Last week marked the debut of Lucky Peach, the new food quarterly from the minds and mouths of David Chang, Peter Meehan, and a team of creative kids at McSweeney’s, including editor-in-chief Chris Ying. Reactions to it have been positive on a whole, with The Atlantic’s Daniel Fromson saying there is “much to love” about the first issue, despite the fact that “praising a publication so full of certified New York Food Celebrities is a bit like rooting for the Yankees.” SF Weekly’s Jonathan Kauffman writes today that he, too, was surprised by how much he liked reading it, despite the fact that “the tone goes bro within a couple of pages.” Grub Street finally got to perusing all 174 pages over the weekend — and that’s without a single ad! — and we now bring you a few items that surprised us and sparked our interest that we couldn’t have appreciated via the teaser pages that were already out there on the web.
1. The editors chose not to cut a single “fuck” out of any of David Chang’s contributions, and there are at least a couple dozen in there.
2. Takeaways from Harold McGee’s piece on MSG: tomatoes, aged Parmesan cheese, and aged steaks all have naturally occurring MSG in them, which is why they taste good; also, there’s no scientific evidence that MSG causes “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”
3. At one point, Anthony Bourdain echoes Alice Waters: In the second, less-illustrated page of the three-way conversation between Chang, Bourdain, and Wylie Dufresne, there’s a funny bit where Bourdain finds himself defending the idea of simplicity, and the kind of “ingredient-driven food” he and Chang are always railing against: “See, what kills me is when somebody fucks up a spaghetti pomodoro … Sometimes … I just want to sit down, eat a crust of bread, and have a properly made pasta.” He adds, “I can’t believe I’m talking like Alice Waters. That’s what I’m fucking doing, right?”
4. New Orleans has its own version of ramen! As John T. Edge teaches us, it’s alternately known as yak a meat and yakamay, but was originally called ya ka mein. It’s made with spaghetti and a ketchup-and-meat-based broth, and is also called “ghetto pho.”
5. The recipes are very well written and quite pretty to look at: There’s even an array of seven fancy ways to cook eggs, as well as a nice “Egg Chart” (see below) showing the differences between a 60-degree, 61-degree, 62-degree egg, etc. We still won’t be attempting Chang’s Puffed Egg recipe (it requires an espuma gun and something called Methocel F50) or Dufresne’s wd~50 eggs Benedict, which involves frying a piece of frozen, gelatinized Hollandaise.
6. Twenty of the mag’s 174 pages are devoted to a piece of short fiction by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki called “The Gourmet Club,” translated by Paul McCarthy. It’s funny.
7. There are several amusing “Chopstick Humor” cartoons by David Rees involving the replacement of instructional text. The first, on page two, simply says, “Would you fucking learn how to do this already?”
8. On a whole, the writing is thoughtful, engaging, and informative. It’s not nearly as bombastic and reactionary as Chang’s personality might suggest.
9. Some of the writing is downright outstanding. We were especially impressed with Todd Kliman’s piece, “The Problem of Authenticity,” in which he challenges the notion of the word “authentic,” saying it “poses an even bigger challenge than locavorism and sustainability.” Are we being overly sentimental when we insist on authenticity, he asks? Can what Rick Bayless is doing with Oaxacan food be called authentic? It’s probably the best piece of writing we’ve seen on the the subject to date.
10. There are actually twenty regionally specific kinds of ramen! And Nate Shockey provides a map with extensive descriptions of each.
11. David Chang is no fan of listicles. In his travelogue of eating around Tokyo, co-written with Peter Meehan, Chang writes, “Being there made all the New York magazine-style best-of listicles that dominate restaurant talk in the States seem like even more bullshit. Most of these delightfully random places were restaurants where people gathered just because they needed to eat. Because this was their neighborhood, their local spot.”