Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What price authenticity?


We all love cookbooks, yes we do. If your reading this and you don't love them then I'm afraid you've stumbled into a deeply fetishistic world, a world where photos of food and recipes are tokens of deep dark desires for fame, money and ultimately some sort of TV show on the Food Network.
I've been thinking about the books on my shelf. I bought myself an early Christmas present, David Thompson's Thai Food and a real beauty it is. Everything a cookbook should be, encyclopaedic, well written and lovely to look at, and best of all for us cookbook fetishists, authoritative and dictatorial. I attempted the green curry this evening and it took some creative rejigging. The list of ingredients was not that onerous but I was missing about a third, most of those I had a replacement for, the others were no hopers.

See, I have a theory. That deep down in all of us food lover types (we really have to come up with a better word than foodie) there hides a dark secret; we like nothing better than to be told we have to achieve the near impossible and that we should feel slightly guilty if we don't. We love nothing better that a list of ingredients that will have us traipsing round back alleys in dodgy areas of town. We get a rush of shadenfreude if we see others not living the ideal, hot with envy when we see the success of others.
Cookbooks have a hold over us like ancient tomes of alchemy; we pour over then, revelling in the fantastical creations we can see therein, modern day bestiaries, where the strange and the wonderful are on display never to be recreated in the burning crucibles of our kitchens. Ok, so I may have got a bit far there, but you know what I mean. Cookbooks can be so tyrannical at times, they can make us feel small and I think that's a real shame. The best writers, for me, are the ones that temper the desire for authenticity with regard for the practical. That doesn't mean the cheapen a dish but accept that location and practicality mean that things must inevitably adapt and that local conditions are as important as re-creating what is authentic. We are cooking in our homes with these things, we invite them in, the least they could do is not stare down their noses at us.

Then again, the green curry was seriously good, which begs the question, would it better with all the stuff I missed out? Only one way to find out...


cookiecrumb said...

I've been in a quandary about ingredients ever since I participated in the Eat Local Challenge in August. I loved cooking and eating only foods from nearby, and I've become a little reluctant to buy imports again. (In fact, yes, I think I loved being told to achieve the near impossible.) But. Man, there are some flavors I can't do without, and I don't think we grow or produce all of them in California.
Ah, well. That's what the spice trade was about, after all.

Monkey Gland said...

I just get annoyed when food writers get all uppity about ingredients, when they are lazy and snobbish and don't give people options.

anna said...

Never mind the food/cookbook fetishists - that pestle looks rather naughty in a festishist type of way (or is it just me?!).

Monkey Gland said...

you perv! ;-)