Dalgona is a name I did not know until five minutes ago. But I intimately knew the thing itself ages ago. For the 1981-82 academic year I worked with a tutor in Athens to learn my mother’s first language. Her aunt, who I lived with, had only one way to prepare coffee, using this device to the left. Greek coffee, aka Turkish coffee, was fine.
But I did not love it. My cousin showed me an alternative, cautioning me that our great-aunt did not allow this foreign product in her home. So, I bought the contraband and each morning before she awoke I mixed the instant coffee with the milk and sugar and shook it in a jar and gulped it. It was a brief love affair. Instant coffee is not in our cupboard these days, but I have a fond memory of that fling. I appreciate Shirley Li’s article for reminding me of it.
Unlike food innovations from crises past, coronavirus-inspired recipes are more about stress relief than survival.
Allison Ward used to grab coffee during her commute to work. The 34-year-old, a project manager for the McMaster Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, told me she needs caffeine every day, and that ever since the coronavirus pandemic put the city on lockdown, she’s been missing her Starbucks fix.
Then she learned about dalgona coffee. The recipe—made of equal parts instant coffee, sugar, and hot water, whipped until foamy—has been around for years in countries such as India, Greece, and Libya, but became a viral trend in March after South Korean YouTubers began testing the concoction. Like other quarantine micro-trends—sourdough starters, for one—the drink grew popular online for being both easy to make and pretty to photograph. (When whisked well and poured over iced milk, it looks like an artisanal latte.) “It’s been a nice taste of familiarity in hard times,” Ward told me over the phone. “It’s a fun novelty, and it’s definitely a nicer presentation than normal coffee, if you want something fancy looking.” She first tried the recipe shortly after her office closed in mid-March; since then, she’s made a cup of frothy dalgona coffee every weekend.
Food culture changes constantly. In restaurants, chefs work to keep their menus updated. When immigrants move, they remix traditional dishes with ingredients available in their new communities. And dietary restrictions inspire the development of new technologies; the rise of veganism, for instance, has led to the growing availability of plant-based foods.
But food innovation—the invention or popularization of ingredients, recipes, and methods of producing, cooking, or preserving food—tends to spike the most during times of crisis, food historians told me. The years leading up to and during the French Revolution helped potatoes, an ingredient typically only fed to animals, become a popular element in French cuisine as prices rose and food shortages began. The Great Depression forced Americans to incorporate cheaper products into their diets, causing mac and cheese (and the Kraft company) to rocket to fame and ubiquity. Both World Wars saw the rationing of essential ingredients, leading families to devise unusual recipes such as cakes made of mashed dates instead of sugar, eggs, and flour. Wartime years also led to the development of processed foods by military scientists and nutritionists—foods that eventually became a staple of everyday life in the form of power bars. Drinks-wise, Prohibition sparked a creative boom in mixology, as people created sweet cocktails to mask the disgusting taste of bootleg alcohol and to stretch limited supplies. Some of those resulting mixtures, including the sidecar and the bee’s knees, have become mainstays on bar menus…
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