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Travel Detective’s Favorite Food from Around the World

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T-bone steakPeter recently appeared at Disney’s California Food and Wine Festival alongside Disneyland Executive Chef Chris Justesen, sharing memories of some of his favorite dishes from around the world.

From the rural roads of the USA’s Deep South to the streets of Istanbul, Peter has traveled the globe and enjoyed some seriously good eats along the way.

Read on to learn more about how you too can experience some of these tasty treats.
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1. Sichuan string beans from China

Sichuan-style cooking comes from the Sichuan Province in southwestern China. It’s mostly notable for its in-your-face flavors, mostly due to liberal amounts of Sichuan peppercorn, garlic, ginger, and other spices. The climate in the Sichuan area made food spoil quickly, so they rely on techniques such as salting, pickling, drying and smoking—as a result, you can get some pretty strong flavors.

Peter and MickeyThe famous classic Sichuan string bean dish is also known as “Dry-Fried string beans,” which means the beans are cut into thin slivers and tossed into a wok with some minced pork and very little oil. That dries out and browns the beans slightly. The seasoning is added later in the cooking process with a bit of extra oil.

2. Phad thai from Bangkok

“Real” phad thai should be on the drier side—not greasy and overpowered by peanuts as you see in many Western restaurants. The oil can be added a little bit at a time to keep the noodles moist. Major ingredients include thin rice noodles, eggs, pork, tofu, bean sprouts, shallots, garlic, chili powder, ground roasted peanuts, and fish sauce.

Want to learn how to make an authentic version yourself? Bangkok is packed with local cooking schools (you don’t have to take them in the big hotels that cater to Westerners). Check out BaiPai, which has four-hour classes Tuesday through Sunday in the morning and afternoon. Classes are taught in English and students get hands-on experiences. The menu that features phad thai also includes deep-fried fish fillet, tom kha gai soup, and dessert of water chestnuts in coconut milk soup. Courses are about 1,800 bhat, or about $50 per person.

Peter and Chris Justesen3. Kanafi from Beirut

This dessert is made of shredded phyllo stuffed with sweetened cheese, syrup and pistachios. Not sure where to find it in Beirut these days, but Tanoreen Restaurant in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood has an outstanding version.

Knafeh, as they spell it, is their signature dessert—the shredded dough is stuffed with two kinds of sweet cheese, topped with homemade syrup flavored with orange and rose water, and pistachios—it takes 15 minutes to make so it can be made fresh and served hot. (And while you’re there, be sure to try chef/owner Rawia Bishara’s eggplant dishes for which she’s renowned.)

According to Bishara, kanafi in Lebanon is a prepared a little differently. It is made with a layer of the shredded dough, a layer of cheese, and then stuffed inside a dough with sesame seeds to make it more like a filling breakfast pastry.

4. Black-bottom pie from Meridian, Mississippi

This local favorite comes from Weidmann’s Restaurant, thought to be Mississippi’s oldest restaurant which operated almost continually since 1870.

Meridian Amtrak station is down the street from Weidmann’s, and people have been known to come from Louisiana and Mississippi just for a taste of that black-bottom pie. The Crescent line departs New Orleans at 7:10 a.m., with stops in Slidell, LA; Picayune, Hattiesburg, and Laurel, MS before arriving in Meridian at 11:09 a.m.)

Gloria and Poo Chancellor were fifth-generation owners of Weidmann’s, but sold the place a few years ago and some locals say it hasn’t been the same since.

Weidmann’s Peanut Butter Crocks Sadly, under the new ownership, much of Weidmann’s original and long-standing menu has been changed. Even the beloved peanut butter crocks are now gone… yes, Weidmann’s was also famous for its homemade peanut butter—a tradition that began back during WWII which used to sit on top of each table in crockery made by a local potter.

Want to know the secret of Weidmann’s famous recipe: The black-bottom pie crust is made from crushed gingersnaps and butter, topped with a layer of chocolate, and then a creamy bourbon-flavored filling.

5. Skirt steak from Argentina

Argentina is definitely a beef-oriented country! And the beauty is that the dollar is still king there, which means you can dine like one, and walk out of the restaurant with your wallet as full as your stomach.

When dining in a Buenos Aires steakhouse, don’t expect to get out of there before midnight, and only after dining on platter after platter of top-quality cuts of meat—to the point that you might wonder if you just ate a whole cow.

Skirt steak, in particular, comes from the belly of the cow. It’s an inexpensive cut, tougher than many other cuts, which makes it prime for marinating and braising. It may be called churrasco, but that usually refers to any thin, boneless slice of meat that’s grilled or cooked in a hot pan.

Cooking demonstrationOne of the top steakhouses in Buenos Aires is La Cabaña Las Lilas, which raises its own cattle. Here you can have an enormous steak dinner starting at $10. Even before you dive into the meat selection, you’ll cheese, olives, tomatoes, anchovies, and garlic bread. Spettus Steak House features more than 20 cuts of meat, including plenty of barbecued and grilled dishes, along with a wide variety of cheeses.

6. Muffuletta from New Orleans

This savory sandwich is made of soft round Sicilian bread loaded up with salami, ham and provolone cheese, and then topped with the all-important savory olive salad—made with a blend of olives, vegetables, garlic, seasonings, and olive oil and marinated for at least a day. (You can buy jars of this addictive topping as well). The name muffuletta translates into “little muffin,” and originally referred to just the bread.

Although it is available all over the city now, you have to get it at Central Grocery, the birthplace of the muffuletta. Just be sure to arrive early as the lines get long.

7. Naan bread from India

Although naan is a popular staple in Indian restaurants, most north Indian homes prefer to serve thinner, lighter roti with meals. However, this soft, leavened flat bread is a big hit among Indians and non-Indians alike.

It’s traditionally cooked in a tandoor, or clay oven (but many Indian households today just pop the frozen variety in the oven). Though it’s usually served plain with a bit of ghee (clarified butter) on top, more and more establishments are serving naan stuffed with garlic, onions, minced meat, or cheese.

King Prawn Salad8. Seafood from Tasmania

Tasmania and the sea go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that some of the best seafood you’ll eat anywhere in the world comes out of here (Australia exports some 80-90% of its seafood).

Tasmania has very strict quarantine regulations, which keeps its environment pristine and disease-free. The seafood industry also practices sustainable techniques. Along with lobster, the area is known for its incredible oysters, wild abalone and scallops. Top-notch shrimp is available year-round, too.

(One quirky type of shrimp is the Hickman’s pygmy mountain shrimp which exists in only two locations within Tasmania’s Southwest National Park. It’s teeny tiny and too rare to eat, but they’re adorable.)

Waterfront seafood restaurants abound in Tasmania, including some local favorites such as:

Blue Skies Restaurant, located in a working port in Hobart, which features an extensive wine list, and a must-order tasting plate of hot and cold Tasmanian seafood.

Or you can go casual at Fish Frenzy in Hobart’s Sullivan’s Cove which has some of the best fish and chips in Tasmania. A plate of 10 crumbed prawns will cost you only about $10.

9. Smoked trout from Norway

Some regions are known for a certain foods, and for good reason. Norway produces what is known as “fjord trout,” a red, sea-farmed salmon with firm, tender flesh. It can be eaten raw, as well as smoked, salted, grilled, etc.

You can go fishing for trout along the bridge to the island of Garten—an old fishing port that’s considered one of the top fishing areas in Norway, located about 8 hours north of Oslo. A little more convenient to travelers, the Oslo fjord is also a good spot for fishing, and you can arrange guided fishing tours with companies like Dagens Fangst (www.dagensfangst.com).

Any foreigner can fish for free in saltwater, but fishing for sea trout from rivers and lakes   does require a state fishing license, which can be bought at any local post office. Many lakes and rivers are also privately owned, so a local fishing permit must also be acquired from landowners, which is available at gas stations or at Inatur.no.

Making Rice Pudding10. Rice pudding from Istanbul

Also known as firinda sutlac (baked rice pudding), this creamy dish is vastly different (most say superior) to American rice pudding. It dates back to royal kitchens of the Ottoman Empire, and can be found in pudding shops and restaurants all over Turkey.

In Istanbul, try Özsüt Pudding in Sultanahmet, and Saray Pudding shop located on Istiklal Caddesi, which has been in operation since 1935. But if you’re hungry now, you can whip up a batch at home with the recipe below.

Firinda Sutlac
6 tablespoon rice
3 and 1/2 cups of water
4 egg yolks
8 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed mastic spice
6 tablespoons corn starch

Pick over the rice, wash and drain. Add to 3 and 1/2 cups of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer over a medium heat until the rice grains are tender but not mushy. If any water is left, strain off. Blend the corn starch with half cup of water. Crush the mastic with a little sugar in a mortar.

Beat the egg yolks in a separate saucepan and stir in the milk. Add the sugar, mastic and boiled rice and stir over a medium heat until the mixture comes to the boil. Gradually stir in the diluted corn starch. When the mixture starts to bubble pour into oven-proof bowls. Place the bowls in a deep oven tray and pour water into the tray to halfway up sides of the bowls.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 370 degrees until a brown skin has formed on the top. Serve cold. You can also brown the top with a brulee torch and sprinkle crushed pistachios on top.

Text by Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com. Photos by Loretta Copeland.

Interested in more culinary adventures? Don’t miss our special foodie series, Three Days, Nine Meals:

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