Don George On A Moveable Feast
Our Trip Lit columnist Don George is a very busy man, but he always is sure to eat well while he travels. Which is why he was the obvious choice to edit the new anthology of food essays, A Moveable Feast, published by Lonely Planet books and featuring essays by Anthony Bourdain, Jan Morris, Simon Winchester, and Andrew Zimmern, among others. Associate Editor Amy Alipio sat down with Don to talk about the dangers of editing while hungry and to get the details on his most unforgettable meal.
How did you decide on the theme for the anthology?
The book began when the commissioning editor at Lonely Planet, Ben Handicott, called me from Australia and asked if I wanted to put together another anthology, following on three very successful books I had already done for Lonely planet: The Kindness of Strangers, By the Seat of My Pants, and Tales from Nowhere. I said I’d love to and we kicked around a few ideas before he said, “What about food?” I knew from my own experiences that food adventures on the road are among travel’s greatest illuminations and memories and immediately I thought: That’s the perfect theme. And that hors d’oeuvre led to A Moveable Feast.
How did you deal with your presumably constant hunger pangs while editing?
One of the great effects and revelations of the editing experience was that it sharpened my enjoyment of food. I actually found myself singing in the kitchen while preparing dinner and really relishing every bite of a meal – it really made me re-appreciate what a gift a meal is, both in the food itself and in the camaraderie that often gathers around a meal.
Anthony Bourdain wrote about Manhattan. Were you thinking he might do something more exotic, like eating insects in the Amazon or something?
Well, I really love his piece about the timeless restaurants of Old Manhattan. It’s a wonderful tribute that embodies his values and appreciations. But I did think when I was first putting the book together that I was going to be inundated with you-won’t-believe-what-I-ate stories. There are a few really fantastic stories of that genre in the book – Tim Cahill contemplating rooster’s head soup in Papua New Guinea and Lawrence Millman eating bat on the island of Fais, for example – but for the most part, the food adventures are of a much less exotic, but delightfully idiosyncratic and nuanced kind.
Are you a pretty adventurous eater when you travel?
I’m a pretty adventurous eater, yes. I can’t think of anything I’ve ever chosen to not eat – but I don’t go out of my way to have squeamish food experiences, either. If there’s a local specialty that my hosts want me to try somewhere, I always try it. At least once.
Is there something you won’t eat?
I don’t go out of my way to eat intestines and brains and creepy-crawly things, but under the right circumstances, I will. The most important advice about eating abroad is to enjoy what the locals enjoy, and try to understand the context of what you’re eating and remove the mental blinders that might keep you from savoring something.
How does place enhance the eating experience?
Place is a huge part of the eating experience. So, of course, is company. I might very well eat something in a dirt floor hut surrounded by clay-smeared tribesmen that I wouldn’t eat in Northern California. Food is one piece of the picture-puzzle of that total experience. And of course, the slow food movement is all about place and savoring the seasonal local foods wherever you go. I love going to markets and seeing what’s fresh and making sure to eat that.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Best specific meal you’ve had when traveling?
One unforgettable meal I had recently was a marriage of Japan and France: A Japanese-born, French-trained chef serving French specialties kaiseki-style – meaning very small plates of food, artfully arranged on lacquerware and ceramics, in unending succession – in a converted former geisha house on the banks of the Pontocho river in Kyoto. Amazing and transporting.
Favorite city/region for eating?
Wherever I am!
Order a copy of A Moveable Feast through Lonely Planet or your favorite online bookseller. And read through more of Don’s Trip Lit columns here.