One better way to explore different cultures is to have a glimpse of mouthwatering street food and fancy party iconic local dishes. These dishes not only represent the culinary heritage of a particular region but also offer a glimpse into the traditions and history of the people. These dishes are not just for eating; they are meant to be savored and enjoyed.
Pap en vleis (South Africa)
Corn porridge and barbecue are famous in many South African cultures, especially in South Africa. Pap en vleis, which means porridge corn and meat porridge, is a colorful term that includes virtually any combination of starches and braised or simmered meat, with the required serving of hot sauces, spices, or chakalaka.
Pap en vleis Recipe
- 750 ml water
- A pinch of salt
- 350g maize meal
- 2 tbsp butter
- 5 tbsp soya sauce
- 5 tbsp teriyaki sauce
- 200 g thin beef strips
- 2 T olive oil
- One onion, thinly sliced
- Two garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 x 10 cm piece ginger peeled and grated
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 125 ml sweet chili sauce
- Two spring onions, sliced
- Bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan and add half the corn meal. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook for about 8 minutes. Stir the mixture and add the remaining maize meal, one at a time.
- Stir and beat it against the sides of the saucepan with the back of the wooden spoon for 5 minutes.
- Reduce heat and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Add the butter and mix. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
- Press two spoonsful of pap into each cup of a greased muffin tray to create a basket or cup-like shape. Set aside.
- Marinate the beef strips in half the soy and teriyaki sauces for 10 minutes.
- Saute the garlic and onion in a heated pan for a minute. Add the marinated beef strips, season with pepper, and stir-fry until browned and cooked.
- Add the remaining soya, teriyaki sauces, sweet chili sauce, and spring onion, and cook for 2 minutes. Fill the pap baskets and serve immediately.
Bobotie (Cape Town)
Bobotie is a delicious, comforting dish of spiced ground meat (beef or lamb) mixed with bread, milk, and eggs. This dish is a traditional food that originated in Cape Town and is often considered the national dish of South Africa. Its origins can be traced back to the Malay immigrants who settled in the Cape region during the 17th and 18th centuries. Other records say its head was brought to Cape Town by the Dutch settlers and the spices from their colonies in Asia.
- 1 kg ground beef or lamb
- 2 slices of bread soaked in milk
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon sugar or honey
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1/2 cup raisins or sultanas
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chutney (fruit preserves) for layering
- 1 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- Pinch of salt
- Heat the oil (vegetable) in a large cooking pan and saute the sliced onions until they become transparent.
- Add the meat (ground) to the frying pan and cook until golden brown. Break into large pieces with a spoon.
- Remove the excess milk from the bread and add it to the meat mixture.
- Stir in sugar, honey, vinegar, or raisins, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few more minutes to blend the flavors.
- Transfer the mixture meat to a baking dish and press it down evenly. Spread a layer of chutney over the meat mixture.
- Whisk the milk, eggs, and a pinch of salt in a separate bowl to make the custard topping.
- Pour the custard mixture on the meat and chili sauce.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the cream is frozen and golden.
Buttered Popcorn (United States)
Speaking about corn- the specialty of the industrial world – is at its best when its sweet corn is fried in butter until it explodes, then nibbled on greasy handfuls while watching a late-night movie date.
The history of butter popcorn in the US is closely linked with the growth of the movie theater and entertainment industry. The combination of popcorn and butter has become iconic thanks to its irresistible aroma, taste, and unique experience it offers.
Buttered Popcorn Recipe
- Popcorn kernels
- Salt (optional)
- Set the fire to medium-high heat in a large pot on the stovetop, add a few tablespoons of butter, and let it melt. You can adjust the amount of butter based on your preference for richness.
- Drop a couple of popcorn kernels into the pot with the melted butter. Cover the pot with the lid.
- Once the test kernels pop, add enough popcorn kernels to cover the bottom part of the pot in a single layer. Gently shake the jar to distribute the heat and prevent burning evenly.
- As the kernels start popping, occasionally shake the pot to prevent burning. The popping will gradually increase, and you’ll hear the rapid popping sounds.
- Take the pot from the heat when the popping slows down. Let it sit for a moment.
- Melt a little more butter in a separate container. Drizzle the melted butter over the popcorn, distributing it evenly. Mix and serve.
Lobster Roll (Boston)
A delicious fresh lobster roll delivers all the sweet, savory cuts of meat without ever getting bored. The lobster roll is a classic dish that has become particularly associated with Boston. Its history is closely tied to the maritime and fishing traditions of the region. While lobster was initially considered a food for the poor and prisoners, by the mid-19th century, lobster had gained popularity and was even served in upscale restaurants. The lobster roll as we know it today is believed to have originated in the 1920s or 1930s.
Lobster Roll Recipe
- 1 ½ pounds of cooked lobster meat, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or scallions
- 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Butter for toasting the buns
- 4 split-top hot dog buns
- Combine the chopped lobster meat, mayonnaise, chopped chives or scallions, and lemon juice in a bowl.
- Gently fold the mixture to coat the lobster meat evenly with the mayo. Be careful not to overmix; you want to keep the lobster chunks intact.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remember that lobster meat already has a natural sweetness, so go easy on the salt.
- Heat a skillet over medium heat. Spread a little butter on the inside surfaces of the hot dog buns.
- Toast the buns in the skillet until lightly browned and crispy on the edges.
- Fill each toasted bun with the prepared lobster mixture, allowing it to mound up on top. Serve with a side of potato chips, coleslaw, or a pickle.
The Bagel (New York)
The bagel’s history in New York is closely tied to Jewish immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bagels are thought to have originated in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, and were brought to the United States by Jewish immigrants.
The yeasty smell of an authentic New York bagel creates a happy memory as you tear it apart like a fresh loaf, soft on the outside (not crunchy) and gluten-y soft on the inside (no crumbs). Also, its distinctive bagel shape is said to be of a practical origin. The hole in the middle makes it easy to transport and store on dowels, which are common at market stalls.
The Bagel Recipe
- 4 cups bread flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion flakes, kosher salt, etc. for toppings
- Mix warm water and sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the water and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes until it becomes foamy.
- Place the dough in a bowl-lightly oiled, cover it with a cloth (damp), and let it rise warmly for 1 to 1.5 hours.
- Roll out the dough and divide it into eight equal parts. Roll each section into a ball, then press in the center with your breaded finger to make a hole.
- Gently stretch the hole to form a ring. Place the shaped bagels on a lightly floured surface.
- Cover the shaped bagels with a damp cloth, let them rise for 15-20 minutes, and preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C).
- Bring the water to a boil in a pot. Add sugar and barley malt syrup to the boiling water. Carefully place 2-3 bagels at a time into the boiling water. Boil for about 1-2 minutes on each side. The longer the boil, the chewier the bagels will be.
- Sprinkle your chosen toppings onto a plate. After boiling, let each bagel drain briefly, then press the top into the toppings. Place the dough on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Once baked, let it cool, slather, and schmear it with cream cheese.
Xiao Long Bao (China and Taiwan)
Xiao Long Bao is a steamed bun originating in Shanghai, China, not Taiwan. However, it gained popularity in Taiwan, and almost every restaurant in Taipei offers its version. The Xiao Long Bao is a thin-skinned flour dumpling filled with a pork meatball and gelatinized meat stock.
Its exact origin is still debatable among locals, but it’s widely believed to have been created in the Nanxiang region of Shanghai, China, during the late 19th century. Over time, these delicate dumplings gained immense popularity and spread throughout China and eventually to many parts of the world.
Xiao Long Bao Recipe
For the Dough:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup warm water
- Pinch of salt
For the Filling:
- 250g ground pork
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- Chopped green onions (optional)
- Gelatinized pork stock (for the soup inside the dumplings)
- Mix salt and flour in a bowl of dough preparation. Gradually add warm water while kneading until a smooth dough forms. Cover the dough and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
- For fillings, mix the ground pork, minced garlic, ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, white pepper, and chopped green onions (if using) in a bowl. Let the filling marinate for about 20-30 minutes.
- Roll out the dough into a long cylinder and cut it into small pieces. Each dough should be flattened with details into a thin circle using a rolling pin.
- Place a spoonful of the marinated filling in the center of each dough circle. Add a small piece of gelatinized pork stock to each filling mound. This will turn into the soup when steamed.
- Fold the edges of the dough circle around the filling, creating wrinkles and sealing the dumpling. Place the dumplings in a steamer lined with parchment paper. Steam for 10-15 minutes until the dough becomes translucent and the filling is cooked. Create your sauce and enjoy!
Pineapple Bun (Hongkong)
Pineapple bun is one of Hong Kong’s most unique local dishes. Also known as “bo lo bao” in Cantonese, it is popular despite its name since it has no pineapple as an ingredient. Instead, the name comes from the bun’s distinctive texture, like a pineapple’s rough surface.
The exact origin of pineapple cake needs to be well documented, but it is thought to have originated in the 20th century in Hong Kong. It is said to be the product of a combination of Chinese and Western baking techniques. When the bread is toasted, this filling will crack and turn brown, creating a unique appearance. The Hong Kong Government listed it as a famous breakfast pastry as an intangible cultural heritage item in 2014.
Pineapple Bun Recipe
For the bun dough:
- 300g all-purpose flour
- 50g sugar
- 5g salt
- 5g instant yeast
- 150ml milk, lukewarm
- 1 egg
- 30g butter, softened
For the topping:
- 100g butter, softened
- 100g sugar
- 1 egg
- 150g cake flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and instant yeast to prepare the dough. Add the lukewarm milk and egg. Mix until the dough starts coming together. Then, add the butter and knead until you have a smooth and elastic dough. Place the dough in a bowl, cover it with a cloth, and let it rest warmly until it doubles in size.
- In a separate bowl, cream the butter (softened) and sugar for the toppings until well combined. Add the egg and mix until incorporated. Strain the cake flour and baking powder. Mix until a smooth paste form. Set aside.
- For assembling and baking, punch down the risen dough and divide it into portions of equal parts to form individual buns. Then, flatten each bun slightly and place a generous dollop of the topping mixture on top. Gently spread the topping to cover the surface of the bun. Place the topped buns on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
- Preheat your oven. Let the topped buns rest for about 15 minutes. Bake the mixed buns in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and the buns are cooked. Let the pineapple buns cool on a wire rack before serving.
Sledging biscuits refer to the durable, energy-rich biscuits that were staples of the diets of Antarctic explorers in the early 20th century. These cookies were designed to last the harsh conditions of the Antarctic environment and provided nourishment for expedition members during their long voyages and explorations.
The biscuits were known for their hard and dry texture, allowing them to remain edible even after extreme cold and moisture exposure. They were an essential part of the explorers’ diets due to their long shelf life and high caloric content, which provided the energy needed for strenuous activities in freezing conditions. While there are no definitive recipes for this dish, it remains a staple food away from bases while camping, surveying, or conducting field research in Antarctica.
Pemmican is a mixture of dry minced meat that contains a lot of fat. Locals need this because their bodies will burn more calories than usual, trying to stay warm. This economical dish will give a significant energy boost for the new day.
This dish originated from the Native Americans when they used dried meat for preservation during transportation and storage.
- Lean meat (such as beef, deer, elk, or buffalo)
- Rendered animal fat (such as beef tallow)
- Dried berries (such as cranberries or raisins) – optional
- Prepare the meat by drying it, slicing it thinly, and then air-drying it in a cool, dry place.
- While the meat is drying, render the animal fat. Cut the fat into small pieces and melt it in a pan over low heat. Strain out any solid bits to get clarified fat.
- Combine the powdered dried meat with the rendered fat in a large bowl. The meat-to-fat ratio can vary, but traditionally, it’s roughly 50-70% meat and 30-50% fat by weight. Mix well until the meat and fat are evenly distributed.
- Add dried berries to the mix for extra sweetness and flavor if desired.
Pub-goers in Australia consider this seemingly Italian dish their own. Since they do so well in creating this dish, there’s no point in arguing. Chicken Parm, short for Chicken Parmigiana or Chicken Parmesan consists of breaded and fried chicken pieces topped with tomato sauce and cheese, usually mozzarella, and is often served with pasta or on a salad plate.
The dish gained popularity due to the large influence of Italian cuisine on Australian dining culture. Italian migration to Australia, especially in the 20th century, brought a rich culinary tradition that has become an integral part of Australian food culture.
Chicken Parm Recipe
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (preferably Italian-style)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil for frying
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- Fresh basil or parsley, chopped (for garnish)
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Place the chicken breast between sheets of plastic wrap or parchment. To pound the chicken to an even thickness, use a meat mallet. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
- Prepare three shallow dishes: one containing flour, one containing beaten egg, and one with bread crumbs and grated parmesan. Sprinkle each chicken breast in the flour, shaking off excess. Then dip it in the beaten egg, letting the excess drain. Then, coat the chicken with the breadcrumbs-Parmesan mixture, pressing the breadcrumbs over the chicken so they stick.
- Add the breaded chicken to a heated oil frying pan and cook for a few minutes on each side until the breadcrumbs turn golden brown.
- Place a thin layer of marinara sauce in a baking dish. Place the cooked chicken breast on top of the sauce.
- Sprinkle more marinara sauce over each chicken breast, then top with shredded mozzarella.
- Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Garnish with fresh basil or chopped parsley before serving.
Fish and Chips (United Kingdom)
Fish and chips is an iconic and classic British meal with deep-fried breaded fish and chips. It has a rich history dating back to the 19th century and has become an iconic part of British cuisine.
History has it that fried fish was introduced to Britain by Jewish immigrants from Spain and Portugal, who had a tradition of frying fish as a part of their cuisine. Combining fried fish with fried potatoes is thought to have developed in the East End of London during the 19th century.
Fish and Chips Recipe
- White fish fillets (cod, haddock, or pollock), cut into portions
- Potatoes, peeled and cut into thick chips
- All-purpose flour for dredging
- Baking powder, a pinch
- Cold water, chilled sparkling water, or beer for batter
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Oil for frying (traditionally beef dripping, but vegetable oil works well too)
- Prepare the peeled potatoes by cutting them into thick strips to make chips. Then, rinse the chips in cold water to remove excess starch. Dry the chips thoroughly with a kitchen towel.
- To prepare the batter, combine flour, a pinch of salt, baking powder, and pepper in a bowl. Gradually add cold water, chilled sparkling water, or beer while whisking until the batter reaches a smooth consistency. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Carefully add the dry chips to the oil and fry until golden brown and crispy. Remove them from the oil. To drain excess oil, place them on a paper towel-lined plate. Season with salt while they’re still hot.
- Dredge the fish fillets in flour to coat them lightly. Then, dip the floured fish fillets into the prepared batter, ensuring they are evenly coated.
- Gently place the battered mixture of fish into the hot oil. Fry until the batter is crispy enough and golden and the fish is cooked. This usually takes around 5-7 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.
- Once the fish and chips are cooked, remove them from the oil and place them on a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil. Serve the fish and chips together, traditionally with malt vinegar or tartar sauce on the side, depending on your preferences.
Exploring different cultures through their iconic dishes is a delightful way to experience the world. Each bite carries the heritage of the region from which it comes, telling a story that spans generations. So, next time you embark on a culinary adventure, try these iconic dishes and savor the flavors that have captivated food lovers for generations.