Thailand, India, and the Americas
David Doran

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 food cultures.

Works Cited

Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. 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.

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