Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"A Kipper With My Tea"

Alan Davidson (1924-2003) began his career as a diplomat. While serving in various exotic locations in North Africa and Asia, he became interested in fish. First he wrote some essays and eventually three widely respected books about various food fish and how they are prepared in various places. Eventually, he became a leader in the emerging field of culinary history.

This month's selection for my culinary book club was Davidson's selected essays titled A Kipper With My Tea. Two members of our group were friends of Davidson, and remembered his visits to Ann Arbor; on one occasion, he stayed at their home.

The discussion this evening was wide-ranging, not especially limited to the book. All of us had favorites among the essays and also some less-than-favorite choices. We all liked his historical essay on the history of British cookbooks, his discussion of the culinary works of Alexander Dumas, and some of the essays on fish.

I especially liked his essay titled "Hallo, Halo-Halo." Halo-halo is the Filipino version of shave ice, which entered American consciousness because President Obama is fond of the Hawaiian version, which includes the snow-like shaved ice, sweetened condensed milk, syrup, and ice cream. (I just put in that sentence because I want to write "President Obama" one more time.)

In Hawaii: a shave-ice machine shaves the ice block into a sort of 
snow, which the operator forms into a snow-ball. 
Davidson's description of Filipino halo-halo is vivid and also fascinating, because of the ingredients which would be unexpected in an ice-cream confection in America or Europe:
"A symbol of the Filipino joy in eating is the dessert-cum-drink called halo-halo. The name is Tagalog (the official language of the Philippines) for 'mix-mix.' ... Halo-halo was born when ice came to the Philippines, in the 1920s. Its badge is a mound of shaved ice at the top of a tall sundae glass. Below the ice sits a scoop of ice cream. Below that are the cooked fruits: cubes of sweet potato and of saba banana, slivers of jackfruit, red beans, spoonfuls of purple yam jam, cubes of gulaman (agar-agar gelatin) bathed in coconut milk, sugar-palm seeds and chickpeas. ... You can have as many different layers as you please, but you still have an ordinary halo-halo unless you add the three requirements for a 'special:' leche flan (egg-yolk custard, top Filipino dessert), makapuno (the rare kind of coconut which is full of soft meat because of a recessive gene), and a sprinkling of sugar and toasted pinipig (whole-rice flakes)." (p. 213-214)

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