Monday, May 5, 2014

Food writing

No recipe today but a food article I re-discovered.

Years ago, I read this article about the Zuni Cafe  and the memory of it has lurked in the shadows of my mind ever since.  At the time I read it, the description of the cafe and the bay area held a special significance. I read it at a time when plans for a trip to the bay area, along with certain other future plans had suddenly and quite abruptly evaporated. I read it and it caught at my heart in a certain way. It seemed to capture the smell and taste of what had been lost. I put it away quickly and tried to forget.

I found it again, this week and it caught at me again. But this time, it was different. I was different and I was better able to appreciate it for what it was.

This is an article about a lunch at the famous Zuni Cafe but unlike other food review articles which go on and on, fatuously and pretentiously, Francis Lam has managed to capture the most elusive thing - the moment. The sunlight slanting in, the family at the next table, the food.... it is all there, you can almost feel the sun on your cheeks.


Lately, I've had a few conversations with friends about writing in Singapore - they observed, and I agree with their observation - that a great deal of local writing is overblown, pretentious and just... too try hard.

I was once told by someone, that the way to tell if a piece of Chinese calligraphy is good is to see if the words breathe naturally. That is, to observe if the brushstrokes flow as naturally as breathing. I have found it to be quite sound advice generally and I think, in some ways, it also applies to writing.

As a reader, I wish local writers would relax a little, breathe. There is no need to try to show how clever you are in every line. There is no need to show that you can use difficult polysyllabic words. Sometimes, a bicycle ride in the rain, is simply a bicycle ride in the rain.

Extract from the article:

"I thought about the fact that all over this city, friends were already gathering in happy anticipation and, though I was alone, this family was good company to be in.

The Caesar came, nothing new and utterly perfect, bright lemon and sharp garlic, mellow anchovies, crisp greens, crunchy croutons. The burger was as tender as a you would ever want a hamburger to be, yet it had a sort of magical spring to the bite, an integrity. Its flavor was buttery, almost creamy, round and meaty but not in that bloody, mineral way. It was gentler than that. I ate it quickly, too quickly, but not out of hunger or greed. I ate fast so as not to let the spirit of it escape, vanish with the steam coming off it."

Note: The other thing about local writing of course, is that a great deal of it is abysmal in a different way. What I said above does not apply to people who cannot seem to write grammatically and who seem to have disabled the spell check function on their word processors.

1 comment:

Grace said...

Francis Lam is a fantastic writer. Just amazing. I went and dug up more of his stuff.