Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tuesday Global Eats: Introduction

Several followers have asked that I add an additional post every week to blog about the different types of food we eat when traveling (I will post the food blog on Tuesdays and continue to post our regular travel journal on Fridays). Luis and I are both incurable foodies who love to cook at home and try new foods when we're traveling, especially street food and local specialties. To me, the most interesting way to learn about a country's culture is to study the history of its cuisine. Brazil's ingredients and cooking methods, for example, have been greatly influenced by the cooking of Portugal, Spain and Africa, resulting in an incredibly interesting and diverse fare. Tragically, these influences were due in great part to a thriving slave trade, but reading through the evolution of methodology, adaptation and ingredients leads to much deeper understanding of the tenacity and determination that shaped the people and culture of Brazil today.  

A little history: before I met Luis, I traveled for years either alone or with friends, visiting as many countries as I could squeeze in between the very long and stressful hours of my job as a software manager. I had many business trips and I would always to try to tack on extra days, just to have an opportunity to explore whatever city I was visiting. One of the first places I would visit would be the local farmers' market, wonderful places filled with amazing sights, bright and interesting colors, sounds, smells and tastes. I still find that it is one of the best places to start exploring if you really want to get a feel for the culture of a city or country, not to mention fantastic photo ops.

Market Stall of Spicy Peppers: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (photo by Luis Bastardo)

On these trips, I would make a point of always trying something completely new to add to my growing list of exotic foods. My list is heavily meat-centric, so apologies to vegetarian readers, but inevitably the most "exotic" item on the menu is some sort of animal. As a vegetarian Indian friend laughingly pointed out one night at a group dinner in San Francisco, while we were discussing food and travel, vegetarians are a little more challenged in compiling exotic food lists. It's hard to compete in a "weirdest thing I ever ate" competition with "well, once I had a really oddly-shaped potato" (although after visiting Venezuela and Brazil and sampling all the strange fruits and veggies, there's hope). 

Cultures and eating habits vary widely. Many things that North Americans or Europeans think of as inedible, inappropriate or even offensive are often staple foods in other countries. Regulated whaling, for example, although distasteful to many, is still legal in places such as Japan, Alaska and Norway, where historians believe that the tradition of whaling goes back at least to 3000 B.C. Of course, the reverse is also true of North American and European eating habits. Many Hindus feel it is abominable that beef is on the menu in other countries. Kalahari bushmen have been known to get physically sick at the sight of a raw chicken egg.

On to the list. Poor, brave Luis has been roped in by me to to try all sorts of weird things since we met. At first he was understandably hesitant, especially regarding street food, but he has come around. For the record, I've only had serious food-related illness twice: once in Mexico and once in Peru, both involving fish dishes. Here is my list as of today:

  • Moose (Canada)
  • Beaver (Argentina)
  • Guinea Pig (Peru)
  • Bear (Canada)
  • Rotten Shark (Iceland)
  • Brennivín Schnapps (aka Black Death) (Iceland)
  • Puffin (Iceland)
  • Scorpions (China)    
  • Dragon Fruit (China)
  • Grasshoppers (Australia)
  • Sea Slugs (China)
  • Baby Turtles (China)
  • Green Tree Ants (Australia)
  • Kangaroo (Australia)
  • Jellyfish (China)
  • Whale (Norway)
  • Jellied Eels (UK)
  • Calves' Brains (Czech Republic)
  • Absinthe (Czech Republic)
  • Kobe Beef (Japan) 
  • Llama (Peru)
  • Ostrich (Australia)
  • Alpaca (Peru)
  • Alligator (Florida)
  • Emu (Texas)
  • Piranha (Brazil)
  • Caiman (Brazil) 
  • Bird's Nest Soup (China)
  • Carpincho (the world's largest rodent) (Argentina)
  • Horse (France)

Fried Guinea Pig in Arequipa, Peru  

I would love to hear from adventurous readers/eaters regarding the odd foods they have sampled. Each week, I'll blog about the countries that we've visited, the evolution of the local cuisine, the foods that we've eaten, and most importantly, how everything tasted! Feel free to offer suggestions for future posts. Bon Apetit, Douzo Omeshiagari Kudasai, Buen Provecho, बोन एपीटिट, Saha wa Hana, Bom Proveito, Enjoy Your Food!

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