& Theme Dinners
Food Trivia and Easy Recipes
by Kate Heyhoe
Every fall, my favorite letters start drifting in...
"Help! I've got a class project on Turkey and need to bring in a Turkish dessert. Can you send me a recipe?"
"Help! Our neighborhood dinner group holds 'theme nights.' I'm supposed to bring an appetizer from Vietnam. What would you suggest?"
Food really can be a window to the world. Hosting theme nights is a creative way to learn about a country's entire background, and these events can be especially fun and productive for kids and families. Besides bringing everyone together, theme dinners are springboards on which to explore the geography and climate of a place, as these factors affect the crops grown, the foods preserved, and the animals raised. Food also links to economy and history, especially when you consider what staples are imported or exported, or what wars or alliances have resulted out of the need for food resources.
While we'd like to answer all the requests for specific recipes, we can't always do so (especially when kids' homework assignments are due the next day). But the Global Gourmet does offer a place to research and scope out your own solutions in our Global Destinations section. You'll find many country profiles there focusing on everything from dining customs to typical recipes and menus. Periodically, we add more countries.
If you or your child are looking for some easy but tasty and authentic recipes, I've put together a mini-list below from a few of the countries in Global Gourmet. And to go along with them, here's a bit of cultural food trivia:
Spain - Spain was a major food source for the Romans, especially for wheat and olive oil. The Romans planted extensive olive groves in Spain, eventually resulting in Spain as a top producer of olives and olive oil today.
Turkey—Manti, the much loved Turkish meat-stuffed dumplings, are believed to have originated in China and were adopted by Turkish settlers in the mid-8th century, in what is now Xinjiang. In China, similar dumplings are known an man tou (literally meaning 'barbarian heads'), and in Korea they're called mandu.
Greece—Inland Greece is so diverse in its foods from those of the Greek coast and islands that folkloric tales have arisen. In one, the Prophet Elias, a sailor, grew weary of being frequently shipwrecked. In search of a new life, he headed inland carrying an oar. When he met a people who didn't know what the oar was, he would then stop and settle. A mountain townsfolk believed the implement he was carrying was a shovel for removing bread from the oven. Hence, he settled there and the mountain peoples honored him with churches in his name, in an area now known for its breads.
Japan—A favorite Japanese dish, tempura, was unknown in Japan until the mid-16th century. In fact, the entire cooking technique of battering and frying foods was itself unknown until Portuguese navigators introduced it. The word "tempura" derives from the Latin Quattuor Tempora, or Ember Days, in which European Catholics who were forbidden to eat meat substituted fish fried in batter. Japanese tempura uses primarily shrimp and vegetables, though other seafood types also appear.
Brazil - Africans brought over by the slave trade settled heavily in Bahia, in northern Brazil, and with them came their food and culture. Nigeria's Yoruba tribe, many of which were brought to Brazil, has the world's highest birth rate of twins. They celebrate twins in art, music and even food. Their feast of Caruru, a fish dish, honors all twins but in Brazil is celebrated on the holy day of the twin Roman Catholic saints, Cosmas and Damian—reflecting Brazil's merging of two diverse cultures.
Ethiopia—The Ethiopian highlands gave rise to the world's smallest known grain, tef (or teff), as early as 4000 BC. With about 3000 seeds per gram, tef has only recently been cultivated outside of this African nation. Tef flour is the only flour you can use to make authentic injera, the platter-sized, spongy flatbread used in communal dining. Rich in iron, tef prevents its people from becoming anemic, and itself is highly resistant to disease and pests. Tef and tef flour are usually found in whole food markets in the West.
Waving out my window to the world,
Global Destinations—country profiles and recipes
Easy Homework Helpers and Theme Night Dishes:Spain: Spanish Orange Tart
Turkey: Spicey Tomato Salad
Greece: Greek Yogurt Dip
Japan: Chicken Yakitori
Brazil: Little Rice Balls
Ethiopia: Honey Yeast Bread
Kate's Global Kitchen for October, 2000:
Copyright © 2000-2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007