Food Around the World

Food is a big part of our lives. Different cultures have different traditions and rituals that involve food. It can bring people together to celebrate and mourn. There are several different types of cultural cuisines but a few of the most common are Japanese, Indian, and Greek.

Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is mostly known for sushi, but there are other popular dishes such as ramen, tempura, gyoza, and sashimi. Tempura is the deep-frying of vegetables, meat or seafood. Gyoza is typically an appetizer or a side dish of dumplings filled with meat and vegetables. Sashimi is thinly sliced raw meat or fish that is often accompanied with soy sauce. Rice and noodles are a staple food in Japanese culture and there are always side dishes that are usually fish or pickled vegetables. Seafood is also very common in this type of cuisine because of Japan’s location being surrounded by the ocean. 

Each dish is usually served in different bowls and plates which relates to Japanese food etiquette and table manners. Each individual eating will have their own bowl and plate and it is disrespectful to eat from others’ plates.

Unlike in American culture, chopsticks are primarily used to eat food. While eating, there are certain things to do and to not do. For example, it is inappropriate to burp while eating at the table because it is considered rude. Yet, it is appropriate to slurp noodles because it shows that the food is good and your appreciation.

Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine is another delicious type of food! The most popular foods from an American point of view are chicken tikka masala, biryani, naan, and samosas. While these are very yummy foods, there are many more great dishes to try. I’ve been able to try other dishes because my roommate is Indian and her family often sends her home with traditional food. One of my favorite dishes is palak paneer which consists of spinach and Indian cottage cheese. Another dish that I love is vada pav which are deep fried potato patties inside of a bread bun with a spicy chutney. 

palak paneer

In traditional Indian culture, once the meal is announced, hands must be washed and dried. People eat with their right hand because the left hand should remain clean. Some families have meals on the floor but that is typically in rural areas, and there are no “courses” like in Japanese culture – all of the food is served at one time. 

Greek Cuisine

Greek cuisine is another great option for hungry bellies! The most common Greek foods are olives and olive oil, dolmades, hummus and tzatziki, meat, fish, and spanakopita (spinach pie). Spices are a very important part of Greek cuisine. Spices such as mint, basil, coriander are most common and typically used in marinades for meats like lamb and pork. 

Greek dining etiquette is different from the other two cultures mentioned above. For example, wine is accompanied at lunch and dinner, and guests cannot eat until the host invites them to. Knives must remain in the right hand and forks in the left.

While the types of cuisines differ, there are also similarities. One of the most common similarities is that almost every culture has a dumpling. A dumpling consists of any type of starch that has a filling inside. In Japanese cuisine, gyoza is a dumpling. In Jamaican cuisine, a beef patty can be considered a dumpling. In Italian cuisine, ravioli and tortellini are dumplings. In Greek cuisine, spanakopita is an example of a dumpling. 

Food is a great way to bring people together and another commonality is that families and friends are able to share special memories with each other while enjoying a delicious meal. Knowing the basic rules of table etiquette for each culture may not be necessary for everyday life, but it could come in handy if traveling! 

Check out this site to look at more healthy and delicious recipes! Some examples of cultural cuisines from the University of Maryland Extension website are bok choy stir fry and Mexican pinwheels. 

This blog post written by Samantha Brenner, Family Science Major and Human Development Minor, Graduating May 2022

Celebrating a World of Flavors!

March is here and spring is just around the corner. It’s also National Nutrition Month (NNM) and this year’s theme “Celebrate a World of Flavors,” is exciting as it embraces global cultures and cuisines, giving every culture a place at the table. My husband and I love to travel and this theme made me think about our pre-pandemic trips and all the delicious foods we had on our table. 

In Greece we dined on Spanakopita (spinach pie) and Galaktoboureko (custard pie) and in Norway, we enjoyed Vaffles and Brunost (waffles and brown cheese). Some of our favorite experiences; however, were when we prepared local cuisine with local chefs. In Poland we rolled the dough and ‘pinched’ meat-filled perogies and in Spain we made seafood paella in the largest frying pan I ever saw! These experiences not only broadened our palate, but also provided us with insight into and appreciation of other cultures. 

Making seafood paella in Spain.
Making seafood paella in Spain.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my own Ukrainian heritage and the meal traditions and recipes we observed especially around the holidays. Growing up,  I remember making paska or Easter Bread in coffee cans with my mother a few days before Easter, and the debate about which kind of raisins to add – brown or golden yellow raisins (yellow seemed to win out more often). Then I would watch my mother assemble her big wicker basket with an Ukrainian embroidered basket liner which held the paska, hard-cooked and brilliantly colored eggs called krashanky, salt, butter, grated horseradish, kielbasa, and poppyseed bread, which she took to her church to be blessed the Saturday before Easter. 

Though my mother has passed, she remains in spirit and inspired me this past Christmas to dust off her old Ukrainian cookbooks and make homemade pierogies, a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dish. With the assistance of my husband and daughter (pierogi maker-in-training),  we made potato and cheese filled perogies smothered in onions that would make my mother proud! 

In celebration of this year’s NNM’s theme, Why not commit to trying a new food from another cultural cuisine? Below are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Host a ‘Heritage Day’ and have your friends or coworkers prepare and share their favorite cultural foods.
  • When eating out, try a restaurant that serves a cuisine that is new to you.
  • Each week, during this month, explore a different international culture and prepare one new food from a different culture.

As for me, I’m off to Costa Rica to attend a wedding and send-off brunch. I can’t wait to try Gallo Pinto (traditional rice and bean breakfast)!