Posted every Monday at 9:00 am PST,
or more often if I get around to it...
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Julia Child's First Culinary Love: Chinese Food
Julia Child is so strongly associated with French cuisine that you might assume that her first defining moment as a foodie took place in France, but that wouldn’t be entirely correct.
The truth is, her earliest steps toward becoming a culinary connoisseur took place years earlier, when she was stationed in an intelligence network on the other side of the world. Writing about her years in Asia during World War II, Julia Child remembered, “That is where I became interested in food.”
Yes, America’s doyenne of French cuisine, who would have turned 100 on Aug. 15, discovered the joys of dining in wartime China, long before she set foot in France. Working for the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS, the precursor to the CIA), a young Julia McWilliams was assigned to the base in Kandy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), around 1942 or 1943. This tropical Shangri-La was where she first encountered new foods like durian, a fruit that she described as smelling like “dead babies mixed with strawberries and Camembert.” It was also where she met the man who would one day be both her husband and her sophisticated guide to the world’s pleasures: Paul Child.
Paul and Julia were later transferred out of Ceylon and over to China, to Yunnan province’s capital city of Kunming during the last throes of the war in the Japanese theater. The air route over the eastern stretch of the Himalayas eventually took the lives of more than 1,600 people and destroyed 594 Allied airplanes. But that didn’t seem to faze Julia, who calmly read a book on the flight and, upon descending from the plane, said with delight, “It looks just like China.”
It was in Kunming that Julia’s palate was first awakened, for she was surrounded by “sophisticated people … who knew a lot about food,” she recalled. During the two years she spent there, Julia said she and Paul “continued our courtship over delicious Chinese food.”...
P.S., Next week I will publish the rest of my admittedly long article about Julia in China, as it had to be severely trimmed to fit Zester. But there's so much more to this amazing woman's life in Asia that I'm just aching to talk about the hidden and very exotic side of that staid lady in Julie and Julia.
For example, did you know she dealt out "operational opium" to local spies, or that she helped develop shark repellent for the OSS? Thought not.
Stay tuned. Oh, and 100th happy birthday tomorrow, Julia, wherever you are!