How we used to see new places, try new things, and just learn things about other people and cultures make us deeply and truly yearn for travel, especially after a year of confining ourselves for the sake of public health. We might not be able to dust off our passports for the meantime, but an option remains for those of us craving for something new: travelling through food. Spending time to discover the world one plate at a time may teach us a thing or two about foreign ways of life—from the stories behind the ingredients, their creative approaches to cooking, and the novel perspective on what they think of as “delicious.”
But with all the whole world has to offer, where to even begin? The key method to this madness is to pick out a universal theme/ingredient/cooking method and explore with that limitation in mind. This helps with keeping costs down and provides a point of reference to appreciate cultural differences. And if there’s anything people can relate to all over the world, it is the gut-busting goodness of pasta.
We’re listing down a few curious recipes, but feel free to look up dishes from countries you are curious about. So put those imaginary culinary buckles on and let’s give this a whirl, shall we?
Japan - Ketchup Spaghetti (Spaghetti Napolitan)
Japan may be the home of fantastic noodles like udon and ramen, but it has some very interesting takes on pasta as well. Firmly in the genre of Yoshoku (Western-inspired food), Spaghetti Napolitan was said to have been created in the 1945 by the head chef of the Hotel New Grand in Yokohama, and was quickly picked up in other kitchens. It’s primary ingredient, ketchup, may be a headscratcher, but for cooks in Japan in the 1950s, it made up for the scarcity of imported tomato sauce. This slightly sweet and tangy base is rounded out with sausages, onions, and bell peppers, and is a staple in Japanese cafes.
400 g Borges Spaghetti Pasta
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small or ½ medium green bell pepper, sliced into strips
4 slices bacon, cut to 1 in. pieces
8 small wiener sausages, sliced diagonally about 1 in. thick
2 tablespoons Borges Classic Olive Oil
100 ml tomato puree
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons cream
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
Boil and drain spaghetti according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
On a heated pan, add the olive oil and onions and saute until wilted. Add the peppers and garlic and season lightly. Set aside. In the same pan, fry the bacon and sausages until browned, and add the vegetables back along with the ketchup and tomato puree. Stir until heated through and add the cream.
Add the pasta to the sauce and stir, adding some of the pasta water if the mixture is too thick. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.
Greece – Pastitsio
The best way to describe the Pastitsio is as if lasagna and mac-and-cheese had a child together, and it grew up with far more flair and decadence than its parents, thanks to its use of warm spices like cinnamon and allspice. The dish has three major components—the sauce, the creamy bechamel topping, and the pasta—which can be daunting to do all at once, but the sauce can be prepared a day ahead. And because the dish makes for a large amount, it’s a great excuse to hold dinner with a few friends. Alternatively, when assembling, split these into smaller ramekins that are neater for serving.
Pastitsio Pasta Bake
3 onions, minced
500g lean ground beef
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
4 whole cloves
3 cups fresh spinach
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
120g grated Pecorino Romano / Parmesan cheese (swapped for harder to find Greek cheeses)
4 cups bechamel sauce
2 egg yolks, beaten
Make the meat sauce. In a large pot, heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil and sauté the onions until softened. Add meat and stir until meat browns. Toss in the garlic, tomatoes, spices, and a pinch of salt. Simmer on low heat for 35-40 minutes until meat is cooked. Add the spinach until it wilts in the sauce. Taste, season with salt and pepper as needed, and remove the whole cinnamon and cloves.
Cook the penne pasta according to the package. Drain and toss with some of the olive oil and half the grated cheese.
Make the bechamel, whisking in the egg yolks and the remaining cheese at the end. Lightly oil a large baking pan. Place half of the pasta, then spread a layer of meat sauce. Add the second half of the pasta, then the meat sauce layer, and pour all of the bechamel on top. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the bechamel thickens, becoming crusty and golden.
Peru – Tallarines Verdes (Green Noodles)
At first glance, this Peruvian dish would be mistaken as any old pesto dish, but there you’d be sadly mistaken. Through centuries of diaspora, Italian immigrants who flocked to Peru brought their beloved Pesto Genovese to South America, but there it took on a creamier but also a more substantial route.  Fresh cheese, evaporated milk and spinach were added to the paste, making it infinitely more pleasing to children and therefore a recommended dish from Peruvian mothers who would proclaim it as “muy nutritivo” (highly nutritious).
1 tablespoon Borges Aromatic Olive Oil with Fried Garlic
¼ cup red onion, diced
4 cups spinach leaves
1 cup basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup canned evaporated milk (sub with fresh milk, if unavailable)
½ cup crumbled white fresh cheese (e.g. queso fresco, ricotta, feta, or paneer)
¼ cup pecans
Salt & pepper to taste
Optional: 1 cup steamed green beans, grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain but use the hot pasta water to blanch the basil and spinach leaves until just wilted. Set aside.
In a heated pan, saute the red onion with a tablespoon of aromatic olive oil. Stir until soft.
Except for the pasta, combine all of the ingredients in a blender and process until it forms into a thick paste. Mix the pasta with this paste and serve warm with plenty of Parmesan on top.
As an optional step, toss in a cup of crisp steamed green beans along with the pasta for a refreshing crunch. Or for a more authentic touch, serve with a side of mildly spicy Papa a la Huancaina (Potatoes, Huancayo-style).
Somalia – Suugo Suqaar (Pasta Sauce with Beef)
The Somali take on the reliable meat sauce has a very special ingredient at its heart: Xawaash. As the country is located on the Horn of Africa, the continent’s largest coastline, it boasts of a long and rich history in the spice trade between Africa, Middle East, and Asia, and it is evident in the number of spices included in this blend. The spices can then be applied to a number of savoury dishes, but goes particularly well with the tanginess of a tomato-based sauce. Spaghetti, of course, is the usual pasta served, but feel free to use any pasta. Italians might tear at their hairs if they see you adding lime juice to a meat sauce, but the Somalis know a thing or two about making rich flavours sing.
In a cold pan, place 3 tbsp. cumin seeds, 3 tbsp. coriander seeds, 1 tbsp. black peppercorns, 1 tbsp. fenugreek seeds, 2 tsp. green cardamom pods, and 1 tsp. whole cloves. Turn on the heat and slowly roast until the spices are fragrant. Take it away from the heat.
Using a spice grinder, grind the toasted spices along with 2 tbsp. dried sage, 1 tbsp. dried turmeric, 1 tsp. ground nutmeg, and 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces. Whizz until the spices are finely ground and pass through a sieve before storing in airtight containers.
500g Borges Fusilli Pasta
1 red onion, roughly chopped
½ green bell pepper, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
¼ cup Borges Olive Oil
500g beef round steak, finely diced
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste minced
1 tablespoon Xawaash, to taste (See recipe above)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
Cook the pasta according to package instructions.
In a blender or food processor, pulse the onions, green pepper, and garlic until a coarse paste forms. Fry this mixture on a heated pan with olive oil until fragrant. Add the beef and stir fry until the meat is slightly coloured. Add the xawaash to the pan until it is heated through, and then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and sugar. Simmer for 45 minutes until the sauce is reduced. Taste and season as needed. It is ready when the oil separates from the sauce, and serve with chopped cilantro and a generous squeeze of lime.
We all look forward to the time when we are able to explore other places again at our own leisure, but we’re thankful we can still have a glimpse of that same excitement in discovery in our own kitchens. Besides the new flavours, the time spent looking for the authentic recipes, ingredients, and the stories behind them can be as eye-opening as researching for actual travel, and it gives us hope that one day, we’ll be there to experience the real deal ourselves.
Image 3: Set lunch at mon.vert by Tama Lake by Ennero (Flickr / CC2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/ibaraki2001/5334749357/