A Tour of All the Pizza Styles You Can Eat in the United States (and the History Behind Your Favorite Slices)

When it comes to chili, Texas, Kansas City and Cincinnati, will cede no quarter, each convinced that their particular regional approach is the only sane option.

Hot dogs? Put New York City and Chicago in a pit and watch them tear each other to ribbons.

But pizza?

There are so many geographic variations, even an impartial judge can’t see their way through to a clear victor.

The playing field’s thick as stuffed pizza, a polarizing Chicago local specialty that’s deeper than the deepest dish.

Weird History Food’s whirlwind video tour of Every Pizza Style We Could Find In the United States, above, savors the ways in which various pizza styles evolved from the Neapolitan pie that Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi introduced to New York City in 1905.

Wait, though. We all have an acquaintance who takes perverse pleasure in offbeat topping choices – looking at you, California – but other than that, isn’t pizza just sauce, dough, and cheese?

How much room does that leave for variation?

Plenty as it turns out.

Crusts, thick or thin, fluctuate wildly according to the type of flour used, how long the dough is proofed, the type of oven in which they’re baked, and philosophy of sauce placement.

(In Buffalo, New York, pizzas are sauced right up to their circumference, leaving very little crusty handle for eating on the fly, though perhaps one could fold it down the middle, as we do in the city 372 miles to the south.)

Sauce can also swing pretty wildly – sweet, spicy, prepared in advance, or left to the last minute – but cheese is a much hotter topic.

Detroit’s pizza is distinguished by the inclusion of Wisconsin brick cheese.

St. Louis is loyal to Provel cheese, a homegrown processed mix of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone and liquid smoke.

Miami pizzas cater to the palates of its Cuban population by mixing mozzarella with gouda, a cheese that was both widely available and popular before 1962’s rationing system was put in place.

Rhode Island’s aptly named Red Strips have no cheese at all…which might be preferable to the Altoona, Pennsylvania favorite that arrives topped with American cheese slices or – the horror – Velveeta.

(This may be where we part ways with the old saw equating pizza with sex – even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.)

Cut and size also factor in to pizza pride.

Washington DC’s Jumbo slices are pretty much the standard issue New York-style thin crust slice, writ large.

Not only does size matter here, it may be the only thing that matters…to the point where a local business improvement district had to intervene on behalf of sidewalk rubbish bins hard pressed to handle the volume of greasy super-sized slice boxes Washingtonians were tossing away every evening.

In the land of opportunity, where smaller towns are understandably eager to claim their piece of pie, Weird History Food gives the nod to Old Forge, Pennsylvania, optimistically dubbed “the Pizza Capital of the World by Uncovering PA’s Jim Cheney, and Steubenville Ohio, home of the “oversized LunchableAtlas Obscura refers to as America’s most misunderstood pizza.

For good measure, watch the PBS Idea Channel’s History of Pizza in 8 slices, below, then rep your favorite local pizzeria in the comments.

We want to try them all!

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sally Schmitt, the Creator of the French Laundry & Unsung Hero of California Cuisine, Gets Her Due in a Poignant, Short Documentary

One of the New York Times’ most compelling regular features is Overlooked, which gives remarkable individuals whose deaths passed unremarked by the Times obit column a rousing, overdue sendoff.

Sally Schmitt – “one of the great unsung heroes of California Cuisine” as per Michael Bauer, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s fearsome former food critic – is not one of those.

When Schmitt died earlier this spring at the age of 90, a few weeks shy of the release of her book, Six California Kitchens: A Collection of Recipes, Stories, and Cooking Lessons From a Pioneer of California Cuisine, the Times took note.

Schmitt received a grand obituary that delved into her personal history, philosophy, and her connection to Napa Valley’s The French Laundry, a three star Michelin restaurant which Anthony Bourdain hailed as the best in the world.

The French Laundry’s renown is such that one needn’t run in foodie circles to be aware of it, and its award-winning chef/owner, Thomas Keller.

Keller, however, did not found the restaurant that brought him fame.

Schmitt did, with the help of her husband, Don and their five children, who pitched in in both the kitchen and the front of the house.

Family was important to Schmitt, and having deferred her dreams for the many years it took to raise hers, she was determined to maintain balance between home and work lives.

In Ben Proudfoot‘s New York Times op-doc, above, Schmitt recalls growing up outside of Sacramento, where her mother taught her how to cook using in-season local produce.

Meanwhile, her father helped California produce make it all the way to the East Coast by supplying ice to the Southern Pacific Railroad, an innovation that Schmitt identifies as “the beginning of the whole supermarket situation” and a distressing geographic disconnect between Americans and food.

The Schmitts launched The French Laundry in 1978, with a shockingly affordable menu.

Julia Child, a fan, once “burst into the kitchen,” demanding, “My dear, what was in that dessert sauce?”

(Answer: sugar, butter and cream)

Sixteen years after its founding, The French Laundry was for sale.

Schmitt’s facial expressions are remarkably poignant describing the transfer of power. There’s a lot at play – pride, nostalgia, fondness for Keller, a “really charming young chef, who’d made a name for himself in New York…and was down on his luck.”

Schmitt is gracious, but there’s no question she feels a bit of a twinge at how Keller took her dream and ran with it.

“In high school, I was always the vice president…vice president of everything,” Schmitt says, before sharing a telling anecdote about her best friend beating her out for the highest academic honor:

I went home and cried. Yeah, I thought that I should have it, you know. And my mother said, “Let her have her moment of glory. Don’t worry. There will be moments of glory for you.”

This documentary is one, however posthumous.

Accompanying it is a brief essay in which Proudfoot contrasts the lives of his workaholic late father and Schmitt, with her “delightfully coy candor a message about the rewards of balance and the trap of ambition:”

I made this film for all of us who struggle “to stir and taste the soup” that already sits in front of us.

Another moment of glory:

In Keller’s landmark The French Laundry Cookbook, the final recipe is Sally Schmitt’s Cranberry and Apple Kuchen (with the hot Cream Sauce that so captivated Julia Child.)

Sally Schmitt’s Cranberry and Apple Kuchen with hot Cream Sauce

Serves 8


6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for the pan

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup milk or light cream

3 to 4 Gravenstein or Golden Delicious apples

1 cup cranberries or firm blueberries

Cinnamon sugar: 1 tablespoon sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon


2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan.

2. For the kuchen: Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and egg together until the mixture is fluffy and lightened in texture.

3. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients and the milk alternately to the butter mixture; mix just until combined.

4. Peel and core apples. Slice them into 1/4-inch wedges

5. Spoon batter into the pan. Press apple slices, about 1/4-inch apart and core side down, into the batter, working in a circular pattern around the outside edge (like the spokes of a wheel. Arrange most of the cranberries in a ring inside the apples and sprinkle remainder around the edges of the kuchen. Sprinkle kuchen with the cinnamon sugar.

6. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the kuchen comes out clean. Set on a rack to cool.

7. Combine the cream sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, to reduce and thicken it slightly.

8. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature, drizzled with the hot cream sauce

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

When Sliced Bread Got Banned During World War II

Home baked sourdough had its moment during the early days of the pandemic, but otherwise bread has been much maligned throughout the 21st century, at least in the Western World, where carbs are vilified by body-conscious consumers.

This was hardly the case on January 18, 1943, when Americans woke up to the news that the War Foods Administration, headed by Secretary of Agriculture Claude R. Wickard, had banned the sale of sliced bread.

The reasons driving the ban were a bit murky, though by this point, Americans were well acquainted with rationing, which had already limited access to high-demand items as sugar, coffee, gasoline and tires.

Though why sliced bread, of all things?

Might depriving the public of their beloved pre-sliced bread help the war effort, by freeing up some critical resource, like steel?

Not according to The History Guy, Lance Geiger, above.

War production regulations prohibited the sale of industrial bread slicing equipment for the duration, though presumably, existing commercial bakeries wouldn’t have been in the market for more machines, just the odd repair part here and there.

Wax paper then? It kept sliced bread fresh prior to the invention of plastic bags. Perhaps the Allies had need of it?

No, unlike nylon, there were no shortages of waxed paper.

Flour had been strictly regulated in Great Britain during the first World War, but this wasn’t a problem stateside in WWII, where it remained relatively cheap and easy to procure, with plenty leftover to supply overseas troops. 1942’s wheat crop had been the second largest on record.

There were other rationales having to do with eliminating food waste and relieving economic pressure for bakers, but none of these held up upon examination. This left the War Production Office, the War Price Administration, and the Office of Agriculture vying to place blame for the ban on each other, and in some cases, the American baking industry itself!

While the ill considered ban lasted just two months, the public uproar was considerable.

Although pre-sliced bread hadn’t been around all that long, in the thirteen-and-a-half years since its introduction, consumers had grown quite dependent on its convenience, and how nicely those uniform slices fit into the slots of their pop up toasters, another recently-patented invention.

A great pleasure of the History Guy’s coverage is the name checking of local newspapers covering the Sliced Bread Ban:

The Lodi News-Sentinel!

The Harrisburg Telegraph! 

The Indianapolis Star! 

An absence of data did not prevent a reporter for the Wilmington News Journal from speculating that “it is believed that the majority of American housewives are not proficient bread slicers.”

One such housewife, having spent a hectic morning hacking a loaf into toast and sandwiches for her husband and children, wrote a letter to the New York Times, passionately declaring “how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household.”

The more stiff upper lipped patriotism of Vermont home economics instructor Doris H. Steele found a platform in the Barre Times:

In Grandmother’s day, the loaf of bread had a regular place at the family table. Grandmother had an attractive board for the bread to stand on and a good sharp knife alongside. Grandmother knew that a steady hand and a sharp knife were the secrets of slicing bread. She sliced as the family asked for bread and in this way, she didn’t waste any bread by cutting more than the family could eat. Let’s all contribute to the war effort by slicing our own bread.

Then, as now, celebrities felt compelled to weigh in.

New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia found it ludicrous that bakeries should be prevented from putting their existing equipment to use.

And Hollywood actress Olivia de Havilland approved of the ban on the grounds that packaged slices were too thick.

Watch more of the History Guy’s videos here.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Every Style of Beer Explained: An Expert Breaks Down 100 Types of Beer, from Malty Lagers, to London Brown Ales, to Bock Beer

There was a time when one could hardly hope to enter polite society without knowing one’s Cabernets from one’s Pinots and one’s Chardonnays from one’s Rieslings. That time has not quite gone, exactly, and indeed, a greater variety of pleasures await the oenophile today than ever before. But in the twenty-first century, and especially in twenty-first century urban America, one must command a certain knowledge of beer. Even those who partake only of the occasional glass will, after a decade or two, develop a sense that they prefer a lager, say, or a stout, or the perennially trendy IPA. Yet many will also be at a loss to explain what they like about their preferred beer’s flavor, let alone its origins.

Enter Master Cicerone Pat Fahey, whose title bespeaks his vast knowledge of beer: of its nature, of its making, of its history. He puts his mastery of the subject on full display in the hourlong Wired video above, in which he breaks down every style of beer. Not most styles: every style, beginning with lagers malty and hoppy, moving through an even wider variety of ales, and ending with an extended consideration of lesser-known beers and their variations. Most all of us have sampled American lager, English porter, and even German pilsner. But can you remember when last you threw back a Flanders red ale, a doppelbock, or a wee heavy?

Fahey knows his beers, but he also knows how to talk about them to the general public. His explanatory technique involves providing generous amounts of context, not just about the parts of the world in which these beers originate (a geography and language lesson in itself) but about the ways they’ve been consumed and produced throughout history. Of that last he has a fair amount to work with, since the oldest recipe for beer, previously featured here on Open Culture, dates to 1800 B.C. The nearly four millennia of beer evolution since then have produced the formidable tap rows with which the bars of Portland, Austin, and San Diego confront us today — and which, with Fahey’s guidance, we can more credibly navigate.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A Brief History of Dumplings: An Animated Introduction

Dumplings are so delicious and so venerable, it’s understandable why more than one country would want to claim authorship.

As cultural food historian Miranda Brown discovers in her TED-Ed animation, dumplings are among the artifacts found in ancient tombs in western China, rock hard, but still recognizable.

Scholar Shu Xi sang their praises over 1,700 years ago in a poem detailing their ingredients and preparation. He also indicated that the dish was not native to China.

Lamb stuffed dumplings flavored with garlic, yogurt, and herbs were an Ottoman Empire treat, circa 1300 CE.

The 13th-century Mongol invasions of Korea resulted in mass casualties , but the silver lining is, they gave the world mandoo.

The Japanese Army’s brutal occupation of China during World War II gave them a taste for dumplings that led to the creation of gyoza.

Eastern European pelmenipierogi and vareniki may seem like variations on a theme to the uninitiated, but don’t expect a Ukrainian or Russian to view it that way.

Is the history of dumplings really just a series of bloody conflicts, punctuated by periods of relative harmony wherein everyone argues over the best dumplings in NYC?

Brown takes some mild potshots at cuisines whose dumplings are closer to dough balls than “plump pockets of perfection”, but she also knows her audience and wisely steers clear of any positions that might lead to playground fights.

Relax, kids, however your grandma makes dumplings, she’s doing it right.

It’s hard to imagine sushi master Naomichi Yasuda dialing his opinions down to preserve the status quo.

A purist – and favorite of Anthony Bourdain – Chef Yasuda is unwavering in his convictions that there is one right way, and many wrong ways to eat and prepare sushi.

He’s far from priggish, instructing customer Joseph George, for VICE Asia MUNCHIES in the proper handling of a simple piece of sushi after it’s been lightly dipped, fish side down, in soy sauce:

Don’t shake it. Don’t shake it! Shaking is just to be finished at the men’s room.

Other takeaways for sushi bar diners:

  • Use fingers rather than chopsticks when eating maki rolls.
  • Eating pickled ginger with sushi is “very much bad manners”
  • Roll sushi on its side before picking it up with chopsticks to facilitate dipping
  • The temperature interplay between rice and fish is so delicate that your experience of it will differ depending on whether a waiter brings it to you at a table or the chef hands it to you across the counter as soon as it’s assembled.

Explore TED-Ed’s Brief History of Dumplings lesson here.

For a deeper dumpling dive, read the Oxford Symposium’s Wrapped and Stuffed Foods: Proceedings on the Symposium: Foods and Cookery, 2012, available as a free Google Book.

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Ayun Halliday is the author of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

What Americans Ate for Dessert 200 Years Ago: Watch Re-Creations of Original Recipes

Many of us avoid turning on the oven during a heatwave, but how do we feel about making cookies in a Dutch Oven heaped with glowing embers?

Justine Dorn, co-creator with other half, Ron Rayfield, of the Early American YouTube channel, strives to recreate 18th and early 19th century desserts in an authentic fashion, and if that means whisking egg whites by hand in a 100 degree room, so be it.

“Maybe hotter,” she wrote in a recent Instagram post, adding:

It’s hard work but still I love what I do. I hope that everyone can experience the feeling of being where you belong and doing what you know you were born to do. Maybe not everyone will understand your reasoning but if you are comfortable and happy doing what you do then continue.

Her historic labors have an epic quality, but the recipes from aged cookbooks are rarely complex.

The gluten free chocolate cookies from the 1800 edition of The Complete Confectioner have but three ingredients – grated chocolate, caster sugar, and the aforementioned egg whites – cooked low and slow on parchment, to create a hollow center and crispy, macaron-like exterior.

Unlike many YouTube chefs, Dorn doesn’t translate measurements for a modern audience or keep things moving with busy editing and bright commentary.

Her silent, lightly subtitled approach lays claim to a previously unexplored corner of autonomous sensory meridian response – ASMR Historical Cooking.

The sounds of crackling hearth, eggs being cracked into a bowl, hot embers being scraped up with a metal shovel turn out to be compelling stuff.

So were the cookies, referred to as “Chocolate Puffs” in the original recipe.

Dorn and Rayfield have a secondary channel, Frontier Parrot, on which they grant themselves permission to respond verbally, in 21st century vernacular, albeit while remaining dressed in 1820s Missouri garb.

“I would pay a man $20 to eat this whole plate of cookies because these are the sweetest cookies I’ve ever come across in my life,” Dorn tells Rayfield on the Frontier Parrot Chat and Chew episode, below. “They only have three ingredients, but if you eat more than one you feel like you’re going to go into a coma – a sugar coma!”

He asserts that two’s his limit and also that they “sound like hard glass” when knocked against the table.

Early Americans would have gaped at the indulgence on display above, wherein Dorn whips up not one but three cake recipes in the space of a single episode.

The plum cakes from the Housekeeper’s Instructor (1791) are frosted with an icing that Rayfield identifies on a solo Frontier Parrot as 2 cups of sugar whipped with a single egg white.

“We suffered for this icing,” Dorn revealed in an Instagram post. “SUFFERED. Ya’ll don’t know true pain until you whip icing from hand using only egg whites and sugar.”

The flat little pound cakes from 1796’s American Cookery call for butter rubbed with rosewater.

The honey cake from American Domestic Cookery, Formed on Principles of Economy, For the Use of Private Families (1871), gets a lift from pearl ash or “potash”, a German leavening agent that’s been rendered virtually obsolete by baking powder.

Those who insist on keeping their ovens off in summer should take a moment to let the title of the  below episode sink in:

Making Ice Cream in the 1820s SUCKS. “

This dish doesn’t call for blood, sweat and tears,” Dorn writes of the pre-Victorian, crank-free experience, “but we’re gonna add some anyway.”

Find a playlist of Dorn’s Early American dessert reconstructions, including an amazing cherry raspberry pie and a cheap seed cake here.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Japanese Restaurants Show You How to Make Traditional Dishes in Meditative Videos: Soba, Tempura, Udon & More

Despite having recently begun to admit tour groups, Japan remains inaccessible to most of the world’s travelers. Having closed its gates during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has shown little inclination to open them up again too quickly or widely. The longer this remains the case, of course, the more intense everyone’s desire to visit Japan becomes. Though different travelers have different interests to pursue in the Land of the Rising sun — temples and shrines, trains and cafés, anime and manga — all of them are surely united by one appreciation in particular: that of Japanese food.

Wherever in the world we happen to live, most of us have a decent Japanese restaurant or two in our vicinity. Alas, as anyone with experience in Japan has felt, the experience of eating its cuisine anywhere else doesn’t quite measure up; a ramen meal can taste good in a California strip mall, not the same as it would taste in a Tokyo subway station.

At least the twenty-first century affords us one convenient means of enjoying audiovisual evocations of genuine Japanese eateries: Youtube videos. The channel Japanese Noodles Udon Soba Kyoto Hyōgo, for instance, has captivated large audiences simply by showing what goes on in the humble kitchens of western Japan’s Kyoto and Hyōgo prefectures.

Hyōgo contains the coastal city of Kobe as well as Himeji Castle, which dates back to the fourteenth century. The prefecture of Kyoto, and especially the onetime capital of Japan within it, needs no introduction, such is its worldwide renown as a site of cultural and historical richness. Right up until the pandemic, many were the foreigners who journeyed to Kyoto in search of the “real Japan.” Whether such a thing truly exists remains an open question, but if it does, I would locate it — in Kyoto, Hyōgo, or any other region of the country — in the modest restaurants of its back alleys and shotengai market complexes, the ones that have been serving up bowls of noodles and plates of curry for decade upon decade.

Ideally the décor never changes at these establishments, nor do the proprietors. The video at the top of the post visits a “good old diner” in Kobe to show the skills of a “hard working old lady” with the status of a “veteran cook chosen by God.” In another such neighborhood restaurant, located near the main train station in the city of Amagasaki, a “super mom” prepares her signature udon noodles. But even she looks like a newcomer compared to the lady who’s been making udon over in Kyoto for 58 years at a diner in existence for a century. Soba, tonkatsu, oyakodon, tempura, okonomiyaki: whichever Japanese dish you’ve been craving for the past couple of years, you can watch a video on its preparation — and make your long-term travel plans accordingly.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

What Americans Ate for Breakfast & Dinner 200 Years Ago: Watch Re-Creations of Original Recipes

For all the other faults of the 2020s, most of humanity now enjoys culinary variety the likes of which it has never before known. Two centuries ago, the selection was considerably narrower. Back then the United States of America, yet to become the highly developed leader of “the free world,” remained for the most part a fairly hardscrabble land. This comes through in a book like Democracy in America, which Alexis de Tocqueville wrote after traveling across the county in the 1830s — or on a Youtube channel like Early American, which re-creates life as lived by Americans of decades before then.

Not long ago, Early American’s viewership exploded. This seems to have owed to cooking videos like the one at the top of the post, “A Regular Folks’ Supper 200 Years Ago.” The menu, on this imagined March day in 1820 Missouri, includes beef, mashed turnips, carrots, rolls, and boiled eggs: not a bad-looking spread, as it turns out, though its flavors may leave something to be desired for the twenty-first-century palate.

Many of Early American’s new commenters, writes channel co-creator Justine Dorn, are telling her “to add this seasoning and this and that,” but “then it would no longer be loyal to the actual original recipe, which is why you all are here to begin with.”

In the case of the regular folks’ supper, its recipes come straight from an 1803 volume called The Frugal Housewife. As for the johnnycakes featured in “Making a Working Class Breakfast in 1820,” you’ll find their recipe in Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery from 1796, the first known cookbook written by an American. The meal also includes a yeastless bread for which no proper recipe exists. However, Dorn writes, “there are several mentions of working class people who baked bread without yeast in the autobiographies of travelers in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Because of this we know that it was a common practice.”

Made from a modified family recipe passed down since the 1750s, this yeastless bread looks appealing enough, especially toasted over the fire and served with apple butter. But we must acknowledge that tastes have changed over the centuries. “I am not claiming that this food is good,” Dorn writes. “Sometimes it isn’t. A lot of the foods and seasonings that we take for granted today were very hard to get back then or were only seasonally available.” But with seasonal, “locally sourced” ingredients in vogue these days, it’s worth examining what, 200 years ago, really went into a simple Indian meal pudding or an early macaroni and cheese — albeit one prepared, in true 2020s fashion, ASMR-style.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.