Yesterday, I finished reading a Lonely Planet publication called A Fork in the Road: Tales of Food, Pleasure & Discovery on the Road. After having read a slew of particularly bad books lately, I’m happy to report that this one was one rather wonderful. Editor James Oseland (Saveur magazine) opens, “Every traveler has two or three or even a hundred of them: moments on a journey when you taste something and you’re forever changed.” The following collection of thirty-four essays from writers, critics and chefs alike explore those moments – be it an Englishman’s long-anticipated taste of the all-American Twinkie, a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia, or blood soup and maggot cheese in Sardinia (credit to that last one – I’m now not entirely adverse to the idea of larvae-laden cheese). I found almost every story genuine and captivating, and loved the focus on the seemingly small and unexpected.
A Fork in the Road certainly got me reflecting on those moments in my own travels, and I think I’ve definitely got a few I’m eager to jot down and share. Then again, the book also made me realise how I’ve perhaps too easily breezed through countries in the past and emerged without such tales to tell. Not that a fantastical travel tale can be forced – but maybe youth and blissful naivety sometimes prevented me from slowing down and properly opening up to the possibility, or even just plain awareness of those experiences. I loved the essay A Coffee Ceremony by novelist Kaui Hart Hemmings (The Descendants), who writes, “Time. That’s what it’s really about. Taking the time to realise what you’re doing, what you’re drinking… Food and drink is so much more than food and drink. When we consume them we are engaging in a backstory – the effort and attention, the craft and history, the community and connection, and the ritual itself.”
And so this book has come to me at a splendid time, in that I shall soon be travelling – and not only travelling, but returning. When I first visited Europe four years ago, I suppose I was a foodie beginner in the sense of an unfocused excitement for ‘European food’ (gelato and tiramisu and croissants, oh my!). I certainly came home with a sudden fondness for many things at which I’d previously upturned my nose. Oh, to imagine a time in which I didn’t like olives, pesto or even wine for godssake! Now I return on a trip pretty much centred on the idea of simply eating my way around the continent. In A Fork in the Road, both Carla Hall’s Leek of Faith and Tom Carson’s A Wedding Feast delve into the theme of such a sudden awareness of food culture, one’s previous naivety and the prospect of adventure henceforth. To be soon going back to Europe with that expanded awareness of food and cooking, I realise, is very exciting indeed.
That awareness also comes twofold. Most every piece in A Fork in the Road makes reference to the writer’s culinary upbringing- something that, no matter how modest or grand, seems to hold perpetual influence. It shocked me to realise I’d never really given much confidence to the particular food culture in which I’d grown up. Sure, there’s no foreign, exotic or particularly ‘gourmet’ footprint at my family table – but I’ve been careless in thinking that’s a mark of the unexceptional. Last month, in spending Easter with family at my grandparents’ house, I suppose I had a ‘moment’ when my grandpa walked in and placed two fresh figs on the table. Figs! Quite in vogue on food blogs and Melbourne menus right now – I’d only really just started to eat and delight in them – and here my grandpa was growing them in the backyard. My grandma would later whip up half a dozen jars of fig and ginger jam. Just like that.
There’s an important food culture at home of which I’ve either taken for granted or simply remained totally unaware. My family quite literally revolves around my grandparents’ Laminex-topped kitchen table, and it’s nice to be finally waking up to the craft and history behind that. So long as I care to look for them, there are perhaps as many moments, stories and recipes to be shared from home as there might be from my travels. And that is also a very exciting notion.
Photos taken at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, April 2014.