Flavors Around the World

Angel Zheng, Staff Writer

   During a trip to Italy, history teacher William Milsten pulls up to the side of a road. He sees an old lady holding a big plastic tub full of giant balls of buffalo mozzarella in bags filled with water. Milsten tries one, squeezing the juice out of the fresh, soft mozzarella ball as he bites into it.

   “It’s so fresh and delicious … juice runs out like milk,” Milsten said.

   This is one instance of the unique food cultures found in different parts of the world. For most of us, food is one of the most notable memories we have of a trip to a different country. Not only is it a crucial source of nourishment, but each country in the world possesses certain meals distinct to their region and culture, making food all the more significant to recall. Beyond the American borders, there are a wide variety of cuisines and dishes that often surprise foreign tourists.

   One of the most popular countries to visit in northern Europe is Iceland. A traditional Icelandic food is Hákarl, a type of fermented meat from the Greenland shark. The reason for fermentation is that the meat of Greenland sharks are toxic, so fermentation is needed to make it safe to consume. Milsten visited Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, and described his experience with this unique treat.

   “It’s really chewy, like a piece of rubber,” Milsten said. “It’s nasty … almost like rotting sour.”

   Aside from marine animals, a country that utilizes wild land mammals is Norway. Norway’s cuisine follows a more traditional method of cooking, and hunting for game meats is common. This is especially true since more than 500,000 people in Norway are registered in the Norwegian hunting register. Milsten recounts his experience in Norway, where he tried reindeer.

   “It was like a little steak, but it tasted way different … very full flavor, very rich,” Milsten said.

   Northern Europe’s cuisine is more filling and higher in calories compared to southern Europe due to the contrast in climate, according to English teacher Steven Garnett. The colder weather calls for more energy to be obtained from food sources. Meat helps solve this problem, making it a staple in these northern countries. 

   During Garnett’s visit to northern Europe, he tried a dish called schnitzel, which is a thin slice of meat commonly breaded and fried before serving. He stated that it was boneless and tasted like “lightly fried American chicken.”

   “It was also kind of very filling … but the fact that it’s so thin is kind of interesting,” Garnett said.

   Hungary is located in central Europe, and typically features food heavy on dairy, cheese, and meat. The people of Hungary often refer to themselves as a “nation of soup eaters,” and their cuisine reflects this idea in the form of goulash, one of the national dishes of Hungary. Garnett encountered this famous dish during his visit to the country.

   “[Goulash is] a stew heavy on meat and potatoes and the seasoning paprika … it was ubiquitous,” Garnett said.

   As you travel southeast of Europe, you will reach Greece, a country made up of over 6,000 beautiful islands. Milsten has travelled to Mykonos, Greece, where he discovered the scrumptious squid ink pasta. What makes this dish unique is that the pasta is colored licorice black from the squid ink.

   “It actually has a little tiny bit of a metallic taste to it,” Milsten said. “But that’s not why it was good. It was the sauce that they put on it.”

   Not only is meat and starchy ingredients the primary cuisine in Europe, but it is also the staple in Central America along with corn, beans, and squash. However, financial stability isn’t evenly distributed, impacting food options for the poorer population. During Garnett’s trip to Panama, he had meals with good hearted local people working on a church construction. He recalls a particular food that stood out to him.

   “Ketchup on white bread was a sandwich,” Garnett said. “The least nutritious bread in the world with ketchup … was a normal lunch food.”

   The northern part of South America features Colombia. Known for their world- famous coffee, Colombia is also home to many exotic fruits such as pitaya (dragon fruit), guanábana (soursop), mangostino (mangosteen), and the country’s beloved maracuyá (yellow passion fruit). Eighth grader Maiori Butz remembers an assortment of fruits at a hotel in Colombia, where she tasted the maracuya.

   “It was sweet and sour and really easy to eat,” Butz said. “I had one for breakfast every day.”

   Another exotic fruit in Colombia is the Lulo, an orange fruit with the inside resembling a green tomato. Eighth grader Brooke Kalmanson recalls trying the juice of a Lulo at a traditional Colombian restaurant. 

   “It’s sort of like a passionfruit … a little bit more sour than what a kiwi would taste like,” Kalmanson said.

   In the west part of South America, you will find Peru. An interesting staple in Peru is the cuy (pronounced “kwee”), also known as Guinea pigs. Not only is the cuy a native animal to the country, but is also in the Peruvian diet for millenia. Kalmanson tasted the unique dish during her travels.

   “People would come out [of a little store] with the guinea pigs on a stick,” Kalmanson said. “I tried guinea pigs where it wasn’t on a stick, … and surprisingly, it just tastes like chicken.”

   Despite the variance in cuisines that countries outside of America presents, it’s important to note that these unique foods are a normal part of their culture. Most of these dishes date back to the past, so it’s deeply rooted in tradition. The next time you travel to a foreign country, it’s a good idea to try dishes you haven’t seen before. You might find it delicious!