Have you ever thought about why certain foods look and taste the way they do? Of course, many of them are based on recipes that have been transmitted from mother to daughter, father to son across generations – but there must be a reason why they are the way they are. Quite often, the stories behind our beloved foods are trivial. There are, in turn, stories behind some beloved foodstuffs that are stranger than you would expect.
The bagel and its hole
The reason for the bagel to have a hole in the middle is for it to bake faster and more evenly. Well, at least that’s the official story. The mystery of the bagel hole is, in turn, much harder to crack – for the real (alleged) reason, you have to go back to the times when Russia was still ruled by a Tsar imposing almost unbearable taxes on the people.
Back in the day, the story goes, the Tsar demanded that every village should hand in the middle of every loaf of bread they bake as the royal portion – one-tenth. The wise men of a small Jewish village, have, in turn, invented a way to circumvent this obligation: they baked round loaves with holes in their middle. And the holes were exactly one-tenth of the size of the complete loaf. So, when it came to handing over the middle tenth of each bread, they could keep all the bread to themselves.
The cross on the bun
Hot Cross Buns are a traditional pastry eaten in many English-speaking countries on Good Friday to mark the end of the Lent. And they are said to have miraculous powers.
These pastries marked with the most sacred symbol of Christianity are said to stay fresh for a whole year if they are baked and served on Good Friday. They are even though to have miraculous healing powers – a piece of a hot cross bun given to a sick person will allegedly help them heal (not a bad superpower during the pandemic). And if taken to a sea voyage, these buns are said to help avoid a shipwreck.
Instant noodles are a staple food for students all over the world – after all, it’s cheap, tasty, easy to cook, and easy to eat. Its origins are darker than you may think, though – and it has to do with World War II.
Legend has it that Japan, after losing in the World War, faced serious food shortages, the US would send massive quantities of wheat as an aid. Processing it into a product with a long shelf-life was a challenge – but it was overcome by inventor Momofuku Ando in 1958. He used wheat flour to produce noodles that were then flash fried, steamed, seasoned, and dehydrated in oil heat, resulting in the well-known noddle “block” we all know today.
At first, these instant noodles – sold under the brand “Chikin Ramen” – were considered a luxury because of their price: they were sold for 35 yen (the equivalent of almost 600 yen today, more than $5) when the fresh variant was almost six times cheaper. Ultimately, instant noodles gained incredible popularity around the world – about 5.7 billion packs of them were produced in 2018 alone.