Wednesday, 24 September 2014


“What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?” - Lin Yutang

Have you ever stopped to think how many of our foods and drinks are named after a specific place? This of course is no surprise because many of them are very much products of a certain region or have been first made in that specific place. It occurred to me last weekend when we were drinking some excellent Australian sparkling wine made locally by Domaine Chandon. Notice how I did not use the word “Champagne” which is a strictly controlled appellation (“appelation contrôlée”) and reserved only for those sparkling wines produced in the 312 wine producing villages and towns in France. Rheims and Epernay are Champagne cities, but also the villages with charming names like Dizy, Bouzy and Rilly (honestly!)…

Similarly, Cognac is the French brandy produced in the Charente region. And incidentally, “Grande Champagne Cognac” can be used with impunity as the “champagne” in this instance refers to the Latin word from countryside or field “campania” (just as it refers to the bubbly’s etymology, but I guess the champagne producers do not mind because cognac does not compete with champagne in the marketplace!). I had to look up what VSOP stands for – “Very Special Old Pale”, which indicates what a fine cognac should be like! Armagnac is brandy from the Gers region, and some aficionados consider this superior to cognac.

I should also mention Jerez in the context of sherry and Oporto in the same boozy breath as port. Jerez takes its name from the province of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain, sherry being an Anglicisation of Jerez. Oporto is the capital and port of the district of the same name in northern Portugal. The city lies along the Douro River, 3 km from the river's mouth and 280 km north of Lisbon. World-famous for its port wine, Porto is Portugal's second largest city and is the commercial and industrial centre. The British have always been very partial to port and by extension, the colonies have similar tastes.

Now that we have had quite a bit of alcohol, what better than a bit of cheese? Gorgonzola is named after the tiny village of the same name close to Milan, Italy. The moist, delicious blue cheese has saved this village from obscurity. Parma of course produces the famous “parmigiano” – parmesan cheese, but also the delicious Parma ham. Would you like a little Dijon mustard with that? (Dijon being the capital of Côte d’Or département and of Bourgogne (Burgundy) région, east-central France – now that I’ve said Burgundy, how about a glass of it with your parmesan and ham? If you really know your wines and the Bourgogne, you can’t go past the tiny village of Nuits-Saint-Georges, said to produce the finest burgundy of France). Perhaps you’ve had enough alcohol and would rather have some Vichy water, from the notorious town in France that was the seat of the collaborationist government after France’s defeat in the Second World War. I should also mention the delicious vichyssoise, a soup made with potatoes, leeks, and cream and typically served chilled (although it’s debatable whether its origin is really French or American!).

If wine and water are not your beverage, how about some Pilsen beer? Pilsen is a city in the Czech Republic, whose citizens in 1295 were given the privilege by King Wenceslas II (son of the famous “Good King Wenceslas” of Christmas carol fame!) to make beer and sell it from their houses. Breweries sprang up and this would not have amounted to much, if not for the developments in the 19th century and the efforts of Josef Groll, master brewer. He experimented, and striking a great combination of Czech malt, hops and the soft Pilsen water produced a wonderful new beer: The light, clear, golden beer known as “Pilsner Urquell” (German for “original source”). Incidentally, Budweiser beer owes its origins to the nearby town of Ceské Budejovice.

Now how about some fish? Let’s go to Scotland and Arbroath, where the declaration of Scottish independence was signed in 1310 AD. Most people however, know this city for its “Arbroath Smokies”, a delicious hot smoked haddock dish. Down to England for some Worcestershire sauce from the town of Worcester. Both of these names have plagued English students with their pronunciation (woŏstərˌsh i(ə)r and ˈwoŏstər)! How about some Melton pies or Mowbray pies? Fancy some dessert? Then Bakewell tart it is for you!

Now that we are talking about desserts, how about some Eccles cakes or Pontefract cake, from the city of West Yorkshire. Also of course, Yorkshire pudding, which is not a dessert, but rather a popover made of baked unsweetened egg batter, and typically eaten with roast beef. Dundee in Scotland is a fine town and home to the wonderful Dundee cake. If you want something fancier, you need to go to Germany and have some Battenberg cake, from Battenberg in Hesse. You know the one, – a bit kitch, its chequered yellow and pink slices enveloped in marzipan and which was created in honour of Louis, Prince Battenberg. His son was Britain’s first Sea Lord in WWI and for obvious reasons, the name was anglicised to Mountbatten!

So far I’ve confined myself to Europe, but the USA is equally rich in this custom of place name foods. Idaho potatoes and Kentucky fried chicken are almost as well known internationally as in their place of origin. New York steaks, California rolls, Waldorf salad, Boston baked beans, Boston buns, New England clam chowder, Mississippi mud cake, Manhattan cocktails, Philly steak, Tex-Mex food, etc, etc.

Perhaps the most famous creation of the Americans is the hamburger. Not Hamburg, Germany, but Hamburg, New York State was the place where the popular fast food was invented. It was at the Hamburg annual fair organised by the Erie Agricultural Society that the hamburger was first sold in 1885. Frank and Charles Menches sold their traditional hot pork sandwiches there for years, until hot weather prevented slaughtering of pigs. Beef mince was used instead and the rest is history.

I could go on and talk about the Earl of Sandwich, tell you about Swiss rolls, Greek salad and Peking Ducks. Bombe Alaska, Long Island iced tea and Welsh rarebit. French Toast, Chinese Gooseberries and Bombay duck (which is really a fish!) and many many more. But I’ll stop here - I’m rather tired of kitchen chair travelling and getting rather hungry…


  1. This is very informative as well as amusing, Nicholas.

  2. Absolutely.....Eccles cakes, Pontefract cake, Yorkshire pudding... they have affected everyone's lives and dinners.

    But more than that, food geography has influenced our travel decisions.I _expect_ to find great paella in Spain and make sure we ask which are the best places to go in each city. But in Israel, I would not expect paella and would make the long trip from Australia searching out great Israeli Shakshuka or potato bourekas. I plan out food geography in advance :)