If you should happen to be visiting our fine country, be sure to read about barbecue, as provided by the State Department.
No! no! no! the cry goes up. Everyone has barbecue! Look at Armenian grilled lamb, or Cantonese barbecued duck, or shrimp on the "barbie" in Australia. Nearly every culture around the world that uses fire has barbecue, you say. And you'd be almost right.
Because we're talking about a special kind of barbecue here - an arcane method of cooking meat very slowly over coals, the roots of which go far back into the American past. A cooking method so unusual that when the first Europeans in the New World saw it, they couldn't quite believe it.
As one Frenchman put it in 1564: "A Caribbee has been known, on returning home from fishing fatigued and pressed with hunger, to have the patience to wait the roasting of a fish on a wooden grate fixed two feet above the ground, over a fire so small as sometimes to require the whole day to dress it." The natives called their wooden grate a "babracot," referring to the wooden framework used to cook meet, which the conquering Spanish turned into "barbacoa."