// Written by Francisca Gomez //
I was having dinner with a friend about a year ago and we ate oranges for dessert. As I enjoyed my orange, a realization hit me: I knew nothing about the orange. I have loved oranges my entire life, the juicy citric-yet-sweet taste is so unique it comes alive as I write this, and I could recognize an orange with my eyes closed because of its fragrance. But I didn’t know the first thing about the story of the orange. Why is it called an “orange”? And where does it come from? In the next months, the same questions came up while I ate many different foods. How did we end up loving chocolate, who first combined the ingredients to create a traditional dish, how did foreign foods become popular? And why do we know so little about the history of our food?
This column is meant to be a fun exploration of the history of food. I will cover everything from basic ingredients to traditional dishes, from food itself to secondary instruments required for its preparation (have you ever wondered where the fork came from?). I take inspiration from what I know and like. Whenever I can, I try to make the food that I write about during the process of researching.
These pieces are based on multiple sources, and I have at least one source for everything I include. However, I would like to emphasize the fun exploration of the history of the foods I write about. I am mostly interested in the legends and popular stories; usually reliable accounts of the origins of most foods are not available anyway. I have always been fascinated by the culture of food, and I think that this cultural spirit is best represented and flavored by the conflicting stories, most probably fictional, that account for the origin and spread of foods. Take the pieces, then, with a grain of salt.
I decided to launch the column with chocolate. It has a rich history, and I knew a couple of basic facts: it comes from pre-Hispanic Mexico, and is universally loved today. A long time has passed between pre-Hispanic Mexico and today, and I wanted to find out what has happened to chocolate and so fill the gap in my knowledge of the beloved candy: how did it spread from Mexico? Has it always tasted like it tastes today?
I recently learned that the German word for orange translates as “apple of China”: Apfelsine. But the history of the orange will be saved for a latter date. If you are intrigued by this as much as I am, join me every Friday here in “Behind the Dish.”