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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Tea If By Sea

On the etymology of the names of tea. The tea plant camellia sinensis is native to the region where now China’s Yunnan province meets northeastern Burma and Thailand. Early Mon-Khmer used a word like la to mean ‘tea’ or ‘leaf’. By 500CE this had become the middle-Chinese dra. Whence cha in Mandarin and Cantonese and te in the Southern Min dialect spoken in Fujian and Taiwan. The Mongols spread the word westward (1,840 words)

Menu Speak

Entertaining short review of The Language Of Food, in which Dan Jurafsky, a Stanford linguistics professor, dissects the language of restaurant menus. “Every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents in the price of that dish”. Expensive restaurants “mention the origins of the food more than 15 times as often as inexpensive restaurants” (570 words)

The Old House At Home

It’s true that Joseph Mitchell didn’t write often. But when he did, it was enough to make lesser talents weep over their typewriters. This profile of a New York bar and its late departed owner is poetry dressed as prose. “It is a drowsy place; the bartenders never make a needless move, the customers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agreement for many years” (6,530 words)

Anthony Bourdain On Travel, Food And War

Interview. Many interesting points. “You have to learn to exercise a certain moral relativity, to be a good guest first. Otherwise you’d spend the rest of the world lecturing people, pissing people off, confusing them and learning nothing. Do I pipe up every time my Chinese host serves me some cute animal I may not approve of? Should I inquire of my Masai buddies if they still practice female genital mutilation?” (2,894 words)

Off My Table, Damn Carnivore

On vegetarian activism in India. “In Mumbai, vegetarians have set up residential enclaves in various parts of the city and tweaked their housing complex bylaws to forbid the selling and renting of properties to non-vegetarians.” In Gujarat, Jain monks are trying to enforce vegetarianism on the town of Palitana; they propose to “rehabilitate” the town’s 68 butchers by retraining them for new occupations (2,150 words)

Meat Without The Murder

Interview with Professor Mark Post, whose lab produced the first in vitro hamburger last year with funding from Sergey Brin. Interesting throughout. Commercial production of synthetic beef may come in seven years; cost about £15 per kilo. Could whale meat be made likewise? Yes, but that probably wouldn’t stop whaling. And human flesh? Yes, but “are you sure you want to go there? Let’s do this one weird step at a time” (1,500 words)

Rise Of The Sea Urchin

At work with Norway’s only full-time sea-urchin diver — an émigré Scot called Roderick Sloan who lives 88 miles north of the Arctic Circle where “Summer is everyone’s favourite day of the year”. He sells to Europe’s grandest restaurants, including Noma in Copenhagen which buys 100 pounds a week. “You start with sea salt, then you get a big iodine hit, and, at the end, a distinctive sweetness that sits in your mouth for hours.” (3,030 words)

Twilight Of The Pizza Barons

Tom Monaghan founded Domino’s, which was all about delivery. Mike Ilitch founded Little Ceasar, which was all about value — his two-for-one deals “worked so well that he installed conveyor-belt ovens to keep pies coming”. Now they are a study in contrast. Monaghan, 77, has given his money away and prepares like a monk for death; across Detroit, where both men live, Ilitch is building an 18,000-seater hockey arena (2,630 words)

Recipe For A Better Oven

“Most of us bake, roast, and broil our food using a technology that was invented 5,000 years ago for drying mud bricks: the oven. The typical modern oven has a host of problems. It can’t cook food equally well whether full or nearly empty, left alone or regularly checked, or with food placed in any position inside. Yet oven manufacturers could solve every problem with existing technology, if only they would apply it” (3,700 words)

Guide To Saigon Street Food

“Not the absolute best of everything, but rather a cross-section of delicious, cheap and authentic foods that are also conveniently located”. Highly rated by Tyler Cowen. Also contains tips on taxis, visas, books, foot massages. Really, this is the best kind of travel writing. Not only do you imagine yourself in Saigon while you are reading; you also imagine yourself eating lots of wonderful food as you go (10,100 words)

Fire Phone At The Farmers’ Market

Amazon’s new Fire phone is inspiring, in a way: You point it at an object, it recognises the object. But it’s also spiritually depressing: The things it recognises best are manufactured goods, preferably with a bar code. It recognises a frozen bag of chips in the supermarket; it doesn’t recognise fresh kale. All the more reason to load up Pete Warden’s app, Deep Learning, which will teach your Fire phone about real life (880 words)

Jack Kerouac’s Lost Restaurant Reviews

“Careening into the New Town Coffee House the first thing that struck me was how the sunlight exploded and ran about the place like a mad, dizzy child hungry for the face of God. Hungry? Yes, all my life hungry, hungry for it all and more, hungry for her ripped stockings and tobacco fingers, for the broken promises and the industrial man, hungry for a grilled cheese sandwich? Yes, Please!” (720 words)


Appreciation of chef René Redzepi, his Copenhagen restaurant Noma, and their part in the current enthusiasm among foodies for combining the values and aesthetics of technology with those of cooking. Full of vivid touches: “The trick with the lamb brains is to treat them as a spread and an accompaniment to bread. They have a difficult texture — in between foie gras and fish sperm — and you can’t overcook them” (3,880 words)

Tickets For Restaurants

Chicago restaurant group Alinea sells table reservations using a ticketing system; prices are higher at peak times. “A ticketed system that shows the entire evening’s tables completely upends trust problems. Customers can see the template, understand which tables are already sold, and decide how to act. They are not asked a question – What is your desired time? – and then told — Nope, you can have this instead” (6,370 words)

Forget The Dos Equis Guy

An American life. Profile of Judge William Sheffield, who worked with Steven Spielberg on a film project; sued Pope Paul VI over a St. Bernard puppy that was never delivered to him from a monastery in Switzerland; and served as legal counsel for embattled Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. “But none of this would compare to an invention he created in hopes of truly changing the world: the banana slicer” (1,260 words)

The Hard Truth About Boiled Eggs

Exhaustive experimentation shows that the simplest way is best for cooking perfectly boiled eggs with clean-peeling shells. Put the eggs straight from the fridge into already-boiling water; lower the heat and simmer for 6 minutes (soft) to 11 minutes (hard); chill and serve. No pricking, no pressure cookers. Bonus advice: “Serve them in the shell so that if they don’t peel well, it’s your guests who will feel inadequate” (3,450 words)

Meat Atlas

Assorted facts and figures from Friends of the Earth Europe’s report on meat consumption around the world, Meat Atlas. Brazil’s JBS, the world’s largest food processing company, has capacity to slaughter 85,000 head of cattle, 70,000 pigs, and 12 million birds every day. In 2011 America ate 9 billion animals; China, 11.5 billion. It takes 1,850 gallons of water to produce one 16-ounce steak. Crickets are 80% edible (550 words)

Why Don’t We Eat Swans Anymore?

In Britain all swans belong to the Queen. The Royal Family may legally eat them, as may certain Cambridge dons, but neither faction has done so for the past few centuries. In America, by contrast, swans are so common as to be considered pests. So why not hunt them as food? Mario Batali says the meat is “delicious — deep red, lean, lightly gamey, moist, and succulent”. Is it their cuteness that makes them taboo? (840 words)

The End Of Food

Bay Area tech guys invent food substitute called Soylent: 35 blended nutrients to keep your body fully fuelled for $50 a month so you can treat traditional food as an occasional recreation. Intended market: “Cubicle workers craving efficiency”. Soylent has the consistency of sludge, the mouth-feel of pancake mix, and just enough flavouring to mask the raw vitamins. Usage note: “In the first week you fart pretty bad” (6,330 words)

Making Food Obsolete

Conversation with Rob Rhinehart, inventor of food-substitute Soylent, “a beige beverage that he claims contains every nutrient the body needs”. Rhinehart argues that tech can always improve upon nature, even in food: “The natural state of man is ignorant, and starving, and cold. We have technology that makes our lives better. It doesn’t make sense that you would keep technology out of this very important part of life” (2,000 words)

Narrative Framing In Online Restaurant Reviews

Academic paper. Recommended for the abstract (at the beginning) and the discussion (at the end). Online restaurant reviews are not primarily restaurant reviews, but rather essays in which the reviewers portray themselves with the restaurant as backdrop. Positive reviews are often written in a high-flown style — a chance to show off “linguistic capital”. Negative reviews “function as a means of coping with service–related trauma” (7,440 words)

The Art Of Antarctic Cooking

Review of Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine, by Jason C. Anthony; and The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning, by Carol Devine. Explorers ate what they could carry and what nature provided — seals, penguins, and the dogs which carried the supplies until they became supplies themselves. At worst they ate hoosh, a stew which might contain anything from penguin flipper to old rope (2,690 words)

Tricks Of The Food Trade

People are getting fatter because they are eating more, rather than because they are exercising less. They are eating more because human bodies require protein for development; cheap, industrialised food contains relatively little protein, but lots of sugars and fats engineered to taste like protein; such food, in effect, tricks the body into consuming more calories in order to maintain a target level of protein (790 words)

I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

From the archives. If you think you are having a rough day, this may help to put things in perspective. “It was as if I had suddenly gone blind and deaf. I seemed to be trapped in something slimy. There was a terrible, sulphurous smell, like rotten eggs, and a tremendous pressure against my chest. My arms were trapped but I managed to free one hand and felt around – my palm passed through the wiry bristles of the hippo’s snout” (800 words)

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