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Episode
252

Five Surprising Food Origins

Apr 8, 2022
How Stuff Works
-
20
minutes

In this episode, we'll explore the weird and fascinating origins of five foods that you know and (perhaps) love.

From the sandwich to tomato ketchup, chicken tikka masala, fish & chips and even the teabag, discover the weird and wonderful stories behind these well-known dishes.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22]  I'm Alastair Budge and I hope you’re not listening with an empty stomach because today, we are going to talk about food.

[00:00:30]  And specifically, we are going to talk about the unusual stories of 5 different, everyday foods, foods that you have probably eaten, or at least heard of, but perhaps you don’t know where they were invented, how, when and by who.

[00:00:49]  On this culinary journey we’ll talk about the sandwich, tomato ketchup, fish & chips, chicken tikka masala, and the humble tea bag.

[00:01:00]  It is going to be quite the food extravaganza, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:06]  Now, let’s roll up our sleeves, sit down at the table and tuck in to our first unusual food origin story. 

[00:01:17]  And it’s one of a food we all know and probably love. The sandwich.

[00:01:23]  Now, before you cry out that “nobody invented the sandwich”, it’s just bread and something in the middle, let me add a little disclaimer here.

[00:01:34]  Yes, people have eaten bread with meat or vegetables on top, or between two pieces of bread for thousands of years.

[00:01:43]  One of the earliest known sandwich lovers was a Babylonian Rabbi named Hillel the Elder who was a prominent figure in Jerusalem in the first century BC.

[00:01:56]  His love of lamb and herbs spread between matzah bread, an unleavened flatbread, is recorded in The Haggadah, a Jewish text typically read during Passover. 

[00:02:09]  According to the text, the fillings in this sandwich were meant to represent the Jews’ suffering, especially the crushed nuts which symbolised the mortar that Jews used when they were forced to build Egyptian buildings.

[00:02:25]  And this idea of bread with fillings was enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East for centuries.

[00:02:33]  But history, or at least English-language history, has a particular date for the invention of the modern sandwich, and a particular person who is credited with the invention of this dish that is enjoyed by a whopping 56% of the British population every single day.

[00:02:55]  And that date was 1762, and the man, a man named Sir John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich.

[00:03:05]  If you are a particularly dedicated listener to this show you will remember that one of the first episodes we ever made, episode number 19 in fact, was on this story, but here is a reminder of how it went.

[00:03:21]  This man, the Earl of Sandwich, was a voracious gambler. He loved playing cards, and would sit for hours at a time at the card table.

[00:03:33]  But he was also a human being, and like any of us, he got hungry.

[00:03:38]  So, one day, so the legend goes, he signalled to a nearby servant to bring him some meat between two slices of bread, a meal he could hold in one hand while he kept his cards in the other.

[00:03:55]  No knife and fork were needed, and he could continue to take bites out of this little parcel of food while he presumably lost more and more money at the card table.

[00:04:08]  Before long people in fashionable clubs of London started saying “I’ll have what Sandwich is having”, and this was shortened just to “sandwich”.

[00:04:20]  It turns out that sandwiches are quite nice even if you aren’t sitting at a card table, but the name remained.

[00:04:27]  So, there you go, the British might not have invented the concept of the sandwich, but a British man is now forever associated with its name and popularisation.

[00:04:41]  While we’re on the subject of sandwiches, this leads us nicely on to talk about a sauce that you might find in one.

[00:04:51]  If you open any fridge in the UK, you’ll likely see a bottle of this lurking on the shelf. 

[00:04:58]  Some might say it’s the superhero of condiments: tomato ketchup, or simply “ketchup”.

[00:05:07]  This famous red sauce is both savoury and sweet, but it actually didn’t start out that way.

[00:05:16]  The name ‘ketchup’ actually comes from the Hokkien Chinese word ‘kê-tsiap’, a type of fermented fish which the Vietnamese used to make the sauce. It was later brought to China by traders who popularised it in the region.

[00:05:33]  It’s believed that the British first encountered the mysterious sauce in the late 17th century on a trip to southeast Asia.

[00:05:43]  After falling in love with it, they tried to recreate it using anchovies, mushrooms, oysters and walnuts.

[00:05:53]  It doesn’t sound that nice to me, but it was certainly loved by some people.

[00:05:58]  It’s said to have been a favourite of Jane Austen, the author of novels such as Pride and Prejudice, who often added it to her meat and fish.

[00:06:10]  But it was still missing a vital ingredient: the tomato.

[00:06:15]  In 1812 an American horticulturist named James Mease took some tomatoes, and mixed their pulp with brandy and spices to create the first published tomato ketchup recipe. 

[00:06:31]  Although this bore very little resemblance to the original Asian ‘ke-tsiap’, it was delicious.

[00:06:39]  This tomato ketchup was also significantly easier to store than its mushroom ancestor but it was by no means perfect. 

[00:06:50]  The tomato season was short. Storing tomato pulp proved difficult, and some producers stored it so poorly that it grew bacteria, yeast or mould.

[00:07:03]  Of course, there were plenty of attempts to preserve the sauce, including using the preservative benzoate.

[00:07:11]  And by 1837, it had started to be put into bottles and sold across America.

[00:07:18]  Finally, tomato sauce seemed to keep for a long time, meaning it could be bought and kept in the cupboard without going bad. 

[00:07:27]  Remember, we’re still 100 years before mass adoption of fridges here.

[00:07:32]  So, it was quite the triumph when it seemed that ketchup could finally be kept for a long time.

[00:07:39]  Indeed, Heinz, a company that would later become famous for its tomato ketchup, ran an advertising campaign with the slogan: "Blessed relief for Mother and the other women in the household!"

[00:07:52]  The relief was because ketchup no longer needed to be made from scratch whenever someone wanted to eat it - it could be pre-bought and it would keep for a long time.

[00:08:03]  But, these preservatives were dangerous, they were unsafe, and when benzoate was finally banned in 1906 the ketchup producers needed to find another solution.

[00:08:16]  Luckily, the solution was right in front of them.

[00:08:19]  All that was required was ripe, red tomatoes, which have a higher level of natural preservatives and were lower in a particular acid called pectin.

[00:08:31]  And the rest of the history of ketchup is, as they say, history.

[00:08:36]  Now, our next food is one that can be enjoyed with ketchup, but if you are a real purist you will have it only with salt and vinegar.

[00:08:48]  Fish and chips. 

[00:08:50]  Again, we did one very early episode on this, it’s Episode number 17, but here is the abridged, the concise, version.

[00:09:00]  A bit like the sandwich, the origin of fish and chips is shared between the Jewish community and Britain.

[00:09:09]  It all started in the 15th century after Spain expelled its Jewish population, sending thousands of Jews fleeing to neighbouring countries like Portugal.

[00:09:22]  In Jewish culture, it is forbidden to cook on the Jewish Sabbath or Shabat. 

[00:09:28]  That means that from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, the kitchen was off limits. To follow this religious requirement, Jewish people needed to prepare food before the sun went down on Friday, and this food needed to be good to eat for twenty four hours. 

[00:09:51]  One of those foods was a white fish like cod or haddock, fried in flour. 

[00:09:58]  The flour preserved the fish so that it could be eaten cold the following day and still have some flavour. 

[00:10:07]  When Portugal fell under Spanish rule, the Sephardic Jews fled to England, bringing their culture and recipes with them, including the fried fish.

[00:10:18]  In order to fit in and behave more like the local, Christian, population, which was not meant to eat meat on a Friday, and so tended to eat fish, the new Jewish immigrants cooked this fried fish on a Friday. 

[00:10:34]  As it was a dish that fitted both the Jewish and Christian requirements – and was evidently pretty tasty – the Jewish immigrants would sell it to the local population.

[00:10:47]  Initially, it was sold on its own, without chips.

[00:10:51]  And the identity of the person who first had the genius idea to serve it with chips is somewhat debated.

[00:11:00]  It’s thought to have been a young, Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malin, who opened up the first fish and chip shop in London in 1863.

[00:11:10]  However there is evidence of another fish and chip shop being opened at almost exactly the same time by another man in Oldham, in the north of the country.

[00:11:21]  In any case, it was an instant hit, a surefire success, and fish and chips became an unofficial national dish for Great Britain.

[00:11:32]  By 1910 there were over 20,000 fish and chip shops around the UK and during WW1 the Prime Minister tried to boost morale by keeping shops open. 

[00:11:45]  Fish and chips became such a part of British culture that when the British soldiers stormed beaches in Normandy in World War II they reportedly called out to each other by shouting “fish” and the other would respond with “chips”. 

[00:12:02]  This helped them find each other in the chaos of battle.

[00:12:06]  And even today, when the country has been assaulted by American fast food outlets, the fish and chip shop reigns supreme, with over 8 fish and chip shops for every one McDonald’s

[00:12:21]  Now, in case you didn’t realise it before, Britain is a big of a magpie when it comes to food. A magpie is the black and white bird that steals shiny things to bring back and put in its nest.

[00:12:36]  And if you didn’t believe it before, the next item on the menu is going to be yet another example, albeit this time of a food that many British people believe to be Indian, but is actually, so the story goes, Scottish.

[00:12:53]  And it too is a rival for the UK’s national dish. You might not have heard of it unless you have been to the UK, but it’s called chicken tikka masala.

[00:13:07]  In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, chicken tikka masala consists of a boneless chicken cooked over a charcoal fire, and served with a tomato-cream sauce.

[00:13:20]  And the legend of where it comes from goes something like this. 

[00:13:26]  In 1971, on a dark night in Glasgow, in Scotland, a bus driver, tired from his long shift, came into an Indian restaurant with a Pakistani cook, and ordered a chicken curry. 

[00:13:42]  After taking one bite, he sent it back to the kitchen complaining that the curry was too dry. 

[00:13:50]  We Brits don’t tend to eat much dry meat, our meat normally comes smothered, covered, in gravy and sauce. According to the cook’s son, his father was suffering from an ulcer and had a pan of tomato soup on the stove cooking that he was planning to eat later. 

[00:14:13]  To try and please the customer, he improvised and put his tomato soup, some yoghurt and some spices, on top of the supposedly “dry” curry. 

[00:14:26]  When the dish returned to the table, the bus driver’s eyes lit up. He took his fork, lifted it up to his mouth, and instantly fell in love with the dish. 

[00:14:38]  He kept coming back to the restaurant with friends to order it again and eventually, the restaurant put it on the menu.

[00:14:47]  It has now become a favourite dish for many Brits, and is something of a staple in Indian restaurants in the UK.

[00:14:56]  In 2001, it even achieved the high praise of the then British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, who called it a symbol of multicultural Britain.

[00:15:07]  I should add that there are plenty of people who say that this story is folklore, that there is nothing really British about chicken tikka masala. 

[00:15:18]  Indeed, the “tikka” part suggests that its origins are significantly older, and that the story goes back 5,000 years to a Mughal emperor who was tired of choking on chicken bones.

[00:15:31]  But while we will never know the true origin of this dish, it is a British favourite and has this peculiar status of being a supposedly “Indian” dish that you are unlikely to find in any Indian restaurants in India, and indeed was perhaps created by a Pakistani cook in Scotland.

[00:15:53]  Now, our final unusual food origin is related to tea.

[00:15:59]  We aren’t talking about tea itself – and again if you are a dedicated listener you will remember that we covered that in episode 238 – but today we are talking about the tea bag, the small bag with tea leaves that you dip into hot water to make tea.

[00:16:19]  Like chicken tikka masala, the tea bag was invented completely by accident. But even more so, its inventor wasn’t even trying to invent it.

[00:16:32]  Before the invention of the tea bag, tea drinkers had to make a whole pot of tea, pouring boiling water over the tea leaves in a strainer

[00:16:43]  If you make your tea like this, you will know that it can get a bit messy, and having a tea bag is, well, it’s a lot easier and more convenient.

[00:16:54]  So, it won’t surprise you to find out that this was a problem tea drinkers were thinking about from early on.

[00:17:02]  In 1903, there was a patent filed by two women from Milwaukee, in the United States, for something called a “tea leaf holder”, which was a small bag to hold tea leaves.

[00:17:15]  But it wasn’t until four years later that the tea bag as we know it really started to be used, and it was all by accident.

[00:17:25]  A New York tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan sent some tea samples to customers which were packaged in small silk bags. 

[00:17:35]  He thought that the customers would open the silk bags and put the tea leaves into a pot.

[00:17:43]  But when the customers started complaining about the fine texture of the bags, Sullivan realised what had happened; the customers had placed the entire bag directly into the hot water.

[00:17:58]  It was then that Sullivan intentionally made tea bags from gauze to make it easier for the tea to infuse, for it to brew. Tea bags allowed customers to brew a single cup of tea without brewing a whole pot. 

[00:18:16]  Because the tea bags were so easy to use, they became a huge hit, and much of the tea-drinking world, with the exception of much of Asia, switched to using pre-packaged tea in tea bags.

[00:18:32]  So there you have it, five unusual origin stories of foods. 

[00:18:37]  So next time you munch on a sandwich, reach for the ketchup bottle, make a cup of tea in the morning, or even visit the UK and have some fish and chips or chicken tikka masala, well, you’ll know a little bit more about the history of where all these wonderful foods came from.

[00:18:57]  OK then, that’s it for today’s episode. I hope it was an interesting one, and that you learned something new.

[00:19:05]  As always, I’d love to know what you thought of this episode.

[00:19:09]  We have of course only just scratched the surface of interesting origin stories about food, and there are so many more we could have talked about. So, my questions for you are: 

[00:19:21]  What other fun stories are there that you know about?

[00:19:24]  How do we even think about who “invented” something which has been enjoyed in different formats all over the world?

[00:19:31]  And have you ever claimed to have invented your own dish?

[00:19:36]  I would love to know.

[00:19:37]  You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:19:46]  You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:51]  I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22]  I'm Alastair Budge and I hope you’re not listening with an empty stomach because today, we are going to talk about food.

[00:00:30]  And specifically, we are going to talk about the unusual stories of 5 different, everyday foods, foods that you have probably eaten, or at least heard of, but perhaps you don’t know where they were invented, how, when and by who.

[00:00:49]  On this culinary journey we’ll talk about the sandwich, tomato ketchup, fish & chips, chicken tikka masala, and the humble tea bag.

[00:01:00]  It is going to be quite the food extravaganza, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:06]  Now, let’s roll up our sleeves, sit down at the table and tuck in to our first unusual food origin story. 

[00:01:17]  And it’s one of a food we all know and probably love. The sandwich.

[00:01:23]  Now, before you cry out that “nobody invented the sandwich”, it’s just bread and something in the middle, let me add a little disclaimer here.

[00:01:34]  Yes, people have eaten bread with meat or vegetables on top, or between two pieces of bread for thousands of years.

[00:01:43]  One of the earliest known sandwich lovers was a Babylonian Rabbi named Hillel the Elder who was a prominent figure in Jerusalem in the first century BC.

[00:01:56]  His love of lamb and herbs spread between matzah bread, an unleavened flatbread, is recorded in The Haggadah, a Jewish text typically read during Passover. 

[00:02:09]  According to the text, the fillings in this sandwich were meant to represent the Jews’ suffering, especially the crushed nuts which symbolised the mortar that Jews used when they were forced to build Egyptian buildings.

[00:02:25]  And this idea of bread with fillings was enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East for centuries.

[00:02:33]  But history, or at least English-language history, has a particular date for the invention of the modern sandwich, and a particular person who is credited with the invention of this dish that is enjoyed by a whopping 56% of the British population every single day.

[00:02:55]  And that date was 1762, and the man, a man named Sir John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich.

[00:03:05]  If you are a particularly dedicated listener to this show you will remember that one of the first episodes we ever made, episode number 19 in fact, was on this story, but here is a reminder of how it went.

[00:03:21]  This man, the Earl of Sandwich, was a voracious gambler. He loved playing cards, and would sit for hours at a time at the card table.

[00:03:33]  But he was also a human being, and like any of us, he got hungry.

[00:03:38]  So, one day, so the legend goes, he signalled to a nearby servant to bring him some meat between two slices of bread, a meal he could hold in one hand while he kept his cards in the other.

[00:03:55]  No knife and fork were needed, and he could continue to take bites out of this little parcel of food while he presumably lost more and more money at the card table.

[00:04:08]  Before long people in fashionable clubs of London started saying “I’ll have what Sandwich is having”, and this was shortened just to “sandwich”.

[00:04:20]  It turns out that sandwiches are quite nice even if you aren’t sitting at a card table, but the name remained.

[00:04:27]  So, there you go, the British might not have invented the concept of the sandwich, but a British man is now forever associated with its name and popularisation.

[00:04:41]  While we’re on the subject of sandwiches, this leads us nicely on to talk about a sauce that you might find in one.

[00:04:51]  If you open any fridge in the UK, you’ll likely see a bottle of this lurking on the shelf. 

[00:04:58]  Some might say it’s the superhero of condiments: tomato ketchup, or simply “ketchup”.

[00:05:07]  This famous red sauce is both savoury and sweet, but it actually didn’t start out that way.

[00:05:16]  The name ‘ketchup’ actually comes from the Hokkien Chinese word ‘kê-tsiap’, a type of fermented fish which the Vietnamese used to make the sauce. It was later brought to China by traders who popularised it in the region.

[00:05:33]  It’s believed that the British first encountered the mysterious sauce in the late 17th century on a trip to southeast Asia.

[00:05:43]  After falling in love with it, they tried to recreate it using anchovies, mushrooms, oysters and walnuts.

[00:05:53]  It doesn’t sound that nice to me, but it was certainly loved by some people.

[00:05:58]  It’s said to have been a favourite of Jane Austen, the author of novels such as Pride and Prejudice, who often added it to her meat and fish.

[00:06:10]  But it was still missing a vital ingredient: the tomato.

[00:06:15]  In 1812 an American horticulturist named James Mease took some tomatoes, and mixed their pulp with brandy and spices to create the first published tomato ketchup recipe. 

[00:06:31]  Although this bore very little resemblance to the original Asian ‘ke-tsiap’, it was delicious.

[00:06:39]  This tomato ketchup was also significantly easier to store than its mushroom ancestor but it was by no means perfect. 

[00:06:50]  The tomato season was short. Storing tomato pulp proved difficult, and some producers stored it so poorly that it grew bacteria, yeast or mould.

[00:07:03]  Of course, there were plenty of attempts to preserve the sauce, including using the preservative benzoate.

[00:07:11]  And by 1837, it had started to be put into bottles and sold across America.

[00:07:18]  Finally, tomato sauce seemed to keep for a long time, meaning it could be bought and kept in the cupboard without going bad. 

[00:07:27]  Remember, we’re still 100 years before mass adoption of fridges here.

[00:07:32]  So, it was quite the triumph when it seemed that ketchup could finally be kept for a long time.

[00:07:39]  Indeed, Heinz, a company that would later become famous for its tomato ketchup, ran an advertising campaign with the slogan: "Blessed relief for Mother and the other women in the household!"

[00:07:52]  The relief was because ketchup no longer needed to be made from scratch whenever someone wanted to eat it - it could be pre-bought and it would keep for a long time.

[00:08:03]  But, these preservatives were dangerous, they were unsafe, and when benzoate was finally banned in 1906 the ketchup producers needed to find another solution.

[00:08:16]  Luckily, the solution was right in front of them.

[00:08:19]  All that was required was ripe, red tomatoes, which have a higher level of natural preservatives and were lower in a particular acid called pectin.

[00:08:31]  And the rest of the history of ketchup is, as they say, history.

[00:08:36]  Now, our next food is one that can be enjoyed with ketchup, but if you are a real purist you will have it only with salt and vinegar.

[00:08:48]  Fish and chips. 

[00:08:50]  Again, we did one very early episode on this, it’s Episode number 17, but here is the abridged, the concise, version.

[00:09:00]  A bit like the sandwich, the origin of fish and chips is shared between the Jewish community and Britain.

[00:09:09]  It all started in the 15th century after Spain expelled its Jewish population, sending thousands of Jews fleeing to neighbouring countries like Portugal.

[00:09:22]  In Jewish culture, it is forbidden to cook on the Jewish Sabbath or Shabat. 

[00:09:28]  That means that from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, the kitchen was off limits. To follow this religious requirement, Jewish people needed to prepare food before the sun went down on Friday, and this food needed to be good to eat for twenty four hours. 

[00:09:51]  One of those foods was a white fish like cod or haddock, fried in flour. 

[00:09:58]  The flour preserved the fish so that it could be eaten cold the following day and still have some flavour. 

[00:10:07]  When Portugal fell under Spanish rule, the Sephardic Jews fled to England, bringing their culture and recipes with them, including the fried fish.

[00:10:18]  In order to fit in and behave more like the local, Christian, population, which was not meant to eat meat on a Friday, and so tended to eat fish, the new Jewish immigrants cooked this fried fish on a Friday. 

[00:10:34]  As it was a dish that fitted both the Jewish and Christian requirements – and was evidently pretty tasty – the Jewish immigrants would sell it to the local population.

[00:10:47]  Initially, it was sold on its own, without chips.

[00:10:51]  And the identity of the person who first had the genius idea to serve it with chips is somewhat debated.

[00:11:00]  It’s thought to have been a young, Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malin, who opened up the first fish and chip shop in London in 1863.

[00:11:10]  However there is evidence of another fish and chip shop being opened at almost exactly the same time by another man in Oldham, in the north of the country.

[00:11:21]  In any case, it was an instant hit, a surefire success, and fish and chips became an unofficial national dish for Great Britain.

[00:11:32]  By 1910 there were over 20,000 fish and chip shops around the UK and during WW1 the Prime Minister tried to boost morale by keeping shops open. 

[00:11:45]  Fish and chips became such a part of British culture that when the British soldiers stormed beaches in Normandy in World War II they reportedly called out to each other by shouting “fish” and the other would respond with “chips”. 

[00:12:02]  This helped them find each other in the chaos of battle.

[00:12:06]  And even today, when the country has been assaulted by American fast food outlets, the fish and chip shop reigns supreme, with over 8 fish and chip shops for every one McDonald’s

[00:12:21]  Now, in case you didn’t realise it before, Britain is a big of a magpie when it comes to food. A magpie is the black and white bird that steals shiny things to bring back and put in its nest.

[00:12:36]  And if you didn’t believe it before, the next item on the menu is going to be yet another example, albeit this time of a food that many British people believe to be Indian, but is actually, so the story goes, Scottish.

[00:12:53]  And it too is a rival for the UK’s national dish. You might not have heard of it unless you have been to the UK, but it’s called chicken tikka masala.

[00:13:07]  In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, chicken tikka masala consists of a boneless chicken cooked over a charcoal fire, and served with a tomato-cream sauce.

[00:13:20]  And the legend of where it comes from goes something like this. 

[00:13:26]  In 1971, on a dark night in Glasgow, in Scotland, a bus driver, tired from his long shift, came into an Indian restaurant with a Pakistani cook, and ordered a chicken curry. 

[00:13:42]  After taking one bite, he sent it back to the kitchen complaining that the curry was too dry. 

[00:13:50]  We Brits don’t tend to eat much dry meat, our meat normally comes smothered, covered, in gravy and sauce. According to the cook’s son, his father was suffering from an ulcer and had a pan of tomato soup on the stove cooking that he was planning to eat later. 

[00:14:13]  To try and please the customer, he improvised and put his tomato soup, some yoghurt and some spices, on top of the supposedly “dry” curry. 

[00:14:26]  When the dish returned to the table, the bus driver’s eyes lit up. He took his fork, lifted it up to his mouth, and instantly fell in love with the dish. 

[00:14:38]  He kept coming back to the restaurant with friends to order it again and eventually, the restaurant put it on the menu.

[00:14:47]  It has now become a favourite dish for many Brits, and is something of a staple in Indian restaurants in the UK.

[00:14:56]  In 2001, it even achieved the high praise of the then British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, who called it a symbol of multicultural Britain.

[00:15:07]  I should add that there are plenty of people who say that this story is folklore, that there is nothing really British about chicken tikka masala. 

[00:15:18]  Indeed, the “tikka” part suggests that its origins are significantly older, and that the story goes back 5,000 years to a Mughal emperor who was tired of choking on chicken bones.

[00:15:31]  But while we will never know the true origin of this dish, it is a British favourite and has this peculiar status of being a supposedly “Indian” dish that you are unlikely to find in any Indian restaurants in India, and indeed was perhaps created by a Pakistani cook in Scotland.

[00:15:53]  Now, our final unusual food origin is related to tea.

[00:15:59]  We aren’t talking about tea itself – and again if you are a dedicated listener you will remember that we covered that in episode 238 – but today we are talking about the tea bag, the small bag with tea leaves that you dip into hot water to make tea.

[00:16:19]  Like chicken tikka masala, the tea bag was invented completely by accident. But even more so, its inventor wasn’t even trying to invent it.

[00:16:32]  Before the invention of the tea bag, tea drinkers had to make a whole pot of tea, pouring boiling water over the tea leaves in a strainer

[00:16:43]  If you make your tea like this, you will know that it can get a bit messy, and having a tea bag is, well, it’s a lot easier and more convenient.

[00:16:54]  So, it won’t surprise you to find out that this was a problem tea drinkers were thinking about from early on.

[00:17:02]  In 1903, there was a patent filed by two women from Milwaukee, in the United States, for something called a “tea leaf holder”, which was a small bag to hold tea leaves.

[00:17:15]  But it wasn’t until four years later that the tea bag as we know it really started to be used, and it was all by accident.

[00:17:25]  A New York tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan sent some tea samples to customers which were packaged in small silk bags. 

[00:17:35]  He thought that the customers would open the silk bags and put the tea leaves into a pot.

[00:17:43]  But when the customers started complaining about the fine texture of the bags, Sullivan realised what had happened; the customers had placed the entire bag directly into the hot water.

[00:17:58]  It was then that Sullivan intentionally made tea bags from gauze to make it easier for the tea to infuse, for it to brew. Tea bags allowed customers to brew a single cup of tea without brewing a whole pot. 

[00:18:16]  Because the tea bags were so easy to use, they became a huge hit, and much of the tea-drinking world, with the exception of much of Asia, switched to using pre-packaged tea in tea bags.

[00:18:32]  So there you have it, five unusual origin stories of foods. 

[00:18:37]  So next time you munch on a sandwich, reach for the ketchup bottle, make a cup of tea in the morning, or even visit the UK and have some fish and chips or chicken tikka masala, well, you’ll know a little bit more about the history of where all these wonderful foods came from.

[00:18:57]  OK then, that’s it for today’s episode. I hope it was an interesting one, and that you learned something new.

[00:19:05]  As always, I’d love to know what you thought of this episode.

[00:19:09]  We have of course only just scratched the surface of interesting origin stories about food, and there are so many more we could have talked about. So, my questions for you are: 

[00:19:21]  What other fun stories are there that you know about?

[00:19:24]  How do we even think about who “invented” something which has been enjoyed in different formats all over the world?

[00:19:31]  And have you ever claimed to have invented your own dish?

[00:19:36]  I would love to know.

[00:19:37]  You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:19:46]  You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:51]  I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22]  I'm Alastair Budge and I hope you’re not listening with an empty stomach because today, we are going to talk about food.

[00:00:30]  And specifically, we are going to talk about the unusual stories of 5 different, everyday foods, foods that you have probably eaten, or at least heard of, but perhaps you don’t know where they were invented, how, when and by who.

[00:00:49]  On this culinary journey we’ll talk about the sandwich, tomato ketchup, fish & chips, chicken tikka masala, and the humble tea bag.

[00:01:00]  It is going to be quite the food extravaganza, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:06]  Now, let’s roll up our sleeves, sit down at the table and tuck in to our first unusual food origin story. 

[00:01:17]  And it’s one of a food we all know and probably love. The sandwich.

[00:01:23]  Now, before you cry out that “nobody invented the sandwich”, it’s just bread and something in the middle, let me add a little disclaimer here.

[00:01:34]  Yes, people have eaten bread with meat or vegetables on top, or between two pieces of bread for thousands of years.

[00:01:43]  One of the earliest known sandwich lovers was a Babylonian Rabbi named Hillel the Elder who was a prominent figure in Jerusalem in the first century BC.

[00:01:56]  His love of lamb and herbs spread between matzah bread, an unleavened flatbread, is recorded in The Haggadah, a Jewish text typically read during Passover. 

[00:02:09]  According to the text, the fillings in this sandwich were meant to represent the Jews’ suffering, especially the crushed nuts which symbolised the mortar that Jews used when they were forced to build Egyptian buildings.

[00:02:25]  And this idea of bread with fillings was enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East for centuries.

[00:02:33]  But history, or at least English-language history, has a particular date for the invention of the modern sandwich, and a particular person who is credited with the invention of this dish that is enjoyed by a whopping 56% of the British population every single day.

[00:02:55]  And that date was 1762, and the man, a man named Sir John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich.

[00:03:05]  If you are a particularly dedicated listener to this show you will remember that one of the first episodes we ever made, episode number 19 in fact, was on this story, but here is a reminder of how it went.

[00:03:21]  This man, the Earl of Sandwich, was a voracious gambler. He loved playing cards, and would sit for hours at a time at the card table.

[00:03:33]  But he was also a human being, and like any of us, he got hungry.

[00:03:38]  So, one day, so the legend goes, he signalled to a nearby servant to bring him some meat between two slices of bread, a meal he could hold in one hand while he kept his cards in the other.

[00:03:55]  No knife and fork were needed, and he could continue to take bites out of this little parcel of food while he presumably lost more and more money at the card table.

[00:04:08]  Before long people in fashionable clubs of London started saying “I’ll have what Sandwich is having”, and this was shortened just to “sandwich”.

[00:04:20]  It turns out that sandwiches are quite nice even if you aren’t sitting at a card table, but the name remained.

[00:04:27]  So, there you go, the British might not have invented the concept of the sandwich, but a British man is now forever associated with its name and popularisation.

[00:04:41]  While we’re on the subject of sandwiches, this leads us nicely on to talk about a sauce that you might find in one.

[00:04:51]  If you open any fridge in the UK, you’ll likely see a bottle of this lurking on the shelf. 

[00:04:58]  Some might say it’s the superhero of condiments: tomato ketchup, or simply “ketchup”.

[00:05:07]  This famous red sauce is both savoury and sweet, but it actually didn’t start out that way.

[00:05:16]  The name ‘ketchup’ actually comes from the Hokkien Chinese word ‘kê-tsiap’, a type of fermented fish which the Vietnamese used to make the sauce. It was later brought to China by traders who popularised it in the region.

[00:05:33]  It’s believed that the British first encountered the mysterious sauce in the late 17th century on a trip to southeast Asia.

[00:05:43]  After falling in love with it, they tried to recreate it using anchovies, mushrooms, oysters and walnuts.

[00:05:53]  It doesn’t sound that nice to me, but it was certainly loved by some people.

[00:05:58]  It’s said to have been a favourite of Jane Austen, the author of novels such as Pride and Prejudice, who often added it to her meat and fish.

[00:06:10]  But it was still missing a vital ingredient: the tomato.

[00:06:15]  In 1812 an American horticulturist named James Mease took some tomatoes, and mixed their pulp with brandy and spices to create the first published tomato ketchup recipe. 

[00:06:31]  Although this bore very little resemblance to the original Asian ‘ke-tsiap’, it was delicious.

[00:06:39]  This tomato ketchup was also significantly easier to store than its mushroom ancestor but it was by no means perfect. 

[00:06:50]  The tomato season was short. Storing tomato pulp proved difficult, and some producers stored it so poorly that it grew bacteria, yeast or mould.

[00:07:03]  Of course, there were plenty of attempts to preserve the sauce, including using the preservative benzoate.

[00:07:11]  And by 1837, it had started to be put into bottles and sold across America.

[00:07:18]  Finally, tomato sauce seemed to keep for a long time, meaning it could be bought and kept in the cupboard without going bad. 

[00:07:27]  Remember, we’re still 100 years before mass adoption of fridges here.

[00:07:32]  So, it was quite the triumph when it seemed that ketchup could finally be kept for a long time.

[00:07:39]  Indeed, Heinz, a company that would later become famous for its tomato ketchup, ran an advertising campaign with the slogan: "Blessed relief for Mother and the other women in the household!"

[00:07:52]  The relief was because ketchup no longer needed to be made from scratch whenever someone wanted to eat it - it could be pre-bought and it would keep for a long time.

[00:08:03]  But, these preservatives were dangerous, they were unsafe, and when benzoate was finally banned in 1906 the ketchup producers needed to find another solution.

[00:08:16]  Luckily, the solution was right in front of them.

[00:08:19]  All that was required was ripe, red tomatoes, which have a higher level of natural preservatives and were lower in a particular acid called pectin.

[00:08:31]  And the rest of the history of ketchup is, as they say, history.

[00:08:36]  Now, our next food is one that can be enjoyed with ketchup, but if you are a real purist you will have it only with salt and vinegar.

[00:08:48]  Fish and chips. 

[00:08:50]  Again, we did one very early episode on this, it’s Episode number 17, but here is the abridged, the concise, version.

[00:09:00]  A bit like the sandwich, the origin of fish and chips is shared between the Jewish community and Britain.

[00:09:09]  It all started in the 15th century after Spain expelled its Jewish population, sending thousands of Jews fleeing to neighbouring countries like Portugal.

[00:09:22]  In Jewish culture, it is forbidden to cook on the Jewish Sabbath or Shabat. 

[00:09:28]  That means that from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, the kitchen was off limits. To follow this religious requirement, Jewish people needed to prepare food before the sun went down on Friday, and this food needed to be good to eat for twenty four hours. 

[00:09:51]  One of those foods was a white fish like cod or haddock, fried in flour. 

[00:09:58]  The flour preserved the fish so that it could be eaten cold the following day and still have some flavour. 

[00:10:07]  When Portugal fell under Spanish rule, the Sephardic Jews fled to England, bringing their culture and recipes with them, including the fried fish.

[00:10:18]  In order to fit in and behave more like the local, Christian, population, which was not meant to eat meat on a Friday, and so tended to eat fish, the new Jewish immigrants cooked this fried fish on a Friday. 

[00:10:34]  As it was a dish that fitted both the Jewish and Christian requirements – and was evidently pretty tasty – the Jewish immigrants would sell it to the local population.

[00:10:47]  Initially, it was sold on its own, without chips.

[00:10:51]  And the identity of the person who first had the genius idea to serve it with chips is somewhat debated.

[00:11:00]  It’s thought to have been a young, Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malin, who opened up the first fish and chip shop in London in 1863.

[00:11:10]  However there is evidence of another fish and chip shop being opened at almost exactly the same time by another man in Oldham, in the north of the country.

[00:11:21]  In any case, it was an instant hit, a surefire success, and fish and chips became an unofficial national dish for Great Britain.

[00:11:32]  By 1910 there were over 20,000 fish and chip shops around the UK and during WW1 the Prime Minister tried to boost morale by keeping shops open. 

[00:11:45]  Fish and chips became such a part of British culture that when the British soldiers stormed beaches in Normandy in World War II they reportedly called out to each other by shouting “fish” and the other would respond with “chips”. 

[00:12:02]  This helped them find each other in the chaos of battle.

[00:12:06]  And even today, when the country has been assaulted by American fast food outlets, the fish and chip shop reigns supreme, with over 8 fish and chip shops for every one McDonald’s

[00:12:21]  Now, in case you didn’t realise it before, Britain is a big of a magpie when it comes to food. A magpie is the black and white bird that steals shiny things to bring back and put in its nest.

[00:12:36]  And if you didn’t believe it before, the next item on the menu is going to be yet another example, albeit this time of a food that many British people believe to be Indian, but is actually, so the story goes, Scottish.

[00:12:53]  And it too is a rival for the UK’s national dish. You might not have heard of it unless you have been to the UK, but it’s called chicken tikka masala.

[00:13:07]  In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, chicken tikka masala consists of a boneless chicken cooked over a charcoal fire, and served with a tomato-cream sauce.

[00:13:20]  And the legend of where it comes from goes something like this. 

[00:13:26]  In 1971, on a dark night in Glasgow, in Scotland, a bus driver, tired from his long shift, came into an Indian restaurant with a Pakistani cook, and ordered a chicken curry. 

[00:13:42]  After taking one bite, he sent it back to the kitchen complaining that the curry was too dry. 

[00:13:50]  We Brits don’t tend to eat much dry meat, our meat normally comes smothered, covered, in gravy and sauce. According to the cook’s son, his father was suffering from an ulcer and had a pan of tomato soup on the stove cooking that he was planning to eat later. 

[00:14:13]  To try and please the customer, he improvised and put his tomato soup, some yoghurt and some spices, on top of the supposedly “dry” curry. 

[00:14:26]  When the dish returned to the table, the bus driver’s eyes lit up. He took his fork, lifted it up to his mouth, and instantly fell in love with the dish. 

[00:14:38]  He kept coming back to the restaurant with friends to order it again and eventually, the restaurant put it on the menu.

[00:14:47]  It has now become a favourite dish for many Brits, and is something of a staple in Indian restaurants in the UK.

[00:14:56]  In 2001, it even achieved the high praise of the then British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, who called it a symbol of multicultural Britain.

[00:15:07]  I should add that there are plenty of people who say that this story is folklore, that there is nothing really British about chicken tikka masala. 

[00:15:18]  Indeed, the “tikka” part suggests that its origins are significantly older, and that the story goes back 5,000 years to a Mughal emperor who was tired of choking on chicken bones.

[00:15:31]  But while we will never know the true origin of this dish, it is a British favourite and has this peculiar status of being a supposedly “Indian” dish that you are unlikely to find in any Indian restaurants in India, and indeed was perhaps created by a Pakistani cook in Scotland.

[00:15:53]  Now, our final unusual food origin is related to tea.

[00:15:59]  We aren’t talking about tea itself – and again if you are a dedicated listener you will remember that we covered that in episode 238 – but today we are talking about the tea bag, the small bag with tea leaves that you dip into hot water to make tea.

[00:16:19]  Like chicken tikka masala, the tea bag was invented completely by accident. But even more so, its inventor wasn’t even trying to invent it.

[00:16:32]  Before the invention of the tea bag, tea drinkers had to make a whole pot of tea, pouring boiling water over the tea leaves in a strainer

[00:16:43]  If you make your tea like this, you will know that it can get a bit messy, and having a tea bag is, well, it’s a lot easier and more convenient.

[00:16:54]  So, it won’t surprise you to find out that this was a problem tea drinkers were thinking about from early on.

[00:17:02]  In 1903, there was a patent filed by two women from Milwaukee, in the United States, for something called a “tea leaf holder”, which was a small bag to hold tea leaves.

[00:17:15]  But it wasn’t until four years later that the tea bag as we know it really started to be used, and it was all by accident.

[00:17:25]  A New York tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan sent some tea samples to customers which were packaged in small silk bags. 

[00:17:35]  He thought that the customers would open the silk bags and put the tea leaves into a pot.

[00:17:43]  But when the customers started complaining about the fine texture of the bags, Sullivan realised what had happened; the customers had placed the entire bag directly into the hot water.

[00:17:58]  It was then that Sullivan intentionally made tea bags from gauze to make it easier for the tea to infuse, for it to brew. Tea bags allowed customers to brew a single cup of tea without brewing a whole pot. 

[00:18:16]  Because the tea bags were so easy to use, they became a huge hit, and much of the tea-drinking world, with the exception of much of Asia, switched to using pre-packaged tea in tea bags.

[00:18:32]  So there you have it, five unusual origin stories of foods. 

[00:18:37]  So next time you munch on a sandwich, reach for the ketchup bottle, make a cup of tea in the morning, or even visit the UK and have some fish and chips or chicken tikka masala, well, you’ll know a little bit more about the history of where all these wonderful foods came from.

[00:18:57]  OK then, that’s it for today’s episode. I hope it was an interesting one, and that you learned something new.

[00:19:05]  As always, I’d love to know what you thought of this episode.

[00:19:09]  We have of course only just scratched the surface of interesting origin stories about food, and there are so many more we could have talked about. So, my questions for you are: 

[00:19:21]  What other fun stories are there that you know about?

[00:19:24]  How do we even think about who “invented” something which has been enjoyed in different formats all over the world?

[00:19:31]  And have you ever claimed to have invented your own dish?

[00:19:36]  I would love to know.

[00:19:37]  You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:19:46]  You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:51]  I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]