Think Outside The Obvious Cuisine

Many people have very set ideas about ethnic cuisines here in America. But more and more, authentic foreign food is showing up in restaurants across the country. And the adventurous foodie should avail themselves of this treat.

Most of us, when we think of Italian food, we think of pasta. What we often don’t realize is there are other authentic Italian foods, like fried octopus and baked eels. When we think of Chinese food, we think of rice with spicy vegetables and meat-laden sauces, fried rice, and egg rolls. But we don’t think about Moon Cake, Coconut Bread, or Winter Melon Cake.

The lesson here is to think about ethnic foods that are not typical. You might find a whole world of delights. Visit neighborhoods where immigrants live and you’ll find shops and restaurants with real food from their homelands that you might not even think of as food.

Here, when we think of Mexican food, we think of tacos, burritos, and salsa. But if you go to Mexico, especially outside the main tourist towns, you find that tacos are not hard and crunchy, but soft and usually filled with leftover meat and vegetables or rotisserie grilled pork or lamb. No salsa, just lots of chile peppers, pickled in a pungent vinegar.

I love Ethiopian food, falling for the spicy communal dishes at a tiny restaurant in Chicago. But when I tell people that, they ask if Ethiopian food is an empty plate or a bowl of rice gruel. Prior to the famine in Northeast Africa, that part of the world had a rich culinary history. Eating Dora Wat, a chicken stew, with spongy flatbread is a tastebud holiday in exotic lands. Add a glass of honey wine and it’s heaven.

If your town is lucky enough to have a Chinatown, stop by a bakery for some different kinds of treats. Chinese baked goods are less sweet and sometimes contain ingredients we don’t think of like barbecued pork or durian, that nasty Asian fruit that smells like someone got sick. For a real exotic adventure go to a Chinese grocery. But be warned, this is not the place for the squeamish or those with sensitive noses. If you don’t like to see whole, dead animals, pass that up.

Immigrant neighborhoods usually have some place that offers the taste of home, which might not be to the taste of many European-descended Americans. But that’s what makes this country so great. There’s a big culinary world out there you probably haven’t explored. So, be adventurous and travel the world without ever leaving your hometown.