Hi guys, how are you? Really, how are you?…
I may as well address the pink elephant in the room and acknowledge that we’re in the middle of a global economic crisis. Never in my wildest nightmares did I think that I would experience a global pandemic in my lifetime, but here we are on day 30 of COVID-19 / Coronavirus quarantine in Seattle, but who’s counting anyway? (Everyone). I think I speak on behalf of every human (and probably dog, cat and any other animal who is accustomed to staying at home alone for 10 hours a day, away from the judging side eye of their owners, free to get into the toilet paper and lick their behinds in peace) from China to Italy to Hawaii and everywhere in between, that we’re living in some seriously strange times. Will all these new behaviors and social lifestyle changes become our new “norm”? Is this where societies see a paradigm shift in work, life, food delivery and relationships as we know it? Or will this all pass in due time, leaving little trace it was ever here, the devastating effects forgotten by those who experienced it, erased from our memories like writing in the sand?
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While this time in our lives is anything but normal, so much beauty has come from being isolated at home in our stretchy pants (let’s face it, our new wardrobe.) Nature is reclaiming its original territory; wild animals are roaming where human footprints are usually found, penguins are getting privately-led field trips in their home aquarium, the water in the Venice canals are clear for the first time in, well, probably ever, and people are cooking again.
While half of us will likely come out of this quarantine as amazing cooks and the other half as alcoholics, there’s something intrinsically cathartic about going back to our ancestral roots. We have more time to think, reflect, slow down and be with our thoughts…until we realize that our thoughts really aren’t that pleasant, so we resort to the kitchen to see what’s available and find our refrigerators empty. All of the sudden, we’re all self-proclaimed bakers, indicated by the flurry of home made bread photos on social media and witnessing the phenomenon of a simultaneous toilet paper shortage and a yeast and flour shortage on the shelves of every grocery store across the world. Some are connecting with family members near and far, asking for family recipes to try their hand at the food Grandma used to make. During times like these, we want to feel comforted. We want to feel a sense of control. We want to feel connected. And what better way to do all those things than by turning to our kitchens, heating up our ovens, and filling our homes and our hearts with the smells and memories of travel.
I’ve been wanting to write a post for some time now about culinary highlights around the world. Now seems to be a fitting time to do so, so here I am. And there you are. If you’re reading this, I want you to know that we, my dear reader, are connected. I currently write this from the comforts of my living room in Seattle, Washington, my husband beside me, the fireplace warming in front of me, and photos on the walls from the highlights of our six months travels abroad next to our giant map of the world. Oh, the places we’ll go once this is all over.
Wherever you are reading this in the world, I want you to know that you are not alone. We’re all in this together. And to bring the world just a little bit closer, I’m going to take you on a trip around the world of all the countries we have visited over the past four years to highlight each country’s most popular cuisines and dishes, fun facts, and a recipe for you to try your hand at cooking a dish from that country in your own home! We will get out there again soon enough. And when we do, we will appreciate the world more than we ever have, with appetites bigger than the ocean, and a few more authentic recipes in our arsenal.
Let’s embark on a culinary journey through the following countries (in alphabetical order):
Hawaiian Islands (I realize this is not a country, but it’s my home state and it deserves its own food category)
You can also click on each country to visit my archives page where you’ll find more great blog posts!
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: In Vienna, it’s the Wiener Schnitzel – a thin slice of veal that is breaded, fried and garnished simply with parsley and lemon.
Fun Fact: The name of this dish is actually protected under Austrian law and it must be made with veal, otherwise it cannot carry the name Wienerschnitzel. And if you try to put any sauces on top, you’ll get the side eye from servers and cooks. Just eat it as-is and smile.
Country’s Famous Dessert: Sacher Torte – chocolate cake layered with apricot preserves.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for Sacher Torte
Our Most Memorable Dish: Spinach Dumplings – spinach and parmesan cheese balls baked in butter. It was deliciously rich.
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: Due to Austria’s geographic location and immigrant population, you can find a myriad of ethnic food options. Lebanese was our favorite.
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Poutine – fries, cheese curds and gravy.
Fun Fact: This dish was created in the 1950’s in Quebec.
Country’s Famous Dessert: Nanaimo Bar – a no-bake bar made with coconut and chocolate ganache.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for Nanaimo Bars
Our Favorite Dish: Queso fundido (melted cheese dip) at an Oaxacan restaurant in Gastown called Mezcaleria.
Cuisine That Surprised Us: Vegan food. We ordered a Buddha Bowl from Bluhouse Cafe in Deep Cove after hiking Quarry Rock. Especially in Vancouver, B.C., the options for healthy vegan and vegetarian food are ubiquitous.
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Bandeja Paisa – a super heavy gut bomb that usually consists of blood sausage, ground beef, rice, pork rind (chicharron), arepa, plantain, avocado and fried egg. The most popular place to try this dish is at a restaurant called La Puerta Falsa in Bogota. It has been around since 1816 and is considered a city landmark. Be prepared to enter a total food coma upon completion of your meal.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for Chocolate Con Queso (Hot Chocolate with Cheese)
Country’s Famous Street Food: Arepa – roasted white corn tortilla, usually filled with cheese.
Country’s Famous Dessert: Obleas – thin, round wafers spread with jam, honey or other sweet toppings. This is a very commonly found street food item. Another popular drink is Avena, made from oatmeal and guanabana (a type of fruit).
Our Favorite Dish: Mexican/Colombian fusion at Dos Gatos y Simone in Bogota. There was a queue out the door, and it was so worth the wait! Their basil lemonade was so refreshing after a day of walking around in the hot sun.
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: Visiting a coffee plantation in Valle De Cocora to see the process of how coffee is made was really interesting.
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Black Risotto – made with cuttlefish or squid ink. Truffles (the mushroom variety) are also prevalent throughout the country.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for Black Risotto
Fun Fact: A person from Croatia holds the Guinness World Record for the largest white truffle.
Country’s Famous Dessert: Layered cakes.
Our Favorite Dish: Dalmatian chard with dumplings (third photo from the left below) – the Dalmatian coast is where both Split and Dubrovnik are located, and common features from this region of cooking include simple oils, seafood and fresh vegetables such as spinach, chard, potatoes and tomatoes.
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: The risotto is an Italian influence, however, the rice was crunchy due to being slightly undercooked, which we learned is the preferred way of making risotto in Croatia. I personally prefer my rice to be soft and creamy.
For more on Croatian food, see my post on What To Expect in Croatia
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Encebollado – fish stew, popular in coastal regions.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for a Collection of Authentic Ecuadorian Recipes
Country’s Famous Dessert: Dulce de Leche.
Fun Fact: Ecuador has two of the world’s first UNESCO Heritage Sites (Galapagos Islands and the city of Quito, which is the capital.)
Our Favorite Dish: Trucha (trout) with Yuca. Yuca is cassava root and has a starchy consistency, similar to potatoes but more dense. Trout was particularly common in the high altitude Andes region of Ecuador in Cuenca.
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: The variety of tropical fruits. Our favorite was maracuya (passion fruit). In Hawaii we have a variety of this called lilikoi. Also, we were surprised to find that cooking in Ecuador is not spicy at all, which is strange because everything (including chilis) grows prolifically. However, they do have a sauce called Aji, which you can ask for at any restaurant and they’ll bring it to you for free. This is a spicy garlic salsa-type sauce that you can put on anything to make it more flavorful.
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Le Pot Au Feu (pot on the fire) – French beef stew.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for 43 French Recipes from Bon Appetit
Country’s Famous Dessert: Pain au Chocolat (or any French pastry)
Our Favorite Dish: Melted brie cheese with pecans, served with a simple toasted baguette in Marseille.
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: Not a cuisine surprise, rather a shock that people in France seem to be in very good shape for how many croissants they eat. 😉
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Moussaka – layers of fried aubergine (eggplant), minced meat and potatoes, topped with a creamy bechamel sauce and baked.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for Tzatziki Sauce
Country’s Famous Dessert: Baklava – phyllo pastry dough layered with chopped nuts and soaked in honey. When we first arrived to Greece, we began on the island of Crete, the largest Greek Isle. I love baklava and thought for sure it would be as easy as scouting a hamburger joint in America, but it was nowhere to be found! I later found out that even desserts will vary based on the region of Greece, so baklava was found more on the mainland.
Fun Fact: Baklava actually originates from the Middle East.
Our Favorite Dish: Sasha’s was Greek salad (he ate two every day during our one month in Greece until I couldn’t take the raw onion breath anymore), my favorite was tirokafteri (spicy feta cheese dip).
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: Depending on where you are in Greece, the food differs quite vastly. We were surprised to find that olive oil and olives were not common in the higher altitudes of Greece such as in Kalambaka where Meteora is located. In this region it was more common to find gigante beans, zucchini stuffed with minced meat, and mountain greens.
For more on Greek cuisine, check out my post on 12 Must-Try Foods in Crete
Island’s Famous Food or National Dish: Poke – raw cubed fish (traditionally ahi (tuna)), usually mixed with sea salt, limu, seaweed and raw onions. Kalua Pork is also a common dish, traditionally cooked for several hours and even overnight in an imu, an underground pit oven hand-dug and covered with ti leaves and banana leaves to steam it.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Chicken
Island’s Famous Dessert: I can’t decide between Malasada (Portuguese donuts) or Haupia (coconut milk-based), so I’ll include both.
Our Favorite Dish: This is an impossible question for me since I lived on the islands for 11 years and traveled extensively to all the neighbor islands, so I’ll list a few:
Opakapaka (red snapper fish) at Alan Wong’s (Oahu)
Tuna Tartare with raw quail egg at Izakaya Torae Torae (Oahu)
Smoky Sashimi Marlin at Moon & Turtle (Hilo)
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: Ulu (breadfruit) is surprisingly delicious if cooked correctly. Our favorite preparation as at a restaurant called Mud Hen Water in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Oahu.
For more on Hawaiian and local island food, check out my posts on each island:
OAHU: A Local’s Ultimate Oahu Foodie Guide
KAUAI: Kauai Food Guide
MAUI: Things to Do and Where to Eat on Maui
BIG ISLAND: Hilo Hawaii Foodie Guide
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Gulyás (Goulash) – seasoned beef in a tomato-based sauce. The goulash you’ll find in Budapest is much different than what you would see elsewhere, as they make it more like a soup rather than a stew.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for Authentic Hungarian Goulash.
Fun Fact: The very first McDonald’s in Eastern Europe was introduced in Budapest, and on opening night everybody dressed in their finest clothing because they were so excited to have a renowned American company on their land. It was a sign of globalization and freedom, opening up to other cultures and breaking down pre-existing borders. Can you imagine getting all dolled up in your finest fur coats just to go to McDonald’s?
Country’s Famous Dessert: Kürtős Kalács (Chimney cake) – long strips of sweetened dough wrapped around chimney-shaped rods and roasted over charcoal.
Our Favorite Dish: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Israeli cuisine at a phenomenal restaurant called Dobrumba in Budapest.
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: Unicum – it’s not a dish, rather an alcohol. Unicum is a delightful yet acquired taste. The history of this drink comes from when the Emperor had a bad stomachache, so he asked his doctor to mix him up a tincture that would make him feel better. His doctor mixed over 40 herbs along with bitters, and this has now become somewhat of a national drink of Hungary. Locals drink this before a meal, after a meal, when they have a hangover, or if they’re sick…basically, all the time.
For more on Hungarian cuisine, see my post on A Budapest Foodie Guide: What to Eat and What to Avoid
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Ragu Alla Bolognese – traditionally served with tagliatelle pasta.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for Bolognese from Bon Appetit, which I just made yesterday and can vouch for.
Country’s Famous Dessert: Tiramisu – layers of sponge cake soaked in coffee or brandy liquor with powdered chocolate and mascarpone cheese.
Our Favorite Dish: Gorgonzola dolche cheese – I have loved cheese since I was a child and believe that the smellier and more pungent the cheese, the better. The first time I walked into a supermercato to find the most ooey gooey gorgonzola dolche cheese, I think I actually broke out into a high-pitched aria of joy. I have never been able to find that exact flavor or texture in gorgonzola cheeses here in the states.
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: Purple Potato Gnocchi (third photo from the left below) – when they first brought the dish to us, we questioned our Italian and thought perhaps we accidentally ordered blueberries!
For more on Italian cuisine, see my post on 20 Things You Should Know About Traveling in Italy
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Apparently the national dish of Japan is Curry With Rice! That’s surprising to me because we didn’t see it very prevalently throughout Japan, so I’m going to say Ramen. Perhaps curry rice is commonly eaten at home.
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for Vegetarian Ramen from Bon Appetit
Country’s Famous Dessert: Taiyaki – fish-shaped cake, usually filled with sweets such as anko (a paste made of red red adzuki beans and sugar). The outside is sweet and light, with a consistency similar to waffle batter. These were especially delicious because we visited in April when it was still cold outside, and these tasty morsels are served piping hot.
Our Favorite Dish: Gyoza– our favorite was at an unassuming mom and pop restaurant called Gyoza Bar Anzukko.
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: Sweet Octopus Lollipops (first photo on the left below) – this was a common street food that consisted of a tiny sweet octopus the size of your index finger, with a hardboiled egg inside the head of the octopus.
For more on Japanese cuisine, see my post on 35 Foods You Must Try When Visiting Japan
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Pelmeni – dumplings filled with minced meat wrapped in thin pasta-like dough.
Country’s Famous Dessert: Syrniki – cheese pancakes traditionally made with tvorog (farmer’s cheese). This is actually a common breakfast food and one that I particularly love. My Dad-in-law makes them the best!
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for Medovik (Honey Cake)
Our Favorite Dish: Borsch – This dish has many different spellings. The base is beets and tomatoes, which gives it its vibrant ruby red color. It’s a time-consuming process to make because of all the chopping and staining fingers red from beets, but it’s so worth it! To make it authentic Russian style, it MUST be served with dill and smetana (sour cream)!
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: Georgian cuisine (the country). Georgian cuisine is to Russia what Mexican food is to California. Khachapuri (first photo on the left below) is a fried cheese bread, which is one of the staples of all Georgian cuisine.
For more on Russian cuisine, see my post on 12 Must-Try Foods When Visiting Russia
Country / Region’s Famous Food or National Dish: Fish & Chips
Make it At Home! Here’s a recipe for No Fuss Shepherd’s Pie from BBC
Country’s Famous Dessert: Any kind of pudding.
Fun Fact: If you Google “what is the national dish of London?”, you will find…not fish and chips or bangers, but Chicken Tikka Masala! The reason for this is because chicken tikka was devised for the British – this is not a traditional Indian curry.
Our Favorite Dish: Anything from Borough Market. Traditional British cuisine has historically been the laughing stock of the world for its blandness and boringness. However, in a multicultural and ethnically diverse city such as London, you’ll find every single ethnic cuisine on Earth, it seems.
Cuisine / Dish That Surprised Us: The Scotch egg looks beautiful but tasted pretty bad.
Perhaps you have also been exploring your cultural roots by indulging in the great art of cooking. I hope some of these photos will bring back fond memories of places you have traveled or hope to travel to in the near future.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay sane, and keep cooking, my friends!
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