(92) Fiji – Chili Coconut Prawns

Source: travelonline.com

Oh do I wish I was someplace warm right now! I feel Maine’s winter has been pretty mild so far but that tropical climate seems to be calling my name. Today we explore Fiji, a country of the South Pacific Ocean composed of more than 300 islands (110 of which are inhabited). This archipelago nation became independent from Great Britain in October of 1970 and is well known in the tourist industry. Walking across a hot bed of stones originated in Fiji around 500 years ago by the Sawau tribe. Fiji is also the “soft coral” capital of the world and has over 4,000 square miles across its nation with several popular places to snorkel. Additionally “Fiji Water” is one of the main exports of the country and is drank world wide.

The cuisine of Fiji is made up mostly of local ingredients whether if be foraged, hunted, farmed, or caught. With colonization teas, rice, grains, and flour are other staples in their diet. Seasonal produce is usually highlighted in their cooking. Coconut, taro, cassava, and bele (native vegetable) are especially popular here. The meal I made today tries to embody the nation using (or substituting) local ingredients. This chili coconut prawn (shrimp) recipe can be found here.

The execution was easy and used known ingredients. I added some peppers to give the dish more color and substance. I opted to make coconut rice to really bring out those sweet flavors (and because I’m obsessed).

Another awesome shrimp dish! The shrimp was super savory and paired well with the coconut rice (winning rice flavor in my opinion). The spice was enjoyable and complimented the dish. This one was worthy of 8/10.

(91) Argentina – Matambre

Hey guys, here’s a little Christmas present to close out the year! I’m sorry I’ve been absent the past few months life has been busy!

Patagonia, Argentina. Source: lonelyplanet.com – Jkboy Jatenipat

Argentina was our next travel destination- home of marveling landscapes, mouth-watering meats, and tantalizing tangos! The name of this large South American country translates from the Latin word argentum to silver due to the land’s plentiful minerals. Pictured above is the well-known Patagonia, a true adventurers dream which is a region found at the southern most tip of South America (also part of Chile). The Andes divides the two countries and makes the landscape more extreme. Found in rural areas you can find traditional gauchos. Gauchos are Argentinian cowboys that like American cowboys have distinctive dress which includes wool ponchos and sombrero or bolero hats. These cowboys are known for their bravery and skill with livestock. Speaking of livestock.. lets talk about the traditional Argentinian fare!

Argentinian cuisine has heavy European influence (Spain, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries) and consists of meats (mostly beef), grains, fruits, and vegetables. With agriculture being a substantial part of the country’s culture beef and other livestock products are found in much of their cuisine. On the 29th of every month you can find many Argentinians eating gnocchi with money under their plate. This easy to make meal is thought to bring good luck and fortune in the following month.

The meal I decided to prepare is called matambre or stuffed flank steak which literally translates to “hunger killer” so I think this will leave you satisfied. Traditionally to make this dish you will use flank steak or a butterflied thicker steak which you cover in a chimichurri sauce which contains cilantro, parsley, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper. Other versions of this dish can include carrots instead of peppers, its up to you! Next, place then add a layer of bell peppers and hard boiled egg before rolling and securing the meat with twine or unflavored floss. The preferred method of completing the dish involves grilling the meat until it reaches the desired doneness of your liking. This recipe for matambre can be found here.

Due to the time of year and our grill being finicky I cooked it in the oven at 400 degrees. This recipe was pretty easy to follow and used common ingredients. I typically have twine on hand which works well to contain the meat and maintain a somewhat uniformed meat roll. Make sure to not be stingy with the chimichurri sauce as this pairs well with the meat.

This dish made me obsessed with chimichurri sauce- I didn’t even know I was missing out! If you wanted to be “extra” you could totally do this as a breakfast meal, but the steak sits a little to heavy for me. Unfortunately, the meat cut I had used was a bit tough in areas and due to its thickness took longer than anticipated to cook. All the elements rolled up well together and brought a solid dinner to the table. We rated Argentina’s dish 7.25/10.

(90) Mongolia ?- Mongolian Chicken

Source: Nature Mongolia (Youtube)

After our journey west we are going northeast to Mongolia. This eastern Asian country is bordered by China and Russia and is one of the largest landlocked country in the world. It is also the least populated country with over 25% of its inhabitants living the nomadic lifestyle. Mongolia is sometimes referred to as “the land of blue skies” because of how often the skies are clear. The Gobi desert makes up the southern border of the country and has an impressive dinosaur fossil reserve. Wild horses run abundant here with a ratio of 13: 1 to humans. Endangered snow leopards and two hump Bactrian camels are also native here.

In Mongolia there are some truly unique traditions around their food. “Airbag” or fermented horse milk is one of the most popular drinks with spiritual importance. Another popular food despite below freezing temperatures is ice cream! It is believed to be first created in Mongolia but it wasn’t the sweet treat we love today but rather meats stored in intestines and the jolting from riding on a horse made an ice cream like substance.. I’ll pass!

Mongolian cuisine primarily consists of meats, fats, and dairy products due to the climate and resources of the country. Due to its location China and Russia have influenced their cuisine. Today I make a better known dish- Mongolian chicken! This simple but incredibly savory meal can be found in Chinese and Asian fast-food restaurants and was actually invented in Taiwan. I did not realize the lack of Mongolian authenticity until after the fact so there will be a Mongolia round two..🙃 Does that mean I need to round up some intestines and a wild horse? Nonetheless lets continue, here is the recipe.

Well at least it was easy to prepare and took few ingredients. I decided to add some golden zucchini (glorified zucchini) to the dish to add color and balance. The cornstarch was definitely a game changer and allowed the sauce to coat evenly.

This was a meal we needed! Simple, quick, and delicious- check, check and check! The chicken was insanely delicious, the sauce was very similar to teriyaki, and this could have earned the perfect 10 if it had more elements to the dish. I can see myself making this in the future using this recipe as the base to a bad ass stir fry! 9.5/10, so close darling! We will have Mongolia take two in the future to find the real deal.

(89) Soloman Islands – Papaya Chicken with Coconut Milk and Plantains

A coral reef sitting below Solomon Islands. Source: NZherald

Welcome back! Today we head even more west to the Solomon Islands! This sovereign country is made up of 900 smaller and 6 major islands east of Australia and close to Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. The islands were first inhabited 3,000 years ago by the Lapita people, a group of prehistoric Austronesian people. Due to its location in the Coral Triangle the country is known for incredible diving experiences. Between three of the countries larger islands lies the world’s largest salt water lagoon, Marovo Lagoon. Below the surface Vangunu Island has the most active submarine volcano. The economy here is mostly made up of agricultural, fishery, and forestry resources.

Cuisine of the island like many others is made up of native plants, fish, and game. Fish is the most abundant resource and is prepared in a variety of ways. Coconut, cassava, sweet potato, plantains, bananas, rice, and taro roots are also very commonly used. Influence is made up of Indian, Asian, and Spanish along with Polynesian. Today’s dish combines a lot of the ingredients mentioned above and is an example of what a meal may consist of if your were to visit the island. The recipe of this dish can be found here.

I don’t known about you, but I have never had papaya before and neither has Ian. I thought the flesh was very similar to cantaloupe however the seeds were very unique and unexpected. I almost had my stove top maxed out while preparing the dish but overall it wasn’t too challenging and used simple and known cooking methods.

This dish was another unique one. We had never had papaya before and thought it would have been sweeter. Overall it was kind of bland, but it was colorful and had a good variety of ingredients. I would recommend playing around with Asian or Indian spices to jazz it up. The dish was rated 6.5/10 between the two of us.

(87) Chile – Pastel de Choclo

Atacama Desert, Chile. Source: Wanderlust Chloe

Time to get back to blogging- today we traveled to Chile for our 87th country. Chile can be found on the Western border South America and is the closest country to Antarctica. It has an impressive coastline along the Pacific Ocean (4,000 miles) and neighbors Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina. Chile is home to unique landscapes besides its extensive shoreline-the Atacama Desert nestles between the Andes Mountains and ocean and is the driest place on Earth. There are parts of the desert that have never experienced rain! Off the coast of Chile (about 2,100 miles away) is Easter Island, once a sheep farm is now a tourist destination with incredible caves and lava tunnels. Have you packed your bags yet? When you visit maybe you’ll pick up the native dance “cueca” which mimics the courting ritual of a hen and rooster -that’s no chicken dance!

Chilean cuisine clearly has a lot of Spanish influence, but it also has other European influences like German, Italian, French, and English. Like Europe, Chile is a large producer of wine making it in the top ten. Common ingredients used in Chilean cooking include maize, onions, cumin, beef, beans, poultry, coriander, wheat, and potatoes.

Pastel de Choclo is a layered dish of ground meat and onion, hard boiled eggs, chicken, and corn. It is traditionally cooked in a clay dish inside a wood-burning oven, but of course no access to that here so an mini electric oven will have to do.. The recipe can be found here.

So I underestimated how long it would take to cut the corn off the cob. Props to cooks that do this on a regular basis, it is not fun! I of course appreciate the fresher taste but man there was corn everywhere when I was finished!

A tip for anyone wanting to try this recipe is use your food processor (blender works too) to get a thicker consistency of corn. Mine was not as crusty as I would have liked and I think this would have helped.

Oh Chile I tried.. The flavors were all there but I didn’t achieve that crispy corn crust on top. It was a super meaty dish which was really nice with the cooked corn. Despite the mishap it was very yummy. It had some shepherds pie vibes (of course without the potato). The basil was seasoning I would never think to pair with corn but it works! We rated it 7.5/10.

(86) Ghana – Red Red (Black-Eyed Peas Stew) with Fried Sweet Plantains

Source: Pinterest

Today we are in Ghana, a West African country that borders the Ivory Coast, Togo, Burkina Faso, and the Gulf of Guinea. In 1957 Ghana became the first African-American country of the sub-Sahara to become independent from colonial rule. It is the second most populated country in this region of Africa with a large variety of ethnic groups. Due to its proximity to the equator the climate is either hot and dry or tropical and wet. Ghana is known for its gold production which is the largest in Africa. Love butterflies? Consider visiting Kakum National Park which is home to over 600 species!

The cuisine of Ghana always includes a starch of some sort, it usually being rice, plantains, maize, or cassava. The starches are often paired with soups or stews that primarily have vegetable bases. Meats and spices are also important to their cuisine. The dish I decided to make for Ghana is called red-red, also known as black eyed peas stew. This stew gets some heat from freshly grated ginger and habanero pepper. You can find this meatless meal here (which can be made vegetarian/vegan if vegetable broth is substituted).

Cooking was simple and allowed for me to multitask as I typically do. We substituted the habanero with jalapeno because we are wimps (sorry not sorry). I was able to find ripe plantains at the store and definitely felt comfortable with their preparation.

This was another unique dish. The plantains with beans was an interesting combination, but we thought it worked. It was actually nice to have the sweetness of the plantains contrast with the other savory elements. I didn’t think the rice was necessary with the peas. Marinated chicken or red meat would have paired well. We rated it 7/10.

(88) Taiwan – Niu Rou Mian Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

Welcome back to The Messy Aprons, a place where you can travel by taste buds! Today we are heading to Taiwan to try a fiery dish.

Taipei, once home the tallest building in the world. Source: Architect Newspaper (Francisco Diez/Flickr)

Taiwan is situated in the East China Sea south of Japan and South Korea, East of China. It is slightly larger than Maryland/ half the size of Scotland. Only 3% of the population is native to the region, the vast majority being Chinese. Because of this a lot of their culture is influenced by the Chinese. Taiwan sits in the “ring of fire” which makes it very prone to earthquakes. There is controversy over the current status of Taiwan and depending on who you ask the answer could differ. As far as I know some see Taiwan is independent from China, others say they are a providence of China and also referred to as The Republic of China. Nonetheless Taiwan is a beautiful place with unique buildings, wildlife, and noteworthy cuisine.

Taiwanese cuisine as some may have guessed has heavy Chinese and Japanese influence filled with the savory flavors of soy sauce, sesame oil, cilantro, and chili peppers (to name a few). As most countries do they take advantage of local resources such as seafood which is the primary protein of their diet. Rice often is at the root of the meal. Today I made a spicy noodle soup known as niu rou mian.

The dish has roots in China, however it was brought from China to Taiwan by refugees that fled China after the Chinese Civil War. Prior to this beef was not eaten on the island due to lack of resources and it was once illegal to kill cattle in China. Taiwan even has a saying that roughly translates to “don’t eat beef and dog and prosperity follows; eat beef and dog and hell is inevitable.” 

So back to this dish.. this hearty yet spicy soup has a bone broth base (which was not included in this recipe- this cuts down the cook time) that gets its spice from several ingredients besides the chili bean sauce. Over time ingredients are added to form a savory soup that warms you inside and out. The recipe can be found here.

I did not have the rock sugar (substituted brown sugar) and I couldn’t snag chili bean paste in any of the local stores so I used leftover Thai chili sauce instead. This fast paced recipe over all had no mishaps, prepping ahead of time is always a way to prevent skipping steps as you go. Ian’s mouth was watering the whole time, he is a sucker for ramen-esque foods!

This was spicy enough to be noticeable, however the broth was insanely savory. The beef was nice and tender, but the bok choy should have chopped up finer. Like ramen eating this dish was a little tricky (we are not chop stick savvy) but found a big spoon helped us slurp it all down. We thought the dish was worthy of 8/10 average.

(85) St Helena – Plo Pilau

Source: Pinterest

St. Helena is a British Territory situated in the South Atlantic Ocean west of Southern Africa. It is a volcanic island that is roughly 10 mi by 5 mi is size. The island is named after St Helena of Constantinople, a empress of the Roman empire and mother of Constantine the Great. The colorful buildings are distinct as you arrive to the island. Napoleon was exiled here after his defeat in the Battle of Waterloo. Charles Darwin has also stepped foot on the island and thought it was “a curious little world within itself”. St. Helena is well known for an endangered species “green tipped Bourbon Arabica coffee” and is home to 45 other plant species that are not found anywhere else in the world. If you’re adventurous you could climb Jacob’s steps (nearly 700 total), which is the only remnants of a past cable railway or see where Napoleon stayed after exile.

The cuisine on the island of course has British influence, but also other European countries, China, Africa, and India. Natives take advantage of seafood and locally grown produce. Fishcakes are very popular here which is a mix of fresh seafood and plenty of spices. Plo, a one pot dish also full of spices, veg, and various meats is a well known to the island. Similar to Middle Eastern plov it has a rice base. I decided to tackle this dish and used this recipe.

Look at all the colors of this meal! Luckily I was able to use mostly fresh produce which I fell you can taste the difference in a dish like this! I loaded it up with just a little more curry than what was asked for, because why not. Nothing is worse than a bland meal!

This dish was suuuper savory, bring on that curry seasoning! There was a nice variety of veggies which balanced out the meat. It was nice that I didn’t have to dirty too many dishes and it could all cook in the same pot! Unfortunately my rice was over cooked so the texture was a bit off.. I’m sure if the texture was more desirable we could have rated it a little higher. The dish definitely has potential for a higher rating… maybe I will make again in the near future. We decided 6.75/10 was fair.

(84) South Korea – Beef Bulgogi

Seoul, South Korea. Source: Cushmanwakefield.com

Welcome to South Korea, our 84th country! You can of course find South Korea on the border of North Korea, The Yellow Sea, and The Sea of Japan. The city of Seoul is the largest of South Korea and the world’s third largest city with a population of 25 million people! Outside of the bustling city you can admire the traditional Hanok architecture in Hanok Village which is situated between two of the large palaces from the Joseon Dynasty. Interestingly, in South Korea you don’t turn a year older until New Year’s Day, and from birth you are a year old. From yummy food to popular music South Korea has left its mark on the United States.

There are a few foods that come to mind when you think of South Korea- kimchi (fermented cabbage and vegetables), bibibaps, and soondae (blood sausage) to name a few. Their cuisine has evolved greatly over time due to political and social events. Rice, vegetables, seafood, and meats make up most meals while sesame oil, gochujang (fermented chili paste), doenjang (fermented bean paste), and soy sauce are common ingredients. Koreans are very into fermented foods which add a unique flavor to any dish. Our dish we are making today, beef bulgogi, will have a side of kimchi.

Beef bulgogi is a marinated, thinly sliced (oops) beef that is often grilled or sautéed served over rice or wrapped up in lettuce. The origins of the meal date back to Goguryeo era, which was 37 B.C. to 668 A.D. It started out as skewered meat known as maekjeok and over time evolved to neobiani which was marinated beef that was grilled and often eaten by the upper class and royalty. By the early 20th century beef was more available in Korea and ultimately became the bulgogi we know today. There is a slightly different interpretation of the dish which is more a beef broth meal. So I actually did neither preparation and sautéed the meat in its marinade- yum! Can you smell that garlic? Recipe can be found here.

After my meat marinated for 24 hours I cooked it as directed via skillet. I decided to let it cook with most of the marinade to make sure it would stay tender. Luckily this meal as another easy one to do during the work week. To achieve the cucumber ribbons I used a veggie peeler.

What a pretty plate! We loved this colorful meal and how each element brought something special to the dish. The meat was very tender and well seasoned. The ginger as always pulls through with a garlic punch. We always find the addition of cucumber refreshing and helps cut the spiciness. This dish was deserving of a solid 8/10.

(83) Antigua + Barbuda – Pork Chops with Bacon-Wrapped Bananas

Source: Big Seven Travel

We are back in the Caribbean visiting a tropical country with two names and three islands. The official language is English due to past British rule, although you can find people speaking Spanish as well in certain regions. The island has no lakes, rivers, forests, or mountains, but they have plenty of beaches! A & B is even nicknamed “the land of 365 beaches.” Even though it looks like there is a small mountain range on the Antigua it is actually remnants of a volcanic crater (the islands are partially volcanic but there is no active volcanos). This Caribbean nation is popular for vacations due to all the beautiful beaches and top-notch bird watching.

The cuisine of A & B is like many other Caribbean dishes, but they have some unique national dishes. One is called “fish water” which is a stewed or boiled fish, another is “fungee” which is similar to polenta. Food here often involves fresh seafood and produce. Today we do something different- pork chops with bacon-wrapped bananas. This seemingly random pairing of food had me intrigued. Banana is one of the most abundant crops of the island and locals find this dish a wonderful pairing of salty and sweet. Unfortunately, I could not find a back story of how this dish came to be. Most times it is grilled when being prepared, however our grill stopped working so I was very thankful to have my air fryer! The grill version of this dish is found here.

It was tricky to get the bacon to stay on the bananas but luckily most of them stayed put. If you are wanting to fire up that air fryer or are grill-less place the wrapped bananas in for 8-12 minutes depending on the thickness of the bacon at 380 F. You will want to make sure the bacon is crispy and the bananas are slightly browned.

As interesting as this dish was it wasn’t too bad. The pork chops were very well seasoned, we thought the lemon and cumin was a great combination. The bananas and bacon were a nice balance of sweet and savory, however the texture of the bananas wasn’t what we had hoped. They were very mushy while the bacon was crispy, too much contrast for me. Overall the meal was well seasoned and pleasant. We rated it 7.25/10.