‘Street food is about capturing the imagination in one bite.’ ~ Roy Choi
I recently watched an entire season of “The Taste”, ABC’s foray into reality cooking shows, and two episodes really struck a chord and got me thinking about who I am and where I need to go. On episode two (season two), guest mentor Edward Lee described his approach to food in the ‘My Life on a Plate’ segment. I love how he explained fusing Korean and Southern food by finding commonalities and manipulating them. In episode four, Roy Choi said ‘street food is about capturing the imagination in one bite.’ There is a lot of power in that statement. Eating street food is a very different experience than one in a typical white table clothed restaurant. You have no props, no decor, just one bite to win them over.
Who I am
I grew up in Chicago, living life on the fence between two cultures, French and American. I might throw in a third because of Zenita Shaw, our childhood nanny who looked after us so both parents could work. Zenita was an amazing woman with Southern roots and a heart of gold. When Martin Luther King was assassinated April 4th, 1968, Chicago erupted in violence and Zenita took us in her home in the deep Southside and kept us safe. It was my first direct exposure to Southern food and it profoundly affected my palate. I remember with equal fondness, the Raineri’s, an Italian family that lived below, that often shared Sunday meals with us. Vittorio was an absolute stickler for the authentic flavors and we would travel to Taylor street, an Italian neighborhood, to buy imported pastas, San Marzano tomatoes, spices and other food stuffs and travelled to Wisconsin for real Spring water to make his daily espressos.
Today our cultural relationship to food is not like what it was like in the 1960′s.
I learned to be passionate about food at my mother’s apron strings. She was and still is unabashedly French in her outlook on life and especially her approach to food. No feat was too daunting, or sacrifice too great to ensure a proper meal at her table. Often my sister and I would cram onto her three speed bike fitted with baskets and ride off on some wild adventure in search of ingredients. Today our cultural relationship to food is not like what it was like in the 1960’s. Seafood and organ meats, like liver and sweetbreads, were non-existent in neighborhoods we grew up in, and common ingredients like shallots were not to be found anywhere. People of different ethnicities would flock to their cultures neighborhoods to find hard to get groceries. Despite it all, my mother made real French food and usually had a jar of ratatouille hiding in the fridge ready for a quick fix. The smells of Southern France perfumed our kitchen and my adolescence.
Where am I going
All these food memories got me thinking of the Mediterranean cuisine I grew up loving and have extensively borrowed from, stolen, plagiarized and infused into my persona. Edward Lee got me thinking of how to really express myself in food form. To perhaps coin a phrase for the direction, maybe I should call it Marseille Street Food. I am leary of labels because they box us into bite sized chunks ready for the media to devour, but also have strong connotations depending on your point of view.
The story of the Mediterranean is the shared history of conquest, immigration and exploration, each wave bringing far off ingredients, cooking techniques and a cultural melding of the peoples. Savor sensations inspired by the ancient Romans who shared the art of salting and curing meats and fish, to the Moors who spread the habit of sharing many small dishes to the modern cuisines of France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Greece and the Middle East. Each culture shared their knowledge, wisdom and cultural preferences to create the world’s first fusion cuisine.
“Of the city’s 800,000 souls, some 200,000 are Muslim; 80,000 are Armenian Orthodox. There are nearly 80,000 Jews, the third-largest population in Europe, as well as 3,000 Buddhists. Marseille is home to more Comorans (70,000) than any other city but Moroni, the capital of the East African island nation. Marseille has 68 Muslim prayer rooms, 41 synagogues and 29 Jewish schools, as well as an assortment of Buddhist temples.” ~ Smithsonian Magazine
Marseille is widely considered the most ethnically diverse city in Europe. Early Ligurian and Celt tribes intermarried with the local people. Phoenician galleys brought Greek traders and eventually founded a trade post in Massalia, the future city of Marseille. The Greeks gave Provence olives and grapes. The expansion of olive groves and civilization went hand and hand with the expansion of the Greeks and Phoenicians. It has been said that the Mediterranean ends where olives cease to grow. The Romans came to help protect the besieged Greeks. Eventually claiming the region as theirs and forming ‘Provincia’, the first Roman Provence outside of Italy. The Romans built some of their greatest cities, Nîmes, Arles and Orange. Anchoïade, the sauce made from Anchovies, Garlic and Olive Oil is a close cousin to the famed Roman sauce Garum. Salt cod came from the Romans. The Moors at one point controlled 3/4 of the Mediterranean, only the Roman Empire reached further. The invading Moors brought the habit of serving many small vegetable appetizers, a preference of saffron flavored rice to potatoes and introduced lamb, eggplant and almonds to their conquered lands.
My first foray into Marseille street food will be taking on the venerable Pan Bagnat. Pan Bagnat is a Southern French sandwich who’s title translates to “bathed bread”, implying it will be ‘wet’ and messy. I like to think of a traditional pan bagnat as a tuna nicoise salad in a bun. For my pan bagnat, I decided to combine my love of crispy Ventrèche, or pork belly in English, green salads and heirloom tomatoes into the most awesome BLT you have ever eaten. My cousin Andre will sigh, and my mother will scream ‘Mon Dieu’, insist it’s not French and may even attempt to write me out of the will but here it is. There are a lot of parts to this dish, but don’t let that deter you from this bit of sandwich heaven.
- Bread – I used Brioche rolls from Pearl Bakery in Portland
- Rouille (recipe follows)
- braised Pork Belly
- Harissa Powder (recipe follows)
- Butter Lettuce Green Salad with Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- Heirloom Tomatoes, sliced
- crispy cooked Bacon
- Slice bun in half and toast in broiler.
- Slather with Rouille.
- Liberally rub pre-cooked pork belly in harissa powder and caramelize in hot pan. You want the belly to develop a crunch. Slice. Use two thick pieces per sandwich. Put on rouille.
- Top with green salad already tossed with a vinaigrette
- Slice then add as many tomato slices as you like.
- Finish with two slices of bacon.
- ¼ c. Egg yolks
- 3 T Garlic
- 2 large pinches Saffron
- 1 T. Paprika
- ½ c Sriracha, Red Rooster Hot Sauce
- 3 T. Red Wine Vinegar
- 2 c. Olive Oil
- Puree everything except olive oil in a food processor.
- Add oil slowly like you were making mayonnaise or an aioli.
- Taste and adjust seasonings as needed
- 55 grams Chili Powder
- 10 grams Chipotle powder
- 15 grams Hepp’s Garlic Salt
- 15 grams granulated Garlic
- 7 grams Citric Acid, available at grocery stores
- 10 grams Paprika
- 6 grams Cumin
- 5 grams Garlic Powder
- 5 grams Salt
- 3 grams ground Caraway Seeds
- Mix everything together.