Dishing on Destinations
Food is more than what we eat to sustain us – it’s a story on a plate. And certain dishes have a truly fascinating tale to tell about how ingredients, tastes and people travel. These six emblematic dishes have earned positions of honor on the global map. By giving us all some real food for thought, they offer an invitation to discover more about the places where we find them.
Souped-Up in Singapore
As preparations that were once considered humble are going haute, the savoir-faire behind Singapore’s 15,000 food stalls is gaining respect: International rankings like World’s 50 Best Restaurants have taken notice of how this proud heritage has influenced fine dining, and the Michelin Guide recently launched a festival dedicated to Singaporean street food. A bowl of laksa – rice noodle soup in a rich curry – mirrors the diversity that makes this country so exciting: It melds Chinese and Indian cultures on the Malay Peninsula with a touch of East India thrown in for good measure. While laksa is popular from Indonesia to Thailand, Singapore puts its own spins on the dish, whether tangy with tamarind or smooth with coconut milk. Try it in a modern setting at Timbre+, a funky “gastropark” occupying a series of colorful shipping containers offering local fare and live music. For an upscale take, head to Wild Rocket, where chef Willin Low makes ravioli stuffed with spanner crab and cilantro served in a perfumed laksa broth. The locations may be modern, but the legacy of laksa lives on.
The sun is rising on African cuisines as headlining North American chefs like Ethiopian-born Marcus Samuelsson (Red Rooster in Harlem) shine light on the continent’s varied cooking traditions. And what has Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o declared her favorite dish? Pilau. The dish varies from region to region, but is always made of rice cooked in a spiced broth that infuses each grain until it’s fully fragrant. Pilau can also be dotted with tender, bite-sized pieces of seafood (if you’re on the coast) or meats like goat (if you’re inland). The seasonings are a testament to the East African nation’s long history of trade in ginger, cumin, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom, which arrived from Arabia and countries around the Indian Ocean. It makes a popular meal in Nairobi, but it’s best eaten outdoors after a day in the Masai Mara bush. Try it year-round at Fairmont Mara Safari Club’s open-air boma restaurant, surrounded on three sides by a rushing river and the wildlife of the savannah. The dish is the perfect accompaniment to the hotel’s nightly Masai performance.
A favorite of tsars and stars is expanding its horizons. The desert may not be the first place you’d expect to find Siberian sturgeon, but it’s home to the world’s biggest caviar farm. Marrying luxury with sustainability, Emirates AquaTech is a striking example of how the UAE is diversifying its economy beyond oil. The company opened its aquaculture facility in Abu Dhabi, a city investing in a cultural renaissance with new museums and arts venues. Caviar is associated with northern climes, where sturgeon spawned for millennia around the Caspian and Black seas. But now through controlled breeding in an environment that simulates a natural habitat, the UAE aims to produce 35 tons of caviar under the Yasa label, while the harvested fish itself is filleted for top restaurants. At Fairmont The Palm in Dubai, executive chef Alain Gobeil serves Yasa Caviar because it supports the hotel’s environmental values: “It reduces our carbon footprint overall – instead of flying in caviar from Europe, we have it locally available, so it’s fresher, too.”
A Slice of La Belle Province
Tourtière cuts straight to the heart of Quebec traditions. Known as the must-have dish at Christmas Eve réveillon parties or at sugar shacks (where Quebecers gather during maple-tapping season), the recipe is expanding beyond its historic roots. Tourtière sustained the early French settlers who once worked the Canadian
forests, and today this simple meat pie has won over foodies across Canada and abroad. Find it in the Boston area at the recently opened Café du Pays in Cambridge and in New York City, where gourmets have taken to purchasing pies at $40 a pop from M. Wells Steakhouse. Several incarnations have evolved over time, from Saguenay-style with cubes of pork in addition to rabbit or moose to local celebrity chef Ricardo’s recipe for a version with confit duck. Drive four hours north of Montreal to sample Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu’s tourtière – a pâté of local beef, pork and veal, seasoned with thyme – inspired by Charlevoix’s Flavour Trail, a scenic culinary route of unique French-Canadian gastronomy.
Spain’s Best Bites
If there’s one culinary trend that has taken the world by storm in the last decade, it’s small plates. Tapa literally means “lid,” and one theory is that it originated with foods workers could use to cover their cups of wine to keep the flies away. At Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I, Barcelona, award-winning executive chef Claudio Aguirre’s menu highlights local products like simple, silky-strong Pata Negra ham and the more elaborate Galician octopus with cachelos (tiny potatoes). Several herbs are even grown in the hotel’s own garden. But it’s Aguirre’s arroz that demonstrates his refinement of tapas, showcasing products from the Costa Brava: rice from Pals, red prawns from Palamos and squid from Blanes. Beyond the hotel, there are century-old tapas bars like La Pubilla del Taulat (est. 1886), serving la bomba – a potato dumpling filled with meat, spices and topped with pimentón. Another legend, Quimet y Quimet (1914) has more than 30 types of classic montaditos (open-faced canapés), including ones with tuna belly and soft orange sea urchin.
If there’s anything more American than apple pie, it must be the donut – and if there’s any food more social media-friendly, it’s yet to be invented. The sweet snack arrived stateside with the Dutch in the early 1800s when these treats were known as olykoeks. Almost every culture loves its fried dough, but when combined with American ingenuity it quickly ran circles around the competition (this is the land of Krispy Kreme). A new generation of bakers is using the dessert as a springboard for the imagination: from the croissant-like, cream-filled Cronut (invented in NYC by French-born pastry chef Dominique Ansel) to the ice cream-stuffed versions at B Sweet Dessert Bar in LA. At Du’s Donuts in Brooklyn, chef Wylie Dufresne has perfected blood orange Creamsicle icing, while Doughnut Plant (in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn) goes a little nuts: Why not try a square one filled with peanut butter and banana cream?