Saturday, 7pm. I light the candles.
While my Belgian flat mate Louisa is busy folding paper napkins and placing them next to each of the 3 plates, my Italian flatmate Ludovica stands over a pan of simmering sauce. A pot of salted water rests on the stovetop, ready to be boiled. I’ve changed into a clean t-shirt and jeans. My feet are bare. After I light the candles and dim the lights, I put my phone away.
The initial inspiration for this multicultural pot luck supper came while I was browsing the local farmers market on a Saturday morning, thinking about potential topics for a heritage related blog post. Not only did I want to celebrate my Scottish heritage, but also the heritage of my flat mates, both of whom have different cultural backgrounds. Food heritage is an integral part of an individuals histories, social structures and traditions (Md Ramli et al., 2016). Therefore, I decided to make it the basis for this post. The experience taught me that despite our differences, food has the ability to bind us together in the fast-paced world we live in today, namely through the process of disconnecting digitally, connecting physically and embracing the present moment.
Food as Intangible Cultural Heritage
Anthropologists seldom speak of universalities (Di Giovine, 2014). However, the consumption of food is one process which is common to all human beings. The diversity of cultural forms is reflected in how we eat, what we eat and when we eat. According to Di Giovine (2014), these variations in our approach to food are attributed, not only to geographical factors, but also to the:
“..individuals genetic heritage, physiological characteristics, religious beliefs, taboos, and traditional modes of thinking”.
The way food tastes on our individual tongues often elicits strong emotions. It is this sacred, shared experience of such sensations that binds people together through space and time (Di Giovine, 2014). The process of individuals collectively remembering past experiences with certain meals and imaging their ancestors having similar experiences, is where food is transformed into heritage (Di Giovine, 2014).
While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is immensely important to maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalisation (Ich.unesco.org, Online, 2018). The significance of intangible food heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself, but the wealth of knowledge and skills that we inherit from the past, preserve in the present and pass on to the future. (Farthing, Abooali & Mohamed, 2012; Halim & Mat, 2010).
Feasting on Edinburgh’s Rich Food Heritage
For the pot luck supper, we each decided to prepare a dish that represents our unique individual identity. It could be based on our community/ family story or a dish which attempts to solidify nationalistic ideologies. My dish was heavily influenced by the city within which I currently live. For inspiration, I decided to explore the hidden links between Edinburghs unique built heritage and its food traditions. According to Edinburgh World Heritage (Online, 2015), city residents have bought their food at street markets for centuries. Evidence of this tradition can be seen scattered around the Old Town in places such as Fishmarket and Fleshmarket Close. As a result, the Castle Terrace Farmers Market was my first port of call.
Fruits of the Sea
Fish was always in good supply in Edinburgh. In particular, shell fish, the quality of which was second to none (EWH, Online, 2015). In fact, it was often exported to London and the continent due to its bountiful supply provided by the Firth of Forth (EWH, Online, 2015). In the city, oysters were consumed as a cheap snack food. In fact, it was said that the people of Edinburgh would eat up to 100,000 per day (EWH, Online, 2015).
To follow in the footsteps of my ancestors, we started by sampling some oysters from the farmers market. We also enjoyed some fresh bread from Andante bakery (located in Stockbridge) along with whiskey infused Isle of Arran cheddar sourced from George Mews cheese shop.
Pasta alla gricia: The Mother of Roman Pastas
Ludovica, my Italian flatmate, was born and grew up in Rome. She chose Pasta alla gricia to showcase her food heritage, a rustic dish which is less well know than other iconic pasta varieties. The thing that makes alla gricia speacial is the combination of guanciale (cured pork jowl) and pecorino cheese. According to one legend, it originated among shepherds in the mountains around the town of Amatrice (Pasta alla gricia, Online, 2016). Its components were all things the shepherds could carry around with them for days as they grazed their sheep (Pasta alla gricia, Online, 2015).
[see recipe attached]
Skipness Baked Salmon Fillets with Tarragon Sauce
Our main course was salmon in a bacon and tarragon sauce, again using produce from the farmers market where possible. Atlantic fresh wild salmon are very much part of Scotlands Natural Heritage (Nature.scot, 2018). While this recipe, at one time, would have been the domain of the wealthy, it is now more widely available and popular (Dick, 2018). Its price has also fallen due to intensive fish farming and the availability of imported fish (Dick, 2018). I purchased the fish from a fishmonger called Creelers, which is based in the West Coast of Scotland.
[see recipe attached]
Belgian Chocolate Mousse
Louisa, my flat mate is from Irish decent, but was brought up in Belgium. She made chocolate mouse, a dessert that originated in the country. Back in the 17th century, when Belgium was still ruled by the Spanish, explorers brought cocoa beans from South America and introduced them to the Belgian community (Hunt, 2016). Following its introduction, Belgian chefs began cooking with the precious ingredient. Thus, it was only a matter of time until cooking with chocolate and making dishes with a foamy texture came together for “mousse au chocolat” (Hunt, 2016).
[see recipe attached]
Cranachan: Scotlands Unofficial National Dish
I also decided to make Cranachan, a dish that has meaning to me as an individual given that my family eats it in place of trifle as part of our culinary Christmas tradition. Both oatmeal and raspberries (intrinsically Scottish ingredients) were mixed together with cream, Glenmorangie Whisky and blossom honey from Fife. The typical way to present cranachan (or crow die, depending on the region of Scotland you are from) is to bring a small dish of each ingredient to the table. This means that guests can then assemble the dessert to their taste.
Anchor of Connection
In every single culture of the world, eating food is an activity that is considered to be potentially social. Yet some cultures value the ritual of eating meals more than others. In many cases, the ritual is missing entirely from the modern meal. If you take anything from this blog post, I hope it encourages you to think about how we can use meal times to make meaningful, in person connections. Adopting small rituals such as sitting down to eat together can make a significant difference in how we experience and appreciate our food – and each-other.
If you wish to recreate any of the dishes mentioned above, see attached recipes:
Pasta alla gricia –
Baked Salmon with Tarragon Sauce –
Belgian Chocolate Mousse –
- Dick, S. (2018). Scottish salmon ‘a worldwide success story’. [online] Scotsman.com. Available at: https://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/scottish-salmon-a-worldwide-success-story-1-4758549 [Accessed 12 Oct. 2018].
- Di Giovine, M. (2014). Edible Identities. Milton: Ashgate Publishing.
- Farahani, B. M., Abooali, G., & Mohamed, B. (2012). George Town World Heritage Site: What We Have and What We Sell? Asian Culture and History, 4(2).
- Halim, M. A. S. A., & Mat, A. C. (2010). The contribution of heritage product toward Malaysian Tourism Industry: A case of eastern coastal of Malaysia. International Journal of Human Sciences, 7(2), 346-357.
- Hunt, D. (2016). A Brief History of Beligian Chocolate. [Blog] Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/belgium/articles/a-brief-history-of-belgian-chocolate/ [Accessed 12 Oct. 2018].
- unesco.org. (2018). What is Intangible Cultural Heritage? – intangible heritage – Culture Sector – UNESCO. [online] Available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/what-is-intangible-heritage-00003 [Accessed 7 Oct. 2018].
- Md Ramli, A., Mohd Zahari, M., Suhaimi, M. and Abdul Talib, S. (2016). Determinants of Food Heritage towards Food Identity. Environment-Behaviour Proceedings Journal, 1(1), p.207.
- scot. (2018). Atlantic salmon | Scottish Natural Heritage. [online] Available at: https://www.nature.scot/plants-and-animals/fish/freshwater-fish/atlantic-salmon [Accessed 12 Oct. 2018].
- Pasta alla gricia. (2016). [Blog] Memoriediangelina. Available at: https://memoriediangelina.com/2016/08/26/pasta-alla-gricia/ [Accessed 12 Oct. 2018].
- Zhiyang, L. (2004). Food, Cultural Heritage and Variation: An Anthropological Field Study in a Tibetan Rural Community. [Online] Available at: http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTOTAL-KFSD200402017.htm [Accessed 4 October 2018]
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