Savour these deliciously off-beat traditional specialties and get a true taste of the local culture to boot.
Throw out any misgivings you might have about the plebeian hot dog – Chicago’s version of this all-American classic is an all-beef affair, spiced with mustard, pickle relish and celery salt, topped with fresh diced tomatoes and onions, a pickle spear and hot sport peppers. This truly indigenous food is said to be the invention of the Windy City’s enterprising residents and their multicultural heritage of European, Jewish and Mediterranean roots. No ordinary hot dog, a tasty frankfurter and salad encased in a soft poppy-seed bun makes this one elegant snack.
Tuck into an authentic Chicago-style hot dog at one of the city’s many Vienna Beef hot-dog stands; www.viennabeef.com.
The Marchigianis’ take on lasagne is not for the faint of heart, turbo-charged with no less than 12 layers of slippery soft pasta sheets enriched with vino cotto, interspersed with a rich veal ragout spiked with chicken livers, lamb sweetbreads, truffles and wild mushrooms, all blanketed with a velvety béchamel sauce and grated parmesan cheese. The name is said to come from Austrian General Windisch Graetz, whose army helped liberate the regional capital, Ancona, from the French in the 18th century. Unsurprisingly, this baked dish of epic proportions is largely reserved for special occasions and the height of truffle season.
Simpler versions of the original can be enjoyed in the city of Macerata’s many charming osterie.
Adobo, the Philippines
It’s hard to believe a dish with only four ingredients could taste so good and unify a nation. The Philippines’ 7000-plus islands are agreed in their love for the national dish of adobo – a satisfyingly savoury meat stew seasoned only with garlic, soy sauce and vinegar. Served with plain boiled rice, the humble adobo is a lunch or dinner staple and a standard offering at office canteens and carinderia (street stalls) across the country. Each household, city and province will have their own chicken or pork variations with additional ingredients such as chicken livers, peppercorns or bay leaves but a classic chicken adobo is the country’s firm favourite.
Whip up your own adobo with this recipe from the Food Network (www.foodnetwork.com, search for Filipino chicken adobo).
Cuba might be economically poor but its embarrassment of cultural riches, intriguing political history and impressive health and education systems continue to attract curious tourists to the enigmatic island. Better-known for its music, cigars and rum, food is largely a secondary consideration for the majority of Cubans so food lovers are often in for a surprise when they discover an abundance of lobster, still largely a delicacy in the West. Typically grilled in the half-shell and smothered in lemon and butter, the local lobster is fleshy yet sweet and best of all, comes supersized and super-cheap in the country’s state-run restaurants.
Check out the iconic Los Nardos restaurant in Havana for generously sized lobsters at mind-bogglingly decent prices.
Fideuà, Catalonia, Spain
Fideuà is the Catalonian version of one of Spain’s best-known culinary exports, paella. In place of rice, short, thin, vermicelli-like noodles called fideus are steeped in a saffron- and tomato-infused fish broth and topped with fresh seafood, including prawns, squid and shellfish, and a dollop of rich aioli. Fideuà is a feast for the senses with its eye-popping golden hue and heady smells of garlic and the sea. Catalans love nothing more than sharing the dish among family and friends and washing it down with generous jugs of cava or white wine in a convivial atmosphere.
The cities of Cambrils and Palamos boast some of the finest fideuà, including at Bell Port on 1 Passeig del Mar in Palamos.
Those hotfooting it to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics are in for a cheesy treat with a local specialty, khachapuri. A cross between pide and pizza, this traditional Georgian yeast bread is a labour of love, hand-kneaded twice and baked in a very hot clay oven. Filled and topped with a rather salty local cheese called sulguni, an authentic khachapuri is blistered, puffy and flaky, with a chewy texture and the lip-smacking savoury goodness of a melted cheese sandwich. Khachapuri are typically enjoyed on their own or with a tarragon and walnut salad, or as a hearty side dish.
Cafe Natasha in Sochi city serves a diet-busting supersize version oozing with butter and melted cheese and an egg on top.
Everyone knows about ramen, udon and soba but it is oden that the Japanese turn to when in need of hot and soothing comfort food. This winter staple comprises a soup in which ingredients are slowly simmered, including tofu, fish cakes, eggs, vegetables and meat. The soy base lends the dish its characteristic but unflattering shade of brown, but don’t let that put you off – good oden has a delicate yet complex-flavoured broth and a spread of foods with a variety of tastes and textures, which can be found in Japan’s many atmospheric oden restaurants.
Top tip: the convenience store version is best avoided. Sample exotic delicacies in one of Tokyo’s oldest oden restaurants, Otafuku.
Incir Dolmasi, Turkey
Cheekily referred to by locals as ‘Turkish Viagra’, the sticky sweet walnut-stuffed figs are a favourite dessert and snack found in street food stalls all over the country. Soft dried figs are studded with cloves, stuffed with a whole walnut, then gently poached in a cinnamon-flavoured sugar syrup. Like the savoury dolma (vegetables filled with rice or meat), incir dolması are a hallmark of the stuffed foods of Turkey’s much-lauded Ottoman cuisine. Whether the figs live up to their nickname is a moot point, but one thing is for sure: they go down a treat with Turkish coffee.
Nem, New Caledonia
Dubbed Tropical France, the tiny island of New Caledonia enjoys a reputation as a gourmet destination with its French, Melanesian and Pacific influences creating an original and fascinating fusion cuisine. The capital city, Noumea, is a hotbed of international restaurants but locals in need of a quick snack devour nem, New Caledonia’s take on the humble spring roll. Wonton wrappers or sheets of rice paper are filled with broken rice or noodles, mince and vegetables, shaped into finger-sized rolls and deep-fried, resulting in incredibly moreish, satisfying savoury bites.
Nem are best eaten hot, straight from the deep fryer, and can be bought from street vendors throughout the city.
Despite its Italian origins, Melburnians have adopted this chicken, cheese and ham classic with such gusto that it has become the standard by which locals judge a good pub. The perfect ‘chicken parma’ is a crisply crumbed, tender chicken fillet, offset by melted cheese and salty ham, and served with an unctuous homemade tomato sauce. True parma devotees engage in pub and parma crawls, and debating the merits (or otherwise) of what makes good parma over a ‘pot’ of beer is the best way to get in on the local action.
Try classic and modern parmas at Mrs Parma’s on 25 Little Bourke St, Melbourne.