Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Minnesota: Where in the World Wednesday!

Today, we fly to Minnesota, in particular, Minneapolis to meet our tour guide, Tracey, aka Tangled Noodle. Tracey and I first met on the favorite foodie website, foodbuzz, and I've been following her blog ever since (you should check it out too, here!). Thanks so much for taking part Tracey -- I definitely learned quite a bit of Minnesota reading through your entry and one of these days, I would love to try some of places you mentioned. In particular, those breakfast places made my mouth water... and I'm always a sucker for fair food (mmm, fried food on a stick :)).

Tracey presently lives west of downtown Minneapolis, "in a lovely little community near Lake Minnetonka, with my husband and our relentlessly clownish dog." Before moving to Minnesota, Tracey has lived all over! She was born in the Philippines and grew up in Ottawa, Canada. During her freshman year in high school, her family moved to San Francisco, CA; two years later, her family was in Northern Virginia after her parents (now-retired diplomats) were assigned to the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC. Since marrying her husband, they've lived in Raleigh and Charlotte, NC; Atlanta, GA; and Chicago, IL. They moved to the Twin Cities area nearly 5 years ago and she's finally starting to get used to the winters! Her top 5 food cities are Chicago, Manila, New York, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles (she also notes that she would also say San Francisco but it’s been ages since she's eaten there!).

Now for our tour of MINNESOTA EATS:

1) How would you describe food in Minnesota in 10 words or less?

Hearty, comforting, diverse, natural, unfussy

2) Do you find that the food in Minnesota has been greatly influenced by certain cultures/ethnicities/religions? If so, which ones?

There is a tremendous Scandinavian influence in the foods with which Minnesotans identify: lefse (a potato-based flatbread), lutefisk (Norwegian dish of cod soaked in lye, which I’ve never tasted!), and krumkake (a waffle-type cookie shaped into a cone and filled with cream) are some of the most popular. If religion has any kind of influence, it would be in the classic hotdish, which is pretty much any kind of baked casserole and has been a staple of church basement suppers for generations. It’s quite representative of the Minnesota character: warm, generous, resourceful, and unpretentious. In recent years, the ethnic make-up of Minnesota (and particularly Minneapolis/St. Paul) has become more diverse as Asian, African and Hispanic communities have begun to thrive. I’m excited to see what new flavors they bring to the local food scene.

3) If you were putting together a food gift basket representative of Minnesota for a friend that was visiting you from somewhere else, what would you include in it? (Feel free to include perishable items)

The first thing in the basket would have to be hand-harvested wild rice, which grows in abundance along the banks of Minnesota’s northern lakes. I would also include two apple varieties that live up to their sweet-sounding names: Honeycrisp and the recently released Sweetango, both of which were developed by the University of Minnesota. The UMN’s horticultural programs has also produced cold-hardy wine grapes, so a bottle or two of wines made with deep, port-like Frontenac, pinot-noir descendant Marquette, or La Crescent, reminiscent of Riesling, would find their place as gifts. Finally, no basket would be complete without some walleye, a flavorful fish so highly prized by Minnesota anglers that the ‘Walleye Opener’ – the official start of the fishing season – is as eagerly anticipated as Christmas.

4) Is there anything about food in Minnesota that would surprise people that have never been there? Anything that you’ve found unique about food from Minnesota?

Minneapolis/St. Paul may not immediately come to mind when people think of top food cities but they should reconsider: this past May, Tim McKee of La Belle Vie was awarded Best Chef – Midwest honors by the James Beard Foundation, while 3-time nominee Lucia Watson of Lucia’s was just named a ‘Chevalier du Merite Agricole’ (an honorary knighthood!) by the French Ministry of Agriculture. There is a wealth of talented chefs and delicious food throughout the Twin Cities, from the most upscale dining establishments to the tiniest diner, and I look forward to experiencing as many as possible.

5) Do you have a favorite secret foodie spot (that you wouldn’t mind sharing)? If yes, where is it and what to do you love about it?

My husband and I recently stumbled on a gem hidden in the suburbs: a wonderful little Mexican spot with the rather unusual name of Chaska, My Love (Chaska being the town’s name); they serve delicious plates of our favorite tacos lengua (tongue) and menudo. Although it’s not so secret within the Twin Cities’ Hispanic community, Mercado Central deserves even more attention and recognition from everyone else for the bakeries, grocers, and small eateries that provide the most authentic and regionally-varied Mexican food in the metro area.

6) Say that you’re taking me around town – what would we have for breakfast? What would we have for late night eats? Is there anywhere that you always take out of towners?

You’ll have to stay for at least two breakfasts in Minneapolis! The first morning would be at Hell’s Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis for a bowl of Chef Mitch Omer’s warm and rich Mahnomin Porridge, made with the aforementioned wild rice, and savory bison sausage toast slathered with a stupendous homemade peanut butter. The next day, we’ll head over to Victor’s 1959 CafĂ© for some platter-sized Cuban corn pancakes that will keep you satiated for the rest of the day. A great spot to bring guests has been The Local, an Irish pub on Nicollet Mall, for some great people watching during the summer, some incredible Irish coffee during the chill of winter, and a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey anytime. (By the way, The Local has the distinction of serving the largest volume of Jameson in the world for the third year running.) As for late night eats, I’m the wrong person to ask . . . I’m early to bed!

7) Are there any fun food events that take place in Minnesota or in the area that you’ve enjoyed?

There is only one fun food event that cannot be missed – the Minnesota State Fair. If it can be battered, fried and stuck on a stick, you’ll find it here. Although it’s possible to find some healthy treats, why not indulge in some terribly-tasty food just this time?

8) If you could pick one food that is traditionally or originates from Minnesota to have with you always, what would it be?

You may notice a trend here: I would have to have a bag of wild rice in my pantry at all times.

9) What was your last amazing meal in Minnesota and what did you have?

Last weekend, my husband and I went all-pork at Tea House Szechuan restaurant in nearby Plymouth, MN with Spicy Pork Intestine and Shredded Pork with Smoked Tofu. Wish I could have these dishes every week.

11) Given the current economic times, where would you go for a meal and a drink for $15 or less?

At Quang Vietnamese restaurant on Minneapolis’ Eat Street (Nicollet Avenue), we can get an order of goi cuon (fresh spring rolls) and two huge bowls of excellent pho (noodle soup) or bun (noodle salad) for under $20.

12) If you had to put together your ‘last meal’ based on Minnesota restaurant eats, what would you have?

Hmmmm. I don’t think I’m ready to answer just yet – I’m still discovering so many fantastic foods in Minnesota that the menu would constantly change!

Thanks again Tracey for participating!


Snowbell said...

I never thought that Minessota had any special food... Thanks for sharing!

Elaine said...

I agree, those breakfast places sound amazing!

Tangled Noodle said...

Thanks so much for letting me participate in this awesome feature! Answering your questions really made me focus on the great food available here. I'm so happy to be able to share the hidden culinary gem that is Minnesota!