I firmly believe that what we eat, like what we see or the people we speak to, makes what we are. It contributes, in a quiet way, to the way we look at the world. And no, it’s not about eating Iranian caviar, or experiencing eating iguana or chapulines (fried grasshoppers), although that can also be part of the experience. There is no need to do something extreme, extra expensive or exotic in order to review your perspectives. In my case, these are the 10 international dishes that have most helped build my world view (and recipes):
1. Chiles en Nogada, Mexico
I could have chosen mole poblano, cuitlacoche quesadillas, enchiladas or almost any Mexican “platillo”, but if I have to choose just one, this typical and very symbolic dish is fundamental to understand the Mexican cuisine and one of my favorites. It is not an easy dish to find at Mexican restaurants. Although there are some places that offer it throughout the year, to enjoy some good chiles en nogada you should truly wait for the months of August and September, when pomegranates are fresh, poblano chiles are in season and walnuts are tender.
Nor are they easy to make. There are almost as many récipes of chiles en nogada as Mexican families and just the number of ingredients make it a complex dish: sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy…. No fast food, at all. They are symbolic as could be: tricolor, just in time for the celebration of independence and reportedly created to honor the emperor, Agustín de Iturbide after it. RECIPE: If you feel like tasting them without having to travel to Mexico, an interesting recipe is the one from Mexico Desconocido. It is similar to the one I use, although I change poblano chiles for White peppers (Arnoia type), and fresh peaches for canned peaches, and never use acitrón. Just a reminder, jitomate in Mexico is regular tomato, durazno is peach, plátano de freir is plantain banana (the big one, for frying), and acitrón is a kind of sweet that can be found in some specialty stores.
2. Marmite, UK
The first time I tried this British “culinary delight” it amazed me. Not because o its strange taste, or the unpleasant feeling it gave me. I had eaten strange things before, from roasted iguana to giant ant eggs, so why is it among these 10 dishes? Just because it is at the antipode of the European Cuisine flavors with which I grew up.
The slogan for which it is known is “love it or hate it”. And I though I can eat it without problems, I doubt I will never be next to “love it”. By the way, it has super loyal followers not only in the UK but also in Switzerland or Australia, where they even have their local versions. And great chefs like Jamie Oliver have tried to use it into their recipes. Of course, the most traditional way to eat it is at breakfast, on a toast with lots of butter. RECIPE: in some supermarkets :)
3. Fish and Chips, UK
Another British classic. After so many years hearing that the most iconic British dish was fish and chips, I arrived in London to find out that they did not fry the fish well in so many places… nor had art at frying potatoes. Not that you cannot it a really tasty Fish and Chips, but I have to say that the best fish and chips I’ve eaten so far I ate it in Ireland … So, having such good pescaíto frito in Spain, why choose this dish? Because once you discover that the textbooks “close the door, open the window” and guidebooks “trafalgar is the top spot”, do not tell the whole truth about what to order in restaurants, you start to try very interesting things when you travel around the world.
Summarising: You don’t eat bad in Englad (or good). You can eat really well, but it’s all about knowing what to ask and daring to try things you that are outside your confort zone. So, is it posible to eat a tasty fish and chips? Yes, but it will be about as expensive as a Premium burger or a good fish dish, or it will not be. RECIPE: Here you have a good recipe of “fish and chips” that the blogger Recetas Faciles de María makes with fresh cod.
4. Ham and cheese crêpes, France
Chooshing this dish as an example of the French cuisine is probably a sin for food lovers, especially on its street versión. But I could not understand Paris without crepes.
The first time I went to Paris with my parents, there were no crepe food stalls and the sort of “fast food” you could find was a normal baguette sandwich. However, later, with friends, I discovered a thousand other options for quick bite while still enjoying the city of light. RECIPE: If anyone is feels like cooking them at home Mavycook blog has a very easy recipe to make crêpes at the sandwich toaster.
5. Pastella, Morocco
If I say that Morocco is a fascinating country, I won’t be saying anything new. For me, Morocco was lamb and couscous, mint tea, desserts with honey and dates… But eating a kind of phyllo pie, filled with chicken and extremely sweet surprised me. Well, I was even more surprised that my parents would allow me to eat something so sticky with my hands.
It was probably my first step into the fun eating from a more adult point of view. At least more serious than the one of the happy meals or the ice creams with clown faces. RECIPE: I’ve never done it at home, but i’ve thought of it every once in a while. The blog Concinarconamigos has a recipe that looks very easy to cook. And for those who can not eat gluten, Pikerita blog also has a video recipe that is gluten free (in Spanish).
6. Percebes, Galicia Spain
Eating in Galicia is wonderful, that is no secret. But not only because of the diversity of flavors and textures, but by the ability of its cooks to extract an intense and different flavor with very few artifacts. I think that my relation with Percebes (barnacles), was love at first sight (or first bite). Although they look like nails, have the texture of a lizard and you have to eat them with your hands. I know that their taste is not made for everyoneeven though they are just boiled for a few minutes in sea water.
The experience is also special: opening one by one as they are still hot. Pluck the “nail” with your mouth. Getting your hands dirty (and your clothes). It is laborious, but everyone should try it once in a lifetime.
7. Ice cream Tartufo, Italy
When I was little I did not eat much ice cream. I only liked the strawberry (with real strawberries, not strawberry flavor) and chocolate ones, but not that much. So I usually bought an empty cone or an orange ice. But then I began to like other ice cream, the panna one, vanilla, rice pudding … I’m not sure when my taste started to change but if I have to select an ice cream, that is a Tartufo.
But not the one you can buy in a supermarket, a Tartufo we ate at Piazza Navona, Rome, when I was about 12 years old. I think Rome had something to do with the equation, the fountain with the Bellini sculptures may have also influenced. No doubt.
8. Rösti, Germany and Switzerland
In the región between Switzerland and Germany, they make a kind of smash potatoes they call Rösti. It is similar to the “Spanish omelette” in many ingredientes, but it also differs in several things: a) is not a main course, but a side dish, b) no eggs c) always has onions d) potato and onion are grated.
I tried it for the first time on a visit to Paris, where a good friend was doing an Erasmus. At one of those parties where each one brings something from their kitchen. With Germans, Italians, Argentinians, … And at that time they put sugar on it !! And yes, that is what caught my attention. It was not how they cut the potatoes or the lack of egg. It was the act of putting sugar on a potato dish. Caramelizing salty stuff wasn’t fashionable back then, and I didn’t expect that sort of a thing from a Central European recipe.
9. Lacquered Peking duck, China
No, I’ve never been to Beijing, but I didn’t need to do that in order to try lacquered Duck. Madrid, Mexico DF … today it is possible to eat good Chinese food almost anywhere in the world. And therein lies the difference.
The Peking duck récipe didn’t taught me to accept new flavors, or to assume that each culture eats different animals. What it taught me is that there is always a better version of the cuisine you already know. For many, Chinese cuisine is limited to sweet and sour pork and fried rice. But there is more, many more versions and many more regions of China to discover.
10. Fugu sashimi, Japan
I was not thinking about eating Fugu when I went to Japan. The concept of risk, eating something that can kill you if the cook is not skilled enough or sufficiently legal, was not particularly appealling to me. But Japan is a special country, who has managed to make that risk something so, so, so…. “controlled”.
You can only eat at specialized sites, but it is still far more affordable than you might think. I went with friends in Tokio. We went to a place in the Shibuya area (quite easy to identify because they have a giant fish balloon above the door), where they cooked it in every possible way. It is not my favorite fish, but fairly good enough to eat it again. Although I will always remember the chapter of the Simpsons where Homer goes to a Japanese restaurant.
So, now it is your turn: What courses have impacted you most?