In 1943, M.F.K. Fisher published The Gastronomical Me, a foodie’s biography that tried as hard as it could to pretend the author wasn’t a food snob. This trio of recipes for cucumber mixed with yogurt could be subtitled The Multicultural Me, because it shows off the same basic recipe as interpreted by Turks, Greeks, and Indians.
Cacik (pronounced jajik, really jajök, because the word is spelled in Turkish with a dotless i (i) that sounds like an umlauted o in German: Götterdämmerung) is the ancestor, both phonologically and in fact, of the Greek tzatziki. Don’t try out this idea in a taverna in Greek-controlled Cyprus, but almost everything Greeks put on the table is a legacy of Ottoman rule. Over time, however, things took their own Hellenic course, and tzatziki fits seamlessly into the Greek mini-cuisine of small plates of appetizers called mezes. Tzatziki is a dip, usually not tricked out with mint and dill, whereas cacik always has those herbs and often gets served as a soup. Raita is never served by itself. It is one of the many side dishes, breads, and condiments that accompany an Indian meal. And its seasonings—cumin, pepper, and cayenne—are typically Indian. So these are three distinct dishes, culturally distinct, gastronomically distinct, distinct in function and spirit. And yet, loath as I am to make cross-cultural comparisons, I do feel like saying the obvious: That three cultures—two still at each other’s throats after many decades and the other having evolved far away from the other two at its own slowly simmering pace (albeit with a Middle Eastern influence from the Persian Mughals)—have embraced the same concept, as if any fool could see that cucumber and yogurt yearned to be mixed.*
*Like human beings, who, in the founding myth of sexuality that Diotima relates to the assembled revelers in Plato’s Symposium, having originally been joined together in quadrupedal bliss, now bend their best efforts at regaining their former, coupled state.
© 2007 Raymond Sokolov. All rights reserved.