Life is too short to be a picky eater. Forget about living every day like it's your last, you need to treat every meal, and snack in between, like it's your last. While it may sound daunting, we're here to help.
These must-try tastes are essential joys, whether a single flavor, or multiple ingredients that, through chemistry, have fused into a single taste and texture. And while this list could be much longer, foregoing the most obvious (medium rare steak) and the most inaccessible (dodo meat) yields the gastronomic indulgences worth seeking out below. Because remember: if you're not enjoying these foods, dishes and ingredients, you're not living.
It doesn’t travel well, it’s got a short season, and it’s hard to find in these United States, but boy oh boy, is a mangosteen worth it when you find one: this sweetly acidic, floral fruit is... well, fruity. Trying to find a good description of its tropical flavor only invites an endless tide of comparisons like “Strawberry pineapple” or “lychee nectarine” or “vanilla ice cream with peach.” It might be the omnifruit foretold by our prophets.
Don’t let anybody tell you this is fermented! It’s cooked at a temperature too high for bacteria to work their necromancy. This process, recently revived after 4,000 years, is all caramelization. A solid month of cooking at 140 to 170 Fahrenheit yields a deliciously low-and-oh-so-slow roasted magic bulb. All the sulfuric and peppery flavors are gone, and the remainder is transformed into the only permissible form of garlic candy. It’s... it’s what’s going to happen to us all when we go to heaven, isn’t it, Father?
Jamón ibérico de bellota
When you manage to cure a hog leg in a way that makes prosciutto look unambitious, you know you’ve cultivated the greatest ham in history. Happy pigs eating mostly acorns, playing in the pasture, and--uh... you know what, this is getting a little sad. But don’t pretend you wouldn’t volunteer your own neck if you knew that you would taste this good. The legs are cured for three years, much longer than lesser cuts, so that the flavor migrates and matures. The resultant meat is velvety, rich, nutty, salty, and fatty, with a slightly musty, more than slightly delicious odor.
Tomato basil sauce
Tomatoes are great. Basil is great. Olive oil is great. But it’s the reduction of all three into a rich, perfect, umami and fat team with little herbal notes that all the goodness comes together into something pure and sweet and savory. Be honest with yourself: you’d eat a bowl of this all by itself (and it’s not even soup) once it’s been cooked to this rich a reduction.
Spicy tamarind candy
Spicy candy is rare enough, but when it’s the rich, earthy taste of tamarind that also makes for such a great soda, you know you’ve got yourself some quality import confectionary on your hands. And in your mouth. And all over you, ugh, you’re a mess. Not that anybody can blame you, the way this tingly treat interacts with the melting sugar on your tongue.
“Why does anyone even eat figs?” you wonder, as you pull one of these grainy, mealy, bland fruits off the tree. “They’re only fit for grilling and drowning with brie and honey.” Then you pop a fresh one in your mouth, and it’s like a bite of life itself. They don’t last long enough to sit at the market, but there’s no finer fresh fruit... except maybe a tomato.
Every single admirer of raw milk claims it’s “fresher, cleaner, creamier, sweeter” and usually “Just...better.” It’s not legal in every state (but oddly, you can get raw camel milk shipped anywhere in the US) but for those who have access to this treat, it’s a cup of heaven.
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So fresh and real and unfiltered, you’ll forget it’s filled with bee parts and wax that’s been pumped out of bees’ glands, then chewed up by same. See? You just read that disgusting sentence and you’re still salivating at the thought of some sweet, fresh, oozing honey, brimming with long-chain fats and healthy alcohols that you just don’t get in a bottle of the filtered stuff. It’s a different flavor, and a harder one to come by, since every time a slice is cut, the bees have to rebuild.
The real deal shames the green-dyed horseradish paste you've been eating with its milder kick and slicker warming sensation. It’s a fresher, greener, sweeter flavor, and as with the honey, the result of a more laborious process, since it takes over a year to grow a good piece of wasabi.
Here’s how important kimchi is to Korea: when the nation sent its first astronaut into space, it also spent millions (that’s plural!) of dollars developing a version that would retain its beloved taste but not mutate when exposed to cosmic rays. That’s right: kimchi is shown more care than the heroes of The Fantastic Four. Fermented, spicy cabbage is three of life’s best things in one, as the normally crunchy blandness takes on a pickled heat.
A fresh peach is a wonderful thing, but frankly so is one that isn't. Brush a slightly underripe peach with olive oil and vinegar mixed with brown sugar (or just teriyaki sauce if you want to save a step) and grill that puppy up. Now you’ve got the Maillard reaction of the sugars fusing the acid and fat into the softened, caramelized flesh of the peach. Yes, you dare to eat this.
You feel like you probably shouldn’t eat veal, but here’s the best case to keep grinding it up. A meatball is a great thing, but if you want to recoil in ecstasy, mix beef, fatty pork, and veal or, if you feel bad about that, fowl. It doesn’t even need sauce (but that’s good too). Bread crumbs soaked in milk and a great mix of herbs will disintegrate into the mix as these proteins break down into a lattice of umami like you’ve never found elsewhere. Is this unicorn? No, it’s chimera meat, and you can die happy now.
Texas BBQ brisket
Speaking of meat that doesn’t need sauce, Texas is the state where they make quality BBQ sauce, only to forbid its use. It sounds paradoxical but you can’t blame them when the final product is brisket like this. The best recipes keep it tight: salt, pepper, maybe some worcestershire. They let the smoke and meat do the talking. Why adulterate the meat whose thick, smoky bark and melted fat cap yield a jiggly webbing of thick muscle fibers, now softened and separated into a lacy gift from the gods? (Presumably Ba'al, because he had a cow's head.)
The world’s not hurting for good chocolate, but this is still the best kept-secret in cocoa. Eschewing the dairy version favored by the world’s chocolatiers, the folks in the Sicilian mountain town of Modica process their chocolate the Aztec way. Its grainy sweetness, the earthiness of the beans, and even a tingly quality make it unique. Stone-ground and spared the heat treatment of chocolate as we know it, a bar of this vibrant treat is simple and pure. It isn’t cheap, but it’s always worth it.
Forget everything you thought about those dusty pillows that come already stale in the bag. That epitome of unnatural and processed food is a far cry from an actual fluffy, gelatinous product of mallow roots from the marsh (none of these useless cliffmallows for you! You’re better than that!). You probably have all the ingredients to make these right now, since it’s perfectly acceptable to use vanilla instead of mallow root. Come on, where are you going to get mallow root? You see any marshmallow flowers around here? All you do is dissolve sugar, salt, and any flavorings (vanilla, strawberry, jalapeno... you know you want to try it) in boiling water, let cool, then pour it slowly into some gelatin that you’ve dissolved in cold water as you whip the whole thing into aerated volume. Let stand at room temp and it should fluff up into marshmallowy goodness.
What the heck happens to lemons when you’ve done little more than salt them and let them sit in their own juices? Sure, some of the flavor migrates between the acidic flesh, the bitter rind, and the oily peel, but can that alone explain the magic of these pickled blessings that come with their own low pH? You can make that taste even more outrageous by jarring them with a few spices. The common Moroccan recipes use coriander, cinnamon, peppercorns, and bay leaf, but you can mix it up with cloves, rosemary, allspice, whatever you want. The lemons don’t judge your decisions.
Anthony Bourdain can scoff at truffle oil (or more likely the so-often fake truffle in “truffle” oil), but the rest of humanity would only turn up their noses at this doubly pungent powerhouse to get a better whiff of it. Cheesemakers wisely choose not to upset The Bourdain; they incorporate bits of real truffle into their curds before the cheese sets, rendering it a beautifully deep flavor that stands up to cheese's sharpness. And no cheese takes to a truffle shuffle like manchego, the nutty, grainy sheep’s cheese with a complex swirl of flavors even before you give it a fungi to hang out with. Proof that the buddy system works!
Roasted Brussels sprouts
How to pick a roasted veggie when they’re all damn near perfect after a little time in the oven? The weight bore heavily on cauliflower, before finally settling on the most obvious choice for a reason. Brussels sprouts spent the ‘80s as a punchline for foods kids won’t eat, because some damned fool was boiling them to mush. But halved and tossed in some bacon drippings or duck fat to roast? You might just eat too many veggies for the first time in your life.
Say “yogurt” and most people either think of the soupy, sugary American stuff or wonderfully thick, fatty Greek yogurt. Say “yoghurt” and most people think you’re English. But say “skyr” and now you’re talking about the wonderful almost-yogurt-but-mmmm-different.
There’s a reason soups aren’t well represented here, and it’s because no matter how rich and delicious your tonkatsu broth, it will always be better with noodles, eggs, veggies, etc. But vichysoisse is basically “mashed potato: the soup,” with chicken broth added, and adding chicken broth makes almost anything tastier. The fact that it’s pureed into a perfectly consistent slurry that can be slurped on a cold football Sunday makes it perfect and also way more blue collar than you’d expect of anything with a three-syllable French name.
Why isn’t this everywhere? Why is it only popular among Russians and weightlifters? And presumably all the Russian weightlifters? Why are we drinking orange juice for breakfast when we could be facing the day with a belly full of cherry cheer? These are the important questions the candidates should be addressing.
Matcha ice cream
Ice cream is supposed to be sweet. Or maybe some weird, savory flavor like garlic or lobster that you can only get at food festivals, and you know it’s going to suck but you try it anyway and yeah, you guess it’s okay. So what’s this... herbal flavor? Is it that surprising that green tea’s Super-Saiyan form, in addition to being deliciously earthy amid the creamy cold, leaves your mouth tasting cleaner than before you ate it? Most desserts can’t say that. Because if your food could talk, it would be horrifying.
Australians know what’s up. You might be hard-pressed to find the down-under delicacy in the U.S. without ordering a pricey import from Amazon... and even then you might end up with a spice mixture which, while tasty (hooray for turmeric!) doesn’t contain any actual chicken. The good news is you can make your own as simply as baking chicken. Roasted chicken skin is dehydrated on low heat, then ground up with a mix of spices that tastes like a cheat code to food. If you thought Adobo was good stuff to shake on food, try the Australian equivalent. The real challenge is not just licking the stuff off your finger as a snack like you’re the world’s fattest deer.
There’s a reason people put cinnamon on applesauce, and there’s an even better reason they cut out the middleman to infuse it in the apple itself. Who needs all that laborious stirring, scraping, and spooning? Instead, toss cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice into a pot and simmer some apple cider till the sugars caramelize. What comes out is a stickier, darker, delicious flavor that you have to mete out slowly, before you realize you’ve drank the equivalent of 19 caramel apples.
The only thing that ties the many, many varieties of mole together is the use of chili peppers. From there, you roast and grind any damn spice or flavoring you think would be awesome, and make a hearty powder or hardy paste. However, many of them use chocolate, and this is the flavor you’re chasing. The tongue almost doesn’t know how to react when it encounters the familiar alkaline taste of chocolate minus all the sugar that rides shotgun with it. What you get is a sauce that’s bitter, meaty, beautiful, and best of all: chocolate for dinner. For best results eat it on top of other food instead of scooping it out of a bowl with your fingers, unable to stop yourself even though your fiancée is watching, because it’s so, so good.
Rendang uses a mix of (tasty) antibacterial ingredients, salt, and slow cooking in coconut milk to preserve beef (although nobody can keep their hands off it long enough to test its longevity). The result is a unique artifact compared to the salt-based extension of shelf life obtained by hanging a cut to cure slowly for weeks--or for a day, if you're making jerky. As the meat absorbs the milk, which steams away around it, it becomes a mixture of fats and deeply ingrained spices in one muscular morsel. It’s addictive, so even though the flavors of the recipe vary widely (and sumptuously), this is one entry that definitely deserves to be here for the texture side of the taste.
It’s baffling why this addictive Italian spread isn’t everywhere. Everyone loves pistachios. Hell, even people with nut allergies. Pistachios are the best nut, end of story. So when Italy turned them into a sweet paste a little bit runnier than the (much more available) pistachio butter that you might readily compare to a peanut butter, it struck gold. Spread this on a cracker, on bread, or dip cheese or veggies in it. It is like nothing you’ve ever had before or since.