Dan-Tokpa Market, Catanou, Benin, West-Africa – I visited my first African market with my mother three decades ago.
High on the Hog, Jessica B. Harris, Bloomsbury 2011
It hardly can be any clearer how much this author loves her people, their culture and their history. This isn’t just a book about food or (for) black people: it’s the history of eating and about every continent is involved in some way.
This combination of travel, research and family stories taught me several new things about black history, without ever feeling preachy or as an information-dump. I’ve also learned of many things I want to eat.
High on the Hog travels from slavery to American contemporary day, and sometimes that’s a lot to take in. But Harris’ way of light, loved writing makes it feel like you’re listening in om someone’s stories while they’re preparing you a scrumptious meal. As I said – I really just want to try so many things.
I think I’m getting the hang of this audio book thing. It even made me thoroughly enjoy a memoir!
This is the first time I’ve heard of this man; this novel is part of the Black Lives Matter-category in one of my libraries. That’s one reason I decided on borrowing it, the other is his function: he’s a chef.
And he makes the dishes sound so good, the passion for food and cooking so clear that his career couldn’t have been otherwise. There’s struggle on his road to it (and that’s putting it nicely), but Onwuachi has such strength that it turns into a rags to riches to rags to riches to rags Hollywood-approved story instead of self-pitying lamenting. And the author shares how and why he continuously had the strength to do so.
The good thing about reading an unknown’s (to you) memoir is that you won’t be confronted with things you already know; the bad thing is that it can make you wonder why you’re spending your time on a stranger’s story. In this case, it felt like I was listening to a Black Western playing out in streets and kitchens, brought so enticingly that I regularly cycled a bit further to just keep listening.
Notes from a Young Black Chef, Kwame Onwuachi, Penguin Random House Group 2019
This is such a delicate, kind little movie (I tried hard not to use ‘sweet’ there). I’m sure that Asian entertainment has dumb blockbusters, sappy, clichéd romances and downright disgustingly bad films as well, but those that find their way here, to our cinemas and televisions, have yet to disappoint. Maybe it’s in the cinematography, maybe because the script writers don’t seem to be afraid about keeping things small. Anyway, Sweet Bean.
The movie is about food, but not just about it. How food is betrayed in Asian cinema is another thing that always tickles my fancy, by the way. Those people care. In this case, it’s about a man in a dorayaki (look them up for enjoyable pictures of food) stand, and an old woman that likes to help out. There’s a small plot line about a teenage girl as well, and in some way they’re all brought together by food.
Under that current develops a much harsher story, but the director manages to keep the balance between sweet and melancholic impressively well. This way, it’s not just something you watch and forget, you take it with you as a gathering of soft musings. And possibly with a craving for dorayaki.
The waiters were singing “Happy Birthday” in Chinese.
One main disappointment about this story: not enough descriptions of food. In some ways, this one felt like an international version of De zoetzure smaak van dromen; also the (immigrant) family in and around a Chinese restaurant. Except this one has a lot more infighting and drama. And as I said before – less descriptions of food.
So, what does happen in this novel? No-one seems to be very happy with their place in society. All are connected to a Chinese restaurant, but some (feel like it’s) in the wrong way, and some want to cut all ties. There’s the son of the owner, employees that have been there for decades, and those at the fringes of their lives. A fire doesn’t make things easier, even though it was slightly expected to.
It’s not the most accessible of novels; there are very few people to like and sometimes side plot lines take a bit too much space. On the other hand: it’s mostly the male characters that are the annoying ones, and all of it shows humanity. With a title and subject like this, it could have easily become a collection of stereotypes about Asian Americans: instead you’re shown that family and finances issues work the same in every (sub)culture.
Number One Chinese Restaurant, Lilian Li, Macmillan Publishing 2018
A wooden spoon – most trusty and lovable of kitchen implements – looks like the opposite of “technology,” as the word is normally understood.
Now this is my kind of non-fiction, and not just because of the subject. Clearly written with fun and love for the subject, it’s the kind of books that makes you share facts with a smile. Not a school book, but a book of knowledge.
Consider the fork is about your kitchen, kitchens in the past, kitchens in the future. It’s about ways to prepare food, about utensils, about how certain foods and materials have influenced our diets and diets around the world. It explains why the Japanese are satisfied with using only one knife, while the Western world prides itself on a case full of them. Why the wok was for the poor, and why fridges were looked at with suspicion. It’s a history book through the kitchen.
Bee Wilson adds anecdotes, but never makes the story about her. It’s excitement and facts thrown together, making it a very tasty stew (no, I couldn’t resist such a corny metaphor).
How on earth could I have let them talk me into it?
Now this is a book that deserves my time, that very probably already landed a spot on my end of the year book list. A book like a four course meal, every dish not just bright and good looking, but a new experience in taste. This is Eat, Pray, Love in one country, Chocolat for book lovers, an encyclopedia for emotions for those that can’t recognise them.
This might be the first male mid life crisis I have rolled absolute no eye over. Nary a blink. Because what else to call it, the discovery of a gross mistake leading him to throwing away twenty years of his life?
Luckily, Nina George looks out for the lost Jean. Both travel, country and people help him, without it ever feeling too convenient, too easy or not human enough.
I’m glad I read this.
The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George, Crown Publishers 2015
A delicious little story about light at the end of the tunnel.
The waitress from the title, Jenna, is stuck in a job and a husband. Her only reliefs are her colleagues/friends and her pies. Her pies may be her way out of this miserable life, but then a pregnancy blows up that option. Luckily there’s a love interest in the shape of her gynecologist, a grumpy old man that wishes her the best and her never stopping, pie creating mind.
The pies are shown beautifully, so better not start this movie hungry. There are definitely some things to frown upon, but as a (short) lesson about never giving up, recognising your self-worth and that friendship trumps romantic relationships, Waitress is tooth-achingly sweet for a lazy film watch.
Ik stond een keer aan de oever van een rijstveld in de Chinese provincie Sichuan, waar een magere, bejaarde Chinese boer, gekleed in een veertig jaar oude verschoten blauwe kiel die nog door de maoïstische regering in de eerste jaren van de revolutie was verstrekt, tot aan zijn knieën in het water stond en zonder enige aanleiding uitdagend tegen me schreeuwde: ‘Wij Chinezen hebben een heleboel dingen uitgevonden!’
Een non-fictie boek moet heel interessant zijn om niet een klein beetje als huiswerk aan te voelen. Dat deed dit wel, redelijk regelmatig. Pas wanneer de anekdotes weer wat sappiger werden, verdween het idee dat Kurlansky vooral Heel Veel feiten aan zijn verhaal wilde toevoegen.
Het is dus een boek om – net als zout – in kleine doses tot je te nemen. Een fijne verzameling van feiten die je kunt spuien tijdens de aankomende feestdagen is het resultaat.
Zie dit inderdaad een beetje als huiswerk, maar wel de soort waar je van leert en iets aan hebt.
Zout: Een wereldgeschiedenis, Mark Kurlansky, Anthos 2005