By Katie Duffin
There are lots of goods out there which represent cultures, but most of them are unknown. I will try to tell you stories including historical backgrounds of some of them.
Hungary – Goulash
Anyone who’s travelled to the likes of Prague or Budapest will have stumbled across one of central Europe’s favourite homely dishes — Hungarian Goulash. Originally prepared by shepherds in the Ninth Century for their travels across Europe, “Gulyás” literally translates as ‘herdsman’. Back then, the dish was made mostly from beef, which was cooked with onions and seasoning in an iron kettle over an open fire. The shepherds would boil the stew until all the liquid was gone, before leaving the meat to dry out completely in the sun. Then, this mixture was stored away in bags for their travels. When the time came for refuelling, the shepherd would simply boil some water and add it to the meat to make a homely, flavoursome stew. The stew can now be found in countries like Austria and Czech Republic, and has been modernised to include ingredients like paprika and tomatoes for a delicious meal with a real home-cooked feeling.
Myanmar – Lahpet Salad
Myanmar is a country steeped in history and known for its creative dishes; most famously, its salads. Unlike here in Britain, salads in Myanmar have shredded cabbage, vegetables, or noodles instead of lettuce as the base. The dressing is always sure to give a nice kick: with flavours like green mango or lime with garlic or shallots creating a wave of tastes. Perhaps the best part of Myanmarese salads are the condiments — from nuts to pickled chilis, each person gets to tailor their dish to their taste, meaning everyone’s dish is new and exciting. Lahpet Thoke is the country’s favourite salad, and is made from fermented tea leaves. I know what you’re thinking, but the bitter taste is mellowed by the ginger, garlic and other tasty ingredients to create the perfect balance. The salad was an ancient symbolic peace offering between warring kingdoms in the history of Myanmar, and is typically exchanged and consumed after settling a dispute. Now, a Lahpet tray is traditionally used as a hospitality offering to houseguests, and the dish is a staple for traditional ceremonies across the country.
Iceland – Hákarl
Made famous by the likes of Gordon Ramsey and James May, who challenged one another to eat it, Iceland has a rather interesting national dish by the name of hákarl – which translates directly to ‘fermented shark’. You read that right. Fermented sleeper shark meat is readily available in Icelandic stores and is eaten all year-round, but is also served as part of a þorramatur, a selection of traditional food served at þorrablót — a traditional midwinter Icelandic festival. Hákarl contains a large amount of ammonia and has an incredibly strong smell, which is why outsiders are often shocked at the sheer flavour of the dish. For this reason, it’s often served in cubes on toothpicks — most people don’t need much more than that to start!
Mexico – Salsa
Anyone who’s a fan of mexican food will know that salsa is a staple. A simple sauce that adds to any mexican meal imaginable, the origins of salsa can be traced back to the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas who used various combinations of tomatoes, chilies and other spices as a type of condiment to really flavour their meat and fish. Salsa was known to be sold in the Aztec marketplaces, and is primarily made of tomatoes, chopped, mixed until smooth or chunky.
Salsa can be found across the globe nowadays, even in your local Spar, but how about making your own? This simple recipe will go great with your evening fajitas:
14 ounce can stewed tomatoes (lightly drained)
1 small white onion peeled and quartered
2-3 jalapeños (for less heat, remove seeds)
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin to taste
1 teaspoons salt to taste
1 – 2 handfuls coriander
Juice of 1 small lime
Directions: All you need to do is add all the ingredients to a food processor and blend until the texture is as smooth as desired. Serve on top of your favourite tortilla chips or in a delicious taco. Enjoy!