Let’s get started.

This blog is, foremost, a reaction to what I have perceived to be a general lack of effort in the re-creation of worldwide cuisine by Western home cooks. Innumerable blogs, both current and in ruins, have halfheartedly flirted with introducing the varied cuisines of our planet to others – and though this be a noble cause, authentic, researched and brave cooking a noble cause alone makes not. Of the treachery heaped upon the Earth’s culinary bounty, I shall mention only a few of the mildest examples:

- “I didn’t have fish sauce, so I just used ketchup.”

- “I didn’t have red curry paste, so I just used ketchup.”

- “I don’t like fish sauce, so I used Worcestershire sauce.”

- “I substituted melted Kraft singles for the ________. My kids LOVED it!!!!!!!!!!!!”

- “If you have trouble finding _______, you can just use ________, it won’t make a difference.”

I will refrain from harping any further on these blasphemies – suffice it to say that my approach, though time-consuming and potentially fraught with much hand-wringing and heartache, will, I hope, atone for the unholy sins of my brethren. Half of the fun of cooking, for me, lies in its archeology – unearthing arcana, procuring necessities, and then sitting back and enjoying a job well done. And often a hearty, garlic-scented belch.

I must also state for the record that I am attempting this project in probably the only place where it could be done in this particular way – New York City. This is not an apology, but a statement of staging. I would hope that, instead of heaping opprobrium upon me for maintaining certain standards of rigor based on the availability of exotic ingredients here, that my readers attempt to excavate those hidden jewels in their own town or state. It can be done, and should be. Whenever possible, I will link to mail-order sources to ease the burden of the curious and landlocked.

You may say what you will about the dubious concept of “authenticity” in the modern world – and I will defend to the death your right to say it - but I believe that there are indeed steps that can be taken to preserve culinary traditions. I, for one, refuse to be content with the Baudrillardian simulacra of a tortilla española, a hyperreal gado-gado, or the pseudo-individualized frankfurter of the Frankfurt School. For this reason, whenever possible, I will to my best to focus on less-accessible dishes that feature unpopular, unfamiliar or hard-to-find ingredients, as they should prove to be more resistant to undisciplined fiddling and adulteration. (You may interpret this as me saying “plan on seeing plenty of offal on this blog”.)

So, here, I outline the rules I have established for myself in this challenge:

1) I will cook a meal from every single recognized country in the world, moving alphabetically so as not to avoid the more difficult cuisines. (A “meal” shall heretofore be defined as “more than one dish”).

2) I will choose which dishes to cook based on my ability to procure authentic, traditional ingredients (either in person or through mail-order). If I can’t find it, I won’t make it. NO substitutions.

4) I will publicly document my research to the best of my ability.

5) I will not bail on this challenge, as so many have before me.

So… are you with me?

- Mark

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15 thoughts on “Let’s get started.

  1. In love with this blog, aaaaahhhh.
    Can’t wait for you to get to China. I expect to be blown out of the water ;D

    Kidding, but best of luck to you on your little excursion. Looking forward to everything yet to come!

  2. This is a great blog! I started the A-Z cooking challenge just yesterday, with Afghanistan. I’m not planning on cooking entire meals (app, entrée and dessert plus drink) because I do not eat a lot of food, but wow after looking at some of your posts perhaps I should! I love the photography, the gusto with which you get authentic ingredients and the time you put into this project. Excellent!

    • Ugh, I’m so flattered! Thanks for taking the time to read and for your kind words!! And if you ever need help with some research, please don’t hesitate to ask me!! :)

      - Mark

  3. I just found your blog – THANK YOU!!! Went through the same frustrating experience looking for real pad thai and finding recipes that left me shaking my head and wondering what they were thinking. Substitutions on other recipes made no sense, why bother?!

    Really looking forward to following your recipes around the world, and trying a few.

    • Leslie! Thanks so much for reading, I’m glad we can be kindred spirits :)

      Anything that says “adapted for the Western kitchen” makes me want to throw myself through a window, you know? It’s like “trust me I CAN HANDLE IT”.

      Keep reading!!
      Mark

  4. Awesome website. I love to eat and really enjoy your funny way of explaining everything. The photos are amazing too! I wish I could find some authentic Guatemalan tortillas in the states. The sad, thin Mexican ones just can’t substitute!

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