Friday, 6 August 2010

Spice of the land

Funny how different countries have different spices.

Sometimes it's obvious why. Italy does basil like no other country - because it grows so well. Pesto is the quintessential Italian taste, for me.

But sometimes it seems less easy to explain a local herb or spice preference. Why does Oman love cardamom so much? Yes, Oman had links with southern India where it grew - but why does Oman not like coriander and cumin nearly so much?

In Morocco, ginger and cumin are the big flavours; a completely different balance. (Of course, I shouldn't omit the eye-wateringly hot harissa.)

German friends of mine say Germany is divided by the weisswurst equator - south of it, white sausage, and above it, none. The whole of Europe actually has a spice equator - in the north, caraway and dill - in the south, thyme and oregano. Rye bread isn't the same without caraway. (My grandfather always used to give me a glass of kummel when I visited, and a bottle of the liqueur at Christmas - a delight, as long as you have a taste for it, and so much nicer I always think than the aniseed-based alcohols of the south. Though I have managed to get a bit of a taste for ouzo, I still drink it very much more diluted than most Greeks would consider proper.)

And then of course there is England; the land without spice. It wasn't always that way; I've been looking at a book on medieval cooking, and many of the recipes contain a list of spices that looks very similar to the masala lists in modern Indian dishes. I wonder when we got so bland? Maybe chicken tikka masala becoming the national dish is not so much testament to our multiculturalism as England regaining its historic taste for spice!

1 comment:

  1. There is a Cardamom chewing gum in Oman!
    Oman also likes Ginger and Saffron in Tea - Cardamom has competition.