Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rice Culture: Up Close and Personal

Long ago, when I was living in Sri Lanka, I had a roommate who was rom the Netherlands. He was the most courageous traveler I had ever met, having no fear of wild animals or snakes or the jungle, all the things I will never get accustomed to. From where we lived outside the town of Kandy, he would deliberately take a route into town that took him through the jungle, while I would always walk safely on the road. He'd routinely encounter snakes, and if it was one he'd never seen before, I would hear about it at length that night over dinner. Lucky for me, he was as good a storyteller as he was courageous.


And Kaziranga National Park was everything my roommate had promised it would be. We went into the park each day by elephant, and we got right up close to one-horned rhinos, wild buffalo, wild deer. In the late afternoon we'd hand out with the mahouts (the elephant keepers) as they'd wash down the elephants. Sometimes in the morning while we were riding on the elephant, the mahout would take the kids up with him on the elephant's neck and teach them how to steer using their toes to touch behind the elephant's ears. One time I dropped a lens cap from my camera and it fell into the tall wild grass below, but the mahout simply spoke to the elephant and the elephant stopped, dropped her enormous trunk down into the tall grass, and then swooped her trunk back up and over at me, handing me my tiny lens cap. Once our elephant stopped in her tracks, lowered her head, and moaned several times, sniffing with the delicate tip of her trunk at a pile of scattered broken bones on the ground. "Elephant graveyard," said the mahout. We were there a long silent moment, then she set off again through the grass. ...
Rereading this book, I marvel again at Jeffrey Alford's and Naomi Duguid's skill in communicating a sense of place. As with all of Alford's and Duguid's books, they combine outstanding photography, personal stories, simple recipes, and extensive background materials. The result is that the reader almost feels as if they have visited a country or also followed on the track of a single food around the world (such as rice or flatbreads). Best of all, the recipes are easy to understand and every single one I have ever tried has worked, deliciously. (Give this Beef Sauced Hot Lettuce Salad a try and you'll see what I mean.)

Every so often I begin a rereading trek on these authors' trail. It looks as if I'm off again ... finishing up the rice trail for now. If you haven't tried any of these authors' books do go try your library. You will get both a virtual vacation and tasty meals.

No comments: