The customary hallmarks of any civilization by which they are measured as to worth are their arts and sciences. To be sure this is a selfish point of view in that the criterion for greatness is then simply what a civilization has created and given us. How such greatness is achieved is always a matter of hindsight and story telling that only reinforces the obvious, that it is a complex matter often depending on geography, a matter so complex that it needs its own treatment. Intertwined in the development of civilizations aare alway the ideas and structures of language and philosophy.
Among the arts of a civilization is cuisine, the art that raises the idea of eating for simple sustenance to the experience of the aesthetic pleasure.
There are only a few centers of cuisine in early recorded history. With possible argumentation on the matter, there are only three primary ancient centers: Iran/Persia, China and Dravidic India. It is no accident that these centers are also universally considered cradles of civilization.
These cuisines by their brilliance and variety have by their successive influences created all the various current bodies of national cuisine. In a good number of cases, national cuisines were not influenced enough by these centers and can hardly be called such, and so pass better for just plain cooking. In other cases, the national cuisine was a relatively late bloomer that did not come from some earlier glorious past. That, despite any national clinging, seems to happen with food as it does with art generally as it does with language.
A general and cursory chart of origins, derivations and influences among the world's cuisines, though woefully incomplete and cursory, looks something like this:
Egyptian --> Iranian Greek Roman Iranian --> Turkik --> Armenian Greek Hungarian Saharan --> Iberian --> Mexican Greek --> Roman Ethiopic --> Subsaharan Iranian --> Mogul Indian --> Burmese Chinese --> Korean Japanese Indonesian Vietnamese Thai Burmese Dravidic Indian --> Mogul Indian -> Burmese Indonesian Burmese Ethiopic --> Subsaharan Later Independent Origins and influences. Mongolian --> Tibetan --> Bhutanese Chinese Mayan --> Mexican ?Incan --> Peruvian European --> Roman --> Italian Provençal --> Parisian French German French --> Cajun Russian Italian German --> Hungarian Norse --> European Parisian French German Russian Polynesian --> Indonesian
There were past empires, powerful and extensive that western so called history tends to ignore. Two of them are Ethiopia and Khazaria. The history of Ethiopia has unfortunately been destroyed by being biblically coopted and therefore fictionalized. The rather inconvenient history of Khazaria has simply been destroyed, forgotten, expunged and repressed.
Notice that different sources can influence any cuisine multiply at different times, and that many cuisines have multiple sources, hence, the multiple entries.
A substantial number of cuisines begin with an indigenous set of methods to deal with locally available food, those methods deriving primarily from considerations of food preservation. The influence is then superposed on those indigenous methods and worked into them and also reapplied to the local comestables.
The flow of influences is always by migration, trade, or by war, conquest and occupation. The cuisines of both Hungary and Greece actually benefitted greatly from Turkik invasions. The propagation of Iranian cuisine through Western culture is both by trade and war, and perhaps the major contribution to the general propagation, and sharing of ideas, techniques and ingredients in all the world's cuisines is The Silk Road connecting Iran with China, and both connecting with almost every center of culture in between.
Iranian or Persian cuisine is heavily influenced by the reverse flow of the Persian occupation of Egypt, the one great origin of all western civilization and the origin of Greek Humanism. Put in a more divisive way, while the Greeks learned much of the foundations of their mathematics, logic and science from mesopotamia, their Humanistic philosophy comes from Egypt. Early on, Egypt understood the concept of justice (Ma'at). Then it degenerated into formal pieties in the middle kingdom, and utimately, under mesopotamian influence, it degenerated into the legalisms which have rotted the core of all western society and society, generally, ever since.
This civilization of justice most certainly did not come from mesopotamia, nor did it come to the Greeks by springing forth from head of a putative Zeus, the opinions of silly constipated classicists notwithstanding. The concept of justice, even in the ideal, had crumbled into legalisms aided and abetted by clever sophistry. The Egyptians had not invented sophistry, and originally preferred integrity and honesty.
By these methods of influence I would expect an early kind of "protocaucasian" cooking to have developed in the area between the Black and Caspian Seas that has only remnants in almost all the cuisines of the world, making it difficult to isolate, more difficult even than tracing back a Protoindoeuropean, or more properly Protoindoaryan language that was undoubtedly highly agglutinative. I will guess, however, that this is an underlying influence in all Slavic cooking, and that there is a later Norse influence. So much for that historico-theoretical construct.
Who ever has the idea that philosophy was only important to scholars has not paid attention to cuisine. Both philosophy and language have actually played an important part in guiding the development of great cuisine, most importantly in their value systems, aesthetic and otherwise. In a broad and general sense, cuisines can be theoretically polarized into those that are synthetic and those that are analytic.
Conceptually, any cuisine can be said to be defined by four components: 1) The set of available ingredients 2) The notions of proportions of ingredients 3) The techniques for treating and combining the ingredients 4) The criteria of having acheived a satisfactory result
While the first three almost define a kind of culinary engineering, the fourth is of a philosophical nature that often rises to the level of ethics. Here is where the ideas of the synthetic and analytic enter. To explain, I'll use as examples those cuisines that I think fit those polarities best.
Although both modern Chinese and modern Indian cuisine can be understood as collections of regional cooking, as any modern language can be understood as the product of a variety of influence, in both, there is an overriding, philosophically determined structure of values that I call analytic and synthetic respectively. This is an old linguistic categorization that happens to fit and correlate with philosophies of cuisine.
In analytic cuisine, the desired end product, as a manifestation of a philosophical view of reality, should have its ingredients put together and balanced in such a way that the gastronome may be able to tease apart and savor each of the components. The experience of the reality is thus intellectualized in a way that is already parsed according to a common culinary language; much of the enjoyment is in the common and agreed upon recognition of structure, and its propriety.
Cuisine has its own syntax and semantics which structures are related to history, culture and language.
In synthetic cuisine, the desired end product, as a manifestation of a philosophical view of reality, should have its ingredients put together and balanced in such a way that the gastronome may NOT be able to tease apart and savor each of the components, but is instead presented with a puzzle, a unique experience that is unlike any other, in which to delight. The intellectual delight here is quite the opposite of that in analytic cuisine in that the properly constructed cuisine is, like a philosophical perception of reality, quite indecipherable. Part of the delight is the secret or puzzle of the whole.
The creation of excellant Chinese cuisine is an entirely different thought pattern than the creation of excellant Indian cuisine. These just happen to be convenient antipodes. Thought patterns are to a large extent connected to language, and it is worth observing that while Chinese is very much an uninflected, discrete and "synthetic" language, Indian languages, although also many and various, have a uniformly highly inflected "analytic" character.
In Sino-Tibetan languages, a word is a word; words may have interrelationships, but they tend not to have substructure, since they are mostly all monosyllabic, of V, CV, VC or CVC structure.
As a sidelight, at least clearly in Chinese, there is an opposing force in the analytical direction in the written language where the ideograms have developed a semantical hierarchy of their own, which is to say that complicated ideograms can be seen as modifications or inflections, or combining forms of simpler ideograms. Not only can one can learn to read Chinese (all of its dialects which are really separate languages) without learning to speak a word, but, the thought processes of the spoken and written languages are completely different. "Was mich nicht umkehrt, das mach mich staerker." If there's a net result to that difficult situation, it remains to be seen. The morphology of Sino-Tibetan words proceeds by tonal inflection, and by extralinguistic, conceptual and metaphorical connections.
In Indo-Aryan languages, words are longer, as they develop inflectively to create new words and tend to have monosyllabic roots at their cores, that are prefixed and postfixed sometimes severally, that build up the substructure of a word that will also contain its syntactical function. A number of languages create new words by agglutinating root structures, Finnish, Hungarian, German and Turkik for example.
Categorization by synthetic and analytic are, of course, simply categorical polarities between which the realities of languages and linguistics occur.
The most ancient centers of cuisine:
Iran/Persia The Persian Empire was the world's first "great" military states that sought to "conquer the known world", and to a large extent actually did that under Cyrus the Great, about 559 BCE. It might be worth noting that the Iranians (Aryans) are the even more ancient indigenous people, while the Persians were actually later invaders.
It is also the origin of world's first great cuisine that we can still recognize as such. Persia, being at one of great crossroads of trade had available through this trade a wealth of many spices and yummy edibles, as well as the knowledge of the cooking techniques of other areas. It is not surprising then that the Persians were in a position to develop a cuisine based on such a wealth of culinary resources.
If there is a cuisine which directly holds that you are what you eat, or that what you eat determines your being and state of health it is that of India, where the very ingredients of various dishes are intimately connected with concepts of ayurvedic medicine.
Ancient civilizations that might have developed a distinctive and theoretical (philosophical) cuisine, but did not:
Ancient Gastronomic Barbarians
Later Bloomers: Italy France Mexico Peru
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