Renée Elkaim-Bollinger, De Bouche à Oreille (2010)

“De Bouche à Oreille” in French literally means “from mouth to ear” and is translated by “word of mouth”. But here it should more accurately be “from ear to mouth”, because the book is centered on food and inspired by a ten years of a weekly radio program on French public radio (France Culture).

This book, published by a small press specialized in food books, is for foodies, but unfortunately only for French foodies (we French people conspire to make foreigners think it’s a synonym, but I’m not so sure about it). Foodies who want to rejoice over quality food, old flavors, rare and forgotten – all this without taking a gram. It’s a collection of short essays for each letter of the alphabet, from Appetite to Zest, so that you can grab a bite from time to time without missing out.

Elkaim-Bollinger meets people from all walks of life (not only starred chefs) and investigates food, traditions, and the meaning of eating: for example, she talks with African girls who had been force-fed by their family because the fattest in their Mauritanian village was considered the most beautiful and had better marriage prospects. It’s not, as some might suppose, a glorification of gastronomy; Elkaim-Bollinger is rather looking at home cooking and comfort treats than five-course meals with immaculate tablecloth and snob waiters.

She remembers the smell of orange blossom from her own childhood. She celebrates special dishes made for festivals throughout the world. She also writes about meals in prison, bad food in trains, food shortage that make people try new stuff with more or less success (burnt chickpeas for coffee beans, apparently ghastly). She describes equally well regal banquets at Versailles and humble soups thickened with bread.

Leafing through this book is a real treat, full of hidden gems and discoveries. But beware, you’re going to get hungry reading it!

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