Meal 117: Myanmar

Burmese food is intense. Funky, fiery, crunchy, soupy, tangy, herby…a full meal is a real workout for your palate. It bears some resemblance to Thai food, but with more crispy bits, more turmeric, and a lot more fermentation. It’s also a good amount of work to prepare! A birthday gift of an outdoor street-vendor-style wok was extremely well timed, as there were several smelly, splattery things to be fried up. I’m never going to claim my cooking is authentic, but […]

Meal 113: Mongolia

To get one thing out of the way: Mongolian barbecue isn’t Mongolian. It was invented in Taiwan. So we didn’t make that. Mongolia isn’t a good place for growing produce, so the cuisine barely has fruits or vegetables. For a bit of perspective, Mongolians following a traditional diet get their Vitamin C from organ meat, and at least one guidebook recommends that vegetarians bring whatever food they may need into the country. Instead, animals, especially sheep but also camels, yaks, […]

Meal 104: Maldives

If you go to the Maldives, off the southwest coast of India, for a tropical beach vacation, you’re more likely to find steaks and French cheese than any of the local cuisine. I’m not entirely surprised, because the intense flavor of sun-dried and smoked tuna runs that through nearly every meal is probably a bit too intense for the holiday-package crowd. This is only the second meal for which I’ve ordered an ingredient online, but there’s simply no way to cook […]

Meal 103: Malaysia

It turns out there’s a subtle but important distinction between “Malaysian” and “Malay.” The latter refers to an ethnic group and their language; the former is the name of a country composed of many ethnicities of whom the Malay are but the largest. There are large populations of both Chinese and South Asian origin, as well as indigenous groups. And naturally, all of them, plus the English and Dutch colonizers, have sprinkled their spices and poured their sauces into an […]

Meal 93: Lebanon

As I caught myself grumbling about having to clean my two food processors and the mixer with a meat-grinder attachment, I realized how it’s unlikely I’d take on this project without the aid of electric appliances. I shudder to think of how long it would have taken to mash the hummus, emulsify the garlic sauce, and grind or chop the meat with only the power of my arms. I wouldn’t have cooked nearly as many dishes if I’d had to do […]

Meal 92: Laos

If a lot of this food looks like what you’ve eaten at a Thai restaurant, it’s no mistake. Much of the population of northern Thailand is ethnically Lao, and many “Thai” restaurants in the US are actually run by Lao families, or Isan, which is a term for people in northern Thailand whose language and culture have Lao roots. In fact, the Center for Lao Studies is encouraging “Lao people laying claim to the food that is rightfully theirs.” So if you […]

Meal 91: Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is the very definition of landlocked. It’s farther than any other in the world from the sea, its rivers end in lakes rather than flowing toward the ocean. The vast majority of the country is situated over 5,000 feet, with massive mountain ranges covering most of its modest expanse. Yet the country hardly isolated: this land played host to part of the Silk Road, and several nomadic groups have called the area home. As with so many other countries, a land named for one […]

Meal 90: Kuwait

When I asked my parents if we could host the Kuwait nosh at their house while visiting over Thanksgiving, I had no idea that their new neighbor across the street, Amira, had grown up in Kuwait! The happy coincidence made planning and cooking this meal a dream, especially because Amira’s father Al, now living in northern Wisconsin, was more than happy to dictate his family recipe for a chicken-and-rice dish with a great deal of precise advice. Amira taught me a […]

Meal 87: Kazakhstan

Between the Jordan and Kazakhstan meals, we moved across the country, to Portland, Oregon. We took a three month break while settling in to our new city and a new house, and I took advantage of the time to learn about a country I knew next to nothing about. Powell’s Books had exactly one book on the country, a travelogue entitled Apples Are From Kazakhstan. Thanks to the title, you’ve already learned one true fact about the country. In reading […]

Meal 86: Jordan

When you think of Middle Eastern food, you probably imagine hummus, tabbouli, falafel. While those foods are indeed popular throughout the region, they come from the Levant, essentially the region between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates which contains modern-day Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, plus pieces of Iraq, Israel, and Palestine. (Incidentally, confusion about how to translate the Arabic word for this region, ash-Sham, is why the terrorist organization based in Syria is sometimes translated ISIS (where the second S is […]