Eating Your Words: 200 Words to Tease Your Taste Buds
By William Grimes (Oxford University Press, 256 pages)
We've all experienced it: Open a menu at a restaurant and, even though it's written in English, there's nothing that sounds familiar. Just like every other aspect of this shrinking world, cuisines from different cultures are fusing together for a new world order. (What a great name for a themed restaurant chain.)
There are some dishes that have already been integrated into the American lexicon like pad Thai, tabouli and yakitori. But there are so many more in circulation, and writer William Grimes, former restaurant critic for The New York Times, offers 2,000 of them in his new book, Eating Your Words.
For the most part, the book serves as a quick reference guide, with brief, dictionary-like entries of culinary terms, both common and quirky. If someone has never tasted a mess of "home fries," Grimes offers this simple description: "boiled potatoes that are sliced or cubed and fried in butter and oil."
Even those who aren't strangers to linen tablecloths can need help when, say, it's dessert time and the server suggests "croquembouche." (Croakin' Bush?) Ah yes, there it is on page 58, between "crookneck" and "croquette": "a decorative dessert consisting of cream puff pastry and crystallized fruit or other confectionery items arranged in a cone and held together by caramel sauce. Origin: French, literally 'crunch in the mouth.'"
Thankfully, Grimes refrains from any fat talk and other food judgments. But the writer kicks up the entertainment factor by mixing in some entries by guest writers, including up-to-date essays ("A Hoagie by Any Other Name"), hot lists ("Ten Signs of a Bad Restaurant"), websites (the Toaster Museum, www.toaster.org) and timelines ("Fad Diets Timeline"). Taken together, Eating Your Words speaks volumes about America's favorite pastime.