This article is about exploring some of the reoccurring themes in food from around the world. If you are a foodie, this article may be of general interest to you; but if you are interested in opening your mind and palate to trying some new foods, this is a good starting point. Over the next few weeks, I will post more articles along this theme with specific descriptions and suggestions for trying and cooking different types of international food. Hopefully, looking at it from this perspective will make it less scary to try new things.
Many, many years ago, when the first explorers and migratory people roamed the earth, they observed how and what each other ate. As they moved about, they shared meals, borrowed some ideas, and brought them home to modify to their own tastes and environment. As people’s cultures developed and changed, so did the types of foods they ate.
For example, in North America we love our huge bowls of pasta for dinner, but in Italy it is often just one small component of the whole meal. In some parts of Asia, noodle dishes are often very popular as well. Usually the noodles are made from rice or egg, such as Malaysian mee goreng and Cantonese chow mien, and are often components of soup or fried after boiling.
Rice can be a main meal with vegetables and meat added and steamed right into it, such as Indian Biryani. There’s also fried rice in some of the other Asian countries or yummy beans and rice in Cuba. Rice is often eaten plain as a side dose, or with flavouring added as in North American cooking.
Soups are another variant that extend from clear broths, to rich meaty stews such as Hungarian goulash, Vietnamese noodle soup, or the North American favourites of chili con carne and New England clam chowder.
Breads–where to start? Mmmmmm…..bread. Some of my favourites include Middle Eastern pita bread, Indian naan made in a clay tandoor oven, and Italian focaccia. My friends love my garlic cheese biscuits, similar to a certain popular seafood chain, and my mom’s homemade bread. I don’t own a bread maker, but I know people that swear by these to make all kinds of doughs and baked products.
Vegetables that are eaten in salad or cooked as a side can really vary depending on what is regionally and seasonally available. If you’re interested in trying Thai food, they sometimes include green mango or papaya in salad. In North America people love their many options for greens such as spinach, arugula, sprouts, and different types of lettuce. Options for baking, sauteing, steaming, frying, and grilling vegetables are endless.
Fruit also varies so much from place to place. With the advent of genetic engineering, the appearance, texture and taste of fruits like bananas and tomatoes from country to country are almost limitless. I can taste a huge difference between my garden’s beefsteak tomatoes, and the hothouse tomatoes I buy from the grocery store, that are shipped up from the U.S. in the winter. When traveling to warmer climates, I love to eat fresh mango, papaya, pineapple, pomegranate and guavas. Although they might not be as fresh, you can find some of these fruits at your local grocery stores in North America, buy one and give it a try this week.
Meat has been a popular staple item in some cultures, and a luxury item in other cultures for a long time. Depending on where you live, different meats are very popular; such as pork in China, and goat and lamb in India. There are many popular meats in North America, but certainly beef and chicken are among the most preferred. Meat can be put on a spit and roasted over a fire, baked, grilled in a North American barbecue, cooked in a slow cooker, stir fried, or seafood turned into Japanese sushi or sashami, just to name a few options.
Cheeses are another wonderful creation that vary so much depending on the type of milk, process used to make it, and what is added into them. On a recent trip to the Canary Islands, we enjoyed delicious fried manchego cheese in a moho rojo sauce. While in Indian cooking, the homemade, paneer cheese is very popular. Some of my other favourites include Greek feta, Italian mozzarella balls, and good old North American sharp cheddar.
Hopefully this article has helped to highlight some of the reocurring themes in foods from around the world. The spices, methods of preparation, and local choices may be different, but the food groups are quite similar–and the possibilities are endless.
As promised, I will post more detailed articles in the future about suggestions for eating and cooking new foods, and eventually start posting some recipes. In the meantime, feel free to do a Google search on the names of any of the food mentioned if you’re interested in finding out more about what they are or what’s in them.