A multiethnic gourmand of Bratislava
liked to go downstairs for a hot java,
then over to Hungary
for torte topped with berry,
and on to Vienna for a slice of baklava.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Out: December 21, 2021
This is an expanded edition of a book that explores the process of fermenting a wide range of foods and beverages, including – new to this edition – sourdough bread. It’s a great book for a neophyte such as myself as it covers all the basics without getting too arcane (though it does include natto and some other regional foods that may not be widely familiar.) The book provides step-by-step instructions for making sauerkrauts (and variations such as Kimchi,) yoghurt & kefir, fermented fruit condiments, beverages (alcoholic and non-,) bases / starters (e.g. vinegar,) and sourdough products (including, but not limited to, bread.) It describes some of the challenges one may run up against as well as showing what equipment one will need. It also proposes some of the ways a curious person might experiment with variations.
Color photos are used to clarify the production processes as well as to show appetizing finished products that will whet one’s appetite.
If one is looking to get into a narrow domain of fermentation, e.g. making beer or other alcoholic beverages, one may want to look elsewhere for a more specialized and in-depth guide (of which there are many.) However, this book may introduce one to ideas for brewing adventures one wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
This book is an awesome choice for someone looking to get into or to expand their food fermentation activities. It’s well-organized, beautifully presented, and – as I mentioned – not overwhelming. With the mounting evidence of the benefits of fermented foods, this is a great guide to learn more about how one can best begin producing such foods at home.
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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book advocates a high-fiber (i.e. plant-based) approach to eating. The book pairs a pop-sci dimension (explaining the science of why more fiber and plant-based foods would benefit most readers,) with a self-help dimension that supplies readers with a program by which they can pursue such a diet.
The book explains how the body’s microbiome breaks down fiber, producing Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs,) and discusses all the great things these molecules do for us. Speaking of the body’s microbiome, the book discusses how to keep it operating at its best, explaining all you need to know about prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. It also explores the benefits of fermented foods, and the pros and cons of a range of other foods.
I liked that the book, by-and-large, takes both a scientific / pragmatic approach. For example, Bulsiewicz rejects the hype that everyone needs to abandon gluten (not just those with Celiac Disease.) I can’t say that the book is perfectly scientifically-objective. It does advocate that everyone quit dairy products. The author does present some of the evidence of benefits of dairy, but dismisses these as studies that must be supported by the dairy industry. [While I’m sure the dairy industry does fund studies, I doubt that they have a lock on the scholarly debate, i.e. sending out milk-goons to break the knee-caps of researchers.]
I didn’t find the dietary plan (Ch. 10) to be useful. While I eat a high-fiber / plant-dominant diet, I don’t take the extreme position that all non-plant food must be eliminated. That stance makes some of the recipes impractical. One needs a neighborhood Whole Foods to get some of the ingredients.
That said, the book offers a great explanation of why one should eat more foods that feed one’s microbiome, and it’s an excellent resource for those wishing to learning more.
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It’s drawn to the sweet unhinged
by the force and call of hunger —
that gravity of need.
It’s fueled by the need to feed
the weed-reeking masses,
and by the sweaty, wadded cash
they dig out of pockets.
You can never find
the Midnight Taco Truck,
but it may find you…
if your luck and hunger
are vibrating in harmony.
This book takes one on a journey, sampling exotic foods of the world. The author describes experiences eating bizarre dishes in nine countries: the US, India, the UK, Luxembourg, Thailand, Australia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore. The foods include insects, balut, reptiles, game animals and fowl, and a wide range of seafood (including blowfish, a type of sushi prepared with surgical precision to avoid tainting the meat with a lethal poison.)
The book is organized by country in the order listed above. Some countries have many sub-chapters and others have as few as one depending upon how extensive the travels and how much unusual food was on offer. The book presents tables for each dining location, showing the cost, taste, and “fear factor” for each of the exotic dishes. Of course, the taste and fear ratings are inherently subjective. I know, among the items I’ve eaten, my subjective ratings would often be a little different. However, there is an inescapable cultural — as well as individual — bias to such ratings. By cultural bias I don’t just mean at a country level, but if you grew up in a coastal region versus a landlocked one, your ratings would probably vary considerably. That said, I thought it was a nice way to give the reader a quick insight into the experience of each food.
The biggest disadvantage of this book is that the experience is once removed. That is, the author is mostly reporting her spouse’s experience. As a vegetarian who shifted to eating chicken, she tried very few of the foods first hand (though, among those she did try was durian melon – proving she’s not a coward, because durian is nastier than much of the insect, seafood, and game food.) Still, because of this distance from the experience, the description could probably be more vivid in places. On the other hand, there is an amusing tension created between the husband who is an intense bizarre food foodie and the author who is squeamish about meat markets that adds to the entertainment value of the book.
Besides the aforementioned tables, the book is loaded with pictures — including a section of color plates — and has maps and diagrams as well.
I found this book interesting, readable, and – as a traveler – a potential reference source. If you’re a traveler and / or interested in exotic cuisine, you should check it out.
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.
1.) nose hunger happens when you leave the building in the predawn hours and the scent of bacon or baking bread cinches against the stomach
2.) hunger of social convention is when one eats a slice of granny’s pumpkin pie because one can’t be rude, even though one just scarfed down a burrito moments before
3.) the desperate hunger of the lanky kid I once saw in a cafeteria snatching waste food off strangers’ trays as they moved down the tray return conveyor to be washed
4.) eye hunger upon seeing the foodie’s perfect plate: clean, geometric, and heeding the proper balance of white space — though only vaguely looking like food
5.) the savage hunger of bared teeth seen in North Korean villagers when the famine got so bad that people’s bodies self-cannibalized the fatty tissue of their lips
6.) dilemma hunger in which one must decide whether to feed the body or some impulse beyond reason
7.) hunger for affection: a drive to feel loved sometimes expressed through the presentation of cookies and cake
8.) hunger for attention: a drive to be noticed sometimes expressed by how many grapes one can fit in one’s mouth
9.) hunger gone automatic is observed when one’s hand puts a candy in one’s mouth before one’s conscious mind is even aware one has done so
10.) hunger for oblivion: when one east the poison, knowing it will kick one into the abyss
11.) hunger for comfort is seen when one craves any familiar food
12.) hunger for the exotic is seen when one craves anything but the familiar
13.) sexual hunger is displayed by one who looms over his food, lustily partaking of it while loosing himself in waves of euphoric pleasure
14.) jealous hunger: when one loves a food so much that one suffers pangs of envy upon seeing someone else order it
15.) over-the-hump hunger is the phase of fasting during which one no longer believes one will “literally, die of hunger,” but during which there remains a vague and persistent hunger of which one can be readily distracted
16.) sensational hunger: when a hunger becomes a mere sensation, devoid of value assignment
17.) stupid hunger is experience when the brain says, “no more thinking until I know that blood glucose is rising”
18.) hulking hunger occurs when low blood sugar sends one into furious rants about inane topics such as wallpaper patterns and the sales tax on a pack of chewing gum
19.) empathetic hunger is experienced when you see someone who looks like he is starving, even though you are fully fed
20.) ice cream hunger typically takes place when one is stuffed, but when one is confident that there are voids and crannies in one’s food pile into which the ice cream can melt, and that, furthermore, the cold, creamy goodness will somehow lubricate one’s digestive track to provide a discernible benefit
21.) mineral deficiency hunger: when you see a salt block out for cows or deer and think, “wonder if it’d be alright if I got up on that?” Eww! But seriously, it’s when you’re jonesing for a bag of chips
22.) calculated hunger: when one isn’t hungry but concludes that one should be hungry based on the when and what of ones most recent meal
23.) travel hunger is when you aren’t hungry but you know a sandwich on your budget airline will give you ptomaine and that by the time you get to the hotel you’ll have shifted into hulking hunger  — it’s generally a rationalization for having a brownie from the Costa Coffee
24.) breaking bad hunger is the point at which one is so hungry one will resort to thievery
25.) requited hunger is the rare hunger for foods, such as crocodile, that can be equally hungry for one
There are so many hungers I don’t think I’ve ever known:
thick hungers 
thin hungers 
wanton hunger  (full disclosure: I’ve had wonton hunger , which is a hunger for little Chinese dumplings)
wishful hunger 
troublesome hunger 
burdensome hunger 
wild-eyed hunger 
intransigent hunger 
there are the unnameable  and unknowable  hungers that I don’t know whether I’ve experienced and can’t have had, respectively
and there’s dead hunger  that I’ve definitely not experienced
there are others that I’ve known:
sweet hunger 
sweet and sour hunger 
umami hunger  but not edamame hunger 
42.) forgetful hunger occurs when one was too busy — or distracted — to eat
43.) time contraction hunger is a desire to eat lunch not because one needs calories, but rather because one really wants the workday to be at least half over
44.) homicidal hunger: like “breaking bad hunger”  this is the point at which one would murder someone for a french fry
45.) first date hunger happens after one eats that salad designed to create a good impression only to find one is still starving
46.) six-second hunger occurs when you are so hungry that you consider the five-second rule null and void and will eat food off the floor no matter how long it takes you to pick it up
47.) pizza hungry is when you are only hungry for one food — pizza — and will opt not to eat if only other foods are available
48.) “Man vs. Food” hungry: this is not what it might seem. It’s when one is so hungry that one could still eat after having watched an episode of this show — a show which usually shines an ugly light on hedonistic culinary impulses
49.) pet food hungry is the level of hunger sufficient to make one willing to eat pet food
50.) physiological hunger: the urge one has to eat in order to supply calories and nutrients to one’s body
5.) Vegetables are vegetables. If the potato is your go-to vegetable, you’ll probably have trouble shedding the pounds. That’s not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with potatoes. But, because of their high glycemic index value (i.e. they’re quickly digested and cause a sharp blood sugar spike), they should be lumped in with bread or rice when considering portions and meal make up. The same is true for sweet corn. Some people consider carrots (and carrot relatives) to be high glycemic, but one has to eat a pretty massive amount to have a problem. Most vegetables have a relatively low glycemic index score and are great foods to fill up on.
4.) Cola is mostly water, how bad could it be? At the right temperature, one can dissolve 2 kilograms (4.4lb.) of sugar in one liter of water. Wrap your head around that.
3.) I worked up a good sweat; now I can eat whatever I want. If you’re in the process of training for an ultramarathon or the Olympics, this might be true, but an hour in yoga class or run in the park doesn’t float you a free pass to kill it at Häagen-Dazs. There’s no getting around the math, the dietary half of the ledger is the 800 pound gorilla (no pun intended) of weight-loss. [That doesn’t mean that there aren’t many, many benefits to exercise, or that it doesn’t contribute to weight loss in more ways than one.] The Mayo Clinic has an excellent table of calories burned for a wide range of exercises and physical activities. You may be demoralized to note that the calories burned in an hour of Power Yoga are completely replenished by a medium size french fry.
2.) I will treat myself with sweets [or pizza.] I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with treating oneself, but making food the treat sets a bad precedent. For many, this notion of food as reward or comfort source was introduced in one’s youth, and it can be extremely difficult to dislodge it later in life. One might try music or fun activities as alternative sources of reward.
1.) I shouldn’t have eaten that Snickers on Wednesday. This may seem like a contradiction of the previous item, but being doctrinaire about food creates its own problems. Specifically, sustainability may be a challenge–especially if one has had that “food as treat” story inculcated into one’s psyche. It’s not the once and while caloric splurge that kills most people, it’s creeping portion sizes.
Some people swear by a “cheat day.” Others say that that’s a bad approach because one might feel forced to cheat even when you’re really not feeling a desire for junk food. Some advocate an 80/20 rule, whereby 80% of the time one follows a strict dietary regimen, while the other 20% of the time one takes it more free and easy (though not totally insane.) Personally, I think different approaches work for different people, but I do agree that the dietary Nazi approach isn’t the way to go.
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.
Egg coffee is a Hanoi staple. It’s made with egg yolk, condensed milk, and sugar so it’s not exactly low-cal, but it tastes delightful. The scuttlebutt is that it was invented when milk was in short supply during the war. The beverage is said to have been invented at Giang Cafe, but I couldn’t say for certain that it’s the same Giang Cafe we were at (shown above.) However, the place did have the feel of a local institution. Imagine people huddled around tiny tables on stools, the floor coated with sunflower seed shells, and nary an empty stool in the multi-floored establishment.