Sunday, November 30, 2014

Food conclusions

Translations without cultural explanation can be deceiving even for the casual tourist.  While food items may seem simple to guess or find in the most basic pocket dictionary, naïve readers may be unaware of what they will be getting.

For example, most cultures have meat as an essential part of any serious meal.  However, the term meat left unspecified has a clear significant for the locals that may not be known to visitors, mainly based on the most economic and prevalent form of it.  For example, in countries with significant quantities of land water, beef is the common main course of a dinner.  By contrast, if the media inn Israel talks about families that cannot afford meat during the week, it is referring to chicken, which is affordable to most families, as compared to beef products, which are expensive and not especially good (granted with a few exceptions).  New Zealanders, outnumbered by their sheep, do their best to reduce the quantity of the latter.  The Chinese, often living in cramped conditions or poor land (a high percentage of China is actually mountain or desert), assume that pork is on the menu.  Some countries, such as France, are blessed with a rich variety and quality of land. For them, meat is meat, i.e. derived from an animal source and needing to be specified. 

In the same vein, it is common to eat a salad with that meat but it is not always clear to visitors what they will get.  In the United States, lettuce with a few tomatoes is the standard fare.  In the Middle East, lettuce is exotic but finely diced tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley are served everywhere.  Europe tends to have sliced vegetables, including the basic crudités in France, which means the raw variety. South Korea is famous for Kim Chee, a fermented cabbage based dish. For that matter, steamed or pickled cabbage is the basic green in China (historically because the use of “night soil”, i.e. human feces, rendered eating raw vegetables quite dangerous).

We need our daily bread, or so it is said, but the form of that bread can vary from country to country.  The United States generally services some kind of white flour roll unless you are sitting in an upscale or foreign restaurant.  The baguette rules in Italy and France, curiously enough even in Chinese restaurants.  By contrast, good brown bread is available in Germany and Holland, but has to be ordered in the former.  Local Middle Eastern food, especially humus, is automatically accompanied by pitta, a pocket bread, except during Pesach where even Arab restaurants have matzo, unleavened bread, available for their somewhat observant diners. India is famous for na’an and other flatbread.

Finally, locals tend to drink different beverages.  The French love their wine with any meal, claiming with some possible justification that it leads to better health and sex.  The Chinese are famous for their tea.  In Eastern Europe including Germany, beer is inexpensive and good though I am not quite so confident of its positive effect on life expectancy and intimacy.  Americans, being the land of plenty, drink everything, including milk. Once soft drinks were once the norm in Israel, but the Russian immigration has brought with it greater consumption of alcohol of all kinds, for better or worse.

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