Secret Histories of Food
Most of us are acquainted with some of these iconic dishes, but very few people know of their rich history. Did you know that the infamous puttanesca spaghetti has a scandalous ancient past? That if you understand Italian, you will be able to tell that it had something to do with prostitutes on the streets of Syracuse?
Spaghetti alla puttanesca
Simple, but flavourful dish
This dish has its origins as one of the oldest spaghettis, literally named “prostitute’s style”. This was invented in the mid-20th century and consists of humble ingredients such as spaghetti, tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, and anchovies. This simple dish has not gone out of style and is still considered a popular favourite. This dish has even seen a revival with gourmet ingredients included in its modern interpretations.
Who would have thought?
From the prices you pay today, you would not expect that lobsters were once considered to be poor man’s food. Considered a staple of the poor, lobsters were even served in prison to inmates. Deemed too ugly to eat, and because they are bottom feeders, this sweet and flavourful crustacean had no appeal to the upper classes and their refined tastes. It was only at the turn of the century that people started appreciating the rich and sweet flavours of the lobster, which quickly made its journey to its current iconic status.
Oysters, much like the lobster, is another flavourful crustacean that only recently is being seen as something of high commercial value and worth. Only a little over a century ago, you would have to shuck your own oyster, and because of its unappealing look, not many people dared to try them, much less touch them. They were commonly consumed by seafaring people and fishermen who kept this tasty secret to themselves, and only later were they selectively bred within specific estuaries, where their flavour has since been refined.
Freshly sliced foie gras
Foie gras, or fatty goose liver, has been around since the time of the Pharoahs. This dish required a lot of time and patience to fatten up the goose, so this farming practice was not considered popular. However, because of a need of high fat diets during times of struggle, famine, and war, foie gras was reintroduced as a high fats staple, and has since been cultivated into an art form.
Now an expensive delicacy
Sushi has always been the hardworking farmer’s way of having enough carbohydrates to fuel him in the fields. Sushi was quick, compact, and easy to bring around with him, and most importantly it was something packed with protein.
It was only after World War 2 that this humble dish was brought over to America due to the huge Japanese population in Hawaii. There the art of sushi flourished as did its popularity due to its simple flavours and easy availability. These days sushi is considered a true art form with many followers willing to travel after patiently waiting for up to two years for a meal at their favourite sushi haunt in Japan; easily paying in the thousands for a few curated plates of this delicacy.
So there you go, now you know just a little bit more about some of today’s most iconic and luxurious foods, and their humble origins. Remember, the next time you order puttanesca or sip from that oyster shell that their history is just as rich and flavourful as their origins.