World’s 7 fiercest food fights
Nothing sparks more heated debate than the subject of food.
You don't need to be a bad chef to know that -- just read the comments on this list of the world's 50 most delicious foods, or food critic Jason Sheehan's thoughts on why people take their food so seriously.
But sometimes these arguments spread beyond the safety of an Internet comments box.
In every continent in every era, countries have crossed swords over the origin of traditional dishes.
Feuds over food sovereignty even devolved into diplomatic rifts. Threats have been made. Political alliances have been broken.
For proof that people were given mouths for only two main reasons, 1) to eat, and 2) to argue about what they just ate, read on.
1. Lebanon vs. Israel: The hummus humdinger
“Why are you so anti-hummus? Isn't pita bread the real enemy?" Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen's ditzy designer character, once asked in a debate about the Palestinian Islamist political party Hamas.
Notwithstanding Bruno's hilarious ignorance, he did at least bring this politicized chick pea dish into the spotlight.
As if they didn't have enough to argue about, in 2008 the president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists launched a lawsuit against Israel for infringement of food copyright laws.
Lebanon’s government also petitioned the European Union to classify hummus as a uniquely Lebanese food. Lebanese have complained about the commercialization of this savory dip, known as “mezze” (appetizers in Lebanese), under the label “Israeli cuisine” in Western stores.
Perhaps it's less political and more financial -- sales of hummus are estimated at around US$1 billion a year.
Both countries took this legal battle to the kitchen.
Israelis first broke the record of the largest plate of hummus in January 2010 by cooking some 4,082 kilos of the stuff.
Lebanon retaliated with a culinary blitzkrieg when a team of about 300 Lebanese chefs set the Guinness World Record of the largest hummus plate in May 2010, with a humongous 10,450 kilo plate.
Israel retaliated with postcards at tourist kiosks all over the country calling hummus “Israel's National Snack.”
The truth is, this gluttons’ war will never end.
Hummus has been traced to the time of Saladin, a 12th- century sultan, well before the establishment of the states of Israel and Lebanon.
Try it at
Abu Shaker restaurant, 29 Hameginim St., Haifa 33091, Israel; +972 446 6181; 6 a.m.-6 p.m.
Le Chef restaurant, rue Gouraud, Gemmayzeh, Beirut, Lebanon; +961 144 6769; Monday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
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2. Chile vs. Peru: The potato battle
It wasn't enough to quarrel over the naming rights to pisco and the provenance of the charango. The humble spud has also become a "hot potato" between Chile and Peru.
This dispute over its origins started when professor Andres Contreras from Chile's Austral University tried to register over 280 potato varieties from the southern island of Chiloe (southern Chile) as originating in Chile.
This island had already been identified as the birthplace of the potato in Pablo Neruda’s 1955 book “Oda a la Papa."
In June 2008, Marigen Hornkohl, Chile's then agriculture minister, proclaimed that: "99 percent of the world's potatoes have some type of genetic link to potatoes from Chile."
Peru threatened to take the case to the United Nations.
For Peruvians, the potato was discovered by the troops of Spanish Colonel Pizarro and comes from the Andes near Lake Titicaca, most of which is located in modern-day Peru.
Peruvian Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde was proud to acknowledge that: “The Peruvian potato saved Europe from hunger."
To make matters worse, Bolivia made it a tripartite quarrel, when it claimed to have found traces of older tuber in its soil.
In the Andes, the potato is celebrated in carnivals with traditional dance and music. In Peru, it is publicized by cries of "la papa es Peruana" (the potato is Peruvian”).
But one village in Peru’s Cajamarca Region took things a bit too far when it tried to emulate the popular tomato-throwing festival La Tomatina in Spain, replacing soft, squishy tomatoes with potatoes.
Dozen of people were injured.
Find them at
La Vega market, Nueva Rengifo, López de Bello & Salas, Santiago, Chile; +56 2732 9492; Monday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
The Parque de la Papa, three kilometers from Pisaq – Cusco, Peru; +51 8424 5021; www.parquedelapapa.org (located between 3,200 and 5,000 meters above sea level, the ideal altitude for growing potatoes)
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3. Malaysia vs. Singapore: The yee sang/yusheng dispute
Singapore and Malaysia have previously butted heads over land and water.
But now there is another bone of contention -- yusheng (in Singapore) or yee sang (in Malaysia).
This delectable dish -- made of thinly sliced pieces of raw fish and shredded vegetables -- is a Lunar New Year delicacy that’s commonly served as an appetizer to bring good luck.
The Malaysian government took what they considered the innocent step in 2009 of adding yee sang to the list of national dishes.
Then one man decided it was time for a dispute. Singaporean professor Tan Wee Cheng set up a special Facebook page in 2010 dedicated to the inclusion of yusheng as Singapore’s national dish in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.
“We cannot continue to let other countries hijack our food,” responded Malaysian Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen.
Malaysians even called Singapore’s attempt to patent yee sang as a local delicacy a "deliberate violation of rights."
Not wanting to miss out on a skirmish, even Japan tried to get involved. "If anyone were to be qualified to apply for the yee sang culture, it must be the Japanese, as they started consuming raw fish centuries ago," suggested Mei Shu Zhen, a Japanese columnist.
It’s difficult to determine the origin of this dish because it’s a Cantonese recipe that both Malaysia and Singapore polished later.
Chinese settled in both countries, and both were British colonies, so this is another food dispute that will likely go on as long as the countries exist.
Try it at
Crystal Jade Palace, 391 Orchard Road, No. 04-19 Ngee Ann City, Singapore; +65 6735 2399; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Sek Yuen Restaurant, 313-315 Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; +63 9222 9457; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 6 p.m.-10 p.m.; closed Monday
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4. Australia vs. New Zealand: The pavlova spat
When it comes to pavlova, everybody wants a slice ... of its history.
The origin of this cloud-like meringue-based dessert topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream is the trifle in dispute between Australia and New Zealand.
One thing we know is this fluffy dessert that melts on the tongue was named after the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, as a testimony to her lightness, airiness and grace.
The problem is she toured both Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s and the issue of the origin of the eponymous dessert has become a serious matter of national pride.
When conservative John Key was elected as New Zealand's prime minister in 2008, one of his first acts was to dismiss Australia's pavlova claim as "totally ridiculous."
The Australian National Dictionary describes pavlova as “a famous Australian dessert, named due to its mouth-watering properties.”
But professor Helen Leach, a culinary anthropologist at New Zealand’s University of Otago, compiled a library of cookbooks containing 667 pavlova recipes. "I can find at least 21 pavlova recipes in New Zealand cookbooks by 1940, which was the year the first Australian ones appeared," she concluded.
To challenge Aussies over the origin of the sugary bliss, Kiwi students at the Eastern Institute of Technology created the world's largest pavlova (64 meters long) in 2005.
In 2010, a 50-square-meter rugby-shaped pavlova (made with 10,000 egg whites and more than 600 kilos of sugar) was cooked in Christchurch. It was capable of feeding 10,000 people.
Try it at
Pavlova Pantry, Lvl 31/ 88 Phillip St., Sydney, Australia; +61 3003 02162
Cowell's Genuine Pavlova, 47 Atkinson Ave., Otahuhu Auckland 1062, New Zealand; +64 9276 6692
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5. Greece vs. the EU: The feta cheese feud
The case over the origin of feta has cheesed off many EU countries in a feud that raged for almost 20 years.
This cheese-naming debacle went to court because Greeks wanted feta to be an official national product and to have the exclusive use of the feta label.
The first country to make a fuss was Denmark, Europe’s second largest feta cheese producer. Bulgaria, which uses feta cheese in its popular Shopska salad, also made cultural claims to feta.
To defend their case, the Danish and German governments argued that feta is a generic designation and does not relate to a specific geographical area. Denmark has made feta since 1963, the Netherlands since 1981 and Germany since 1985.
The long-running disagreement has become an issue of national pride and culture. Greek Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys declared the creation of "merciless feta police" in 2003, when shipments of contaminated feta cheese produced in Greece were found in Norway.
After legal wrangling over more than a decade, the EU court gave its final ruling. Since October 2002, feta is officially a Greek product.
To call your cheese feta, it needs to be produced in a traditional way in specific areas of Greece (on the mainland and the island of Lesbos).
It must be made from sheep's milk or from a mixture of sheep's and goats’ milk of the same area. It must also be packed away into barrels and refrigerated for about two months.
Alas, after the ruling was slammed “scandalous," the acrimonious trade dispute has escalated to the point that Denmark, Germany, France and Italy are suing the EU Commission.
Try it at
Varoulko restaurant, Peiraios 80, Athens 10435, Greece; +30 210 522 840; Monday-Saturday; 8:30 p.m. onwards
Elea Restaurant, 43A Maria Luiza Blvd., Plovdiv, Bulgaria; +359 29 870 339; noon-midnight
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6. South Korea vs. Japan: The kimchi conflict
South Koreans may be used to staring nervously across the northern border, but this time their suspicious glances are directed toward Japan.
Korea and Japan have been at loggerheads over kimchi, a spicy dish made of fermented pickled vegetable dish with ginger, red pepper and garlic.
The culinary dispute broke out in 1996 when Japan proposed designating Japanese kimchi, called "kimuchi," an official Atlanta Olympic food.
This ersatz version of kimchi, made to suit Japanese taste (it’s less spicy and has artificial flavor additives) concerns the South Koreans because the amount of Japanese kimuchi exported, which is cheaper, exceeds that of Korea.
In reaction to this blasphemous copycatting, Korea petitioned the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization's Codex Alimentarius commission to establish an international standard of kimchi.
While Japan claimed that Korea has no monopoly on kimchi, Korean President Lee Myung-Bak called this international campaign “gastrodiplomacy.”
This beloved side dish is a national symbol that Koreans adulate. "The taste of kimchi is the taste of your mother's fingertips," the Korean saying goes.
Korea even launched kimchi into space along with the first Korean astronaut in 2008, to promote their kimchi ownership.
"If a Korean goes to space, kimchi must go there, too," said Kim Sung Soo, a Korea Food Research Institute scientist.
The first Korean movie screened in the United States -- “Le Grand Chef -- Kimchi War" -- was about kimchi.
Seoul has a Kimchi Field Museum.
And in an effort to globalize Korea's culinary trademark, citizens have launched research facilities on kimchi to develop “superior expertise on kimchi” and advance kimchi studies.
Try it at
Star Chef restaurant, 417-2 Dogok-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82 2529 8248; Tuesday-Sunday; 4 p.m.-12 a.m.
Kimuchi restaurant (キム)チ) 3-1-12 Koenji-kita, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan; +82 3 3223 7048; 5 p.m-11 p.m.; closed Tuesday
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7. Slovenia vs. Austria: The pork sausage argument
“Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made,” said German statesman Otto von Bismarck.
But what he omitted is that if you don’t write laws for your sausages, other countries might steal them.
The latest food rift is about a spicy delicacy that Slovenia calls "Kranjska klobasa" and its neighbor Austria "krainerwurst." It’s made of minced pork and seasoned with garlic and pepper.
The diplomatic spat between the two nations erupted after Slovenes attempted to get the Krainer sausage EU special protected status (Protected Geographical Indication). It claimed it was invented in the Kranjska region in northern Slovenia in the 19th century.
On the other side, Vienna argued that this pork delicacy was first produced in Austria by the name kaesekrainer.
"We're not going to allow anyone to deny us the krainer," declared Austrian Agriculture Minister Niki Berlakovich. The Austria Chamber of Commerce, the Patent Office and the Ministry of Agriculture even united to sue Slovenia.
When it comes to sausages, it takes a brave man, or a Slovene, to mess with the Austrians.
They have the original Vienna Frankfurter sausage, the slim long pork Bratwurst, the slightly smoked sausage Waldviertler, the thick and boiled Burenwurst, the spicy Bosna, the Leberkäs-Semmel and more.
Austrians eat more than one kilo of sausage per capita per month on average.
The pork debate also sparked reactions over the web between gluttons. “Let's not repeat Balkan conflict over this,” wrote one Internet user.
“They are both wrong! Everybody knows the best sausage comes from Wisconsin, USA,” winks another.
Wisdom finally prevailed.
Unlike England’s Lincolnshire county, which introduced a “sausage tax,” Austria and Slovenia put an end to the conflict by accepting each other's products in June 2012.
Slovenia will register its product with the European Union's (EU) protected designation of origin, but agreed that Austrian producers could keep selling their versions under the German names.
Try it at
Gasthaus Murstüberl restaurant, Franziskanergasse 5, Graz, Styria 8010, Austria; +43 3 1684 4535
Obrtniška 2 8210 Trebnje, Slovenia; +386 7304 4551; Tuesday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; closed Monday
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