Conflict Cuisine

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 24 2015 @ 5:49pm

Lionel Beehner considers a correlation:

In my past life as a freelance reporter based in post-conflict countries, I used to think there was a direct relationship between war-torn places and good cuisine. Maybe an inventive menu was a sign of ethnically diverse cultures, which may be synonymous with internecine conflict. Conflict zones, after all, tend to bestride former empires. Or perhaps the horror of war is what lends itself to good food – as a form of culinary escapism.

The tastiest kebabs I’ve tried are in Aleppo (in a former merchant guesthouse since leveled during the war). Which should come as no surprise: Syria sits at a cultural crossroads — its cuisine benefits from Ottoman, Armenian, Jewish, and French influences. That would also explain why the best falafel in Jordan, at least according to aid workers there, is in a Syrian refugee camp. I remember sampling the best cheese and wine I’d ever tried in Tbilisi shortly after Georgia’s 2008 war with Russia. That makes sense – Georgia has been invaded by the Mongols, the Persians, the Turks.

Blander food conversely seems to go hand in hand with peace and stability. Until Rene Redzepi’s Noma lit up the latest New Nordic foodie craze, peace in northern Europe corresponded with a dull and unpredictable diet of meat and potatoes. The Balkans may be a less stable place, but anybody who’s tried a cevapi in Sarajevo can say that Bosnian cuisine is anything but bland. I have fond memories of my trip last year to Tanzania – a country at relative peace since a border scuffle with Burundi in 1996 – but tasting its native cuisine was not one of them. Ethiopia, which has seen no shortage of war and conflict, boasts perhaps the continent’s best food.