Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Vicarity Project: Pakistan



How It Happened by Shazaf Fatima Haider
Summary: This 2012 novel takes a look at traditional arranged marriages in Pakistan through the eyes of a young teenage girl whose siblings are preparing for marriage. Her grandmother, the matriarch of the family, has strict ideas about how marriages should be arranged and the kinds of people that are “worthy” of marrying into their family. The main conflict in the novel comes from the children resisting these traditional views and wanting to make choices for themselves, while at the same time wanting to respect centuries of tradition and please their grandmother.
Response: This book was written for people who already know a lot about traditional arranged marriages and about Pakistani culture. It is not written for an audience of Westerners. I found myself looking up words constantly and writing in the margins of the book because there were so many unfamiliar terms.
A lot of the reviews I read about the book described it as “laugh-out-loud funny” and “hilarious.” It was definitely amusing, but I think my own ignorance prevented me from connecting with it as a “hilarious” novel. I really enjoyed reading it, though. The writing style is fresh and the plot moves very quickly. Overall, it was a great read!
Chicken Biryani
I bought all of the ingredients for “Hyderabadi Style” biryani before my husband informed me that Hyderabad is in India. Oops! So, I scrambled to find a Pakistani recipe for biryani. This project certainly gave me an education and showed me just how ignorant I was about certain parts of the world.
I also ended up on a reddit thread discussing how impossible it was to settle on a particular biryani recipe, or even a national cuisine for countries like Pakistan and India, where there are many different religions and cultures with distinct food traditions. In any case, I settled on this one: https://www.faskitchen.com/pakistani-chicken-biryani-recipe-chicken-biryani-pakistani-style/
 I would love to go to Pakistan someday and try it for myself.
Whiskey Tonic
So, they don’t really drink in Pakistan because it’s such a predominantly Muslim country. However, I found this 2002 article in which the author investigated the underground cocktail scene in Pakistan: https://www.weeklystandard.com/tucker-carlson/cocktails-in-pakistan
Basically, there is a tiny bar in the Karachi airport, and there is one single brewery run by a Zoroastrian guy who makes beer and whiskey. Obviously, I needed to make a whiskey cocktail. I figured tonic was a natural mixer, since it was developed in India and Pakistan to prevent malaria. Plus, since drinking is so rare in Pakistan, I figured a simpler cocktail would be more representative. One shot of whiskey over rocks in a short glass, fill with tonic, and a lemon slice for garnish - voila! 


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Vicarity Project: Chad



Told By Starlight in Chad by Joseph Brahim Seid (ordered via Interlibrary Loan)
Summary: This book is a collection of Chadian folklore – the kinds of stories that are told at night around a campfire (hence the title of the book). There is a world origin story, a Chad foundation story, a “God punishes the world by flooding it” story, a how Islam came to Chad story, and several folktales that bear a remarkable resemblance to Western European folktales. My favorite was “The Most Beautiful Girl on Earth, Hidden under an Ass’ Skin,” in which an unmarried woman prays to become pregnant. She does, and she gives birth to an ass’ foal. She raises the foal as her daughter. One day, a little boy hears noise coming from inside their house, and he peeks through a hole in the wall to see a beautiful little girl sitting next to an ass’ skin. He brings her a little cake the next day, and he and the ass’ foal become best friends. When it’s time for him to get married, the boy says he wants to marry the ass, and everyone in the village and in his family objects. It is eventually revealed that the ass is truly a beautiful woman, and the couple are allowed to marry and live happily ever after.

Response: This book is so short, and the individual tales are also short and very enjoyable to read. I highly recommend it. It was interesting to read the tales and see correlations to stories that are very familiar to me. There were several stories that resembled Old Testament stories – Moses parting the Red Sea, the Hebrews carrying the Ark of the Covenant through the desert trying to find a land in which to settle, the flood story, and also a story that was a cross between Hansel and Gretel and the Joseph story from Genesis, called “Gamar and Guimerie.”
The most surprising part was how difficult it was to get a copy of this book. I found a copy available at AbeBooks and ordered it, but they refunded my money when they could not find it in their inventory. I attempted to order it directly from the publisher, who also refunded my money when they could not find an available copy. None of the public libraries in my area, and none of the university libraries had it, so I ended up ordering it through my university’s ILL (Interlibrary Loan). The stamp on the copy I received says it came from Texas State University – San Marcos. Way to go TSU – San Marcos!
Daraba with Karkanji
The finished product: 

This was great. So much better than I thought. This is one of the many dishes that I raised an eyebrow on and thought, “We’ll see…” I HATE okra. Let me just say it again. I HATE okra. But, it’s one of those vegetables that loves the heat, so we get a lot of it here in Texas, and they get a lot of it in Africa. So, I bit the bullet, bought some okra, and cooked it. I am proud to say I did not gag once while cooking it. And I ate it all. It was really good in this recipe.
I bought the millet in the bulk food section of Sprouts. One of the most fun parts of this project was figuring out how to get ingredients. I would shop a week or two in advance, just in case I needed to order something from Amazon or something like that. I would go to a store with my list, hoping I would be able to find something, and I was AMAZED at how many ingredients I thought would be really hard to find were, in fact, readily available. SO FUN!
Karkanji is Hibiscus tea, like I featured in the cocktail for Cote d’Ivoire. It’s easy to make: just steep some dried hibiscus flowers in hot water to make tea. It turns a beautiful bright red. Remove the flowers and add sweetener, if you want to (I added some sugar this first time, but chose not to add it when I made it later on).  Garnish with a sprig of mint and voila!

Hibiscus Whisky Sour 
I made this recipe up myself using 1 shot of whiskey (I used Famous Grouse because it's a good mixing whiskey), the juice of 1/2 of a small lime, 3/4 oz hibiscus tea, and 3/4 oz cane syrup. I shook it all in a shaker, then poured it over ice and garnished it with a mint leaf and a cube of pineapple. I was going to use a mango chunk since mangoes are more native to Chad, but when I made it, I realized that the frozen fruit chunks in my freezer that I thought were mango were, in fact, pineapple. Rather than going out and buying mango chunks, I worked with what I had.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Vicarity Project: Ecuador


I cannot believe it has been an entire month since my last post. It's Ecuador's fault. Every part of my foray into Ecuador was an ordeal. It was difficult to find the book, the meal didn’t really turn out the way it should have, and the naranjilla for the cocktail was expensive and had to be ordered online then shipped from Colombia. Nothing about the country was easy. I’ll try not to hold it against you, Ecuador. Maybe someday I’ll get to visit, and you can show me all of your charms.
Huasipungo by Jorge Icaza

Written in 1934, this novel describes the exploitation of Indian and cholo (half-Indian, half-European) workers on haciendas in Ecuador. It follows the lives of two main characters: the hacienda owner, Don Alfonso Pereira and the Indian worker Andres Chiliquinga. As Don Alfonso tries to expand his hacienda and enter into the thriving lumber industry, he joins forces with the local sheriff and the local priest to convince the villagers on his land to work for free. As dangerous working conditions and natural disasters occur, the workers become increasingly more disgruntled and desperate. They finally incite a revolt which is violently suppressed by the military.
Ugh. I kept telling myself, “This was written in 1934 – give it a break.” It’s a social protest novel, and it reminded me a lot of Sinclair’s The Jungle. It’s written in a very realistic style, and the author is trying to communicate the filth and misery of the workers, so there is a heavy focus on bodily fluids, dirt, and mud. I think I could deal with that by itself, but it was mixed with a Hemingway-like dialogue style – very minimalist, and it was difficult to keep track of who was speaking. Plus, the characters repeated each other A LOT. One character would say, “Take the dog out of the house. He’s trying to steal the baby’s food.” And the other character would say, “Yes, the baby’s food.” As a reader, I had no idea why this repetition was happening, and it was everywhere. While the other parts of the book were hyper-realistic, the dialogue was just weird and stilted. If it had been just one thing or the other – hyper-realism OR weird dialogue – I think I would have liked the book just fine, but both of those elements combined just made me want to skim, skim, skim. I did not enjoy reading the book very much at all.
Llapingachos and Chorizo
Llapingachos are fried potato and cheese pancakes. They did not come out quite as I hope they would – they were soft and I think I should have used more cheese. From what I’ve read, they should be crispy on the outside and soft and cheesy on the inside. Mine were not really like that. Also, I used Mexican-style chorizo which just kind of turned into a greasy lump of red-stained meat. It tasted fine, but it was super greasy and looked like a total mess. All in all, this meal was not one of the better ones I made - incentive to go to Ecuador and try the real thing!
The finished product: 

This cocktail recipe is an adaptation of the “naranjillazo” recipe I found here: https://www.laylita.com/recipes/canelazo-and-naranjillazo-drinks/
I used 2 oz light rum, 1 tsp of cane sugar, ¼ c naranjilla pulp, and added water to taste. It was good – slightly bitter, but fruity. The ingredients separated very quickly and looked pretty, but needed stirring to get the full flavors.

¡Khali kaq kachun!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Vicarity Project: Singapore


The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

Summary: A graphic novel that won the Eisner award in 2017, this book follows the career of a fictional cartoonist from Singapore, Charlie Chan Hock Chye. Chan did not support the government’s actions after the failed merger with Malaysia in the 1960’s, and he is depicted publishing allegorical comics that criticize the government. Ultimately, it is about the ways in which art can help us to see events from new perspectives

Response: This book was a lot longer than I expected it to be, but it didn’t feel slow. It flows like a documentary and takes place in chronological order. The politics are complicated, but Liew makes them easier to follow by designing a comic series that uses animals instead of people to represent the different political parties involved. So, even if I couldn’t remember who was the leader of which party, I could easily tell from the art itself. It was a lot like Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the use of animals as characters, but because I was familiar with the history that Spiegelman was writing about, I get the allegory much better. In Liew’s book, and as a result of my own complete ignorance of the history and politics of Singapore, it was like reading a children’s history book. The animal characters helped me to differentiate between different political actors, and it was really helpful! It makes me think all history books should be graphic novels.


Chicken Rice

I read a story about how Anthony Bourdain was booed and even had things thrown at him for saying that he had never tried chicken rice in Singapore. So, that got me excited for this dish. But, I mean, the recipe I followed really was just plain chicken and rice. Like, the kind of thing you would eat if you were getting over food poisoning or the flu or something and couldn’t tolerate any seasoning. It was pretty boring and disappointing. Now, it’s totally possible that there’s a kickass chicken and rice recipe out there, but this isn’t it. I found one which looks tastier and explains a bit better what makes this dish good. It helps to make the rice using the broth from boiling the chicken, which I did not do. I am not knocking chicken and rice! It’s good! And every country seems to have their version of it, so it seems like universal comfort food. But, this project was about trying new things and having little food adventures, and this dish just didn’t meet those expectations. I should have tried something else!


A classic Singapore Sling is my cocktail of choice for Singapore. I didn't have Benedictine, which is what this recipe calls for. I substituted Chartreuse, which is also an herbal liqueur. It was very nice and refreshing cocktail!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Vicarity Project: Iraq



Cell Block Five by Fadhil al-Azzawi (available on Kindle)
Summary: This is an Iraqi prison novel, in which the main character, Aziz, is unjustly accused of being a political dissident. He happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he was unjustly arrested and imprisoned. The novel follows his psychological journey from his early days of certainty that the mistake will be rectified, to his anger about such an ineffective system, to his hopeless acceptance of his fate.

Response: This novel is well written, and Aziz is likeable. He doesn’t have many distinguishing personality traits, because I think the author is trying more to convey the psychological experience of unjust imprisonment than trying to write a realistic character. After the first few months in prison, Aziz begins to have vivid fantasies about the sister of one of his fellow inmates, and he begins to have “prophetic” dreams, so the book takes a kind of psychedelic turn. It begins to follow a more descriptive rather than narrative pattern, and it kind of lost me, to be honest. I re-gained interest towards the end when Aziz begins to accept his fate and the writing returned to a more linear style. I looked up the author on Wikipedia, and it says that he has written seven volumes of poetry, which would explain the more poetic writing style. 
Interestingly, there is very little in the novel that would identify the setting as Iraq. There are one or two references to Baghdad, but by and large, it could take place in any prison anywhere. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this book, but it’s worth reading.
Tabbouleh, Hummus and Pita, Date Balls
I pretty much just copied Sasha Martin on this one, but I used hummus instead of the red pepper sauce. I got lazy and used store-bought hummus instead of making my own, although I highly recommend the America’s Test Kitchen hummus recipe, which is crazy good.
The finished product: 

My husband’s comment on this was, “Why don’t we just get the appetizers every time?!?” This really was enough food for two people for dinner, and it’s what you would normally order as appetizers in the U.S. It was all great!
The Jallab
The cocktail inventor was inspired by Lebanon, but Jallab is also popular in Iraq, so I appropriated it.
It’s delicious!
!في صحتك

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Vicarity Project: Cote d'Ivoire

Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
Climbié by Bernard Dadié (not available in digital form; checked out from Collin College Library)
This book gives glimpses into the life of Climbié, a young boy from the Ivory Coast as he attends colonial French school, and then follows him to Dakar, Senegal where he finishes school and becomes a clerk. Upon his return to the Ivory Coast, he begins to speak out against colonial oppression and is imprisoned. Throughout the novel, the author attempts to show the tension between Africans, Europeans, and the people who are caught between the two worlds.
I really did not like this book. It does not have a traditional plot, and the main character does not have any particular stated goals or desires, except the desire to go to school, which he attains in the first half of the book. The obstacle impeding his happiness is nothing in particular, but is the whole oppressive system of colonialism. There is no specific incident that occurs to demonstrate this oppression – in fact, it seemed to me that the main character achieved everything he set out to achieve, which weakened the novel’s message. In one passage, he mentions that he would have liked to have been a doctor or a teacher, but that would have required more school. He didn’t want to go to school any longer, so he became a clerk instead. This choice is presented as a personal one – it did not stem from lack of opportunity or lack of means, or seem limited by his race or social status – so I didn’t really have a lot of sympathy for the character when he talked about being “denied his childhood dreams.” It wasn’t clear what those dreams were, or why he was unable to achieve them.
To his credit, the author paints a picture of African society in which the colonial presence is always there, and which always makes things harder than they need to be, whether because of the levels of bureaucracy or the inequities in salary or the subjective enforcement of certain laws. The picture that the book presents, though, is not clear. It’s like an impressionist painting, where you can see the subject of the painting, but it is fuzzy around the edges and doesn’t have a lot of definition. Even Climbié himself is more of an impression of a person than a fleshed out character. I can’t name a single personality trait that makes him seem like an individual person.
I realized as I read along that I don’t like “impressionism” in novels, and certainly not in this one. Now that I say that, especially seeing as how one of the central themes of the novel is the poor influence of French culture on its African colonies, I wonder how Bernard Dadié would feel to hear his writing compared to an essentially French art form. In any case, I kept wanting Climbié to be a real person instead of a stand-in generic African fellow. I wanted to know WHY he came back to Ivory Coast. I wanted to know what he said and did that got him thrown in prison. I wanted to know how he felt about things, and what he wanted to accomplish in his life, and I wanted some kind of internal monologue about how frustrated he was – something to fill him out and make him seem actually human. Instead, the novel presents his life in a series of unexplained and even unrelated snapshots. One minute he’s going on strike in Senegal, and the next he’s on the ship going back to Ivory Coast – no motivation is given for the change. One minute he’s writing political pieces and the next he’s in prison. And then he’s out of prison. No details are given about the hows or whys, which I found frustrating, and I lost interest very quickly.
On the other hand, there was one particularly vivid image that stuck with me as the author described the behavior of Africans under colonialism. He compared Africans to crabs in a crab pot with a heavy bronze lid.. Every once in a while, the lid comes off, and all of the crabs scrabble all over each other trying to get a breath of fresh air or a bit of sunlight before the lid comes down again. This passage is my favorite one in the whole book, because it communicates a whole multitude of ideas: the oppression of colonialism, the desperation of the native Africans, the degradation of relationships caused by the oppressive atmosphere, and the exploitation of people and resources. Such a powerful and sad image, and a fitting one for the overarching theme of the novel.
Chicken with Egusi Sauce
The finished product: 

The website I linked above is a fantastic one to read if you want to do your own global cooking project. I consulted it constantly, although – as with my reading project – I also tried to find different recipes and/or dishes to cook since she had already done it. For certain countries, though, I just copied what she did, especially if there didn't seem to be a definitive recipe for a particular dish. Her recipes are easy to follow and always turned out great.
I used chicken instead of turkey in my version, and I used pumpkin seeds instead of melon seeds. This was during the first week of my project, and I had not discovered the African or Asian markets yet! I had no idea it would be so easy to get the melon seeds, but ah, well. The sauce was really interesting and tasty, although I have no plans to make it part of the permanent rotation in my kitchen, mostly because I have to go to a specialty market to get the melon seeds. It was easy and quick to make, and it tasted very good, so I recommend it!
I based this cocktail on a cocktail menu for a restaurant in Abidjan that I found on TripAdvisor. It is called a “Mojit’sap,” and it is a spin on a traditional mojito, but it uses jus de bissap for a splash of color. Jus de bissap is basically hibiscus tea. When I was doing the food project, I had a supply of dried hibiscus flowers that I would brew into a tea, and it was delicious. For this cocktail, I used tea bags, which were fine, but I admit they did not taste quite the same. The dried flowers had a tart taste that did not come through in the processed tea. In any case, the cocktail was delicious!
1 ¾ oz white rum
2 lime wedges
3-4 mint sprigs
¾ oz cane syrup
Fill with jus de bissap and a splash of soda for a nice fizz
Muddle the lime and mint with the cane syrup in a glass. Add ice to the glass, then pour in rum, jus de bissap and soda.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Vicarity Project: Cook Islands

Cook Islands

Miss Ulysses from Puka Puka by Florence “Johnny” Frisbie (available on Kindle)

Written when the author was only sixteen years old, this book is a memoir of Johnny Frisbie’s life as a child in the Cook Islands. She recounts what life was like on her home island of Puka Puka and describes her travels to Samoa, Fiji, and other islands in the South Pacific. The book takes places during World War II, so there are several passages in which they encounter American soldiers or take precautions against Japanese bombers. Despite their best intentions to join the war effort, the war ends before the Frisbie family is able to reach a military base.

This book is charming and eye-opening. The author has such an intimate view of the South Pacific and really made me realize how I sort of lump all of the Polynesian islands together. This author points out how they are differentiated from each other and really makes each place feel unique. At one point, she wonders what the islanders eat in Tonga. I immediately thought, “Fish and coconuts, just like everywhere in the South Pacific.” But, to her, as someone who has a deep familiarity with the region, what seem like pretty minor differences to me are what makes the food cultures distinct. It was quite an education in my own ignorance! She also describes learning the particular songs and dances to each island as well as the individual dialects, bringing each one's "soul" to life. 

The author’s youth works both for and against her. Her enthusiasm and naivete are very appealing, and her simple prose makes the book very easy to read. It is also, apparently, intended for children, and I certainly think it would be a great book for kids to read. At the same time, she skips over some of the most compelling parts of the story rather than describing them in detail. At several points in the narrative, she writes that she could write 30-40 more pages about a certain topic, but she decided not to in order to keep things moving along. Often, these comments would come just as I was getting really interested in what was happening, so I wished for just a bit more time in those areas. I also wished for just a bit more background information. I found myself constantly looking things up on Wikipedia, so perhaps in a subsequent edition, the editors will provide more historical notes to help readers have a better understanding of the context in which the author was writing.


Raro Tarati Salad

This recipe does not include amounts, so just do whatever you want, I guess!
The finished product: 

First off, let me say, buy good coconut cream. I recommend Chaokoh brand, which I have only found at Asian markets, but is totally worth the special trip. You could also buy a full fat coconut milk and instead of shaking it up so the cream mixes in, skim the cream off the top. The Trader Joe’s and Goya brands, even though they are labeled “Cream” are really more like oily coconut water. You want only the cream part, not the oily, watery part.

I used lump crab meat instead of corned beef, or “bully beef” as they call it in the Cook Islands.

This was really good. I have never used coconut cream as a dressing before, but it was very nice.


I based this cocktail on a list of produce grown in the Cook Islands that I found. There are coconuts, of course, and also passion fruit. They also grow some sugar cane, so there is rum. The perfect combination for a Passion Colada: 1 ¾ oz rum and ¾ oz passion fruit syrup blended with ice and coconut cream. Pour over ice.

Again, use a good coconut cream for this. You want it to be creamy and thick, not watery and oily. Oily cocktails are terrible. I didn’t have any Chaokoh on hand today, so I skimmed the cream off of the top of a can of Thai Kitchen coconut milk – not the best, but not bad at all!

Kia Orana!