A Cook's Tour 12:45 p.m. 2003-06-25

Drive Time: 31 minutes! ;-)
Current Listening: The Olive Farm by Carol Drinkwater.
Current Reading: A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain
Current Viewing: Season Two of Sex in the City

I took some time last night to read my hardcover book (as opposed to my book on CD -which I still have 1/2 a CD left on). It is coincidental that, just that morning, in a reading selection on food, we read about the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Last night, I started the chapter on Tony Bourdain's trip to Tokyo, where he visited Tsukiji and had a special sushi dinner prepared for him.

I am really enjoying A Cook's Tour, and still want to buy copies of it for presents. I think that my friend, Chris, who lives in Japan and Thailand, would like it. I bought a copy for my Dad, but haven't heard anything from him about it. I am glad that I didn't buy one for my mother-in-law's widower, because I don't know if he would appreciate the foul language and humor. I think my dad can handle it.

Here is an excerpt from the book - I believe he is in Portugal in that one. There was also a great chapter on the cooks of the Mexican state of Puebla. I skipped ahead to that, since we will be visiting Puebla next month.

While doing a search for critic's comments on the book, I came across a website with discussion questions. I think I'll answer them!

1. Bourdain tastes some pretty exotic dishes in A Cook's Tour -- TÍte de veau (calf's face), snake wine, and sheep testicles, to name a few. What is the wildest thing you've ever eaten? What is the thing you've always wanted to try? What is the thing you'd never try no matter what?

I think that the wildest thing I have ever eaten would seem pretty exotic by other people's standards, but not by Bourdain. I am a big fan of sushi (sea urchin is kind of odd), and enjoy my oysters raw as well. I have eaten tripe (but only enjoyed it once or twice), beef heart, kidneys, liver, sweetbreads, and I love cow tongue (made it in my crockpot!). I eat rabbit, goat, quail, crawfish, crabs, and octopus. In Paris, I had steak tartare, and loved it. I have also eaten cactus, but I don't think that's too wierd.

I would love to find a taqueria here that serves brain tacos - just to freak my husband out. He asserts that this is why I eat raw oysters, but I have been eating those since I was 10 years old. I have lived in Louisiana, after all!

I also have made a lot of noise about going to a restaurant in Mexico that is called Los Girasoles. Here is a description from Yahoo Travel:

"One of the trendiest restaurants in town, serving light nouvelle Mexican cuisine. Meats and fish blended with exotic herbs. The adventurous may try fried grasshoppers or maguey worms -- traditional pre-Hispanic fare that is making a comeback in the city. Tropical fruit desserts."

They also serve escamoles or ant eggs. I think I draw the line at the fly eggs! I think that my dad and husband are in luck, as the maguey worms and ant eggs are not in season...

The things that I would not like to eat - no matter what - are your basic domesticate animals, such as horse, dog, or cat. I also have to admit some bug squeamishness.

2. When you travel to other places, how important is trying the cuisine of the region to you? Do you make a point of sampling as much regional food as possible or do you tend to stick to the tried and true, eating at McDonald's more often than not? Where that you've visited has had the best food and why?

I turn up my nose in disdain to those who won't sample the local offerings of the places they visit! I would definitely try as much as possible. While in Chile, we ran out to fast-food, only because we were on a tight schedule, planning English classes as our missions work. I did try some Burger King in Morelia, but it was disappointing. While living in France, I also resorted to fast food, but that was within 2 years time. Actually, what I missed most in France was not fast food, but Mexican food!

I have to say that, of course, France had the best food I've ever eaten. But Spain runs a close second. I love Mexican food, but their sweet breads (pan dulces) are not my favorites.

3. After reading A Cook's Tour -- and from your own personal experience -- what are some basic differences Americans have in their attitude towards food, meals, and eating, compared to people in other countries?

Well, the most obvious is that weekday lunch is a bigger deal in other countries than in ours. In France, students still go home for lunch, but I hear that this is changing. In Mexico, I would be served a big lunch by my hostess, but I had to get over the shock of the meager dinner offerings. Also, the French love to talk about food. I had a 2 hour conversation with a group of men - most of them 30 or more years older than I - about food. That doesn't happen much here.

I also noticed more drinking of alcohol with midday meals. I tried it a couple of times in France, but was rendered useless and sleepy for the rest of the day. In Chile, every social function is preceded by pisco sours, (we were also served the lesser known vaina in one house) even for church-going missionaries.

4. Is A Cook's Tour more of a travel book, more of a food book, or equal parts both? If you could, would you want to embark upon a globe-trotting adventure similar to Bourdain's? What seemed most appealing and most unappealing about his trip?

I think that it is a combination of both, since he does describe in great detail his impressions of country customs and his interactions with people. I would LOVE to be able to do what he does, except without the smoking of marijuana, and the heavy drinking. The most unappealing part would have to be the more "spartan" of the hotel accomodations, and possible lack of air conditioning, but I'm all for the rest!

5. How did the fact that Bourdain is a professional chef affect his account? Would it have been better or worse if he was an "ordinary" person? Did his background make him more willing to try different things or more of a "food snob" about what he ate?

Possibly - at least he is able to describe the preparation of food with the correct terminology. I am not sure about the open-mindedness of all chef's, but the ones I know are pretty down-to-earth people. I don't know about "food snob" - but he definitely has opinions about the cuisine!

6. Bourdain makes many of his descriptions of eating good food sound almost like a religious experience. Do you agree that good food can have this affect -- or is it, in the end, just sustenance? If not food, what in your life do you feel this passionately about?

Absolutely. As a sit here, sucking down Slimfast (in preparation for being able to eat, eat, eat in Mexico), I am slightly saddened. Part of my weight gain is owed to the fact that I treat myself to foods. I love for food to be special - whether it's trying a new recipe, or my own barbarized version of an ethic dish (I love the easy to use spice packages that are turning up in different world cuisines), or going to an ethnic restaurant. That's one of the big plusses of moving to Gwinnett county - it's proximity to The Buford Highway Farmer's Market, and other ethnic restaurants.

One of the deciding factors in my moving to Atlanta was a visit to Harry's Farmers Market - which sold many of the French specialties I missed upon my return to the U.S. I can while away hours at the various markets here in the Atlanta area, planning uses for the wacky things I see!

7. In both of his books, Bourdain discusses the phenomenon of the celebrity chef. How does he use his celebrity? How does he compare to other well-known chefs in terms of his appeal, his honesty, and his style?

I don't think that he is any better or any worse than the others in the Food Network "stable." I think he gets a kick out of being such a badass, and cutting down such favorites as Emeril LaGasse (I believe he refers to Emeril's audience as "barking dogs"?) and Bobby Flay. I can take or leave Bobby, but he's better lay off of Emeril! Maybe he's jealous, or thinks that they have sold out in some way... It does seem that he is a fan of the Iron Chef - even making reference to Masaharu Morimoto or he may have just been making Japanese conversation. Yet, as he wrote the book about his serie's on the Food Network called A Cook's Tourhe is able to recognize the irony of his being employed by the same network of the chefs he bashes with regularity.

Wow! I answered all of the questions but one! Now, I'm hungry! I wonder if I have time for some sushi at RuSan's?

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