Food travels and cooking evolves
My parents were wildly creative cooks. Though they mostly cooked Italian food, my mother had cook books and recipes from several ethnic cuisines. She would from time to time make meals from them.
I grew up eating artichokes, eggplant, cardone(burdock), pasta, soup, stew, roasts, and a host of other foods considered poor or working class fare. I was eating some foods as a child that have fancy French names and are served in high end restaurants today.
Even humble pigs feet are now called trotters and are considered a delicacy.
Many of the foods I grew up with are now expensive. Once restaurants make a particular dish or ingredient popular, everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Supply and demand kicks in. Prices go up. Quality goes down.
Take the lowly artichoke, for example. Until the mid 1970s they were cheap, plentiful, and when in season perfect quality. Since that time, they are expensive and good artichokes are hard to find.
Even lobster, the symbol of wealthy cuisine, was once “garbage” food. It was only fit for the very poor to survive on. Snails were also poor people’s food, until the French made them popular.
Soul food? Most ethnic people were eating soul food before African Americans made it popular. It was poor people’s food.
Even humble soup was fodder for the poor. Some survived on it six or seven days a week. Meat or poultry was a flavoring for soup instead of the main ingredient.
Stew was nothing more than thickened soup made with the cheapest toughest cuts of meat. The long simmering time tenderized the meat. Thickening agents added bulk to make you feel “full”.
Food travels and the travel industry is responsible for much of what is called American cuisine. Just like “French technique” and the brigade system were developed out of the hotel industry in France.
Economic hard times and hardship created many ways to stretch food. Dishes like meat loaf, meat or chicken “pies” or one pot meals were created to stretch meager food dollars.
The “culture” of bread, which was cheap to make, was created out of necessity, as bread was filling. Sometimes bread and soup with meager scraps was all people had.
The humble potato was the ballast that kept some people alive.
Even the military contributed to American cuisine. “Creamed chicken” became Chicken ala King. A similar dish is chipped beef or sh** on a shingle. Chili-mac came out of the military, as did serving chili with rice. The military moves on full bellies.
Pasta was another cheap filling dish, as were noodles in Asian culture.
Now, all food is equal. It is cuisine. It is high art. Food that even 20 years ago was looked down upon is popular or mainstream.
We are becoming a nation of food snobs due to chefs making certain foods edible and popular and a plentiful supply of ingredients. We seek new taste sensations, new and different combinations, and “traditional ethnic” cuisine.
You can walk into a major grocery store today, buy a cooked protein and side dishes, take it home, and eat it without the muss and fuss of cooking. Some stores, like Marianos, offer a type of cafeteria, where you can just eat in the store.
Maybe one day the drugstore or five and dime store lunch counter will return. Walgreens and the former Woolworths made the best grilled cheese and tuna salad sandwiches.
Food keeps evolving. Our tastes and appetites evolve with it. We seek the unusual, the adventurous, the next taste sensation. We elevate humble pleasures to fine food status, like the aforementioned grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese is now a culinary delight, made with expensive cheeses and other ingredients.
Simplicity is returning to cooking too. Poor people had to make due with what they had or could grow. Four or five simple ingredients with herbs and/or spices was a meal. Simple food is making its return especially in ethnic restaurants.
One thing never changes. Basic cooking techniques and methods. Across the board and across the world there is a similarity to techniques and methods. Ingredients, seasonings, or flavors may vary widely, but basic techniques and methods do not.
I was fortunate. I learned about food at a young age and I can cook. No matter the economy, I will always eat well.