14th April 2017
Words: James Hansen
Food delivery is leaving an indelible mark on the idea of eating, and that’s where we begin this week, with Upala Sen at Telegraph India. Sen is particularly sharp on the various attitudes to the delivery model in Calcutta, from the “evolving market” touted by restaurants to competing attitudes amongst Bengali generations: poisha noshto vs paisa wasool: “waste of money” vs “money’s worth”. Between a wry nod at the fondness du jour for thali and an exploration of Bengali food’s evolution with familial tradition, Sen is particularly strong on the philosophy behind dining out: the place, the atmosphere – ultimately the experience – that you can’t courier on the back of a bike.
We continue with some culinary cartography from Haisam Hussein at Lapham’s Quarterly1, tracing the global journeys of tomatoes, peppercorns and coffee. Drawing lines both geographical and temporal between the three and revealing the hidden histories of each – from ketchup’s roots in a Chinese, tomato-less sauce to the Roman pepper deficit bemoaned by Pliny the Younger – the map tells many stories. Both a compendium of useful history and a treasure trove of trivia, it’s a fascinating insight into some of our favourite products. Not so in 1587, when an English cultivator described tomatoes as poisonous, with a “rank and stinking savor”. Tell that to Heinz.
From images to audio with Dan Saladino, reporting on Venezuela’s food crisis for the BBC. Economic strife has affected the entire country, and day-to-day eating has necessarily taken a serious hit. Saladino’s reporting is informative, sensitive and unafraid to pull punches: military influence over the food supply is rightly decried. It’s a far cry from 2015, when the UN recognised Venezuela for its efforts to combat hunger; it’s necessary, too, that food writing is unafraid to address what happens when supplies are short.
Thom Eagle continues his Search for Lost Thyme with some rumination on an oft-discussed subject: cooking with wine. It’s a complex bind: while the adage goes that you shouldn’t throw in the pan that which you wouldn’t willingly throw back, certain culinary processes simply don’t showcase what makes a wine great: complexity; layers; as Thom has it, “nuance”. Perhaps cooking with wine needs to take a different definition: by all means schlep some red into your stew, or some white into your risotto – as Thom heartily recommends – but cook with wine: put on your preferred music, pour a glass, and dive in, whether the recipe demands it or not.
We round off this week with Vivien Lee writing for Hazlitt on Korean culinary tradition. She focuses on the tradition of jesa: a memoriam to ancestors passed on, food the conduit, family the crux. Lee is alive to the binary rigidity of East and West that plays into the bounds of culinary tradition; to enjoy her family’s radish soup alone, in New York, is an act of defiance as much as it is a comfort. It’s an engrossing and deeply philosophical read, which finishes by exploring the idea of perishables: not just the produce that can be converted into a meal, but the links and traditions that can fade if left unmaintained; uncared for; unnourished.
Image: “Still life with oysters, a rummer, a lemon and a silver bowl ” by Willem Claesz. Heda
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