Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Taste Of The Write Taste

Ever since I announced The Write Taste two days ago, I've been getting the feeling that I killed you with clarity. Rather than do another post to clarify the doubts that seem to have cropped up (and haven't), I am doing one to show you what it can be like.

I want you to share a piece of good writing about food with the world. Here, then, are some of my selections.

I began to read The Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, only two or three weeks ago. I have started off with his book Other Colours - Writings on Life, Art, Books and Cities (Faber and Faber 2008). These are translations by Maureen Freely.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Pamuk: "Pamuk's books are characterized by a confusion or loss of identity brought on in part by the conflict between Western and Eastern values. They are often disturbing or unsettling, but include complex, intriguing plots and characters of great depth. His works are also redolent with discussion of and fascination with the creative arts, such as literature and painting. Pamuk's work often touches on the deep-rooted tensions between East and West and tradition and modernism/secularism."

What I am going to quote from in this post is from a piece called Frankfurter, which first appeared in The New Yorker.

In the sixties, when the doner (now popular in Europe under this name and known in the United States by its Greek name, gyro) had yet to be invented, the frankfurter was the height of fashion and the most important food for those of us who had taken to eating in the streets. You would gaze through the glass at dark red tomato sauce that had been simmering all day and pick out one of the frankfurters that had been swimming like so many happy water buffaloes wallowing in the mud; you would point it out to the man with the tongs, and then you would wait impatiently for him to assemble the sandwich.

Hot dog stand at Times Square, New York, July 2009 (my photo)

The motivation, the pressure, to eat forbidden street food, which couldn't be eaten with "peace of mind" about its origins (in this case, whether the frankfurter came from cows or donkeys) is expressed by Pamuk thus:

In Istanbul, as elsewhere, people ate fast food on the streets not just because they were short of time, money or other opportunities but also, in my view, to escape that "peace of mind." To leave behind Islamic tradition, whose ideas about food were embedded in ideas about mothers, women and sacred privacy - to embrace modern life and become a city dweller - it was necessary to be ready and willing to eat food even if you didn't know where, how or why it was made.

And then, more insight:

The best thing about Istanbul street food is not that each vendor is different, offering specialities and chasing fashions, it is that each sells only the things he knows and loves. When I see the men who have taken a village dish - something their mother or their wife makes for them at home - out into the streets of the big city, certain that everyone else will love it too, it's not just their chickpea pilaf or grilled meatballs or fried mussels or stuffed mussels or Albanian liver that I savor but the proud beauty of their decorated stands, three-wheeled cars, and chairs.

You could even point to lighter stuff, funny and delightful, and, in this case, hardly anything else needs to be said. Ogden Nash, ever pithy and with a naughty sense of humour and rhyme all his own, is one of my favourite poets. Here's what he had to say about eels:

I don't mind eels
Except as meals

I hope that by now you've got an eel ... er ... feel for the event. Let the entries come in, I'm sure we can make a wonderful meal of them!

Note: I have done a guest post for Aparna who blogs at My Diverse Kitchen. You can read it here.


  1. If that doesn't clarify Sra, I don't know what will. My entry coming your way soon.


  3. you write really well Sra :)

  4. Couldn't get clearer than this, I guess.
    Now I have to figure out how to celebrate your blog b'day. :)

  5. And I can do excerpts from print , something that is not online ?

    Loved, loved the excerpts

  6. Jaya, God bless you! My chin was beginning to wobble dangerously.
    Shaista, good, glad it's not as bad as I thought it was.
    Nags, was there ever a doubt? ;) But seriously, thanks.
    Aparna, oh, please do, yours is be one of the two or three entries I expected :)
    Bong Mom, of course, it's not a blog-blog event!

  7. This is doable, I think:P Always a pleasure reading your posts!

  8. This will be great! Already i want to read Pamuk!

    Many many months ago Manisha and I thought about starting something like this! This is such a great idea! Did i say that already?! I do hope I will find the time to send something too!

  9. Shri, Anita, thank you, looking fwd to your entries!

  10. Thank you for the lovely post, Sra.

  11. I haven't had a frank (hot dog) since forever. Don't miss them (and still don't really know what's in them : \), but your photo, Sra, does make me want to sidle up to the cart and have a peek in the steamy bins.

    New York City has street food all over the place, as you well know. The only advantage is that it probably has much more diverse offerings than some other cities.

    I enjoyed reading Pamuk's excerpts - good selections. And Nash? :D