As mentioned in my previous post, Mary Rowlandson’s narrative could be read as an extreme version of a traveller’s first encounter with a new culture. Throughout the first half of her narrative Mary repeatedly expresses her repulsion towards the culinary conducts of the Indian tribe. Interestingly her descriptions reminded me of my own reluctance to accept foreign cuisine when I was first introduced to south-east Asia’s fondness of eating fried insects and other alternative food. Although Mrs Rowlandson’s reluctance to accept the Indian’s culture is severely influenced by the abuse she experiences throughout her captivity, her narrative gives several examples that can be seen as a reflection of the 21st century traveller's apprehensions as well as fascination with new cultures. In her ‘First Remove’ however, there is a dominating feeling of dread and disgust towards the Indians’ customs:
Oh the roaring, and singing and dancing, and yelling of those black creatures in the night, which made the place a lively resemblance of hell. And as miserable was the waste that was made of horses, cattle, sheep, swine, calves, lambs, roasting pigs, and fowl […] some roasting, some lying and burning and some boiling (238).
Considering how the Indian’s prepare common meat such as cattle, sheep and pig it is interesting to observe how Mrs. Rowlandson compares their food to ‘miserable waste’. Arguably her unfavourable depiction of their food appears to reflect the extent that food represents culture. As she describes their ceremony as a ‘lively resemblance of hell’ it strongly suggests that her issue lies with the Indians’ uncivilized customs rather than their culinary traditions.The way in which Mrs Rowlandson depicts her dislike of the Indian culture reminds me of the many times I visited food markets during my travels in Vietnam. I distinctly recall the feeling I got as I walked around the food market in Hoi An where every turn I took offered a new and strange smell. The market displayed a variation of scents ranging from sweet pineapples, freshly sliced fish, green beans, to grilled dogs, large tomatoes and fried crickets; each breath carrying the potential threat of feeling like a blow to the face. Although some of their sale items (like grilled dog) made me seriously question their sanity, I also became fascinated and wanted to learn more.
My experience of the Vietnamese food market could not remain uninfluenced by my own notion of culinary customs. Compared to the Scandinavians' rather restricted diet I was intrigued by the extensive culinary market Vietnam introduced me to. Similarly, Mrs Rowlandson appears to compare the Indians' cuisine to the puritan cooking she is accustomed to. In her ‘Ninth Remove’ she expresses the changes she is experiencing by taking a liking to their savage-like food:
I have sometime seen bear baked very handsomely among the English, and some like it, but the thought that it was bear made me tremble. But now that was savory to me that one would think was enough to turn the stomach of a brute creature (248).
Interestingly, this passage appears to demonstrate how consuming culture through food is a way of understanding and accepting what may seem foreign and somewhat daunting. Likened to Mrs. Rowlandson admitting to finding their cooked bear ‘savory’, I eventually succumbed to my curiosity and tried a couple of fried crickets in Hoi An. To my surprise the crickets were a combination of salt and crunchiness that could resemble eating some Walker crisps if you closed your eyes and held your breath as you chewed. The overall experience turned out to be strangely pleasant and it allowed me to accept a part of their culinary culture, as opposed to merely judging it.
|Alternative food: dog.|
|I preferred the vegetable section of the market.|
Rowlandson, Mary. “A Narrative of the Captivity and Resoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”. The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc, 2007. 236 – 267, Print.