David Doran: Essay

Thailand, India, and theAmericas
David Doran

When people of a foreign land came in contactwith the people of the regions of Thailand, India and the Americas,a potential for learning and enhancing ones culture was created.In situations where contact was on a personal level, both peopleslearned particularly about assorted foods and the methods forpreparing them. As a general rule, foreign encounters providethe opportunity for explorers and natives alike to learn a significantamount about the other’s culture, especially in the way of food.

Despite the fact that unlike most third worldcountries, Thailand was never colonized, the people still hadcontacts with the Europeans and Chinese. Mutual learning opportunitiesfollowed from such meetings. The Thai, along with the rest ofSoutheast Asia, relied heavily on rice as a source of nourishment,but the methods of collecting salt were particularly noted (Reid28). During the dry seasons, salt would be collected by allowingthe sun to evaporate salt water in pans along the coast. One ofthe first coastal populations arose due to the number of peopleworking such salt pans in the twelfth century (Reid 29). The Europeansand the Thais took interest in the kinds of fruits which couldbe shared among them. The Thai had a wide array of fruits likebananas, coconuts, mangos and limes, all of which were happilyreceived by their visitors (Reid 30). The Europeans offered thepineapple and the papaya, novelties from the New World. Papayasoon was discovered to have valuable medicinal virtues (Reid 31).Due to the friendly growing conditions, sugar abounded in thearea and was touted as the nation’s most important export to Chineseexporters toward the end of the seventeenth century (Reid 31).The Thai drank water as an everyday staple, which was a surpriseto the tea-drinking Chinese and the alcohol-drinking Europeans(Reid 36). Even though the foreign people did not adapt the habitof drinking water, and tea did not spread beyond the capital ofThailand, the Chinese example of boiling water was followed bysome in the region. The natives learned as the water got morepolluted to do this to kill the “little invisible creatures”in the water (Reid 38).

In much the same manner as the Thai, the peopleof India taught and learned from the Europeans. The foreignerswere taken with the “aromatic spices” of India, namelyginger and cinnamon (Achaya 163). In addition to showing the Europeanshow to spice food, the Indians showed them how to enjoy the effectsof certain drugs. By the tenth century, people of India were usingthe hemp plant, bhang, to produce “intoxication andstupefaction of the mind and senses” (Achaya 171). Opiumcame to India in the eleventh and twelfth centuries from the Arabs,originally from the Greeks. The uses of opium were documentedby the Europeans in the early sixteenth century, as it was exportedas well (Achaya 171). In a way, the Europeans returned the favorby exposing the region to alcohol. The English introduced suchbeverages as Madeira wine, champagne, brandy and beer to add tothe alcoholic interests of the Indian people (Achaya 178).

Another great exchange of information tookplace in the New World between the Europeans and the native Americans.The Spanish introduced the Mexicans to wine, which facilitatedthe development of alcoholism in the natives (Coe 234). Europeancontributions to the Americas also include breads, pies, sugarand vegetables such as lettuce, radishes, turnips and carrots(Coe 239). The Americas made two interesting contributions toEuropean culture in the peanut and the pineapple. The peanut isbelieved to have originated in Bolivia sometime before 3100 BC.When the Europeans were introduced to it, the peanut was receivedjust as well for its oil as for its snacking purposes (Coe 35-36).The pineapple, on the other hand, was very warmly welcomed bythe Europeans. Partly because of its sweet taste and partly becauseit was so hard to grow in Europe, the pineapple went straightto the top of the social hierarchy of food (Coe 42). Startingearly in the sixteenth century, pineapples represented the “wealth,hospitality and friendship” of the nobility (Coe 41).

An insurgence of foreign people to a new regioninvariably leads to interactions between the peoples. Throughsuch interactions, a great deal can be learned. In the cases ofThailand, India and the Americas, the natives and the explorerstook advantage of their opportunities and enhanced their respectivefood cultures.

Works Cited

Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion.New York: Oxford University Press,1999.

Anderson, E.N. The Food of China. NewHaven: Yale University Press, 1988.

Coe, Sophia. America’s First Cuisine.Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Ageof Commerce 1450-1680. Volume One: The Lands below the Winds.New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

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