On the Wednesday night before the Showcase, Eric and I stayed up late, sitting side by side, carefully cutting the pith off orange peels to make narancini, candied orange peels in the Croatian style. We talked as we did so, about the work itself, about the relationship that comes from a shared task, about the importance of connecting ourselves to what we eat. The tanginess of the oranges wafted from our pile of peels, waking us up, encouraging us to take big breaths full of citrus.
The Showcase was an event almost a year in the making, from our first assignment back in November 2017, when I sat folding Bhutanese poppyseed dumplings, to assignment 50, when Eric spooned lobster au gratin into clamshells for a dinner from Antigua and Barbuda. We didn’t set out to have a special meal after our first fifty assignments. Rather, the idea came a few months into our project. It was a meal to bring together flavours from around the world, to share the not-secret secrets we’ve discovered as we rifle through cookbooks, follow blogs from diverse writers, and step into markets in all corners of Toronto, where all kinds of languages are spoken (with one in common: food). Food is often about sharing. So many of the places we have learned about practice communal eating. Around a platter of rice or pap or roti, stew or salad, families and friends pass on stories, recipes, histories. The Showcase was our way of doing something similar. These foods are, for the most part, not our traditions. Through WSW, Eric and I have merely been curators of the beautiful work and knowledge of cooks from around the world. As Torontonians, though, we do have a tradition of sharing in the culinary experiences of this city, made up of people from nearly every country on earth.
Amar al-Din (Egypt): A sweet juice made from apricot paste
Karkanji (Chad): Hibiscus and ginger iced tea
Salata de Icre (Romania): A whipped fish roe dip
Ajvar (Serbia): A smoky pepper and eggplant dip
Banan Peze with Sos ti Malice (Haiti): Fried plantain fritters and a spicy pepper sauce for dipping
Salatet Fattoush (Palestine): Fresh green salad topped with pita chips
Brúnkál (Iceland): Green cabbage with a butter and brown sugar glaze
Oka I’a (Samoa): Lemon-marinated ceviche with fresh vegetables
Caldillo (Chile): A creamy seafood soup
Vol-au-Vents (St Pierre & Miquelon): Tartlets filled with apple, shallot, and scallop
Kifli (Hungary): A dense, rolled, croissant-like bread
Kottu Roti (Sri Lanka): Spicy curried vegetables and roti
Ojitos (Uruguay): Thumbprint cookies topped with quince jelly
Stewed Mango (Liberia): Mango stewed in a sweet clove sauce
Banitsa (Bulgaria): Phyllo pastry filled with cinnamon, apple, and walnuts
Shai Wa’na’na (Palestine): Sweet tea brewed with fresh mint leaves
Narancini (Croatia): Candied orange peels. We gave these out as favours as the guests departed.
Our goal was to create a cohesive menu that nonetheless showcased a vast array of flavours. We had to make some difficult choices, leaving out some of our favourite dishes in favour of keeping the menu balanced and interesting (not too many breads, not too many tomato-heavy dishes, not too many desserts, and so on).The final menu covered every region of the world that we’ve cooked from so far (as we’ve split it up on the blog).
Six of our friends filled our small dining room, squeezing in around a little table laden with dishes. They chatted as Eric and I flew around the kitchen, finishing off the last few recipes as we had carefully planned.
The standouts of the evening, according to our guests, included the ajvar, as well as the banan peze and sos ti malice, which graced the table as appetizers. The vol-au-vents, an unusual but delicious combination of seafood and fruit, took people by surprise. The caldillo was the star of our menu, and the ojito thumbprint cookies were gone in a flash.
A huge amount of work went into the planning and execution of our dinner, but we loved every moment of it. We are already talking about the next showcase, and perhaps future showcases by region. We have always welcomed bringing other eaters into the WSW experience. It’s hugely enjoyable to see your work appreciated, and to expand the project to a full table was very rewarding.