Reading Food : Eating in Tongues

If you have a strong interest in cuisine but limit your sources of knowledge to books published in the English-speaking world, you are missing out on some exciting books. Here is a sampling.

Surprisingly, Germany has become a major culinary center in recent years, and has produced many noteworthy chefs and food writers. Monique Lichtner, for instance. She lived in Provence for over 10 years, learning the dialect and developing close ties with the villagers which allowed her to collect recipes from old families.

Her two books, "La Cuisine Provencale" and "Knoblauch, Krauter und Oliven" (both in German), tell about food markets, buying fish and hunting for truffles, and also about learning from her 75-year-old neighbor about Provencale life in the old days. The books are illustrated with watercolors by her late husband, the well-known artist Werner Lichtner-Aix.

Hebara Monia bent Hassen Houachria sewjet Lampert is a Tunisian woman, now living in Germany, whose book "Tunesische Spezialitaten" is based on the recipes and memories of her 108-year-old grandmother. Her ancestors were Bedouins, desert people who wandered throughout all of Tunisia for hundreds of years before settling in one place. An artist accompanied the Lamperts to Tunisia, to illustrate the book from life.

A number of German books show the work of the young chefs who are not only creating the New German Cuisine but also a new international repertoire. Among these are "Junge Deutsche Kuche" by Hans Peter O. Breuer and Peter Frese and "Besser Essen in Deutschland" by Wolfgang Monninghoff.

Tore Wretman is Sweden's Escoffier, and his two books, "Mat & Minnen" (Food and Memories) and "Mera Mat & Minnen" (More Food and Memories), look back on a lifetime in the world of fine cuisine, nobility, opera, artists and journalists. The works contain not only food photography but also historic photos and art reproductions.

Annette Human has a following equaled by few food writers anywhere. Her South African newspaper column receives treasured recipes from every segment of the country and all racial groups: White, Black, Brown, Indian, Malay, etc. She has compiled three books titled "Winning Recipes" Nos. 1, 2, and 3, which were originally published in Afrikaans but are now available in English.

Haydee Tamzali has compiled North African recipes from the handwritten notebooks she filled over a period of 50 years. Born in Tunisia, she married a man accustomed to fine food. Over the years, living in Algeria and Paris, she collected Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan recipes and selected the best of them for her book "La Cuisine en Afrique du Norde." It gives 33 recipes for couscous alone, and each one, she says, tastes different.

Peter Buhrer is the young proprietor of the restaurant Oscar's in Zurich. Switzerland celebrates its 700th year as a nation next year, and the Swiss Cultural Ministry has designated a lavishly produced book by Buhrer as the official Swiss cookbook. While that book will contain modernized Swiss recipes, "Schweizer Spezialitaten"--which Buhrer published before he was even 21--covers the tradition. For it, he went to every Swiss canton and searched monastery archives, private libraries, etc. for old recipes.

Varda Shilo, who now lives in Israel, grew up in northern Iraq near the Turkish border. Her village was part of Kurdistan, the homeland of the Kurdish people, which is divided among Iraq, Iran and Turkey. In "Kurdistani Cooking" (in Hebrew) she has created a remarkable memoir of life in the close-knit Jewish community of Zakho. She vividly describes how people made their own bricks, built their own homes and gathered wild plants and herbs for cooking. She succeeds in making a vanished way of life come alive.

Also from Israel is one of the best examples of the evocative cookbook: "The Sephardic Kitchen of My Russian Mother," written by Ofra Bourla-Adar, the daughter of a well-known Israeli writer. It is filled not only with Sephardic recipes but memories of old Jerusalem and a family with close ties to the literary and political figures of the time.

Roger Souvereyns is one of Belgium's most talented chefs. His restaurant is an old farm transformed into one of the most luxurious, spacious places to dine in all of Europe. An exquisite book about the chef, his restaurant and his recipes was published in Flemish by one of the country's finest art publishers, Lannoo. For those who find it easier to read German than Flemish, Econ has published a German translation under the title "Roger Souvereyns: Der Scholteshof in Flandern."

"Traditional Portuguese Cooking," edited by Maria de Lourdes Modest, is probably the best cookbook ever done in Portugal, and an English-language edition has just been published. The book was the result of a contest to find the best regional Portuguese recipes. For many years the contest judges worked on uncovering the origins of dishes and testing numerous versions to find the very best recipes. The slow-going work, wrote Modest, "made us feel the pulse of a life, a family, a region, a country." In the end some 800 recipes were selected.

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