Meal 123: Nicaragua

I try not to knock the countries whose food we cook, but I have to admit I’ve generally found Central American food to be pretty boring. The Nicaraguan food we cooked mostly fits the pattern, with one huge exception: enormous, overloaded, rich nacatamales. The variety of ingredients, from raisins to olives to rice to pork, is so enshrined in each family’s recipe that it’s like canon; as one fourth-generation nacatamal vendor put it, “We don’t innovate. We make everything step-by-step the way […]

Meal 110: Mexico

Just like other great cuisines like Chinese and French, there’s plenty of regional variety in Mexico’s food. And just like rice with Chinese and bread with French food, there’s a ubiquitous starch tying it all together, in this case tortillas. This meal’s menu is an attempt at a sample of regional foods, all while trying to get good variety at the table. From the oven-baked, olivey-sauced huachinango a la veracruzana representing the Caribbean coast’s fish and heavy colonial influence, to the annatto-coated […]

Meal 84: Jamaica

I was surprised to read in my research for this meal that a lot of Jamaicans wish they’d never gone independent from the United Kingdom, missing the economic stability and lower crime of that bygone era. It turns out that this tropical island, which on the surface is about as different as possible from that European one, has a fair amount more in common with it than you would think, at least through the lens of food. The patty, for […]

Meal 75: Honduras + Holy See

Our first, and only, two-state meal! Here’s why: the Holy See, as the “legal personality” of the Vatican City, is one of two non-member permanent observing states at the UN. The other, Palestine, has a cuisine well worth exploring, but setting aside quips about wine and wafers, there’s nothing distinctive about Vatican cuisine, at least compared to the city of Rome that surrounds it. That said, the next UN country alphabetically happens to be a Catholic one — Honduras — […]

Meal 73: Guyana

It’s considered Caribbean, though it’s on the South American continent. It was first colonized by the Dutch, gained its independence from England, has a notable native population, yet the two largest populations are of (East) Indian and African descent. No doubt, Guyana — pronounced like the first names Guy and Anna together — is quite the blend of cultures, a study in miniature (the population’s under one million) of many of the influences of the colonial age on the Americas. […]

Meal 72: Haiti

Have you ever pondered what would have happened if something went differently at a given point in history? Compared with the rest of the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is sort of a real-life example of contrarian history. The crux is a slave revolt against French colonial masters that, incredibly, led to independence in 1804. The slave system was ruthless and required a constant influx of slaves, which had the silver-lining consequence of a strong syncretic culture quickly developing that combined French […]

Meal 70: Guatemala

Corn, beans, tomatoes, squash, peppers, turkey…if it’s a classic New World food, chances are you’ll see it in Guatemalan cuisine. While it’s incorporated smatterings of good stuff from Europe (note the olives in the tamales), by and large this meal could have been cooked six hundred years ago, before a conquistador set foot on Mayan lands. However so ancient the ingredients may be, the techniques  aren’t: I made liberal use of the blender, and really wish I’d had a food […]

Meal 54: El Salvador

After a three-week trip to India, where our senses were entranced with spices, I was afraid that Salvadorean food would prove mild and uninteresting. While it’s true that pupusas are a pretty straightforward food, I was surprised by the creative combination of ingredients, such as aged cheese in dessert, cloves in a soup, and coriander seed in a drink. While the food of this small, dense, Pacific-facing nation shares most of its base ingredients with its Latin American neighbors, a […]

Meal 52: Ecuador

Ecuador is kind of on the small side — a bit larger than the UK, a bit smaller than Nevada — but its borders contain three distinct zones: seaside, Andes, and Amazon. Hence, there’s quite a lot of variety in the foods available. (There’s also Galápagos way out in the Pacific, but we’re not eating any of their rare wildlife.) Some of the major themes are shared with its Andean neighbors: abundant potatoes, warming foods, and the ubiquitous Inca Kola, […]

Meal 51: Dominican Republic

Another Thanksgiving weekend, another nosh in San Francisco!  To go with the gorgeous weather, the calendar aligned on Dominican Republic, the second-largest country of the Caribbean. While the Bay Area is no stranger to foods from Spanish-speaking lands, there’s few Caribbeans around, so these dishes made for something more of a novelty here than they would have been in Dominican-immigrant-heavy New York. Thanks to the kind folks at Hattery, I had a big kitchen to discover the intriguing Dominican way […]