The Hungry Cyclist, Tom Kevill-Davies (2009)

A ride in 2006-7 from New York, across the US, then through Mexico, Central and South America to Rio in search of culinary delights, entertainingly, sometimes gruesomely, recounted

Collins 139780007278848 Paperback 368pp £7.99

More accounts of long cycle rides have been published that you can shake a stick at. So, a writer who wants their travelogue to appeal to publishers, and of course, readers, is as well to hang their journey around some kind of quest. Kevill-Davies’ ruse – to ride in search of ‘the perfect meal’ – is among the more effective.

There is much interest, of course, in the various cuisines he samples, describes and sets down in cook-them-at-home recipes. He tries bulls testicles in the company of cowboys, Dungeness crab with Pacific-coast fishermen, actually goes to sea with a boat load of Mexican fishermen and tries hamster, armadillo and pigs ears.

More valuable, however, are the encounters with people along the way that his culinary enthusiasm necessitates. To try peasant cuisine in the countries through which he passes, he has to befriend and enjoy the hospitality of dozens of kindly souls. His perspective continues to be that of a young, intelligent westerner who used to work in advertising, but one can’t help but admire his ability to inveigle himself into homes along the way.

Here he is in El Salvadore, having persuaded a family he met to take him to a restaurant where they served good pupusas.

“I went inside (the restaurant). Generations of Salvadorans were hard at work stuffing themselves on thick, hand-made corn pancakes stuffed with cheese, beans, and deep-fried pork. It looked like a Latino pie-eating contest, and we were only too happy to join in. We found a table and ordered six pupusas between us. I picked up my first hockey-puck-sized maize cake and took a bite.

“I yelped in pain.

“I might as well have bitten into a Cornish pasty filled with napalm. I ejected a nugget of pupusa from my scalded mouth while Ed (his brother with whom he had met up) collapsed in a fit of laughter.”

Needless to say, the author quickly learned to douse the pupusas in cooling curtido – and appreciate this staple of Salvadoran fast food.

Kevill-Davies is an effective writer, and exhibits a rare appreciation and knowledge of food. He is also has an astonishingly steady nerve and a strong constitution. His account of selecting, killing and preparing and eating guinea pig makes ‘I’m A Celebrity’s‘ bushtucker trials look pretty tame. Indeed, there is only one meal at which he blanches in the entire journey – a bowl of slop served up on an Amazon river boat.

He is also pretty good on cooking for yourself on the road – his roll up chopping board and film cases full of seasonings should serve as inspiration to anyone who puts up with Pot Noodles while on tour.

Occasionally he gets bored with his journey, which leads him to introspection that could have been excised from his manuscript. Otherwise, its an enjoyable menu served up in exemplary style – albeit one the should be avoided by those who don’t like food, or expect travelogue to be served up with a gag on every page.

PS Jan 10

The author now runs a ‘cyclists lodge’ in Burgundy, France

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