My Top Tastes of Twenty-Twenty One (Sorry, 2021)

We’re nearing end of the Ugo Boncompagni calendar, which means I will be sharing my favorite meals of the 2021.  Though 2020 understandably didn’t get much love in terms of culinary travel, 2021 flipped that pandemic fear around a full 180°.

Without further ado, let’s go eating around the world – fine, two continents – and discover the best of 2021.

Sopa de Lima, Jugo de Chaya, Sikil P’aak, Ix Cat Ik, Tradicional Cocina Maya-Valladolid, Mexico

Ix Cat Ik, Valladolid, Mexico

You might be thinking, he’s talking about the soup.  He loved the soup.

Actually, whereas the sopa de lima – Yucatan lime soup, and jugo de chaya – a Yucatan variety of spinach – were good, the star of the show was the sikil p’aak, a pumpkin seed and habanero salsa.  Both the pumpkin seeds – pepitas – and habaneros were roasted, and mixed with fresh tomatoes and chives from the restaurant’s garden.

I had a lot of salsa this year, but this one might be the winner.  Fortunately, tens of other salsas are all tied for second.

Aguachile, Tlaquebagre, Tlaquepaque, Mexico

Tlaquebagre, in Tlaquepaque, Mexico

From the city of Guadalajara, I took the metro to its satellite city of Tlaquepaque, hoping to see its famous upside-down umbrellas.  Nope, sorry, not this time.

However, the day trip wasn’t a complete loss, as I had stumbled across a real hole-in-the-wall by the name of Tlaquebagre.

Seafood was the name of the game, and I was craving shrimp.  I ordered an aguachile – “chili water” – a Mexican dish in which shrimp is prepared with lime juice and serrano or chiltepin chilies, and served immediately.  Add in avocadoes and red onions, and you’ve got yourself a delectable puddle of briny heat.

Seafood Picnic, Mc-Fisher, La Paz, Mexico

Mc-Fisher in La Paz, Mexico

Eating seafood on the beach in Mexico.  Yep.  And I’d do that all day long…eat seafood, that is.

Mc-Fisher, unusual name notwithstanding, was something else–  Stingray soup, octopus with melted cheese tacos, marlin tacos, a taco with all three of those ocean dwellers, SHRIMP and beans.  My only complaint was that the tortillas were meh, but I was pretty sure that the rest of the country could make up for that.

If you want good seafood, you want Mc-Fisher.

Smoked Salmon and Sweet Potato Tots, Calumet Fisheries, Chicago, USA

Over the summer, I had a long layover in Chicago.  Having already tried the adopted Chicagoland favorites –  deep dish pizza, hot dogs without ketchup, and my pick, giardiniera – I looked up hyperlocal spots.

Enter, Calumet Fisheries.

All the way in South Chicago, Calumet Fisheries opened in 1948, and became known for smoking fish on oak logs, in a smokehouse adjacent to their shop.

An order of sweet potato tots complimented the deliciously smoky, melt-in-your-mouth hunk of salmon that I ended up eating as if it were an apple.  It needed no extra flavoring, and would be most welcome as a Christmas gift sent directly to my plate.

Eggplant Tostada and Mixed Seafood Tostada, Contramar, Mexico City, Mexico

Contramar, Mexico City, Mexico

Don’t get me wrong, that mixed seafood tostada on the right was a treat.  It’s Contramar, after all, one of the more well-known seafood restaurants in Mexico City.

But I must say that their eggplant tostada – tostada de berenjena – was my vegetable dish of the year.  Or, berry dish?
It was buttery, yet you could still discern the mild sweetness of the eggplant.  Specifically, I ordered it since I seldom notice eggplant on menus in Mexico.  If Contramar, or any other Mexican eatery would do a grilled eggplant/meat combo, that would likely be on my list for 2022.

Eggplant, Shrimp and Ricotta Pizza, Broadway Pizza, White Plains, New York, United States

Broadway Pizza, North White Plains, United States

Shrimp on a pizza, what in tarnation???

(On closer inspection, there’s no meat on this list.  That has to change.)

The cashier said they don’t “normally allow shrimp as an add-on,” so I reminded me that they worked on tips.  A fistful of dollars later, and I had my slice of the year– breaded eggplant, shrimp, and ricotta cheese.

Next time, I will see if they could put all of that stuff in a calzone.

Flaky Buttery Excellence?, Blé sucré, Paris, France

Blé sucré, Paris, France

It’s my first time in Paris in 23 years, what am I going to eat?

Cheese, butter, and pastries, obvi.

Hey Paris, where’s “the best” pain au chocolat?  Hard to say, but Blé sucré is one recommendation.

So, I take my walk to the 12th arrondissement – district – and queue up for my first ever Parisian pain au chocolat.

Sold out.

However, as I stared at the empty space where that would have been, a baker whips out a tray of something even more tantalizing (in the photo, on the left).  I don’t know the name of it – perhaps you could help out – but it was a flaky, buttery, frangipane-filled viennoiserie.

Was there a more decadent dessert eaten in 2021?  Perhaps.  Was that decadent dessert more delicious?  It’s not on this list, now is it?


What were your top meals of 2021?

Grilled Curry (焼きカレー) from Moji, Japan

Moji Grilled Curry/門司の焼きカレー

Given Name: 焼きカレー (background and recipe in Japanese)

Alias:  Yaki* Curry, Grilled Curry

Place(s) of Origin: Moji*, Kitakyushu, Japan

Place Consumed: Moji, Kitakyushu, Japan

Common Features: Rice, Japanese curry sauce, cream/cheese, eggs

Background: Years ago, for my second visit to the island of Kyushu, I decided to visit Kitakyushu. It is an industrial city that for lack of a better description, affords nearby views of the city of Shimonoseki on Honshu, Japan’s largest and most populous island.
Close to Moji train station is an area called “Retro Moji (レトロ門司),” a section with buildings from the late 1880s, when this district became a regionally strategic port.

Moji Port Train Station, Moji, Japan

Although one of my goal’s was to visit Shimonoseki, a city famous for fugu*, I had read that the Moji district of Kitakyushu had a little something of its own, baked Japanese curry.
For those of you familiar with standard issue Japanese curry, which employs something of a blue-collar demi-glace replete with pickled ginger and pearl onions, Moji’s yaki curry is nothing like it.

Verdict:
The grilled curry was a bit decadent, what with cream forming a moat around the pile of eggs, resting on top of potatoes and rice, all blending together to create a slightly sweet and salty baked Japanese curry.  The cheese melted right in, which emphasized how filling the yaki curry was.  Some local Moji restaurants even add their own flair with beef and pork options.

*Yaki = 焼き/焼, cook, bake, roast, grill
Moji= 門司, formerly a city, now a district in Kitakyushu;
fugu= 河豚, 鰒 or フグ, poisonous pufferfish/blowfish

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