Mon 06 March 2017

citybooks | The culinary tour

A few times a year, the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren (“the neighbours”) sends a group of writers and a photographer to a city and gives them two weeks to look around and think. We put the stories and pictures they bring back with them on the citybooks website, which is now starting to bear a strong resemblance to a small city itself. For his internship at deBuren, Max Urai wrote a travel guide about that virtual city.

travel guide citybooks banner

In this third tour, we’ll read three stories and a series of poems about eating, drinking and smoking.

Dragon’s teeth, goody two-poops, connoisseurs and sausage

We start our tour with the story which by far has the longest title on the website: On dragon’s teeth, goody two-poops, connoisseurs and sausage: a Stellenbosch medley for voice and upright, with two intermezzos, backed by historical rustling, written by Marlene van Niekerk. Though the term ‘story’ is perhaps not quite right. Rather, it’s more of a historical-anthropological essay on the place and function of food in the South-African city. I call it ‘anthropological’ because van Niekerk starts with a small, daily ritual, before linking this to just about the whole history of her hometown.

‘It was in the towns of the Boland where the simple rural eating habits of the eighteenth and nineteenth century fell into disfavour. Whilst one ate such dishes as wurgpatat (11), stadige intrap (12), melksnysels (13), a knob of fat and a hump of bread on the farms, in town it was a matter of reputation to have a ‘good table’. But what is the use of a good table in Stellenbosch if you cannot show it off to your rivals?’

Read & listen to On dragon’s teeth, goody two-poops, connoisseurs and sausage: a Stellenbosch medley for voice and upright, with two intermezzos, backed by historical rustling


Bouke Billiet writes ‘Palm leaves and promises’

We’ll continue with one of the most read stories on citybooks: Palm leaves and promises. Bouke Billiet writes from the perspective of an old Chinese woman who tells him about her life in Semarang, about all the jobs she’s had, and about her favourite food. In the blog Notes from the Underground, Billiet also wrote a funny piece about how his story was translated into English.

‘If the Chinese Indonesians hadn’t been so vital for the economy, he would have thrown them all on a boat. By the way, even today everyone has to put their religion on their identity card. Since about a year ago you’re allowed to leave it blank, so that’s something. Am I rambling? Sorry, one sec, but there’s a delicious pile of lekkerkoek over there, just a moment, let me buy a couple...We eat all day long here in Semarang. Are there little stalls all over the place selling cheap food where you come from? I can’t imagine having to cook every day, who has time for that?’

Read & listen to Palm leaves and promises

© David Bocking (citybook Sheffield)


‘The Brass Band that Ate an Elephant’

Our third story is The Brass Band that Ate an Elephant by the late Wim Brands, in which he writes about a bass brand which collectively ate an elephant during the First World War so that the Germans couldn’t get their hands on the animal. Alright, maybe the word ‘culinary’ doesn’t quite fit.

‘Ghent’s sense of humour. When Peter Verhelst became City Poet, he put it like this: “What I really like about Ghent is the indefinable, strange sense of humour. Jokes are more abundant than in Bruges and the people are less indignant than in Antwerp.” Through the elephant and the brass band, I understood what he meant. The members of the brass band had eaten the animal so that it wouldn’t fall into the hands of the Germans. Guido mentioned it in passing. As if it had happened yesterday.’

Read & listen to The Brass Band that Ate an Elephant


'The God of Gaps'

We end our tour in Sheffield, with a series of poems by the English poet Helen Mort. In The God of Gaps she describes having a night out drinking in such a way that it reminds us of James Joyce. I urge you to read these poems in the original, English version so you can note the typical North English slang that Mort uses so cleverly:

'I'm looking for a pub like The Moon under Water,
a mythic ale house that I'll know by the alleyway
leading towards it, stinking of fags;

the silence grown around the building like a scab,
the windows with their blinds pulled down,
a lock-in set for all eternity.

The key will be in my pocket, small as a milk tooth.
Inside, the candles sunk in jam jars on the tabletops,
the pewter tankards balancing on books I know the endings to.'

Read & listen to The God of Gaps


With this we have come to the end of this tour. Thank you for reading and don’t forget the guide.


Also read

- The experimental tour
- The second tour of greats
- The musical tour



Translated from Dutch by Annelies Dotselaere, who did an internship at deBuren as part of her Master in Translation at the KU Leuven Campus Brussels.


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