On August 24th, 79 AD, the city of Pompeii, Italy was destroyed by the violent volcanic eruptions by Mount Vesuvius.
The city of Herculaneum, which is about 11 miles from Pompeii is a popular tourist attraction and a place where nearly 300 bodies are preserved due to the ash that blanketed the city.
Along the slopes of Mount Vesuvius is also where the iconic San Marzano tomatoes are grown. If you’re a pizza nerd, this should come as no surprise.
Taste and tragedy literally share the same land.
The higher altitude and extended sun exposure of Mt. Vesuvius make for richer soil. This helps give the San Marzano tomatoes their trademark shape, quality, and taste, not to mention they are still handpicked one by one.
I was interested in learning more about this specific type of tomato and its origins. Once I fulfilled this much-needed itch, I continued to follow my stomach in hopes that it might find a path to my brain.
It led me down a rabbit hole where I willfully hinged to my vices, looking up all things delicious in an effort to tantalize my taste buds, while trying to impart much-needed self-wisdom.
It was my attempt to placate my gluttonous ways for some type of good.
For example, the creation of the Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich was a result of forced French colonialism. The crispy and airy baguette, and the punch from the pâté that the French are known for, accompanied by the spicy, robust, and pickled flavors from the Vietnamese create a complicated cacophony of symphonic flavors. Even the flimsiest of pallets well shutter in undeniable tasty terror as this confection of culinary chaos wreaks havoc in the best way possible.
Soul food was born out of necessity and without a doubt remains of the greatest contributions to America’s culinary landscape. During the nation’s darkest hour, slaves were given the often neglected cuts of meat like chitlins and ham hocks. With sheer ingenuity, they created dishes like collard greens which helped the bitter greens taste better, but more importantly, preserved the sentiment of making the best with what was available.
Growing up and still today, one of my favorite dishes is Dahl. It’s a simple peasantry dish of boiled lentils, vibrant spices, and vegetables. If I had a death row meal, this would be it. Even today, I always have a bowl ready to eat.
Ratatouille, a peasant dish for the French follows the same train, in making something cheap, go a long way.
During the 1800s at the height of British colonialism, my ancestors were deceived and tricked into journeying to the distant Fiji Islands, where they worked as indentured servants in the sugarcane fields. Despite the unsavory past, sugar brings out flavors and textures in the world’s most sought-after dishes.
All food has a story, and some of the greatest foods are birthed from war, imperialism, natural disasters, and hunger.
It goes to show you there is a balance in how the world operates.
What is sought after today and gives many pleasure, undoubtedly came from a place of pain.
Disharmony is needed to create harmony.
To understand one, we must accept the other.