Global Flavor

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Writer Jennifer Bragg recently learned the joy of bringing food from around the world into her kitchen.

After years of picky eating and an overly cautious palette, I’ve recently developed a keen interest in cooking. One of my favorite activities is scouring the library for books on different regional cuisines.  Preparing dinner feels less like a chore when there’s a fun cultural theme involved; when I’ve never heard of the dish beforehand or have to travel ton a tiny ethnic food shop to secure a key ingredient. I’ve been trying out recipes from all over the world and it’s been a great way to infuse more culture into my life.

I was stumped on a gift for Father’s Day. My dad never seems to need anything, so shopping for him is a frustrating experience. But he’s always had a taste for the exotic and he’s an excellent chef (even if my previous eating habits kept me from fully enjoying his talents). So I invited my whole family over for a Moroccan themed Father’s Day feast. I made couscous, a soup flavoured with the popular Moroccan spice mix Ras-el-hanout (ground together by hand with my trusty mortar and pestle!) and a lemon kefta tagine. For dessert I prepared an almond snake pastry, painstakingly rolling phyllo pastry around homemade almond paste carefully weaving it into the shape of a coiled snake. I took a chance and trusted that however dinner turned out, it would be a worthwhile adventure! The results were varied; most things were tasty if slightly flawed in execution. The soup was definitely the highlight and Ras-el-hanout remains a pantry staple. My careful snake design didn’t hold much shape when dessert was served, but it was no less delicious.

And why not try a global mish mash on a special occasion? For my birthday I invited all my friends over for an international smorgesborg and experimented with different cuisines. When you throw it all together on the same plate, it’s extremely unifying and satisfying; Greek salad, alongside Caribbean spiced meatballs; Indian Lamb Korma, melding with a Thai chicken satay.  It really works up excitement for global flavors.

On one of my frequent library excursions, I stumbled upon the cookbook  ”Street Food” written by Clare Furgeson, which contains simple recipes for foods sold at markets and street vendors around the world. The book lays out simple dishes, which seem exotic to me, but are simply common fast foods in their countries of origin.

The book really got me thinking about planning a global trip themed by food; to travel all around the world with a mission to “taste as much as possible”. Getting up early to explore the Brazilian countryside, while munching on some deep fried Bolinho de chuva; Brazilian donut balls which are traditionally served during breakfast time. Sample some spicy watts in Ethiopia; traditional thick and spicy stews served together atop a flatbread. And although admittedly cliché, what could be better than a plate of pasta on a romantic rendezvous in Italy?

Any journey is more enjoyable on a full stomach and when you get out on the streets to sample authentic cuisine, you feel less like a tourist. People take such pride in the foods of their nation. They infuse passion and character into their cooking. On some level, understanding spices and secret ingredients uncovers a piece of their cultural puzzle. It also provides the perfect opportunity to interact with local citizens. Proud chefs never have trouble chatting about their creations!

Eating is an intense sensory experience. That first tantalizing bite of something delicious will stay with your forever.  I was recently treated to slide-shows of my brother and sisters respective trips to Asia and Ecuador and many photos focused on culinary experiences. Even though their trips happened months ago, they still speak with animated detail about the meals they had.

But until my own journey becomes a reality, I’ll keep scanning the library shelves for new inspiration. Of course there’s no substitute for real travel and the opportunity for worldwide adventure, but until my wallet allows, global cuisine is an acceptable and tasty substitute.

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