The Digest

In Search of Grissini & Other News

4th November 2017

Words: James Hansen

In this week’s round-up of food writing from around the world: blood soup in Los Angeles, the meaning of food memoir and a stereotype-busting chef

Teresa Lust dives into the history of grissini for Alimentum Journal: “Grissini are Italian breadsticks and Torino is their native city. They stand a world apart from the factory-minted, packaged breadsticks familiar to countless diners in the United States … Chalky and stale, those breadsticks have a commissary flavor that gives them about as much appeal as a saltine cracker.” As Lust regales, true grissini come from the needs of a sickly child and their regency parent, via “the court baker, one Antonio Brunero, who developed a thin, crusty bread expressly for the heir apparent.” Brunero’s bread was as curative as it needed to be, and so grissini stuck: Lust’s writing then returns the focus to the present day, in Torino, where “Augusto was making grissini,” as if production had never stopped.

 

Mayukh Sen profiles Preeti Mistry for Munchies. Mistry, who is closing her James Beard-nominated Oakland restaurant Juhu Beach Club, opens up about her journey to California from Wembley, London, battling the pervasive stereotype of Indian women in food: “The belief that they had first learned to cook from their mothers. It’s a stereotype tethered to the idea that Indian cooking is a generational, gendered practice learned in adolescence, surely when you’re standing by your mother’s side and leaning over the stove.” Mistry’s response: “That’s just not my story. At all.” Sen and Mistry tie this false impression to a broader, equally pervasive perception in food culture — that immigrant cultures’ cooking is made exotic and secretive, founded on family secrets — effacing the possibility that it could be learned, honed and showcased professionally. On closing her restaurant, Mistry invokes a lineage of a different kind: “Time for Juhu to go to college and leave home.”

Ruby Tandoh examines the genre of food memoir at The Guardian. Reflecting on how books on appetite, hunger, and their sating are necessarily both individual and similar, Tandoh skewers the notion that sameness should be smeared in critical circles. “To be fair to the critics, these books are all more or less the same … They refuse to speak to some imaginary universal human experience, instead delving deep into fuzzy, tactile, indefinable things such as taste and hunger. They centre foods and people that are too often exoticised, and poke fun at the obtuse old gatekeepers of the food world.” Food memoir is a mirror with a message: “The people may be different, the flavours unusual or the places far-off, but the message – that food informs who we are, and how we love – stays true.”

Kris Yenbamroong writes on luu for Saveur in an excerpt from his book with Garret Snyder, Night + Market. He begins frankly: “To a certain subset of people, Night + Market will forever be known as ‘that Thai place that serves blood soup’. And I have to admit, when I first put it on the menu, I knew it was going to be one of those things that polarized people.” Yenbamroong muses on the balance between creativity and fidelity informed both by health and safety laws – raw blood can, and has, claimed the lives of those who enjoy it – and perception: the idea that with dishes like luu, there is the risk of warping ‘authenticity’ into its worst version: “When you serve something like blood soup, people will extract different meanings from it. There are those who wrongly assume because it’s the most squeamish dish on the menu, it must be the most ‘authentic’. It’s that thinking that turns the perception of authentic ‘ethnic’ food into an arms race to the bottom, as if the entire point of cooking any regional cuisine is to seek out the most outlandish and obscure dishes, like some sort of culture vulture.”

Posted 4th November 2017

In The Digest

 

Words: James Hansen

More from The Digest

The Natural Wine Explosion & Other News – In this week's round-up of the best online food writing: in search of lost flavour, the art of tinkering, and culinary nostalgia in the age of Trump

The Ultimate Peach & Other News – In this week's round-up of the best online food writing: a restaurant manifesto, meeting "Pakistan's Martha Stewart" and a reappraisal of MFK Fisher

Kale Through The Ages & Other News – In this week's global food writing round-up: the perils of high-altitude food, a tomato scam, and very, very expensive coffee

The Tao of Percy Pigs & Other News – In this week's food writing round-up: making it nice in restaurants, an appreciation of ghee, and floating fish farms in China