INDIA (I could very well just list India 10 times!)
I don’t recall the first time I ate Indian food, but I know how much of an impression it made on me. All of those unique spice combinations that I had never eaten before —cinnamon, garam masala, asafoetida/hing (Indian garlic), turmeric— and new textures, like paneer and dahl. And the naan bread! Oh, that bread!! When I eat Indian food, I am in a euphoric, utopic state of mind. I am so happy when I’m eating this food. Vegetable Korma, palak paneer, samosa, paneer butter masala, chana masala, bhindi bhaji…I could go on forever.
India is my number one choice for wanting to cook in another country —street carts, restaurants, homes…anywhere, please!
Three words: chili con queso. Okay, there’s more to Mexican cuisine than a big bowl of dip-able, hot cheese. There’s refried beans (no pork), tacos,salads, enchiladas, mole sauce, salsa verde, pico de gallo, quesadillas, guacamole, chilli rellenos, burritos… You can successfully eat as a vegetarian in Mexico!
I imagine cooking with the locals there while doing a little dancing-in-place, laughing, stirring pots of beans, flipping quesadillas, mixing spices, grating cheese and making a lot of stick-to-your-insides, homemade yumminess.
How could anyone not want to cook with the locals in Italy?! Drinking wine, sloshing around the olive tins, singing, laughing, layering foods, tossing linguini with sauce, making pasta, more wine, toasting bread…
I think my Italian-cooking skills are pretty good, but I am quite sure (and don’t mind admitting) that anything I already know about Italian cooking would be thrown right out the window. That’s okay! Teach me! teach me! Let me taste the difference in olive oils. Show me how to make tomato sauce from scratch. Feed me samples of cheese!
GREECE + LEBANON
So many of the same ingredients and flavours between these two countries, I thought I’d just teem them up. I think the best ingredient is tahini. I love it in so many recipes and it is good for you! I love spanikopita, tiropita, (just) pita, the heavy use of pomegranate and other fresh ingredients, olives, baba ganoush, hummus, tabbouli salad, Greek salad, fatyre, feta, samosa, baklava, dolmades, falafel…
I think this is another area where meat is quite prevalent in meals, but it doesn’t have to be. You can eat well as a vegetarian —and with great variety!
Again, it’s a whole new mouthful of different spices, like sweet basil, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, chilis, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, coriander, lemon basil ! I love pad thai, nasi goreng, spring rolls, green coconut curry, noodle bowls…
I also love eating with chopsticks! No matter how adept you are at eating with chopsticks they still cause you to slow down when you’re eating –to savour and appreciate what you’re eating. Maybe engage in conversation while you’re trying to scoop up a slippery mushroom!
Miso is one of my favourite ingredients out of Japan, it is so versatile and very nutritional! Rice vinegar is another favourite of mine and also panko! I can’t believe how much I use panko I use even for non-Japanese meals.
Gyoza, spinach gomae, tempura, edamame, veg sushi rolls (especially with avocado!). I picture myself in Japan learning from a mild-mannered, but sassy cook who loves cooking vegetarian meals. I see hundreds of ingredients surrounding me that I have never seen before and cooking apparatus and utensils that I’ve never used. I think great patience comes with cooking Japanese meals. I don’t know why I don’t try more often. I think I’ll go make some gomae!
(sorry, I had to mention it again…but just look at all of these vegetables, spices and colours and imagine the aroma!)
I don’t know how one thing equated to another, but at 21, I got my nose pierced as a vow to myself that I would one day spend time (week or months, not days) in India. Devouring the food, meeting the people, wandering through the streets, riding through the countryside, listening to music, petting cows, going to the markets and learning to cook all of those incredible dishes that haunted me for so long. I have since cooked a lot of Indian meals, from cookbooks, of course, but I still want to sidle up next to a master and cook my heart out. For some reason, I picture myself outdoors, surrounded by sacks of brightly-coloured spice sacks, vibrant vegetables, mounds of grains and lentils, voices everywhere and laughter. It also makes me cry thinking it may never happen. But I want to make it happen…some day. I would like to keep one promise to myself.
It can tend to be on the meaty side, but ask for bayenetu, a collection of meat-free portions. Their vegetarian fare is very tasty, very interesting, not too spicy, but spicy enough. Interesting concoctions of spices like korarima (Ethiopian cardamom), chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella, and fenugreek. And it’s a meal you share with your table mates —like really share and you eat with your hands. How is that not fun!?! Go easy on the bubbly pancakes (injera) though, they can fill you up very quickly!
Because Canada is so multicultural, there isn’t really Canadian food (except for poutine, maple syrup, Nanaimo Bars and dill pickle chips), but they have managed to conjure up incredible vegetarian meals in some unexpected places. I’ve had tofu scramble, miso gravy with yam wedges, noodle bowls, fusion meals from all sorts of country-combinations and I’ve never been bored with experimenting with all of the ingredients readily available in big, multicultural cities!