Setting out on a culinary journey is not just about savoring exotic flavors; it’s an opportunity to embrace diverse cultures and traditions. When it comes to food, different countries often have unique names for their beloved dishes, causing some delightful confusion. I learned this first-hand on my recent trip to Portugal (see #5 below). This week, we will delve into five typical food dishes from around the world and learn how their terms hold distinct meanings in their respective countries compared to the United States.
When Americans hear “croissant,” their taste buds anticipate a flaky, buttery pastry. However, in France, the birthplace of this delight, a croissant is typically enjoyed as a delectable breakfast treat but with a slightly different texture. The French croissant tends to be lighter and less buttery, offering a delicate yet delightful start to the day.
Dumplings are a universal favorite across various cultures, but their preparations and names differ significantly. While Americans often associate dumplings with the doughy creations served with stews, in Eastern European countries like Poland and Ukraine, dumplings refer to pierogies—tender pockets filled with a variety of savory fillings, such as potatoes, cheese, or meat.
When Americans hear the word “curry,” they typically think of a spicy Indian dish. However, curry encompasses a broad range of aromatic flavors across different nations. In Japan, curry typically refers to a hearty dish made with a thick, mild roux-based sauce, often served with rice and various toppings. On the other hand, Thai curry is known for its bold and vibrant flavors, achieved by combining ingredients like coconut milk, lemongrass, and chili peppers.
In the United States, tacos have evolved into a versatile and beloved street food, offering endless variations of fillings and toppings. However, the true essence of tacos in Mexico is often overlooked. Traditional Mexican tacos are typically enjoyed with two very small soft corn tortillas, minimal garnishes, and an emphasis on the filling itself, whether succulent grilled meats, marinated fish, or flavorful vegetarian options.
When Americans think of fried shrimp, they often envision shrimp coated in batter and deep-fried until crispy. However, “fried shrimp” has a slightly different meaning in Portugal. In Portuguese cuisine, fried shrimp is lightly sautéed in olive oil or butter, resulting in a slightly caramelized exterior. This cooking method allows the natural flavors of the shrimp to shine through, creating a delightful and succulent dish.
Exploring the diverse culinary landscape of the world not only tantalizes the taste buds but also enables us to appreciate the cultural significance behind different dishes. Learning about the varying terminology and interpretations adds an extra layer of richness to our culinary experiences. Next time you indulge in global cuisine, remember to savor not just the flavors but also the stories behind each dish. Bon appétit, or should we say, buen provecho, bom Apetite, or どうぞ召し上がれ (douzo meshiagare)!
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