“A man’s gotta eat!” has been the justification for many questionable and heinous acts. Acts against oneself, as well as against others. Ever sucked a dick or killed someone for a cheeseburger? Neither have I, yet, but never say never.
More often than as a justification for moral corruption, however, food generally serves as one of the most important social expressions of which humans are capable. Food, at its simplest, provides nourishment. But, in my opinion, which is what my blog is all about, people that only eat food as a source of nutrition, with no regard or appreciation for the magic that goes into an exceptional meal, might as well be dead. Sure, Napoleon may have been satiated with a boiled potato and a plain piece of meat, but to many people, he’s considered an anti-Christ.
Let me present two options to you. One is death, devastation, war, and horror for over twenty years (Napoleon), fueled by bland food, blood-lust, and massive ego. The other, (if I were an anti-Christ), is a perpetual golden age of peaceful hedonism, fueled by deliciously decadent food, rampant promiscuity, and unbridled adventure. And just a bit of murderous authoritarianism against any who oppose my vision. Which would you choose?
A hedonist’s Utopia
I see food as an expression of a culture’s personality. And I’m not the only one. Because food most certainly is an expression of a culture’s personality. Take the spicy, barbecued deliciousness of a street-side Mexican chicken with beans and rice. Lively, delicious, wholesome, and a little dangerous. How about a French pastry? Completely over the top, a bit fruity, light and flaky, with no actual substance, and, if you asked the pastry’s opinion, the best pastry the world has ever seen. No other pastry on earth even comes close. Why does anyone else even try?
I make joke. I make joke. Everyone with even four brain cells in their heads knows there’s a damn good reason French food has been the culinary benchmark of the civilized world for centuries. Because it’s perfect. Fuck the haters. It is fun to make fun of the French, and easy, but they really are the best at many things. And they know it, those arrogant…
At the time of this writing, I’ve been living in the Balkans for almost ten months, and I can see unmistakable character traits of the people here mirrored in their food. Hearty, delicious, and wholesome. There are many influences from surrounding areas and cultures, with a decidedly unique and proud set of flavours for each region. The chefs here are quite versatile and not afraid to try (and often improve) new things, to a degree.
Balkan food almost always comes in incredibly generous portions (maybe not in Belgrade) and is meant to be enjoyed with friends and family over the course of a number of hours. It’s never meant to be rushed. This is evidenced by the absence of fast-food joints almost everywhere, even in cities. If you want “fast-food”, go to a deli and get something pre-made and ready to go. It took whoever made it as much time as it always takes to make any meal you’ll eat, and it shows. Balkan food, although almost always great, often lacks refinement.
Now let’s take a look at Colombia.
The food is almost always plain and terrible. It’s not even spicy. Draw your own parallels concerning national personality. It’s unhealthy, tasteless garbage, generally unfit for human consumption. Anyway, when there is an exception to the awfulness of Colombian food, it’s so strikingly out of place that it takes one by utter surprise. Like finding a genuinely kind and selfless Colombian person (quite a bit of an exaggeration here, for dramatic effect). Medellin , however, is an entity all to itself, and exempt from my dietary damnation. The food and the people of Medellin are unique, tasty, well-presented, and fantastic.
The vast array of variety found throughout the world’s victuals paints an unmistakable portrait of human diversity. To list culinary creations from every culture would fill a volume nobody would read, but a short run-through should help illustrate the accuracy of my hypothesis. Let’s quickly paint some more images behind our eyes while I further prove that what I’ve been postulating does have undeniable merit.
Think about Italy, top to bottom, and count the milliseconds it takes for your mouth to start watering. An ancient nation. Nobody does it better when it comes to delivering divine dining. It’s often very traditional, which in some instances can hinder gastronomic greatness, but they clearly started out superior and they’ve only been perfecting excellence for millennia.
Now consider how this personality of excellence pervades so many aspects of Italian-ness. Cars anyone? Clothes? Architecture? I think you get the point. Corruption? Mafia? Inane bureaucracy? Laughable machismo? Yup, the best.
How about India? Should I even dare to go down that path? I think there’s a good reason you’ll find Indian restaurants in almost every country.
My god! So colourful, spicy, varied, ancient, creative, brilliant, dirty, and dangerous! I’m getting a tear in my eye. In India, there are ingredients so good that at one time many empires had no reservations about risking expensive equipment, honour, and much cost in life and limb to find trade routes to that fascinating land. England eventually realized they had not the remotest chance of ever coming close to the ability of Indians in the food arena, so they’ve adopted Indian cuisine as a major part of their food identity. Smart move.
These are a few of my favourite things
German food? Engineered excellence, heavy, creative, always better accompanied by beer, and often weird. Sometimes it seems a bit reserved and sensible, but it’s good.
Portuguese cuisine? Definitely overrated, south of Porto, and expensive for no good reason other than you’re a tourist and don’t know better. If bland, overcooked seafood is your thing, maybe Portugal is for you. The food of Porto however, stellar!
The US? So much variety and history, from every single area of the planet, can be found in “the States”. Southern grub from east to west is so great that they’re constantly bickering over whose is best. What an impossible argument. And what other country actually thinks it can step to the plate with barbecue? You can’t. If you think you can, you’re just wrong. Yes Argentina, even you.
Care for some American-Italian anyone? Get atta heeeee! Cajun cuisine? to die for. The massive list goes on. ‘Murica = Good Food Culture. But, because of the perverse prevalence of “right now” culture, there are waaaaaayyyyy too many horribly unhealthy fast-food options. That’s why so many Americans are dangerously obese. Add trash TV to the menu and you understand why so many Americans are dangerously obese and stupid.
Canada? It’s English food with less tea, the world’s best bacon, and maple syrup. Just kidding. It’s not that bad. I must say, however, that, like the people, much of Canada’s food is dull and boring. But where it’s good, it’s really good.
Canada, in many ways, is truly just America junior with some Britain mixed in (my fellow Canadians despise me for saying that) with enough unique personality traits to warrant its own identity. Barely. It’s more cautious and boring than its big brother, but is slowly catching up in many ways. In Canada, you’ll find great beef, cheddar cheese, wild meat, fresh seafood, and, luckily, many influences from its mix of immigrant cultures. Did I mention bacon?
Like barbecue from the US, if any other country thinks it can even get in the bacon ring with Canada, they’re wrong. And I don’t mean the round pieces of ham many Americans call Canadian Bacon, I mean the legendary bacon of all types that is expertly crafted in Canada. Long, thick strips of divinity, short, smoked bits of deliciousness (sort of like what I imagine a pork brisket would be like), wild boar bacon, and more. Oh, and do you make maple bacon, perchance? Do you even know how? Didn’t think so.
In the bacon world, nobody else comes anywhere close. And harbouring even the slightest sad fantasy that you might only means you’re hysterically delusional.
China, Japan, Korea, The Philippines, Thailand (Thai food might be my absolute favourite), and the many cultures of Africa have all made significant contributions to the world as far as food is concerned (remember the southern food of the US that I just mentioned? A lot of African influence).
There are a huge number of international offerings originating from the Middle East. Turkish fare continues to make its mark on every continent, and the list just keeps on going. People, from every corner of the planet, have been, and continue to be, so unquantifiably vital to global culinary culture. Everyone!
Some food, some food, my kingdom for some food!
I don’t have enough time or energy (I’m getting hungry) to really pay proper respects to every region/country/tribe in one post, but seeing as I’ve got an entire section dedicated to food, I’ll be sure to make an effort to do my best to honour every notable food region that I’m familiar with. Which will continuously expand over time.
If anyone has something to offer this conversation, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. Even if you disagree with something I’ve written. I’m interested to hear what others think about the importance of food as a form of human expression.
I really do have to make something to eat now. Probably Italian egg noodles with fried mushrooms, onions, peppers, garlic, Montenegrin prosciutto (the best on earth), and shredded cheddar cheese. A pinch of crushed chilies for some zip, and my signature touch of brown-sugar-with-cinnamon-and-balsamic-vinegar to pop those taste-buds.
Until next time, bon appétit!
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