Among dog-eared volumes on The Detourist’s crowded kitchen shelf none has suffered more wear and tear than Food Without Borders, a slim menu of healthy recipes using mostly proteins and vegetables compiled by French foreign correspondent, military analyst and adventurer Gerard Chaliand. Now nearly 80, Chaliand is an expert in armed-conflict studies and in international and strategic relations, especially in what are known as asymmetric conflicts, as for example in the fight in Afghanistan between the powerful military of the United States and the diffuse, lightly armed Taliban.
In 40-plus years as a freelance journalist and academic, Chaliand has traveled to more than 60 international hotspots from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nagorno-Karabakh and Sri Lanka to Chechnia, Peru, Chiapas and Kurdistan. Even at the time he published this cookery, in 1981, early in his career, he had already spent time in various parts of the Middle East, South-East Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Along the way, he came to the conclusion that there are, in his words, no “such things as national cuisines. In fact there are only regional cuisines or cuisines with local variations which cover a vast geographical area.”
In that spirit, Food Without Frontiers divides the world into geographical/historical regions with “cuisines which seem to me outstanding or worthy of special attention.” From each of these Chaliand presents foods that he found most appealing during his travels. Though its author has had long career as a social scientist and his interest in what people eat springs from a desire to understand the cultures he visits*, Foods Without Frontiers is anything but pedantic. Instead, it is a highly enjoyable visit to the kitchen of an opinionated Frenchman as he whips up meals that are exotic at the same time that they are well within the ken of most American cooks (Chaliand includes a list of substitutes for ingredients that may not be available in your neighborhood, although these days it is unusual for an urban supermarket not to devote a row or two to ethnic foods and fixings).
Food Without Frontiers is parceled into seven sections: Middle East, North Africa and the Balkans (lamb dishes are typical); East and South East Asia (steamed duck); India, Pakistan and South Asia (Mulligatawny Soup); The Americas including the Caribbean (Chicken Sauté à la Creole); Black Africa (Bobotie – Cape Malay-style meat loaf); Northern, Central and Eastern Europe (Hare in the Pot); and Western Europe — the Latin Countries (Blanquette de Veau). Although only 120 pages including an index, I’ve used it for 30 years without tiring of it. Most of the recipes are easily adapted to US kitchens. As with many regional cookbooks, it will lead the adventurous cook to experiment with new flavors and ingredients.
*Regional cuisines “and probably also music,” Chaliand says, writing before cable tv, the internet and Putumayo Presents, “are the most accessible parts of a culture and, at the same time, the most resistant to outside influence. They are the first points of real physical contact with a different society. Part of knowing how to travel is to have an appreciation of other cuisines: this is the very essence of the pleasure of traveling.”
Food Without Frontiers by Gerard Chaliand, long out of print, is available used from Amazon and other booksellers. He is also the author of such works as The Art of War in World History: From Antiquity to the Nuclear Age; The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to al Qæda (with Arnaud Blin); and Nomadic Empires: From Mongolia to the Danube.