The Digest

Cracking the Egg & Other News

5th May 2017

Words: James Hansen

This week’s food writing survey goes behind the curtain at KFC, seeks out military rations in India and explores the rationale behind a great new cookbook

It’s headphones in and volume up to begin this week, with the first anniversary episode of The Racist Sandwich. Soleil HoZahir Janmohamed and Juan Diego Ramirez orchestrate the podcast’s intersectional approach to the food world: articulately and thoroughly skewering assumptions and stereotypes. Their birthday bash takes us to Wanda Stewart at Hoover Elementary in Oakland, California. Wanda is a tireless advocate for urban farming, using it as an educational tool to challenge the stigma of growing food amongst the African-American community. Have a listen, and get enlightened: previous guests have included Bertony Faustin – the first black winemaker in Oregon – and Ruby Tandoh, who we interviewed last month; pair with Clint Rainey at Grub Street on establishing equality and respect in the beer industry.

Over at Swarajyamag, Syed Ata Hasnain recounts his culinary experiences in the Indian Army, documenting how “that dal-sabzi-raita-kachri-rice-roti fare” served during his years as a Junior Officer moulded his tastebuds: eschewing the Officers’ Mess to eat with his troops, where he “slurped the last bit from the plate by drinking it up”. If an army marches on its stomach, Hasnain rehabilitates the proverb to include diverse appetites. From the vast diets of porters lugging heavy packs to an indulgent lunch with the grenadiers, the joy of memory and kinship in eating provide the heartbeat of the piece.

Moving over to The Atlantic we find kitchen philosophy with Joe Pinsker, pivoting around the forthcoming book from Samin Nosrat: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Pinsker’s piece is a roving treatise on approaches to cooking, spanning the recipe-by-rote model, the molecular angle espoused by food scientist Howard McGee, and the deconstruct-to-perfect methodology made most famous by J Kenji López-Alt of The Food Lab. Pinsker settles on Nostrat’s breezy book of “cooking grammar”, a compilation of waymarks and guidelines designed to encourage confidence and invention in equal measure. Where Pinsker really nails the brief is his reflection on the utilitarian aspect of cooking. Casting aside the idealistic “grain bowl in an immaculate kitchen other than the one you own” for “the scratched-up cutting board, the stove in need of a thorough cleaning, and the slow-to-heat oven that are already right in front of you”, the ideology of cookbooks acquires a new generosity: to guide wherever, and however, they are needed.

Back across the pond with Munchies UK, Nell Frizzell goes behind the scenes at KFC having never tasted its fare before. From the metal menace of the machinery – “escaping steam and oil will result in severe burns” – to the mathematical conundrum of dividing a chicken into nine parts, Frizzell offers a warts-and-all account of life behind the fryer. Moving between the comedy of a safety outfit that leaves her looking like “a very lost dinner lady on her way to a William Hague rally” and the ethical problems posed by a cook-before-order model – namely, a huge quantity of wasted, perfectly edible chicken – it’s a probing piece with a light touch. Pair with an American stalwart from days gone by: Hawley & Hoops and their remarkable, or disquieting, array of chocolate shapes. The hat-tip goes to Grace Schultz at Dispatches from the Stacks.

We’re closing out with a return journey to India, with Vikram Doctor at The Economic Times. Doctor writes on eggs kejriwal, a dish invented in the 1960s thanks to the particular tastes of Devi Prasad Kejriwal. Unable to eat the yolky delight at home, owing to his family’s Brahmin ancestry, Kejriwal ordered out, topping his fried egg with cheddar and green chilli with a slice of toast for support. The dish has recently enjoyed a local boom; Londoners will not be surprised to know that it’s a firm favourite with the keenest of Dishoom acolytes. The nub of Doctor’s argument, though, is the aforementioned ambiguity regarding eggs in Indian kitchens. Not just avoided by vegetarians, eggs are regarded as a poor relation to other proteins in India, so much so that they are often left out entirely – when it comes to cookbooks. With the popularity of dishes like eggs kejriwal on the rise, the piece addresses this division with a sharp eye: it remains to be seen how India’s food culture will respond to the latest evolution in national tastes.

Image: Sunrise By The Ocean by Vladimir Kush

Posted 5th May 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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