A Word on Food™

Cookbooks

Cookin' the books
Cookin’ the books

A writer named Brook Larsen recently wrote in an online magazine named ‘Culture Trip’, “The Japanese and English borrow words from each other all the time. There is a whole subset of the Japanese language known as gai-rai-go (loan words), many of which come from English, including tabako (tobacco) for cigarettes and resu-toran (for restaurants). It’s why we call a large wave a tsunami and singing over famous tracks in a bar, karaoke.

The English language has evolved to become a glorious treasure trove of borrowed words, phrases, and sayings from all over the globe. Yet, there are still gaps in the language which sometimes make it hard for speakers to express themselves. Sometimes, a sensation you never knew existed only crystallizes once you learn there’s a word for it! Such is the case with the Japanese word tsun-doku, which describes the habit of accumulating more books than you can actually get around to reading.”

The word is combination of two Japanese words. Tsun comes from the verb meaning ‘to pile’ and doku from ‘to read’. This is a condition I would wager many of my “A Word on Food” listeners would admit to. I know I have it. And with the ease it is to download books to a device from the internet has made it exponentially even crazier.

My love of books goes … like I imagine many of you… to childhood. It was my quiet escape route and I took it daily. I would read in trees, on noisy buses, in my bed with a flashlight long after I was told to ‘turn the lights off and get some sleep’. Frankly it saved me from what might have been a long, slow, burn of a life of being a line cook. Being a line cook when you are 21 is fun if you are into the cooking cadence.

But it is not something one should think is fun when they are 41. Somewhere on the road one needs to turn from being the foot soldier into a trusted chief. Or ‘chef’ if you will. Books brought me that salvation.

I began with one cookbook in my library. Like the journey up the mountain beginning with one step … my collection began with that first book. The world of cooking became illuminatedpast the routine world of the kitchens … into the ‘what if’ world.

The author of that first book was James Beard. And the book is titled, “Theory and Practice of Good Cooking”. It was an incredibly lucky break. It was the way Mr. Beard broke that book down that I think was the skeleton key that helped me begin to unlock the methodology of cooking. He divided his book up by technique. The chapters were not ‘soups, salads, appetizers’ and so on. He organized ‘Theory and Practice” with chapters on poaching, grilling, pickling, steaming, roasting, baking and the like. It clarified so much in my culinarily unschooled mind. I had not been to a cooking school of any kind. And I still have not. My means of learning is a coalition between what the genius author Malcolm Gladwell talked about in his essay on the “10,000 hours being the magic number” for one to find greatness. I doff my cap to the world of reading … and writing books … and… radio shows.

Tsun-doku. It is a malady I have fallen in love with.


I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s…. My Word on Food

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