Welcome to “Travel Tuesdays,” a resource for those whose plans have been deferred and a distraction for people who enjoy armchair travel. Each week we’ll suggest a virtual destination for you to visit.
by Lorraine Rubinacci
To read Lorraine's archived posts, visit this page.
March 16th, 2021
I just bought groceries -- online, selected by a stranger, delivered in plastic bags to my doorstep. This was a safe, convenient option during COVID-19 while I awaited the coveted vaccination, but not very satisfying. Expensive and impersonal, it was the industrial version of going to market. Then again, supermarket browsing among other nervous, masked customers had little appeal. To counter this malaise, I offer virtual journeys that can remind us of the vibrant, sensual world of food.
Let’s start with a YouTube video: “What Street Markets Look Like Around The World.” At
9½ minutes, it provides a glimpse of 21 different markets -- no deep insights, no lingering views, just a quick look at the tremendous variety of settings, products, and shoppers.
Floating Market, Ratchaburi, Thailand
The Daily Meal offers an equally breezy tour of the world’s street food in its photo essay,
“35 Iconic Street Foods Every World Traveler Must Try.” [To minimize the distracting ads, adjust your screen’s view to zoom in on the photos.] Perhaps these images can transport your mind to a place you’ve previously visited or inspire you to try something new. While some of these foods are available at ethnic restaurants and food trucks in the US, eating an authentic version surrounded by the chef’s culture would certainly enrich the experience. Imagine yourself snacking on bunny chow in South Africa or asinan betawi in Indonesia.
Gunawan Kartapranata, CC BY-SA 3.0
Food history and traditions bring further dimensions to the experience of eating. Scroll through “Keeping It Eel” to see what I mean. This Google Arts & Culture presentation tells the story of the “oldest Eel, Pie, and Mash shop in East London. If, like me, you haven’t been to London, you might be surprised by the concept. Yet, since the 19th century these small, working class restaurants have served a consistent menu of freshly-prepared meat pies and mashed potatoes served with a parsley sauce. Jellied eels are less common these days because of their scarcity and cost. Here’s how it’s served:
Goddard's Pies Limited, CC BY-SA 3.0
The meal became immensely popular supporting over 100 shops during its heyday, many owned by the Manze family, including the shop profiled by Google. The surviving shops attract both diners and preservationists because the buildings have retained their original art deco features including tiled walls, tin ceilings, mirrors and marble countertops. Read more about “The History of Manze’s Pie & Mash” to get a better understanding of the cultural value of the meal and the places where it was served.
Interior, L. Manze Pie and Mash, Walthamstow
This connection between food and culture is a central theme of Nigerian-born author, Yẹ́misí Aríbisálà. In one essay, she considers the Nigerian preference for mounds of starchy foods such as pounded yam. In another, she reflects upon “The Forgotten Dance Between Fingers and Nigerian Soup” after she observes the eating method of a particularly graceful diner. While well aware of the prevailing etiquette of most Western nations, she challenges the correctness and civility of using metal utensils. Fingers can convey aromas to the nostrils; they can feel food textures and temperature, whereas a fork “creates distance between the hand and the mouth, between the eyes and the hand.” Utensils in her opinion intrude upon the physical experience. “There are scientific claims that fingers have powerful nerve receptors linked to the digestive system and that handling one’s food releases digestive juices and enzymes, enhancing the meal.”
A food writer for KQED draws some of the same conclusions when she examines cultures that value eating with one’s hands. Chefs and diners from Morocco, Yemen, India, Ethiopia and Bangladesh explain to her the rules and the benefits of eating with one’s fingers, which include a greater awareness of the food’s value and an emphasis on sharing. Her article incorporates a short video tutorial on methods and manners.
Zlerman, CC BY-SA 3.0
Unfortunately a photo essay can only go so far in stimulating interest, memory and appetite. The sounds, flavors and aromas are missing, and most importantly, the camaraderie: the interactions between food producers, dealers, preparers, and consumers. Food has always brought people together and, hopefully, it will again soon.
All of these ideas are curated and brought to you by Lorraine Rubinacci!