Tastes of the world: you can experience the world’s table without ever leaving home

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Rachael ran down the hall To get to her International Foods class before the last buzzer. Each week the class studied a different country. On Fridays, they made some of the popular foods served there. Today they were cooking foods from Norway. When Rachael opened the door and inhaled, she scrunched up her nose.

“What is that smell?” she asked her friend Terri.

Terri laughed. “It’s called lutefisk (LOOT-fisk). I guess it does smell kind of strong.”

Rachael remembered that lutefisk was dried codfish soaked in lye, then cooked and served with a white sauce. “What else are we making today?”

Terry pointed at the board where the teacher had written the menu for the day. “It looks like we’re having lutefisk, boiled potatoes, and lefse (LEF-suh) with butter and brown sugar.”

“I missed class the day we talked about lefse,” Rachael said. “What is it?”

Terry said, “Think of it as a tortilla–with butter spread all over it and brown sugar sprinkled inside. Roll it up and enjoy.”

Rachael smiled. “That sounds good. Let’s get started.”

Rachael and Terry are enjoying food from Scandinavia this week. Even though America is the melting pot of cultures around the world, many people have never tasted the traditional dishes served in other countries. Here is just a sampling of some of the popular foods in other cultures.


Scandinavia: Smorgasbord

The Land of the Midnight Sun includes the countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Along with long summer days and long winter nights in common, these five countries have similar tastes in food.

A Scandinavian tradition that dates back to the Viking feasts is the smorgasbord. Smorgasbord means “bread-and-butter table,” but there is much more available than just bread and butter. This buffet has many different kinds of foods, including herring, salmon, caviar, varieties of bread, thin-sliced meat, hot dishes, and Tiger Cake or Christmas cookies. Anyone enjoying a smorgasbord will leave with a full stomach.

Russia: Hearty Slavic Food

More than two-thirds of the Slavic people live in the republics of Russia, Byelorussia, and Ukraine, making Slavic food the most popular in the region. Slavic cooks have used these recipes for generations. Before the Russian revolution, peasants introduced borscht.

Borscht, or beet soup, is a hearty vegetable soup served either hot or cold with a dollop of sour cream. The main ingredients are red beets cooked in meat or fish broth with added mushrooms or smoked sausages. You also can add cabbage, onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and spinach to pack it full of vitamins. Some borscht recipes call for vinegar or lemon juice, giving it a characteristic tang.

Greece and the Middle East: The Mediterranean Diet

Dried beans and legumes have been an important source of protein in Greece and many Middle Eastern countries for centuries. Beans, lentils, and dried peas are often used to make soups, stews, spreads, and dips.

Hummus, a popular dip, blends chickpeas (garbanzo beans) with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini, a sesame seed paste. Hummus served with warm pita bread triangles is a savory and filling treat.

“Everyone should make this recipe at home,” says chef Stephanie Green, R.D., president of Nutrition Studio in Phoenix, Arizona. “It’s so easy when you use a food processor. It’s healthy, too, since you can use hummus as a protein substitute.”

South Africa: Many Influences

South Africa is home to many different cultures. For instance, in one part of the country, Great Britain influences people’s tastes and manners. In other parts of the country, Portuguese, Jewish, Dutch, French, Indonesian, or Malay customs may dominate.

Some favorite foods include bobotie (meatloaf with curry), vegetables prepared with butter and sugar, koeksusters (fried twirled dough dipped in syrup), and biltong (dried salted meat). South Africans also eat elephant and Mopani worms, but tourists seldom do.

Maye Musk, a registered dietitian in private practice in South Africa for 20 years before she moved to North America, says that she loves the traditional African food.

“Puthu pap, a stiff cornmeal porridge that is served with meat, tomato, and onion sauce, is delicious,” says Musk. “It tastes very much like polenta [mush] but is white and looks like mashed potato. Because many Africans are lactose intolerant, the cooks are very happy when milk goes sour. Then it can be used to make sour puthu pap.”

China: Steamed and Stir-fried

Cantonese cuisine is probably the best known food outside of China. Ingredients used include snakes, turtles, sea urchins, shark fins, and even rice worms. Food is tightly steamed or stir-fried and is served with a blend of sauces, including soy sauce and oyster sauce.

One famous Cantonese specialty is dim sum, which means “heart’s delight.” This light meat features bite-sized steamed or fried dumplings, shrimp balls, steamed buns, and Chinese pastries. In dim sum restaurants, servers walk between the tables pushing carts with freshly prepared food. Diners pick their favorites. This type of “sitting buffet” is a great way to experience these culinary delights.

Most groceries and specialty food stores in this country carry many of the ingredients needed to make each of these foods. Libraries also are full of international cookbooks. Check one out today and start experiencing the tastes of other cultures for yourself.


Students will familiarize themselves with the food choices of different cultures, looking for the pro-health features in each that might be assimilated into their own diets.


1. Have students create a table like the one below and give an example of a food commonly served in the area of the world listed, one feature of that area’s culture that seems to match with the foods chosen, and how the region’s unique foods may benefit their health. You may wish to add other regions to your disscussion, and to the chart.

2. Have students read about the Mediterranean Diet Food Pyramid on page 24, then set up a chart in three columns. The first should contain features of that Diet. The second column should show comparable features of their typical diets. In the third they should analyze the differences and note changes they will consider to make theirs mole like the Mediterranean Diet.



* This article can be greatly enhanced if students have accessed to culinary magazines. These may be in a local library, or suggested by Family and Consumer Science teachers.

* The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Information Center offers a variety of ethnic food pyramids (www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/ etext/000023.html). Check the PDF “Comparison of International Food Guide Pictorial Representations,” from the American Dietetic Association (ADA)

* The ADA also offers a “Diversity Resource List,” with articles, books, references to food pyramids, etc. (www.eatright.org/Public/index_10928.cfm).

Region of the    Example of a     One feature        How could
world            popular food     of the             the food you
                                  culture            selected
                                  matching the       benefit the
                                  selected food      health of the
                                                     people in this

Scandinavia      Herring,         Scandinavian       The oils in
                 salmon           countries are      many kinds
                                  known for          of fish are
                                  seafaring          good for the
                                  adventurers        heart
                                  who have
                                  always looked
                                  to the sea
                                  for much of
                                  their food.



South Africa


RELATED ARTICLE: A new food pyramid?

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid isn’t a new idea. It comes from the healthy dietary traditions of Crete, most of Greece, and southern Italy. These countries have some of the lowest disease rates and longest life expectancies in the world. If you want a good tasting, healthy food guide to follow, try the Mediterranean pyramid. Here are some of its highlights:

* A majority of foods included come from plant sources, including fruit and vegetables potatoes breads and whole grain products beans, nuts, and seeds.

* Most of the foods are minimally processed. Wherever possible, eat seasonally fresh and locally grown foods.

* Olive oil is the principal fat used, rather than butter or margarine.

* This pyramid encourages eating low-fat cheese and yogurt each day, some fish and poultry each week, and from zero to four eggs per week,

* Fresh fruit is a typical dessert, with sweets served no mere than a few times a week.

* You are encouraged to eat red meat only a few times each month.

* Daily physical activity is important to keep you fit and at a healthy weight.

RELATED ARTICLE: Mediterranean diet.

This pyramid is based on Greek and similar Mediterranean Dietary traditions.

A few times per month

Meat Sweets

A few times per week

Poultry, eggs Fish Cheese, yogurt Olive oil *



Beans, other legumes and nuts


Olive oil is the region’s principal fat. In the optimal Mediterranean diet, Total fat can be as high as 35 to 40 percent of calories.