One gastronome’s worldwide pursuit of perfect—and perfectly awful—cuisine.
A veritable culinary Odysseus, food critic Bowles (E is for Eating: An Alphabet of Greed, 2004) set out from and returned to his native London to regale foodies and common omnivores alike with tales of exotic specimens from all ranges of the food spectrum. Over the course of “twelve months, four continents, 20,000 air miles and two inches on [his] waist,” he managed to shove a lot into his thrill-seeking maw. Yet his project was “not so much about picaresque derring-do (although there’s a little of that, albeit rather windy),” claims the author, “but a fascination with the world’s diverse cuisines.” As his adventure took shape, he “started to think about the relativity of dangerous foods, how one man’s pea is another man’s tripe,” and ended up concluding, “it’s our perception…that’s usually the biggest obstacle to trying new things, not the taste itself.” In some cases, however, as with the elvers (baby eels) of Gloucestershire or the gooseneck barnacles (percebes) dotting Spain’s Atlantic-pummeled coast, Bowles found that the harvesting of these unlikely delicacies could be as dangerous as consuming them. By and large, though, many of the foods he tasted—from Japan’s potentially lethal fugu (blowfish) to the merely unsavory silkworm pupae and posintang (dog soup) of Korea, to the bon waan (wood stew) of Laos and “bowel-shattering” American hot sauce—simply push the envelope of the Western palate and invite us to admire the author’s gastronomic courage. But while Bowles may fancy himself a professional eater with a penchant for risky man-food, he wins over his audience as a writer, describing dishes and sensations with the zeal of the recently famished, and his own hedonistic acts in delightful passages of unabashed bravado and self-deprecating humor.
In the spirit of Anthony Bourdain but without the sensationalistic glitz.