A travel blog sprinkled in literature and served up with a dollop of foods from around the globe.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Bannana Bread

Concluding this section of my blogs, I’ve decided to continue blogging on my travels. But for now, the assessed part of my blog is finished. (Hooray) I’d like to go back to my questions asked in my first blog and hopefully I shall have some answers for you all now:

What is the role of the travelling Gourmand? Are they a voyeur upon cultural culinary traditions or are they ever able to immerse themselves fully into foreign food?

Is the sharing of food and culture always a positive act? 

Do time and distance improve the quality and nature of food?

Does authenticity matter in the culinary voyage?

The role of the traveller is to observe, learn and respect other cultures, I feel one is able to immerse themselves into foreign food if they are prepared to learn, this is not to say that personal interpretation should not play an integral part in this experience. A recipe should only act as a guideline, the sharing of food catalyses a space for interpretation and alteration which is why, on the whole with a few exceptions, such as Taco Bell, I feel positive things come from the sharing of cuisines. Authenticity is important, but not vital, for the Sarajevans, Cevapici will always have an indescribable relation for them that others simply will not understand, but without the duplicity of cultures we may never have discovered the Reggae Roast. The heterogeneity of cuisine unifies us as a human race, proving that food is now, and has always been something much vaster than a basic human need…it is a undeniably an ever-changing, autonomous foundation in cultural history.

Finally, I could not conclude my blog without making reference to my ambiguous title. Why banana bread? Asides from the obvious alliteration, banana bread was the first thing I ever learnt to bake. The recipe belonged to my grandmother on my father’s side. Simple, but effective the recipe has been ingrained in my brain for a decade to the point that I could make it with my eyes shut. This recipe has travelled from Montserrat and I hope to take it with me, wherever I go!

1 Cup Flour

3 bananas (must be browning!)

4 eggs

6 tbsp butter

2 tbsp raw honey

1 cup sugar

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tbsp. baking powder

1tbsp vanilla essence

 Pre-heat your oven to 170oc. Mix the baking powder and flour together in a separate bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients in another bowl apart from the bananas (use a wooden spoon) and slowly add the flour and baking powder into the other ingredients. Once you have removed all the lumps from the mixture add your bananas by squishing them in your hands. Grease a loaf tin and pop in the oven for 50 minutes, or until a beautiful golden brown.

Safe travels and happy scoffing!

Eating the American South

Studying abroad at the University of North Carolina, I was fully prepared to gain the “freshman 15”, the obligatory 15lbs you would undoubtedly gain from gorging at the dining hall on biscuits, yams, fried chicken (fried anything!) and macaroni cheese.
After taking a course at Roehampton, entitled Reading the American South, the theme of food amongst the African-American Southern community showed immense weight. The sharing of food stretches beyond sustenance, it is a way to show support and emotion where words may fail. What strikes me most about the cooking in the American South is the power food has for comfort, as in Bosnia, food is a way to show community in the wake of atrocities. 

   In Zora Neal Hurson’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), the plot follows a woman named Janie who goes to great lengths to create a healing soup for her sick husband. Similarly in Kathryn Stockett best selling novel The Help (2009) food is a thing of pride and comfort. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, the novel portrays an account of African-American maids working for white families. In the novel and in Mississippi in the fifties and sixties, laws on segregation were put in place to separate whites and blacks. Jim Crow laws were put into practice from 1890 to 1965 promoting a “separate but equal” status for African-Americans. This meant separate housing, schools, churches and even books. What struck me most whilst reading The Help and other books surrounding the segregation in the American South was that it was the black maids and cooks fed their own families as well as their employers, consequently in a time when white women winced their noses at sharing a bathroom with their black maids, they were entering complicity into participating in familial rituals with black women by eating food cooked by the same hands. This is a comforting thought, it is also humbling to see how, now fifty years after the dissipation of the Jim Crow laws, the food, is what remains. The food made by black hands is now cooked throughout the American South. In the 2009 film “The Help” based the novel, Minnie, played by Octavia Spencer claims that “Frying chicken always makes me feel a little better about life.

  One afternoon back home in Kent with deadlines looming I tried it out to relieve a bit of stress by taking Minnie’s advice and frying some chicken. IT WORKS,  throw out your Prozac and pick up a brown paper bag with chicken and seasoning in and give it a big old shake, you can feel your worries sliding off you. The frying itself is therapeutic too watching the skin take shape reminded me of dripping sand through water on the beach.

Chicken: Drumstick, Thigh or breast Pieces
Seasoning: (play around with quantities depending on how much chicken you have)
Flour (1 cup)
(Approx 2 tsps each)
Garlic salt
500mg Lard
Place chicken in brown paper bag with seasoning and shake until your hearts content (or until all chicken is evenly covered) A TIP: Put your chicken in a bowl of cold water in the fridge 15 minutes before frying to lock in the flavours of the meat. After heating lard for 5 minutes on high heat, place chicken and cook until skin becomes crispy, turning regularly. Make sure juices run clear to ensure the chicken is cooked.
Serve with fried green beans and biscuits AND ENJOY some comforting soul food!
Cooking, for me, has always been a form of anesthesia for the soul, when eating the food of the American South, I can feel the gravitas of the social significance that this cuisine represents which speaks volumes for the heterogeneity of cuisines inside the United States. The microcosm of one household in Kent, England sitting down to a home-made dish of fried chicken and experiencing its magical effects proves something that I have been trying to explore throughout my blog. The importance that, as well as people travelling and experiencing food, food must also travel; it is the responsibility of the worldly gourmands to enable this with respect and appreciation.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. New York: Amy Einhorn, 2009. Print.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Taco USA

My travels through Mexico last year were by far some of the most eye opening of experiences I’ve had in my short twenty-one years on earth. After hearing horror stories from my American classmates, of drug cartels, beheadings, gang warfare and abductions; it would be fair to say I left the air-conditioned bus station at Cancun with much trepidation. It only took my around 45 minutes to realise the fear was entirely unnecessary and that the Mexican people were some of the warmest people I had encountered. Starving after my flight I walked to a block of eateries all arranged around a square. In my best Spanish I walked up to one and confidently said "Hola Señor, ¿Que Tal? Quiero una fajita, por favor...con salsa." He looked at me blankly and then began to chuckle, I assumed my accent had failed me and walked away embarrassed, bringing out my phrasebook for inspiration. It wasn't until I started looking at the brightly painted boards above the vendors that I saw nothing that remotely resembled a fajita or a taco. It turned out Old El Paso had been lying to me all these years. Sizzling fajitas, frozen margaritas and hard shell tacos were all part of the “Mexicanisation” of American cuisine. They only existed in the space in between American and Mexican food. 

In a survey conducted by the Mexican agency in the US, Conhill it manifests that Hispanic food boasts the largest influence on American culture, at 32%. However many food theorists such as Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy, Susan Feniger and Jonathan Gold are in debate as to whether the surge of Taco Bells, El Torito, Chi-Chi's and Frito Lay's are akin to pejorative cultural appropriation. In his recent book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (2012) Gustavo Arellano, traces the humble roots of Mexican cuisine from the stateside origins in the 1800s into the 21st century obsession for 2am hard-shell tacos.

Arelleno asks the question what makes food Mexican? Is in its origins or is it whether Mexicans eat it? This is an idea that has permeated throughout the research I have is undertaken. If we are to look at our nations evolving sentimental feeling of heterogeneity, then are we still allowed to complain about our foods origins after we have integrated into their community? Personally, I believe the travelling nature of food can only have a positive reaction. Change, alteration and adaptation have been and will always be a part of cross-culturalism and as long as the origins are not forgotten and a grandmother continues to pass her recipes downward, the Mexican traditions are safe. As Arellano attests to the autonomous nature of Mexican cuisine, it is "Always evolving, never stagnant, and continually striving for something better, consistently delicious." and if that isn't something to raise your frozen margarita to, I don't know what is...cheers! 

Monday, 17 March 2014

“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” - Mark Twain

In June 2013, I visited New Orleans, Louisiana, whilst travelling around the US and Central America. It was my first stop back in Northern America, after spending two months in Mexico and Guatemala. The fact that there were running toilets and I wasn't dubiously inspecting my street food and picking off the dead flies and ants made it already widely inviting.

A city brimming in its cultural history, I caught a streetcar into town and walked up from the river into the French Quarter, I found art galleries, local jazz joints and stopped in a few infamous voodoo shops to pick up a love potion or two. I had always been given a perception of the city from the sweltering, scenes in Tennessee Williams' infamous play "A Street Car Named Desire"

"for New Orleans is a cosmopolitan city where there is a relatively warm and easy intermingling of races in the old part of town." (1) 

This 'intermingling' is also the perfect way to describe the cuisine of New Orleans often described as NOLA. The cuisine is created from an amalgamation of the Creole, haute Creole, and New Orleans French cuisines, French, Spanish, Italian, African, Native American, Cajun, Chinese, and a hint of Cuban traditions which provide a signature Louisiana taste. 

As discussed in my previous posts, the idea of ownership of a cuisine is problematic in the sense that once the centuries have gone by and one cook whispers a recipe into the ear of another, plagiarism becomes 
obsolete. There is a cultural reciprocity occurring throughout food worldwide and as in many US states.

In her cookbook Soul and Spice, North Californian born Heidi Cusick shows the reader the culinary links between Africa and America. In her forward Jessica B. Harris writes on the importance of transferring African and Caribbean recipes to those without the cultural identity behind the cuisine. Cusick is an author  "that takes it from the hands of those that created it and transports it gently and with affection and respect to the tables of those who love to eat well." The 'respect' Harris refers to in her foreword, is a comment on authenticity. When translating cuisine from other nationalities there is a fear of sounding in authentic and succumbing to accidental, pejorative cultural appropriation. The way in which Cusick combats this is to use testimonies from local men and women and give these cooks the credit in which they are due.

I chose to recreate one of my favourite Creole dishes 'Jambalaya'! 

Cusick credits Helen Comeaux for this dish:

"In a traditional jambalaya, like this one shared by Helen Comeaux, a seventy-year-old Creole from Lafayette Louisiana, all the ingredients are cooked in one big pot." (184)

"Helen Comeaux, who grew up on a farm in Maurice, Louisiana, where she began cooking at age eight, starts her jambalaya with pork ribs, cut into small pieces. And she washer the rice before adding it to the jambalaya, to minimize the starchiness and keep the grains separate."

The small details of the Helen's past and the little tips included by the author made this dish feel homely, I could picture the 70 year old Helen stood over her pot stirring methodically and effortlessly while her grandchildren all dipped their fingers in for a taste.

Serves 6-8

5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1, about 3 pounds, cut into pieces and skinned chicken
1/2 pound cajun or spicy link sausages, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
1 large yellow onion
1 green bell pepper (I recommend using red, the green pepper has a sour taste to it)
4 garlic cloves
1 to 2 dried chillies
2 tablspoons flour
3 cups of shrimp stock
2 teaspoons dired thyme (crushed)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 bay (leaves)
1 can tomatoes with their juice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and ground pepper
2 cups long grain white rice
1/2 pound medium shrimp
Tabasco or other Louisiana hot-pepper sauce. (A MUST!)

This dish is time consuming but very easy to create, I added my rice dry, contrary to Helen's advice, to save on washing up. (A rice pot isn't the easiest to clean) so letting the rice cook with the juices of the dish gives the rice more flavour, but as Helen predicted it left my dish slightly starchy. I would also substitute green peppers for red, as they gave off a sour taste. The ‘mixing’ involved in creating this dish corresponds to the multicultural nature of New Orleans with each ingredient added you are able to see the interweaving blend of cultures. 

Finally, I could not discuss NOLA cuisine without mentioning the infamous 'beignets'! [Ben-yays] There is no place finer in the city to get them than the "Cafe du Monde" in the French quarter where I queued for 45 minutes for two of the delicious powdered desserts. Popularised by Disney's The Princess and The Frog, the clip below gives a funny caricatured idea of the way in which the South appreciate their food, especially Southern gentlemen!

Until next time, happy scoffing!


Cusick-Dickerson, Heidi H. Soul and Spice: African Cooking in the Americas. San Francisco: Chronicle, 1995. Print.

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire: A Play. New York: New Directions, 1947. Print.

Until next time, happy scoffing!