Head over to Serious Eats to read my story on dukkah. Truth be told, I had never tried the stuff before writing about it. I knew it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, since anything containing nuts and spices is a-ok in my book. And once I got my hands on some, I had no problem putting it on anything and everything.
Writing about the unfamiliar comes with ups and downs. It lets you to have an outsider’s objectivity. You can watch, taste, and observe, and have the thrills of experiencing something anew before the novelty wears away.
But by the same token, observing from the outside means having that nagging feeling of not knowing what you don’t know. It means risking taking things out of context and removing the subject from its origins. The feeling is akin to being a tourist. There’s the timidness and discomfort of being a guest in a foreign land, of being in a place but not necessarily knowing the rules.
When writing, particularly when you might just have an audience, there’s certain expectations of authority, authorship, and especially owning your words. But its hard to feel a sense of ownership when the subject itself is not something that’s yours to claim.
That sort of self-doubt is expounded when you build your work upon secondary research, or rather, curating the thoughts of others. It hits you back in the face when you’re reminded of the holes and gaps in between your words.
An interest in cuisine is, for me at least, a way of maintaining a healthy curiosity about the world. More than that, its a way of maintaining a healthy curiosity about my city, its restaurants and markets, and the communities that keep it running. But being curious simply isn’t enough—it’s certainly not enough to make you an expert on a subject. You have to acknowledge that the recipients of that interest are active agents whose stories do not rest in your hands.
I’m not an authority on dukkah, or any other food for that matter, but I can do my best to claim my own understanding of it. The trick is to not assume that one’s experience of food or a food (or anything else) is equivalent to the experiences of others.