Monday, April 4, 2011
CHAPTER 3: Chicken and a Story about Traveling, Cooking, and Eating
Four years into my marriage, my husband and I moved to Taipei, Taiwan so that he could study Chinese at the Stanford Program at Taida University. Because we were so very Berkeley, we decided that we would shop and cook for ourselves rather than hire an amah. This was a pretty radical decision in 1970. So I learned to count in Chinese. I learned the names of vegetables. I shopped nearly every day at our neighborhood market. I bought a couple of pirated Chinese cookbooks. I took some cooking classes. In the course of the year I learned a huge amount about Chinese food and the shopping also brought me into the community. Neighborhood grannies would peek in my shopping basket to see what I had bought, ask how much I had paid for my cabbage and offer suggestions on how to prepare it.
When we moved to Kyoto, Japan in 1971 with our month-old baby, Franz, I did pretty much the same thing. Counting. A couple of cookbooks. Daily shopping. Asking questions of neighbors. And cooking a lot of Japanese food. I also taught Western cooking to some women in my neighborhood, as shown in the photo. They reciprocated by teaching me Japanese cooking. Just great for me.
So I’m going to jump ahead to the near present.
In 2003 I caught the travel bug. It started with the Middle East and went on to Spain and Morocco, southern France, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Greece, Malawi, back to South Africa, Spain, Sweden on and on. And more recently Bali, Italy, Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. An amazing opportunity to see the world and to delve into cultures so different from my own.
Before going on trips, I educate myself about the new place by doing three things: I buy cookbooks (from my favorite used bookstore), read them, and cook some of the special dishes of the region. Good cookbooks tell me so much about the agriculture, immigration patterns and influences, the climate, and the traditions of the country. And then I get to eat the food I've fixed. Smell it. Taste it. I literally ingest the culture of the new place before I take a step outside this country. When I finally get there, I can look for the dishes I want to try and delight in seeing how closely my dishes approximate the “real” thing.
You'll see in many of the chicken recipes which follow that my cooking has been heavily influenced by my travels, in this case, Morocco, Spain, and Iran. And India too although I haven't traveled there yet.