Of blood, sweat, tears and food

By Othman O'Malley

I am a gastronaut, dedicated to exploring the vast food universe, my taste buds my only guide. Every dish is a poem. Dim sum and tapas can be short, witty little morsels of prose. The wise and ancient curries remind you that there is at least one universal truth, spice is nice.

Food is a region’s diary. It tells you who was there and where they went. A dish is an indentation, a footprint of someone who brought their guns, religion, technology and palates to a new region. Regions with a history of starvation, poverty, war, human migration and other heavenly curses are blessed with the most sublime dishes.

Morocco, for example has an esteemed culinary tradition. Its political history on the other hand, is less so. Through a long history of war, migration and trade Moroccans are the beneficiaries of Berber, Arab, Sephardic Jewish, African, French and Spanish cultures. Breakfasts are often a French affair, with croissants and baguettes on display.

Or they can take a walk on the Berber side with loaves of anise-infused bread, Argan and olive oils, honey and mint tea. Sfinge, a fried dough in the shape of a doughnut, is the creation of the Moroccan Jewish community and is as ubiquitous as bagels are here.

American cuisine has benefited from war and starvation too, albeit on other shores. “But Othman, what is this American Cuisine you speak of? You talking about Mc Burger Castle?” I didn’t stutter my friend. I said American Cuisine. We may not have invented the pizza, but we certainly perfected it! We may not have created the first noodle, but I dare you to turn away from a plate of homemade mac and cheese. Our huddled masses not only came over with lice, but with some great recipes as well.

This brings me to another dictum. The best food is peasant food. These are dishes that were lovingly put together by people who didn’t have much meat, but had access to fresh ingredients and a handful of whatever was lying around. What is the regal, yet tasteless filet mignon when compared to a beautifully executed blood sausage? It is nothing.

Respect the desperation that caused the first person to stuff an intestine with blood, fat and some grains as you enjoy every last delicious bite. Could the creation of delectable foods by the peasant class have been a form of silent resistance? “You may have your wine land owner but I am thoroughly enjoying the Rakia from the rotting fruits that you graciously left for me!” Poor cooks are Ché with a spice rack.

Not all is well in the world of food however. Today we find countless peasant classics: polenta, ratatouille or pasta dishes being served with a side of pretense for $20. What is this absurdity? No longer content with their bland all-meat dishes, the ruling classes have now taken good, honest food and priced the lower classes out of their own culinary tradition. May gout strike them all!

Othman would actually like a filet right about now.