The French in Indochina: Caricatures and Satire

In 1912, André Joyeux published a most interesting book, La Vie Large des Colonies, filled with satirical caricatures of the the colons, or French colonialists in Vietnam. Some were amusing, others truly horrific. Note: The caption reads - Ce que ça va les faire gueuler à Paris! - Ben, qu'ils viennent bouffer les soupes qu'on…

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The Bibliothèque Nationale de France and Me, Etc.

Dear readers of Gherkins & Tomatoes /Cornichons & Tomates, Soon I will embark on a great adventure, doing research on France's colonial empire at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Archives nationales d'outre mer in Aix-en-Provence, thanks to a grant from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Until I return, I will not have the…

Eating Around the Empire in a Day: The 1931 Paris International Colonial Exposition

To her sons who have extended the empire of her genius and made dear her name across the seas, France extends her gratitude. ~~ Inscription on the facade of the colonial museum, now the Cité Nationale de l'Histoire de l'Immigration Before EuroDisney, people who might never be able to go to Tahiti or Senegal or…

To India, via Paris’s Le Passage Brady

In spite of French presence in India for a couple of centuries, trying to find Indian curry in France tends to be a bit of a chore. The first Indian restaurant didn't open in Paris until 1975. Those in the know (mostly British expatriates pining for curry in London) lament the lack of good Indian food,…

East is East and West is West: Pondicherry and French Curry

In Pondicherry, Pondichéry, or Puducherry as it is now called again (since 2006), you still see streets sparkling with old colonial buildings, dating back to a time when passersby heard French spoken daily. Yet, those buildings, policemen's hats, and a fully functioning French lycée or school, are among the few overt signs that you'll notice…

Eating Cat Meat: A Taboo?

One of the most memorable sayings you learn when you first study Spanish is, “Dar/vender gato por liebre,” or to “give or sell a cat instead of a rabbit,” meaning deception. Digging into the history of Spanish cookbooks, you’ll find a famous --- and oft-quoted --- recipe for roast cat in Ruperto de Nola’s* fifteenth-century…

I was in Prison and You Did Not Feed Me

In preparation for certain medical tests (the torturous “tum-and-bum” procedure, I call it), I recently spent five days on an extremely restricted diet. Shall we say that if you consumed that diet over a period of weeks, death might soon be scooping you up. And on the Sunday before the test, I spent the afternoon…

Sour and Bitter Blended in the Soup of Wu:* Very Early Chinese Herbals

For years, I’ve been carting around a number of books about Chinese medicine and food, fascinated by the ancient linkage of food with medicine (similar in some regards to the Ayurvedic system of India). As you can imagine, getting down to the bone on this matter is not an easy proposition, given the lack of…

Culinaria Russia: A Picture Cookbook for Grownups

I’ve only known two Russian cooks in my life. First there was Olga, the cook who sustained me during my Peace Corps years, whose Russian roots rarely extended to the table of her Paraguayan pension. Always tripe and manioc and beef à caballo, never borscht or blini or piroshki. Sometimes meat laced with chimichurri, a…

From Mother Russia with Love: Kulich and Paskha

Because Russian Orthodox Easter falls on the same day this year (2010) as the Western Easter, it seems appropriate to include recipes for Russia's most well-known Easter sweets: Kulich, a tall puffy "baba" or sweet-bread cousin to Italian Panettone (maybe with phallic overtones and fertility in mind?) and Paskha, a cheesecake-like dairy-rich concoction eaten with…

From Mother Russia with Love: The Domostroi

Cabbage soup and gruel are our food. (Shchi da kasha, pishche nashe.) ~~Russian peasant proverb Trying to ferret out tidbits about Russian food history can be tough going. Aside from the language barrier, anyone interested in Russian culinary history suffers from a major weakness: there is a terrible lack of written material contemporaneous with Forme…

From Mother Russia with Love: A Fish in Every Pie

The kulebyaka should be appetizing, shameless in its nakedness, a temptation to sin. ~~ Anton Chekov, "The Siren" Fish dishes abound in Russian cuisine, in large part because of the Russian Orthodox Church’s strict rules on fasting during Lent other times of the year. But we cannot ignore the simple fact that fish thrive in…

From Mother Russia with Love: Meaty Mushrooms and Relentless Lent

One of her greatest pleasures in summer was the very Russian sport of hodit’ po gribi (looking for mushrooms). Fried in butter and thickened with sour cream her delicious finds appeared regularly on the dinner table. Not that the gustatory moment mattered much. Her main delight was in the quest. ~~ Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory…

From Mother Russia with Love: Great Lent, the Beginning

Many years ago, a high school history teacher of mine asked our class to write down everything we knew about Russia within the space of about 30 minutes. Most people wrote a brief paragraph, describing the red Communist flag with its hammer and sickle. Some delved a little into the cruelty of the tsars and…

The British Melting Pot

I recently ran across these books, mentioned on an interesting British Web site providing glimpses and glances at cookbooks published in Britain, cookbooks that we here in the US of A rarely see. Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems that the British cookbook market features more books concerned with other cultures and not so…

Cooking Fish — Let Us Count the World’s Ways: Asia 1

In Asia, cooking fish presents no problem to thousands of ingenious cooks. The abundance of fish and the surfeit of ingredients ensures that fish cookery scales heights far beyond scorched fish fingers, dried-out fillets, and mushy tuna-noodle casserole.

Butterfly of Winter — Fabergé’s Mardi Gras Egg

"Carnival is a Butterfly of Winter whose last mad flight of Mardi Gras forever ends his glory." ~ Perry Young, The Mistick Krewe: Chronicles of Comus and His Kin Theo Fabergé,  grandson of Carl Fabergé, created this dazzling egg to commemorate Mardi Gras in New Orleans:

Feasting in State: Obama’s First Real State Dinner

In the next week, we will see real-time examples of a few of the different types of feasts common to American culture: Thanksgiving --- essentially a harvest feast tinged with overtones of cultural identity --- and President Barack Obama’s first true State Dinner, to be held on November 24, 2009 for India’s Prime Minister Manmohan…

Hunger, Starvation, Famine and the Sweep of Human History

When it comers to food, we humans live in a paradox these days. In the West, there's too much food --- as long as one has money with which to buy it --- and because of that excess, we begin to look like the Michelin Man or the Pillsbury Doughboy. And on the flip side …

No Thanks to Marco Polo: An Encyclopedia of Italy’s Pasta Shapes

Marco Polo returned to Italy from his Chinese travels in 1296. The myth, legend, what have you, credits him with introducing pasta into Italy’s culinary repertoire. But Marco Polo did NOT bring pasta to Italy. And 73-year-old Italian author Oretta Zanini de Vita wants you to know that, immediately, upfront and center. Zanini de Vita…

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Soul Cakes

Trick-or-treating may well have originated in the old custom of "souling," as people went from house to house, begging ( "mumming") for "soul cakes," actually prayers --- in sweet form.  Sir James George Frazer wrote about this practice in The Golden Bough: a Study in Magic and Religion, a classic in anthropology, first published in…

The Gift of the Bees: Mead

With a small tweak of the imagination, it’s not hard to see the scenario:  a little rain and some honey accidentally left in a hollowed-out piece of wood. For our early ancestors, it was --- once tasted --- a seemingly divine elixir. And no cooking required. In other words, mead, the first fermented drink. And…