When people of a foreign land came in contact
with the people of the regions of Thailand, India and the Americas,
a potential for learning and enhancing ones culture was created.
In situations where contact was on a personal level, both peoples
learned particularly about assorted foods and the methods for
preparing them. As a general rule, foreign encounters provide
the opportunity for explorers and natives alike to learn a significant
amount about the other's culture, especially in the way of food.
Despite the fact that unlike most third world
countries, Thailand was never colonized, the people still had
contacts with the Europeans and Chinese. Mutual learning opportunities
followed from such meetings. The Thai, along with the rest of
Southeast Asia, relied heavily on rice as a source of nourishment,
but the methods of collecting salt were particularly noted (Reid
28). During the dry seasons, salt would be collected by allowing
the sun to evaporate salt water in pans along the coast. One of
the first coastal populations arose due to the number of people
working such salt pans in the twelfth century (Reid 29). The Europeans
and the Thais took interest in the kinds of fruits which could
be shared among them. The Thai had a wide array of fruits like
bananas, coconuts, mangos and limes, all of which were happily
received by their visitors (Reid 30). The Europeans offered the
pineapple and the papaya, novelties from the New World. Papaya
soon was discovered to have valuable medicinal virtues (Reid 31).
Due to the friendly growing conditions, sugar abounded in the
area and was touted as the nation's most important export to Chinese
exporters toward the end of the seventeenth century (Reid 31).
The Thai drank water as an everyday staple, which was a surprise
to the tea-drinking Chinese and the alcohol-drinking Europeans
(Reid 36). Even though the foreign people did not adapt the habit
of drinking water, and tea did not spread beyond the capital of
Thailand, the Chinese example of boiling water was followed by
some in the region. The natives learned as the water got more
polluted to do this to kill the "little invisible creatures"
in the water (Reid 38).
In much the same manner as the Thai, the people
of India taught and learned from the Europeans. The foreigners
were taken with the "aromatic spices" of India, namely
ginger and cinnamon (Achaya 163). In addition to showing the Europeans
how to spice food, the Indians showed them how to enjoy the effects
of certain drugs. By the tenth century, people of India were using
the hemp plant, bhang, to produce "intoxication and
stupefaction of the mind and senses" (Achaya 171). Opium
came to India in the eleventh and twelfth centuries from the Arabs,
originally from the Greeks. The uses of opium were documented
by the Europeans in the early sixteenth century, as it was exported
as well (Achaya 171). In a way, the Europeans returned the favor
by exposing the region to alcohol. The English introduced such
beverages as Madeira wine, champagne, brandy and beer to add to
the alcoholic interests of the Indian people (Achaya 178).
Another great exchange of information took
place in the New World between the Europeans and the native Americans.
The Spanish introduced the Mexicans to wine, which facilitated
the development of alcoholism in the natives (Coe 234). European
contributions to the Americas also include breads, pies, sugar
and vegetables such as lettuce, radishes, turnips and carrots
(Coe 239). The Americas made two interesting contributions to
European culture in the peanut and the pineapple. The peanut is
believed to have originated in Bolivia sometime before 3100 BC.
When the Europeans were introduced to it, the peanut was received
just as well for its oil as for its snacking purposes (Coe 35-36).
The pineapple, on the other hand, was very warmly welcomed by
the Europeans. Partly because of its sweet taste and partly because
it was so hard to grow in Europe, the pineapple went straight
to the top of the social hierarchy of food (Coe 42). Starting
early in the sixteenth century, pineapples represented the "wealth,
hospitality and friendship" of the nobility (Coe 41).
An insurgence of foreign people to a new region
invariably leads to interactions between the peoples. Through
such interactions, a great deal can be learned. In the cases of
Thailand, India and the Americas, the natives and the explorers
took advantage of their opportunities and enhanced their respective
Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical
New York: Oxford University Press,1999.
Anderson, E.N. The Food of China. New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.
Coe, Sophia. America's First Cuisine.
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450-1680. Volume One: The Lands below the Winds. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.