Theory of Food / chapter 1

Religious, Cultural and Geographical influences of Food  Gastronomy around the World: Europe, Mediterranean; North America, Latin America; Caribbean; Middle-East; Africa; Asia & Southeast Asia


INTRODUCTION  The races and nations of the world represent a great variety of cultures each with their own ways of cooking. Knowledge of this is essential in catering because:

There has been a rapid spread of tourism, creating a demand for a broader culinary experience. (More and more people from all over the world are traveling to distant places, therefore creating demand for varied styles of cuisines for foodservice operators)

Many people from overseas have opened restaurant using their own foods.  The development of air-cargo means perishable foods from distant places are readily available.  The media, particularly television, has stimulated an interest in worldwide cooking.


Every religion provides ways by which humans can try to relate to a supreme being or some supernatural force. Each religion has evolved certain rituals or customs The observance of these rituals and customs is believed to be mandatory since they express and reaffirm the various beliefs of the religion.


To communicate with God (e.g., through saying thanks or asking blessing). To demonstrate faith through acceptance of divine directives concerning diet.

To develop discipline through fasting.


What foods may and may not be eaten. What to eat on certain days of the year. Time of day to eat.


How to prepare food. When and how long to fast. Observances of food codes strengthen group identity, especially in the midst of unbelievers.

star of David

Current Major Divisions

Orthodox (observe all laws, in all details)  Reform (do not accept dietary laws as permanently binding)  Conservative (intermediate)

Religious Precepts

The Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  The Talmud: later interpretations of the Torah.  The Jews view themselves as chosen people of God, and as such have specific responsibilities to God.


Humans are capable of perfection, and each is responsible for his/her own actions; each of us chooses between right and wrong.

However, innate human weakness gives rise unavoidably to sin.

The main concern of Judaism is the present life (although it believes in a hereafter), and it provides ways to fulfill moral responsibilities to God.


Bread, salt, olive oil, olives, wine, (rarely) dried fish.

Bread: major staple, eaten at all meals (important symbolism of 'bread from heaven,' manna -- dependence on God).

Red meat eaten only on special feasts.
Cheese only for the wealthy.

Oil: symbol of prosperity (especially important for nomads).


The ancient biblical city of Jerusalem in Palestine.

Wine: symbol of joy (drunkenness is condemned, but shared wine symbolizes communal joy).  Vegetables: most common were probably leeks, onions, cucumbers, garlic; herbs and spices for the wealthy.  Dietary Laws  Kashrut; "kosher" or "kasher" means "fit," permitted foods which have been prepared appropriately.

Food Restrictions

Only animals with cloven hooves and which chew the cud may be eaten (e.g., cattle, sheep, goats, deer; pigs are expressly forbidden).  Only those fish which have scales and fins may be eaten.

Poultry may be eaten. Carnivorous animals may not be eaten. Only meat from animals which have been slaughtered by the prescribed method may be eaten; a rabbi must supervise the slaughter of all food animals. Meat and dairy foods may not be eaten in the same meal.

Blood may not be consumed.  The sciatic nerve may not be eaten.  Internal fat may not be eaten.  All foods must be without blemish.

Sabbath: begins at sundown Friday, ends at sundown on Saturday. A day of rest: in Orthodox practice, food may not be prepared on the Sabbath. Challah (braided bread) is typical.  New Year: Ten solemn, holy days, from Rosh Hashanah (Day of Judgment) to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement - a day of fasting). September or October.

Festival of Pesach (Passover): Eight days. No leavened bread allowed; flour not allowed.

Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles): thanksgiving; September or October. Hanukkah (Festival of Lights): eight days, usually in December. Commemorates recapture of the Temple in Jerusalem in 169 BC.

Purim: February or March. Rescue of the Persian Jews from Haman by Queen Esther.

Seder (Passover) symbols:  Z'roah (Pesach) - roasted shank bone, symbolic of paschal lamb eaten in Egypt.  Beitzah - roasted egg, representing offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Matzo ('bread of affliction") - unleavened bread; a symbol of divine help. Marror (Moror) (bitter herbs) - bitterness of life in slavery under Egyptians. Haroset (Charoses) (ground apples, red wine, cinnamon, sugar, perhaps walnuts) - to represent mortar used in slavery in Egypt.

Karpas - green vegetable (lettuce or parsley). Dipped in salt water to represent tears shed in slavery. Also symbolizes springtime.


Most widely spread of the world's religions. Historical: Orthodox Christianity is oldest branch. Split between Orthodox Church (in Constantinople) and Catholic Church (in Rome) in 1045. Protestant Reformation (led by Martin Luther,


Christian Sacraments
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Baptism (entering the church) Confirmation (acceptance of the Holy Spirit) Communion (partaking of God's presence by sharing bread and wine)

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Unction (assurance of salvation to the sick and dying)

Penance (confession of sins)
Ordination of clergy


Dietary practices: until 1966, abstinence from meat (but not eggs or milk products) on Fridays.

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Holidays and feasts:
 Christmas;  Easter,  Annunciation

(March 25);  Palm Sunday (Sunday before Easter);  Ascension (40 days after Easter);  Pentecost Sunday (50 days after Easter).


Fourteen self-governing churches:
Constantinople (Istanbul),  Alexandria,  Antioch,  Jerusalem, and Cyprus dating from Byzantine Empire;  Russian,  Rumanian,  Yugoslavian,  Bulgarian,  Greek and  Georgian national churches; plus 3 minority churches in other countries.

Dietary practices:
 Fast

days: strictly, every Wednesday and Friday, as well as other specific days (esp. Advent and Lent).
means avoiding certain foods, but not all foods. All meat and animal products (incl. milk and milk products) and fish are avoided on fast days.

 "Fasting"

Considerable diversity; little emphasis on fasting or holy days, except Christmas and Easter.  One example: Seventh-Day Adventists: led by Mrs. Ellen White in late 1800's, who had numerous visions, including some involving health and diet.  Attitude is that the body is the temple of God, hence to be cared for (Corinthians 3:16-17).  Many Adventists are lacto-ovo-vegetarians, i.e. avoid tea, coffee, and alcohol, as well as tobacco products.  Practice moderation.


(Islam: "submission to the will of God"; Moslem: "one who submits").  Established by Mohammed ("The Praised One") in 622 AD, based in part on Jewish and Christian traditions.  Qur'an (Koran) contains dietary regulations.  Some diversity in food habits, depending on local cultures (Indonesian Moslems have different strictures than Arab Moslems, for example).

Major Sects in Islam

Major Sects in Islam

Sunni (majority): believe the caliphate is an elective office, to be held by a member of the tribe of Mohammed.
Shi'ites (second largest group): believe the caliphate is rightfully held by Ali (Mohammed's son-in-law) and his descendants. Primarily found in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and India. Khawarij: believe caliphate is open to any believer who is found fit. Primarily found in eastern Arabia and North Africa Sufis: ascetic mystics who seek a close union with God in the present.

Faith  Prayer  Alms Giving  Fasting  Pilgrimage to Mecca.  Fasting fulfills religious obligation, earns the pleasure of Allah, wipes out previous sins, and helps the faithful appreciate the hunger of the poor.


Halal: permitted foods Haram: prohibited foods

Eating is considered a matter of worship. One is to eat for survival and good health; self-indulgence is not permitted. Food is to be shared. Food is not be thrown away or wasted. Dietary prohibitions: very similar to Jewish law: prohibition of pork, carnivorous animals, blood. However, all foods not specifically prohibited may be eaten. Specific ritual for slaughter of animals. Alcoholic beverages are forbidden by the Qur'an, as are other intoxicants. Use of stimulants (coffee and tea) and smoking are discouraged for the devout.


Ramadan (in ninth lunar month of each year; commemorates first revelation to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel); complete abstinence from food and water from sunrise to sunset for one month (light meals consumed after sundown), for all who have reached the 'age of responsibility' (12 y in girls, 15 y in boys). Exemptions: elderly persons in poor health; pregnant and nursing women; menstruating women; the sick; travelers on journeys of more than three days; individuals doing hard labor. Observance of the Ramadan fast is a yearly reaffirmation of one's allegiance to Islam; also, faithful observance of the fast results in remission of sin. Several other fast days during the year are observed by the devout. These include every Monday and Thursday, and the 13th, 14th, and 15th of each month.



Eid al-Fitr (Malaysia: Aidilfitri) (Feast of Fast Breaking): end of Ramadan. Eid al'Azha (Malaysia: Aidiladha) (Festival of Sacrifice): commemoration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God (end of the hajj). (Cows and sheep are slaughtered and distributed to the poor to commemorate the occasion). Shah-i-Barat ("the night in the middle of the Shaban").

Nau-Roz (New Year's Day; primarily celebrated by Iranians): first day after the sun crosses the vernal equinox. Maulud n'Nabi: Birthday of Mohammed

Hari Raya


Originated in India ~ 4000 years ago. The numerous gods and goddesses are all manifestations of a single supreme being, "Brahman". The goals of life: dharma (righteousness); artha (worldly prosperity); kama (enjoyment); moksha (liberation). Each person is individually responsible for his/her own morality and fate.

Caste System
Four primary castes and outcast:
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Brahmins (priests and teachers) Ksatriyas (warriors and rulers) Vaisyas (farmers and traders) Sudras (menial laborers) Outcasts (untouchables -- include butchers and leather workers)

Caste determines social structure, including foods to be eaten. Performing moral duties well may result in rebirth in a higher caste. "No sin is attached to eating flesh or drinking wine, or gratifying the sexual urge, for these are the natural propensities of humans; but abstinence from these bears greater fruits."

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FOOD Most devout Hindus are vegetarian; the soul of an ancestor may be in an animal. Some Hindus do not eat eggs. Vegetarianism became established in Hinduism because of Buddhist emphasis on respect for life (400-300 BC). The cow is sacred, and beef is forbidden; some people (especially lower castes) will eat pork and chicken. Milk and ghee (clarified butter) are sacred because they are products of the sacred cow; a Brahmin may accept milk or foods cooked in ghee from even a Sudra. Coconut is also sacred (the three 'eyes' of the coconut represent the three eyes of Shiva). Other forbidden foods: domestic fowl, salted pork, onions, garlic, turnips, and mushrooms. Some avoid red foods (tomatoes) because of association with blood.


Originated in 6th century BC,
 as

outgrowth of Hinduism, or revolt against orthodox Hinduism.

After years of study and searching, Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment and became the Buddha.

Four Noble Truths

Existence is suffering.  This suffering is due to selfish desires.  The cure of suffering is to destroy these selfish desires.

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This cure can be accomplished by practicing the Eight-Fold Path: right belief right thought right speech right action right means of livelihood right exertion right remembrance and right meditation. By following the Eight-Fold Path through successive reincarnations, one can achieve Enlightenment (Nirvana). Buddhists vow to abstain from killing or otherwise injuring living creatures; however, some Buddhists do eat meat, and many eat fish. Fasting and feasting: Buddhist monks may fast twice a month (new moon and full moon). Most monks do not eat after noon. Buddhist festivals vary with region.

Gastronomy – “the art of selecting, preparing, serving, and enjoying fine food”.  Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the celebrated French aphorist and gastronomic authority of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, called gastronomy “the intelligent knowledge of whatever concerns man's nourishment.”

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Through the ages gastronomy has proved to be a stronger cultural force among the peoples of the world than linguistic or other influences. Rice is the staple in most of Southeast Asia.

The distinctive feature of the cooking of India and Indonesia is the generous and imaginative use of spices to lend an added zest to foods. Olive oil is the common denominator of the Mediterranean cuisines.

The olive tree has been an important part of all the civilizations established in the shores of Mediterranean Sea.

Olive originated in the Southeastern Anatolia, and eventually spread to Mediterranean countries, to Asia and to America.

Northern Europe and North America use a variety of cooking fats:
 Butter,

cream, lard, and goose and chicken fats.

In Latin America corn (maize) is the staple and is used in a wide variety of forms.



French gastronomy is distinguished by the genius of its chefs but also by well-established culinary practice. Using of fine wines, such as those produced in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Hallmark of French gastronomy is the delicate sauces that are used to enhance the flavors and textures. Sauces are prepared with stocks, or fonds de cuisine, “the foundations of cooking.”

These stocks are made by simmering meats, bones, poultry or fish trimmings, vegetables, and herbs in water to distill the essence of their flavors.


There are literally hundreds of French sauces, but among the more familiar ones are the families of white sauces, brown sauces, and tomato sauces, the mayonnaise family, and the hollandaise family.

Brown sauce

White sauce

White sauces, which are served with poultry, fish, veal, or vegetables, are prepared by making a white roux, a mixture of butter and flour, which is cooked and stirred to smoothness. Béchamel sauce is prepared by adding milk and seasoning to this thickening agent. Sauce velouté is made by mixing a fish, poultry, or veal stock with the roux.

Béchamel sauce

Brown sauces, which are served with red meats, chicken, turkey, veal, or game, are prepared by simmering a meat stock for many hours and then thickening it with a brown roux, a mixture of butter and flour cooked until it turns brown.

Ragout sauce (one of Brown sauce variety)

Sauce: The hollandaise family is another important branch of French sauces. Hollandaise is closely related to mayonnaise. (Warmed egg yolks with lemon juice and then carefully stirring in melted butter until the mixture achieves a creamy, yellow thickness).

Sauce mousseline is made by adding whipped cream to hollandaise,  sauce béarnaise also has an egg and butter base with tarragon, shallots, wine, vinegar, and pepper.  Sauce vin blanc is made by adding a white-wine fish stock to the basic hollandaise.

Hollandaise sauce

Béarnaise sauce



Spain and Portugal have much in common from a culinary point of view. Olive oil is the cooking fat of both countries. Cod is widely used.  The cocido, a heavy stew of boiled chicken, meats, and vegetables, is Spain's national dish. In Portugal it is called the cozido.


But the two countries also have their own distinctive dishes, which vary greatly from one region to the next.  The paella is perhaps Spain's best known dish. It is a colorful combination of rice, chicken, pork, clams, mussels, shrimp, peppers, sausages, and peas.


Another regional specialty is the zarzuela de mariscos, a Catalan seafood medley, a stew of fish, lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams, ham, almonds, white wine, and saffron.  Fish is popular throughout Spain, especially cod, hake, and red snapper.  Many people consider the Basque-style cooking (à la Vasca) the best in Spain. It is a surprisingly sophisticated cuisine for one based on ancient shepherds' cooking.

à la Vasca

Tapas are appetizers served in Spanish bars, and often there are several dozen varieties from which to choose.

Jamón serrano, a mountain-cured ham; chorizo sausages; gazpacho, a cold soup made of pureed vegetables and generally quite spicy; and meat pies called empanadas are some of the highlights of the quite remarkable cuisine of Spain.

The Portuguese kitchen produces somewhat spicier and richer foods, favoring hearty soups, marinated seafoods, braised meats, and such spices as cumin and coriander.


The Italians are especially fond of pasta asciutta (an unending variety of dried noodles), the huge assortment of hot and cold appetizers known as antipasti; sausage and salami; gelati e granite, ice creams and ices; and caffè espresso, coffee made by forcing steam through the coffee grounds.



Italy, like France or China, has many culinary regions:  north's staple is rice and butter and  south lives on pasta and cooks with olive oil.

Bologna's rich cooking is perhaps the best of the northern cuisine with its famed tagliatelle, tortellini, and other freshly made noodle preparations, egg pastas, sausages, and complex main courses.

tagliatelle tortellini

Piedmont supplies many of the finest chefs to the luxury restaurants around the world. Its local white truffles and Fontina cheese are the base for their fonduta.

Lombardy cooks exclusively with butter, replacing the pasta with rice and cornmeal polenta.

cornmeal polenta

Genoese cooking's most characteristic flavor comes from the use of basil leaves pounded into a sauce called pesto together with cheese, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil

Florence is famous for its Chianina beef cattle that provide the meat for its bistecca alla Fiorentina.  Alla Romana-type cooking produces the best gnocchi, calamaretti (baby squid), abbacchio (young lamb, usually roasted with rosemary), and vegetable preparations.

Chianina beef cattle

Naples represents the best gastronomy of southern Italy with the use of pasta, crusty white bread, robust tomato sauces, mozzarella, and other types of cheese.  Availability of some of the finest vegetables and fruits of Europe and of fine seafood, and the array and liberal use of fresh herbs, create the best moments of the Italian gastronomy


This gastronomical region comprises the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.  It includes Austria and Hungary, as well as parts of Romania and other areas of the Balkan region, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.  The people of these countries live in different political, economic, and social systems and speak different languages, but their culinary heritage remains as a link between them.

Gulyás, or goulash, is prepared in varying forms in all of these countries.

Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets, named for the city of Wien, or Vienna) is eaten throughout the area.



in Hungary, he may eat nokedli; in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia he will find a similar food under the name noky, in Serbia under the name nokla. In Hungary the nokedli would accompany pörkölt, a stew made by browning onion in lard and adding paprika, or a paprikás, similar to the above, but with the addition of sweet or sour cream.

In Austria a traveler will encounter nockerl, a small dumpling;

A dessert would be Rigó Jancsi, a chocolate square glazed with chocolate and filled with chocolate mousse. Cakes, tortes, and desserts are the glory of this cuisine.

Prune dumplings, strudels, the coffee ring called gugelhupf, and the Dobos torte, a caramel-topped cake filled with chocolatecocoa cream, are enjoyed.

Dobos torte gugelhupf

in Hungary, he may eat nokedli; in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia he will find a similar food under the name noky, in Serbia under the name nokla. In Hungary the nokedli would accompany pörkölt, a stew made by browning onion in lard and adding paprika, or a paprikás, similar to the above, but with the addition of sweet or sour cream.


And one of the greatest glories of Vienna's old empire is Sacher torte, a chocolate sponge cake with a touch of apricot jam, iced with a bittersweet chocolate.


Russia is the mother country of the Slavic cuisine  This cuisine comprises the former Soviet Union, Poland, Albania, and parts of the Yugoslav region and Bulgaria.
 

He might dine on blintzes (stuffed pancakes) or zrazy (stuffed fried fish or seafood).


He could enjoy beef stroganoff - beef cooked with onions in sour cream, or a seafood pie called rakov. Wherever he went, vodka would be the most popular drink.  The Russians developed zakusky, their equivalent of the French hors d'oeuvres.


Potage Bagration (cream of veal with asparagus tips) is also part of the French grande cuisine.

Interesting specialties are the botvinya (green vegetable soup with a fish base),

solyanka (cucumber soup),

pelemeni (Siberian meat dumplings, boiled, fried, and served with sour cream),

kasha (buckwheat porridge),

holubtsi (Ukrainian stuffed cabbage),

bitki (meatballs or fish balls with strong spices),

paskha (cottage-cream cheesecake with candied fruits made in a pyramid shape for Easter), and

babka (a round coffee cake).


The emphasis of the cuisine of Germany and its neighbors is on “hearty” foods—roast meats, dumplings, fish dishes, cream sauces, puddings, and rich desserts.  The Germans eat sauerbraten, a marinated pot roast with a sweet-and-sour sauce, the earthy hasenpfeffer (hare stew), Königsberger Klopse (a fancy meatball), badischer Hecht (a sour cream baked pike), and Schweinebraten mit Pflaumen und Apfeln (roast pork with prune and apple stuffing).

Other favourite foods are sausages; sauerkraut (fermented cabbage); dumplings; thick soups made from potatoes, peas, or lentils; herring; and roast meats, or braten.


Popular desserts include puddings, fruit pancakes or dumplings, egg custards, jellies topped with whipped cream, the medieval invention marzipan (an almond paste confection), lebkuchen (a kind of gingerbread), and Baumkuchen (the “treecake” baked on a special horizontal spit).



Fish is a mainstay of the Scandinavian diet. It is prepared in many different ways; a favorite appetizer is gravlax, salmon marinated in salt and dill and accompanied by a mustard sauce.

Swedish pancakes are popular and are served with lingonberries or fruit preserves.  Sweden's great contribution to international eating is the smorgasbord, literally a “breadand-butter table” but actually a sumptuous feast of three courses. The first course is herring— filleted, pickled, baked, jellied, stewed, or prepared in many other different ways. Cold meats constitute the second course, whereas the third course is made up of Swedish meatballs and other hot dishes.


Danish open sandwiches, called smørrebrød, became popular all over the world. Among the many fine dishes in these northern European countries are nyponsoppe (a Swedish soup prepared with rose hips, almonds, and whipped cream), vorshmack (ground meat, herring, and onion cooked Finnish style), “Jansson's Temptation” (a Swedish potato and anchovy casserole), frikadeller (a Danish mixed ground meat hamburger, sautéed in butter), kalakukko (a Finnish bird-shaped pie stuffed with fish), sandkage (Danish sand cake), and krumkage (a Norwegian Christmas cookie). Aquavit is the favorite grain or potato spirit of many in Scandinavia.


Favorites among the English are roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, an accompaniment similar in texture to a popover; steak and kidney pie; and veal and ham pie.

Fish is served often—plaice (a type of flounder), haddock, mackerel, and smoked kipper—and especially popular are fish-andchips (deep-fried fish and potatoes).  Jellies, jams, marmalade, hot cross buns, crumpets, and scones are served frequently with tea.

Traditional fare in the British Isles would include beef tea (a beef extract),  whitebait (miniature fish, fried and eaten as snacks),  boxty (Irish potato pancakes),  brawn (aspic made with pork bits),  cockaleekie (Scottish hen and leek soup),

Beef tea


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bubble and squeak (chopped, fried leftover meat and vegetables), angels on horseback (grilled oysters wrapped in bacon), kedgeree (a casserole of smoked fish, rice, and eggs), shepherd's pie (ground lamb and beef with onion and topped with mashed potatoes), crumpets, banbury cake (a spiced flat cake made with dried fruits), fool (a fruit custard), and syllabub (a dessert made with whipped cream, lemon, wine, and sugar).



Corn (maize) is the culinary common denominator of much of Latin America. Ground into meal, it is used in Mexico to prepare the corn pancakes known as tortillas. Tortillas provide a variety of other Mexican specialties. Enchiladas are tortillas dipped in sauce, then rolled up with a filling of pork or chicken and baked or broiled. Tostadas are tortillas fried crisp and sprinkled with onion, chili peppers, grated cheese, or meat. Quesadillas are tortillas folded over a filling of meat, beans, cheese, or vegetables.



Corn is also used in tamales, which are steamed, filled corn husks.  Chili peppers are widely used to season Latin American dishes.


Brazil's national dish, the feijoada completa, consists of a bed of rice with black beans, sausages, beef tongue, spareribs, and dried beef, sprinkled with toasted manioc meal, and garnished with orange slices.

In Argentina, empanadas are beef-filled turnovers.

A favorite Latin American dessert is flan, or caramel custard.


While North American cities such as New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, and Montreal have produced many excellent restaurants and hotels, the unique American contribution to gastronomy has been quickservice and convenience foods.  The first cafeteria came into being in San Francisco during the Gold Rush of 1849. Automated cafeterias were later introduced in New York and Philadelphia.

The United States is a culinary melting pot. In New York City and many other metropolitan areas, one can find almost any kind of food.  Outside the great cities, American food at one time had a distinctive regional character.  New England was famous for its clam and lobster dishes (e.g. New England Clam Chowder), its New England boiled dinner, and its red flannel hash.

Clam chowder

The South had its fried chicken, barbecued meats, and corn breads.  The Far West prided itself on its Dungeness crab, abalone, fish, and shellfish.  As a result of easy transportation of fresh, packaged, and frozen foods, once strictly regional dishes have become popular countrywide.  A “new” American cooking, combining inventive simplicity and eclectic venturesomeness, offers a challenge to the bastions of European gastronomy.

Dungeness crab


Apart from the French cuisine, the highest expression of the gastronomic art is generally regarded to be that of the Chinese.  It is no accident that China and France should have produced the world's most distinctive and respected cuisines. Both countries were naturally blessed with an abundance and rich variety of raw ingredients.  two regions, Fukien and Kwangtung, are of lesser importance from a gastronomic point of view.


In each of these countries gastronomy traditionally commanded great interest and respect. The intellectual, artistic, political, and financial leaders of China and France traditionally attached great importance to good eating.  The theory of balancing fan (grains and rice) with ts'ai (vegetables and meat) is one of the factors that distinguish Chinese gastronomy from that of all other nations.

In addition to taste that pleases (a most elemental requirement in China), astrological, geographical, and personal characteristics had to satisfy the complex system of the yin–yang balance of hot and cold, based on Taoist perception of the cosmic equilibrium.

Certain foods and culinary traditions are prevalent throughout most of the country. Rice is the staple except in the north, where wheat flour takes its place. Fish is extremely important in all regions. Pork, chicken, and duck are widely consumed, as well as large quantities of such vegetables as mushrooms, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and bean sprouts.

The Chinese season their dishes with monosodium glutamate and soybean sauce, which takes the place of salt. Another distinctive feature of Chinese cooking is the varied and highly imaginative use of fat, which is prepared in many different ways and achieves the quality of a true delicacy in the hands of a talented Chinese cook.

The Chinese take tea with their meals, whether green or fermented. Jasmine tea is served with flowers and leaves in smallhandled cups.  Traditionally, China is divided into five gastronomic regions, three of which are characterized by the great schools of Chinese cooking, Peking, Szechwan, and Chekiang-Kiangsu. The other

Peking is the land of fried bean curd and water chestnuts.  Among foods traditionally sold by street vendors are steamed bread and watermelon seeds.  Vendors also dispensed buns called paotse that were stuffed with pork and pork fat, and chiaotse, or crescents, cylindrical rolls filled with garlic, cabbage, pork, scallions, and monosodium glutamate.

Wheat cakes wrapped around a filling of scallions and garlic, and noodles with minced pork sauce are also traditional Peking specialties.  But the greatest of all delicacies of this region is of course the Peking duck which painted with Hoisin sauce (a sweet, spicy sauce made of soybeans), and served inside the folds of a bun as the first course.

Peking duck

The duck meat is carved from the bones and carefully cut into slivers. Sautéed onions, ginger, and peppers are added to the duck meat and cooked with bean sprouts or bamboo slivers. This forms the second course.  The third course is a soup. The duck bones are crushed and then water, ginger, and onion are added to make a broth. The mixture is boiled, then drained, and the residue is cooked with cabbage and sugar until the cabbage is tender.


The cooking of Szechwan in central China is distinguished by the use of hot peppers, which are indigenous to the region.  The peppers lend an immediate sensation of fiery hotness to the food, but, once this initial reaction passes, a mingled flavor of sweet, sour, salty, fragrant, and bitter asserts itself.  Fried pork slices, for example, are cooked with onions, ginger, red pepper, and soy sauce to achieve this aromatic hotness.


The provinces of Chekiang and Kiangsu feature a broad variety of fish—shad, mullet, perch, and prawns.  Minced chicken and bean-curd slivers are also specialties of these provinces.  Foods are often arranged in pretty floral patterns before serving.


Fukien, which lies farther south, features shredded fish, shredded pork, and popia, or thin bean-curd crepes filled with pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, prawns, and snow peas.

To Americans perhaps, the most familiar form of Chinese cooking is that of Kwangtung, for Canton lies within this coastal province.  Mushrooms, sparrows, wild ducks, snails, snakes, eels, oysters, frogs, turtles, and winkles are among the many exotic ingredients of the province.  More familiar to Westerners are such Cantonese specialties as egg roll, egg foo yung, and roast pork.


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Greater care and imagination given to the presentation of food. Japanese table arrangements are delicate and exquisite. Traditionally the Japanese bride received as many as 50 different kinds of dishes as wedding gifts, and she might use a dozen at one meal. She would devote the most painstaking attention to the angle at which a sprig of green vegetable was propped against a lump of crabmeat, or the way a fish was garnished. Meals were served in many small dishes, but the total amounts offered each diner were large. The waters around Japan abound with fish and shellfish, and Japanese seafood is regarded by many gourmets as the finest in the world.

Fish is eaten raw (sashimi), broiled, fried in deep fat (tempura), or salted and broiled (shioyaki).  The popular tempura method of deep frying food was learned from Portuguese traders who came to Japan in the 16th century.  Rice has been the staple; it traditionally accompanied every meal; but in the late 20th century wheat products such as bread have become common, especially as an accompaniment to Western-style food.



Sushi, or vinegared rice, is served in stylized portions with a variety of accompaniments, including mushrooms, squid, fish, shrimp, and caviar. The Japanese like clear soups, garnished with eggs, vegetables, or seafood. The thicker “miso” soups are flavored with fermented soybean paste. Japanese vegetables include bamboo shoots, snow peas, eggplant, mushrooms, and potatoes. The popular sukiyaki consists of beef and vegetables simmered in soy sauce. Pork or chicken may be substituted for the beef. the key to the composition of the kaiseki meal lies in the word aishoh: “compatibility.”

Saké, a fermented beverage made from rice or other grain, is a popular drink, and tea is taken with all meals and at virtually all hours of the day. The Japanese tea ceremony, or chanoyu, is a highly formalized ritual dating back to the 13th century. The tea is meticulously prepared and is accompanied by a variety of delicate seasonal dishes. Every aspect of the ceremony—the setting, the flavors and textures of foods, the colors and shapes of the containers, even the conversation—is carefully calculated to achieve the most harmonious and satisfying effect.


An outgrowth of the tea ceremony is the kaiseki, the grande cuisine of Japan; it is the highest form of Japanese dining and perhaps comes as close to dining as an art form as any in the entire world of gastronomy.  The food served in kaiseki is selected according to the changing seasons and is presented through a series of small dishes with an artful simplicity that brings out the unique tastes of ordinary foods from nearby mountains and sea. Perhaps

in kaiseki


Spices are a distinctive feature of the cooking of India and Indonesia.  In India, every good cook prepares a curry— a mixture of such fragrant powdered spices as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, and turmeric. The spice blend is kept in a jar in the kitchen and is used to season all sorts of foods.

The Hindus of India have developed what is perhaps the world's greatest vegetarian cuisine. They use cereals, pulses (lentils, peas, and beans), and rice with great imagination to produce a widely varied but generally meatless cuisine.  Indian cooks prepare delicious chutneys, highly seasoned vegetables and fruits used as side dishes that must be fresh to be fully appreciated.

They also make little delicacies such as idlis, cakes of rice and lentils that are cooked by steaming; pakoras, vegetables fried in chickpea batter; and jalebis, pretzel-like tidbits made by soaking a deep-fried batter of wheat and chickpea flour in a sweet syrup.



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Raytas, yogurt with fruits or vegetables, are another favorite. Other specialties include biryānī, a family of complicated rice dishes cooked with meats or shrimp; samosa, a flaky, stuffed, deep-fried pastry; korma, lamb curry made with a thick sauce using crushed nuts and yogurt; masala, the dry or wet base for curry; and a great variety of breads and hot wafers, including naan, pappadam, parāṭhās, and chapātīs. In southern India and especially in the historical region of Telingana, or Andhra, the food is seasoned with fresh chili peppers and can be fiery hot.


Lamb is the most important meat served in northern India. It is prepared in hundreds of different ways as kabobs, curries, roasts, and in rice dishes. In pre-independence days the Mughal cuisine there ranked among the most lavish in the world. The Mughal cuisine developed during the Muslim empire of the great Mughal kingdom. It is based, mostly because of religious and geographic limitations, on lamb. The preparations are mostly roasted, barbecued dishes, also kabobs and the socalled dry curries, versus the stew-type cooking of the south.

Mughal empire

In India festivals and holidays are marked by feasting and revelry.  Among the more prominent festivals are Ōnam, a rice harvest celebration; Dīwālī, the festival of lights, which marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year; Dashera, which marks the triumph of the good prince Rama over evil; and Holī, the festival of spring, which honors Lord Krishna, an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Feasting and the offering of food to gods and friends are a highlight of these

(Gujerat food served during Dashera)



The cuisine of the Pacific and Southeast Asia is a fascinating mélange of ingredients, methods, and dishes with a strong influence of the Chinese cuisine. The most important ingredients to tie together this vast area are the coconut, which is used in every one of these countries; rice, which is the basic food everywhere except in the Philippines; and native spices and herbs, especially the omnipresent ginger and chili. The skillful use of condiments and relishes by its inventive cooks makes each of these countries a gastronomically individual entity.


A common staple is the taro bulb, which is the main ingredient for many dishes of the famous luau feasts. Taro may be chopped and steamed alone, or mixed with other ingredients, often wrapped in ti leaves. Poi is made by peeling and cooking the taro root and then mashing it into a paste. Another famous delicacy is lomi lomi, a fresh salmon that is massaged by hand to break down its tissues and remove the salt. Chunks of the fish are mixed with onion and tomatoes. Besides the stone-baked pig, which is always a part of the luau, and several other local specialties, the Hawaiians adapted a number of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian dishes, together with a great many standard U.S. dishes.

Indonesia consists of several thousand islands, yet its cuisine is almost unified by the use of coconut. It is employed as a vegetable, main course, ingredient, cooking fat, relish, fruit, and even beverage in the popular tjendol throughout the islands.  Although 300 years of Dutch occupation, a sizable Chinese population, and Portuguese merchants had a very strong influence on the islands' cooking style, Indonesia still can boast of a unique cuisine.

Because rice (nasi) is the most important part of the meal, all other preparations are actually served to surround and enhance the rice itself. The Dutch themselves created rijsttafel (literally, “rice table”), which formalized into an almost endless procession of beautifully arranged, carefully organized dishes, ranging from sweet to sour, from mild to very spicy, from cold to hot. Since Indonesia gained independence, the rijsttafel has been replaced by the prasmanan, a lengthy, buffet-style meal also featuring scores of dishes. Rijsttafel became popular in The Netherlands, however, and could be ordered in many restaurants, particularly in Amsterdam.

Balinese rijsttafel

One of the nationally popular preparations is nasi goreng, which originates in China's friedrice concept. In the Indonesian version, however, most of the meats, vegetables, and garnishes surround the pile of fried rice and only the diner mixes them while eating it, allowing many fascinating taste and texture combinations.  The West Javanese cooking is rather mild and tends to be much simpler than that of Central Java, which favors very hot, rich, and sweet

East Java, on the other hand, is the place where the spicing becomes very complex and subtle, and the Balinese enjoy many of the dishes forbidden to the Muslim population. For instance, the Bali Hindu religion allows the eating of pork, and saté babi, the little skewers of charcoal-grilled pork bits, is one of the more interesting of their preparations. One of the most essential elements of an Indonesian meal is the sambals. These are spicy-hot condiments that are served separately to be mixed with the various foods to make them as “fiery” as the individual desires.

saté babi

Krupuk, the deep-fried shrimp wafers, also originated in Indonesia before turning up in other nations' cuisines.  Few Indonesian meals are served without gado-gado, an interesting mélange of cooked and raw vegetables and bean cake with a sauce made of peanuts, coconut, and spices.


Sumatra and Malaysia absorbed much of the Arab and Indian culinary influences. Rendang, for instance, is a beef stew that absorbs a large amount of coconut milk, using the same technique as some of the socalled dry curries of India.  Gulai is this area's favorite version of liquidtype curry so common in India.


The Philippine food is much simpler than many of the other Pacific and Southeast Asian cuisines. Although the four centuries of Spanish domination brought considerable influence to this part of the world, Philippine cuisine does have some specialties that can be called its own. Perhaps most typical of these is the fish paste called bagoong and the liquid flavoring sauce patis. Both are based on fermented seafood and, depending on the area or the household, their variety is almost limitless. Generally speaking, a sour-salty taste is the single most characteristic taste of the Philippines.


Perhaps the strongest Chinese influence can be detected in Vietnam, which was dominated or ruled by China through most of the 1st millennium AD.  Nuoc mam, a flavoring sauce, is used in many dishes, and, although it is related to the Philippine patis, it really is a specifically Vietnamese flavor, based again on fermented salted fish and spices.

Almost every nation's southern inhabitants prefer their food spicier than those in the northern region, and Vietnam is no exception. The tie-in perhaps between the two regions of Vietnam is the use of fish, which is the most important part of the daily diet.  The French occupation in Vietnam mostly contributed to the level of the gastronomy of the upper classes, without influencing very much of the average housewife's cooking.

One of the most complex and structured cuisines of the entire area is the cuisine of Thailand.  The fact that the Thai lived for much of their history in comparative peace and political independence had beneficial influence on their gastronomy, together with the fact that, just as in China and France, the ruling classes were actively interested in gastronomy.

Because the Thai have basically the same ingredients to work with as the Indonesians, Malaysians, or Indians, the categories of the Thai cooking repertoire are not dissimilar, but the subtleties and complexities of flavor and texture are often superior.  For instance, nam prik, the spicy Thai condiment, has even more varieties than the Indonesian sambals do, with many more ideas employed in their combinations.

nam prik

Kaeng is a liquid stew (or perhaps soupstew) to be mixed with rice. It is very strongly related to the liquid curries, but again the repertoire of kaengs is infinitely larger than almost any other food family in Southeast Asia.  Within the formalized gastronomy, the Chinese and Indian influences blend in with such artistry that the emerging cuisine of Thailand is truly its own.


Eggplant, olives, and yogurt are widely eaten in all Middle Eastern countries.  Chickpeas are toasted or ground.  Lamb is the staple meat throughout the region.  chopped tomatoes, radishes, parsley, and mint; and kibbi, a ground mixture of wheat and lamb.


One of the most characteristic elements of the cuisines of the Middle East is the offering of an almost unlimited array of small hot and cold appetizers. These are called mazza (Arabic), mezethakia (Greek), or mezelicuri (Romanian), and their ingredients and preparation have developed over the centuries as a result of the confluence of many cultures. The Turkish influence is still dominant in the countries of the old Ottoman Empire: Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and other parts of the Balkan region.

Vine leaves stuffed with rice and meat are popular. They are called dolma in Turkey.  Börek, a turnover filled with meat or cheese, is another favorite.  Sişkebabi (shish kebab), skewered mutton or lamb, is enjoyed in all these countries, as is kofte, a lamb patty.


Yogurt dishes and a sweet known as halvah are commonly found. A favorite dessert is baklava, a rich pastry filled with nuts and layered with honey or syrup. (Baklava was brought by Turkish invaders in the 16th century to Hungary, where it became strudel.) The Arab states of the Middle East and North Africa share many fine dishes. Among these is the hotly seasoned eggplant dip called bābā qhanūj. Other dishes common to the Arab countries include hummus bī tahīnah, chickpeas with a sesame paste; tabbūlah, a salad of onions,

bābā qhanūj


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