I could not pass up a book with that title. So good on whoever named this book! The second clincher is that they made a stop in Singapore, and I just needed to know what they would eat in my home country.
Cheryl and Bill Jamison set off on a three-month journey, with an early stop dedicated to a second honeymoon. They made good use of their frequent flier miles to travel, and having written travel guides, know exactly what they’re doing.
But being cookbook authors (one of their cookbooks, The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaining, won a James Beard Award in 2007), food was on their mind:
“So the question became, for the rest of our itinerary, where do we want to eat? Even keeping a tight focus on places with strong local food traditions, rather than worldly pretensions, our appetites went overboard on the prospects, suggesting enough possibilities to keep us running like a perpetual-motion machine for a decade. The problem became elimination, deciding which good options to leave on the table for a future meal.”
They are adventurous eaters, and have done ample research. Of course one of the first things I did was to turn to the chapter on Singapore, just to have an idea of where they brought their appetites to. And they did pretty well, eating pretty much most of what I would consider are among the best that Singapore offers. Like Hainanese chicken rice, fried kway teow, chili and pepper crab, or luak (oyster omelette), ice kachang, and plenty more. And not just in the central areas of Singapore, but venturing even to the hawker centre in Bedok, in the suburbs, where the locals “clearly regard us as novelties”. That chapter made me miss the food from back home! Excuse me while I wipe the drool off the table…
But back to the Jamisons. This is not just a travel guide (they do provide addresses and information about the places they stay and eat at). It is also a food book. The Jamisons, true to their cookbook author form, provide a selected recipe for each chapter.
It was a great read, insightful and well-written, with just the right amount of self-deprecating humour. The Jamisons seem to have a good relationship and are such great representatives of what travelling should be about. It’s not about the shopping (in the case of Singapore, they hit Orchard Road, “an orgy of a shopping strip featuring absolutely nothing distinctive” for less than 30 minutes before “fleeing the massive malls in dismay”). It’s about meeting the locals, getting to know their culture and cuisine. And giving everything a try.
I grazed on some mixed nuts to stave off the hunger – and envy – pangs. Especially when reading about the great food in France (Arles):
“The popular snack bar near the entrance makes an American counterpart seem as counterfeit as a crayon Picasso. Instead of corn dogs, cheese nachos, and funnel cakes, shoppers stop by for small plates of duck foie gras with mesclun, crawfish salad with marinated tomatoes, hangar steak with morels, leg of lamb from the Alpilles roasted with garlic, and carpaccio of beef with capers and local olive oil.”
At Le Quartier Francais in South Africa, where they feast on “wild mushroom spaetzle, a forestful of mushroom varieties sauteed in butter with the tiny knobby dumplings, a poached egg, toasted almond slices for texture, and truffle foam. Two other courses reach similar heights, a terrine of salt-cured foie gras layered with tender shredded ham hock and quail and served with port-glazed figs, and a smoked zebra carpaccio (which tastes a bit like venison to us, though some compare it to horsemeat) with a warm composed salad of crispy sweetbreads, ox tongue, fresh lychees, individual leaves of tiny tatsoi, and a vinaigrette made of vegetable marrow and pureed butternut squash.”
“Everything astounds us, including the fresh lemonade, laced here with a little salt as well as sugar, which is common in Thailand. The eggplant salad, a gem, features slim, long slices of the vegetable, smoky and soft from the fire, in a light sauce with shallots, kaffir lime, palm sugar, cilantro, dried shrimp, bits of chicken, and slivers of incandescent fresh green chile. The lovely banana blossom salad comes with a tangy dressing of tamarind, coconut milk and dried red chiles, along with shrimp and chicken.”
This book ought to come with a warning – don’t read on an empty stomach.