The World on a Plate book review
While I’ve always enjoyed travel narratives, and to a lesser degree food narratives, a book that combines both of these things just seemed like a bibliophile’s dream come true. Such is the case with Mina Holland’s debut work, The World on a Plate. She’s essentially written a book that features 40 cuisines, 100 recipes, and the stories on how they came to be.
I think for a lot of people (myself included), a common shortfall of cookbooks is that you have no story behind what you’re cooking. You have a list of anywhere between 5-15 ingredients, the steps needed to make the dish, and that’s it. But food isn’t just something you consume and have it be all said and done. Food is so intricately tied to people, to history, even to famous historical events. In the case of the Ottoman Empire and the Vietnamese city of Huế’s royal cuisine (foods served for the king), food was supreme, almost what you would call an art.
The World on a Plate is not the type of book I would think anyone would rush through due to the fact you’re reading about key ingredients in cuisines (not exactly gripping thriller-like). Holland’s writing does lend a light and comical air in reading about the history behind her Hispanic first name even though she has no Spanish blood, or her grandmother growing up in India when it was a British colony (Holland is British).
Holland breaks the book up by continent/geographic locale. My only critique at least in regards to Europe is that I thought she went too in-depth for countries like France and Italy but didn’t spend enough time on Eastern Europe or Scandinavia. I know that obviously France and Italy are known for their cuisines, but that’s exactly it-more people would be familiar with those cuisines than they would with the food from Eastern European or Scandinavian countries. Not to say I don’t look forward to trying the Calabrian (a region in Italy) dish Scallops with N’duja (Calabrian cuisine is a mix of both European and Moorish).
Being quite unfamiliar with Indian culture and especially its cuisine outside of foods like naan, aloo gobi, and chicken tikka masala or as Holland writes, “I hope to give you a taste for Indian food as it exists outside your local Indian buffet,” I appreciated learning the general and broad differences between Northern Indian cuisine (bigger on dairy, mustard, and tandoori meat), and Southern Indian cuisine (coconut and hot chili define it). The same can be said for the Chinese chapter since contrary to what many Americans (and other nationalities think), there isn’t Chinese food but rather Sichuan, Cantonese, etc.
None of the recipes Holland includes are terribly difficult or require an excessive number of ingredients. But trying any of them is a great way to sample the world on a plate especially if you don’t have a trip to Ethiopia or Argentina planned anytime soon. As I borrowed this from my library, I made numerous photocopies of recipes I can’t wait to try.
If you love to travel and cook, you will undoubtedly love The World on a Plate.