Detour: Olympic-but-not-UN Potluck!

What do Hong Kong, Guam, Bermuda and Aruba all have in common? Well, aside from being islands in warmer climes, they are all a part of the special group of places that compete independently in the Olympics but aren't UN member states.

Since we had a spare week due to some schedule shakeups, we thought we'd take a brief pause from our march through the alphabet and also acknowledge the great international spectacle that is the Summer Games. What's more, we did this one as a potluck, and it turned out super successfully! As we drank and ate our ways through the foods of some of the smallest teams, we gathered on the porch to watch the rather bizarre closing ceremonies on a TV perched on top of the barbecue.

Piña coladas (Cayman Islands), painkillers (US Virgin Islands) and rum punch (British Virgin Islands)

If you like piña coladas...well, you'll probably also like the other two drinks featuring rum and pineapple juice. Thanks to Elly, John, and Katie for the concoctions! These sweet, cold drinks definitely got us into the mood. (See the little bit of red in the middle? That's from a macerated cherry left over from the Croatia meal!)

Papaya with coconut (Cook Islands)

The Cook Islands make for a small dot in the South Pacific, roughly between Tonga and Tahiti. Their cuisine places an emphasis on simple preparations of fresh foods, and so to balance out the heaviness of the rest of the meal I decided to make a simple dish of papaya with a squeeze of lime juice topped with fresh scraped coconut. To be really accurate I should have used the smaller "solo" or Hawaiian papaya, but on the East Coast those are really hard to find so I went with a big, and unfortunately less sweet, Mexican papaya. (Fun fact: my grandfather was the first person to grow Hawaiian papayas in Mexico!)

Pernil (Puerto Rico) | Roast pork shoulder | Recipe

Congratulations to Puerto Rico for their silver in 84 kg mens wrestling and bronze in mens 400 m hurdles! In celebration, Elly and Jeff whipped up a mean pernil. Simply encrusted with a few spices and slowly roasted, it was a meaty and tasty treat, best enjoyed with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of cilantro.

Keshi yena (Curaçao)

The Netherlands Antilles was dissolved as a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and since then the new smaller countries haven't set up Olympic Committees. So its athletes (along with a South Sudanese marathoner who, understandably, refused to run under the Sudanese flag) participated as Independent Olympic Athletes under the Olympic flag. Anyway, all those former Dutch Antilleans were from Curaçao, so that's what I went for.

This dish, which means "stuffed cheese" in the local Papiamento creole, has a telling history. Apparently the Dutch landholders would get wheels of cheese shipped from the Old World, and scoop out the insides. When only the rind remained, they'd give it to their slaves, who then filled it with whatever they could find and bake it. Today's recipes includes all sorts of ingredients that reflect the very diverse trading influences on the island, from Indian-inspired English piccalilli to Portuguese olives — and I found the recipe on a local Jewish community's website!

Chicken kelaguen (Guam) | Chicken-citrus salad | Recipe

Marinating meat in a citrus sauce is popular the world over. Kelaguen is the version they enjoy on Guam. With most meats it's made from raw and the acid does the cooking, but with chicken you have to use heat to cook it first. So that's what Chrys did. Chilies gave it some kick, and the tender meat of a young coconut added a nice bit of crisp to balance out the soft meat.

Baked pork chop and rice (Hong Kong) | Recipe

As a "special administrative region" within China, Hong Kong does a lot of things separately from the mainland, including its government system, its currency, and yes, its Olympics team — which won a bronze in women's keirin cycling. Amy, who hails from Hong Kong, made us a dish that she calls her comfort food: a casserole with layers of rice, pieces of fried pork chops, a sauce with big chunks of tomatoes, finished with a layer of melty mozzarella cheese. With a vaguely Asian basis but also some Western ingredients (tomatoes) and techniques (baking cooked rice just isn't something normal Chinese cuisine does), Amy gave us an appropriate taste of her home.

Braised pork belly with preserved greens (Chinese Taipei, aka Taiwan)

Taiwan is not a part of the UN. The Republic of China, as Taiwan's government is formally known, was in fact the representative for China's seat until 1971, until the People's Republic of China took it over. Taiwan has tried many times to gain readmission to the UN, but many factors, not least of which is the PRC's permanent seat on the Security Council, keep this de facto country of 23 million people out. Not wanting to upset the PRC, the US does not officially recognize Taiwan or the ROC as a de jure country, but in de facto terms we're great buds, with embassy-like non-profits in each other's capitals and lots of trade. It's this weird state of affairs that leads to the nonsensical name of Chinese Taipei for much of their representation in international affairs such as the Olympics — and congrats for the silver in women's weightlifting and the bronze in women's taekwondo.

Anyway, when I met Katie, she was sad to hear that we weren't planning to do a Taiwanese nosh, because her partner Phil's family is Taiwanese and a great cook. So when we whipped up this idea, she was the first person I invited. And wow! This was just spectacular: richly spiced and falling-apart pork belly, braised with some sort of preserved green his mother brought back from Taiwan, scooped into a small, fluffy taco-like pancake and topped with pickled mustard greens, cilantro, and chopped peanuts. So much yum.

Fungi (Aruba) | Cornmeal | Recipe

We've experienced fungi, fufu, and all the other names for mush many a time at our Noshing table for both African and Caribbean meals, but I gotta say that Annie did a darn good job with her version. This cornmeal-based one was much more solid, and much of it was cut into pieces and fried, so hence, delicious.

Rum Cake (Bermuda) | Recipe

With all that food, one dessert was enough! Christen made this scrumptious rum cake. She's definitely my kind of cook because the cake arrived with that notch at the top missing — she couldn't resist tasting it!

This culinary tour did leave out two qualifying teams: our American Samoan representative couldn't make it, and Palestine will get a full meal as a permanent observing member of the UN. And with that we're back to the list, albeit a tad out of order, with a dip into the d's with Democratic People's Republic of Korea — aka North Korea — coming up.