Friday, 28 November 2014

Cookbooks or Anthropological Odysseys?

This Kylie Kwong Beef Dish from "Simple Chinese Cooking Class" totally transported me to China

"Anthropology demands the open mindedness with which one must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder that which one would not have been able to guess". Margaret Mead 

As I was delving into my most recent cookbook “Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka” and I was spellbound by a story of a local market stall holder in Colombo who gets up at midnight for the bus commute to his stall I was overwhelmed by the sense of what the modern cookbook really is.

Far beyond recipes and side skirting tourism the cookbook has morphed from a dry set of recipes to an all encompassing anthropological study. The aforementioned book by Bree Hutchins is a foreigner's perspective on a culture and it’s food and has taken me deeper into Sri Lanka than I have ever been. She was sponsored by Dilmah Teas to travel the wild and colourful country of Sri Lanka and has really presented a book that goes far beyond just a cookbook. The photography is captivating, vivid and takes you on a journey through a country that couldn't be more different to the Western World certainly as I know it.

I find it interesting that my current field of interest which has given birth to this blog involves exploring the world through it’s food. When I left school I walked away with a mark that could have allowed be to pursue almost any field I wished and Anthropology was at the top of my list. Choosing at the time to forgo university I stumbled into the travel industry. I don’t believe in fate but it has been a career that has fitted me like a glove. The opportunities it has presented me in terms of travel have been life changing.  But now I have found myself unwittingly wandering into the field of anthropology without even realising it.

It actually didn’t fully dawn on me that food was a form of Anthropology until Anthony Bourdain in his own dry, witty and cynical way pointed it out in his series “Parts Unknown” which by the way is a bloody brilliant show. It was like a light bulb moment for me. Of course I knew that food was a way to experience a country whilst travelling. We have all had those moments whilst travelling where the food and people transcend the ordinary and come together to the perfect crescendo but the idea of it being a doorway to study a culture beyond the food itself is so exciting.

I also have realised that through the mediums of cookbooks as well as  foodie tv shows (such as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations or Parts Unknown) you can avoid the trappings of commercial travel shows which are becoming increasingly advertising space for paid sponsor programming. They present countries and cultures from an angle that is so refreshing after years of being bogged down in sell out travel television.

If you have not bought a cookbook in the last five years I urge you to check them out. Even if you aren’t an avid cook you will find many modern cookbooks will take you on an in-depth exploration of a region and it’s people through photography as well as the recipes. You will discover stories and lifestyles you knew little about and you may even be inspired to take a journey into your own kitchen and bring yourself even closer to the world.

You should check out my Google Book Library to see what I have been delving into lately. These are all great books and I enjoy being transported to exotic destinations whilst reading and cooking from them all.
Originally posted on Friday, 28 November 2014 by

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