Can’t travel? Read a book. Can’t get gourmet food? Read a book. Better yet, read a travel book that delves into food.
I did exactly that and got help from a delightful volume titled A Mobile Feast: Life-Changing Culinary Adventures Around the World. This planet alone publication takes you to distant lands and foods, through the eyes and words of remarkable writers.
Take the opening lines of Pico Iyer’s essay, ‘Daily bread’. He is in a Benedictine hermitage in California. “The quiche is as sweet as hope itself, and the long asparagus tips are so elegant on the plate that taking one feels like playing with the symmetry of a Klee. There are bowls of lettuce in our midst, and the thick vegetable soup alone would make a hearty meal. Bottles of vinaigrette fill the blond wood table, big enough for the six of us, as early spring sunlight streams into the window-filled dining hall, so we feel like we’re tasting the sparkle and to take a long sip of sunshine.”
Each chapter is a beautifully crafted essay that delves into people, food, culture, and memories. And some of the memories are not just about the food but also about the circumstances under which it was eaten.
“Like most of us, I like to eat while I’m on the move,” writes author Jan Morris. “An Indian curry is best of all when it’s been rushed through your compartment window at Hooghly Station just before your big train departs for Mumbai.” She remembers boarding the “last fragile remnant” of the Orient Express, where she was handed a paper bag containing an apple, some cheese and half a bottle of excellent white wine – “that what could be a better snack while we worked across Europe?”
There is something oddly relaxing about these dreamlike chapters. You’re locked inside, thanks to a seemingly invincible virus, but see yourself on the Italian Riviera with American author and journalist David Downie. He stands in front of a vegetable garden destroyed by wild boars and watches the farmer cut down one after another the damaged plants. “He rummaged among the artichokes, cutting and tugging, before turning to a lemon tree adorned with yellow orbs. Soon the basket burst open, its contents neatly arranged. He entrusted it to us.”
I then find myself in French Guyana with journalist-author Mark Kurlansky, as he recalls his favorite restaurant in Cayenne. “He specialized in game from the forest: small game agoutis, succulent tapir stews, a python or an iguana from time to time, foods that you don’t find in many places… I don’t didn’t understand why not everyone ate there. too… Instead, they crowded into French restaurants to eat Northern foods ill-suited to the tropics, sweaty pâtés and gloppy sauces that languished in the heat – and later in your stomach. Well, I’ve concluded, that’s how the French are – like most cultures with good cuisines, completely clinging to themselves.
It’s the subtext – like the little aside about culinary snobbery – that makes this book so easy to read. The connection between food and culture is the common thread in travel editor William Sertl’s essay “Cooking with Donna.” He is in a luxurious Caribbean estate and has just received an elegant bell that he must ring for the next class.
“At first, I laughed, without meaning to. Then I hesitated, got up, pushed my chair under the table, and walked straight into the uncharted territory of the kitchen. Donna was stirring the contents of a saucepan on the stove. I walked over, took the lid and said, ‘What are we eating?’ »
Food, he says, is the key to culture — “the easiest way to connect with people you haven’t met yet.” Mostly, I might add, the food you have left to try (python, anyone?) and the trips you have left to take.
Rahul Verma enjoys reading and writing about food as much as cooking and eating it. Well, almost.