Intangible Cultural Heritage – The Food Edition

UNESCO has a list of 38 elements which are part of its Intangible Cultural Heritage for safeguarding. Instituted in 2009, this list has an eclectic mix of different cultural elements including dance, music, food and crafting. We bring you a quick update of all the intangible cultural elements based on food.

Traditional Mexican Cuisine

Traditional Mexican cuisine comprises of age-old culinary techniques and ancestral community customs which signifies the collective participation of the entire community right from growing the crop to cooking it in methods which encourage increased nutritional value.

Like anyone vaguely familiar with Mexican cuisine knows the basis of Mexican food is on corn, beans and chilli. Their culinary practises also includes specific techniques of farming (called Milpa), specific cooking practises (such as nixtamalization) and usage of traditional utensils such as the grinding stone and mortars.

This complete practice is included in UNESCO’s list since it reinforces social bonds and focuses on sustainable development through food.

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The Mediterranean Diet (Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain)

The Mediterranean diet includes foods which are plant-based such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy fats and limiting the amount of red meat. Grilled fish and oliv oil is also used in abundance here. This diet is considered quite healthy since it advocates a restricted use of red wine.

While eating a plate of pasta with fresh tomatoes and washing it down with red wine could constitute you heritage experience, it is important to understand why this is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

This diet which also includes the skills and knowledge surrounding the farming, harvesting, fishing, processing and cooking techniques emphasize on group and community identity. Hence, the cultural practise transcends the boundaries of food and acts as a cornerstone for cultural practises which involves eating together (like it is still common in several Italian families) and stresses on hospitality and neighbourliness. These community meals in turn have given rise to a large amount of art being produced – in the form of music, legends and tales.

Women play a great role in transmitting knowledge from one generation to another.

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Croatian Gingerbread Making

Gingerbread making, which arrived in the middle ages in European monasteries, became a craft in Croatia. Though the basic bread making includes the simple ingredients of sugar, flour, water, baking soda and spices, the decoration on them make them unique.

These breads (called “Licitars” in Croatia)are moulded to different shapes and allowed to dry after which they are painted with edible colours & decorated with pictures, mirrors or small messages. The gingerbread heart is quite a common sight in wedding parties. It is also common as a Valentine’s Day gift. It is one of the most commonly recognizable symbols of Croatian identity especially in the Zagreb area.

Earlier this was passed on only to male members of the family, but now it is being passed on to both men & women across generations.

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Turkish Coffee

Freshly roasted beans are ground to a fine powder, mixed with cold water and sugar and then brewed slowly on stove until the desired foam appears – that is Turkish coffee. The Turkish Coffee Culture as a whole enjoys representation in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Turkish coffee houses are very well known where this coffee is served in small cups and encourage what most coffee houses do – conversations. As a famous Turkish saying goes, “One neither desires coffee nor a coffeehouse. One desires to talk with others, coffee is but an excuse.”

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Washoku, Japan

Washoku, or roughly translated to “Japanese Cuisine” is the 22nd Japanese asset to be listed on UNESCO’s intangible Cultural Heritage. Japanese cooking is focused on bringing out the essence of every ingredient used in the food. Their approach to cooking and food making is very sincere. Apparently it takes years for a Japanese cook to perfect any individual skill.

The basis of any Japanese meal is rice with one soup and three side dishes which uses very little animal fat. Hence, it is considered very healthy and also supposedly prevents obesity. Another important aspect of Washoku is the use of seasonal leaves to decorate food thereby increasing the individual awareness to the environment one lives in.

This practise is at its peak during the New Year festivities, where special delicacies are prepared and families/ communities eat together. Cooking instructors and class teachers play an important role in transmitting this knowledge from one generation to the other.

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Gastronomic Meal of the French

The Gastronomic Meal of the French is a social gathering of individuals and groups to celebrate occasions such as birth, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and reunions.

The French meal focuses of togetherness including amount of time spent at the table, order of the courses, setting of a beautiful table and home-cooked food. The gastronomic meal has a fixed structure that starts with aperitif (drinks before meal) and ending with liqueurs with at least four successive courses in between.

The French meal is a representation of togetherness and a feeling of family or community.

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