By Susanne Merrett
Food, for me, has always meant more than just mere survival. Food also provides nutrition and helps our bodies heal. A good meal not only fills the belly, but also offers pleasant tastes and smells that feed the senses. Aside from these biological abilities that food has, it's the sociological aspects that are its superpowers.
For thousands of years, food has been at the centre of our cultural lives. No celebration or festival would be complete without the accompanying dishes. It is difficult to imagine a wedding, or birthday, or a wake without the food.
There is something about food that is at once primal, cultural, and also deeply esoteric. The Ancient Egyptians recognized the multidimensional importance of food and entombed their deceased loved ones with a veritable pantry for the afterlife. In modern times, there are countless dishes that are deeply engrained in cultures around the world, dishes that have great social, religious, and cultural significance.
In the Maritimes, we are equally familiar with Hodge Podge and Donairs, and both dishes are firmly rooted in our social fabric. Since Canada is so geographically vast and relatively young (in comparison to other European and Asian countries), quintessential Canadian dishes are regional. From Tortiere in Quebec, to Bumbleberry Pie on the Prairies, to AAA Beef in Alberta, to Salmon in B.C., there is a wide variety of Canadian cuisine.
The older, more established countries and cultures have dishes that often date back into ancient history and are considered iconic examples of their cuisine. In Scotland, the mutton based Haggis has been around since Roman times. In the Middle East, Falafels are a popular street food that originated in Ancient Egypt. Spanish Paella has Moorish roots dating back 1200 years. Empanadas in Latin America date back to the medieval Portuguese colonizers. And Hakarl (the pungent, rotting Icelandic shark dish not for the faint of heart) dates back to the Viking era.
These iconic, deeply entrenched foods not only feed our bodies, but also bind us together as a people. These dishes are the threads that weave society together, and speak volumes when words fail us. The Thanksgiving dinner table with all the trimmings, the cake that is the centrepiece of the celebration, and the casserole that is left on the doorstep when tragedy strikes are all vital elements in a caring and nurturing society. Food has the power to feed our souls, elevate our spirits, and connect us in ways that make life all the sweeter.
This connecting factor innate within our cuisine has the ability to weather natural, cultural, and political storms. When life gets tough, food will always be our guiding light. The rich traditions in our cuisines offer comfort, and purpose, and hope.
While our world has many different ethnic groups, there are certain elements that bind us together. Food is one of them. For me, trying new dishes from different countries gives me an opportunity to understand the people a little better. When political borders and power hungry politicians try to divide us, food can be the pathway to common ground.
Even amongst wildly different cultures, common ground can be found in the humble vegetable fritter. The Greeks have the lemony Kolokithokeftedes, the Swiss have the potato packed Rosti, and Brazilians love their spicy Acaraje.
India is the indisputable king of vegetable fritters, and Pakoras are some of my favourite. A lightly spiced, crunchy Pakora with a side of Mango Chutney sets my heart a-flutter. These delectable little morsels will delight the palette, soothe the soul, and offer a stepping stone to another culture.
Find the Pakora and Mango Chutney recipes at: https://www.easternshorecooperator.ca/indian_pakoras