The popularity of regional cuisines is constantly changing. Our food obsessions come and go — with the exception of Baja tacos, Japanese sushi, and Italian pastas. That’s why every year food writers and critics release lists upon lists of food trends that they promise are coming down the pike.
Well, this is a list like that, we suppose. But let’s un-tether it from 2017 food trends. It sounds too temporary. Let’s look at these as “food cultures” that need a little more space on your monthly menu. We’re talking about cuisines and foodways which we believe are sorely underrepresented at present in the American food scene.
And we’re giving you photo evidence for why you should take it upon yourself to change things!
Let’s get this out of the way: Saying “Indonesian food” is a little disingenuous. Trying to lump all of Indonesia’s varying cuisines into a single monolith is like saying “American” food — because what is that even? Creole, NY pizza slices, burgers, California cuisine, salmon chowder?
It’s too broad, is our point. So for this exercise we’re going to talk Padang — which comes from western Sumatra but is one of the most popular cuisines in Southeast Asia.
Padang is an assortment of curried and fermented meats, fish, veg, soy, that’s served kinda like Indonesian tapas on small plates family style at your table with a nice bowl of rice to share. The flavor profiles rely heavily on coconut, very spicy chili peppers, lime leaves, and a local spice mix that can vary, literally, restaurant to restaurant.
It’s a great way to share a meal with family or friends and is easily washed down with a nice cold lager.
Iceland has suddenly appeared on every wanderlusting globetrotter’s bucket list. You can blame Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and Justin Bieber. Luckily for us, Iceland offers a wholly unique cuisine, with local chefs ready to take their homeland’s fare to new levels of creativity.
Curing meats is an art that was born of the harsh necessity of surviving the long Icelandic winters. Cured puffin, lamb, beef, whale, and even shark are cornerstones of that food processing culture and Icelanders have it down pat. Chef Gunnar Gislason embraced his island’s food traditions and elevated them — which carried him all the way to New York, where he just earned a Michelin Star for Agern.
Portugal is having a bit of a resurgence in tourism at the moment, as people start looking to Europe with the dollar’s strength and strife along the Mexican border. This is all to Portugal’s benefit, and discovering their food culture is to our benefit!
Portugal’s cuisine is based in the sea — with hints of the Mediterranean, colonial days of yore, piracy, and agricultural traditions dating back to the Romans. Food tours around Lisbon have been gaining popularity as local chefs continue to highlight local and seasonal foods. Inland, you’ll find a olive oil, wine, and fortified wine culture that ripples across the world.
Russia is in the news for all the wrong reasons at the moment. Our puppermasters, Our enemies, Our really good friends who are very smart do indeed have a killer cuisine that deserves a much larger space in your culinary heart. And it’s more than just shots of vodka and black bread, although that’s perfectly good too.
Grenki make a great entry point. Basically these are bits of black bread fried in butter and garlic — Russian garlic bread — and they’re the perfect beer snack. From there, the world of beets in all forms, dill-infused yogurts, salted and smoked fish, tartars, and pelmeni (little Russian meat dumplings) await you.
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Uzbekistan has been at the crossroads of humanity for thousands of years thanks to the Silk Road. Rice and spices from the east blend with proteins and techniques from the west to create a cuisine that’s wholly unique yet still somehow familiar.
Mantu are giant lamb and cilantro filled dumplings that warm the furthest reaches of your soul. Shashlik are super-sized kebabs grilled to perfection over fire. And plov — there’s always plov. This rice is the perfect example of east meets west as long grain rice mixes with Middle eastern dried fruits and yogurt marinated lamb (the bacteria in the yogurt breaks down the meat making it super tender). It’s kinda like if someone made a killer high-end version of Rice-a-Roni and then served it out of huge vats on every street corner.
For too long Pakistani cuisine has been lumped in with Indian cooking. And while there are some strong connections, Pakistani cuisine also reflects heavy influence from its western borders with Iran and Afghanistan.
The centerpiece of a great Pakistani dish starts with the “karahi” pan. The karahi is where Pakistan’s signature dish is made and eaten from. It’s a one pot meal that usually consists of either lamb or chicken, garlic, ginger, chilis, tomatoes, cilantro, and garam masala. It’s the ultimate crossroads from the Asia’s sub-continent and Central Asia. Further west, Peshawari naan, or naan stuffed with minced lamb, cilantro, and onions with a garlic-infused yogurt dipping sauce is the perfect street food and worthy of attention from food trucks across America.
2014-2016 saw a large portion of the Syrian population flee their country’s horrific civil war. The refugees made it far and wide across the world, and as with any major migration, they brought with them their food.
Syrian cuisine hits a lot of comfort food spots: hummus, schwarma, pipping hot pita, yogurts spiked with pomegranate, strong mint teas, fresh herbs piled high with plenty of citrus, falafel, and so much more. There are a a lot of entry points to Syrian food that you probably already love — see: hummus. Take all those foods and amp them up with sharp spices, sweet fruits, and ancient skill and you have a cuisine worthy of more attention.
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Lunch today, Syrian style. I've become friends with a group of Syrian women who fled their country and came to Jordan to save their kid's lives. These women inspire me constantly. This is like 1/8th of the gorgeous (and delicious) feast they lovingly prepared for us today. #syrianfood #inamman #ammanjordan #nomnom #pomegranatesalad
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Peruvian fare often conjures up images of a acidic ceviche or maybe some fire-roasted bird over rice. And while that’s definitely a huge part of the cultural landscape, it’s a minor point in a wider world of deeply American cuisine that spans from the Pacific Ocean into the damp jungles of the Amazon towards the heights of the Andes.
The chef to know from Peru is Central’s Virgilio Martinez. The skateboarder turned chef is executing a Peruvian cuisine that will make you want to jump on a plane to Lima immediately. Chef Martinez’s lauded restaurant Central has taken Peruvian cuisine back in time — honoring the natural resources around Peru and the various terrains and peoples.
Not long ago Hawaiian cuisine was the height of pan-Asian and Polynesian fusion. Wasabi spam bao, Waikiki pho, and so on. The “fusion” was so evident in Hawaiian cuisine that some now consider the word to be a slur against food and especially the notion of “Hawaiian” food. Since that over-saturation, native ingredients and food ways have come back into the spotlight with the reemergence of dishes like poi, lau lau, and un-fusioned poke.
Perusing the KCC Farmer’s Market you’ll find ingredients that actually originate from the islands lining bins and stalls, like sea asparagus, taro, and abalone. He’eia Kea Pier General Store on Oahu has been helping people refocus on what makes native Hawaiian cuisine shine. By reevaluating native traditions and embracing native stocks around the islands, they are able to elevate a nearly lost cuisine into a cornerstone of our national food scene.
Way beyond fry bread, regional Native American cuisines are piquing the interest of indigenous chefs and diners alike. However, the traditions and food ways of the hundreds of indigenous cultures have largely been lost. Luckily, there are a few indigenous American chefs out there helping rebuild a rich history.
Sean Sherman, the Sioux Chef, ran the most successful Kickstarter for a restaurant of all time. His brick and mortar restaurant will be fossil fuel free. It’ll have a native pantry sourced through foraging long forgotten plants and utilizing local sources for proteins. Chef Sherman’s team will bring back a completely lost American cuisine to the public.
Up in Canada, Chef Rich Francis has started a similar movement to redefine what indigenous Canadian cuisine is and bring back his tribe’s lost art of cooking. Chef Francis made waves when he cooked the first ever Native American meal while a contestant on Top Chef Canada and he continues to redefine the way we perceive indigenous America.