I am a fan of Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations) and Andrew Zimmerman (Bizarre Foods), very much enjoying their television shows on the Travel Channel. I am intrigued about all of the various places they visit, and all the local foods they eat. It provides a fascinating view into so many different cultures. When I travel to Spain, I will even visit some of the places that Andrew Zimmerman did in his show.
So, while browsing at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore, I found The Year Of Eating Dangerously ($24.95) by Tom Parker Bowles. It is published by St. Martin's Press and is a hardcover book with 374 pages. Bowles is the son of Camilla Parker Bowles and he is a British food critic. Like Bourdain and Zimmerman, Bowles spent a year traveling the world and sampling foods in several different countries, including some bizarre and dangerous foods. The topic certainly intrigued me so I decided to buy it.
The book is divided into nine chapters, broken down by his geographic visit. The chapters include Elvers (Britain), New Mexico, China, Nashville, Tokyo, Korea, Laos, Spain and Sicily. Bowles states his book is about his love of food and fascination with other cultures. He also wants to overcome preconceptions about strange and unusual foods, and just try to see them as food and not something to irrationally shun.
I found this book to be completely fascinating. Bowles is an excellent writer and makes his travels very interesting. He provides intriguing histories about foods and regions. I can feel his strong passion for food. And he makes some very excellent points about food in general. I would definitely recommend this book to all foodies. I hope that Bowles writes additional books in this vein.
Let's examine the book in a bit more detail, touching on each of the chapters.
Chapter One: Elvers, is about baby eels and British fisherman who catch them. Bowles goes out at night with some of the fisherman to try to catch some of the elvers. As he does in the other chapters, Bowles provides a history lesson on eels, as well as a bit of biology. It is a fascinating history and I certainly learned more about eels. I have eaten elvers before, a Spanish delicacy. Though when I travel to Spain it will not be elver season.
Chapter Two: New Mexico, is about a visit to the National Fiery Foods and Barbeque Show and the hunt for hot chilies. There is a history of chiles and a discussion of the Scoville Scale, which rates the heat levels of chiles and sauces. Bowles tastes some very hot sauces and enjoys the event. Another good chapter.
Chapter Three: China, entails food in several different parts of China, including strange items like snake gall bladder in a glass of rice wine, stinky tofu and millipede. Bowles seems to have a food overload in China, eating far too much.
Chapter Four: Nashville, discusses Bowles' work as a judge at the Annual Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbeque. He talks about the history of barbeque, the excellent foods he gets to judge, as well a superb fried chicken from a local restaurant.
Chapter Five: Tokyo, relates Bowles's efforts to taste the dangerous fugu. He actually gets to taste several different parts of the fugu, including fugu sperm.
Chapter Six: Korea, may be the toughest trip for Bowles as he is on the quest to eat dog. Bowles has significant psychological issues about eating dog and it will plague him throughout his trip? Does he finally eat dog? You need to read this chapter to find out.
Chapter Seven: Laos, may have been one of his best trips as he raves about much of their food. He eats many local, unusual dishes and he thoroughly enjoys most of them, including items like live shrimp salad, baby bees and ant egg salad.
Chapter Eight: Spain, concentrates on Galician fisherman who risk their lives to collect goose neck barnacles. Bowles finds the barnacles to be delicious. I will have to keep an eye out for the barnacles when I am in Spain.
Chapter Nine: Sicily, details a visit to the Italian island and touches on its connection to the Mafia, as well as the fine foods that can be found there.
Within the book, Bowles does discuss some of the threats to our foods, such as fast food chains and the decreasing population of elvers. He supports local foods, but with rationality. And he supports local cuisines, hoping that they continue to maintain their strength within their regions.
Buy this book, read it and enjoy!