by Chef Instructor Josh Hobson
OCI Chef Instructors Vaidya and Hobson working with chefs at a
restaurant called Bukhara in Kathmandu, Nepal, which specializes
in Northern Indian cuisine, especially tandoor cooking.

For the truly serious culinarian, there is nothing better than to leave the comforts of home and travel abroad. The eye-opening experience of immersing oneself in different cultures is the only way to truly experience authentic international cuisine. The different food items, the different cooking styles, the different presentations, and even the completely different philosophies about food cannot be understood by simply reading a book or eating at an ethnic restaurant. I believe that every serious culinarian should leave their home country in order to experience the culture and food of others.

One of the chefs doing his thing at Bukhara.

Eating at different ethnic restaurants can be exciting and informative, but what we often experience here in the US tends to be geared towards the American palate. “Chinese” dishes like sweet and sour pork, in which the main ingredient of the sauce is ketchup, and Crab Rangoon, with cream cheese stuffed inside a fried wonton, is what I would call Chinese-inspired American food. Cream cheese stuffed into anything and deep fried, it must be said, is classic American food. Serve it with ketchup, and now it is unquestionably American. Traditional Filipino food is difficult to serve to the general public because of the use of sour and bitter ingredients. Try to open a Mexican restaurant without quesadillas, burritos, or nachos on the menu and see how long you can stay in business. Sadly, there have been many that have tried in Portland, but failed.

A vegetarian meal fit for a monk on top of a
mountain monastery in Koyo, Japan.

When considering the cuisines of other international countries, many people also overlook the regional differences. Just as the US can be separated into completely different areas with unique foods to that region, the same can be found in every other country. Think of the food found in the Southern US compared to that of the Northwest. What about the New England area compared to the Southwest. Add Hawaiian and Cajun to that and you have completely different foods, cooking methods, and even food philosophies. Just as we find very different regional foods in the US, we find completely different regional cuisines in Italy, France, or China. Often times though, we do not see different regional foods represented much in ethnic restaurants. Try to find Northern Thai food, or Southern Indian, sometime. Sadly, even when we do, we often lean towards familiar products instead of venturing out.

To truly learn about other cuisines, you have to pack a bag and go.

Chef Hobson enjoying a thumb-sized water beetle as part
of Christmas dinner in Chiang Mi, Thailand.