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Solution to A Handful of Dishes


by Ben Smith and Deborah Levinson

This puzzle riffs on the one "Less Than, Approximately, Greater Than" episode Reply All made as a fake podcast for a real episode of Super Tech Support, in which only imprecise measurements are used. In our puzzle, we're using those approximate measurements to describe a recipe, sometimes a national dish, strongly associated with a single country.

To solve this puzzle, you'll need to determine:

The recipes and countries

Many of the recipes contain pop culture references to help point the way to the country, e.g., references to Colombian singer Shakira and Romancing the Stone (which takes place in Colombia) in the caldo de costilla recipe.

In podcast order, the recipes and countries are:

Dishes appear in alphabetical order to both confirm solvers are on the right track and suggest that this is not the final ordering. (Also, we've included links to the recipes above. The recipes we used for Rupjmaizes Kartoujums and yakisoba, which originated in cookbooks, appear at the end of this solution.)

The recording order

Most of the podcasts contain clues to help solvers determine the correct order. (The Iceland recipe does not, but its order can be inferred via other clues.) For ease of mathematics, a month is treated as four weeks.

The clues:

Country Podcast order Recording order Clue
Colombia 1 13 "We actually recorded this earlier but *someone* lost the file, so we had to swap in a different breakfast food instead." (refers to rolex)
Scotland 2 11 "A month and a half ago, we brought you a dish that makes the best of your favorite jammy fruit. This week, we're doing something a little less healthy." (refers to hjónabandssaela)
Iceland 3 5 No text
Egypt 4 6 "Next week: you have to fly almost a quarter of the way around the globe (in kilometers, anyway) to get to our next country" (refers to South Korea)
India 5 12 "It's been almost a couple of months since we made a dish this fruit-centric" (refers to hjónabandssaela)
Canada 6 9 "The last time we brought you something this starchy was nearly a month ago – about a week less than that" (refers to koshari)
France 7 8 "A little more than halfway through our season"
Uganda 8 10 "Next time: a dish that's technically banned in the US, but we're making a legal (and delicious) version anyway." (refers to haggis)
Latvia 9 1 "Welcome to our inaugural episode"
Thailand 10 4 "Sorry, meant to release this before our snacks, but instead it's showing up afterwards, because ... well, reasons, that's why." (refers to the last of the two recipes explicitly marked as a snack, ukoy)
Spain 11 2 "We're trading off who's teaching who"
South Korea 12 7 "With this, we close out the first half of our season"
Philippines 13 3 "Continuing with our snack theme ..."
Japan 14 4 "Closing out our season ..."

Indexing and extracting the final phrase

At no point do you need to map our approximations to actual units of measurement. But you do need to notice that while every recipe is littered with those approximations, there is one and only one precise number called for in each recipe, which is the index. (This may be easier for solvers to identify via the podcast transcripts, where the index is the only item that is ever written out as a numeral.)

  1. Latvia (3 tablespoons of sugar)
  2. Spain (3 fun-sized bags of potato chips)
  3. Philippines ("a whole bunch of ingredients – 11")
  4. Thailand (1 stalk of lemongrass)
  5. Iceland (3 stalks of rhubarb)
  6. Egypt (5 large onions)
  7. South Korea (letting rice cakes soak for 5 minutes)
  8. France (6 pieces of bacon)
  9. Canada (soak potatoes for 3 hours)
  10. Uganda (3 eggs)
  11. Scotland ("Burns Night perfection in around 4 hours")
  12. India (4 cardamom pods)
  13. Colombia (2 chopped carrots)
  14. Japan ("you can have this on the table in 5 minutes flat")

Once you've found the single number in each item, index it into the country names in recording order to get the answer phrase TASTE THE NATION.

Rupjmaizes Kartoujums (Latvia)

From Baltic: New and Old Recipes from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, by Simon Bajada

  • 200g (7 oz.) rye bread, torn into chunks
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 12 fl. oz. whipping cream
  • 8 oz. mascarpone
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 9 oz. frozen cranberries, defrosted

Put the bread in a food processor and blitz to rough crumbs. Transfer to a non-stick frying pan set over medium-low and add the spices and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Toast for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the breadcrumbs are evenly brown and nutty. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool completely.

Whip the cream in a bowl until firm peaks form, then whisk in another 2 tablespoons of the sugar briefly before folding through the mascarpone and vanilla. Set aside.

Heat 7 oz. of the berries over a low heat with the remaining sugar until the sugar is just melted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Layer the dessert in a large serving bowl, loaf pan, or in individual glasses/bowls as you would a tiramisu, starting with about a third of the breadcrumb mixture, then half of the cream mixture, then half of the cranberries. Repeat these layers in the same order and quantities before finally topping with a layer of the remaining breadcrumbs. Transfer to the refrigerator and leave to chill and set for 4 hours. Serve garnished with the remaining cranberries and dusted with icing sugar.

Yakisoba (Japan)

From Japanese Soul Cooking, by Tadashi Ono & Harris Salat

  • 4 packages (about 6oz. each) fresh-frozen ramen noodles
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • ½ medium Spanish onion (about 6 ounces), peeled and sliced
  • 8 ounces fresh pork belly, thinly sliced and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 4 ounces savoy cabbage, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 8 ounces mung bean sprouts
  • ½ cup sake
  • ¼ cup Japanese-style Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup okonomiyaki or tonkatsu sauce
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon aonori (powdered nori seaweed, optional)

To prepare the ramen, fill a large stockpot with water and place over high heat. Ready 4 large bowls on a work surface. When the water comes to a boil, add the noodles. Stir the noodles for about 10 seconds, so they separate and cook evenly. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the noodles are cooked through and toothsome. When the noodles are ready, transfer them to a strainer and cool under cold running water. Set aside.

Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet or enameled cast-iron pot over medium heat. Add the onion and pork belly and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, until the onions soften and the pork turns white. Separate the pork while you cook. Add the cabbage and sprouts and cook, stirring constantly, until the cabbage turns bright green and the sprouts cook through. Add the sake, Worcestershire sauce, and okonomiyaki sauce and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the reserved ramen noodles. Cook, stirring constantly, until all the liquid in the skillet is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle the black pepper and the aonori on the noodles and serve immediately.