NaBloPoMo Day 18: Eating Your Words

“Do you speak more than one language? How did you learn the additional languages?”

One of the fascinating things about cooking is that, if you cook, you speak more than one language, perhaps without even realizing it.

I went to a bilingual English-French school through first grade, which means I can speak fluent French, as long as I’m conversing with a 5-year-old. But I also know saute, flambe, even restaurant–all French.

What about pasta, pancetta, osso bucco? Souvlaki, gyros, spanakopita? Chile, mole, tortilla? Sushi, miso, teriyaki?

During my recent culinary travels, I was struck by the number of foods that just were what they were, no translation, sometimes not even a description. The easiest way to explain was to point. It is this.

Of course, that’s never adequate. We live in a world of context. Do you want coriander or Chinese parsley? Galangal or blue ginger? Same, same. On the other hand, do you want yams, sweet potato, or satsumi? All different. And that is the question: when we eat, when are we similar and when are we different?

At work, we sell the same cut of beef for stew, curry, or rendang. When customers ask us what they should buy, we ask, what are you cooking?

So how am I learning other languages? I ask questions and I cook.

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