Transnational Culinary Discourse

Alexandra Grigorieva, Ph.D., Classics and Food History scholar, core research fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. Åpent for alle.

Diachronic development of national in transnational culinary discourse:

case study of 'Russian salad' vs. 'Italian salad' from 19th to 21st century.


   When we hear the word Italian salad, or Russian salad what do we generally surmise? Usually, that this is something we can typically eat in Italy, or Russia. However, food names are often much more complicated. It can be quite erroneous to take such national and even relatively less controversy-inducing geographic food names at their face value. Turkey doesn’t come from Turkey, nor does the same fowl - dinde in French - come from India, and Jerusalem artichoke has no claims on Jerusalem.

   It becomes even more fraught with difficulty, if a dish of the same name is common to several nations that have a history together. In this case the national identity of falafel in the Middle East, or moussaka in the Balkans may be discussed ad nauseam, because people feel very strongly about their own heritage that informs their personal background and resent the slightest hint of what is in their eyes cultural appropriation.

   Since the birth of the nationalism in the 19th century and its enthusiastic acceptance by the European society even such trivial things as food names have become a potential minefield. In my lecture, I propose to explore the evolution of geographical/national food words throughout European history, focusing especially on culinary nationalism. We will also look at its supposed by-products, to figure out how much actual ‘national’ is there. What is national about the Italian salad of greens, anchovies and salami promoted by the French haute cuisine in the post-World War I period? Or Russian salad, popular in Spain, that includes tuna (a fish unfamiliar to most Russians until the last few decades)? How does the national discourse influence our tastes and culinary perceptions?


   Alexandra Grigorieva, Ph.D. is a core research fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, Finland. She is a Classics and Food History scholar with a particular interest in the history of food words. She has published books on food diversity (a UNESCO project, 2006-2011), wines of Bordeaux (2006-2010) and Burgundy (2010), she has also contributed to the Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets (2015). She has been addressing issues of culinary nationalism, ethnicity and bigotry in some of her articles, such as Russian Food Words at Home and Abroad (2010), Naming Authenticity and Regional Italian Cuisine (2006).

   She teaches courses on food in Latin literature, history of festival foods and their symbolism, food migration and so on. She is currently working on a diachronic digital database of food words in Latin and other European languages, including Finnish, and writing a book Foods and Food Words from Antiquity to Modern Times: a Gastronomic Thesaurus of Europe.

Published Sep. 1, 2016 7:12 PM - Last modified Sep. 1, 2016 7:15 PM