So many people these days (or so it seems in my little corner of the internet) have cycled across a continent. So many want to write a book. So many fail to find a publisher. And so it is a delight to see a book about a journey that is fresh, different, original and – frankly – brilliant in a way that it would probably never have managed through a traditional publishing route. Chapeau, Tom and your Nomadic Kitchen. I love this book.
Preparation. Preparation and planning. We are told that these are the key proponents to most endeavours. So many journeys, expeditions and great achievements are underpinned by it. You must plan we are told. Success demands it.
But what if you fail in this regard? What if you’re just not very good at it?
Is thorough preparation and its exacting nature, the real lynchpin to success anyway? Or is there something else that’s more important?
What if your planning is in fact completely shoddy. What if your equipment is barely adequate to meet even the most basic of demands? What is your fitness questionable and your bicycle is the wrong size, with the wrong wheels and the wrong brakes? What if your knowledge of bicycle maintenance is threadbare and your wallet is meagre? What if you have no real comprehension about what you are actually getting your self into? What if you are like most people setting out on their first big journey – blissfully ignorant…
With this journey, my journey, the alarm bells of poor preparation were ringing with vigour. They were certainly deafening, and worryingly so, to many loved ones. There was a start point and an end point. That was assured. From one local pub to another. One lay in a tiny rural village in Southern England, the other in the leafy suburbs of Africa’s most southerly metropolis. What lay in between was the pure unknown.
However, what if this initial disorganisation is supplemented by something altogether more defining. What if in the place of preparation, lays a strong clarity of intention and a conviction of purpose. A clear goal. No matter what that goal might be. However big or small. What if you can just accept and be content in your ignorance towards starched details – yet be very clear in what it is you are setting out to achieve. Does this, or can this, make up for a lack of rigorous planning. And can this be sufficient? Can you just start a long trans-continental journey and just see what happens, safe in the knowledge that you have a larger goal in mind?
It’s certainly true that everyone travels differently.
That’s one of the beautiful things about independent journeying; there should be no risk of imitation and no pressure from anyone other than yourself. Some aim to break records. Some to find answers. Some to find questions. Some to wander and just go on wandering. All are so valid and all work just fine.
For me – I had my own blueprint. From day 1 of our journey to day 501. My planning was terrible but my goal was simple – to set off from England and then to arrive in Cape Town in one piece, having immersed myself in as many food cultures along the way. To be amazed at the richness of national cuisines and be proved ever ignorant because of my pre-conceptions. I wanted to document recipes, culinary traditions, and social memes. To tell stories. To meet characters. To learn an infinite number of lessons from an infinite number of strangers, who were all infinitely wiser and more level-headed than myself. And then my goal was a share the privilege I’d been afforded. To self-publish a travel-cooked based on the experience.
This book – its conception, its long creation and its eventual self-publication was what I set out to achieve. And I had no idea in the slightest quite how I was going to do it. It’s taken four years, filled with an inordinate amount of mistakes and uncertainties to eventually have something tangible to hold. Some sort of a result and conclusion. But upon setting off on that woefully overloaded bicycle all that while ago, this project was my reassurance that it was ok to accept a certain level of unpreparedness. To have large degree of unknown and to revel in it. To put faith in the goodness of strangers and serendipity, because only in doing so do you get an infinitely richer return on your investment.
Importantly, this book seeks to look beyond the measurement of a meal being the sum of ingredients and, rather, places weight on the significance of human value. Looking back on the journey, the greatest and most enjoyable culinary experiences I encountered involved dishes that I could barely even stomach. Be it through illness, exhaustion or simply because the food was bland, stodgy or fairly unpalatable – a bull’s lung stew in Turkey, deep-fried fish heads in Sudan, or bugs and grubs in Malawi – this really didn’t matter. The overall meal – as a cultural, social and human occasion – was made by the moment, the method and the eclectic company we enjoyed. The focus of the book is on what a shared meal means for these communities, for these households, and thus what it meant to us. We were afforded a privileged and fleeting insight into worlds so different to our own. This is a snapshot of those experiences.
I’m so glad that I was unprepared to begin with. I’m so glad I made so many mistakes. Knowing the long road it’s been to get to this stage – a stage that seemed so improbable at times – required a certain dislocation from what was actually required. It needed that blissful ignorance, because if I had been more prepared I might not have had the innocent naivety to start this long journey in the first place.
For more information about the journey or how to order your copy of the cookbook visit: www.thenomadickitchen.com