Today, like no time before we have exposure to food from literally every corner of the planet and all at the touch of a keyboard. In fact we are so overloaded with food imagery and commentary that it’s hard to determine what is authentic, and actually, what does authentic or traditional really mean anyway.
Personally I like to think of myself as a bit of a stickler for respecting authenticity, but of course all traditions have to start somewhere, and I recall reading that :
“…..all food traditions started as accidents or successful experiments.”
On reflection, this rings pretty true to me. Growing up as a young cook in 1970’s Adelaide with its amazing central market, experimentation became a constant theme as I immersed myself in a world of food that to most people globally wasn’t possible without travel. Today we call this appropriation and blending of cultures “Fusion” but in Australia, with our multicultural melting pot as a backdrop, we were, probably some of the earliest adaptors of the culinary possibilities available.
With this in mind, even though at the time BBQ’s meant forequarter chops, snags and rissoles, for me they were all about the seemingly exotic: Grilled marinated quails with lemon and cumin, Sate as shared by Balinese friends, and Cevapcici instead of sausages. Vietnamese food wasn’t a “New” fad food but a reality well before the first Vietnamese restaurants opened and Indian spicing became as familiar to me as classical “French” cuisine.
However over time, as culinary themes became repetitive with concepts and food traditions intersecting, digging a bit deeper into history became as important to me as mastering technique. After all, commerce and trade, military alliances, politics and religious leanings have at some point linked all of today’s major culinary players in one way or another. The best example for me would have to be the spice trade. In simplistic terms the cuisines of the entire known Western world were altered forever by the introduction of spices following the crusades against the Saracens of the middle ages.
With the returning crusaders, fragrant blends of cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg amongst others (themselves traded from the far East) became common place in the cooking of the wealthy in Europe, leaving a legacy that lives today in the spicing of fruitcakes and mince pies of Britain, Pates and Charcuterie of the latin lands and mulled beverages and spiced cordials of the colder northern climes.
In fact these spices became so desirable, and so valuable, that along with evangelical zealotry, they sparked ambitions of global exploration and expansionism. Subsequently and despite their size as a nation, the Portuguese took to the task with relish, and while the Spanish chased gold they just about single handedly changed food and eating on almost every continent. Responsible for not only introducing tomatoes, chilies and potatoes to India, Sri Lanka and the Moluccas, but also transplanting the cassava from the Americas to Africa and South East Asia.
In return they took fragrant eastern spices like cinnamon and cloves to their Brazilian colony in the new world along with exotic foods like rice and bananas. But it wasn’t all about trade, they also imparted many of their cooking traditions to the “local” cuisines in their sphere of influence. In the process they introduced the concept of “Tempura” to Japan, Vinho de Ahlo or “Vindaloo” to Goa, and delicious soft Portuguese bread rolls or “Pao” all across Asia along with Pasteis de nata or Daan Tart as they are known in Macau and Canton.
Interestingly though, despite their fairly short “occupation” of these territories in historical terms, they left a legacy that is still evident today in just about every place they settled. In particular a blend of vibrant and piquant red peppers, fragrant spices and seasonings pervades all of these cuisines.
In Portugal itself, it is a blend of spices used for chourico the Portuguese version of Chorizo. In Mozambique it forms the base for Piri Piri, and in Mumbai, for the East Indians of Portuguese descent, it is their Bottle Masala, and finally it forms pretty much the base for both Brazilian Moqueca and Sri Lankan red curry.
So what’s in this blend? …well, we’ve actually “bottled” it and we’re pleased to announce the first batch of “Food Luddite Magellan” is packed and ready for sale for our debut at the Barossa Farmers Market in August. Named after the 16th century Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, a man who would have been familiar with both the Portuguese territories mentioned above and the delicious flavours displayed in the recipe below.
Red Curried Chicken
4 Chicken thighs– bone in, skinless
100ml white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
15g Food Luddite “Magellan” spice mix
1 tbsp coconut oil 1 sprig curry leaves
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 medium onions – sliced
2 cloves garlic – crushed
4cm piece ginger – grated
400g tomato – diced
200ml coconut cream
2 teaspoons jaggery or palm sugar
1 bunch fresh coriander – roots and stalks chopped, leaves retained for garnish
Marinate the chicken with vinegar, spices & salt, cover and refrigerate preferably overnight
Heat coconut oil and fry curry leaves and mustard seeds until they crackle, add onions and fry until soft.
Add ginger and garlic and continue to fry gently until deep golden then add tomatoes, coconut cream, sugar and chopped coriander along with the marinated chicken
Simmer until the chicken is tender and the gravy is rich and reduced, garnish with reserved coriander leaves.