My most vivid memory of my first and only trip to New Orleans is of visiting a strip club in the French Quarter with my grandparents. If I've ever had a more Fellini-esque moment in my life, I don't know what it might be. There I was, seventeen years old, drink in hand, with my adorable, five-foot tall grandmother by my side watching half-naked women wrestle. I wasn't sure whose eyes to cover, hers or mine. Thankfully, the great state of Louisiana had the common sense to protect the wrestlers' modesty and the crowd's decency by mandating covered nipples. In this dive that meant a pair of Band-Aids. Voilà! Innocence preserved Big Easy style.
My second most vivid memory was my first plate of beignets smothered in icing sugar at Cafe du Monde. Those beignets opened my eyes. Up to that point in my life fried dough had meant only one thing: donuts from Tim Hortons, Country Style, or one of the independent donut joints that were ubiquitous in the days before Starbucks. From that point forward, I recognized that the standard North American donut is really just the tip of a delicious, glazed iceberg, a mere johnny-come-lately of fried dough.
Cultures around the world, from South Korea to Argentina and dozens of points in between, celebrate homegrown variants of the donut. In Okinawa, Japan, for example, they serve sata andagi, whereas in South Africa the fried dough of choice is a koeksuster. Some cultures even use fried dough in savoury cooking. Any lover of congee, Asian rice porridge, is probably familiar with youtiao, the dish's typical salted donut accompaniment. Having a place in so many cuisines is the greatest testament to the universal appeal of fried dough. The appeal extends into modern cuisine, as well: donut soup is one of the most recent incarnations of the beloved treat.
Living in multicural Toronto means not always having to travel the globe to taste regional delicacies. Fried dough is no different. I read last year that a Toronto bakery specializes in zeppole, an Italian donut traditionally eaten to celebrate St. Joseph's Day, March 19. So what better way to celebrate the patron saint of Canada and confectioners than an expedition to sample a stomachful of donuts from different countries the weekend before the feast. Our friends Rob and Jill, who writes a knitting blog of her own, joined us. Recruiting people to spend a day eating donuts is, shockingly, not that hard to do. Donut Day 2007 was born.