between the 6th and 13th centuries, into what is now Thailand, Laos, the Shan States of upper Burma and Northwest Vietnam. Influenced by Chinese cooking techniques, Thai cuisine flourished with the rich biodiversity of the Thai Peninsula. As a result, Thai dishes today have some similarities or Szechwan Chinese dishes.
The influence on foreign trade was also important. The Portuguese brought their sweets to King Narai`s court in the 17th century. Some say Buddhist monks from India brought curry to Thailand, Indian curry and Muslim cuisine were introduced at a palace feast in honour of King Rama I at the turn of the 18th century. Some of these dishes are still popular today including Masaman curry and yellow curry. Masaman curry contains many dried spices including cinnamon and nutmeg. Yellow curry can be spiced with turmeric, cumin, ground coriander seed and red chillies.
Cajun Cuisine could be called fusion, a combination of Southern and French food, it`s history is amazing. Immigrants of French peasant ancestry settled the Acadian region of the Bay of Funday in Nova Scotia in the early 1600`s. Tensions between the French settlers and the British forced the Acadians out of the region deep into Louisiana where they tried to reunite families. The name Acadian was transformed into Cajun by the English speaking inhabitants of Louisiana. A lukewarm Spanish government in New Orleans met the immigrants and were eager to relocate them into rural areas.
A Cajun kitchen consisted of a cast iron skillet suspended over a hearth. Mainstay foods were corn, potatoes, okra and rice. Wild game and livestock supplemented their diets. Original Cajun dishes were bland but development of the roux gave texture and dimension to their dishes, and of course, rice was used to stretch meals to feed large families.
Today’s Cajun cuisine tends to be spicier and bolder than the original recipes with popular items such as andouille, boudin, jambalaya, gumbo and etoufee. The use of the dark roux and the holy trinity of chopped green peppers, onions and celery form the complex, exciting and flavourful cuisine that we know as Cajun. Let the good times roll!
The Caribbean is in many respects the crossroads of the world, especially in the days of sail when the tradwind routes led from the far ends of the earth to the British Virgin Islands home in the Lesser Antilles.
A succession of people and cultures swept over the Caribbean bringing or finding the distinctive foods, many still eat today.
The Arawaks were followed by the fierce Caribs, for which the Caribbean is named. Explorers and many sea captains transported foods items. Colonists, settlers and planters of Spanish, Dutch, English and French origin brought their respective cuisine with them in some form.
East Indians contributed their distinctive curries, called Colombo’s in the French Antilles. Condiments such as chutneys and other food items like the widely adopted roti.
Africans were a strong influence throughout the region, bringing many food stuffs such as okras, yams and many other varieties of greens, beans and roots, as well as cooking techniques and seasonings, such Creole-style gumbos.
Derived from an African word for the okra that originally contributed its thick characteristic texture, gumbo broadens to a thick stew or soup with a hodgepodge of local ingredients, then travels to the West Indians, transmuting there into that ubiquitous soup called Callaloo that is emblematic of the Caribbean.
Often thickened with okra and well seasoned with chilli peppers and other herbs, this irresistible West Indian soup (Crab Hole and Callaloo) may be ladled out of an iron cooking pot with a wooden spoon into a calabash bowl in a Caribbean version of old age practices.
Callaloo comes in as many styles as there are islands and cooks, and refers to a complex mixture with a ``confusion`` of ingredients:
Callaloo, Strange Callaloo
Mysterious curious roux
Try as you might to avoid the hoodoo
Sooner of later we're all in the stew
We got Crab and pigtail
Squid ink and fish scale
Okra and daheen leaves
Chitchat and chatter
Fill up the platter
With a garnish of pure make believe
--Jimmy Buffet, "Callaloo" from
Don't Stop the Carnival
Strictly viewed, if that`s possible, callaloo exhibits one constant -- a spinach-like, tender green leaf. Generally from the dasheen family, the preferred variety has a large purple dot on its leaf. Sometimes the leaf is what is called callalou and the soup is called pepperpot.
The focus on the greens, including green vegetables like okra and the green leaf itself, and their preparation in the form of a thick soup or sauce expresses African inspired cooking, with its emphasis on the importance of greens and garden variety of seasonings, albeit in sensual aromatic combinations.
Paradoxically, key ingredients of callaloo and gumbo --- the chilli pepper and tomato -- originated in the New World. And their transport to Africa as foodstuffs during the Age of Discovery, before coming back as part of these distinctive dishes, demonstrates the complexity of this cultural stew that has enriched the Caribbean.
The original inhabitants of the Caribbean, the Arawaks, cured meant by smoking it over a slow fire -- no doubt a very widespread `primitive` practice. Jerk in fact means to preserve dried meat, derived from American southwest Spanish charqui, from the native South American cc`arki.
Also, the term buccaneer, a 17th century adventurer or sea robber, comes from the technique called ``boucan`` (meaning barbecue) of curing meat by smoking it slowly over a fire, its French practioners being called `buccaneers`.
And Tortola`s Beef Island gets its name from its use as pasture for cattle for this purpose by local buccaneers.
So today we see jerk pork ribs and chicken, the Jamaican being the most famous for with roadside jerk huts, smoky with open pit fires of smouldering Pimento wood to ensure the proper slow-smoke cooking.
But it`s the fire and subtlety of the seasonings that make 'jerk' what it is. Fiery Scotch Bonnet or bird peppers. Onions, scallions, Jamaican pimento or allspice, thyme, cinnamon and nutmeg are combined into a pungent ‘paste’ this is rubbed on the meat in a non-tomato based style.
Enlivening the imagination like these pungent plant parts do food, spices epitomize the exotic sunny tropics. In the days of the Spice Trade, peppercorns were worth their weight in gold. And it was the incredible value of the cloves filling the hold of Magellan’s only returning ship that ensured the financial success of his historic voyage around the world. New spices and route motivated Columbus to set sail for the East Indies in the first place – hence the West Indies name when he accidentally discovered a new land.
Except for saffron where countless tiny crocus stigmas must be plucked by hand, spices are now commonplace, inexpensive and widely grown (and annatto oil is used for saffron). Once only grown in China, ginger is a major product of Jamaica, and widely diffused via East Indian chutneys and curries throughout Caribbean cooking. Now nutmeg is synonymous with Grenada, called the Isle of Spice. Conversely as mentioned, the chilli pepper was transported to Africa for cultivation.
One of the spices, nutmeg, was brought to the Caribbean when an English sea captain brought the tree from Indonesia to Grenada (an important producer of nutmeg today). From a tall, fragrant tropical evergreen tree, and found in local markets, the best is the nut’s fresh shell with its threads of bright scarlet mace still clinging to the outside. Rum drinks favour a dusting of nutmeg, so much more flavourful when freshly grated.