Each language has its own grammar rules, which means that you cannot translate word-by-word and get anything that makes sense. It’s the same with food, as every culture has its own unwritten rules that are easy to learn as you grow up with them, but difficult to understand in a cuisine that’s new to you.
Yes, much like language, cuisine obeys grammatical rules that vary from country to country, and academics have documented and studied them. They dictate whether food is eaten sitting or standing; on the floor or at a table; with a fork or chopsticks or with fingers. Like sentence structure, explains Ken Albala, Professor of History at the University of the Pacific, a cuisine’s grammar can be reflected in the order in which it is served, and a grammar can dictate which foods can (or cannot) be paired, like cheese on fish, or barbecue sauce on ice cream.
The classic example is spaghetti and meatballs. In traditional Italian cuisine, the pasta is served first and the meat later, yet Americans put meatballs or meat sauce right on top of their pasta. However, as people and their cuisines move around the world, these rules are broken, either as a misunderstanding or an adaptation to local expectations. Sometimes they lead to arguments, but just as often they lead to delightful new meals. Read about food grammar at Atlas Obscura.
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