Reads, Writes, Eats and Cooks
There is a fair amount of gastronomic seduction and education involved in inviting another to one’s native culinary tastes. This is particularly the case when two people from different culinary traditions fall in love and regularly dine together. Jim and I have been together for five years. Through each other and with each other we have discovered many new tastes. This blog is partly an account of our dinner conversations. It is quite possible that we shared every meal you see posted on this site.
In the past five years, I learned to bake (a technique I unknowingly under-utilized before), cakes, chicken, casseroles, vegetables and more. I learned to make a variety of sauces. I learned to appreciate biscuits and gravy, grits and cheese and a variety of sweets I didn’t know existed, like Ritz crackers with peanut butter dipped in chocolate. I appreciate steaks and burgers as worthy treats. Pastas and salads have become very familiar. My pantry is the most diverse and global it has ever been. It is rare for us to go a week without dining on at least three different cuisines. This week, for example, we had Cajun inspired, Japanese inspired and Indian inspired meals.
But, my culinary evolution is small compared to Jim’s. He went from a diet of burgers, salads and packaged Italian meals to willingly eating fried anchovies and spicy vegetable curries. Food is so much better shared. I’m glad Jim is my food buddy.
Here was my intuitive strategy to introduce him to Bengali (South Asian) food:
Level 1: Comfort: Unfamiliar flavors with a familiar twist.
Level 2: Complexity: Building expertise and letting go of familiar level 1 culinary crutches.
Level 3: Comfort: Search for Variations
As you can see, I thought about introducing Jim to flavors I love very consciously. I am thankful that Jim responded as well as he has. I am not alone in pondering these questions of cultural interpretation and translation. In the book, Food: The Key Concepts, Warren Belasco, writes about American preferences (for sweet and meat) and quotes culinary historian Laura Shapiro’s characterization of the Americanization of other culinary cultures by “blunting the flavors and dismantling the complications.” While the strategy of tempered flavors and complexities served well to introduce Jim to Bengali food, the continued discovery now makes it a shared adventure. For example, our first Michelin starred five-course dinner at San Francisco’s Compton Place (more on that meal later).
Wishing you gateway dishes that take you far away and bring you closer together,