#285: Imagined Cuisines

Take any international trip, and the tourist-trap restaurants near the must-see landmarks will all be hawking the “national dish” you simply can’t miss: Greek souvlaki, Japanese ramen, Italian pasta, Mexican mole. Leaving aside the question of whether a restaurant with a laminated English menu could possibly serve good food, we must ask what makes a dish “national”—must it be an old recipe? A common one? Unique to that place? Anya von Bremzen poses these questions and more in her new book, National Dish: Around the World in Search of Food, History, and the Meaning of Home. Beginning in Paris with the 18th-century inauguration of modern French cuisine—and searching for the invention, or perhaps congelation, of pot-au-feu—von Bremzen travels across oceans and continents in search of what defines a country’s cuisine, unraveling notions of identity, nationhood, and politics in the process.

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