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History and The Whys of Spice Based Cuisines?


General Discussion 37

History and The Whys of Spice Based Cuisines?

opinionatedchef | Feb 22, 2011 10:14 PM

I don’t know if any CHs are interested in food history, but lately I have been thinking about the topic of why certain cuisines developed as they did. What has spurred my curiosity and
reflection has been a recent experience of eating Afghani food in Boston. My experience of it, objectively-intended, is that it is a relatively mild cuisine with little use of spices and with a very limited larder. I started to think- India is so close by- why does India have such a large larder of spices and a hugely complex array of cuisines, and Afghanistan does not? With regard to spices, I might say the same thing about Mexico and Guatemala or El Salvador- why are the latter two’s cuisines so tame when they are so close to spice- abundant Mexico?

I have not done any reserach yet; these are my initial ramblings in this quest. So far, I have come up with three main factors that may be key in explaining how a spice based cuisine has developed:
1) Native Plants
2) Hot climate
3) Trading patterns( i.e. while most Americans identify Italy with pasta and tomato sauce, the former did not enter Italian cuisine until Marco Polo brought it back from China, and the latter did not appear in Italian cuisine until the Americas had been discovered.)

I started to wonder if the development of a spice based cuisine (hundreds or thousands of years ago) had anything to do with the respective country having a majority of poor people who survived on starches (rice and beans and corn in Mexico, and rice and lentils in India)who were spurred on to discover and cultivate spices to give their bland diets some vivacity. But then I thought about China. China has a larger population that India and Mexico combined, and their subsistence food is also rice, but they have not developed a spice based cuisine, rather they have come to use soy sauce, ginger, vinegars (and one spice- chilis) to liven up their rice. So why not spices in Chinese cuisine? Might it have something to do with climate? Mexico and India are both very hot countries(in general); China is not.

This is the extent of my initial thoughts. Does anyone have any reflections or explorations or facts to share or link us to?
Thanks so much.

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