Our Favorite Feature Stories of 2018
For most of our readers, the feature stories on Serious Eats aren’t the biggest draw—some who know us strictly for our recipes probably don’t even realize we publish anything else. But when we looked back at all the features we produced this year, we were struck by both their number and their variety, and it was gratifying (especially for the feature editors among us!) to watch as the whole staff pored over the list and everyone rushed to call dibs on their favorites.
Granted, a “feature” on Serious Eats can mean a lot of very different things: a guide to a particular ingredient, or category of ingredient, or cuisine; an exploration of an odd American regional food or the history behind an iconic international one; an interview from our Obsessed series; a personal essay; a reported investigation of a segment of the food industry.
What we hope these all have in common is that readers will get from them not just what they were expecting when they clicked on the title, but more—we want our personal essays to be personal, but also teach something; we want our guides and other service-oriented pieces to be informative, but also buoyed by a strong voice and sense of humor.
Whatever category they fall into, the features described below are the ones that most resonated with the Serious Eats staff in 2018. We were fascinated by, among other things, the winding and sometimes bizarre history of soy milk in the US, the care and labor that go into making a traditional Japanese breakfast, the baking ingredients we absolutely needed to add to our (apparently understocked) pantries, and a glimpse into the mind of a veteran brewmaster. After you’ve read this list, we hope you’ll find yourself similarly hooked.
If you know me, you know that I consider BraveTart to be nothing less than a bible. It’s the first baking cookbook I’ve ever made multiple recipes from, and the only baking cookbook I’ve ever given as a gift. Every anecdote, brownie, cake, and homemade Oreo provides insight into Stella’s soul and genius. And the more I learn, the more I want to learn, which is why I love this post about the pantry items Stella considers essential for baking. Knowing the exact ingredients she uses has definitely given my baking an edge, and when I combine those ingredients with her can’t-fail recipes, I know I can achieve the very best version of everything I make. In Stella we trust! —Ariel Kanter, director of commerce strategy and editorial
In the early years of Serious Eats’ existence, pizza was a large part of the site’s bread and butter, except that instead of bread and butter, it was bread and tomato sauce and cheese. The editors and writers of old SE covered ‘za so exhaustively for so many years that, at a certain point, it felt like there wasn’t much left to say. After you’ve written nearly every conceivable recipe, explored every significant pizza joint nationwide (plus thousands of pretty insignificant ones) in more passionate depth than any other publication could ever hope to, and basically written the book on the subject, what else is there?
That’s largely why there’s been so much less pizza coverage on SE in recent years—the archives speak for themselves. But that’s also why it thrilled me to see pizza come roaring back in this great two-part series about pizza in one of its meccas, New York City. Written by Ed, with major assists from pizza experts Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener, the first part (linked below) catches us up to 2018 after several years of Serious Silence on pizza, while the second is a perfectly curated list of some of the very best places to grab a slice citywide. —Daniel Gritzer, managing culinary director
This isn’t exactly a typical feature story, but by the time I’d finished reading, I’d gained much more of an understanding of how to assemble a Japanese breakfast. Sho takes readers to his grandmother’s breakfast table in Japan before breaking down the significance of the meal, one component at a time. His writing is funny and warm, and it makes you feel as if a close friend is standing by to assist when this breakfast turns out to be much more complicated than you’d anticipated. —Elazar Sontag, editorial assistant
Mezcal is hands down my favorite liquor—I just love the smoky layer it adds to any cocktail. Reading about how painstakingly difficult it is to produce and distill mezcal made me fall that much more in love with the spirit itself. Max takes us through the entire journey, from the agave plant to how mezcaleros capture the smokiness that I adore so much. This very thorough and admirable mezcal bible makes me want to hop on the next flight to Oaxaca. —Grace Chen, office manager and associate podcast producer
As much as I love oysters, my previous knowledge of them sadly didn’t extend much beyond “they taste good and sometimes make pearls.” Jennifer’s article has changed that for me (or brought me out of my shell?). After reading the story of the Olympia oyster and the immense effort it takes to get them on your plate, I’m now deep-diving into the world of bivalves. Their history is fascinating, but I’m mostly grateful for their comeback, because it’s now the oyster I look for on any raw-bar menu. —Joel Russo, video producer
There is no argument that New York has one of the richest and most ethnically diverse food scenes in the world. This practical list makes global fare (hello, Cuban-Chinese!) accessible on a budget. I keep it bookmarked on my phone as a cheat sheet for casual nights out, when the answer to “Where do you want to eat?” is “I don’t know, but it’s gotta be good and cheap.” —Maggie Lee, UX designer
The idea for Becky Selengut’s entertaining and informative guide to the Pacific razor clam was originally hatched by Sho, who never met a mollusk he didn’t like. But when I took editing responsibilities on it, it became my baby, and though it required a fair amount of coaxing into being—including coordinating a West Coast–based clamming/photography excursion, carried out at twilight, and waiting months on a shipment of live Pacific razor clams to our New York office so Daniel could test out Becky’s shucking directions—it felt like a huge triumph when it was finally finished and published.
Okay, maybe my toil isn’t enough of a reason for you to read this article, so here are a few real ones: To me, it represents a combination of practical guidance and instruction, “I didn’t know that!” fun facts, and personal investment by the author that’s ideal in a feature story. Reading it, you understand not only that Becky is an expert at gathering and cooking with these clams, but also that she loves this subject matter. Even if you’ll never eat a Pacific razor in your life, it’s a joy to read, especially when paired with Chris Low’s lovely, moody photos of that evening clamming expedition in the PNW. —Miranda Kaplan, senior editor
In a totally different vein from the Pacific razor clam guide, Nadia Berenstein’s story on soy milk’s journey from a symbol of technological progress, to a health food for religious zealots and hippie environmentalists, to international success and semi-acceptance by the American mainstream, is a great, quirky ride. It’s hard not to love a serious food history in which farting emerges as a major theme. —Miranda Kaplan, senior editor
When Tabitha Blankenbiller pitched us a story about cooking from the American Girl doll cookbooks, I was immediately sold. One of my male counterparts, however, who grew up so far removed from the exorbitant price and captivating realism of the American Girl doll “experience” that he wasn’t even sure what American Girl dolls were, was skeptical, to say the least.
I think it speaks volumes that we both wound up enthusiastic about the finished piece, which captures the peculiar zeitgeist of the American Girl doll generation with remarkable accuracy and a cutting humor. It’s an irreverent bit of writing that will nonetheless resonate with anyone who has something to feel nostalgic and complicated about. I’ll admit that the opportunity to spend a full day of my job building a teeny-tiny kitchen and grooming American Girl dolls for our epic photo shoot was something of a bonus. —Niki Achitoff-Gray, executive managing editor
I really enjoyed Sho’s Obsessed interview with Slice founder Adam Kuban. As a pizza-loving Serious Eater, I’m certainly the target audience for this interview, but beyond that, I find Adam’s story admirable: He’s turned his obsession into businesses, twice (and he’s still working at it). —Paul Cline, VP of product
I am so happy that amaro has gone mainstream. It used to be really hard to find here in the States, but not anymore. This piece is a great introduction to the perfect digestif, and gives a good rundown of the big-name amari on the market. —Sasha Marx, senior culinary editor
Sherry is one of those things folks are always trying to pair with dessert, but despite my background as a pastry chef, I don’t know my way around sherry well enough to offer up any meaningful suggestions. Getting to know the various styles and sweetness levels was tremendously helpful in bettering my understanding of how to pair sherries with dessert in a way that will offer the best complement or contrast, rather than hitting all the sugar-sweet notes. —Stella Parks, pastry wizard
My path to the discovery of good beer was similar to Garrett Oliver’s, in that I drank swill all through college before a revelatory experience opened my eyes shortly thereafter. I became acquainted with the wider world of interesting beer while working as a server at Teresa’s Next Door in Wayne, Pennsylvania (a 2018 James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program). The restaurant had an exhaustive beer list, and I was forced (*ahem*) to taste every beer that rotated through the taps, discovering the complexities and nuance that defined the brewing world beyond Budweiser. Everyone at the restaurant, including me, owned a copy of Oliver’s canonical The Brewmaster’s Table to learn about styles of beer and how they pair with food.
So I was very excited when Sho’s Obsessed interview with this great brewmaster popped up, and the read did not disappoint. The dude is smart as hell and really knows his craft. He speaks so well about the past, present, and future of brewing and his own personal experience, but you can tell he’s also brimming with insightful commentary on much more. Oliver’s keen mind makes for a fascinating profile—my favorite Obsessed interview of the year. Now, off to find the cut material… —Tim Aikens, front-end developer
A pretty well-known fact about me around the Serious Eats office is that I love pasta. It’s even my spirit food in my masthead photo. Every single Italian recipe that Daniel has made has been photographed (and, most likely, devoured) by yours truly. This comprehensive list not only reminds me of all the tasty bowls of pasta I’ve eaten, but actually gives me the confidence that I can cook a lot of them on my own! —Vicky Wasik, visual director
I admire this piece by Porochista Khakpour immensely, and I feel very lucky for having had the opportunity to work with her. Khakpour is an accomplished novelist and memoirist—her most recent book, Sick, was published this year—and I could read her writing on any subject. While her Nowruz piece is nominally concerned with how meaningful the Persian New Year is for her, what I find so appealing about it is that it is ultimately about how being Iranian is an essential part of her American identity, which I believe is a particularly valuable bit of insight in light of the conversations taking place across the country about immigration. —Sho Spaeth, features editor
I really love the way Mithila Phadke writes, not just about the food in this piece but in general. I think this piece illustrates the range of her voice, and how it can be used to talk about both weighty and light things. What I most like about this piece, though, is that while much of the focus is on her grandmother’s cooking and, of course, on her loss, it also manages to deftly underscore how little is understood of the vast and varied cuisine of the Indian subcontinent, even (and especially!) by those who grew up there. I grew up in New Delhi, and I found it incredibly edifying; I hope you all do, too. —Sho Spaeth, features editor
D. Gritzer’s guide to mortars and pestles has everything I like about our service-oriented features. First of all, it goes deep—way deep. Who knew how many kinds of mortars and pestles there were, from every corner of the world: Japanese, Mexican, Thai, and Mediterranean ones, just for starters? Plus, there’s plenty of history in the post, all of it engagingly presented to the reader. Finally, Daniel explains in one word what a mortar and pestle does better than more modern inventions: it crushes. Just like Daniel’s story does. —Ed Levine, founder
Interest in Lao cuisine appears to be quietly but steadily building across the United States. If, like me, you’re naturally curious about it, or if you suddenly find yourself seated before a Lao menu, whip out this fun primer so you can discern muu haeng from siin haeng and learn what goes best with jaew bong. —John Mattia, video editor
As a reformed picky eater, I identified so strongly with Irina’s story. There’s a lot of flexing in food media about the babies of chefs and writers who will eat anything put in front of them because they’re the kids of good eaters. But I find the image of Irina’s son eating two mac and cheese sandwiches a lot more compelling than those overdone flexes: It speaks to discernment, judgment, and developing your tastes on your own time. —Kristina Bornholtz, social media editor
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