Thursday, May 19, 2011

Around the World Embassy Tour Provides Good Eats

The 2011 Around the World Embassy Tour featured not only 35 different embassies opening their doors for visitors, but also a chance for tourists to sample native foods from participating countries. While Italy did not participate, for possible fear of thousands of tourists swarming upon the embassy looking for free chicken parmigiana and pizza, an array of other countries did participate, including Nepal, Kazakhstan, Micronesia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti.

After numerous stops at different embassies to sample their food, I became intrigued and interested in three specific embassies which really offered an eclectic and sometimes delicious array of food. Though the shrimp chips in Indonesia and the many flavored candies and snacks in Korea were delicious, I couldn’t put down the conch fritters and sky juice from the Bahamas.

The conch, a soft bodied animal that belongs to the mollusk family, was served fried. The juices of the conch were interesting: it tasted almost like a mussel, but it didn’t have that distinct sea-flavor. Instead, the fried aspect made the conch not chewy, but rather a bit tough. Digging into the conch was easy; the meat itself was soft. I can’t imagine the conch being eaten raw; the gamey texture would certainly take away from the taste, and I could imagine it losing its flavor after gnawing on the meat for a few minutes.

A perfect complement to the conch fritters, though, was the sky juice. The concoction of gin, condensed milk, and coconut water was refreshing at midday. The juice really balanced the conch, which left you feeling thirsty; the sky juice was very sweet and smooth, and it went down easy. The tropical, milky flavor had character; it wasn’t just an artificial and flavored beverage. As the server at the Bahamas said, “Sky juice is an all day drink!” Though I think after multiple glasses of it, the gin was getting to her.

The next food that interested me was the sampling from Botswana. I have admittedly seldom had African food, so I was unsure about what to expect. After sampling their displayed foods, I was still unsure about what to think. The Seswaa, or pounded goat meat, was very gamey, chewy, and surprisingly fatty (as goat meat is traditionally lean).

I was unable to really detect the actual meat of the goat, mainly because it was filled with some uncharacteristic and inappropriate flavors. For example, the Seswaa almost tasted like a bad version of pulled pork, only substituting the pork for goat meat. Goat meat, which is traditionally stewed or curried, was served different in this case: it was obviously pounded, which makes me think some of the flavor might have escaped with the pounding. Also, there was a mild hint of barbeque sauce which made me question the validity of this Botswanan food. Surely the Botswanans don’t have Kraft BBQ sauce, right?

Following the Seswaa came the Dikgobe, or samp with beans. This very bland mash of beans and peas was very earthy; the flavor instantly made you think that the components of the meal came from the ground, specifically the soil. The Dikgobe was very dry. Perhaps a fruit juice could have been mixed to create a different and zesty flavor. However, the Dikgobe by itself was surely lacking something.

The final Botswanan sampling was Mopane worm, a type of worm that was difficult to eat because of its thick composition. Chewing into the mopane worms was difficult; it was like trying to take a bite into a sopping wet hand-towel. It was incredibly difficult to even pull a bit off with your teeth. However, once I was able to get a bit of it, I enjoyed the flavor very much. It was certainly heavy, but the interesting base provided some much-needed flavor after the Dikgobe.

The final sampling of food that really interested me was from Venezuela. They offered papelón con limón, a Venezuelan beverage made with sugar cane and lemon, and tequeños, an appetizer made with cornmeal and melted white cheese.

To put it plain and simple, the drink was an Arnold Palmer with a bit more iced black tea. It was certainly refreshing, but I was surprised when I first sipped it. Rather than being something that I could really taste and reflect, my taste buds immediately triggered the “half lemonade, half iced tea” sensor. However, I could tell the drink was authentic and light, in that it lacked any corn syrup or other preservatives; I knew my papelón con limón was real, and not store-bought.

The tequeños were incredible: though they were much doughier than I had imagined, they were lighter, too. The melted cheese inside worked very well with the white dough, and both the dough and cheese were warmed to provide an excellent one-two punch. The best way to describe the dough is how it was softer and less crispy than other American white doughs.

The taste of the embassies proved the many countries had some very delicious and interesting food samplings. While Botswana was interesting because of its eclectic and different combinations, the Bahamas and Venezuela certainly provided some delicious foods that definitely make me want to visit their countries soon.

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