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Chicago’s ‘Funhouse’ Southern Food, Yak Butter Tea, and More Long Reads

Six great food-inspired stories to savor this weekend

making tsampa Clarissa Wei

Now that the week is over, it’s finally time to relax and enjoy those leisurely long reads you’ve been looking forward to. Start with a morning energizer, Tibetan bulletproof tea made with highly valued yak butter. Then jump to some more practical business perspective from Luke’s Lobster that will simultaneously make you feel hungry for a Maine roll and possibly a little inadequate about your comparative entrepreneurial success.

From there, jump to Luke Tsai’s East Bay Express piece on cultural appropriation and “elevation” of international cuisines or join an Atlantan in a stroll through a Chicago’s current infatuation with “funhouse” versions of Southern food. Cleanse your palate with a rumination on the wondrous flavor of Ruffles Cheddar Sour Cream chips before opening up your dessert — a Choco Taco of course. Here, now, are six great reads to savor this weekend.

Yak Butter Tea Is a Traditional Tibetan Drink With a Practical Purpose

Eater

I stayed with Goulongzhu and her family in Tibet for four days in June, and every morning, without pause, she’d serve me a creamy bowl of yak butter tea for breakfast. In the early hours, she’d make a batch of crude black pu’erh tea — a fermented dark tea from China — brewed along with a great deal of salt. Then, a fat serving of yak butter would go into a bowl along with toasted barley powder and milk curds, and she’d pour the tea in until the liquid nearly reached the rim. I’d mix it all together with my chopsticks and sip. It was creamy and substantial — overflowing with healthy fats. The highland barley gave it a nutty finish, and in those four days, yak butter tea was something I looked forward to immensely in the mornings.

Letter of Recommendation: Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles

The New York Times

Stewart’s is no foodie emporium — this one kept the chips on a wire carousel between a basket of shrink-wrapped peanut-butter-and-butter-on-a-hard-roll sandwiches and a crockpot labeled Chicken Wing Soup. So when Trish handed me the Ruffles, she intended it as a mildly ironic token of affection. But here’s what happened: The sensory experience of the Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles so diverged from my mental narrative about what I was eating — what was I eating? — that it short-circuited my discursive thinking and emptied my mind. Everything I believed about eating was left in disarray.

Pimento Cheese in a Parka

Southern Foodways

A spot in nearby Lakeview, Wishbone, employs a flying-chicken decorative theme (think scores of soaring chickens painted on rafters and soffits overhead, like a comic vision of Hitchcock’s The Birds) and serves what it calls “Southern cooking for thinking people.” The implication is not that inchoate emotions typically rule diners from the former Confederacy. Instead, the motto is meant to convey that the kitchen prepares the food with supposedly healthy ingredients. The Wishbone menu throws around descriptors like “Asheville” to indicate blue cheese and honey-mustard dressing in a salad. And it takes liberties with established dishes. Hoppin’ John translates as a bottomless bowl of black beans and brown rice under a thick cap of melted cheddar cheese. Bless their hearts.

The Legend of the Choco Taco

Eater

For just about everyone other than the French inventor of the Cronut, the Choco Taco is the stuff of nostalgic summer sweet tooth obsession — the most beloved and innovative of all the American ice cream "novelties." Its acolytes are legion. Restaurant pastry chefs and boutique scoop shop owners regularly pay homage. Employees at the United States Bureau of Land Management demanded Choco Tacos as part of their Burning Man provisions. Congressional staffers have been known to revise the Choco Taco Wikipedia, including the anachronistic fiction that former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (who died in 1961) once described them as "like Texas, but in ice cream form."

A Restaurant’s Sales Pitch: Know Your Lobster

The New York Times

“We’re able to trace every pound of seafood we serve back to the harbor where it was sustainably caught and to support fishermen we know and trust,” Mr. Holden said. “There’s no middleman in that whole chain.”

This might seem obsessive. But in business, it’s called a vertical integration strategy.

Consumer demand for fresher, healthier ingredients has led to a surge in the popularity of farmers’ markets and local food co-ops over the last five years, said Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst at the NPD Group, a market information and advisory firm.

For restaurants, though, simply buying fresh, all-natural ingredients isn’t enough, as food-safety concerns like E. coli scares continue to plague the industry.

Cooking Other People's Food: How Chefs Appropriate Bay Area 'Ethnic' Cuisine

East Bay Express

All around the country, many of the most famous purveyors of global and immigrant cuisines — the so-called "ethnic" foods — are actually chefs without family ties to those particular cultures. As food writer Francis Lam documented in a 2012 New York Times article entitled "Cuisines Mastered as Acquired Tastes," many of these prominent "ethnic" restaurants are helmed by white fine-dining chefs, who later in their careers decide to dedicate themselves to a particular cuisine for which they've developed a passion.

In New York City, a white former high-end pastry chef named Alex Stupak runs what is probably the city's most highly acclaimed Mexican taqueria, Empellon. In Portland, Oregon — and, arguably in the whole country — Andy Ricker, another white male chef, is the king of regional Thai cuisine.

All Long Reads Coverage [E]

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