Where SAVEUR’s Editors Traveled in May
Cheese in Wisconsin, hot dogs in Iceland, masa in Oaxaca, and beyond
At SAVEUR, our obsessive quest to unearth the origins of food and discover hidden culinary traditions sends us from our test kitchen in New York City to all the corners of the globe. This month, we went everywhere from the fields of Wisconsin to the English countryside, and ate everything from Danish porridge to crisp stuffed masa in Oaxaca.
There's a word I learned my recent trip to Oaxaca: gordibuena. Roughly: Beautiful curvy girl. I learned it in the context of diving face-first into one of these beauties above, a gordita (less affectionately "little fat girl") from the Gordita Lady in a market just outside Oaxaca City.
Gorditas are one of masa's many miracles: disk-shaped lumps of masa, studded with nubs of pork skin and meat, fried until crisp, then cracked open, stuffed with meat, veggies, and salsa, and eaten piping hot. They're more of a northern Mexico thing, but here, under an orange tarp in the morning sun, this Oaxacan masa master and her all-female crew expertly feed a never-ending stream of market-goers.
That crispy crust has its obvious pleasures, but it's really the custardy interior of a gordita—moist but not mushy, utterly light in ways tamales rarely are—that won me over. It fused with ridiculously tender chicken tinga and offered just enough lettuce and pickled onion for crunch. It's a beautiful foodstuff, distinct from a taco or a tamal or an empanada, despite the similar ingredients and preparations, and it underscores just how many forms and instances of joy masa can take.
It also gives me a greater appreciation for the term gordibuena. Just as we can respect and appreciate masa in all shapes and sizes, so it should be with people, si?
This month, my boyfriend and I took a trip to Chicago for a friend's wedding. There was dancing and drinking and sneaking outside with our wine glasses to lie in the cool grass in the evening, but the best part was brunch the following morning. Another friend of mine lives in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood, which puts her right at the heart of some of the city's best restaurants. Lula Café is our usual go-to, with an ever-changing farm-to-table menu from their self-taught chefs, but with just one meal to go before our plane trip back to the city, we decided on something a little more ... boozy.
At Parson's Chicken & Fish, the wait for a table that Sunday afternoon was an hour and a half long, which sounds ludicrous until you remember you can spend that entire 90 minutes sipping a frozen negroni in a sunbeam on their back patio. And then you can sip one of the frozen dark and stormies. And then a frozen "purple drink" made with red wine, port, and orange blossom water. By the time you get officially seated, and you've ordered your fried chicken sandwich and your cream cheese and ham hock–stuffed hushpuppies, it's like no time has passed at all—but then how did I end up with this sunburn?? —Alex Testere, associate editor
Food in Iceland is expensive. But the fish is super fresh, pulled from the North Atlantic’s waters; the lamb, from animals that range free on the highlands. Everything is small-scale, pristine, and organic. My husband and I put 1,000 miles on the odometer circling the Ring Road in 10 days. We’d scrimp on lunch with cold cuts (smoked lamb) or pylsur (snappy lamb hot dogs), then splurge on dinner.
Options were limited in remote areas, especially since we were traveling before the high season, but we had memorable fish soups, peat-smoked Arctic char, and earthy bread that was buried for 24 hours to bake by the heat of the hot springs. I tried guillemot, a seabird that brought to mind dark and minerally venison.
On our final night in Reykjavík, we dined at chef Ylfa Helgadóttir's Kopar (Copper). Small plates to start included velvety rock crab soup with shrimp, spinach, and an unexpected touch of bean sprouts; blueberry-cured beef tenderloin with a Parmigiano crisp and caramelized walnuts; and fried cod tongues with a sherry-garlic cream cheese and a zingy lemon dip. My husband had a langoustine-crab risotto bathed with shellfish sauce and topped with a fennel salad to cut the richness. For me it was the catch of the day, roasted Atlantic catfish—aka wolffish—with bread crumbs and tartar sauce, accompanied by bok choy, carrots, and pickled red onion. As we walked out of the restaurant and into the city's old harbor, close to midnight, a fiery sunset lit up the sky, beckoning us to return to the Land of Fire and Ice. —Donna L. Ng, copy chief
My mom really loves Campari. Both of my parents do, but my mom has particularly strong feelings for it, and I think that has something to do with how much she loved Italy. She managed to finagle a bottle out of a friend's recent trip to France and brought it with her on vacation in North Carolina. Cocktail hour involved a hefty glass of Campari and orange, perfect next to a sea breeze and the sound of waves. —Katherine Whittaker, assistant digital editor
Two years ago, I found myself in the mountains of Taiwan. I wandered around with my delicate tea ware in my backpack knocking on wood with every step. Each breath felt new, crisp, and so clean my chest expanded to catch every bit of mountain air it could hold. My stomach did the same, trying to fit as many mountain vegetables as humanly possible. In between sips of freshly roasted soymilk and my tired breaths as a traveler, I found the time to slowly exhale: "wow."
On my third trip to Taiwan, I said "wow" once again. But this time, it was at squirrels fighting me for my soymilk. I don't blame them. The soymilk there is so good, I'd fight for it too. It's comforting to have food taste homey while traveling. Even more when the people open their homes and world to a distant traveler. As the edges of the mountains were blurred by mist, and the creek sang with the fish swimming upriver, I took another breath and the mountains stole it back again. —Nissan Haque, digital production assistant
In May, our photographer Matt and I took a food and farm tour of south-central and western Wisconsin. We foraged for morels in Madison with Chef Jonny Hunter and the Wisconsin Mycological Society and stopped in on the Muscoda Morel Festival. We visited artisan cheesemakers in Dodgeville and Clear Lake, cider-makers in Maiden Rock and distillers in New Richmond, and we met with a few of the folks behind Wisconsin's summer pizza farm trend. We consumed our weight in pork products, cheese curds, and frozen custard as we made our way up the staggeringly beautiful Great River Road and enjoyed a sunset cruise on Lake Pepin, one of the widest and calmest points along the Mississippi. —Kat Craddock, test kitchen assistant
I went to Providence, Rhode Island for my college reunion, and had planned to spend the weekend eating like an undergrad: breakfast burritos, late night calzones, and only-kind-of-cold Narragansett. But I couldn't resist an impulse trip to check out Oberlin, which opened downtown a year ago, long after I graduated. Providence has always punched above its weight as a restaurant town, thanks to Italian and Portuguese influences and abundant local seafood. Oberlin has updated all of that for one of the most compelling meals out I've had in any city recently: heaping portions of raw fish and smoked mussels, whole wheat penne made in-house from local grains, and an orange wine from Philippe Tessier in the Loire that was just the right amount of weird. —Chris Cohen, senior editor
Right off of Davis Square is Redbones, a down-home-style Southern barbecue restaurant with a history. After walking through Boston Commons and taking a trip to Quincy Market, I followed a few Boston natives on over to Somerville for what they called "the best barbecue in Boston." And they weren't wrong. After plates of delicious fried okra, fried pickles, and corn fritters, we devoured a rack of their fall-off-the-bone Baby Back Ribs with potato salad and slaw. After one slice of the pecan pie we ordered for dessert, Redbones took the top spot on my list of favorite restaurants in Boston. Disclaimer: Come with an appetite—I had to be rolled all the way to Fenway Park. Who knew Boston had such good barbecue?
Complete with a downstairs bar that serves a mighty 29 different types of fresh beers on tap, Redbones is a must-go for those who want to add a little local flair to a Boston trip. Black and white photographs of blues and jazz musicians that used to frequent the famous BBQ joint cover the walls, and the slow blues of Muddy Waters and BB King somehow makes the ribs taste a whole lot better. Wicked good "bah-b-que." —Ian Burke, digital intern
I've always had fantasies of driving the English countryside: winding flower-lined roads, stops at old inns that had been there for ages, the thrill of driving on the wrong side of the road. The way I envisioned it, it'd be more about the journey than the destination, since of course sheep and cows would wander onto the road from nearby farms, blocking us from getting anywhere fast anyway. A trip to England in early May made my dreams come true.
It was the perfect time of year to go—right when the rains and mists had begun to dry up (however temporarily) and the wild bluebells had recently bloomed. My husband and I lost our cool more than once, our exclamations over the sheer beauty giving us away as nothing more than ogling tourists. We stayed at The Pig at Combe, where we ate lunch from the wood-fired oven between long walks through the neighboring villages, greeted by, yes, cows and sheep everywhere we went, but also pleasant country dwellers who made us remember that seeing the untouched places—where green is a religion and there's still one schoolhouse and neighbors who know each other's names—can be the best way to travel. —Stacy Adimando, test kitchen director
I got to spend the middle of May road tripping around western Wisconsin with test kitchen assistant Kat Craddock (which, side note, is real fun if you ever get the opportunity) And I have to say the state is magical. We met so many kind warm happy people who took us in and showed us a great time, the land was lush and vibrant green and there seemed to be rivers everywhere. Every meal was tasty. And antiques are CHEAP as hell.
But my favorite place was Lake Pepin. Lake Pepin is the Mississippi river, just farther north of where the river turns into an industrial channel. The river banks are large bluffs covered in trees and bald eagles dive into the waters for fish. The whole experience was so lovely and beautiful I looked at buildings for sale and wondered what business the town needed and how I could make it work. —Matt Taylor-Gross, staff photographer
Recently, while in Copenhagen for an upcoming story in our August/September issue, I watched, day after day, as cool kids lined up for brunch at Møller. One morning, I finally walked in and ordered a bowl of parsley smashed potatoes and something called øllebrød. This is how sacred the nation's precious and nutritious rye bread is: the leftover crumbs are preserved and combined with beer to make a tangy, chocolatey porridge.
Usually it is topped with fruits like orange but Møller's was finished off with sea buckthorn berries. It was delicious so I Instagrammed it, eager to spread the word about my new Scandinavian revelation. Hours later, a local asked me what traditional foods I had consumed during my journey. "Open-faced sandwiches, local perch, Øllebrød," I bragged. Øllebrød?! He laughed. That's what your mom gives you when you're a kid and she doesn't know what else to make. One man's trash porridge... —Andrew Richdale, deputy editor
I spent a few days exploring the Franciacorta region of Italy. Visiting wineries and restaurants, talking to chefs and producers, and eating and drinking more than anyone needs (it was basically heaven). My favorite part, though, was poking around the garden at the Corte Bianca vineyard and finding all the produce they were growing. I plucked peas and cherries and some lettuce leaves (to my gracious hosts: I'm sorry!). Then one of the owners told me they had white mulberry trees, and let me pick them to my heart's content. I've only ever had dried white mulberries, and eating them fresh from the tree was pure joy. I collected a few to take with me, they lasted about 5 minutes. —Kristy Mucci, test kitchen associate
Visiting Boston, Massachusetts for the Boston Calling Music Festival, I decided to make a stop at Little Donkey, the new(ish) globe-trotting Cambridge charmer helmed by James Beard-awarded chef Jamie Bissonnette. With a menu diverse in formats and influences, it's the perfect restaurant to please all of your friends who "can, like, never decide where to eat."
A friend visiting from France, on a mission to try the "best American burgers" was delighted by the house version, with dry-aged beef, Buffalo pickles, onion-soup mayo and, yes, foie gras. Meanwhile, another in the mood for Asian food tried the wok-fried chow fun, a riff on black bean-rice noodle classic with asparagus, ramps, and Calabrian chili. For my part: the Jamaican jerk chicken wings, whispered with habanero and charred pineapple, really hit the spot.
But perhaps the highlights of the meal were the 'gram-worthy and excellent cocktails—get the mezcal number served in a hollowed-out grapefruit—and a safe-to-eat, pasteurized-egg–based cookie dough dessert, flecked with cocoa nibs and served still on the beater. — Dan Q. Dao, deputy digital editor