Category Archives: Summer Blog Entry 3

Influences on Italian and American cuisine

The article, “Italy’s Culinary Heritage” sheds light on the regional differences of Italian cuisine based on the different influences each region experienced. Sicily is a great example of how different cultures influenced the cuisine of this state because of the strong Muslim presence. As stated in the article, “Rare in Italian cooking, sweet and savory flavors are brought together in one dish, such as in pasta con le sarde;” however, because of the island’s location, this meal is prepared in an untraditionally Italian way, even today (16). Another great example is the state of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The article describes the cuisine as “mostly rough and hearty, though Venice superimposes some of its refinements in the first course with risotto. Thick vegetable soups to which beans, rice, or barley are added are typical Friuli fare. Pork stew with cabbage and goulash are of the Trieste cuisine, which is a melting pot of Venetian, Hungarian, Greek, Austrian, Slavic, and Hebrew traditions” (16). Clearly, the different countries surrounding Italy and different cultures strongly influenced different regions’ typical cuisine.

Looking at the food culture in the United States, I definitely see influences of other countries and cultures in our cuisine. Sometimes, I even find it hard to define what American cuisine is because the country is such a melting pot of cultures. What is a typical American dish? Hamburgers? Hot Dogs? Where I am from, there is a lot of seafood because I am so close to the Gulf of Mexico, but with regards to seeing foreign cultures in our own cuisine, the best example I can think of is in New Orleans, Louisiana. The French and Haitian cultures both have played a strong role in the cuisine of NOLA, and the city is known as the food capital of the south.

On the receiving end of cultural adaptations, Mexican food—more accurately, Tex-Mex—has definitely become a common food in the United States. I think a big contribution to this growing food industry is the influx of Latinos into the United States over the past decades. I worked in a Mexican restaurant in my city, and there were many immigrants working there as well. They taught me how to “mexicanizar” my Mexican food, or how to order my food at a Tex-Mex place to make it more authentic to they way they would eat it at home. On the one hand, I found it great that I was learning how to eat the food the way they eat it, but on the other, I was sad that more people do not have those friends to show them. One can definitely find authentic Mexican restaurants in many cities, but I find the cultural adaption very interesting.

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Dr. Christine Ristaino

Dr. Hong Li

Yibo Wu

7/13/16

 

Chinese people values cooking and food the most among all the countries on this planet. In ancient times, there is an old saying called “food comes first” (Min Yi Shi Wei Tian). By putting the food as the same status of the heaven, people can know how important Chinese people view food. As time goes by, even in the modern times, Chinese people still continues the ancient heritage. Nowadays, the Chinese people call the food lovers “Chi Huo” which means the people who thinks about food all the time. Since we are a 5000 year continuous civilization, Chinese developed many unique eating cultures about food and cooking. Shared dining was one of the cultural traditions that are famous. Basically, Chinese people will sit together, eat together and share food from one plate. This one, compares to western tradition, is a huge different eating habits. The reason we do this is that Chinese people pursue the integrality of the dishes. When we serve the fish dish, the cook will take out the viscera of the fish and leave the bones right in there and cook it. So when the fish get served, it will look like a whole fish with sauce, that means the unity cannot be divided and served separately. Also, the reason why Chinese people sit and eat around a rounded table is that we would like to share the importance of the kinship. While eating together and share the food from the table, Chinese people believe it will foster a stronger relationship than sitting a squared table and eating separately. The other important point we pursue in food is the texture of the combination of the ingredients. Chinese people paid so much attention in getting the perfect feeling while chewing and swallowing. For example, when the cook want to use bamboo shoot or black tree fungus to cook a dish, they would like to find other ingredients that are soft like fired pork with eggs because of the crispness bamboo shoot has. Chinese cooks tried to pursue the perfect balance of the ingredients, and when one ingredient is plain, the cooks will put other ingredients that are either salty like smoked ham or sweet like dates. The other significant point is that Chinese people put soup in a very high status in our food system. A good cook should have the ability to make a good pot of hot soup. Because soup is the way of cooking that you can put expensive ingredients in it and it will keep the original flavor of the ingredients and lock the nutrition in the soup. This way you can maximize your usage of the ingredients. Chinese people would sacrifice hours of time to boil a pot of soup. Also, when traditional Chinese medicine doctors will always recommend you to use “Shi Liao” (food treatment) to cure your disease first and if not working, then medical treatment came in.

The dish that impressed me the most was the winter melon with the spare ribs and corns soup. My family cook this soup almost every week because winter melon is low calorie and rich in Vitamin C. Also, although spare ribs are a bit oily when its cooked independently, when stewing with corns and winter melon, the final delicacy will be an almost transparent soup with a bit oil in it. After taste it, I could assure you all you can say is WOW, AMAZING!!! It will present you a feeling of fresh and fragrant. Taste the soup and then put rice in it, I am in heaven right now. Since the soup is transparent, some eaters who love the feeling of gravy would like a deeper color of the soup, then some restaurant started to boil the soup with some milk in it, then it will present a state of milky white with the soup itself and a more juicy rib. However, I think that is a violation of the original balance of the winter melon and the corn. Though milk did bring the corn more fragrant and more appetizing. Also, many Chinese office workers would like to order their lunch through the phone on line while at 10 o clock. So that left limited time for the restaurant to prepare. They first fry the rib to let it half cooked and then boil it in hot water. To me, this is an infringe to the tradition, however, it is also a compromise to the modern rhythm.

Recipe:

1: wash the ribs and put them in clean water for 30 mins

2: put some oil in the pan and put into some ginger slices. Then fry the ribs a bit.

3: transfer the ribs into a stewpot and pour enough water in it. Put several drops of rice vinegar.

4: use big fire till the water is boiled and then turn it into small fire and boil for 2 hours

5: put corns and winter melons in it and add some salt. Then boil it for 20 more mins

6: put some pepper in it and some green onion slices.

7 ENJOY!!!a

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Prior to Italy’s unification in the late 19th century, it was divided linguistically, politically, and culturally. As mentioned in the video “A Brief History of Italy” from the Intro to Italian Food VoiceThread powerpoint, a number of dialects began to transform and solidify according to the various political and historical influences. This video mentioned the Spanish in Sardinia, the Austrians in Venice, the French in Naples, and the Muslims in Sicily, though this is just the tip of the iceberg. As these cultural influences cemented themselves, linguistic forms that were mutually unintelligible arose in the disparate regions of what is today modern day Italy. Alessandro Manzoni unified the country with standardized Italian, but various dialects persisted. I have to imagine that the differences in language created a certain inability for communication across all regions. As a result, linguistic sovereignty translated into cultural sovereignty. Cuisine is a huge part of culture, and therefore became unique from region to region in Italy, in part due to linguistic disparities. Foreign invasions and lack of unification until late 1800’s also affected noodles in Italian cuisine. Different noodles, in terms of shape and texture, come from different regions.

The author of Al Dente, Fabio Parasecoli, confirms that Italian cuisine has been evolving since the arrival of the Greeks, Arabs, Normans, and Spaniards. He also attributes this evolution in Italian cuisine to globalization, which is fast and intensifies exponentially. Parasecoli states that globalization’s effect on Italy took hold most noticeably at the end of the 1950’s during, what he calls, the “economic miracle.” This period was marked by fast growth, and Italians found themselves with more money than before. This caused a shift from the native Mediterranean diet towards a diet rich in meat, cheese, sugar, and, ultimately, fat. This caused cultural conflict because the food associated with the rich is both appealing and delicious, but compromises the health of Italians and deviates from the traditional Mediterranean diet.

After the fall of Rome, Italy had no capital or center, but rather many centers and capitals in various regions. This diversity is reflected in the cuisine. Some examples of this are:

 

Tuscany: “bean-eaters”/particular kinds of beef

 

Marche: Greek and Etruscan influence – lots of sea food, lots of agriculture

 

Umbria: Mountains dominate this region’s landscape. As a result, superior olive oil, herbs, and meats are characteristic of this region

 

Campania: The tomato thrives in this region, making pizza and pasta signature dishes

 

Calabria: robust fruits and vegetables

 

Piemonte: best butter, cheese, and milk, best wine

 

Sicily: dishes with sardines and salted anchovies.

 

These regional influences are analogous to what we have in the United States today. We associate the Mid-Atlantic and northeast with crabs and it’s superior seafood. The South is known for soul food, Louisiana has Cajun influences, and the Southwest is known for its Mexican-inspire cuisine. These are just a few examples of the way that a region’s history affects its cuisine.

Once Homemade Now Store Bought

Chinese mooncakes are a traditional dessert eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. For most families, the food is not the primary concern, but the reunification of the family for a short period of time. The Chinese love to cook and they take pride in their cooking. Whether it is something as simple as steamed bread or as complex as mooncakes, they pride themselves in their ability to not only make the wonderful food, but their ability to provide for their families. In China, the family is most important. Cooking is done for the family. Farming is often done as a family. Work is done to be able to provide for the family. Though this principle holds, as we become busier with our day to day lives, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain our traditional practices, such as making mooncakes with our families. When I was a child, every Mid-Autumn Festival, my mom and I along with some women in our community would gather together to make all sorts of different mooncakes: red bean, mung bean, egg yoke, mixed nut. We all gathered around a long table and made mooncakes production line style.  I still remember helping my mom make the bean paste with our old hand cranked grinder. I was the official taste tester of the bean paste. If we ever had extra bean paste, I walked around the kitchen with my little bowl and a spoon while the other kids looked longingly at my bowl of yumminess. Last year was the first Mid-Autumn Festival I ever celebrated without homemade mooncakes. I got them from H-Mart instead. Being at college, it is difficult to maintain some of my culture’s traditions, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy the food. One point to H-Mart for making mooncakes readily available. I must say, however, that a certain aura is lost when you just pick up some mooncakes from aisle five of the grocery store. I’ll have to ask my mom to send me a care package of mooncakes this year. Chinese Mooncake Recipe For the dough: 100g cake flour or all-purpose flour 60g pancake syrup   *normally golden syrup but that is sometimes hard to find so I improvise* ½ tsp kansui 1 egg For the filling: 150g adzuki beans 100g sugar 1½ sticks of unsalted butter Instructions for the dough: Measure out the cake flour into a large mixing bowl. Crack one egg and beat the egg evenly. Add the beaten egg into the flour and begin incorporating the egg into the flour. Next, add the pancake syrup and kansui. Mix all of the ingredients until they are fully and evenly incorporated into the dough. Sprinkle some flour onto a clean flat surface. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl, place it on the flat surface, and knead the dough until it becomes a smooth ball. If the dough is still too wet, add some flour. If the dough is too dry, add a little bit of pancake syrup. When the dough is finished, place it in a covered large bowl and allow the dough to settle for half an hour. Once the dough has had time to settle, remove it from the bowl and knead the dough again. Replace the dough in the covered bowl and allow the dough to settle as you prepare the filling. Instructions for the filling: Presoak the adzuki beans in water the night before you plan on making the red bean paste. This helps the red bean paste to soften and makes it easier to turn the beans into a pasty texture. After the adzuki beans have been soaked, boil a pot of water and allow the adzuki beans to cook for half an hour. Be sure not to mash the adzuki beans when they are in the boiling water as we do not want the water to be incorporated into our paste. I like doing this step in a pressure cooker. Remove the beans from the boiling water and put them in a food processor or a powerful blender. Blend the beans until they are a pasty texture. Blend more for a smooth texture and blend less for a lumpy textured paste. You could also do this step by hand using a hand cranked grinder. Once you have the paste the texture you want, heat a large wok and melt half a stick of butter. When the butter has completely melted, pour the bean paste into the wok. Cook the bean paste thoroughly being sure not to allow any of the bean paste to burn or stick to the wok. Create a pit in the middle of the bean paste in the wok and add the remaining butter in small chunks. Add sugar to taste. The bean paste should be a dark reddish brown color when it is finished, but it will still be smooth and sticky. Do not cook it until a crust forms; at this point, the paste is too dry. Remove the red bean paste from the heat. Instructions to construct the mooncake: Roll the red bean paste into medium sized balls. It is easiest if all of the balls are relatively the same size. Next, roll the dough into medium sized balls as well. Flatten the dough into a circle. The dough should be fairly thin so that the design from the mold is prominent. Place a red bean ball in the center of the flattened dough and enclose the bean paste in the dough. Make sure the dough is completely sealed or it will crack back open when placed in the mold. Sprinkle a little flour into the mold so the dough does not stick. Plop in the ball of dough and bean paste and flatten the ball so it reaches all corners of the mold and the back side facing you lies flush with the back of the mold. This will give the most beautiful result. Flip the mold over and gently tap it on a table to release the mooncake. Bake the mooncake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper at 350ᵒF for 5 minutes. Then remove the mooncakes and brush on an egg wash. Continue baking until the mooncakes turn light golden brown.
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http://www.80diapers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Mooncakes-011.jpg Traditionally, the round molds and the square molds are most authentic. Nowadays, I’ve seen Hello Kitty and Rilakkuma mooncakes, even mooncakes shaped like koi fish.
 

The Chinese Attitude

Chinese culture has a certain reverence for food in that they believe it is one of the most important factors contributing to one’s health. First, in a more literal sense, they believe that food is a source of nourishment akin to medicine. In the markets, one will often see a variety of herbs, spices, plants, and other items considered to be “nourishing” in the form of medicine or natural remedies. Furthermore, these Chinese medicines are prepared exactly like one would prepare food, specifically soup, as a combination of these ingredients are stewed together. The preparation of these medicines requires a mindfulness not just of the choosing of ingredients for a certain individual’s needs, but also the flavor of the medicine itself.  Secondly, food and the act of eating is a very important, prominent part of Chinese culture. Eating is a daily activity and because of this, the Chinese culture takes it very seriously when it comes to make the experience an enjoyable one. In addition, eating is a very communal experience and it is customary that everyone eating, whether it be family, friends, or associates, eats from the same dishes and larger bowl of soup. While not exactly medicine, the act of eating and sense of community that the Chinese attribute to it are as nourishing as a medicine made from food could be. Having family and friends together to enjoy food creates a balanced atmosphere and traditionally, Chinese culture prominently features the idea of balance in life.

When I was young, whenever we saw my grandparents (mom’s parents), I knew that every night was a feast. There would be a chicken dish, a beef dish, a whole fish, three or four vegetable dishes, and so on. But the one night I looked forward to was Beijing Kaoya. Beijing Kaoya is roasted duck and the trick to this is heating the walls of the oven and then letting the heat coming off the walls cook the duck. This keeps the meat moist and tender, but the skin becomes extremely crispy. The roasted duck is cut and separated into meat and skin. Then everyone begins the process: You take a pancake/wrapper and spread some sauce on, which is usually hoisin or sweet noodle sauce. Then, you add some duck meat, some duck skin, and green onions, and wrap it up. I cannot get enough. Beijing Kaoya’s history can be found as early as the Yuan dynasty where from then on it was seen listed consistently on the imperial court menu. As time went on, it became a favorite dish of the upper class. Now in modern days, it isn’t necessarily a common dinner by any means, but it is not reserved for any upper class standard. Doing this assignment, made me look back on the Beijing Kaoya dinners I had as a kid, and I had no concept of this then, but that was quite representative of what I read leading up to this blog post. All of my grandma’s food brought all of my family together to just sit around a table and enjoy the food in front of us. I think that the real power in food is its ability to evoke things or feelings from us, like memories or nostalgia associated with a dish.

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Recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/authentic-chinese-5-spice-peking-duck-349125

Sources: http://www.ebeijing.gov.cn/BeijingInformation/BeijingsHistory/t1137846.htm

Foreign Influences on Italian Cuisine (Post III)

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Understanding the migration and invasion patterns of foreign cultures on the Italian peninsula is essential in order to appreciate the complexities behind the development of Italian cuisine. Although unification is a relatively recent event in Italian history, the Italian states have long since adapted to these various cultures to produce a distinctive Italian food culture (albeit with regional variations).

Under the Greeks, Italians’ food production and consumption intermingled with Greek traditions, which helped to develop a particular taste and presentation that characterizes existing Italian food. However, following the Roman conquer over the Italian peninsula, imports from all over the word (as far as China) were introduced into Italian kitchens. New ingredients such as spices and wheat further diversified Italian cooking.

Obviously, one cannot expect the cuisine consumed by current Italians is the same dish that is currently in circulation. The eating habits, as well as cooking techniques and ingredients chosen, represent the diverse culinary history of Italy. During the occupation under the Roman Empire, food preparation and production was an important cultural feature of Italian life. The only cookbook from the time (approximately I B.C.E.) discusses food preparation techniques that can still be seen in some Italian recipes today. I found it interesting to note that even under Roman rule, the ‘Italians’ were attempting to ‘standardize’ their recipes in order to avoid outside cultural influence(s).

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However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Italian states began to diversify their ‘personal identities’ and their culinary rules. Thus, each region started to develop individual ways of preparing food, as well as what ingredients and recipes were used. Due to the geography and climates of the region, certain crops became staples in various regions: for example, in the southern regions of Italy, citrus fruits (including tomatoes) became characteristic of their dishes, while in Tuscany beef was a prominent ingredient.

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Furthermore, diversity in starches (such as bread and pasta) became characteristic of Italian region: as noted by the picture from Tuesday’s class, southern regions preferred the spaghetti noodle (known for its hard exterior and its boiled preparation), compared to the soft egg noodle of the northern regions. Such variations can be accounted for by foreign cultures, as well as geographic constraints. For example, the southern regions of Italy are relatively close to their North African neighbors, who have been known to use spaghetti noodles in their dishes, as well as certain other ingredients characteristic of the south. However, noodles traditionally found in northern Italian recipes have little presence in these North African states. Today, each region still is characterized by certain dishes and ingredients, yet they too continue to change due to a globalized food system.

Similarly, in my culture (and Latin American cultures overall), influences from foreign cultures have significantly altered food preparation and consumption. For example, in Honduran culture, the preparation for cooking tamales often takes a few days or a week (due to processing the corn meal to make a soft flour). However, in the United States, tamales can be made in only a few hours due to changes in cooking techniques (such as industrialization of cooking tools). Although one still sees the traditional mode of tamale preparation in Honduras, street vendors in major Honduran cities sell ‘quick made’ tamales (similar to hotdog stands). Influences from indigenous cultures (especially Mayan), Spanish, French, Arabic, and American cultures are the most prominent in Honduran food culture, especially as certain regions attract more immigrants and tourists (the rural areas maintain a strong attachment to Mayan and other indigenous food traditions). Thus, migration patterns and geographic neighbors have replaced ‘conquering’ (for the most part) countries as influences on food culture throughout the world.

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(Map illustrating global migration patterns)

A Mixing of Culture

It is by no coincidence that Italy offers an array of different cuisine in every corner of its peninsula. This diversity in methods and styles of cooking similar dishes was brought about by the cultural differences within different regions of the state. For it wasn’t until about a century and a half ago that Italy became a nation. A lot of these flavors and ingredients  that make up the dishes in Italy come from many different cultural regions around it and have evolved slowly and combine to shape Italy’s cuisine today. Furthermore, the regional characteristics of several dishes were brought about by years of conflict, division and difference within what is now Italy.

To begin to delve deeper into the origins of the cooking in Italy today, one must first appreciate the significance and the reach of the Roman Empire, which spanned from much of Western Europe to east of the Mediterranean Sea. This meant that vegetables, grains, spices, and other ingredients were able to be shared across the Mediterranean, North Africa, and what now constitutes Western Europe. With Italy being central in this great empire, it was able to absorb these influences from all the cultures surrounding it.

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy separated itself into different regions based on occupation by people of different cultural backgrounds. These lines drawn within the country were essential in keeping each regional cuisine unique. Influence from the Christians, the Muslims, the Spanish, the Arabs, along with many others has shaped different regions in the Italian state. These influences slowly evolved to differentiate regions of Italy by style and method of cooking. Furthermore, one may find differences in regional cuisine in Italy due to the ease of growing crops across different regions.

Similar to how Italian cuisine has been shaped by several different outside cultures, Vietnamese cuisine owes much of its history to French influence. Vietnam became a part of French colonialism in the late 19th century. During their occupation there, France contributed much to Vietnamese culture and food. Different recipes and methods of preparation were brought over by the French and adopted in several dishes.

A great example of French influence on Vietnamese cuisine is the banh mi. This sandwich embodies the cultural melting pot that occurred with French colonialism. It contains a combination of grilled meat, pickled vegetables and pate, an illustration of the Vietnamese fondness for herbs and crisp vegetables and the French influences of pate and meat. Along with this dish, the French brought to Vietnam coffee. It is now a big part of Vietnamese culture, as coffee is enjoyed throughout the day as a refresher and as a source of energy. It is loved so much that Vietnam is now the second largest exporter of coffee in the world.

The culture and cuisine of any country is ever-changing, absorbing the influences of the different  cultures that surround it. This may sound like a bad thing and a break in tradition, but it can actually be seen as something positive. This mixing of culture allows the best ingredients and methods of preparation to shine in the cuisine. It is quite evident in both Italian and Vietnamese cuisine that this cultural mixing and influence has led to beautiful delicious dishes in both countries.

Domain entry #3: Influence of foreign invaders on Italian food

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The Italian peninsula has been invaded by many foreign civilizations such as the Byzantines, the Longobards, the Franks, the Muslims and even the Normans. Each civilization brought its own culture, religious beliefs, and social dynamics. These factors played an important role in the way these cultures practiced agriculture, developed recipes and introduced crops and ingredients. With reference to Chapter 2 of Al Dente, Let us take a more analytical look at each of these civilizations for a clearer picture.

  1. The Byzantine Influence

After the Byzantines took over most of Italy, the religious beliefs, monks and monastic traditions played a key role in shaping some recipes and cooking styles. Monks lived in small groups and maintained grain mills and salt pits. Because of the strong belief in Benedict’s spirituality, Monks practiced fasting and reclaimed marshy lands for more agricultural activities. Although today wine is an integral part of the Italian cuisine, back then the monks restrained for its excessive consumption. They gave a lot of importance to the combination of bread, oil and wine. However, meat was also not consumed in large amounts since its consumption was avoided on Fridays, lent and other religious holidays. These traditions allowed the monks to develop creative recipes with the use of vegetables.

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 After observing this, We can see how the Byzantine monks contributed to culture and asserted the importance of Bread, oil and vegetables. Early usage of wine in the Italian peninsula can also be seen as a minor influence of these monks. Agricultural practices started to rise and change with the introduction of these monastic traditions.moastery

2. The Longobard-Byzantine Influence

Soon after the Longobards also invaded Italy, spices and other products started getting imported into Italy through the Mediterranean trade. Spices have always been essential to the flavor in some regional pasta dishes. The Longobards are also made Fara in Sabina near Rome well known for its olive oil. The maritime trade developed the ingredients, food products and their variety as well. Many regions thrived on wheat, vines and fruits from nearby areas of Campania. The contribution of the water buffalo according to many sources can partially be given to the Longobards as well as the Byzantines. This justifies expansion of herding activities during the period. Along with this seafood flourished in the coastal regions.

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This also led to re-introduction of olive trees and grapevines in lands previously destroyed by Germanic tribes. Olive oil in Italy today is a vital ingredient for cooking almost anything. In fact I myself use olive oil to cook many of the dishes I prepare. The byzantines and Longobards also used Mulberries, spices and aniseed. Aniseed are rich in aroma that was added to wines. The present day Moscato can be traced back to this period when it was pronounced as moskhâtos.

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3. Influence of The Franks

The Franks had influences through their tribal beliefs and learnings. They introduced feudalism into Italy. However, the production and demand for wheat and wine only increased more and more. Food production became more self sufficient due to presence of feudal lorads.

It was a new era for increased consumption of Alcoholic beverages and grilled and roasted meat. Food also stated to define social class during their period. For example wine and gourment roast meat was enjoyed by people in high political and military positions. Many other ingredients were incorporated into food. some examples are beetroot, cabbage, oats, rye, pork, variety of salted meats, fennel and even leeks. Soon enough, goats, sheep, buffalos and other poultry animals became important sources of food.

4. Influence of Muslims and Normans

The Muslims increased intensive cultivation, irrigation and canalization. With their own influence and ways of facilitating agriculture, they introduced new crops like Aubergines, Spinach, pomegranates, almonds rice, saffron, and indigo. Sicily is now popular for many of these crops and incorporates them in many Italian dishes. The spice trade opened up even more as more spices were brought from Indian, Sri Lanka, and even the Moluccas.

In conclusion, Italy in today’s time has a cuisine that is diversified based on its regions. Each of these regions have had influences from all the civilizations mentioned previously. The introduction of new agricultural techniques, viniculture, grapevines, olives and many more crops is what built the Italian cuisine into a flavourful integrated cuisine.

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Introduction of Foreign Cultures: Italy & Jamaica

Italy’s food culture has been continually changing since the origin of the country. For centuries, Italy has been invaded and migrated by foreigners including the Greeks, Arabs, Normans, and Spaniards. Each group entered different areas around Italy, which brought about fragmented cultures dispersed all throughout the peninsula. Italy did not establish a central national identity until later on. Due to this, different pastas and foods were associated with certain regions around the country. This created unique city or town cuisines influenced by whatever culture infiltrated that territory at the time. Italy would eventually consolidate all of these regions into one cohesive union. Major changes in the Italian diet occurred at the end of the 1950s going into the 1960s. Italy made a transition from being a country stricken by poverty to an economic miracle. The fast growth of the economy increased the wealth of many Italians. This prompted a shift from the traditional Mediterranean diet to a diet that involved more meats, cheeses, fatty foods, and sugars, crafting a larger variety of dishes.

A country that had faced similar foreign intrusions into their culture is my mother’s native country, Jamaica. Jamaica had served as a host for foreign imperial powers since the early 16th century. The first nonnatives to infiltrate the Island were Spaniards in 1509. With their arrival, the Spanish introduced their own type of recipes and cooking techniques, while utilizing the local resources the island offered. Fresh produce and a great wealth of seafood options were abundant throughout the land and its waters. With this, a fusion of local food and foreign spices formed a new dish for the country, Escovitch Fish. King mackerel, or more commonly known as kingfish, would be caught locally in the waters of Jamaica then season by the spices Spain brought along with them. This recipe was first introduced over 500 years ago, yet still remain a staple of the Jamaican diet.

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Even more new cuisines were introduced to Jamaica when the Spanish lost control of the island to the English in the middle of the 1600s. At this point mass amounts of sugar plantations began to emerge, temporarily turning Jamaica into a sugar island. This would become the foundation for the type of sugar diets Jamaicans have in food consumption. An example is in the drink of Coca-Cola. In the United States, coke is sweetened by high-fructose corn syrup. However, in Jamaica given that sugarcane is so readily available and relatively cheap, it is used in the production of coke giving it a slightly different taste. Sugar plantations’ effects were not only seen in altering diets, but also in the racial makeup of Jamaica. Thousands of slaves were brought to Jamaica from Africa as a labor force. Thus, this meant African cultures would enter into the Island disrupting the food culture. A popular Jamaican food is jerk chicken; which roots are from the Cormantee tribes in Africa. “Jerk” is a way in which food is cooked and can be done on meats outside of chicken, like beef or pork. It the process of spicing and grilling meat to yield a spicy-sweet taste and a tender texture. Again spices from abroad and foreign cooking techniques forever added a unique styled dish into a nation by its foreign inhabitants.

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Similar to Italy, many of Jamaica’s modern-day cuisines came about from invasions and migration. However there is a situational difference, considering that Jamaica was controlled wholly by a singular colonial power. Furthermore, there is not much difference nor diversity in food items and styles between regions around Jamaica, unlike with Italy. Lastly, it appears that the foreign powers that did occupy Jamaica had a more profound, lasting effect on its food cultures than the outsiders did for Italy. This is in term of having your most widely recognized dishes being of direct influence from past colonists.

Inner Strength as a Respond to Outsiders

Traditional Italian Cuisine: Then and Now

As the Parasecoli states in his book, Italy’s culture significantly transformed in the 1950’s, a time of Italy’s prosperity and rapid industrialization. Of course, the eating style of the country shifted with the economic growth; anything that pertained to the country or of local origin was considered embarrassing. With the introduction of foreign cultures, the Italian food culture experienced an obsession for international and imported foods, which was considered fashionable. But ultimately, the Italian food and culture is in revival and under greater protection due to the forge in influences that was once responsible for the shunning of local ingredients. Parasecoli argues in his book that the influx of goods and cultures caused nostalgia within Italians for the culture before their economic success – not that they are reminiscent of poverty. Just like a city-dweller dreams of the “good old days” of their childhood in the country, Italians grew fond of what they used to have before the foreign cultures had great impact in transforming the culinary and before the economic growth allowing ingredients as meat and cheese available to general population. The development of the “Italian” food and its cultures as we know it today can be attributed to this nostalgia. The labeling of traditional and local ingredients according to their supposed origin is an evidence of Italy’s effort to revive and preserve of their own food culture. Such labelling also increases the value of these ingredients, as they give an impression of transparency in terms of their origin and production. The pride for local recipes and famed ingredients according to region shows Italy’s new appreciation for their own culture.

Globalization of Italian Cuisine

Italy’s influence on other cultures is quite evident in the global food culture. We are compliant when we are charged more for our salad because its been dressed with balsamic vinegar from Modena or sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano. We see similar tactics used to place higher values on food items; products from a specific region or grown a certain way are sold more expensively. For instance, a bottle of “Madagascar-grown” vanilla extract is more costly than a bottle of commercial-brand one when after all, almost all vanilla plants are cultivated in Madagascar!

My Culture: Korea : People who became fond of cheese

Korea has gone through so much over the last hundred years and their economic leap in such a short period of time is quite similar to that of Italy in the 1950’s. Today, Korea is still influenced by the influx of foreign cultures, evident in the mainstream culture in terms of fashion, music, and food. Traditionally closer to a vegetarian eating style, the modern diet of Koreans includes a significantly greater portion of meat, sodium, sugar, and fats. The traditional eating customs, internationally praised for its use of healthful ingredients, is rapidly being replaced by indulgent, fatty meals. The tiny peninsula is quite astonishingly the second country behind Mexico that imports the most amount of cheese annually. Furthermore, the consumption of meat of an average Korean adult has increased by 44% since 1980 – from 11.3 kg to 42.7 kg. The restaurants that thrive the most in Korea today are Italian, French, and Imported Fast-food chains. The popularization of European and American food culture in Korea can be attributed to its occupation by the Japanese Imperial Army and the Korean War. With the introduction of Japanese culture, which had already experienced a contact with European cultures in the late 1800s, the lifestyle of the upper classes of Korea was significantly transformed. Similarly, the Korean War was an introduction to the American culture, as South Korea was defended by the American troops. Consequently, Koreans enjoy imported goods and recipes significantly more than they ever did.