Food has always been a major factor in every culture, but in the last few decades, cuisines of the world have migrated from their original homes to become known all over. Food knows no boundaries or borders, and thanks to food imports/exports, no cuisine is unachievable in our own kitchens. Check if you have cookbooks representing these cuisines of the world in your collection.
One of the oldest cuisines of the world is Italian. Everyone associates Italian cuisine with pizza, pasta and ice cream but in reality, Italian food is hugely variable, and something that probably isn’t so well known is that food in Italy is distinctively regional, with 20 regions. Wherever you might be though, you can usually expect an Italian meal to be structured as follows: Antipasto (appetizer), primo (rice or pasta), second (meat) and dolce (dessert). Famous for Parmesan cheese and Parma Ham, Italy actually produces more than 400 types of cheeses and 300 different types of sausages.
One of the most popular world cuisines of recent times is Thai. Although many people assume it is similar to Chinese, Thai food, although using many of the same ingredients, is different in that there are lots of broths, noodle dishes and the use of a lot of fresh herbs. Unlike Chinese, there isn’t a great deal of dishes that are a main ingredient with vegetables in a thick rich sauce. The main flavors of Thai food are hot, sour, bitter and sweet.
Along with Italian, French was one of the first world cuisines that traveled well beyond its home country’s borders. Indeed, the modern restaurant has its roots in France and for many, many years, French food was thought of as haute cuisine. Many top chefs today still like to be classically French trained. French food ranges from rustic and hearty to the very finest, theatrical, almost art-like Michelin Star style and no French meal would be complete without bread, cheese and wine.
The food of Japan is probably the cuisine that is most unique. Many ingredients are used in dishes that are simply not found in other cuisines. The mastery of Japanese food relies on the freshest ingredients meticulously prepared. Seasonality is also a major factor in Japanese cuisine. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s all sushi, tofu and noodles.
With a wonderful fusion of Mediterranean and Arabic influences, Lebanese food contains a lot of vegetable dishes, loads of fresh fruit, fresh fish and seafood and little animal protein. Like Greek and Turkish cuisine, the mezze is a major feature - a selection of salads, vegetable dips, pickles and Arabic bread. Lebanese food is making a big noise in becoming one of the most popular world cuisines.
Spain is another of the European countries where the cuisine is not homogeneous, but is defined by regionality. Generally though, the Spaniards do not tend to eat much beef and lamb, preferring pork and game meats and particularly, the fabulous array of seafood readily available around the coast. Probably the most famous feature of Spanish cuisine is tapas. This is an array of deliciously tasty snacks and the dishes often have complex recipes and layers of flavors.
German food doesn’t enjoy the best reputation, most people dismissing it as merely sausages and potatoes. While there are some distinct regional variations, meat is very definitely the cornerstone of German food, and the number of different types of sausages is bewildering. The charcuterie is excellent and so are the cheeses, the latter being greatly overshadowed by the cheeses of its neighboring countries. Breads – particularly rye breads – are also a big feature, along with the aforementioned potatoes cooked every which way.
Like most of the Asian world cuisines, the staple of Korean food is rice, served with meat, seafood and vegetables. The most famous dish is kimchi, fermented cabbage, and in some families it is served at every meal. Kimchi is cabbage (with an addition of some spices or vinegar) which is buried in clay pots in the ground and allowed to ferment. In a style similar to the mezze, a Korean meal will consist of rice accompanied by an array of side dishes known as Banchan.
South African cuisine is very much like the people of the country themselves – charismatic, eclectic, culturally diverse, wholesome and downright vivacious. There is an authenticity in traditional South African menus, with influences drawn from each culture. South Africans are united by a love of their country’s food, the iconic Braai – meat on an open fire; Boerekos – rib sticking farm food; and spicy Malay dishes – all fresh, all local and all uniquely South African.
It’s really quite hard to define Australian cuisine and it will probably never be considered as one of the great cuisines of the world, but it is an interesting one. As one of the youngest countries on earth, the cuisine is a terrific hybrid of all the races that made the journey to the land down under. You have a mix of British and Eastern European, but these have been “lightened” up by the differences in produce and latterly, there has been a heavy Asian influence. And of course, there’s the ubiquitous BBQ.
Heavily influenced by African cuisine thanks to the slave trade, Caribbean food is spicy, comforting and soulful. Wikipedia describes it as a mix of African, Amerindian, East Indian, Chinese and European. This is quite some heady concoction. Food staples include peppers, sweet potato, coconut, plantain, goat, plenty of tropical fruits and lots of leafy green vegetables. Favorite dishes include goat curry, callalloo, rice and peas and of course, ackee and salt fish. The famous jerk seasoning can be used on practically any meat or fish.
The food of ancient Greece spread far across Europe and the near east, influencing many of the world cuisines we know today, and many modern Greek dishes are as old as the hills. There are also incoming influences from the lands the Greeks conquered and explored, so the lines between Greek, Turkish, Arabic and even Italian food are often blurred. Olive oil and fresh herbs are essential to producing the flavors so redolent of the Mediterranean and the Greek mezze is a wonderful way to experience the taste of Greece. Greece prefers lamb and pork to beef (many of the islands can’t support cattle), and of course fish and seafood have a heavy presence.
As the Philippines has been claimed by Spain in the past, used massively by the Americans during and after World War II and has immigrants from all over South East Asia (mainly Chinese and Malays), Filipino cuisine has evolved over many centuries. It is probably one of the Asian world cuisines most influenced by external cultures. It makes for a very interesting spread and typical foods range from paella type rice dishes to beef in bananas and tomato sauce. Like the country, Filipino food is diverse and colorful.
The food of Scotland, I hear you ask? Well, honestly, it’s the only food of the UK that has an identity. Generally, the UK has overcome the reputation for terrible food by embracing every world cuisine and you’ll find curry, Spaghetti Bolognese and sushi enjoyed in most homes these days. In Scotland, however, the food is more hearty and makes full use of the local produce. Venison and game, raspberries, and wonderful seafood are all major menu items. Plus, you can’t forget the kippers, oatcakes, porridge, shortbread and haggis.
It’s hard to sum up Indian cuisine because the massive country has many regional differences, with some parts strictly vegetarian. The overriding opinion is that Indian food is all curries but it isn’t really. Pinning it down to one major factor, the basis of Indian cuisine is highly complex spice blends designed for maximum flavor. As well as loving hot and spicy, Indians also have a very sweet palate and all special occasions are marked by piles of delicious sweet treats. There’s also a massive street food culture.
Again, there is a view of Mexican food that doesn’t do it justice and this is because of the way this has become one of the most popular world cuisines in recent years. The burritos, chimichangas, fajitas and chili con carne have been adopted by Western restaurants as Mexican food, but this only really represents Northern Mexico. The food of Central and South Mexico is subtler and more sophisticated, with many dishes having roots in the ancient Mayan culture. You will find tortillas all over the country, along with plenty of eggs and vegetables. Chilies, chocolate, tomatoes and cumin are major flavorings.
There are three words that sum up Indonesian food – hot, fresh and aromatic. Some would say that hot should be qualified as being seriously spicy hot. There is no such word as bland when it comes to Indonesian food. Being an island nation, regional food varies. For example, Javanese food has an indigenous base, resisting produce that came from the New World via the Spanish and Dutch, while Indian influences can be seen in Sumatran cuisine. Rice is the staple food throughout and there are some famous dishes found pretty much everywhere around the country, these being nasi goreng, satay, and gado gado. Peanuts are used quite substantially along with tropical fruit.
Not one of the cuisines of the world that springs immediately to mind, which is strange really, considering Brazil is a massive country (5th largest in the world), and home to more than 190 million people. This is perhaps due to the diversity of regional food making it difficult to identify a national cuisine. Some ingredients are used all over the country but are treated differently. The geography also plays its part. In the south (like neighbors Uruguay and Argentina), there is a livestock based economy so meat is the prevalent protein, while in the coastal areas and the Northern states where there are plenty of rivers, more fish and seafood are eaten.
One of the most popular world cuisines – which town doesn’t have a Chinese restaurant or take away? – the Chinese cuisine has influenced the whole of South East Asia and permeated the western food consciousness. Another massive country, this is one cuisine where the regional diversity is classified into eight specific groups, being: Cantonese, Szechuan, Hunan, Zhejiang, Shandong, Anhui and Fujian. The characteristics of each food tradition are influenced by geography, climate and history, as well as lifestyle and wealth. Traditions in Chinese cuisine include the balance of opposites (ying and yang) and the four pillars of color, texture, aroma and taste.
The best way to describe American cuisine is that it is a mongrel. Every ethnic grouping that landed in the New World brought their food traditions with them. As the races became more homogenized, some foods grew in prominence, both nationally and regionally. Some foods were adapted and changed, like the frankfurter becoming the all-American hot dog, and Italian pizzas becoming deep dish, and others were invented in the USA, like hamburgers, Buffalo wings and Coca Cola. Many dishes are found all over the country but each region has its little nuances. Some clear regional differences exist – the Tex-Mex cooking of Texas, the soul food of the South, the Jewish deli culture of New York – but most often, they are regional cooking methods for dishes that can be found everywhere.
Which of these world cuisines is your favorite?
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