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The death of national cuisines

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that most national cuisines evolved out of a history of relatively isolated local food sources and practices. For example, sushi is considered a Japanese food item because it was not exported outside the country until it had for the most part evolved into its current standard form. Similarly, curries are considered representative of Indian cuisine because the cooking techniques and traditions associated with it had pretty much been standardized by the time Victorian England discovered it. You can say the same about many other "national" (cultural may be a better term) dishes such as tamales, stinky tofu, pho, etc. In some ways, this was possible because their development occurred during a time when geographic isolation (e.g., travel before the jet age) meant cooks could mainly work only with local ingredients. Additionally, information exchange was much more difficult and slow, and it is reasonably to imagine that food trends did not travel outside a local area as fast, if at all.

Given the easy availability of what were previously purely local ingredients and the quick dissemination information about local food trends, are we witnessing the death of new national cuisines?

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  1. Interesting topic.

    I'm not certain globalization in all its many forms is so much destroying national cuisines as introducing other cuisines to them. In other words, nations around the world may come to resemble America insofar as a multiplicity of cuisines, rather than a single national cuisine, will be found there. Naturally, this means that the home cuisine will have to share the table, so to speak, with the parvenus, but it does not mean the home cuisine will disappear.

    All in all, I regard this as a positive development inasmuch as variety is the spice of life, at least when it comes to food.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Perilagu Khan

      Good point about home cooking.

      In terms of new dishes, I suppose that for it to be established as a recognized national dish it would first have to become popular with a critical mass of people within a region. In thinking of an example of a recent "national food," the only one I could come up with is bubble tea, which reportedly did not appear until the 1980s in Taiwan. Of course, it had to become popular locally before some enterprising business person decided to export it to the US and beyond (the first time I remember seeing bubble tea in the west coast was in the late 90s).

      Let's take the above scenario, however. Assume bubble tea was invented in Taiwan today. I can imagine CHers writing posts about this new drink they just had recently. Soon enough people outside Taiwan are making bubble teas and adding their own variations to the original formula. Would bubble tea be considered a Taiwanese (or even Asian) drink at that point?

    2. Examined fully, what you're talking about is a massively complex phenomenon with political, religious and social factors playing significant roles in addition to improvements in transportation and communication. But first off, I think you're overstating the degree to which any major cuisine develops "in isolation" and remains static for any historically significant period of time. In short, no, I don't think any "cultural" cuisines will be dying any time soon but the problem of course is defining what that means.

      The rate of change has been steadily increasing since the dawn of the Industrial Age, but I think you're grossly underestimating a constant historical trend to adopt new ingredients and to a lesser extent, cooking techniques, as they became available. And they were "becoming available" long before air transportation or the Internet. All cuisines change and adapt over time and different segments of populations adopt - or shun - changes at different rates. And while jet transportation is - for the time being anyway - comparatively cheap, an amazing number of foodstuffs and food preparation techniques were disseminated throughout the world by sailing vessels long before the steam engine was invented.

      A few easy examples are corn, beans, tomatoes/potatoes/eggplants, chocolate, vanilla and perhaps most importantly chile peppers, which were unknown outside the Americas until the 16th century. Is "Indian food" without chiles, eggplant and potatoes still "Indian"? Is Thai food Thai without the chiles and eggplants? European, without tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant, or for that matter rice (which the Moorish Arabs brought with them to Spain)?

      12 Replies
      1. re: MikeG

        That is correct, but the OP is also correct in noting that the rate of change has increased dramatically. And I would specificy, that in the case of the US, this change has been hastened not only by technology, but by dramatic liberalization of immigration policies in the mid-60s which has produced a tidal wave of Third World immigrants who have brought their own foodways and ingredients that have altered American cuisine dramatically. Compare the American cookbook and restaurant scene in 2009 to that in 1959 to get a picture of how radical this change has been.

        Now that said, Americans still eat pot pies, chicken and dumplings, and other "retro" dishes. But those dishes now share the spotlight with pho, sushi, injera, gai ga pao and empanadas.

        1. re: Perilagu Khan

          Apart from top-down socio-political pressure to conform to a vague/generalized WASP standard that really hit its stride in the late 19th century, I don't think "the United States" ever had a unitary "cultural" cuisine to begin with.

          Which raises the further issue of what exactly constitutes a "cultural" cuisine. Within any large political unit there will always be a lot of variation. Historically, South French cuisine is dramatically different from that in the north, Chinese and Indian cuisines vary *enormously* from region to region. Even in much smaller countries, there is a great deal of variation from place to place both in basic ingredients as well as cooking techniques.

          1. re: MikeG

            I haven't read this whole thread, but, I've recently been reading a number of books of recipes during "Colonial" America. Most of them are clearly tied to English recipes (many of which are still found in England today, but have either died out here, or are so changed that they bear little resemblance to the original), but there are also a number that clearly reflect the French and Spanish influences.

            Edit - reading the OP's comments about curries, there are a number of curry recipes (though clearly "anglicized" sp?) in those colonial recipes.

            1. re: MMRuth

              The United States is after all the "heir" to what started out as a bunch of Dutch, English, French, and Spanish colonies. :) And needless to say, massive subsequent waves of immigration not only shaped "American" cuisine but in some regions arguably defined it (like post-colonial German and Scandinavian immigration to the Midwest.)

            2. re: MikeG

              While it is true that American cuisine was never monolithic, I think it is patently undeniable that it is far more variegated now than it was, say, 125 years ago. As MMRuth alludes to, the stock that made up the American people was originally overwhelmingly British whereas the modern American volk incorporates not only the British root, but mittel European and southern European components, as well an increasing welter of Third-World elements. And that's not even taking into consideration the modern technological advances that have facilitated the fracturing if not the elimination of the old more homogeneous America cuisine.

              I suspect very strongly that this American model is being replicated throughout all technologically advanced nations that have liberal immigration regulations and an economy vibrant enough to attract immigrants.

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                I've tried to write a reply to this several times, but can't get past an outline for a 30+ page thesis. (rofl) But in short, you're talking about "American" cuisine such as it is and one of my basic premises in this sort of discussion is that America does not now, and never has had, a "national cuisine" of the sort I think the OP is talking about.

                And fwiw, for the foreseeable future, anyway, and for a lot of reasons to numerous to mention briefly, I don't think you'll find countries that have arguably well-defined "national cuisines" in the category of those that encourage large-scale, permanent immigration.

                [Edit] I'm not sure I would call it an "American" model in the first place, but I certainly don't disagree that "cuisines" do change over time, for many reasons. I was just disagreeing with the OP's suggestion that a major cause of that change is "simply" an increased exposure to foreign ingredients and foodways.

                1. re: MikeG

                  Yes, I do think that is part of the issue. In a way, we do have an American cuisine, but it is a polygot cuisine. I've been spending more and more time reading pre-20th Century cookbooks, and books about English cooking - both old and more recent, and this issue really is a fascinating one. Here's a link to a discussion about a book I read I while back, where the English author had very circumscribed ideas about what ingredients were, and were not, "permissible" in true English cooking.

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/614448

                  I find these sorts of discussions intellectually very interesting but, at the end of the day, continue to seek out deliciousness where ever I can find it.

                  1. re: MikeG

                    Well, how do you define "national cuisine"? If you can answer that question we can make some headway toward answering the question of whether or not America ever had one.

                    PS--I would argue that several Western European nations (France, Germany, Spain, Italy, etc.) have fairly well defined national cuisines, and as of the present, all of them have fairly porous borders. As a result, North African and Middle Eastern cuisines are appearing in abundance in those countries alongside the traditional host cuisine.

                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                      How do I define "national cuisine"? "Simple": the cuisine of a nation. (lol) That's part of the problem. The original poster raised a host of issues in a "simple" statement. It would take me a couple of pages to coherently parse out my initial reaction. ;)

                      But meanwhile, the OP was concerned about the potential "death" of "national cuisines" due to "the easy availability of what were previously purely local ingredients and the quick dissemination information about local food trends."

                      I think not. While I think ever-increasing globalization has and will continue to have a profound impact on the world's eating habits/patterns, I think the changes will be the result of "non-culinary" factors, not simply the availability of additional foodstuffs or awareness of others' eating habits.

                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                        People say that the US and Canada don't have a national cuisine, but I think they do. The cuisine of the US and Canada, as I see it, is defined by fresh, local ingredients, freshly prepared. The Westerners who settled this land were glad just to survive another day, so the cuisine is simple, hearty, with the occasional regional flourish. Georgia peaches! Quebec blueberries! It's a make do with what we have sort of mentality, and it was the Native people who first taught the Westerners how to prepare their corn, squash, and so on. Simply, with reverence, and above all gratitude.

                        1. re: bakersdelight

                          If it is defined by fresh, local ingredients, how can either Canada and the US, the second and third largest by land area respectively, and probably third and first most geologically and meteorologically diverse respectively, possibly have unified national cuisines? Native cuisines (native meaning contemporary natives of the nations, not aboriginal peoples) certainly. But how those could be unified in such diverse places, particularly when those places were cobbled together from culturally distinct colonies and then subjected to several waves of the largest human migrations, both forced and unforced, that have ever occurred?

                2. re: Perilagu Khan

                  The mentioning of empanadas is a good case--really they are pies. The chicken pot pie, if it wasn't in a pot/tin would be refered to as an empanada in Latin America. I'm pretty sure that even as it is, it would be described as an "empanada." Milk caramel has been renamed as dulce de leche. Sometimes it's just the same food.

              2. I'm not sure this is directly on topic but something to think about. My mother-in-law left Ireland in the 60's. At the time, the part of the country she lived in was very poor and food was basic at best. She goes back every 2 or 3 years and it's turned out that her county has become a very popular golf destination with lots of hotels and inns. Whenever she goes back, she laughs at the menus at some of these places who cater to mostly American (Irish-American) tourists who think they are having a unique irish experience (probably think they're eating like their ancestors did!) when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth. Until recenlty, only the very wealthy in Ireland had access to good food. So the resorts have invented a national cuisine!

                1 Reply
                1. re: southernitalian

                  I do see certian "Chefs" making money of certain national cusines...The smple fact is these days, if it aint nailed down, somebody is going to claim it as their own.

                  simple peoples all around the world have been eating their traditional... dishes for generations, who knew that some chefs from the Foof Netwrk would be getting rich "Interpreting" simple dishes eaten by the masses.

                  So long as the traditionalist continue to make their dishes and pass them down...this trend will soon pass.

                2. I started cooking from the age that I could reach the dials on the stove. My mom studied in cooking in France and always said the french no matter what stay true to there recipes. I also believe that all this fusion this and deconstruction that has it's place, as long as tradition and the original dishes do not lose there place in culinary history. I urge all people to learn at least one or two dishes to save your own heritage. I do love fusion sometimes

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: pikiliz

                    "My mom studied in cooking in France and always said the french no matter what stay true to there recipes."

                    At what point do you freeze time and say, okay this is our true cuisine. For example, at what point was "French Food" unquestionably French, 1850, 1950?

                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      See Waverly Root's "The Food of France" and AJ Liebling's "Between Meals" (which he claimed was occasioned by Root's book.) Liebling remarks that some regions were sufficiently distant from each other to maintain their traditions in the days before teh automobile but he lamented the rise of the Michelin guide--a means of selling tires, which he thought not unimportant. Much of what is being talked about here is touched on in Liebling. Mr Root stole all his ideas from Mario Bataglia a few years before Bataglia was born.

                      1. re: KTinNYC

                        As far as my late pa-in-law was concerned, "French food" meant what he ate there when he visited as a boy in the '30s, and what he ate there after the war. He had no patience with any newfangled messing with tradition, and was deeply annoyed when he was served snails swimming in their butter in the indentations of the dish, instead of in their shells. In the pre-war years his French relatives would take the train from their summer place near Macon over to Vonnas, and dine at the famous Mère Blanc. When we visited there in '91 we made the trek to Mme. Blanc's place, now run by her grandson Georges Blanc. We could not afford the restaurant, but lunched at the Auberge - same chef, plainer food. It was very good, not old-fashioned at all but good solid fare, nicely presented. Papa clearly thought the place had gone to hell... however, the cook at the family's place, though Spanish, had the Cuisine Bourgeois down pat; she definitely stayed "true to their recipes"!

                    2. Here in the UK, there is very much a growing return to restaurants cooking local, seasonal foods in a traditional (but updated) style. We've done the globalisation thing of being able to have asparagus every month of the year. Now, you'll see a Michelin starred chef have Lancashire Hotpot on his menu (and it was the best hotpot you'd ever want to taste).

                      Or, by way of further example, this place a few minutes drive away:

                      http://www.isinglassrestaurant.co.uk/...

                      1. Think of the post-Columbian migration of food, 500 years ago, from Central and South America to the rest of the world and what it did to local cuisines. Or to put it another way, imagine Italy without the tomato, Ireland/UK w/out the potato and India/Thailand et al without the hot chile pepper. Many other cases abound. Food has traveled since time immemorial.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          Absolutely right--I have been making this comment regarding so-called fusion cuisine ever since it emerged from the copywriter's room. It just used to be slower. Plpus, of course, transportation allows you to get an item from there to here without spoilage--or less diminution in quality---via jet. This allows some combinations that were once difficult, if not impossible, but that is not, of itself, a Good Thing. In New Orleans I keep seeing "innovative cuisine" that is not "our cooking" and some departures are fine, but most of them seem to be the sorrt of thing to make one stand out and to impress a soi-disant critic.

                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                            Passa, you're correct about food traveling since time immemorial. On the other hand, I think it's also undisputed that the pace of exchange has increased significantly since the 1500s. And as your examples point out, many of the items that were transported successfully into other cultures were limited to vegetables that could be cultivated in the adopted land.

                            To use one thought experiment, imagine how different modern French cuisine would be had items like tofu or soy sauce been easily available in continental Europe during the 1500s. Or imagine a scenario where Southeast Asia had easy access to items like wheat flour and cheese during that same time period.

                          2. I think you start with the false premise that there's some such thing as a "national cuisine." The very term implies the existence of a "nation." And the notion of a nation is a fairly modern idea.

                            Even today, India (to use one of your examples) doesn't have much in the way of a national identity. And "curry" is a word co-opted by a colonial occupier and applied to a huge variety of dishes from widely divergent culinary traditions rooted throughout South and Southeast Asia. The idea that "curry" is or has ever been "standardized by the time Victorian England discovered it" is simply absurd.

                            Even more absurd is the notion that tamales or pho developed in isolation. The most common tamale filling is pork - which came from the Spaniards. And not only does "Vietnamese" pho come from the Chinese culinary tradition, it's got a French name.

                            Yes, there are "relatively isolated local food sources and practices." But they are the exception rather than the rule. And even the most isolated cuisines have embraced foreign influences. For example, the Japanese incorporated Portuguese deep-frying techniques when they "invented" tempura. And Hawai'i - one of the most isolated places in the world until fairly recently - has developed a cuisine that is a wonderful mishmash of influences from all over the globe.

                            But very few places have been as isolated as Hawai'i or Japan. Most have exchanged ingredients, techniques, and aesthetics whenever possible. Never mind that the residents of the areas that are now France, Spain, and Italy have been swapping recipes forever; the Romans had well-established spice and incense trade routes to India more than 2000 years ago.

                            Yes, modern transportation and communications has made it quicker and easier to exchange ideas and ingredients. But the notion that this is a new thing is seriously misguided. And the idea that a "national cuisine" was anything other than an extreme anomoly is historically incorrect.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              Great post Alan. I'm curious though, how is Pho a French word? Where does it come from? Thanks.

                                1. re: southernitalian

                                  I believe pho comes from the French "feu," in that the dish is prepared similarly to pot-au-feu. The Japense word tempura is also derived from the Latin "tempora," referring to the times when the Portuguese Catholics would have abstained from meat.

                                    1. re: JungMann

                                      Fascinating! How have I missed pot-au-feu? Although, having looked at a few recipes, it's probably not something I'm going to be trying any time soon! So, based on what I'm seeing, the major difference between the two is the addition of noodles?

                                    2. re: southernitalian

                                      I think the most commonly-accepted history holds that pho was developed in the 20th century by ethnic Chinese cooks in Vietnam and named by the occupying French for its passing resemblance to pot au feu. The pronunciation of "pho" is fairly close to the French "feu" (fire). And in Laos, the soup has the same name, but is translterated "feu."

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        That'll teach me to leave a browser window open while I tend to something else. 13 minutes, five posts, and I'm the smeek.

                                  1. There is no "us", there is only the food.

                                    If Sushi tastes better with Mustard on it, then people will eat it. But, to assume that culture (food) is damaged by the introduction of new (foreign) tastes is just silly. And the whole premise smacks of unconcious jingoism. Eat what tastes good, and try not to care if things change. (Things weren't all that good in the old days anyway.)

                                    1. I think it is important in a discussion like this to understand the distinct nature of three terms:
                                      Nation is commonly used to mean the same thing as sovereign state, but this is a completely useless definition (country is similarly used for this, rendering that term useless as well). Nation, from the Latin word natio, historically referred to a group of people sharing a common heritage. It's meaning is more akin to tribe, but in a much larger sense. By this meaning, Swedes are a nation; Sweden is not.
                                      State - usually sovereign state in English, to avoid confusion with the American non-sovereign states, often termed federated states - historically has been the designation for a territory under unified control, or what Americans usually call a country.
                                      While those two ideas date to antiquity, the third, the nation state, is a very modern idea. A nation state is a state which acts as sovereign for a nation. Exactly how this definition can be applied is debatable. France, for instance, is widely considered a nation state, but the French state existed prior to the idea of a French people. Germany could be considered a nation state, though German nationalism movements of the past have usually included a desire to unite all the Germanic peoples as a single nation state. The key is that the people of a nation state identify their nation as their state. The people of Provence are French first. Where a similar idea is not held, a nation state does not exist.
                                      Now, how does this affect the idea of a national cuisine? First, I would say that a cuisine can be tied to a nation, but not to the idea of a state. It has become difficult in the modern era to even tie a cuisine to a nation, however, because of the rise of the nation state. People in Provence might be French first, Provencal second, but their food is Provencal first, French second (or even Occitan second, French third).
                                      Second, many cuisines can be tied to stateless nations, such as Palestinian cuisine.
                                      Perhaps most importantly, a great number of scholars agree that the idea of the nation statehas outlived its usefulness, and has already begun to die a slow death. Globalization is an important fact in this, but the bigger factor is the rise of powerful supra-national entities such as the European Union. There is much speculation on what will happen to the nation after the death of the nation state. If we take the European Union as an example of how this might play out, then it seems that nations will grow in number and that national identity will grow stronger. The European Union has worked hard to preserve small cultures and dying languages, and, since its inception, there has been a revival of regional cultures, particularly within France, Spain, and Italy. In the last fifteen years, there have been a number of new autonomous provinces formed in these places, as well as devolution in the United Kingdom (resulting in a new Scottish and Welsh nationalism).
                                      Because of all of this, if anything, I would say that there will be a growth in the number of national cuisines, as well as a strengthening of their importance. The USSR broke up, and each of the former SSRs has seen a revival of its native culture: its music, its arts, its religion, and its food. Some have even seen as an effect of this that old regional and cultural identities within the new state are being rediscovered (the Ruthenians in Ukraine being one such example). I can think of half a dozen nationalist independence movements in Europe and Russia alone.
                                      Whatever the cause, we've seen an upswing in national identity on a smaller scale. As long as this is the case, national cuisines will continue to be treasured. They will also, of course, change over time. The most substantial driving force behind regional and national cuisine has always been climate, and that is already changing drastically in some areas, with the rest of the world soon to follow.
                                      There will also always be new nations born. Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi Jews, each with a distinct culture and cuisine, came together in the 20th century to form the nation of Israel, which has since formed its own unique national cuisine. Tuvalu will be swallowed by the ocean at some point in my lifetime, and that nation will need a new home. The Romani may one day be given a homeland. Alaska will continue to thaw and its northern coast will be the new American frontier, with a new culture and new cuisine, just like the endless succession of old frontiers.
                                      That's all not even to mention new movements in nationalism, the evolution of plants and animals (natural or human directed), the potential for human habitation of other planets or moons, war, famine, continental drift, and who knows what else.
                                      There are far too many people for anything resembling a unified culture to ever be born, and the spaces we inhabit are too constantly changing for cultures to continue on unchanged over long stretches of time.

                                      1. As the OP, I'd like to clarify that I never said (or even assumed) the introduction of new and foreign tastes "damages" cultural food. Having lived in Taiwan and Ecuador, I'm certainly grateful for the robust variety of cultural food available to us today in the US and think cross-pollination of food traditions and techniques is alive and kicking for a good reason: like someone mentioned earlier, variety is the spice of life.

                                        Alanbarnes makes a good point about the dangers of beginning a discussion with the presumption that there exists such a thing as "national cuisine." In fact, my original posting acknowledged as much when I wrote that the term "cultural" would perhaps be a more accurate descriptor than "national" in describing certain dishes. While I understand there is some uneasiness with categorizing food into geographic locations, I think it's unrealistic to deny that certain dishes are associated with certain cultures. Alan is correct, of course, that many "cultural" dishes would never exist without introduction of "foreign" cooking traditions. However, one cannot deny that certain foods are so associated with certain places and cultures the foods can be said to be "from" those cultures. Ask the average joe with some interest in food and he will most likely tell you that baguettes are a French food item. Yet, he will also tell you that bahn mi is Vietnamese, notwithstanding the fact that its central ingredient is French.

                                        In any event, my initial post was born out of the question of what NEW (cultural/national/regional) cuisines we can expect to see, if any, in 50-100 years, given the effects of globalization and the much faster transfer of food trends thanks to the internet.

                                        I'd like to give another example of my line of reasoning. While molecular gastronomy has origins outside Spain, Ferran Adria's work has done much to popularize this particular style of cooking (although he considers himself a deconstructivist). Yet, most (but not all) people would not associate molecular gastronomy with any particular region, and certainly not Spain. In part, this is because the technique was picked up by other chefs in other parts of the world within a relatively short time of El Bulli achieving fame. Yet, had Adria's work remained mostly regional for, say, 100 years (let's imagine a world without modern mass communication), it's conceivable that molecular gastronomy/deconstruction would be recognized as a Barcelonan cuisine.

                                        1. I'm afraid this denial of the existence of national cuisines springs from the lamentable nihilism of our age. Because we find it difficult to define or abstract a quiddity we rush to deny its existence. We see that something has changed or been influenced by something else and we claim there is no there there. But automobiles, for example, have evolved and been influenced by other apparatuses and yet they still exist. (Cue the postmodern chowhound who will tell us that cars do not exist because you cannot draw distinctions between cars, vans, station wagons and SUVs).

                                          National cuisines likewise exist. They are a bit murky and a bit slippery but they are there. That is why we have French restaurants and Italian cookbooks.

                                          National cuisines are thus a bit like pornography--the public knows it when they see it. It is only those of an academic mindset and a deconstructive bent who would overintellectualize things--such as nations and their cuisines--out of existence.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                            Using your cookbook example...

                                            Call me postmodern if you will; I'll go along with Sicilian food, Florentine food, Genovese food, etc. But there's no such thing as "Italian food" outside of the Olive Garden.

                                            While the many food cultures that exist within the borders of Italy have more in common with each other than they do with the food culture of, say, Peru, the traditional foods of Savoy are much more closely related to those of France's Rhone valley than to southern Italy. Culinarily and geographically speaking, Turin is much closer to Grenoble than Naples.

                                            Declining to lump these diverse foodways together and indiscriminately label them "Italian food" based on arbitrary (and until fairly recently, constantly shifting) political borders is the opposite of nihilism. It's a recognition and a celebration of the many traditions that give us delicious things to eat.

                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                              Regional variation does not nullify national cuisine. Sure Florentine cuisine differs from Sicilian. But there is no nation on earth except for Italy that has given birth to Florentine, Sicilian, Venetian, Abruzzese and many other sub-cuisines to boot. It is the coherence of this multiplicity of interrelated cuisines under a broader culture that has seen fit to organize itself as a nation-state, that seperates one nation's cuisine from another. And recognition of this fact hardly oppresses almighty gustatory diversity. Rather, it situates it in a broader and more generally recognizable context.

                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                The unification of Italy had very little to do with interrelation of cultural elements or the people of those various cultures seeing fit to organize themselves as a nation-state. It was a movement born of the ambition of Italian nobility, a common hatred of the Germanic nations that had plagued their politics since the days of the Roman Republic, and a dissatisfaction with their traditional protector, France. If Piedmont had reason to believe France could protect it from Austria, it would have had no reason to join in the unification of Italy. It was a political necessity.

                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                  But the notion of a nation-state didn't even exist until the nineteenth century, long after these cuisines had matured. And the borders drawn between political entities are inherently arbitrary. Did the food served in Strasbourg switch from being "German food" to being "French food" when the border moved in 1918? Of course not.

                                                2. re: alanbarnes

                                                  Not surprisingly, the Piedmontese language is also much closer to Occitan than it is to Tuscan (or to Italian, which developed mostly from Tuscan). It would have been very difficult for a commoner from Piedmont to communicate with anyone in Florence or Rome prior to about 1900, but they could have gotten by even in Barcelona or Paris. It would be pretty difficult for a unified cuisine to have grown up in a place with so many mutually unintelligible languages

                                              2. I note that the picking apart of the concept of an Italian nation and cuisine centers upon the far northern and northwestern principalities. And that's fine as far as it goes. But those are outliers. The vast majority of the remaining principalities within Italy have long shared a common language (different dialects notwithstanding), a common history extending to the Roman republic and empire, and an overlapping culinary heritage. Making exceptions for outliers, we can still accept that there is a predominant cuisine within the confines of the Italian nation that may justifiably be termed Italian.

                                                I would also add that peoples generally get the government and the polity they deserve and are willing to accept. The Risorgiemento may have been a project of the nobility, but if the people of what is now Italy truly desired to put that project asunder they could do it. So far--and certain northern disgruntlement with Mezzagiorno notwithstanding--they have not seen fit to do so.

                                                And this is to say nothing of France, which is more unitary than Italy!

                                                6 Replies
                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                  First of all, the different Italian languages are not dialects in the English sense of the word. They are referred to as dialects because this is historically what Italians have called them, but the different groups are no more similar to each other than English is to Dutch.
                                                  The northern examples are hardly outliers. Northern, Central, and Southern Italy had almost nothing to do with each other for close to 1500 years. There is not much more similarity in their cuisines than each has to the rest of Mediterranean cuisine.
                                                  There are also strong secessionist movements in Italy. Some of these do command a majority of their region. But central governments rarely will allow a secession to take place, so it's just not true to say that if the people of Italy truly desired to split up they could. Some regions have tried hard to secede and only been granted autonomy.
                                                  This is true the world over. Secessionist struggles usually yield one of two results: the secessionist group is unwilling to become violent; or, war results that makes the American Civil War seem mild. Southern secession had nearly unanimous support in the American South, and the Union clearly didn't just say, "OK, you want it, you got it."
                                                  Even France is rife with secessionist movements, with the Basque movement being supported by absolutely every Euskaldunak I've met in either France or Spain. It's difficult to name a country where there is no current secessionist struggle going on. They don't all have widespread support, but even most western nations have at least one region where a majority or near majority wants to split off. Here's the list Wikipedia has, which I highly doubt is even close to complete: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...
                                                  Except in very small or very sparsely populated nations, I've just never seen the kind of national unity you are claiming.

                                                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                    Yes, Italian "dialects" are more akin to separate languages than mere dialects as Americans know them, but the more important point is that Italian is the lingua franca of all regions in Italy and is spoken by virtually everybody in the country. It is also a centripetal political and cultural force.

                                                    Second, it is not correct to say that the principalities that comprise Italy had nothing to do with one another for 1,500 years. Yes, the various regions were rarely if ever governed by one flag as they are now, but they at various times have been ruled by Langobards, Ostrogoths, Ottonians, the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburgs. And even when the cities and principalities were broken into small duchies and city-states (primarily the Early Modern period), they were in close concert with one another and shared a great deal culturally, econimically and I dare say, in terms of cuisine as well. Toward that end I would say that even today (particularly today) the food in Turin has more in common with that in Bari than it does with the kitchens of Marseilles.

                                                    As to seccessionist movements, sure, they are rife around the planet, but in the vast, vast majority of cases, are merely epiphenomena commanding the allegiance of a tiny percentage of the population. They are numerous; they are also exiguous. There is a reason we don't see daily mass marches throughout the streets of Milan, or Florence or Naples demanding dissolution of the government in Rome as we did in, say, Poland during the waning days of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. The broadbased desire and fervor for change simply are not there.

                                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                      The Langobards, Ostrogoths, Ottonians, and the dozens of Germanic noble families, including the Hapsburgs, never ruled all of the Italian peninsula. Northern Italy, Central Italy, Southern Italy, and Sicily were nearly always ruled by different factions, and, starting in the High Middle Ages, were not even usually internally unified.
                                                      Areas that are interact frequently with each other and start out speaking the same language don't end up developing mutually unintelligibile languages. Sure, all Italian citizens have learned to speak Italian in grammar school since Mussolini gained power, but it takes a lot longer than a century to unify a people. Everyone in Tibet speaks Mandarin, and is indoctrinated into Maoist culture in grammar school. That doesn't make Tibetans Chinese, though they may very well be by the time I die.
                                                      I would say that the reason they are not marching in the street is not a lack of support for independence or greater autonomy, but a matter of the intensity with which they care. As I said, every Euskaldunak I've known fully supports Basque independence, but that doesn't mean any of them have every done anything more than complain about it over pintxos.
                                                      Anyway, we clearly just have a disagreement over what constitutes a cuisine. I wouldn't claim there isn't similarity to the various cuisines of Italy, I just think it takes a lot more than similarity to call something a unified cuisine. To me Ligurian, Occitan, and Catalan together come closer to being a unified cuisine than Italian, French, and Spanish do individually.

                                                    2. re: danieljdwyer

                                                      A language is just a dialect with an army. There is no REAL cut and dried definitive term to differentiate dialect and language. All that can be said is that a language may be a language of state, a dialect not. If a dialect is a language of state--it is a language.

                                                    3. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                      Extreme examples make for the clearest illustrations. But it's worth noting that these "outliers" - as you call them - are the cradle of Italian nationalism. The idea that everything from the Alps to Sicily should be united had its genesis in the Piedmont and Genoa, and it was the House of Savoy (French roots and all) that actually accomplished unification. Kind of strange to exclude the first Italian nationalists and those who founded and ruled the Kingdom of Italy when you're trying to define the Italian nation. Nevertheless...

                                                      You're correct that the entire Italian peninsula was once ruled by the Roman Empire. But so was everything from England to Asia Minor. Does that make mushy peas and baba ganoush "Italian food," too?

                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                        As was noted, the Risorgiemento was a project of the nobility, was political, and therefore did not necessarily spring from a general will. Ergo, Piedmont may well have been the Hotspur of Italian nationalism without representing Italic culture to any signficant degree.

                                                        You, too, are correct in noting the Roman presence in perfidious Albion. You overlook, however, the fact that that presence was fleeting in comparison to Rome's rule over the Italian peninsula and its cultural impact concomitantly minimal. In answer to your question, no, mushy peas, despite a superficial resemblance to risi e bisi, is not Italian food. Neither is lamprey pie, for the matter of it.

                                                    4. (I have no idea where this fits in, since this thread seems to be about European history now.)

                                                      Along the lines of the original post, I find that when I travel to large cities in Europe, Australia/New Zealand, US and Canada, I prefer NOT to eat at expensive restaurants, because they all seem to draw so much influence from everywhere, that they ironically wind up resembling each other. I've found myself confusing expensive meals I've had in London, New York, Berlin, Melbourne, Paris, Auckland, Toronto, San Francisco and Lisbon, because they all blended into a generic "modern international" category.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: dump123456789

                                                        An interesting and I believe accurate point. Fusion and multi-culti, for all their professed worship of "diversity," often produce homogeneity. Oh the irony.

                                                      2. I haven't noticed any deadly threats to national cuisines around the globe over the past almost 60 years. Even the cuisines of the many colonized nations have not been dealt death blows.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                          The biggest threat to national cuisines just might be global warming, loss of animal/plant habitats, overfishing, and similar problems. Many ingredients are simply going to either completely disappear, or become incredibly expensive. (It's been gloomy outside all day, guess the weather has rubbed off on my mood.)

                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                            Yes, global diets will change with the impacts of global climate change - but people will adapt their national cuisines in ways that they will still be clearly recognizable as such.

                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                              Yes, a golden cod hangs suspended from the state house in Boston, the city that the Atlantic cod made possible and fish that made New England style fish chowder famous. Due to over fishing, the cod fishery has collapsed so dramatically that the cod populations are never expected to recover. A sad irony that the local chain supermarkets have had Alaskan cod on sale.
                                                              I enjoy Marc Kurlansky's bools on fod and history in Salt, Cod, and the one about the New York City oyster.

                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                What will be interesting is how the potentially hundreds of millions of climate refugees will adapt their national cuisines. Regardless of what happens in Copenhagen and the many similar conferences to come over the years, it's pretty inevitable that most of Bangladesh is going to be under water sometime in the next few centuries, maybe even in my lifetime. On of the plans being bounced around is to settle the refugees in Western Australia. How will a culture based around a river delta adapt its cuisine to one of the most arid regions of the Earth? I suppose its kind of morbid to speculate on, but I do wonder.

                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                  Hi, Sam,
                                                                  I value your knowledge, so hang in there , my friend. Dig the crampons in. We are all lifting you up, and there is no one who knows what you do on this topic, so we really need you.

                                                            2. << Correct me if I'm wrong, ...>>

                                                              I love a challenge...

                                                              << but it seems that most national cuisines evolved out of a history of relatively isolated local food sources and practices. >>

                                                              National / state / regional cuisines are a thing of the moment. They change with time. The spice routes through Asia and Europe brought flavours and cuisines from one end of the Earth to the other. The crossing of the Atlantic brought tomatoes, potatoes, peppers / chillies to Europe. So the tomato is 'new' to Italy, but I think we agree it is firmly embedded in (say) Sicilian cuisine. Species have become extinct or domesticated. Plants have been bred through millennia for characteristics.

                                                              All that being said, I believe your proposition to be fundamentally true, but with additions. These include transport, (as mentioned by others) fuel supply, population, over-grazing, foreign pests, technology and religion. And probably a bunch of others I have missed.

                                                              I upset someone else in another thread by saying that cuisines are normally geographic rather than national and ownership belongs to those that use them. Words like 'Italian' are epithets.

                                                              Cusines have and will evolve like the English language, for the best and to suit the current climate. Although climate itself may be responsible for many future changes.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                You forgot beans, peanuts, amaranths, cassava, maize, and many other New World crops.

                                                              2. Live overseas during Thanksgiving and one learns a lot about American national cuisine when there is no turkey, cranberries, yams, pumpkin, or corn available on the local market.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                  Oh, its all available in Colombia: frozen turkey @ $5.00 a lb, a can of OS cranberry @ $12.00 and plenty of yams, pumpkin (expensive), and maize.

                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                    Yes, I found T-giving foods sometimes available at expensive speciality stores in big cities, but not ever at the local markets. In Helsinki we had to order peanut butter, for the kids, by the case (they would not order less because no one locally bought the "brown disgusting looking stuff") at the health food store.
                                                                    What could you have found in Tarija, southern Bolivia???

                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                      The perfect holiday goat and more beautiful young women than you could shake a stack at.

                                                                2. Curries are reprentative of many cuisines throughout southeast asia because of the spice trade centuries ago. Goa, in India has facets of its culture and cuisine that are Chinese. What I lament is the loss of regional southern cooking to the like of Chilis, Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill (what's with that anyway?) and the like. You could drive across the country and eat at national chain all the way...... Cracker Barrel too. More than half the barbeque I've seen in the Carolinas in over a year here isn't even smoked. Sauce from a bottle. Chinese buffets catering to lowest common denominator tastes. So sure, in this country we probably are. Frozen felaffel is just horrid. Steak Ums type fast food gyro meat? Taco Bell and KY Fried co-located just confuses me........ Anything that becomes popular will hit bottom given enough time. Is that just us in the US?

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: lil magill

                                                                    "Is that just us in the US?"

                                                                    Unfortunately, no. There are similar issues in the UK. We have taken to American style fast food and to the all-you-can-eat buffet with a vengeance. Seems to me that many Brits will eat any crap so long as it's cheap and there's a lot of it.

                                                                    1. re: lil magill

                                                                      lil, this is why I refuse to eat at chains! Check out my postings on a Chowhound Road trip. Scar and I put on 4300 mi ( around 6000 k) in 8 days through the southwest and rural south and were never even tempted by a chain. Great chow and regional American food.
                                                                      Harters: I've only eaten at a Whimpey's (in Oxford) once ant that was once too many.
                                                                      Carpe Dogracs!

                                                                    2. nobody has yet discussed the foods eaten by Jews - obviously you cannot call it Jewish food (the food is not Jewish only people can be) neither is it Kosher or Kosher style because that does not make sense either. So I guess there really is no name for it but if we call it Kosher style food for want of a better term - it is interesting how the US and UK have diverged in the past 100 years.
                                                                      For example there are no bialys in the UK only the US, Jews do not eat latkes with either apple sauce or sour cream in the UK, corned beef is known as salt beef in the UK and is not really the same cut or texture. The Brits do not use the words nova or lox it is all known as smoked salmon. The Brits fry their gefilte fish although some people do make it boiled it is unusual. Noodle kugel (words not used in the UK) is NEVER made with any dairy as it is in the US. There are others but I need to go out.

                                                                      So we have this divergence amongst a group of people who emigrated from Eastern Europe between 60 and 120 years ago to different parts of the globe.

                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                      1. re: smartie

                                                                        Interesting observations, smartie. Do you know of any reasons why the food of the two communities has developed so differently?

                                                                        My metropolitian centre (Manchester) was always an area to which East European Jews immigrated in the late 19th century but, today, if I look at local Kosher/Jewish restaurants (of which there are few) there seems little on the menu to reflect that heritage.

                                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                                          you mean like Kosher Chinese or Kosher Indian? :)

                                                                          1. re: smartie

                                                                            Here in Toronto we have a number of cuisines serving halal, from halal donuts, pizza and falafel to Hakka.

                                                                            To a lesser extent this is also true of kosher.

                                                                            1. re: smartie

                                                                              No. I mean I wonder if Jews immigrating to the UK chose to not retain their original culinary traditions (excepting, of course, the requirementsd of their faith) whilst Jew immigrating to America did. You pointed out the differences, I wondered if you might know of reasons why.

                                                                              1. re: Harters

                                                                                I am not saying they haven't retained it I am saying that there are differences.

                                                                                1. re: smartie

                                                                                  That's why I was asking if you knew of any reasons why the two communities have developed the differences.

                                                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                                                    I guess availability of produce and other goods, markets, adaptation to local ways of life, assimilation.

                                                                          2. re: smartie

                                                                            pedantic side note - lox isn;t smoked salmon. it isn't smoked.

                                                                          3. Doesn't the OP mean to ask if we are witnessing the death of "old" national cuisines?
                                                                            I'd like to agree that all cuisines change and adapt over time and don't "die".

                                                                            1. I've become convinced that the greatest threat to national cuisines is the spread of American-style fast food. It's disheartening to be in a city where great local street food is readily available at a reasonable cost, only to see people streaming into McDonalds, etc.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                Hmm. And what do you propose to do about this "lamentable" phenomenon?