What would you get if Jane Austen, Franz Kafka, John Steinbeck, Geoffrey Chaucer and Harold Pinter wrote culinary literature?
For one, there would be less impersonal follow-these-steps-and-voila-the-dish-is-complete instructions and more engaging narratives written in the style of famous writers. Which is what Kafka's Soup, A Complete History of World Literature in 17 Recipes is all about
Author Mark Crick has woven a tasteful pastiche that whets one's appetite literally and literarily, for each recipe is a story.
Tarragon Eggs a la Jane Austen, for instance, delivers the dish with a strong dose of Austen's wit and style of taking jibes at 18th aristocratic arrogance: The meek Mrs B---- discusses the ways of cooking eggs for a society dinner she is organising with the indomitable Lady Cumberland, who deems parsley as too lowly for it is "too often seen in great bunches at fishmongers. It would be a most unhappy connection"; while "French tarragon is an aristocrat among herbs, and although I think it is too good for your eggs, I cannot deny that it would be a fine match for them."
Others like Rich Chocolate cake a la Irvine Welsh sees Crick successfully delivering the recipe in Scottish English, laced with themes reminiscent of Welsh's Trainspotting; while the style of the Onion Tart a la Geoffrey Chaucer turned out to be a tad too modern, despite the attempt at writing in olde English - although this probably makes it more palatable for the modern reader.
And if you are wondering about the other recipes, they are real and mostly manageable, even for the occasional cook. They range from more complicated ones like Boned Stuffed Poussins (young chickens) to under-20-minute dishes like Quick Miso Soup and Moules Mariniere.
When garnished by colourful details that arouse the palate, and peppered with tips by the author, it's easy to forget that it's a recipe book that you are reading.
Kafka's Soup is now available at www.ilovebooks.com at the special price of S$10.10 (UP: S$16.58). Valid till 31 May, 2012.
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