Food History in Central America Term Paper

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Food History Of Central American Cuisine

What is the geographical location of Central America and why it has an effect on the Central America cuisine? (i.e., what is the weather condition in Central America and does that play an affect as to why they eat the foods they eat and what foods do they eat mostly).

The geographical location of Central America has just about everything to do with the cuisine of the countries that make up the area. The countries include Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. The countries form an isthmus that connects Mexico with Latin America. They enjoy a tropical climate, which means a wide variety of plants thrive there, and this of course adds to the diet and the cuisine. For example, tropical plants such as plantains are popular in the cooking of the region, and coffee is one of the staples of the area and a major export to other countries. Most of the countries also export sugar, citrus, and many other agricultural products. The countries have shorelines located along the mild Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and they are humid and rainy, which means there is plenty of moisture to grow a variety of crops and support animals. An early writer said of the geography,

The backbone of the five countries is a comparatively low cordillera, 6,000-foot mountains with rich slopes for coffee farms. Toward the Atlantic side, down to the Caribbean Sea, are broad, low jungle valleys, rich for banana farms and for pastures, and on the Pacific side a comparatively narrow ledge, half desert and half a most luxurious garden, the site of the chief cities and of the richest of the coffee and sugar farms (Thompson 8).

The countries all have volcanic roots, which creates rich soil to help their agriculture flourish.

B. The weather in Central America is temperate and makes for good agriculture. It is humid and tropic, with a rainy season that stretches from spring through late fall, which helps aid the growing season. The climate does not get too cold year round, so more plants thrive. Tropical climates such as the one in the Caribbean are excellent agricultural climates, and so, there is much more variety to the cuisine, because the countries naturally support more food and more native plants.

C. The foods they eat most often include the foods that are native to the area, from corn to plantains, seafood, and even an iguana lizard once in a while. Other local foods include many that are common in Mexican cuisine, because they share some of the same growing conditions. Central Americans rely on beans, rice, and corn as staples of their diet, and add chilies and other spices to most of their dishes. The coastline countries use a lot of seafood in their cuisines, while the interior areas depend more on native plants and animals. Food writer Christopher Keegan notes, "The interior areas depend on beans and nuts for protein along with small animals -- and the occasional iguana. The seacoast regions boast abundant seafood prepared in stews, grilled or pickled raw in citrus ceviches" (Keegan). All of these foods seem to represent Latin cuisine as a whole, but each region adds their own unique slant to the native foods, and Central America is no exception.

2. Historically, which groups have an influence on the Central America cuisine?

A. The first group to have a historical influence on the cuisine of Central America were the Native Americans that lived in the area, such as the Mayan Indians, who enjoyed an advanced civilization throughout the area. The Spanish explorers who reached the region in the 1500s also brought influence to the cuisine of the area. Writer Christopher Keegan continues, "Central American cuisine closely follows that of its Spanish and Mexican heritage. Belize has a British influence, but the main scope of its cuisine still follows its Mayan and Spanish history" (Keegan). Historically and culturally, both groups heavily influenced all the foods of Mexico, Central, and Latin America.

B. The Mayans were an advanced civilization who stretched from Mexico into Guatemala, and lived throughout the Central American isthmus. Their culture was advanced, and they suddenly disappeared around 900A.D. And no one seems to know why (Toussaint-Samat 575). They are historically important to the area's cuisine in a number of ways. They were farmers, who grew crops such as corn, peppers, beans, tomatoes, squash, and even harvested cocoa that became much acclaimed chocolate in Europe. All of these foods were native to the area, and once the Spaniards came, they spread in popularity around the world. The Mayas disappeared from the area but they left behind their plants, their agricultural skills, and their love for good food and that helped establish the cuisine of the area.

C. The Spaniards brought European influences to the area, which included introducing cattle to the area, which provided both meat and dairy goods, along with fat for cooking. A food historian writes, "The refrito beans that are a specialty of Mexico today -- boiled, mashed, friend and served with a topping of grated cheese -- evolved only after the Spanish introduced the cow and other domesticated animals to Central America" (Tannahill 206). The culture had relied on beans as a staple, but usually beans and rice, rather than the refried beans that are still so popular today in Latin restaurants around the world.

D. With oil or fat, many other opportunities came about, such as frying tortillas to creating one of the most popular dishes in Central American cuisine, the fried plantain, which is often served as a dessert, but also shows up as a lunch or breakfast staple. Reporter Diana Nelson Jones writes, "If Central America were to unite behind any food, it might be the plantain, which I had as often at lunch as at breakfast. Like bananas but larger, meatier and a shade toward orange, plantains are delicious sliced and fried in oil to a golden brown" (Jones). Without the Spanish, Central America, frying in hot oil may have come to the cuisine far later, and without the Mayan, they might not have discovered many of the local crops that were common and easy to grow.

3. What are the practical and social rituals associated with the Central America cuisine?

A. Some of the rituals associated with Central American cuisine have to relate to the Catholic Church, which is the predominant religion in the area. For example, meatless Fridays, and religious celebrations that include symbolic foods are important in the ritual of the cuisines. However, there are many practical rituals, too. For example, much of the cooking is done outside on patios, because the climate is so temperate. This has been going on for a long time, too. A writer who visited the area in 1926 notes, "All this food is prepared by native women cooks [ ... ] in elaborate kitchens which surround the servants' patio behind the dining-rooms" (Thompson 228). In a humid, tropical climate, cooking outside also makes sense because of the extreme heat of cooking.

B. Other rituals include a later breakfast and lunch, and then an afternoon "siesta" during the hottest part of the day. This was also a Spanish custom, and has held over even until today, where breakfast is light, lunch comes around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon and is light, and dinner comes later in the evening, perhaps as late as 10pm. Another ritual is tortilla making just about every day. Fresh tortillas are used at just about every meal, and many women still make their own tortillas. They make them every day so they are fresh for every meal.

4.What are the ingredients, seasoning, styles, and cooking procedures attributable to the Central America region?

A. There are numerous ingredients, seasonings, styles, and cooking procedures in Central American cuisine. Many of them closely resemble those of Mexico, because the Native Americans and Spanish explorers influenced them, and they both use native ingredients that are common in the area. They commonly use tomatoes, chilis, corn (for tortillas and masa), beans, rice, and fruit in their cooking. One of the most unusual ways of "cooking" in the area is to use citrus juice, like lemon or lime, to "cook" raw fish. The acids in the juice do not really cook the fish, but make it seem as if it has been cooked. Because there is so much seafood in the area, this is common, and people eat this "ceviche" all the time. Reporter Jones continues, "All ceviche is 'cooked' in lime or lemon juice -- lime is better -- but some do not include cilantro, which Sergio's does. I had some in El Salvador with diced celery in it, an ingredient I would not consider using" (Jones). Cilantro is a common flavoring in Central American cooking, but chilies are probably the most common spice used there.

B. Chilies are probably the most well-known spice that is used in Central…

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