Cook­ing with Two Tex­ans in Siberia and the Rus­sian Far East

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight -

Sharon Hud­gins, Tom Hud­gins, Univer­sity of North Texas Press (APRIL) Hard­cover $39.95 (448pp) 978-1-57441-714-2

The Rus­sian Far East is lit­tle known to out­siders, but Sharon Hud­gins vividly cap­tures a fair slice of its fas­ci­nat­ing food cul­ture in T-bone Whacks and Caviar Snacks, draw­ing on her 1993 and 2006 ex­pe­ri­ences.

Part culi­nary mem­oir, part trav­el­ogue, T-bone Whacks (the chunks of frozen beef that mar­ket ven­dors split off to or­der with an axe) vividly ob­serves how Siberi­ans cook, cel­e­brate hol­i­days, for­age, gar­den, and pre­serve tra­di­tional foods. Chap­ters are capped with nu­mer­ous recipes ca­joled from the Hud­ginses’ friends and neigh­bors and from their ex­ten­sive trav­els. Side­bar dis­cus­sions of cul­tural tidbits and pho­to­graphs of mar­kets, ver­nac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture, and cooks at work in their tiny kitchens evoke even more im­agery of this dis­tinct re­gion.

Hud­gins is a ge­nial guide. In­stead of grump­ing about rolling black­outs (no heat in the midst of win­ter!), tap wa­ter of vary­ing hues and odors, and wacky stoves, she gamely pre­pares the meals de­scribed with win­ning hu­mor and charm. Dur­ing both so­journs, the Hud­ginses lived in bru­tal­ist con­crete apart­ment blocks with in­dif­fer­ent el­e­va­tors; there are mem­o­rable tales of epic feasts eaten in friends’ im­pro­vised din­ing rooms, their ta­bles groan­ing with a mo­saic of dishes and drinks. In­deed, it seems that the big­gest chal­lenge the au­thor faced was soldier­ing forth after yet an­other night of heavy eat­ing and vodka.

The Hud­ginses are ad­ven­tur­ous trav­el­ers and ex­plored a lot of ter­ri­tory, from wilder­ness hikes with sci­en­tist col­leagues to nib­bling freshly slaugh­tered sheep parts with a Buryat fam­ily north of Lake Baikal. Though the vol­ume re­veals much that is ex­otic, there is also an un­der­ly­ing mes­sage of our shared hu­man­ity and the univer­sal plea­sures of com­mu­nal din­ing. As the book con­cludes: “Siberi­ans are ac­tu­ally a lot like Tex­ans: Big­ger is bet­ter, food is friend­ship, and no guest ever leaves the ta­ble hun­gry.”

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