Street Food + One Last Lesson

NOTE: For more posts go to my website jadicampbell.com

Many years ago I briefly taught a group of ten-to-eleven-year-old German kids everyday English. We met one hour a week for basic vocabulary. We did puzzles and played games.

When the classes stopped, I invited all of them over for a meal at our apartment and together we prepared soft and hard shell tacos. It’s a build it as you go meal, and it’s messy. The dish involves lots of items to add or leave out. Perfect for kids, right?

The eight kids were enthusiastic about the messiness and leery of the optional chilies and salsa. One of the boys took a bite of a soft shell taco and made a face. But – he tried it.

After the meal I made a small speech: I praised them for trying the food. You don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to, I said. But if you stay willing to try new things, you will have full and interesting lives. I am really proud of all of you.

Those kids were silent; I could tell they were truly listening to what I was saying. Somehow, in the uncanny way of children, they knew I was trying to tell them something important. In their honor I am reprinting the post I wrote after visiting the food streets in Xi’an’s Muslim quarter. – Jadi

In Xi’an’s historic Muslim quarter, vendors were baking, frying, steaming and cooking all sorts of delicious treats. These ranged from food that was deep fried in woks to marinated meats on skewers.

Care for a kebab?

I couldn’t resist the piles of beautifully plaited and stamped breads,

as well as the stacks of sesame and bean paste desserts…

Wherever we travel, we always try local foods. We drew the line at river rat, hundred-year-old eggs, or chicken beaks. But in China we ate very well indeed.

NOTES: Xi’an was ’s the first city in China to be introduced to the religion of Islam and the religion has been allowed here since 651. About 50,000 Hui Muslims reside in Xi’an. ©Jadi Campbell 2018. Previously published as Tastes of Xi’an. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was honored as 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network, and American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts, and named a Finalist for Greece’s international 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Mark Kurlansky + NaCl

NOTE: For more posts go to jadicampbell.com

Author and journalist Mark Kurlansky was born December 7, 1948 in Hartford, Connecticut. He has written about oysters, cod, salt, salmon, milk and paper – among other topics. His writing is engaging and informative. I have copies of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (an international bestseller translated into more than 15 languages) and Salt: A World History. His book Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea was awarded the 2007 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. In his honor I am reprinting the post I wrote after we visited a saltworks in Laos. – Jadi

When we talk about salt, we talk most often of sodium chloride. This is NaCl, consisting of the elements sodium and chlorine.

There is a charming tradition in Germany of bringing a loaf of bread and salt to friends when they move into a new home. The saying is that if you have those two items in your house you’ll always survive. Bread and salt are still ceremoniously served to guests in parts of northern and eastern Europe.

Mark Kurlansky writes, “Loyalty and friendship are sealed with salt because its essence does not change. In both Islam and Judaism, salt seals a bargain because it is immutable… In Christianity, salt is associated not only with longevity and permanence but, by extension, with truth and wisdom. The Catholic Church dispenses not only holy water but holy salt, Sal Sapientia, the salt of wisdom.” [1]

Seeing the hard way salt is won from pits changed forever the way I think about this simple condiment.

We were staying for only a few days in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, and spent a day with a guide and a driver to see a bit of the area. One of the spots we toured was a traditional salt harvesting town. A little settlement lives at and from the pits – and has burned down numerous times. Each time, they rebuild right next to the pits.

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Salty waters are brought up from deep underground

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and then boiled in open metal pans. Their burning fires glowed and sent off intense heat. The briny steam that rose felt like being in some strange circle of Dante’s Purgatory.

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Once the water has boiled away the salt is gathered in baskets, weighed, and stored in a barn.

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Workers then bag and tag the salt, preparing it for market.

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Salt is a serious business. The salt from this mine is sent to the north where people still suffer endemic goiters.

I thought of the pits of hell, of work so demanding and hot that it left scars. Just being tied to a spot like this must bake you and make you hard. Or so I thought. Instead, I met workers doing their jobs in neatly ironed clothing. The women all had on jewelry. A group of little children trailed us everywhere, laughing and mugging as children do.

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Since that day salt has tasted both sweeter and bitterer, or herber as the Germans say. And in that small word I hear the echo of the coming season, Herbst, Autumn. The summer is burning away and fall is coming. May your harvest tables everywhere include bread and salt.

NOTES: [1] Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (Vintage Books, 2002), p. 7. © 2014 & 2021 Jadi Campbell. Previously published as The Salt Pits.  More of Uwe’s pictures from Laos and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out. Books make great gifts!

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was honored as 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network. In addition, The Trail Back Out was an American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts, and is currently a Finalist for Greece’s international 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.