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 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 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 107: Marshall Islands

For centuries, the fate of this Micronesian island group has been entirely subject to the machinations of much greater powers. Its very name, after an English explorer, was consecrated in maps by French and Russian explorers. It’s been a territory of Spain, Germany, Japan, and the US. It saw major battle and deprivation in World War II, and was the site of enormous nuclear tests with all the destruction and long-term consequences you’d expect, and many displaced Marshallese who haven’t moved to […]

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 101: Madagascar

The same geographic isolation that’s led to the lemurs and other unique fauna and flora for which most of us know this island, also meant that even though it’s not far on an absolute basis from where humankind emerged in East Africa, it wasn’t settled until around 2,000 years ago. And, improbably, those settlers were Austronesian, probably from Borneo, having crossed the Indian Ocean westward in canoes — in other words, from the same ethnic core as Hawaiians and even […]

Meal 100: Luxembourg

Food from this little Grand Duchy bordering Belgium, France, and Germany is for sure Germanic, with pork and potatoes, but also with a surprisingly strong showing from fresh beans. It’s also one of the most northerly wine-growing areas in Europe — just about all of which is white — and we Noshers bring our A-game when wine is culturally appropriate. Or preserved meats. For a relatively simple meal from a little country, Luxembourg turned out to be a big occasion! It […]

Meal 99: Lithuania

Bye-bye, Baltics! Lithuania is the southernmost, and alphabetically last, of these three little countries across the sea from Finland. While they do indeed have the roasts and fish and rye breads and casseroles common to this part of the world, happily there were enough local variations that I managed to do a rather different meal from the other two. (Note, no herring!) This meal was also a first in that we had a guest brewer — more on that below! Just […]

Meal 94: Latvia

Thanks to my grandfather’s Latvian physical therapist, I got plenty of on-the-ground advice. She connected me to folks from back home, so huge thanks to my new Latvian buddies Mara, and particularly Zane, for the help — I’m sure what I ended up cooking was tastier and more authentic because of your suggestions. The heart of Latvian food is similar to its Balkan neighbors’ — fish, preserved and roasted meats, root vegetables, some dairy — though with even more of an emphasis on rye […]

Meal 81: Italy

In the estimation of many, Italy is the true heart of Western gastronomy. France gets so much of the glory, but it wasn’t until Catherine de’ Medici of Florence married French King Henry II and brought her chefs with her that their cuisine set on the road to such lofty achievements. A major flaw of going one-meal-per-country is that even the most culinarily interesting and diverse countries only show up once. Well, except for Italian food — thanks to the Holy […]