“There is no American food…The fact that we don’t have a cuisine is a measure of our democracy and of our ethnic heterogeneity.”
What is food? Food is more than just a way to nourish the body; it is a way to experience the world. According to anthropologist Sidney Mintz, there is no American cuisine. In nearly any town, it is easy to find Italian or Chinese cuisine, and even fast food restaurants like Taco Bell are reminiscent of a certain Tex-Mex style of cooking. In larger cities, the world of food grows to incorporate Indian, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Greek and even Malaysian, dishes. By walking just a few blocks, one can literally travel the world through the meals that one eats.
In her “Ethnic Cuisine: United States“, food writer Nancy Freeman discusses the history of food in the United States from the integration of Northern European dishes with the Native corn and squash to the addition of bologna and lo mein to American diets. Every group that came to settle in the United States brought with it a unique style of food, making the American kitchen arguably the largest pot luck in the world. Although some of these ethnic dishes–for example, Cantonese Chinese foods brought over by the first immigrants from China mixed with other regional styles from Hunan or Szechwan– have, over time, varied from the original, one can taste the culture of Rome at an Italian restaurant one night and travel to India the next. While the best way to experience a new culture is to travel there, one can learn a lot by spending an evening eating and learning about why the people of those countries eat as they do.
To travel around the world in your own kitchen, check out these great (and simple!) recipes and explore the country while you’re at it:
Italy: Spaghetti Sauce
Italian food varies greatly between cities and regions, but can often be characterized into several staples. To prepare dishes, fat is used to determine the flavor. In the poorer South, olive oil is used, although in Rome pork fat is more common. Throughout Italy, meat is a luxury in cooking, so when it is added, it is usually in small slices. Italy is famous for its bread and for its pasta, both staples in the Italian diet.
China: Moo Goo Gai Pan
While in the large country of China cuisine varies by region, three features remain the same: aesthetic, aroma and taste. For centuries, one of the main principles of Chinese cuisine is its pleasing and harmonious appearance in addition to the different spices added to enhance the smell. As for taste, the regions vary, but it can often be said that the South is sweet; the North, more salty; the East, hot; and the West as sour.
Thailand: Pad Thai
Having a traditionally waterborne lifestyle, Thai cuisine often consists of aquatic animals, plants and herbs. Although traditional Thai food was stewed, baked or grilled, the Chinese introduced frying methods in the 16th century. Thailand has also been influenced by Europe, including the introduction of the chili pepper in the 17th century. Varied by region, a Thai meal usually consists of soup, curry and a dip with fish and vegetables.
Cameroon: Fried Plantains or Sweet Potatoes
Located in West Africa, Cameroon has a varied cuisine. In this country, food is an art, and each of Cameroon’s ten provinces takes pride in its own specialties. In addition to native dishes, Cameroon has been introduced to many Western and European foods–like bread and tomatoes–through centuries of exploration and imperialism.
Mexico: Chicken Chimichangas
Early Mexican’s didn’t have closed stoves or ovens like the Germans, so they cooked their food over open fires with cast iron pots and pans. As a result, most Mexican food is steamed, fried or grilled. Chimichangas are an example of the frying method, and the chicken filling would have been boiled in a pit.
Lebanon: Falafel and Grape Leaves
A country on the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanese cuisine shares many characteristics with other Mediterranean counties. In Lebanon, the average meal consists of lots of vegetables, a little meat and a variety of spices. Like in Italy, the largest Lebanese meal in served during the middle of the day and consists of several courses, lasting for hours. Although alcohol is illegal in many Arab countries, the Lebanese meal, like those in Mediterranean Europe, is often served with locally grown wine.
Bon Appétit, Buen provecho, Velbekomme! Enjoy and happy traveling!
Melissa for My Wonderful World