“All travelers, whether they are novices or seasoned pros, can profit from this book.”
—The New York Times
“Sterling makes you want to book the next flight to some exotic place so you can chow down with gusto as he does.”
Pack Up Your Literary Mess Kit
“I knew in my gut, in my gastronomic soul, that what I had long hoped for was true. That it wasn’t just some wild tale designed to stir the imagination and not the pot. The ultimate cookout was a reality. My wildest culinary dream could now come to life.”
—Richard Sterling, from the Introduction
For those who want to savor the world through their taste buds, gastronome Richard Sterling provides all you need to know to break bread with kings, feast with savages, and get invited home to dinner. Whether you’re slaughtering a goat in Rajasthan, looking for the perfect mango in Manila, tired of dal bhat on the trail to Everest, or desperate for a salad in Nairobi, the man known as Conan of the Kitchen will be your guide to culinary wonders and abominations.
A Taste of Richard’s Wisdom
- Learn how to say “Have you eaten?” in Chinese. It’s the typical greeting.
- In India, never offer another diner, even your spouse, food from your plate.
- Don’t pass up the chance to eat fire ant soup in Laos.
- Don’t stick chopsticks into a bowl of food and leave them there. It’s a funerary practice in Asia.
- Master the formal place setting, a.k.a. Service à la Russe.
- In Poland and the Philippines, soup made from duck’s or pig’s blood is a staple, and almost the perfect food.
- It’s just as easy to go to the butcher’s and get camel for dinner in Egypt as it is to hire one to ride into the desert. And the meat is prized.
- Unless you’re at a picnic or a barbecue, chicken is not a finger food.
- If you still think sushi is weird, where in hell have you been?
“There is in some few men of every land a special hunger, one which will make them forgo the safe pleasures of their own beds and tables, one which initiates them into that most mysterious and ruthless sect: the Adventurers.”
–Mary (M.F.K.) Fisher
I was on my way to circumnavigate the globe a few years ago, to literally eat my way around the world. It was my gustatory goal for that year. I stopped in Bangkok to visit Sven Krause, executive chef of the Celadon restaurant in the Beaufort Sukhothai Hotel. He took me into the inner sanctum of the Celadon’s kitchen, where he dared me any half-dozen dishes just to prove he could make them and make them quickly. It was no contest. Within minutes he presented me with a Thai feast. As I munched each delectable dish, I asked him to tell me his most unusual cooking experience.
“You won’t believe it,” he said.
“Try me,” I said, feeling a tug of intuition about the tale he was going to relate.
“I was working in Saudi Arabia,” he continued. “There was a wedding of some sheik or other. And you won’t believe what they wanted me to cook.”
I knew in my gut, in my gastronomic soul, that what I had long hoped was true. That it wasn’t just some wild traveler’s tale designed to stir the imagination and not the pot. The ultimate cookout was a reality. The only thing that could possibly be greater would be to spit-roast a giant squid. My wildest culinary dream could come true. Sven, Allah bless him and may his tribe increase, had done it.
“I tell you no lie,” he went on, sipping a cold one. “They wanted camel. I roasted a whole camel on a spit.”
“Yes!” I cried. “Tell me everything.” And he did. He told me how he stuffed the camel with six sheep, stuffed the sheep with chickens, and the chickens with fish. He told me how it took 24 hours to cook, and that he served it on a silver platter in the shape of a recumbent camel. He related how the tribesmen who were the sheik’s guests then attacked it with their knives en masse, feasted with their bare hands, and ate the meat down to the ivory.
“Sven, I’m going to Rajasthan. There lives the largest camel herd in the world. I intend to roast me one of them. I’ll give a great feast to the Rajputs. I’ll invite all the local potentates and nabobs and other poobahs. Tell ’em to bring their families and harems and seventh sons. This is the Holy Grail for me, Sven. This is my golden fleece, my windmill to topple. Bless me, Sven, you who have done this mighty deed.”
“You’ll need more than my blessing,” he said. “You’ll need a crack team to help you, the luck of the Irish, and a strong stomach. The best part is the loin.”
“I’ve always heard it was the hump.”
“Forget the hump. It’s nothing but bone and fat. And shave the hair off the chest and under his tail. That’s the fleecy part. After you eat him, you have someone weave you a nice coat
“Thanks, Sven. Thanks for saving my dream. I was beginning to despair.”
“Good luck, Richard. You’re going to need it.”
That was the last I saw of Sven. But I had his blessing and his recipe for whole roast camel. I was ready to go forth.
I. The Great Gastronomical Globe
II. The Holy Trinity of Cuisine
- Europe (The West)
III. Manners and Mores
IV. Restaurant Survival
V. Meat, Fish, and Fowl
VI. Into a Desert Place
VII. Strange, Wonderful, and Taboo
VIII. Staying Healthy and Fit
IX. Drink and Be Merry
X. A World Tour
XI. Resources and References
Index of Contributors
The Great Gastronomical Globe
I have eaten your bread and salt,
I have drunk your water and wine.
The deaths Ye died I have watched beside
And the lives Ye led were mine.
Welcome to the tables of the World. As you know, many of us travel, in large part, to eat. And the many conventional guidebooks give us some aid in that pursuit. But what of Us, the Adventure Eaters, we Fearless Diners who literally consume culture, put the world on a plate, and gobble up the road?
If you are reading this, you are like me, a person of the senses. And I think you will agree with the proposition that humanity is revealed through cuisine, through the customs and traditions and practices of food production, preparation, and consumption, just as surely as it is through any other art or social activity.
The Fearless Diner takes his or her place in a long and unbroken tradition of epic journeys, from hunting mastodon to blazing the spice routes.
Homer, in The Odyssey, often breaks his narrative to tell how the Greek heroes laid down their arms and feasted during their wars and travels, how they chased down goats, made wine, carved meat, and consumed “baskets of dainties.” The message for us is that feasting and adventuring are inextricably intertwined; cuisine is an integral part of the landscape, a character in the tale of your own adventure. And furthermore, it’s just plain fun to eat your way around the world. It’s fun to plan culinary journeys, it’s fun to discover new tastes and to be invited into new kitchens. And it’s fun to dine on the edge.
Too often, people take the subject of food out of its context and treat it as some discreet activity unconnected to real life. Or they insist that it be kept in a realm of gentility, refinement, at a far remove from daily life, adventurous life, or life in the raw and on the road. But not the Fearless Diners.
The Fearless Diners do not pluck the Muse of Cuisine from the continuum of the life in which She resides. And She resides not only at the tables of the refined, the wealthy, and the well-scrubbed, She thrives everywhere. I’ve chased Her down back streets and dark alleys, and up the wealthy avenues of capital cities. She’s led me through asphalt jungles and cultural deserts, into European five-star restaurants, Mexican fugitives’ campsites, Moghul palaces, and Chinese fishermen’s shacks. I’ve even found Her lounging in the rooftop kitchen of a Philippine whorehouse.
She’s everywhere. This muse has guts, She does not shy away. I can tell you that She is wherever people dine fearlessly. She will even attend runaway boys if they know a good dinner when they find it. As in the case of Tom Sawyer and his friends feasting on an island in the Mississippi: “It seemed glorious sport to be feasting in that wild free way in the virgin forest…and they said they would never return to civilization.”
Who are the Fearless Diners, and how is their way different from others? And just how fearless are they? They are as fearless as they need to be to satisfy desires on a given day in a shifting landscape of circumstance. One Fearless Diner’s circumstance may take him to mountaintops or jungles; another’s takes him across town. Fearlessness is not so much in what the diner dines upon, but how.
The Fearless Diner seeks a life of contrast, juxtaposition, complementary forces. In a word: antithesis. The Fearless believe that we cannot know a thing without knowing something of its opposite. We would not be aware of the light without experience of the dark. The Fearless Diner regards the ugly as a gift, because without it there could be no beauty. Pleasure can only be known in a life that knows pain. The Fearless Diner is a seeker and a knower of beauty and pleasure in a world of light.
A Fearless Diner may camp in some remote area, and char freshly caught meat over the open fire, then eat it plain with a rough red wine. Returning home, that same Fearless Diner, nostrils still full of woodsmoke, might dine in a place with a fancy name on truffles and champagne. And that’s good fearless dining. A pair of Fearless Diners, in black tie and evening gown, may depart a fancy ball with their bellies full of caviar, then spend the rest of the night with sailors, off-duty cops, or illegal aliens, drinking from a brown paper bag—and still in formal attire! Or they may do something as simple as eat Chinese for breakfast, Indian for lunch, and Italian for dinner. The Fearless Diner could live on gruel, and serve the poor in some faraway mission, and still keep a nose for fine wine.
The Fearless Diner will not consider herself fully alive until she has grappled in some way with Death. The Fearless Diner loves to laugh, and so he never fears to cry. The Fearless Diners love a full belly, so never fear an empty one. They know that true satisfaction comes from longing. Emptiness is prelude to fullness, dirt to cleanliness, and fatigue to blissful rest. In our travels, it isn’t where we go and what we eat and drink, but how.
The wide world is shrinking, Fearless One. But there will always be kitchens and markets to explore; through gastronomic travel a whole new dimension of the globe awaits us. Those who know, or would know, the joy of seeing the world food first will find How to Eat Around the World their best pocket companion. Bold Epicures will find here the tips and wisdom needed to feast with savages, break bread with kings, and get invited home to dinner: Indian table manners, which fork to start with at Maxim’s, and the proper use of chopsticks; what’s good/safe/politically correct to eat or do and what is taboo; how to find the best, make the best of the worst, avoid getting sick, and what to do if you can’t help it.
This is your literary mess kit. Pack a toothbrush and go a’ feasting.
Go fearlessly, but don’t go blindly. Study the possibilities. Learn what might lay ahead in the Great Gastronomical World. Set gustatory goals! If you have it on good authority that the finest tea is to be had only in some far and difficult corner, go and find it. Make it your special quest. I would never counsel you to ignore the museums, theaters, historical sites, and pleasant diversions that can be found on a conventional itinerary in a given country. But with what, how, and in what spirit, does that country nourish itself? In societies where public feasting is important, where it is the occasion for love and lust (Rio), political settlement (New Guinea), or high purpose (Jerusalem), put the feast day on your calendar and go. Make it your pilgrimage. Want to have some fun? In Spain they have an annual tomato fight! Running with the bulls? Ha! It’s nothing compared to the sheer lusty exuberance of a real live attack of killer tomatoes on a city-wide scale. It’s better than a pie fight! Seek out the rare, the taboo. Learn to dine on the knife’s edge.
Richard Sterling graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and served in the U.S. Navy from 1971 to 1978 in Southeast Asia where he was first able to indulge in his passion for culinary discovery and adventurous travel. He has been dubbed “The Indiana Jones of Gastronomy” by his admirers, and “Conan of the Kitchen” by others. His most recent book isThe Fire Never Dies. He is the editor of the award winning Travelers Tales Food: A Taste of the Road, and The Adventure of Food: True Stories of Eating Everything. He is also the principal author of Lonely Planet’s World Food series, which was proclaimed “Best Food Book Series in the World” by the International Gourmand Cookbook Awards. In 1994 Sterling received the nomination for the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.