Ask an anthropologist what makes a culture distinctive and chances are the answer won’t be language, politics or religion but food! Sustenance is one of the most basic of human needs and every culture has cultivated unique and distinctive ways to use the natural resources available in their region. Even the briefest culinary tour around the world will demonstrate that variety is truly the spice of life!
A country’s or culture’s location on the planet often has significant influence on its cuisine. For example, Middle Eastern cuisine has certain common basic ingredients, such as olives and olive oil, but it also has been widely influenced by the many visitors and invaders who have crossed through its lands down thousands of years.
On the other hand, the island continent of Australia has been so separated from interaction with other civilizations until recently that it doesn’t have an identifiable national food or cuisine. In fact, about the only native food of Australia that has crossed the waters is the Macadamia nut! Even Australia’s indigenous citizens don’t agree on “traditional” foods. Instead, many of the dishes popular in the country today are English in origin, since the British Empire originally used Australia as a penal colony. Among those British holdovers are roast meat and vegetables, meat pies, and lamington biscuits (cookies) for morning tea and a malted paste known as Vegemite, usually served on toast. Some Aussies joke that outsiders can acquire a taste for Vegemite, provided they have plenty of Australia beer to wash it down.
The country’s wilderness history has been carried down in the popular camping foods called “damper and billy tea.” Damper resembles a large scone, cooked over an open fire and served with honey, butter, or syrup. “Billy tea” is tea boiled in a tin can over a campfire. Otherwise, the richly multicultural nation that Australia has become enjoys all the foods known in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Barbecues are especially popular because of Australia’s year-round abundance of sunshine and seafood.
Half a world away in Nicaragua, Guatemala and other Central American countries, regional specialties are found more often at meals. These include dishes such as chancho con yuca, which comprises of fried pork pieces combined with boiled yuca and tossed with a marinade of cabbage, onions, tomato and chili; gallo pinto, which is a mixture of red beans and rice or tajadas de platano con queso, a combination of fried banana with cheese, chili, onions and cabbage. Main dishes include a Central American version of the Spanish dish Paella, with seafood and chicken over a rice base, and Carne Asada, spicy roasted beef.
Continuing the culinary world tour, the northern African country of Morocco has a climate that produces a wide range of Mediterranean fruits including citrus and vegetables, along with some tropic fruits. Main dishes are based on meats such as mutton and lamb from sheep, beef, poultry, and seafood. As an Islamic country, however, pork is rare in Morocco and its cooking. Distinctive seasonings include lemon pickle, unrefined olive oil and dried fruits such as figs and dates. Moroccan cooking is also more heavily spiced than its cousin, Middle Eastern cuisine.
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