More than feeds the eye
THERE can be nothing in this world better than a food lover reading about how the world’s most acclaimed chefs and food writers in the world share their life-changing food experiences. At least for me, reading this ensured me that I’m not alone on the hunger for crazy food adventures.
Being a foodie myself, I would travel in search of the most delicious pastries and desserts. Yes, I’d travel all the way to France just to eat their well-praised croissants and baguettes. Or to bustling Tokyo for a taste of its infamous ramen ordered from the vending machines and imbibed, sitting crammed into a tiny little restaurant.
All these experiences about food, culture and travel are jam packed into A Fork In The Road, compiled by the editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine, James Oseland. Also a judge on the popular reality TV cooking show, Top Chef Masters, Oseland’s offering of three dozen original stories by a range of writers enlightened me in ways that I could never have imagined.
Most stories comprise seven pages or fewer, making for a quick read and allowing you to pick up where you left off without having to remember what came before. Curl up in your pyjamas on a rainy day and dive into these stories that will take you on a food adventure from one end of the world to the other.
Be warned, though, as some stories may be a little too much to stomach. But most are like a meal you cannot get enough off.
They Eat Maggots, Don’t They? by Joe Dunthorne is a story that made me cringe with every other word I read. This six-page story written by the Welsh novelist, poet and journalist takes readers through his experience while on a holiday with
his girlfriend in the mountains of Sardinia.
There, he met an Italian family of four, including two little boys, wriggling in
their seats in anticipation of the mysterious dish being prepared by farm owner Sebastiano. Brave eaters of fried brains and roasted tongue, Dunthorne and his girlfriend were expecting something along the lines of casu marzu, or maggot cheese, a delicacy in Sardinia made by allowing the cheese to move beyond fermentation and begin decomposition.
Instead, they are served a dark lumpy soup cooked in a cauldron, which turns out to be made from lamb’s blood. Then, just as they are done stomaching the blood – which tasted like onions, by the way – out comes the maggot cheese! Which they actually enjoyed, marking their culinary fearlessness.
Face To Face With A Fugu by Marcus Samuelsson who, as a teen, wanted nothing more than to save up enough money and travel to Japan for fugu, a potentially deadly puffer fish known for killing the diner if it isn’t prepared properly.
The five-time James Beard award-winning chef and author first heard about the existence of the fugu from his high school sweetheart who was half Japanese. He explains how eating at her house back then was a life-changing experience, with his teenaged tastebuds tantalised by items like raw fish with a drop of soy sauce and wasabi (green mustard paste). And when he heard about a fish that could kill someone, he knew he had to discover this creature for himself.
Did finally eating fugu make Samuelsson a better chef? Probably. It is Samuelsson’s determination to eat fugu in its homeland, a challenge he never gave up on, that gives an inkling about how passionate he is about food. I’m no chef, but I can totally relate: someone who is passionate and driven about food would go the distance in search of that special something to satisfy his or her cravings.
In fact, I was able to relate to most of the 34 stories in this book, and in the process learn about the origins of certain foods, countries and culture.
The background information about the cuisine’s origins and even the emotions felt by the authors successfully convey the idea that food is more than just something to eat.
As Oseland says in his introduction, “Every traveler has two or three or even a hundred of them: moments on a journey when you taste something and you’re forever changed.”
Michael Pollan writes about such a moment in Made By Hand, which describes his journey to Seoul in South Korea, his discovery of kimchi (pickled cabbage), and how he learnt that there is more to this humble accompaniment than meets the eye.
While visiting the many kimchi museums in Seoul, he saw droves of school children on field trips. Most of them as young as seven and below, looked bored as they were taken through the museum of fermented cabbage. Curiosity got the better of him and he approached the teacher-in-charge to ask why bother with this field trip at such a young age. She explained that children there are not born liking kimchi, and they have to learn about kimchi. But why?
“Because an acquired taste like the one for kimchi is how cultures knit themselves together,” she replied.
So food is just not what is served on a plate, chewed and swallowed, for every dish has a story to tell, every dish is a memory in the making, and a life-changing experience waiting to happen.