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Book Review: The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maisto

 Book Review: The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maisto

Just yesterday my husband were in the suburb of Flemington, where I was living when we first started dating. We wandered down Racecourse Road, noting the various cafes and nooks wed eaten at and our memories of those moments: vinegar-drenched fish in the tiny park behind the public library; spiced baked eggs in a cafe regularly shaken by the trains running past Newmarket station; the oily scents of the hidden local laksa joint; the muddled meats and curries of the starkly appointed local Sudanese cafe; 'the shiny potato noodles that swooned off a fork at my favourite Kensington cafe.

As our relationship progressed, we moved beyond cafes and restaurants to cooking togethercocoa-smothered truffles that stickied our fingers and huffed a fine chocolate dust around my kitchen; mounds of garden-scented tabouleh; the earthy cross-sections of root vegetable lasagnes. After that we turned our attentions to Footscray market and its endlessly surprising produce. We cracked open spiny durians in search of their musky custard innards, peeled the gritty eyeballs of longan, hacked at the scaly flesh of dragonfruit, gritted our teeth at the prices of mangosteens.

When I picked up Michelle Maistos'The Gastronomy of Marriage, I found myself and my husband in its pages. Michelle, like me, comes from an Italian background, and is pescetarian, as I was at the time I met my husband; her husband Rich, like mine, is Chinese. Food is a part of our cultural identities, and as it is for Maisto and her partner, its been a source of discovery and understanding for both of us.

Maistos memoir is written with endless epicurean flourishes in a style so rich you can almost taste it on your tongue; her prose revels in the sensuousness of food and the rituals surrounding it. This slim volume is an examination of how intrinsically food itself, as well as the ceremony surrounding the preparation and serving of food, is linked to culture and identity, and how traditions regarding food are passed down through families in so many waysfood as celebration; food as medication; food as love. Her discussions with Rich over congee versus pastina as the perfect food for convalescence make me think of the many times my mother-in-law has arrived with a giant container of chicken broth and bags of various dried herbsnot to mention the time she forced my husband to choke down a plate of chicken tendons in order to help heal his recently snapped achilles. The giving of care packages is reminiscent of those from my own family: nary an occasion passes without my arriving home with preserved olives, home-made pepper sauces or an unfathomable panettone, something I loathe and invariably cast off to some other unsuspecting soul.

Theres also the creation of new traditions, with Maisto and Rich puzzling out variations on the Italian-Chinese tradition, fusing salads with noodly mains, incorporating shrimp paste into hearty slow-cooked meals, and re-imagining those beloved family desserts. My husband and I have done the same, mixing and melding flavours and styles, and forging our own gastronomic path, giving our loved ones home-made jams and spiced shortbread at Christmas or Chinese New Year, sending foodie treats along with our ang pao. Perhaps the most notable of these efforts was our wedding, where rather than having a formal sit-down affair, we had our relatives and friends back their favourite desserts for us, in doing so, we hoped, encouraging a sense of sharedness between our two families and cultures.

Still, for all the importance of food ideology in a relationship and its resulting domestic negotiationswho cooks? how many dishes should be used? where should things be stored?towards the end of this memoir I did find myself becoming a little burnt out, if youll pardon the pun, on the incessant melding of food and love, and began to long for some sort of off-topic amuse bouche to distract my palate between the heady mains of each chapter. By the last fifty pages, I did wonder whether this book might have worked better as a series of essays, or perhaps as something dipped in and out of, like a ten course tasting menu, rather than devoured all at once, hawker-style. Still, this is a beautifully written volume whose sweet aftertaste lingers, and Id recommend it to lovers of food as well as lovers still working out the menu of their relationship.

Rating: star Book Review: The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maistostar Book Review: The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maistostar Book Review: The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maistohalfstar Book Review: The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maistoblankstar Book Review: The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maisto (very good)

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