Q | Zoe Tribur

from Gastronomica 6:2

There is a Taiwanese word that I have come to incorporate into my daily vocabulary, both English and Chinese, and that word is Q. Like so many other Taiwanese colloquialisms, this word is expressed on paper with a single capitalized roman letter. Usually doubled up when used in regular conversation, QQ is a unique oral sensation that cannot be mistaken for any other. When you put something in your mouth—cold or warm, salty or sweet, dry or wet, it doesn’t matter—if the substance first pushes back as you seize it with your teeth, then firms up for just a moment before yielding magnanimously to part, with surprising ease and goodwill, from the cleaving corners of your mandibles—that is Q. It is light but not insubstantial, flexible, supple, resistant, yet ultimately compliant. The word Q fits this experience perfectly. Like the foodstuffs it so aptly describes, it permeates the mouth, softly pillowing up against the palate, no sharp edges or hard stops, as easy to pronounce as it is to digest.

Anything can be Q as long as you can put it in your mouth. Memory foam mattresses are not Q, but a live sea cucumber scooped up from its temporary home in a water-filled blue bucket for your inspection can—no, should—be QQ. “Delicate flavor,” the wind-wizened vendor tells you, “very Q!”

Americans do not like their meats Q. Meat, whether fowl, fish, or beast, may be firm or tender, tough, stringy, weak, or chewy, but it must always feel like meat, never anything else. And Q, inherently democratic or else curiously ambiguous, belongs to no one food group. Q, while not squishy, is softer than it is springy and several degrees removed from chewy. For some reason, visiting foreigners routinely connect it with slimy. For Westerners slimy is definitely not good. Slimy is viscous, like spit, and wet, like swamp water. Slimy conjures any number of things the average Westerner most definitely does not want to put in her mouth: earthworms, mucous, mold. For anyone who is already a little dubious of the exotic extremes to which Chinese people will occasionally take their cooking, Q only serves as one more thing to avoid. Indeed, the Taiwanese are no less bold or quirky in their tastes than their mainland counterparts, but even though Taiwanese cuisine doesn’t shy away from slimy, Q can stand alone. A particular favorite of mine are the slimeless, powdery pastel cubes of sugary agar agar that wobble between your fingertips without leaving them sticky.

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Food Studies Come of Age | Darra Goldstein

Metaphors for the symbiotic relationship between mind and body have become so familiar that by now they’re clichés. We speak of intellectual hunger and food for thought, but we forget that these concepts were once the subject of serious inquiry—from Erasmus, who advised readers to digest material rather than merely memorize it, to Montaigne, who described education and digestion as parallel functions. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture aims to renew this connection between sensual and intellectual nourishment by bringing together many diverse voices in the broadest possible discourse on the uses, abuses, and meanings of food. It’s time that we set a central table for this sort of conversation, if not quite in the boisterous manner of the great Renaissance banquets, then at least in the wide, egalitarian spirit of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, where all dinner party guests get a few featured pages in the limelight of narrative point of view.

In this inaugural issue our contributors look at food in many different ways, in many voices. The global food supply, arguably the most pressing issue of the twenty-first century, is investigated in two articles, one arguing passionately against genetically-modified foods, the other promoting biotechnology as a means of ending world hunger. A third article views the modern food supply from a somewhat different perspective, which counters prevailing consumer attitudes by describing the benefits of fast, processed foods. Discussions of futuristic foods are also found in articles on the visionary 1956 kitchen designed by the British architects Alison and Peter Smithson and on the signature deconstructed soup of the Catalan chef Ferran Adrià. Yet Gastronomica does not neglect the past. We offer an investigation of the symbolic meanings of the edible pastry letterforms so beautifully depicted in Dutch still lifes, as well as an analysis of a fourteenth-century Arabic cookbook that calls for the surprising use of Sicilian cheese. So much of history deals only with grand gestures, but these articles convincingly show how important everyday objects are to a fuller, more complex, understanding of the past. Traveling the world, we go on to look at food and wine production in Turkey, Italy, and Spain. Other articles discuss ancient cooking vessels as well as ancient techniques such as smoking, which has been used by societies throughout the world as a means of preserving their local foodstuffs. Yet even though cultures can be joined by common cooking methods, global unity only goes so far, as the essay on McDonald’s so wittily demonstrates.

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