International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World
What began as an eagerly anticipated Friday night ritual in the Kurlansky home took hold in a big way when bestselling author Mark was challenged one step further by daughter Talia’s random jabs at a spinning globe. Where her finger landed became what they’d cook and eat together. Once they’d gathered and tried a veritable United Nations of meals, where next but a cookbook to share their culinary travels?
With such a whimsical birth, INTERNATIONAL NIGHT was guaranteed to be far more than an attractively designed collection of recipes on paper. Many of the Kurlanskys’ more than 250 recipes (some acquired directly, others imaginatively constructed when the originals were kept “secret”) read like music for the taste buds. But the stories that introduce each gastronomic destination, prefaced by clever hints as to the place, are gems in themselves, embracing geography, politics, folklore, environment, history, culture, language, disaster --- a vivid tapestry of human life. Some places evoked memories of personally experiencing exquisite meals; others were discoveries made through careful research and a mindful respect for local values and identity.
"The very best thing about INTERNATIONAL NIGHT is that its nearly 400 pages are such a great read, such a mind-opening journey, that you need never cook a single dish to derive immense enjoyment from it."
Some of these introductory stories are rather sad, such as that of Afghanistan, whose chronic political instability and centuries-long soil exhaustion have left it with little in the way of culinary resources. Nevertheless, INTERNATIONAL NIGHT brings together a menu that would make any Afghan proud. Other stories, such as Québec, warm the heart (especially of this Canadian) with a thoughtful reminiscence of the province’s rich and seminal history in relation to the rest of our British-dominated national culture. And, thank goodness, the Kurlanskys chose something other than the ubiquitous poutine to honor “la belle province.”
It would be easy, and lengthy, to go on describing the amazing variety and wonderfully exotic sequence of 52 places that emerge every few pages in INTERNATIONAL NIGHT. In fact, I’m glad that the emphasis is on places rather than countries. While some nations do comprise a distinct cuisine within their borders, Mark and Talia Kurlansky recognize the importance of regions where the land and people have independently created their own societies of food and fellowship. It just goes to show that when a seasoned and accomplished writer-traveler joins forces with a voracious grade-eight mind, something memorably different happens.
The very best thing about INTERNATIONAL NIGHT is that its nearly 400 pages are such a great read, such a mind-opening journey, that you need never cook a single dish to derive immense enjoyment from it. And if you’re a foodie, the abundance of clear and interesting recipes, plus a comprehensive preface on cooking materials and preparation, will keep you going for a long and tasty time. This win-win volume is a stroke of genius that belongs in every family.
My only dilemma now is this: Do I read some more, or go and cook something from a place I’ve always wanted to visit?
Reviewed by Pauline Finch on September 12, 2014