Illustration by Jasmine Abbey
The history of the pepper begins at its birthplace: Latin America. Long before Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, the Aztecs domesticated the fruit of the Capsicum plant. Archeological findings dating back to 5000 BC show chili peppers were used as a staple food ingredient alongside maize, beans, fish and game. As we explain the history of the pepper, we’ll list Edmonton restaurants reflecting those influences.
In a 1493 letter, Columbus pens a description of a food eaten by the Taino and Arawak people of Hispaniola: The pimento, “a better spice than our pepper.” Columbus returns to Spain, bringing with him the fiery spice.
Varities of pepper spread quickly across the Mediterranean and parts of Europe. The Hungarians dry bell and chili peppers to create paprika, a main ingredient of one of their national dishes, gulys (goulash). Portuguese explorers introduced several varieties to their west African colonies. The Swahili people name one pepper “pili pili.”
Stop 1: Tres Carnales, 10119 100 A St.
Try the chili relleno, a deep fried poblano chili pepper grilled, peeled and stuffed with either a stringy while cheese or Montery Jack, served with crema and a tomato cinnamon salsa. Other options at this raucous Mexican joint are carne con chile, and the spicy housemade Mexican ground chorizo sausage.
Stop 2: Sabor Divino Wine and Tapas Bar, 10220 103 St.
Try the piri piri prawns, which are marinated in a housemade piri piri sauce of hot red chilies, dried chilies, garlic, white wine and olive oil. Stop by after work, and indulge in the Mediterranean evening ritual of sharing small plates of food while sipping wine.
Stop 3: Koultures Afro-Continental Restaurant, 8803 118 Ave.
Try the suya, thin slices of roasted beef rubbed with dried habanero peppers, ginger and dried garlic. Other options at this Nigerian restaurant include multiple pepper soups, a description fitting of the several types of peppers used in these unabashedly fiery soups.
In 1510, the Spanish become the first Europeans to inhabit Jamaica. African slaves are brought to the Caribbean to work the sugar cane plantations. The Africans introduce a variety of crops to the inhabitants, including peppers. Though not well documented, the now popular “jerk” cooking method is likely the result of the blending of African spices and Arawak food preparation techniques.
Stop 4: A Yah Mi Deh, 4435 118 Ave.
Try the jerk dishes, a house specialty of pork, or chicken basted in a fiery mop of Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, allspice, clove, garlic, onions and the chef’s secret ingredients. A more adventurous Jamaican dish is the rich and spicy oxtail (beef) stew.
In 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama lands on the western coast of India and sets up a settlement in the Indian state of Goa. As the Europeans move eastward across the Indian Ocean, spices, such as black pepper and cinnamon, are used as a trading currency. Twenty-one years later, Spanish navigator Ferdinand Magellan reaches the Philippines and northern Indonesia, which establishes a new commercial trade route to Asia. It’s believed the pepper is introduced to Asia around the 16th century by European explorers.
Stop 5: Guru, 17021 100 Ave.
Try the spicy lamb vindaloo, boneless chunks of lamb and potato cooked in throat-tingling sauce, which includes chili powder, cardamom, cloves and tomatoes. Cool down your mouth with a mango lassi, a thick and creamy drink made from mango and yogurt.
Stop 6: Thai Valley Grill, 4211 106 St.
Try the tom yum soup, a spicy and sour soup made with chilies, lemon grass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. The stars, though, are the curry dishes, such as the geang kiew waan, a green curry made from a green pepper paste and coconut cream.