The most delectable dishes of each continent

If you’re anything like me, you spend countless hours daydreaming, or more specifically, daydreaming about food. I’m not necessarily talking about my next meal; tonight it will be a mundane assembly of whatever remains in the fridge. I’m talking about fantasy food – food to titillate my taste buds and to distract me from a case of rush-hour ennui. It is for this reason, I have decided to don my explorer’s cap and be a Charlie in a Chocolate Factory. I am taking an imaginary journey across the globe, assigning each continent with a star dish as I sit upon my metaphorical throne. However, it is these recommendations that you, the holidaymaker, should try rather than merely fantasise about.

 

NORTH AMERICA: Cioppino, San Francisco, USA

Cioppino

My North American encounter takes us away from the clichéd American diet of supersized junk food that has been deep fried, re-fried and fried again. The destination here is San Francisco and the dish in question is an Italian-American creation called cioppino.

Although cioppino sounds Italian, I stand by my decision to award it the crown of North American Cuisine. In fact, cioppino is what I would call quintessentially American. This is because cioppino reflects the United States itself; it is reminiscent of the Italian immigrants’ motherland but has been adapted and “Americanised” with a thrust of loud and robust flavour. Cioppino is in fact a fish stew that is made from the catch of the day including shellfish such as Dungeness crab, shrimp, scallops and other fish. The seafood is shallow fried, combined with fresh tomatoes in a wine sauce and served with a sour-dough roll or baguette. Hearty and rustic, cioppino takes the elegance of a French bouillabaisse and responds with an eclecticism and sumptuous flavours that are unashamedly unsubtle.

Cioppino was developed in the late 19th century by Italian fishermen who had settled in North Beach, San Francisco. Cioppino then, like the fishermen, migrated. It was originally prepared on the boats themselves in the freshness of the saline sea air but as was so acclaimed, the dish made its way to local restaurants.

You have missed out if you do not try cioppino whilst on holiday in San Francisco, and the best place to do so is the aptly named “Cioppino’s” on North Beach itself. Cioppino’s claims that the name of its eponymous dish derives from the requests of the Italian wharf cooks for the fishermen to “chip in” the various catch of the day.

Alternatively, you can visit a second seafood restaurant called “Sotto Mare” also on North Beach. Both destinations are what a great seafood restaurant should be like; they are intimate, unpretentious and very locally sourced. As a seafood aficionado, cioppino takes the top spot for North American food, and in such an American way, takes something and makes it bigger, bolshier and this time, better.

 

SOUTH AMERICA: Lomo al Trapo, Bogota, Colombia

Lomo al Trapo

“Lomo al trapo” translates as “tenderloin in cloth” and that’s exactly what to expect from my South American option. Lomo al trapo is prepared by encrusting the beef tenderloin in salt before tightly rolling it in a towel or cloth. The abundance of salt does not make the meat overtly salty; it is a method to draw the fat from the cut and leaves it moist and delicately seasoned.

Once wrapped in cloth, the meat is roasted on a hot bed of coals, protected against cremation thanks to its aforementioned protective armour of salt and cloth. During this process, the flavour of the beef tenderloin is sealed in, maximising tenderness and taste. Once finished, the cooking process crescendos with dramatic spectacle as the ruined and ravaged cloth is cut open to expose the perfectly prepared tenderloin.

Lomo al trapo is a relatively recent phenomenon in Columbia and has exploded in popularity throughout the country; you’ll find many restaurants in Bogota serving the dish and even supermarkets selling DIY lomo al trapo kits. A trend but not a fad, lomo al trapo is a tenderloin that is prepared with all the fiery passion of South America, cultivating a samba for the taste buds.

To add further fantasy to my fantasy-foodstuffs, you may visit a restaurant called La Jugueteria in central Bogotá. La Jugueteria is a restaurant that attempts to instil in its visitors a sense of childlike make-believe and nostalgia with a décor that includes dolls suspended from the ceiling, wooden horses and roundabout carts. The result is perhaps less akin to nostalgia than an eerie wonderland. With a setting that enforces a sense of otherworldliness, the diner is brought crashing back to earth with their taste of the robust and meaty delights of the menu, particularly their Lomo al Trapo.

La Jugueteria

Lomo al trapo may cost you a piece of cloth but it rewards you with a heavenly dining experience, which is why this flavour-packed Colombian beef tenderloin is rightly placed on my fantasy food itinerary.

 

EUROPE: Café Gourmand, Paris, France

Cafe Gourmand

Café gourmand is more of a concept than a particular dish. However, during your bohemian escapade to Paris, it is a perfect concept to establish a sense of sophistication and elegance that is synonymous with the Capital City of Romance.

Café gourmand is a small espresso served with a triumvirate of small and dainty deserts and is a 2005 invention that aims to avoid the apparent tedium of having to call over the waiter once for coffee and once for desert. Although this seems to be more of a triviality than a problem, the result is a modern day jewel in the crown of Parisian Haute-Cuisine. With a café gourmand, the diner gets surprise variety – three of the best deserts the restaurant or bistro has to offer that are only revealed to the customer upon service. Often included are crème brûlée, chocolate mousse and tarte tatin. The dialogue between the sweetness of the mini-deserts and the bitterness of the potent espresso is a complimentary one, crowning the café gourmand as an explosion of richness in the heart of the city that has invented modern day gastronomy.

Café gourmand isn’t found in one venue in particular, but is ubiquitous throughout the streets of Paris. It is because of its versatile approach to the pockets of fine French bakery that the café gourmand receives a place on my dream tour of the world’s greatest food.

 

AFRICA: Mrouzia, Marrakesh, Morocco

Lamb Mrouzia

As Africa, let alone Morocco, has such a bounty of great dishes, this decision was a hard one. After a titanic mental battle, mrouzia takes pride of place as being listed on my virtual global food itinerary. The reason that mrouzia is a perfect compromise in the African category is because it does two jobs: it is syrupy and savoury. Mrouzia is a tagine dish and epitomises what I love about Moroccan cooking, how loving addition of spices can unify meat and the sweet – in this case, honey, cinnamon and almonds. The spices in question comprise ras el hanout, the Arabic for the “best of the shop” and a term for the special blend of the best of the spices the seller has to offer. The result is an intense, layered composite of flavours. There are no particular requirements for a ras el hanout, but one often includes cardamom, clove, cinnamon, chilli, coriander and cumin. Simply, if the spice begins with a “C” it’s probably in there.

Mrouzia is traditionally made after the period of Eid Al-Adha, roughly translated as “festival of sacrifice”, which commemorates the Islamic tale in which the Prophet Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son in obedience towards God. In Morocco, many Muslims will in turn slaughter an animal, often a sheep, goat or cow, and offer much of its meat in charity. To reward Abraham’s devotion, God sent an angel to replace his son with a ram, sparing the boy’s life. As a result, the lamb and mutton have become synonymous with the celebration of sacrifice in the name of faith, and the sacrificial lamb is eaten by many Moroccans after the festival, no better so, than in the form of mrouzia.

When preparing mrouzia, lamb shanks are glazed with glistening honey, left to marinade overnight and slow cooked in an authentic tagine pot the following day.

In Morocco, the best time to enjoy mrouzia is, as mentioned, in the days following the festival of Eid-al-Adha. Eid-al-Adha ends in October but the quality is not at all sacrificed during a summer visit. Many local Moroccan restaurants offer mrouzia, so it is difficult to recommend a particular venue. No doubt, each establishment will incorporate their own twist on the culinary classic.

Mrouzia, sweet and savoury, is the recipient of the award of my most fantasised African dish.

 

ASIA: Mid-Winter Wagashi, Kyoto, Japan

Wagashi

Wagashi is a sweet, soft bun traditionally served during Japan’s famous tea ceremonies, rooting back from the Edo period in which sugar was imported to Japan from China.  Mid-winter wagashi, however, is not just sweet in taste but a foodstuff laced with poeticism and beauty. Invented in Kyoto in 1699, the mid-winter wagashi resembles a red plum blossom, albeit one blooming in the winter snow. To achieve this effect, the flower-shaped wagashi is frosted with tiny shinbikiko crystals, a white rice flour that has been steamed, dried, ground and roasted.

The filling of the mid-winter wagashi is a mild and creamy white bean past, encased in a firm but soft covering of mochi that evokes the roseate colouring of the Japanese plum blossom. The mid-winter wagashi, amongst other exquisite wagashi, is found in tea-houses throughout the Nakagyo Ward of Kyoto, one of the most central areas of Japan’s old capital.

Although delicate and ethereal, the sheer appeal of the mid-winter wagashi means it is just as transient as a plum blossom doomed to bloom in the winter’s frost; that is, it won’t be around for long. A haunting fate for such a beautiful delicacy, I dare you not to devour this subtly sweet confectionery; after all, it is custom for a guest to leave their plate empty in Japan.

 

AUSTRALASIA: Sydney Rock Oysters, Sydney, Australia

Sydney Rock Oysters

Opinions of Australian cuisine are often limited to “shrimps on the barbie” and Vegemite, but as an island, notably one enriched with such a vibrant ecosystem, Australia has a venerable display of culinary delights. My prize for fantasy Australasian food, however, goes to the Sydney rock oyster.

The Sydney rock oyster is found in bays, inlets and sheltered estuaries from Wingan Inlet in eastern Victoria and ideally bought by a dedicated farmer at the Sydney Fish Market. The Sydney rock oyster varies in shape, taste and texture depending on which river it is farmed from, but unanimously have a smoother shell and a milder, more fragrant flavour than the regular Pacific oyster. With such a unique taste, the Sydney rock oyster is more suitable for those who are more wary of the world of sea mollusc dining and are looking for a more introductory experience. The locals recommend eating the oyster au naturale, by slurping it straight from the shell, brine included. A squeeze of lemon juice and a cracking of black pepper may help in cutting through the saltiness of the sea water without detracting from the flavour.

With a price range of £16 – £65, the Lagoon Seafood Restaurant in New South Wales is a moderately priced vanguard of the Sydney rock oyster experience, however it still offers the full gamut of surf ‘n’ turf cuisine. The restaurant is highly acclaimed and has a versatile atmosphere that is just as fitting for couples as the whole family, making it all the more attractive as a destination during your holiday to Sydney.

Although the Sydney rock oyster does not bear pearls, its smoother, creamier taste make it a precious jewel in the crown of global Fantasy Food.

 

And so concludes our virtual fantasy food tour of the globe, setting stop upon each continent and sampling some of our planet’s best cuisine. Unfortunately, Antarctica didn’t make the list, but – even as Englishmen – there is a limit to the cold we can tolerate before our dream tour becomes nightmare.