Thursday, April 19, 2007

One Reason Why I Listen To NPR

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’s forum

“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.


Lucia said...

I like NPR too, although every year, things seem to get worse. They do, though, sometimes pull a gem outta their back pocket, and this definitely sounds like one of them. Thanks for sharing.

patches said...

I hardly listen to conventional radio stations anymore. It's either NPR or a mixed cd. I will go and listen to the broadcast when I have a little more time. I like the idea of experiencing things completely before reviewing, I tend to think about it more terms of art, but it applies well to music, and food.

ML said...

I love to read and listen to anything to do with food. I can see why you were so caught up in these reviews! Definately a way with words. Gets those taste buds and imagination going wild.

Asha said...

Two sure things in life; food and death!!!

Sanjay said...

@Lucia, That is a true statement, I am afraid about NPR, esp when it comes to their political coverage.
I hope you like the piece should you listen to it.

@Patches. Same here no conventional stuff for me anymore. I have listened to Imus though at times to get an idea about his shtick. Am glad he is gone.

@Ml. Indeed, it toally sucked me in.

@Asha. Amen.. lol and don't forget taxes. :)

meno said...

I am pretty much an NPR addict. It's not just for the news, but all the other stuff, lik ethe story you describe.

My daughter's Japanese class made Okonomiyaki one year as a class project. We tried it first here at home. There were all kinds of substitutions, as we don't have bonito flakes in the cupboard, but i think that is in the spirit of the dish.

Beach Bum said...

NPR is my main source of news. But I have noticed like lucia wrote some sort change that was not for the better. All in all if I don't listen to NPR on Saturday's from 8:00am to 12:00pm when "wait wait don't tell me" is finished in my area I will be in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I just ate lunch, read your post, and am now SERIOUSLY hungry for the food you described!

I love when you get all 'foody' on us!

NainaAshley said...

I like listening to NPR too. Not just for the news but the variety of programs they have, like Fresh air, Between the lines, wait wait don't tell me etc. I also enjoy car talk even though I know or care nothing about cars.
The thing about NPR though is that you either love it or hate it depending upon your political idealogy. I once worked for a company at a town in southern Georgia where the people are very conservative. Every three months we had a division meeting that was attended by about 100 people. At that meeting new employees had to introduce themselves, talk about their hobbies etc. One new guys(obviously moved there from the north) mentioned 'listening to NPR' as one of his hobbies. The entire crowd booded him. This at a work place! I was shocked to say the least.

Sanjay said...

@Meno.. wow at Okonomiyaki for the kiddo's class. I wish you had Benito flakes, the description of the effects of tossing flakes on to a hot pancake was so vivid.

@Beach, you are right as is Lucia about their general quality being down. I don't listen to them much on the weekends, I occ manage to catch Praire home companion cos that coincides with my cooking, goes well with some with elitist wine too! ;-)

@Mona. Thanks!

@Naina, True that part about NPR. The GOP don't like it much, which is why every year (pretty much), the dubya budget tries to cut funding for NPR. But public radio has a lot of support and it usually does not happen.

I do think you are in a corner of the country that I am glad I don't live in, no offense meant to the fine people of Georgia but that is just me. Having said that I am shocked that someone would get booed for listening to NPR!
I actually had colleagues who would listen to Rush Limbaugh, and I would sometimes listen in too when I could (am no fan of his), however I always wanted to know what that gasbag was spewing. :)

Carrie said...

Ewww...I didn't know I was that picky but this I couldn't do.

Lotus Reads said...

Great post, Sanjay! I would loved to have been a food writer, preferably one that gets to review restaurants a lot, but eating out all the time, it's bound to take it's toll, no?

I like NPR too, but I can only access it via the net which can get inconvenient at times. The CBC isn't bad..I have it on virtually all day.

Sanjay said...

@Carrie. :-) I know what you mean but things change.

Sanjay said...

@Lotus. Hey there! How has your Thursday been? I do agree that all that eating out might take it's toll. But perhaps it depends on the writer. Maybe you don't have to eat an entire meal? But you bring up a very interesting point, if I ever get a chance I might ask this Q of a food critic.
But it does sound like a job I might like too. :)

Re: NPR I agree with you, it can be a pain to listen to them off the web. But they do have podcasts maybe that may be the way to go? But I am sure CBC is good too, I mean they have to be better than a lot of our media. I guess you have heard about their feeding frenzy with those tapes of the killer?

Thank you for the comment, you know I never thought about that aspect of a food critics job, until you pointed it out to me. Thank you for offering a different perspective :)

Keshi said...

The Japanese dish had me drooling and it's not even lunchtime yet.


Beenzzz said...

My hubby is a food writer. Needless to say, we are always trying something new. I'm waiting for him to get an interview on NPR. Wouldn't that be great? :)

deepsat said...

ummm food!!! i am always hungry for good food!! :-))

nice post!!


Orchid said...

I listen to NPR occasionally and enjoy it too.
I read your other posts and that one on Richard Gere and SHilpa Shetty and yes it was a li'l too much to start a protest but c'mon, the guy was wrong...wasn't groping her behind...looked like it and even if he wasn't he was all over her, yuck!! and she seemed to mind it too and it was totally against the Indian he shoul have been a little more sensitive.

Sanjay said...

lol@keshi..hope ya found something nice to bite on.

@Beenzzz..Food critic? Wow that is just amazing!!! Ya that would be something to look forward to, him on NPR! :-)


@Orchid. Thanks. re:The Gere episode. These folks are performers, maybe that is what they were doing. Weren't what they doing a bit "over the top" in a funny sort of way, after Bollywood is rather over the top. Shilpa Shetty from what I know did not seem to mind afterwards, and if she does why is she not brining legal action against him?

Isn't the erotica at Khajuraho also a part of Indian culture? I do tend to think cultures evolve and strengthen over time. But that is just my opinion. I am not offended by this at all, I found myself laughing for like I said I found it over the top. :-)
I think we probably agree to disagree on this.