Aerial View of Seafood Market

Street Eats

By the People

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Onigiri
By Travelers

Onigiri, also known as a rice ball, is a popular handheld convenience food in Japan with different fillings ranging from tuna to sour plums. Traditional onigiri is wrapped in seaweed that can add a little crunch and extra flavor to the dish. Today onigiri is a staple in Japan – it can be found everywhere from convenience stores to children’s lunchboxes.

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HISTORY

Onigiri can be traced back to the Yayoi period (300 BCE until approx. 300 CE). According to archaeologists, it is possible to see finger indentations on carbonized rice which could confirm that this treat was eaten in the same manner more than two thousand years ago! A key

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Fujisawa: Pilgrims Resting

From the series Pictorial Guide to the Fifty-three Stations of the Tôkaidô: Customs of the Road (Tôkaidô gojûsan tsugi saiken zue, dôchû fûzoku)

Source: By Utagawa Hiroshige - National Diet Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53859371

difference between these artifacts and today’s onigiri is how the rice was prepared and served. It is believed that onigiri was originally shaped, steamed and served in bamboo leaves, whereas onigiri today is cooked, the rice is then shaped and served with nori (seaweed). 

A consistent snack or meal, onigiri continued to change throughout Japan’s history. For example, in the Heian period (794 - 1185 CE) the glutinous rice “ball” was made of brown rice and prepared into an egg shape. This version of onigiri called ton-jiki was a convenience food for the working class, particularly domestic servants and farm workers. Toward the finish of the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333 CE) the preparation shifted to plain rice rather than sticky glutinous rice.

Onigiri in its current form emerged during the Edo period during the late 17th century (the Genroku Era). During this time, popular fillings like umeboshi and Daikon pickles and pressed nori seaweed begin to appear.

Image by Markus Winkler

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KNOWLEDGE . . .

Mexico
By Workers

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Though a recent dish for high-end restaurants, tacos trace their history back to the beginning of agriculture. Traditional Mexican tacos feature savory meat and spicy salsa all enclosed in a soft corn tortilla. From beef to fish, taco fillings vary by region based on available ingredients and preferred methods of preparation.

HISTORY

The corn tortilla can be traced back to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico around 10,000 BCE, which places tortillas right at the time when corn was domesticated in that region. From there the birth of the tortilla is a matter of semantics – the name tortilla would only show up about 200 years before the taco.

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A rose by any other name… In 1325 CE Tenochtitlan was founded in the spot that is currently known as Mexico City. While corn tortillas in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan would often be eaten plain or dipped in a delicious chili sauce, you could also get them stuffed with meats, vegetables, or beans. These were easy to find in the busy markets of this capital city.

The word tortilla came in the middle of the 17th century CE from the Spanish word for cake, tort. But when did the taco begin to be a taco? It is not known for certain, however it is thought that this handheld treat’s current name was born out of the colonial period silver mines in Mexico during the 18th century CE. Miners would take silver paper and use it to cover explosive charges. These charges would look like small cigars, and according to the historian Dr. Jeffery Pilcher, it was at that time that workers would refer to their lunches as “tacos” because they resembled the small explosive charges. During this time, potatoes domesticated in the Andes would be a common feature to this popular lunchtime meal.

The taco would enter the mainstream as a result of industrialization’s push to bring everyone — men and women — into the workforce to the extent that once again small food stands began to pop up in Mexico City, just as they had in Tenochtitlan several centuries prior.

Batbout
For Gathering

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Also known as mkhamer, toghrift, and matlou, Moroccan batbout is a soft pillowy bread known for its characteristic hole in the middle. Batbout can be stuffed with grilled meat for filling on-the-go meals, or for breakfasts, the soft flatbread may be drizzled with a sweet topping, like honey or jam. Today this flatbread is found in open air markets sold by street vendors.

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HISTORY

Prior to the 1980s, it was most common for batbout to be made by each household and baked in communal ovens called frans. Because so many breads were being baked at the same time in these community ovens, a small stamp might be applied to your bread to ensure that you would recognize it upon its removal from the oven. It would be a common sight to observe children with a gssa (which is a small red pan filled with yeast) balanced on their heads walking to the frans.

Since in the 1980s, more households have all of the adults working full time and it has become less common to see people at the frans. Now you will much more likely see professional bakeries packed into the souks (which are the shopping streets found in the modina or the walled old town-centers). 

Wheat Field

The Grains of Civilization

Archaeologists believe that flatbreads radiated out of the region now referred to as the Fertile Crescent because of extensive evidence of grain cultivation. However, there’s some debate about whether all of the early grains were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent region, as there is plenty of evidence to de-center the Fertile Crescent as the “breadbox” of the world.

Regardless of where wild grains were first cultivated, it is believed that the preparation of flatbread can be tracked with the spread of the cereal grains.

Types of Flatbreads

Flatbreads are one type of food that can be found around the world – from crepes to dosai, tortillas to injera, or pancakes to pita. Painstakingly divided by their key characteristics, flatbreads fall into one of the following categories:

Pancake-like

Made of a runny batter that is often fermented. Popular flatbreads in the category include crepes, dosai, and injera.

Which other flatbreads might be described as pancake-like?