The domesticated chicken, known around the world for its egg-laying ability and tasty
flesh, is believed to have originated in the jungles of Southwest Asia or the Indian
subcontinent. Today wild species that have the same characteristics as our modern hens
are to be found in Malaysia, Java, and India.
Poultry were the first animals domesticated and were certainly very prolific producers of
foods. They could easily be transported by migrating clans and nomads providing a
handy portable food supply that could also be bartered in the villages they passed
Their arrival in China from India took place in about 1400 BC. The historian who
recorded it did so many centuries after the event, which makes the date suspect. Poultry
was certainly an established part of Chinese cuisine by the Third Century BC when a
poem praising a feast describes the food served: geese in sour sauce, casseroled duck,
fried flesh of the great crane, and braised chicken.
The people of the Indus valley civilization knew the hen and its value as food. Whether
it originated in the Indus Valley or the jungles of Southeast Asia, it easily spread
westward. From the Indus Valley the hen followed the trade routes to the cities of the
present Arabian Gulf. From there it had no problem reaching ancient Egypt, the
Mediterranean, then Greece, Rome and Europe.
Romans enjoyed their eggs, but the taste of the upper class was expressed by one
Roman who stated 'fowl drowned to death in wine had a very fine flavor'. The art of legal
loop-holing may have begun in Rome because of the chicken. Emperor Didius (133-193
AD) ordered that henceforth hens or cocks could no longer be served at Roman orgies.
This angered chicken growers, restauranteurs, caterers, and aficionados of chicken at
orgies. A creative thinking citizen, biologist or a lawyer employed by the chicken growers
of Rome, realized that technically a castrated chicken was neither hen nor cock. The deft
stroke of a knife created a legal loophole and a new type of chicken simultaneously.
Chickens returned to orgies as capons and the world benefited from plumper tenderer
chickens. The Emperor must have stewed and steamed.
The turkey originated in America, probably in Mexico, where it was called 'uexoloti'. It
arrived in Europe about 1523 and was given various names based on the belief it had
been introduced by the discoverers of the new route to India. Each country gave it a
name, 'Indianische Henn' and 'Calecutisch Henn' by the Germans; 'coq d' Inde by the
French, which later became 'dinde' and 'dindon'; and 'Galle d'India' by the Italians. The
English settled on 'Turkey' which may have referred to the Turkey Traders who at that
time traded from the eastern end of the Mediterranean and present day Turkey. These
traders usually stopped at Spanish ports on their way to England and probably introduced
the big fowl to the island nation.
Turkey is a remarkable meat; it contains more protein and the lowest cholesterol content
of all poultry and red meat except veal. A four ounce turkey sandwich has half the daily
protein requirements for an adult male or female. The daughter of Benjamin Franklin,
that early American traveler, inventor and statesman, believed the turkey not the bald
eagle should have been the national bird.
Chicken has played a role in modern politics as well as that of ancient Rome. Herbert
Hoover, an American president during difficult economic times, was thought to have
originated his promised, "chicken in every pot and a car in every garage". However, the
son-in-law of King Henri II of France hoped that: "not a peasant so poor in all my realm
who would not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday" probably deserves the credit.