April 14, 2009

Favorite Foods Around the World

A wonderful blog that I just discovered Go Green Travel Green was my inspiration for today's post - thanks you guys. Eating is a great way to learn about new cultures and countries. Having discovered truffle oil, all vegetables are now my domain (the last for me to enjoy was Brussel sprouts). With spring here it seemed like a good time to share a few of my favorites and possibly through the comments sections learn about yours...

Five favorite foods of mine are:

Kumquats - a seasonal citrus delight of mine, that ever since the discovery of organic versions returns to my wish list every year. This year was no exception. Did you know that Kumquats originated in China (they are noted in literature dating to the 12th century), and have long been cultivated there and in Japan. They were introduced to Europe in 1846 then in the US shortly thereafter. Learn more from The Back Kitchen.

Avocados - known as palta or aguacate (Spanish), butter pear or alligator pear, is a tree native to the Caribbean, Mexico, South America and Central America, classified in the flowering plant family Lauraceae.

The name "avocado" also refers to the fruit (technically a large berry) of the tree that contains a pit (hard seed casing) which may be egg-shaped or spherical. Which for us growing up in California was the typical "starter" planet for every dorm room or new apartment. Long ago these were inexpensive and we'd eat them often, then save the seed and suspend it over water in a cup to get a root started, before planting it in a pot. Voila ~ easy, fun and cute green house plant.

A favorite related story is how my knowledge of avocados is mostly that they are known locally as the key ingredient for guacamole, a rich and tasty condiment with tortilla chips and Mexican food. While living in Japan, we introduced my Brazilian neighbor to guacamole, who returned the favor by introducing us to a blended shake drink of avocado, pineapple and mint! muy dulce y delicioso! Who knew?

Artichokes - The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 8–15 cm diameter with numerous triangular scales; the individual florets are purple. The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions of the involucral bracts and the base, known as the "heart"; the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the "choke".

If you ever get a chance to drive through the Salinas Valley in California, close by to the fields written about by John Steinbeck and picketed in by Cesar Chavez is the town of Castroville. This town is famous for its artichokes, and the Giant Artichoke Stand.

You will find the tastiest french fried artichokes and steamed artichokes (for a healthier snack if you skip the dipping sauces mixed with mayonnaise). Back in the 1970's there were roadside stands that would essentially track the season for you by their prices per bud: 5 for $1.00, 10 for $1.00 until they reached about 20 for $1 then the season was over. Poof.

Artichokes are the type of vegetable that usually tastes the best fresh - though if you cannot get them fresh - the marinated artichoke hearts in a jar can be very yummy too. Nice for salads or an antipasto.

Fava Beans - Broad Bean, Fava Bean, Faba Bean, Field Bean, Bell Bean or Tic Bean is a species of bean (Fabaceae) native to north Africa and southwest Asia, and extensively cultivated elsewhere.

Here in Northern California these beans are often found in Italian restaurants mixed into savory spreads for bruschetta or other tasty dishes. Here are more ways they are enjoyed around the globe:

The beans can be fried, causing the skin to split open, and then salted and/or spiced to produce a savory crunchy snack. These are popular in China, Peru (habas saladas), Mexico (habas con chile) and in Thailand (where their name means "open-mouth nut").

In the Sichuan cuisine of China, broad beans are combined with soybeans and chili peppers to produce a spicy fermented bean paste called doubanjiang.

In most Arab countries the Fava bean is used for a breakfast meal called ful medames. Ful medames is usually crushed Fava beans in a sauce although the Fava beans do not have to be crushed.

In Iran, cooked broad beans served with pepper and salt are sold on streets in winter. This food is also available conserved in metal cans.

In Greece - Koukia (κουκιά broad beans) are eaten in a stew combined with artichokes, while they are still fresh in their pod. Dried broad beans are eaten (boiled) combined with garlic sauce (skordalia). In Krete fresh broad beans are shelled and eaten as companion to tsikoudia, the local alcoholic drink. Yet many people still avoid them fearing allergic reactions to them.

Garlic - Is part of the onion family. Its close relatives include the shallot, leek, and chive. Garlic has been used throughout recorded history for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It has a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking.

A bulb of garlic, the most commonly used part of the plant, is divided into numerous fleshy sections called cloves. Single clove garlic (also called Pearl garlic or Solo garlic) also exists -- it originates in the Yunnan province of China. The cloves are used as seed, for consumption (raw or cooked), and for medicinal purposes. The leaves, stems (scape), and flowers (bulbils) on the head (spathe) are also edible and are most often consumed while immature and still tender. The papery, protective layers of "skin" over various parts of the plant and the roots attached to the bulb are the only parts not considered palatable.

This is the probably the best of all worlds, one of the best ways to season any dish. Though the medicinal uses can be controversial, the consumption for pure dining pleasure cannot be underestimated. How many amazing dishes at Italian restaurants have you been to that has this not-so secret ingredient? Here in San Francisco the dozens of Chinese restaurants use garlic in creative ways to spice up a dish.

Have you ever taken a bulb of garlic and roasted it whole in the oven? Afterwards, when it is tender, squeeze out the cloves onto a slice of toasted bread for a tasty appetizer. Yum!


  1. Thanks for the shout-out! I have never quite figured out kumquats. Are they economical to buy? But I LOVE avocados! They are extremely versatile -- breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner -- what more could you want from a food??

  2. Kumquats can definitely be worth it! Like little edible oranges you pop into your mouth or slice up for salads et al.

    I LOVE avocados too! And who knew about the sweet version?! I didn't until my friend was shocked when I introduced her to guacamole - her only taste had been the sweet use. Love this side of food and travel.

    Love your site too!


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