Food of Muslim India

Muslim restaurant, Fatehpur Sikri (786, on the wall, is a somewhat controversial mystical number in Islam)

How distinct are the Muslim and Hindu cultures of the Indian subcontinent? As we know, Indian Muslims eventually felt that their culture was different enough to warrant an entirely separate nation state, that of Pakistan, but of course Muslim and Hindu Indians have lived together for centuries and are indistinguishable in many respects. Some Muslim Indians/Pakistanis may think of themselves as ethnically distinct, tracing their family’s origins to Iran, Central Asia or even Arabia, but a quick facial read suggests that most Muslim Indians are of the same genetic stock as their Hindu bretheren. The languages of Urdu and Hindi have sadly diverted since Partition, but they are still mutually comprehensible enough that India and Pakistan constitute one market for Bollywood films.

But one argument in favor of distinctness of identity is cuisine. Most Indian foods are consumed by Hindus and Muslims alike, but there are clearly certain dishes that are more frequently served and eaten by Muslims or have definite ties to other parts of the Muslim world. (Dietary rules–such as Hindu vegetarianism–may have contributed to the development of such distinct foods.)

Restaurant just outside the Friday Mosque in Agra

The single defining characteristic of Muslim food in India (and, to an extent, Muslim food all over the world), is meat. It might have to do with the fact that many Muslim societies were pastoralists, but meat is much consumed in the Muslim world, often in the most basic grilled form–kebab. (Note, however, that while beef is consumed by Muslims outside the subcontinent, it is almost never eaten in India, even by Muslims, perhaps following the advice of Babur, see post of 2009.02.16.)

Muslim butcher in Crawford Market, Bombay

Meat on the grill, Old Delhi

Meat on the grill, Uzbekistan

One of the most famous categories of Indian food is Mughlai cuisine, which is served at some of the top restaurants in the country. Said to be the food of the Mughal court, Mughlai food is not dissimilar from the Punjabi fare that most people are most familiar with, but particularly rich and meaty.

Khyber, Bombay, one of our favorite restaurants in the world

Seekh kebab at Karim’s in Old Delhi, one of the most famous Mughlai restaurants in India. The founding family of Karim’s is said to have worked in the kitchens of the Mughal court, and some of the dishes bear the names of Mughal emperors. (Read this hilarious post on Karim’s on a great expat Delhi blog, Our Delhi Struggle.)

In addition to rich Mughlai cuisine, there are certain dishes that are especially associated with Muslims in India. Foremost among these, and perhaps one of my favorite dishes anywhere in the world, is biryani. It is said that the Nizams of Hyderabad had a biryani recipe for every day of the year, and had different dinner outfits to go with the various recipes. To this day, Hyderabad is the capital of biryani, and no biryani we have had anywhere else (and trust me, I order it often) comes anywhere close to the texture and fragrance of Hyderabadi biryani (and this, despite our not having been to the most famous of Hyderabadi biryani shops, Paradise). Muslim Indian Biryani has also become one of the most common foods in the Gulf, due to the large number of restaurants run by workers from the Subcontinent (and perhaps in some cases because the local cuisine isn’t very good!).

Biryani, served in a Muslim restaurant in Cochin, Kerala

Other dishes are even more closely tied to the religion. Haleem, a paste-like dish of slow-cooked meat with wheat, is a food that is commonly eaten for iftar (the breaking of the fast) during Ramadan, and can be found in Muslim areas in the Subcontinent.

Finally, sweets. Sweets can carry a great deal of cultural meaning and identity–desserts are often some of the most elaborate dishes of a cuisine and are tied to festivities and ritual. Traveling throughout Muslim India, one frequently encounters sweets that have connections to other parts of the Muslim world, sometimes making one scratch one’s head wondering in which direction the recipes traveled.

Rice pudding, in the form of kheer, is of course a very common Indian dish, prepared mostly for festivities but also featuring heavily in overseas Indian buffet menus, but baked rice pudding, called firni, is found particularly in Muslim restaurants. Here, a very standard form, in nice clay pots, sold in a Muslim neighborhood of Calcutta. (Similar clay pot firni is available at Karim’s in Delhi.)

Firni sutlac served in Turkey. Both in India and Turkey, one of my favorite desserts.

The first time we saw faluda, in Iran, we were somewhat puzzled at this odd, noodle-y dessert. We found faluda in both Delhi and Bombay, in somewhat different forms.

Faluda, at an Old Delhi restaurant

Faluda, at famous Badshah Cold Drink House near Crawford Market in Bombay. The red flavor, with rose water, was called the Shirazi.

Faluda, from a shop in Esfahan, Iran

Can a fruit have a religion? I hesitate to call the pomegranate a Muslim fruit, but it is definitely seen more frequently in Muslim countries. Pomegranate juice was a delightful streetside treat in the Levant. The Quran does say that the fruit is a gift from God!

Pomegranates, sold in Hyderabad

Pomegranate seeds adorn Turkish ashure, or Noah’s pudding

The Ghantewala Halwai on Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk is said to have served the Mughal court. (To be honest, not all that tasty.)

Shanti Guest House Menu

We do consider ourselves backpackers, but we usually don’t stay at the most backpacker-y hotels–they just seem too much of a foreigner ghetto, too full, especially in India, of a type of person with whom we just don’t feel like we identify all that well. However, when our lodging plans were seriously disrupted by unforeseen low vacancy rates at certain Varanasi hotels (oh, there is a Varanasi hotel room that is so dear to our hearts, but I dare not identify it here lest it become yet again impossible to obtain in a future Varanasi visit), we ended up at one of Varanasi’s backpacker classics, the Shanti Guest House near Manikarnika (the Burning) Ghat.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with Shanti Guest House. The pricing is competitive, the rooms comfortable if a tiny bit spartan (our first room was essentially windowless–just two laptop-sized openings in the wall for ventilation), the staff quite friendly and totally nonsense-free, and the location fairly prime. A nice feature, although one we did not take advantage of: They offer two free boat rides a day. But to give you a sense of how backpacker-y it is, there is a pool table and travel agency-cum-currency exchange at the rooftop restaurant, and English and Hebrew are the preferred languages of the guests.

But I’m not doing this post to review a hotel that is perfectly acceptable and nothing particularly outstanding. No, I’m writing to review its restaurant, which I found astonishing (although, to be fair, it could be one of many such establishments in India, just the only one we’ve come across). What was so special about this restaurant was the range of cuisine. Not only did it offer the usual, meaning Indian, some Indian-Chinese and some “western” (i.e. Italian/American-Italian) food, but the highly developed menu had extensive offerings in Israeli/Mediterranean (not uncommon in India), Japanese, Korean, Mexican and Spanish food. And I’m not talking just the odd spaghetti and falafel and instant noodles–no. The menu included an extremely wide array of dishes from all of these cuisines, and an excellent range of desserts to boot.

Large JPEGs of the menu: pages 1-2 (breakfast, pancake / deserts, omlates, chips & pakora, burger, cutlets, rolls, soup), pages 3-4 (korean & japanese, mix, pizza, cho-cho rice, bake food, italian food), page 5 (israeli and spanish)

Now, you may wonder about authenticity. In our experience, the hotel batted around 0.500 or so–not too bad, right?

Kimchi-jjigae

Of all of the offerings, Korean was the best. Not only was the Korean food bizarrely authentic (who makes the kimchi?), but the Korean menu was written in Korean script, along with a signed endorsement by the Korean backpacker (a Mr. Park Jong-Ik) who helped put it together. Of all of the Korean dishes, of which I tried several, the most puzzling was the jjajiangmyeon. Now, I know instant Korean-style jjajiang sauce is available but, given the prices, I think Shanti Guest House must make it from scratch–how is this possible?? (Also, given that the restaurant is supposedly open 24 hours, how is there someone always on hand who knows how to cook all of the dishes?)

Shashuka

Next best, I think, was the Israeli/Mediterranean menu. As anyone who has traveled in India knows, the country attracts a huge number of Israeli backpackers. Even outside of the Israeli mini-neighborhoods of cities such as Pushkar and Udaipur, it sometimes feels like the Israelis outnumber all other tourists else combined, which is pretty astonishing considering how small a country Israel is. Anyway, Shanti’s shashuka, an egg-based dish, was just as good as we had in Tel Aviv. The hummus, however, looked very, very odd.

We only tried one Japanese dish, but it didn’t seem promising; the vegetable tempura came out surprisingly like vegetable pakora. Good enough pakora, but pakora (perhaps we shouldn’t have been too surprised).

The oddest? The Mexican menu. Now, they clearly got parts of the idea of an enchilada right, and the final product was tasty enough (and certainly huge enough), but all the Americans who were around, perhaps cruelly, laughed when we told them that what was on our plate was supposed to be an enchilada. There were some Mexican guests in the hotel, too, but we don’t know if they tried the dishes of their homeland, and if so, what they thought.

Enchilada and burrito

Finally, two nice surprises.

The macaroni in cheese sauce, with mushrooms or not, is an incredibly delicious and rich concoction, with a creamy oniony sauce that would be considered tasty anywhere in the world, let alone a Varanasi backpacker restaurant.

And, as any traveler knows, lack of tasty desserts is a great hardship of travel in much of the developing world. Shanti Guest House goes a long way to filling this gap with the “banana filter chocolate with ice cream.” (I imagine they must mean “profiteroles.”) As good as it looks (and better than the also acclaimed “Hello to the Queen”).

Food in Morocco

Eating out in the Djemma el-Fna, Marrakesh

Arab/Middle Eastern cuisines tend to blend into one another. From the souvlaki of Greece to the kebab of Turkey to the kabab of Iran, dolma from Armenia to Bosnia to Egypt, and yogurty drinks galore, dishes identified even as national specialties are usually transnational. Even the cuisine that is often identified as the most significant in the region–Lebanese–is somewhat diluted by the omnipresence of many of its staples, such as hummus and tabbouleh, over a wide region. This sort of general murkiness makes Moroccan cuisine stand out all the more for its distinctiveness and flavor.

Without a doubt, Morocco was one of the culinary highlights of our travels in the “Arab” world. People eat salads and roast meats, sure, but they do not comprise the core of Moroccan restaurant food, as in most other parts of the Arab world. Nor does often mediocre Indian food pick up the slack, as in the Gulf, for lack of local development and innovation. Given the well-developedness and tastiness of Moroccan food, it’s no wonder that there are plenty of Moroccan restaurants outside of Morocco–and so you may have tried many of these dishes. But here is my brief survey:

Food stall, Djemma el-Fna, Marrakesh

The king of Moroccan dishes is surely the tagine. I actually considered doing a post on tagines alone, because, as a sort of national staple, the tagine is almost unique in its incredible variety and sometimes complexity of flavor. One could easily travel in Morocco and eat only tagines for lunch and dinner–they are always available, cheap and almost always quite delicious, and no two tagines are exactly the same. Our favorite was served to us at a roadside stand, packaged to go in plastic bags!

The “tagine” is actually the name of the special pot (much like the way that Americans (and French?) use the word “casserole” to describe a kind of dish).

A common sight–tagines on the fire around mealtime.

Sometimes, tagines are displayed with clues as to the contents.

Remove the lid to reveal usually a piece of meat (chicken or lamb) slow-cooked with a range of vegetables (potatoes, onions, tomatoes) and flavored with a satisfying mixture of spices and, often, lemons and olives.

Traditionally, eaten with bread.

A rather simple meat tagine, with egg.

Perhaps even more famous in the west is couscous, small pasta that has almost the same mouthfeel as broken rice. Generally, however, we didn’t find couscous nearly as often as we thought we would–as common restaurant food, the tagine is supreme in Morocco.

Of course, more simple roast meat is also eaten (and, as usual, delicious). In Francophone Morocco, they are usually called “brochettes,” and not kebab.

Two local specialties stand out. Most famous perhaps in Marrakesh, but available elsewhere, is tangia, a form of slow-cooked lamb that varies from greasy to sublime (or both!).

In Marrakesh, tangia is cooked in little clay pots in the embers of a hammam fire. The guidebooks suggest that you can actually rent a pot, stop by a butcher and take the package to a hammam yourself–but that seemed like too much trouble when premade tangia was easily available.

The pastilla, a Fes specialty. The pastilla is a sort of meat pie, though very different from, say, a Cornish pasty. Somewhat unusual, but not particularly remarkable.

Strong tea is the drink of choice (see post of 09.01.17), with mint if you’re lucky, but there is also a surprisingly large number of coffee shops with high quality pastries, presumably a remnant of French domination.

Food in West Africa

We really didn’t know what to expect, for food, when coming to West Africa. We had never heard of Senegalese or Malian or Mauritanian food, and had no idea what they were like. We also knew from prior experience that, particularly in poorer countries, there can be a pretty big gap between the best of local cuisine (elaborate and delicious, but prepared only in private homes or for special occasions) and what is available for tourists (crude, dumbed down version of local cuisine or faux-western dishes), and feared that we would be reduced to eating plate after plate of quasi-French (bad steak frites) or spaghetti. One thing we definitely did not expect was a great cuisine–we figured that if there were something all that great, we would have heard of it by now, and seen restaurants serving it in the U.S.

Well, were we wrong. Mali and Mauritania don’t really have much of a cuisine of their own to speak of, but Senegalese food can be phenomenal, and I would rank at least a couple of Senegalese dishes among the tastiest in the world. Not only are restaurants great in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, but well-prepared Senegalese food can be found all over West Africa, in recognition of its place as the region’s finest cuisine. Revealing my ignorance, I learned that Senegalese food is also available in other parts of the world, particularly in France but also in American cities such as New York and Chicago. And so, at least when he’s lucky, the tourist in Senegal, Mali and Mauritania gets to eat good Senegalese food, and that is the main focus of this post, although I include below some non-Senegalese dishes as well.

The queen of Senegalese food, and one of the greatest dishes in the world, as far as I’m concerned, is tieboudienne.

Tieboudienne is the French transliteration of the Wolof (the majority language in Senegal) name for the dish, which simply means rice with fish. But the dish is much more complicated.

First, the rice.

The rice, as you can see, is highly seasoned, and simply delicious to eat alone. Perhaps peculiarly, the Senegalese use broken rice, and cook it quite al dente, so that the rice has an almost couscous texture to it, quite pleasing in the mouth.

Then, the fish (and vegetables).

Fish is caught in plenty in Senegal, and that shows in the generous portion of delicious meaty flesh that usually comes with your tieboudienne. In addition to the fish is an assortment of vegetables, including usually carrot, potato or cassava, cabbage and eggplant. My favorite way of eating tieboudienne is to eat, with knife and fork, amounts of fish and vegetables in proportion to the rice I eat, alternating the vegetables such that, with my five last forkfuls of rice I have one small piece of each vegetable remaining. What fun in resource management!

A fancy tieboudienne, at a top Dakar restaurant

Perhaps the best thing about tieboudienne is not how tasty it is, which is of course true, but that it is considered the most basic Senegalese dish and therefore always available, even at the eateries. I can think of few places where the most basic item on a menu is so flavorful, complex and worthy of repeat eating. We never had a bad tieboudienne in Senegal (or Mali or Mauritania), no matter where we ate it, and since it’s considered a sort of common dish, it is also very cheap–as cheap as USD 1 or 2 in Senegal, Mauritania or Bamako (sadly, good Senegalese restaurants are harder to find in Mali outside of Bamako).

The second greatest dish of Senegalese cuisine is yassa. You can get yassa with chicken, or fish, or anything else I suppose, but the most common is chicken.

Yassa is basically a very heavy oniony sauce, almost akin to French Onion Soup (is it possible that there is a relationship between the two?), and sometimes a little sour, as if the sauce is allowed to ferment, ever so slightly. Like tieboudienne, we never had a bad yassa, although the variation in quality was somewhat greater (tieboudienne is always delicious, yassa sometimes just so-so).

Yassa poisson–sorry for the messy plate!

A rather poor yassa, served with pasta in Djenne. Note how scrawny the chicken is! This plate cost USD 4.

A third Senegalese specialty, although one which it has to share with the rest of the region: mafe. Also known as sauce arachide, or peanut sauce, mafe is meat, often beef or mutton, in a rich peanut-based sauce. When done properly, or at least according to the style that i found myself preferring, the flavor is much darker and richer than the peanut sauce that is served in Southeast Asia to be eaten with your satay.

Also common, though less appealing, is soupe kandja. Kandja, strictly speaking, is not a soup at all, but a sauce to be eaten with rice, like mafe. It is primarily made, it seems, with okra or some other kind of starchy, slimy green. For people turned off by okra (which includes me), kandja is somewhat offensive, due purely to texture.

Served onboard our ship to Timbuktu

As I’ve said before, much of a traveler’s time in West Africa is spent on the road, in share taxis or buses, and with the long rides at least some of your meals will be taken on the road as well. A few pictures showing the kinds of meals one is likely to have while traveling on the West African road.

One of the most basic roadside foods, which could almost be described as primitive, is roasted sheep. Roasted sheep is common in Senegal, Mali and Mauritania; the quality was clearly the best in Mauritania, but in Senegal the meat came with spices (cumin). Super greasy.

Breakfast usually means coffee and eggs at a roadside stand. The simplest way to eat the eggs, for a traveler, is a sandwich to go. A basic omelette, perhaps with onions, inside a baguette–not a bad way to start the day.

The selections that might be available at a basic eatery that a luckier traveler’s bus might stop at. Nothing to complain about, in quality.

Eating more local.

One big and very welcome surprise in Timbuktu was that the food was among the best we’d had in West Africa outside of Dakar. While our hosts at Sahara Passion fed us well and included meals with the family in the reasonable cost of the room, a couple of restaurants in town are definitely worth noting and visiting.

As a sign that you are approaching North Africa, couscous and brochettes appeared on more menus. Here, couscous with vegetables and brochettes with sweet potato fries, at the excellent–food well exceeding the deceptively simple setup, to be sure–Amanar, near the Flamme de la Paix.

Even more impressive than Amanar was the Poulet d’Or, located inside Timbuktu’s Marche Artisanal. The food took a while to arrive, but it was all excellent, including this presentation of a local specialty, toukassou. The big loaf in the middle surrounded by a meaty stew is a huge round spongy bread, not too dissimilar from the “dumplings” served in Czech food.

Our Tabaski feast (see post of 08.12.08)

And some local beverages to wash it down!

Despite the fact that Senegal and Mali are solidly Muslim countries, they fall in the category of Muslim countries with alcohol, such as Turkey and the ex-Soviet Stans of Central Asia. (In Mauritania, all alcohol is banned, although the local authorities never found the half-drunk bottle of Jim Beam which we have been carrying for so long on our trip.) First, a Senegalese beer, against a Dakar sunset. Second, a Malian beer, with the Mopti port in the background.

But we’re not big drinkers. Far more appealing was bissap, pictured to the left, which is a cool drink made with hibiscus leaves (also known as kalkade, e.g., in Egypt). The drink on the right is bouye, made from the fruit of the baobab tree. Also delicious. The third picture is little baggies of bissap and a sort of ginger tea, often sold on the street (and of questionable food safety).

Coffee Touba. Touba is a city in Senegal known best for spiritual leadership and second for coffee.

In Mali and especially in Mauritania, tea is king, made in an elaborate ritual involving much pouring back and forth to cool and generate froth.

Secondary Cuisines

Traveling through the world, one gets to taste some terrific (and some not-so-terrific) food. Considering the wide availability of many of the same ingredients all over the world, it’s astonishing how much cuisines vary, from East to Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia to India, India to Iran, Iran to the Levant to Turkey, Turkey to Europe. The food, and the types and availability of restaurants, tell you a great deal about a place–the level of economic development, historical trading patterns and contacts, maybe even the character of a people. This post is, however, limited to one small category of food, which I call “secondary cuisines.”

A secondary cuisine is a cuisine once removed. Not Italian food as served in Italy, for example, but American Italian food. Not Chinese food as served in China, but Korean Chinese food. Not Indian food as served in India, but British Indian food. Secondary cuisines have interesting histories. Sometimes, they are just adaptations of an immigrant class, perhaps modified for broader consumption in the country of immigration. Other times, they are local visions of what a foreign cuisine is, or attempts to create such cuisines without proper training or ingredients. However they originate, some secondary cuisines develop lives of their own, perhaps not exceeding in quality and variety the primary cuisine, but differentiating itself sufficiently that even the primary cuisine would not serve as a substitute for someone looking for that particular secondary cuisine dish. An American tourist could easily be disappointed by pizza the way it is served in Italy, and I have heard from many who prefer American Chinese food over food in China. There have even been cases of transplantation of secondary cuisine dishes into the country of the primary cuisine, whether for consumption by locals or foreigners. Lest this sound rather abstract, let us move on to concrete examples.

The country in which the widest range of secondary cuisines exists is probably the United States, a country of immigrants. Chief among these is probably American Chinese food. Ever since Chinese workers first arrived in the United States in the 19th century, they have been cooking food (as Chinese emigrants do all over the world–see below), and a unique cuisine developed. The greatest concentration of American Chinese food restaurants is probably in San Francisco, the oldest Chinese community in the United States, where restaurants have big signs advertising that most American Chinese dish, Chop Suey. But not far behind are restaurants in big cities all over the U.S., and even in rural areas–Chinese food is omnipresent. Other dishes of American Chinese cuisine include such classics as General Tso’s and Sesame Chicken, and an entire range of American Chinese food is often available in cheap buffet or fast food restaurants in strip malls across America. I read that General Tso’s Chicken, originally a Taiwanese-American invention, has made it back to Taiwan–but I have not seen it on a menu in the Mainland… yet.

There are numerous other American-XXX cuisines. After American Chinese food, American Italian probably comes a close second. Indeed, Italian food served outside of Italy is often not an adaptation of Italian food from Italy, but of American Italian food. Whether served at Pizza Hut or numerous smaller local restaurants, American-style pizza is perhaps the single most popular food in the world. Pizza by the slice being sold in Venice looked and tasted suspiciously like New York pizza, leaving me to wonder whether pizza-by-the-slice is an American invention that has traveled back to Italy, together with the recipe for American pizza. American Japanese food also exists, to a small extent, in the form of newly invented sushi. I’ve read that the California, Philadelphia and Alaska rolls have all, to some extent, traveled across the Pacific to be served in sushi restaurants in Japan. Similarly, a cut of rib grilled for Korean barbeque is known even in Korea as “L.A. Galbi,” after its place of innovation, and I know of a pho restaurant in Saigon that imports “rooster sauce” (Sriracha Sauce), a tomato and chili condiment made by Vietnamese Americans and ubiquitous in Vietnamese restaurants in the United States.

America may be home to the the largest number of secondary cuisines, but the country responsible for seeding the largest number of secondary cuisines is, no doubt, China. “Chinese” food is among the most varied in the world (it is probably silly to call it a single cuisine, although of course regional differences are largely lost when exported to other countries), and among the most adopted in the world, not only by Chinese emigrant communities but by non-Chinese locals. We have eaten (some sort of) Chinese food in the U.S. (of course), Europe, Korea, Southeast Asia, India, the Levant, Mali and Madagascar.

Of secondary Chinese cuisines, the two most distinctive, from my perspective, are Korean Chinese food and Indian Chinese food. I am not sure how Korean Chinese food originated, but I believe it was created by Chinese immigrants to Korea (from Shandong Province?) who opened restaurants and modified existing Chinese dishes to suit local palates. Now, it forms a cuisine on its own, its dishes recognizably Chinese but prepared in a distinct style. Every Korean child’s favorite food is Jiajiangmyeon, similar to but different from the Beijing-style noodles, and anybody could tell Korean-style Sweet and Sour apart from its Chinese original. Given the lack of a significant Chinese population in India or Sri Lanka, I am inclined to think that Indian Chinese food is a local creation, a vision of Chinese food by (evidently skilled) South Asian cooks. I am told that some of the dishes, such as Chili Chicken, Chicken Manchurian, etc., are available in Indian restaurants in New York. In Madras we went to the restaurant that supposedly invented Chicken 55, another popular (and delicious) Indian Chinese dish. There are numerous other secondary Chinese cuisines–we were unsurprised to find at a restaurant in Sofia Bulgaria an entire page of Chinese dishes, some more recognizably Chinese in inspiration than others. I should also note that Chinese is often a premium cuisine in many parts of the world, surprising to big city Americans to whom some kind of Chinese food is available at highly competitive prices.

Western food has also been adapted. All over Asia there is some variant of adapted western food, such as pizza with corn as a topping (or thousand island dressing in lieu of tomato sauce, as is available at Pizza Hut Hong Kong), “hamburger steak” made of ground meat and various cream soups. The most well-developed, almost sophisticated version, however, is Japanese western. The Japanese adopted certain western dishes from their interactions with the Portuguese in the 16th century and with the British in the 19th, and some of the dishes have grown quite popular, served not only in Japanese restaurants in Japan but all over the world, including especially Korea. Foremost among the dishes of this cuisine are curry and katsu, both foods I grew up with and love. It was fairly late in my life when I recognized that my love of chicken fried steak and wiener schnitzel (and other similar dishes–every country seems to have its own) came down to their resemblance to Japanese katsu.

When I was recently in Milan, I had to try the local milanesa, the namesake of the breaded meat dish in all parts of the Italian- and Spanish-speaking worlds.