Cookbook author says engage the world through food

Step out of your comfort zones to explore different cultures and lifestyles, cookbook author Naomi Duguid told her audience at the Guildwood Library earlier this month.

“Get bumped out of habits, in transportation or food,” said Naomi Duguid, a food writer. “We can travel in our own city and I would urge you to.”

Duguid was visiting the library on April 14 for “A Tasty Tour of China” to share her passion for food and travelling.

A recipe from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China

Cooling Oasis Salad with
Tomatoes and Herbs

• The only “dressing” is minced herbs and salt.
• The salad pairs beautifully with rich pulaos, and with grilled kebabs.

• About 1 pound ripe tomatoes
• About 1/2 pound English cucumber
• 1/2 pound daikon radish, peeled, or red radishes
• 2 tablespoons minced herbs: dill, coriander, flat-leaf parsley, or mint, or a mixture
• 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

• Chop the tomatoes into ½-inch dice or smaller, and place in a bowl.
• Peel the cucumber, chop into small dice, and add to the tomato.
• Chop the radish(es) into small dice and add.
• Add the herbs and salt, and toss to mix well.
• Transfer to a wide shallow bowl, and serve immediately.

• Serves 6 as a salad or side dish.

Courtesy of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid — Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, published by Artisan and Random House Canada.

For more, visit the authors’ website,

Duguid held a map of China as she spoke about the culture and history of different regions, while presenting a slideshow of photos she took in the East Asian country.

She says she’s “big on geography” and people can only have an emotional connection to a place they’ve visited.

Other places Duguid has travelled to include Asia, the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa and South America.

She’s the co-author of six cookbooks, including Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas and Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia, which won the James Beard Awards for best cookbook of the year.

Rice terraces, mountains, quaint villages and wide landscapes with green vegetation illustrated the geographic environment of China.

A picture showed a woman sitting on the ground preparing food with earthenware.

“She has all her ingredients ready, and then you end up with a clay pot made to order,” Duguid said. “You know, I want pork with some onion and some whatever, and in four minutes you’re sitting over there eating your hot soup. It’s really delicious.”

She says food and other necessities are connected to geography.

Tibet doesn’t have birch bark like Canada, so animal skin is used to build boats instead, while Tibetans also don’t eat fish, as they don’t have many lakes and rivers, Duguid said.

“Even in a place where there’s very little, people have restrictions for various reasons,” Duguid said. “People think it’s silly that we don’t eat ants or grasshoppers. It’s very interesting to ask yourself ‘what do I find disgusting and what do I not?’ ”

Duguid says she appreciates China’s culture and traditions, and although she speaks Mandarin and “can be polite” in Tibetan, body language is another form of communication.

“The question of language I think is more a question of preparedness to connect than specifically to pronounce words and grammar,” Duguid said.

She says she doesn’t “steal pictures” of people, as she would first form a kind of relationship.

“It could be a short [connection],” Duguid said. “I can just catch someone’s eye and it’s sort of a nod. I’m not saying, ‘Oh, excuse me, can I take a picture of you?’ but there’s a transaction that takes place.”

She says it’s easy to explore other cultures, as many of the dishes in China can be found in Scarborough and made in your own kitchen.

People don’t go to Asian supermarkets because they’re afraid of the language barrier, but it’s good to “feel intimidated” sometimes, Duguid said.

“If you come as an immigrant to [Canada], your entire experience is of people not understanding you, but they know what that feels like,” Duguid said. “So what’s wrong with somebody who’s a native speaker of English finding themselves in a similar situation?

“Go in there, check it out, buy something, maybe you don’t like it, you didn’t break the bank – it was $1.85 for that bottle of sauce.”

Suzanne Taylor, who’s taking a course in culinary tourism at George Brown College, says she’s researching vegetables from Asia and has to discuss their different qualities only by trying them.

“I think it depends on your own travel experiences that will define your decisions to try new foods,” Taylor said. “However, Toronto is rich with so many different cultures that you don’t have to travel far at all to try different foods.”

Duguid says she doesn’t have a favourite place, as her travelling is about “curiosity, not comfort.”

“You need to tune into what’s going on where you are and then everywhere is interesting and has something to teach us.

“I’ve been going for a long time, but I could jump on a plane to Tibet at any time if you offered me a plane ticket.”