The cuisine in Nepal has been shaped over generations through interactions with its neighbors. Thousands of years of exchanging ingredients and techniques have taken place with India to the south and Tibet and China to the north. These influences combined with their own rustic style of cuisine developed due to its isolated location and mountainous landscape. Because of their harsh winters and often-dramatic seasons, the people of Nepal rely on preservation techniques such as pickling, sun drying and salt curing to provide food for them year round. Although they have borrowed certain culinary techniques, mimicked presentation plus adopting flavors and incorporating foreign ingredients, they have still created a truly unique cuisine. In the north of Nepal rests some of the largest mountain ranges in the world, leading to the hills in the south and continuing onward to the border of India. With villages scattered throughout the land in rural locations, mountain tops and hard to reach plots, the people of Nepal are true adventurers. The diets of the locals depend on high protein and energized foods to give them power to make it through the days. From healthy bean stews to herbal soups, nuts and grains, their cuisine is designed to produce energy and sustain their lifestyle.
Nepali snacks – Because of the heavy influence from its neighbors, Nepali snack foods are often direct interpretations of Indian or Tibetan/Chinese style treats. However, the exception is traditional Himalayan foods, which are mostly executed using preservation techniques, with the aforementioned salt curing and sun drying being the main ones. Gundruk and Sinki are prime examples that use native vegetables for this purpose. They are first pickled, then slightly fermented and depending on the season or intended use, sundried to prolong shelf life. Water buffalo is the choice meat in Nepal for various dishes including snack foods like Momo, Sukuti or Kachilaa (marinated raw minced buffalo meat), which once prepared, can be eaten alone or can be incorporated into various dishes. Other favorites include spiced cucumbers, fried soybeans, samosas and panipuri as well as different Indian classics that have made their way into Nepal.
Momo – Momos are probably one of the most popular dishes eaten in Nepal and one of its most widely known outside the country. Even though momos are credited to the Tibetans, which are believed to have originated from the Chinese classic Jiaozi, the Nepali version still remains unique because of the addition of Indian spices that produces that signature flavor. Due to the relatively low cost of the ingredients for forming the dough as well as the capability to forage, raise and grow food for the filling, the Momo has become a nearly self-sustainable food that is easily accessible to all classes of people. The first mention of these meat filled snacks go back to the Song Dynasty in China, where there was talk of them being good for the soul. During this time their popularity grew and recipes were passed from person to person, spreading far beyond what most could have imagined. And as most things that are passed on in this manner, they tend to take form to there surroundings, resulting in a culinary concept that has no guidelines and is open to a fusion of flavors.
Wo – This typical food created here in Nepal is made of black lentils that have been first cooked, mashed up and served as a savory cake. The flavor profile can vary from place to place depending on what is added into both the patties themselves and the sauce or chutney that it is served with. The ingredients within the Wo can range from ginger, fresh egg or ground meat while the chutney can reveal tastes of sweet curries or fresh herbs with some citrus. Lentils have been an important food source for humans since early times, with recent discoveries linking evidence of consumption as far back as 13,000 years ago. As we discussed before, the need for nutritious foods in Nepal to fuel the body for long excursions across the land is shown in their style of cuisine. Lentils fit the profile coming in 3rd after soybeans and Hemp for containing the highest level of protein for any plant based food. This as well as the references to them throughout written history explains their popularity and why they have been consumed by some of the oldest civilizations in this world.
Phulaurah – This dish is traditionally made with buckwheat that is ground into a paste and formed into different size patties and finished by deep-frying. Buckwheat is believed to be native to the western Yunnan province, which was a prized possession in the ancient time. Plus, because of the short crop cycle, it became a good alternative to rice or common wheat. Despite the name, Buckwheat is not related to a wheat or grass, but has developed an attachment to them because of its wheat-like applications. Due to the rustic nature of this dish, it gives us a hint that it could be one of the more classic foods eaten here in Nepal, dating back to some of the first settlers. Nowadays, Phulaurah can take many forms with the one necessity being the buckwheat dough. But beyond that, it can be stuffed with minced meat or fermented vegetables and can be served as bite size snacks or larger patties for a more filling meal.
Sukuti – Throughout history different preservation techniques have come into use, many of which are still widely utilized today. Historical evidence tells us that these techniques have been sought out by humans to ease the never-ending struggle to feed themselves. There are many different variables that must be taken into account where food is concerned when a culture is intending on creating a permanent residence. The effects of climate and geographical location are paramount, as some have to deal with droughts, others floods, extreme heat, extreme cold and any number of the other natural crises that occur. Being one of the most mountainous countries in the world, the Nepali people have been perfecting their tactics for quite some time. Sukuti is their version of meat jerky, dehydrated under the sun then slow cured hanging over a wood fire to give it a smoky touch. Most often buffalo meat is used and when the product is finished, it can be a nice addition to a dish, curry, soup or simply fried up and served with fresh chili powder.
Chataamari – Habitually referred to as Nepali pizza or crepe due to its similarity in appearance, it is not to be confused by the title because it’s something entirely different. The traditional version is made from rice flour that has been turned into a simple dough, formed like disks and then baked in an earth oven similar to a tandoor. They can be topped with several options but a classic is minced up vegetables and a fresh egg, resulting in a satisfying meal that is healthy as well. This is a staple dish from the Newari people who are believed to be the first inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. With expansion of the empire came a natural culinary development that left behind recipes and techniques that are still used today. Not only are these still in use, but even today, Newari cuisine remains one of the more popular forms of native food through out Nepal.
Pancha Kwa – Pancha Kwa is a soup that is also produced by the Newari. It uses native ingredients and is believed to be eaten for good health and the energy it provides. Fermented bamboo is used for the base, then black-eyed peas are added, a little bit of curry powder and selected local herbs such as Jimbu that can only be found in Nepal. Other native herbs are used as well and even the famous huā jiāo peppercorn from Sichuan can be added into certain soups, breaking the cultural barrier from both sides to create a slow infusion of Chinese and Indian flavors. Given the fact that weather in Nepal can get extreme, soups are quite a popular meal choice, especially those that are heavy, warm and comforting.
Thukpa – Thukpa is another traditional soup of the Himalayas, believed to have been first prepared in Tibet after the introduction of La mien or hand pulled noodles from surrounding areas of China. Due to the cold weather and less abundant ingredients, it turned into a warm and hearty herbal soup that can be presented in several ways. The freshly hand pulled wheat noodles are the centerpiece for this dish but the options or choices can be quite diverse. Traditionally in Tibet, foraged greens, wild onions, garlic, black pepper and dried yak meat or Sukuti are used to produce the soup base. But with growing popularity there comes change and the adaptation of flavors. For instance, Nepal’s version is known for being spicier than others in the region, because of the heavy Indian influence, which uses spices more regularly. Noodles are common across the Himalayas, mostly because of the Hui Chinese presence in west China as well as the simple preparation, storage and shelf life. Noodles have many applications and other famous dishes have come out of the Himalayas such Chow mien.
Nepali Thali – Thali literally means “plate” in Sanskrit and has also developed into a style of eating that consists of several dishes on one plate. It uses a plate with multiple compartments, which are used as a way to separate the different kinds of foods, with one main center space for the rice or starch. Proper Thali etiquette is performed by eating with your right hand, mixing in bits of curries, dals and vegetables with your rice then using your thumb or any traditional Indian bread like roti or Paratha, to bring it to your mouth. Although this style of eating is credited to India it is very much a way of life for people in Nepal and is a typical meal of the locals for both lunch and dinner. The base of the Nepali Thali is always Dal (lentils) and Baht (rice) but can be accompanied by several different kinds of Tarkaris, Curry, gravies or vegetables, as well as other traditional dishes like Kawati – a 10-plus bean soup or Choylas – meat that is marinated in mustard oil and spices. Sampling different Thalis can be beneficial to people looking to expand there palates because the only defining property is the shape of the plate and beyond that it is up to your host as to what you will be served.
Nepal’s cuisine has been a pleasure to experience, displaying true diversity and although its similarity to South Asian cuisine is certainly evident, a closer examination reveals its depth of culinary ties with Eastern China and even Southeast Asia. Their culinary techniques are most often looked at as rustic and simple because of their obvious geographical limitations, traditional approach to preparing food, and the ancient, yet effective ways of preserving their food. Although Nepal’s neighboring countries have had a dominant outside impact on them, they were also able to pass along second hand influences, ones that have made an everlasting impression on them. Bits of Indian, Chinese, Tibetan even Arab culture can be seen clearly through their food, dress, religion and more. Over the years Nepal has embraced these influences that have created this natural balance and fusion of Asian flavors, which has manifested into the cuisine we see today.
Nepal is a country nestled in the Himalayas, rising from the foothills and spreading up to some of the world’s largest mountain peaks. Its undeveloped countryside makes Nepal one of the more beautiful, scenic and spectacular places to see. Geographically Nepal rests in between India and China, creating a natural border between these two monumental civilizations which has over time, allowed them to absorb aspects of each others culture, including aspects that can still be seen very clearly today. With an early history of isolation, there is very little known about the first inhabitants, except that they were most likely the early predecessors of the Kirata, a mountain tribe made up of people from central Asian, China, and the surrounding areas of the Himalayas. Hindu influence in Nepal began with the Sanātana Dharma, an ancient compilation of spiritual laws nowadays referred to as Hinduism. Although the Kirata are the most well known for laying a foundation for Nepal, the Vamshavalis referred to several other ancient tribes of importance, such as the Gopalas, Abhiras and the Licchavi. Over the centuries, Nepal has been preserved by its remote and treacherous landscape. It took thousands of years for these influences to make a lasting impression, but over time, they blended together and formed the Nepal we see today.
Kirata – They were some of the original inhabitants of the Himalayas, with their rule lasting for over 1200 years and a Dynasty made up of 29 kings. It was they who brought structure to this holy land. Known for being strong warriors, the blood began to shed early on with myths of the first king Yalambar being beheaded by Lord Krishna. This was a period of time when gods and mortals fought in the midst of one another. Relationships were established between the Kiratas and the ruling Indians when the Great Emperor Ashoka of India had his daughter married to a Kirata prince. This was also a time when spirituality was spread across the land, and with Ashoka being a practitioner of the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha, he knew the importance of compassion and the need to end suffering. At the same time, Hindu doctrines such as Jainism were introduced by a disciple of Mahavir. This added additional layers to the existing religious landscapes as well as alternative spiritual outlets for the people. Even though the first attempts to spread Gautama’s teachings were not accepted, over time it eventually became the first choice. The fall of the Dynasty resulted in the Kiratas moving to the Eastern hills of Nepal where they set up several settlements that were divided into three main regions. To this day, the people of these regions are believed to be descendents of the Kirata.
After the defeat of the Kirata there was a period of time around 500 years where several small states rose across the country, all struggling for control over territory. The Licchavi were around previously but it was during this time they had a brief rise in power. The Licchavi were believed to be of Rajput origin and were forced to move north when they lost their political power back in India. They came to Nepal in hopes of building a new empire, bringing with them more influences from India such as Sanskrit and other aspects of Hindu culture.
Thakuri – This was the first Rajput Dynasty to rule Nepal, lasting nearly 400 years. This brought several significant advancements to the land. They developed parts of the country like the Kathmandu Valley that remains the capital to this day. One of the most well-known and respected kings of the Thakuri dynasty was Gunakama Deva, who established the Indra Jatra festival and also introduced forms of currency like Paisa coins. Although this remained a mostly peaceful time in Nepal, there was increasing tension between the Buddhists and Hindus for various different reasons.
Malla – It was during the Malla Dynasty that the kingdom truly flourished becoming a well respected empire, they had high goals and aspirations for developing and expanding further. Although the Malla were already active in other parts of the country they did not make an appearance in the valley until the fall of the Thakuri. During their rule the first established contact was made with Western Tibet, exchanging bits of culture while encouraging trade with their neighbors. Sanskrit became the official language, opening doors of communication and giving new structure to their ruling, also with this growth came new methods of measuring and allocating land. It was during this Dynasty that the Kathmandu valley was divided into three main parts, Kathmandu, Bhatapur and Patan, making room for the expanding empire. As the Malla pushed forward they continued to accelerate their techniques for teaching and achieving refinement in the field of arts and architecture, this is said to be a glorious time for Nepal.
Shah – The Shah were the next to leave their mark on the country. Dividing the land into around 50 states and with all of them looking to expand, it made this era quite intense where war happened frequently. Prithvi Narayan Shah was one of the great kings of the Shah Empire. Known for unifying the country and coming from the state of Gorkha, which is famous for its brave warriors and large curved knives. He believed that uniting the country was the only way for their land not to fall into the hands of British India. Accompanying this idea of uniting the kingdom came a natural expansion that spread into parts of India stretching from Kashmir to Sikkim. After sometime it reached its largest mass close to double the size of modern day Nepal. This eventually led to war with the British that lasted 2 years and resulted in loss of 1/3 of their freshly conquered land. During this time the region was referred to as the Gorkha Kingdom which still remains one of the greatest within their history.
Rana – the Rana were the second Rajput dynasty to rule Nepal, lasting for nearly 100 years as they continued to blend cultures. Marrying into the Shah family helped them gain power and influence over the people. In the course of this period there were some significant occurrences: slavery was abolished, the changing of the cast system so the upper class were no longer untouchable and permitting public access to education. This dynasty began with good intensions for the country with plans of unity and development, but took some wrong turns along the way. During the Royal coup also known as the Kot Massacre, King Jung Bahadur’s family was murdered by his own nephews, who then stole Jung Bahadur’s name and took the thrown. This tore the family apart and sent many members into exile, they returned to India while the Rana dynasty continued to flourish back in Nepal. Leading into the 1950’s they remained head of the country, until the people’s call for a democracy was finally heard.
Democratic reform took place during the years that followed, including the creation of a constitution, which was based on a British model. Many educated people, including countless Nepalese in exile, were the ones responsible for freeing Nepal. While studying in India, they helped fight for Indian independence and wanted to see Nepal liberated as well. However, only ten years later, King Mahendra called for a seizure of power, declared democracy a failure and took control over the country with a party-less Panchayat System, which included the writing of yet another constitution. This system remained in place for the next 30 years, which left the country in desperate need of some new structure. The people throughout rural Nepal felt they were disrespected and their voices were not being heard, so the Nepali congress, with the help from supporters, launched a movement that resulted in a parliamentary election. The outcome was the forming of the first elected government in over three decades. With this newly elected government there was hope of changing the country for the better, but with so many setbacks and damage done to the system, it would take large sums of money and extreme patience to turn it all around.
Shorty after hopes were lost and the country was pushed into civil strife with chaos erupting and economic crisis spreading quickly. The radical left along side other followers began to take action, first with strikes and protests, which in due course lead to violent outbreaks that just fueled the fire. Hard times had come and a civil war began with fighting between the government and the far left Maoist group. These Maoist rebels, also known as the Communist Party of Nepal, referred to the engagement as the “Peoples War”. The war lasted ten years, 1996-2006, with over 150,000 lives lost.
Nepal is extremely unique for all the influences that have shaped and affected it over time, setting in for thousands of years these influences now provide us with a perfect visual balance of Asia, representing bits of style and culture from the people to the Southeast, China and India. You can see the diversity in their faces, taste it in the food and feel it with in the communities through their dress, art and religion. Today, with all these difficult times behind them, there are high hopes for a future of peace, with an honest government and a sustainable economy, a positive direction for this beautiful country and the people in it.
The long history of China makes their cuisine a captivating subject and with some of the oldest documented techniques, influential products and recipes, breaking it down makes for a difficult task. In modern day China, cuisine is separated into 8 culinary regions, with those being Shandong, Sichuan, Cantonese or Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hunan and Anhui. Of course these are just the most favored as there are many other urban areas clamming their own unique styles, such as Beijing, which has developed a cuisine of their own. The Chinese began to use products native to the land very early on, as they were the first to cultivate rice over 10000 years ago, domesticating pigs by 4000 BC, began drinking tea around the same time and later using soybeans to produce such products as tofu or bean curd. Due to the fact that rice doesn’t grow in northern China, it was a blessing when wheat arrived, although they were already cooking with millet, wheat quickly became the staple grain in the diets of the northerners.
Later on people began showing interest in mapping out the world and discovering all there was to offer in these far away lands. This marked an era of exploration unleashing mass trade, beginning with the early paths to west and south Asia that provided an array of spices and introduced different livestock. This eventually lead to the first contact with Europe that opened several doors, both good and bad. Last was the trade that occurred after the Spanish and Portuguese returned from the Americas. This brought some of the most influential ingredients to ever affect Chinese cuisine allowing it to expand in so many ways. It would take years to bring Chinese food to light but I will attempt to cover it in a brief yet thorough manner by looking into certain products and techniques and breaking down some of the more interesting dishes I have come across.
Baozi –Its origin is thought to have occurred during an expedition into southern China lead by Zhuge Liang a scholar and military strategist. He and his troops faced many hardships while returning home from battle. In an effort to revive his troops he created these head shaped wheat buns stuffed with whatever little they could scrape up. This invention saved his troops and became popular upon returning home. The dish is believed to come from the traditional mantou, which translates to “barbarian’s head”, and was spread all over China through this popular story. Wheat was introduced into the peoples diet during the Shang Dynasty around 1500 BC, before this the Chinese were using different grains to produce porridge style soups. Shorty after the introduction they began mixing ground wheat with water to form a dough this allowed them to produce noodles, dumplings and various types of mantou.
Now days Baozi can be filled with anything imaginable, from meat, vegetables, gourds and even pickles of different kinds. These ingredients are stuffed inside of this fluffy wheat dough, sealed off and placed in round wicker baskets and finally stacked and steamed. It is common for Baozi to be affiliated with Dim Sum, a style of Canton dining that consists of many small plates and the consumption of tea. But the truth is wheat based foods remain more popular in the north since wheat is the main staple in their diet. In the north Baozi tend to be bigger in size, in the south or below the Yangtze River they are a bit smaller becoming more of a snack. You can find Baozi all across China varying from province to province, and because of its inexpensive cost yet satisfying taste, it has spread all across Asia being seen in countries like Japan, Korea, Thailand and Malaysia, just to name a few.
Jiǎozi – Chinese dumplings are the original form that have inspired so many to produce their own, in Japan they are called gyoza, Nepal momo, Turkey manti and in Italy they are referred to as ravioli. The first mention of these stuffed treats dates back to the Song Dynasty when they were expanding their cuisine to match their developing pallets. Like most desired dishes, these Jiǎozi were created as a celebratory centerpiece for festivities, in this case, Chinese New Year. The myth behind the shape is believed to be influenced by money or coins, so eating them will bring you good luck and fortune in the New Year. In China you find dumplings on almost any street corner, laid out in round wicker baskets stacked high on top each other, steam being pushed out the sides from the boiling vat of water below.
Although steaming is common, they are also prepared in other ways such as boiling or being pan-fried known as pot stickers. They can be stuffed with anything edible and today the dough can even be altered by adding pumpkin, red bean or spinach to give it a vibrate color and additional flavor. Traditionally they are served with a soy-based sauce for dipping that may include garlic, ginger, chili, rice vinegar and sesame oil. The dumpling has truly changed the world, seeing spawned versions of it on nearly every continent like the Samosa in India that got passed on by the Arabs to the Spanish who made empanadas which influenced further creations like the Pierogi in Eastern Europe, Latin American empanadas or Caribbean Jamaican patties.
Xiang Cun Yuan zi Tang – “Village Meatball soup” is a classic in Sichuan province China that is made up of light broth with tender mutton meatballs, bean sprouts and Chinese chives are sprinkled on top. This is a dish pretty much any one can relate to, resembling classic comfort food. All across the world people consume meatballs but the common style is believed to have originated in Persia with Kofta which later was thought to have inspired the Romans to write their own recipe. During Roman times a man named Gavius Marcus Apicius was well known for the roll he played in developing Roman cuisine, he was responsible for documenting these culinary experiments, with meatballs being one held high in praise. Dating back to the Han Dynasty, relations between the Chinese and the Arab people began to tighten through trade and Chinese expansion. With this trade came several influences from the Middle East that has truly changed the food in China forever. For centuries there has been a large population of Muslims living in China with Halal shops introduced by the Yuan Dynasty this encouraged further immigration. Nowadays these Halal restaurants are spread across most cities, some serving up these kofta and kebab style dishes along side middle Eastern khobz while others lean more towards Chinese flavors. A look into their past through these present close ties supports an ever growing culinary fusion.
Huíguō – “Twice cooked Pork” is another common dish in Sichuan, which is really just a cooking technique that can be utilized in many ways. First a slab of fatback is boiled until it becomes tender, then cut into small bacon like slices before it is ready for the second cooking. This is the base for several dishes and from here it can take on many different forms depending on the additional ingredients added. The version I sampled incorporated green chilies similar to the “Anaheim” that were introduced by the Portuguese via modern day Peru only 400 years ago. These chilies are first blistered in a dry pan before adding the strips of pork that are then crisped up and finished with crushed huājiāo, dried chilies and a light soy sauce. Pork is a very popular protein in China making perfect scene because the Chinese were the first to domesticate this native breed of white pig over seven thousand years ago. This is the same species that was passed on early from Asia to Europe becoming extremely valuable during Roman times, and although there are boars native to Europe in places like the Iberian Peninsula, the Chinese breed of pig was picked for domestication for various reasons. These pigs were also brought to the New World by the Spanish around the 16th century first landing in Cuba and later on spreading to Mexico and beyond. These pigs have made a big impact on the cuisine in countries all across Latin America.
Chuan Chuan Xiang aka Hotpot – certainly a vital part of Sichuan cuisine in addition to being a meal it is also a dining experience and a culture of its own. Hotpot has a history of over 1000 years and often believed to be of Mongolian origin where the warriors would use their helmets for stew pots. Although the cooking style was developed early on, it’s the Sichuan hot pot that is now famous. In Chengdu, it boasts the same flavors of the Chongqing classic but has one main difference, with that being the bamboo skewers used to impale your chosen ingredients. When walking into a hotpot restaurant the first step is deciding what you would like to eat, the options are endless and the choices can be quite overwhelming.
For most non-experienced Asian diners a large percentage of the display can be unidentifiable, with things like seaweeds, unique soy products like tofu skin, lotus root or fresh bamboo shoots. When it comes time to pick your protein you might want to choose some eel, rabbit, frog or bits and pieces of pork, mutton or chicken. In Chengdu the meats are served with the bone-in but the more common version of hotpot uses very thinly sliced meats. The Chinese are known for eating every part of the animal, so you can find innards, heart, kidney or liver skewered up as well. Besides the exotic side of it, there are always options that should please the masses like dumplings, leafy greens, mushrooms and “potatoes”. While you are picking out the goods back at your seat, the server will be brewing up the caldron in the middle of the table. A mix of house stock, huājiāo pepper corns and chili oil form the base then additional ingredients are used to give it the restaurants’ personal touch, such as goji berries or a particular spice. Huājiāo is the mysterious element that provides that metallic numbness giving off a bitter tingle, while the long red Sichuan chilies are what gives it the spice and heat. Hotpot is not just a meal but also a social event, family gathering or simply a celebration, bringing people together to enjoy a classic that has been running through their veins for a long time.
Dòuhuā – is a type of tofu which is extremely delicate and smooth, most commonly served as a dessert but often makes the transition from sweet to savory depending on the people’s pallet in the particular region. Bean curd or Tofu is an important part of the Chinese cuisine and has been since ancient times. They have used the soybean for over 4 thousand years with it being a major source of protein and eventually becoming a way of life. Although the origin has never been singled out there are several theories of its creation. Tofu was documented as early as the Han dynasty but since the bean is native to China it most likely dates back further. There is a theory involving the possibility of the Mongols bringing the Indian technique of curdling to China, traditionally done with cow’s milk but was applied to soy milk creating tofu. It is said with the rise of Buddhism it began to spread, gaining the reputation of a good source of protein for the vegetarian diet.
This particular dish included Douhua in a vegetable broth, mustard greens, dried soybeans, fried wheat noodles, soy sauce and chili oil. A popular snack in Sichuan province and a great way to display the diversity of the soybean, from ancient China till these modern days, tofu is now eaten all over the world and is of extreme importance in most Asian cuisines.
Lanzhou la Mian – Lanzhou is a city in the Gansu Province of northwestern China, built along the yellow river it has been a crossing and entre point for the northern Silk Road for thousands of years. This portion of the west is heavily populated with “Hui Chinese”, an Islamic group that make up one of the 5 major minorities within China. The Hui have a long and fascinating history consisting of cultural infusion through travel and trade. A product of the Silk Road produced a mix of Turkic, Arab, Persian, Han, and Mongol that are responsible for spreading the East to the West and bringing it back. La mian literally means “pulled noodle” and is a technique of stretching out the dough then twisting it, repeating this over and over again to produce long strains of dough or noodles. Noodles have been made in these parts of China for over 6,000 years and even long before the introduction of wheat, they were using “millet” or rice. When in search of La mian seek out a Halal restaurant, they are popular through out China due to migration of people from the northwest to larger cities in search of work. You can order these fresh noodles and have them stir-fried with various ingredients or placed in a soup. Meanwhile you can watch a master stretch out the dough, twisting and banging it against the table to produce these perfect hand made pieces of art.
Jian Bing – although labeled as “the Chinese crepe” for its similarity in appearance to those thin pancakes, these have nothing to do with the French. Since the beginning of time people have been experimenting with unleavened breads from central Asia to the Americas and were traditionally formed into round shapes for a symbolic reference to the sun. Although the Mayans were forming round breads made from corn known as tortillas, out in central Asia they were making them out of Atta or whole-wheat flour calling them “Roti”. The Roti shares a history split between Pakistan and India and is believed to be the influence for later middle eastern style breads at the same time spreading north to places like Nepal, Tibet and of course, China.
Another version of the roti in China is called “Lao Bing” which is often referred to as Chinese pizza. It’s a thin wheat dough that is baked then spread with chili paste and finished with chives, it truly does resemble pizza in both taste and appearance. Jian Bing is just a thinner lao bing that can be filled, stuffed or rolled up with all sorts of ingredients. A common version consists of this thin bread cooked over a flattop, beaten eggs are poured on, then a fried piece of dough is added for both texture and substance, it is finished with the signature sauce of your vender which can either be a hoisin style, fresh chilies, fermented tofu or a leek flower sauce. This one I sampled was very different from the common version, containing bean sprouts, seaweed, carrots and taro noodles then sauced with both a hoisin and Chili sauce. I believe this is one of those meals that is interpreted by different people in different ways resulting in a forever-evolving dish.
Guo Qiao mi Xian – “Crossing the bridge noodles” is how this would be translated. One of the more well known and popular dishes coming from the Yunnan province, it consists of round rice noodles, pickled and fresh Chinese cabbage, leeks, chili oil, shredded Chicken and the stock it was cooked in. These ingredients are added in a specific order into a small clay pot, brought up to a roaring boil and finished with some spices. The rice noodle is the core of this soup and is a product that has been around since ancient times in China. Rice has been cultivated all across the south for over 10,000 years but has been growing wild since before recorded history. This same species of rice has become an important part in people’s diets across the globe, spreading early on from China through central Asia, the Middle East, reaching Europe through Muslim conquest to parts of Italy and Spain. Oryza sativa or Asiatic rice has become a big part of world renowned dishes like Italian risotto or Spanish paella and eventually becoming a necessity for those in places as far away as Mexico and Brasil. The Chinese have a gift for cultivating, from agricultural to husbandry, these are things they have shared with the world for thousands of years. Also taking credit for such inventions as rowed farming and tools like the plow, they lead the way for people to follow.
The Chinese have a well known reputation for being in touch with both the body and nature, with various beliefs concerning health benefits developed in ancient times and involvement in traditional medicines that are still widely used as opposed to western techniques. For instance, their theory of whatever part of the animal you eat is good for that part of your body, so for liver problems you should consume more liver, heart issues eat more heart, achy joints you should incorporate more cartilage or fat in your diet and so on. So you can imagine that the Chinese eat everything, giving you a perfect reason for indulging in different foods. Since China is one of the largest countries in the world while at the same time having one of the oldest histories, it is impossible to cover every region on this visit. I am well aware of barely touching the famous Cantonese region while leaving out internationally known dishes like Beijing or Peking duck. Chinese food today is up there with Turkish food for being the most popular, accessible and common food eaten around the world. Chinese food can be found on every corner of this planet, like Chifas in Peru for example or any of the China towns in every major city throughout the continents. Most times these restaurants are just a poor knock-off while attempting to adapt to the locals pallet but they still come from the massive collection of thousands of recipes and various techniques that have been accumulating since ancient times from dynasty to dynasty into the last century. This was just a small taste of real Chinese cuisine with the hope this will inspire many to get out and explore one of the oldest and most influential culinary styles around and even though it is one of the worlds most known foods, what do we really know about it?
China is home to some of the world’s most ancient civilizations, with over 4000 years of written history and a past made up of dynasties, warlords, exploration, culture and trade. This part of East Asia has been of extreme importance since the beginning of documented time and beyond, dating back to the Peking man 500,000 years ago, already using stone tools and cooking over open fires. With tribes continuing to pop up inside the Yellow & Yangtze River valleys, there was no other option but growth in this cradle of Chinese civilization. We could spend a lifetime studying the history of China and another discussing it. So instead I will sum up 4000 years of history in the pages below, sorting it into the most influential Dynasties, important times in history and any interesting culinary occurrences.
Xia Dynasty – is believed to have been the first true Dynasty in China even though there is very little evidence left behind. We do know these early settlers were located in modern day Henan province just north of the Yellow river. We can’t connect much to them directly, but the Xia are believed to have been the first bronze workers in China having found matching artifacts from over 4000 years ago.
Shang Dynasty – an important dynasty during the ancient times of China, and with agriculture being the base for the empire, they realized the value of growing their own food becoming a form of currency across the country. They became skilled working with varies types of bronze, jade, stone and even using Oracle bones for divinations. They were also the first to practice animal husbandry and hunted in between to satisfy their need for protein. This was a foundation for the following dynasties and gives us a taste of early Chinese civilizations.
Zhou Dynasty – with the overthrow of the Shang, the doors were open to growth and a desire to become more skilled and efficient people. First iron was introduced, leading them to produce better weapons, tools, utensils and more. But during the same period they gained recognition for their skill in forging bronze. The written script evolved closer to its modern form and they created the “Mandate of Heaven” doctrine, considered the zenith of the dynasty.
Spring and Autumn period & the Era of Warring States – the Zhou finally gave way to the pressure of politics and divided into separate states. With movements like Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism and Mohism being erected, it marked the “Spring & Autumn period” which eventually lead to “The Era of the Warring States”. This Era was a big transition point with iron replacing bronze and knowledgeable philosophers making their mark. With war present and leadership divided among separate states, it was only natural to begin trading and production of weapons and tools also beginning mass construction of shelters for protection. Warlords were born, creating a presence during this time of struggle and power.
Qin Dynasty –they were the first ruling dynasty of Imperial China and the ones who pushed towards the fall of the Zhou and the defeat over all the other 6 states. With war and a newly formed dynasty on their hands, currency was introduced along with a system of weight, measurements as well as a more proficient written language. With power comes threat, so they began building a large wall to keep invaders out, just north of the city that would later be know as the “Great Wall of China”. Trying to cover the past, it ended up leading to the “burning of books and burying of scholars incident”. At the same time the man known as “the Divine Father” pushed that all households should grow their own food, preaching “In ones prime if he does not plow, someone will go hungry. In ones prime if she does not weave, someone will go cold.” This was the first ruling dynasty of Imperial China, the one that set up a bureaucratic system so the emperor could control vast territories. Although they were one of the shortest ruling dynasties, they left a large and lasting impact.
Note: Up until this point the people were of various different ethnic groups and tribes but the Emperor from the Qin Dynasty united the people under a Legalist government. That started one of the largest ethnic groups in the world, that to this day makes up 20% of our planets population, The Han.
Han Dynasty – having a strong foundation laid by the previous dynasties, forging skills, a developed language and script, agriculture and more, there was only the need to form structure. The Han were the first to embrace the philosophy of Confucianism that became the ideal match for all dynasties to come until the end of Imperial China. Emperor Wu feeling the need to hold ground began pushing out the Xiongnu people into Inner Mongolia, which led to the beginning of Chinese exploration paving the road between the East and the West, later coined “The Silk Road”. Trade finally started to prove lucrative and this fed the war and separation. For the next 400 years China entered the “The Era of the Warlords” and the period of “The Three Kings”. Through this time of separation there were many rulers, kings and even a short-lived dynasty.
Tang Dynasty – this marked the beginning of a new era where Buddhism became the predominant religion with Taoism reaching its official status. Xi’an became the new capital, trading flourished between the east and west while merchants even began settling in China. With a new government being formed the “Equal- field systems” gave families land grants based on need not by status or wealth. With things looking up it did not last, leading into nearly 300 years of war with 5 dynasties and ten kingdoms, separating again until 1234.
Yuan Dynasty – with the introduction of firearms in China the wars took a bloodier path in the Yuan dynasty. Marco Polo reached China bringing news back to Europe of all they had to offer and the importance of making the connection. During this period the Chinese were hit with a tremendous loss of people, first the invasion of the Mongols and second with a devastating plague that combined were said to have taken half of China’s population. They were the first Dynasty to rule all of China based in Beijing and they lasted just under a century.
Ming Dynasty – after the last hundred years of war, death and destruction the Chinese were ready to set off on a new path. With large urban growth came the production of paper, cotton, silk and porcelain, which created an industry spitting out markets across the country to support trade. A large navy was founded with some massive and powerful ships being built, while at the same time forming a standing army of over a million. This marked the era of Chinese exploration, setting out to sea with determination to make connections with far away lands. Reaching the east coast of Africa and later believed to have touched down in the Americas 70 years before the Europeans arrived. This was a time of expansion and trade for not just China but the whole world. Europeans were spilling into the Americas, colonizing everyone they came across while destroying large communities and evaporating the native cultures to build up the mighty Europe that is seen today. During this period “the Great Wall” was repaired plus expanded and iron production hit an all time high at 100,000 tons per year.
Qing Dynasty – was formed after the defeat of the Ming, which was the last of the Han Chinese in power. The Qing were born with the capture of Beijing by “Li Zicheng’s” peasant rebels in 1644, these were the Manchu people of Northeast China that allied with general Wu Sangui of the previous Ming Dynasty. In the next couple hundred years there were several wars, political issues and expansion with the influence over Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia. With opium being introduced from India to the west, it was in high demand not just back in Europe but China, resulting in the British forming the first opium trade. British merchants were bringing opium from Bengal up the coast to China, where they sold it despite the laws prohibiting it. Emperor Dao Guang was aware of the problems involved with opium, a large percent of the population were becoming addicts and it was destroying the community. He lashed out at any smugglers and dealers, which eventually lead to the first Opium War. In exchange the British lashed back in fear of profit loss, ending in the “Treaty of Nanking” and Hong Kong being established. The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty to rule, bowing down to open the door for a republic China.
Republic of China – with the steady civil unrest and foreign invasions, young officials, military officers and students spotted China’s weakness and began to overthrow the Qing Dynasty to create a republic, forever laying down an Imperial China. Over the last hundred years China has witnessed several wars including their own civil war, which resulted in the dividing into separate countries. The Republic of China now commonly known as Taiwan and People’s Republic of China, the Mainland.
Historically and culturally China’s customs and writing systems have influenced various neighboring countries such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam. They have one of the world’s oldest written languages and also claim inventions like papermaking, the compass, gunpowder, printing as well as many other major contributions to the world. China has also had major impact when it comes to food, giving us such wonderful things as the noodle, dumplings, soy products, tea, the wok and chopsticks just to name a few. Currently China has one of the strongest economies in the world as well as being one of the largest in land mass and combined with a growing population, it is finding its place among the world’s most powerful countries.
Due to the fact that Thai cuisine is so vast and diverse, I had to follow up the last post with a more in depth look. The first post covered mostly the food of the central regions, where the Royal cuisine was founded and modern Thai cuisine was born, as well as some of the influences of the south in dishes like Penang and the strong use of seafood. This post will dive deeper into Thailand, exploring the dishes of the north and east in order to show you how different the food can be even while traveling within the same country. I will examine dishes of Burmese descent in the north and study the culinary style of Isaan, which closely resembles that of their neighbors in Lao.
Khao soi – Khao soi is most often connected to the Hui people, Islamic Chinese traders from Yunnan famous for establishing trade routes through what is now northern Burma, Thailand and Laos. The Hui established their trade routes during the 19th century mostly distributing opium and wax, and were said to have brought with them a coconut milk-based noodle soup that was later adapted into northern Thai cuisine. But there are other theories of its origin, as some believe it to have been a creation of the Shan, members of the Tai people inhabiting modern day Burma. There is a Shan dish originally called “khao soi” meaning “rice cut” which uses rice noodles instead of egg noodles and is believed to be coconut milk free. This makes perfect sense since some of the first Thai “Khao Soi” recipes called for rice noodles tinted yellow with turmeric. These early travelers would bring with them rice that was ground, cooked, pressed into a cake, then dried for later use. From the cake they would cut strips resembling noodles that they could add to a soup made up of foraged plants and wild game. No matter the origin, the modern day version is king, a sweet coconut curry soup, homemade egg noodles and an array of condiments like pickled Chinese cabbage, baby shallots, lime and burnt chili paste. Although it may be a contribution from both the Hui and the Shan, Thai “Khao Soi” is a unique dish in its own right and nevertheless an amazing creation.
Nam Prik Ong – In Thai “Nam prik” is a general term used to describe a spicy paste or dip which can be prepared in various ways depending on its use. You could say that Nam Prik in Thailand is the equivalent to salsa in Mexico or sambal in Indonesia. The basic ingredients in Nam prik are garlic, fresh chilies, fish sauce and lime juice but, can also include many other products such as dried fish, shrimp paste, tamarind, herbs or even nuts. Nam Prik Ong comes from the north with its main ingredients being minced fatty pork, dried chilies, cherry tomatoes and shrimp paste cooked down to blend the flavors. The original recipe calls for fermented soybeans, which are used in place of shrimp paste in traditional northern cooking, but it is common to see shrimp paste used instead in these more modern recipes. Nam Prik Ong is always eaten with fresh vegetables such as cucumbers, Chinese long beans and crisp cabbage. It can be said the sauce “Nam Prik” as well as “Prik Kaeng” curry paste, are truly the backbone of Thai cuisine.
Hung Lay – In Thai “Kaeng Hung-lay” is known as a regional dish from northern Thailand and is believed to be of Burmese origin, brought by the Tai Yai to the Lanna kingdom. This is a great example of northern curry, strong flavors from spices and herbs that reveal the influence of the original Indian style. By leaving out ingredients like coconut milk, it separates it from most known Thai curries. When preparing this dish it gives off a wonderful and exotic aroma, especially for those who love the combination of garlic and ginger. It is most often made with an inexpensive cut of pork that is first slow braised then used as the base for the curry. Since the traditional version in Thailand is just an interpretation of the original, there really are no strict guidelines. This results in different presentations and even additional ingredients like roasted peanuts and burnt chilies to accommodate the Thai’s need for strong and bold flavors.
Som Tam – Som Tam falls in the category of Isaan food but has roots in both Lao and Cambodia. Although they are now separate countries, they share a similar language, history, culture and of course, cuisine. Som Tam is traditionally made using a mortar and pestle, which plays an important role in culinary history around the world. Som Tam is the base for most Isaan meals, which are typically large spreads of small dishes. The salad consists of shredded un-ripened green papaya, fresh Thai chilies, cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts and dried shrimp. But when did they begin to incorporate peanuts into this dish? Peanuts are originally from parts of Paraguay or Bolivia and were not introduced into Asia until after the 16th century, but upon arrival they became instantly popular, not just in Thailand but all throughout Asia. Although these are the main ingredients, they do not make up the overall flavor as you must finish with fresh limes, fish sauce and palm sugar to complete it and achieve the sour, salty, and sweet taste. There are many versions of Som Tam which are often over looked due to the use of fermented freshwater fish or salted river crabs that give it a distinct taste. However, this dish would not exist without its main ingredient papaya, which was only introduced to Southeast Asia in the last 400 years making its way by European traders from Central America. In Thailand, when ordering Som Tam, you can request it extra spicy, a little more sour, sweeter then normal or just the well balanced standard.
Tom Saap – This is the Isaan version of the famous Tom Yum soup, still boasting the same spicy flavor and letting off that herbal aroma. The base of the broth is galangal, lemongrass, mushrooms, kaffir leafs and Thai chilies. Pork spareribs are added to the mix and slowly cooked until tender allowing the ribs to absorb the essence of the Thai herbs. Isaan food is known for simple preparation with big flavors, and Tom Saap is a prime example. When looking into the history and attempting to discover the origin of dishes like this, it is almost impossible to come up with a straight answer because the only non-native ingredient is the chilies. This means that since the beginning of Southeast Asia’s history, there have been similar soups made all across the land. Over time, Thai cuisine has been influenced in many ways, so it is exciting to see traditional style soups like this still exist. If you are already familiar with Tom Yum, give Tom Saap a try and you are guaranteed to love it.
Laap – Laap is one of the main staples of Isaan food. It is so popular that it has made its way around the country to even the mountains in the north and the beaches in the south. Laap is essentially a warm salad made up of minced meat, toasted ground rice, dried chilies, fish sauce, lime juice, shallots and herbs like cilantro and mint. Laap is quite easy to prepare as long as you follow the proper step of first cooking the minced meat over low heat then letting it cool before mixing in the rest of the ingredients. In Isaan they are known for making use of all products and their surroundings, serving meat still on the bone, utilizing the innards in most dishes and being notorious for their consumption of insects and small reptiles. When dining at a real Isaan restaurant, the Laap will often have rendered translucent pork skin added in and even incorporating the bile into the sauce. Laap is always eaten with sticky rice and a variety of raw vegetables like Chinese long beans, cucumbers and cabbage as well as other local greens, giving the dish a fresh, healthy and crisp feel.
Nam Tok – Nam Tok follows the same guidelines and flavor profile as Laap, with the one main difference being the preparation of the meat, which in this case is grilled. This dish is quite popular both in Lao as well as Thailand. Nam Tok in Thai translates to “waterfall” and can be made with either pork or beef. The name supposedly refers to the fact that there is still “water” in the meat, aka blood. Once the meat is grilled up, it is sliced into bite size pieces and dressed with toasted rice powder, dried chilies, fish sauce, lime juice, shallots and mint leaves. It is traditionally eaten with sticky rice and comes with raw vegetables such as Chinese long beans, cabbage and more fresh herbs. Both Laap and Nam Tok are unlike any other dishes I have ever come across and are truly exceptional in both appearance and taste.
Gai Yang – Gai Yang is basically barbeque chicken that has been marinated and slowly cooked over an open fire, but what really makes this special is the bird itself. As we learned previously, the origin of the chicken and some of the first chickens to be domesticated were from the regions of northern Thailand, Burma and Lao. This makes perfect sense as to why the chicken in this part of the world is some of the best. To prepare Gai Yang, first a whole chicken is halved and pounded flat. It is then marinated and grilled over a low charcoal fire for a long period of time, resulting in a perfect, tender piece of chicken. The marinade typically includes fish sauce, garlic, turmeric, coriander seeds and white pepper. Although it is quite common to also find black soy sauce, hoisin, shallots, lemongrass, chilies, ginger, vinegar and palm sugar added. This particular style of Gai Yang is credited to the northeast and is a strong indicator that Isaan food is nearby.
Khao Man Gai – Khao Man Gai is a classic and simple dish of Hainanese origin that has made a new home in the streets of Thailand. Traditionally a whole chicken is boiled in rich broth, portioned out and served on top of rice cooked in chicken stock, with cucumbers and a side of sweet chili sauce. Brought to Thailand from the Hainan Island in southern China by either traders or immigrants, it instantly found a place in the hearts of Thai people. Like most food that arrives in Thailand, it is examined then broken down and reassembled. The Thai version very much resembles the original dish, tender chicken, fluffy rice, slices of cucumbers, cubes of cooked liver, a small bowl of broth and a sprig of cilantro. But it is the sauce that gives it its distinctive Thai quality, made up of crushed garlic, ginger, Thai chilies, fermented soybean sauce, dark soy and a little white vinegar to complete it. Today, Khao Man Gai might be the most commonly consumed meal in Thailand, appealing to people from all walks of life.
Thailand is a world inside a world, as it has some of the most intact and preserved culture around today, while still continuing to grow and flourish. Throughout history, many countries have felt the affects of other nations, mainly through colonization. Yet Thailand still remains one of the only countries in the world to have never been influenced in this way, resulting in a culture uniquely Thai. With open minds and established pallets, Thais have been borrowing ingredients, techniques and dishes from surrounding cultures for the last 700 years. But what has been borrowed has not remained the same as through tweaking recipes, changing sauces and making adjustments they have created the amazing culinary Thailand seen today. A feast for all senses and pleasing in so many ways, the colorful, bold, complex, yet simple food is now world renowned and respected across the globe. My mission here was to show you how diverse Thai food can be by breaking down its deep culinary history and giving you an inside look. I hope we have done them justice.
Thailand has been a crossroads for migration throughout Asia for thousands of years and it has absorbed pieces of every culture that has passed through. The people’s willingness and ability to adapt and absorb aspects of other culinary styles and ingredients has created a cuisine uniquely Thai. The Chinese introduced cooking techniques such as stir and deep-frying, pulling noodles from rice and making tofu from soybeans, and tools like the wok and chopsticks. Influence from India added a variety of spices and curries to the Thai palate. They replaced ghee (clarified butter) with coconut milk and oil, then began using less spices and added more fresh herbs like lemongrass and galangal. Nations like Burma (Myanmar), Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan also contributed to the growth of the culinary heritage of Thailand. The country’s dedication to create a unified people and cuisine truly began to take shape in the mid 14th century with the establishment of Thai Royal Cuisine. It began with the Ayutthaya kingdom that instituted an experimental kitchen, which refined cooking techniques and combined ingredients to create many dishes we still see today. With the arrival of the European countries came a wealth of ingredients, with one of the most important contributions being the chili pepper. Portuguese traders brought it to Asia from South America where it quickly gained popularity and added the spiciness that their food is now known for. Overall Thailand has incorporated the cuisines of many other cultures, added their own methods and laid the foundation for a culinary style appreciated all over the world.
Tom Yum Goong – Tom Yum Goong is arguably one of the most popular Thai dishes worldwide. Commonly served in neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, it has become synonymous with Thai food around the world. Tom Yum is a soup noted for its distinct hot and sour flavors and infusion of fragrant herbs. The broth is made with galangal, shallots, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, tamarind and fish sauce. Crushed fresh chilies are also added to the basic stock to give it its spiciness. But when making Tom Yum with shrimp you must finish the soup with a burnt chili paste, which gives it its characteristic deep orange color to the broth. The soup also includes mushrooms, most commonly straw mushrooms and is often topped with generous amount of fresh cilantro. In Thailand, Tom Yum can be served with prawns (goong), chicken (gai) or mixed seafood (talay). and is a prime example of how well-balanced Thai cuisine can be, while still allowing all the individual flavors of each ingredient to come through.
Kuai Tiao Pla – Kuai Tiao is a name for a type of noodle soup that finds its origin in China, but over time has been made distinctly Thai. There are many different types of Kuai Tiao, which can be classified by their noodle, broth or the kind of protein added to create the soup. “Pla” means fish in Thai and serves as the base of the broth to which additional seafood like fresh squid, fried shrimp and fish mousse formed into different shapes are often added. Some popular versions of Kuai Tiao are “Nom Tok” a north and eastern style that is similar to the central “Reua”, which is a rich broth with cow or pig blood added to it. Kuai Tiao “Pet”, meaning duck, is served with a dark Chinese broth rich with spices like clove, star of anise and cinnamon.
There are several types of noodles to choose from when ordering Kuai Tiao: “Sen Yai” large flat rice noodles, “Sen Lek” small flat rice noodles, “Sen Mee” very thin rice noodles or “Ba mee” fresh egg noodles. The combinations are countless and like most Thai food, it is open to adaptation as different interpretations of the dish may add toasted peanuts, different herbs, soft poached vegetables, stuffed wantons or fried noodles for garnish. Condiments are always served with Kuai Tiao like sugar, fish sauce, ground dried chilies and Prik Dong, chili peppers marinated in white rice vinegar providing an array of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy allowing one to adjust the dish to their liking.
Phat Thai – Phat Thai, “fried Thai style”, is one of country’s most popular and most well known Thai dish in the world. It is a dish of stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, light soy sauce, tamarind juice, dried chilies, plus any type of protein. Then topped with turmeric in-crusted tofu, bean sprouts, very small dried shrimp, crushed peanuts, Chinese chives and a wedge of lime. Despite of all the varieties, the basic and conventional Pad Thai recipe is the perfect example of how raw and aromatic ingredients can complete a dish. Variations of Phat Thai have existed for centuries and it is believed to have arrived to the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya via Vietnamese traders. With the development of the Royal Cuisine, dishes like Phat Thai were accepted and improved apon. However, it truly found its way as a national dish with the help of Luang Phibunsongkhram, the prime minister in the 1930s and 1940s, who promoted it in an attempt to reduce rice consumption in Thailand.
Khanom Buang - In Thailand there are two types of crepes that you might run across, both called Khanom Buang. The larger ones are called “Khanom Buang Yuan” and can be found being made by some street vendors as well as available on the menus across Thailand. The word “Yuan” means “Vietnamese”, a reference to the Vietnamese savory crepes that use dried egg yolk as its base, which were the inspiration for the Thai version. In Thailand they are stuffed with a minced mixture of shredded coconut, roasted peanuts, shrimp, bean sprouts, salted radish and fried tofu then served with a sweet cucumber relish. The smaller sweet version is called “Khanom Buang Thai” these have a white filling often thought to be coconut cream, but is actually meringue and the stringy bright yellow filling is made up of duck egg yolks cooked in syrup. These techniques are both influences from Portuguese cuisine brought by Marie Guimar, who is referred to as the Queen of Thai desserts. She was of Portuguese and Japanese decent and can be credited for several popular desserts that are still consumed through out the country. During her life, she spent a lot of time in the Royal kitchens developing Thai desserts and even became head of sweets in the royal kitchen. Khanom Buang is believed to date back to the Ayutthaya period of King Narai’s rule during the mid 17th century.
Moo Dang – Originating in Cantonese cuisine, this style of preparing pork is also known as Char Siu. Commonly using the meat from the shoulder, some of the main ingredients include honey, soy sauce and Chinese five-spice, with red bean paste contributing to the skin’s traditional red color. Siu mei, in Cantonese cuisine, is the name given to meats roasted on spits over an open fire or a huge wood burning rotisserie oven. In Thailand, Moo Dang is often sold in these Siu mei style shops that offer grilled and roasted meats like duck and crispy pork. Moo Dang or Char Siu only refers to the name of the actual meat served, as the dish can be served many ways. For instance, Khao Moo Dang is served with “Khao” (rice) that has been steamed. Slices of the red pork are added on top and is often complemented with fried sweet Chinese sausage called Kun Chiang (La Chang in Chinese), half of a hard-boiled duck egg and fresh chilies soaked in dark soy sauce.
Poo Pad Pong Ga-ree – This dish features stir-fried blue crab with yellow curry powder, onions, scallions, egg and fish sauce, with curry being the main flavor. The three spices found in most curry powders are turmeric, coriander and cumin while also containing a variety of others including fenugreek and ground yellow mustard. Yellow curry powder is thought to have close similarities to Indian curry due to its use of turmeric instead of chilies that are used to make Thai curry paste. It is often compared to a similar spice blend in north India called garam masala but curry powder probably finds its origin closer to south Indian sambhar powder. The word “curry” is widely believed to be a corruption of the Tamil word “kari”, meaning sauce. It is difficult to pinpoint the date of curry’s invention because as early as 3000 B.C. turmeric, cardamom, pepper and mustard were harvested in India. In Poo Pad Pong Ga-ree, as with much of their cuisine, the Thai people took inspiration from other cultures, and then used their own ingredients and style to create a unique and delicious dish.
Panang Curry – Panang curry paste is made of many ingredients like galangal, lemongrass, shallots, chilies, shrimp paste, peanuts, the rinds and leaves of kaffir limes as well as several others. The paste is ground down to a creamy consistency, rich with aromatics and layered with flavors. Beef is most commonly used in this curry and it should always be topped with thinly cut kaffir lime leafs, fresh red chilies and a drizzle of coconut milk. This dish has quite a history as its name is derived from the island of Penang off the west coast of Malaysia and finds its roots in the Indian style of curry. It was later introduced by the Muslims in Malaysia then adapted by the Thais and turned into what we see today. In the Thai dictionary of 1873, it was stated that Panang was a kind of Gaeng (curry), which belonged to “Khaek Tes” style of food. With “Khaek” meaning foreigner, it was an obvious reference to this food coming from immigrants or visitors. Dishes that may be related to Panang are Indonesian Rendang, Burmese Kyetha See Byan and Indian Bhuna Murtgh.
Yam Pla Duk Foo – This is a fascinating dish that elegantly combines the classic Thai tastes of salty, sweet and spicy using fresh and raw aromatic ingredients. Basically Yam Pla Duk Foo translates to “fluffy catfish salad” and the sauce is made from thinly sliced green mangos, shallots, fish sauce, chilies, lime juice, sugar and cilantro.
But the star of this dish is the catfish. First it is grilled or steamed, then shredded and dried. After drying, it is then deep-fried, which creates a very airy, fluffy, yet crispy cake. The salad can be garnished with brittle pieces of catfish skin, but is always topped with toasted cashews or peanuts for that extra nutty flavor and texture. This cooking technique is thought to be centuries old and possibly originates from the Isan region of Thailand. It is known for being light and refreshing, and has become a popular appetizer through out the country.
Gaeng Som Pla Chon – Gaeng Som Pla is a popular sour-spicy soup that varies from region to region across Thailand. Pla Chon (Snakehead fish) is part of the catfish family and is most commonly found in the rivers across the central region. The broth is made of lime juice, fish sauce, tamarind and red curry paste. Tamarind (makham) is used to give it its sour bite while pineapple is also added for balance and acts as a natural sweetener. The Pla Chon is first simmered with the broth in a shallow pot, which also is used for serving, and then topped with a type of fern on its way to the table. Two key ingredients in this dish are Tamarind and Curry paste. Tamarind finds its origin in Africa, made its way north to the Mediterranean and was believed to have been introduced to Asia by the Arabs. Curry paste in Thailand is much different from curry in other parts of the world, having many styles with several colors and flavors. Most of them have a base of shallots, chilies and shrimp paste then adding any array of garlic, coriander root, galangal, lemongrass or kaffir lime to change the base to complement a particular dish.
Hor Mok – Hor Mok is a rich dish that consists mainly of fish, curry paste and coconut milk. While it has many influences from outside cultures and a few possible origins, the technique resembles a western style mousse made with fish, red curry, egg, sweet basil and thickened with coconut milk instead of cream. It is then scooped inside of a banana leaf that is either rolled up or folded into a cup for an open face presentation. They are steamed inside of a basket until the fish is cooked then are sold right in the street for a quick snack. It is believed the Khmer style Amok is both the possible origin for the word as well as where the dish was first created. Experts say that Khmer Amok applies the same cooking method used way back in the Khmer Empire by the chefs when preparing various dishes for the Hindu gods. So the Khmer style was brought to Thailand, accepted into the Royal cuisine and later improved upon with the western concept of mousse to give it a more creamy texture.
Khao Niaow Ma Muang – This is a classic Thai dessert combining fresh slices of yellow mango, sticky rice, sweet coconut sauce and is commonly topped with crisp soybeans, especially in the central region of Thailand. While the actually origin of sticky rice is unknown, one of its first uses has been identified. Researchers have discovered that workers in ancient China developed a sticky rice mortar roughly 1,500 years ago. The super strong mixture is made by combining sticky rice soup with a standard mortar ingredient called slaked lime, or limestone, that has been heated to a high temperature and exposed to water. Studies show that the ancient masonry mortar is a kind of special organic-inorganic composite material, possibly the first of its kind. There are many types of mangos in the world and they are now cultivated all over the globe. The mango is believed to originate from the regions of northern Burma and eastern India. It is believed they have been cultivated for nearly 4,000 years, about the same time as curry was introduced, forever changing the cuisines in Southeast Asia.
Thai food has come a long way from the past to the present and is still growing in both popularity and diversity. Internationally known and respected, in my eyes it is now one of the biggest food cultures in the world. From the street to fine dining restaurants, the quality is always essential, bold flavors are a must and the access to great cuisine is abundant. Because food is an integral part of Thai culture, we have decided to do two posts on the cuisine of Thailand. This first post is intended to give you a overall view how diverse the food can be. The second post will take a closer look at the cuisine from the North and East, especially that of Isan. We would like to thank all our followers and friends for supporting us along the way and helping us grow into a more solid concept. Stay tuned for more!
The birth of Thailand is believed to have begun with the migration of the Tai people from China around the 10th century, although there is some evidence that these people originated in Thailand, migrated to China, then returned to their native land. Archaeologists have found evidence that people lived in modern day Thailand as early as 500,000 years ago, however, the first evidence of actual settlements may date back to the Bronze Age around 1500 BC. The first Chinese record of people living there dates to around the 1st century AD. These details are not entirely accurate as written historical accounts of Thailand did not begin until the 13th century. However, what we do know is that before and during the Tai’s migration, there were many separate kingdoms across the country being controlled by various rulers.
The Mon tribes formed kingdoms such as the Dvaravati and Haripunchai. The Kingdoms of Chenla and the Angkor Empire belonged to the Khmer. And in South Thailand, Indonesians from Sumatra and Java ruled the Srivajaya Empire. The city of Lamphun, part of the Haripunchai Kingdom, has been inhabited continuously since 300 AD and the first known inhabitants were the called Lawa. Artifacts from cities like Lop Buri, Ayutthaya and Prachinburi date back to between the 5th and 7th centuries and reflect a heavy Indian influence. The Dvaravati Period continued in Central Thailand until the 11th century with the arrival of the Khmer Empire. The Khmer had a presence in central, east and some parts of the north and the northeast of Thailand from the second half of 6th century until the mid 13th century. The Khmer Empire finds its beginnings in 790 when King Jayavarman conquered the Kingdom of Kambuja, until then under the control of the Javanese. Hariharalaya was the name of the first settlement of the new Angkor Kingdom and by 889 this Khmer Empire held control as far as Ubon in Thailand. By 944 after many battles, the Empire expanded to the Annamite island chain in the east, into what is now Vietnam, Burma to the west and the Gulf of Siam to the south. From 1181 to 1220 the Khmer Empire expanded further to include the Korat Plateau in Isan, the Menan Valley, Southern Malaysia, Northern Laos and the Kingdom of Champa. It was not until 1430 when the Ayutthaya Empire of the Tai-Siamese sacked Angkor that the decline of the Khmer began. As the Tai began to arrive, from what most believe to be Yunnan province in China, various tribes invaded and formed Kingdoms in Nan, Phayao, Lan Na and Lan Xang, now Laos, and the Kingdom of Sukhothai further to the south.
Before the arrival of the Tai, the area was inhabited by the Mon and ruled by the Khmer. In the middle of the 13th century, as Khmer power in the region waned, a combination of Tai rulers defeated them and appointed Pho Khun Banglanghow to become King. He then accepted the title, Kamornteng Si Intradit, and become the first King of the Kingdom of Sukhothai in about 1250. By the time of the 3rd King, Ramkhamhaeng, the territory was expanded to include to the northern areas of Nan, Phrae and parts of modern Laos to Luang Prabuang. Lands to the south like Kamphaeng Phet, Nakhon Sawan, Chainat and areas to the coast of Malaysia also came under control. It extended east to the land along the Mekong to Vientiane in Laos and west to the coast of present day Burma or Myanmar. In 1283 King Ramkamkhaeng ordered the creation of the Thai alphabet and Sukhothai produced its own currency to facilitate trade. This was the Phraruang dynasty that lasted 200 years until 1438 when the Kingdom of Ayutthaya absorbed the territory into its own.
Ayutthaya was a center of administrative power for the lower Chao Phraya Basin from 1350. Originally there were 2 Kingdoms, Lavo and Ayutthaya. King U-Thong commanded the construction of the new city in 1347 and it was founded in April 1350 and called Krung Thep Dvaravati Si Ayutthaya. In 1352, King Ramathibodi of Ayutthaya conquered both the Khmer and the Sukhothai to its north. In the early 15th century, the Ayutthaya Kingdom again waged war with the Khmer finally taking Angkor after a 7 months siege. In the 16th century, as Europe entered its Age of Exploration, they navigated the Cape of Good Hope to enter and attempt to colonize and set up trade with Asia. The Portuguese were the first in Siam in 1551, then Spain in 1598, with their primary aim to promote Catholicism. The Dutch arrived in 1602, followed by the British in 1612. The Europeans exerted their influence in Asia mainly through arms trading, which proved to be pivotal in beginning the Burmese wars and still causes problems to this day. The Burmese Empire was the leading power in the region during this time and the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was under its control.
However, King Naresuan, known as King Naresuan “The Great”, wanted to free the Thai people from Burmese control. As a prince, Naresuan fought alongside the Burmese until they betrayed him by trying to assassinate him. He was able to escape and returned to Ayutthaya determined to strengthen his forces and fight the Burmese. In 1590, his father King Thammaraja passed away and he became king at the age of 35. A brilliant military strategist, Naresuan kept the Burmese at bay on 5 separate attempts on the city of Ayutthaya, with his most famous victory coming in the 5th attempt, where instead of waiting for the Burmese to attack, Naresuan took the offensive and killed the Crown Prince of Burma in a one on one battle. This was the decisive blow as after seeing their Prince defeated, the Burmese army retreated. This led to a brief period of prosperity and peace in Ayutthaya. Unfortunately, King Naresuan’s rule only lasted 15 years as illness took him at the age of 50. The country’s administration fell into chaos and disunity arose, with many of the surrounding states withdrawing support for the kingdom. Because there was no sense of a collective nation, the people were no longer interested in fighting the Burmese and the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was destroyed. The Burmese would end up controlling the city and other parts of Northern Thailand for over 200 years. However, during the encirclement of Ayutthaya by the Burmese, General Taksin and his army escaped, rallied others in the east and regained independence for the Siamese within 6 months. The kingdom was fragmented but after the establishment of the new capital he was able to wrest control back to the new Kingdom.
Taksin had many problems to overcome in uniting the Empire including wars with Cambodia and Burma, domestic economic and administrative issues. But he was instrumental in the restoration of the country’s national identity with religion and the arts. In 1773 King Taksin commanded the renovation of the city and named it ‘’Krung Thonburi’’. Thonburi remained the capital for 15 years. Taksin selected it as the new capital as Ayutthaya had been completely razed and could not be rebuilt to its original condition. The new capital had excellent forts and its location was an important point of entry for foreign trade. In 1781 there was a rebellion against King Taksin and he was executed in April 1782. Chao Phraya Chakri, a general who was significant in reclaiming Siam, the name given to Thailand by the Chakri Dynasty, accepted the throne of the Kingdom of Siam and was named Rama I. The reference “Rama” comes from the Hindu traditions in Thailand adapted in the Ayutthaya Kingdom prior to the Chakri Dynasty. Rama, in Indian mythology was the King of Ayodhya or Ayutthaya in Thai, and in Hinduism is the name of the 7th Avatar of Vishnu. During the Kingdom of Ayutthaya some Kings of Ayutthaya referred to themselves as “Ramathibodi” which translates to mean “Rama the great ruler”. Rama I moved the capital from Thon Buri back to Bangkok, as it was cut in half by a waterway making its defense difficult.
Old forts and city walls were demolished and replaced with widened walls and moats. New ditches and canals were dug for transport and water consumption. The national boundary of Siam was expanded. In the North it conquered Lan Na, the Shan states in Burma and Sip Song Panna in China. In the South it conquered Malacca, Pattan, Pera Trangkanu, Kelantan and Saiburi, which are all now parts of Malaysia. This was a period of imperialism and the social philosophy of Siam in the 18th and 19th centuries still followed the Ayutthaya concepts of the divine right of Kings and the division of society between the administrators and those who were administered. People were either nobles or commoners. The concepts were based on Khmer Hindu beliefs and supported by the Buddhist system. King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, became king of Siam in 1868. Educated by westerners, he wanted to reform the monarchy following a more European style. First he abolished the practice of kneeling and crawling in front of the monarch and repealed many laws concerning the relationship between the monarch and his people. However he continued to preserve some of the older aspects of the old kingship, including his religious and feudal powers. During his reign, Siam was pressured to relinquish control of some parts of the country to Western powers and Siam itself narrowly avoided being taken over. However, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation that has never been colonized. One main reason for this is the leadership shown by the Kings of Thailand and the people’s strong devotion to him. Another big contributing factor was how Thailand used the competition between France and England as a way to create a buffer zone between those colonized areas.
Up until 1932 the Kingdom of Siam did not possess a legislature, as all of theses powers belonged to the King. This is how the land had been ruled since the Sukhothai Kingdom in the 12th century. However, a group of civilians and military officers, calling themselves the Khana Ratsadon or People’s Party, carried out a bloodless revolution in which the 150 years of absolute rule of the House of Chakri was ended. A constitutional monarchy was formed with an elected legislature under the “Draft Constitution” of 1932 creating Thailand’s first legislature. But the king still retained many powers such as being head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces and the power of pardon and is thought of as the defender of the Buddhist faith in Thailand. The King is still so revered that since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, each constitution has maintained the king as “enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.” For the next 50 years Thailand’s legislature was dominated by military dictatorships. During this period the name of the country was changed from Siam to Thailand, then changed back to Siam after WWII, then reverted back to Thailand in 1949. In 1957 Thai traditionalists lead the government and sought to restore the prestige of the monarchy and to maintain a society based on order, hierarchy and religion. King Bhumibol, Rama IX, was the monarch at the time and still remains in power today. He is the longest reigning King in the history of Thailand in addition to currently being the world’s longest reigning current monarch and the world’s longest serving head of state. After the Vietnam War, the move to a more democratic approach to government began in Thailand. The politics of the last 40 years in Thailand have been hampered by stability between democracy and dictatorships, but the one constant has been the King, who has mediated opposition parties and quelled possibilities of civil war during times of extreme turmoil. Apart from the affairs of State, the King takes an active interest in personally supervising development projects including livestock improvement, milk production, hybridization of rice, bee keeping, fish breeding, reforestation, and various food processing techniques. He is believed to be the first King to have traveled to every corner of the Kingdom. Showing interest in literature, history, architecture, the visual arts and music, especially Jazz, he became an accomplished musician playing the clarinet, saxophone and trumpet.
The people of Thailand believe in dedication to family, their land and a culture of mutual respect. Thailand’s history and customs find their roots in a combination of indigenous people and those of ancient India, China, Cambodia, along with the other pre-historic cultures of Southeast Asia. Religiously, it finds its influence primarily in Animism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Today the main religion in Thailand is Therav?da Buddhism, which promotes the concept of “the Teaching of the Elders” or “the Ancient Teaching”, which explains that insight must come from the person’s experience, critical investigation and reasoning instead of by blind faith. There are many temples in Thailand, called “Wat”, and many of them are ornate artistic masterpieces with some of the most famous being Wat Suthat in Bangkok, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai and Wat Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom. Thailand is also world renowned for its cuisine due to its access to an abundance of tropical fruits, exotic herbs, an amazing variety of seafood and centuries of culinary traditions of both Thailand and its neighbors.
Thai food is known for being sweet, sour and spicy as well as using aromatic ingredients like galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. It has truly become an international cuisine with dishes such as Tom Yum and Pad Thai being available in cities all across the world. Thailand is also world famous for its martial art, Muay Thai. Thousands of fighters train all over Thailand and it is taught in schools all over the world. Thailand is a country based on agriculture having a vast countryside, filled with all types of flora and fauna, rice patties, fruit trees and farms. This, of course, attracts many tourists, which is one of the biggest sectors of the Thailand economy with close to 15 million visitors a year. In Bangkok, Thailand has a truly international city that attracts businesses from many different countries and global corporations. Thailand is an emerging world economy and considered a newly industrialized nation. Overall Thailand is a beautiful country with kind and generous people who welcome others to visit and enjoy all that it has to offer.
The cuisine of modern day Turkey is a direct result of some of the most powerful civilizations to ever exist developing and settling the land over thousands of years. Empires such as the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans are responsible for inventing, refining and influencing an enormous part of food culture throughout history. Turkey’s geographical location made them the gateway between Asia and Europe, which allowed all types of foods, spices and recipes to be spread across the country creating a wide and diverse culinary style. Over centuries of cross-continental trade, war and migration, the people of Western Europe, the Middle East and Asia left pieces of their food culture that were adapted by the Turkish and remain clearly visible in the cuisine we see today. The Silk Road, which came directly through Istanbul, was the most important of the spice routes and was ultimately controlled by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. This assured only the best ingredients were used in the imperial cuisine and the people were then given first choice of the newly arrived goods before they continued on to Europe.
The center of Ottoman cuisine was Istanbul, the capital, where the imperial court and wealthy citizens attempted to refine the different elements of regional cuisines from across the empire. The Imperial Palace’s kitchens were filled by chefs brought from across the empire and the rest of the world to create and experiment with the variety of ingredients. The cuisine of the Ottoman palace and Istanbul in particular, reached its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries when the Empire was moving into decline. The Topkapi Palace kitchens, consisting of 10 domed buildings, combined with the Sultan’s creation of an official etiquette concerning food and eating, revealed the importance of cuisine in Palace life. Every day, the Palace kitchens produced food for 1,500-2,000 people with the capability to serve up to 6,000. As we examine the ideal organization of a kitchen today, it is interesting to compare it to the Ottoman kitchen hierarchy during the 14th century. Just as in the Ottoman kitchen, we see a chain of command beginning from the head chef, subordinate chefs, specialty chefs (meat, fish, sweets, breads) and all the way down to the apprentices. Each head chef had 60 chefs and 200 assistants in his service. Following the example of the Palace, all of the grand Ottoman houses boasted elaborate kitchens and competed in preparing feasts for each other as well as the general public. This is how the traditional cuisine evolved and spread, even to the most modest corners of the country.
Lava – Sometimes spelled Lavash, it is a thin leavened flatbread, which originates in modern day Armenia, a country that is part of the various empires that have ruled Turkey as well. This airy bread is served with nearly every meal, sometimes with toasted sesame seeds or poppy seeds sprinkled on it before baking to add flavor. It can be used in many dishes, including Dürüm, Kebabs and Köfte.
Börek – This is one of the most significant and ancient elements of the Turkish cuisine, having been developed by the Turks of Central Asia before their migration west to Anatolia. Since börek refers to the specific style of dish made with yufka, it is usually accompanied by the name of whatever filling it has or whether it is sweet or savory. Yufka is a thin, round and unleavened flat bread similar to lavash, but thinner, like a crepe or phyllo depending on how it is made. In some other languages, which have borrowed the word “börek”, they are using it in a more specific sense, as a general term for all kinds of dishes prepared with yufka or phyllo dough. Turkish classics such as Gözleme and Baklava and their Greek counterparts Spanakopita and Bougatsa, all find their origins using this type of bread.
Döner – Döner kebab is a Turkish creation that has spread around the globe and could even be called the world’s most popular street food, as it can now be seen on every continent. Some inherited styles from the original doner are the Shawarma in the Middle East, Gyros in Greece and al Pastor in Mexico. In Sao Paulo, Brasil, döner is the most popular fast food and is sold under the name “Churrasco Grego” or “Greek Barbeque”. In Germany, annual sales hit 3.3 billion last year and it has even found its way to the streets of Asia being seen in countries like Vietnam, China and Thailand. Döner kabab is traditionally made with round slices of marinated lean lamb that are stacked on top of each other and placed upright on a rotating spit. Charcoal, wood as well as more modern styles of electric or gas, are used for the rotisserie barbeque. Although lamb is typical, you can now find chicken at most of the döner shops through out the world, with pork being common in the non-Muslim countries like Greece, Mexico and Vietnam. The tender meat that is shaved off of the wheel can be used for several different dishes. It is popular as a topping for a Pide, rolled up into a Lahmacun, placed between fried potatoes and tomato soaked bread for an iskender kebab or simply shaved on top of Pilav. The options are endless.
Kebab – Deriving from the Aramaic language meaning “to burn or char”, it was later adapted by the Turkish meaning “meat roasted on a spit.” Kebab was said to have been invented in the east of Turkey by Turkic soldiers during the middle ages, who would use their swords to skewer the meat and roast it over an open fire. This is now a tradition across Turkey and the art of placing skewered meat over a fire has become a staple of cuisines around the world with Satay in Indonesia, Yakitori in Japan, Chuanr in China and even Anticuchos in Peru. It is a perfect way to cook a piece of meat and every country has created its own unique style. Kebabs in Turkey are usually served with a variety of Turkish style salads, shredded lettuce, pickled purple cabbage, raw cucumbers, tomatoes and lemon. Bread is also a very important part of every meal in Turkey and kebabs are typically eaten with Lava or Pide.
Lahmacun – Known also as Turkish Pizza, Lahmacun is believed to originate in early Syrian cuisine, as a dish made of a round, thin piece of dough topped with minced meat. Translated from Arabic meaning “meat and dough”, Lahmacun uses pide bread that is topped with all types of meat, vegetables, herbs and spices and can be served either flat or wrapped. As a part of the street food culture and with the rising reputation of döner kebabs, the lahmacun has also seen a rise in its popularity and has become a favorite in many countries around the world.
Pide – In Turkey, Pide refers to not only a type of bread, but also a dish that uses the bread as its base. Pide bread closely resembles what many people call “Pita” bread in other parts of the world. However, Pide is chewier and served flattened out to be used more like pizza dough. Pide, the dish, comes in a couple of varieties. The first is a flat, boat shaped style that is baked in a wood oven and appears similar to an open-faced calzone. It can be topped with cheese, roasted chicken, spiced ground beef, lamb sausage, a poached egg, garlic or veggies. The other kind of pide is the same shape, but has the ingredients baked inside a closed crust, leaving a very thin top layer so that upon cracking one open, it reveals all the aromas and flavors that have been cooking inside. Both kinds are usually served with a small pat of butter that can be melted on the crust. These are extremely popular all over Turkey and especially in Istanbul. There are many restaurants specializing in just making different kinds of pides, with some becoming so popular, they have grown into franchises.
Pilav - While some believe the roots of Pilav may date back to the time of Alexander the Great, it has became standard fare in the Middle East over the years with variations and innovation by the Arabs, Turks and Armenians. It is believed that proper preparation of pilav was first documented by a 10th century Persian scholar who created a section of his book on health and medicine to preparing certain meals, including several types of pilav, and described advantages and disadvantages of every item used for preparing it. This is believed by some as the first evidence of modern style pilav. Generally made with rice, but bulgur and vermicelli can also be used, it is cooked by the absorption method using stock instead of water and is one of the mainstays of the Turkish table. A pilav always starts with sautéing the rice, usually in butter and is further cooked with a broth of some kind, such as chicken or meat. A successful pilav has kernels that are moist, yet separate, not dry or over cooked and never sticky.
Manti – Manti, often referred to as Turkish dumplings, consists of minced spiced lamb or beef wrapped up in small pieces of dough then boiled, drizzled with a garlic yogurt sauce, spiced with ground, dried chilies and can occasionally be finished with sumac or mint. The most prized out of the many variations of Manti includes a caramelized tomato paste and is known as Kayseri Mantisi, which is attributed to the city of Kayseri. The history of this dish is very unique and has come a long way from the east to the land of modern day Turkey. Starting with the Xiongnu, a nomadic tribe of central Asia that later became the Turkic and Mongolic people, manti migrated across central Asia during the times of the Mongol Empire. It was said that Turkic and Mongol horsemen would carry frozen or dried manti, simply boiling them for a quick meal while making camp. In the 15th century with the development of the imperial cuisine by the Ottoman Empire, the recipe for manti was revived and added into the volumes of Ottoman culinary history that later paved the way for the modern cuisine of Turkey.
Gözleme – Gözleme is a savory traditional Turkish börek dish and its name derives from the Turkish word “göz” meaning “eye”. Sheets of yufka dough are stuffed, usually with spinach, potatoes, meat, cheese or a combination, then, traditionally, cooked on a sac, which is a large, metal flat or convex disc-shaped griddle. It is a style that has been used in south, central, and west Asia for cooking a variety of flatbreads and meats for ages. They are flaky and buttery, almost like a croissant. While the thin layer of filling adds both flavor as well as a smooth contrast against the flaky and chewy yufka. Very inexpensive and found everywhere, these can be eaten on the go or split amongst friends as an appetizer.
Dolmas – Dolma is a family of stuffed vegetable dishes in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and surrounding regions such as Russia, Iran and the Caucasus and Central and South Asia. Perhaps the best known is the grape-leaf dolma. Common vegetables to stuff include cabbage, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. Dolma comes from the Turkish word dolmak, which means, “to be stuffed.” In Turkey, there are two kinds of dolma, those with meat, served warm and as a main course, and those with rice, which are served at room temperature and usually eaten as an appetizer or meze. This is a dish that has certainly found its way into many other cultures, including the Greeks, who have made their dolmades known around the world. So much so, that many people believe they originated there. But as we know, these cultures were influencing each other over centuries, so it is difficult to know which people invented what and where they were living at the time.
Turkey’s geography is not only important due to it’s place along the famous Silk Road, but because it is surrounded by some very important bodies of water, with the Mediterranean Sea towards the south, the Aegean Sea to the west and the Black Sea is to the north. These have provided a wealth of all types of fish and other sea life to the region for thousands of years. With all of this access and wide variety, Turkey is a great place to find and eat high quality seafood. Some of the more popular kinds of seafood are Bonito, Turbot, Mackerel, Hamsi (also known as Anchovy), Mussels, Squid and Octopus. There are an abundance of great places to eat, especially if you look near the water where there are usually many to choose from.
Midye Dolmas – In Istanbul you can find a common street snack called Midye Dolmas that consists of cinnamon and nutmeg spiced rice, a steamed mussel that is stuffed back inside the shell with the rice and then topped with lemon. Often the rice can even include pine nuts and currents for a little extra flavor. Inside the fish markets lining the Bosporus, there are places to sit down so you can have a look at the selection of fresh fish, make your choice and have it prepared for you. You can get it grilled, poached or deep-fried served with any number of traditional salads and usually a couple side dishes to choose from.
Balik-ekmek – If you don’t want to sit down you can keep walking, stop by a cart and grab a Balik-ekmek meaning “fish in bread”, where the owner will debone the fish right in front of you on the grill. A famous spot in Istanbul for fish sandwiches is directly in front of the Süleymaniye Mosque on the side of the Galata Bridge. There you will find balik-ekmek boats in the Golden Horn rocking back and forth selling them right off the side. Seafood has been an important part of life in Turkey since the first people settled there and will continue to be.
Baklava – It is believed the Assyrians, a mix of people who inhabited areas in ancient Persia and Anatolia, were the first people to create a baked and layered sweet pastry. These earliest known versions of baklava were baked only on special occasions. When Greek seamen and merchants traveling east discovered Baklava, they brought the recipe to Athens. From the 3rd century B.C. onwards, trays of baklava were being baked for all kinds of special occasions in the Anatolia region. The flavors were altered to serve regional tastes as the recipe started crossing borders. Two principal ingredients, pistachios and honey, were believed to be aphrodisiacs when taken regularly. Certain spices that were added to baklava were thought to increase the aphrodisiac properties, with cinnamon for females, and cardamom for males and cloves for both sexes. This is why it became treasured by Turkish Sultans and their large Harems, as well as for the wealthy and their families. From 18th century on, there were some modifications in shaping and in the presentation of baklava. One of the most significant began in the late 1700’s, when the yufka dough, which was traditionally layered and cut into squares or triangles, was changed to include the “dome” technique of cutting and folding of the baklava squares which was named “Baklava Francaise” after the nationality of its creator, a former pastry chef of Marie Antoinette, who while in exile from France, worked in the palace kitchens.
Turkish Delight – Turkish Delight, known also as Lokum, has an illustrious past. It is one of the most famous sweet dishes in the world, dating back over 230 years. There are several stories surrounding its origin. It is believed to have been based on an Anatolian confection traditionally made using honey or grape molasses as sweeteners and flour and water as a binding agent. One legend has that there was a certain Sultan who was eager to please his numerous mistresses, so he ordered his chefs to prepare a novel dessert. Thus, the Turkish Delight came into being as a royal delicacy, which very soon became one of the most coveted dishes to have ever come out of the royal kitchens. Another story has that Turkish Delight originated as the result of rivalry between the royal chefs to be in the good books of the Sultan. One chef made a dish with cornstarch, flavors and sugary syrup and filled it with nuts and dried fruits. According to another legend, the Turkish Delight was invented by a confectioner named Bekir Effendi. The Turks are famed for their sweet tooth and it was not long before these candies made their way into their hearts. Turkish Delights wrapped in lace handkerchiefs were given as gifts between socialites and couples were known to exchange them as tokens of love. And after 250-years, Bekir`s shop is still producing sweets in Istanbul today.
Kabak Tatlisi – Kabak tatlisi is a candied or poached pumpkin dessert that belongs to a fascinating family of sweet preserves, including rose petal, fig and green walnut, which can be found in Turkey, Greece, Romania and the Balkans. It is believed the Greeks brought the custom of eating these candied fruits to Constantinople during the Byzantine era, leaving the Turks with the sweet tatlisi tradition. They took it with them to Romania and other parts of the Balkans as the Ottoman influence grew, leaving this sweet delicacy with the people throughout the burgeoning empire.
Because of this grand tradition, handed down over the centuries, the Turkish people of today are true foodies and place tremendous pride in their culinary heritage. This is clearly visible in its urban centers, including famous cities such as Istanbul, that represent a strong street food culture that offers a wide selection of some of the most amazing ingredients available. From the fresh baked breads carts to wheels of döner meat slowly caramelizing for every passer by to see to freshly squeezed pomegranate and orange juice being made right in the street, the Turkish believe in using only the freshest ingredients. Along the Bosporus, fish sandwiches are cooked and sold right off the boats while they are still rocking back and forth tied to the dock, while others sell neatly arranged baskets of Midye Dolmas, steamed and stuffed mussels. People from all walks of life can be found enjoying these types of dishes, while sometimes drinking Ayran, a yoghurt drink that is a classic accompaniment to Turkish street food. Due to our brief time here, this is only a small sample of the dishes and history of Turkish cuisine. It has been shaped over thousands of years and it has been celebrated all around the world as one of the centers of the culinary world. We are thankful to have the opportunity to visit a place with such a profound legacy of food culture and look forward to learning more about the country, the people and their cuisine.
The history of Turkey encompasses three distinct ages, first, the history of Anatolia before the arrival of the Turks and of the civilizations like the Hittites, Trojans, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, during which the beginning of modern Turkey began. Second, it includes the history of the Turkish peoples, including the Seljuks, who brought Islam and the Turkish language to Anatolia. And third, it is the history of the Ottoman Empire, a widespread and influential regime that originated from Turkey, and became a world power for centuries.
Anatolia is the name given to one of the great crossroads of ancient civilizations. It is the broad peninsula that lies between the Black and Mediterranean seas and was called Asia Minor by the Romans. The land is the Asian part of modern Turkey and lies across the Aegean Sea to the east of Greece and the Sea of Marmara to the northwest. Anatolia extends west from Asia toward Europe, but is divided in the city of Istanbul, where two bridges over the strait of Bosphorus link the two continents. In about 2000 BC, Asia Minor was in the hands of the Hittites, who migrated from the area east of the Black Sea. Their civilization rivaled that of the Egyptians and Babylonians and lasted until about the 12th century BC. Over time, small seaboard states grew up, only to fall to the Greeks, who colonized the entire coast in about the 8th century BC. According to legend, they first laid siege to the city-state of Troy during the famous Trojan War. It remained in turmoil until Alexander the Great conquered the entire region and again spread Greek rule over the peninsula. After the Romans defeat of the Greeks in the 2nd century BC, Asia Minor enjoyed centuries of peace. It was during the Middle Ages, as a part of the Byzantine Empire, that it became a center of Christianity and the guardian of Greek and Roman culture. One of the chief medieval trade routes passed through the region.
In the early 7th century, Constantinople was the capital of an empire spanning not only Anatolia (which includes Turkey and Greece), but Syria, Egypt, Sicily, most of Italy, and the Balkans, with outposts across North Africa as far as Morocco. Anatolia was the most productive part of this extensive empire and was also the principal source of manpower for its defense. With the loss of Syria to Muslim conquest, Anatolia became the frontier as well as the heartland of the empire. The military demands on the Byzantines to protect both its provinces and boarders were difficult, but Byzantine forces remained strong until the 11th century. As for the actual Turkish people, the first historical references to the Turks appear in Chinese records of about 2000 B.C. These records refer to tribes called the Hsiung-nu, an early form of the Western term Hun, who lived in an area bordered by the Altai Mountains, Lake Baikal, and the northern edge of the Gobi Desert, and are believed to be ancestors of the Turks. The earliest known example of writing in a Turkish language was found in that area and can be dated from about 730 AD. These were mostly made up nomadic tribes that lived across western China and Mongolia, as far as the Black Sea. However, during this time, the Mongols had begun their military conquests and pressured the tribes to the east out of their homes. As a result, many of them were introduced to and converted to Islam during the 8th and 9th centuries, as they moved west.
By the 10th century, one of the Turkish tribes, the Seljuk, had become a significant power in the Islamic world and had traded the nomadic life for one more settle that included orthodox Islamic practice, a central government and a tax system. However, many other Turkish groups wanted to remain nomadic, which led them into conflict with the Seljuk Turks. To reach an agreement without the need for war, the Seljuks directed them to the eastern part of the declining Byzantine Empire, namely, Anatolia. The tribe known as the Ottomans arose from one of these smaller tribes that had moved. The dynasty was named for Osman, the founder and the first sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who began to expand his kingdom into the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor. In the latter half of the 1400’s the Ottoman Turks conquered the peninsula, Constantinople was renamed Istanbul and designated as the new capital. The Ottoman Empire had Turkish origins and Islamic foundations, but from the start it was a mixture of ethnic and religious groups. The Ottomans were aware of this, and non-Muslim peoples, including Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, were granted communal autonomy and allowed to operate schools, religious establishments and run their own courts.
Between the 15th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire entered a long period of conquest and expansion, extending its borders deep into Europe and North Africa. But as the countries in Europe began to gain power in the late 18th and 19th centuries, both the influence and territory of the Ottomans were beginning to diminish. The Turkish War of Independence, which began in 1919 and ended in 1922, created the Republic of Turkey and ended the Ottoman rule that had stood in place for over 600 years. The geographical region that includes Turkey, has some of the oldest recorded evidence of ancient cultures and has been a hot bed of anthropological and archaeological study for decades. The architecture found in Turkey is directly attributed to the unique mix of traditions that have influenced the region over the centuries.
Besides the obvious Greek, Roman and Byzantine elements all over Turkey, many artifacts of Ottoman architecture, combining both native and Islamic traditions, are found throughout the country. Turkish literature was heavily influenced by Persian and Arabic literature, but since the decline of the Ottomans, Turkish folk and European literary styles have increasingly become more popular. Turkish cuisine, while largely refined by the Ottomans, is a blend of all the people who have settled there from Eastern and Central Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans.
As a crossroads between Asia and Europe, Turkey has had access to all the ingredients from around the world for thousands of years. Even now, Turkey remains a country at the center of international trade. It has transformed from a religion-based leadership with the Ottomans, to a modern style government with a very strong separation of state and religion. Istanbul is one of Europe’s most important financial centers and the country continues to grow. The people of Turkey understand their history, are strong in their beliefs, and with many different cultural histories, that have united together to create the amazing country we know today.
The country we know today as Greece is a descendent of one of the most ancient cultures in the world. Over thousands of years, civilizations such as the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans have made an impact on this land. Since the times of Ancient Greece, the people have had a great influence in the culinary arts that has spread all over the world. The Greeks were the first to cultivate olives and created olive oil and while they are one of the first civilizations to produce wine, they are widely considered to have developed the first culture surrounding it. Because the Greeks were some of the greatest record keepers of ancient times, they were also the first to document cooking techniques and are responsible for writing the first cookbook. Greece’s location and climate allows for a plethora of ingredients and access to the sea’s many treasures.Traditional tavernas are found all throughout cities and towns serving typical dishes, fresh bread and their own brand of wine. The dining experience begins, not by sitting down and reading a menu, but walking up to the display of selections for the day near the kitchen, where the Chef will explain the day’s fresh dishes and you then make your choice. Upon sitting down at any eatery in the country, a basket brimming with thick, rustic bread called Psomi, can be found. The Greek people have great respect and love for food, and that is evident in the way the people approach both preparation and the treating of guests.
Koulouri – Throughout Greece, rings of bread covered with sesame seeds are sold at street corners, in most bakeries and people can be seen walking around the streets, snacking away on these simple, yet satisfying treats. This koulouri or simiti, as it is called in some parts of Greece, is one of country’s most popular snacks. The Greek word simiti derives from Turkish simit, which is itself, a derivative of the ancient Greek semidalis, meaning semolina or hard durum wheat. The name koulouri finds its origin from the middle age word koulourin, a reference to the ancient Greek kollyra, which was the circular bread that was eaten by the slaves. Because of the long shared history of Greece and Turkey, the eating of this style of bread can be traced back to Constantinople and other cities of the Byzantine Empire, where the introduction of street food was well established and popular.
Tzatziki – While it is difficult to precisely trace the origin of Tzatziki, as many Mediterranean countries have similar yoghurt based dishes, it is well thought that it probably started in either Greece or Turkey, who again, share much in the way of history and cuisine. The word Tzatziki actually comes from the Turkish Cac?k, meaning “chutney” and is also the name of the version in Turkey. What separates the Greek version from its counterparts, is the thick consistency, generous use of olive oil and addition of dill, while other ingredients such as cucumbers, garlic and lemon juice are main ingredients as well. Tzatziki is always served cold, with bread or as an accompaniment to souvlaki or gyros. It is part of a group of foods called mezés, which are covered below.
Spanakotyropita – Spanakotyropita, often spelled Spanakopita, is essentially a phyllo dough pie stuffed with a combination of spinach, feta, onion and herbs. The flaky buttery crust combined with the sharp flavor and creaminess of the feta and spinach, creates a wonderful contrast in texture. There are of course, many variations that add even more to the dish including Kotopita, that has chicken, Hortopita, meaning with wild greens, and Kreatopita, which uses ground beef or lamb. To examine the origins of this dish, one must look at the components that are used to make it. Spinach is believed to come from central and southwestern Asia where it may have originated from Spinacia tetranda, a wild green still around today. Spinach was unknown to the ancient Mediterranean world and the spreading of spinach there was almost certainly the result of Arab influence. Spinach, which does not grow well in hot weather, was successfully cultivated in the hot and arid Mediterranean climate by sophisticated irrigation techniques probably as early as the 8th century A.D. In Anatolia, the former name of Asia Minor that included Turkey and parts of Greece, spinach was being used by the 13th century, if not earlier, and was popular with the Seljuk Turks. The other important part of the Spanakopita is the Phyllo dough, which is believed to have originated with the nomadic Turkic tribes somewhere around the 11th century and was then perfected by the Ottomans. This makes sense, as they are responsible for influencing many things in Modern Greek cuisine during their 400-year occupation of Greece.
Horiatiki Salata – Horiatiki Salata literally translated “village” or “peasant” salad, finds its origins as a simple shepherd dish of onion, olive oil and feta cheese. Known throughout the world as the Greek Salad, has developed over the years with the advent of other ingredients to Greece. The modern version of the salad is a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion, oregano, olives, olive oil and feta cheese. Traditionally, it is only eaten during the summer, as this used to be the only time when tomatoes were in season, but with the development of modern day agriculture it can be enjoyed all year round.
Yiouvarlakia me Avgolemono – The word Yiouvarlakia derives from the Turkish word Yuvarlak, meaning round. This dish is made up of ground lamb seasoned with pepper, fresh mint and parsley, then combined with rice and rolled into balls. Avgolemono, meaning “egg-lemon”, is a type of thick soup that is believed to have been around since the times of Alexander the Great and has a connection with the ancient city of Thebes. Although this is a typical Greek dish, similar versions can be found in other parts of Europe like the Catalan region in Spain and parts of southern France. This soup is made by combining eggs, either whole or just the yolks, lemon juice and broth together, then continuously stirred and kept under a boil to avoid curdling. If you are looking for real Greek cuisine, this is a great dish as it perfectly blends the flavors of the tender lamb with fresh herbs and a creamy lemon sauce.
Pastitsio – The Pastitsio is a baked pasta dish resembling Italian “Lasagna al Forno”, both layered pasta dishes cooked in a shallow pan. Although lasagna is generally believed to have originated in Italy, the word “lasagna” is derived from the Greek word lasana or lasanon meaning “trivet or stand for a pot”. The Romans later borrowed the word as “lasanum”, in Latin, to mean cooking pot. Another theory suggests that lasagna might have come from Greek laganon, a kind of flat sheet of pasta dough cut into stripes. It is hard to say what one came first, as we know even pasta was not invented in Italy but merely perfected. What we do know is the Pastitsio is both unique appearance and taste compared to most conventional pasta dishes. First, it uses a round pasta that is similar to Bucatini, layered on the bottom. Beef cooked in cinnamon, nutmeg and tomatoes is used as a filling and then more pasta is placed on top. Finally, it is topped with a Béchamel sauce mixed with cheese and then baked in the oven. These types of baked dishes are popular in Greece and many different versions can be found, for instance Moussaka, an Arabic word, which is a Turkish creation that is found all over both Greece and Turkey and may explain the origin of Pastitisio as it utilizes the same techniques and appears very similar, but instead of pasta, it uses eggplant.
Mezédhes – Mezédhes are part of a particular style of eating in Greece. Probably based on the Middle Eastern and Arab mazza, it refers to a grouping of smaller plates and wide selection of foods. The original Greek mezé was a block of feta with olive oil, but the style has evolved to the point where dishes such as Tzatziki, Gigantes (fava beans in tomato sauce), Melitzane (stewed eggplant) and Yemista (stuffed pepper with feta) are popular choices.
Feta itself also has a unique history, as well as a controversial one. It is a white cheese that is soft or sometimes semi-hard and is usually formed into square cakes. Its flavor is tangy and salty, ranging from mild to sharp. The word “feta” however is a fairly newer term finding its origin in the Greek tyrifeta, meaning cheese slice, and originally deriving from the Italian word fetta, meaning slice of food. When discussing the origin of feta, the description of the sheep and goat milk cheese was including in Homer’s The Odyssey, is often cited as evidence that it has been around in Greece for nearly 6000 years, although others argue that Homer’s writings actually describe something closer to the Italian cheeses tuma or canestrato. Another opinion it’s origin is in a 14th Century Venetian cookbook, the Libro Per Cuoco, that contains recipes for Formazo di Candia, thought to be similar to feta and made in the island of Crete.
Nevertheless, the Greeks have been credited with the invention of feta cheese and according to both Greek and EU legislation, feta must be made following a specified recipe from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep and goat milk and this can only come from specific geographic areas of Greece. These are: Macedonia, Thrace and Epirus in Northern Greece, Thessaly and Mainland Greece in central Greece, the Peloponnese in southern Greece, and the island of Lesbos.
In Greece, they have become a custom in establishments called Ouzerí, restaurants that specialize in serving the alcoholic beverage Ouzo, to serve a variety of mezédhes. Ouzo is an anise-flavored liquor distilled from grapes and can be compared to Grappa and Pisco in the way they are made. Raki, another Greek aperitif, is made the same way, but without anise.
Kleftiko – Literally meaning “in the style of the Klephts”, is a lamb dish first marinated in garlic and lemon juice then braised on the bone. It is said that the Klephts, bandits of the countryside who did not have flocks of their own, would steal lambs or goats and cook the meat in a sealed pit to avoid the smoke being seen. Lamb is commonly used in Greece and can be seen throughout their cuisine. In this particular dish, the lamb shank is cooked in a simple broth made up mostly of sweet baby onions, which are used frequently in Greece in the cooking of both meats and seafood, allowing the natural sweetness of the onion to be the main flavor. Sheep are one of the first animals in the world to be domesticated, beginning nearly 10,000 years ago in central Asia, but it wasn’t until 3500 B.C. that the first documentation of the use of wool is found. Once civilization realized that these animals could be used for not only food, the domestication of sheep quickly spread to parts of the Middle East and Europe. The shank of the lamb is a very tough piece of meat, but can be made tender using proper cooking techniques such as braising. After applying this slow-cooking process for several hours, the fats and tissue are broken down, the meat easily falls right off the bone and can be served using the stock it was cooked in to enhance the flavor. This is an old, simple and logical technique that can produce a truly great meal.
Oktapodi Krasato – This is a popular dish that is essentially braised octopus in red wine and is thought to be a true classic because it utilizes ingredients that are only native to the region. It can be found all over coastal Greece at tavernas serving traditional Greek cuisine. And while the preparation is very basic, it is extremely delicious. To create the dish, start by cleaning and scrubbing the octopus, lightly searing it in sections with some olive oil, then toss in some whole baby onions, and then deglaze the pan with a whole bottle of red wine. Next, allow the Octopus to cook until it is tender and the wine is at a proper consistency. This process can take up to 2 hours. This is one of my favorite dishes, and not just because I enjoy octopus, but because I have a great respect its simplicity and that it can be made from ingredients that have remained in this region for thousands of years.
Moschari Giouvetsi – Moschari Giouvetsi is a classic Greek dish consisting of slow cooked beef in a tomato broth with orzo pasta. The beef is first cut up into small chunks then seasoned, tossed into a hot pot with olive oil and seared to seal in the juices. The pot is deglazed with a little red wine and then crushed tomatoes are added with beef stock, oregano and allspice. The beef is cooked until tender and then it is time to add the blanched kritharakia, orzo pasta, into the pot and allow time to sit for a few minutes. Because Greeks prefer utilizing baking to other techniques, the orzo and the beef are removed from the pot and added to a casserole pan, covered and placed in the oven. During the baking process, the orzo will absorb all the juices from the beef and the flavorful stock. Finally, the dish is removed from the oven, topped with cheese and served piping hot. This is a wonderful dish, perfect for enjoying with your family and friends. While this is a combination of native and foreign products and techniques, it has become a Greek favorite over the years.
The cuisine of Modern Greece resembles that of many others in regions, including Italy, Turkey, the Balkans and the Middle East, truly showing how connected the ancient world was. When dining out in Greece, you can’t help but notice the specific philosophy they employ to create a warm, hospitable atmosphere. They are famously wonderful hosts, willing to do anything to please those that they are serving as they believe it is not just the food that makes up a perfect meal, but the company of their friends and family at the table that completes the experience. And their attention to detail regarding the food itself, results in the use of only the freshest fish, fruits and vegetables. In our trip to Greece, we have found great food, kind and generous people and a wealth of knowledge. The long and storied history of this country, as well as all its links to other cultures around the world, inspire us to continue to seek out and discover more of these connections.