A spice made from the dried and ground seeds and fruits of red chile peppers, capsicum annuum, a member of the nightshade family. One of the most popular spices in the world today, it is the hallmark of Hungarian cookery.

There is little doubt that these peppers originated in the Americas, as they are already mentioned in a letter from the ship's physician on Christopher Columbus' second voyage in 1494. The mechanics of its spread into Europe are a little more complicated. They were brought back at the end of the 15th century to Spain, where they were grown as decorative plants in the gardens of Seville. But it was the Turks who, with their trade contacts across their vast empire, from India to the Balkans, first spread paprika as a culinary spice.

Though other European countries were growing paprika by the middle of the 16th century, it was the dry, fertile soil of Hungary that let it flourish. Records tell of Hungarian herdsmen sprinkling the powder on fried bacon or mixing it in with gravy to liven up the bland flavour of various foods. The Szeged and Kalocsa regions to this day still grow the world's best paprika. Soon, the cuisine spread along the Danube to the rest of Europe, until the demand grew so great that paprika production was industrialized in the 19th century.

Whether by machine or by hand, the vast paprika fields are harvested every September. The ripe, red fruits are collected and dried, traditionally in the sun before being roasted in large kilns, then pounded in a mortar into a fine powder. Modern, industrialized production exposes the paprika to great heat, unfortunately removing much of the high vitamin C content and giving the final product a much blander taste.

There are several different kinds of paprika; of course the major division is between the "hot", Spanish or American varieties, and the "sweet" Hungarian type. Much of the spiciness depends on how much of the seeds and veins are left in before the plants are crushed; most paprika sold in America takes advantage of the automatic de-veiner invented in 1859 for the sake of quality control. It is highly recommended to grow your own. The most notable Hungarian types are:

  • Delicate: variable colour, rather mild with a very strong aroma. Similar to Rose paprika.
  • Rose: the traditional paprika grown in Szeged, rather mild, with a strong aroma.
  • Noble Sweet: the most common paprika, very mild, bright red in colour.
  • Half-Sweet: a mixture of Noble Sweet and other, more pungent paprikas.
  • Hot: almost brown in colour; generally, the redder the colour, the milder the paprika.

Paprika is also wonderfully complimentary to mushrooms of all kinds. Cremini, portebello, and even bland and tasteless button mushrooms are enlivened tremendously by it when sauteed in butter with kosher salt and fresh black pepper.

If you do not put paprika on your deviled eggs, no one will ever go to your cocktail parties.

The essential spice to Hungarian cuisine. Paprika and fat (in the form of sour cream, in everything) are what makes it the closest your mouth gets to a return to the womb.

More goulash, please!

Paprika is an anime film, original title Papurika - or more accurately, as liveforever tells me, パ プ リ カ - in its home market of Japan, where it was released in 2006. It was made by Satoshi Kon from a story originally drawn from a 1993 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui. Released by Madhouse Pictures, the film draws on well-known vocal talent, including voice actors from the Cowboy Bebop series and the iconic Ghost in the Shell films.

It doesn't really resemble them, however.

Paprika is a story about...is a story concerning...no, that won't work.

In this movie, a team of psychiatrists and engineers has invented a device called the DC Mini. This much we learn almost immediately. The function of the device is to allow one person to intrude into another's dreams, observe, and record the events therein on computers for later study and analysis. Did you ever see the Dennis Quaid vehicle Dreamscape? Well, sort of like that.

But not really.

See, someone's stolen some of these things. The DC Minis, I mean. And there's this underground dream therapist named Paprika who is helping people using a DC Mini - but she doesn't really exist. Maybe. And then the stolen DC Minis start to invade people's waking psyches, causing damage-

...and then it gets really confusing.

But the beauty of it is that it only gets confusing for the characters. All the chaos and insanity (literal insanity, we're dealing with psychiatric patients here) that the makers of this film stretch and employ every last trick of anime to depict, as well as invent a few, is something that we the viewer never quite lose track of. The characters spend a great deal of time trying to figure out just what the hell is going on at any particular moment, and while we the viewers may spend a lot of time in the early part of the movie doing the same thing, once we are given enough information, we never feel like we've been left behind the characters. We're with them. The levels of confusion, as it were, bind us tightly together; we feel their dizziness and their struggles to comprehend, and it brings us into the action, behind the fourth wall.

There are some points in the movie where that fourth wall is metasyntactically shattered. Does that sound like a jumble of terminology? Don't worry, you'll know precisely what I'm talking about as soon as it happens. The whole film is like this. I was forcibly reminded (in a good way) of If On a Winter's Night a Traveler at some points.

And did I mention it's unbelievably gorgeous? While the animation is not as smooth as Ghost in the Shell or some of the more recent Hayao Miyazaki creations, the imagery is luscious. Coupled with music that runs the gamut from scene-relevant and absorbing to absolutely soaring1, the movie begs - cries out - to be seen on the biggest screen it can, with the best sound system possible. In a rare case, the preview actually does offer an encapsulation of the film; I recommend watching it (it's available online, at Apple's Quicktime movie trailers site amongst other places). The opening credits of the film are a brilliant, lyrical and - damn it - perky sequence which offer you a flavor of the title character and the part of the film's emotional presence she will be holding up.

There are some disturbing bits in it, which is only natural as it is a film which plumbs the deepest depths (literally) of its characters' psyches and drags them kicking and screaming into the outer world. Inner demons meet traditional Japanese apocalyptic scenes, here, and unlike movies which try for the complete mind game but don't pull it off (*cough*Total Recall*cough*The Usual Suspects*cough*) this one manages it not just once, but multiple times. And unlike Akira, it isn't a mind-numbingly exhausting cycle of endless destruction, but 90 minutes of thoughtful metaphor and explosive beauty.

Worth seeing.

(orig. Papurika)

Rel. 2006 (Japan, Madhouse) / 2007 (USA, Sony Pictures Classics)

Director: Satoshi Kon
Voice Cast (as per U.S./Sony release subtitle character names):

1 The film's music composer has made a couple of tracks from the film freely available via the internet; one of them is outtakes from the song most recognizable from the preview, titled 'Runner' or 'HashiruMono'. The other is the closing credits song, named 'The Girl in Byakkoya - White Tiger Field'. They can be found at: http://www.teslakite.com/freemp3s/e/paprika/ If you'd like the three tracks on the soundtrack that sound the most like the preview, I recommend purchasing 'Mediational Field,' 'A Drop Full of Memories' and 'Chaser' from your favorite download service. The song from the movie's opening credit sequence is 'Mediational Field.'

Extra Credit! If anyone does purchase 'Mediational Field' please do me a favor - listen to it carefully, and tell me if it reminds you, too, at certain points, of the melody of Nik Kershaw's track 'Wouldn't it Be Good.' Heh. Thanks.

Pa"pri*ka (?), n. Also Pa"pri*ca . [Hung. paprika Turkish pepper; prob. through G.]

The dried ripened fruit of Capsicum annuum or various other species of pepper; also, the mildly pungent condiment prepared from it.


© Webster 1913

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