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Carrying On an Ancient Tradition

June 25, 1997|CHARLES PERRY

How much of the world's trail food heritage do we Americans use? Let's see.

Dried meat is a universal trail food. The Mongols dry horse meat into something they call borts by hanging strips of meat in the wind. In Arabia, dried mutton (qadid) is an ancient and universal food. (To emphasize that he was a mere mortal, the prophet Muhammad described himself as "the son of a Bedouin woman who ate qadid.") In Ethiopia, they make k'want'a. And jerky actually comes from the Peruvian word Charqui.

*We're there. We carry jerky.

Dried fish is common in Asia; dried salmon was known as squaw candy in the Pacific Northwest. In southern Arabia, the usual trail food is lakham, dried shark meat.

*Some West Coast companies are marketing tuna and salmon jerky.

Hikers around the world know that cheese travels pretty well--the harder, the longer. What we know as cheese isn't made in Central Asia, but the nomads dry yogurt into hard balls, the size of a jawbreaker candy, called qurut. They're considered good for motion sickness, and in today's Uzbekistan, people often have a piece of qurut before getting on a plane or a subway car.

*OK, no dried yogurt, but we have packets of powdered milk.

The Mongols sew butter tightly into sheep skins, where it will keep for months. (And a good thing. The average Mongol eats a pound of butter a day.)

*No problem. We can carry margarine in plastic tubs.

Toasted grain--crushed or made into flour--is an ancient food, possibly the most ancient way of preparing grain. The starches are already cooked, so it doesn't need any more cooking to be digestible. All you have to do is add water. This was the puls of the Roman army and the mazai of ancient Greece. It's called sawiq in the Middle East, talqan in Central Asia and tsampa in Tibet. In the Andes, travelers carry toasted corn kernels, kanch'a.

*Corn nuts. 'Nuff said.

Flat breads cooked quite hard travel well. So do fried balls of dough (the Central Asian baghirsaq, the dabbo qolo of Ethiopia).

*Crackers, with or without little packets of peanut butter.

In the Andes, people carry naturally freeze-dried potatoes called chuos.

*Instant mashed potatoes. Next?

Quick-cooking grain products such as bulgur, couscous and pasta.

*Ditto.

Porridge.

*Ditto.

Flat breads cooked at the campfire.

*One word: pancakes.

*Native Americans traditionally pounded jerky with animal fat, and often dried fruits as well, to make cakes of pemmican, which could be chewed or dropped into boiling water for soup. Eskimos mixed seal or polar bear fat with berries.

*OK, OK, but we have M&Ms and they didn't.

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