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National Dishes are a Reflection of the Past and Poor

The national dishes of countries are as diverse as the cultures themselves. However, one commonality between the cuisines most countries are famous for is that they are more often than not, the cuisine of regular people. National dishes and famous meals from different countries are usually something that is enjoyed by everyone; recipes born from the childhoods of that culture.

Not every national dish is a pinnacle of health, for example, Canada is most famous for Poutine, a mountain of french fries covered in cheese curds, and a chicken or turkey gravy. However, they are often dishes that are hearty and nutritious even on a budget. Historically and today, they are a combination of ingredients that were readily available to those who were not rich.

In many South American countries, the national dish is often a combination of protein and carbs, sometimes with vegetables and fruits. Brazil’s national dish, feijoada, is a stew made of kidney beans, beef, pork, vegetables, and potatoes. In Costa Rica, the national dish is kidney beans and rice cooked together until the liquid is gone, called Gallo Pinto. Cuba’s national dish is Ropa Vieja, shredded flank steak cooked in tomato sauce and served with rice and plantain fritters. 

This basic combination of essential food groups within national dishes is common across all parts of the globe. In Middle Eastern and North African countries, a sweet and savory element is also common, combining powerful foods like fruits and nuts with meats and grains. Afghanistan’s national dish is called Kabuli Pulao which is Basmati rice steamed in a meat broth along with lentils, raisins, carrots, lamb meat, and nuts. Morocco, famous for its stews named after the cone-shaped cooking vessel, a tagine, utilizes similar ingredients and flavors. 

All of these dishes are able to pack incredible flavor into a dish that also meets several basic nutritional requirements. A country’s most famous foods are also often a reflection of what is readily available to its citizens. There is a reason that sushi comes from Japan and not Germany. Japan is an island, making fish an obvious choice for nutrition that is easy to find. In the same way, a pot roast called Sauerbraten which today is made with beef, veal, or venison was traditionally made with horse meat and has such an important history in Germany. 

The national dish of countries is almost never something that was exclusively enjoyed by the rich. This is also because throughout more modern history—when trade and exploration became viable—those with the money to have the best were often interested in what had come from somewhere else. Ingredients discovered in other parts of the world were seen as exotic, often carrying a heavy price tag when first discovered by a different culture.

There is a reason English food is commonly perceived as lacking in a lot of flavor or spice, and it is because these ingredients which are native to the global south were expensive when they first arrived in Europe. While countries have spent centuries trading information and ingredients, national dishes are still a glimpse into what was keeping the common family alive and healthy well before ships were sailing across oceans. 


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