Stay at home this summer with Daniel E Bender’s The Food Adventurers, a gloriously entertaining survey of gastronomic travellers’ tales from Toronto University’s Professor of Food Studies.
The story runs from the mid-19th century till the Instagrammers take over and we can watch from the safety of our armchairs as the late Anthony Bourdain swallows a cobra heart live on TV (sorry, folks!).
The author’s plan, post-Covid, in November 2021, was a round-the-world trip, following the 1922 itinerary of the Cunard Line’s flagship SS Franconia.
Since most of the world was still under lockdown, it didn’t happen. Instead, Professor Bender examines how culinary tourism has shaped the way we now eat.
Most of his informants are female. Lady-travellers notice useful things like dinner, leaving the men to explore important things like battlefields.
In 1852, Ida Pfeiffer witnesses cannibal dances in Sumatra. In 1928, Juanita Harrison sees (but doesn’t eat) grilled centipedes in Guangdong.
Once air travel cracks in with early mass tourism in the 1950s, Myra Waldo bakes salmon in coconut milk for Pan Am, while Conrad Hilton goes Polynesian in Trader Vic’s. Planter’s Punch in a hollowed-out pineapple with a tiny parasol, anyone?
Culinary appropriation was always political. Just as the curry house is a reminder of Britain’s imperial past, so the Dutch commemorate their colonial adventurings with the rice table, rijsttafel. This is a lavish interpretation of Indonesia’s modest midday meal, now considered a post-colonial relic in its land of origin. It’s a minefield.
Play it safe with a recipe for Sumatran chicken from Sri Owen, author of the definitive work on Indonesian cooking.
Spiced coconut chicken
1 small free-range chicken, quartered
For the spice paste
1 onion, skinned and chopped 2 cloves garlic, crushed 1-2 red chillis, de-seeded and diced 2 tsps chopped fresh ginger 1⁄2 tsp galangal powder (if you can get it) 1 tsp turmeric 2 tbsps peanut oil (or other seed oil) The cooking broth 600ml coconut milk 600ml chicken stock or plain water 1 stem lemon grass, cut into 3 lengths (or lemon zest) 1 turmeric leaf (optional) 2 kaffir lime leaves (or a squeeze of lemon or lime juice) Salt
Gentle stewing followed by rapid grilling ensures that a muscular little barnyard bird is juicy and tender. A useful recipe for a summer barbecue, since the basic cooking can be done in advance. Serves 4
down the heat, cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Uncover the pan, add the rest of the coconut milk and simmer for another 20 minutes. Taste and add salt.
When you are ready to serve, take the chicken pieces out of the sauce and grill or barbecue for about 6 minutes per side, or roast in a preheated oven till brown and bubbling. Gently re-heat the sauce – don’t let it boil – and serve with the chicken.
Accompany with plain-cooked rice, crisp lettuce leaves and a scooping salad of diced cucumber, pineapple, red pepper and tomato dressed with lemon juice, coriander and finely chopped chilli.