I met Joan in 1987, on a gastronomic tour of the Republic of Georgia and the Soviet Union. What struck me from the first day was that Joan was utterly tireless. She was always making connections everywhere we went: asking restaurant owners about the origins of the dishes they were serving, striking up conversations with the Tbilisi farmers selling their jewel-red pomegranates, finding out which vegetables were in season in the markets and learning where cooks’ families had come from.
She had an inexhaustible interest in food and the people who were creating it, and she innately understood the importance of taste and our cultural roots. It has been nearly thirty years now since we met, and I know now more than ever that Joan is an unstoppable force.
Over the last four decades, Joan has become the most important preservationist of Jewish food traditions, researching and honoring the rich heritage that has connected people for millennia. I still marvel at her devotion, which is so evident in King Solomon’s Table: A meticulous historian and intrepid anthropologist, Joan follows the threads of Jewish food culture across centuries and continents, tracing the surprising and delicious ways they cross and weave.
Just as important, she is a clear-voiced storyteller and food writer who takes us on little journeys that bring each dish to life, whether it is a favorite spinach salad with walnuts and cilantro she first tasted on that trip of ours to Georgia, a comforting spiced Moroccan vegetable soup used to break the fast of Yom Kippur or Sri Lankan breakfast buns with a cinnamon-laced onion confit, adapted from a bun Joan found at a roadside stand in Sri Lanka that reminded her of the homey taste of Jewish sweet onion rolls.
This is what makes King Solomon’s Table so important, and such a pleasure to read: Joan celebrates both the diversity and unexpected commonalities of these foods from around the world. And she shows us how simple, beautiful and real food can bring us all together, around the table and across the globe, forming the heart of our communities.
Excerpted from KING SOLOMON’S TABLE by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2017 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.