Two days ago, without much fanfare or fireworks, my new book came out: Babel – Around the World in Twenty Languages. To celebrate, my wife and I will have a few friends over tomorrow for a theme dinner. All of Babel’s 20 languages will be represented on the menu. It will be the ultimate fusion experience, driven by a non-culinary work of non-fiction, prepared by non-chefs.
Since these 20 languages are spoken natively by half the world population, half of all global dishes may seem to be potential ‘Babel fare’. But it isn’t quite as simple as that, for three reasons. First of all, much of Europe is not represented in Babel (if you’re into European languages, see Lingo, my previous book), so Italian pizza and pasta, Dutch stamppot, Swedish gravad lax, South Slavic ćevapčići and Greek tzatziki do not qualify. Secondly, while I’ve engrossed myself in Asian languages for the past three years, I have precious little experience cooking Asian dishes. And thirdly, what should I even choose to do justice to Tamil Nadu, the Punjab, Bengal, Korea or Persia?
Yet I’ve tried, and after a long quest online and a hunt through a supermarket, an Asian specialty shop (toko), an organic shop and a Turkish bakery, I’ve piled up the snacks, the ingredients and the drinks that should, in principle, meet the case. There are Indonesian starch crackers (krupuk) and Vietnamese biscuits, a Chilean wine, German beer and Portuguese porto, French cheeses, Arab figs, Turkish baklava and Javanese satay. We’ll cook Tamil, Bengali, North Indian, Malaysian and Punjabi dishes (most but not all of them simple), make Persian and (ever so slightly) Korean salads, we’ll bake a Zanzibar spice cake, there are Chinese plum wine and Japanese sake, and even that is not a complete list. In a word, I’ve gone overboard on global delicacies. From Britain, there will be lemon curd, Marmite and cider.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to invite more friends the next day. I’ll let you know soon.