Five Things You Must Eat Before You Die

August 23, 2006

Fellow bloggers at the Traveler’s Lunch Box have put out a call to the rest of us who write about food. They ask the intriguing question: What are the the “Five Things to Eat before You Die”? Heeding that call, last night the wife and I sat down and discussed it. Some things were added, some things were subtracted, but in the end, we came up with these five of our very own. Our hope is that you enjoy them as much as we do — and add your favorites as well.

So, the list begins with:

North Carolina Barbeque (Eastern style):
Spending a good amount of our early adulthood in North Carolina and having frequent reasons to return to that state has made us avid fans of barbeque. We realize that barbeque is a nebulous term; we don’t mean just eat any old barbeque before you die: You need to eat North Carolina style. This means spice-rubbed pork, slow roasted over low heat. It’s done when it’s done, and it’s not done until then. Most often it’s pulled from the shoulder, with all that yummy smoke flavor and spiciness.

It’s also important to recognize style of barbeque as well as the meat. There are three major styles found in the region. Lexington style, a tomato-based sauce, is found mostly in the western part of the state. To the south — and mostly in South Carolina — a mustard-based sauce is king. Our favorite, a vinegar based sauce, is found in the eastern part of the state. In our view, this is the best way to perfectly complement the flavor and texture of the meat. If you find your stomach growling as you barrel down I-95, take a detour for a barbeque adventure. We recommend Wilburs in Goldsboro, NC .

Cincinnati Chili:
To some, this is an insane addition. But for us, this is about what we love and enjoy. Cincinnati chili is home food; it makes us think of being back there again. The chili’s odd combination of flavors and cooking method, though, makes it an acquired taste for some people.

It’s not chili in the sense most people think about; it’s not a big heaping bowl of meaty stew. It has more in common with a bolognaise then it does with a Texas red. It’s great, it’s different, it’s something I’d highly recommend. We go into a long dissertation on this in a recent post, so feel free to read more or even cook our version. (If you eat Cincinnati chili in the Queen City itself — go straight to Skyline Chili — do not pass go, and do not stop at Gold Star Chili. Skyline Chili: Accept no substitutes.)

Dim Sum:
My wife’s father is Chinese, and to us dim sum is one the single best culinary experiences you can have. For the uninitiated, dim sum is a Cantonese-style meal that focuses on serving a variety of dumplings. In a traditional setting, the waitresses roam around the room pushing steam carts with their tasty offerings — sometimes shouting the names of the dishes (they did this in Hong Kong). They come to your hungry table, and you get to pick out what you want. Shu mai, haw gau, and char-sui bao, are some of our favorite little dumplings. Overall, it’s always a nice reminder of food as culture and how people choose to share the experience. So, if you do go have dim sum here in the U.S., try to go on a weekend to a place that does cart service.

Graeter’s Ice Cream:
We’ve traveled the world and had ice cream in many places. But hands down, Graeter’s ice cream is the best. We couldn’t decide, though, which flavor we would choose as the standout. We considered ourselves and our families, and flavors like peach (a season summer flavor), black raspberry chip, mint chocolate chip, and chocolate chip kept coming up as favorites.

There are two things that I think make Graeter’s unique. First, is the method of preparation. They use a French pot process, which keeps batches small, handcrafted and intensely flavored. Second, the chocolate chips are always a pleasant treat. Grater’s makes its own dark chocolate in-house and then adds it in large chunks to the mixing process. The result is a bit of asymmetry; it’s not unusual to find a silver-dollar sized chocolate chunk in the middle of your cone. Sometimes, my wife and I argue on the merits of this: Is that chocolate in my ice cream, or ice cream on top of my chocolate? In any case, the result is childhood memories of searching for and finding chocolate chunks in delight. So if you go — and only get to go once — get a chip flavor.

Praline Pecans from A Southern Season:
There is perhaps no confection more perfect in our minds than A Southern Season’s Praline Pecans. A Southern Season is an amazing gourmet grocery store located in Chapel Hill, N.C. But to us, its greatest treasure is its Praline Pecans. They are crunchy, sweet, salty, nutty and candied. Even sold in large — and not cheap! — tins, they don’t last long in out house. The pecans are so good we avoid ordering them for anything other than special occasions, lest we turn to pecan-bloated gaseous, grotesquely large gastronomes who might be able to block the sun with our girth.

We hope you enjoy our list. We enjoyed making it. Thanks to the Traveler’s Lunchbox for the idea.


  1. I don’t see Aunt Rubles apple pie!

  2. I’ve only tried the dim sum from your list… i had better get eating, huh?!

  3. […] The point is: I love mint ice cream. And I judge all ice cream establishments based on their mint ice cream. Our favorite brand of ice cream, Cincinnati favorite Graeter’s, has excellent mint ice cream. But in my view, they kind of throw off the mint mojo by shoving giant — and I mean giant — pieces of chocolate into the mix. Yes, I realize the giant chips are a Graeter’s signature. But I feel like I have to interrupt my mint ice cream experience to eat a bar of chocolate. (For most people, though, this isn’t a problem. Who doesn’t want to interrupt dessert to eat a chocolate bar?) […]

  4. ooooh — a cincinnati lover! hi from cincinnati:)

    we just moved back here after a 5-year stint in PA. can’t tell you how much we LOVE to be back “home”. we live 10 minutes from Jungle Jim’s and 5 minutes from a Skyline.

  5. My wife and I are from Cincinnati and just now find ourselves in DC. So making Cincinnati chili for us is a way to keep home alive. We actually lived in Clifton right across the Skyline at Clifton Ave and Ludlow when I was in Law School. We had many a late night meal there. So I do so miss home, and its still our tradition to have Skyline first thing upon arriving back in the ‘Nati.

  6. hi ,

    i’m lisa from penang,malaysia
    i’m doing a travel blog and would like to put some food links into my travel
    i hope that we can exchange links but if you are not interested, please do
    let me know.

    my travel blog : http://www.kualalumpur2u.wordpress.com


    lisa lam

  7. I disagree, I think Gold Star Chili is much better. Skyline is a close second. Either one would work in my view, but regardless trying Cincinnati chili is a must before you die there is no doubt :).

  8. As a former employee of A Southern Season (now living in TX), I have to agree. Sigh…I miss that place.

  9. I’m from Cincinnati currently living in Senegal and was reading the top foods list on the traveler’s lunch box and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Cincinnati Chili and graeter’s high on the list. YUM. thank you.

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