The world on a plate

Compiled by Emma Taylor

When you visit a country or even a city, certain components go a long way to make it that place. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, Big Ben in London and the Empire State Building in New York. These are physical monuments to particular cultures; mosaic tiles in the whole picture. However, have you ever thought about the edible cultural monuments? The Eiffel Tower may act as a visual monument to Paris, but what about the croissants, the macaroons and the little coffees drunk on wrought-iron balconies? Isn’t curry as integral to the character of India as the Taj Mahal, in the same way fish and chips are as key to British culture as red buses and Big Ben?

Food and Drink ask Durham students to tell us about the edible culture of the countries they have spent their year abroad in…

‘Burgundian Wine’ by Claire Richardson

During my year abroad in Dijon, France, I had the opportunity to work at a university for Business Studies with a faculty dedicated to the management of the wine industry. For these French students, alcohol is not just a prelude to a night in Klute but a pivotal industry to their region of Burgundy. I was able to visit wine cellars and vineyards to sample the region’s best Aligoté and Pinot Noir. As well as experiencing a professional wine tasting class, I helped organise similar events at the university. My top tip for wine tasting is to use all five senses! There is more to wine than taste: think about the texture, or even how the sound affects your experience, from the pop of the cork to the glug it makes when it is poured! The whole industry is fascinating – I learnt how weather conditions or infestations can destroy entire crops and in many ways it remains a very fragile business. Fantastic wine is made by so much more than age or the variety of grape; it is a true science! So, next time you’re at a formal, do check the label. Personally, I’d recommend a bottle of Burgundian red.

‘Argentine Steak’ by Stefano Cattaneo

Argentina, for all intents and purposes, is a synonym of ‘meat’, or more appropriately, carne. Needless to say, they probably know how to cook it well, and these guys definitely know a thing or two about grilling. Asados (BBQs), an integral part of Argentine culture, are almost weekly occurrences. Huge social occasions, they allow families and friends to feast away the afternoon while catching up and drinking copious bottles of the country’s other prized export, wine. Spending even just a few days (let alone months!) in this meat-obsessed country, it is difficult to avoid an encounter with the best steak you will probably ever eat.

‘Bakeries Abroad’ by Rupert Wood

The main factor that separates the cuisine of continental Europe from that of the UK is the lack of true bakeries. In Germany, high-quality bread is an essential and in France well-presented patisserie is the icing on the cake. Britain, on the other hand, lacks this demand for quality breads and patisserie. Instead, it follows the likes of Greggs with their sausage rolls, cappuccinos and meal deals. However, the standard of groceries that we are prepared to put up with is a case of prioritisation. If we compare ourselves to our continental cousins, we simply do not care if our bread doesn’t rise to the challenge.

Photograph: Emma Taylor

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