Over 200 nations are set to descend on London this summer for the 2012 Olympic Games. Already labelled the ‘Greatest Show on earth,’ the Olympics will unite people from all over the globe.
With this in mind Take Stock looks at world cuisine and explores some of the lesser known cuisines together with fusion food: dishes that blend the flavours, ingredients and cooking techniques of two or more nations. Bermuda, Chile, Jamaica, Bolivia, Argentina, Aruba…the list of nations competing in the Olympic games is endless. So too is the range of cuisines specific to each region and country. When world cuisine is discussed it is Chinese, Indian, French and Italian food that dominates. Here we look at Australian, Georgian and Vietnamise food – all considered up and coming ‘trendy’ cuisines.
From lamingtons and pavlova to kangaroo burgers and emu steaks, Australia has a cuisine that is as unique and varied as its wildlife and vegetation.
Despite being renowned for its meat and barbecuing, Australia has nearly 600 varieties of fish, both ocean and freshwater, so fish features regularly in most recipes. In addition to the obvious indigenous exotic meats such as kangaroo, crocodile, emu and snake, other meats such as lamb, mutton, pork and chicken are also popular. Modern Australian cuisine is a mixture and interesting blend of different cuisines. The native Aboriginal and ‘bushfood’ style of cooking mixed with the influence of the English settlers and the various settlers from different cultures such as Asians and Arabs, added their cooking styles and foods into the mix.
Today, Australia is a unique ‘melting pot’ of global cooking styles and foods, with Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Lebanese and African on one side and on the other, Greek, French, Spanish and English.
Labelled as ‘the’ up and coming cuisine, Georgia, which sits next to Turkey, has Middle Eastern and European roots and each province has its own distinct culinary tradition such as Megrelian, Kakhetian or Imeretian. Dishes are both vegetarian and meat based but share the same heavy reliance on herbs and spices. Starters are an important part of this cuisine and are usually salty, spicy or astringent as their aim is to enhance the appetite. The main ingredient is cheese and typical starters include Gadazelili where cheese is finely sliced and placed in hot milk then blended with chopped mint and shaped into a flat cake and Chanakhi where mutton or lamb is cut in pieces and layered with aubergine, garlic, finely chopped onions, parsley and basil. Tomatoes and potatoes are layered then layered on top.
Soup is usually served between the appetizer and the main course. Most of them contain vegetables, rice, poultry, eggs and garlic. The most famous soup is kharcho which consists of beef and rice.
Brazil’s food varies enormously from region to region. Key ingredients used in cooking include root vegetables, yams, peanuts, and fruit such as mango, guava, passion fruit and hog plum. Rice and beans form the basis to many dishes together with fish, beef and pork. Southern Brazilian food is dominated by sun, salt dried or churrasco (barbecued) meat. Many see Rio de Janeiro’s food as typically Brazilian. One of the most well known dishes outside Brazil is Feijoada, a black bean and meat stew. Another typical food that originated in São Paulo is Virado à Paulista which consists of rice, Tutu de Feijao (a paste of beans and manioc flour), sautéed collard greens and pork chops or steak. It is usually accompanied by pork rinds, bits of calabrese sausage, a fried egg and a fried banana. São Paulo cuisine shows the influence of European and far Eastern immigrants as pizza and sushi have recently become popular.
Vietnamese cuisine adheres to the principles of yin and yang as well as the notion of five flavours: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy. Dishes are prepared with distinct layers of flavours and textures that are often contrasted, and great attention is paid to the ‘heating’ and ‘cooling’ properties of ingredients.
Meals are composed according to these principles, resulting in a diet that is balanced and beneficial to the body. Food plays a major role in Vietnamese culture and everyday life. The Vietnamese love to snack and their food is characterised by the liberal use of fish sauce (nuoc mam), fresh herbs and the unique wrapping of small pieces of meat or vegetables in lettuce or rice paper. The main staples are rice, coconut, ginger, garlic and chilies. The main influence comes from China but spices from India have found their way in to Vietnamese dishes via neighbouring countries Laos and Cambodia and European influences have resulted in tomatoes, peanuts, yoghurt and butter being introduced. Famous dishes include Pho, a vibrantly flavored beef broth served with rice noodles, herbs, and either thin slices of beef or chicken and Cha ca – grilled fish accompanied by rice vermicelli, liberal amounts of dill and other herbs, lettuce, peanuts and dipping sauce.
One of the newest and trendiest forays into culinary exploration is fusion food: the combining of culinary traditions from two or more nations to create innovative and interesting dishes. Fusion food combines both flavours, ingredients and cooking techniques. The term can also apply in a broader sense to restaurants and pubs that serve dishes from different cultures such as Greek and Italian on a menu alongside Indian and Chinese dishes.
Wolfgang Puck, one of the most notorious culinary experimenters for several decades, is considered by some to be the creator of fusion cuisine. In the 1970s, he had the idea for pairing two styles of cooking that were on opposite sides of the world from a geographical standpoint: European cooking with Asian cooking.
Critics of fusion cuisine refer to it as ‘confusion’ cuisine, saying that too often, chefs combine ingredients that shouldn’t even be in the same kitchen, much less on the same plate. However ‘confusion’ cuisine is usually the result of a chef trying too hard to create something innovative.
So how do you create successful Fusion dishes? Anna Hansen, the chef at London’s The Modern Pantry, says it is all down to understanding: “I think the real problem with fusion food is cooks don’t understand what they’re doing. They combine various bits and pieces of global food but really don’t have a clue. On the whole, they’re just bad chefs who wouldn’t be able to cook French or Italian food properly.”
Take Anna’s signature dish, a sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette with spring onion, coriander and smoked chilli sambal. It has influences and ingredients from Canada to Indonesia, yet works as a dish in its own right. As Anna adds: “It’s all about understanding the cuisines you’re dealing with way before you start trying to mix ingredients together.”
It is important to remember that most of the food we eat is fusion in one form or another. No national cuisine is entirely isolated and self-contained. They are continually evolving and adapting. With all dishes and menus, whether purposely fusion or not, it is important to create balance and have the overall result in mind. According to chef Peter Gordon, a pioneer of fusion food and co-owner of The Providores and Tapa Room in London’s Marylebone high street: “any ingredient, from any region of the world, has the potential to be cooked and eaten with any other food stuff from any other part of the world so long as the result is lip-smackingly delicious”.
How offering world food can help your establishment:
• It offers a real point of difference and can not only showcase your ability but set you apart from the competition.
• It enables you to set higher price points and increase your overall gross profit margin on each dish.
• It enables you to create a ‘buzz’ and ultimately, footfall and profit. This can be by way of a special event or themed night.
• It can enable you to embrace the Olympics and some of the nations participating in a novel, unique way.
• Most of all because its fun! Customers love experimenting and trying new and exciting food.
For a great Georgian lamb stew recipe click here.