The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 28, 2009

Book review: '1001 Foods' offers a culinary adventure

‘1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die’

For those of you who often read this column, let me assure you that I do not only read books about food. It just seems that way.

That said, today I’m writing about “1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die.” It’s one of six books we have on things you must see/do/hear/whatnot before you die. This one was kind of fun, so maybe I’ll check into “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” or “1001 Historic Sites You Must See Before You Die” soon.

The book is primarily concerned with ingredients, but there are some prepared dishes (primarily baked goods and candies) included. The book is divided into fruits, vegetables, dairy, fish, meats (including game), aromatics (which includes herbs, spices and condiments), grain, bakery and confections.

The vast majority of the descriptions have a picture of the food described as well as a half page of information, including where the food comes from and the common uses of it. The bottom of each entry gives a description of the taste of the food. The authors did a great job there, flavor descriptions not being easy (try it yourself if you don’t believe me — describe the taste of a watermelon).

Here’s the description of the taste of cherimoya fruit: “The cherimoya’s delicious, creamy white flesh tastes like a gentle blend of banana, papaya and pineapple with subtle hints of coconut, mango and vanilla.” I’d like to get hold of one of those after reading that!

There were a surprising number of fruits and vegetables that I had never even heard of, mostly tropical but a few from Europe and other regions. Sea buckthorn, anyone? How about a nice marula, mazhanje or mamoncillo?

As far as vegetables go, I wasn’t aware that anyone ate yucca flowers, specifically those of the flor de izote. I think I’ll pass on ackee, which must be fully ripe and even then only the pulp is edible. Unripe ackee pulp and all the rest of the plant is toxic and can be fatal. Goody. I had no idea there were so many types and varieties of soy products and I think I’ll content myself with just the knowledge of stinky tofu (hey, that’s what it’s called, don’t blame me). Apparently, it is generally eaten as street food, the authors suggesting that perhaps the aroma has something to do with that.

I like dairy, so I was enjoying myself reading the large section about the various cheeses available until I came to casu marzu. Due to its peculiar and unique composition, it is banned even in Sardinia, its country of origin. Given that some of you are no doubt reading this over breakfast or brunch (maybe a nice bagel with a schmear of cream cheese), I’ll leave it at that. If you want to know more, you’ll either have to read the book or google it.

There are, though, a number of much-lovelier sounding dairy products detailed, although I’ve had gjetost and once was enough. I would like to try some of the others, though. Maybe a nice idiazabal, a semihard to hard (depending on age) sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees, available either smoked or not. Much yummier sounding than the aforementioned casu marzu.

There are quite a number of fish that I’d never heard of, including the large and omega-3 rich spotted sorubum from Brazil. It can grow over 5 feet long and weigh more than 176 pounds, so that would be quite the grilling festival!

Of course, they also cover fugu, the Japanese delicacy that, if not properly prepared, will kill you rather quickly and very unpleasantly. The authors report that “Many say, however, its taste is surpassed by the thrill of the experience of eating it.”

Personally, I’m not eating anything that has a chance of killing me if it isn’t the best thing I’ve ever tasted, so I believe I’ll pass.

There isn’t enough space here to cover more, but I’m sure any foodie would heartily enjoy reading this book, if not eating the dread casu marzu.

Bon appétit!

Linda Cannon is the circulation supervisor/collection development librarian at Joplin Public Library.