Idaho taters, right up there with Cuban cigars

Bill Hall
Bill Hall

Yes, it’s true. I smoked an illegal Cuban cigar back in the 1970s.

An American national reporter I knew slipped me that cigar. He had been to Cuba reporting some Cold War story when Fidel Castro was still fully in charge.

Legal or not, that reporter bought a few cigars for his friends and kindly included me in that gesture. He said he had found it hard to believe at first that Cuban cigars actually could be as exceptional as tobacco mythology would have the world believe. But he and I both were dazzled by the Cuban product.

Proud products of most nations aren’t nearly as exceptional as their boasting indicates. But superior aspects of some food, art, music and sports actually do outshine much of the world.

On the other hand, what use is it if England’s best shot is steak and kidney pie? Granted, nobody cooks steak and kidney pie as well as the English, but that’s not good enough. Why would any sane person want them to do that?

There are places in the world that have mastered a few celebrated products. For instance, that Cuban cigar was the most mellow and flavorful cigar I ever smoked. If Castro tried to explain it in English, he would call it awesome.

On rare occasions when I have tried ordinary cigars, they almost all smelled like scorched fish manure. They tasted like autumn leaves flavored with petroleum. And those cigars felt in my mouth like the skin of a dead frog.

On the other hand, that Cuban cigar smelled like fresh oregano, it tasted like autumn leaves flavored with bacon and felt like the skin of the woman I love.

Occasionally, a nation will create achievements that soar above the competition. And on rare occasion, a nation will succeed in one product after failing in another. England foolishly attempted to make steak and kidney pie a star food. However, the same country already has the best hot, soothing tea you will ever pour down your gullet.

Another national triumph that fully lives up to its boasting is Peking or Beijing duck. It is a duck that, over two days, is flavored inside and out with a dark brown toasting and is blown up like a balloon at one point in the process of drying out the inflated bird.

China’s duck is an international classic. That tasty bird is loved for turning dried duck skin into a crunchy crackle that is also made into several other dishes.

How good is it?

A few bites and you feel like you shouldn’t be tasting flavors so erotic in front of decent people.

The one time in my life I ever tasted it at its best was while visiting members of our family who were working in China. Peking duck is more than one dish. It is a meal of separate dishes including that flavored skin, plus a soup and a helping of meat. Everybody eagerly ate it all.

Many other countries have their specialties. They have developed dishes over decades that outshine all others and live up to their well-deserved wows.

In my opinion, as high as the quality of Cuban cigars is, I would rather put a Southern-fried chicken drumstick in my appreciative lunch hole rather than a cigar.

But if you’re looking for foods that stand out best of all, it’s simple; just scan almost everything on the menus of Italy.

In addition, I know a towering achievement in food right here in Idaho, where I live. I speak, of course, of giant Idaho Russet baking potatoes. Every time I eat one, I feel sorry for Fidel Castro that all he has is a cigar.

Contact Bill Hall at wilberth@cableone.net or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.