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5 Ethnic Cuisines for Serious Foodies

by Aimee Hosler
CulinaryEd Columnist
May 16, 2013

George Bernard Shaw once said, "There is no sincerer love than the love of food." One might say that in this age of food blogs, 24-hour cooking channels, and smartphone apps designed to document one's every bite, that love has been elevated to true passion. We love to eat, and as a diverse nation, we have access to a rich and exotic array of foods and cuisines. If you are looking for a little culinary adventure, consider digging into the following ethnic cuisines to discover tastes hailing from all across the globe.

5 must-try international cuisines

1. Guatemalan

Guatemala may be Central America's most populous country, but Americans may not know much about its cuisine. According to USA Today, Guatemalan food is a cultivation of its Mayan and Spanish influences. The cuisine takes indigenous ingredients and updates them through Spanish culinary techniques. Breakfast may be eggs and plantains. Lunch and dinner might be beans, corn tortillas, and rice served alongside chicken or beef seared in chili sauce. Seafood, especially shrimp, lobster, and fish, is another component of Guatemalan cuisine, especially along the coast. Soups and caldos (stews) are also popular. Guatemalan cuisine also features tortillas, tamales, and empanadas, while rum, coffee and hot chocolate are national specialties. Chocolate is so important to the nation, in fact, that in 2009, the nation's Culture Ministry named hot chocolate a national treasure.

2. Korean

If the extent of your Korean food experience occurs at the Korean barbeque joint down the street, you may be missing out on some of the more inspiring elements of this dynamic cuisine. According to PBS, Korea's food culture is defined through its nation's many microenvironments. Mushrooms and wild plants are grown in its mountains while rice, vegetables, and beans are harvested in its valleys. With the Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan nearby, seafood is prominent, as well. Dried sardines can show up in any meal, even breakfast. Chilies, garlic, ginger, and onion are staples in Korean food, as are soy sauce and gochujang, a paste made from dried red peppers, sweet rice powder, water, salt, and fermented soybeans. Another popular dish is kimchi, composed of pickled vegetables. Historically, families would prepare and store kimchi for the winter during November and December. Although this is no longer a common practice, the dish still remains a tenacious part of Korea's cuisine.

3. Moroccan

In Morocco, eating is more than a means of sustenance; it is an important social ritual. According to the San Francisco Moroccan restaurant Marrakech, four royal cities in Morocco - Meknes, Rabat, Marrakech, and Fez - primarily shaped the cuisine, and to this day, the best meals are prepared at home and not at a restaurant. The midday meal is traditionally the most important and may feature several courses, including hot and cold salads, stew, and lamb or chicken, in that order. The meal is generally served with mint tea. Couscous, chickpeas, and olives are popular, as is the use of cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and saffron. The cuisine may include sweet and savory flavors, as well. The traditional Moroccan bastilla is a savory pastry layering chicken and eggs in a lemon-onion sauce that is finished off with a sprinkling of sugar and, of course, cinnamon.

4. Nepalese

Nepal, a small nation situated in the Himalayas between Tibet and India, has over a hundred ethnic groups and a cuisine reflective of that diversity, according to the Chicago Tribune. It may not be unusual to find Indian-inspired curries sharing a table with Chinese or Tibetan noodles and dumplings. Meat, while not absent from Nepalese cuisine, rarely takes center stage. Chilies, ginger, and cumin are among the nation's most used spices. Dal Bhat, a mixture of rice and cooked lentils, is usually consumed twice a day. A classic dish called Gundrook-Dheedo, made of maize, wheat, and dried green vegetables, is popular among natives and visitors alike and boasts abundant flavor alongside an impressive nutritional profile.

5. Portuguese

To understand Portugal's unique cuisine, you must first understand its history. According to Go Lisbon, 15th-century Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator sent his explorers out into the world and ordered them to return with any exotic fruit, plants, and nuts that they found. Brazilian pineapples and chili peppers as well as curry powder and cinnamon from other countries quickly made their way into Portuguese homes. While modern Portuguese cuisine varies from one region to the next, some dishes may be more common across the board. George Mendes, executive chef of Aldea Restaurant and first-generation American with Portuguese parents, told CNN's Eatocracy that the cornerstones of Portuguese cuisine include shellfish, bacalhau (or salted cod), rice, pork, and, of course, wine.

How to eat your way across the globe without leaving your kitchen

One of the great things about living in the age of globalization is that you don't have to be Andrew Zimmerman or Anthony Bourdain to sample and appreciate food from pretty much anywhere. Culinary schools often offer programs suitable for many foodie dream jobs from chef to food photographer to restaurant manager. In some cases, area community colleges or smaller, local cooking schools may offer the type of classes you're looking for.

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