Posts filed under 'food and literature'

Translation Tuesday: The Last Smokol by Nukila Amal (UWRF Feature)

Although wet, Batara’s eyes now gazed fiercely at the nation, whose far corners the Brunch Fairy never visited.

Welcome to the fifth installment of A World with a Thousand Doors, a showcase of contemporary Indonesian literature brought to you in partnership with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. This week it gives us great pleasure to present a story by the award-winning author Nukila Amal, translated by internationally published writer, InterSastra founder, and past Asymptote contributor Eliza Vitri Handayani.

If you’ve just discovered A World with a Thousand Doors, you can find an introduction and the first installment here. And we invite you to read the second, third, and fourth works in the series as well.   

Batara—or Bunny Battery to his pals—likes to hold a festive and meticulously prepared smokol (a.k.a. brunch) once or twice a month, depending on how often the Brunch Fairy has graced him with her visits.

According to Batara, this Manadonese fairy is the ruler and protector of brunches, brunch cookers (like Batara), and brunch fanatics (like Batara’s pals Syam, and the twins Anya and Ale). However, his three pals suspect that this fairy is really Batara’s own invention. All Ale can report after actually visiting Manado is that the locals do indeed eat brunches, which consist of tinutuan, a kind of porridge, accompanied by banana fritters and fried anchovies dipped into dabu-dabu, a chili paste so hot that it makes their eyes weep, their ears ring, and, if prone, their minds hallucinate.

To Batara, however, brunches aren’t that simple. With surplus imagination and a passion for perfection, Batara comes up with odd themes and dishes for his brunches. His three pals can never guess what will appear on his table.


Recipes for Peace: Arab Cuisine Garnished With a Message Of Coexistence

A bilingual feminist from an Arab village in Israel makes a potent appeal for peace—with food.

In the introduction to her vegan cookbook, Recipes for Peace, Kifah Dasuki describes her mission this way: “This is more than an ordinary cookbook, though. I wrote it in two languages—Hebrew and Arabic—side by side from a place of great love and with a real hope for change. A hope to fight fear and hostility and to nurture love and compassion.” For Dasuki, compassion is unconditional. Person to person, human to animal, language to language, compassion is fundamental to the building of a new world free of the “fear and frustration” she feels have been her lot. And this book is one building block she will contribute to the new world.

As she personalizes her recipes with anecdotes and reflections from her life, Dasuki isn’t shy about the challenges she has faced as a woman from the Arab village of Fureidis (which aptly means “paradise,” she notes, though in her darker moments she also calls it a “hellhole”) in Israel. She attributes her ambition and resilience to such challenges. Possibly her most vivid anecdote describes her first day of university in Tel Aviv, during which she encountered the word “proportzionaly,” a Hebraization of the English word “proportional.” As she didn’t know the word at the time, feeling inferior in her foreignness, she went crying to her dorm room. Later in the semester, she recognized for the first time how a difficult but honest dialogue between Hebrew and Arabic speakers can lead to mutual understanding. With this foundation, she began to actively bring people together for such conversations from all parts of the extremely diverse Israeli society. READ MORE…

Recipes in Translation: Traditional Southeast Asian Soups for New Mothers

Postpartum recipes have been passed down orally for generations in Asia. Now a multilingual cookbook is attempting to preserve them.

In many Asian cultures, new mothers are offered delicious dishes and nutritious soups after giving birth. The postpartum recipes fortify a new mother and ensure sufficient lactation for her newborn. These centuries-old traditions have been kept alive through orally sharing recipes and cooking for one another from one generation to the next. However, with growing assimilation of Western culture and a lack of documentation, this shared cultural knowledge may soon be lost.

Interested in the preservation of these recipes, in 2014 students who were a part of the Asian Pacific Islander Health Research Group (AAPIHRG) at UC Berkeley started a Postpartum Nutrition Folklore Project. We interviewed our mothers, grandmothers, and other relatives to document the recipes in their original languages and then translated them to English. Some of us asked our mothers or grandmothers to cook the dishes and soups in person so we could write down clearer instructions (and sample the delicious recipes!) Others conducted the interviews via phone calls and video chats. Most of us were bilingual so we did the English translation by ourselves and asked friends and family members to review our spelling and punctuation. Ultimately, we collected over thirty recipes from six different cultures—Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Hmong, Cambodian and Filipino—and published them as a multilingual cookbook titled From Mothers to Mothers: A Collection of Traditional Asian Postpartum Recipes.


Jamón, Jambon, Ham

"Each product comes from same part of a pig: the upper hind leg where thigh becomes rear. The consensus ends there."

In the 1992 melodrama Jamón Jamón a lovers’ quarrel turns violent. Class tensions drive the conflict. Jose Luis’ (Jorge Molla) parents own a factory. He falls in love with one of the workers, Silvia (Penelope Cruz), and gets her pregnant. His parents reject their plan for marriage and hire the fit, sexy Raul (Javier Bardem) to seduce the young woman. Raul sells jamón, with dreams of bullfighting and underwear modeling. In a spate of anger, Jose Luis arrives in Raul’s trailer with a club in hand. Legs of jamón hang from the ceiling. To defend himself, Raul grabs one of the hams and uses it as a weapon. Jose Luis meets a slick, salty end.

The film retains its Spanish-language title in its American release, with a parenthetical (Ham & Ham). Jamón Jamón evokes something aromatic, sensuous. The legs of ham that hang from the ceiling in Raul’s shop are lithe and firm. The translated title Ham & Ham highlights the campy humor of the movie, but misses on the sex appeal. The image conjured is not of golden and burgundy cured meat and fat, but of the pink, clove-studded, maple-glazed behemoths featured at holiday feasts or Easter brunch. It’s more Jaime Lee Curtis than Javier Bardem. The French Jambon Jambon hardly fairs better, rousing images of the boulangerie staple: le parisien, two slices of cooked ham sandwiched between a half a baguette, slathered with butter.  READ MORE…

Bicycle Thief Lunch

"The diners leave concern and worry outside as they pass through the restaurant doors."

Father and son stand on the quay of the Tiber, contemplating their next move. Antonio’s thin and wavering form towers over his baby-faced son. The pair has failed to find Antonio’s stolen bicycle. Both wear defeated expressions.  The future looks grim. Antonio cannot work at his job plastering the city in advertisements without a bike. The modern city requires mobility and his has just been taken.

They stand in front of a restaurant, a proper place with coiffed children eating pasta and waiters in button down shirts and aprons. Antonio knows he cannot afford lunch out but offers his son a pizza nevertheless. As they walk towards the restaurant he says, “Why should I kill myself worrying if I just end up dead?” He is desperate but refuses to give in to misery. Bruno lights up. The two enter excited to forget for a while both the bicycle thieves and the eventual return home empty handed.

A band plays perky tunes while bourgeois diners sit around in fine hats smoking, eating and drinking red wine. Antonio bursts into the restaurant. He hesitates in the entryway for a second, soaking in the line he has just crossed with his son in tow. They exchange a few glances—Bruno uncomfortable and unsure only proceeds after his father assures him that they can sit at a table in this restaurant. Antonio and Bruno take a table without a tablecloth. Behind them, a family eats lunch. The youngest son sits back-to-back with Bruno, hair greased just so in a crisp white shirt and button down. He pulls a melted cheese sandwich away from his mouth, stretching the curds to their limits.

Antonio tries to order a pizza. The waiter says, “This is not a pizzeria.” The distinction between pizzeria and restaurant surprises Antonio: a reminder, a gentle nudge, that this establishment serves other food to other kinds of people. Unlike the terraces and zinc bars in Nadja, the public at this restaurant is selective. The family just behind father and son serve as a counterpoint. That lunch is big and festive: pasta, sandwiches, abundant wine, laughter, tablecloths and clean hands.  The diners leave concern and worry outside as they pass through the restaurant doors. They have the luxury of time and money, both of which buy them prolonged distance from the war-torn city beyond the restaurant walls.

Instead of pizza, Antonio orders mozzarella on bread and a whole bottle of wine, despite the waiter’s suggestion of a half. He tells Bruno to save room for dessert. Antonio beats along to the music while Bruno looks lost. Antonio gulps down his first glass and says, “We can do anything we want, we’re men.” He will not be restrained by social position. Eating lunch in this restaurant is a quiet provocation. They push the physical boundaries of the city by sitting at a table in such an establishment. In his choice to forget and to ignore his material circumstances, to indulge in the luxury of not working, Antonio insists on his and his sons’ right to the same spaces and food as the classes who have the permanent luxury of selective vision. (It is true that his wife is at home working throughout this whole scene, and whole film: the fact that they can do whatever they want because they are men is critical.)

The boy behind Bruno eats mozzarella on bread as well (what looks like a grilled cheese sandwich to me) with a fork and knife held properly and managed with grace. When the food arrives at his own table, Bruno tries to manage the fork and knife, oversized and awkward in his small hands. Antonio says that they will be happy for now. Bruno gives up with the cutlery and takes up the sandwich in his hands, pulling it and stretching the melted cheese to an impressive distance. He checks to see if the boy behind him has noticed—no. He sees what he wants to and when he wants to. Bottles of champagne arrive at that table while Bruno keeps pulling his sandwich, gobbling up the cheese, and pulling again, racing before the mozzarella gets too cold to stretch.

The floating pleasure of eating and drinking together lasts about a minute before Antonio remembers that his bicycle was stolen, they will have to pay the bill and leave the restaurant without the insurance of work the next day.  He begins a set of sad calculations of the money that could have been were his bike locked up safe outside. An otherwise ordinary lunch scene displays the social and economic divisions of a city torn apart by war, struggling with development designed to leave certain people behind while others turn a blind eye. Through eating something different somewhere different, Antonio takes himself and his son on a brief trip to an alternate reality. It works for a short time. The mozzarella gets cold, the numbers add up, and they reenter the public.


Nina Sparling currently lives in Paris where she is a middle school English teaching assistant. Between classes, she writes, waits tables, and bicycles to pass the time. After a year and a half working as a cheesemonger in Brooklyn, she likes to surprise people with fun facts about curd and convince the French that Americans can make cheese too.  She also keeps an irregular blog, Salt to Taste, about cooking and eating without regard for details or Instagram.

Read more from Italy:

What’s a Tomme Cheese?

In her continued column about food & language, Nina Sparling examines just what—and how—"tomme" cheese has come to mean

Some words for foods are easily translatable. The word’s functional meaning shifts effortlessly between tongues. Tomato and pomodoro both indicate Solanum lycopersicum, member of the nightshade family. Poulet, pollo, and chicken look the same rubbed with oil and garlic roasting in a hot oven. In these cases, there is little room for deliberation: oil, butter, wine. Rice, wheat, corn. Their translations are patently accessible. Learning the words for foods in other languages is particularly satisfying. There’s immediate sensory recognition: the words indicate familiar tastes, smells, textures, and sights. The intimacy with what we eat follows. In learning to say tomato in another language, we begin to feel in it also.

But this question of feeling is where it gets finicky. While most anything carries a “literal” meaning in another language, its usage and implication remain awkward in translation. A New York bakery and a Parisian boulangerie operate in different ways. In both places flour is mixed with yeast and water, let to rise and baked. Yet we do not eat bread in the same ways, and the bread we eat is not the same.

Take, for example, the French word tomme. My first day of work at the cheese shop a colleague asked me what kind of cheese I liked. Tomme, I said. He was quick to call me out.

Tomme is not a kind of cheese. Be more specific.” READ MORE…