Behind The Scenes: A Q+A With “History Is Delicious” Author Joshua Lurie

History is delicious! We wanted to pick the brain of History Is Delicious author, Joshua Lurie, to find out more about his thought process when tackling the topic of food and his proverbial journey around the world to explore the history of ingredients, dishes, and cultural traditions around the dinner table. Because as Joshua tells us in History Is Delicious, “Every dish tells at least one story.” Read on for more appetizing food-for-thought! 

First off, why food? Why is it important to understand the history of food traditions? 

Food doesn’t exist in a vacuum. People from particular places with particular backgrounds and experiences develop dishes, often over generations. Dishes evolve depending on where these people live and move, whom they meet and marry, and what they learn. Understanding food helps us to understand history and people both past and present.

Cuisine can be a connector for people all over the world. How does food bring people together?

In the best instances, people get together with family, friends and other people in their communities to share tastes of culture and bites of history in plates and bowls. It’s also wonderful when people proudly share the food they grew up eating, the food that their parents and grandparents taught them to enjoy, and guests from different backgrounds are open to appreciating flavors and textures that might initially strike them as foreign.

How does food culture impact what we eat?

Even though the internet and social media have propelled particular food ideas across the planet, creating more similar reference points and experiences, it’s still possible to find food with more unique senses of place. While it’s vital to acknowledge how much we have in common, it’s also valuable to celebrate what makes people and cultures unique.

How much do creativity and ingenuity play into food trends? 

Sometimes the shiniest objects capture the most attention online or on social media platforms like Instagram. Remember rainbow colored “unicorn” bagels and drinks? Creativity is subjective, and some of the most inventive and delicious foods may never take off because they aren’t photogenic enough, but that’s for the public to decide.

Did you discover any patterns within different food cultures?

Many different cultures have been subject to colonialization and trauma from oppressive empires that have left lasting legacies on what people eat and the way they eat. Spices, ingredients, and culinary traditions suddenly became available across the globe in opposition to what the native cultures wanted.

Countries often have considerable culinary and demographic diversity within their borders. It can be a generalization to say people in a particular country eat one way when regionalization rules, particularly in larger countries like China or Mexico. Japan is an example of a relatively small country that has highly specialized, seasonal eating habits that vary by region.

Did anything surprise you during your research?

I’ve been writing professionally about food since 2005, but I learned a lot about which foods and ingredients come from where and how they ended up in far-flung places. My research constantly reminded me how many ingredients originated in the Andes, the South American mountain chain that spans countries like Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. This epicenter for ingredients like chilies, potatoes and tomatoes made me want to book a trip to learn more and to experience varieties that aren’t available in L.A. or the U.S.

Lastly, what is your favorite food/recipe/dish?

What I like about all four recipes from the book is how versatile they are. Readers can enjoy corn tortillas, hummus, onigiri, and tortilla Española any time of day. These foods also act as creative canvases for an infinite combination of fillings and toppings.

When it comes to specific cuisines, I’ve learned not to play favorites and keep an open mind, heart, and stomach, though I often find myself at Asian, Middle Eastern and Armenian restaurants when I have spare meals. Of course, that’s partly a byproduct of where I live, which is nearby Asian, Middle Eastern and Armenian culinary communities.