Culinary history

The ‘historic’ national dishes which turn out to be artful PR exercises

In 1889, Raffaele Esposito, the owner of a pizzeria on the edge of Naples’s Spanish Quarter, delivered three pizzas to Queen Margherita, including one of his own invention with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, their colours taken together resembling the Tricolore. The Italian queen loved the pizza, and Esposito duly named it after her. In that restaurant today hangs a document from the royal household, dated 1889, declaring the pizzas made by Esposito to be found excellent by the queen. And so was born the Pizza Margherita, a dish now synonymous with Naples. The queen’s seal of approval in the wake of Italian unification, which had proved difficult for Naples, came

We shouldn’t be so squeamish about eating foie gras

In his excellent, brief chronicle of foie gras, Norman Kolpas lists Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Thandie Newton, Ricky Gervais and the late Sir Roger Moore as among those who don’t want you to eat it, as well as Fortnum & Mason and the state legislature of California, which declared its production and sale illegal in 2019. Why do they care about something so petty as the making and consumption of this buttery, savoury age-old delicacy? There is, of course, a hint of class warfare about advocating its prohibition, along with caviar and other treats of the well-off and indulgent. But the main opposition claim is that the production of the

Chilli con carnage: the red hot pepper and communism

These days it is as hard to imagine Sichuanese food without chillies as it is to imagine Italian food without tomatoes. Both ingredients were among the New World crops that transformed culinary cultures across the globe after Christopher Columbus’s ‘discovery’ of the Americas in 1492. The chilli first appeared in China sometime in the late 16th century. Within 50 years it was rapidly gaining popularity and by the late 19th century it was ubiquitous in many parts of the country. Brian R. Dott has scoured Chinese and other sources to find out how and why this foreign spice conquered Chinese palates. He examines the chilli’s progress in China from multiple