People just don’t make food the way they used to. No respect for tradition! I’m not talking about fast food chains, high fructose corn syrup, or trans fats. I’m not even talking about instant spice mixes.
Prior to 1492, tomatoes, potatoes, and chili peppers, all native to North and South America, had yet to make their way into the cuisines of Europe or Asia. Try picturing a spaghetti dinner in Italy circa 1300 without marinara sauce (prior to the Arab conquest of Sicily in the 7th century, no Italian meal would have even contained pasta.)
I’ve been curious about how Indian cuisine was affected by these ingredients. What would a traditional meal have been like without them? Well, King Sovadeva III (1127-1138 A.D.), a member of the Chalukya dynasty, wrote (he was a king, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a ghostwriter) Abhilashitartha Chintamani or Manasollasa, a Sanskrit encyclopedia that detailed, among other things, the cuisine of the era. Based on those writings, the Kamat Research Database has compiled information about food and drink in medieval Karnataka. Unfortunately, there are no recipes, but based on the descriptions, I can picture certain dinners from childhood that might pass the Traditional Ingredients Test. Of course, based on the names they are given, they do not sound like mainstream dishes.
Of course, when we talk about preserving traditions, we are usually just looking back a generation or two. While one might expect the link to go up unchanged through the generations, the history suggests that experimentation has been part of our traditions. Thus, while preserving those favorite recipes of our parents and grandparents, we do not have to be static. Perhaps a simple change to a familiar recipe or even an accident in the kitchen might become the “traditional cuisine” of our descendants. That would be really cool!