Sometimes, the name of a dish is simply inspired by its appearance.
Take our own Mediterranean Purse, for example. With its flaky crust gathered to form a little bag that holds the rest of the ingredients, it looks a lot like the typical cloth or leather purse from the days of Robin Hood.
(As for the “Mediterranean” part, that’s about the Israeli cous-cous, Asiago cheese, Portobello mushrooms, roasted veggies and other good things within.)
A quick recipe search will turn up many variations on this purse theme. Puff pastry or phyllo or crêpes—yes, even those supermarket cylinders of dough—stuffed with any number of ingredients, gathered and tied into a purse and baked. Savory versions for appetizers, sweet ones for dessert.
Often, these are called “beggar’s purses.” Which is odd when you think about it, because why would a beggar’s purse contain anything of value? Turns out that the ironic name probably comes from the Quilted Giraffe.
For those not familiar, the Quilted Giraffe was a legendary Manhattan restaurant in the high-rolling, greed-is-good 1980s. Established by Barry and Susan Wine, it immediately attracted the rich and powerful, the famous and beautiful. In its day it was THE place to be.
A Town & Country profile reveals the origin of the restaurant’s signature dish:
In 1980, Barry and Susan discovered aumonieres, tiny crêpes filled with crème fraîche and caviar, at Vieille Fontaine, just outside Paris. The “beggar’s purses,” as they started calling them, debuted at the Quilted Giraffe not long after that, beluga-stuffed crêpe bundles with chives as the purse strings and gold leaf on top. They were extravagant, flashy—bling on a plate. . . . No matter their price, the purses were always hot sellers, the restaurant’s most enduring and iconic dish.
And it wasn’t just a showplace of excess; the Quilted Giraffe also earned four-star reviews from the notoriously tough New York Times on three separate occasions.
(By the way, the Town & Country piece is worth reading—not just for the name-dropping, but as an appreciation of the Quilted Giraffe’s legacy in the American culinary landscape we live in today.)