The world on a plate
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The world on a plate

Eating is a significant part of any travel experience, and whether it’s enjoying a lamb and pear tajine in Morocco, some spicy jerk chicken in Jamaica or a green chicken curry in Thailand, there’s nothing better than savouring a dish in its country of origin, plus it’s a great way to meet the locals.

ANDREW MARSHALL travels to five countries to sample their unique cuisines…

MOROCCAN

It is said that in order for a nation to develop a great cuisine, it must have four prerequisites. A rich land from which to draw upon an abundant range of ingredients, a variety of foreign cultural influences, a great civilization and lastly, a refined palace with royal kitchens to inspire the nation’s cooks. Morocco has it all, and is home to some of the most delicious food imaginable.

From robust roasts to rich aromatic stews, spiced or sweetened salads to savoury pastries, fragrant mounds of couscous to bastilla, an exquisite blend of shredded pigeon, a spiced onion sauce with saffron and herbs encased in a flaky, filo-like pastry topped with cinnamon and sugar - an intricate dish that epitomises everything that is grand and extravagant in Moroccan cooking.

One of the most interesting ways to absorb the delights of Moroccan cuisine is to wander through the souks (markets) of the towns and cities, sampling the food on offer. It’s early morning in old Fés and sunlight streams in slanted rays through the woven bamboo shades covering the narrow alleyways, catching the steam rising from the many cookers.

Close to the city gate of Bab Bou Jaloud one stallholder is already busy cooking and selling one of the most common forms of Moroccan breakfasts, square-shaped pancakes called msemen. With deft handwork he pinches small balls of dough and presses them into a paper-thin squares covered with oil. Folded, then folded again he slips them onto a skillet sizzling with oil where they materialise into flaky pancakes waiting to be served to eagerly waiting customers with butter and honey.

In a nearby fruit and vegetable souk, produce of every kind lines the street - juicy oranges from the sun-drenched groves of Agadir, vine-ripened tomatoes, plump mounds of grapes and preserved fruits and nuts. Entire shops are jam-packed with olives of all types; others display hanging baskets bulging with fresh mint, used to make mint tea that is traditionally served before and after a meal.

At a spice souk, bright red paprika, rich yellow turmeric, dusty sticks of cinnamon, seeds of cumin, aniseed and caraway are heaped in tubs waiting to be measured into twisted envelopes of paper. These are some of the spices that form the soul of Moroccan cooking, transforming simple dishes to exotic heights.

One of Morocco’s most famous dishes is the tajine or tagine. The name refers to the conical-lidded pot in which it is prepared, as well as the intricately spiced stew of meat and vegetables, sometimes with dried fruits and nuts, cooked very slowly over a charcoal fire. Typical tajine combinations include: lamb with pears and chicken with green olives and preserved lemons - simple yet delicious dishes that are often accompanied by thick wedges of crusty Moroccan flat bread, perfect for soaking up the sauce.

THAI

Standing at an important Asian crossroads for centuries, Thailand owes its rich cuisine to the culinary infusions of India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. It has adapted cooking techniques and ingredients from each of these major influences and blended them with its own. Street food in particular is the lifeline of Thailand helping to feed millions of people daily, and the first wave of travellers in the 70s discovered it was a cheap and delicious way to eat, helping to initiate the process of popularising Thai food as one of the world’s great cuisines.

Towards the end of one road near Bangkok’s Grand Palace, tantalising aromas drift from sidewalk kitchens serving up sizzling Thai delights. Outside one stall, a street chef wields a wok of prawns and vegetables on his gas burner like an accomplished swordsman, creating a medley of smoke and flickering flames. A few metres away, a wizened old lady bends over a large stone mortar, pounding grated papaya, nuts and chilies to prepare a hot and tangy som tam (papaya salad).

The characteristic flavour of Thai food comes from a blend of four basic tastes – salty, sweet, sour and pungent, and the liberal use of ingredients such as fresh coriander leaf, lemon-grass, lime juice, garlic, chilies, tamarind juice, fish paste, ginger and coconut milk. Thailand’s sidewalk gourmets are masters at combining these ingredients and employing fast cooking techniques that maintain the delicate flavours of the food. Before you can say moo ping or phat Thai, they will char-grill you some skewers of marinated pork or stir-fry some rice noodles with bean sprouts, peanuts, eggs and chili.

Vendors tend to specialise in one particular dish: noodles, curries, barbecued fish, rice dishes, or fruit juices etc. Some favourites include kai ho bai toei (seasoned fried chicken in leaf wrappers), tomyam (hot and sour soup) and gaeng kiow wan gai (green chicken curry). For something sweet to finish off your street dining, look out for khao niew mamuang (sticky rice with mango) or kruay kaek (banana fritters). Eating at the numerous food stalls and vendor carts can turn a stroll along any of Thailand’s streets into a culinary adventure.

JAMAICAN

From fiery seasoned meat and inventive seafood dishes to oak-aged rums and hearty stouts, Jamaican cuisine is an eclectic mix of African, European and Indian influences - and is surprisingly healthy and varied. Although many restaurants offer excellent dining, you’re just as likely to have a great culinary experience by eating local style - and here that means one thing: Jamaica’s signature dish of jerk chicken or pork.

Jerk chicken is believed to have been conceived when the Maroons introduced African meat-cooking techniques to Jamaica, which were combined with native Jamaican ingredients and seasonings used by the Amerindians. At most places, the recipe for jerk sauce is a closely guarded secret, but it usually contains peppers, onions, pimento, ginger and chili.

Although there are thousands of ‘ jerk centres’ - as they are known on Jamaica, one of the best places to go is Scotchies, an unassuming thatched-roofed joint on the outskirts of Montego Bay. It’s late Friday afternoon and a reggae soundtrack combines with delicious aromas that waft on the balmy tropical breeze. Rows of chickens are splayed flat and whole backs of pig sizzle in jerk marinade over a low fire of pimento wood, which introduces a strong distinctive smoky flavour to the meat. A cool mix of locals and visitors rub shoulders at rustic tables opening tin foil parcels of tasty jerk chicken, pork or fish washed down with a Red Stripe beer, the island’s tipple of choice.

In addition to being jerked, chicken is typically fried or curried, while fish can be grilled, steamed with okra and pimento pods, or brown-stewed in a tasty sauce. Rice and peas (rice cooked with coconut, spices and red kidney beans) is the accompaniment to most meals, though you'll also come across festival (deep-fried cornmeal dumplings), breadfruit, sweet potatoes and yam.

Other Jamaican specialties include mouth-watering curried goat, peanut porridge and ackee and salt fish – a classic and addictive breakfast dish. Another popular and widely available foodstuff is the vegetable, chicken or beef patty, with around one million of these Cornish pasty-like snacks being eaten by Jamaicans every day.

When it comes to non-alcoholic beverages, there’s refreshing coconut juice, throat-tingling ginger beers and unusual fresh natural juices such as tamarind, June plum, guava, sorrel and sour sop. Finally, the rich, black volcanic soil of Jamaica’s majestic Blue Mountains produces Jamaican Blue Mountain - a wonderfully balanced brew, full-bodied with a smooth finish.

SPANISH ...

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Attached Files

The-world-on-a-plate.rtf
The-world-on-a-plate.rtf
A selection of wines from Finca de los Arandinos, La Rioja region. Image credit: Paul Marshall
 A selection of wines from Finca de los Arandinos, La Rioja region. Image credit: Paul Marshall
A selection of pinchos at La Bodeguita on Logroño's Calle del Laurel. Image credit: Paul Marshall
A selection of pinchos at La Bodeguita on Logroño
Street-side seller of vegetables covered in spices. Image Credit: Karin Riikonen
 Street-side seller of vegetables covered in spices. Image Credit: Karin Riikonen
Two locals tuck into a lunchtime thali. Image Credit: Karin Riikonen
Two locals tuck into a lunchtime thali. Image Credit: Karin Riikonen
Cooking jerk chicken. Image credit: Paul Marshall
Cooking jerk chicken. Image credit: Paul Marshall
Beef, vegetable or chicken patties are a very popular Jamaican snack. Image credit: Paul Marshall
Beef, vegetable or chicken patties are a very popular Jamaican snack. Image credit: Paul Marshall
A Thai woman grills chicken at a roadside stall (Soi Rambutri / Banglamphu district) - Image Credit: Karin Riikonen
A Thai woman grills chicken at a roadside stall (Soi Rambutri / Banglamphu district)  - Image Credit: Karin Riikonen
One of Thailand’s most popular salads-papaya salad (som tem)- Image Credit: Karin Riikonen
One of Thailand’s most popular salads-papaya salad (som tem)- Image Credit: Karin Riikonen
The tajine or tagine s one of Morocco’s most renowned dishes, cooked in a distinctive conical-lidded pot and available all over the country, with regional specialties. This is a pear and lamb tajine. Image credit: Paul Marshall
The tajine or tagine s one of Morocco’s most renowned dishes, cooked in a distinctive conical-lidded pot and available all over the country, with regional specialties. This is a pear and lamb tajine. Image credit: Paul Marshall
Moroccan street vendor in selling tajines cooking in their conical-lidded tajine pots. Image credit: Andrew Marshall
Moroccan street vendor in selling tajines cooking in their conical-lidded tajine pots. Image credit: Andrew Marshall