Friday, October 11, 2013

Around the World in 80 Bites

While literature doesn't get much better than a long, super-descriptive food scene (the meals in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy! The restaurants in Hemingway's Movable Feast! The baked yam in Invisible Man!) it does get better when you are describing in minute detail meals had on epic journeys. There's been a spate of food memoirs lately, and even more recently than that a new crop of food memoirs On Location. There's something nostalgic and comforting reading about the food that people grow up with, and even if it's from a culture entirely foreign to you, what better way to understand cultures than in the food we grow up on. Some of the most beautiful sentences in literature seem to come from whatever gland is deep within us that hold the genuine love, passion and nostalgia for the foods that sustained us when we were young. Here's a roundup of my recent faves, and one I'm drooling to dig into:

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, Anya von Bremzen  This book was such a funtime treat to read. It was equal parts history of the Soviet Union, nostalgic memoir of a not-so-easygoing childhood, and a love poem to a century's worth of food from one of the biggest nations in the world, encompassing such a huge swath of culinary traditions it was dazzling, dizzying, and hunger-making. Von Bremzen is both funny and skilled, she made my stomach grumble embarrassingly over fish bones cooked in butter, something I'd never be interested in eating under normal circumstances. She is a sauce-y wordsmith!

My Berlin Kitchen, Luisa Weiss  On the other side of the Iron Curtain, Luisa Weiss grows up learning to cook and bake in her West German home. As a grown-up in America she returns to the recipes of her youth and tells a beautiful story that instantly transports you to the homey kitchens and worldly restraurants of megalopolis Berlin.

Blood, Bones and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton  By now you might have noticed that the books in this post present a common color scheme. Red and yellow, the colors of the golden arches, have long been considered colors that will make consumers hungry and therefore to eat more. Perhaps this is true also of books, but when you've got a writer AND CHEF of such superlative skill as Gabrielle Hamilton, you cook drop her sentences in a greasy wax bag and the whole world would beg for more. Simultaneously a memoir, coming of age story, complicated love story, and hilarious if grueling account of the blood and sweat poured into opening her own restaurant, Hamilton's book is beautiful, true and offers one of the most fascinating accounts of understanding hunger in a brilliantly wrought scene that catches up with our narrator on her first trans-atlantic trip in Amsterdam. The simplicity of a small meal of a boiled potato and sliver of cheese has stuck with me YEARS after reading this book. She is SO BRILLIANT WHERE IS HER NEXT BOOK!?

A Fork in the Road, ed. James Oseland  Is a book I haven't even read yet but am salivating to dig into! It comes out in December and my-oh-my: Francine Prose, Andre Aciman, Rita Mae Brown, Marcus Samuelsson, Michael Pollan, Monique Truong, Madhur Jaffrey and a bajillion other writers dish on the best meals they've had abroad. Run don't walk--OH MY GOSH is it lunch time yet?!

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