The Consequences of A Lack of Spice

July 21, 2018

I have just finished a wonderful Vietnamese salad; crispy vegetables, shredded chicken all marinated in a quite unbelievable mix of spices. It was delicious, fresh and healthy. The UK equivalent is probably a Caesar Salad, no doubt enjoyable but lacking in that essential ingredient; spice.


The enormous variety of flavours and spices that characterise every dish defines life in Asia; every dish and every region has its own unique cacophony of flavours and styles. Sharp contrasting tastes and cooking methods, more often than not served at a price that makes it accessible to everybody, is the universal characterisation of every Asian nation. 


The difference between these dishes and the national dishes back home are stark, the culinary delights of the UK are fantastic and reach perfection in the simple scotched egg. An oval delight of ingenuity that is just as superb on the go, as on the plate in a formal dining setting. As wonderful as the scotched egg is though; even I would have to admit that it would be improved by the addition of spice.


So puzzled is my wife by the British obsession with potatoes and non spiced food that whenever travelling back home she now always arms herself with a bottle of chilli sauce to improve the flavour of every meal. Be it a roast, a fried egg on toast or a shepherds pie ; she will always add a dollop of chilli sauce to improve the meal and make it less bland. 


This realisation about the delights of spice has made me question whether the British Empire would have been quite so large had there been spicy food at home at the time. It is often said that the reason why Northern European nations were so obsessed with conquering new territories was the weather; as it was so awful in the Winter, the desire to find new lands and opportunity was strong and quite understandable. Like the Vikings who, amazingly, found the North of England an attractive land and began pillaging and raiding to improve their lot; you can explain the British Empire on the desire to improve their lot and get away from the cold. While I rather like this simplified explanation that it was the weather that was the reason behind the British Empire, I think that spice, or the lack thereof, also played a part. Perhaps the explanation as to why global conquest was less popular in the likes of Asia but prevalent by the British was not only the weather but also the food.


Would there have been so many people attracted to leaving the shores of their homes to explore new adventures in foreign climes if there was the option of spicy and glorious food at home? I suspect not and as if to exasperate the situation, this desire to explore then opened up the world of spices and different foods to the  British, an awakening that further enhanced the desire to travel and expand the Empire. So when my two youngest children follow the sensible path of their eldest sibling and ask me why and how such a small island, Britain, took over such large swathes of the world? I will simply answer; because the food is a little bland and they wanted the spicy food that your mother so loves.


I think that just about covers it.

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