Meet Me at the Bamboo Table: Everyday Meals Everywhere

University of Washington professor Anita Verna Crofts has assembled a warm and thought-provoking collection of essays about food and the people with whom she's enjoyed meals around the world. The pieces are rather short, roughly three pages each, but they're packed with provocative meditations on the power of food to transform mere acquaintances into friends and foreign lands into something like home.

The title essay exhibits strengths found throughout the collection: lyricism, fascinating descriptions of cultural traditions and an awareness of the history behind those traditions. In Kunming, China, in 1992, recent college graduate Crofts is seeking coffee in the "land of tea." She finds it in a small shop, whose "white-tiled walls resembled a subway platform" and whose patrons were elderly--a far cry from the hip java joints she was used to in Seattle. In "Feeding the Neighborhood," Crofts walks through the cobblestone streets of Rome, amazed by the city's smallness (little pastries, tiny apartments). That sense of amazement sticks with her, and when she's back in the States, she sells her car and downsizes to a condo. These essays are more than loving memories of food--they're instructions for living life.

They also address Crofts's privileged status as a tourist. In "A Common Language of Meat," she ruminates on her outsider status in Namibia's inner cities and considers the ethical dilemma of gaining access to a community that she did not earn. Crofts's sensitivity to cultural differences and loving descriptions of the communities she visits make Meet Me at the Bamboo Table a compelling collection of writing on food, travel and memory. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and critic

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