Sunday, November 23, 2008

food tours

Celeriac, frisee and endive, cresses and spinach, pumpkins and walnuts. Grapes, persimmons, apples, pears. Smiling!

I'm home and it's fall now. I feel the glorious Californian autumn color bath at this moment. It's the beginning of the hour and a half sunset, an experience of the mellowed oranges and titilating pinks, swirled sherbert consolations for the coming winter. Winter feels far away though; tomatoes are still in the farmers markets, mingling with the greens and turnips and the mega-gifted watermelon daikon. These tomatoes are the pale-faced latecomers, but we are glad to have them anyway and I hope you are all making busy deliciousness with these coveted nightshades. I am, as usual, in seasonal disorientation after yet another month of travel. 10 days ago I was in the back of a crumpled Fiat van in England, with a lapful of digestive biscuit crumbs, putting my palms to the windows as we passed the never ending storefront variations on Paki and Indian takeout.

Flowing through the world by my taste buds, England really fucks up my compass! My stomach asks, Why are we here? I was there playing music, and England was not my only stop, but it was a big chunk of my month. When I am unsatisfied with food, it's the only thing on my mind and in England, I had a one-track mind. My tourmates and I unspooled our finest food fantasies in hungry times at British rest stops and before a couple of our weirder shows, where promoters who never even showed up left us a loaf of bread and Tesco hummus. 

I am no fan of the English breakfast, but I am so impressed by its strangeness. Steamed tomatoes? The sauteed mushrooms? The always-Heinz beans? It doesn't make me drool, but people really do love it.  I love the national commitment to a plate of food that to me, seems abstract in its flavor choices. 

A month before I departed for this tour, I traveled around the United States for part of August and part of September for a grueling job. When I recall my gastronomical experience on that voyage, which was through Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia and New Jersey, I forgive the British for their food. Their food is only trashier than the decadence of Europe,  but the Brits are food geniuses compared to the food offerings of those states. 

It was a struggle in those states, excluding Jersey, to find any food that wasn't stripped of its nature and bullied into some variation on too much fat, too much sugar, too many chemicals or too much salt. We worked very very long days, and seeking food meant cutting into our meager sleep, so we ate strangely. We lived in hotel rooms, often without window circulation, and gluey gravies of Chinese food left cemented fragrances of celery and canned mushrooms, still smelling outrageous when waking at 6 am. At that hour we walked to the lobby for a rushed meal of sugary denature before a Fox News broadcast in the company of other sad and puffy laborers. 

I did my best on that trip. I found Japanese restaurants in southern Georgia with buttered rice but adequate miso soup. I found tofu in Tex-Mex. I searched out itsy bitsy farmers markets next to train tracks where very non-hippie farmers sold us melons that we gulped late at night in our hotel during rainstorms, and tomatoes and peppers we chopped onto pizza, lettuces we ate with our fingers. The Georgia peach was a myth until we found a farm stand in Georgia with the gamey-est, fuzziest, most dripping fruits and blueberries so cheap that we filled our cheeks for days. I missed cooking so very much on that trip. My enviornmental conscientiousness howled with grief as I consumed so much takeout and every meal left a diaper-like buttprint of styrofoam, cardboard and plastic. The only thing I want to leave behind is peels, rinds and other bits, and some fertilizing shit, but during that horror month, everything was the opposite. 

Despite the unlimited chips and brown sauce and other utter weirdness, Great Britain has got it going on compared to most of America. I do prefer the perfected crisp loaves of France and their milky farmy ferments, and Italy's overall vegetable sensuality, and even the frites of Belgium because it's instantly factual, they are much better than England's, but England is so much smarter than America for common public food. At the airport, there are goat cheese sandwiches with grated beets, carrot and apple and organic yogurt. Rest stops always have vegetarian soups. Pubs often have spectacular food, always a veggie option, that matches nicely with the steamy windows and hand-pulled ales. 

But most stunning and sought after, for me, is the food that immigrated to England. The dal, the rice pilau and its flourescent bits, chutneys, raita, naan bread, all reminding someone of somewhere other than England. The county has beautiful pastures, cozy people who drink so much tea and are so nice, awesome castles, wonderful musical people and all, but without their immigrant friends, they would not have a chile among them! That's not comfortable for me.

Now I have to pay tribute to my favorite restaurant on the whole tour, TASTY HUT. We were in Dublin in a shitty neighborhood and we were so starving. Nothing looked good. It was dire. It was cold. This place did not look good. They had a full Indian menu, but no sign of a kitchen,  just one of those doner carcasses and the meat dustpan and a few Indian dishes looking bacteria ready under a sneeze guard. Honey persuaded me to try it anyway, and we ordered a bunch of stuff. We went to the back of this sleazy place, it was all yellowed, and discovered a cement wall with almost a hole punched in it where orders were placed. About 5 serious-looking men were cooking back there. I began to get so hungry and so excited! It defied my expectations, it was so good, I licked my fingers in sincere glee! My tourmates almost fought each other with chicken bones to get the most tandoori chicken until I mediated by imploring, ORDER MORE! We loved it. They had a sign outside depicting a big cartoon cowboy. I don't know why they are what they are, what makes them love people so much that they decide not to make shitty food but come through and mysteriously crank out the calories god intended? I loved these guys. They would not accept compliments. It's true right, of course it should be good! Do we love to live?

When you tour Europe, people always make you food, and these people not only love life, but they love music. My best shows were played after served a loving meal. The first night in Switzerland, we had an excellent crusty bread, salad and a mushroom risotto. I ate until my body said stop and it signaled to proceed for so long! Delicious wine helped the process. Premium butter helped as well. 

We played on a boat in Lyon and the chef, who would not speak to us, made us a tomato cheese tart, Morroccan stew and couscous, and the wine also helped in this case. I was in ecstacy, and then came the cheese plate. 

In Belgium one of our friend's mom made us Peruvian food, and also in Belgium we had lentil croquettes with yogurt herb sauce and mashed root vegetables. When we played Paris, the club was having some kind of photo shoot and there was a table of model vegetables. Enchanting pumpkin and big curves of lettuces. I assumed they were going to be sacrificed for our dinner and I lept with joy! 

Apparently, in a tease I associate with Paris in general, the vegetables were not for us but for show and I ate a very small plate of sub-par tortellini which I supplemented with delicious grape leaves after midnight. I had a day off in Paris to compensate for my tease, and I filled my purse with cheap fresh figs, a pudding-ripe persimmon, heirloom apples. I don't think the vendors have ever seen so much satisfaction in one unjaded American grin. I also had a baklava, dusted with green, in the shape and size of an ice cream cone, which I ate on the way back from the cemetery in order to brush off the dead with sweet thriving life. But then I ate so much I was downed with a stomachache and the only cure was a metabolizing jog through Paris. People couldn't believe it! The jogging was too much for them. I felt so fun and outrageously American, huffing and jiggling through the streets where women wear uncomfortable shoes in some bid at sexy neccessity. I mean, how do they burn off unavoidable pain au chocolat, frowning?

I am flooded with food memories. Big, grainy scones from a 500-year-old market in Cork, Ireland. Healthy lunches which stabilized moodiness, hot pureed soups, consistently fantastic naturally leavened breads, hoofy cheeses. I know it's sinister, but I am secretly excited about the contracting economy. I want so much contraction that regions castrated by multi-national corporate food agendas get their local lusts back and everywhere you travel, there is a new unique food joy on the banquet. Breakfast at Motel 6 in Statesboro, Georgia: serving locally grown grits, local wildflower honey, gamey Georgia peaches and mint tea from their herb garden, that's my dream.

But most of all, I wish to stay in one place for a while and enjoy my own food system and its seasons, and find my most sustainable place within it. The olives and grapes are being picked, and lemons starting to go wild in backyards here in California. I can't wait to express myself for Thanksgiving. 


Argumentix said...

nice to see a post after so long!

MMR said...

dude, I just got back from a tour in Australia, and I felt the same way as what you say about England. The food was not necessarily spectacular (also with the steamed tomatoes, etc.), but generally they had it so much more figured out than America. Food was made with care, with awareness of seasons and ingredients. The coffee was unbelievable, I will never be as happy with American coffee again. Everything seemed made "by hand," whereas in America, even though it's also made by hand, it doesn't feel that way. All the eggs were from "happy chickens." Every place had soymilk. All the meat and dairy was local. And, even more subtle, it just seemed like people LIKED food more there. They were more excited about it and more discerning, and waiters were more enthusiastic. It made me so sad for my homeland where we have such a sad relationship with food so much of the time. Anyway. I read that all the fancy chefs of America are lobbying Obama to take steps to try to make Americans more aware of these kinds of issues. Seems like the kind of thing he'd get behind.