I am far from adventurous gastronomically. But I like sampling the distinctive cuisine of other cultures.
Whether it's a dish encountered for the first time, or one that's fairly familiar and yet still highly exotic to me - my senses are on high alert.
On such occasions, I want to sear the memory of the food into my consciousness. And if fishing out my phone camera is not entirely out of place, snapshots are taken. I admit to feeling slightly embarrassed about the obvious awe and intimidation I hold for the novelty on my plate.
And yet I feel completely justified in my eagerness because like a tourist, the memory, in addition to the experience, is my reward.
Here are some of my most recent photos.
Pho Beef. Full of flavor and deeply scented with star anise, fennel, cilantro, among others, this Vietnamese national dish is nothing new to me. I am Southeast Asian after all. But there is something about pho that eludes me. Each bowl I try is ever so slightly, subtly, different from the last.Perhaps it always will be.
This pork rib with a honey-mustard glaze tasted like bacon. But the fact that it was wrapped around a sugar cane stick gave it such an element of the foreign and reminded me I was in a Vietnamese restaurant.
My plate of broiled chicken, couscous and salads of tomato and cucumber at a Moroccan restaurant where the lights were dim and water for washing one's hand before the meal was poured out of brass teapots. I'm familiar enough with Moroccan cuisine to try everything in the buffet spread, but not familiar enough to eat with my hands.
Mildly-spiced and aromatic savory Indian dishes: tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, chickpeas, vegetable fritters, leavened flat bread, lentils and saffron rice. I think after Italian and Thai cuisine, Indian is my favorite.
It was the first time I tried these Indian desserts. Kheer, is a creamy rice pudding sprinkled with almond slivers. Gulab jamun, are fried milky balls in rose-scented syrup that melt in your mouth. I had to stop myself from getting more.
The typical Greek salad of greens, kalamata olives and onions sprinkled with feta does not surprise anymore, but grape leaf dolmades (Stuffed Vine Leaves), which I've had only a couple of times in my life, caught me off guard both times with their slightly briny taste.
I love Spanakopita or Greek spinach pie so I've tried making it at home but, alas, I'm just not capable enough. Buttered phyllo sheets dry up very quickly when I mist them with water, and end up either torn or too gummy. Thank goodness there are a number of Greek restaurants in the area. That little square of spanakopita on the plate above may not look it, but it tastes perfect.
This is my colorful plate at a children's party hosted by Turkish friends of Russian heritage. There's a phyllo cheese triangle and Russian potato beet salad (Vinaigrette) among others. This salad with the pretty pink color reminded me of Almaty where a hearty salad like this is usually eaten as a full meal, in and of itself. These salads are ubiquitous, even the refrigerator in our office cafeteria always had blister packs of ready-made Vinaigrette and Russian Olivier salad (Olivye) for sale.
Last summer, some Indian friends invited us for a picnic. We skewered and grilled some vegetables (and chicken - not pictured, I can't find a single photo of it). Our friends told us the secret to the vegetables is the sprinkling of chaat masala powder - a mixture of cumin, coriander, ginger and other spices which give it a sweet-sour flavor.
Our friends also taught us to spread fresh coriander chutney on some grocery-bought naan bread...
...And then topping the naan with the grilled vegetables. I loved the colors of this simple meal. The chaat spices and the fresh coriander chutney together created flavor harmonies that made this one of the simplest but most unforgettable vegetable dishes I have ever tried.
What cuisine do you love aside from your country's? How adventurous are you with food?