Monday, August 14, 2006


You can infer a lot about a culture by how much garlic it eats.

The Japanese famously – and derisively - refer to their Korean counterparts as “garlic eaters.” Garlic is much more suited to the rough and earthy Korean cuisine than it is to the refined delicacy of nihon-ryori.

Compare the garlic-eating French to the garlic-averse British. On the one hand, you have extremely stinky cheese and women with hairy armpits; on the other hand you have the Stiff Upper Lip, pip pip, cheerio, overcooked Brussels sprouts and grey roast beef.

Garlic is, perhaps, a mark of the Less Refined...but it is also the hallmark of a robust, hedonistic outlook. Which nationality favors it more – the gloomy, suicidal, vodka-drinking Swedes, or the happy, murderous, wine-soaked denizens of the sunny slopes of Sicilia?

Emeril Lagasse is a “gollick” fan. Bam! Are we surprised that he comes from Massachusetts, home of bland cod-based dishes? No, not when we realize he comes from New Bedford, a hotbed(ford) of subversive Portuguese culture and cooking.

Among us Eastern European Jews, garlic is an essential component of many savory dishes. It’s hard to imagine a braised brisket or a roasted chicken without the gentle kiss - or, more typically, a Great Big Slobbering Smooch - of knubble.

[Knubble. Isn’t that a great word for garlic? It comes from the German Knoblauch. The “k,” by the way, is not silent.]

Me, I loves me some garlic. Last week, Laurence Simon threw some corn cobs on the grill after slathering them with generous amounts of butter and roasted garlic paste. Roasting the garlic mellows it, removes the harsh bite – and that corn was just about the best I had ever tasted.

Last night it was new potatoes, roasted with whole unpeeled garlic cloves and splashed with plenty of olive oil. Mmmmm, good.

Garlic, of course, has its Infamous Side Effects. Eat plenty of it, and no amount of mouthwash will sweeten your breath. Moreover, you will notice it coming through your very skin. Late at night, after eating Lair’s grilled corn, I could practically see the little wavy Cartoony Smell-Lines radiating from me. Good thing I was alone.

In my case, garlic consumption usually manifests itself as a galloping case of Extreme Flatulence. And the effect is almost instantaneous. One bite of Szechuan Garlic Chicken, and I start levitating off my seat. And late at night, after things have had a chance to cook for a while, it’s downright evil. The pong is what I imagine it would be like if a family of zombies took up residence somewhere around my Ascending Colon. Gawd, there are few things worse than Garlic Farts.

And yet...

I will happily endure them, whilst forcing those around me to endure them as well. Because life without life without joy.

Plus, it keeps away the vampires.

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