ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Do they have Vanuatuan takeaways in El Salvador?

I remarked the other day that it was almost impossible to find food that identified as 'United Arab Emiratean' in Dubai. (Which is in the United Arab Emirates if you needed reminding!)

This got me thinking.

Think, think, think went my brain, like some sort of vast, organic thinking machine.

And I came to the conclusion that this criticism is possibly a bit harsh, if only because the UAE is far from alone in having a dismally flaccid presence in the World League of Food.

Want to know what I'm banging on about? Hold tight for some Gastro-geopolitical discourse.

Steak and Ale Pie

In God's Own Merrie Olde England, we have a pretty strong national culinary identity - Fish and Chips, Sunday Roasts Full English breakfasts... Without wanting to overblow the Anglican trumpet, I'd suggest that globally we're in the Premier League, although we're certainly not top of it.

Guess the nationality (hint: the answer is 'Iranian'!)
That honour possibly goes to Italy, with the strikeforce of Pasta and Pizza guaranteeing recognition across the world, and one can easily make a strong case for India too.

I know, there's a lot more to Italian food than pizza and pasta, and a lot more to Indian food than curry, but that's not the point here - it's about international presence and domestic confidence. Stereotypes, on this occasion, actually matter. ('Everyone in Scotland eats haggis and deep-fried Mars Bars every day!11true11')

So, wherever you are in the world, you probably know what Italian food is, and anywhere in the world where there are restaurants with food from other countries, there'll be Italian restaurants. That's what I'm banging on about - it's not to say that Italy and Indian necessarily have the best food culture, just the most ubiquitous, widespread and widely understood.

Other countries near the top of the dining table include the USA - burgers, ribs, fried chicken - and France - Croissants, Coq-au-vin, pate du foie gras.

In the last couple of decades the Sushi-tastic Japan has definitely earned a place in the elite group. Plus, I'd argue, China, Mexico and probably Spain. Maybe Greece too. It takes very little effort to cite accurate, if stereotypical, examples, and to mentally see, smell and taste the food from these countries, and all are easily found across the world.

Then you have the second division cuisines. You get Brazilian steakhouses now, and very good they are too, and we all know the Germans like their sausages and sourkraut, but you can't just phone up for a German in the way that you can for a Chinese or Indian. (Yes, I'm still talking about food and not escorting services...)

Lebanon. Turkey. Hungary. Jamaica. All second-tier.

The UAE is definitely in the Conference Middle-East division though. Not only have I never seen a UAEn restaurant in London, but I couldn't find one in Dubai either.

And, as I said, it's not alone. I'm not sure I had any Andorran food when I visited Andorra as a child.

When was the last time you went to a Laotian restaurant? How local is your nearest Moldovan takeaway? What's the national dish of the Central African Republic?

The well-travelled paths

Last Summer when I hastily invented a dish combining the respective cuisines of the nations contesting the Euro 2012 final, I had a relatively easy task. (And the Gnocchi Bravas worked incredibly well).

If I do the same for the World Cup and it's Burkina Faso v the Solomon Islands in the final, I might be in some trouble though!

The real question is why? Why have some countries established international reputations for their foods while others have not.

I suspect the rather sad reason is the convenience of marketability. There's only room for a limited number of big players or people will get all confused. That's why Pakistani restaurants are almost non-existent except in areas where the immigrant community is concentrated but on most 'Indian' menus you'll find dishes that are actually of Pakistani (and Bangladeshi and indeed English) origin.

There are close to 200 actual countries (using the Pointless definition of a sovereign state that is a member of the UN!) and loads more territories and autonomous sub-regions within them.

In London we're a bit spoiled for choice, relatively speaking. I've enjoyed Korean, Peruvian, Guayanese and Columbian food in the capital and my long, long list of places to try includes Eritrean, Somalian and Nigerian restaurants. Novel, places all, but very telling in their rarity and uniqueness.

But go out to the provinces and it's hard to find anything much other than the usual suspects of curry, pizza and prawn crackers. And kebabs, obviously.

Oh, and by the way, I just looked up the national dish of the Central African Republic. Apparently it's Spinach stew and Fufu - a type of cassava porridge.

It doesn't sound that great to be honest, but does anybody know where the fuck I can try some?!?

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