum efficiency and minimum parking tickets. (He only got one that morning, his first in a week.) And he reflected on an upheaval in the city’s dairy market that will affect the route he has been driving for 12 years: Elmhurst Dairy, New York City’s last milk processing facility, will be shutting down for good this weekend.

How Sarma Melngailis, Queen of Vegan Cuisine, Became a Runaway Fugitive

Vanity Fair

Focus on the dog. By the time police arrested Sarma Melngailis and Anthony Strangis on May 10 of this year on fugitive-from-justice warrants at a Tennessee hotel, where they’d been holed up for 40 days and 40 nights, this is how insane their marriage had become: Melngailis, 43, the radiantly blonde poster woman for vegan living, a Manhattan restaurateur, and a Wharton graduate, says she had come to believe—really, really believe—that her pit bull, Leon, was on the cusp of being made immortal. This Lazarus-ian feat, and more, would be accomplished by her husband, Strangis, 35, a gambler with a criminal past she’d met on Twitter five years earlier.

Searching for Lady Kung Fu

The New York Times

On a warm afternoon this September, Ms. Mao, now 66, sat in one of those restaurants, keeping an eye on lunch service as she rubbed her baby granddaughter’s belly.

The restaurant, Nan Bei Ho, sits on a quiet street in Bayside, a suburban Queens neighborhood beyond the reaches of the subway system and not far from the Long Island border. It is the oldest of three restaurants she runs with her husband and son, all of them in Queens. It serves Taiwanese food and is popular on weekends but is otherwise nondescript.

Martial arts fans have sought the address of this restaurant for some time — they wanted to know what happened to Angela Mao, the Queen of Kung Fu, who fought and flew through dozens of films in the 1970s but vanished within a decade.

Keith McNally Doesn't Like Parties and Feels 'Fraudulent' Much of the Time

Eater NY

On a Friday afternoon in late October, Keith McNally took a seat in a brown-leather corner banquette inside his new restaurant Augusstine. With a quick yet sheepish delivery, only occasionally making eye contact, the restaurateur discussed his latest project, the state of his company, London and New York, the joys of throwing a good party that you don't have to turn up to, his strengths, the veneration of chefs, and life after opening his final restaurant.

All Long Reads Coverage [ED]