Friday, August 14, 2009

Traditional food

In the last month or so I have had the opportunity to try a number of traditional cuisines. It was not that I was hunting them out per se it just happened that I attended dinners or functions where traditional food was served:

Scottish: One night I was invited to dinner hosted by my friends Carrie and Kamahl. Carrie is Scottish and the main highlights of dinner were black pudding , and haggis with a traditional whisky sauce. Now I had never tried either before so I thought it was pretty cool that I was going to get to try these things for the first time -- especially haggis, which has a reputation in North America as a strange and icky food only eaten by Scots. Not surprisingly both dishes were not weird and they tasted pretty good. Haggis has a lot of oats and barley in it so it does not have a strong meat taste. Far exceeded my expectations. If anyone has a chance to try haggis or a black pudding don't turn it down or wrinkle your face, it is actually good stuff. Would definitely eat them again. (Maybe I should get out to Scotland one day)

Qatari: I was also invited to a Qatari's house one evening for a casual dinner and then watch a movie. There were four of us at dinner which was held in a small separate building called a majlis. In Arab society male visitors are generally not invited into one's home, the host has a separate area outside the home where the men meet. Sometimes it would be a tent, but many Qatari families have built separate small buildings adjacent to the house instead. This majlis consisted of a carpeted area about the size of a standard North American livingroom with cushioned benches lining the walls, a couple of coffee tables, a television, air conditioning (of course), and a washroom.

While we chatted a servant came in and unrolled a large piece of plastic on the floor for the dinner as we would be eating on the floor. Dinner was rice, Arabic bread, and what could best be described as a mild shrimp curry. It's Arabic name escapes me, I'll try to find out. While Qatari food can be what westerners would consider traditional Arabic cuisine (Lamb on rice, kebabs, hummous, etc) there are also a number of dishes with roots in Indian cuisine. The Gulf countries had traded with India for centuries, to the extent that it was only in the last 40 years or so that Qatar ceased using the Rupee as their currency, so many of the Indian spices and cooking techniques were adopted into Qatari cuisine. We sat on the floor and chatted away while eating dinner, the Qataris used their right hand for eating and had graciously provided cutlery for us non-Qataris. Traditionally Arabs eat with their right hand, never the left (you use your left hand for, um, wiping and stuff when you go to the bathroom, remember in the old days there was not a lot of soap and water around in the desert so in the interest of good hygiene Arabs would always eat with their right hand and never touch food with the left). After dinner we sat back on the benches and were served tea and traditional Arabic coffee. Dinner was great as expected, while I had never had that particular dish before I have of course had Arabic cuisine a zillion times while I have been in Qatar.

[A blog post with more Qatari dishes can be found here]

French: naturally during my recent trip to France I had plenty of opportunity to eat French cuisine, primarily at the wedding reception but whenever I was in a restaurant in Paris I always tried to order French food. Coq le vin, foie gras, croissants and pain de chocolat, baguettes, stake tartare, chicken tarragon (is that French?), veal in a cream sauce, a variety of amuse bouche, I had all sorts of things. I can't say I had any bad food the whole time. Aside from the pastries I like meat with the sauces that are a cornerstone of French cuisine. Potatoes and vegetables were not as exciting. I still have no idea why French people tend not to be as overweight as Brits or Americans, if I was French I would be constantly eating meat and pastries.


Anonymous said...

oooo have to agree Pennie - love the blood pudding myself!

Hope your trip to Japan is all good!


Magnus said...

I love haggis and enjoy black and white pudding.

Glen McKay said...