National Dish: Around the World in Search of Food, History, and the Meaning of Home (Hardcover)
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One of Financial Times's Best Books of 2023 in Food and Drink
In this engrossing and timely journey to the crossroads of food and identity, award-winning writer Anya von Bremzen explores six of the world’s most fascinating and iconic culinary cultures—France, Italy, Japan, Spain, Mexico, and Turkey—brilliantly weaving cuisine, history, and politics into a work of scintillating connoisseurship and charm
We all have an idea in our heads about what French food is—or Italian, or Japanese, or Mexican, or . . . But where did those ideas come from? Who decides what makes a national food canon? Recipient of three James Beard awards, Anya von Bremzen has written definitive cookbooks on Russian, Spanish, and Latin American cuisines, as well as her internationally acclaimed memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. Now in National Dish, she sets out to investigate the truth behind the eternal cliché—“we are what we eat”—traveling to six storied food capitals, going high and low, from world-famous chefs to scholars to strangers in bars, in search of how cuisine became connected to place and identity.
Paris is where the whole idea of food as national heritage was first invented, and so it is where Anya must begin. With an inquisitive eye and unmistakable wit, she ponders the codification of French food and the current tension between locavorism and globalization. From France, she’s off to Naples, to probe the myth and reality of pizza, pasta, and Italian-ness. Next up, Tokyo, where Anya and her partner Barry explore ramen, rice, and the distance between Japan’s future and its past. From there they move to Seville, to search for the community-based essence of Spain’s tapas traditions, and then Oaxaca, where debates over postcolonial cultural integration find expression in maize and mole. In Istanbul, a traditional Ottoman potluck becomes a lens on how a former multicultural empire defines its food heritage. Finally, they land back in their beloved home in Queens, for a dinner centered on Ukrainian borsch, a meal that has never felt more loaded, or more precious and poignant.
A unique and magical cook’s tour of the world, National Dish brings us to a deep appreciation of how the country makes the food, and the food the country.
About the Author
Anya von Bremzen is one of the most accomplished food writers of her generation: the winner of three James Beard awards; a contributing writer at AFAR magazine; and the author of six acclaimed cookbooks, among them The New Spanish Table, The Greatest Dishes: Around the World in 80 Recipes, and Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook (coauthored with John Welchman). Her memoir, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, has been translated into nineteen languages. Anya has been a contributing editor at Travel+Leisure and Food & Wine, and has written for Saveur, The New Yorker, and Foreign Policy, among other publications. Her work has been anthologized in several editions of Best Food Writing and in The Best American Travel Writing. A former concert pianist, Anya is fluent in four languages and when not on the road divides her time between New York and Istanbul.
“A fast-paced, entertaining travelogue, peppered with compact history lessons that reveal the surprising ways dishes become iconic. Reading this book is like traveling with someone who knows the best places to eat and the right people to meet, but who can still find joy in humble, improvised meals . . . Our beloved dishes may not always tell a happy story about who we are, but they tell us what we have to give.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Whether she’s getting lost in loud, crowded Italian streets while searching for the most exquisite pasta, dining on ramen amid Japanese septuagenarians or making mole for an unexpected fiesta in Oaxaca, von Bremzen nimbly separates fact from “fakelore” to divine what is important behind the association of cuisine with geography—the character of a place and the memories of those who live there.” —Washington Post
“If you’ve ever contemplated the origins and iconography of classic foods, then National Dish is the sensory-driven, historical deep dive for you . . . [an] evocative, gorgeously layered exercise in place-making and cultural exploration, nuanced and rich as any of the dishes captured within.” —Boston Globe
“[A] dazzlingly intelligent examination of how foods become national symbols . . . so enlightening—as well as so much fun to read . . . By the end of this remarkable book, you see that the question of national food always touches on deeper issues.” —Financial Times
“On a whirlwind tour of six cities . . . Von Bremzen celebrates the colorful histories of canonical dishes. [Her] prose is . . . as bold and richly textured as a steaming bowl of shoyu ramen.” —Saveur
“Engrossing . . . A fascinating reflection on the connection between food, place, and what flavors mean to the people who prepare them and those who travel to seek them out.” —Travel + Leisure
“Expansive, terrific . . . an ode to the thrill of eating dishes that personify a culture.” —Bloomberg Businessweek
"Incisive, spirited and mouthwatering.” —Howard Chua-Eoan, Bloomberg Opinion
“Revealing and richly detailed . . . Fans of food and travel writing will want to sink their teeth into this.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Vivid . . . for readers who appreciate a sensorial journey and eschew arriving at easy conclusions, this will hit the spot.” —Booklist
“In this piquant platter of a book, von Bremzen tackles questions of culture, history, and the meaning of a good meal . . . Her vivid narrative is packed with intriguing characters, and in some countries, conversations about the food can be as important as the dish itself.” —Kirkus
“This voyage into culinary myth-making and identity is essential reading. Its breadth of scope and scholarship is conveyed with such engaging wit. I couldn’t love it more.” —Nigella Lawson
“Anya von Bremzen, already a legend of food writing and a storytelling inspiration to me, has done her best work yet. National Dish is a must-read for all those who believe in building longer tables where food is what bring us all together.” —José Andrés
“Nobody writes about food like Anya Von Bremzen. In this smart, personal, and compulsively readable book she takes on history, politics, love and flavor to show us the real meaning of what we eat.” —Ruth Reichl
“Enchanting, fascinating, thought-provoking, and humorous. Storytelling that brings people, culture, and history together through the lens of food.” —Claudia Roden, author of Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean
“Every dish tells a story. A powerful storyteller herself, Anya von Bremzen blends historical research and beautiful writing into this absorbing crazy-smart book about how food defines who we are and where we come from. Whether she’s decoding pizza in Naples or tortillas in Mexico, Anya is your perfect guide to the profound subjects of nationalism, food, and identity. And she’s often funny as hell.” —Rene Redzepi, chef & co-owner of Noma
“It’s a great pleasure to follow Anya von Bremzen as she brings her characteristic wit, curiosity, and agility as a prose stylist to make sense of this current moment in which what we eat has become so closely bound to identity. She writes with the intimacy of your most erudite friend telling you a story. This is a masterfully woven study, both edifying and entertaining, from one of the finest writers on food today.” —Mayukh Sen, author of Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America
“Any new book by Anya von Bremzen is cause for celebration for curious cooks and readers. Whether she’s writing about the hidden restaurants of Cuba, the modern chefs of Spain, or telling deeply poignant stories of the table of the Soviet Union where she grew up, she always balances the pleasures of the palate and the mind. In National Dish, she explores not just why people care about their food, but how food makes us a people.” —Francis Lam, host of The Splendid Table
“In this eye-opening book, Anya von Bremzen travels the world to search beyond the cliches of iconic foods like ramen, pizza, or tapas—showing us how their stories are tied to colonialism, nationalism, religion, race, and more. Full of delicious scenes, colorful characters, and fascinating historical facts, National Dish is both thought-provoking and hugely entertaining to read.” —Kwame Onwuachi, chef, author, and restaurateur
“Anya von Bremzen’s tour of world cuisines, from France to Japan to Turkey to Mexico, is written as both an elegant entertainment and a love letter to those cuisines. But it’s also a meditation on the paradox of national identity that will seduce the gastronomic curiosity of any world traveler.” —Lawrence Osborne, author of The Forgiven and On Java Road
“Anya von Bremzen’s National Dish is a revelation, giving us hard truths about where our food traditions really come from. What we cherish about great food cultures—the genuine origins, the long historical roots—turns out to be in no small part myth, and of surprisingly recent vintage, yet National Dish is an exceedingly hopeful read.” —Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and author of The Third Plate