Monday, October 01, 2007

A World Without Bananas: Octopus Dietary Notes Vol. 1

Alexander the Great brought the banana to Europe. From India. Bananas were first mentioned in Sanskrit texts dating from about 500 B.C. The name for banana derives from the Arabic word "banan", which means "finger".

Domesticated chickens emerged from Southeast Asia and were transported across the Pacific by the Polynesians. (Chicken bones dating from the 12th century were found in southern Chile last year, providing strong evidence that the Polynesians made contact with the Americas before the Europeans.)

Potatoes and tomatoes are indigenous to Central and South America and were not introduced to Europe until the 16th century, when the Spanish brought them back. Mama Mia!

Coffee was first cultivated in Africa. It spread from there to the Middle East, where it was very popular with the Arabs. Arab traders brought coffee to Italy, through Venice. Coffeehouses in Europe became hotbeds of political unrest, as were coffeehouses in the Middle East.

The Gross Michel banana, allegedly tastier than our current Cavendish bananas, was largely killed off in the mid-twentieth century. The Cavendish bananas are apparently in some danger of going extinct this century.

In Japan, the word "ramen" is written in katakana, the special Japanese alphabet for loanwords (i.e., "apatoo," "konputa," "pasucon," etc.) because ramen is considered a Chinese dish. The dish was imported from China, where it was known as "lo mein".

The Portuguese brought the pineapple to India. They got it in South America. Portuguese cooking techniques also led to the creation of tempura in Japan, which the Portuguese also visited very early on. Those guys got around, and ate well.

1 comment:

MK said...

Fascinating post, OG, particularly the collection of links. I have always been wondering what pre-Columbian and pre-Polonian Italian cuisine would have looked like, all without pasta and tomatoes. Likewise, Central European/German cooking without potatoes. Unimaginable! We've been cooking a lot with all sorts of heirloom tomatoes this summer, which really makes you appreciate the diversity of this fruit type. They also taste vastly better than the watery junk they grow in Holland.