What's Up With That? #73: Eating from the bottom
Why is it that the further north of the equator one travels, the lousier the food becomes?
In the so-called Old World, this principle is eminently obvious. The North Africans the Moroccans, Ethiopians, Eritreans, et al. have amazing food. (When they have food, which is a whole other issue.)
Their neighbors on the northern seaboard of the Mediterranean the Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italians, and Greeks (having lived in Greece for two years, I can attest personally to the latter) are legendary for their culinary prowess.
But then, as you continue up the continent, things start to get dicey. German and Polish food, outside of the occasional sausage? Not all that delectable. Russian cuisine? Unless you're a huge fan of beet soup, nothing to write home about.
English food? Notoriously awful. Dazzling language, superlative literature, a world-changing culture. But you wonder how they came up with those great traditions while stuffing their bellies with boiled beef and mashed peas. Irish cuisine? As previously noted, the less said about that, the better.
By the time you've traveled into Scandinavia, people are eating reindeer innards and fish soaked in lye, for pity's sake. That's not food that's chemical warfare.
The same phenomenon occurs in the Western Hemisphere.
Anywhere you go in the Caribbean region and Central America, you're going to find spectacular dining spicy, diverse, and flavorful. Mexico? Well, there's a reason for all those taquerias and faux-Mexican chain restaurants that proliferate north of the border. Our neighbors to the south know how to cook.
Here in the United States? Well, much like our language, our cuisine mostly cobbled together from stuff other people cooked before us. Still, we make do, especially across the nether region of this great country of ours from the fiery specialties of the Southwest to the manly barbecue of Texas, from the Cajun and Creole delights of Louisiana to the deep-fried comfort food of the Deep South.
But here again, as you move north, the eating gets shaky. The Upper Midwest? They'll sneak some lutefisk on the steam-table smorgasbord as soon as look at you. And have you ever tried to get a decent meal in New England? I've been to Maine, and aside from the lobster, it wasn't pretty.
Canada? Does the phrase "back bacon" ring any bells? How about moose jerky? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Even the Far East to use that dated and Caucasocentric term suffers from the same pattern.
A quick whirl across southern Asia reveals one culinary wonderland after another: India, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines all incredible places to grab a bite, as evidenced by the abundance of eateries featuring delicacies from these locales.
China? Hello? I'll bet you've got some of those little white paper cartons fermenting in your kitchen trash at this very moment.
Then you get up to Japan. Love that sushi, sashimi, and soba... but they're also eating some ghastly stuff. Have you ever smelled natto? Trust me, you don't want to, much less attempt to consume any. And in what other country is eating poisonous blowfish that could kill you with a single nibble someone's idea of a fun date?
You might as well stop at Japan, because progressing any further north into the Asiatic tundra will land you in the realm of yak loin and Lord only knows what else.
So, again, I'll pose the imponderable...
Why does food get so much better as you head south toward the equator, and so much more inedible as you leave it going north?