ALEX COHEN, host:
Back now with Day to Day, and something to whet your Thanksgiving appetite. This is the story of "Man Bites World." It's a blog written by 26-year-old Noah Galuten. Noah lives here in Southern California, home to thousands of ethnic restaurants. Earlier this year, he devised this challenge for himself. Eat the cuisine of a different country every day. On day one, he took on Mexico.
Mr. NOAH GALUTEN (Author, "Man Bites World" Blog): Mexico is sort of the cuisine that's been with me my whole life. It's sort of every step of my gastronomic evolution, you know, whether it's - you're a kid, and you're having quesadillas and nachos . You know, when you're growing up, and you start having, you know, cow head tacos and things like that.
COHEN: Yes, Noah is a brave eater. He'll eat cow head tacos and just about anything else, and then he'll write about it on his blog. "Man Bites World" is his online chronicle of this culinary journey around the world. I joined him on day 70 at Azin's Afghani Restaurant in Pasedena.
Delicious. Thank you.
Over cups of hot cardamom tea, Noah explained the parameters of his quest to eat food from all over the world, starting with rule number one. No cooking for himself.
Mr. GALUTEN: That's not going to be very indicative of the cuisine, you know, stealing someone else's recipe online and doing a bad dropped recreating it. And, you know, I can't order stuff from online, canned fish or something, and have that sent to me. And really, just, you know, the main one is no days off.
COHEN: And with this, the first course arrives.
Ms. LETICIA RUIZ: All righty. Here we have the chef's combo.
COHEN: Our waitress, Leticia Ruiz, brings us a plate piled high with Afghan appetizers.
Ms. RUIZ: OK, here we have mantoo, which is a steamed dumpling stuffed with lemon onions, topped with yogurt and vegetables. And over here we have sambusa, which is chick peas and ground lamb.
COHEN: There's a bit of a science to this. Noah carefully photographs each plate to post on his blog. He takes extensive notes, and then comes the fun part.
Mr. GALUTEN: This is I think the battered eggplant with yogurt and meat sauce on top. So, it's appropriately crispy, creamy, and meaty, and so, we'll see. As promised, it's really, really good. It totally reminds of Italian eggplant dishes I had a lot growing up as a kid. My grandmother is Sicilian, so I grew up eating a lot of Italian food.
COHEN: You hear a lot of people say that food is a way to get to know a culture. Do you get a sense when you go to these places and you sit down and have a meal, do you feel like you actually get to learn anything more about the country that it's from?
Mr. GALUTEN: Yeah, absolutely. And also, I mean, you look at, I mean, food literally is a country's history. It's when you look at, you know, poor people finding ways to make cheap cuts of meat delicious. And that's where cooking comes from. And that's where great cooking comes from.
COHEN: Noah has been at this for nearly three months now. And though the okra stew from Ghana was nothing like the sweetbreads from Argentina, he has found that food, no matter where it's from, has some universal themes.
Mr. GALUTEN: Comfort food is one of the most amazing subplots of all of this because it's really how certain cuisines really do translate instantly and fairly universally. I mean, Ethiopian food, pretty much everyone that's ever tried it have found it - likes it. I mean, people who tried (unintelligible) thanks. There's no reason that Ethiopian food should necessarily be accessible to, you know, somebody who grew up at a (unintelligible) but people enjoy it, and that's really interesting to me.
COHEN: That was delicious.
Ms. RUIZ: Oh, thank you.
COHEN: Really good.
Mr. GALUTEN: Really good.
Ms. RUIZ: How do you like the sauce?
Mr. GALUTEN: Really good, yeah.
COHEN: Our appetizer plate wiped clean. Leticia brings on more dishes, a savory sauteed butternut squash, cauliflowers stewed with tomatoes and onions, and an entree that looks like a beautiful orange colored bird's nest.
Ms. RUIZ: This is actually kabili palow(ph). It's actually Basmati rice. What they do is they sear it in lamb sauce to make it brown, and then they have the raisins and carrots on top.
COHEN: It is delicious. But as we eat, Noah tells me not all of his meals have turned out this well.
Mr. GALUTEN: I had a pretty abysmal cow foot stew at this Jamaican place. I mean, I'm a little - the worst thing I've had on this thing so far is overcooked chicken. People are terrified of getting sick, I guess, so they destroy the lovely bird by overcooking it. And, you know, I'd rather eat cow foot stew than really dry chicken.
COHEN: In addition to bad bird, Noah has to also face the issue of abundance. How do you choose one Chinese restaurant in all of Los Angeles. Noah didn't. On day 73, he and a group of his friends tackled 11 Chinese places in 11 hours. As you can imagine, all this eating takes a caloric tool. Luckily Noah seems to have the kind of speedy metabolism you need to do this sort of thing. Even so, there are days when this quest is a lot to stomach.
Mr. GALUTEN: Because, you know, there are a lot of times you are having the specialties of a country. And sometime I was having Bulgarian foods. What's the typical side for this that's really, you know, something that you recommend as a nice typical side of yours? French fries with cheese on top. And I'm like, all right. You know, you got to get it. You got to go for it. But I was really hoping he'd say salad that day. It didn't work out that way.
COHEN: There are other challenges in finding a different country's cuisine to dine on every day. Even in Southern California, it's tough locating a place that serves there from Uzbekistan or Mozambique.
Mr. GALUTEN: Amazingly, Scotland and Wales are really difficult. New Zealand is kind of difficult, although now, I have some options for that.
COHEN: Noah has received some help. Readers of his blog have chimed in with their recommendations. A few have even invited him over to cook him food from their homelands. But back to Afghanistan and our lunch.
COHEN: So, I'm going to give you - probably a good share.
Though we are both feeling full, how can you resist dessert - a pudding made with almonds and rose water?
Mr. GALUTEN: Wow, this is thick and wobbly. Here you go. This is a very white, creamy concoction with pistachios on top. And I'm excited to give it a try. Oh, wow. Yeah, it's - it's - the rose water makes it sort of - like...
COHEN: It's like eating a garden.
Mr. GALUTEN: What you thought eating pawpaw root would be like when you were a kid.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COHEN: But tasty.
Mr. GALUTEN: Yeah.
COHEN: It is days like this that Noah imagines he could keep up his blog for a long, long time. But the world is only so large. There are only so many countries he can conquer.
COHEN: So, how will you know when this is truly done?
Mr. GALUTEN: When it's - I go through a full day and haven't been able to find anything new to eat the whole day, then that's it. I mean, you know, the sun is down. It's 11:45 at night, and you go already because that's it. You pop in a frozen dinner and have a glass of wine and call it a night.
COHEN: But at least for now, the journey goes on. Today is day 85, American. Noah Galuten will be eating a proper Thanksgiving dinner at home.
COHEN: To see photos from our meal and read Noah's blog, go to our website, npr.org. Day To Day is a production of NPR news with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen. Happy Thanksgiving.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.