A Fork In The Road by James Oseland, Giles Coren, and Tamasin Day-Lewis by James Oseland, Giles Coren, and Tamasin Day-Lewis - Read Online
A Fork In The Road
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Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

A Fork in the Road: Tales of Food, Pleasure and Discovery on the Road

2014 James Beard Award Nominee and 2014 Society of Travel Writers Foundation Thomas Lowell Travel Journalism Bronze Award Winner for Travel Book

Join us at the table for this 34-course banquet of original stories from food-obsessed writers and chefs sharing their life-changing food experiences.

The dubious joy of a Twinkie, the hunger-sauced rhapsody of fish heads, the grand celebration of an Indian wedding feast; the things we eat and the people we eat with remain powerful signposts in our memories, long after the plates have been cleared. Tuck in, and bon appetit!

Featuring tales from: James Oseland, Frances Mayes, Giles Coren, Curtis Stone, Annabel Langbein, Neil Perry, Tamasin Day-Lewis, Jay Rayner, Madhur Jaffrey, Michael Pollan, Josh Ozersky, Marcus Samuelsson, Naomi Duguid, Jane and Michael Stern, Francine Prose, Ma Thanegi, Kaui Hart Hemmings, Rita Mae Brown, Monique Truong, Fuschia Dunlop, David Kamp, Mas Masumoto, Daniel Vaughn, Tom Carson, Andre Aciman, MJ Hyland, Alan Richman, Beth Kracklauer, Sigrid Nunez, Chang Rae Lee, Julia Reed, Gael Greene

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, a suite of inspiring travel pictorials, literature, and references, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travelers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

Published: Lonely Planet on
ISBN: 9781743601105
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James Oseland

Every traveler has two or three or even a hundred of them: moments on a journey when you taste something and you’re forever changed. It might be a fancy or dazzling dish served by a tuxedoed waiter, or it might simply be an unexpected flavor or unfamiliar ingredient, offered by strangers and encountered by happenstance. At their most intense, these tastes of the new reveal something elemental about the place you’re in, and about yourself. These are the kinds of experiences I asked the writers in this book to capture in their stories.

One of my earliest such epiphanies happened when I was twelve. My father took me to a restaurant in Chicago called Jacques, one of the great American temples of French cuisine in the postwar era, a kind of place that doesn’t exist much anymore. Though we were only an hour from our suburban home, this elegant redoubt in Chicago’s downtown Loop felt like another planet. Dad told me that Jacques was one of the best restaurants in the country. I don’t know if that was true, but the duck à l’orange I had there certainly transformed me. The limpid and tangy sauce, the rich and fatty meat, the mingling of sweet and savory flavors—it was too magnificent for words. My enjoyment of the dish, which I’d ordered at Dad’s suggestion, seemed to draw me closer to this taciturn man who’d always been a mystery to me. More than that, it made me feel, for the first time, like an adult. Or at least it gave me a taste of what being grown up might feel like.

Another moment of transformation through food happened seven years later, on my first solo trip abroad, to Southeast Asia. One stormy night, on a visit to Penang, Malaysia, I stumbled upon a night market in the middle of a field on the edge of town. While wandering through the warren of food stalls, in the center of which a Chinese opera troupe was performing, I met an old man who spoke a little English. He took me around to all the vendors, pointing out the foods each of them was selling. I sampled nearly everything, but what I remember more vividly than almost any dish I’ve eaten since is the char kuey teow, a Malaysian street-food staple of stir-fried rice noodles. I was blown away by the new flavors: the briny taste of fresh-caught cockles, the bite of Chinese spring onions, the hot, spiky funk of chile sambal, and the deep savor that I later learned can only come from ingredients that have been stir-fried in pork fat over extreme heat. The food was literally life-changing. I felt I suddenly understood this place, and I realized with equal suddenness that I wasn’t necessarily the person I thought I was up until that moment. I’d discovered another part of me. The depth and brightness of the flavors told of a world that was utterly different from what I’d known, and they told me I had a place in it.

Now I seek out that feeling of discovery wherever I happen to be eating. Even the lunch-hour meals I dash out for from my office in Manhattan can transport me, and put me in touch with something fascinating. A sortie to my favorite South Indian vegetarian place on Lexington Avenue or to my favorite Korean lunch counter on 32nd Street loosens the grip of the workday and lets me experience the world again in a purely sensory way. These humble meals tell me that there is always another epiphany around the corner. They remind me of the great, exciting promise of life.

There really is something fabulous and even miraculous about the act of eating. Savoring food is the one thing we do every day that is direct and unmediated. Taste does not lie. It’s pure. The impressions it leaves are sharp, invigorating, and emotional. And those impressions can last a lifetime.

That’s what I find so beautiful about the essays in this book. Each of them says something ineffable about how we process and remember tastes and sensations, and about how they alter our view of the world. The stories encompass a vast mosaic of experience, from bitter to sweet to everything in between, and an equally vast range of voices. Some are rough, some are intensely refined. But they all have one thing in common: they chronicle food and eating in a deeply personal way.

Each story will take you on a journey, whether it’s restaurant critic Gael Greene supping on star fruit in the Peruvian jungle, novelist Francine Prose coaxing a cassoulet from the kitchen of two bickering restaurateurs in rural France, or chef Martin Yan watching his mother at the stove when he was a child in Guangzhou (a wholly transporting experience that didn’t involve leaving home). But the essays in this book offer more than armchair travel. They will arouse your appetite for life-changing moments of your own. They will prompt you to seek your own fork in the road.

GILES COREN is the award-winning restaurant critic of The Times of London, to which he also contributes a weekly opinion column. He is editor-at-large of Esquire’s U.K. edition, is the author of the nonfiction books How to Eat Out, Anger Management for Beginners, and a novel, Winkler, and has presented numerous television series for the BBC.


Giles Coren

In the late 1970s, when great cairns of bin bags piled high on every London street corner, when the kitchen lights flickered and died each dinnertime (at first excitingly, then increasingly less so), when the grown-ups wore brown and smelled of Rothmans and Maxwell House, and I wore little grey flannel shorts and a pink school cap, my waking and my night-time dreams were of escape. And like so many of the miserable and dispossessed before me, the badly treated and the badly fed, the bored, the lonely and the small, the place to which I dreamed of escaping was America.

And also like so many other would-be emigrants from dark and dismal lands, I focused much of my longing upon food. Just as the Israelites followed Moses to Canaan largely for the jumbo portions of keenly priced milk and honey he promised were on offer there, so I longed for the brightly coloured and endlessly thrilling mouthfuls that were eaten on American TV shows and in the American books and comics that I devoured nightly, after a supper of thin, brown fish fingers, all grey in the middle, with brown tinned peas, followed by a tooth-aching brick of Wall’s non-dairy ice cream, tasting of frozen margarine and Hermesetas.

In America, they had Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, Lucky Charms, Cheerios and Big Macs from McDonald’s. In Callaghan and Healey’s Britain, we had Panda cola, Vimto, Tizer, Shredded Wheat, Puffa Puffa Rice, Birds Eye frozen beef burgers (oh, that sad, grey, ashen taste of bovine mortuary slab) and Wimpy bars.

Sure, some of the American versions just about existed here by the time I was ten years old, but they were not ubiquitous, and as far as the grown-ups were concerned, who grew up with rationing, made dinnertime more of a moral than a nutritional exercise (‘Elbows off the table; don’t talk with your mouth full; no getting down without permission …’), and gave us to believe that we were lucky to be eating at all, there was no question of travelling the extra miles across town, or spending the extra pence, that might occasionally have scored us the bona fide twentieth-century American originals we craved.

And some products you could not get here at all: applejacks, Hershey bars, Oreo biscuits, but most of all Hostess Twinkies.

Ah, Hostess Twinkies. The tastiest thing I never ate. These I knew about from comics, specifically the American DC comics I bought secondhand for 6p a throw because that four pence off the new price could be spent on 1p cola chews, with their slow-dissolving chemical tang of the New World, to be chewed while I read about Superman and Batman, Flash, Green Lantern … in adventures which stopped every three or five pages for adverts featuring full-page mini-adventures in which those very superheroes battled crime with the help of Hostess Twinkies, Hostess Cup Cakes or Hostess Fruit Pies (available in apple, cherry or blueberry flavour).

These confections seemed to me every bit as mythical as the magical flying foreigners who touted them, and indeed the very land from which they came. To say nothing of all the non-comestible pleasures my comics advertised, such as BB guns, X-ray specs (for looking at naked ladies THROUGH their clothes!), and colonies of real living sea creatures who would arrive by post, come alive in a tank of water and obey your every command.

All these items could be yours, the adverts promised, for a few cents and the provision of a zip code.

‘Daaaaaaaad, what’s a zip code?’

‘It’s like a postcode, but in America.’

‘So what’s our zip code?’

‘We don’t have a zip code. We only have a postcode.’

‘Well, then how am I going to get a gun, some X-ray specs and a colony of mermaid slave girls?’

So my father explained to me about advertising. And when he had finished, I had only one question: ‘When can we go to America?’

‘One day?’


‘When you’re older.’




‘Unless you shut up, never.’

‘But Daaaaaad, you went to America.’

‘Yes, son, I did. But not until I was twenty-three and …’

Then his eyes glazed over, and he was back in 1961, at the University of Minnesota, eating steaks the size of baseball mitts and three cheeseburgers at a time, queuing up over and over again at the college canteen, where they laid on this food mostly for the football players—a bounty that was unimaginable to a boy from Southgate, North London, who had grown up under wartime and post-war rationing, with hardly any meat or chocolate or eggs, living on soups made from the ninth boiling of a stoat. He talked about the food of his American sojourn endlessly. Later, when I wanted to ask about sex and drugs and rock and roll on American campuses in the 1960s (he also went to Yale and Berkeley), all he could talk about was the food.

And it was he who got me into cowboys, with their endless bacon and beans, eaten on laps off metal plates round a campfire, with a cup of coffee whose grounds they flung into the flames before rolling over and going to sleep. Such loucheness, such a casual approach to food … in my house no food was ever consumed anywhere but at the kitchen or dining-room tables, and nothing was ever, ever thrown anywhere. God, how I wanted to go to America.

Then one Christmas, 1980 I think it was, because John Lennon had just been shot dead in New York, making me, for some reason, want to go to America even more, there was a card in my stocking from Santa Claus that read: ‘Voucher: Valid for one trip to Disneyworld, leaving January 4th, also valid for parents and sister.’

Disneyworld. In Florida. In America.

And so, twenty-five years before I boarded planes to eat at El Bulli, the French Laundry, Chez Panisse, Noma and Arzak, I flew to America to eat EVERYTHING.

On the final page of The Great Gatsby (my father’s favourite book, and thus mine, and no small factor in my lifelong yearning for America), Nick Carraway wanders down to the beach and looks across at the American mainland from Long Island:

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world … for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And I knew just how those sailors felt as I pressed my ten-year-old face up hard against the cold plastic of the cabin window after eight or nine sleepless hours, and spied, looming up out of the wet gloaming as we descended into Miami airport, suspended high above a huge parking lot … the golden arches of McDonald’s.

‘Dad, can we go to McDonald’s?’


‘But, Daaaaaaad! You promised … wait, did you say Yes?’

Oh frabjous day. Oh brave New World that has the power to make my father say yes to McDonald’s. He never said yes to it at Shepherd’s Bush Roundabout ahead of a two-hour drive to the New Forest, because of the smell it would make in the car. Or to the one in Golders Green, because there were no tables there, and he didn’t like to eat while standing. Or to the one on Finchley Road because … I forget why not. But in America, clearly, everything was possible. Just like everyone had always said.

Maybe it was because in America, to eat in McDonald’s is not a dim, cheap, dirty alternative to the authentic food of the host land. There, McDonald’s is authentic. It is native. It is natural. It is real. And anyway, nobody in America has any table manners, so who cares if the kids eat with their hands and drink fizzy pop through a straw?

Oh, the daze in which I queued through immigration, picked up luggage, waited for cabs to be hailed, climbed in, pointed when I saw it, and ran, ran, ran out into the rain …

‘Won’t it be closed?’ asked my mother. ‘It’s quarter past nine.’

‘Closed?’ I called back as I pushed open the door. ‘Nothing closes in America. Not even at midnight!’

God, I remember the big pink face of the girl who took my order—I even think I remember that she was called Dana—and her thick, syrupy accent, and her failure at first to understand mine. And I remember the warmth of the fresh new burger in the beige polystyrene box (I miss those boxes: like tea in bone china, a Big Mac is most advantageously served on polystyrene—these new papery ones just won’t do, they don’t insulate the food properly, they allow it to cool and they lend it a mulchy, cellulose taste that I find cloying) and I remember the heat and steam as I popped it open and the nutty whiff of sesame; the softness as my teeth sank in to the point where childish incisor cracked the toasted surface and sank through air and bleached flour and a little bit of gypsum; then shredded lettuce, diced onion, crinkle-sliced pickled cucumber with that tell-tale whiff of dill (even now, the merest suggestion of dill in, say, a sauce for gravlax, just screams ‘Big Mac!’ at me); then ‘special sauce’, sweet, tangy, ever-so-slightly petrolly; then cheese, sort of, tacky if properly melted, no dairy flavours at all, but a pervasive umami that binds all the elements together; then meat, grey-black, sweaty … and there, as ever, the sadness began to set in.

After the first sugar rush, the descent. The post–Big Mac tristesse which becomes almost a wave of grief as you chew the last cold mouthful and toss the empty, ridiculously light box into the flapping bin at the door, and experience once again that aftermath of the triumph of expectation over reality.

And then jetlag sleep for what felt like days.

After that, everything began to look up. To begin with, we had scored from McDonald’s (my baby sister and I) little plastic figurines of Ronald McDonald and a character called the Hamburglar and a purple thing called Grimace that were as yet unknown in Britain and would ensure copious kudos points back home. Not to mention the opportunity to report that Big Macs here tasted very slightly different. Only very slightly, but enough to be noticed by a ten-year-old’s hypersensitive virgin palate. And as Vincent Vega says, ‘It’s the little differences … I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it’s just … it’s just, there it’s a little different.’

For example, the Raisin Bran which room service sent up on our first morning in the Orlando motel where we were staying: my mum and dad in one room, my sister and me in the other, alone with a phone and our first ever American room service menu.

Back home, we had Sultana Bran. It was my favourite cereal, but it was not without its failings. For the flakes were much thicker and harder in Sultana Bran than they were in Bran Flakes, for no reason I could ever ascertain, less malty, less inclined to mulch nicely with the delicious cold, silver-top milk the Unigate man brought every morning in tall glass bottles. And sultanas were all very well, but they were not as sweet and rich and treacly as raisins. Why did nobody see this apart from me?

Except someone did. The whole of America did! Oh, what a cereal this was: genuine Bran Flakes with tarry black raisins, not over-baked multi-grain crossover flakes with shrivelled green grapes. No wonder Superman and Batman chose to live here and not in shitty old England.

And then after the cereal, waffles. And pancakes. Not lame-o flat floury pancakes like on Shrove Tuesday but thick fluffy pancakes, with maple syrup and crispy bacon. Here, bacon was not piggy and wet and bendy but properly crisped, to a point where it was commensurate with man’s capacity for wonder. And you were allowed syrup on it. Crispy bacon with maple syrup. Pudding at the same time as your main. Sweetness and savoury together. No waiting required. Where was the moral lesson in that?

Exactly. Nowhere. In America, you just ate whatever you wanted to, whenever you wanted to. And nobody had a word to say about it. So we ordered hamburgers to the room, with Coca-Cola, in the middle of the night. And chips. And ate them. And nothing bad happened to us. Once, we even asked for Vimto to see what the telephone guy would say. He said he would do his best to find something like it. Could we please describe it to him? But we couldn’t. Who could? All we could do was giggle.

And when we couldn’t wait for room service, we ran out into the corridor and bought food from the vending machine by the lifts. Food from a machine! The thing I remember best from there is Cheetos—slightly disappointing compared to a Wotsit, but exotic too, in their slight grittiness, toasty corn notes and bland, less insistent