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Traditional Food to Try on your Travels

Written by Jenny McWhirter on 25 / 05 / 2017

Gap Year Advice

It may be tempting, but please don’t rush to the nearest ‘English fish and chips’ restaurant in sight!

Food is an important part of every culture, so for a fully-immersed cultural experience, you’re going to have to brave the local dishes.

Many are utterly irresistible, with their strong, flavoursome smells drawing you in from miles off, while others require a slightly stronger stomach and a little bit of courage!

Below are some of the most famous, delicious and strange dishes from six countries all across the world. All, by the way, can be visited on an incredible trip with the Leap. So if there’s a food you just can’t wait to ty, we can help you out!

N.B. Pound signs indicate price, however, all are relative and far cheaper than eating anything over in England. Essentially, £=pennies, ££=cheap and £££=slightly less cheap but still totally affordable!

South Africa

The rainbow nation, as you would expect, has a hugely colourful array of cuisine. Their extensive history has fashioned a unique culinary heritage blending European, Asian, and African traditions.

It could be sushi one night and ostrich steak the next!

Ones to try:

Braai: The word braai comes from the word braaivleis, which is Afrikaans for roasted meat. Braai means "barbeque" and vleis means "meat."

Out there it’s not just a few sunny summer days each year when the BBQ is pulled from the depths of the shed. It’s probably a twice weekly occurrence, and as to what’s eaten, pretty much anything goes!

Imagine lazing outside, enjoying the beautiful African climate, a cold ‘dop’ (drink of which there is always plenty) in hand, the warm glow of the fire nearby and good company surrounding you… South Africans are the ultimate barbeque chefs. ££

Boerewors: This is a spicy sausage, full of a beef and pork mix, and sometimes lamb, spiced with cloves, coriander seed, pepper, nutmeg and allspice.

For the healthy ones out there, it never contains mechanically separated or processed meat and no more than 30% fat. It’s always huge and always wound into a tight spiral. £££

Bobotie: Pronounced ba-boor-tea, this is South Africa’s national dish and is quite simply delicious. Made from a mixture of curried meat and fruit with a creamy potato topping, I’d say it’s an exotic Shepard’s pie. Hearty and warming. ££

Biltong: Basically a far tougher and saltier version of the peperamis you had in your pre-school lunchboxes. Or a far less sweet version of beef jerky!

The word biltong is from the Dutch bil ("rump") and tong ("strip" or "tongue"). Okay, I realise I’m not really selling it right now, but they all love it out there!

It’s a dried, cured, salty meat typically using beef and game, and is the South African’s equivalent to the cereal bar in your handbag for when you get peckish. £

Game: You can’t leave South Africa without trying a least one of their wild (literally) meat options.

On my own visit, it was a platter of kudu, springbok, crocodile, warthog and ostrich. Oddly enough, the ostrich came out on top: flavourful, tender and maybe even tastier than chicken! £££

Bunny Chow: A definite must try! This is a fast food dish originating in the Indian community of Durban.

It consists of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with a curry of all kinds of variety. The best will offer freshly baked, warm bread, and the loaves’ insides as the perfect tool for soaking up curry sauce. Most will go for a third or half of a loaf, but if you’re feeling brave, go ahead and tackle a whole one. £ - ££

Mexico

I know you think you’ve got Mexico's cuisine covered, but it’s not all fajitas, tacos and enchiladas. What’s more, I’m sorry to inform you that the real Mexican tacos etc., are far better than the Tex-Mex American adaptations we’re used to.

Ones to try:

Mole: Three states claim to be the original home of mole (pronounced ‘mol-eh’), a rich, complex sauce extremely popular in Mexican cuisine.

With 20+ ingredients in many of the countless mole recipes and a constant, lengthy period of stirring to perfect it, this is a dish that requires some practice. Often packed with chilli peppers and spices, mole can give a great kick to any meal.

The Mexican state of Oaxaca, located in a region known as ‘the land of seven moles’, is a great place to start your mole addiction. £

Chiles en nogada: By displaying the three colours of the Mexican flag, this is one of Mexico’s most patriotic dishes!

Poblano chillies filled with picadillo (a mixture of chopped meat, fruits and spices) represent the green on the flag. Then the walnut-based cream sauce gives the white and the pomegranate seeds add the red.

It is believed that the dish was first served to Don Agustin de Iturbide in Puebla, liberator and subsequent Emperor of Mexico. So I guess it must be good? ££

Enchiladas: Another dish with plenty of history, enchiladas were first created in Mayan times. The people in the Valley of Mexico would eat corn tortillas wrapped around small fish.

Nowadays, both corn and flour tortillas are filled with meat, cheese, seafood, beans and vegetables. To enjoy them as the Mexicans do, they’ll need smothering in chilli sauce and serving for breakfast. ££

Elote: On every street corner in every city of Mexico, you’ll find an elote seller.

This tasty snack is, in essence, an enhanced corn on the cob. The corn is boiled and stuck on a stick just like over here. However, salt, chilli powder, lime, butter, cheese mayonnaise and sour cream toppings create a much more flavoursome and exciting cheap eat. £

Tacos al pastor: This is proper taco.

It’s origins date back to the 1920s and 30s and the arrival of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants to Mexico.

Tacos al pastor, meaning ‘in the style of the shepherd, consist of thin strips of pork sliced off a spit, placed on a corn tortilla and served with onions, coriander leaves and pineapple. Simple and delicious. ££

Guacamole: We’re all very familiar with this one. However, I bet you weren’t aware that while Brits and Americans started going mad for this around 2012, the sauce actually dates back to the time of the Aztecs. The Mexicans have been indulging in the delights of guac for thousands of years. We have truly been missing out!

Guacamole is always better homemade. Combine mashed up avocadoes, onions, tomatoes, lemon juice and chilli peppers, and then grab your tortilla chips and tuck in! ££

Borneo

Out is South East Asia they know the true meaning of flavour. Be warned, many of these dishes will get the taste-buds dreaming and the saliva flowing…

Ones to try:

Sarawak laksa: Undoubtedly the most popular dish in Kuching, but famous all across Borneo.

Featured on any local menu, this scrumptious, belly-warming soup is nutritious and filling. Made from of prawn sambal (chilli) paste, coconut milk, thin vermicelli noodles (mee hoon), egg, chicken strips, prawns, coriander and lime juice, there aren’t many flavours that you won’t encounter on this culinary journey!

In more-touristy places, you’ll be offered tofu, bean sprouts and other kinds of seafood in your laksa too. ££

Kolo Mee: A slightly less healthy option, but utterly mouth-watering and worth every calorie.

This dry-tossed noodle dish is one of the locals’ favourites and you’ll never be more a 2-minute walk from the nearest seller. Lard, yellow egg noodles, minced pork or beef, and BBQ strips of pork dominate this speciality. For a great twist however, vegetables, black vinegar, shallots, garlic and chillies are recommended extras. £

Midin: A true taste of tropical Borneo. Midin is a nutritious, crispy jungle fern, usually stir-fried with shrimp paste or anchovies for its well-known salty and savoury taste.

Generally served as a side, this fern compliments seafood and meat.

You’ll struggle to find this in any other country on Earth, so grab some while you can! ££

Pansoh Manok: Yum and yum. This delicacy consists of chicken and lemongrass cooked in a bamboo log over an open fire. Could you get more exotic?

The cooking method creates tender chicken in a lemongrass and bamboo-perfumed gravy. £££

Belacan Mee Hoon: Perhaps one to just read about rather than try… This strongly aromatic dish is absolutely not for the faint-hearted.

Belacan is a Malay word referring to a gravy made from fermented shrimp paste. It’s then added to mee hoon noodles, bean sprouts, squid and preserved eggs. In other words, it’s a lot of smelly, out-of-date things thrown into one dish: appetising. ££

Costa Rica

The Central American coast is the ultimate destination for a seafood lover. While being one of the poorer areas of the world, the really know how to make the most of simple ingredients.

NB. Their chocolate and coffee are totally to die for.

Ones to try:

Gallo pinto: Sounds boring but it is totally delicious. Gallo pinto is popular across Latin America, but with a unique twist for in country. Each variation is made from rice mixed with black beans(frijoles), and often a secret ingredient sauce.

In Costa Rica it's generally enjoyed for breakfast alongside natilla (sour cream), scrambled eggs, fried plantain and of course a bog mug of freshly-brewed coffee. £

Ceviche: This incredibly refreshing meal is made from fresh raw fish or prawns marinated in citrus juices, generally lime.

Onions, peppers, tomatoes and chilli peppers add tonnes of flavour and complete an extremely healthy dish. Perfect for any seaside meal in the glorious Costa Rican sun. ££

Tamales: A seasoned and jam-packed corn flour pocket wrapped in plantains leaves and then steamed.

Fillings typically include rice, beans, vegetables and meat. However, the Aztecs preferred theirs stuffed with flamingo, frog, axolotl or rabbit!

Originating in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC, Aztec, Mayan, Olmeca and Toleca civilisations used tamales as a portable food for hunters, travellers and to support their armies.

Today, during the Christmas holidays, tamales are a special treat and a beautiful centrepiece all over Latin America. ££

Tostones: My all time favourite overseas snack! These twice-fried plantain slices and indulgent, simple and utterly amazing.

They made the perfect addition to any meal, a wondrous dipper for all types of sauces and the local Ticos love them on a tooth pick with a square of cheese! Better than a bag of Walker’s crisps any day. Enough said. £

Kenya

The Leap’s co-founder and born and bred Kenyan, Guy, has given me the inside scoop on all things edible in Kenya!

Given the financial situation of most citizens, meat is quite sparse and generally a weekend treat. In other words, it’s carbs, veggies and more carbs.

Ones to try:

Ugali: Guy informs me that the typical Kenyan dish is not the most appetising of meals, but I guarantee you won’t return from a trip without having it at least once. So now at least you’ll be prepared…

Ugali is undeniably the most common Kenyan food staple. Usually made from cornmeal added to boiling water and heated until it turns into a dense block of paste, it basically tastes as good as it sounds.

With the consistency of a grainy dough and the heaviness of a brick, it’s lathered in any sauces or gravy on hand in an attempt to add some flavour! £ (I’d put a quarter of a pound sign if I could!)

Sukuma wiki: This is the most popular vegetable pairing for ugali. Being a form of our favourite ‘superfood’ kale, the nutritious green leafy vegetable is often cooked in oil with a few diced tomatoes and onions, and flavoured with a sprinkle of mchuzi mix (Kenya’s secret flavouring salt). £

Mandazi: The sweet scent of deep fried dough is enough to entice anyone to a mandatory mandazi stop. In essence, they’re doughnuts, but in Kenya, it is perfectly acceptable to snack on these any time of day, and often a quick breakfast on route to school/work too.

Just follow your nose to locate these, the wondrous smell will lead you to your treat from a kilometre off! £

Chapattis: With their origin in the country’s Indian population, chapattis are enjoyed with fried cabbage, beans, stew or just rolled up with a cup of tea!

They are a bit of a treat in Kenya and a lot of fun to make. Flour dough is wound into a coil, rolled into a flat circle and then fried on a skillet with lots of oil to ensure the perfect outer crisp. ££

Nyama choma: Translating to roasted meat, this ingredient, being a little more pricey, completes every Kenyan’s dream dinner.

Goat and beef are the 2 most common forms of nyama choma, with chicken (kuku choma) and fish (samaki choma) being extra special treats.

A great way to enjoy meat out in Kenya is in a stew. Meat is combined with any and every vegetable available, but it’s the sauce that really makes this dish. It’s formed from a light tomato base, accented with onion, salt, pepper and the critical mchuzi mix! ££

Peru

With regional specialities and a long and diverse culinary heritage, Peru has some very unique dishes.

Ones to try:

Cuy: I’m sorry, but there’s no way to sugarcoat it. We know it as a furry friend and household pet: the guinea pig.

The dish is highly important to the rural Peruvian diet. In a cathedral in Cusco, a replica of Da Vinci’s Last Supper hangs. In this adaptation, Christ and the 12 disciples are seated around a platter of cuy!

Rather bony and with a game-like taste, cuy is usually baked or barbequed on a spit and served whole. Just to ensure there’s no forgetting what it is your tucking in to. £££

Causa: Upon visiting and Peruvian market, you’re sure to be surrounded by piles and piles of potatoes and avocados taller than yourself.

A traditional causa layers these two staple ingredients into a sort of casserole. Other layers may contain tuna, meat or egg, and it’s best enjoyed sliced and served cold. £-££

Anticuchos: Similar to our greatest hangover cure, shish kebab, these skewers of grilled, marinated meat are served everywhere in Peru.

Almost any meat can be prepared this way, but the most traditional anticuchos, and apparently the best too, are made with beef heart.

It’s thought that this tradition comes from the days when Peru’s Spanish conquerors would consume a cow’s choicest cuts, and leave the organs for their slaves. Nowadays, high-end restaurants offer them or appetisers while street-cart vendors sell them slathered in a garlicky sauce. £

Lucuma: It’s not all spice and herbs. Peruvians have a sweet tooth too.

Lucuma is a fruit resembling a mango, but with a custardy taste and a flavour similar to maple syrup.

The fruit is used to flavour numerous desserts but is especially loved as a variety of ice cream. ££

Feeling peckish?

Now I’m sure reading this had made you all starving, so go grab a snack. Just remember to skip the western options and try out the local cuisine when you’re travelling. I guarantee you’ll be positively surprised!

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