Jul 182018
 

Today is the birthday (1811) of William Makepeace Thackeray who in the 19th century was considered second only to Dickens in the British literary world. These days he is mostly forgotten except for Vanity Fair, a staple of Eng. Lit. classes. Thackeray was an only child, born in Calcutta in British India, to Richmond Thackeray (1781 – 1815), secretary to the Board of Revenue in the British East India Company, and Anne Becher (1792–1864), the second daughter of Harriet Becher and John Harman Becher, who was also a secretary for the East India Company.

His father died in 1815, which caused his mother to send him son to England in 1816, while she remained in British India. The ship on which he travelled made a short stopover at Saint Helena, where the imprisoned Napoleon was pointed out to him. Once in England he was educated at schools in Southampton and Chiswick, and then at Charterhouse School, where he became a close friend of John Leech. Thackeray disliked Charterhouse, and parodied it in his fiction as “Slaughterhouse”. Nevertheless, Thackeray was honored in the Charterhouse Chapel with a monument after his death. Illness in his last year there, during which he reportedly grew to his full height of six foot three, postponed his matriculation at Trinity College, Cambridge, until February 1829. Thackery was indifferent to academic studies and so left Cambridge in 1830. However, some of his earliest published writing appeared in two university periodicals, The Snob and The Gownsman.

Thackeray then traveled for some time on the continent, visiting Paris and Weimar, where he met Goethe. He returned to England and began to study law at the Middle Temple, but soon gave that up. On reaching the age of 21 he came into his inheritance from his father, but he squandered much of it on gambling and on funding two unsuccessful newspapers, The National Standard and The Constitutional, for which he had hoped to write. He also lost a good part of his inheritance in the collapse of two Indian banks. He was thus forced to consider a profession to support himself, turning first to art, which he studied in Paris, but did not pursue it directly. In later years he did produce illustrations for some of his own novels and other writings. He married 1836, Isabella Gethin Shawe (1816–1894) in 1836, second daughter of Isabella Creagh Shawe and Matthew Shawe, a colonel who had died after distinguished service, primarily in India. They had three children, all girls: Anne Isabella (1837–1919), Jane (who died at eight months old) and Harriet Marian (1840–1875), who married Sir Leslie Stephen, editor, biographer and philosopher (and Virginia Woolf’s father by a different wife).

Isabella

After marriage, Thackeray began “writing for his life”, as he put it, turning to journalism in an effort to support his young family. He primarily worked for Fraser’s Magazine, a sharp-witted and sharp-tongued conservative publication for which he produced art criticism, short fictional sketches, and two longer fictional works, Catherine and The Luck of Barry Lyndon. Between 1837 and 1840 he also reviewed books for The Times. He was also a regular contributor to The Morning Chronicle and The Foreign Quarterly Review. Later, through his connection to his school pal, John Leech, he began writing for the newly created magazine Punch, in which he published The Snob Papers, later collected as The Book of Snobs. This work popularized the modern meaning of the word “snob”. Thackeray was a regular contributor to Punch between 1843 and 1854.

Self caricature

Thackeray’s wife, Isabella, succumbed to depression after the birth of their third child, in 1840. Finding that he could get no work done at home, he spent more and more time away until September 1840, when he realized how grave his wife’s condition was. Struck by guilt, he set out with his wife to Ireland. During the crossing she threw herself from a water-closet into the sea, but she was pulled from the waters. They fled back home after a four-week battle with her mother. From November 1840 to February 1842 Isabella was in and out of professional care, as her condition waxed and waned. She eventually deteriorated into a permanent state of detachment from reality. Thackeray desperately sought cures for her, but nothing worked, and she ended up in two different asylums in or near Paris until 1845, after which Thackeray took her back to England, where he installed her with a Mrs Bakewell at Camberwell. Isabella outlived her husband by 30 years, in the end being cared for by a family named Thompson in Leigh-on-Sea at Southend until her death in 1894.

In the early 1840s Thackeray had some success with two travel books, The Paris Sketch Book and The Irish Sketch Book, the latter marked by hostility to Irish Catholics. However, as the book appealed to British prejudices, Thackeray was given the job of being Punch‘s Irish expert, often under the pseudonym Hibernis Hibernior. It was Thackeray, in other words, who was chiefly responsible for Punch‘s notoriously hostile and condescending depictions of the Irish during the Irish Famine (1845–51).

Thackeray achieved more recognition with his Snob Papers (serialized 1846/7, published in book form in 1848), but the work that really established his fame was the novel Vanity Fair, which first appeared in serialized instalments beginning in January 1847. Even before Vanity Fair completed its serial run Thackeray had become a celebrity, sought after by the very lords and ladies whom he satirized. They hailed him as the equal of Dickens.

He remained “at the top of the tree”, as he put it, for the rest of his life, during which he produced several long novels, notably Pendennis, The Newcomes and The History of Henry Esmond, despite various illnesses, including a near-fatal one that struck him in 1849 in the middle of writing Pendennis. He twice visited the United States on lecture tours during this period. Thackeray also gave lectures in London on the English humorists of the 18th century, and on the first four Hanoverian monarchs. The latter series was published in book form as The Four Georges. In Oxford he stood unsuccessfully as an independent for Parliament. He was narrowly beaten by Cardwell, who received 1,070 votes, as against 1,005 for Thackeray.

In 1860 Thackeray became editor of the newly established Cornhill Magazine, but he was never comfortable in the role, preferring to contribute to the magazine as the writer of a column called “Roundabout Papers”. Thackeray’s health worsened during the 1850s and he was plagued by a recurring stricture of the urethra that laid him up for days at a time. He also felt that he had lost much of his creative impetus. He worsened matters by excessive eating and drinking, and avoiding exercise, though he enjoyed riding (he kept a horse). He has been described as “the greatest literary glutton who ever lived” (which is certainly hyperbole – there have been many). His main activity apart from writing was “guttling and gorging.”

On 23rd December 1863, after returning from dining out and before dressing for bed, he suffered a stroke. He was found dead in his bed the following morning. His death at the age of fifty-two was entirely unexpected, and shocked his family, his friends and the reading public. An estimated 7,000 people attended his funeral at Kensington Gardens. He was buried on 29th December at Kensal Green Cemetery, and a memorial bust sculpted by Marochetti was placed in Westminster Abbey.

Here’s a few memorable quotes:

To love and win is the best thing. To love and lose, the next best.

Good humor may be said to be one of the very best articles of dress one can wear in society.

If a man’s character is to be abused, say what you will, there’s nobody like a relative to do the business.

People hate as they love: unreasonably.

There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen to write.

The wicked are wicked, no doubt, and they go astray and they fall, and they come by their deserts; but who can tell the mischief which the very virtuous do?

And now a rather longer quote from Vanity Fair leading to our recipe du jour.

“Give Miss Sharp some curry, my dear,” said Mr. Sedley, laughing. Rebecca had never tasted the dish before. “Do you find it as good as everything else from India?” said Mr. Sedley. “Oh, excellent!” said Rebecca, who was suffering tortures with the cayenne pepper. “Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp,” said Joseph, really interested. “A chili,” said Rebecca, gasping. “Oh yes!” She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported, and was served with some. “How fresh and green they look,” she said, and put one into her mouth. It was hotter than the curry; flesh and blood could bear it no longer. She laid down her fork. “Water, for Heaven’s sake, water!” she cried.

Hot curry it is then. You may indulge in “guttling and gorging” if you wish — or not. You can take your pick of recipes I have already given, or make a vindaloo, which is often the hottest curry you can get in South Asian restaurants in Britain. Lamb vindaloo is my favorite, although it is commonly made with pork in Goa where it originates. I have had it made with duck and chicken as well. In this recipe I will list “meat” for the ingredient, and you can take your pick. Just remember that cooking times will vary depending on the meat you choose. The masala paste is the key to the dish. It gives it the pungent and fiery taste. Use brown sugar for the dish if you cannot get jaggery.

Vindaloo

Ingredients

75 ml cider vinegar
700 gm meat, cut into chunks
4 tbsp ghee
500 gm finely sliced onions
60 gm tamarind pulp
10 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
5 cm length of ginger, peeled and cut into slim matchsticks
4 ripe tomatoes, diced
2-4 small hot peppers
10 curry leaves
1 tbsp jaggery
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black mustard seeds

For the masala

2 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder or paprika
Seeds of 8 cardamom pods
1 tsp black peppercorns
8 cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp turmeric
5 cm cinnamon stick

Instructions

Grind to a coarse powder all the ingredients for the masala, then stir in the vinegar. Rub the mixture into the meat and leave it to sit for three to four hours.

Heat the ghee in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat, and fry the onions until they are soft and golden. Take your time with this step, stirring periodically to make sure the onions are evenly caramelized. Meanwhile, soak the tamarind pulp in 120 ml of hot water for 15 minutes, then gently rub any remaining pulp from the seeds and strain off the liquid, discarding the solids.

Stir the garlic and ginger into the onions and cook, stirring, for another five minutes, then add the tomatoes, hot peppers and curry leaves, and cook until the tomatoes start to break down.

Add the pork and the masala rub to the pan and turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir well, add the jaggery, salt and mustard seeds, followed by the tamarind liquid. Bring to a simmer, cover tightly, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for one hour.

Partially remove the lid and cook for another 30 minutes, until the meat is very tender and the sauce has thickened.

Serve with your choice of Indian flatbreads, Basmati rice, and a dish of dahl (at minimum).

Oct 122015
 

span8

In most countries in the Americas, today used to be some version of “Columbus Day” because it was the date in 1492 that Rodrigo de Triana, lookout on the Pinta in Columbus’ flotilla, sighted land in the New World. Now, in almost of all of Latin America, and a few cities in the U.S. the name of the day has been changed to reflect the cultural realities of the arrival of Columbus in the New World. The negative view of Columbus has several strands. First, it is now obvious that his arrival was not good news for the indigenous populations which were enslaved and/or killed wholesale. Second, it is abundantly clear nowadays that Columbus was not some dreamy eyed-adventurer, but a cold, calculating profiteer.

Though Christopher Columbus came to be considered the “discoverer of America” in U.S. and European popular culture, his true historical legacy is more nuanced. America was first discovered by its indigenous population, and Columbus was not even the first European to reach its shores as he was preceded by the Vikings at L’Anse aux Meadows. But the lasting significance of Columbus’ voyages outshone that of his Viking predecessors, because he managed to bring word of the continent back to Europe. By bringing the continent to the forefront of Western attention, Columbus initiated the enduring relationship between the Earth’s two major landmasses and their inhabitants. It was not that Columbus was the first, but he was the first to stay.

Historians have traditionally argued that Columbus remained convinced to the very end that his journeys had been along the east coast of Asia, but recently they have started to question this view. His journals from the third voyage call the “land of Paria” a “hitherto unknown continent.” On the other hand, his other writings continued to claim that he had reached Asia, such as a 1502 letter to Pope Alexander VI where he asserted that Cuba was the east coast of Asia. He also rationalized that the new continent of South America was the “Earthly Paradise” that was located “at the end of the Orient”.

span2

Columbus is often attributed with refuting a prevalent belief in a flat Earth. However, this legacy is a popular misconception. To the contrary, the spherical shape of the earth had been known to scholars since antiquity, and was common knowledge among sailors. Coincidentally, the oldest surviving globe of the earth, the Erdapfel, was made in 1492 just before Columbus’ return to Europe. As such it contains no sign of the Americas and yet demonstrates the common belief in a spherical Earth.

The scholar Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to America in the years following Columbus’ first voyage, was the first to actively speculate that the land was not part of Asia but in fact constituted some wholly new continent previously unknown to Eurasians. His travel journals, published 1502–04, convinced German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller to reach the same conclusion, and in 1507—a year after Columbus’ death—Waldseemüller published a world map calling the new continent America from Vespucci’s Latinized name “Americus”. According to Paul Lunde, “The preoccupation of European courts with the rise of the Ottoman Turks in the East partly explains their relative lack of interest in Columbus’ discoveries in the West.”

span3

Historically, the British had downplayed Columbus and emphasized the role of the Venetian John Cabot as a pioneer explorer, but for the emerging United States, Cabot made for a poor national hero. Veneration of Columbus in America dates back to colonial times. The name Columbia for “America” first appeared in a 1738 weekly publication of the debates of the British Parliament. The use of Columbus as a founding figure of New World nations and the use of the word “Columbia”, or simply the name “Columbus”, spread rapidly after the American Revolution. Columbus’ name was given to the federal capital of the United States (District of Columbia), the capital cities of two U.S. states (Ohio and South Carolina), and the Columbia River. Outside the United States the name was used in 1819 for the Gran Colombia, a precursor of the modern Republic of Colombia. Numerous cities, towns, counties, streets, and plazas (called Plaza Colón or Plaza de Colón throughout Latin America and Spain) have been named after him. A candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church in 1866, celebration of Columbus’ legacy perhaps reached a zenith in 1892 with the 400th anniversary of his first arrival in the Americas. Monuments to Columbus like the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and Columbus Circle in New York City were erected throughout the United States and Latin America extolling him.

span7

More recent views of Columbus have tended to be much more critical. The combined effects of Columbus’ forced labor regime, war, and slaughter resulted in the near-total eradication (98%) of the native Taino of Hispaniola. De las Casas records that when he first came to Hispaniola in 1508, “there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it….” The native Taino people of the island were systematically enslaved via the encomienda system implemented by Columbus, which resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe.

span6

Disease played a significant role in the destruction of the natives; however there is no record of any massive smallpox epidemic in the Antilles until 25 years after the arrival of Columbus; rather, the natives’ numbers declined due to extreme overwork, other diseases, and a loss of will to live after the destruction of their culture by the invaders. When the first pandemic finally struck in 1519 it wiped out much of the remaining native population. According to the historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes by 1548, 56 years after Columbus landed, fewer than five hundred Taino were left on the island.

Columbus’ treatment of the Hispaniola natives was even worse; his soldiers raped, killed, and enslaved with impunity at every landing. When Columbus fell ill in 1495, soldiers were reported to have gone on a rampage, slaughtering 50,000 natives. Upon his recovery, Columbus organized his troops’ efforts, forming a squadron of several hundred heavily armed men and more than twenty attack dogs. The men tore across the land, killing thousands of sick and unarmed natives. Soldiers would use their captives for sword practice, attempting to decapitate them or cut them in half with a single blow.

span10

The historian Howard Zinn writes that Columbus spearheaded a massive slave trade; in 1495 his men captured in a single raid 1500 Arawak men, women, and children. When he shipped five hundred of the slaves to Spain, 40% died en route. Historian James W. Loewen asserts that “Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves – about five thousand – than any other individual… other nations rushed to emulate Columbus.” When slaves held in captivity began to die at high rates, Columbus switched to a different system of forced labor: he ordered all natives over the age of thirteen to collect a specified amount (one hawk’s bell full) of gold powder every three months. Natives who brought the amount were given a copper token to hang around their necks, and those found without tokens had their hands amputated and were left to bleed to death.

The Arawaks attempted to fight back against Columbus’s men but lacked their armor, guns, swords, and horses. When taken prisoner, they were hanged or burned to death. Desperation led to mass suicides and infanticide among the natives. In just two years under Columbus’ governorship more than half of the 250,000 Arawaks in Haiti were dead. The main cause for the depopulation was disease followed by other causes such as warfare and harsh enslavement.

There is evidence that the men of the first voyage also brought syphilis from the New World to Europe.[120] Many of the crew members who served on this voyage later joined the army of King Charles VIII in his invasion of Italy in 1495. After the victory, Charles’ largely mercenary army returned to their respective homes, thereby spreading “the Great Pox” across Europe and triggering the deaths of more than five million people.

span12

Two years ago on this date I celebrated Día de la Raza in this blog. You can find the post here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/dia-de-la-raza/ Here is an excerpt:

The most common name for the date in Spanish is Día de la Raza. The day under this name was first celebrated in Argentina in 1917 (since changed to Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural), Venezuela and Colombia in 1921, Chile in 1922, and Mexico in 1928. The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the Día de la Hispanidad, and in Venezuela until 2002, when it was changed to the Día de la Resistencia Indígena. In Uruguay it is called Día de las Américas. Originally conceived of as a celebration of Hispanic influence in the Americas, as evidenced by the complementary celebrations in Spain and Latin America, Día de la Raza has come to be seen by many nations and individuals in Latin America as a counter to Columbus Day; a celebration of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans to the Americas by indigenous peoples. In the U.S. Día de la Raza has served as a time of mobilization for pan-ethnic Hispano activists, particularly in the 1960s.

Argentina’s name, Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural, attempts to be balanced, mirroring, in part the United Nations’ decision to name the day Spanish Language Day. This title still salutes the colonists over the indigenous peoples, but it downplays Columbus in favor of promoting a sense of multiculturalism. This passage is taken from a UNESCO site:

Las Naciones Unidas celebran el Día del idioma español. El objetivo es promocionar y apoyar aquellas iniciativas que promuevan el plurilingüismo y multiculturalismo así como crear conciencia entre los funcionarios, de la historia, la cultura, el desarrollo y el uso del español como idioma oficial. La decisión de celebrar los Días de los idiomas fue aprobada por el Departamento de Información Pública de las Naciones Unidas en la víspera del Día Internacional de la Lengua Materna, celebrado anualmente el 21 de febrero por iniciativa de la UNESCO. Esta es una oportunidad para poner de relieve la importancia del idioma español dentro de la organización para la consecución de sus objetivos y la difusión de su labor a un público más amplio.

So, although the U.N. specifically honors Spanish on this date, the underlying message is that every culture and every language should be celebrated.

There is no doubt that the cultigens of the New World – potatoes, tomatoes, squash, pole beans etc. – transformed world cuisine. None is more important to me than the chile pepper which now exists in hundreds of varieties. Chile peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BCE. The most recent research shows that chiles were domesticated more than 6000 years ago in Mexico, in the region that extends across southern Puebla and northern Oaxaca to southeastern Veracruz, and were one of the first self-pollinating crops cultivated in Mexico, Central and parts of South America.

span1

Peru is still a center of diversification of chiles where varieties of all five domesticates were introduced, grown and consumed in pre-Colombian times. Bolivia is, however, where most diversity of wild Capsicum peppers are consumed. Bolivians distinguish two basic forms: ulupicas, species with small round fruits including C. eximium, C. cardenasii, C. eshbaughii, and C. caballeroi landraces; and arivivis with small elongated fruits including C. baccatum var. baccatum and C. chacoense varieties.

Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter them (in the Caribbean), and called them “peppers” because they, like black and white pepper of the Piper genus known in Europe, have a spicy hot taste unlike other foodstuffs. Upon their introduction into Europe, chiles were grown as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. Christian monks experimented with the culinary potential of chile and discovered that their pungency offered a substitute for black peppercorns, which at the time were so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries.

Chiles were cultivated around the globe after Columbus. Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician on Columbus’ second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, brought the first chiles to Spain and first wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494. The spread of chiles to Asia was most likely a natural consequence of its introduction to Portuguese traders (Lisbon was a common port of call for Spanish ships sailing to and from the Americas) who, aware of its trade value, would have likely promoted its commerce in the Asian spice trade routes then dominated by Portuguese and Arab traders. It was introduced in India by the Portuguese towards the end of 15th century. Today chiles are an integral part of many Asian cuisines.

The chile pepper features heavily in the cuisine of the Goan region of India, which was the site of a Portuguese colony (e.g., vindaloo, an Indian interpretation of a Portuguese dish). The name “vindaloo” is derived from the Portuguese dish carne de vinha d’alhos, a dish of meat (usually pork) marinated in wine and garlic. The Portuguese dish was modified by the substitution of vinegar (usually palm vinegar) for the red wine and the addition of red Kashmiri chile peppers with additional spices to evolve into vindaloo. Nowadays, the Anglo-Indian version of a vindaloo is marinated in vinegar, sugar, fresh ginger, and spices overnight, then cooked with the addition of further spices.

span11

I’m partial to vindaloo and used to make it all of the time. Since living in Argentina and China I have not been able to get all the necessary spices but here’s a decent recipe from memory. Spices can be varied according to taste. You do not have to overwhelm the dish with chiles, but it should be hot.

Pork Vindaloo

Ingredients

2 lbs fatty pork, cubed

paste
16 dried Kashmiri chile peppers, stemmed and seeded
1 inch piece cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon white vinegar
salt to taste

1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced, or more to taste
2 inch piece fresh ginger root, minced
2 green chile peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1/4 cup white vinegar

Instructions

Put the paste ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend to a smooth paste. In a mixing bowl thoroughly mix the paste and pork, then place the mixture in a plastic bag, expel all the air, seal, and refrigerate overnight.

Next day heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions until they are golden. Add the pork mixture and continue to sauté until the meat takes on color. Cover with water or light stock plus the vinegar and bring to a simmer. Add the garlic, ginger, and chiles and simmer partly covered for about an hour, or until the pork is tender. The sauce should reduce somewhat but still be plentiful.

Serve with plain boiled basmati rice, flat breads, and chutneys.

 

Jul 082015
 

vdg6

On this date in 1497 Dom Vasco da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira, a Portuguese explorer, set out on his first voyage to India thus becoming the first European to reach India by sea, linking Europe and Asia for the first time by ocean route, as well as the Atlantic and the Indian oceans entirely and definitively, and in this way, the West and the Orient.

Da Gama’s discovery was of major significance and opened the way for an age of global imperialism and for the Portuguese and others to establish long-lasting colonial empires in Asia (which you may consider fortunate or unfortunate). The route meant that the Portuguese would not need to cross the highly disputed Mediterranean nor the dangerous Arabian Peninsula, because the whole voyage could be made by sea. The sum of the distances covered in the outward and return voyages made this expedition the longest ocean voyage ever made until then, far longer than a full voyage around the world by way of the Equator.

vdg4

One century after the discovery, European powers such as England, the Netherlands and France were finally able to challenge and break Portugal’s monopoly and naval supremacy in the Cape Route around Africa, the Indian Ocean and in the Far East, opening a new era of European imperialism in the East.

After decades of sailors trying to reach the Indies with thousands of lives and dozens of vessels lost in shipwrecks and attacks, da Gama landed in Calicut on 20 May 1498. Reaching the legendary Indian spice routes unopposed helped the Portuguese Empire improve its economy that, until da Gama’s discovery, was based mainly on trading along northern and coastal West Africa. The spices obtained were mostly pepper and cinnamon at first, but soon included other products, all new to Europe and leading to a commercial monopoly for several decades.

vdg7

Da Gama’s fleet of four ships had a crew of 170 men when it set out from Lisbon. The navigators included Portugal’s most experienced, Pero de Alenquer, Pedro Escobar, João de Coimbra, and Afonso Gonçalves. It is not known for certain how many people were in each ship’s crew but approximately 55 returned, and two ships were lost. Two of the vessels were newly built for the voyage, possibly a caravel and a supply boat.

vdg9

The four ships were:

The São Gabriel, commanded by Vasco da Gama; a carrack of 178 tons, length 27 m, width 8.5 m, draft 2.3 m, sails of 372 m²

The São Rafael, whose commander was his brother Paulo da Gama; similar dimensions to the São Gabriel

The caravel Berrio, slightly smaller than the former two (later renamed São Miguel), commanded by Nicolau Coelho

A storage ship of unknown name, commanded by Gonçalo Nunes, later lost near the Bay of São Brás, along the east coast of Africa.

It is astonishing to imagine the small size of these vessels for a journey of such magnitude and danger. You wouldn’t get me to set sail in one, except maybe on a calm lake in June.

The expedition set sail from Lisbon on 8 July 1497. It followed the route pioneered by earlier explorers along the coast of Africa via Tenerife and the Cape Verde Islands. After reaching the coast of present day Sierra Leone, da Gama took a course south into the open ocean, crossing the Equator and seeking the South Atlantic westerlies that Bartolomeu Dias had discovered in 1487. This course proved successful and on 4 November 1497, the expedition made landfall on the African coast. For over three months the ships had sailed more than 10,000 kilometres (6,000 mi) of open ocean, by far the longest journey out of sight of land made by that time by Europeans.

By 16 December, the fleet had passed the Great Fish River (Eastern Cape, South Africa) – where Dias had turned back – and sailed into waters previously unknown to Europeans. With Christmas pending, da Gama and his crew gave the coast they were passing the name Natal, which carried the connotation of “birth of Christ” in Portuguese.

Vasco da Gama spent 2 to 29 March 1498 in the vicinity of Mozambique Island. Arab-controlled territory on the East African coast was an integral part of the network of trade in the Indian Ocean. Fearing the local population would be hostile to Christians, da Gama impersonated a Muslim and gained audience with the Sultan of Mozambique. With the paltry trade goods he had to offer, da Gama was unable to provide a suitable gift to the ruler and soon the local populace became suspicious of da Gama and his men. Forced by a hostile crowd to flee Mozambique, da Gama departed the harbor, firing his cannons into the city in retaliation.

vdg8

In the vicinity of modern Kenya, the expedition resorted to piracy, looting Arab merchant ships – generally unarmed trading vessels without heavy cannons. The Portuguese became the first known Europeans to visit the port of Mombasa 7th to 13 April 1498, but were met with hostility and soon departed.

Da Gama continued north, arriving at the friendlier port of Malindi on 14 April 1498 – whose leaders were then in conflict with those of Mombasa – and there the expedition first noted evidence of Indian traders. Da Gama and his crew contracted the services of a pilot whose knowledge of the monsoon winds allowed him to bring the expedition the rest of the way to Calicut, located on the southwest coast of India. Sources differ over the identity of the pilot, calling him variously a Christian, a Muslim, and a Gujarati. One traditional story describes the pilot as the famous Arab navigator Ibn Majid, but other contemporaneous accounts place Majid elsewhere, and it is now believed he could not have been near the vicinity at the time. Also, none of the Portuguese historians of the time mention Ibn Majid. Vasco da Gama left Malindi for India on 24 April 1498.

vdg3

The fleet arrived in Kappadu near Calicut, India, on 20 May 1498. The King of Calicut, the Samudiri (Zamorin), who was at that time staying in his second capital at Ponnani, returned to Calicut on hearing the news of the foreign fleet’s arrival. The navigator was received with traditional hospitality, including a grand procession of at least 3,000 armed Nairs, but an interview with the Zamorin failed to produce any concrete results. The presents that da Gama sent to the Zamorin as gifts from Dom Manuel—four cloaks of scarlet cloth, six hats, four branches of corals, twelve almasares, a box with seven brass vessels, a chest of sugar, two barrels of oil and a cask of honey—were trivial, and failed to impress. While Zamorin’s officials wondered at why there was no gold or silver, the Muslim merchants who considered da Gama their rival suggested that the latter was only an ordinary pirate and not a royal ambassador.

vdg2

Da Gama’s request for permission to leave a factor behind him in charge of the merchandise he could not sell was turned down by the King, who insisted that da Gama pay customs duty—preferably in gold—like any other trader, which strained the relation between the two. Annoyed by this, da Gama carried a few Nairs and sixteen fishermen (mukkuva) off with him by force. Nevertheless, da Gama’s expedition was successful beyond all reasonable expectation, bringing back cargo that was worth sixty times the cost of the expedition. His path would be followed up thereafter by yearly Portuguese India Armadas. The spice trade would prove to be a major asset to the Portuguese royal treasury and the sea route broke the monopoly of Asian Silk Road traders.

vdg5

Vindaloo is an Indian curry, popular in the region of Goa (and now worldwide), which evolved under many influences from a popular Portuguese pork stew made with wine and garlic, imported by Portuguese sailors. The word “vindaloo” is a corruption of the Portuguese “carne de vinha d’alhos” (meat in wine and garlic). The dish was adapted in India to local ingredients and tastes. There was no wine in India, but Franciscan priests fermented wine vinegar from local palm wine. Local ingredients like tamarind, black pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom were also incorporated along with chile peppers – a legacy of Portugal’s global empire – imported to India from the Americas.

Nowadays vindaloo is well known across Europe and the Western world but has become a rather generic curry with a little more heat than most, but otherwise undistinguished. I prefer to make mine with the sourness of vinegar and tamarind prominent, although I will admit to using commercial vindaloo pastes suitably doctored. Pork is still common in Goa because the Goanese were converted to Christianity and, therefore, had no prohibitions against it.

I suggest the following recipe from memory. Vary the spices as you see fit but make sure you include tamarind.

©Pork Vindaloo

Place in a food processor 1 cup of white wine vinegar, a 2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped, 1 teaspoon of lightly roasted cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon of poppy seeds, 10 whole black peppercorns, 6 red chiles (fresh or dried), 4 whole cloves, 1 tablespoon of tamarind paste, 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric, 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped, ½ cup of vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds, and 1 stick of cinnamon (Malabar if you can get it) broken in pieces. Pulse until you have a smooth paste.

Place the paste in a sealable bag along with 1 kg of pork cut into cubes. Boneless pork shoulder is cheap and works well. It can be reasonably, but not too, fatty. Seal up the bag leaving a small air hole. Squeeze out as much air as possible and then seal completely. Shake the bag around so that the pork is fully coated with the marinade and refrigerate over night.