A writer continues her search for the offbeat in food and nature.
King (Wandering in Bali, 2017, etc.) is an author with an eye for the quirky. After applying that talent to positive effect in her first collection of travel essays, Lost, Kidnapped, Eaten Alive! (2014), she follows up with this volume, in which her experiences range from a chocolate massage in Spain to an establishment specializing in aboriginal cuisine in Australia. The pan-fried saltwater crocodile tail she selects from the menu at the Gugidjela restaurant in the Grampians in Victoria, she reports, has a “unique texture...surprisingly similar to a bicycle tire.” The formula is similar to her first book—closely observed gastronomic and natural history vignettes laced with a sense of a disappearing world as civilization encroaches on the wilds. Her trips, she laments, “provide a stark reminder of the pace at which we’re losing national—and international—treasures.” Those riches include the Giant Gippsland Earthworm, which King encounters at a museum in Australia. The creature is “threatened by drought, use of pesticides and fertilizers, and even the collection of individual worms.” Particularly affecting is the plight of the elephant Sama, who lost her right front foot and part of her lower leg when she stepped on a land mine during the Sri Lankan civil war. Now a resident of an elephant orphanage, Sama gazes at the author with “the saddest expression I have ever seen...a mixture of resignation and anguish.” There are some intriguing human characters, too, including a Brazilian shaman and the founder of a bear refuge in Alaska. King resorts to some padding with unexceptional essays on sampling the hallucinogen ayahuasca in California and attending a conference of UFO enthusiasts. She is on more solid ground describing confrontations with haggis, the Scottish national delicacy consisting mostly of sheep entrails. “Redolent with nutmeg, warmed by black pepper, and with a slight minerality...it reminded me of a mild-flavored, perfectly textured pâté,” she writes. And from Taiwan, she provides a mouthwatering account of her mission to discover the secrets of making soup dumplings, each one an intricate fusion of dough and filling that turns into a “perfect little gem.”
This enjoyable book comes alive with descriptions of everything from a giant earthworm to tantalizing soup dumplings.