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TO R&T READERS of a certain age, Henry N. Manney III was Yr. Fthful Srvt covering Formula One back before the sport sought money in odd places like Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and Sochi. And, indeed, at a time when Americans learned about these races only through R&T and three-line snippets in The New York Times. What’s more, Henry was one helluva fine writer.
During his European reporting, in R&T June and July 1962 Henry offered a two-part “Gustative View of Europe, How to Sustain Yourself Between Races.” It goes without saying that it’s marvelous writing. But, maybe as a surprise it’s still au courant more than 60 years later. Here, in Parts 1, 2, and 3 today and following, are tidbits gleaned from Henry’s gustatory wisdom.
On American Cuisine. “In spite of what the English are taught to think, American native cuisine is not necessarily the worst in the world. In all my rattling around Europe and after determined and repeated efforts to destroy my liver, I have never found decent (repeat as needed) spareribs, Mexican food, bagels or sour cream, fried chicken, hot bread, pizza, corn on the cob, or shad roe.”
Henry continued, “America has practically a stranglehold on the pie family as we know it, as well as really good steaks, and bourbon whiskey is becoming recherché. In Switzerland, U.S. frozen chickens are not only cheaper but better than the domestic product, which apparently is offered for sale after being flattened by a Volkswagen. In some countries, beef appears in the butcher shop only after it is too old to give milk any more.”
“The key to true enjoyment,” Henry said, “comes in taking a careful look around, asking questions and most of all, having a lively interest in food as such.”
Basic Concepts. Henry’s general rules are sensible, even today: “Take heed of the traveling salesman’s precept of avoiding such leftover-catchers as croquets, roulades, and stews (except in France)…. and steering clear of obvious shifts such as Italian food in Germany, ocean fish in Switzerland, and French cuisine anywhere but its homeland.”
Indeed, I recall an edible but truly unexceptional soft-shell crab in a well-known (and expensive!) restaurant in the American midwest.
“Rice dishes,” Henry noted, “will be better in the north of Italy, where that grain is a staple, while pasta correspondingly is treated more sympathetically in the south….”
Right on, Henry! Risotto, of course, is best along a northern Italian lake, as I repeatedly confirmed at “Albergo Verbano, Isola Dei Pescatori.”
Wine Recommendations. Henry said, “There is nothing magical about wine in spite of attempts to buffalo you by merchants, headwaiters, and sexy advertisements in the glossy papers. It is, after all, only grape juice.”
“In Europe,” Henry described, “it is taken as a matter of course by all and sundry, as casually as other beverages are provided at home. A French aspirin advises on the package, ‘Take with a glass of wine.’ If you don’t like it, rest assured that there are many Europeans who don’t either and drink beer, bottled mineral water, or Chateau de la Pompe with the meal.”
“The rooty tooty restaurants,” Henry warned, “will sometimes try to make you feel as if you have your cowman’s boots on if you don’t order a bottle of something expensive, but you can be sure that the bosses themselves usually drink the local squeezings and that 85% of the population of France has never tasted anything fancier than that.”
Plus, of course, I’m a born-again Californian so I need not worry about reading them furrin labels.
Tomorrow in Part 2, Henry gives country-by-country assessments, some of which continue to be spot-on. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022