When perusing the shelves of my favourite local book store, Mina Holland’s was a no brainer for me. The Edible Atlas: Around the World in 39 Cuisines. I love food and flavours of elsewhere and I love books. It promised to deliver a killer combo for me.
I naturally performed my opening line test:
“When we eat, we travel.”
This was my kind of book. You see, I have a similar motto: When we read, we travel. I am the definitive armchair traveller. As a child, in my hammock in the dappled light, I would live life upon life, visit world upon world, all within the comfort of my own garden. Mina Holland’s book seemed to offer no less…
“Tortillas, golden and oozing, on a lazy Sunday in Madrid; piping hot shakshuka for breakfast in Tel Aviv; oysters shucked and sucked from their shells on Whitstable shingle. My memories of the things I saw in each of those places have acquired a hazy, sepia quality with the passing of time. But those dishes I remember in technicolour.”
Barely beyond the first page, I longed to go travelling with Mina, to taste those same dishes in technicolour….
As she enthuses:
“What we ate in a certain place is as important, if not more so, than the other things we did there – visits to galleries and museums, walks, tours – because food quite literally gives us a taste of everyday life.”
I could relate. When I visited Spain with my grandparents and mother, my mother and I would often take the day to simply stroll through the markets, explore the streets, while my grandparents hustled and bustled away with their tourist to-do list. I found that I could get by well enough knowing the Spanish for ‘milk’ (for my coffee), ‘bathroom’ and ‘Two beers, please’ (one for me, one for mum). I’d sit for hours in a tapas bar, sipping on cold beer, nibbling on a table spread, watching the locals get on with it. It was exactly that taste of everyday life that I craved.
So when Mina beckoned to “treat this book as your passport to visit any of these places and sample their delicacies – all from your very own kitchen,” it was a resounding, “Yes!” from me.
But you see, when you like books as much as you like food, a good story never goes amiss. And The Edible Atlas is so much more than your usual cookbook fare. As the author herself puts it:
“I want this book to be as comfortable by your bedside as it is by your stove-top – as much a book to be read as to cook from.”
“Bon voyage and bon appetit!” Mina wished me, as I embarked on one of the most dazzling culinary adventures of my young life.
But you see, somewhere along the line, lost as I was in the pages of Mina’s book, a funny thing happened…. Her book began to awaken in me a wanderlust I’d never felt before. Maybe the allure of good food does this to me. But where to begin?!
To the Loire Valley of France perhaps? The land where “fruit trees from which fairytale red apples and ripe plums dangle are commonplace, as are fields of sunflowers standing to attention like ranks of smiling soldiers…”
Or to Northern Spain where “cheeses are aged in bat-inhabited caves nestled into the Picos de Europa mountain range…”
Maybe the hidden beauty of Calabria calls to me as “Italy’s culinary wallflower, reminiscent of the protagonist in a 90s teen drama – arrestingly pretty beneath bad hair and glasses…”
Why not Thailand? A place “punctuated by bright flavours” with “breakfasts of egg-fried rice; mango and sticky rice on the beach; neon sunsets and heady nights seasoned with hot chilli, tamarind and coconut…”
Morocco…? Where the “opulence” of its food is “unmatched by any other African cuisine.” What could be better than the “smell of sweet spice wafting from kitchen doorways; the swirls of vapour [rising] from piles of fluffy couscous, deep-fried sardines spitting from a hawker’s stall; a tagine lid lifted to reveal rich stew beneath a cloud of steam?”
I long to dine on the minced kebabs of Lucknow, India, so “famous for their softness, for the prevalence of fat that melts in the mouth,” that it is said the “people from Lucknow were so lazy they didn’t want to chew their food.”
My mouth sings when I think of the raw, marinated ceviche of Peru, a culinary delight of “white fish and lobster, avocado, corn, little pieces of tomato, plumes of red onion, and yes, lots and lots of chilli and lime juice.”
There seems to me now, to be so much still to explore, so much of this world still to taste… For the time being, I will use the recipes Mina has collected from cooks all over the globe to infuse these senses of elsewhere into my own humble home… but one day… One day, this gem of a book shall accompany me on my travels, rich with history and peppered with the kind of literary quotes I could read again and again. And there will be no armchair in sight.