Globalized food – from the Balkan plate to the Hawaii kebab

Doner sandwiches and kebab plates are popular in Germany. (picture alliance / dpa / Inga Kjer)

“Italian cuisine remains the undisputed number one, dominating the field in a form that is still valid here today, i.e. the Ristorante-Pizzeria. Well, Germans love pizza and love pasta, everything else, apart from tiramisu, plays a lesser role Role.”

In the mid-1960s, knuckle of pork and knuckle of pork were still the favorite foods for most Germans. Today, many of his students shake themselves just hearing about it, says Marin Trenk, professor of anthropology at the University of Frankfurt.

“Mediterranean” food, on the other hand, is in. And for a snack, the doner kebab is unbeatable. German food with a migration background! Exoticism has even moved into the deep-freeze shelves, or at least that which sounds exotic, such as: the “Mexico pan”.

“You can’t look for them in Mexico in vain, just like you won’t find the Caribbean pan in the Caribbean and the Thai pan in Thailand. This pseudo-ethnofood plays a very important role.”

Food ethnologist describes change in food cultures

One of the focal points of Marin Trenk’s work is “culinary ethnology”. He deals with why people eat what they eat, why culinary preferences are changing and which kitchen styles are currently in fashion. His book “Döner Hawaii” has just been published. In it, the food ethnologist describes the change in food cultures.

The greatest revolution in the world’s cooking pots happened after Columbus discovered America. Corn, potatoes, tomatoes, chili migrated from the New to the Old World. And from Europe, in turn, domestic animals made their way to the new hemisphere. Until then, the Indians had mainly known turkey and guinea pigs as meat suppliers.

“You can’t imagine Europe without the potato or Southeast Asia without the chili. Every culture in the world was changed. But the most interesting thing for me was that the cultures back then had no inclination to exchange recipes, i.e. dishes. That only comes in the colonial context and very timid.”

In colonized India, the English learned to appreciate “curry”. A word, however, that the Indians were not at all familiar with and which the British ultimately used to describe all heavily seasoned dishes with a sauce. In a very simplified way, these curries then found their way to England. Just as the “Indonesian rice table” became popular in Holland and the Maggi cube has become indispensable in West Africa. But the kitchen only really became global in the 20th century:

“Then we saw what we take for granted today, that we have complete kitchens. The moment the migrants came, the first tourists went to the Mediterranean. And that was the first broadening of culinary horizons and the then also made it possible for more exotic cuisines to come.”

The Balkan platter and the Acropolis platter satisfied the hunger of the post-war period

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the cuisines that were very close to German eating habits were initially able to assert themselves here. In addition to the Italian pizza – which can also be topped with Gouda, fried eggs or pineapple – the Balkan grill and, a little later, the Greek tavern established themselves in this country.

“Both are characterized by the fact that there are mountains of meat, i.e. Balkan plates, the Balkan platter, the Acropolis plate – these mountains of meat that satisfied a post-war hunger. Now the Balkans have completely disappeared and the Greeks with their mountains of meat have their backs to the wall. They now have a chance to orientate themselves towards the Mediterranean. And one possibility to orientate towards the Mediterranean and modern is the tapas culture. The Greek meze have now become tapas, if you offer that, then it’ll work.”

Likewise, “the Chinese” came and went with its magnificent red and gold interior from the pagoda arch to the plastic dragon pillar. There, too, the familiar was given a touch of the exotic, with pineapple, fruit cocktails or canned bamboo shoots, flavored with glutamate and soy sauce.

Today, Chinese restaurants are trying to stay in the market with all-you-can-eat buffets. Not an overly successful way, says Marin Trenk, in view of the numerous inexpensive Asian snack bars. Because “Asian” is booming, above all the Thai cuisine – which is tailored to European tastes. And even Japanese sushi has now arrived in the middle of German society; until recently, the consumption of raw fish was considered downright barbaric.

“What started out as the quintessential yuppie dish, sushi, can now be found in the freezer at discount stores. That means everyone eats it.”

Local cuisine to be phased out?

The local cuisine is now almost obsolete. Even the German filter coffee has long given way to the preference for latte macchiato. German restaurants are now exotic in our big cities, perhaps also, says Marin Trenk, because – unlike in France – there has never been a German national cuisine.

“The experts say that there never was a German national cuisine because a German national state only came about so late. On the other hand, Germany was a uniform cultural area and certain similarities developed there. Such as our enthusiasm for certain types of bread , for certain types of sausage, our enthusiasm for thick soup or our enthusiasm for coffee and cake, something that is very striking.”

But whether Mediterranean, Asian or even fast food – according to Marin Trenk, the all-encompassing culinary megatrend is that of “invisibility”. The eaten animal should be increasingly invisible, as a chicken breast, a piece of fillet or as a fish stick.

“The trend I see is that a majority of us eat meat, but not meat that reminds them of the animal from which the meat comes. So away from all of the innards, but also from all of the outside. So that’s why also no calf’s head, no oxtails and calf’s feet, it all disappears What emerges is muscle meat in a steak shape or a mince shape, and then as the ultimate development the chicken nugget, where chicken breast is one of many ingredients, but it doesn’t look like chicken still tastes like a chicken.”

And from this trend it almost inevitably follows for Marin Trenk:

“The step to vegetarianism or veganism is only one step further. The food taboo, the avoidance of food, is extended to the whole animal area. I personally think that anyone who finds turkey breast strips on salad delicious food should make the step to vegetarianism. Because In terms of taste, there isn’t much of a difference.”

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