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Jan 2, 2008 08:23 AM

countries that just don't have good food/overlooked national cuisines

On the DC/Baltimore board, I recently was in a discussion about an Ecuadorian restaurant in town. While some people really like it, I think it's perfectly skippable; someone once told me that Ecuador is just not a place one goes for the food.

I travel to SE Asia often, and while I could very easily and happily subsist on a diet of South and SE and East Asian food, the food in Cambodia, for some reason I've not quite figure out, just isn't good. (Especially when considering how fantastic the food in near/neighboring countries.)

On other travels, I've been delighted and amazed by the food in Bulgaria and especially in the Republic of Georgia, countries that don't immediately come to mind when discussing great food.

So, what are your picks for countries with not so great food, and those who have cuisines that tend to get overlooked?

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  1. Difficult one to answer. Some of the worst meals of my life have been on trips to the USA, as have some of the best.

    But, I suppose I don't instinctively think of the Netherlands for haute cuisine.

    18 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      Of, I'm so not a haute cuisine type of 'hound. I'm a real street food type of eater. And, oh, c'mon, I think the Netherlands had really fabulous pea soup! ;-)

      1. re: baltoellen

        As well as great cheeses, herring and pannekoeken. Their olie bollen and other sweets/pastries are pretty tasty, too;) I really liked the food I found in the Netherlands. I'd actually put the Netherlands in the overlooked category.

        I'd put Tibetan cuisine in the not-so-great category.

        1. re: phoenikia

          I can't remember the exact name of it, but the rice, vegetables and meat dish that is popular in NL from Indonesia is pretty good. The coffee in NL is good as is some of the beer. I don't recall that they have an indigenous high end cuisine...they have brought in food specialities from other countries as NL is a land of traders etc.

          1. re: WelcomeBack

            You're referring to Rijstaffel. Also try the Nasi Goreng and the Bami Goreng. Lots of Indonesian restaurants in NL, it's almost become a national cuisine.

            1. re: dpan

              Rijstaffel is the multi-course meal where you are served 20+ courses but only a mouthful or two of each. Flying UK to Holland to eat one is the furthest I've ever travelled specifically for dinner (meant stopping overnight of course). Worth every penny for the experience. I believe the concept is not native to Indonesia but was developed by Dutch colonialists and imported back to the Netherlands.

              1. re: Harters

                Just look for a restaurant that says "Chin-Ind" on the outside.

          2. re: phoenikia

            I was just going to say that - Tibetan food. Although, I did have incredible momos and thentuk in Dharamsala (the exile community in India) and in Tibet, but I think the reason is mostly that there isn't the variety. Tibetans aren't really known to be foodies, just using food to survive.

            1. re: phoenikia

              >>I'd put Tibetan cuisine in the not-so-great category.

              It appears Mindanao has Tibet beat, by a mile.

            2. re: baltoellen

              Let's not forget cheese (more than just Gouda), boereworst (and other sausages), chocolate, black licorice, game (venison and hare come to mind), beer, kroketten, and of course fries with mayo and hundreds of other toppings!!! And all the Indonesian influenced dishes, such as rijstafel and babi ketjap. Yes, I miss the food of my childhood! But to be honest I wouldn't pick it as the national cuisine for the rest of my life.

              1. re: waver

                Gingerbread and stroopwafels also come to mind...buut as for non-ethnic everyday NL cuisine, yeah, I'd have to say most of it was pretty bad. At least where I was - wilty salads, veggies steamed into submission, overcrisped tater tots and strange-tasting chicken and meat...during my 5 months living there I think I mostly survived on tostekaas and tomaat soup (and the lovely bakery and cheese shop down the steet)
                - alright, the fries stands were lovely, but curry ketchup is still foul.

                1. re: Jeters

                  The entire national cuisine of the Netherlands can stand on the able shoulders of the stroopwafel in my opinon!

                  1. re: WCchopper

                    And the summer meal of white asparagus, fine ham, diced boiled egg and a few tilts of Genever! New herring,lekabekka, mussels, smoked eel, fine cheeses, great beers, and then the Indonesian on top of that. Sure as hell beats a Big Mac

                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                      Ah yes, now you're really reminding me! Panenkoken mit spek was also delightful, and don't even start on the cheeses!

                      1. re: WCchopper

                        I lived in the Netherlands before it changed its name from Holland :)

                        If, for whatever reason, you get the munchies, then off to the pannekoeken huizen for a bacon, egg and tomato pancake followed by a strawberry, cream and Grand Marnier pancake.

            3. re: Harters

              But there's a wonderful Italian place in Amsterdam, Casa di David.

              I wonder if Java is one of those overlooked countries for cuisine. I never hear much about it, but someone (Sam?) mentioned recently that there is a bunch of good food there, and I think I saw some stuff on a Bourdain 'No Reservations' that looked good. (He did go there, didn't he?)

              1. re: Cinnamon

                Java is an island which is part of Indonesia. Yes, they do have great food there - very exotic by American standards. Here, you won't find the depth and breadth of ingredients as well as dishes that represent this cuisine, but there's a very good Indonesian cafe in the Palms area called, Simpang Asia. Give it a whirl if you get a chance.

                Simpang Asia
                10433 National Blvd 2, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  :) Been there on quest for kaffir lime leaves, stayed for the soup. I'll need to stop in some more and make my way through the menu. Any favorites on there to try next?

                2. re: Cinnamon

                  The food on Java is indeed good - and changes from western, central, and eastern. Not everything is good; but what is good, can be really good.

              2. I find Somali food to be very plain and boring. Occassionaly there are some treats, but mostly imports from other countries, like Somosas.

                6 Replies
                1. re: churchka

                  Two of the best meals of my life were at The New Bilan, a Somali resto in Toronto- are you sure you just haven't had good versions of it?

                  Now real Mongolian food- that sounds despicable! Mutton and more mutton.

                  1. re: John Manzo

                    I've eaten in two or three restaurants and A LOT of home cooking. It is just boring.

                    1. re: churchka

                      I side with John Manzo on the Somali question. I reviewed New Bilan a couple of years ago, and really liked it. I've also started cooking some Somali dishes (my favourite so far being a crab stew). It's not haute cuisine, but very satisfying.

                    2. re: John Manzo

                      real Mongolian food is NOT despicable---its yummy!!!! For a blissful short period of time, we lived walking distance from a Mongolian restaurant in LA. While the cuisine is heavy on root veg and lamb based dishes, they were VERY tasty.

                      Alas, the real mongolians running the restaurant were not vvery business oriented and they failed.....

                    3. re: churchka

                      one of the most exciting meals i've ever had was by somali caterers. admittedly it owed a lot to indian cuisine, but it added a lot too. I particularly remember a wildly intense chili paste of which you should take no more than a fork tine's worth.

                    4. baltoellen, I know just what you mean--and funny you should mention Ecuador and Cambodia. In the Americas, I love Mexican, Guatemalan, followed (by quite a distance) Peruvian and Brazilian. I'll get in trouble, but our food in Colombia and that of Venezuela and Ecuador has some good things--but overall and unfortunately not at all on or near the level of Mexico or even Peru.

                      I lived in and worked in south and southeast Asia for donkeys and have to agree that Cambodian, filipino, and even Indonesian don't stand up to Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese. India and Pakistan are great for food. Much of sub-Saharan Africa is not (although AB looked like he ate very well in Ghana).

                      I go to Laos, Mexico, India, and Pakistan to eat while acting like I'm working. Other countries I know how to find and really enjoy food, although then I eat nomral quantities.

                      32 Replies
                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Cambodian food is the great mystery to me. I mean, same climate, same French colonial heritage as Laos and Vietnam, yet really mediocre food. Honestly, Cambodia is the only place in the region where I eat in those restaurants for Westerners. While it goes against my ethos to do that while traveling, eating bad food when there're other options goes against my ethos as well. (I'm just happy that I planned a stop for a day in Singapore where I can see some friends who take me to their favorite hawker stalls. Then, I'll just have to suck it up when I get to Phnom Penh....) My trip ends in Vietnam, so, with hope, the bad food in Cambodia will be a fading memory.

                        And, to my own question: I think the food of Trinidad is the most overlooked GREAT cuisine on the planet. (Although the food in Tobago is more or less run of the mill Caribbean.)

                        1. re: baltoellen

                          Your Cambodia comments brought an odd idea to mind. There was a enormous disruption to Cambodian cultural continuity due to the genocide; I've read, for example, that perinatal mortality was very high afterwards because midwifery skills were lost. So, could that loss of culture have something to do with Cambodia's current status as a culinary outlier in the region? I guess I'd have to ask someone who ate there before the genocide.

                          1. re: optimal forager

                            I, too, have wondered about that. But, as the country tries so hard to both come to grips with the not too distant past and move into the future, I think they are trying to revive all the culture that was lost. Of course, given that so many people are so young there, maybe no one remembers what the food tasted like. Frankly, I have a feeling that it just wasn't good before the genocide either.

                            1. re: optimal forager

                              great answer. The worst of British food is also due to discontinuity of tradition following from the industrial revolution and migration into urban centres remote from agriculture. Thankfully really great food (try real - I mean real - cheddar, stilton cheese the dark beers and some great sausages and stews) is still valued, but food in the industrial ciites of the north can still be about filling up cheaply and getting it over and done with.

                              1. re: johntonta

                                "The worst of British food is also due to discontinuity of tradition following from the industrial revolution and migration into urban centres remote from agriculture."

                                Would have to disagree. IMO, the worst of British food (home not restaurant) can be directly linked to (1) the effects of rationing during WW2 and afterwards, until 1954 when it ended (2) poverty.

                                1. re: Harters

                                  Would have to agree with you.

                                  However, the effects of rationing continued after rationing finished. School milk & meals, concentrated orange juice, cod liver oil and so on.

                                  1. re: Paulustrious

                                    Exactly my point. My mother, who was not in poverty but who was a lousy cook by today's standards, learnt her cooking skills in that period. Obviously it fashioned her cooking style for her whole life.

                                    I suspect that further discussion about how any nation's cuisine is fashioned would be best on a different thread - but I suspect that for those nations in the "developed world", there will be consistent themes - poverty, social change, the way food is sold, etc - and I suspect it will be the second half of the 20th century that brought about those changes (broadly speaking)

                          2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            Re: Ghana: I spent a few months there a long time ago, and although it is one of the more stable countries, it still had a bit of the subsistence level feel to the cuisine. That being said, I think there are some really great dishes from this very rich culture. I have a few cookbooks I picked up while I was there, and there are some very interesting recipes. I also love the groundnut stew with fufu, the palaver sauce, and I had some really great kebabs made out of all sorts of things. The jollof rice was great. I also had a wonderful snail stew made by a lovely woman I met there. We went into the Kumasi market and bought the snails from a stall. At first the women at the stall were very hostile towards me. But as soon as they realized I was really excited about the snails, and not just morbidly curious, they became very friendly. All I had to do was remind then that "Asians eat everything!" The snails were the size of a canteloupe. They were really delicious in the stew! I look forward to the day we are talking about all the great chow in the continent of Africa, and not about how to deal with children going hungry.

                            1. re: moh

                              moh, you perfectly describe the type of food experience I love. Thank you.

                              1. re: moh

                                Funny that you mention all those foods in particular. I too spent a few months there and found the food basically inedible, especially fufu and jollof rice. I pretty much survived off of plantains and tea biscuits the entire time. The worst part was walking through the markets with the dried fish all covered in flies in the hot sun and thinking "Yep, there's dinner..."

                                1. re: Olallieberry

                                  Olallieberry, we had the great fortune of being in a place where lunch was supplied by a woman who was known as one of the best fufu makers in the city. She made her fufu from scratch, and she also made a fabulous groundnut stew. She would pound the fufu with a large stick and the sound would reverberate throughout the building, reminding us than lunch was around the corner. Weekday lunches were a real treat, as this lady could cook! We had a lot more trouble finding food on our own. Some of the other students would take pity on us, hence the kind offer to cook us snail stew.

                                  I would agree that finding a regular source of really great food in Ghana takes a lot of work, and also a bit of luck. As I mentioned in my other post, food is still about subsistence, even in a fairly stable country like Ghana. But the problem is not the cuisine, the cuisine is quite interesting, and the flavour components are complex and delicious. It is more a problem of availability and quality of ingredients.

                                  I recall eating a lot of plantains as well. Thank goodness for fried foods! I also recall drinking a lot of Bitter Lemon, with the added bonus of quinine, thought to have anti-malarial properties.

                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                While I agree that Ecuadorian food is not on the level of Mexican food, particularly in terms of regional variety and complexity, I was quite pleasantly surprised by the food in Ecuador: had no expectations, but discovered that it was always fresh, well made, heavy on the fruits and vegetables, and the soups were uniformly delicious...

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Would be interesting to see Anthony Bourdain visit Cambodia in an ep of "No Reservations". I looked up the episode history on IMDB and apparently he has not yet filmed a show there. Maybe there's good reason for this?

                                  1. re: MysticYoYo

                                    It's been a while since I read it, but I think he was there, or at least in the border town of Poipet, in A Cook's Tour.

                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                      In "A Cook's Tour" he didn't have anything particularly great to say about the cuisine of Cambodia either.

                                      1. re: Blueicus

                                        I believe that in the book he regarded his trip to Cambodia as one of the most horrible places he's visited. Not only was the food bad, he was somewhat frightened on the people he met...and there was a rather disgusting passage re: the blood on the walls in his hotel bathroom. He did travel beyond the border but regretted it. I doubt he plans to go back.

                                        (somewhat vague as it's been years since I read the book, apologies for any mistakes)

                                    2. re: MysticYoYo

                                      He keeps circling in on SE Asia though. I'm getting the impression he really is shopping for his retirement dream locale. I'm completely OK with this, as the shows now help me pare down my must-visit list.

                                    3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Hello, Hawaii? That's on my not-for-the-cuisine list, right next to Nebraska. Granted that while I've been to Hawaii and eaten in Hawaiian restaurants there and in California, I've never had their raw specialties.

                                      I haven't had much from Ethiopia, but what I had - especially the soured bread - I didn't like. I didn't like it even more than Prague, Czechoslovakia.

                                      With so many cuisines it's hard to tell whether one is missing the perfectly-prepared version that like an old language got messed up into something far less eloquent along the way. I've had bizarrely good food of all kinds in Bermuda, and can't quite figure out why. I've been to Amsterdam but couldn't tell you a single Dutch dish. Did find a terrific Italian there.

                                      1. re: Cinnamon

                                        Funny, I always think of Hawai'i as a food paradise. First, there's the produce: from lettuce and tomatoes to guavas, mangoes, lillikoi, jackfruit, rambutan, and durian. Huge avocados there for the picking, fresh young coconut, citrus, macadamia nuts, coffee, and on and on.

                                        Then there's the fish - the variety and quality is unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. And some of the best beef I've ever eaten was raised on Maui.

                                        If you don't have a kitchen at hand, there are restaurants that range from basic plate lunch shack to the finest of fine dining. And if you enjoy SPAM, that's just an added bonus! ;-)

                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          I would love to run into some of the food quality you mention there in some restaurant fare. I did find Kauai to be quite an agricultural wonderland, in that scenic way that American croplands are not. (But I'm from Florida and live in California, so while they've got really great dirt vs. Southern California, the proliferation of beautiful fruit, etc., didn't make as much impact as perhaps it might have if I had been from somewhere else. Where I grew up, you watch your head for falling coconuts and mangoes anyway.) Hanalei Bay is gorgeous, though.

                                          We ate at several places on that island though I don't recall any specific names - one was a rather festive, nice-environment longtime sushi-and-more place down near Kapaa I believe. Granted, and this is a huge granted, I haven't been to the other islands yet.

                                          But on Kauai no food was exquisite or really even remarkable to me. And worse, around west L.A. we've got several Hawaiian restaurants that just must be the Denny's and Panda Express of the islands, in terms of the taste of what they serve... middling kalua lumpia, lau lau, boring white rice, spam rolls, greasy cutlets (not tasty grease, either) and macaroni salad everywhere, occasionally with the random flat egg on top. My vision of Hawaiian food became 'what happens when you strand mid-19th-century middle America on an island' and give it pineapples and wannabe ham.

                                          1. re: Cinnamon

                                            I don't know Kaua'i at all, but O'ahu, Maui, and the Big Island can each deliver food that's remarkable and maybe even exquisite. Alan Wong, Bev Gannon, Peter Merriman - these guys are some of the best-regarded chefs in America, and their uniting philosophy is the simple preparation of top-quality local ingredients.

                                            Here's Alan Wong's take on tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich:


                                            1. re: Cinnamon

                                              Cinnamon, your very objective and well written analyses makes me sit up and take notice. Thanks.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Thanks but that's really just my touristy impression. (By the way I meant to say mid-20th century middle America.) I'm going to have to plan another trip to debunk my viewpoint and find some of the places Alan was talking about. (Nice 'basics' list in that cookbook table of contents, by the way.)

                                                But since Hawaii is after all 1/3 of the way to Asia, I reserve the right to extend my trip to Vietnam/Thailand.

                                              2. re: Cinnamon

                                                >>My vision of Hawaiian food became 'what happens when you strand mid-19th-century (sic) middle America on an island' and give it pineapples and wannabe ham.<<

                                                With no refrigeration to speak of coupled with humid weather, one learns to make do with what one has. Canned meat was a god-send to Islanders - otherwise, protein on the hoof was a rare commodity.

                                                1. re: Cinnamon

                                                  The last time we were in Hawai'i, we had the benefit of "connections" from a kama'aina who was high up at a major resort - a rarity for us and something for which we are eternally grateful.

                                                  He set us up with a list of recommendations and itinerary for four islands. On that trip we ate at a number of top shelf places. What we found - despite the fact we were often being treated "above and beyond" - was a "sameness", not just in ingredients, but in presentation, menu and accompaniments. Didn't matter if it were sashimi in one place and a fillet in another - there was something distinctly Stepford-ish about the experiences at the higher-end places. The main exceptions was Merriman's (which almost seemed as if we were dining in another country) and Pacific'O.

                                                  Neither my wife nor I has had a hankering for mahi-mahi or macadamias since that trip. Maybe next time we'll do the choosing.

                                              3. re: Cinnamon

                                                Living in Hawaii for the better part of a year now... and having lived in L.A., Sonoma County & Mexico City before... I have to say that Hawaii both lives up to its reputation and doesn't. Let me make several points:

                                                1) Locals definitely still consume lots of the food for which Hawaii is stereotyped... the Spam Fried Rice, Spam Musubi... and there isn't a whole lot of quality in the typical plate lunch place.

                                                2) If you move here after living in L.A. or the Bay Area... at least on Oahu you will not notice a major, deal breaking difference in the availability of high quality produce & animal flesh. Avg. produce in Hawaii is just as bad as in California.... meaning your typical Haole or Local middle class, white collar Asian who shops at Safeway, Foodland or Times picks up the same mediocre, tasteless out of season Chilean produce as the avg California middle class / Suburbs dweller.

                                                Both places have ethnic markets that yield similar good quality produce at cheaper than Supermarket prices. And both have mediocre famer markets cultures... in the same sense... there are farmers markets with more or less top notch ingredients at good prices (FM in L.A. & HI are very reasonable in comparison to Northern California's ridiculous, whimsically marketed Farmers Market produce)... expect that in HI as in CA they are the exception, they represent a miniscule portion of the produce trade.

                                                In general, given that Honolulu is at best 1/7 the size of L.A. its offering high quality local produce & free range proteins is very comparable to L.A.... and even the Bay Area. Although, the Gastronimic IQ in Hawaii is much lower than the Bay Area or L.A. I have this theory that ugly Urban spaces (particularly those with limited outdoor activities & highly stressful lifestyles) breed the highest Gastronomic IQs as people have little else to obsess about. Here in Kailua... its hard to find knowledgeable food enthusiasts... but who can blame them? Why spend your time fantasizing about food when you can be kayaking & hiking in paradise?

                                                With all that said... neither Hawaii nor California compare to Mexico City for depth, breadth of year round available top notch locally grown produce consumed en masse... its not even close.

                                                3) Back to the restaurant infrastructure... the availability of Ethnic food in Honolulu / Oahu is certainly comparable to L.A. & Bay Area per Capita... yes the Mexican sucks here, and the Chinese is not close either... but the Japanese is very comparable, as is the Vietnamese... and then when it comes to Thai... its not close, Oahu's neighborhood Thai places are eye opening. They are sparse enough that they don't have to bargain each other down to the $5 for a 3 course lunch like in L.A.... and are well regarded.. my god its eye opening. When you eat Thai in California, Chicago or NY its hard not to conclude that Thai's can't cook protein very well (think toughish, lean meats etc.,) but here in Hawaii even Chicken Satay is wonderful with juicy dark meats etc., etc., Thai food is better in Oahu than in L.A without ANY doubt in my mind.

                                                At the high the best restaurants in Honolulu / Oahu are certainly comparable to the best in the Bay Area & L.A. Alan Wong's for example, even though I particularly am not that impressed by it, is in the same league as Cyrus (which I am not that into either) in Healdsburg or Melisse in L.A. Then there are the Sam Choy's etc., which price point vs price point also compare favorable to their California Cuisine equivalents in either L.A. or the Bay Area. And then further down to the creative, neighborhood mid level places... the Honolulu restaurants in the Kaimuki / Kahala area are pretty much in the same league as their counterparts in West L.A., San Francisco, Sonoma & Napa. Granted they may be a few years behind on the trends... and they lack the marketing prowess of their bretheren in the Bay Area but in terms of food, plating & decor stripping away fashionableness / trendiness..... they are very equivalent.

                                                Back to the produce... the produce IS different... don't expect good peaches or stone fruit.. or apples etc., but what Hawaii does have (and there IS a fairly substantial breadth of produce) is reasonable Top Notch to California standards. Ah the roasted Hawaiian purple potatoes I just had the other day.... marvelous there are no potatoes in California in their league.... and the availability of impeccable lettuces & herbs is impressive for such a tropical location.

                                                Hawaiians don't have the Culinary IQ of the Bay Area foodies, and certain things like good cheeses or Mexican stuff is nearly impossible to find... but there are other Asian, Polynesian & Micronesian stuff that balances it out on a per capita basis... Hawaii (or at least Oahu as I can testify for other islands) is materially comparable to California.

                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                  Fantastic descriptions, thank you. And very interesting about Mexico City.

                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                    Eat Nopal's summary is excellent, and I would agree with his assessment of Hawaii's cuisine. One of my best Thai food experiences was on the Big Island in Hilo, I was very impressed. I would though mention that I've not been to Thailand, so, perhaps I'm not the best person to comment.

                                                    I love the blend of Japanese/Korean/Polynesian cultural elements that pervades the entire culinary culture of Hawaii. This fusion is easy, fun and tasty, and so different than the mainland culture that I am used to. I can see that if you are from California/LA, where Asian food is fairly mainstream and accessible, you might not find this blend as original or impressive. But as an Asian from Canada (and not from Vancouver), it was a revelation to find such fun, oddly familiar food in every strip mall, in street trucks, and in fancy restarants. Familiar, yet with a twist. I loved it.

                                                    One other wonderful item I found was super fresh mangosteens in a farmer's market, an entire gigantic bag for $5! I have never had such fresh beautiful inexpensive mangosteens. Now I could be wrong, and they might be available in California, but I was under the impression that fresh mangosteens are not grown in California, or anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. It was worth the price of the airplane ticket to have those very fresh mangosteens! We nearly sliced out hands off, as we usually have to saw away at the tough outer peel when we buy sort-of-fresh mangosteens here in Montreal. The knife flew through the peel like butter on these mangosteens in Hawaii, and I've never seen such beautiful green leaves like these fruit had (usually they are all brown and hard when I buy sort-of-fresh mangosteen). The mangosteen is such a delicate fruit, it really doesn't travel so well.

                                                    1. re: moh

                                                      Slightly tangential.. but you should see & smell the Mangos in my back yard. Not since been a teenager on vacation in Acapulco had I experienced the complex floral bouquet of a fresh cut mango.. my wife who never had the experience (only used to 6 week old mangos in California) was absolutely floored.

                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                        I'm drooling Eat Nopal! I adore mangos, and that sound awesome. I liked all the fruit i had in Hawaii. I ate a crazy amount of Papayas. Unfortunately, mangos were not in season when we were there.

                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                          The key is harvesting them all so you don't get a not so beautifully fragrant slip-n-slide carpet of them on the ground.

                                                        2. re: moh

                                                          The next time you have the opportunity to relish ripe mangosteens, squeeze them in between the palms of your hands (or your SO's if his palms are stronger). The husk should split open and you'll end up with a little purplish dye on your palms, but it's a small price to pay for the lusciousness that lays inside.

                                                  2. My vote would have to go to Costa Rica. Granted, it's been a while since I was there, plus I don't eat fish so that limited my options, but it just wasn't very exciting. I ate a lot of rice and beans and scrambled eggs (particularly after two occasions of being served chicken so undercooked it was bloody - best way to turn me into a temporary vegetarian). and now that i think about it, I don't know that I've ever seen a Costa Rican restaurant in the U.S. Good tropical fruits though. And of course there are many great reasons to visit that have nothing to do with eating.

                                                    10 Replies
                                                    1. re: cookie monster

                                                      I was going to say Costa Rica too. Terrible, bland food -- and we ate where and what the locals eat. There was no escaping hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken fried rice (sometimes good, sometimes terrible, but always misleading with its Spanish name "arroz con pollo," which draws up entirely different imagery if you are familiar with the dish). We were once asked in a tiny restaurant if we wanted "las tres salsas." Sure, why not! Maybe this would be the authentic food we were looking for. Well, the cook took out 3 squeeze bottles and squeezed mustard, ketchup, and mayo all over our shredded cabbage. Blech. Casados were always made with Knorr products, so they were actually blander than a similar dish I could get at a diner in the U.S.
                                                      We learned to get our fuel through 3 simple things: pupusas (when in an area with Salvadorean immigrants), gallo pinto, and pollo rostizado. You can hardly mess up the last two.

                                                      1. re: maestra

                                                        I don't remember the food being too bad in Costa rica (this was maybe 5 years ago). Simple, but not as bad as it sounds like you had. I certainly didn't find myself clamoring for tourist food, as I did in certain other places I've traveled...
                                                        I just remember a lot of rice, beans, meat and plantains...Though I was mostly in the NW corner. Perhaps there was some Nicaraguan influence that improved it?

                                                        1. re: maestra

                                                          Which version of 'arroz con pollo' are you familiar with? 'Rice with chicken' is a perfectly good description for 'chicken fried rice'. But then, 'arroz con camarones' brings to mind the popular Ecuador dish, which might be described as a simple 'shrimp fried rice', in the sense that lots of small shrimp are fried with rice (along with peas).


                                                          1. re: maestra

                                                            I ate at Taco Bell and Subway when I was in Costa Rica. After 3 months in Nicaragua, at age 22, and eating no "American" food, it was heaven. I will always have a special place in my heart for Costa Rican Fast Food.

                                                            1. re: maestra

                                                              Have to go along with the Costa Rica choice, I love the country and the people, but the food just isn't there. That said, I could live off the roast chicken, one thing they have figured out.

                                                              1. re: Scrapironchef

                                                                add Lizano sauce. That makes two good things.

                                                            2. re: cookie monster

                                                              Chicago has one Costa Rican restaurant: Irazu. There was a second one, but it didn't last long. Comments from JeffB in both threads note that food at Irazu was better than most of what he has had in Costa Rica, though.

                                                              1. re: cookie monster

                                                                I've always wanted to visit Costa Rica but have been scared because of the talk of boring bland food. Perhaps I should visit when I'm on a fast. How easy is it to get fresh fruit and vegetable juices?

                                                                1. re: cookie monster

                                                                  Second the Costa Rican experience, outside of seafood and steak it is a very uninspired cuisine albeit in a beautiful country with great people.

                                                                  1. re: jetlag

                                                                    I'd put Honduras on a lower peg than Costa Rica. That probably has mostly to do with the difference in incomes (Honduran per capita income is about 1/4 that of Costa Rica). The only thing that saves Honduras from a complete culinary wasteland is the coast, which borrows liberally from Carribean cuisines in use of coconut (and I'm not even a big coconut fan, but pollo coco is pretty good).

                                                                    And while we're at it, Panama's "national" dish is a lousy fake bolognese pasta number from an old time restaurant in Ohio - the Johnny Mazetti. Blame the canal workers.

                                                                2. Well, I lived in Ecuador, and while it isn't someplace people go for food, it also isn't difficult to find simple stuff prepared quite well.

                                                                  The true winner here is easy for me--Uruguay. I have lived and traveled all over Latin America, and you would think sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, that they would be able to cook something but it just aint true. All the good meat is exported, and despite the fact that many people are of italian and swiss heritage, as my mother put it, "somewhere down the line, they just forgot how to cook". If I log on from home I will attach a blog post I wrote expressing my frustration at having no food options. Comically bad food. Seriously, actually humorous.

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: dagoose

                                                                    I really loved Uruguay, and visited a lot of coastal towns. At some point, I made the comment that we were eating like kids every day: pizza, french fries, burgers, but I just thought that we were eating like that because we were traveling during the off-season!

                                                                    But, surely, that meat market place in MVD has some good meat that hasn't yet been exported?!?

                                                                    Look forward to reading your blog post.

                                                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                                                      Balto Ellen--Yes, the coastal towns are quite lovely. This was based on living with a family (and eating with the families my friends were living with). Often the restaurants in Coastal towns are catering toward vacationing teenagers or students (in town to, actually)...So they essentially are eating like kids. I ate one meal, the day I arrived in that meat market, and it was the best thing I ate the whole time I was there.

                                                                      Two other interesting things: One tasty, if health defying Uruguayan dish, is the national dish, the Chivito: Hamburger bun holding a large piece of flank steak (occaisonally milanesa style), topped with fried egg, ham, cheese, and mayo. These were quickly ruined for me when I bit into a slug in one...

                                                                      The other interesting thing that I found was that they don't eat fish, despite being completely surrounded by water. Turns out it just isn't in their culture. Fish is expensive because nobody eats it, so nobody fishes, so it is hard to find. So nobody eats it. Was very confusing to me, but the moral was...No fish for me. Was probably too light and healthy...

                                                                    2. re: dagoose

                                                                      Here is the post: I wrote this back in college, long before I got into food and learned that a well prepared version of many of these things (milanesa, dulce de leche) can actually be good.
                                                                      THE 4 FOOD GROUPS OF URUGUAY
                                                                      1)Good foods ruined--this includes cheese (which is only served in 1 kilo or more quantities...I once ordered a grilled cheese that was inedible due to the fact that I was unable to find the bread contained between the cheese), Bread (allowed only in the ¨wonder¨ form). and pasta (served only with enormous amounts of greasy ham and or hot dog on top)

                                                                      2) Things in tort form--this includes...well...everything. Ham, cheese. Ham and cheese. spinich. spinich and ham and cheese. Tuna fish. Egg. Egg and Tuna fish. Must I continue???

                                                                      3) Meats I used to like--I was never a fan of ham, but before arriving I did quite enjoy steak and chicken. Though rarely served outside of ´milenesa´form, I have managed to get sick of these two previously delicous foods. Milenesa is Uruguayan for ¨dropped in a sickly vat of boiling oil¨

                                                                      4) things involved in every meal. Previously harmless foods that have been at the table at every single meal. They include ham and potatoes. sometimes the ham is in my potatos. and some times the potato is in my ham. Often they are both on my pasta. or my milenesa. Either way, they are very heavy.

                                                                      There is one more bonus group, that is Postre, or of them even involves cheese, though you could probably skip the details there. Most of them involve dulce de leche, a caramel like substance made of milk and sugar designed to cause pain in the teeth...

                                                                      1. re: dagoose

                                                                        Paraguay is not known for it's cuisine. I lived there for a year in 1980-81 and visited again in 1987, both before I went vegan and gluten-free and before I cared much about food. Both Milanesa and dulce de leche are common there. I did bring back a cookbook and have managed to de-gluten and veganize the sopa paraguaya (it's not soup, it's moist cornbread with onions and cheese, I substituted almond or sunflower seed cheeze) and chipa (a manioc bagel of sorts).

                                                                        Otherwise food consisted mostly of beef, chicken, rice, beans, manioc, bread, carrots, bananas, lemons, bread, papaya, guava, and eggs. At the time I was there people generally didn't eat corn, it was considered animal food. Peaches and peas were among the few foods my family bought in cans. I'm sure things have changed there some since I was there. In 1980 there was reportedly a KFC. :-P

                                                                        Beverages included Coca Cola (including in baby bottles), guaraná, yerba maté, wine, beer, and other forms of alcohol.