The Food Almanac: Friday, July 19, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Caviar Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ THOR

Food On The Road
Today in 1936, the first Oscar Meyer Wienermobile was built in Chicago. It was a tremendous hit, especially with kids, and the hot dog-shaped cars (now more like RV's) have been on the road ever since. They appear in parades and at festivals, driven by young people just out of college. Crews of three or four of them drive one of the six Wienermobiles around the country. I'll bet that's a great experience. We've had the Wienermobile crews on my radio show many times in the past, and they're well-spoken representatives with a unifying talent for making awful puns about hot dogs. They come here to participate in Mardi Gras parades. In the New Orleans parades, they're required by the law against commercial displays in parades to cover up the company logo. But you'd have to be really out of it not to recognize the Wienermobile for what it is.

Food Calendar
It is National Caviar Day. The word "caviar" connotes luxury and gourmandise. The best caviar is among the most expensive and rarest foods in the world. Indeed, the king of caviars--from the endangered beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea--has become so rare that it lately has been banned from import into the United States. But not all caviar is expensive; not all of it is good.

You know that caviar is fish eggs, but there's more to it than that. Eggs in fish are enclosed by a pouch, and held together by a membrane. Like every other part of a fish, roe is highly perishable. The challenge and expense in making caviar is to separate the eggs and to somehow keep them from spoiling. The latter job is usually accomplished through the addition of barely enough salt to do the job.

You probably eat more caviar than you think you do. Tobiko, for example, is the tiny caviar you get on sushi rolls. (It's from flying fish.) Around New Orleans, we eat a great deal caviar from bowfin (choupique, as we call the fish). If you dine in Greek restaurants you may enjoy a great appetizer spread called taramasalata, made with carp caviar.

I do hope it's possible to enjoy beluga caviar again someday. It's best all by itself--no onions, sour cream, capers, or anything. Maybe some little bread underneath. (I use small, non-sweet waffles for that.) But if the beluga sturgeon must be left alone to preserve the species, then we must not eat any more beluga caviar, no matter how delicious it is.

Deft Dining Rule #715
Eating a great deal of caviar can give you a buzz--and it's not just the Champagne that you're drinking with it.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Roe, Arkansas 72134 is a town of 124 people about two-thirds of the way from Memphis to Little Rock, on the old main highway between those cities. It's a cotton-growing area. Not coincidentally, the former Cotton Belt railroad (now pary of the Union Pacific) has a main line running through Roe. It's not a big enough town to support a restaurant; the nearest eatery is six miles back toward Memphis in Clarendon. It's very unlikely that the White River Diner serves caviar.

Edible Dictionary
tobiko, [toe-BEE-koe], Japanese, n.--The roe of a kind of flying fish, processed for use as caviar. It's most commonly found in sushi bars. The individual eggs ("grains") are small as caviar goes, but not as small as smelt roe. It has an natural, appealing orange color and a mild, lightly salty flavor. It's currently in vogue to soak the eggs in other ingredients to change the color and add other flavors. Green tobiko has been mixed with wasabi. Black, squid ink. Cayenne makes it red and peppery.

Food On The Air
At five minutes after ten in the morning on this date in 1988, I threw a microphone switch and began a new daily radio talk program called The Food Show. It broadcast from the original 1925-vintage studios of WSMB, on the roof of the Maison Blanche Building. It's now the longest-running New Orleans talk show on any topic: same station, same host, same concept. I'd been on the radio since 1974 with a variety of shows on several stations, but this gig took on a life of its own. The Food Show has survived nine format changes, four station ownership changes, and one close brush with extinction of the station. The show is an anomaly in radio programming. I know of nothing comparable in any other city. And what other my radio show shares a birthday with the Wienermobile?

Food In Art Supplies
Today in 1994, Crayola began selling scented crayons. My two favorites are Garlic-Sardine and Huitlacoche.

Food And Drink Namesakes
David Cone pitched a perfect game on this date in 1999 for the Yankees. . . Soap actor Dolph Sweet experienced his first episode today in 1920. . . Syd Mead, an industrial designer who created cars and gizmos for movies, invented himself today in 1933. . . Canadian actor Carl Grain was harvested today in 1978.

Words To Eat By
"Caviar is to dining what a sable coat is to a girl in evening dress."--Ludwig Bemelmans.

"There is more simplicity in the man who eats caviar on impulse than in the man who eats grape-nuts on principle."--G.K. Chesterton.

"There is, we feel, a decent area somewhere between boiled carrots and Beluga caviar, sour plonk and Chateau Lafitte, where we can take care of our gullets and bellies without worshipping them."--J.B. Priestley.

Words To Drink By
I cannot eat but little meat,
My stomach is not good;
But sure I think that I can drink
With him that wears a hood. 
--Bishop Still, in Gammer Gurton's Needle.

Related Links
A Modern Caviar Cocktail PartyCaviar Q&A with Armen Petrossian