Before it was a book, International Night started as a family game. Once a week in the Kurlansky home, Mark would spin a globe and wherever his daughter’s finger landed became the theme of Friday night’s dinner. Their tradition of International Night evolved into a combination of experiences in culture, geography, ethnic dress, and most important of all, the making and sharing of food from that region. Recipes were designed to be accessible and engaging, everybody from the chief cook to the young, aspiring chef can participate. There are 52 destinations from which to choose, one for each week of the year, and they range from far-flung countries such as Kazakhstan and Tanzania to the more familiar Ireland and Sweden. ‘International Night’ has recipes for appetizers such as Takuwan from Hawaii; the intriguingly named main course Bulgogi from Korea; and dessert could be Sombi Souffle from Senegal—all washed down with Turkish orange tea.
Each chapter has a story to tell—sometimes historical and sometimes an account of Mark’s personal experiences in that country. We learn about the varied languages spoken in Belgium, how tropical vegetation was transported from the Pacific to take root and become part of the fabric of the Jamaica diet, and Mark’s attempt to order food in Chinese. Talia hopes that while children learn about different cuisines and cultures, they will get the chance to taste these foods too. As she says, “It frustrates me when a waiter places a kids’ menu in front of us. Why can’t the world just accept that children just want to eat good food?”
Foraying into foreign cuisines can seem daunting even to the more knowledgeable cook. Mark provides several introductory sections laying out some underlying concepts to make the cooking experience less frustrating and more fun. There is an introductory chapter on cooking utensils, methods used, and an excellent chapter entitled ‘Sugar and Spice’ explaining the varied herbs and spices used in the recipes. The book is a delight to read, informative, and engaging. Who knew Cornish pasties have been given name protection, that balsamic vinegar is not a true vinegar, or that in Haiti there is a hot sauce called ‘a touch of evil’?
If you want to take an excursion without the hassle of passports and airports, open up ‘International Night’ and choose a country at random. You and your family can prepare and cook dinner together, play the local music, and be transported with morsels of cultural and historical information. Fifty-two mouth-watering journeys await you.
Jayne Guitart chooses to live within walking distance of the ocean where she can plant her beach chair, open a book, and take off to places known and unknown. She can still be home in time for supper.