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Dec 20, 2006 03:09 AM

The 3 Grand Cuisines

I once read an article that stated that there are 3 grand cuisines on earth: French, Chinese, and Turkish. And according to the article this occurred in these cultures for 3 specific reasons including: the presence of a royal kitchen, a long dynastic reign and the availability of a variety of foodstuffs. To explain further, the royal kitchen produces a variety of splendid dishes to please the king or emperor. A long dynastic reign ensures the coherence of these dishes over time and provides time for their perfection. Finally, access to plentiful and diverse foodstuffs provides the raw materials. Having said that how many chowhounds agree with this? Does this argue that all others cuisines are inherently inferior to these? Thoughts?

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  1. All I can say is forget the coq au vin and thousand year old eggs - I want a Doener Kebab!

    1 Reply
    1. French and Chinese, yes. But I would have to vote for Indian as the third. The use of spices is unequalled by any other cuisine. That being said, I enjoy all types of food, and love learning about it, and the culture that developed it. While I have some preferences, they are my own, and they do not imply that any one cuisine is inferior. Though it is very hard to beat French pastry.

      9 Replies
      1. re: phofiend

        The mother of French cooking is a Florentine!

          1. re: phofiend

            Yes, "French" food was developed in Italy. There is actually much more variety in Italian cooking too.

            1. re: fara

              Please explain "developed" and qualify "much more variety". Yes I am a Francophile

              1. re: Chinon00

                Developed meaning that Catherine de Medci thought the food was horrible in France when she married Henry the II. She had to bring her own chefs over to France and show them how to prepare food.

                1. re: designerboy01

                  Must remember this for future tactical use.

                  1. re: designerboy01

                    Just curious, in the "development of French food" how much credit do you give events post-Medici through 1787.

                    1. re: Chinon00

                      The towering figure here is Louis XIV. Under his patronage, Varenne and Vatel transformed cooking into cuisine. Some people date this development to 1651, when Varenne published Le Cuisinier Francais. Louis XIV apparently discovered that a grand cuisine could boost the power of the central government (i.e. him) Nobles who would otherwise stay in their home castles fomenting insurrection were induced (or compelled) to spend their time attending lavish banquets at Versailles, and their money dressing for them. Napoleon used the same trick when he set up his chief diplomat, Talleyrand, with a palace and Careme as chef.

                      1. re: Brian S

                        Sounds exactly like the Aztec strategy under the Triple Alliance.

            2. I once read the big three were: Chinese, Italian and Greek.

              The logic behind this list, as I understand it, is these three cuisines have had the most influence in the world. Certainly it's debateable but I see some logic in it...just can't explain or defend it. If I recall, French was left out because French technique relied too much on sauce. Greek was in because of their influence on the whole Med. region and related to their empire. As I understand it Italy has a similar influence going westward, although I'm sure the French would disagree.

              13 Replies
                1. re: ML8000

                  I'd heard that Turkish cuisine influenced Greek cuisine, but perhaps it was an even trade?

                  Thanks to Chinon00 for the background on where this theory came from. My Turkish students (I teach English) love to talk about the three great cuisines, and I'd always thought that it was odd that regional cuisines could be lumped in together as solely "French," "Turkish," or especially "Chinese." I suppose a royal kitchen could standardize things. (Not that commoners ate the way the king did, but...)

                  1. re: lemonfaire

                    Actually one could make a strong arguement that Greek and Turkish are side-by-side, or influenced each other equally.

                    They do share common specific cultural connections, exemplified by common ruins. They both had empires and both had access to trade. I won't get into the politics or specifics (mostly because I can't) but it does seem reasonable...and I wouldn't side with either country and certainly against there food.

                    BTW, on a tangent...sounds similar to the "who invented the noodle - China or Italy" argument. Seems the real answer is the Middle East/Persia.

                    1. re: ML8000

                      Well since you are on the subject of noodles, read this article.


                      1. re: ML8000

                        Well Greece was part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire actually.

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          You're right. I had to look it up, Ottoman Empire from 1299 - 1922, which is most recent. In BC or Hellenic times it was reversed with the Greek Empire spread through the region. I'll just leave it as there was obvious cross-over.

                          1. re: ML8000

                            Under your theory Italian would fall under Greek in Hellenic times, no?

                            1. re: welle

                              In southern Italy there was an influence of Greek culture.

                            2. re: ML8000

                              To get real historical, Greeks were in Greece for more than a millenia before any Turks were in Turkey. Turkish tribes are (relatively speaking) recent newcomers to Anatolia.

                              Of course, I say this as an American - with our nation less than 250 years old.


                              1. re: Ed Dibble

                                Hey Ed, don't forget we've got BBQ.

                                1. re: Ed Dibble

                                  No Ed, lets get reeeeal historical. Before we get there, the main problem with drawing up Grand Cuisines along national boundaries is that they often obliberate historical empires.

                                  Instead of saying Greece, Turkey or some other why don't we instead look at the Eastern Meditteranean as a single entity with a Grand Cuisine. I suggest this because:

                                  (1) The countries of the Eastern Meditteranean all share a common culinary thread.

                                  (2) There is no fair way possible to really segregate which country's ancestors contributed each thing... it will just come down to a pissing contest about which ancient empire we like better.

                                  Finally consider the real historical mess to decipher:

                                  > Yes, the Ancient Greeks pre dated the Ottomans by more than a millenium. But, there was a contemporary civilization that spread from Turkey to Bulgaria know as Thrace. Anyone who read the National Geographic article on the Thracians last month, knows that they have been historically overlooked... but are about to be the hottest thing in cultural travel.

                                  > The Greeks owe much of their culture from the Phoenicians (Caaninites), from whom they borrowed so much. The Lebanese will tell you that the Greeks were still eating bananas from tree vines when they brought them civilization.

                                  > The Phoenicians owe much of their culture from the Egyptians, from whom they borrowed so much. The Egyptians will tell you that the Phoenicians were still eating bananas hanging from tree vines when they brought them civilization.

                                  And then the Mesopotamians.... yada, yada, yada

                                  One final thing... although the Phoenicians were more civilized, there are many convincing arguments that they were invaded by Mycanean Greeks who taught them to sail and ultimately brought their civilization to a higher level.

                                  As you can see there is a just a back & forth, tit for tat.

                                  I think ultimately, the reason that Turkey is singled out is because as the historical crossroads & a blessed geological makeup... it is probably the only single country that has covers most of the North African, Medittarenean, Middle Eastern & Near Eastern culinary traditions, techniques & ingredients.

                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                    Indeed, the whole Eastern Mediterranean - and Near East as a whole - share all sorts of culinary traditions. One does not need to believe everything in _Black Athena_ to be aware of Greece's debt to the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa. And perhaps these traditions did culminate in Ottoman court cuisine.

                                    I was merely responding to folks who seemed to view Greece as a mere appendage of Turkey. The Turks are the inheritors of a long culinary tradition that they did not create. It also needs to be remembered that all of the Eastern Mediterranean including also for a time Persia and Bactria were ruled by Greeks who no doubt learned much about various ways of preparing food that they later passed on to Turkey.


                                    1. re: Ed Dibble

                                      I see that you tend to agree with my points, but you seem to be overrating the Greek contribution and resent the fact that the Turks are getting credit. If you buy into my argument that we should not seperate them & instead consider it one Grand Cuisine then there is no need to argue about who made the most contributions.

                      2. Thirty years ago Craig claiborne wrote that the three great cuisines on the planet were Chinese, French, and Mexican.

                        46 Replies
                        1. re: Evil Ronnie

                          I agree with Craig. The value of the contribution of Mexican food to culinary traditions around the world cannot be underestimated. I mean, hello! The tomato, the potato and the avocado! Not to mention corn. Potatoes and tomatoes transformed European cooking. And what would Italy be without polenta?

                          1. re: DanaB

                            I hear what you are saying but what you've mentioned are foodstuffs and not cuisine per se. Could you elaborate?

                            1. re: Chinon00

                              Salsa, aka tomato sauce, aka the basis of most of what we think of Italian cooking.

                              Anything with potatoes. Mashed, fried, frites, baked, roasted.

                              Cornmeal, aka polenta.

                              1. re: DanaB

                                Spend a day in the kitchen of a Oaxacan woman - and you'll soon come to understand the 'greatness' of Mexican cuisine. This could not be farther removed from your typical tex-mex greasy burrito.

                                Dana is right on in his assessment.

                                1. re: kare_raisu

                                  *Finally plans that Oaxacan restaurant crawl I've been meaning to do for eons.*

                                2. re: DanaB

                                  To be clear for me cuisine includes both the techniques of a certain cooking style and the resultant dishes. Mexican cooking is important and I agree that salsa is an important sauce/condiment. However I think it might be a stretch to allow Mexican cuisine to claim dishes as general as: “[m]ashed, fried, frites, baked, roasted [potatoes]”. And again cornmeal is a foodstuff and not a resultant dish. And of course any dish referred to as “polenta” would be understood to be Italian.
                                  The discussion I think focuses on “great cuisine” and not the influence that a cuisine or a region's foodstuffs has had around the world (which is a whole different topic).

                                  1. re: Chinon00

                                    Those examples that Dana gave only scratch the surface.

                                    While the technique of Mexican cooking may not be as influential on the world stage as French technique certainly is, it is the ingredients -inherently Mexican- that have transformed ALL CORNERS of the world.

                                    In fact, I regard Mexican cuisine (technique and dishes) to be one of the most diverse in the world. Look no further than Diana Kennedy's books.

                                    Mexican Cuisine is comprised of the following elements:

                                    Spanish: ingredients & technique
                                    Various natives of Mexico: Ingredients & techinque
                                    Asian: Ingredients (Manila - Acapulco Galeons)
                                    French: Ingredients, technique (Maximillian's Empire)
                                    Later immigrants (Lebanese, Italian, Mennonites): Ingredients & technique.
                                    Central & South American: Ingredients (Spanish Empire no doubt spread)

                                    If you like I can give you representive dishes of all of the above.

                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                      Actually, I do think Mexican belongs as a "great" cuisine not only because of the ingredients which it has contributed to the rest of the world, but for a number of other reasons.

                                      1) The technique is there. People who are competent with the traditional European techniques often have difficulty at first adjusting to technique in the Mexican kitchen because it is not quite as instintual as they are used to. Why would it be a "stretch" to allow Mexican's to claim baked, roasted, braised, fried etc. They've been doing that for centuries along with the rest of the world. Those are not necessarily methods that any particular cuisine can lay claim to. From the time humankind discovered fire we've been applying it to food of all kinds in every way. But techniques such as grinding cacao on a metate over a fire is a unique contribution without which chocolate as we know it today would not exist. It is also a technique that is still used today for processing chocolate in some Oaxacan villages.

                                      2) Yes, Mexico gave the world corn and that's an ingredient. It also gave the world the process (or technique if you will) for making the corn edible. Corn has to be slacked in lime in order for it to be workable and digestible. Carbon dating has put the age of early corn kernels found in early Mexcian settlements at about 8,000 years of age which, if nothing else, implies that corn was being cultivated and used in some way that long ago. So the early nomadic tribes in MesoAmerica had to learn how to make the grain they had available edible in order to survive. That process/technique is still very much alive in Mexico and being used today. Corn for tortillas, posole and even the corn destined for masa harina first has to be slacked out with lime. Pretty old technique if you ask me.

                                      3) The early MesoAmericans also figured out that if they grew squash and beans along with the corn that they didn't destroy the soil and that their village could thrive. Corn, squash and beans are, of course, a complete protein when eaten together. This triumverite is found extensively in Mexican cooking and is one of the foundation building blocks for the cuisine Once again, it was a cooking method used to ensure the survival of the tribe and the village.

                                      3) Read Bernal Diaz who chornicled Cortez' discovery and eventual defeat of the Aztecs at Tenochtitlan. He describes the daily feasts with hundreds of dishes offered to Moctezuma, feasts that the Spanish partook of and reveled in. Feasts that are equivalent to the royal feasts of other cuisines. Read Fray Bernardin de Shagún who was an early priest sent to convert the heathens to Catholicism. He was appalled at the destruction of the indigenous books and took on teh task of describing everything he saw. He devoted a great deal of space to describing the food, how it was prepared, the breadth of the cuisine, which was far greater than anything Europe knew at that time.

                                      4) The sheer diversity of Mexican cuisine is not apparent NOB (North of the Border). The depth and breadth of what the Mexican kitchen can turn out is truly amazing. From insect cuisine, which is still alive and well, to the extensive use of seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, ferns, cactus and other plant life, to the complete use of all and any protein source, the Mexican kitchen is probably only equaled by the Chinese and Indian kitchens. What we see and eat in the U.S. as "Mexican" is only a minute fraction of what is consumed in Mexico on a regular basis.

                                      5) What Mexican cuisine has in common with Chinese and Italian (which wouldn't exist as we know it without the Mexican influence) is that it is very much a land based cuisine. There is a very strong connection between the land and the culture in Mexico and both contribute substantially to the cultural identity of Mexico and the Mexican kitchen. Most of the great cuisines of the world have grown out of connection to the land and the sense of identity that comes from that which is then reflect in the cuisine.

                                      The best meals I had in 2005 were in Mexico City; and they were contemporary Mexican from kitchens of the young turks who studied elsewhere but have returned home to put down roots. The grand dame of Mexican cooking - Diana Kennedy - is the ultimate purist and has very little use for the modern, contemporary chefs. Her complaint is that they lack technique and disrepect the nature of the Mexican kitchen. However, those that have mastered traditional techniques have been able to take the traditional kitchen in new directions and to new heights. In order for this type of transition to happen the foundations of the cuisine have to be solid, which Mexican is. The fact that these contemporary chefs can take traditional methods, techniques and ingredients and produce incredibly innovative and outstanding dishes (meals) without loosing the integrity of the tradition or the ingredients is, for me at least, validation and verification that Mexican cuisine is, indeed, world class. That it can continually reinvent itself without loosing the link and connection to it's history and tradition speaks to it's place as one of the 3 great cuisines of the world.

                                      Mexico and Mexican cuisine is so much more than assorted table sauces (salsas), overstuffed tacos, soggy chile rellenos and jumbo burritos from San Francisco's Mission District. To dismiss it as such misses the whole point of the cuisine.

                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                        A close Mexican friend relayed some of your same sentiments about Mexican cuisine and the American perception of it.

                                        His basic analysis beyond the lack of understanding and what we get here: Mexican food (in the late 80s, when he said this) in the U.S. is generally where Italian food in the U,.S. was in the 50s (spaghetti and meatballs and combo plates). It took another 20-30 years for it to move onward in the U.S. perception. He's about the past 5-6 years full Mexican cuisine is coming to light in the U.S.

                                        Of course any ethnic cuisine is mired in cliche, stereotypes and pop culture context, i.e., Olive Garden, PF Changs, Chevy's.

                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          I think that there might be a disconnect as to what we are referring to as “cuisine”. Listening to what has been stated about “Mexican cuisine” thus far to me there appears that there was no real consistent cultural hand guiding it through its development (which by no means suggests that it doesn’t taste wonderful). Apparently, taken as a whole it’s at best an amalgam of possible cuisines and influences now defined under one “Mexican cuisine” umbrella rather than being a cuisine guided by any central ideas or principles? But as the OP states, the royal kitchen (as in China, France, Ottoman Empire), with a long dynastic reign, can guide the development of a cuisine whereby it takes on a more singular coherent character and can thusly be better referred to as a discrete “cuisine” than others can be?

                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                            I think if you did a study of Aztec, Mayan and Inca civilizations you might reach a different conclusion about there not being a consistant cultural hand guiding the development of the food.

                                            I have my history books on those cultures packed away, so I can't provide details and I was focusing on other aspects of those civilizations other than food.

                                            The court life at the time of the last Aztec emperor was far more lavish than anything in Europe. They kind of had their priorities correct. Gold was merely decorative, they used cocoa beans for currency.

                                            So there are stories of Montezuma drinking his daily chocolate out of golden goblets and throwing them away ... the important part was the chocolate, eh?

                                            So to your critera ... at the time of the death of the Aztec empire ...

                                            1. the presence of a royal kitchen,

                                            The article mentions that the kitchen had specialized cooks using exotic, hard-to-find foods. It says ...

                                            " Sahagún describes a tlatoani’s daily meal: “two thousand kinds of various foods; hot tortillas, white tamales with beans forming a sea shell on top; red tamales; the main meal of roll-shaped tortillas and many foods: sauces with turkeys, quail, venison, rabbit, hare, rat, lobster, small fish, large fish; then all manner of sweet fruits.” (quoted in Berdan 1982:51)."

                                            2. a long dynastic reign

                                            This is not the greatest article on the Aztecs, but it puts the culture at a couple of hundred years. It has some links to the society which discusses some sophisticated agricultural systems and road systems that allowed for varied crops or transporting different foods efficiently from any part of the empire.

                                            3. the availability of a variety of foodstuffs.

                                            Heck, there are Latin American foods that most of us are still unfamiliar with. The ones we are familiar with ... especially chocolate, corn, vanilla, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes ... changed the way the world ate. There are too many others foods and spices to mention.

                                            This article says ...
                                            "Tenochtitlan chose each day from an array of three hundred dishes: abundant fowl, tropical fruits, ice creams made using snow from a volcano, and fresh fish carried by runners from the Gulf of Mexico ... The majority of Aztec dishes were complimented by pepper sauces ... and accented with wild herbs"

                                            While current Mexican food is a fusion of many cultures, primarily Spanish, one could say that the cusine of the world is currently a fusion of the foods of Mexico.

                                            I guess I don't see why Mexican cuisine falls out of your definition of having a 'more singular coherent character and can thusly be better referred to as a discrete “cuisine” than others can be?"

                                            If other cuisines have incorporated the very discrete and singluar aspects of Mexican cuisine, does that invalidate the original cuisine?

                                            And shouldn't a grand cuisine be a living cuisine?

                                            I wonder about calling Turkish cuisine a grand cuisine. Almost anyone could cite the impact of Chinese and French cuisine ... and Mexican. I'll bet few of us not only know what Turkish cuisine is or why it would be considered a grand cuisine.

                                            I guess I'm more curious about that. Ok, they had a royal kitchen, had a variety of foods ... though I'm not sure exactly what those would be ... and had a long dynastic reign. However, how does that differ from almost any culture out there? Really, I'm seriously asking, why is it considered above any of the rest?

                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                              Chinon00, I don't know whether to be stunned or flabbergasted by your comment. To utterly dismiss the entire Pre-Columbian history and culture as having "no real consistent cultural hand guiding it's development" would appear to show either gross ignorance or xenophobic elitism. The pre-columbian era stretched over several thousand years, the rise and fall of several major civiliaztions and several hundred dynasties. And like all empires it's power peaked and it finally fell. The development of food from subsistence to ritual to cuisine is well documented and well defined and has been for at least 500 years.

                                              The royal kitchen in France owes it's heritage to Catherine di Medici, a Florentine. The royal kitchen of the Ottoman Empire owes it's heritage to China and the countries along the Silk Road. Neither of these kitchens were guided by long dynastic reigns byt flourished by assimilating whatever was new into existing tradition. Which is exactly what Mexico did with the Spanish.

                                              The pre-columbian kitchen overroad the Spanish kitchen, not vice-versa. The pre-columbian kitchen was highly stratefied according to caste and food had tremendous ritual significant. Much of the "work" done between ceremonial periods was specifically food related and directed towards the next ceremony in an ever sustaining perpetual circle of time. As rworange has pointed out, the daily meal a the Aztec court far exceeded in scope and diversity anything known in Europe at that time; and the sheer size of those meals had been going on for generations, it wasn't something Moctezuma cooked up.

                                              Mexico is a country and its' cuisine has a clearly defined trajectory that shows development, assimilation and evolution over several thousand years from the hunter/gatherer nomads to the modern era. Really, only the Chinese and Indians cuisines can make a similar claim.

                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                I really want to visit Oaxaca and try the cuisine. I am quite aware that it is a foodie city. There was some connection from China with Mexico when the Budhist monks went to spread their message and they arrived in Mexico as recorded. I'm not saying that there was any influence on the cuisine, but I'm curious to find out for myself if there are any similarites if at all. I spent 8 years studying the language and culture but have not really visited many places in Mexico yet.

                                                I know that true Mexican food is something that is really good and nothing comes close to it here in the US.

                                                1. re: designerboy01

                                                  "There was some connection from China with Mexico when the Budhist monks went to spread their message and they arrived in Mexico as recorded."

                                                  I am interested in this statement - unknown to me - could you give more details?

                                                    1. re: kare_raisu

                                                      I heard about this watching through some historal videos a long time ago. If I recall correctly the voyage was recorded but there was not much written about the voyage. Its recorded in some chinese historical books if I recollect correctly. But I do recall a voyage by the monks and they reached the west coast down in Mexico.

                                                      1. re: designerboy01

                                                        Is this what you were referring to ... the Buddhist monks in Mexico in the 5th century? What would you be looking for in terms of an influence on the food?



                                                        1. re: rworange

                                                          I don't think I emphasized that there is a relation. I cannot comment on Mexican food as I know I haven't done most of it yet.

                                                          Those were very interesting articles that you found. Thanks!

                                                    2. re: designerboy01

                                                      I think Oaxacan food is the best in Mexico, although I have Pueblano friends that scream whenever I say this. El Naranjo in Oaxaca city is Iliana de la Vega's nouvelle interpretation of traditional Oaxacan cuisine. Just reading the menu on the restaurant's web site will cause you to start trip-planning. Also, despite recent problems, Oaxaca is one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world.

                                                      1. re: henrytberry

                                                        El Naranjo is currntly closed and not expected to reopen in the immediate future. Iliana and her husband have left the city. My source for this information is someone who knows her.

                                                        1. re: henrytberry

                                                          Oaxacan is great cuisine and along with the Yucatan are the often the first to allure too many foreigners, but there are many other states that are equally compelling to Oaxaca.

                                                          Oaxaca is relatively well marketed. Interestingly, Oaxacans have been on the receiving end of much racism within Mexico... because they are shorter than most Mexicans, their appearance etc., As a response, Mexico's progressive intelligentsia has responsded by celebrated Oaxaca with equal zeal... and this has resulted in Oaxaca receiving quite a bit more exposure than other states.

                                                          One thing I always noted, is that in Mexico City culinary competitions... Chiapanecas (women from Chiapas) seemed to win a disproportionate amount of time. Their cuisine was at least as compelling as that of Oaxaca.

                                                          Then you have Veracruz which delivers a whirlwind of flavors from the very meditaranean flavors of the Port of Veracruz to the Cajun like cuisine of Alvarado, the subtle Totonac cuisine with its use of Vanilla as a savory spice, to Central Mexican cuisine of the Huasteca, the very African cuisine of the Sotavento region... it really is a dynamite.

                                                          And then Puebla... the state that has provided many of Mexico's most glorious dishes like Chiles en Nogada, Huitlacoche Crepes, Rabbit Mixiotes etc.,

                                                          There is alot about Mexico to discover... and I don't really think you can call out Oaxaca as being superior to the other top foodie states.

                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                            I wasn't arguing that Oaxaca was the best, but rather that the food there is my favorite, and that is because of the different moles. Puebla has mole poblano, but Oaxaca has seven different classic moles, including my favorites Mole Negro and Mole Coloradito. Heavenly. Certainly the food in Vera Cruz is wonderful as is that in the Yucatan. I have only spent a brief time in Chiapas, but would like to get to know the food better. As to the above note re El Naranjo, I hope it isn't true. The web site is still up and advertising the place, so I'm hopeful.

                                                            1. re: henrytberry

                                                              The indigenous (Purhépecha) cuisine of the state of Michoacán is as rich in variety, flavors, and tradition as anything Oaxaca offers. Michoacán has its own moles, its own tamales, its own caldos and guisados. The home cooking in Michoacán is stupendous.

                                                      2. re: DiningDiva

                                                        Sticking to pre-Columbian Mexico for the moment to me when you or anyone mentions "several" major civilizations there seems to me to be therefore a lack of centrality to the "cuisine" which I personally find problematic in this argument. I might be parsing here but taken individually (e.g. Aztec) I would agree that that might meet my definition here of a "grand cuisine". But to me “Mexican cuisine” might be best described as a confederation of multiple cuisines (some or all of which might be [have been] considered “grand”).
                                                        Additionally, I would like to thank all of you for a very interesting discussion thus far. I admittedly may have initially underestimated the “grandeur” of some pre-Columbian cuisine.

                                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                                          Please define "confederation of multiple cuisines" and why wouldn't you consider Chinese a "confederation of multiple cuisines". Why or what leads you to the conclusion that there is a "lack of centrality". I don't follow your reasoning and I don't understand how you came to these conclusion.

                                                          You've made some provocative statements that dismiss and discredit Mexican as a viable cuisine and world player. Yet you have not provided much in the way of support for those statements. There have been a number of rebuttals. Now it's your turn. Please provide us with some support for your statements/point of view. What led you to your conclusions?

                                                          'Splain yourself please

                                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                                            I've been having trouble following Chinon00's reasoning as well.

                                                            1. re: kare_raisu

                                                              I have a fuzzy view of that reasoning.

                                                              Unless a person spends any time in Mexico it is difficult to gain a true appreciaction of that amazing society ... food and everything else.

                                                              The problem is that there was such a campaign to obliterate a culture. So the majority of our written records are from the point of view of the peoples who took over the power base.

                                                              Chinon00 writes ...
                                                              "But to me “Mexican cuisine” might be best described as a confederation of multiple cuisines (some or all of which might be [have been] considered “grand”)."

                                                              The words "have been" implies this all died with the Aztecs ... or whatever. That's the mistake.

                                                              The Mexicans took the best of the European and incorporated it into their cuisine, made it their own. They really didn't cave food-wise like so many conquered nations. It still remains a unique, distinctive cuisine.

                                                              And as you mentioned WAY earlier kare_raisu, what is going on with the innovative chefs in Mexico City is amazing.

                                                              Mexico seems to be the quiet culinary revolution ... a cuisine whose focus is based on patience. As said before, the food of that nation changed the way the world ate ... so thouroughly that most don't even recognize or acknowledge the source.

                                                              Until there is more research and ... quite frankly ... press ... given to that part of the world, Mexican food as a 'grand', focused and cohesive cuisine won't be appreciated.

                                                          2. re: Chinon00

                                                            to follow your logic I think would mean that only a highly centralized, beaurocratized system could generate a "grand" cuisine - that seems highly unlikely. the fact that their is a strong central government, as with the ottomans, french or chinese (at many stages of history) can only be a factor which might encourage the systematization or codification (as with the french) of the cuisine itself. I think it more likely, that longstanding, highly developed cultures such as the chinese, indian, persian, italian or mexican will develop wide and deep cuisines, which may or may not reach pinnacles in their court cuisine (the emperor may be a philistine)

                                                            1. re: jen kalb

                                                              I agree; I tried to say something like this below. French culinary history might have been far different (and less exciting) had Louis XIV not been a gourmet (or, at least, an astute politician who used elaborate banquets to keep potential rivals close to him, in plain view at Versailles) England fills all the conditions for a great cuisine, but I suspect the monarchs there (except Edward VII) viewed obsessive concern with food as prissy, unmanly, and, most damning of all, un-English.

                                                              1. re: Brian S

                                                                To address the "English question" apparently the Tudor Court for example had wonderful and extravagant feasts. But as I understand it by the late 18th century "the majority of the English population began to move away from the land, and [the decline in English cuisine] was compounded by the effects of rationing during two World Wars (rationing finally ended in 1954), followed by the increasing trend toward industrialised mass production of food." - wikipedia on English Cuisine

                                                                1. re: Chinon00

                                                                  They moved away from the land in the 18th century because the aristocrats chased them out. (Enclosure Acts) But the land remained, and the aristocrats, who should have been the chief gourmets, reaped the benefits. (And now, to some extent, we in America do. Game birds shot by Scottish lairds find their way to American restaurants, which aren't allowed to serve game hunted within the US)

                                                      3. re: DiningDiva

                                                        There are a number of cuisines that have been mentioned as elites by some group of people or another and they include Chinese, Indian, Turkish, Italian, Spanish, French & Mexican. Personally, I think all these are certainly elites and trying to narrow them down to the Top 3 or 5, is plain foolish because no one can really understands all of them. I personally consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on Mexican cuisine, and fairly well versed in the others... but my knowledge of Indian – for example – is so minute relative to my knowledge of Mexican cuisine that I would automatically assume that Mexican cuisine is 100 times more diverse & sophisticated than Indian etc.,

                                                        Now adding to all the great comments posted by Dining Diva, here are the arguments for Mexican as one of the elite cuisines:

                                                        The world’s top consumed spice... the Chile (Capsicum). Originally from South America, the first Chile was a fierly little round ball similar to the modern Chiltepin. Mexicans genetically modified it into 95% of the varieties consumed around the world today. That is right no Chiles in Thai, Indian, Chinese, Hungarian, Spanish or anyother cuisine without Mexican horticultural expertise. The Chile is the world’s most widely consumed spice / condiment whether measured in weight, volume or $.

                                                        The world’s two favorite flavors... Chocolate & Vanilla have both been described as such. Anyone who has seen the plants & knows the process to get them to be edible understands who impressive it is that are so widespread today.

                                                        The Turkey... while not as prolific as the Chinese Chicken, in its Mexican form (that is not the incredible blandness to which it has been bred in the U.S.) it is a culinary delight that immediately replaced the Peacock on the royal tables of Europe.

                                                        Other notable foods of Mesoamerican horticultural genius include Pineaple, Avocado, Peanuts, Pecans, Sunflowers, Blackberries, Papaya, Amaranth, Cassava (Tapioca), Achiote, Allspice, Guavas and countless other products essential to Mexican cuisine that are not know globally like Cactus, Huitlacoche, Zapotes, etc.,

                                                        With regards to cooking techniques, Mesoamerica already had many of the sophisticated techniques associated with Classical French, several centuries ahead (I will describe the techniques in a bit). Did the French, Italians & Spanish create these techniques on their own or did they find their way to Europe? That is the million dollar question. Consider a couple of vignettes:

                                                        The Spaniards (as chronicled by Diaz del Castillo & others) were so impressed by the Aztec & Totonac civilizations that their nobility castes were maintained intact and provided a high status in New Spain. The artists classes including the cooks were often taken to Spain as presents to the crown. The Spanish crown was so impressed by their contributions that they created the title ‘Duke of Montezuma’ which was granted to the Aztec nobility that settled in Spain... among the Duke’s role was to bring cultural talent to the crown.

                                                        Marcos Cipac was an Aztec artisan who was taken to Spain to study painting, when he returned to New Spain in the late 1520’s he painted the world famous image of the Virgin of Guadalupe which is considered to be equivalent to that of the European masters of the time.

                                                        The Spanish Crown got so much attention for their Hot Chocolate (heavily spiked with Vanilla) that the French were obsessed to break their deeply held secret. In the 17th century they figured out Chocolate was coming from Mexico, and were able to grow it in their colonies but failed miserable at trying to transplant vanilla... only the Totonac lords held the secret (another group granted nobility status by the Spaniards). The Totonacs became insanely wealthy selling Vanilla to the French (in Paris you can still see one of the Totonac mansions), until the French figured out the pollination secret in the 19th Century and started growing it in their colonies.

                                                        European cooking at the time of discovery, was fairly limited... with stewing, baking & roasting being the primary methods & no noted use of multiple methods. In terms of flavors it was limited to saucing with wine, preserved fruits, and spice route spices. There is no documented, extensive use of herbs & salt. In contrast in Mesoamerica, they did flavor foods extensively with herbs, salt, chiles, fruits, preserved fruits, wines, liquors, brews, true spices (achiote, allspice etc.,) and used sophisticated cooking techniques & combination cooking techniques. The following lists some of Mesoamerica’s most impressive cooking techniques:

                                                        Closed Pit Cooking aka Barbecue finds its oldest expressions in Eastern Mexico about 4,000 years ago. In Mexico that usually means a combination of dry heat, steaming & smoking. This didn’t really catch on in Europe but it did spread everywhere else (thanks to Yankee 19th Century Colonialism)

                                                        Mixiotes... steaming meats & vegetables with sauces inside pouches made of Agave... a sublime dish that was presumably plagiarized by the French (Papillote)... the French were basically the Microsoft of the culinary world. Agave wine & other alcholic beverages were often used as the steaming liquid adding to the dishes sophistication.

                                                        Molcajetes... Mesoamericans frequently seared meats & vegetables over volcanic rocks while saucing them continously... a process that resulted in tenderness, carmelization & intensely deep flavoring.

                                                        Moles were another common technique in Mesoamerica in which a meat was first poached to create a rich broth, then drained & seared in the Molcajete method with a flavorful paste, then reintegrated with the broth... Moles were not limited to the thick, nut based sauces we know of today and include the types of Tomato sauces that deeply influenced Italian, French & Cajun cooking.

                                                        Delicate Soups & Stews have been in the Mexican repertoire for thousands of years before French Classical Cuisine.

                                                        Ceviche... even prior to the Spanish contributions of limes, Mesoamericans lightly pickled fish & seafood in vinegars made from Pineapple & other tropical fruits.

                                                        In addition to these techniques that most likely influenced European, there were many other impressive elements involved in Mesoamerica that made it a complete cuisine such as Grilling, Roasting & Smoking.

                                                        Of course on top of all the Meso American greatness you add in all the contributions from around the world...

                                                        Spice Route & North African Spices
                                                        Asian fruits & vegetables like Tamarind, Mango, Cauliflower
                                                        Mediterranean ingredients like Wine, Capers, Olives & Cheeses
                                                        African ingredients like Watermelon & Yams
                                                        Contemporary French plating & 19th Century Pastries

                                                        And the numerous undocumented techniques that undoubtedly came with them, and you have one absolutely grand... yet underrated & misunderstood cuisine.

                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                          Not to ignore the wealth of knowledge that you've posted but I wanted to make clear that the point of OP was to examine a theory that I'd read which argued that due to some clearly defined contraints that there are 3 "grand" cuisines on earth. I merely wanted a reaction to this theory and whether we thought that it was a sound one or not. I believe however that due to some chowhound's love of certains foods (i.e. Mexican) they've tried to "force a square peg into a round hole" by attempting to apply these contraints to that "cuisine". I've found that problematic. What would be a better approach for them would be to suggest that the theory is rubbish in my opinion.
                                                          The theory works best I believe with France which essentially constructed a singular codified cuisine starting around the Renaissance and stretching forth to today. I keep emphasizing singularity because for me that's the beauty of the theory; that the cuisine was created and controlled as an almost singular event with an almost singular character. As "grand" as Mexican cuisine apparently is it isn't that, is it?

                                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                                            Well, judging by the passion and number of responses, I'd say you got a reaction to the theory ;-}

                                                          2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                            Mexican cuisine is as complex and developed as any other cuisine. I think what's going on here is both a lack of/ or limited amount of knowledge by the general population, stereotypes and geographic reality.

                                                            Italian and French are easily acessible to the western palette and has cultural factors related to Western Europe and the U.S. understanding it. Chinese, Turkish and Greek have a geographic connection and inter-connectiveness that the West can't ignore and has a long history due to trade routes and such.

                                                            Mexico in many ways is isolated from Europe and even the U.S. (due to xenophobia) and thus doesn't get the same "play". Even if it did get "play" it might still suffer from cliches and stereotypes of what the cuisine is about, just like Chinese food does to some non-CHs.

                                                            It some ways the general success of TexMex/anglofied version of Mexican cuisine in the U.S. is its own enemy to understanding the better stuff. Not sure how this could change but ambassadors beyond Rick Bayless and the two hot tamales would be a good start.

                                                            1. re: ML8000

                                                              I enjoyed reading the posts about Mexican food. I know that there is a bad representation of it in the US as well as many other cuisines. We only get a small taste of the real thing in the US. French seems to be marketed the best but I really think it is overrated as I travel and see more.

                                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                                Yup you are right on. Mexico has an image problem that will only be corrected if Mexico develops its economy. When that happens... it will become the next Italy. Relatively small (compared to China & India) but having a disproportionate influence on Fashion, Food, Art etc.,

                                                                In general, Mexico is this cultural behemoth waiting to be discovered. For example in the world of "Classical" Music... the country's modernists such as Manuel Ponce, Sylvestre Revueltas & Carlos Chavez, Jose Pablo Moncayo & Candeleraio Huizar produced work that was of the stature of Stravinsky, Bartok, Debussy & Shostakovich, yet they are only being discovered in Europe now. If Mexico ever becomes an economic power... I am sure the history books will come to the conclusion that no other country had such a collection of Modernist Masters... yet in their time no attention. Similarly, today Mexico has a group of a dozen composers that are creating stuff that is equally compelling as those early masters... yet they get little attention.

                                                                Mexico is just not in the path of power & influence.

                                                              2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                Some of the crops you mentioned as Mesoamerican are not: pineapple, peanut (from what is now the Amazon lowlands of Brazil and Bolivia), amaranths (Andes), cassava (Brazil).

                                                                Also, the Aztecs were desert "barbarians" from the north who conquered the Nuahuatl, not the people of science (and cuisine).

                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                  What few paltry glimpses I have had of the glories of Mexican cuisine come from a Pueblan restaraunt in Queens. I think if anyone who thinks Mexican cuisine is limited to tacos reads this post it will give you some idea. Please, Mr EatNopal, could you glance at it (and also )and maybe comment (by replying to the post on Outer Boroughs) if it sounds authentic to you.


                                                                  1. re: Brian S

                                                                    Well as complimentary as you are, how can I not respond. Check out that thread.

                                                        2. re: DanaB

                                                          I thought the Potato is from South America.

                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                              I would assume it was introduced into Mexico by the Spaniards.

                                                              1. re: Sharuf

                                                                Its use in Mesoamerica predates the Spanish, but it was domesticated in the Andes.

                                                                1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                                                  Exactly, the centers of origin of beans, potatoes, some of the amaranths, quinoa, and other crops are the Andes, largely of what is now Peru. We had the book "Crops of the Andes" when it first came out with us in Bhutan. Many of the Bhutanese mistakenly thought that many of the Andean crops were from the Himalayas.

                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                    ... better than the coffee growers who thought that they were growing the raw material for bullets.
                                                                    [totally not kidding on this one.]

                                                        3. I agree about French and Chinese, but the third is open to debate. Indian has a good claim, due to the highly sophisticated and developed concepts, and the variety and scope of ingredients and techniques.

                                                          There is a lot to be said for the "palace cuisine" theory