Everybody eats. It is one of the simplest facts of life that nobody can survive without nourishment. For the past 300,000 years or so*, since homo erectus first discovered the use of fire, humans have been experimenting with their food. They went from gnawing on raw flesh and plants to charring their hunks of mammoth, an important evolutionary step.
Fast forward a few cataclysmic global ice ages, several extinction events, and the invention of tools. Now food has evolved in ways not even the Escoffier of the cave-world could have imagined. Spices that we buy in bulk at the grocery store were once more valuable than gold. A war over the control of spices broke out between the Dutch and Portuguese that lasted for almost half of the 17th century. How upset must those soldiers’ ghosts be watching us fill our houses with containers of cumin and shakers of paprika only to forget they exist and use pre-packaged seasonings instead?
Certain foods have well known histories. Most know the Earl of Sandwich and how he invented the world’s favourite lunch food. Sushi came from Japan and samosas from India. Some foods are just as hotly contested. The Italians would have you believe that they invented pasta, the Chinese would tell you that Marco Polo brought noodles back from his meeting with Kublai Khan. Since nobody has invented time travel, and most history books are slight biased (at best), we can only make educated guesses at the truth.
The reality is that with the globalization of knowledge and trade over the last hundred years, many traditional dishes are nothing like they were originally. “Fusion” foods are everywhere. Traveling to any major city in the world? Don’t worry about eating the local delicacy, chances are you will find a myriad of choices reflecting all the major cultural cuisines. Despite, or perhaps because of, the constantly changing face of the food industry I am still fascinated with the origins of some of our favourite dishes. Keep your eye out for most posts on the subject!
* the average of several contradictory dates I found on the subject