Popular Food and Cuisines of the World

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Travel Features >> Popular Food and Cuisines of the World

Popular Food and Cuisines of the World

August 20, 2012

“There is no love greater than the love of good food,” said George Bernard Shaw, and we couldn’t agree more. Its food, glorious food, which makes the world go round- and disregard anything those starry-eyed lovers may tell you. Spicy curries and crisp salads, fragrant pulaos and hearty pies, soups and stir-fries and gravadlax…there’s a wonderfully exciting world out there for the travelling gourmet- and gourmand- to savour. It’s a gorgeously satisfying world, just waiting to be explored.

So grab the cutlery, polish the chopsticks- and set off on a voyage of discovery. Bon appétit, Buon appetito, Guten appetit and iBuen provecho- let the good times roll!

Singapore - Fusion Food
Some of the best culinary traditions in the world are the result of fusion- and the distinctive South-East Asian cuisine known as Peranakan is no exception. Peranakan is a fairly localised style of cooking indigenous to the Peranakan or Straits-born Chinese community, which evolved 2-3 centuries ago by intermarriages between Chinese traders and Malay women. The fusion of the two cultures resulted in a distinct set of customs, a typical dialect, unusual clothing and- inevitably- an excellent culinary tradition.

Affectionately known as `Nonya’, after the Peranakan women, who are called `Nonyas’ (as opposed to the men, who are called `Babas’), Peranakan food combines the best of Chinese and Malay cooking, with a stunning spectrum of ingredients- everything from pork and rice to coconut, blue ginger, lime leaves, tamarind, pandanus and the fiery, flavourful prawn-chilli paste known as belacan.

Singapore is the place to go to sample the best Nonya cooking in the world. This lively city, with its dozens of Nonya restaurants and food stalls, offers some of the most authentic Nonya cuisine you’ll find anywhere- including delicacies such as the curry-coconut soup called laksa lemak; babi pongteh (pork in yellow bean gravy) and ulam, a salad combining raw vegetables with a spicy shrimp sauce.

India – Curry and More
Chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, rogan josh, mutton biryani, masala dosas – are you drooling yet? India is an experience and the varied culinary choices are food for the soul here. Each region of this vast and diverse country has so much to offer whether it is sights, shopping or just plain food. But there is nothing plain about India and definitely not the food on offer!

In the north Kashmiri and Punjabi cuisine dominate. The delicate flavours of saffron, milk and nuts are to be found in Kashmiri food whereas the ubiquitous chicken tandoori and cottage cheese with thick gravies eaten with flatbreads like ‘naan’ and multilayered ‘laccha paranthas’ have their origins in hearty Punjabi food.

In Bengal and much of east India, fish is a staple food – and river fish is preferred over fish from the sea. Sweet delicacies like ‘misti dohi’ and ‘rasagollas’ are a must to end the meal. If you are in Gujarat or Maharashtra, in western India they add a pinch of sugar to bring out the full flavor of whatever they are cooking and in Goa how can you resist the prawn curries and xacutis?

Further south the flaming red chili finds its presence in Chettinad and Andhra cuisine – from Chicken 65 to Chettinad Chicken, Hyderbadi biryani to masala dosas and fluffy idlis. In Kerala, the 'appams', fish wrapped in banana leafs and prawn curries are to die for. We could go on, but the proof of the pudding lies in the tasting, as they say. So head to India where food adds up to the spice of life!

Florence, Italy –Tuscan Spread
For a taste of good Italian food, Tuscany is where you should be headed- a land of sun soaked hills covered with groves of plump, juicy olives; fields of golden wheat; vineyards laden with rich grapes and orchards full of luscious fruit. Tuscany’s wines are Italy’s most famous; its olives, beans, beef, cheese, polenta- the best in the land. With such a wealth of ingredients, it’s hardly surprising that Tuscan food rates as among the best anywhere in Europe. Fresh, lightly cooked vegetables combine with grilled or baked meats, with pasta and fragrant olive oil; hearty soups are served with crusty bread; desserts consist of ripe fruit or a plain cake. And the entire meal is washed down with glassfuls of wine- Chianti or Brunello de Montalcino are best known.

For the travelling gourmet, by far the best option would be to go on a week-long walking tour of Tuscany, treating yourself to the best the village inns have to offer. If you don’t have the luxury of spending an entire week in Tuscany, just visit Florence- the city’s many trattorias and taverns will give you a good idea of what Tuscan food is all about!

New Orleans, USA – Creole Cooking
Louisiana: the home of the wonderful cuisine known as Creole. American, but not quite; European, but not quite. A fabulous combination of diverse culinary heritages, Creole is a rich, exuberant style of cooking which makes liberal use of butter, cream, tomatoes and what is locally called `the holy trinity’- celery, green peppers and onion.

New Orleans’ first settlers were French, and their food, based on buttery roux, stocks and cream, formed the basis for Creole cooking. To this were added ingredients and recipes from the cuisine of the native Americans, the African slaves and settlers from Germany, Spain and Italy. What emerged was a spicy, flavoursome cuisine, creatively using the locally available seafood, chicken, sausages and vegetables: braised, grilled, stewed and baked.

Today, Creole food is served all across the US- and abroad, too; but for the real McCoy, you’ve got to go to New Orleans. The city’s restaurants serve all the local specialties: gumbo, jambalaya, shrimps Creole, red beans and rice, hushpuppies and more. If you can time your trip for Mardi Gras- well, there’s nothing quite like it!

Fes, Morocco – Moroccan Cuisine
A traditional meal in Morocco, whether it's a quiet dinner at home with the family, or a high-profile ‘diffa’- the groaning-table brand of feast so popular in the country- begins with a word of thanksgiving to the Almighty: "Bismillah." And with good reason too: the Moroccans have plenty to thank God for. A fertile land, which produces a mouthwatering array of fruit and vegetable; coastal waters rich in seafood; and yes- even invaders who've helped contribute to one of the best cuisines anywhere on earth.

Moroccan cuisine offers a splendid spread of flavours, colours and textures for the devoted foodie. A tastebud-teasing blend of Arabic, Mediterranean and French influences, this is one cuisine that's bound to grab your fancy. The basics, for the yet-uninitiated, are couscous (a steamed semolina dish without which a Moroccan meal is incomplete); plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable; lamb, poultry and seafood; breads, and dry fruit. To add more flavour, preserved lemons, harissa (a hot, chilli-based paste), and a medley of spices, from the mild to the fiery, the warm to the hot- are used. Grills, stews, soups, salads, heavy pastries drenched in honey and bursting with almonds- all appear on the menu. Among the must-sample dishes are the fabulous tagines, spicy stews of chicken or lamb; bisteeyas, delicate pastry stuffed with a spiced mixture of shredded meat; kebabs and keftas; and the ubiquitous couscous- all of it washed down with refreshing glassfuls of mint tea.

St Petersburg and Moscow – Russian Repast
If you’re one of those who always thought that the Russians, living in a cold and bleak land, must be surviving on potatoes and bland bread, here’s something to chew upon. For this country, once a part of the largest nation in the world, has a culinary tradition rich enough to stand its ground against any other cuisine of the world. Russia may be cold, its winters freezing; but summers bring a heart-warming selection of fresh fruit and vegetables; the country’s rivers and lakes swarm with fish; its forests yield excellent venison; and milk, rye and wheat are abundant. And all are used very judiciously and inventively in some brilliant dishes.

The food of Russia lacks the spice of Asia or the zing of the Mediterranean, but it certainly does not lack flavour. Whatever is available- whether grain or vegetable or meat- is used to create a vast array of interesting, toothsome dishes. Carrots and cabbages are pickled for the long winters; potatoes are used in every conceivable form; and all through the year, meat (or fish) and an amazingly wide range of breads and pies are eaten. Salads, soups, roasts, and stews form the main part of a major meal- all of it washed down either with the potent vodka or the rough country beer known as kvass.

Gourmet delicacies like caviar and blinis are probably Russia’s greatest exports to the rest of the world; but there are other equally tasty dishes too. The hearty beetroot soup known as borsch; veal stroganoff; the fish-rice-and-pastry pie called koulibiaca; and the delightfully creamy pashka, a Russian Easter pudding similar to a cheesecake.

The best food in Russia (as, perhaps, anywhere in the world!) is to be found in homes- but, if you can’t manage that, try the restaurants in St Petersburg and Moscow. Both cities have plenty of eateries around which serve up excellent Russian grub.

Brasilia – Brazilian Fare
South America. That beautiful, exotic land, home to dense rainforests and towering mountains; Inca ruins and the mythical El Dorado; birthplace of great revolutionaries and brilliant footballers- and the place to sample one of this continent’s best kept secrets: a glorious cuisine with some of the most unusual ingredients you’re likely to encounter.

And Brazil is easily one of the hotspots when it comes to tasty food. Based on a combination of cassava, meats, fish and vegetables- especially peppers, tomatoes, beans, peanuts and tubers- Brazilian cuisine uses three main flavourings to lend a bit of excitement to a dish: the first is coconut milk, the second a fiery red pepper known as malagueta; and the third- the one which really lends Brazilian food a taste all its own- is the aromatic palm oil called dende.

Brazilian food draws inspiration from three main culinary traditions: that of the native South Americans; that of the African slaves who were brought here; and that of the Portuguese, who colonized the land, bringing with them a taste for eggs and sugar and rich baked desserts. What you get to sample today is a delectable mélange of dishes, with an astonishing range of flavours- from peppers and coconut milk to pastries and hearts of palm.

In all of Brazil’s bigger cities and towns, you’ll find restaurants and lanchonetes (snack bars) which serve a mouthwatering spread; but the national capital, Brasilia, is probably the best place to go. Head for one of Brasilia’s many eateries to indulge in delights such as feijoada (a hearty mixed stew), peixe na talha (grilled fish) and coxinhas, a breaded appetizer.

Beirut – Lebanese Platter
Combine the warm, hearty flavours of the Arab countries with the fragrant olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and herbs of the Mediterranean, and what do you get? A cuisine so brilliant, that it’s one of the main reasons why so many people travel to Lebanon. True, Lebanon isn’t exactly lacking in tourist attractions; but the opportunities for feasting are so vast in this country that it’s worth a visit just to sample the food.

Like much of the other neighbouring countries, in Lebanon too meat or poultry, along with seafood, forms an important part of a meal- braised, skewered or grilled and flavoured with all the ingredients of the East - sesame seed oil, scallions, onions, nuts, chickpeas and fresh yoghurt. Succulent kebabs, creamy hummus and the roasted aubergine dip known as baba ghanoush are staples, as in the rest of the Middle East. Western-style pastry appears in the form of baklava, a rich sugary treat dripping with honey and nuts; and coffee is a must at any meal.

Tasty Lebanese food is available all over the country, but Beirut is probably the best place to go to sample all of it. The capital’s many restaurants and roadside food stalls churn out excellent food, and you could eat a truly satisfying meal for a very reasonable price.

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