The other day I baked my first homemade bread and it blew my mind seeing what you can create with just 2 or 3 ingredients: Water, flour and yeast. And while I was waiting for the bread to rise, 12-18 hours with the no-knead slow rise method, I started to contemplate all the different breads around the world: baguettes, bagels, pretzels, tortillas, naan, sourdough, roti, rye, pita, matzo, focaccia, soda bread… they all start the same way.
With only two or three ingredients, each culture has been able to create their own individual identity. Through bread.
Have you ever thought of traveling the world just to sample bread? Or, if that’s too difficult, how about traveling vicariously through your local delicatessen, trying different breads from around the world? It’ll make you aware of how different continents interpret the world’s most common food.
Bread is the food that immigrants remember most from their home country, and it’s often what they miss the most. It’s the ultimate comfort food, an essential part of our cultural heritage. While in many countries the almost-ritual stop at the bakery to get a fresh loaf of bread is part of daily life, it’s not surprising that a large number of ‘expats’ , including me, have started baking their own bread at home. Germans are baking brezels; Italians focaccia; Indians roti and naan; and Ethiopians injera.
And once we’ve figured out how to replicate it, we take it with us wherever we go, spreading the word. Take the tortilla, which has exploded all over Southern California, giving sourdough a run for its money – thanks to our beloved Mexican neighbors.
Bread around the world in all its forms tells us a lot about the environment where it has been developed, about the culture it is part of, and about the people who consume it. And much has been said about it. One way or another, it’s been around for an estimated 6,000 years. It’s written into the Lord’s Prayer, for God’s sake.
It’s so ingrained in our cultures that we make jokes about our relationship with it. According to Milton Berle, ‘Anytime a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies.’
And think about that expression ‘daily bread’. It’s what keeps us alive, sustenance, survival. ‘It is not accidental that all phenomena of human life are dominated by the search for daily bread,’ said Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, ‘the oldest link connecting all living things, man included, with the surrounding nature.’
Bread around the world. Bon appetite!