The Digest

Feasting on Oysters & Other News

12th May 2017

Words: James Hansen

Also in this week’s food-writing survey: hunting for ramps, the reinvigoration of Maori cuisine and wolfing down pasta in Naples

We start in New Zealand, with The Guardian. Nicola Trup brings us a dispatch from Kākano: the café resurrecting Maori ingredients in the crucible of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Designed, as owner Jade Temepara puts it, to be “lift and shift”, the temporariness of the space belies its deeply-rooted food. From smoked eel spines – Jeremy Lee, take note – to rousing scrambled eggs with smoke from local manuka wood, it’s localism for the locals, with tasting platters pitched at accessible prices. Trup’s piece is brief but thorough, with a keen focus on what makes Kākano important. For a less rosy rendition of the same philosophy, cast an eye over what Jonathan Gold makes of Noma Mexico over at The Los Angeles Times.

Back in time and across the water with the RTÉ Archives, showcasing a report from the 1962 Galway Oyster Festival. Reporter Jack White and festival organiser Paddy Burke share an interview packed with insight, including how to spot the freshest of the bunch and the art of cracking open the prized crustacean. Documenting the staggering 650 dozen (that’s 7,800, for those inclined to precision) oysters consumed during the festival, the heart of the video is how strikingly a seasonal event can transform a region’s culinary landscape, if only for the briefest moment. As the video has it, “Farmers turn Fishermen.” Shuck in.

From sea to soil with Alex Testere at Saveur. Foraging for ramps in New York state, Testere is accompanied by Sarah Owens: “sourdough bread baker, lifelong forager, and James Beard Award-winning cookbook author“. It’s the familiar construct of teacher and student that makes this piece sing. While Testere’s culinary knowledge of ramps (ramsons, wild garlic, or, in Europe, bear garlic) is clear to see, Owens’ attention to foraging responsibly – respecting the ecosystem, refusing to over-harvest, turning the soil by picking one bud at a time – provides the rhythm to which the writing moves: our so-often praised obsession with seasonality occasionally demands temperance.

Next, to Italy, where Adee Braun recounts street feasts of a stranger kind for Atlas Obscura. The feast: macaroni; the streets: Naples, 17th-19th century; the stranger kind: shoving boiling pasta down one’s throat with bare hands. A quick note: macaroni is here used as a catch-all term for pasta, rather than the squat tubes now more famous for being smothered in cheese sauce and co-opted as a side dish where they really don’t belong. Punctuated by contemporary photos of Naples, Braun’s piece takes the city’s culinary pulse: macaroni are but one element of a culinary ecosystem, both sustenance for the impoverished and, regrettably, cheap fodder for sadistic tourists. Alive to pasta’s yo-yoing status and sociological currency, this is one to pair with your shape of choice. Don’t forget the fork.

We finish up at Goya Journal, with Kaveri Ponnapa in conversation with Canadian food writer Naomi Duguid. Duguid’s books resist easy classification: travelogues as much as collections of recipes, articulating how food cooked or eaten rubs up against its local context. Her philosophy guides the form of the piece: local observations on the art of building a tandoor oven, or the social meaning of flatbread, dovetail with a conversation: worldviews shared in order to challenge them. A compelling piece written with sensitive poise, it’s also a welcome reminder that the trope of what Duguid calls “the ignorant outsider” can still be a force for good in the culinary world at large.

Image: Oysters by Anna Koska (who we interview here)

Posted 12th May 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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