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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons & Sicily

Guest Blogger: Chris Manganaro

In Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons: Travels in Sicily on a Vespa by Matthew Fort, the author is able to show just how unique and different Sicily is through his view of its food and culture. Due to Fort’s passion for Sicily, we are able to grow to love it ourselves.

Fort’s journey by Vespa is described in detail, allowing us to see where and how he is traveling. The addition of a map at the beginning of the book is a fun and useful visual as it helps to place the reader in the area that is being written about. While the author does sometimes complain about his journey’s discomforts, it is never for long periods of time and helps to add a personality to the person we are journeying with. This is necessary in making the story engaging, though; some may not find the eccentric foodie to be completely likable. He is human and has his charms.

One way in which the author is charming is in his descriptions of food which are just luscious. As a food critic, it seems necessary to be able to describe taste, texture and all sorts of qualities that food has in order to get it across to others. His descriptions vary quite a bit and he uses words that are so vibrant that you can almost taste the food he is describing. His love of food certainly shines through.

What makes his description of food all the more interesting is the fact that he often includes the history behind the dish or ingredients. These stories are rich and add quite a bit to the quality of his experiences. It is not only describing the food, but the history and culture of Sicily. Readers will really learn quite a lot about Sicily and its background through Fort’s adventures in filling his stomach.

It’s actually quite amazing the girth of topics that Fort is able to approach without seemingly going off topic. He addresses things such as obesity, poverty, and even the history of the mafia as well as other social issues. He does not try to paint a picture of Sicily as a total fantasy or paradise, but rather a place filled with contradictions. While it is sweet like honey, it also has the bitterness of lemons. It is partially the fact that he sees Sicily as such a mystery that drives his travels.

In the end, the mystery does end up being unsolved. The recipes that have come at the end of chapters throughout do not end the book as the author uses those pages to reflect upon his journey. This feels like the best way to end the book as it is more a travelogue, a story of one man’s culinary journey than a cookbook. While the recipes are recreated and easy enough to follow (though conversion from metrics is necessary) they do not necessarily shine as much as the story being told. They are definitely worth trying and sound delicious, but the richness of the book is more in the journey itself.

One cannot easily describe every facet of this book as it touches upon many different topics and paints such a lively picture that it can only be experienced by oneself, much like Sicily. Anyone with an interest in Sicily will be caught in its embrace.

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