Taste the World

The Star

Taste the World

By ANDREW MARSHALL

Travelling is about experiencing new cultures, and one indispensable part of that experience is the food of your host country.

EATING is a significant part of any travel experience, and whether it’s enjoying a lamb and pear tajine in Morocco, some spicy jerk chicken in Jamaica or a green chicken curry in Thailand, there’s nothing better than savouring a dish in its country of origin.

Plus, it’s a great way to meet the locals. Here’s a quartet of countries with their unique and popular cuisines …

Morocco

It is said that in order for a nation to develop a great cuisine, it must have four prerequisites: a rich land from which to draw upon an abundant range of ingredients, a variety of foreign cultural influences, a great civilisation, and a refined palace with royal kitchens to inspire the nation’s cooks.

Morocco has it all and is home to some of the most delicious food imaginable.

Rich country, rich flavours: A street vendor selling tajines (one of the most popular food in Morroco) cooking in their conical-lidded tajine pots.
From robust roasts, rich aromatic stews and spiced or sweetened salads, to savoury pastries, fragrant mounds of couscous andbastilla, an exquisite blend of shredded pigeon, spiced onion sauce with saffron and herbs encased in a flaky, filo-like pastry topped with cinnamon and sugar.

Bastilla an intricate dish that epitomises everything that is grand and extravagant in Moroccan cooking.

One of the most interesting ways to absorb the delights of the country’s cuisine is to wander through the souk (markets) of the towns and cities, sampling the food on offer.

It’s early morning in old Fés, and sunlight streams in slanted rays through the woven bamboo shades covering the narrow alleyways, catching the steam rising from the many cookers. Close to the city gate of Bab Bou Jaloud, one stallholder is busy cooking and serving a typical Moroccan breakfast,miklee – flaky pancakes with butter and honey.

In a nearby fruit and vegetable souk, produce of every kind lines the street. There are juicy oranges from the sun-drenched groves of Agadir, vine-ripened tomatoes, plump mounds of grapes, and preserved fruits and nuts. Entire shops are jam-packed with olives of all types; others display hanging baskets bulging with fresh mint, used to make mint tea traditionally served before and after a meal.

A Thai woman grills chicken at her sidewalk kitchen.
At a spice souk, bright red paprika, rich yellow turmeric, dusty sticks of cinnamon, seeds of cumin, aniseed and caraway are heaped in tubs waiting to be measured into twisted envelopes of paper. These are some of the spices that form the soul of Moroccan cooking, taking simple dishes to exotic heights.

One of Morocco’s most famous dishes is thetajine. The name refers to the conical-lidded pot in which it is prepared, as well as the intricately spiced stew of meat and vegetables, sometimes with dried fruits and nuts, cooked very slowly over a charcoal fire. Typical tajine combinations include: lamb with pears, and chicken with green olives and preserved lemons.

They are simple yet delicious dishes that are often accompanied by thick wedges of crusty Moroccan flat bread, perfect for soaking up the sauce.

Thailand

Standing at an important Asian crossroads for centuries, Thailand owes its rich cuisine to the culinary infusions of India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. It has adapted cooking techniques and ingredients from each of these major influences and blended them with its own.

Street food in particular is the lifeline of Thailand, helping to feed millions of people daily. The first wave of travellers in the 70s discovered it was a cheap and delicious way to eat, helping to initiate the process of popularising Thai food as one of the world’s great cuisines.

Towards the end of one road near Bangkok’s Grand Palace, tantalising aromas drift from sidewalk kitchens serving up sizzling Thai delights. Outside one stall, a street chef wields a wok of prawns and vegetables on his gas burner like an accomplished swordsman, creating a medley of smoke and flickering flames.

Vegetarians are well catered for in South Indian cuisine. This street-side seller is preparing vegetables covered in spices.
A few metres away, a wizened old lady bends over a large stone mortar, pounding grated papaya, nuts and chilies to prepare a hot and tangy som tam (papaya salad).

The characteristic flavour of Thai food comes from a blend of four basic tastes – salty, sweet, sour and pungent, and the liberal use of ingredients such as fresh coriander leaf, lemon-grass, lime juice, garlic, chilies, tamarind juice, fish paste, ginger and coconut milk.

Thailand’s sidewalk gourmets are masters at combining these ingredients and employing fast cooking techniques that maintain the delicate flavours of the food.

Before you can say moo ping or phat thai, they will char-grill you skewers of marinated pork or stir-fry some rice noodles with bean sprouts, peanuts, eggs and chili. Vendors tend to specialise in one particular dish: noodles, curries, barbecued fish, rice dishes, or fruit juices etc.

Jamaica’s signature dish, the jerk chicken recipe, is a closely guarded secret.
Some favourites include kai ho bai toei(seasoned fried chicken in leaf wrappers),tomyam (hot and sour soup) and gaeng kiow wan gai (green chicken curry). For something sweet to finish off your street dining, you’ll want to look out for khao niew mamuang(sticky rice with mango) or kruay kaek (banana fritters).

Eating at the numerous food stalls and vendor carts can turn a stroll along any of Thailand’s streets into a culinary adventure.

Jamaica

From fiery seasoned meat and inventive seafood dishes to oak-aged rums and hearty stouts, Jamaican cuisine is an eclectic mix of African, European and Indian influences. And it is surprisingly healthy and varied.

Although many restaurants offer excellent dining, you’re just as likely to have a great culinary experience by eating local-style. And here that means one thing: Jamaica’s signature dish of jerk chicken or pork.

Jerk chicken is believed to have been conceived when the Maroons introduced African meat-cooking techniques to Jamaica, which were combined with native Jamaican ingredients and seasonings used by the Amerindians. At most places, the recipe for jerk sauce is a closely guarded secret, but it usually contains peppers, onions, pimento, ginger and chili.

Although there are thousands of “jerk centres” – as they are known on Jamaica – one of the best places to go is Scotchies, an unassuming thatched-roofed joint on the outskirts of Montego Bay.

It’s late Friday afternoon, and a reggae soundtrack combines with delicious aromas that waft on the balmy tropical breeze. Rows of chickens are splayed flat and whole backs of pig sizzle in jerk marinade over a low fire of pimento wood, which introduces a strong distinctive smoky flavour to the meat.

A cool mix of locals and visitors rub shoulders at rustic tables, opening tin foil parcels of tasty jerk chicken, pork or fish washed down with a Red Stripe beer, the island’s tipple of choice.

In addition to being jerked, chicken is typically fried or curried, while fish can be grilled, steamed with okra and pimento pods, or brown-stewed in a tasty sauce. Rice and peas (rice cooked with coconut, spices and red kidney beans) is the accompaniment to most meals, though you’ll also come across festival (deep-fried cornmeal dumplings), breadfruit, sweet potatoes and yam.

Other Jamaican specialties include mouth-watering curried goat, peanut porridge andackee and salt fish – a classic and addictive breakfast dish. Another popular and widely available foodstuff is the vegetable, chicken or beef patty, with around one million of these Cornish pasty-like snacks being eaten by Jamaicans every day.

When it comes to non-alcoholic beverages, there’s refreshing coconut juice, throat-tingling ginger beers and unusual fresh natural juices, such as tamarind, June plum, guava, sorrel and sour sop. Finally, the rich, black volcanic soil of Jamaica’s majestic Blue Mountains produces Jamaican Blue Mountain – a wonderfully balanced coffee brew, full-bodied with a smooth finish.

India

Early morning, and the sun begins to slowly rise above a skyline of sloping red-tiled roofs, white-washed churches and a lush hillside of billowing palms in Panaji, the capital of the Indian state of Goa.

A woman in an orange sari balancing a wicker basket of vegetables on her head walks past a brilliant blue wall, while in the distance there’s the sound of bicycle horns as bread boys deliver soft-wheat flour rolls to villagers on the outskirts.

Removed from Goa’s touristy beach resorts, Panaji offers the opportunity of an authentic culinary experience where you can sample not only local specialties but also feasibly attempt a gastronomic tour of the whole of India.

From simple hole-in-the-wall eateries to plush air-conditioned restaurants, Panaji is packed with a good range of places to eat, offering everything from traditional Goan dishes to the specialties from other Indian states. Popular local dishes to look out for include sorpotel (a rich spicy meat stew), xacuti (chicken cooked in coconut milk and a variety of spices) andrecheiado (a delicious preparation in which a whole fish is stuffed with a spicy red sauce).

Vegetarians are well catered for at the South Indian-styled cafeterias, known as udipi. You don’t need to spend big to enjoy delicious and authentic food in India. Family-run restaurants are a good bet.

You must try the thali, the ubiquitous Indian lunch, which just happens to be one of the sub-continent’s best food deals. For around 50 rupee (about RM2.90), you get a stainless steel platter with small, fitted bowls usually containing a piece of fried fish, dry and wet vegetable dishes, roti, pappadam, rice, pickle, and dhal (lentil curry).

To eat where the locals do, you can head to the Cafe Ritz just round the corner from the Municipal Gardens. This no-frills gem really packs in the lunch crowd. Its name notwithstanding, Cafe Ritz doesn’t serve a selection of delicate sandwiches with fine tea poured from ornate silverware. There is instead the click-clack of steel thalis being slapped down on tables along with glasses of steaming sweet milky chai.

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Posted on May 13, 2012, in Morocco News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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