Alex Kapranos: ‘Sound Bites’ and Savory Food

Travel Interviews: Franz Ferdinand's singer has eaten mole in Mexico, mussels in Brussels and fishbrain bread in Finland. He talks to Frank Bures about his new book and his culinary adventures on the road.

02.06.07 | 7:51 AM ET

imageAlex Kapranos has traveled around the globe two and a half times as the lead singer of the Scottish band Franz Ferdinand. Along the way he ate a few things, and in 2005 and 2006 he sent back spare, vivid dispatches about those meals for a column in The Guardian. Those columns have been collected and combined with new material into a book of the same name: Sound Bites. In it Kapranos—who worked in a restaurant kitchen before hitting big with his band—reveals himself to be a fearless eater.

But “Sound Bites” is about more than meals. Food writing can be some of the most indigestible of the world’s purple prose, but Kapranos delivers deft, resonant and funny meditations on everything from the social nature of meals to the weight of tradition to the difference between travelers and tourists. 

“I don’t know how many times Prague has been invaded,” he writes, “but tonight it seems to have been invaded by wankers: British wankers, German wankers, North African wankers and American wankers. A tourist in his early 20s is explaining to another tourist in her early 20s that he is not a tourist: he is a ‘traveller’. They have a tourist map spread on the cafe table in front of them, by the English translation of the menu. He is saying that his experience is richer. He looks, smells and acts like a tourist. I don’t get it.”

“I’m a tourist,” Kapranos continues. “I tour the world. I don’t feel I have to excuse myself.”

Kapranos answered a few questions by e-mail from Canada, where he was recording ... and eating.

World Hum: Did you travel much before touring with Franz Ferdinand?

I was too skint to travel as much as I wanted to before I was in the band, but I did tour the punk squats of Holland and once drove a Land Rover Ambulance from Kosovo to Dumfries.

Can you tell anything about a place by the food people eat?

Yes, but it’s usually a mistake to judge people by what they eat. There is no good food in Berlin, but it’s one of the best cities in the world. If you go to great restaurants across the planet you’ll find the greatest food served by obnoxious people to obnoxious people.

You say that Athens street food is the best in the world. Any other places you like to eat on the street?

I love Osaka where there’s a street food called Takoyaki. They are delicious deep-fried octopus dumplings. A lot of Northern European cities serve hot chestnuts in winter, which make you feel it’s worth having numb feet and four hours of daylight just so you can enjoy them.

Any thoughts on why some places develop such fabulous food cultures, while others, well, you know who we’re talking about…

Access to ingredients must have something to do with it. That gives Iceland an excuse. The social role of eating also plays a part. In Greece families and friends gather round the dinner table, while in Scotland they gather in the pub. Moral Puritanism can screw things up too. Britain’s cuisine was ruined by the Victorians and their uptight sense of protestant guilt when encountering anything vaguely sensual, including food that tasted stronger than potatoes that had been boiled for six hours. Babette’s Feast is a film that explains it better than I ever could.

imageYour band mate Paul says that he’s at an age where if he hasn’t tried something, there’s probably a reason for it. Do you think you’ll ever reach that stage?

No, I’m too stupid. Paul’s smart enough to know when he won’t like something. I’ll always try it to make sure.

So if you had to be stranded in one city, food-wise, what would it be?

NYC. It’s the most cosmopolitan city on the planet. You can taste any flavour you want from anywhere if you look for it. Even good black pudding, although I haven’t found haggis here yet.

Your perfect day, breakfast, lunch and dinner anywhere in the world?

Breakfast: Las Manitas, Austin, Texas.

Lunch: Elias, Kardamyli, Greece.

Tea: Mother India, Glasgow, Scotland.

And your worst culinary nightmares?

Breakfast: Little Chef Motorway services, M1, England.

Lunch: Anywhere in Malmö, Sweden.

Tea: Subway, anywhere in the world.

You call yourself a gastro-adventurer. Do you have any advice for travelers about how to be adventurous eaters away from home?

Give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, it could be a tapeworm or dysentery, but if you survive you’ll be able to tell your pals all about it as they buy you drinks.

Any food you’d still like to try before you die?

Lutefisk. It can’t be as bad as people say it is, surely.


Frank Bures is a contributing editor at World Hum, where his stories have won several awards. More of his work can be found at frankbures.com.


2 Comments for Alex Kapranos: ‘Sound Bites’ and Savory Food

Daniela Luna 02.08.07 | 11:17 PM ET

It’s so inspiring…!

This year at the art gallery I direct, APPETITE, (http://www.appetite.com.ar/) I’ll be also opening a space for a cousy lounge resto bar, with exotic foods and spicy teas and coffees…

For the way some of us love experiencing food, it should be much more together with art, but not just mixing them, both having all the relevance they deserve and require. And taking some risks also, which is what APPETITE is all about!

I hope next time Alex and the rest, as anybody who can apreciate this, will take a chance when comming to Buenos Aires!

Estefanía Celi 02.16.07 | 3:57 PM ET

It’s fantastic to have the chance of reading Alex’s worldwide food experience. He’s the kind of person I wouldn’t mind to listen to in an Irish pub at 3 am. He’s certainly an interesting musician. I’m looking forward Alex to write a song about his favourite vegetables. Well, I hope he and his band come back to Argentina very soon.

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