Sunday, November 06, 2005

Feeding a Yen (Calvin Trillin)

To say that I like food is a bit of an understatement. I love shopping for it, cooking it, and reading about it. I've read a good deal of foodie nonfiction, and it seems that to write a good food read, you need to be at least a bit obsessive about it, say, for instance, like Jeffrey Steingarten (lawyer turned Vogue food writer). And where Steingarten may be a bit too obsessive in his food quests for many nonfoodies, Calvin Trillin, writer for The New Yorker, has a great balance of obsessiveness in real-life context that appeals to those who do not think about food most of the day. When the annual food issue of The New Yorker arrives in the mail, I'm read every article in a trance-like state while Jim, my husband, glances over almost all of them, except for whatever Trillin has written. (And Jim is the person who, when asked what he would like to eat for dinner, cannot remember a single meal he has eaten in his life.)

In Feeding a Yen, Trillin discusses his travels in search of regional food, from his Manhattan neighborhood to small villages in Spain. He does this with a lot of humor and without pretention. He searches for the pumpernickel bagels of his daughter's youth, and sincerely believes that if he finds them, she will move back home to New York from San Francisco. During his travels to Ecuador, you learn the fascinating fact that guinea pig is such a regional speciality in Cuzco, there is a 17th century religious painting with the furry creature served for Jesus et al. at the Last Supper. He tests wine connoisseurs to see if they can tell the difference between red and white wines (which, is worth reading, regardless of what you have heard on the topic--this chapter in the book updates his 1994 New Yorker article on the subject).

This is the first Trillin book I have read, so I can't compare it with his others, but I found it to be a quick enjoyable read, with many laugh-out-loud moments. While traveling to these extraordinary places eating extraordinary meals, Trillin is incredibly relatable in his experiences.


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Anonymous said...

Maria: Ok, that review brought back a memory. Remember the Inca Trail hike that Mike and I did in '01? We *ate* guinea pig in Cuzco the night before we hit the trail. They cook the little fellows whole. The buffet table display (roast head and all) provoked not a few American gasps.