Two weeks ago, through the magic of nationwide meal delivery, I temporarily coaxed the wanderlust genie in my head back into his bottle. I never believed it would last, but then my passport came tumbling out as I tidied up a closet full of dress clothes that I have no occasion to wear. After nearly a year of neglect, I’d forgotten my ragged-cornered old friend was in there.

Paging through the stamps inside, I was struck by how many of my last decade’s worth of trips took place at this time of year. Just like that, I was yearning for foods that Goldbelly couldn’t possible help me access: aquavit-and-dill-topped open-faced sandwiches from Ida Davidsen’s in Copenhagen, chocolate-smothered alfajores from Malvon in Buenos Aires, even the truly weird-sounding but refreshing bottled purple corn tea I purchased at nearly every convenience store I passed in Busan, South Korea.

To conquer my international culinary hankerings, I knew I would need a different, likely more DIY solution. This time around, the kitchen, not the U.S. Postal Service, would be my mode of transportation, with itineraries supplied by five of my favorite online home cooks.

French Cooking Academy (youtube.com/c/FrenchCookingAcademy)

I spent a sweltering summer living in Paris 25 years ago. It was buggy and lonely – not the highlight of my young adulthood you might predict, but it did amplify my adoration for French food. These days, when I’m craving the gooey tartiflettes of my youth, I visit Paris-born Stéphane Nguyen’s YouTube channel for guidance.

Nguyen is relatively new to French cooking. In 2014, he undertook a “Julie and Julia”-esque project, mastering the fundamentals of French cuisine not at the Cordon Bleu, but from the countertops of his Australian kitchen.

That autodidact’s perspective lends his videos a gentle, encouraging tone. You’ll feel good about attempting easy dishes like pears poached in Beaujolais as well as trickier ones like creamy velouté-filled bouchées a la reine. At this time of year, when Cortlands and Macouns seem to have taken over, Nguyen’s terrific tarte tatin video and his puff pastry with apple compote clip ought to come in especially handy.

Martin’s Peruvian Kitchen (youtube.com/user/CevicheUK)

When I think about the cuisine of Peru, I can’t help myself: My mind’s eye (tongue?) flashes back recollections of citrus-drenched seafood, almost effervescent with acid. But Peruvian food is much more than ceviche, even to Martin Morales, a UK-based expatriate chef and cookbook author whose first restaurant is named … you guessed it: Ceviche.

Admittedly, on Morales’s YouTube channel, you’ll find some excellent recipes to help you put a South American spin on Maine seafood, including “drunk” scallops dressed with pomegranate and red chilies that works equally well with discs of lobster tail meat.

But his videos explore other native agricultural and culinary products like quinoa, the star ingredient in his vegetarian-friendly avocado burger with cilantro-and-pineapple salsa, as well as steamed purple potatoes that form the base of a mayonnaise-dressed crab “causa.”

As a bonus, Morales’s channel also spotlights recipes for Peruvian beverages, everything from the red-cabbage-based Red Beat health drink to emoliente, a viscous Andean herbal tea made from barley, chamomile and quince jelly.

Me? I’ll stick to Morales’s marmalade pisco sour, an English-inflected cocktail inspired by Paddington Bear, the fictional, duffle-coated refugee from “darkest Peru.”

Ivonne Ajayi (ivonneajayi.com/videos)

Like more than two million of her other viewers, I discovered London-born Ivonne Ajayi through her recipe for party jollof rice, a tomato-and-chile-infused classic of Nigerian (and Ghanian) cuisine. Ajayi’s version is perhaps a little stricter than many – she insists upon red onions, for example – but her recipe is also bulletproof.

While her YouTube channel features fewer videos than any of the others included in this article, Ajayi’s meticulous inclusion of every cooking step elevates the quality of her instruction. You’ll be able to see the proper consistency of the gingery marinade she slathers on whole fish before roasting, not to mention the correct thickness to cut white (puna) yam before deep-frying it until browned and fluffy inside.

If you’re up for an adventure and have some leftovers this Thanksgiving, try Ajayi’s take on traditional egusi soup, a chunky slow-simmered one-pot meal that she augments with turkey and (optional) tripe.

Maangchi (youtube.com/user/Maangchi)

I might never have attempted Korean cooking if it weren’t for Emily Kim. Nicknamed Maangchi – the Korean word for “hammer,” which during her days as an online gamer was the name of her City of Heroes character – Kim is warm and animated. Speaking directly to the viewer over a range of hundreds of stepwise videos, she conjures a sense of familiarity, as if you might be a frequent visitor to her tiny New York City kitchen.

It is biologically impossible not to be charmed by Maangchi as you watch her skillfully adapt traditional Korean recipes to account for the availability of ingredients in the United States. No ssalyeot (sticky rice syrup) for your sweet-crunchy Korean fried chicken? No problem: Just use corn syrup.

Among my favorite Maangchi dishes are her jogaetang, a clam stew that I have made with a mixture of Maine cherrystones and mahoganies; fiery, cheesy buldak with toasted tteok (mochi-like rice cakes); and vegan Korean-style collard greens with roasted cashews.

But my ultimate top pick will always be gamjajeon, a crisp-chewy Korean potato pancake (picture a latke on a Fulbright scholarship) that she prepares outdoors, on the beach in Montauk. Looking back, I can trace the first five pounds of my Pandemic 15 directly to Maangchi’s oniony gamjajeon.

Dining with the Chef on NHK World Japan (www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/program/video/dwc)

Even if you are not an especially internet-savvy viewer, you might already recognize Dining with the Chef from its syndication on PBS affiliates across the country. Its high-contrast, vivid videographic style and soothingly relaxed pace make it difficult to turn off. Once it begins, you’re in for the entire 28-minute episode.

Dining with the Chef comes in two formats, each hosted by a duo – one who cooks and one who discusses the dish being prepared. While I enjoy restaurant-chef Saito’s recipes, they are often elaborate, with a finicky attention to traditional washoku (a complex traditional Japanese aesthetic balance).

I much prefer chef-researcher Rika Yukimasa’s home cooking and breezy attitude toward substitutions. Rika-san’s co-host is Patrick Harlan, an American expat comedian known throughout Japan as Pakkun. Harlan brings a cheery, intellectually curious tenor to their conversations, and perhaps more importantly, an outsider’s perspective on techniques and ingredients.

Together, the two prepare dishes like onigiri (seaweed-wrapped, triangular salted rice snacks), Osaka-inspired kushiage (deep-fried skewered meats and vegetables), and ten don (tempura-topped rice bowls), all from inside a Tokyo apartment that Yukimasa has kitted out as a working studio. What results are bite-sized videos that are equal parts homey and transportive.

When I asked Harlan about using culinary media as a means to explore the world when actual travel is so difficult, he immediately latched on to the idea. “When you take a trip abroad, some of your best memories are of things you ate. Even if your whole trip doesn’t necessarily focus on food, your tastebuds hold memories of amazing meals or something you ate on a stick while walking through a market,” he said.

Doraemon, a Japanese anime robot cat. Shutterstock

That capacity for instantaneous travel to faraway destinations reminded Harlan of Doraemon, an anime robot cat from the future and his own fourth-dimensional pocket. “He can pull anything out of the pocket, but it can also be used as an ‘everywhere door’ that he can just open up and go anywhere,” he said. “That’s sort of what it’s like when you’re eating cuisine from abroad, even if you’re at home. If you can’t get away because of COVID, your mouth, nose and, in a certain sense, eyes and ears enjoy that food and it will transport you to that place.”

With that in mind, I’ve opened up my own multidimensional portal and adapted one of Dining with the Chef’s best recipes, soba with spicy meat, a dish that couples Chinese and Japanese flavors. I realigned the recipe’s focus a few hundred miles to the southeast, substituting in a few Korean ingredients that are easy to find in Portland.

Consider this a postcard from my own passport-free culinary journey.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of three recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at: [email protected]
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

Soba with Spicy Japanese-Korean Pork Photo by Andrew Ross

Soba with Spicy Japanese-Korean Pork

You can substitute angel hair pasta if you cannot find soba noodles. 

Serves 4

1 large leek, chopped finely
2 medium carrots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons grated ginger root
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 pound ground pork (shoulder, belly, or any other moderately fatty cut)
½ cup water
3 tablespoons miso (white or yellow)
3 tablespoons ssamjang (Korean soybean condiment) paste
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon gochujang paste
1 teaspoon red yuzu kosho (Japanese chiles in citrus peel) or ½ minced Thai red chile
4 serving-sized bundles of soba noodles
For garnish: Finely chopped (chiffonaded) fresh basil, shiso or mint leaves

Boil a large pot (at least 7 quarts) of barely salted water.

As the water heats, cook the leeks, carrots, garlic and ginger in the sesame oil in a high-sided sauté pan or frying pan on medium-low heat.

When the leeks have softened (3-4 minutes), add all the remaining ingredients except the soba noodles and the basil/shiso leaves.

Turn up the heat to medium and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

During the last 10 minutes of cooking the pork mixture, boil the soba noodles according to the package directions  (4-6 minutes), then run cold water over the noodles to cool them. Keep the noodles in a colander in an ice water bath until serving.

Use tongs to plate individual portions of the soba noodles into nests, then top each with about ½ cup of the spicy pork mixture.

Garnish with the chopped herbs.


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