For the past three years, Jesse Friedman and Laura Hadden have been on a quest to explore world cuisine from their modest kitchen in Brooklyn. The married couple is the force behind United Noshes, a project to throw a dinner party featuring the culinary offerings of each of the 193 member states and 2 permanently observing non-members of the United Nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Every month, Hadden and Friedman research recipes, gather ingredients, and prepare two to three feasts to represent the selected countries, going in roughly alphabetical order. Friedman does much of the cooking while Hadden documents the feast and entertains the guests. When possible, they solicit help from people familiar with a country’s culture and good.
It’s a project that stretches Friedman and Hadden’s taste buds and cooking prowess, but it also has another added benefit: Forming a loose community of people who love culinary experimentation. Old friends and new ones join the parties, as well as foodies who find out about the project and sign up for the newsletter. The price of admission is a donation to the World Food Program, a humanitarian organization fighting world hunger. Some 500 people have signed up for the newsletter, and Friedman and Hadden have thrown United Noshes events in Boston, D.C., Seattle, and the Bay Area, as well. At Friedman and Hadden’s 83rd party, a celebration of Israeli and Palestinian cuisine, the guests included a handful of writers, a ballet dancer, and an analytics expert, all there to sample offerings that included lamb kebabs, homemade hummus, and rugelach.
“We hit upon the idea because it combined two things we’re interested in,” Friedman said. “Exploring international dishes and meeting new people. We’ve met hundreds of people who are adventurous enough to try what we’re cooking. In New York, people tend not to visit each other in their homes. We wanted to open ours up.”
Some meals are more successful than others. “There are disasters of technique and some things that are just bad. Sometimes it’s like ‘All right, we tried that, never again,’” Friedman said. “We made headcheese for Iceland and it was terrible. We call those milkshake meals because even after you eat, you need to go out after for a milkshake.”
Jesse Friedman and Laura Hadden // Photo by Martyna Starosta
To come up with their menus, Friedman and Hadden attempt to recreate a typical home-cooked Sunday meal from that country —something your grandmother might make for a family gathering. Some countries are more difficult to sum up than others. A place like India, for example, requires representing many different regional cooking styles. Friedman and Hadden have learned to avoid western sources for non-western dishes, and to use spices more creatively. Their search for ingredients has taken them to all corners of New York — from Harlem to Ozone Park to Astoria to Brighton Beach. “I don’t fry things any more,” Friedman said. “It gets too messy. And we try not to do things to order, anything that keeps you stuck in the kitchen and unable to interact with guests.”
This summer, they are leaving New York behind for Portland. They plan to continue United Noshes from their new home.
“At this rate, it’ll be another six to eight years before we’re done,” Hadden said. “But we’re not doing it for anyone else. We’ve always said that if it gets tedious than we can just stop. But it hasn’t gotten boring yet.”
This story "United Noshes: The Alphabet Foodies" was written by Margaret Eby.