I gave a talk a few weeks ago alongside the presenter Robert Elms. We spoke about a lot of things; culture, people, religion, politics, tourism, money - all in relation to food (unsurprisingly). Robert and I, both Londoners, inevitably arrived at the point of how good the food in our city is, and how lucky we are to have such a variety cuisines as a result of a variety of people. We’re not the first people to have expressed these sentiments. It’s almost impossible to hear or read a description of eating in 21st century London that doesn’t start with the phrase ‘melting pot’. People aren’t here for the jellied eels.
Loved this piece. Your idea sounds pretty on point...I feel like my family embodies your rösti line...my husband was born in Germany & my family origin is Italian. It’s fantastic being exposed to both cuisines but they are starkly different. “The German Cookbook” is my bible for that cuisine, & there is a passage I recall in there about a certain king & queen who made it fashionable to be puritanical, as you say. It’s like north of the line the food restraint is meant to show devotion to god, & south of the line is like, the food, the love, the cooking IS god. So interesting & thought provoking, thank you. I will keenly look out for your new series.
This is as good a theory as any - and well researched! - now explain the Greeks. Or are they on a continuum of Turkish, Middle Eastern, etc? Because that line is almost foolproof except for the reality that is Greek cuisine.
Good piece, like any social theory it has some ground in reality. I gave a good thought to this topic and think you are overlooking the importance of dinner time. Tradition in “Catholic” Europe of dinner time is where we spend quality time, reward the ones that work and enjoy life. Norther Europe dinner is to give thanks and get the nourishment you need to go one more day. Think of holidays, a chance to make treats and give children joy. Not a chance to suffer, joy of life equals good food and family at a table.
Thanks Arjun! Yes absolutely, Greek cuisine shares many facets with Turkish and by extension Levantine cuisine, which were all part of the Ottoman Empire. Historically, this explains the similarities you find between the food eaten in the Eastern Mediterranean (Gyros and Shawarma both being adaptations of Turkish/Ottoman Döner, for example).
Thank you for this beautiful and insightful essay. I love it so much, and can say I have lived it. My maternal grandparents were Portuguese immigrants and my grandmother’s cooking was incredible. My mother cooked the “American” of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s and my dad’s heritage was English/German/Danish. Nothing to see there, lol. When I got married in 1974 I went to my grandmother with my pen and notebook determined to capture everyone of her recipes, (none of which were written down). Every one of the savory dishes started with “First, you take an onion!” I despaired of amounts of seasonings, “How much goes in?” “A good amount” was a favorite answer or “just taste you can tell”. For a brand new cook it was horrifying. No Portuguese cookbooks back in 1974 and I was moving away with a new husband. We made it through though and today I add in a good amount all the time. So happy to have found you, and looking forward to your upcoming trip! ♥️
It’s a good theory, thanks! (I live in Bergen, Norway which was a key port in the salt cod trade from the 12thC as part of the Hanseatic League .. which in part boomed because of Catholic prohibitions on meat on Fridays - also, very Protestant = boring food). The theory doesn’t account for Croatia though, (I spent a lot of last weekend in a fight between a Macedonian and a Croatian about who has the best börek), but maybe that’s because of a blind spot in the Western European culinary imaginary for the post Ottoman / Eastern bloc cuisines .. Albania / Yugoslavia etc. - eating a plate of baked liver and cheese with mulberry raki for breakfast in Albanian villages, was memorable.
I am Indian, raised in Sultanate of Oman and now living in Dallas, TX. I have always been multi-cultural in my outlook and food has played a huge role. I have never connected food to God-devotion or lack of so it was a very thought provoking piece to read.
Wow, what a great read! All of this makes a lot of sense. I had always been curious about the European food divide and had assumed it was climate/geography related. This piece reminds me of something else I've thought about too when we think about the reason a place like London is so diverse with immigrants now...because of colonialism. I had wondered what the British or the Dutch did with all the spices and other food-related resources all those years they were colonizing the rest of the world...because it did not translate to their food. I mean besides tea...and spiced cookies (??) So it was interesting to me that even after colonizing places with diverse flavorful and complex cooking, these European countries still had relatively bland food
Good luck for your trip Jordon!👍🤞
I can't say how happy I was that I bumped into this text.
To give you some context, I'm a Brazilian who lived in the London for 4 years, now I've lived in Portugal for 2 years, where I have family since 2014. I've traveled around Europe during the last years, and coming from a very different food culture, and comparing them, I always asked myself why the food in the UK is the way it is. I had thought exactly the same thing about salted cod and potatoes: how can those two ingredients be so different in the UK and elsewhere?
I had many theories about it, I once tried to sew something about food and religion the same way you did, but I didn't go very far. I was happy you gave it some time and study.
The ruler that I like to use to measure local gastronomy is: how and what the average worker person eats during lunch time?
My feeling, and please correct me if I'm wrong: in Brazil or Portugal I can see people stopping for an hour to eat properly, sometimes in very local restaurants. There's a ritual for food. In the UK, sometimes I had a general feeling that food was only for survival. A £3 meal deal from the local supermarket, normally some sandwich (every flavour would taste the same), that would be consumed in your desk or walking or in a bench of a small park. There's food from all around the world in London? Yes, but it's a special event. Restaurants with tables are rarer than in cities like Paris or Lisbon, and going to a restaurant for lunch is expensive and sometimes even posh. Takeaway is the default.
I've talked to British people about this a couple times and I heard different arguments. I once heard that the lunch in my culture is what dinner is for the Brits; I once heard that it was normal, a couple centuries ago, for the intellectual worker to have a sandwich for lunch so they could eat with one hand and keep working, just like what happens today when people eat by their desks.
Do you see those customs connected to the British cuisine somehow?
Thanks again for you text!
Great piece. The Low Countries are a microcosm - Belgian food is strongly Dutch influenced but (we would say) heartier and richer than to the north. And the Dutch word for “a gourmand” is “een Bourgondiër” - a Burgundian - heritage from the time when modern Belgium was part of the Catholic Burgundian possessions of the Hapsburg empire while the Protestant north had broken away.
Love the article and the message of rich and diverse cultures. Great stuff. While a very small country of only 4 million people, yes Croatia does have a very diverse and original cuisine. Your comment doesn’t make much sense and it took me by surprise. It has been featured on a lot of different TV shows like Bourdain. Also our language on the map is wrong. Our language is Croatian, not Serna-Croatian.
What wonderful piece. And the joke on Heaven and Hell is spot on!
Belgium proves that your theory works, even though half of it is Germanic but nevertheless firmly in the French culinary tradition. Btw, there is an interesting film about this food divide: Babette’s feast.
Absolutely loved your piece! It was fascinating and gave us lots of "food for thought"! Can't wait to hear all about your travels.