Summer is the main holiday season for most people all over the world. Needless to say, those who spend their vacations abroad have good chances of sampling foreign cuisine. Some people acquire the taste for new dishes. After coming back home, they develop a kind of “addiction” to Japanese sushi, Indian curry or Chinese noodles. We will try to find out pros and cons of foreign cuisines by taking a closer look at the styles of cooking certain nations are known for.
“For some strange reasons, many seem to believe that there’s a clear link between culinary characteristics of a nation, regional climatic conditions and temperament of the people who live in that country. In actuality, everything boils down to an oven used for cooking by ancestors of a given nation,” said Lev Sayenko, a nutritionist.
“For starters, the Russian stove has always been used not only for cooking but for warming up a home, and therefore the stove worked around the clock, so to speak. As a result, Russian cuisine has become rich in ways of cooking food by thermal treatment, for instance: stewing, braising, roasting, slow cooking and so on.
In countries of a warmer climate, people would usually cook food on an oven located in the outdoors. That’s why local cuisines have lots of dishes cooked over direct heat, on a grill or on a spit. Nomadic tribes living in Asia would also cook food over a fire. Consequently, broiling has become the main cooking method in Asian cuisines,” Sayenko said.
French cuisine is widely considered as one of the world’s most refined and elegant styles of cooking. French cuisine is characterized by its extensive use of locally grown herbs, vegetables and root crops e.g. artichokes, asparaguses, leeks, Brussels sprouts. Vegetables are used for making not only garnishes; they are also eaten as separate dishes. Thanks to vegetables, a diet supplies plenty of vitamins. Besides, it is very rich in fiber, which aids the movement of food through the intestines.
A wide variety of sauces is another integral part of French cuisine. There are more than 3,000 patented types of sauces in France. Not unlike the vegetables, sauces make food more savory and help to improve digestion.
Incidentally, milk or dairy products are hard to spot on a typical French table. Cheese seems to be only exception to the rule. On the contrary, French wine is omnipresent, both as ingredient in various dishes and accompaniment. It is believed that red wine has a beneficial effect on digestion. Red wine also reportedly lowers the level of lipids in blood, thus preventing atherosclerosis.
We can list the following disadvantages of French cuisine: a wide range of foods with a high content of animal protein (pates, foie gras, butter etc.), potential risks of food poisoning by not-so-fresh mollusks e.g. escargots and mussels when they are served in the raw. Besides, many of the dishes of the classical French cuisine or haute cuisine are difficult to prepare at home. It is a time-consuming effort which requires a fair amount of expertise, not to mention ingredients.
Rice, beans, vegetables, meat, fish and seafood form the basis on which Chinese cuisine rests. Virtually any plant or animal can be used for making food in China. “Combine the incompatible” seems to be the motto adopted by the Chinese. For example, they can cook meat and fowl by simmering the above in a fish broth, thus changing the taste dramatically. Meticulous pre-cooking procedures e.g. peeling, repeated washing and prolonged soaking of ingredients account for 70% of time spent on cooking a particular dish.
At the same time, thermal treatment is rather brief. Most foods are deep-fried in a large amount of oil for 2-3 minutes. The method allows preserving the highest amount of vitamins and minerals in food.
Actually, the Chinese never use salt with their food, they opt for soy sauces and spice instead.
People generally eat rice several times a day. Rice is also used for making flour which is the main ingredient of a large variety of press cakes, Chinese noodles, dumplings and doughnuts with different fillings. Foods made with beans, soybeans, peas and lentils are ubiquitous in China.
Those eager to taste numerous dishes of Chinese cuisine had better take into account that most of them fall under the category of foods with very high calorie content. Overweight persons should think twice before indulging themselves in reckless sampling of the exotic Oriental gastronomy. As a rule, an amount of cooking oil used for deep-frying is not replaced with fresh oil during the day, hence a high content of carcinogens in the cooking oil. In general, fresh vegetables and fruits are scarce in Chinese cuisine.
Just like the Chinese, the Japanese steer clear of salt when cooking or eating food. A salt-free diet helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases. Perhaps the reason why the Japanese look so slender lies in their national cuisine which provides for an average of 1,200 calories a day – the amount is twice as lower as that consumed by Europeans.
Compared to the amounts of fish, rice and cereals consumed by Europeans, the Japanese figures are larger by 50, 17, and 3 times, respectively. Japanese cuisine seems to be perfect for slimming down. One can lose from 3 to 5 kilos per month.
Japanese cuisine is based on four staple foods, namely fish, seafood, rice and soybeans. Rice is used as a substitute for bread. Soybeans are used for making a variety of dishes; soybeans are also sued for making oil and tofu (a cheese-like food made from curdled soybean milk). In short, soybeans are not only the important source of proteins; they also contribute to preventing cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Green tea is the beverage of choice for the Japanese. Nutritionists believe green tea is very rich in antioxidants and vitamins C and E, which can effectively slow down aging and prevent some types of cancer.
On the downside, raw fish and seafood are the main source of helminthes. Studies estimate that about 70% of Japan’s population is affected by various forms of helmethiases. A lack of vegetables and fruits coupled with an excessive number of rice-based meals often leads to constipation. Besides, a lack of dairy products results in calcium deficiency.
Vegetable dishes constitute the basis of Indian cuisine. The staple vegetarian foods include rice, corn, beans and press cakes made from low-grade flour. Soured milk stands out in the dairy products. Pilaf made from beans cooked in vegetable oil is one of the most popular dishes.
All dishes of Indian cuisine are heavily seasoned with curry and other spices. Tea and coffee top the lists of India’s most favorite drinks. All in all, Indian cuisine is a seemingly excellent choice for those opposed to eating food made from animals. Most ingredients are good for preventing cardiovascular diseases, and rich in fiber and vitamins.
However, staying on a diet with low protein content for a long time can increase the risks of anemia. In addition, an abundance of spices does not agree with the diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.
We have already mentioned the role of the Russian stove. Now it is time to recall that the fertile Russian soil would lavish food on the Slavs. All that produce was impossible to eat or drink at a “single sitting.”
That is why people had to invent a number of ways of preserving agricultural products for a long period of time. The foods were preserved by souring, pickling, wetting, drying, sun-curing, and freezing. The methods helped to create entire groups of Russian national dishes. Russian-style pickled cabbage still sits on top of the Russian culinary Top Ten.
The basic Russian dishes include several types of kasha and soup; hors d’oeuvres, which are served hot and cold. Russian cuisine has arguably the largest range of beverages. Some of the beverages e.g. kisel (a jelly-like dish made of farina, fruit juice and sugar) and mors (specially prepared fruit juice) considered to be unique to the country. Russian cuisine is also known for its large variety of milk products including such typically Russian inventions as high-fat curd cheese and sour cream.
Though traditional Russian cuisine seems far too rich (most dishes involve the use of products made from animals), it is quite justifiable from the practical point of view. Russia’s climate is harsh with its long, cold and dreary winter, and therefore people need a lot of energy to keep them warm. Besides, Russians would take a break from their eating habits by observing four Lenten seasons a year.
In other words, switching to a foreign cuisine that is completely “alien” to the Russian palate requires further consideration. Nutritionists doubt the potential benefits of such a move. French regional cuisine that shows Mediterranean cuisine influences is the only exception worth trying, according to nutritionists.
The point is that it took ages for the inhabitants of particular areas to become accustomed to their national cuisines. As a result, people of different counties even have a different makeup of bacteria in the mucous layer of their intestines. Many Japanese are thought to be affected with helminthiases yet they feel fine and live long. However, a Russian may face most dire consequences if his stomach gets infested by a similar parasite.
Translated by Guerman Grachev
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