There is no better way to learn about a culture than by its food. I have always found it fascinating how every dish tells a story, and the compilation of these stories are what make up a culture. Primitively, there were no cookbooks and the way people shared recipes was by passing it down from one generation to the other or by the exchange of recipes in neighborhoods.
A lot of factors can play a role in the formation of these recipes as a considerable number of countries were either colonized, occupied, or had foreign settlers on its ground.
This blog is inspired by Claudia Roden, a British cookbook writer. On her journey in collecting recipes, Roden became interested in the stories behind these recipes. Consequently, Roden was not only collecting recipes, she was also collecting stories. She described food as “an emotional baggage and stories”. She dives deeper into the historical background of food recipes, dating back to as far as the 13th medieval century around the Mediterranean area.
Watch her Ted Talk here .
The Mediterranean Cuisine
The Mediterranean cuisine can be divided into three culinary regions: Eastern Mediterranean, Southern Europe, and North Africa. Distinction between the mentioned areas can be made on the basis of history, religion, geography, and ethnicity. However, one thing the countries falling Mediterranean region have in common is their occupiers, climate and produce.
These cuisines share some similarities in their dishes, mainly as a result of their placement on the borders of the Mediterranean Sea and their shared climate.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits and vegetables and this can be explained due to is suitable hot climate for agriculture. It is also rich in animal derivatives like yogurt and cheese primarily from smaller animals like goats rather than cows which the rocky terrain nature of the Mediterranean does not support its being. Being placed next to the sea, it is definite that our diet is bountiful in seafood being an easily obtained source of protein.
Finally, the one commonly and internationally used ingredients: he olive oil. The dominant number of olive trees in the region makes the Mediterranean an excellent source of olive oil for cooking, an ingredient also widely used in their dishes.
Having their commonalities, there are certainly some aspects that distinguish one country from the other. For instance, Italy is an ideal example of how its history formed the dishes widely common today. Italy was an agricultural country up until World War II. It was also divided into two structures: landlords and peasants.
The crop was equally shared by both, which led to the abundance of peasant food and a few nobility dishes enjoyed by the landlords. This explains today’s Italian cuisine which is based on country food.
In Spain, on the other hand, food is a sensitive topic to people. It reconnects to the controversy of whether Spain is of Arab or Roman origins. It dates back to the Muslim occupation were Christian kings had to fight for their land and hence the claim that Spain is Roman.
How does this relate to food?
According to research on the History of Food in Spain. The origin of food is Muslim and Jewish. As people were converting to Christianity back in the early 16th century, they carried with them their methods and way in cooking. It shows in the way they cook pork nowadays: rubbed in cumin, just how it was done with lamb.
Finally, we speak of our country, Lebanon. The Lebanese are also influenced by their neighbors and occupiers, and therefore the development of the Lebanese cuisine. The neighboring countries around Lebanon were the Levant: Palestine, Syria, and Jordan.
As for the occupiers they were mainly the French and the Ottomans. Lebanon was occupied by the Ottomans for more than 400 years, and has brought many of its dishes to today’s Lebanese cuisine. Some to mention are: baklava, the Turkish coffee, and meat stuffed vegetables. During the French occupation, Lebanon adopted the French recipes for desserts like the: custard flan and croissant. We even added our own twist to it by initiating the zaatar croissant.
A recipe isn’t just a list of ingredients with instructions to them. They hold a story, they reflect a culture, they tell the historical background of a country, and to some they inflict emotions.