BOOK REVIEW: Food: A Very Short Introduction by John Krebs

Food: A Very Short IntroductionFood: A Very Short Introduction by John R. Krebs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This volume in the Oxford University Press AVSI series examines human eating habits. The first chapter puts the human diet in the context of evolution, reflecting upon how we got where we did in terms of food consumption. Here one gains insight into where the Paleo-diet fad is flawed, and one learns how cooking had a huge influence on human evolution.

The second chapter delves into the issue of likes and dislikes in food. We see that there are species-wide commonalities, but there are also differences both at an individual and cultural group level. e.g. Why is spice so common in the tropics and so rare in the great white north?

The third chapter looks at the ways food can do us in and what we’ve done – besides [and including] the aforementioned cooking – to reduce the threat of food gone awry. The penultimate chapter examines nutrition and how we get what we need from food.

The last chapter takes a bit of a turn, but investigates the fascinating topic of how (and whether) we will continue to feed our species. Readers will likely remember the name Malthus from either history or economics classes. He was an economist who suggested humanity was in dire straits, vis-à-vis food. Malthus noticed that population was growing geometrically while agricultural output grew arithmetically, and he reasonably noted that this was unsustainable. Of course, Malthus failed to foresee the huge technological advances from fertilizer to mechanization. However, that doesn’t make his concerns forever moot – perhaps just tardy. It remains far from clear whether the limited land space and resources can take billions more humans – especially without killing off all the other species. (Especially, if we aren’t willing to give up eating resource-intensive foods like cow in favor of less intensive one’s like grasshopper.)

The book has some graphics as well as both a “references” and a “further reading” section.

If you’re interested in food in a general sense, I’d recommend this as a great way to take in the outline of the topic.

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5 Awesome Street Foods [You Should Have Already Tried]

5.) Vada Pav (Potato [fritter] on a bun): India

Tip: Try it in Mumbai. While the one’s shown above were fine. The legendary Vada Pav is to be found at a stall across from Flora Fountain in Bombay.

 

4.) Pad Thai (Noodles Thai Style): Thailand

Tip: Vegetarians beware. Fish sauce is a standard ingredient in this dish. So if you order it vegetarian, it’s not just the prawns and / or chicken one needs to be wary about–depending upon how strict one is. Soy sauce is the substitute.

 

3.) Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cake): Hungary

Tip: It can be found at little stands in or near Christmas markets during the winter season. Buy it hot when it’s cold outside, and it will actually steam like smoke rising from a chimney. If  you’re in Hungary during the summer or you want a savory street food, try lángos .

 

2.) Banh Mi: Vietnam

Tip: Try this sandwich on a baguette from Banh Mi 25, a famous cart at 25 Hàng Cá, Hàng Đào, Hoàn Kiếm in Hanoi.

 

1.) Momo (Dumpling): Tibet, Ladakh, and anywhere displaced Tibetans reside.

Tip: Try the spinach and cheese momo of The Wok Tibetan Kitchen on Main Bazaar Road in Leh.

 

Bonus: Masala Dosa: India, particularly in the South

Tip: If you ask for a “Paper Masala Dosa” you’ll probably get something too big to fit on a plate (as shown.) It will be very thin and the potato-based filling will only be in the central part. (So it’s not quite as insane an amount of food as it may appear.)  This one is from Airlines Hotel in Bangalore. Dosa is just the Indian version of a pancake, and it can take many shapes and forms. There are a few varieties, but often it’s a rice & lentil-based rather than wheat-based flour.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The World’s Best Street Food by Lonely Planet

The World's Best Street Food: Where to find it and how to make it (General Pictorial)The World’s Best Street Food: Where to find it and how to make it by Lonely Planet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This is a combination guide to street food and cookbook. Each of the 100 entries consists of two pages. The first describes the food, how it’s eaten [that’s not always as self-evident to outsiders as one might think], its origins, where one can find a quintessential or famous example of the food, and whether there are any variants on the recipe. The second page is the cookbook entry, which lists the ingredients and describes the process by which they are combined to create the dish in question.

The foods are divided into broad categories of savory and sweet. The savory category is the larger by far, comprising 80 of the dishes—leaving 20 sweets. The dishes represent about 50 different countries of origin. A lot of these countries are well-known street food cultures such as Thailand, Vietnam, India, Mexico, and the US, but there are also a number of locales with which readers may be less familiar– such as Ghana, Malta, and French Polynesia. The dishes include a number of my favorites, such as Vietnamese Banh Mi, US Breakfast Burrito, Indian Masala Dosa, Thai Pad Thai, Hungarian Langos, and Singaporean Hainanese Chicken Rice. However, I also learned of new dishes that I’m eager to try, such as Croatian Cevapcici, Burmese Mohinga, and Chilean Sopaipilla.

WARNING: While I didn’t deduct stars for it, I will warn readers that this isn’t a good book to get as an e-book—at least unless you have a high-end tablet. It was a bit of a pain to read on my Kindle Touch, and the graphics (which I assume are beautiful in the print edition) were largely useless on my device. One could blow up the text easily enough (within limits, at least,) but the pages got grainy if one blew them up too much—and some of the text remained small when expanded.

There are photos. As I mentioned, on my device they were largely useless (grainy black-and-white) but your results may vary.

I found this book to be interesting and informative. While I wish the e-book had been easier to read, it was well-organized and offered a broad selection of dishes from a large number of countries.

I’d recommend this book for street food lovers and foodies.

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DAILY PHOTO: Bombay Vada Pav Stands

Taken in November of 2015 in Mumbai

Taken in November of 2015 in Mumbai

 

This row of street food stalls is located across the street from Flora Fountain in Mumbai. They don’t all sell Vada Pav, but the most popular one does. (Alternative spellings: wada pav, vada paav, or vada pao)

FYI: Vada Pav is a delicious deep-fried, spiced potato ball served as a sandwich on a fluffy dinner roll style bun. It’s a Maharashtra specialty. There’s a video below if you’d like to see how they’re made or to make your own.

 

Learning Indian Cooking in Bangalore

I'm stirring the pot.

I’m stirring the pot.

The thing about Indian food–with its penchant for pureed gravies–is that I find it delectable, but often have no idea what I’m eating or how it got to me looking, tasting, and smelling like it does.

 

That is until recently. A couple of weeks ago I attended a cooking class at Manju’s Cooking School in RT Nagar in an attempt to rectify (or at least reduce) my ignorance. Manju’s offers a wide variety of classes (Indian and non-Indian, veg and non-Veg, cooking and baking, etc.)

 

I attended with a group of friends, and we constituted a class unto ourselves. We, therefore, got a quick and dirty introduction to a number of common / typical Indian foods (veg and non-veg, and both North and South Indian.) The menu we prepared consisted of two breads (kulcha and Malabar parota), dal makhani, paneer butter masala, and kadai chicken.

 

The class took 2.5 or 3 hours, and ended in a banquet of the foods we hand prepared.

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Some of the fun facts that I learned include:

-“Kadai” in the name of dish just means that it’s wok-cooked.

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-A Kulcha is essentially a naan of a different thickness.

-Dal makhani requires a lot of prep, even if you have access to a pressure cooker.

-There’s a lot of finely chopped onion in these gravies that often goes unnoticed.

-One can cook with the pot upside-down. This is how we cooked Kulcha. In a restaurant it would be cooked in a Tandoor oven, but at home you can cook it stuck to the bottom of a deep pot.

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-Lastly, the key to a the flaky goodness of a Malabar parota is lots of fat… who’d have thought?

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Me&Parota

 

DAILY PHOTO: Food Street Bangalore

Taken on April 12, 2014 in VVpuram, Bangalore.

Taken on April 12, 2014 in VVpuram, Bangalore.

Made another trip to Bangalore’s Food Street in VVpuram (near Sajjan Rao Circle) for Rumali Roti and Mysore Masala  Paneer Dosa. Both were excellent, and the street was packed with humans, bovines, canines, and felines all living harmoniously.

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DAILY PHOTO: Coffee Plantation

Taken on March 29, 2014 near Madikeri

Taken on March 29, 2014 near Madikeri

This was taken at the Golden Mist coffee and tea plantation near Madikeri in Coorg. There are two kinds of coffee, arabica and robusta.  Arabica is the tastier variety, and the arabica tree requires more shade. Robusta is hardier, but is rarely consumed without being blended with arabica–unless one wants chest-hairs to grow on one’s chest hair. So wherein most agricultural pursuits eschew competing plants, coffee plantations need shade.

DAILY PHOTO: V.B. Bakery in VVpuram

Taken March 22, 2014 in Bangalore.

Taken March 22, 2014 in Bangalore.

 

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V.B. Bakery is a 60-year-old Bangalore institution located on Food Street (proper name: Old Market Road) in Visveswarapuram (a.k.a. VVpuram.) As you can see from the middle shot, it was thronged on Saturday night.

 

 

DAILY PHOTO: Bangalore Beef Market

Taken on March 16, 2014 in Bangalore.

Taken on March 16, 2014 in Bangalore.

Taken on March 16, 2014 in Bangalore.

Taken on March 16, 2014 in Bangalore.

You may be curious about whether one can get a steak or a burger in the land in which McDonald’s restaurants substitutes [chicken] Maharaja Macs for the iconic beef Big Mac. Indeed one can, and it’s not that hard to find, nor that expensive–though it does often involve going a little out of one’s way. A typical supermarket–if they sell meat–sells only chicken and mutton (the two globally non-offending meats–except among the vegetarian/vegan crowd.)

As one might expect, the beef trade is dominated by Muslim merchants.

I couldn’t recommend this particular place. (I have a robust digestive system by Western standards, but eating a steak acquired here would probably kill me instantly.) While you could probably get an animal butchered right there–insuring the ultimate freshness–I suspect these are mostly the garbage-eating cows seen around the city. The fact that there is a pet store attached to the beef market and that carrion eaters are constantly circling overhead is enough for me to shop elsewhere.

The Beef Market is located quite near the Russell Martket, near Commercial Street.