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02/12/2018

Michael Krondl – „The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice” – 3


Venetians not only tried to dress like the Byzantines, they aped their eating habits, too. Not that every Eastern culinary innovation was immediately embraced. The imported fork, for example, was initially demonized as “an instrument of the devil.” When the doge’s son Giovanni Orseolo returned from Constantinople around 1004 with his Byzantine bride, Maria, she immediately elicited gossip not least because of the highly suspect implements in her trousseau. “She did not touch food with her hands,” wrote a scandalized reporter years after the event, “but the food was cut up into small pieces by her servants and she would pick up these tidbits, tasting them using a golden fork with two tines.”

The city at the gates of the Bosporus had always been a magnet for people from across eastern Europe and western Asia. A Western Crusader described Constantinople’s melting pot in 1096: “Greeks, Bulgarians…Italians, Venetians, Romanians [the contemporary term for mainland Greece], Dacians [from today’s Romania], English, Amalfitans, even Turks; many heathen peoples, Jews and proselytes, Cretans, Arabs and people of all nations come together here.” Not surprisingly, the local culture was inflected by all these foreign accents and the city’s cuisine seasoned by flavors from across the empire.

26/11/2018

Michael Krondl – „The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice” – 2


  1. „By some estimates, the percentage of spices that reached the European market was never much more than about a quarter of what Asia produced.”
  2. „Merchants from Malacca to Marseilles built fabulous fortunes in the spice business. Monarchs in Cairo and Calicut financed their armies from their cut of the pepper trade. London, Antwerp, Genoa, Constantinople, Mecca, Jakarta, and even Quanzhou could attribute at least some of their wealth to the passage of the spice-scented ships. But nowhere were the Asian condiments the lifeblood of prosperity as in the great entrepôts of Venice, Lisbon, and Amsterdam. Each took her turn as one of the world’s great cities, ruling over an empire of spice.”
  3. „Venice prospered longest, until Vasco da Gama’s arrival in India rechanneled the flow of Asian seasoning. Then Lisbon had her hundred years of wealth and glory. Finally, Amsterdam seized the perfumed prize and ruthlessly controlled the spice trade in the century historians call the city’s golden age.”
  4. „The origins of globalization can be traced directly to the spice trade.”
  5. „It is often assumed that people’s taste preferences are conservative, and while this may be true for a particular individual, the cuisines of societies are regularly transformed within a generation or two. The fondness that many adult Americans exhibit for that sugary mélange of Crisco and cocoa powder called Oreos was most surely not shared by their parents. Italians as a whole were not obsessive pasta eaters until after the Second World War.”
  6. „The membership of I Antichi ranges from street sweepers to multimillionaires, from butchers to poets. They come together for the many official festivals that mark the Venetian calendar: for the Festa della Salute, which commemorates the end of the plague of 1631, when a third of Venice perished; for the Festa di Redentore, another party in memory of an epidemic; for the Festa della Sensa, when Venice recalls a time when the doge, the elected Venetian leader, would symbolically marry the sea; and, of course, for Carnevale, the pre-Lenten festival that overruns Venice and can seem as execrable as a plague when the narrow alleys swarm with the tourist hordes.”
  7. „While there’s no way to know just how the food of the past tasted (the meat, the wine, even the onions, were different from what we have today), the spiced mutton served at the festival of the Madonna della Salute probably comes the closest in flavor to the food eaten by Shakespeare’s merchants of Venice. Preparations for the November holiday begin in the spring, when the meat is prepared by curing a castrated ram with salt, pepper, and cloves before it is smoked and then air-dried for several months. It is still exported from Dalmatia (better known today as the countries of Albania and Croatia), as it would have been when the ancient republic used the preserved meat to feed her sailors. The flavor is strong and complex—and anachronistic.”
  8. „When Venetians found out that the Portuguese had arrived in India, at the very source of the pepper that made the city’s economy hum, many panicked. The loss of the spice trade “would be like the loss of milk and nourishment to an infant,” wrote the spice dealer Girolamo Priuli in his journal in July 1501.”

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