Bread Around the World

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I baked my first homemade loaf of bread the other day and it blew my mind what you can create with just three ingredients. Water, flour, and yeast are all you need to make a basic loaf of bread. While I was waiting for the bread to rise (twelve-eighteen hours using the no-knead slow-rise method), I started to think about all the different types of bread around the world: baguettes, bagels, pretzels, tortillas, naan, sourdough, roti, rye, pita, matzo, focaccia, soda bread. They all start the same way. With just three ingredients, each culture has created a part of their identity through bread.

Have you ever thought of traveling the world just to sample bread? Think about it. Or, if you can’t get away just now, how about just traveling vicariously through your local bakery, trying different breads from around the world? It’ll make you aware of how different countries interpret the world’s most common food.

Bread is the food that many immigrants remember most from their home country, and it’s often what they miss the most. Bread is the ultimate comfort food; an essential part of our cultural heritage. While a visit to the bakery to purchase a fresh loaf of bread is a daily ritual in many countries, it’s a much less common occurrence here in the United States. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that a large number of expats, including me, have started baking their own bread at home. Germans are baking bretzel; Italians are making focaccia; Indians are making roti and naan; Ethopians injera, etc.

Fortunately, immigrants tend to take their traditional bread recipes wherever they go; a fact that the bakeries of United States have benefited from enormously. Take the tortilla, which has exploded all over Southern California (giving San Francisco’s sourdough a run for its money), all thanks to our Mexican neighbors.

Bread in all its forms tells us a lot about the culture where it was developed and about the people who consume it. Much has been said about bread over the years—after all, it’s been around for an estimated 6,000 of them! Bread is even written into the Lord’s Prayer!

Bread is so ingrained in our culture that we make jokes about our relationship with it. According to comedian Milton Berle, “Anytime a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies.” Ouch! Bill Cosby, for his part, admits, “I am proud to be an American. Because an American can eat anything on the face of this earth as long as he has two pieces of bread.” (I wonder what the British, self-proclaimed inventors of the sandwich, would have to say about that.)

Now think about the expression “daily bread.” It refers to sustenance and survival. It alludes to the fact not only can we live on bread alone, for many thousands of years we did just that. “It is not accidental that all phenomena of human life are dominated by the search for daily bread,” said Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, “the oldest link connecting all living things, man included, with the surrounding nature.”

Bon appetite!


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