What is it about countries that makes them want a national dish? Or, indeed, a national myth?
Rants from Down Under
What a treat to read an Australian whinging about the global hegemony of supposedly iconic American foods.
One thing you have to give the Americans credit for is the way they celebrate their food, even when it’s not particularly good.
They’ll take the most ordinary thing you could ever think to put in your mouth and worship it as if it were the bacon-wrapped second coming of Christ himself.
A Google search for “grilled cheese” returns 148 million results. “Mac n cheese” produces 212 million. The same search for “Vegemite sandwich” returns a paltry 587,000.
“Marmite sandwich” gets about 3,230,000 but that’s besides the point. The point is that Adam Liaw’s diatribe is a terrific read even if, like me, you haven’t tasted most of the things he is talking about. (As an aside, he links to an earlier piece about the search for the national dish of Australia that contains even more things I’ve never heard of, or eaten. But neither mentions Tim Tams, which I have eaten, and which are The Best.)
Adam Liaw mentions cultural cringe – “that Australian arts only saw their value if recognised in England or America, rather than being appreciated in Australia” – as one explanatory factor. But he doesn’t mention the seminal Goodbye Culinary Cringe by my friend Cherry Ripe. Amazon helpfully informs me that my copy might be worth in excess of US$ 900.00, but I’ll not be selling at any price.
Published in 1993, maybe modern Australians in search of an identity or a national dish (though why?) should give it a look. Right there at the outset, Cherry lays it on the line:
In our search for a cultural identity – the Republican debate and the campaign for a new flag being the most obvious – we have overlooked one area of our culture where we have developed a uniquely Australian identity: culinarily.
It is not to do with lamingtons or Vegemite, meat pies or sausage rolls, pavolva or peach Melba. We have actually developed a particular, and distinctive, Australian style in our food.
As I say, that was published 28 years ago. Australians! Do not forget your (recent) history!
And Cherry, if you’re reading this, it has been an absolute age. Your adopted name makes it almost impossible to search for you. Get in touch.
A little while ago I linked to Plant Humanities Lab, with its excellent selection of extended essays about plants, many of them edible. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing there yet about the apple, but that’s OK because Apples & People is a new website that promises to tell “The astonishing global story of the apple”.
I’ve only had a brief poke around so far, but it all seemed very tempting. More tempting than a citron, for sure.
The history of the apple in South Africa makes me wonder what those pioneer Dutch growers would have made of the modern Granny Smith. The site is connected to some exhibitions in Herefordshire in the UK, and promises more than forty apple-laced stories over the next 18 months. There is also a newsletter that will notify you about new stories and the exhibits.
More edible history from the Netherlands
I have Dutch friends who regard chocolate sprinkles on bread as a legitimate breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. Not just chocolate, either, but they are the canonical sprinkle. Food Crumbles tackles the story of sprinkles, with recipes.
One factoid I didn’t know is that sprinkles are not traditionally conched, that is stirred forever like other forms of eating chocolate. The ingredients are mixed for only as long as it takes to get everything combined and then extruded through a die. So if you melt them, they stay sprinkle-shaped.
Big Agriculture Is Best
Bursting my own self-reinforcing bubble, as, in fact, I often do, I forced myself to read this fascinating article in Foreign Policy. If only they had phrased the headline as a question – Is Big Agriculture Best? – it would have met my expectations even more perfectly. Let’s just say that I disagree, but not entirely.
My biggest problem with the piece is what it omits on the negative side, and those are well-enough known that in all honesty I cannot be bothered to go through with a point by point rebuttal. And yet, there is precisely one conclusion in the piece with which I wholeheartedly agree.
See if you can find it. Answers by email, please. No prizes though.
Is the U.S. Doing Enough to Address the Meat Industry’s Role in Antibiotic Resistance?
See, there’s a headline that tells you everything you need to know without having to read the article. If you did, you would know that sales of “medically important” antibiotics for use on livestock in the US had gone up again in 2020, as they did in 2019.
At the heart of the issue is that while antibiotics are banned for growth promotion they can still be freely used for disease prevention. Which, according to Civil Eats, means that “the majority of pork and beef producers continue to administer them to all of their animals regularly in food and water”. And if the growth of those animals also happens to be promoted, well, win-win!
Another view of Coffea stenophylla
There is an excellent article from CNN’s Marketplace Africa that looks at the rediscovery of stenophylla coffee from the point of view of Sierra Leone. While the rare coffee could indeed save Sierra Leone’s coffee industry, there’s a lot of work to be done. Little coffee is being grown in the country, and the original coffee culture has almost vanished. But the work is starting, with women entrepreneurs sourcing, roasting and serving local coffee and developing the country’s appetite for coffee that goes beyond a hasty cup of instant. And, as Jeremy Haggar explained on the podcast a week ago, coffee seedlings are being raised in nurseries for distribution to farmers. With luck, and strong interest from specialty coffee outlets around the world, maybe Sierra Leone will once again find itself the source of excellent coffee.
By the way, a couple of people have asked me whether I will be trying stenophylla coffee. I’d like to, of course, just for the experience, but I fear it would be wasted on me. Neither my critical faculties nor my vocabulary are up to the task, which is far better left to true connoisseurs. The whole business of connoisseurship is both of interest and a mystery to me. I wrote about “the memory of complex flavours and how we analyse, process, store and recall the memory” in the show notes for the final episode in my mini-series on taste, almost a year ago.
Side-by-side comparisons are without a doubt the best way to learn to discriminate and understand what you prefer. I’ve done very few such tastings, none of them guided, but I did carry out one test myself. That was how I discovered I prefer my coffee brewed with water at 85°C rather than boiling water.
Take care and stay safe.