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.
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.
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.
The Cayman Islands are a British Territory that sits between Cuba and Central America in the Caribbean Sea. The territory is made up of three islands that each have their own personality and attraction. The islands are actually the tops of the Cayman Ridge that sits 7,500 m (24,600ft) above the ocean floor! It is well known for its Seven Mile Beach, but come to find out it is only 5 1/2 miles long! The Cayman Islands are best known for their scuba diving excursions and gorgeous beaches.
The cuisine found here mostly consists of seafood, vegetables, spices- this even includes turtles! You can find other traditional Caribbean dishes here as well like jerk chicken, rice, beans, and fried plantains. These islands are sometimes referred to as the culinary capital of the Caribbean because of their high class foods (often found at their world class resorts). Today I made a mango, chicken, rice and bean bake that contains plenty of island spice paired with tropical fruit sweetness. If this tickles your taste buds click here.
The meal was mildly confusing to me which lead me to cook the rice prior to added it to the bake which lead me to mushy rice- just add it in dry and it will absorb all the wonderful flavors. I couldn’t find mango chutney in my local Hannaford so I substituted it with apricot preserves.
We thought the Cayman Islands brought as a nicely spiced and savory. It was definitely a casserole like dish that was comforting to eat, although the texture of the rice really bothered me. The mango kept the spiciness at a tolerable level and gave the dish a nice balance. We thought it was worth 7.5/10 and considered it mostly successful..
Hey fellow foodies, today we are in The Gambia. You can find this country tucked inside Senegal and has a unique shape that surrounds the Gambia River. It is the smallest non-island country and measures 30 miles across at its widest! Although the country is small it has over 500 species of birds and a beautiful 50 miles of coastline. The majority of the country’s income is dependent on its agriculture which consists of sorghum, peanuts, millet, and rice.
The Gambia is apart of West Africa which shares a cuisine consisting of grains, peanuts, local vegetables, and seafood (if bordering the coast). As we know from our previous taste bud travels peanut butter is used often in African cuisine to thicken stews or even potatoes- you can see that dish here. The dish I made tonight is a Western African dish consisting of some of my favorite things. You can find that recipe here.
We’ve got another week night meal folks! It was a breeze to cook and I didn’t have to make any modifications. This dish smelled incredible while it was cooking and I was super excited for the end result (mostly because of the peanut butter).
I LOVED THIS DISH! Peanut butter hell yes! I get so pumped about dishes with that good ole PB and this one did not disappoint! Although I was much more excited than Ian he thought it was another delectable dish that was creamy and savory comfort dish. The ginger and pepper brought a nice mild warmth that just tied it all together. On top of that it was a vegan dish! How incredible. I rated the meal higher than Ian, but it still got the high marks of 9.25/10.
On our second day in Vietnam we made another traditional dish known as bún bò xả ot. This dish translates to beef with lemongrass and chili and is refreshing to eat in the heat of the summer. I opted to try some pork I had bought since I would be using beef another time this week. The recipe Ian followed can be found here.
Ian thought the dish was straightforward and an easy one to make during the week. He substituted crushed red pepper flakes instead of the chilis since we could not buy fresh ones at the store. He felt the amount of salt that was asked for made the cucumbers a little too salty.
We thought this dish was delicious! There was a strong presence of ginger and lemongrass with every bite which was well-balanced by the cucumber. The light fish broth was very good and helped keep the dish from being too spicy. It was a hair too salty for us (which is saying something coming from Ian!) but overall had good flavor and was a unique dish.
We rated it 7.5/10, it might have been higher with beef but I doubt it. Next we will attempt to make the Vietnamese crepe banh xeo.. to find out if we were successful or not stay tuned!
Bringing us to up to 57 countries is a lesser known African country, Togo. Togo is a West African country bordered by Benin, Ghana, and Burkina Faso along the Gulf of Guinea. This country has a long growing season which fuels their agriculture dominant economy. Cocoa, coffee, and peanuts are some of the important crops grown here. Togo is famous for its white sandy beaches and national parks.
Staple foods found in Togolese cuisine include beans, yams, plantains, millet, rice, and maize. The country has a history of rule from Germany and France which does influence their cuisine. Due to this influence it is not uncommon to see Togolese people enjoying German beer and French baguettes. Today’s dish was made up of two components- grilled chicken and tomato corn meal cakes. Cornmeal as you probably know by now is a popular African staple that can be transformed into several sides to accompany the main meal. Chicken is more excessable in Togo and is commonly cooked over a fire similar to grilling.
I chose to marinate chicken drumsticks for 24 hours prior to grilling to get as much flavor as possible (recipe here). Ian being the grill master that he is I had him take charge with the cooking. As for the cornmeal cakes the directions were similar and easy to follow (recipe here). The tomato sauce was a great way to bring the cornmeal to the next level.
The chicken obviously tasted great from being grilled, but I was sad I couldn’t taste the ginger. Like I stated above the cornmeal with the tomato sauce definitely made it tastier than the past cornmeal dishes I have made. Still we were not wowed by the meal and I honestly don’t see myself making the cornmeal sides again (sorry..). We rated it 6.25/10. If the chicken had more ginger flavor it could have been rated higher.
Next we head to Nepal for a vegan dish that packs a little heat🔥
Hey guys welcome to the American Samoa, the southern-most territory of the United States. It can be found hallway between New Zealand and Hawaii and is made up of 5 inhabited, volcanic islands and 2 coral atolls. One of the coral atolls, Rose Atoll, has sunk back into the ocean from the weight of coral and old lava, but was believed to have been covered in rainforests like the other surrounding islands. This country produces the most American football players than anywhere else in the world and makes the tuna canneries employ 80% of the islands natives. It also is home to one of the most remote national parks of the US and is spread over 3 of its islands- Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta‘ū. Pictured above is one of these islands beaches.
American Samoa cuisine is mostly filled with easily excessable foods found on or surrounding the islands. Such foods include coconut, fruit, seafood, rice, various livestock, and canned corn beef. A staple dish found here known as sapa sui or Samoan chop suey is unlike its American cousin with Asian influence. With that said it did not originate here and brought over from Chinese settlers in the 1840s. At the time there were laws prohibiting interaction with the Chinese settlers, but as time pasted many married native Samoans ultimately bringing us intertwined culture and cuisine.
I used this recipe which at first glance said to use mung beans and of course in western Maine I couldn’t find that so I looked the substitute which is green pigeon peas. I later read that glass noodles could be used and sadly did not have enough on hand for the desired amount. When it comes to mid week cooking I don’t always read my recipes over enough prior to execution day and I later find out things like this.. oh well. It was fairly simple to make and definitely did not need to be seasoned with salt (the amount of soy sauce used was salty enough in my opinion)
It was a nice mix up and was clearly reminiscent of its ancestry with the dominating soy sauce flavor. The fresh ginger also brought a mild warmth to the dish, but it did not wow us like others have. We rated it 6/10 and with more noodles and chicken vs ground meat probably could have scored a higher rating.
Next we head back to Europe and substitute beef for yet another lamb recipe (sorry not sorry)! Let us know if you tried this dish and had a different experience than we did!
Welcome to another day at The Messy Aprons, we are quickly approaching 50 countries! Today we are in Morocco, a Northern African country that is a blend of Arabic, European, and Berber culture which heavily influences the cuisine. Berbers are an ethnic group of Northern Africa that are often farmers in rural areas, but historically were nomadic merchants that brought caravans across the deserts. Fridays are known as “couscous day” which is the holy day of the week in Morocco.
I made a lovely, flavorful dish to represent the beauty of Morocco – Lamb Tagine with Apricots. Tagine is a traditional Berber, slow-cooked stew that is named after the special clay pot that it’s prepared in. These stews are full of several of delicious ingredients including chickpeas, diced tomatoes, and garlic. This dish is also full of spice that makes the dish so warm and comforting. Luckily I found a recipe that I could follow without the special cookware, time to fire up the Instant Pot!
Again, I substituted stewing beef for the lamb but let me know if you decide to make it traditionally! The recipe was straight forward, but it definitely took me longer to make than the 10 minutes of prep time. This aromatic dish had my kitchen full of Arabic smells and left my stomach growling! I decided to add extra ginger, garlic, and dry spices because why not? It did not leave us disappointed!
We LOVED this dish. I loved all of the elements and it left us craving more. I could see myself eating this on the regular. It had that winning combo of tomato and cinnamon that we had discovered in paste dishes. The topping of cilantro brightened the hearty stew. Top marks Morocco- we rate you 10/10.
Tālofa (hello)! Today we land in a little known country that is the definition of a tropical paradise. This gem of an island sits in the South Pacific Ocean and is no bigger than the LA airport! It has a population of roughly 11,000 over three main islands and six coral atolls (island with lagoon in center). It’s unique shape can sometimes allows you to view both shore lines at the same time, one looking into the lagoon and the other along the Pacific Ocean.
It looks so dreamy doesn’t it? Well, it’s actually the least visited country in the world! It is hard to believe with the beautiful beaches, tropical weather, and nonexistent crime. Life on the island is very much a communal style of living and often families will merge into one living in one large living space.
The meal I made for Tuvalu without a doubt screams island flavor. Most dishes here involve seafood and/or coconut due to the abundance. I thought it would be appropriate to make something that has both of these items along with a wonderful heat of ginger and curry powder. The recipe I used can be found here.
I am loving these simple meals! This is another great week night 30 minute meal that makes you feel like you are someplace in the Pacific Ocean (maybe Tuvalu?). If you do not like tuna I’m sure most fish would do well in the coconut curry sauce.
Our thoughts? Absolutely delicious! We loved the pairing of the coconut, curry, ginger, and garlic. The tuna went well with these flavors and I loved how easy it was to make. It was not a heavy meal which I appreciated and it was different from anything we have made to date on the blog.
We rated this dish 8/10. It ranks on our favorites list (which will be shared once we hit 50 countries!)