Exploring the Food Universe
If thoughts of sea urchin roe and durian cake spark your curiousity, you may want to learn more about the food universe.
For Americans or those planning to travel the U.S., an excellent starting point is Ian Jackman's book Eat This!: 1001 Things to Eat Before You Diet. It is not a fine dining guide, but rather a tour of the regional specialties. These are foods that are relatively inexpensive, at least compared to the baby carrots served on two foot diameter dinner plates at fancy restaurants. The food is highly approachable, and therefore a good place to start in expanding food horizons. We found lots of great ideas and web links that we used in building our food index. Thank you Mr. Jackman.
You don't need to cook to enjoy good food, but somehow that often happens. Miriam Ungerer's Good Cheap Food is a classic. You can be an instant culinary star using her techniques for simply preparing basic inexpensive ingredients. It is a brilliant work that will get anyone started.
The magazine Saveur covers international cuisines. It will give you ideas for international foods that you will want to try. We like the publication for the way it covers the exotic while remaining approachable. If you have only one food magazine, this is it.
For cooks, the practical advice of Cook's Illustrated magazine cannot be beat. They will tell you the secret to getting a crispy skin on roast chicken and which kitchen tools work best. They tested mail-order beef and concluded that the never-frozen products are superior. (Our index includes never-frozen beef available
through the web.) They tested canned tomatoes and found those with citric acid taste best. How could one get by without such knowledge?
Rather than approach the food universe broadside, one can focus on a specific cuisine. We like Chile Pepper magazine for its devotion to spicy food. There is no trick to making food hot there are special concentrates used in industry that require hazardous material equipment. The trick is to have just enough spice to enhance flavors. Chile Pepper knows all about that.
Other specialty magazines include JamaicanEats, a new and very interesting publication. Fans of Italian cooking have the well regarded magazine, La Cucina Italiana. You don't have to be Australian to enjoy Delicious Australia, regarded by some as the world's best food magazine. You do, however, have to be rich. Subscriptions are . Magazines for French, German, and other cuisines are published in their native languages. With the all the interest in food, one would think there would be more in English.
The magazine form suits our short attention span and diverse interests, but there is a seemingly endless supply of fine books that transcend the focus limitation of magazines. Collectively, they cover the food universe. A good approach is to search you favorite online bookseller for "xxxx food." An example for African food reveals some tempting books. A similar approach works for ingredients, with xxxx alone or "xxxx recipes" or "xxxx cookbook." A search for rhubarb reveals a dozen books devoted to preparing the vegetable.
On the general topic of enjoying fine food, we recommend Calvin Trillin's Tummy Trilogy and Jeffery Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everthing. (Upon being served twice-cooked deer penis in Hong Kong, Trillin thought "Maybe you ought to take this back and cook it one more time.") Enjoyable classics in the field are M.F.K. Fisher's several books. The magazine Food and Wine is good, but aims rather pointedly for the rich and trendy.
As you approach the edges of the food universe, you will not need our advice. In fact, you might well find our advice annoying, per "Who could possibly recommend Truly Fine Points of Expensive Food after they totally misrepresented the traditional uses of celeriac?" We acknowledge being unqualified to play at that level. That doesn't mean it isn't a worthy sport; we're not up to caber tossing either.