Mimi Sheraton’s latest book, 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die (Workman, $24.95), is more than just a culinary bucket list. Consider it also a valuable reference work, a tour book, a restaurant guide, a recipe source and — as Sheraton hopes — a book to pick up and enjoy.
“As a writer, I would be pleased to have this seen as a good read,” says Sheraton, the legendary former restaurant critic for The New York Times.
The book’s inspiration came from a 2003 Workman title, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz.
“I saw that and thought, why not food? I called Workman and we worked it out,” the New York City resident says. “The idea, basically, is to give interested people an idea of what the whole world eats.”
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Entries range from items familiar to most Americans, like Toll House chocolate chip cookies and bacon, to what most people in the United States might find obscure or exotic. Mastiha (wild pistachio tree sap) or hirn mit ei (scrambled eggs with brains), anyone?
Whatever the food, Sheraton then tells you what it is, what to do with it and how to get it.
“Everything is sourced,” she says, meaning you can buy it at a restaurant, obtain it via mail order or make it yourself with a recipe.
Sheraton’s original list for the book ran to some 1,800 entries.
“The first two things were a frozen Milky Way and caviar,” she recalls. “That more or less indicated the breadth of the book, that not everything had to be expensive to be memorable.”
1,000 Foods is more than just dishes, ingredients and some recipes. It lists important restaurants (including Chicago’s Alinea and Frontera Grill), world-class markets (from London’s Billingsgate to Addis Ababa’s Merkato in Ethiopia), holiday foods, and culinary cultural touchstones, such as the 1989 movie, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (listed cheekily as “Pleasures of the Flesh”) and the 1958 book, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, by Jorge Amado.
The book took Sheraton a decade to craft because of all the globe-girdling research, fact-checking, cross-referencing and Web link testing required.
1,000 Foods is also, as the subtitle A Food Lover’s Life List suggests, rather autobiographical. That’s fun, too.
“For the last 60 years or a little more I’ve been going in search of food and place. It shaped my life,” says the journalist, cookbook author and food authority. “My work was my life and this is the net result.”
Despite the title, the book contains more than 1,000 foods. There are 1,000 entries, Sheraton says, some of which have multiple food references.
How many of these dishes has Sheraton, 89, tasted over a 60-year journalism career? About 90 percent, she estimates.
“It’s the 10 percent yet to know that keeps me going.”