Eating Authors: Charlie Jane Anders

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Charlie Jane Anders

The previous week has been one of revelations, some of which I cannot speak of yet (because reasons), but chief among those which I can share with you is that I’m getting too old to shovel snow. It’s not my heart, it’s not blood pressure; I’ve made significant strides in my health in the past year such that I can shovel for an hour without breathing hard or feeling dizzy or even consider keeling over in a drift to be found come the thaw. No, all that’s fine. Rather, a rigorous round of shoveling leaves me depleted for the rest of the day, utterly without spoons as it were. Ugh.

Worse still, the snow is still mostly there, and though I have nice paths to get where I (or the dog) need to go, it still mocks me.

None of which really has anything to do with this week’s EATING AUTHOR guest (who I’m pretty sure hasn’t been mocking me). Prior to last week, Charlie Jane Anders has probably been best known for her work as the editor of io9.com where her insights on all things SF are an unapologetic delight (full disclosure: I’ve been on the receiving end of some glowing reviews on io9.com). It’s kind of a high-profile gig, and so it’s understandable if that’s what comes to mind when you see her name (as opposed to the many many short stories she’s published), but all of that is changing. Her debut novel, All the Birds in the Sky, was released at the end of January and promises to make you ever after think of her as Charlie Jane Anders, novelist!

That said, a part of me will also always think of her as a recipient of the Emperor Norton Award, because I think we should all aspire to “extraordinary invention and creativity unhindered by the constraints of paltry reason.” But writing awesome books works too.

LMS: Welcome, Charlie Jane. It feels like only yesterday that we were having dinner at WFC. While that was a pretty fine experience, I’m thinking you have something else in mind as your most memorable meal. What is it?

CJA: The best dining experience I’ve had, overall, was when I visited Macau. This former Portuguese colony, just a relatively short ferry ride away from Hong Kong, was one of the last European holdings in Asia, maybe the last. (The Portuguese finally let go of it entirely in 1999.)

All the Birds in the Sky

And in addition to its gambling and racetracks, Macau is famous for its weird blend of Portuguese and Chinese food. I’ve never been a huge fan of fried rice, per se, but Macanese fried rice is this insane mash-up of Chinese and Mediterranean cuisine — it has olives and chorizo in it, alongside tons of Chinese ingredients.

But the main memory of my trip to Macau involves this one Italian meal. We were staying at a weirdly fancy hotel that I’m still not sure how we afforded, with a ginormous tub in the bathroom and a beautiful view of the city. And Macau is a dense European-style city where every square inch is jam-packed with stone buildings, except for the aforementioned racetrack.

But the second day we were in Macau, someone recommended we check out this Italian restaurant, and somehow this led to us wandering further and further away from the main part of the city, into the southern island. Macau changed from this crowded city full of narrow streets and high windows into a series of lanes going through wild woodlands. We started to feel as though we’d somehow been transported to the middle of nowhere, and it still had the same feeling of European atmosphere — the country lanes felt very Continental — but still recognizably in Asia.

Six Months, Three Days

And then at last, just when we thought we’d gotten completely lost and possibly fallen through a hole in spacetime, since Macau is not that big a place, we stumbled onto the Italian restaurant. I can’t remember the name of it now, but it looked like an old-worldy terrace, with a view of the trees we’d stumbled through but also the rocks leading down towards the ocean.

And this was, no contest, the best Italian food I’ve ever had. I can still taste the gnocchi with wild boar, which had just the right gamey aftertaste and a perfect rich-but-not-oily consistency. The gnocchi were plump and soft, but not too soft.

This Italian restaurant, which felt like a hidden osteria in the middle of nowhere, was one of the most unexpected delights, and even at the time, we knew that in the unlikely event we made it back to Macau any time soon, we would never, ever find this place again.

Thanks, Charlie Jane. There’s something to be said for juxtaposition of expectancies and realities, in dining as in so much else. That, and now you have me daydreaming of wild boar with gnocchi. Mmmmmm.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!



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