Top 10 (12) Olympic Cuisines

You have diligently read about my physical (and mental) travels in the world of food all week. I'll try to reward you with a fun, Friday post.

TOP TEN FOODS FROM AROUND THE WORLD TO EAT IN HONOR OF THE OLYMPICS (regardless of calories). Okay, it will be a Top Twelve in fact, so I can be a little more inclusive. It’s hard to exclude people(s).

12. Italian – Insalata caprese and ciabatta

I had Italian last night, so it’s not throwing my senses into haywire this morning like the other ones, but nothing beats an Italian restaurant and the myriad classic dishes that never fail to disappoint. I choose this appetizer because it’s fresh and has basil, tomato, cheese and bread – the four base ingredients of much of Italian cuisine – at their simplest and most elegant.

11. Mexican – Carnitas with fresh tortillas, salsa, guacamole and lime wedges

We all have a place in our hearts for some variation of Mexican food – a very Americanized version for many, but one nevertheless. I happen to love the tang of pork in my tacos or burritos when I can afford the slight indulgence. This classic way with big flavors and without the burden of lots of cheese, beans, rice and sour cream make this taco-esque dish refined and well, to-die-for.

10. Greek – Pistachio baklava

I am a big fan of Mediterranean food, and Greek cuisine is at the center of this pantheon. I could go on about many of the dishes that Greeks get to enjoy all the time, but I go for the ultimate dessert right now. The filo, the nuts, the honey, the spices. I would love the universe where it was okay for me to finish every meal with this dessert fit for Zeus.

9. Ethiopian – Injera and vegetarian wat stew selection, with salad

Perhaps not as mainstream as some of the others, this cuisine is a winner. Go find your local Ethiopian restaurant if you have not already and make time soon for an experience. They’ll bring you a table-sized piece of flat bread, put a big salad in the middle and then speckle the sides with little piles of different and extremely flavorful stews. The vegetarian ones, full of onions, collard greens and lentils are very rich and smooth, but the meat versions are also quite popular.

8. Spanish – Manchego cheese, crusty bread and mixed olives

Spanish tapas make me happy with their depth and creativity. Perhaps the simplest and most classic one is the best though. To really kick off your meal in style, enjoy some assorted olives and bread with a salty, nutty cheese and an opening glass of red wine.

7. Israeli – Labneh with zatar and fresh, hot pitas

Israeli food is another chapter in the Mediterranean realm that I love. I picked this popular hummus-replacement dish from Israel that I was introduced to recently by a friend because it, well, rocks! It is a thick, smooth cheese-like yogurt. It has the tang of yogurt and the richness of cheese. Served with an awesome Israeli spice, zatar, this is the ultimate opener to a nice Med meal.

6. Chinese - Dim Sum

An experience like none other. That is how I have and will continue to describe my experience with Chinese brunch fare. An assortment of different dumplings, soups and meats very different from standard Chinese food is not one I could handle every day, but every four years or so, I give this the ultimate gold medal.

5. French – Crepe with brie, tomato and some type of meat

French food is so expansive and complex, I can’t always decide what I like and what I don’t like about it. Some of its simple classics like the omelet and the crepe are very easy to decide upon. A light crepe can be a nice elegant brunch, or a loaded one can be the ultimate drunk food. Believe it or not, I prefer the loaded ones.

4. Brazilian - Gaucho style barbecue

If you eat meat and have not tried Brazilian barbecue, go and reserve your next paycheck to visit a churrascaria. Okay, well it’s not THAT expensive, but the high-end version in the United States is pretty much the only version I’ve seen. Typically, after going through an endless pre-dinner buffet of salads, sushi, fruits, cheeses and Brazilian side dishes, you return to your table for an all-you-can-eat meat onslaught. The waiters travel from table to table, each with their own beautiful cut of a different barbecued meat. Beef, chicken, duck, lamb, pork. Indulgent. Endless. Perfect -- every four years or so. (During the Winter Olympics though, to space out the dim sum.)

3. Japanese – Tuna, salmon, whitefish, shrimp and yellowtail nigiri

If I had to eat the same meal every day of my life, it would be sad and even depressing. But after making the easy choice of sushi, the brilliance of this simple meal would certainly cheer me up each day. I haven’t mentioned sushi much yet, but it will be a regular contributor to my food thoughts. I love a really tasty, creative roll of sushi with three kinds of fish, tempura flakes, avocado, fish eggs and two crazy sauces as much as any sushi lover. But it’s the classic nigiri listed above that are truly impeccable.

2. Indian – Tandoori chicken tikka with naan and rice

Like any warm-blooded American male, I love barbecued meat. Too bad Brazilian (see above) and Indian are my favorite preparations. The Tandoori clay oven method gives chicken or fish an incredible charred taste. The marinade of yogurt and spices give off an aroma and character unlike anything I get in from cuisine. With 1 medal per Summer Games since 1956, I don’t know how many Olympic medals my brainy Indian brethren will be winning this year, but in the culinary games, they are on my podium.

1. American – Buffalo wings with blue cheese dressing

Okay, so who ever said patriotism was dead? American food, like its athletes, is really good in a few areas and really mediocre in many others. But we still TRY in ALL the areas, whereas most others stay to their niches. THAT is what makes us the best. Forget unexciting, unperfected hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob. If you want THE all-American food, look no further than the holy chicken wing from Buffalo. Now how do you say “gold” in Chinese?

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