A Case of Culinary Wanderlust

This is my entry for challenge #1 of Project Food Blog: describe who I am as a food blogger.

Maybe a good place to start is my cookbook shelf.

After all, wouldn’t you agree that a person’s cookbook collection speaks volumes(!) about who they are in the kitchen?

And it’s only fair, really. Because if you ever invite me to your home, I guarantee that you will lose me somewhere along the house tour, doubling back only to find me nosing around your own shelf of cookbooks. Not only will I be drooling (not literally!) over the books you have that I don’t, I’ll also be finding out things I’m dying to know about you. Are you addicted to a certain cuisine? Do you have a favorite celebrity chef? Are you a sous-vide fanatic? I love noting how one person’s copy of the Zuni Cafe cookbook is stained and tattered while at someone else’s house, it’s the Momofuku that’s been most heavily used. That is, unless you’re my sister in which case all books, in heavy rotation or not, are in mint condition because that’s just how she rolls.

While I’m waiting for that invitation to your house to arrive (so I can poke around your stuff – now you know), let’s get back to the topic at hand. As you can see, I don’t have a particularly grand collection or even claim to own all the classics. But one glance at those cookbooks and the diagnosis is pretty clear: when it comes to cooking, I have a rather bad case of wanderlust.

I love discovering and writing about recipes from around the world for the simple fact that I’m insanely curious about how people eat well on modest means without resorting to fast food and frozen dinners. You might have heard of cucina povera, especially in the vicinity of trendy Italian restaurants these days. That’s probably the most accurate term for describing the recurring theme on this blog, except I’m co-opting an Italian term to describe a worldwide phenomenon.

Cultures all around the globe excel at turning humble ingredients into glorious meals, everything from decadent curries to colorful noodles to hearty bowls of stew. Even within our borders, there are fine examples of cucina povera in the comforting dishes of the South and Cajun/Creole cuisine. Nothing’s more exciting to me than learning how to feed ourselves modestly yet deliciously using tricks from food cultures near and far, sharing those lessons with you through this blog, and all the while giving humble cooking the props it deserves!

Let me tell you another reason I love to write about food. It has to do with one gorgeous bowl of soup called sup tulang.

During a solo work trip to Singapore, I wandered by a food stall selling this exact thing, although at the time, all I knew about this thing was what I had seen on Anthony Bourdain’s show. Two men were working behind the counter, one constantly stirring the giant cauldron of flaming red soup as the other took my order. When I sat down with my paper plate, strangers immediately began to offer tips as it was painfully obvious I was a tulang newbie. Someone from a nearby juice stand presented me with a fat straw and told me I should use it to suck the marrow out from the bone. A mother with two kids from the next table scoffed at the very idea and told me to simply suck on the bone like a straw. It dawned on me that I was re-enacting the exact scene from Bourdain’s show right then and there. Even minus the cameras and television crew, a humble dish like this – it’s just a soup with mutton bones, people – had the magical power to connect me with total strangers in other countries.

So food, it turns out, is always common ground. That’s the other reason why I love food, why I love to write about it, and why I think you’ll like reading about it.

And just maybe, after a while, you’ll find that culinary wanderlust can be a very contagious thing.


  1. Kimmy said:
    23 September 2010 at 12:24 am

    Wonderful writing… you’re welcome to poke around my kitchen any time! Here’s another vote for your pile. I hope you’ll check my blog out as well!

    • angi said:
      23 September 2010 at 4:38 am

      Thanks for visiting Kimmy! I love your philosophy of keeping things simple and local – good luck on PFB!

  2. Sara said:
    23 September 2010 at 12:53 am

    Thanks for finding me and leading me to you. Love the shelf! Going to vote for you now. Good luck!

    • angi said:
      23 September 2010 at 4:39 am

      Thanks for dropping in, Sara! Good luck to you on PFB!

  3. 23 September 2010 at 3:20 am

    i agree with one of your earlier comments – love how the PFB is helping me find some other blogs out there! i’m not very good about updating stuff on FB, so this is perfect! love your story, and your cookbook shelf!

    • angi said:
      23 September 2010 at 4:43 am

      Thanks Heather! I know what you mean… FB is usually information overload for me, so I much prefer the traditional comments and am recently starting to understand Twitter. Good luck on PFB!

  4. 23 September 2010 at 7:22 am

    I’m glad to have found you, too! You got my vote! I’m looking forward to sharing more.

    • angi said:
      23 September 2010 at 7:31 am

      Thanks Belinda! Good luck in PFB!

  5. 23 September 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain and I totally remember the episode you described. Love your writing style and the cookbook reference. Great entry, you got my vote! Good luck with the competition.

    • angi said:
      23 September 2010 at 4:53 pm

      Born in HK and also fans of Bourdain?? We must lead parallel lives! Thanks for dropping by, Margaret, and good luck to you too!

  6. janelle said:
    28 September 2010 at 4:28 am

    Hehe—I am picture you by my just-moved-in boxes of cookbooks. SO many boxes. Though, you wouldn’t be ‘doubling back’; we would have both stopped, plopped and started thumbing through the books together! I LOVE learning about people too—I always thought it would be fun to work in a check-out line at a grocers… SO interesting what people buy!

    • angi said:
      28 September 2010 at 5:25 pm

      Janelle, sounds like we’d both have fun at each other’s houses/cookbook collections! :) I totally know what you mean about the grocery store too … I’m super nosy and I love eyeing what people are buying, especially the people in front and behind me in the checkout line. They probably don’t appreciate it but it’s so fun for me. Thanks for reading!

  7. daphne said:
    16 October 2010 at 5:03 am

    Good luck! I just found your blog through Foodbuzz and am so glad I did. Looks like you have a lot of yummy stuff on here. :)

    • angi said:
      19 October 2010 at 1:09 am

      Thanks for dropping by and reading, Daphne!

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