What would the world be
without favourite food and
By Ismail Veli
For many people starting the day with a cup of tea or coffee is a natural part of our breakfast and indeed so many things we eat and drink which we take for granted as part of our life. Very few of us even consider what life would be without our favorite foods and beverages especially tea, coffee, tomatoes, cheese, potatoes, chocolate etc. They are an indispensable part of our daily diet and without them our life would be much less satisfying. Many know of course that tea and coffee have only been used in Europe for a few hundred years, but when and how were these items first used?
Starting off with tea, we have to rely partly on Chinese mythology. According to Chinese myth in 2737 BC (4751 years ago) a handful of dried leaves from a tea bush blew into a pot of boiling water which the Emperor Shen Nung (Divine farmer) was staring at. Why the water was being boiled or stared at by the Emperor is not known, all that is known is that the brew then became known as ”Tchai”. Strangely the name is still used by the vast majority of Asian people including the Turks. It was not until 1560 however that it was introduced into Europe by Father Jasper de Cruz of Portugal who was a Jesuit priest. England had to wait until 1657 AD for its first public sale and milk was then added around 1680 AD.
This precious drink was introduced to America in 1650AD by Peter Stuyvesant who by some strange coincidence was the last Dutch Director General of New Amsterdam (New York City). In fact tea was so heavily taxed (alongside many other Imports) that the Americans in a historic move raided the English ships and emptied the large amount of tea into the sea as a protest against the heavy taxation imposed by the British. This event has gone down in history as ”The Boston Tea Party”. This was in 1773 and is seen as the starting point of the American War of Independence. As a result drinking coffee became a patriotic duty. So if many modern tourists wonder why Americans are coffee rather than tea drinkers then this national habit dates to that period and it has now become the number one hot drink in the USA.
Coffee itself was first used by the Galla tribe of Ethiopia around 1000AD, but not as a beverage. After reputedly noticing that a goat who had eaten coffee beans then began to jump around hyperactively the tribe then began to mix the beans into animal fat and ate it so it would give them a boost of energy. The story of the magic bean then spread like wildfire and many people of the region then took to grinding the coffee also. It was not until 1453 AD however that it was introduced as the hot coffee drink that we recognize today. Due to the growing popularity of the coffee the first coffee shop named Kiva Han was opened in 1475 AD in Constantinople. The many Ambassadors and dignitaries took to the Turkish Coffee and by the 1500s it spread throughout Asia, Persia and Europe. Coffee houses became popular as gathering places. The First British Coffee House was not opened until 1652 in St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill by a Turkish immigrant. These coffee houses became so popular as places of learned discussions that they were dubbed as ”Penny Universities’, the reason was that a cup of coffee cost one penny.
Potatoes another ”can’t do without”, food was cultivated in South America about 2500 years ago. This precious food was introduced to England from the West indies by Sir Walter Raleigh around the late 1500s. By the 1800s Potatoes became such an important part of Ireland’s staple diet that when the potato crop of 1845-46 known as ”Potato Blight” destroyed the crop it caused massive starvation which killed one million people and a further one million emigrated from the country. This amounted to at least 25% of the population and has left an indelible mark on the psyche of the Irish people that is still talked about today.
One of the most popular dish for potatoes is frying them and in the UK has become a national dish as Fish and Chips. The original method of frying potatoes in strips seems to have been invented around the late 1700s or early 1800s in the Meuse Valley between Dinant and Liège, in Belgium. Apparently the people used to catch the small fish that existed in these parts and fried them as a healthy supplement to their food, in the winter however the rivers froze and fishing was impossible therefore they took to slicing the potatoes into thin slices and frying them, as they did the fish. These came to be known as ”French Fries”, possibly the locals were of French ethnicity. The British took to this food so much that by the 1860s the first ”Fish & Chip” shops appeared in the country. A Mr Lee sold fish and chips from a wooden hut in the market in Mossly near Oldham, Lancashire, later on he bought a shop and his slogan in the shop window was “This is the first fish and chip shop in the world”. In London however a Joseph Malin opened a fish and chip shop in Cleveland Street in Bow. In WW2 Fish and Chips was one of the few foods not rationed and as a result the food became the most popular dish of Great Britain. There were occasions when fish was scarce but a Brian’s Fish and Chip Shop in Leeds mixed what little fish they had with bread and made fish cakes which also became very popular.
In the USA in 1853 a rich man named Cornelius Vanderbilt often ate at a classy restaurant in Saratoga Springs, but he argued that the fries were far too thick, the angry chef George Crum then decided to slice them so thin and fried them crispy in very hot oil, salted them and sent the dish to Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt. To the chefs amazement the tycoon enjoyed them so much that they became known as “Saratoga Crunch Chips”. The rest is history and the potato crisps are now part of the world’s favourite snacks
Many of the foods we eat today can find their origins in the Americas and far East Asia. Tomatoes are another vegetable that was not introduced into Europe until the early 1500s by the Spanish from South America.
One of the most popular sweets is of course Chocolate. the first known usage was by the Maya and Aztec race who apparently discovered the heating of cocoa beans together with warm water around 600AD. They called it ”Xcoatl” and when the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes was served the warm chocolate drink in 1519 he decided to take the recipe back to Spain. The drink was kept a secret for at least a hundred years before it was finally shared to a wider audience.
The first known origin of the cheese is believed to have been used by Sumerian herdsmen about 6000 years ago in 4000BC. As many Central Asian tribesman were nomadic the ownership of animals provided plenty of milk to supplement their diet. They often stored it in the dried calf stomachs which then began to curdle in the natural enzyme of rennin left in the calf’s stomach turning it into a form of soft cheese. It was also mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey in the seventh century BC.
Perhaps with the passage of time it’s natural for us to take much of what we eat today for granted. Apart from the few items mentioned in this article we can only imagine what life would be like without pasta, rice, corn, spices etc etc. One article cannot even come close to mentioning everything we use in today’s world of massive integration and trade, but if I have stimulated enough interest on this issue then next time someone eats their favorite food or sweet they would do well to reflect on what our lives would be without the massive variety of food at the modern consumer’s disposal. One thing is for certain, take away all the items mentioned and life would be very dull indeed. Finally let us reflect on the people and races who have given us so much richness and pleasure but have themselves disappeared into the history books as extinct races, or have they?? No doubt their genetic links are amongst the people of the modern world. So while we cannot face them and say ”Thank you for the immense pleasures they have passed on” what we can do is at least acknowledge that without their pioneer recipes the advanced people of today would be much poorer without them.