Friday, September 23, 2011

Are You Really Going To Eat That? - Robb Walsh

I read this book for the Foodie's Reading Challenge.

Judging by the title, I thought this book was going to be food essays by some wiseass geek (or geeky wiseass).  I thought it would be laden with obscenities and heavy on the gross-out factor.  Understand that I don't have any trouble with any of the above of course, but I was wrong.  Although the title is slightly misleading, the book is far richer than that.  You get food, you get culture and you get a nice dollop of geography.  Can you say lagniappe?

Texan Robb Walsh isn't a gross-out guy.  Instead, in this series of articles he wrote over a period of several years, he traveled far and wide to find things like the best cup of coffee in the world, an actual bowlful of a chowder that Neruda rhapsodized about in a poem, sheep cheese, authentic soul food (he visited a prison for that one), the hottest pepper, the ultimate barbecued kid goat, the best brisket and along the way, he revels in culinary mysteries like: Why do Spam and poi suck by themselves, but together they're sublime?  He's also made a believer out of me regarding the proper way to eat okra:  Stew the pods in tomato sauce.  Genius.

There's so much more, but I'm hungry.  Robb Walsh has that effect on me.  He hasn't got that otherworldly way of describing food like M.F.K. Fisher or Ruth Reichl, but he lays down some pretty damn good description and he's generous with the recipes.   Reader, I drooled.  I couldn't help it.  Every single day, I see tiresome news stories scolding people for the foods they choose.  In one essay in Are You Really Going to Eat That? Walsh dived with gusto into a lunch of rare hamburger with a side of a dozen raw oysters.  If someone scolded him, he'd tell them to kiss his CFS (Chicken-fried steak).

Walsh is a veteran food writer who has been around and eaten all kinds of strange things in his line of work.  This chowhound could have a big head but he doesn't take himself too seriously, either, which I like.  When he visited Thailand to do a piece on durian AKA "stinkfruit", he admits that his ego took a smacking since he barely manage "two small sections" without gagging.  

I wish I could compare notes with him.  I'm combing through my own list of strange foods:  Has he eaten rattlesnake?  Buffalo?  Pig intestine stew?  Pumpkin porridge?  What about my own culinary Waterloo, bondeggi AKA silkworm larvae?  Does he know stonecrop?

I want all my friends to read Are You Really Going to Eat That?, but I'm scared I won't get it back.  This is one of those times I'm sincerely glad I bought the book, and it won't be my last helping of Robb Walsh.


Brenna said...

I'm normally not all that interested in food memoirs, but this one sounds really unique. I want to hear more about the soup!

Anonymous said...

The mention of travel makes me want to read it. Even if he's wrong about okra...fried in cornmeal is the only way to go!

fantsmacle said...

Has he tried food at the Employee Dining Room in Yellowstone? The title of his book suggests that he has.

Unruly Reader said...

His writing sounds great, but some of the subject matter... this queasy person would have a difficult time with it!