Book Review: Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar

| Fri Oct. 21, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar

Edited by Matt McAllester

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS

If breaking bread is key to our humanity, it is doubly so in a conflict zone. In this riveting collection, correspondents share war stories through the lens of food and drink. The fare ranges from pagan sheep sacrifice in war-torn Ossetia (the ear tastes "burned, hairy, cartilaginous") to the overindulgences of North Korea's Kim Jong-Il ($120-a-bite rice cakes). Under fire in Afghanistan, US soldiers fetishize MREs, while, amid Rwanda's horrors, the tea tastes like death due to corpses clogging the waterways. One author trains to withstand excessive drinking, a prerequisite for broaching the Irish Republican Army's inner circle. Another one concludes his profile of Benazir Bhutto with a recipe for burfi, a sugary sweet that Pakistan's former leader gobbles compulsively during their visit—only days before her assassination. In the end, the food rituals become a vehicle for tales of greed and pettiness, but also friendship and human dignity.