mandag 10. februar 2014

Cooked Bear or Grilled Dog?

As mentioned in my previous post, Mary Rowlandson’s narrative could be read as an extreme version of a traveller’s first encounter with a new culture. Throughout the first half of her narrative Mary repeatedly expresses her repulsion towards the culinary conducts of the Indian tribe. Interestingly her descriptions reminded me of my own reluctance to accept foreign cuisine when I was first introduced to south-east Asia’s fondness of eating fried insects and other alternative food. Although Mrs Rowlandson’s reluctance to accept the Indian’s culture is severely influenced by the abuse she experiences throughout her captivity, her narrative gives several examples that can be seen as a reflection of the 21st century traveller's apprehensions as well as fascination with new cultures. In her ‘First Remove’ however, there is a dominating feeling of dread and disgust towards the Indians’ customs:

Oh the roaring, and singing and dancing, and yelling of those black creatures in the night, which made the place a lively resemblance of hell. And as miserable was the waste that was made of horses, cattle, sheep, swine, calves, lambs, roasting pigs, and fowl […] some roasting, some lying and burning and some boiling (238).

Considering how the Indian’s prepare common meat such as cattle, sheep and pig it is interesting to observe how Mrs. Rowlandson compares their food to ‘miserable waste’. Arguably her unfavourable depiction of their food appears to reflect the extent that food represents culture.  As she describes their ceremony as a ‘lively resemblance of hell’ it strongly suggests that her issue lies with the Indians’ uncivilized customs rather than their culinary traditions. 

      The way in which Mrs Rowlandson depicts her dislike of the Indian culture reminds me of the many times I visited food markets during my travels in Vietnam. I distinctly recall the feeling I got as I walked around the food market in Hoi An where every turn I took offered a new and strange smell. The market displayed a variation of scents ranging from sweet pineapples, freshly sliced fish, green beans, to grilled dogs, large tomatoes and fried crickets; each breath carrying the potential threat of feeling like a blow to the face. Although some of their sale items (like grilled dog) made me seriously question their sanity, I also became fascinated and wanted to learn more. 

      My experience of the Vietnamese food market could not remain uninfluenced by my own notion of culinary customs. Compared to the Scandinavians' rather restricted diet I was intrigued by the extensive culinary market Vietnam introduced me to. Similarly, Mrs Rowlandson appears to compare the Indians' cuisine to the puritan cooking she is accustomed to. In her ‘Ninth Remove’ she expresses the changes she is experiencing by taking a liking to their savage-like food:

I have sometime seen bear baked very handsomely among the English, and some like it, but the thought that it was bear made me tremble. But now that was savory to me that one would think was enough to turn the stomach of a brute creature (248).

Interestingly, this passage appears to demonstrate how consuming culture through food is a way of understanding and accepting what may seem foreign and somewhat daunting. Likened to Mrs. Rowlandson admitting to finding their cooked bear ‘savory’, I eventually succumbed to my curiosity and tried a couple of fried crickets in Hoi An. To my surprise the crickets were a combination of salt and crunchiness that could resemble eating some Walker crisps if you closed your eyes and held your breath as you chewed. The overall experience turned out to be strangely pleasant and it allowed me to accept a part of their culinary culture, as opposed to merely judging it.

Alternative food: dog. 
I preferred the vegetable section of the market. 
Fried crickets for curious tourists.
The curious tourist. 

Work Cited:
Rowlandson, Mary. “A Narrative of the Captivity and Resoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”. The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc, 2007. 236 – 267, Print. 

mandag 3. februar 2014

From 'filthy trash' to 'sweet and savory' ...

The idea of consuming culture via foreign culinary experiences came to me as I thought of one of the texts I studied in my ‘Early American Literature’ module. A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682) conveys Mrs. Rowlandson’s account of her eleven ‘removals’ as a captive of the Native Americans in New England. Interestingly, the role of food, or lack of food seems to track her development, or regression some might say, from her puritanical self into accepting the Indian culture. In her retelling of the fifth removal she gives an account of the cultural conversion she is experiencing: 

The first week of my being among them I hardly ate anything; the second week I found my stomach grow very faint for want of something; and yet it was very hard to get down their filthy trash; but the third week, though I could think how formerly my stomach would turn against this or that, and I could starve and die before I could eat such things, yet they were sweet and savory to my taste. (243-244).

The way in which Mrs. Rowlandson goes from describing their food as ‘filthy trash’ to ‘sweet and savory’ depicts how she is starting to accept one aspect of their culture through the embodiment of their food.  Although it could be argued that Mrs. Rowlandson’s account simply portrays the significant consequences of her hunger, the overall narrative conveys how she begins to understand, and possibly admire them for their solidarity and resourcefulness. To a certain extent her narrative can be read as a traveler’s extreme account of meeting with a foreign culture, and it is this aspect of the text I will relate to my own experience and other writings of meeting with new cultures and their customs. 

Work Cited:
Rowlandson, Mary. “A Narrative of the Captivity and Resoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”. The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc, 2007. 236 – 267, Print. 

Beginnings - How the idea of Culinary Conversion came about.

Whilst enjoying my fifth cup of tea for the day I finally sat down to construct a theme for my blog. As a student I repeatedly find myself seeking inspiration at the bottom of my teacup, and today was no different. Unfortunately though, quite often inspiration is nowhere to be found. It becomes almost like a ritual, a constant refilling of the mug with hope that a different sort of tea will bring me some form of clarity. Eventually, it was in the middle of my spicy Chai tea that the idea came to me; why not combine three of my favorite interests: food, travel and literature? The same way in which I turn to tea for a solid ponder-session I often turn to literature or travel if I need to unwind and momentarily escape.

Throughout my blog writing I hope to explore the way in which food presented in literature takes the reader through a journey that offers an understanding of culture via consumption. I wish to give examples of the various ways these three elements (food, literature and travel) call on your senses and can effect your understanding of culture. As well as looking at various texts, images and recipes I will revisit some of the culinary experiences I have had throughout my travels. 

                                       My three sources of inspiration:

Travel: Marrakech Market place - Morocco. 

Literature: The ever expanding book collection of a English literature student. 

Food: Chicken Cashew served on a bamboo leaf - Thailand.