Ibérico ham. This granddaddy of hams has become a major presence in wine bars and Spanish restaurants. Its distinctive, nutty taste comes from pigs fed a diet of acorns. To all of us who came of age eating Oscar Mayer, it’s like being upgraded from steerage to first class.
Izakaya. Quick-service taverns that cater to Japanese professionals—as common in Tokyo as sports bars are in the States. Blue Ocean in Fairfax, Hinode in Rockville and Bethesda, and Sushi Taro in DC were among the first to offer izakaya-style dining here, but the term didn’t catch on until the arrival of DC’s Kushi earlier this year. Interestingly, Taro ditched its izakaya concept in favor of becoming a purveyor of top-of-the-line raw fish, transforming itself into the area’s best sushi restaurant—which Kushi is now bent on challenging. With an izakaya menu.
Kimchee. Pickled, spicy cabbage left to ferment in the jar for weeks or months—a Korean staple. As Korean food has drifted into the mainstream, kimchee has found its way into fine-dining preparations. One way to appreciate its appeal is to try a kimchee quesadilla at Annandale’s DaMoim: fusion at its finest.
Mâche. Also called lamb’s lettuce. A staple of French cookery since the 17th century, it has been embraced by a new generation of American chefs who regard this verdant effusion—pronounced “mahsh”—as the quintessence of lettuce: a delicately flavorful, highly versatile ingredient. Ironically, its emergence has coincided with the revival of iceberg lettuce, its stylistic opposite.
Rillettes. Meat cooked in its own fat, shredded, and mixed into a thick paste. Done right, it’s more delicious than it sounds. The technique has become a badge of honor among young chefs intent on showing their mastery of butchering, sausage making, and other manly arts.
This article first appeared in the October 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.