A Food Journey Around the World, Part 2: The Most Underrated Cuisines

The second part to the uncovering of some underrated cuisines from around the world.

22w ago

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In Part 1, we looked at South African, Filipino and German cuisine. All three nations vastly underrated in relation to food. I can't remember ever seeing a Filipino or German restaurant and I wish there were. Although I do recall walking past a South African restaurant in the British town of Beaconsfield, not too far from my neck of the woods. I shall definitely look to go, once safe to do so of course.

So here we are, onto Part 2. My original aim with this was to write one article, covering five or so countries' cuisines that we tend to underrate. But frankly, I was so astonished when researching, that I wouldn't be doing these nations any justice by briefly touching on their cuisine and cramming it all into one article.

Vietnam

Left: Pho. Top right: Fetal Duck Eggs. Bottom right: Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Left: Pho. Top right: Fetal Duck Eggs. Bottom right: Vietnamese Spring Rolls

This is my favourite, by far. Vietnam is definitely in my top 3 list of places to visit once this pandemic is over. Like many Asian cuisines, Vietnamese food is underpinned by the Xu Wing and Mahābhūta principles. These philosophies emphasise the importance of the balance between the five elements for health and well-being. This means that each Vietnamese dish features a careful combination of five flavours: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and hot. So here's what Vietnam brings to the table:

Of course I am going to start off with 'Pho', it would be rude not to! I am yet to try a proper authentic Pho. This national staple is made with flat rice noodles, a warming broth and usually chicken or beef. The flavour of this comforting noodle soup can vary greatly across Vietnam, and many establishments load your table with sauces, herbs and spices so you can season your Pho exactly how you like it. Traditionally, this is actually a breakfast dish. The Vietnamese are early risers and they need serious fuel, so it’s all about steaming hot soup, broken rice and bánh mìs (bread) for starting the day.

Gỏi cuốn, Vienam's answer to Chinese spring rolls. Quite a lot of Vietnamese dishes are fried, grilled or boiled, so you wouldn't be blamed for wanting something a bit more 'fresh'. Look no further than gỏi cuốn, also known as ‘summer rolls’. These fresh spring rolls are typically packed with crispy salad, prawns and pork, and served with a sweet-and-spicy dip topped with peanuts.

Hột vịt lộn - fetal duck eggs. This is already starting to test how open-minded I am about food! These essentially are duck eggs containing partially developed fetuses. If you have watched the Grand Tour, this briefly features in the last episode (the one with the boats), though I don't think they were duck eggs and even Clarkson, who will eat anything, held off. Nevertheless, Hột vịt lộn are a much loved delicacy in Vietnam, due to their rich taste and high nutritional value and are also popular in several other Southeast Asian countries. The eggs are traditionally consumed by pregnant women for strength and fortification. Whether I will ever try one of these, I honestly couldn't say.

Finland

Left: Bilberry Pie. Top right: Poronkaristys (sauteed Reindeer). Bottom right: Leipajuusto (Bread or Squeaky Cheese)

Left: Bilberry Pie. Top right: Poronkaristys (sauteed Reindeer). Bottom right: Leipajuusto (Bread or Squeaky Cheese)

I honestly didn't expect Finland to make the cut. Not because I am not a fan of their cuisine, far from it, but because I expected a lot of Nordic and German influence, therefore less originality. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of that, but Finland has quite a lot of unique and brilliant elements to their cuisine. I'm not terribly well versed on Finland. I know they have some great beer, as do most countries in that part of the world, and some legendary racing drivers. So here goes for Finland:

Poronkaristys (sauteed Reindeer), one of my favourite Finnish dishes that I've read about so far. Reindeer are found in Finland’s northern province of Lapland and their meat is one of the healthiest foods you can put on your plate, according to recent studies. It is high in vitamin B-12, omega-3 and omega-6. Typically served with mash potatoes and eaten throughout the country in all seasons. Just sounds delicious, although I curious whether Finnish children ever wonder if they are eating Rudolph.

Mustikkapiirakka (Bilberry pie), the even healthier Nordic cousin of the blueberry. Mustikkapiirakka is a delicious sweet pie, made out of bilberries. In July and August bilberries paint the Finnish forest. They are absolutely everywhere and may even be alarming to those that are not used to seeing them in such abundance. Finns tend to pick in mass and freeze for the winter, but they are best enjoyed in the summer months, whether on their own or in homemade pies. Although all Finnish berries can be made into delicious pies, bilberries served with fresh milk is the one known and adored by Finns.

Leipajuusto, known as bread cheese or squeaky cheese, this mild cheese is most often made from cow’s milk but can also be made from reindeer or goat’s milk. The milk is first curdled and then fried or baked in a pie tin, then cut in wedges. You can find these iconic foods in the markets and restaurants across Finland but there is no where better to sample the local fare than in someone’s home.

South Korea

Left: Kimchi. Top right: Hangover Stew/Soup. Bottom right: Ox Bone Soup.

Left: Kimchi. Top right: Hangover Stew/Soup. Bottom right: Ox Bone Soup.

South Korea is increasingly putting its name on the culinary map. Korean barbecues are quite popular and have been for number of years in the Americas and Europe. Kimchi has also taken the world by storm. So, what else does this dark horse bring to the table?

Hangover stew (해장국), this sounds like fun already. Given South Korea's drinking culture, much like the rest of the world, it's no surprise they have a dedicated dish to kick-start that sluggish brain the morning. The Hangover Stew is made from a beef broth, with cabbage, bean sprouts, radish and chunks of congealed ox blood. Not sure my delicate stomach, after a heavy session will keep this wonderful sounding dish down.

Ox Bone Soup (설렁탕), a traditional hot Korean soup made from ox bones, ox meat and briskets. Ox meat is so underrated. Seolleongtang is a local dish of Seoul, often seasoned with salt, ground black pepper, chopped green onions or minced garlic. The broth is usually a milky white, cloudy colour and is often eaten with rice. Seolleongtang is known for its soft yet chewy texture and flavorful broth and can be found in most Korean restaurants in Seoul.

I couldn't write this without writing about Kimchi. Essentially, Kimchi is fermented vegetables. One of the oldest and probably the most essential dishes in Korean cuisine, kimchi is a spicy and sour dish made up of fermented vegetables. It is prepared with various kinds of ingredients, but the most common ingredient is cabbage. Kimchi is popular internationally for its unique flavour, as well as its high nutritional value, fibre and low calorie content. However, for Koreans, it is most popular due to its significant cultural value. Without kimchi, dinner is considered incomplete.

So there we are, six hugely underrated cuisines from around the world.

Though, there is one that I feel quite strongly about that I haven't included in these two articles. France and it's magnificent cuisine. Article on French food coming soon...

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Comments (9)

  • Yep, Pho put Vietnam on the food map for me. Great (divided) list, Marcel.

    Looking forward to this French cuisine article - I'm still feeling irked from that FT poll where everyone voted Italy.

      5 months ago
    • They got the wrong country with I. They were mean to vote for India

        5 months ago
    • I wouldn't call Indian food underrated. Everyone talks about Vindaloo, Lamb Bogan Josh, etc. A good measure is how many restaurants there are - you can imagine an Indian restaurant but a South Korean restaurant?

        5 months ago
  • Just to Vietnam. I have a friend from South Korea and she’s keeps sending us food. Some of it works for me but some doesn’t. I guess you have to adjust your palate.

      5 months ago
  • Lovely write up. I have eaten Vietnamese and South Korean food

      5 months ago
    • Thanks very much, Shivaum. I haven't quite tried proper South Korean food just yet. I've had some Vietnamese food but really must find somewhere a bit more authentic - or just go to Vietnam!

        5 months ago
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