Archive for the 'Culture' Category


Makrut Limes – aka “Kaffir” Limes

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

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Photo by David Monniaux

…a bit of trivia, a discussion I go through with many cookbook editors as I try to massage our language:

“Kaffir” was, historically, a word used in South Africa to refer to dark-skinned peoples. It differentiated the SE Asian limes grown in Indonesia (where the native Austronesian tribes had dark skin and curly hair) from the juicy and smooth-skinned Persian limes familiar to Europeans.

Word origins: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/kaffir

It’s now considered extremely derogatory, a term that is outlawed, in fact, in several other countries. Users can be prosecuted in court for what we know here as hate speech.

I try to encourage my colleagues and students to use the name “makrut” or “magrut” lime. Obviously, we still have a ways to go, as our whole food industry in the west has absorbed the term without knowing its political background. I often put it in parenthesis, to clarify for readers, but have been working hard to weed it from our cookbooks.

And, as you can tell, continue my Quixotic, linguistic crusade….

Thy


Lunar New Year Sweet Rice Dumplings

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

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The Lunar New Year, or Tet as my peeps call it, brings with it many favorite dishes. Fatty pork and sugar dominate the holiday table, harking back to a time when ingredients fat and sweet were much more difficult to obtain, precious to use, and delightfully rare to enjoy.

While I can now buy a 10-pound bag of sugar and an equal amount of meat for less money than a couple of movie tickets, the most traditional new year’s dishes are still special for one resource that does remain valuable: time.

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Beyond Festivals: Street Food Actually on Streets and Sidewalks

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Night dining in Hong Kong

These last two weekends in the Bay Area have been a celebration of the best and the biggest of food on the go. La Cocina and Eat Real both showed that there are indeed thousands of people willing to stand in long lines in the full heat of summer to try any tasty treat served from a bicycle or cart, tent or renovated taco truck.

But it was a bit like eating Thanksgiving dinner, my cousin’s 12-course wedding banquet and my mom’s new year’s brunch all in the same week. The specialness of each blurred together, and the meaning of each was lost in the flurry of food.

If we would like to see the creativity of those festivals extended to the other 362 days of the year, we now need to divert some of our gustatory energy to ensuring systemic support of microenterprise. Yes, I know, public policy and economic reform is not nearly as sexy as a coconut-basil popsicle. And, yes, talking about immigration and community development is such a downer. Tweeting is way more fun than writing letters to our city supervisors.

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Red Crawfish

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

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One of my favorite culinary mash-ups of recent years is the Vietnamese-Chinese-Cajun crawfish boil served with rice or garlic noodles. Following the arc of families moving from Vietnam to New Orleans to Southern California to, finally, San Jose and San Francisco, mud bugs have taken a garlicky turn and shown up, of all places, in Little Saigon’s across the country.

Red Crawfish in San Francisco’s Tenderloin is the one closest and dearest to me, as I head over that way anytime I’m craving familiar, comforting flavors. Boiled crawfish is a new tradition among my peeps, but it’s one that I’m very happy to adopt, too.

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Fry Bread and Indian Tacos

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

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As California’s road trip season begins, it’s time to pull out that list of foods that are worth a detour or two. If you’re passing by or through tribal land, allow time in your day and space in your stomach for a stop at roadside stalls offering fry bread or, even better, Indian tacos. Many of us are all a-twitter about the mash-up of Korean bbq and tortillas. But this much quieter and long established blend of taco toppings on soft, still-hot flatbread is better than anything I’ve tasted from digitally hyped menus.

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