Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Eating Your Way Around the World While Staying in Kansas CIty

Is this the year you’re eating your way around the world?  Unless you’re the editor of a travel/food magazine, probably not.  Our suggestion? Take a quick virtual trip with us instead, with many of the cuisines and none of the travel pain.  So get ready for the non-traveler’s quick guide – just the basics of foods and flavors.

 Mexican is one of the oldest ethnic cuisines in Kansas City with Southwest Boulevard at one time being about the only stop.  Not so anymore. Like all foreign meals, flavors vary depending on the region. It is impossible to condense the culture and history of Mexico (or any country) and its impact on food, so suffice it to say that the Indian basics of corn and cactus were inculcated with European (especially Spanish) reflections of additional fruits, vege-tables, meats, grains and spices of the Old World.

 For instance, today you’ll find differentiation based on meat (beef) in the northern portions of Mexico; in the southeast, you’ll taste lots of chicken and spicy vegetables. “Veracruz” style for preparing fish just means a tomato-sauced based baked fish.  Still further south, a quest-ion:  What is the difference between Brazilian and Argentinian foods? Much of South America does share similar ingredients, even if they use them differently. Brazilian beef quality, since their market is not as regulated as Argentina’s, may be more variable.  Argentina has had heavy influence by the Italians and the Spanish, resulting in pizzas, pasta, lasagna and ravioli as part of the diet.  Grilled meats are common – and white bread and tortillas.
 Next, over to Asia where again, variety is emperor.

 In Thailand, it’s all about balance – three of four general tastes:  spicy, sour, sweet, and bitter.  Complex flavors are important, each different from the other based on the specific area of Thailand and its neighbors.  You’ll notice influences of coconut milk and turmeric in the south and more lime used in the northeast (Laos and Burma). Some curries reflect Indian influence.  You’ll taste Chinese in fried rice noodles, wok use, and deep and stir frying. 

Chinese techniques and spices have influenced the world.  Spices such as five spice powder and ginger, mushrooms, braised foods, soy, duck and oyster sauces, and flowers used to flavor dishes are likely Chinese contributions. Its focus on color, flavor, and taste are important to all eight or so regions of the area. 

Japanese food differs pri-marily from Chinese because its flavors may be more subtle (other than Cantonese) and there are five key condiments (sake, salt, mirin, soy sauce, and dashi, a fish or kelp stock).  There is more citrus in Japanese cooking; more noodle types in Chinese as well as more dough use – like pastas. Originally fish were the primary protein in Japan; where China has always had more land to raise various farm animals. 

 Back on our journey, the trip to Europe is – what?  Way too brief but with many choicesl.  Most of us think we know all about French, Italian, and Greek food.  Perhaps we do.  But if you had to summarize, what would you say?  Yikes.  Here goes. 
 French food is still about the sauces – cream and butter and delicate nuances and elaborate combinations perfectly executed.  It’s where “haute cuisine” comes from.

 The Greeks can (and do) take credit for many of the foods we think of as Italian: pizza, lasagna, and all kinds of cheese-based dips just for three examples. Their small country serves dishes filled with fresh fish, octopus, poultry, rabbit, pork, goats and lamb.  The Italians are proud of their more simple preparations with fewer ingredients.  In the north, rich cream sauces, stuffed meats like veal, butter, salamis and polenta are common; in the south, there’s more Mediterranean influence – tomatoes, olive oil, steamed seafood. We shouldn’t forget Austria – or Viennese cuisine as the country’s food is known.  With a wide influence from Hungary, Bohemia, and more lately northern  Italy, this gastronomy is all about quality and flavors made rich with butter, vanilla and chocolate sauces, and paprika (not, perhaps, in the same dish).

 And if you’re really adventurous and would like to make the food from a few of these “foreign” places, go to kcrestaurantguide.com for recipes from Thai Place, Tasso’s and GrĂ¼nauer.  Don’t worry – we asked for authentic flavors but relatively simple prep. Go to the recipes

You can taste the world right here in Kansas City.  Pick a nationality, pick a restaurant, hop in the car and head off.  No airport required.

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