While the ongoing pandemic may have temporarily halted international journeys, it certainly hasn’t stopped our hunger for travel. Considering the fact that many of the foods we eat every day originated from different places all over the globe, you could literally take a trip around the world in just one meal! So come along with us as we explore the origins of some of our favorite foods. From Caribbean delights to Mediterranean classics, here are a few ideas to turn your next meal into a culinary travelogue.
Origin: Brazil and the Caribbean
If you want to take a journey to someplace warm and colorful, the pineapple is the best way to get you there. The pineapple originated in Brazil, near Paraguay, but quickly began spreading. Whether it was through seed distribution or trade is unknown, but by 1493, European explorers had already found the fruit growing throughout the Caribbean islands. Soon after, they began taking the pineapple to other tropical climates where it could grow well, like Southeast Asia and Polynesia.
To this day, pineapples create the feeling of a warm ocean breeze, pelicans soaring above, and carefree summer afternoons. To best enjoy pineapple, try its namesake dessert Pineapple Upside Down Cake, which is best made using a cast iron skillet. Or, for a delicious and tropical dinner recipe, try a Pineapple Chicken Stir Fry, served straight from the hollowed-out pineapple! And what better way to finish off your beach-inspired meal than with a classic Pina Colada, which combines the tang of pineapple with the smooth finish of coconut.
While the eggplant has its origins in India, it has been cultivated throughout various parts of the world for almost 2,000 years. That’s why the eggplant has so many distinct recipes from various cultures. From the cheesy, Italian Eggplant Parmesan, to the savory and spicy Chinese Eggplant With Garlic Sauce, to the peppery Baingan Bharta curry in India, and all the way to the popular sesame-infused dip, Baba Ghanoush in Eastern Mediterranean cooking.
One thing that many people don’t know is that eggplant is actually a member of the Nightshade family, alongside one of the most poisonous plants on Earth, the Deadly Nightshade (Belladonna), which can cause hallucinations, convulsions, and even death. Luckily, the eggplant fruit doesn’t contain the deadly tropane alkaloids of its sister plants. However, the leaves and flowers of the plant are toxic. So, the next time you eat eggplant, remember, it’s not only a plant that has traveled the world, but it also has a dangerous secret…
Origin: North America
Sure, Pumpkins give off some massive autumnal vibes, bringing thoughts of blushing trees, hayrides, and caramel apples (which, fun fact, aren’t American. Apples originated in Central Asia near Uzbekistan!)
But the pumpkin is also 100% Americana. In fact, the Native tribes in North America used to refer to pumpkin as one of the “Three Sisters” which consisted of corn, beans, and squash. Not only do these three crops create a balanced diet, but they also complement each other in the soil, helping one another grow.
For a truly American experience, try baking a Real Pumpkin Pie. Back in the day, before pie tins, early Americans used the pumpkin itself as a cooking vessel, creating a sweet and savory soup inside. Or, for a delicious (and nutritious) breakfast, try Pumpkin Pancakes. And don’t let the seeds go to waste! Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are nutty, delicious, and packed with protein and fiber. For an all-American start to your day, make a big batch of Pumpkin Seed Granola and eat it throughout the week.
Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
When people think of olives, they tend to think of Italy and Greece. And that’s because olives really did originate in the Mediterranean Basin. But back when the olive tree first came to be, some 30 million years ago, the region would have looked much different than today. Its history of cultivation by humans is also extremely old – About 7,000 years.
For an easy and delicious taste of the Mediterranean, you can make your own Marinated Greek Olives. The brining process takes three weeks, but requires minimal effort (the brine does all the work for you). To eat, simply drizzle with olive oil and serve with feta cheese. For a sweet yet Earthy dessert, you can also enjoy Olive Oil Cake. The olive oil gives the cake a luxurious depth and a certain je ne sais quoi that will leave dinner guests wondering what your secret ingredient is. Or, for an excellent no-fuss snack, pick up some Kalamata olives, which are native to southern Greece. Simply open the container and enjoy!
Origin: Southeast Asia and Polynesia
Everyone knows the banana as being a potassium powerhouse. Many also associate the fruit with Hawaii, where giant plantations of banana palms grow. However, the fruit actually has its origins on the other side of the Pacific, from Malaysia and Indonesia into the nearby Pacific islands. Interestingly enough, the word banana is actually Arabic, and was given to the fruit after Arabic traders who brought the bananas westward and introduced it to the rest of the world.
For a taste of the banana’s origins, try the delicious Malaysian snack, Kuih Kodok (also called Cekodok pisang). It’s a popular street food offering and mixes the sweetness of banana with a bit of salt, and some rice flour to hold it all together. In neighboring Indonesia, the dish is called Pisang Goreng. Another dish, Suafa’i, is present throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. It blends overripe bananas with coconut milk and tapioca pearls to create a sweet and filling soup for breakfast or dessert.
Origin: Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean via Southeast Asia
At your next family dinner, ask the questions, “Where are coconuts from?” Some might say Polynesia. Some might say the Caribbean. Some might have no idea. The reality is that the coconut’s history is long and complicated and leads to many arguments in the scientific community. Here’s what is mostly believed today – Coconuts originated somewhere in Southeast Asia, most likely near Malaysia. However, the seeds of coconut trees (aka: coconuts) have this amazing ability to float. This meant that the trees were able to spread their seeds throughout the oceans, into the Polynesian islands and even out to the islands of the Indian Ocean, such as the Seychelles and Maldives. From there, the coconut evolved into two different fruits (The Pacific and Indian coconuts), and thanks to trade, quickly spread around the globe.
The one thing that all coconuts have in common though is their need for warm tropical climates, which is why the very thought of coconuts makes you think of lounging beachside. To beat the summer heat, try making Haupia, a sweet and jelly-like creamy coconut pudding native to Hawaiian cuisine. Or, if you’re looking for a cocktail, but want something other than the classic Pina Colada, try a Malibu Sunset, made with coconut rum, pineapple, and grenadine. And for lovers of Girl Scout cookies, try making your own Samoa Cookies (which are named Samoas because of the coconut’s Polynesian history).
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