These days, you can eat on a different continent every day … without leaving home. Indian restaurants, Mexican, Greek and Chinese – they add flavour to high streets everywhere. From Eastern stir fries to South American tortillas, Norwegian smoked salmon to Indonesia’s fragrant lemongrass, world cuisine offers a feast of flavours that turn our basic need for food into a culinary adventure to delight the senses. International trade has brought flavours from afar within reach of industrialised nations. For others, however, diet is more limited and dependent on locally sourced produce.
Nestlé’s Epicure Global Consolidation Project1 set out to understand cooking and cuisine around the world. It characterised regional variations using a flavour wheel: 16 categories of tastes and aromas ranging from ‘floral, sweet’ to ‘dairy, butter’, passing through ‘meaty, animalic’, ‘sulphurous, garlic’ and other mouth-watering combinations along the way.
Feeling hungry? Then come with us on a fascinating tour of world cuisine…
First stop – Africa. To the north-east, flavours rely on vegetables, seafood and bland starchy food. Heading west, use of spices increases, with red chillies, caraway and cumin adding flavour. Mediterranean influences are more noticeable as we approach the coast, with olive oil, spices, tomato and lamb on the menu. For more full-bodied flavour with spices of cinnamon and ginger, head north-west. And don’t forget to try the lemon pickle and dried fruit!
East African cuisine varies between inland and coastal areas. Meat is rarely consumed inland, while seafood is the dish of the day on the coast. Arabian saffron, Indian curry and Portuguese chillies, tomatoes and fruit such as lemon and pineapple all influence what people eat.
Cuisine has remained largely traditional in Central Africa. Cassava and plantains are staples, with peppers, onions and peanut butter adding flavour to stews of groundnut or chicken. West Africa too is heavy in bland, starchy food (cassava, millet etc), combined with meat, fish and vegetable stews.
For European and Asian flavours, head for South Africa, where more global food offers a broad variety of fruit, grains, meat and seafood.
Next, we’re off to Asia. Boiled rice is part of the staple diet, though noodles make a nice alternative. Fans of stir fries will not be disappointed, but they can also choose from a range of soups, vegetables and fresh salads, each with their local methods of preparation.
In China, try Cantonese and you will notice the lighter flavours of spring onion, soy sauce and sesame oil. On the coast, we find seafood dishes lightly flavoured with coriander and hoisin sauce. Jiangsu Province has a more caramelised flavour, while Szechuan is bold and spicy with its unique Sichuan pepper.