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Feb 6, 2012 07:31 AM

No Love for Island Cuisine?

It occurred to me that the cuisine of no island nation is truly popular globally.

Japanese sushi is admired, but Japanese cuisine in general...not so much.

Greek and Caribbean food has its followers, but they are relatively exiguous.

Sicilian food is adored, but is not usually separated from Italian.

British and Irish food--perhaps wrongly--is often a punchline.

Aussie cuisine is known for shrimp on the barbie, while New Zealand cuisine is known for less than that.

Philippino, Indonesian, Polynesian, Sri Lankan, Cypriot, Maltese? All quite obscure. Particularly in comparison to the almost universally admired Chinese, Indian, French, Italian and Mexican.

It just strikes me as odd that no island cuisine has attained truly classic status. Perhaps it's coincidence, perhaps its due to resource scarcity, or perhaps relative insularity has something to do with it. At any rate, just thought I'd mention this.

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  1. Personally, I think that you are wrong on the Japanese Cuisine not being popular. It is true that things like Sushi and "Japanese Steak Houses" dominate what we often see of Japanese Cuisine, I think that this is often due to the difficulty in creating, or recreating, a true Japanese experience in a land so far from Japan (i.e. different fish, hard to get fresh produce, etc.).

    But, for those places that are able to recreate it, the response is usually very, very positive.

    On the subject of Island Cuisine:

    One of the problems with "Island Cuisine" is that they tend to be smaller than some other popular examples (i.e. Italy, Mexico, France, Spain, etc.). So, with a smaller population, smaller land mass and, possibly, fewer emigrants/ex-pats, they may have fewer specialties to export and fewer people to popularize them.

    As an example of this from a non-island nation: Portuguese cuisine tends to be enjoyed by those that have it, but being considerably smaller than it's neighbor, Spain, they tend to have fewer specialties.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DougRisk

      I tend to agree with Dougrisk. Island populations do not proliferate on a world wide scale but tend to stay pretty much at home. My few experiences with island cusine is limited to England and Hawaii. Although you may see "hawaiian" themed eateries, there is not much Hawaiian in them. And unless you live in New Englan tou're not going to get much Portugese cusine either. Japanese cusine outside of sushi places is rare. I do not know of many teppan yaki places particularly here in Texas.

    2. I’m confused by your post. Are you looking for popular or classic cuisine? I don’t think of the two to mean the same thing at all. Mexican, Indian and Italian are all widely popular, but of those I would only put Italian in the classic camp (apologies to Rick Bayless and Floyd Cardoz). Ubiquitous to me doesn't necessarily mean classic.

      I also agree with DougRisk about Japanese cuisine. I've read that there are 4 cuisines that are viewed as among the top due to the food, technique, form and style: French, Italian, Chinese and Japanese. There are Japanese restaurants in nearly every town in my part of the country. Heck there are a least a dozen within a mile of my apartment. Not all of them are sushi places either. What about ramen? Surely you've had cup o'noodle? Terrible stuff that has worked its way to the far corners of america and a poor reflection on what you can get at Ippudo. Popular and classic is how I view Japanese food. Probably eat it at least every other week.

      As to England, I think you miss how much it has been absorbed into basic American lifestyle that you don't see its influence. Start your morning with bacon and eggs? Have a sunday roast? That's pretty classic stuff to me.

      I also don’t think of Greece as an island nation. Yes there are many islands that are part of greece, but the bulk of the place is attached firmly to the rest of Europe (though less firmly now to the euro).

      1. Maybe it's because I live on the West Coast, but when I think of Japanese food I think of noodles and donburi, and simply grilled fish and exquisite pickles: sushi's a snack rather than a meal. The Caribbean covers a large area, and I suspect Cubans wouldn't want to be lumped together with Trinidadians when it comes to cuisine. As another poster pointed out, standard US run-of-the-kitchen food is largely based on British cooking.

        I think the biggest factor is the size of the immigrant community: in places were you find large numbers of Indonesian or Filipino immigrants you'll find Indonesian or Filipino food. As for Sicilian food being "Italian", I think someone from Northern Italy might disagree.

        1. WTF are you talkin' 'bout? Who doesn't love SPAM!?


          1. It depends how you "cut the pie" (cut up the world). As mentioned, there are more people/countries on big land masses so more culinary traditions.
            However, instead of talking about island cuisines, you could refer to coastal cuisines--and there ARE a lot of those, and they are popular: French, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, etc... all have their coastal aspects and as such could be "island-like" I suppose--and those countries actually do have islands.
            Besides, at least in the US, the island cuisines of Britain (via the bacon and eggs example), Japan, or even Trinidad, or Jamaica, are better known than the land-locked cuisines of Uzbekistan, Georgia, Paraguay, Laos, Mali, or Uganda.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Wawsanham

              georgia is hardly land locked, it borders on the black sea.

              i don't think the op is accurate. also, 80% of the world's population lives near water, so there will be overlaps between "island"cuisines and "mainland-coastal" cuisines.

              1. re: soupkitten

                Fair enough about Georgia, though a large part of their coast is contested by the Abkhazians. True that most of the world's population lives in coastal areas--but still not on islands, which makes the argument stronger that there really isn't a bias against island foods, if we consider them a subset of coastal foods.

                1. re: Wawsanham

                  But islands are not landmasses. Even coastal ones. They face entirely different geopolitical and economic circumstances.