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FRIED BUTTER by Abe Opincar Kirkus Star


A Food Memoir

by Abe Opincar

Pub Date: April 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-56947-334-X
Publisher: Soho

Food as memory, memory as food, experienced with the unexpectedness of déjà vu, knocked between melancholy and humor, as summoned by newcomer Opincar.

In this short, intense memoir, the author ranges freely as he looks back on the food in his life and how it has intersected and toyed with his emotions. The writing is offbeat, achieving the trick of seeming at once grounded and untethered. With twisted charm, Opincar will praise the hen for its “inexplicable, almost comical” selflessness, or, in the process of buying basil plants, note that most of the plant professionals he has met are “thin, strange, and practical.” He offers a savvy little disquisition on turmeric, a sweet vignette of a taco stand in Tijuana, and a funny description of the curious cheese fleur de maquis, which “looks like something an animal buried in the forest . . . like something only a brave person might poke with a stick.” Opincar is just the man for the job. Example follows savory example of all the instances when food triggers memory: an aunt hurling cornmeal mush at his father, saffron evoking the sadness of exile, an abortion tied to chocolate and cinnamon, black radishes conjuring up rainy days, and garlic reminding him of the affection of his parents, while the non-garlic-eating couples filed for divorce, Opincar remembers “my mother in a loose shift dress, my father in shirtsleeves . . . speaking in low voices, laughing.” He darts suddenly between a kosher vegetarian restaurant in Jerusalem and a favorite stuffing with a recipe that “called for only one cup of butter, but I knew that three cups yielded a better result,” in a style that is reminiscent of Simon Loftus's Pike in the Basement, though very much possessing its own odor. Quoting Huysmans—“the scent of her underarms easily uncaged the animal in men”—Opincar elaborates that this is “a bacterial process not unlike that in ripening of cheese.”

Elemental acuity and burlesque combine here to delicious effect.