Eating our words
Ever wonder when 'pad thai' was added to the Oxford English Dictionary? It was 1978.
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CB: What do you think about the culinary themes reflected in these eighteen years?
RH: The first thing one notices is the cosmopolitan growth of the English language and how voracious we are at borrowing terms from other cultures. A lot of that has to do with the British and American empires – look at all the Hindi and Sanskrit words that in a bastardized form entered English in the 19th century (i.e., chutney). I think Autobiography reflects a slightly different universe of borrowing: science, technological boosterism, political terms, pop cultural references, and urban slang. These areas are heavily represented; whereas foreign terms are definitely in the minority. But back to the topic, I think it’s pretty evident that Americans have expanded our eating habits during my lifetime to encompass most of the world’s cuisines – we’re omnivores in more than one sense – and that’s reflected in our language as you mentioned with ‘pasta fazool’ and microbrew and also words like cavolo nero (1987). Currently, I think nothing of making Thai, Indian, and Mexican dishes; foods that my Scottish grandmother would have died had she seen and tasted.
Rebecca Federman is the New York Public Library's Culinary Collections Librarian and Electronic Resources Coordinator. Rebecca writes about the culinary collections at the Library on her blog Cooked Books and enjoys exploring New York for delicious eats.
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CB: Any favorite recipes or cookbooks?
RH: There are a lot of dishes that I come back to semi-frequently because they function as comfort food and I really enjoy making them: carbonnade à la flamande, Bolognese sauce (I’m uncertain which recipe is the best, but I’ve been gravitating towards Marco Canora’s), a Turkish lentil soup, and a pork shoulder braised in orange juice, whole spices, and beer. However, I’d say my all-time favorite recipe is nasi lemak, which isn’t in the OED incidentally, and which my sister turned me onto in Vancouver in 2001. It’s a Malaysian coconut rice dish with a few other components we had at a little restaurant for breakfast. Another is a dry-curried green bean dish with mustard seeds from Yamuna Devi’s Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking; which is probably my favorite cookbook and the 2nd or 3rd cookbook I purchased—I think the first was James Villas’ French Country Kitchen or the Dean & Deluca Cookbook that David Rosengarten wrote. Also, really important to me now is Diana Kennedy’s Art of Mexican Cooking. She’s written several really great cookbooks, including a new one about Oaxacan cuisine that I have on my wish list. And, because I’m a big nerd, I really like Harold McGee’s book and the Oxford Companions to Food and Wine.
CB: Are there any food words that you think should be added to the OED?
RH: I haven’t checked these, but how about lardo, guanciale, speck,…
You can purchase a copy of Autobiography, Volume One on the Ugly Duckling Presse website.
Rebecca Federman blogs at Cooked Books.
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