By no means is NPR perfect in terms of being a decent news/current affairs, culture, arts etc type of a programming organization. Their deference to our maladministration like the rest of our media has been galling. That said the All Things Considered program from the 17th of April was one of those days which made me feel good about public radio. I usually listen intently to what they have to say, but even I felt rather swamped by the news about the Virginia Tech tragedy.
I found myself switching off the radio and back on again when stories of the tragedy were done just to take my mind off things. I was almost in my robotic driving mode when this interview by Michelle Norris just perked me up. She was interviewing Jonathan Gold of the free alternative publication LA weekly, who won the 2007 Pulitzer for distinguished criticism.
Like the clichéd line that Renee Zellweger’s character from “Jerry Maguire” says to Tom Cruise “You had me at hello”. This story had me at 30 seconds in to the interview when Michele Norris quoted Jonathan Gold who uses “Food as a window to explore the diversity and daily rhythms of Los Angeles, both the expensive eateries and the exotic spots where immigrants search for a taste of home” .
Heh! Doesn’t take much to seduce me! (Speaking strictly from a foodie perspective ;-) ), and I was completely enthralled as the interview went on.
Here is an audio link, it is about 7 minutes long. As I heard Jonathan talk I could see why he is so good at what he does. His love of food and the delight he derives from his culinary experiences became very obvious. Am paraphrasing here..
He talks about how he is usually the first person to try a new place and usually finds them by driving around and recounts the innumerable bad meals he has had in this entire process.
He then talks about the number of times he might go back till he understands the aesthetic behind what might seem to be a repulsive sounding/smelling dish, that the cook does well but he (the reviewer) hates it.
He mentions going to this Taiwanese restaurant repeatedly where he encounters all kinds of smoky, funky odors including a dish that has the odor of “old gym shoes”
How many times did he go back? 17 times !!! Truly a person I can appreciate.
Jonathan Gold then went on to talk about a dish called Okonomiyaki, which he calls amongst the most homeliest food in creation and then goes on to say “When it arrives you are not sure whether to kill it or eat it.”
What does Okonomiyaki look like? “It looks like an ugly blob of pancake batter topped with shaved benito flakes on food that does not stay still.. wafts and curls and moves in the eddies of the hot food like seen in the ocean.. creepy to encounter.. alarming to behold and astonishing to eat.”
Well, I had no clue what benito flakes are either or what Okonomiyaki is, so I looked those up on the web and here is what I found on spicehouse.com’s forum here.
“Bonito is a type of Japanese dried fish. On some dishes in Japan, they will sprinkle shaved bonito flakes on top. The steam from the dish will make the flakes wiggle. It's weird to see the first time.” LOL!
Okonomiyaki is a pan-fried Japanese dish cooked with various ingredients. Okonomi means "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki means "grilled" or "cooked" (cf. yakitori and yakisoba); thus, the name of this dish means "cook what you like, the way you like". In Japan, okonomiyaki is usually associated with the Kansai or Hiroshima areas. (from Wikipedia)
There is a picture too.
I think I would love to try this sometime!
Since I loved this story so much it was only natural for me to try and read his food review column. Here is a link and I can see why he won the Pulitzer (first paragraph of the review below)
Have you ever tasted the pozole at La Casita Mexicana? It’s wild stuff, that
pozole, a dark broth deeply scented with meat and chiles and unpronounceable
herbs, juicy shreds of pork, and fluffy kernels of blue hominy whose ragged
edges are colored the purple of an unpeeled octopus leg. If you have remembered to sprinkle shredded cabbage, a little dried oregano and a drop or two of lime juice into the broth, the flavor pops out in three dimensions, like those hidden images did in those books that were popular a few years ago, taking palpable weight, almost grabbing your spoon hand and propelling it into the broth again and again. If you splash in a spoonful of hot, smoky salsa, you’re in a whole other dimension.
Sigh! Amazing description and I so wanna go to L.A. to try this!
Too bad he is writing about restaurants in L.A. I wish he gets a gig out east here preferably Philly or NYC, then I could actually go try out the places and the amazing cuisine. Both towns have some great food.
I am not sure any of you will be caught up by this story as I was, and especially on a day where I was tired of hearing about death and destruction, this one made a difference and why we must take it easy and truly enjoy our meals and appreciate and explore the amazing cuisines that this nation has to offer from the rich tapestry of its various immigrant cultures.