Monday, March 30, 2009

Have enough seagull eggs in the fridge?

Yum! Brands’ investment in an Asian “hot pot” concept is a reminder that the global culinary world has yet to be fully mapped and catalogued. We have a fondue specialist or two here in the United States, but I can’t recall anyone talking about the new hot pot place that just opened over on Main Street, next to the Mongolian barbecue outlet. Indeed, the very notion sounds exotic and alien: Giving patrons a caldron of hot broth so they can cook their own meat and vegetables at the table.

All the continents may have been found and explored long ago, but TV and the internet haven’t erased profound differences and outright peculiarities in regional fare. For instance, while foodies on this side of the Atlantic were off “ramping,” a rite of spring not even familiar to many in the States, their counterparts in the United Kingdom were bemoaning this year’s shortage of seagull eggs. More precisely, the eggs of black-headed seagulls, a delicacy enjoyed by the British upper crust and sports diners.

The problem isn’t a lack of eggs, it's the shortage of harvesters. According to a report in the London Telegram, only about 25 U.K-ers are licensed to gather the eggs, which, the article points out, can cost around $7 each in U.S. dollars. Because a license is a privilege of class, few new ones are granted, and the current ones are held by old sots with thick monocles and a proclivity to remember that dodgy fox hunt of ’59. Only about a third of the holders still prowl the coast marshes looking for the eggs, according to the Telegram.

Meanwhile, fashionistas in Budapest had to add a new restaurant to their must-try list. It specializes in meats that are cooked with an old-style iron, apparently a venerable Hungarian method. That distinction is reportedly conveyed in the place’s name, Husvasalo, but my Hungarian is a little rusty.

Other specialties of the place include a dessert called milk cake, which is likened to a U.S. pancake, and potato donuts.

The world may be getting smaller, but the list of known local specialties just keeps getting long and longer.

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