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International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

I’m sure you’ve heard the cliché: “the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach.” Well, it exists for good reason: it’s true. Food has the ability to bring people together. What’s more is that it can bring you back to some of the most memorable moments of your life. Like that time I spilled soy sauce on my jeans because I was too excited about yam tempura sushi. Or when my friend and I didn’t know how to use fondant so we added extra sugar and ended up making a cake that was too sweet.

As we rediscover some of our own beloved cuisines, you may be surprised to find that people actually enjoy dishes that you would’ve never considered eating. Hopefully you will be inspired to go out of your comfort zone and try these new recipes with a friend or to share your new creations with others.

Italian 

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Italian cuisine has evolved with changes in society and politics and as a result, a great variety of cooking techniques and dishes can be found throughout Italy.  Its simple cuisine is characterized by select ingredients, with a larger focus on produce, such as garlic and tomatoes, than on protein. It is a country well-known for its pasta and pizza, with other major foods like cheese, wine and coffee. 

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Coda Alla Vaccinara, a dish made of oxtail that has been stewed in a savoury tomato sauce. It’s usually prepared to be sweet and sour, with lots of vegetables, mostly celery. 

Japanese 

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

The Japanese emphasize seasonality, and make use of food that come into season for their dishes. Traditional Japanese cuisine consists of rice with miso soup and one (or several) side dishes. The side dishes may be fish, noodles and vegetables, which are either pickled or cooked in a broth. And let’s not forget sushi and tempura, each coming in a variety of flavours and ingredients.

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake made with various ingredients. The batter consists of flour, a type of yam, water, eggs and shredded cabbage with fillings such as octopus and squid.

Chinese

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Chinese cuisine has distinct flavours and styles of cooking, depending on the resources and history of a region. Chefs have identified “Eight Culinary Cuisines” which are Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejiang. These cuisines range from light and sweet to hot and spicy. China is well-known for its rice, noodles, vegetables, as well as sauces and seasonings.

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Century Egg is a duck, chicken or quail egg, preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice husks for up to several months. 

Mexican

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Mexican cuisine is based on the diets of indigenous peoples consisting of local ingredients such as corn (typically in the form of a tortilla), beans, peppers, tomatoes and squash. It has also been influenced by Europeans and Spaniards, who brought a number of other foods to the region (in particular, livestock such as cattle, sheep and pigs). The distinct flavours of Mexican food can be attributed to chilies, herbs such as cilantro and spices such as cumin.

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Huitlacoche, or corn smut, is a fungus found on corn. It’s usually eaten in quesadillas as a filling or found in soup.

Thai

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Thai cuisine focuses on the little details — how each ingredient contributes to the overall dish. This cuisine looks at a meal as a whole, not just how it tastes, but how it looks and smells. It’s characterized by the complex interactions of some of the five core tastes: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy.

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Larb Mote Daeng, a dish made of red ants and their eggs. The ants are said to taste like lime while their eggs are fatty like butter.

Indian 

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Indian food is shaped by its many regions, with their varying ingredient availability, as well as its numerous religious and cultural customs. Throughout India’s long history, diverse flavours have been cultivated as a result of trades and colonization. Its main ingredients comprise of pearl millet, rice, lentils, beans, and not to mention, a wide range of spices like cardamom, turmeric and ginger.

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good

Doh Khleh, a salad made entirely of pork and onion, topped off with steamed pig brain. Steamed pig brain is considered a delicacy in a region called Meghalaya.

From learning a little bit about each country’s influences and background, you may find that you are more appreciative and thoughtful of each cuisine. Whether or not you’d be willing to try some of these strangely good dishes, they remain to be local favourites for a reason. No matter how unique or similar the foods are, sharing a delightful meal will always bring people together.

Author

International Cuisines: The Good and the Strangely Good
Co-op student @UTSC. Probably thinking about pizza.