Crash Course in Ethnic Cuisines
Your best bet for unfamiliar items on exotic menus.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: October 27th, 2012
e all have that one friend who likes to try out new restaurants all the time. And while most of them have things on the menu that we recognize, sometimes they'll throw one our way that we're unfamiliar with. Rather than dismissing the notion of trying something new, we just ask our companions what we should get. That said, if you're interested in branching out on your own, here are a few places to start with five different cuisines.
Everyone knows that many Japanese restaurants serve sushi. And if you haven't had sushi yet, you're missing out. If raw fish isn't your thing, plenty of places serve rolls with smoked or cooked fish instead of raw fish, and if you don't eat fish at all, restaurants usually serve vegetable-filled rolls, too. Safe places to start for raw fish are spicy tuna rolls (which are, well, spicy tuna), salmon-avocado rolls, or tuna-cucumber rolls. These rolls have less going on than "crazier" or more detailed rolls, and no foreign-seeming ingredients.
Vietnamese food is unique in that many of its dishes are created with a plethora of different spices. To ease your way into the cuisine, we suggest checking out banh mi, which is a Vietnamese sandwich that includes your choice of meat (usually some form of pork) or tofu, pickled carrots and daikon radish, jalapenos, cilantro, and mayonnaise, all on a baguette. If you want something a little, say, warmer, check out pho. Pronounced "fuh," this soup is typically made with a rich beef broth and rice noodles, served with garnishes of basil, jalapenos, bean sprouts, and lime. Pho is made with many different spices, giving it a unique flavor that you're sure to crave long after your bowl is gone.
Indian food is a divisive cuisine—many people who haven't had it before tend to stay away because they "don't like spicy foods," when in actuality many Indian foods can be made mild. Things like butter chicken (chicken in a creamy tomato sauce), saag paneer (spinach with paneer cheese), tandoori chicken (chicken roasted in a clay oven), and samosas are easy to adapt to. Lamb and goat curries are also tasty, and don't forget to pair all of these with naan, an Indian bread.
If you have vegetarian friends, they've probably tried to get you to taste falafel at some point. Falafel are balld of chickpeas and mashed veggies that are fried and often served in a pita with cucumbers and tzatziki (yogurt sauce). If you're not vegetarian, though, you can check out the chicken or lamb shawarma. Shawarma is a method of preparation in which meat is placed on a spit (similar to gyro meat) and grilled for as long as a day, then sliced as needed. This dish is typically served with tabbouleh (a salad made with bulgur wheat, chopped parsley and mint, onions, and tomatoes, then seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt).
Of course, another staple of Mediterranean cuisine is hummus. Hummus is a ground-chickpea dip that is often served with falafel, pita, and veggies.
Thai food is noodle-and-rice centric, and the dishes can blur together if you're unfamiliar. Likely the most popular dish on Thai menus is Pad Thai, a rice noodle dish with a slighty sweet, savory, peanutty-limey sauce. It's hard to describe exactly what the flavor is, but it's delicious. Past that, Pad See Ewe (sometimes pad siew on menus) is a similar dish but less sweet. For those slightly more adventurous, check out panang curry or red curry dishes—these are made with coconut milk and hot curry paste. Basil chicken is also a popular dish.