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Post Prosciutto!!! From Ric Mauricio
Created by John Eipper on 12/06/17 3:44 PM

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Prosciutto!!! From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA, 12/06/17 3:44 pm)

Ric Mauricio writes:

I've never had Prosciutto and now you've got me salivating. As for our next fall meeting, I suggest San Francisco, where we can have prosciutto. By the way, I am not sure if I missed something, but wasn't the last gathering supposed to be in Cuba, but nary a mention. I was hoping that those who traveled there would send pictures of the cars.

As for nutritional value of prosciutto, it is both good and not so good. While one serving gives us a good 26 grams of protein (most of it complete and usable), sodium is at 5,000 mg. Yikes! Enough to give someone an instant cardiac arrest.

Speaking of San Francisco, did the Kate Steinle murder non-conviction prove that guns kill people, not people? Ughhh!

JE comments: WAIS style guidelines don't allow triple (or double) exclamation points, but one reviewer of SF's venerable North Beach Restaurant is adamant.  See below.  When it comes to prosciutto and melon, I say yes, and sic!!!

Our plans for Cuba in October were dashed by a perfect storm of politics, WAISer protests, and, well, a perfect storm called Irma.  Let's regroup for fall 2018.  As for a venue, we've already seen Boris Volodarsky's offer for Vienna.  Eugenio Battaglia (next) has a prosciutto-friendly suggestion:  Tuscany.  And Ric, rest assured that you'll be seeing photos of classic cars when WAIS HQ sets up shop next week in Havana.


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  • Things Taste and Smell Different in Italy and US (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 12/09/17 4:26 AM)

    To try prosciutto in San Francisco (see Ric Mauricio, 6 December) is probably not the best choice and even London, where you find everything, would not be the right place. One of the recent commentators noticed that things taste different in Italy than in the USA. This is absolutely true.

    Here's a short story. At the university, my third language was Italian and in summers I used to travel with Italian groups perfecting my language skills. The Italians are usually smart, have extremely good taste and dress very well. What I also noticed at the time, they smell absolutely fantastic, both men and women.

    When our family moved to Western Europe shortly after, I thought: fine, let us buy the same perfumes so we also smell good. Ha, nothing of the sort. French perfumes in Paris and Italian perfumes in Italy smell different than in other parts of the world. I do not know why.

    The same concerns prosciutto. As mentioned, in London you can buy everything but... only in three countries that are neighbours, that is, Italy, Switzerland and Austria, you can find authentic Italian prosciutto. This said, in Vienna one cannot buy jamón ibérico de bellota black label. So for this we have to travel to Spain. But if the WAIS Board decides to choose Vienna as the venue for the next WAIS International Conference, I can promise three spy tours, including the most exclusive The Third Man tour in the Vienna underground; locations where Ric Ames used to meet his KGB handlers giving information on the CIA assets that were all apprehended and shot as a result; a five-star hotel where Nikolai Artamonov (Nicholas George Shadrin) stayed and was abducted by the Russians--the same hotel Sidney Reilly used to reside when in Vienna--plus wonderful restaurants where one can try an oversized Wiener Schnitzel and top-quality Italian prosciutto, all varieties. If this sounds tempting, everybody is welcome.

    JE comments:  WAIS frequently discusses sights, tastes, and (with music) sounds, but smell gets short shrift.  Is it because this most primeval and least understood sense is beneath our high-minded Forum?  How many WAISers have noticed that when you get off a plane in a new country, things just don't smell the same?  Is it different pollen, air quality, humidity, cleaning products?  In Mexico, one frequently encounters the distinctive bouquet of Fabuloso, the iconic purple cleaner.  (You can buy it everywhere in the US.)  We use Fabuloso at WAIS HQ, as it can really clean a floor, and it makes us feel like we're in the tropics.  How does it smell?  Well, the name says it all.

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    • A Generous Iranian Taxi Driver in Vienna (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/10/17 7:45 AM)
      Boris Volodarsky's excellent sales pitch for Vienna (9 December) brought memories of special Viennese food. The first time I was there I arrived on the early train from Budapest. I had to be back in Budapest that same day, so I planned to get to Vienna early and take one of these open bus tours, sample the local cuisine, and take the train back around 2PM.

      To my chagrin I missed the bloody bus tour by less than 5 minutes and decided to get a cab driver for tour guide. Going down this long line of taxis interviewing the drivers for a good candidate whose English was good enough for the job, I finally found a fellow from Iran. After about two hours showing me some interesting sites and talking about everything from family, personal experiences, politics, etc. we hit it off and I told him he would be my guest for lunch at the restaurant serving the best Wiener Schnitzel in town.

      This guy was incredible.  He owned two Mercedes-Benz taxis, but one of the drivers had called in sick that day so he took over for the day. He also had a large carpet store which he proudly showed me. His large home was on top of the store.  He had a large family and invited my family and me to stay with them on my next visit to Vienna.

      He took me to this restaurant where the beer stein was huge and the delicious Schnitzel came in a huge (Trump said it is OK) oval plate with the Schnitzel hanging astonishingly over the plate. He ate the same thing with no beer since he was driving. When I was trying to pay I felt the waitress was ignoring me. After a while I mentioned it to my new friend that the lady would whiz by like I was not there and he announced that was because the bill had been paid, politely dismissing the fact that I had invited him.

      After lunch he drove me to the train station. We had agreed on a taxi tour of downtown Vienna for about 2 hours and then taking me to a restaurant for lunch at a fixed price of $50 US dollars. When I tried to pay he refused the money because we were now friends. I had to insist that we had an agreement before we were friends and that he had to take the money. We swapped business cards and went our separate ways. The whole thing seemed amazing and unbelievable to me. Some months later when I was back in Vienna I tried two or three times to find my friend. His carpet store was closed but some taxi drivers who knew him said he had gone back to Iran. I will never forget him, Mr. Monsour, the most generous man in the world.

      JE comments:  For this Holiday season, how about other tales of random generosity?  Did I mention on WAIS that a year ago, I took my entire Spanish III class to our favorite Mexican eatery in Adrian, Cancún?  When I tried to pay, it turned out that a lone patron had picked up the tab for the entire group (about $180).  My friends at Cancún restaurant didn't know his name, but said he had the habit of coming in and covering people's bills.

      Gracias, Señor Mystery Diner.

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      • Random Acts of Kindness: Kuwait (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/11/17 8:59 AM)
        I appreciated the post of Tor Guimaraes, 10 December, with his tale of random generosity.

        I had many very good experiences when working in the Arabian/Persian Gulf. Hospitality, at least 50 years ago, was imperative for the peoples of the region.  I learned not only of hospitality but also the paramount importance of keeping one's word among the Bedouins.  Some years ago on WAIS, I wrote about selling my car covered with flowers painted by my wife.

        By the way, my Eritrean skipper was practically an older brother to me.

        Anyway when I had to go to the Kuwait Motor Vehicle office for the confirmation of the sale, I went to the wrong office.

        An unknown local gentleman nearby offered to accompany me to the right place with his car. We went and he carried out all the bureaucratic paperwork, paid the fee, offered me a Coca-Cola, then he brought me to my car. He did not want any compensation, but said it had been a pleasure to meet me.

        I found the Palestinians living there also extremely friendly and ready to help foreigners. The only problem with them was when they invited me to dinner on the last day of Ramadan they offered me their very best delicacy: a goat's eye.

        It is sad that such a wonderful atmosphere has been ruined due to overzealous Zionists and Westerners.

        JE comments:  A couple of years ago, Eugenio wrote about his flowery Morris Minor, c. 1967-'68:  the perfect ride for the Summer of Love.  Too bad--alas, alack, drats--there is no surviving photograph.


        WAIS QoD (Question of the Day):  Would you eat a goat's eye to please your hosts?  I'm about 75% sure I could.  But would it be rude to ask for a side of Ranch dressing?

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    • Different Smells, Different Tastes, Different Lands; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 12/11/17 4:00 AM)

      Ric Mauricio writes:

      Would it be a bit presumptuous if one does not sample something in another part of the world but determines that it would not be the best choice anyway? I could imagine what the Italians in San Francisco's North Beach would have to say about that.

      It reminds me of the French saying that California wines would never be as good as the French wines. It also reminds me of Detroit automakers assuming that they will always be better than the Asian automakers.

      But yes, different smells and tastes are a part of each culture and adventure. I assumed the other way, that the cuisine in Beijing and Hong Kong would be better than here in San Francisco. And most of the restaurants in those cities proved to be quite disappointing, so I told myself that perhaps I was just used to the tastes and smells of Chinese food here in the Bay Area. But then I did visit some excellent restaurants in both of those cities and started talking to the sous chefs. What? You were trained where? In San Francisco? New York? Oh, interesting.

      Now, having given my two yuan's worth, I would love to visit Italy (especially Maranello), as well as Vienna.

      JE comments:  I've never been to China, but "they" say Chinese cuisine is fundamentally different from US Chinese cuisine.  Ditto with US Mexican vis-à-vis Mexican Mexican.  Ric Mauricio asks the un-askable:  is it OK prefer the "pseudo" to the real thing?  Does this strip you of your snob credentials?  I'll start:  nothing the Italians call "pizza" beats a doughy, greasy Chicago-style pie.  By comparison, Italy's offerings are dry, cracker-like, and insipid--more hors d'oeuvre than meal.

      There, Ric and I have ripped off the band-aid.  Does anyone else need to come clean?

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      • The Best Sauce? Hunger (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/11/17 6:42 AM)
        I am a person who considers it my duty to pursue and enjoy the beautiful and wonderful things in life as part of my "God is the Universe" religion. And food is an important target. In my pursuit of great foods, I learned some important lessons:

        1. As Ric Mauricio said (11 December), every individual and group has their own opinions, but those merely represent hypotheses to be tested or ignored.

        2. I would rather eat proverbial crap in good company than a fancy banquet with people I don't like.

        3. The context of the meal is as important as the food itself. When you are hungry, the food tastes better. As said in item 2, with good company the food tastes better.

        4. I love to try the local cuisine and always give it the benefit of the doubt. But, even I chicken out on some food: blubber, rotten fish or meat, specially prepared poisonous plants or animals, etc.

        Because of the above items, I have had some marvelous experiences. In a sailing trip around the Virgin Islands, I personally cooked what was unanimously declared the best omelet in the world made from a dozen eggs and dinner leftovers (NY Jewish deli brisket of beef and hot dogs). And while a young man in the Brazilian Cavalry, my buddies and I ate the best steak stolen from the officers' mess hall, cooked on a smashed gasoline can over a bonfire with a handful of butter, salt, and pepper.

        Enough reminiscing for today.

        JE comments: I cribbed the subject line from a classic Spanish proverb: El hambre es la mejor salsa.  Does Portuguese have the same wisdom, Tor?

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        • Cooking Improvisations: The Pemex Comal; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 12/12/17 10:59 AM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          I was revving up for a Christmas generosity story, per JE's great suggestion inspired by Tor Guimaraes's
          prize-winning Vienna taxi tale.

          But yesterday (December 11th), Tor deflected me into another theme, with his story from the
          Brazilian army about grilling a stolen steak on a flattened gas can. I wonder if a nascent WAIS thread might
          be lurking in the idea of cooking improvisations. The gas can started me thinking about comales in Mexico,
          the big flat stones used as griddles since the Toltec mists. Suddenly it struck me that those things must have
          been heirlooms, passed down as precious possessions through the generations. Even the humblest family
          needed one, but it must have taken forever to make one, grinding down the stone. Once fashioned, they were
          made non-stick for frying not by greasing but chalking, with bits of limestone, which (as I may have said before),
          helped stave off the pellagra (vitamin deficiency) that Europeans got from adopting corn but without the limestone.
          Anyone who has been inside a comal-using home today knows the improvisation sequel: Heirlooms no more,
          because perfectly suited to replace the old rock is the lid of a fifty-gallon drum.  Such lids now serving widely as the
          Mexican countryside griddle of choice. So Pemex has a culinary by-product.

          And to further tweak the food improvisation theme, there were the guerrillas in Central America, who, when they
          couldn't get coffee in their wilderness hide-outs, used ground-up burned corn. Well, it looked like coffee. No caffeine kick,
          and pretty rank, but one could dream.

          JE comments:  Savvy gourmands have been cooking on engine blocks for generations, but Gary Moore brings up a different use for internal combustion:  the oil-barrel stove.  Britain's troops in WWI recycled old petrol cans for soup, tea and water.  The added flavor was just one of the many inconveniences of trench life.

          Far tastier and more wholesome for Tommy the SRD jar (Service Rum, Diluted).

          Another nod to efficiency:  Dishwasher Lobster!  Click below.


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        • The Best Sauce? Hunger/Fome (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/13/17 4:05 AM)

          I rack by brain trying to answer JE's question (11 December) if Brazilian or Portuguese has an expression equivalent to the Spanish proverb: El hambre es la mejor salsa.

          I came up empty, but the following sounds smart and truthful in Portuguese: Fome é o mellhor tempero. And it made me remember a funny sad story about food my father told me more than sixty-five years ago:

          He bought some Portuguese sausage and roasted over fire in the old wooden stove. It was a holiday and the rest of the family had gone somewhere, so he and I alone were bonding over the sausage roasting. It smelled good and as he cut small pieces from the areas already cooked, the taste was great.

          So he started telling me the story of some people he knew growing up who were very poor. The mom and dad had three kids who grew up eating a lot of the Brazilian staples of rice and beans and not much else. On a special occasion the father obtained a small piece of Portuguese sausage so at lunch time everyone got the usual plate of rice and beans but now the father had tied a string to the roof of the hut with the piece of sausage dangling from it so each family member in turn could sniff it and then pass it around. After everyone cleaned their plates the father cut a little piece of sausage for everyone to try.

          JE comments:  A precious story.  Or you could follow this tried-and-true advice:  Bota agua no feijão--add water to the beans, because one more person showed up:


          Going back several more centuries, the original pícaro, Lazarillo de Tormes, stole a piece of sausage from his blind master, by immediately gobbling it up and replacing it with a turnip on the roasting stick.  The crafty ciego stuck his nose in the boy's mouth to sniff out the theft, which "caused the contents to be returned to their owner." 

          Renaissance vomit humor!

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    • Pricing Prosciutto di Parma (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/13/17 5:28 AM)
      Yesterday afternoon, after chasing down the season's final olives following an icy day, I went into town to pick up the monthly Limes magazine. My wife asked me to go to the butcher shop.

      Of course, I inquired about the price of prosciutto. If you buy 1 hectogram of sliced prosciutto crudo di Parma you pay 2.50 euros.

      If you buy a whole 10-kilo crudo prosciutto di Parma you pay €200.

      But one liter of gasoline is €1.65.

      JE comments:  My eyeball calculation puts prosciutto at $13 per pound (pretty cheap), and gasoline at around $7 per gallon, which would incite Americans to insurrection.

      How was the olive harvest this year, Eugenio?

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      • Olive Harvest Report (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/14/17 4:05 AM)
        John E asked about this year's olive harvest. Happily, it has been especially good, with plenty of olives not touched by pests.

        We have not yet finished, as we have 100 trees and the harvest is done only by my wife and me.  We are not very young, so probably we will not manage to pick all the olives.

        We had a horrible rain that froze on the trees and the ground, together with strong winds. This caused some damage to the trees, one large plum tree was completely destroyed and some olive trees partially damaged. There was heavy damage nearby but we, after everything, were lucky.

        JE comments: This year's harvest is great news, Eugenio, especially after the disappointing yield of 2016.  Best of luck with the pressing and bottling!  Can you send us photos? 

        What can be more idyllic and timeless than harvesting olives in Italy?

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        • Helping with the Olive Harvest (Roy Domenico, USA 12/15/17 2:49 AM)
          Some WAISers may recall that, during my visit to Eugenio Battaglia two years ago, I "helped" him with the olives. Maybe I should say that Eugenio generously let me "help" him. I came away with the distinct impression that one needs a sturdy pair of legs for this. It's rough terrain and pretty steep that the harvester must go up and down and across.

          I was reminded of our honeymoon--30 years ago almost--on the lovely island of Idra (or Hydra) in Greece. Outside of the town there really aren't any roads on the island--cars were banned (at least then) and the only way on land between the main town and a tiny fishing village down the coast was a footpath that hugged the side of the hill and was dotted with olive trees clinging to the cliffs. My bride and I went for a jog along the path until we met up with a mama goat and her kids. They were trying to get one of the little ones back up onto the path--it had fallen off into a small ditch. But the mama made it perfectly clear to us--"turn around--you're not going any farther." We happily complied.

          JE comments:  Yesterday, when I waxed rhetorically on the timelessness of the Italian olive harvest, David Duggan replied that Greece gives Italy a run for its money.  I would have to surrender my Hispanist card if I didn't include a plug for Spain, although the Greeks and Phoenicians were responsible for introducing olives to the Iberian peninsula.

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      • Prosciutto? Ah, Prosciutto (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 12/14/17 7:10 AM)

        A very brief comment on Eugenio Battaglia post of 13 December and JE's remarks.

        In Europe, we do not have a product named "prosciutto." There are all different prosciuttos and prices vary considerably. In Waitrose near my home in Surrey, England, 100 grams of Prosciutto di Parma would cost £5.55 (https://www.waitrose.com/ecom/products/waitrose-1-italian-prosciutto-di-parma-ham/734328-166755-166756?bvstate=pg:2/ct:r ) and this, of course, is a basic variety and one will not enjoy it very much.

        What you will enjoy is Prosciutto San Daniele DOP from Friuli Venezia Giulia, but the price will be different. You can find it in Vienna in Julius Meinl, an over-the-top fantasyland for gourmands right in the centre of the city (https://www.meinlamgraben.at ).  We shall certainly visit it if and when our esteemed Board decides to have the next WAIS conference in Vienna, Austria.

        JE comments:  Click on Herr Julius's link, above.  Watching the photos will make the mouth salivate and the wallet weep.

        (We're waiting to board our flight at the Toronto airport...might as well do some WAISing!)

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