A Great Gastronomical Mystery

I love cooking not only because I love food and could spend my days cow-like grazing on edibles but also because I love experimenting with flavour and fragrance.   A few years back I discovered there was something called fusion cuisine and I have been inspired by it ever since.  In fact I can’t remember the last time I made something clearly identifiable as ‘Italian’ or ‘Burmese’.  Neither can the Mr.  He says I’m ‘innovative’. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t think I’m a great cook.   I make a mean roast lamb after all, inspired by Greek cuisine but mostly marinaded in Moroccan spices.


Source:  Wikipedia

So it probably goes without saying that I love the Food Network but sadly don’t get to watch it as much as I would like to, which brings me to this week’s topic:  Great Mysteries.

Now you’re probably wondering what has food got to do with the unravelling of deep existential questions like  ‘What is the meaning of life?’ or ‘What came first, the chicken or the egg?’

Probably nothing.  Maybe everything.  But because I’m shallow and pretentious I have never spent more than a nanosecond pondering those questions, instead I allow other mysteries like the one I am about to share with you to tumble about in the laundromat of my mind.

There is something called Peranakan cuisine.  Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to sample it on your adventures or in Indonesia.  Peranakan cuisine is the product of an intermarriage between Chinese, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines and the basis of it usually contains ingredients like coconut milk and lemon grass.   There is a nut – much prized – in Indonesia called Buah keluak.  Should you stumble upon one on your wanderings through untamed regions of Indonesia you should not under any circumstances eat it.  It will kill you unless you boil it first and then bury it for 40 days under ash and soak it in water for three days to soften the shell before eating it.  Apparently it tastes like chocolate.

My question is this: who were those first men and/or women? 39 brave volunteers (whose names are not recorded on stone tablets; no statues built in their honour) that consumed this nut and died in order for future generations to consume this chocolatey delight?

Why oh why is there no honour roll for these gastronomic heroes?   I want to write songs about them.

Do you find yourself wondering how certain foods got on the menu?










13 thoughts on “A Great Gastronomical Mystery

  1. Well, yes – things like oysters – they look disgusting but are divine, and the puffa fish with its poisonous sac – how did the first people to eat that know what they were doing?! How many died before they realised? And even, who decided to mix flour and butter to make the first ever sponge cake? So many thoughts – fun post!

    • there are just so many odd and indigestible looking creatures and plants etc out there that I continue to be amazed at how we risk life and limb for a taste! thanks for the comment Jenny 😀

  2. I can fully understand, and indeed approve of, a natural curiosity about what might be edible in the world around you. What puzzles me most is who looked at a list of ingredients along the line of corn maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, sodium diacetate, hydrolyzed soy protein, artificial colours and beef tallow, for example, and thought to themselves “Why, yes, behold it is good, we shall call it the Dorito!” I think that a general loss of interest in what exactly it is that we’re eating means that we’re still dying for the sake of trying out novelty foods, we’re just doing it slower. And I say that as a person who still deliberately looks the other way at moments of weakness!

    • LOL Em! Yes to Doritos and many other delicious snacks that are made up almost entirely of corn by-products. I try hard to stick to the natural and so called ‘organic’ fare but like you say, we all have our moments…

  3. Yolanda, fun post indeed. I never thought about those things before. Or mushrooms. I guess people had to die in that case too, in order to weed out the non poisonous ones. And you are risking your LIFE to cook with this stuff?????????? You are brave beyond belief. I am sure the pecan pie-ness of your personality is what you take to the kitchen! Lucky Husband.

  4. Really interesting thoughts Yolanda and so true – the nut you describe in particular – why didn’t they decide after the first time someone died that it wasn’t good to eat and how on earth did they think to bury it in ash for days? I can understand the need to try different things in a hunter-gatherer culture, but the inventiveness and curiosity is amazing.

    • I marvel at exactly that Andrea 🙂 our inventiveness, deep curiosity and determination (persistence even) and in many cultures – openness – to experimentation leading to possible death.

  5. Yes, yes Yes!! I ponder about the same questions,Yolanda and I was thinking I would probably be the only crazy one wondering about that. I actually find myself asking that question more often lately..like “hey, how in the heck did we come to eat or consume or use this?” How in the world did the Indian people came up with the idea to actually notice sap coming out from a certain tree and boil it down into maple syrup – that’s what was in my mind when I wrote ‘Sap is running’. So many things we take for granted now but don’t even know how we got from A to Z. Interesting, huh?

    • Soul sister ❤ I find it very odd that most people don't think about these things. Why should we feel like 'crazies' because we ask the questions? There are just so many mysteries in this world that we've turned a 'blind' eye to or just shrugged off.

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