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National Dish: Around the World in Search of Food, History, and the Meaning of Home (paperback)

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by Anya von Bremzen
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Where do popular ideas about what epitomizes a particular cuisine come from? Pizza and pasta al pomodoro conjure Italy; ramen summons Japan; mole means Mexico. But how does this happen?

Anya von Bremzen, the author of cookbooks on countries as varied as Spain and her native Russia, set out to understand the association between particular dishes and nations, from both the perspectives of locals and foreigners. Her explorations introduce us to many veins of culinary history and an abundance of thoughtful, insightful figures who don’t necessarily agree with each other.

“Oh France, my beautiful homeland” wrote Marie-Antoine Carême, “you alone united in your breast the delights of gastronomy,” a sentiment which may contribute to the chef’s status as an icon of Gallic pride. But as von Bremzen travels from Paris to Naples, from Tokyo to Seville, from Oaxaca to Istanbul, and finally in her own Jackson Heights home for a bowl of Ukrainian borsch, it is one that is abundantly disproven.

Many people could have embarked on similar journeys, but von Bremzen distinguishes her account with a willingness to not only tolerate ambiguity but to use it as a prism for further insights. This allows her a level of comfort with academics and cooks, frail old grandmothers and transgender divas, Marxist tour guides and Albanian offal vendors.

National Dish is a vivid demonstration of the ways in which culinary culture is entwined with a wider range of developments, many of which even those of who feel well-informed about history may have overlooked.

Readable and eye-opening.


Published: June 18, 2024

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