When you’ve been a vegetarian for 40+ years you get all sorts of questions. One of them is, “Does it bother you if I eat this?” Usually referring to some kind of meat. Answer is, “No, it doesn’t bother me at all.” In fact, I’m abnormally interested what people eat. Food, at its essence is political. It defines cultures, regions, even localities. Right now, control of the food supply is a huge issue with the Montsantos of the world seemingly getting the upper hand.
Recently the island had its version of a brouhaha over food—what style of food might be served at the local cafe, its price and whether or not the cafe’s business plan was right for the island. Feelings run strong on the subject of food.
Driving down any strip mall street in America one gets the idea that we don’t have much of a food culture. All these streets look the same with MacDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Wendys, etc. lined up in more or less a regular order. But, we actually have a pretty interesting and lively food culture. One recent development as illustration is the evolution of the food truck from “roach coach” to gourmet dining. I will attest to the excellence of El Tapito’s vegetarian burrito made in their truck located near the end of Bakerview Road.
Food is endlessly fascinating. It doesn’t have to be the new cuisine. Street food is really the most interesting. One of the best documentarians of food culture is Anthony Bourdain who explored street food (and some fancy stuff too) around the world for eight seasons on the Travel Channel with his food/travel show No Reservations. He got mad at the Travel Channel for inserting product placement into his narratives and bolted for CNN where he is in his second season of Parts Unknown. Parts Unknown is a bit more newsy than No Reservations but Bourdain is a writer with talent and, luckily, a fellow with a cast iron gut who will eat just about anything especially if it’s food made from the less savory parts of an animal: tongues, brains, noses, heads, ears, guts, you name it. He can also drink copious amounts of booze.
He’s also pretty antagonistic to vegetarians which doesn’t bother me at all. He will reluctantly eat vegetarian and in a recent Parts Unknown episode on the Punjab was actually complimentary.
Most of us are a bit reluctant to try food from street vendors or even local establishments fearing stomach upset. But I’ll bet that just about everyone can recall some kind of interesting food adventure. I look back fondly on my successful search for a genuine bird’s nest soup in Bangkok, samosas from a station vendor in India and fry bread from a greasy spoon near the Navaho Rez. Each is an interesting story and indelible memory. We can learn a lot by paying attention to people’s food, how the raise it, get it to market, prepare it and eat it.
Food adventuring is a lot easier, I will admit, if one is an omnivore But, I’ll let Anthony Bourdain do my traveling for me now.
Some more good food shows and films:
Spinning Plates—”This documentary profiles three restaurants based in very different locales: Chicago; Tucson, Arizona; and Balltown, Iowa.” Their only similarity seems to be personal tragedy.
The Mind of a Chef—”This mouth-watering series produced by Anthony Bourdain takes viewers inside the world of culinary artist and restaurateur David Chang. Traveling the globe to research what we eat, the Momofuku founder brings an exotic dash to all his creations.”
I Like Killing Flies—“…filmmaker Matt Mahurin peers into Shopsin’s, a hole-in-the-wall Greenwich Village restaurant that’s been dutifully serving comfort food to satisfied customers for more than 30 years. Lording over the eatery is hilarious, ersatz philosopher/owner Kenny Shopsin, who caters to his regulars while dispensing tough love with his okra chowder. And he’s just as likely to throw his customers out as he is to take their orders.”
Best Food Ever—”From the South’s best BBQ to the Big Apple’s most delicious delis, “Best Food Ever” profiles America’s top food destinations and highlights what makes them the best in their culinary categories.”
Kings of Pastry—”Acclaimed documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus venture inside the deliciously cutthroat Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the legendary French pastry competition, to capture this fascinating account of what it takes to be the best “patissier.”