Have you been to Spain? If so, have you tried paella? Of course you have. Been to Turkey? Of course you’ll have had a kebab there; it’s the national food! These ever popular dishes are eaten by everyone, but what about the slightly more unusual things to eat? We’re not talking expensive gourmet dishes, but sometimes the most humble, traditional foods aren’t on the tourist menu. We say, seek them out, ask for them, and you’ll be glad you did.
Egypt – Fuul
It’s unexpected that in a land of spice and flavour, a simple dish of mashed beans is the one to stay with visitors who take the time to taste it. Yet Fuul Medames, often called simply fuul or fūl has a tempting, earthy flavour, a filling, satisfying texture and is the subject of many “secret recipes” across Egypt, according to the individual cook. At its heart are fav beans, cooked and mashed with oil, cumin and other spices, and sometimes with onion, spring onion, garlic, lemon juice or parsley added. It is served mostly for breakfast with flat bread, boiled eggs, tomatoes or salad.
Spain – Pimentos
These small green peppers are sometimes served as part of a tapas spread. While fried green peppers don’t sound exciting, the origin of these little vegetables is a part of Spanish history. They were first cultivated by Franciscan Monks in the 16th Century in the Padron region of Spain, who brought them over from Mexico. The healthy little bites are also called “Spanish Roulette” because although mostly they are mild, one in ten packs quite a hot kick!
Serbia – Ajvar
Serbia is a land brimming with fresh fruit and vegetables, and every open air market you pass by is piled high with whatever’s in season. Even city folk still delight in distilling, preserving or bottling the delicious products of the land, and ajvar is a very good example of this. Known as “Serbian Caviar”, it’s a relish made mostly from smoked red peppers, sometimes with aubergine, garlic and chilli added, and it has a unique taste that’s incredibly moreish, and very sought after by visitors who tend to take home as many jars as their baggage allowance will permit.
Turkey – Mercimek Koftesi
This is a perfect picnic dish, and served as an appetiser at big family dinners or summer meals in Turkey. Mercimek Koftesi are lentil and bulgar wheat bites that look super pretty, and are served rolled up in lettuce leaves with a squeeze of lemon juice on top. Although they are filling, it’s hard not to ignore most of the other tasty treat served alongside and pop one after the other into your mouth, until you can’t move.
All this goes to show that when you’re looking for a restaurant on holiday, check to see where the locals go – or better still, make friends and wangle an invitation to a home cooked dinner. You’ll be let in on a new world of food.