World cuisines – in the comfort of your own home!
Our larder has the ingredients to make a basic rendition of many national styles of cuisine. I am naturally curious as to why something tastes of a certain region and over the years have built a larder full of ingredients from around the world.
I’ve learned that nixtamalized corn gives an immediate taste of Mexico. If you cook with white wine, tarragon and cream – you might imagine you are in a French kitchen. Smoked paprika seems to flavour just about all Spanish food. Italian flavours are easy to create with tomato and oregano or basil. Chinese food revolves around consistent use of ginger, spring onion, garlic, chilli and soy. Japanese flavours always embrace, soy, mirin, sake and sugar. Indian flavours can be built with spice mixtures including cumin, coriander, turmeric and chilli. And Thai flavours can be created with nam pla, palm sugar, coconut milk, lime and chilli.
I’m not saying I am an expert in each cuisine – I would love to be so; but that would require cooking in the regional style day after day, probing deeper and deeper into authentic techniques, methods and recipes. I do not have enough time to do this, however, I do try to learn and practise as much as I can. For instance, I know that Thai flavours especially rely on an equal balance of sweet, salt, sour and hot tastes. Get some authentic ingredients, balance the four tastes carefully and the result should resemble a fairly good Thai dish.
There are of course limits to how far you can make food taste authentic in the home. Some key ingredients will always be difficult to source, some cooking methods impossible to replicate. Also without regularly eating and tasting authentic food cooked by a cuisine’s masters, we will be always be cooking in a vacuum – guessing at how something should taste instead of knowing. This is one of the best reasons I can give for traveling, or at least getting out to a few restaurants. It’s good exercise for the palate!