The food we eat and the fluids we drink are possibly the most intimate — and most risky — ways we treat our bodies. But how much do we know about our meals and drinks before we ingest them? As a rule, probably not much. As in other areas of our lives, we trust that the hundreds of food and drink vendors know what they're doing.
As I thumbed through the weekly advertising sheet my local supermarket sends to my mailbox, I decided to list the items I know little or nothing about.
See if you join me in my ignorance, below. I've done some editorializing along the way. Please forgive me, or don't.
CHOBANI GREEK YOGURT: Chobani is a Greek word for "shepherd." Yogurt is a dairy product, named after Yogurt Berra, a marvelous catcher for the New York Yankees baseball team. He made such statements as "It ain't over till it's over" and "You can observe a lot just by watching."
ORGANIC: This is an adjective applied to foods that — while being grown, harvested or processed — have not been subjected or exposed to harmful chemicals or fertilizer. Organic can also mean "higher priced than the other stuff, which could maybe make you fat or kill you."
ALFREDO: This sauce was named for Alfredo Di Lelio, who owned a small restaurant in Rome in the early 1900s. After the birth of his first child, his wife's appetite faded. Her husband fixed that by inventing a special sauce to brighten up the fettuccini. The sauce was so good its use spread to use with pasta, shrimp, pig's knuckles, and organic yogurt.
BEIGNET: A French word meaning "bump." It is pronounced "ben-YAY." A beignet is a small fried pastry, or fritter, pronounced FRITT-er.
MARSALA: The fifth most populous city in Sicily. It is known for a delightful wine grown in the region. The wine has been responsible for the execution of perhaps millions of chickens, which are then cooked and soaked in the wine, and served as Chicken Marsala. A warning: If the chef uses any other wine than Marsala, don't eat the chicken. It can cause nightmares of Mussolini's balcony orations.
TILAPIA: An entire range of different fish types are gathered under the name of "tilapia." They are inexpensive, easy to prepare and are mild in taste. All of these qualities have made tilapia the fourth-ranked fish consumed in the United States since 2002.
BARBECUE: Take a chunk of meat, expose it to a heat source such as charcoal, watch the smoke rise, have another beer and soon you have a barbecue going. This food started with the Arawak people in the Caribbean, plus Timicua tribes in Florida and Georgia. It was first recorded in 1672. A century later, George Washington attended a "barbique" in Alexandria, Virginia.
ROPA VIEJA: A Cuban specialty in which beef is shredded and cooked in a tomato-based sauce. The literal translation of ropa vieja is "old clothes." The legend says it all started with a man in Havana (or maybe Miami) who was so broke he couldn't afford a decent meal. In desperation, he cooked his own clothing and dined on it.
LIVERWURST: First you slaughter a calf or a pig, and take out its liver. You grind it up into a sausage, and then serve it in many ways, all of them tasty. Another name for liverwurst is braunschweiger, named after Braunschweig, a city in Germany. I like to place a slice on a cracker, top it with a sliver of dill pickle, and then send it down the hatch. If a German sees you eating it and asks you, "Ist gut (good), ja?" you should respond, "Ja, dis wurst ist die best!"