The world of food explored with openness, an iron gut, and a hunger that goes to the level of emotional and cultural memory.
A good number of these 40 pieces (plus 20 recipes) were the result of flying and filing for American Way and Natural History magazines (“taste cannot be experienced from a distance,” says Walsh of these wandering years, though he’ll reconsider the comment later). The most redolent foods, made in minuscule quantities, never leave their native grounds: a pepper sauce in the Caribbean, a Trinidadian curry (via a patois Hinduism from India), a cup of Blue Mountain coffee. There are searches for the atavistic and the vestigial: the wild, wild rice of the Ojibwe; the eroticism of a rose petal sauce; prison chow that emphasizes the dying art of southern black cooking; the Gruyère of France; the Gruyère of Switzerland. Then, with bankruptcy looming—the freelancer’s lament—Walsh takes a desk job in Houston and discovers a world of unusual and authentic goodies in his own backyard: Pakistani batair boti; bagels that rival any from New York; an “ ‘interior Mexican’ restaurant” that would never deign to put a Tex before its Mex; a hot-sweet-sour Vietnamese fish soup. The author soon learns that whatever “appears on the list of foods under consideration by the USDA’s Commodity and Biological Risk Analysis team” is worth hunting down, like Europe’s unpasteurized cheeses. But Walsh is no snob, and comfort food brings him joy, whether it’s his grandmother’s mushroom soup, or sauerkraut-and-bacon flatbread, or dog-breathing salsa, named after the effect of its peppers on your tongue.
Unaffected and inviting, with none of the elitist burdens of most exotic-food journalism.