Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar: Stories of Food during Wartime by the World's Leading Correspondents

EDITED BY MATT McALLESTER
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw4m6
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar
    Book Description:

    These sometimes harrowing, frequently funny, and always riveting stories about food and eating under extreme conditions feature the diverse voices of journalists who have reported from dangerous conflict zones around the world during the past twenty years. A profile of the former chef to Kim Jong Il of North Korea describes Kim’s exacting standards for gourmet fare, which he gorges himself on while his country starves. A journalist becomes part of the inner circle of an IRA cell thanks to his drinking buddies. And a young, inexperienced female journalist shares mud crab in a foxhole with an equally young Hamid Karzai. Along with tales of deprivation and repression are stories of generosity and pleasure, sometimes overlapping. This memorable collection, introduced and edited by Matt McAllester, is seasoned by tragedy and violence, spiced with humor and good will, and fortified, in McAllester’s words, with "a little more humanity than we can usually slip into our newspapers and magazine stories."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94968-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. INTRODUCTION: THE NAME OF THE THIRD CHICKEN: KOSOVO
    (pp. 1-6)
    MATT McALLESTER

    “What do you have to eat?” i asked the kosovar albanian woman, at whose wooden hut in the snow-covered Mountains of the Damned I had just arrived, in the company of her son, another reporter, two photographers, and a translator.

    Actually, I didn’t ask her directly. I asked the other reporter, Philip Sherwell, who spoke German. He then asked the question of the elderly lady’s son, Haki, because he too spoke German. He then asked the lady, whose name was Zejnepe, in Albanian. And back, through Haki and Philip and two languages I did not understand, came the answer.

    “We...

  4. PART ONE SURVIVAL RATIONS

    • NIGHT LIGHT: EL SALVADOR AND HAITI
      (pp. 9-20)
      LEE HOCKSTADER

      I am sitting in my apartment at night, alone and in the dark. In San Salvador, electricity is as fickle as the weather—you take what you get. Tonight there is none, so I sit in the dark.

      In the dark but not in silence. Directly above my roof, maybe a hundred yards overhead, a Salvadoran army helicopter gunship hovers, its blades thudding against the thick tropical heat. The helicopter’s gunner is firing staccato cannon bursts into the hills a mile away, where the guerrillas make camp just outside the capital. Each burst belches out an angry, mechanical growl, very...

    • A DIET FOR DICTATORS: NORTH KOREA
      (pp. 21-30)
      BARBARA DEMICK

      In 2003, a japanese sushi chef bearing the pseudonym kenji Fujimoto penned a memoir that gave rise to the expression “cook and tell.” The subject of Fujimoto’s indiscretion was Kim Jong Il, for whom he had served as personal chef for more than a decade. The rotund North Korean leader had greater passion for good food than for beautiful women, allowing his chef as intimate an understanding of his psyche as any of his many purported mistresses, though none of them—as far as I know—ever wrote a memoir.

      Fujimoto was recruited in 1982 by a Japanese-Korean trading company...

    • SIEGE FOOD: BOSNIA
      (pp. 31-41)
      JANINE DI GIOVANNI

      Paul, the french radio journalist who wore shiny city shoes in the grimy snow, and a big black wool topcoat instead of a flak jacket with plates, looked up from his dinner: “My grandfather in Buchenwald,” he said somberly, “ate better than this.”

      It was ten days before Christmas, Sarajevo, 1992, the first year of a nasty and terrifying war. I was sitting in the Holiday Inn at a dinner table covered by a dirty white cloth, with three other people.

      There was Paul; there was Joel—a handsome surfer kid from California who arrived improbably on a Eurail Pass...

    • MIRACULOUS HARVESTS: CHINA
      (pp. 42-58)
      ISABEL HILTON

      It was marc, a frenchman, who insisted we eat dog meat. Marc was one of the more intrepid gastronomes in the small foreign student body in Beijing in 1974. Once he had found a place that served it, nobody could back out. Twelve of us went one evening. The dog was served in a rich brown stew, strong and slightly sweet. Childhood memories of dog breath discouraged me from repeating the experience.

      The dog meal was one stop in a two-year journey through the byways of Chinese cuisine that began in Beijing in the autumn of 1973. It had started...

  5. PART TWO INSISTENT HOSTS

    • HOW HARRY LOST HIS EAR: NORTHERN IRELAND
      (pp. 61-72)
      SCOTT ANDERSON

      “You’re doing what?” my girlfriend of the time asked.

      I raised the beer bottle to my lips, took a good pull. “Training.”

      “Really? It looks to me like you’re just drinking.”

      I finished off the bottle, moved it across the table to join the other empties, shook my head. “No. I’m drinking a lot faster than I normally do, and a lot more. That’s why it’s called training.”

      I didn’t really expect her to understand; she wasn’t a journalist.

      Before embarking on a story, a journalist needs to prepare. That might mean reading background information, arranging interviews, whatever. If going...

    • WEIGHED DOWN BY A GOOD MEAL: GAZA AND ISRAEL
      (pp. 73-83)
      JOSHUA HAMMER

      I stood in the corridor of a ramshackle building called Beit Agron in central Jerusalem, the headquarters for foreign journalists and military and government spokesmen, shaking with rage and humiliation. Seconds earlier, I’d been called a liar and then physically ejected from the office of the Israeli government press director. Now, as I took a deep breath and headed down the stairs, I thought back to the incident that had led to this point—an innocent comment I’d made two years earlier about a meal, a compliment that would brand me in some people’s eyes as a pro-Palestinian stooge—and...

    • THE PRICE OF ORANGES: PAKISTAN
      (pp. 84-98)
      JASON BURKE

      Not much happened in islamabad in 1998. Not much happened in Pakistan, in fact—or at least not much that troubled editors, viewers, readers, or policy makers in Europe or the United States. The country had slid inexorably away from international attention since the end of the war fought by the mujahideen against Soviet troops in neighboring Afghanistan almost a decade before. Most media organizations covered Pakistan from India. It was not a big story. The rediscovery of Pakistan and Afghanistan would come, with breathless haste, on September 12, 2001.

      Just behind my apartment in Islamabad that year was a...

    • JEWELED RICE: IRAN
      (pp. 99-107)
      FARNAZ FASSIHI

      On a hot afternoon in the summer of 2003, i watched the abduction, at gunpoint, of three student activists belonging to a prodemocracy movement in Tehran. They were standing only a few feet away from me. The gunmen appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, as I discussed where to eat lunch with a few of my journalist friends.

      We were leaving a press conference organized by Iran’s main student movement, the Office for Fostering Student Unity. The press conference had dragged on and turned out to be a nonevent. The students had announced that they were in fact canceling a large...

    • THE OVERSIZE HELMSMAN OF AN UNDERSIZE COUNTRY: ISRAEL
      (pp. 108-116)
      MATT REES

      Ariel sharon was ashamed of his weight. I couldn’t tell you exactly how heavy he was; the jacket of the light-gray business suit he usually wore disguised the extent of his belly and the dangling mass of his upper arms. Only when he walked could you make out the way he lifted his thighs around each other instead of moving them directly forward.

      For the most part, he kept his eating out of the public eye. The first time I saw him in the full of his copious flesh, he occupied a minor ministry in Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government. His...

  6. PART THREE FOOD UNDER FIRE

    • SAME-DAY COW: AFGHANISTAN
      (pp. 119-126)
      TIM HETHERINGTON

      It was cold and quiet up on the abas ghar ridge. A few crows flew overhead and circled back in their quest for food, clearly spotting the American unit that was spread out along the trail below. The men relaxed and talked in hushed voices. It was October 2007, and the soldiers were on the third day of a combat operation aimed at flushing out insurgents in the Korengal Valley—widely considered one of the most deadly places for American soldiers in Afghanistan. Some lay down against their packs while others gathered in small groups, white ribbons of smoke spiraling...

    • EAU DE CADAVRE: SOMALIA AND RWANDA
      (pp. 127-136)
      SAM KILEY

      His sharply honed nose and cheekbones are set in gunmetal skin and framed against a chalk background. The white tips of his incisors are sneaking a look from beneath enigmatic lips. His eyes are a mass of blue-green. The boy is statue-still, and beautiful.

      The slide projector clatters to the next image. It is a wide-angle photograph of the same boy, taken on the same day by me in Baidoa in 1992. I’ve composed this with no sense of irony, just of horror. The lad, no more than ten, is lying on his back with his arms flung out next...

    • EATING MUD CRABS IN KANDAHAR: AFGHANISTAN
      (pp. 137-146)
      CHRISTINA LAMB

      The road to my first encounter with afghan cuisine started, oddly enough, at the bar at the American Club in Peshawar, Pakistan. There’s always a favorite watering hole for journalists covering a war, and for those reporting on the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s it was this two-story house in University Town.

      Frankly, there wasn’t much choice. Alcohol was banned in Pakistan, so there were no bars and just a few hotels where you could sign a form to say you were a heathen and a furtive waiter would appear at the door bearing a basket. Inside, under...

    • MUNTHER CANNOT COOK YOUR TURKEY: IRAQ
      (pp. 147-156)
      RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN

      Back when saddam hussein ruled iraq, most foreign visitors were required to stay at the Hotel al-Rasheed, a concrete-and-glass monstrosity in central Baghdad. It was once a fine establishment, with marble floors and crystal chandeliers, but by the eve of George W. Bush’s war the modern facade belied an intolerable interior. You had to bribe the housekeeper for a roll of toilet paper or a bar of soap. The televisions offered just three channels: Baathist agitprop, Iraqi sport, and bad 1970s movies dubbed into Arabic. The in-room surveillance cameras installed by the secret police had long since broken, but nobody...

  7. PART FOUR BREAKING BREAD

    • THE BEST MAN I EVER KNEW: GEORGIA
      (pp. 159-171)
      WENDELL STEAVENSON

      I got it into my head once to figure out what had started the Abkhazian war. It was 1999 and I was living in Tbilisi, the capital of the post-Soviet Republic of Georgia in the southern Caucasus. It was five years since the Abkhas (with some meddling help from the Russians) had defeated the Georgian army and pushed a quarter of a million ethnic Georgians out of their homes along the pebbly Black Sea coast. The displaced families still filled every grand hotel in Tbilisi, strung up their washing on the mini-balconies, punched holes in the walls for tin-can chimney...

    • DINNER WITH A JESTER: AFGHANISTAN
      (pp. 172-177)
      JON LEE ANDERSON

      In march 2005, an afghan friend invited me to join him for dinner at the home of a relative who lived in the countryside near the market town of Charikar, some fifty miles north of Kabul. We would have to stay overnight, he said, because it was not safe to drive back after dark. Highwaymen were known to attack and rob motorists who ventured on the road at night. With the twinkly look of someone withholding a secret, he promised me that the evening would be a “special” one. Intrigued, I agreed to go along.

      We drove for an hour...

    • SUGARLAND: HAITI
      (pp. 178-185)
      AMY WILENTZ

      In haiti, people are often on the brink of starvation, so they think about food a lot. Haitians know what they like—it’s very specific. They like pork from skinny little Creole pigs, but not from great fat pink American pigs. They like rice grown in Haiti and cooked so that there’s some crunchy stuff at the bottom calledgratanthat’s burned and sweet. That’s the best part, the part “where all the grease, fat, and spices go,” a friend of mine says. They like scrawny Haitian chickens that scrounge around and eat what they find; big fat white grain-fed...

    • MY LIFE IN PAGANS: OSSETIA
      (pp. 186-195)
      JAMES MEEK

      At a dinner in kiev i heard there were pagans in european Russia. The Soviet Union had just died. After four score years and ten it had gone suddenly, like an old man with heart failure. Without realizing it I was imbibing the nostalgia of the people around me for the safe old broken-down Soviet world, the nostalgia that choked the Russian-speaking lands in the years I lived there. Now I’m nostalgic. I was younger then, but my nostalgia is also nostalgia for nostalgia itself.Ranshe bylo luchshewas the refrain in those days: “it used to be better.” Though...

    • THE HOUSE OF BREAD: BETHLEHEM
      (pp. 196-210)
      CHARLES M. SENNOTT

      In the sterile silence of children’s hospital in boston, i am watching my son Gabriel’s vital signs, monitoring every line of his heart rate and waiting for any change in the digital readout of his oxygen intake. By now, my wife, Julie, and I are exhausted and scared. A hospital tray with his uneaten breakfast sits on the nightstand.

      Julie stares at the depressing plate of food and begins to read the ingredients with shock, which is quickly followed by contempt. “How do they feed children this crap when they’re sick?” she asks, looking at the side of the box...

  8. BIOGRAPHIES
    (pp. 211-214)
  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 215-215)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 216-218)