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food / travel

Austrian Croissant? Danish Feta? CouscousGate? Gastronationalism Is Flaring Everywhere

When its comes to food and national pride, there are few things that get people more riled up than debating the rightful origins of a dish or a delicacy. From hummus (for starters) to couscous (main dish) and the pavlova for desserts, we look at gastronomic feuds around the world.

Photo of several freshly-baked croissants

Croissants — French ones ...

cedricgrolettheberkeleycedricgrolettheberkeley via Instagram
Marine Béguin

PARIS — Have you ever enjoyed a croissant with coffee on a Paris sidewalk cafe? That's usually the image the French pastry evokes. But while many people think the croissant comes from France, it was actually created in Austria.

The croissant is one of many hotly contested foods claimed by more than one nation. These disputes can sometimes even lead to geopolitical tensions — the world of gastrodiplomacy.

Gastrodiplomacy, writes French daily Libération, often aims to use food to establish a country’s brand identity abroad. From the croissant to couscous, here's an international look at some of the most disputed dishes around the world.

France v. Austria: the croissant

The traditional French breakfast isn't actually French at all. According to most historians, the birth of the croissant dates back to the 1683 Battle of Vienna, between the Ottoman and Holy Roman empires. To celebrate the defeat of the Ottomans, bakers in Vienna invented a croissant-shaped pastry, the kipferl, which resembled the moon on their rival's flag.

Other versions of the story say that Marie-Antoinette, who was born in Vienna, introduced this Austrian delicacy to France out of nostalgia for her country's cuisine. This more romantic version, however, has never been confirmed.

For its part, France doesn't 100% agree with this story. According to many historians of French gastronomy and cuisine, the croissant is in fact a French product. When the kipferl first arrived in France, it was made from a type of brioche dough. Later, Paris bakers replaced this dough with laminated pastry to create the croissant we know today.

Plate of couscous with vegetables.

Plate of couscous with vegetables.

Louis Hansel via Unsplash

Morocco v. Algeria: couscous

Recently added to UNESCO’s cultural heritage list, couscous — also known as sekrou or seksu in North Africa — is one of the most hotly contested dishes in the world, and has even become the source of tensions between Algeria and Morocco over its origins. Let's dive into couscous history.

‘Where is couscous from’ is the key question: is it Algerian, Moroccan, Senegalese or just overall from the Maghreb? Not everyone agrees. Couscous first appeared among Arab recipes around the 13th century, and was invented by the Berber people of North Africa. But the exact origin of this famous dish remains unknown, and above depends all on which couscous recipe we're talking about.

While Moroccan couscous — the most popular — uses small grains, Israeli couscous uses larger ones, while Lebanese couscous has a longer cooking time. Recently, “couscousgate” set Tunisia and Algeria against Morocco, which wanted to register Moroccan couscous as a UNESCO World Heritage product.

UK v. India: chicken tikka masala

Looking for a good chicken tikka masala? You're sure to find some on streets famous for curry houses in the UK, like Curry Mile in Manchester or Brick Lane in London, where it is one of the most popular dishes. It originates in India, but isn’t a dish commonly eaten by Indians, writes Chinese daily South China Morning Post.

The origin of chicken tikka masala remains a mystery to this day, with some suggesting that it may have been developed by a Bangladeshi chef in Glasgow, or inspired by the Indian chicken tikka but with masala sauce added by Brits who wanted “to have their meat served in gravy,” as British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook claimed in 2001. It’s widely believed that the dish is most likely derived from Indian butter chicken, popular in Northern India, and so could be one of the first widely recognized examples of fusion cuisine.

Hummus platter with bread.

Hummus platter with bread.

Food Stories via Flickr

Lebanon v. Israel: hummus

“Everyone from the Lebanese to the Turks to the Syrians have tried to claim it,” writes the BBC on the origins of Hummus, a paste from the Middle East made of chickpeas with tahini, garlic and lemon, which derives its name from the Arabic word for chickpea, ḥummuṣ.

Some say it's a Jewish dish mentioned in the Bible, while others claim it was first made in northern India or Nepal. But the debate has become a question of patriotism and identity between Israel and Lebanon. In the so-called Hummus Wars, Lebanon accused Israel of cultural appropriation, brought a lawsuit against the country and made the world's largest plate of hummus — a 2,000-kg plate entered in the Guinness Book of Records.

As the origin of the dish has yet to be defined, some have argued that hummus is first and foremost a Middle Eastern dish, "belonging to everyone and owned by no one".
Block of Feta cheese.

Block of Feta cheese of Protected Designation of Origin designation.

Vallø via Flickr

Greece, Denmark and Germany: Feta cheese

It's true: “Feta really is Greek” — at least, that’s what the “Real Greek Feta” website argues, claiming that the sheep and goat’s milk cheese dates back to Greek mythology and is a classic example of the Greek art of cheese-making. But not everyone agrees.

Feta cheese has been protected since 2002 by the European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) label, which associates a product with a specific place of production. When you think of Feta cheese, you think of Greece, right? But the label has caused controversy. Countries such as Germany and Denmark contested the attribution of this cheese, arguing that it was now produced all over Europe.

The European Union decided to withdraw the name Feta from Greece, before reversing the decision and returning the cheese to the list of authentic Greek products.

China v. Italy: spaghetti

If you’ve watched the 1938 movie The Adventures of Marco Polo, starring Gary Cooper, you've probably heard the legend that Marco Polo introduced spaghetti to Italy from China. According to the International Pasta Organization, this is just a myth. So what's the real story behind spaghetti?

Similar to Chinese noodles, spaghetti (made from durum wheat, not rice or wheat dough like noodles), an emblem of Italian cuisine, originated in Sicily and existed two centuries before Marco Polo visited China. So the Marco Polo myth is false. The Italian version of noodles didn't become common until the 12th century, and only became popular around the world in the 20th century through the Italian diaspora, particularly in the U.S.

Recently accused of gastronationalism by Brussels, Rome has announced its desire to have Italian cuisine included on UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list.

\u200bPavlova dessert with strawberries and blueberries on top.

Pavlova dessert with strawberries and blueberries on top.

Eugene Krasnaok via Unsplash

Austria v. New Zealand: the Pavlova

Who invented Pavlova? Both Australia and New Zealand lay claim to the meringue-based dessert, topped with whipped cream and fruit.

Named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, superstar of the 20s, pavlova is said to have been created by Australian chef Herbert Bert Sachse in 1935. Yet another unnamed chef at a Wellington hotel is also said to have created the pavlova in honor of the ballerina when she visited the country. So who's telling the truth?

Helen Leach, author of The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand's Culinary History dates the origins of pavlova back to 1929, when a large meringue cake named after the ballerina appeared in New Zealand, long before the Pavlova war began.

A basket of French fries on a wooden table.

A basket of French fries.

Mitchell Luo via Unsplash

France v. Belgium: French fries

Yes, French fries are not always French. The origin of French fries is one of the great debates of the culinary world, with both neighboring countries claiming them as an authentic product of their gastronomy.

This food fight is one of the most well-known in Europe. While French daily Le Figaroclaims that "French fries are not Belgian," the Belgians maintain that the first French fries originated there, and more precisely in the town of Namur, where the first French fry was created in 1680, to go with local-favorite fried fish. The French refute this theory, noting that the potato — a South American vegetable — was only introduced to Europe during the 16th century.

With the origin of the first French fries still a mystery to this day, the two countries continue to argue over its origins. Belgium is even asking UNESCO to recognize the French fry as an official icon of Belgian cultural heritage.

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How Parenthood Reinvented My Sex Life — Confessions Of A Swinging Mom

Between breastfeeding, playdates, postpartum fatigue, birthday fatigues and the countless other aspects of mother- and fatherhood, a Cuban couple tries to find new ways to explore something that is often lost in the middle of the parenting storm: sex.

red tinted photo of feet on a bed

Parenting v. intimacy, a delicate balance

Silvana Heredia

HAVANA — It was Summer, 2015. Nine months later, our daughter would be born. It wasn't planned, but I was sure I wouldn't end my first pregnancy. I was 22 years old, had a degree, my dream job and my own house — something unthinkable at that age in Cuba — plus a three-year relationship, and the summer heat.

I remember those months as the most fun, crazy and experimental of my pre-motherhood life. It was the time of my first kiss with a girl, and our first threesome.

Every weekend, we went to the Cuban art factory and ended up at the CornerCafé until 7:00 a.m. That September morning, we were very drunk, and in that second-floor room of my house, it was unbearably hot. The sex was otherworldly. A few days later, the symptoms began.

She arrived when and how she wished. That's how rebellious she is.

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