Thursday, June 14, 2007

regional dishes

Thoughts on future veganizations:

In two weeks I'll be traveling to St. Louis, my hometown. The prospect of going home always gets me thinking about cultural differences between the Midwest and the East Coast (or between small and big cities). I've learned recently that several cuisine items that I had taken for granted all throughout childhood were in fact completely regional phenomena, not available outside of a thirty mile radius of the City of St. Louis itself. Lately I've been asking people from various parts of the country whether they've ever had or even know about some of these local delicacies -- only to receive blank looks.

St. Louis-style pizza: a super-thin, cardboard-like crust, almost similar to matzo, topped with so-called "Provel cheese," a blend of cheddar, mozarella, and provelone. Outsiders are perhaps likely to find this pizza as bizarre or disgusting, but St. Louisans instinctively regard it as being more "genuine" than all the other "soft" pizzas.

Gooey butter cake:
a layer of low-set, buttery yellow cake topped with an equally buttery icing-sort-of-thing made of some combination of butter, sugar, cream cheese and eggs, and a final sprinkle of powdered sugar. It's served as a coffee cake, and is a staple of family get-togethers, parish bake sales, funeral receptions etc. Every bakery and grocery in St. Louis offers some version of it. Again -- hard to convince outsiders that this one is any good, but trust me: it's amazing.

Toasted ravioli:
Basically this is your traditional cheese and meat-filled ravioli, breaded and then, voila, deep fried. Served with a marinara sauce. More likely that non-St. Louisans will know about this than any other item on this list.

St. Paul sandwich:
Personally, I find this one revolting (probably 'cause I've always despised mayonnaise), although certain people who live near the Mississippi River seem to enjoy it. Basically, you take two pieces of your average trashy white commercial bread, like Wonder Bread, smear it with mayonnaise. Add dill cucumber pickle slices, tomato, lettuce, and finally... a patty of egg fooyung. Then, uh, eat it, I guess?

Keep in mind that people in St. Louis eat this one for breakfast: Take a couple of eggs (made to order), hash browns, and a hamburger patty. Put them on a plate. Now, slop a whole bunch of chili on top. Q.E.D.

Gerber sandwich:
The strange items already listed might have convinced you for a moment that the Gerber sandwich is in some way related to the eponymous baby food. What, after all, are these crazy Missouri people thinking? Cardboard-like pizza? Anyway, to make a Gerber sandwich, you slice a loaf of Italian bread lengthwise. Spread with butter, add slices of garlic and ham, then cover with (again, the coup de grace) provelone cheese and sprinkle with paprika. Serve open-faced after toasting.

Mayfair dressing:
This perplexing salad dressing is based on pureed whole eggs and canola oil -- seasoned with anchovies, garlic, mustard, celery, onions, black peppercorns, and a dash of champagne.

I've already got a good prototype for the vegan version of the Gooey Butter Cake, and a pretty solid working knowledge of how to make ravioli (and then to fry it it) -- but certain recurring components to this food, such as Provel cheese, or its grandfather, provelone -- still mystify me. I can hardly remember what it tastes like, nor do I have the slightest idea how to begin developing it! Is agar the answer? Anyway, as soon as I get the Gooey Butter Cake looking pretty good I'll post the recipe.

If you've got any bizarre regional favorites -- or weird "delicacies" that you still don't get even now -- please post in the comments.

Matthew Trost and Carmichael Monaco. Vegan Hedonism.


Daron said...

gross, gross, gross.

I've only ever heard of the pizza, ravioli, and cake. Did your parents make that other stuff?

What about potato salad, that seemed pretty huge in my youth. Never ate it, I too have an aversion to the dreaded mayo.

Are cheese fries nationwide?

Matthew said...

insofar as i know, cheese fries are nationwide. save for wyoming, idaho, utah, nevada, and new england north of NYC, i've been everywhere in the united states, and although i wasn't always exactly "scoping out" the cheese fries situation, i have the sensation, somewhere in the back of my head, that they were always available.

(last time you were in NYC, i forgot to take you to foodswings, which offers those, and other great greasy things.)

potato salad is everywhere, albeit with regional variations. angelica kitchen offers potato salads occasionally, with significant differences in nutritional balance and culinary sophistication.

Sharkie said...

Shangrila Diner here in St. Louis has a vegan slinger. It used to be tastier when they cooked the tofu properly. Lately it looks like they take raw tofu and crumble it up then pour the tofu water on the dish.

I have never made vegan toasted ravioli. I would love some!

Sue said...

I was just thinking today of St. Louis' unique foods and wondering if it's possible to make a gooey butter cake vegan. Glad to see I am not the only person out there who has pondered the possibility. I look forward to the recipe.

Sarah C. said...

Just found my way to this post (yeah, a few months late to the party). I'm from STL, too (St. Charles, actually) and only know the first three items on your list (they are, those three, certifiable St. Louis-isms. Just like use of the word "hoosier" to mean hick or hillbilly). Anyway, I do not find a post on the blog providing the recipe for the veganized gooey butter coffee cake. If you've gotten it to work, I'd LOVE to know how. I looked a my (traditional) recipe the other day and felt sad that I'd never get to eat it again (though seriously? who of us has been able to eat more than about two bites of the stuff at at time? but wow, what a two bites!).

Anonymous said...

Have you every tried using young milkweed silk in place of cheese? I've read in a few "eating from the wild" texts that it's supposed to be an excellent cheese replacer, but I've never been gutsy enough to rob the roadside of butterfly food to try it. Have you ever heard of this?