Tuesday, 12 June 2012

International Spices for Your Culinary Experience

I am going to give into my glutinous side for a minute and declare that I love food.  I love cooking food, eating food, experimenting with new recipes, discussing food with friends, family and strangers.  I love going out to eat at new restaurants.  I love Italian food, Chinese food, Thai food, Mexican food, Greek food and even the traditional Canadian staple known as poutine.  So for me, one of the highlights of any trip or vacation is discovering the little mom and pop shop tuck back into a corner that sells the most mouth watering and authentic local fare. 

As much as I like all types of international food, I will have to admit that my skills in the kitchen leave much to be desired and the contents of my spice cabinet can fit in the palm of my hand.  Most of my culinary experiments result in something akin to Hiroshima.  My version of Italian includes frozen pizza and don’t even get me started on Thai (think a package of Mr. Noodles).  It can’t be my fault though; I am confident that it is a genetic flaw passed on by my mother but where she got it from I have no idea because my grandmother can make stroganoff that will make you cry it is so delicious.

But I digress back to the point at hand.  International food.  How many of us wish that we could replicate the flavours of Thailand or the spices of Cuba for ourselves and win the approval of any dinner guest?  Or rather how difficult is it to find authentic international cuisine in your local area that isn’t sitting under a heat lamp swimming in grease and MSG?  I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to find a good Greek restaurant in my town since moving here almost a year ago.  Even good Mexican food is hard to find and you got to wonder how hard can it be to make a decent taco?

It seems the only solution is to travel more.  And hey, I am not opposed to travelling to Thailand in order to experience, what I can only assume, will be amazing Thai food.  Unfortunately, I cannot go and pack a year supply of take-out and leftovers in my carry-on in order to bring the flavours of Thailand back with me.  Same goes with Cuba.  Refried-refried beans just don’t sound as nice. 

The good news is that there are great programs available to students and tourists travelling to foreign destinations that allow them to bring all the food they love home with them, no doggy-bag required.  It is called “learning-to-cook-it-for-yourself”, or, if you prefer, “culinary school”.

Through a number of organizations including International Career Studies, tour groups and individual travellers have been invited to travel to destinations such as Cuba and Thailand in order to work alongside master chefs and culinary experts in order to learn how to combine ingredients and spices, work with the different traditional cooking methods, and create menu items that scream authentic flavour.

The Cocina Culinary School of Cuba is just one of the schools that are opening its doors to international students.  For three hours a day, three to five days a week, you can take a short course of Cuban cuisine that will cover regional foods and typical menu items, cover some theory, provide lots of hands on instruction and in the end students receive a certificate from the Federation of Association of the Republic of Cuba as proof of participation.

Courses are designed for beginner to advanced cooking students and the chance to learn to prepare international cuisine from professional international chefs sounds irresistible for someone like me that truly appreciates good, genuine regional food. 
The only other option to satisfying my craving for time-honoured Cuban home cooking is to move there permanently but I doubt my employer would allow me to telecommute nor does that entirely solve my problem of wanting to experience different types of international food.  And if I thought finding a good Greek restaurant here was hard, I can only imagine the limited options found in the Caribbean.   Plus I would miss poutine.

What are some of your favourite international foods?  Would you be interested in learning to cook them for yourself?

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