Her Fork in the Road: Women Celebrate Food & Travel
edited by Lisa Bach
Published by Travelers' Tales
220 pages, 2006
The Road Less Traveled
Reviewed by Holly Day
One of the quickest ways to become intimate with a new culture is to dive straight into their food: not literally, of course. The women in the stories in Her Fork in the Road so completely put themselves into their hosts' and hostesses' capable hands that, at times, it's almost like reading some Monty Python-inspired torture scene, being forced to eat the strangest and most revolting foods in some sections, while in others, they're being stuffed past the gills with dishes so heavenly that the narrators just can't say "enough."
Her Fork in the Road is arranged in five intriguing and completely different styles of writing: it takes you from one extreme to another. In the first section, "Essence of Food," a dozen-plus narratives relate the tales of some of the most exquisite-sounding food served in the most elegant settings you can imagine. In Linda Watanabe McFerrin's "On Pleasures Oral," Gnocchi Blackened with Squid Ink is served over a bed of scarlet sauce in Italy by a waiter with more than food on his mind. This was a dish I was severely tempted to try to make myself: until I saw the startled and mildly disgusted reaction of my local Italian specialty grocer when I asked if he carried squid ink.
In M.F.K. Fisher's "I Was Really Very Hungry," the narrator stops at a little restaurant/cottage in the French countryside, only to find herself half-imprisoned by an expert and frustrated chef who has had no one to try his fantastic dishes out on for a long while.
In Ashley Palmer's "At War With Grandma," a student staying in Japan is "adopted" by an elderly woman who insists on making every a day a culinary challenge, from serving her guest cold squid in jelly to whole salted and dried fish.
Part Two, "Epicurious," is all about food exploration, from teaching children to order off the adult menu in France to an American transplant in Poland making and bringing nachos to a traditional community gathering.
Part Three, "The Adventure of Dining," picks up where Two left off -- instead of food being brought to the narrators, the narrators already know what they want to eat, but aren't quite sure how to get it. Or can't get it, as in Kari Bodnarchuck's "Hunger in the Himalayas," where a young woman, short on cash while on a backpacking trip through the Himalayas, watches other backpackers snack on pizza and apple pie at rest stops while she is forced to ration her long-expired soup packets to last her the entire hike.
My favorite section is Part Four, "Is That on the Menu?" This is the section where the narrators really take chances with their food, especially in Diane Rigda's "Sourtoe Cocktail." In case you don't know (because I didn't), a Sourtoe Cocktail is a drink served at the Downtown Hotel Bar in Dawson City, Yukon, consisting of any kind of alcohol you want to drink and a severed human toe. Yep, they just plop the toe in your drink. There's even information on how to donate your toe, in case it gets cut off or you die and want to leave your phalanges to various charities, to the bar because, according to the narrator, sometimes people get carried away and eat the toe, so they like to have a few in storage.
The thing I liked the best about this book is, even when these brave ladies are eating bugs, covered in sweat and trapped in the jungle, or following a funeral party in hopes of getting to sample the local dishes only served at funerals, they all remain well-behaved, polite ladies at heart, adventurous without being rude or crass, and never insulting the cultures they're temporarily invading. Obviously, this is why these particular women were able to get as far inside these cultures as they did, and it's their respect and even love for their surroundings that make Her Fork in the Road such a wonderful journey. | March 2006
Holly Day works as a high school journalism instructor and an entertainment columnist in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her work has most recently appeared LO-FI Magazine, California Quarterly and Brutarian Magazine.