Culinary Travel Delights
Anytime I travel anywhere one of the first questions I always get when I get back was "how was the food?" Everyone wants to know about the international cuisine. How is it different than American food? Does it taste good?
On my first major international trip, one of my coworkers advised trying different local foods until you find something you like rather than trying to rely on (imitation) american food in your comfort zone.
Here is a list of a few of the top picks of some of the favorite things that after having tried I'll crave and miss when I'm far away
||Seafood Paella (say pie-ay-uh) - its mostly rice with different seafood on it, but the seasoning makes it really good. Plus all the seafood is really fresh in Madrid, so it tastes really good.
||Muesli Bars (without nuts or soy!!)
|San Jose, Costa Rica
||Fried Bananas (taste really good with ketchup on them)
|Bucheon, South Korea
||Rice cakes (unlike american rice cakes they're sweet and bursting with flavor)
||Pretzels (well, okay, so that's really the only thing I had to eat in Munich)
|Tiburon, CA, USA
||Refried Bean & Rice & Cheese Burrito (from Lucinda's)
And now for details about the cuisine in different individual countries:
Australia for the most part the food is a lot like the US. Regional things that differ from the US include snags (which are like sausage hot dogs) and vegemite (a vitamin rich yeast extract spread) which experts agree should be spread thinly on bread as a topping. They have a bit less selection of common cheeses, provelone isn't easy to find for example. The most typical type of cheese is cheddar, but its not like american cheddar, its a hard white cheese, almost like it has parmesean mixed in. Cracker barrel cheddar would be the closest American equivalent. They have a lot of international restraunts with cuisine from all over the world, the Indian restaurant I ate at was superb. One thing I noticed regionally, was they put pinapple on their vegetarian pizzas (unlike in the US), and bell peppers are usually listed as "capsicum" on the ingredient lists. Also, they don't really seem to have the sweet black olives that are the standard canned kind that are common in the US (whether as a finger food or pizza topping) but rather the pungent italian black or green olives, often not pitted.
One thing that really surprised me in Spain was how non-existent turkey is--I really came home craving turkey after that trip! And chicken, although you can find it, is not very common, and a lot of restraunts with local cuisine don't serve chicken. But when you do find chicken they usually serve it highly salted, and the type of chicken tastes a bit different than the American chicken meat. Instead, they're really big on pig meat (jamon), either pork or ham, and it comes on everything, even a side of green beans I ordered had a "surprise" of an unlisted topping of jamon. Almost all salads come with jamon on them. Madrid would be a really hard place for a complete vegetarian to travel, vegetarian restaurants or menu selections are few and far between. Smoothies are also almost virtually non-existent, they don't have an equivalent to Jamba Juice. The seafood in Madrid is excellent, very fresh and flavorful. Salmon is pretty easy to find on menus. Many Restaurants in Spain don't open until really late (8 or 9pm) so in the afternoon or early evening, tapas (appetizers) are traditionally eaten and easy to find. My favorite tapas that I tried was little bread slices with salmon slivers on top. Spain also has very good red wine (and possibly other kinds, red is just my preference).
The pizza in Poland is really good. This could be a result of the really good dairy products they have there, but even a basic cheese pizza has the tastes a good italian-restaurant pizza. One of the regional favorite flavors of pizza has spinich and egg on it, which is a little strange tasting, but almost like quiche. The yogurt and cheese are both really good, as is the ice cream. Any flavor of ice cream is a can't go wrong choice at an ice cream parlor or street vendor. Some of the traditional foods in Poland are keilbasa (a sausage), pierogi (dumplings), and smoked cheeses. One of the best foods I had in Poland was a rotisserie chicken leg from a snack vendor in the local park. Vegetables are a bit limited, and mostly only ones that grow locally are available, so some items common in america such as celery are difficult to find. The poles are very into deserts and often serve intricate layer cakes as desert items. Soups are traditionally served for lunch, but many of them contain sausage, so vegetarians beware. Bread and (Bułka) bread rolls are both staple items, as typically served its what I would want to call "normal" bread, though I would proably be hard pressed to actually locate such if I walked into a typical american grocery store.
A traditional Costa Rican meal will include a generous helping of white rice, a fried banana, a piece of meat (white fish or chicken were easy to find). One of the special treats of Costa Rica is Lisano Salsa, which although very mild (not spicy) is full of a rich aroma of flavors and vegetable chunks, and makes the rice much more palatable. Fried bananas took a little getting used to, the flavor is a little strong, but after discovering you can put ketchup on them like they were a french fry my appreciation of their taste grew and I came home craving fried bananas. Oranges in Costa Rica were often green, but taste like normal oranges. There were people who would push around shopping carts full or orange and sell freshly squeezed orange juice on the sides of the road.
Korean food, although it smells delicious, is very difficult for me since it is full of soy sauce and tofu, of which I'm allergic. Asking someone who spoke both fluent Korean and English what I could safely eat essentially said stay away from pretty much anything Korean, which meant eating a lot of plain rice or if I could locate some, rice with ketchup. Well, that helps. Not. Luckily, fruit is very easy to find, and is sold off the back of trucks on the sides of the road, including normal apples and bananas, but also grapes--not the normal red thomson seedless grapes we're used to, but rather nearly black grapes with seeds.
Kimchi is a very common traditional food, though I didn't have any since it was difficult to communicate with the chefs to find out the ingredients in meals, and it was likely Kimchi contains some amount of soy sauce or other soy including ingredient. Koreans say "kimchee" when they take pictures the way we'd say cheese as americans.
A lot of warm traditional food is sold ready-to-eat by street vendors, in small portions for inexpensive prices. For those with a small appetite, this is an appealing choice for meals, in an exactly what you're hungry for portion size. Many of them also sell waffles as a snack item.
Since rice is the primary crop of the area, it is served in a lot of ways unfamiliar to americans. They have rice popped like popcorn, or in the familiar rice-cake format, though all the rice cakes I had in Korea were sweeter and not as bland or dry as comercially available american rice cakes.
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