Finishing the book, I really began to see a lot of depth in Tony Bourdain. I watched some of his footage from Vietnam, because I feel like it was the place that he revisited throughout the book and also, because it seemed to be a place that he truly loved. The part of the video I saw was very similar to his description in the book. It was the market scene during the Tet holiday, where one could just walk from one vendor to the next to: "See what the next guy is selling," as he says on the show.
I think he is very similar to what he acts like on camera and his voice in his writing; however, I believe he is a bit more candid in his book. After reading the book though, I was still left with a few questions.
A few questions that I left the book with:
Why is he so willing to try all varieties of food except for Vegan?
What recipes will he take back to his own kitchen?
And how does he compare himself with the many chef's he's encountered? He often says that he's not as good as other chef's but where does he find himself in the line?
I thought the second half of the book added a lot of emotional depth to Tony Bourdain, and also established the idea of perfection beautifully. I love how he described it as "fleeting," and how it's something to always strive towards.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Monday, September 24, 2012
“My mood begins to improve immediately. Everything is brightly colored, crunchy, exotic, unrecognizable, and attractive. I suddenly want everything,” (57).
If there’s one thing that you can glean about Tony Bourdain from his book A Cook’s Tour is his candor about life and food. From smoking hash in Morocco, to getting incredibly drunk in Spain, Tony Bourdain is certainly not trying to shield his world trip experience from his reader. One thing I appreciated most about his experience so far was his ability to try new things: I can’t keep Jim Carey in the film “Yes Man” from coming to mind. Bourdain is really trying to find the best meals on the planet, like in Russia when he’s eating fish and black bread and says: “If not the perfect meal, this was in many ways, a perfect one. Good food, good company, exotic ambience, and an element of adventure,” also teaching me that the experience of food is not just what is on the plate (86). He experiences so many different food cultures: killing the pig in Portugal, killing the lamb in Morocco and dining with the people who prepared these various cultural foods. I just imagine it to be such a luxury to, first, be a top notch chef who can demand anything be brought to his own restaurant and second, a top notch chef who gets to demand what he tries in other countries. Obviously the run-down hotels and the hangovers are a cost, but he surely gets a high benefit.
Another thing that really caught my attention with Bourdain’s work was the motif of finding a sense of place within a foreign place. At first, he tries to find a sense of nostalgia in France with his brother: feel reconnected with his past and his father however, it leaves him off considerably sadder than before. Afterwards, he tries to feel grounded in the cultures he visits. In Spain, when explaining the Basque elements, Bourdain exclaims: “you knew, at all times, where you were,” (77); and later in Morocco describes the prayer call during a meal saying: “Upon hearing it, you understand - on a cellular level – that you are now ‘somewhere else,’” (103). I find it so interesting how food can truly ground you in a place completely different than your own. Tony Bourdain is traveling around the world and realizes that there’s a lot missing from the “American” pallet. It’s also pretty inspiring to think that when you’re miles away from home, you can feel more comfortable in a strange culture by getting in touch with, and enjoying, their food.
Tony’s candid explanations for the tastes, and places that he takes on shows one of remarkable curiosity and intrigue. I wish I could be so lucky as to travel the world and choose the best dish on the earth to try for exploratory’s sake. However, I don’t believe my incredibly uncultured tongue could handle it: eating baby octopus, or lamb genitalia is just something I think I will just have to read about to understand. However, I am lucky that there are people in the world like Tony Bourdain, so I can at least imagine the wild tastes that he tries.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
The first nine chapters of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner established not only author Bich Minh Nguyen’s community, and family identity but also her culture and her sense of self. I found myself throughout the reading marking in the margins “Food= (blank)” because Nguyen seems to link food to major themes within the work; for instance, on page 75 I marked “Food=Status,” for a line read: “Here, a student was measured by the contents of her lunch bag, which displayed status, class, and parental love.” The connection is apparent and very vivid in Nguyen’s life: the food you brought to the cafeteria indicated the life you lived and indicated how people should treat you. For me, Nguyen really clarified her life, which at times seems very complicated, by explaining it in plain food terms. It appears that food was not only for survival of her physical body, but her mental body as well.
There were several passages I marked with “food=” such as: memories, leverage, celebration, language, tradition, status etc., and they were concepts I would have never linked to food before. The idea of using food as a mark of status or identity is very foreign to people who are welcomed as part of the mainstream. One equation that I found especially interesting was the passage I marked “Food=Assimilation,” on page 53: “…all I wanted was to sit at the dinner table and eat pork chops the way my friends did. Because I could not, because our household did not, I invested such foods with power and allure.” The theme in this passage may not come across as clearly as the first quote I posed, but I still find it to be a very powerful one. Simply because Nguyen’s family doesn’t eat like the rest of general society, they cannot be considered a part of it. It’s difficult to picture something as simple as food having that much power over a culture or society. It makes me question not only the vanity of society, but also the name-brand mentalities of people today.
Outside of her display of themes, I found Nguyen’s description of food intensely vivid. It made the book incredibly hard to read when I was hungry! Even if I didn’t know the dish that was being presented (usually one of Noi’s), I was still thoroughly engaged in her picture. When Nguyen illustrates the feast celebrating Vinh’s birth, I couldn’t tell when the list was going to stop; she perfectly depicts “shrimp chips dyed in pastel colors, salty Styrofoam that vanished on the tongue,” and “dried persimmons, flat brown each resembling a giant eye,” and the list just goes on and on (36). Her descriptions made me curious about her culture, her national food and also different varieties of food in general. Being someone who doesn’t generally make surprising food choices, the food just sounds exquisite and exotic. It makes me curious to try cha gio, or goi cuon, once I find out what they’re made of first. On an overall basis, Nguyen’s piece so far makes me extremely excited for the second half of the book, and also to be bolder in my own food choice. I wonder if I did try a very exotic food if it would make me want to be more like that culture; then again isn’t America one big “soup” of different delicacies anyway? I guess I won’t have to look too far to find out.
Monday, September 17, 2012
So I saw this on Facebook and decided to do it; the closest book to me was Stealing Buddha's Dinner so I thought it would be fun to share:
"It's international book week. The rules: grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52, post the 5th sentence as your status. Don't mention the title. Copy the rules as part of your status."
It just so happens that the fifth sentence on page 52 is: "She drew the line at Hamburger Helper."
Happy Monday everyone!
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Reading Response to “The Reporter’s Kitchen,” by Jane Kramer
The best part about Jane Kramer’s story is her ability to correlate food and writing at different levels. There is first the literal level: of her stopping the piece of work she’s currently writing, in order to walk into the kitchen to cook something. However, beyond the literal level, she connects for the reader how the time she spends in the kitchen (in whatever country she inhabits at the time) clarifies her writing while she metaphorically “brews” her thoughts together in a melting pot. I think it is most clearly put when she says: “The cooking that helps my writing is slow cooking, the kind of cooking where you take control of your ingredients so that whatever it is you’re making doesn’t run away with you, the way that words can run away with you in a muddled or unruly sentence,” (164). This description illustrates how one is inextricably mixed with the other, and it appears that for Kramer to be a good writer, she has learned that she must also strive to be a good cook: even though she admits that good cooking is far easier to achieve than good writing (166).
For Kramer cooking and memories are not, cannot be, mutually exclusive which is something I haven’t considered in my life before, however seems to have a universal truth to it. Food takes you places, and also creates innately individual responses in the people who make and consume it. Kramer sees memory as a “soup that never tastes the same as it did before, and feeds a voice that, for better or worse, is me writing,” (159). And I like this analogy because for even someone who may not be the best cook, like me, food is always associated with some memory from before; when someone tries a dish for the first time, a memory pops in of when they tried a different thing for the first time and hated it, or loved it etc.,. I’ve never looked at food as such a gateway to memory before, which is funny because we spend so much of our lives eating! It opens a whole new possibility for writing because it gives people a whole new angle to look at their lives. What would it look like if we narrated our lives from a food perspective only? If we took only memories that came with food and stacked them up in order, would the outcome be a close summation of how we would narrate our lives otherwise? It’s definitely something I would like to explore now. I would also like to consider how cooking affects writing and memory as well—are memories of time laboring over a meal more substantial than memories of merely eating? I think they are. The way in which Kramer talks about cooking makes me interested not only to try cooking myself, but to also try it while in the process of writing something. Maybe I should have cooked something while writing this: I wonder if the outcome would have been different.