Friday, July 31, 2009


This just in from my pal Susanna Forrest, a British writer based in Berlin and with a book in the pipeline "about ponies," including the eating of them as far as I can gather.

She sent me this piece of vintage advertising.

I know that to the pure in thought all things are pure, but since I imagine that everybody who reads this blog has a mind like a sewer, I think I can allow you all to draw your own tawdry conclusions.


My companion there at Ngamo, the one who ate the beef ugalini sukuma wiki was Scott Peake, movie director, DJ, bon viveur and all round omnivore, though with a special soft spot for all things porcine.

A couple of days after our lunch he had his annual pig roast in his back yard. Here he is in action:

A whole pig, 70 pounds or so in weight, is placed in a Cuban-style marinade for several days then cooked whole in an improvised cinder block oven.

I love the ritual of the thing and like everybody else I gorge myself on pig skin, pig cheek, pig tongue as well as the more conventional cuts. But I almost never get to see the whole pig. By the time I arrive the carving has usually started and the pig is in pieces.

The head, of course, keeps its structural integrity to the bitter end.

And just to prove that sometimes the pig bites back (metaphorically at least) her's a close up of Scott's hand after some of his carving got a little too sharp.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


“So, what did you have for lunch?” It’s a common enough question, but how often do you get to say, “Oh, I had the goat nayama choma served with kachumbari and ugali and collard greens.”

Well if you go to Ngoma, a pan African restaurant at 5358 Wilshire Boulevard here in LA, that’s exactly the kind of thing you can say. You might also add, “My companion had the beef ugalini sukuma wiki.

It looked like this:

And the food was really good. Ugali is that white sphere on the left of the plate, made from white cornmeal.

As far as I can tell (my source here is nayama choma just means roasted meat, and my goat had been rubbed with spices and probably marinated; and it was delicious with something quite bacon-like about it.

Sukuma wiki I discover is a Swahili phrase meaning literally “push the week,” a way of combing leftovers. Ours came with a huge quantity of tender stewed beef. And I guess if you wanted to question the restaurant’s authenticity you might say that surely nobody in Africa ever eats a fraction of the meat we were served. Still, they obviously know their meat-loving American market.

The list of appetizers included Dodo, and you can imagine my excitement, but this turned out to be African for fried plantain.

The food was all very good. It was the rest of the experience that was so peculiar. We got there at one pm, and the restaurant was completely empty with no sign of any staff, but after a while a very shy, polite African woman appeared, took our order and then disappeared again. We were prepared to move slowly; we knew we might be working to “African time,” and we also suspected that our waitress might also be the cook, which would slow things down further. But as the meal went on things slowed down more and more.

Two more tables filled up, and our girl came and went to take orders and deliver food, but her appearances were ever fewer and farther between. But after a while our food arrived, and we had no cause for complaint.

Then after we’d been in there about an hour, and had finished eating, a rather annoyed-seeming black guy in a wheelchair bustled in, and waited for the waitress to appear; and she never did.

We waited for twenty more minutes or so. She didn’t come to offer the guy a table, didn’t come to ask us if we wanted anything else or to leave our check, didn’t serve any of the other tables. It did cross our minds that she’d had some terrible accident in the kitchen or perhaps that she wasn’t the cook, and was in the back getting up to lord knows what with someone who was.

We’ll never know. By then we’d had enough and we left some cash on the table and went on our way; not unhappy but a little confused. The wheelchair guy had had enough by then too and followed us out.

As we were leaving we noticed the banner mounted above the door.

We couldn't understand why that wasn't packing them in.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


There’s some debate (and of course a huge number of web postings) about whether or not there’s food in heaven. The general consensus is no, that heaven will be a place of spiritual rather than bodily pleasures, thereby avoiding heavenly toilet and sewage issues.

The blessed Christopher Hitchens says that North Korea currently resembles a Christian heaven; a place without irony, art or privacy, with no respect for individuals, and where you’re required to offer perpetual thanks to the great leader; Kim Jong-Il, in the case of Korea.

Hitchens might also add that North Korea is a place without food, at least for a large portion of the population, although Kim himself, is quite the foodie and certainly gets all he can eat, and more.

His apologists, and strangely enough there are one or two, insist that he’s a gourmet rather than a gourmand. Yes, yes, they say, he flies in lobster and French cheeses, and camel’s feet and blue-shark liver, and sometimes send couriers on international food shopping trips, but once the food is in front of him he eats very sparingly, as if he’s working his way through an endless tasting menu.

There have been two “cook and tell” exposés of Kim’s eating habits; a series of articles by Ermanno Furlanis titled "I Made Pizza for Kim Jong Il," and another by a sushi chef who worked for the man between 1988 and 2001. Now I can’t see anything very wrong about having a personal pizza or sushi chef, but other parts of the story are way more excessive; such as personally importing $560,000 of Hennessey cognac each year.

Then there’s an institute in Pyongyang devoted simply to extending the life of Kim Jong-Il. Among the large staff are 200 people who work solely on his diet; which I would have thought might be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

But strangest of all, he also has a staff of women who’s job it is to inspect the rice that comes into Kim’s kitchen to make sure that every grain is perfect and resembles every other grain. Grains of the wrong shape or size aren’t allowed to come into his presence. Now that does seem nuts. As for the women, well no doubt it’s a strange job, and definitely a boring one, but in North Korea it’s probably a job worth having. With a bit of luck, and possibly some subterfuge, at least the women may get to eat some misshapen rice. In North Korea this places them among the lucky ones.

Back in 1998 former agriculture diplomat Kim Dong-Su defected to South Korea and estimated that 2.8 million people had died of starvation in the three year famine immediately before then. It’s thought that figure is exaggerated but even if it’s triple the actual figure that’s still an awful lot of people starving to death as a result of the actions of their own government. The UN World Food Program believes that a large part of the population has been undernourished for 15 to 20 years.

All of which makes you think of Amartya Sen, the Novel Prize-winning Indian economist; the man who famously asserted, “In the terrible history of famines in the world, no substantial famine has ever occurred in an independent and democratic country with a relatively free press.”

Sen is an Indian, and he observes that the last famine in his country was in Bengal in 1943, five years before India gained independence from Britain: and there has been none since, although there have been a couple of “near misses.”

Meanwhile the folk at the US Department of Agricuture have declared that 13 million American families, made up of 38 million individuals, are “food insecure,” meaning that they worry at times about being able to buy the food they want. This seems to be so broad a deifinition as to be almost meaningless. And, unlike Kim Jung-Il, I am clearly food insecure. I just don’t where my next camel’s foot or blue-shark liver is coming from.


Actually the Loved One and I have been saying we’re not all that convinced that a glass of wine really goes with an omelette. An omelette and a bloody Mary seems a better choice, certainly for breakfast or brunch.

And actually it’s totally impossible for me to make an omelette of any sort without thinking about, and usually quoting, this totally wonderful cartoon from Kliban.

Kliban is the man who published a book called “Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head.” Advice to live by: and so far I never have.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


It seems I’m not the only one who finds Alice Waters a bit of a pill.

Here’s Anthony Bourdain speaking about her:

“I'll tell you. Alice Waters annoys the living shit out of me. We're all in the middle of a recession, like we're all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic ... I'm suspicious of orthodoxy, the kind of orthodoxy when it comes to what you put in your mouth. I'm a little reluctant to admit that maybe Americans are too stupid to figure out that the food we're eating is killing us. But I don't know if it's time to send out special squads to close all the McDonald's.”

Of course once you get the idea in your head that you COULD send out special squads and close all the McDonald’s ...

And here he is on Rachel Ray:

“She's hugely influential, particularly with children. And she's endorsing Dunkin' Donuts. It's like endorsing crack for kids. I'm not a very ethical guy. I don't have a lot of principles. But somehow that seems to me over the line. Juvenile diabetes has exploded. Half of Americans don't have necks. And she's up there saying, 'Eat some [bleeping] Dunkin' Donuts. You look great in that swimsuit — eat another doughnut!' That's evil."

And just in case you think I’m enjoying these women’s humiliations, I should say that Bourdain once reviewed a novel of mine. It was not a good review. The words “always clever, seldom fun” are embossed in my memory, though I’m sure not in his. Here he is with a fan:

Monday, July 13, 2009


We know that the English tabloids aren’t exactly hot beds of rationality and restraint. Even so, I find myself offended by a headline on the Daily Mirror website that runs, “Man jailed for life for murdering his lover with an omelette.” Then, just in case readers aren’t quite sure what an omelette looks like there’s this picture of one:

I guess the reason it’s offensive is because initially it sounds rather funny and absurd and silly. Then you read the story and you find it isn’t funny at all. Stephen Singer, a school janitor in south London, served his girlfriend an omelette that had been laced with sleeping pills, as had the glass of wine he gave her to go with it. After she’d passed out he punched her three times in the head and then used lighter fluid to set fire to her flat.

The judge at the Old Bailey said this was “the chilling solution to a complex love triangle,” but hardly a very elegant one, and surely not one that Singer could possibly have thought he’d get away with.

Then however, as you read more about the case you discover the omelette didn’t kill the woman at all: it was the three blows to head that did it, causing brain damage. The accurate headline would have been “Man jailed for life for murdering his lover with his fist” but obviously that doesn’t have a satisfying tabloid ring to it.

The world is full of grotesque coincidence, and it so happens that Stephen Singer is also the name of the Alice Water’s ex-husband. Singer is a “vinegar and olive oil importer,” Waters is executive chef of Chez Panisse, and a favorite at the Obama White House. I suspect she isn't a bad woman, but why does she always have to look and sound so friggin' smug?

Alice Waters writes, “Every time I reread one of Elizabeth David's books, I discover details to inspire me anew. Her works reach all my senses. The life around the table, the setting, the conversation - not just the food - are all part of her inimitable aesthetic.” One of David’s more famous books is called “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.”

Saturday, July 4, 2009


There is a long and ignoble history of women using food to tempt men: Eve, Nell Gwynne, Paris Hilton, to name but few.

However, Eve had certainly eaten the forbidden fruit before she offered it to Adam.

Nell Gwynne surely tasted at least some of the oranges she sold to the audiences at London’s Restoration theater, although this was clearly not her main business.

Similarly Paris Hilton isn’t really in the business of selling burgers but at least she, like Padma, was prepared to put a Carl’s Jr in her mouth while making the commercial.

Heidi Klum is apparently having none of that. Here she is shilling for Macdonald’s chicken wraps – and it’s pretty clear that although she’s prepared to put those suckers somewhere near her mouth, there’s no way they’re going IN her mouth.

Integrity, don’t you love it?


There used to be a theory, not mine, that what porn movies needed was more narrative. The idea was that they’d become more “genuinely erotic” the more they resembled mainstream movies. The viewer could get to know the characters and empathize with them as people rather than as performing sex freaks.

In the age of the bukkake and the 65 man cream pie, the argument seems to have been lost (or won). Few things are more painful than watching porn stars try to act, much less resemble real people.

The problem is that, outside of a swing club, there are very few plausible real world situations that lead to unbridled sex between groups of people. However, as these old school images from work produced by the Rodox company of Denmark show, the consumption of food is one of them. All it takes to start an orgy is a call for room service.

Obviously a dinner party can be a Dionysian affair, especially if the food is served by waiters in their underpants

When two girls make a banana the centerpiece of their picnic, you know the erotic sparks are going to fly.

And when a man offers a sample from his cheese board, what woman can resist?

Actually I don't think that cheese board up there looks bad at all, but in general the food in these pictures seems as kitsch and dated as the clothes and hairstyles. Ah yes, we’re so much more sophisticated these days when it comes to food and sex. Aren't we? Well only up to a point.

I admit that I'm beguiled by the sight of Padma Lakshmi eating a Carl's Jr burger, though I can't help thinking I'd be even more beguiled watching her eat a ripe Camembert or a blood sausage. And I don't doubt there's some very knowing post-modern ad agency irony at work here. Even so I suspect this ad is going look pretty clunky a few years down the road. Did they really think that was sexy back in 2009?

The ad below suggests that the ad agencies of Singapore are not just post-modern, they're post irony too, but I suppose they know their market.