With 2020 quickly receding into the past, we didn't want to leave the year behind without highlighting some of our favorite pieces of writing published on Serious Eats. While our primary focus is providing delicious recipes to our readers, we also have the privilege of publishing essays, articles, and paeans (and rants!) about ingredients, trends, culinary traditions, and any and every aspect of food culture. We also sometimes get together as a team to put out events and packages, which we hope you all find as fun and interesting as we do, whether that's our inaugural Starch Madness pasta bracket, a Korean-American Thanksgiving spread, or an incredibly detailed and thorough exploration of sourdough bread baking.
While we are all incredibly proud of all the pieces we published, and we're very thankful to every contributor who gave us the privilege of publishing their essays and articles, we asked everyone on staff to pick just one piece they found especially memorable. So, without further ado, here are our picks for our favorite features of the year.
Why I Hate Strega Nona
Here's the thing: Every year we need to pick our favorite feature on the site and every year I go straight to Sho's author profile to find something. That's because there's nothing better to sitting down to a Sho essay, which often is a mixture of a Sho rant and some Sho insight. It's always filled with a Sho-ness that is singularly Sho-y. There's a reason why one of his essays was featured in The Best American Food Writing this year: Sho is a phenomenal writer. While he wrote a host of enjoyable stories this year, his musings on Strega Nona were my favorite. Part of it is that I grew up reading Strega Nona. The mountains of rolling noodles remind me of my childhood. I, like Sho's toddler, had similar reactions to the book. I was delighted at the masses of pasta taking over the town. While Sho's gripes about the book are many, his greatest is that this endless tide of pasta is unsauced. Who would even think of that?? Only Sho. Read his criticism for a touch of nostalgia and a lot of laughs, and a reminder that basically every children's book is utterly terrible. —Ariel Kanter, marketing director
The Joy of Eating Mutura, Nairobi’s Blood Sausage of Ill Repute
For me, a solid piece of food writing provides a mix of escapism and education. Carey Baraka’s piece on mutura has that in spades. I was right there with Carey watching Mr. Mutura Server slice and dice sausage on the streets of Nairobi. With the city shut down because of COVID, and mutura sellers along with it, Carey writes, "Nevertheless, we go on. We mutura lovers persist." My hope is that they do so that one day I can catch a glimpse of them in action. —Kristina Razon, associate editor
Summer Is for Chilly Bears: A Frozen Treat Packed With History
I loved this essay from Amethyst Ganaway, which beautifully weaves together an incredible number of strands to tell the story of this icy treat. From rich personal anecdotes to a larger cultural survey of red drinks in African-American culture, the history of readily available, year-round ice and thus frozen desserts in America, and more, Amethyst tells a compelling story that's both intimate and historic. A great read all around. —Daniel Gritzer, managing culinary director
Kimjang, the Communal Act of Kimchi Making, Gains New Meaning This Year
Eric Kim’s beautiful piece about kimjang—the annual act of communal kimchi-making in Korea—captured the ways in which food traditions endure but also change and evolve over time. It made me miss the regular group kimchi-making sessions that I took part in as a cook at Parachute in Chicago. And it really gave me a hankering for a fresh jar of baechu kimchi. —Sasha Marx, senior culinary editorContinue to 5 of 14 below.
Miyazaki’s Magical Food: An Ode to Anime’s Best Cooking Scenes
I have never met anyone who doesn't like Studio Ghibli movies. Maybe one reason is that they stimulate the appetite: "Food appears as its best, exaggerated self in anime," writes Kiera Wright-Ruiz, whose essay catalogues some of the tastiest meals served in these films. It's true: at least once per movie Miyazaki slows the action to let our eyes feast on exquisitely-drawn, tastefully colorful eggs, cold cuts, noodles, and so forth. I haven't seen Ponyo but I think I'll go watch it just to look at those fatty slices of ham nestled on top of the ramen. —John Mattia, video editor
The 10-Minute Window for the Perfect McDonald’s Mash-Up
I have held a dark secret for a long time: My favorite sandwich from McDonald's is the Filet o' Fish. I thought I might be the only one who routinely orders this until Sho announced in our company Slack channel that not only is he a Filet o' Fisherman (a term I instantly regret coining), but that he has a modification to it—add a hash brown patty to the sandwich. I'm not gonna say it's changed my world, but it's good enough that I only feel a mild shame when ordering it now. Admittedly, getting both these items in the same order can be a tricky task, so my hope in amplifying this article is that McDonald's takes notice and gives Sho the Travis Scott treatment and releases the Filet shO' Fish Meal. —Joel Russo, video producer
Thíŋpsiŋla: The Edible Bounty Beneath the Great Plains
It's hard to pick one feature we published this year that I prefer above all others. Although some immediately spring to mind as being particularly memorable—Amethyst Ganaway's fascinating attempt to uncover the history of chilly bears, Carey Baraka's inimitable prose in his paean to mutura, Eric Kim's lovely meditation on the meaning of the communal tradition of kimjang during a pandemic—Jacksyn Bakeberg's piece on the importance of timpsila, or the prairie turnip, to the Lakota people is the one I think of most often. In part, it's because the piece shows the potential of good writing about food, and how a humble staple can offer an avenue of inquiry and edification; in this specific instance, of course, to Lakotan culture, history, and some of the challenges and inequities that stem from the fact that many aspects of Native American life—and countless Native American lives—were destroyed in order to create this country. —Sho Spaeth, editor
Starch Madness: The Pasta Shape Bracket We Need Right Now
The pandemic may have forced us apart and caused the NCAA to cancel March Madness, but Sasha's Starch Madness brought us together, both as a staff and a community, at a time when we all needed it (I know I did). We may have narrowly dodged bowties (hello?! seriously?!) making it to the Final Forks, but, more importantly, mirroring the sentiment in Sasha's heartfelt essay, we shared a laugh (and maybe a tear? #gemelliforever) and used food to forge a little connection (from a distance). —Paul Cline, presidentContinue to 9 of 14 below.
The Science of Sourdough Starters
Ever since I learned that you can just make your own beer at home in college, I've been a bit obsessed with yeast, and all of the amazing things they make for us. Living in a tiny New York City apartment, I don't brew much beer anymore, but baking bread has provided more than enough outlet for my fascination, and this article was just the thing to feed my obsession. I learned a ton about sourdough starters and exactly how they work, and had a great time reading it—it's really exciting stuff! —Daniel Dyssegaard Kallick, full stack developer
How Bouillon Cubes Became an International Pantry Staple
Mari Uyeharu’s article on bouillon cubes shines a light on an ingredient often seen as a cheap shortcut to stock. While those cubes are recognized as the product of our globalized and industrialized food system, they have massive appeal to cooks (and grandmas) across the globe. I come from a family of great cooks and we all use a little bouillon from time to time in order to give fresh ingredients a boost. —Maggie Lee, UX designer
Ina Is Queen, Even in Quarantine
Am I basic for choosing a piece about Ina Garten as my favorite of the year? Maybe. Am I sorry for it? Not one bit. This has really been Ina’s year, and for good reason. She’s become a source of comfort for those who have been forced to feed themselves but don’t know how, showing us how to make a delicious meal with some more-than-okay shortcuts. Lindsay touched on so many good points about what the spotlight on Ina is really about. The fact that someone as “on” as Ina is dialing it down and just doing what she can right now is a sigh of relief for those of us who feel pressured to “make the most” of this time. Seeing someone we admire for being so put together suddenly let their guard down is a reminder that Ina is just as human as we are, and that whatever we’re able to do right now is more than enough, especially given the state of the world. Lindsay managed to put into words what a lot of us have been feeling in a beautiful, very well-written essay that I truly enjoyed reading, and I know others did, too. —Yasmine Maggio, assistant social media editor
An Introduction to Korean Cooking in Recipes
I love the concept of exploring a cuisine through a series of recipes. Sonja’s framing of the piece was really thoughtful; it isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but includes dishes that represent cultural touchstones for Koreans and Korean-Americans—even if they vary from household to household. Also, the recipes! It showcased our solid collection of Korean dishes, which go so much farther than barbecue and bibimbap. —Jina Stanfill, social media managerContinue to 13 of 14 below.
I Grew Up Abroad. Do I Have a Cuisine?
Sho is one of my favorite writers on the internet, and this article is a great example of his knack for structuring content in beautiful and surprising ways. There's a tide to this piece that tugs and eddies, touching on everything from his surly musings on the Peconic Bay scallop to the complicating politics of the expat experience to questions about recipe authorship and ownership. We're a food site, so of course there is food, but it's all strung together on the foibles and stutters of thought and memory; the stories we tell ourselves that run, unaccountably and without permission, into the way things simply are. —Niki Achitoff-Gray, editor in chief
How Losing Your Sense of Smell Changes Your Relationship With Food
Mark Hay's description of how the nose and brain work together to experience smell, and what happens when that connection is broken, is a fascinating read. It reminds you that there are so many different paths within this small part of your body to get us to recognize food and either enjoy it or be indifferent to it. Comparing a decrease in one's capacity to smell to “randomly scrambling a mixing board” is an especially vivid image. —Vicky Wasik, visual director