January 23, 2010

The Provenance of Food

It's something I've been thinking about for a while, and going to the Indian Food Festival on Friday made me think of it again.

Where does your produce come from? And how do you make a choice? In France, the markets are required to tell you the provenance of the produce. Of course it usually varies with the season. Strawberries in February are usually from Spain and they don't come from France until a few months later. Just like winter fruits in California come from Chile.

But here in the UAE, it's not as simple as what's in season. They don't grow much here in the desert, although more than I had thought as evidenced by this feature on locavores in The National last week. Of course dates, but apparently carrots and eggplant and zucchini, too.

A colleague has an Abu Dhabi blog and he writes about something similar there, at Abu Dhabi Do!

I am particularly fond of bananas from the Philippines. They are sweeter and more flavorful than bananas from South America, in my opinion. (Of course, this is all just my opinion). I started eating them last year in Hong Kong, and here I have a choice. Bananas from the Philippines, from India or from South America. There are two brands: Chiquita and Estrella. I prefer the Estrella bananas.

And it's not just bananas. I prefer Indian pomegranates to Tunisian or Egyptian ones. They are sweeter and juicier. I also usually prefer tangerines (or mandarins or clementines -- they vary) from Egypt, but those from Pakistan, which are lately on sale, have been pretty good. The ones from China are very tiny, and seem hardly worth the effort.

I can choose from Omani or Jordanian eggplant, Arabian potatoes and mangoes from Thailand or India. There is a huge supply of produce from the US and from Europe, but aside from the French apples, I don't usually bother. (An exception being celery, because a lot of places don't grow eating celery, they have cooking celery, and the US is an exception).

We are seeing a lot of summer fruits from South Africa right now: Peaches, nectarines and apricots. And as the price is going down, I can tell we are getting closer to the season.

There was a better-than-usual selection of produce from India this week: Green cardamom and bitter squash and tapioca and gigantic yams. I have no idea what to do with any of this. But I took some pictures. I wanted to try some of the more unusual fruits: jack fruit and snake fruit, which looks like it has snake scales on it. But I was discouraged by someone who knows better.

But it's something to think about, knowing where your food comes from. The bigger surprise -- to me -- is that there is such a difference.

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