Academic journal article World History Bulletin

Pizza, Rice and Kebabs: Migration and Restaurants

Academic journal article World History Bulletin

Pizza, Rice and Kebabs: Migration and Restaurants

Article excerpt

The big immigration flow that started in the second half of the 19th century caused enormous changes and the blending of eating habits in Europe and America. Some of these changes could be called "natural," but changes of amore economic type also took place. Restaurants offering traditional foods and drinks from countries of origin sought to reproduce foods from home in the new host country as well as to meet a certain demand for "exotic" eating. The phenomenon at first concerned Kosher, German, and especially Italian eating establishments, but later occurred with the spread of Chinese restaurants over much of the western world. Today the process is being repeated with the spread of kebab houses all over Europe. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that by following these traditions where often the willingness to integrate involves denial (at least partially) of homeland foodways or at the very least the attempt to blend them with the host country's models. (1) It is therefore not just the economic factors but also the cultural and anthropological elements that are significant.

This paper describes aspects of these processes and their history, taking into account different waves of migration, socio-economic characteristics and the effects on the food cultures of destination countries. The cultural aspect is described against an economic background. The desire for representation and preserving traditions from home, sometimes related to religious precepts, creates a demand for specific products, which are often unavailable in the host country, and which lead to the establishment of important new businesses.

Food as culture

The spread of foodways has usefully been compared to the spread of languages. (2) Apart from its other important functions, food is an instrument of communication. It transmits values that have crystallized over time as well as economic and cultural elements typical of the society of the home country. Along with language, food is one of the strongest elements of identity binding migrant groups.

The preservation of foodways by migrant communities, and the loyalty to tradition that is implied indicates attempts to conserve, protect, and retain aspects of the past or of the place of origin and production. Opposition to this tradition is found in the products anew country and the present can offer. It is evidently a cultural action that is almost mythological. The conditions regarding the environment, production, cultivation, consumption and the availability of raw materials are often completely different in the arrival location rather than the departure one.

Food is a means of identity. Each of us jealously holds our tastes close, and considers them in some way part of our particular nature. It distinguishes us from others-the anthropology and sociology of food have evidenced that taste is above all a question of culture. Harris has explored the enigmas of flavor from prehistoric times, sacrificial rites to fast food and has continued on to hypotheses regarding changes in food habits of population over time and diversity that are so radical that they seem inexplicable. (3) Taste is not merely a question of individual preferences.

Therefore, food is also one of the main ways of entering into contact with another culture; eating foreign food is easier than learning a foreign language. The relative ease with which gastronomic habits can make contact helps the process of cross-cultural contact, mediation and mixture, which has characterized food since time immemorial.

As far back as ancient times, the Mediterranean was the crossroads where products and information were traded. In medieval times the crossroads became even more important as the blending of customs and traditions intensified, and new food cultures were the product of ancient Mediterranean traditions and equally ancient traditions originating in central and northern Europe. (4) This very brief discussion would be incomplete without mentioning Jewish Kosher traditions and later Muslim ones, which also contributed extensively to the ever-changing kaleidoscope of regional gastronomy in Europe. …

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