Several European countries have a long colonial history behind them; in the case of Spain and Portugal, in particular, many centuries. And yet, when we review what this history of relations with its former colonies has contributed to its traditional recipe book, we generally find few examples, and that attracts attention.
Yes, products from other parts of the world - potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples, peppers, beans ... - have been incorporated into their culinary heritage, but dishes born in the colonies, or at least related to them, are very scarce . Why?
In the case of France, the great European gastronomic power, the American historian Lauren Janes, in her book Colonial Food in Interwar Paris: The Taste of Empire (Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2016) provides a hard but plausible answer: it was considered the cuisine of colonized countries as inferior, primitive, despicable. And if some of its elements were finally incorporated, it was as a raw material: the pineapple here, the curry spices of the Indian subcontinent there ...
Despite its nascent popularity between the two wars, Janes explains that the range of colonial dishes was very limited: with a little pineapple a touch of a French dessert was given, which was possibly the first case of fusion. The gastronomic magazines Le Pot-au-Feu and Le Cordon Bleu , which disseminated these novelties, also published articles that exaggerated the differences with non-Western peoples, representing them as eaters of disgusting dishes . That stopped any attempt to go further in culinary discoveries.
Looking closer, that negative vision is not without credibility. The cuisine of the colonies or former colonies only massively reached the European metropolis after World War II, usually to food houses in the neighborhoods where immigrants from those -or of China, which was never formally a colony-lived, and gradually They were known and appreciated by the local population. Generally, when the colonies had already become independent.
The success of these exotic kitchens in Great Britain and the Netherlands, whose native diet was particularly mediocre, was particularly great. Indian curry , with meat or vegetables, was probably the first colonial contribution that triumphed in Europe, among the British. And years later, after the independence of Indonesia in 1956, an important exile of pro-Dutch Indonesians filled Amsterdam and, above all, The Hague of beach bars - and some fancy premises - in which the rice-based nasi goreng was served and the bami goreng of noodles, or the copious rijsttafel or rice table, which is a display of multiple and spicy dishes that summarize the culinary heritage of Indonesia.
However, the lines that separated the kitchen from the metropolis and that of the former metropolis were maintained. It would not be until well into the 80s of the twentieth century when the concept of fusion cuisine - which was advanced since 1978 by the brilliant Toledo designer Abraham García from his Madrid restaurant Viridiana - became widespread, and obviously today we have it everywhere.
A modest but fun dish that we can consider fusion did appear in a colonial power - already in low hours - when it was still controlling a colony: this is what we call Cuban rice in Spain, a dish almost disappeared today from our Tascas and that some miss.
In the nineteenth-century Cuba it was very common to eat fried eggs accompanied by rice, tomato sauce and a true native ingredient: large slices of green male banana -and therefore nothing sweet-, fried and crispy. When Spaniards from Cuba returned to the metropolis they intended to continue enjoying it, but on this side of the Atlantic we did not have male bananas. Then a cook or a cook - whose identity, as we know, has not transcended - had the idea of simply replacing them with sweet Canarian bananas, which were fried whole or cut lengthwise in two.
The flavor of the dish was, of course, totally different from that of the original version, but that did not prevent its success and so we had our small Hispanic-Cuban fusion, and all this a century before the rest of Europe began to merge.
Our neighbor Portugal was not much to mix, but to adopt the colonial dishes themselves, in particular that tasty chicken ( frango , in Portuguese) with piri piri sauce arriving from the African colonies and that is of an important but addictive spicy level. What happens is that it inevitably incorporates some elements of the metropolis or Westerners and we can consider it fused: yes, on the one hand it has chilli piri piri (sometimes, with other chili peppers) and brown sugar, but also olive oil, lemon, oregano , garlic, ginger and Tabasco and soy sauces.
In 2019 we have made a qualitative and quantitative leap. And one of the factors of diversification and the appeal of fusion cuisine in Spain is the number of young chefs arriving from distant countries that are trained in modern or traditional restaurants in Madrid, Catalonia or the Basque Country and then launch to combine what they learned with their own traditions: let them know, for example, what the Korean Luke Jang in his Luke or the Chinese Julio Zhang in his Soy Kitchen do in Madrid. We have taken, but we are already merged to the brim. Enjoy it.
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