A Food Journey Around the World, Part 1: The Most Underrated Cuisines
It's time to uncover some real hidden gems around the world. I am simply astonished at some food masterpieces I have come across writing this article.
I had a brief discussion recently with FoodTribe personality John Coleman, that there are some real 'dark horse' countries out there that produces some magnificent food but go completely unnoticed to most, hence they are underrated. So today, I am shining a light on these 'dark horses'. There are quite a few that I really must tell you about, but frankly the article would be too long. Hence, I am splitting this article into two parts. So here's the first part:
South Africa is notorious for its mature tourism industry. But it's not all just Biltong, Safaris and amazing wine. Their cuisine is simply divine. Like many other countries, South Africa cuisine has historically been inspired by many nations.
Bobotie being one of them and very much the star of the show. Traditionally, Bobotie consists of layers of cooked minced or shredded meat, with pine nuts, seasoned with pepper, celery seeds and 'asafoetida' (a herb similar to leeks), then added with a top layer of an egg and milk mixture, much like savoury custard. Today, Bobotie recipes have been simplified by using curry powder and usually calls for chopped onions and almonds. Granted, the combination of these ingredients doesn't quite raise the 'foodie beacon', but having tried this last year, it was surprisingly delicious.
Potjiekos is a quintessential South African dish born almost entirely out of necessity to cook whilst on the move in the outdoors. With its roots set in an Afrikaaner tradition, that supposedly emerged during the Great Trek, Potjiekos has come a long way, yet it is part and parcel of South Africa's food culture as we know it today. It is cooked in a little pot and typical ingredients include meat, vegetables, and a starch (usually potatoes).
South Africans are barbecue fanatics. Referred to as 'Braai' or 'Braais' for plural, it is an absolute meat feast and nothing processed will be seen on the grill. My South African friends tell me that burgers and sausages are banned. In that case, I really must go to South Africa. A 'must' for Braais, is Pap, which is the South African name for 'stiff cornmeal porridge' and is famous across the entire continent.
Left: Kare-kare. Top right: Pancit. Bottom right: Lechon
With more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines boasts some of the world's most astonishing natural beauty with fabulous paradise beaches, glorious weather and best of all, brilliant food. Filipino food is so far the one that surprised me the most. I had no idea how vast their cuisine is. So here's what the Philippines brings to the table:
Pancit, a stable in the Philippines. I just love a noodle dish. The various Pancit dishes are often prepared for birthday celebrations as they symbolise longevity and health, according to ancient Filipino superstitions. It consists of stir-fried noodles with meat and vegetables such as chicken, pork, prawns, celery, carrots, onions, garlic and cabbage.
Kare-kare is another one that caught my attention. It is a traditional Filipino stew consisting of meat such as tripe, pork, ox tail, goat or chicken, vegetables and a thick savoury peanut sauce flavoured with annatto seeds. It sounds and certainly looks fantastic, although I would definitely not have mine with tripe. My open-mindedness ends at tripe.
Lechon, my favourite of them all. This has convinced me entirely that I really need to fly out to the Philippines (once safe to do so!). Apologies in advance to all vegan and vegetarian readers. Lechon, derived from a Spanish word for roasted suckling pig is one of the most popular dishes in the Philippines. The slowly-roasted suckling pig is usually stuffed with lemongrass, tamarind, garlic, onions, and chives. It's then roasted on a large bamboo spit over an open fire and traditionally served whole on a platter at celebrations and festive events, such as weddings and Christmas.
Top left: Sauerkraut. Top Right: Schweinshaxe. Bottom left: Sauerbraten. Bottom right: German Sausages
They have some of the most beautiful countrysides. They manufacture some of the best cars in the world and their Chancellor practically controls the EU. But did you think Germany have much to say in the way of food? Well, you shall be pleasantly surprised.
When I was in Germany, I really bonded with Germany in general, but also German cuisine cuisine. I loved the systematic mentality, impeccable time keeping and especially the unrestricted speed limits on the famous 'Autobahns' (motorways). I also loved that in the afternoon spent with relatives and friends, there would always be coffee and cake. This would happen every afternoon without exception. Aside from the actual cake and coffee, I really appreciated this tradition and how it brings families and friends together. So, onto German cuisine:
Sauerbraten is considered a national food of Germany and it's highly recommended. It is made of meat (usually beef), which is cooked slowly in the oven for hours and results in soft and tender meat. It wouldn't be a German dish without some dumplings, potatoes and of course, some red cabbage.
Schweinshaxe, also known as pork knuckle is probably one of the most traditional German dishes, especially in the region of Bavaria. Schweinshaxe is marinaded for several days, before being slow roasted for a few hours. It’s usually served with potatoes and some cabbage, though not red cabbage on this occasion.
Wurst. Surely you weren't expecting me to forget about the German sausage? Good. Because I definitely haven't. I doubt there is a single city or town centre in Germany that doesn't have a big food-stand with a big round grill in the middle, hanging from the ceiling, with stacks of German sausages grilling away. It's quite a sight to behold. I could really murder one of those right now, to be honest. There are so many different types of German sausages, such as Currywurst (overrated), Bratwurst (my personaly favourite), Frankfurter, Weisswurst, Landjager and so many more. Usually served in between a hot dog roll, you can expect to be offered saurkraut.
So there we are, three nations with vastly underrated cuisines.
Part 2 coming soon...