International food: 10 dishes that have changed the way I view the world

marmite scone by caroline via flickr

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.

chiles en nogada ismael villafranco via flickr
chiles en nogada ismael villafranco via flickr

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.

marmite scone by caroline via flickr
marmite scone by caroline via flickr

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.

fish and chips via Smabs Smutzer on Flickr
fish and chips via Smabs Smutzer on Flickr

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.

creppes jamon y queso comida callejera paris
creppes jambon et fromage Street food Paris

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.

pastela moruna cocinarconamigos recipe
pastela moruna cocinarconamigos recipe

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.

Barnacles by Andrea Clambra on Flickr
Barnacles by Andrea Clambra on Flickr

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.

Tartufo di Pizzo by alesduchac in Flickr
Tartufo di Pizzo by alesduchac in Flickr

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.

Rösti by Caitlin Arndt on Flickr
Rösti by Caitlin Arndt on Flickr

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.

Peking duck in Chinatown by Habler Lopez on Flickr
Peking duck in Chinatown by Habler Lopez on Flickr

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”.

eat fugu in Japan
eat fugu in Japan

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?

Comments (29)

I absolutely love this! My parents host a dinner once a month and the food is themed around a different country’s cuisine each month and it has been such a wonderful experience to have a little taste of those countries!

Crepes with cheese…infact,the one time my friend mixed up two different kinds of cheese..ooh!that taste has been so so memorable for me in Switzerland..also Cheese Fondue..

I don’t think I have ever really thought about this one! There are so many iconic dishes out there, and places that have made an impact on me! I really liked the seafood at the little greek tavernas on the waterfront, there is something about getting your fish that fresh! It just tastes different!

What an interesting list! I don’t know how I’d feel about eating barnacles, but I have to agree with you that I’ve experienced better fish & chips in Ireland (and at Irish pubs in the states) than in England.

I got stuck at the Ice cream Tartufo, Italy. Yum!

oh my gosh, the fish & chips….nom nom nom. i’ve never had Mexican food that looked so creamy but that looks fabulous!

now that I think of it, most of my fav Mexican dishes are creamy: Chiles en Nogada, Chilaquiles and Mole poblano. Not that easy to find outside of Mexico, though.

Allison (

These dishes all look so good! I can’t decide which would be my favorite. Probably the Rosti.

I’m not sure how I feel about the barnacles. Lol.

You ate fugu! Very brave. That Simpsons episode is the first thing I think of too. The most unusual thing I’ve ever eaten was probably horse sashimi in Okinawa. It was surprisingly delicious.

Wow, I had heard of horse sashimi and a friend of mine wanted to taste that too, but we couldn’t find it in Tokyo (you know, too much to taste, too little time).

I love your selection of foods and I totally agree that you don’t need to try anything extreme to really feel you have partaken in a certain culture: something it’s the simplest, most ‘normal’ things that make you experience a place. Out of curiosity: where in Ireland did you have fish and chips? I live in Dublin and would love a new good address for that :-)

hi Marta! It was long, long, long ago and I don’t remember the name, but I know it was behind/under the DART station in Howth.

Ah so cool, thank you! I think it might be called ‘the bloody stream’ (which has lovely food) but you can’t go wring with fish in Howth anyway.

Yeah, food need not be ‘fine-dine’ but if it is a signature of a place, it works perfectly for me. I would mention here a personal favourite – Zurec, a soup from Poland, which is both humble and exotic at the same time!

Writing that one down! thanks for the tip :)

Nice assortment of dishes from across the world, indeed what a diverse range of food the world has to offer. A lifetime is not enough to experience everything.

I felt so much like a tourist eating crêpes in Paris, but it’s also what gave me some of my best food memories. I can’t say that I’ll be trying barnacles, despite them being an experience. There are some things that I just don’t think I really need to try :)

Crepes in Paris did seem way too touristic, but they are so nice! Thanks for stopping by :)

A few of these dishes I knew already. I still have to try percebes in Spain. I heard they are really yummy. Also love the ham and cheese crepes, yum yum :)

Percebes are one of my favorites since I was a kid (guess that’s why I don’t mind trying “ugly” food) :)

I like eating good looking food but also ugly and tasty food ?

ummmm the number 7 it`s my favorit. YUMMY YUMMY ;)

Tu post me ha abierto el apetito, aunque reconozco que algunos platos no me atraen mucho.Eso sí, si hay uno que despertó mi curiosidad es el Marmite :-)

Pues ya me contarás qué tal la experiencia, jejeje

Hmmmm a esta hora se me ha abierto el apetito jajaj la verdad es que yo también tenía pensado publicar un post sobre gastronomía del mundo y es que me encanta probar todo lo típico allá donde voy como parte fundamental de la experiencia y la cultura (te me has adelantado jajaja). Mi preferido de los que has puesto, la pastela! Me encanta la comida marroquí. El que no me gusta nada de nada… Fish and chips, odio la fritanga y cada vez que he ido a UK lo he pasado mal, he acabado comprando jamón de york y pan en los súper…
Un abrazo de la cosmopolilla

Anímate, me encantará leerlo. Seguro que descubro algún platillo nuevo ;)
Y atrévete con los ingleses, cuando son malos son muy malos, pero la fusión se les da muy bien.

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