Thursday, May 14, 2015

More Salad

My daughter’s first sentence was “I want more salad.” This begs the question of the actual contents of the salad since every country has a different default definition for a salad. In other words, certain ingredients are used unless specified otherwise.  That choice is dictated by the land and history of the region to a certain degree.

In Israel, salad generally implies some mixture of tomatoes and cucumbers.  Not native to the region, the warm weather and advanced agricultural techniques guarantees a yearlong supply of them.  The actual proportion depends on the relative price of those two components; a heavy proportion of cucumbers hints that tomato prices are high at the moment. Personal choice affects the choice of any additional ingredients, such as peppers and onions, and dressing. With the internationalization of food, some restaurants call this “chopped salad.”  So generally you won’t get lettuce unless it is specified in the description.

By contrast, an American salad is generally lettuce, most often iceberg, with a few token tomatoes. To be fair, lettuce in the United States is generally inexpensive and of good quality.  For the eater, the typical dinner salad does present good volume, giving the impression of value for the money.  Impressions can be much important than reality.  I have to admit that I strongly prefer my “adopted” salad over that of my birthplace mainly because of taste.

The French, strangely enough, have no particular salad but instead local specialties.  In small cafés, les crudités (a plate of raw vegetables, not foul language) is often served. Nicer restaurants may offer slices of tomatoes with mozzarella cheese.  In the south of France, a salade Niçoise, containing lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, green beans and tuna, is available everywhere.  As is the French tendency, why make it simple if you can make more it fancy (and complicated)? 

In northern Europe, due to the cold weather, cabbage is much more economical than lettuce.  There are countless cabbage dishes, coleslaw for example, served with meals.  Besides being hardier than lettuce, cabbage has much more taste, albeit a bit bitter.  The use of various dressings, such as mayonnaise and vinegar-based pickling, adds a variety to the cabbage experience.

In Asia, the norm is pickled salads.  China, Japan and Korea all suffer from a lack of agricultural land relative to their population.  Also, China traditionally used “night soil” (human waste) as a fertilizer.  Thus, vegetables are generally good but expensive relative to income.  I have heard the Japanese market prices are quite “wild” from a Western perspective.  So, the salads come in small pickled dishes with choice vegetables.  Examples include Korean kimshee, Japanese pickled daikon and Chinese pickled vegetables.  These are smaller but much tastier than their Western equivalents.

So, a salad is what the land gives to the people in plenty.  I would like to hear about your local salad.

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