Try a different country's food each month

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Janice McDonald
Our homemade sushi.
Our homemade sushi.

I haven't been in a food rut since before I was married, thanks to my husband who loves food and cooking. He also loves to challenge himself. Put those two things together and one outcome is the monthly food challenge.

Every month we pick a different country or region and make that type of food at home. We sometimes get excited and buy a bunch of unique spices, and sometimes we are tame and just use what we have. We generally select one to two recipes a week from the location we picked. That seems to get us a sense of what the food is like.

If we find a great recipe we want to hold onto, we simply print it out and put it in a binder next to our cookbooks.

We had originally thought we'd only do this for a year, but clearly we could go on much longer. We find our recipes online or in cookbooks from the library, or we have even asked friends from that country what they traditionally cook. We also try to visit a restaurant with that type of cuisine, if possible.

The thing is you can start at any time and go for as long as you want. It has forced us out of our culinary comfort zone. It's been fun to try traditional things like coq au vin or homemade sushi rolls. If you have kids, it's fun to learn about the country, too.

So far here's what we've done:

  • January: Peru
  • February: Lebanon
  • March: South Africa
  • April: France
  • May: Scandinavia
  • June: Laos
  • July: Costa Rica
  • August: Japan

Still to come:

  • Russia
  • Guam
  • Afghanistan
  • Belize
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Persian

A friend even suggested doing a monthly food challenge using a different time period, such as the Medieval Ages.

What cuisine would you most like to try making at home?

  1. My husband did a similar thing a few years ago during the World Cup; he's not much of a cook but challenged himself to make a dish from each of the competing nations (of which there were 32, I think), and he really enjoyed it. Not all of the meals were enjoyable, I'll be honest (due to individual cuisine preferences rather than his cooking, I must add) but it was largely successful, so we got a few new recipes for our binder as a result.

    • That's also a great idea. It gives you a set of countries predetermined. You never know if you'll like something if you don't try it! Thanks for sharing!

    • I had one at one point but it was more about trying to figure out my son's food allergies by elimination diet. I may start it back up, but I don't have a lot of free time. But the thought is there… Thanks for pledging to read it if I had one!

      • Elimination diets are *hard.* I just finished one for myself a few months ago, and have figured out the foods that have been making me sick my whole life. It has been life-changing. If I'd figured those things out in childhood, it would have saved many years of gut issues and poor health…

        Did you have to make adjustments to the international recipes you were making to allow for your son's sensitivities?

        • My son was allergic to egg, but he has since outgrown it (he's now 4), so I didn't have to alter any recipes. But I used to use egg replacer or banana or applesauce when I was substituting. I actually couldn't figure out his allergy through the diet. We had to have him tested. ๐Ÿ™ Not a fun experience.

  2. This sounds amazing! Have you had any clear favourites from the ones you've tried so far? Have any been quite similar?

  3. Sounds like you live at my house. We both love to cook and we both love to push our culinary limits. After 6 years we do a different country every night. This week we did German, Itallian, Mexican, Jamaican and tonight is American. My Great Grandmother was a chef, my grandmother owned a resturant and I have a whole bookshelf of nothing but cookbooks from the three of us. We also print recipes off the web and we have a binder of favorites. Good luck and happy munching in your culinary adventures.

  4. The only food we've really made that's from another country is Indian and of course Mexican (or Tex-Mex. Texas, yo). We do tikka masala and vindaloo masala, and almost every week we make either quesadillas or tacos.
    I want to try making sushi, but I'm afraid it'll be a failure. My friend and his wife make it all the time, and he says it's really easy and very affordable, so I may give it a shot. I guess the worst that can happen is the rolls don't hold together, so we have sushi bowls instead of sushi rolls.

    • Sushi is really easy! All you need is the Nori (Seaweed), sushi rice and rice vinegar, really. Add the vinegar to the rice once it's cooked, spread it on the seaweed, add filling. We normally make handrolls in our house with canned tuna, mayo and Sriracha. Or Egg salad or veggies. Just depends what's around.

      • I would also recommend getting a bamboo mat like some of the youtube videos show. It made rolling the sushi SO easy (putting it in a baggie helps cleanup too)!

        • Yes, we had a bamboo mat from when we were first married (and apparently thought we'd make sushi all the time) buried in our drawer. It was quite handy. Also I used plastic wrap to keep it from sticking to the mat. I really like the Philly roll (cream cheese, smoked salmon, cucumber), so we did that one, but my husband also made us go traditional and we did a yellowfin tuna roll. Just make sure to get good quality ingredients. We don't want you to get sick!

  5. Try Taiwan!

    It's not the same as Chinese food – not really. You could make an oyster omelet with sweet potato starch (regular potato starch would probably be fine) and bok choi with red sauce, or beef noodles.

    As for Laos (and Vietnam), I didn't realize how easy vegetarian banh mi was to make until I did it myself (no thanks to headcheese though). Thai curries are also surprisingly easy.

    I DARE you to try South Indian. But go out and get idli or dosa first so you know what you're doing.

    It's definitely a good idea to visit a restaurant specializing in that food, otherwise, you may not realize that what you've made tastes nothing like what the food is actually meant to taste like, even if you followed the recipe.

    If I hadn't eaten Ethiopian in restaurants for years before attempting my own doro wat and injera (doro wat: easy and delicious. Injera: difficult and not as delicious as the restaurant's variety, so I started buying it at the Ethiopian market down the road), my version would have tasted nothing like the final version.

    Before I went to South India I tried to make my own idli. Yeah, no…tasted nothing like actual idli.

    I have a Thai red curry going right now, just waiting for my husband to get home with ginger.

    • You've got a lot of great ideas. Thank you! I love Banh Mi! We are actually hosting a jam session/Banh Mi party on Labor Day. I agree that restaurants can taste very different from your home cooking.

  6. Such a cool idea! Have you learned anything thus far from your adventures about timing certain countries with certain seasons? That is, easier to buy special produce for X cooking in June rather than February?

    • You know, that is an even better idea – to work your way around the world based on when things are in season at different places. But we haven't done it that way yet. It's been more random. I guess we just see what veggies are in the fridge from our CSA and then try to pick a recipe that uses them; like searching for "eggplant Japanese main dish recipe" or something similar.

  7. We have a giant international farmer's market near us and we're thinking of doing this to motivate the kids to learn about new places and try new things. I was thinking of combining it with a Little Passports subscription

    • I love this idea!!! When my daughter is older, I'm definitely planning to do a Little Passports subscription for her. Combining it with a cooking challenge would be a wonderful way to expand her learning (and my husband's and mine, too!).

    • I'm not familiar with the Little Passports. I'll have to look it up. I'd say anytime you can get kids in the kitchen is a good thing! Good luck !

  8. I work as a "community builder" with people who are recovering from homelessness and we are just starting this in our program! everyone is excited! looks like some helpful links here in the comments

  9. I've actually been wanting to start this for a while as a social thing – get a bunch of friends in on it and alternate houses to host. Each person brings something from a country picked out of a hat, with either an interesting fact about the country or some kind of entertainment (music, dance, costume, whatever!) from that country. I think it would be a really fun way to do social potluck with a bit of education on the side!
    You've inspired me to go forth and conquer with this! (or do it with my husband if no one else wants to).

    • We did something similar with friends before we had kids, except we fashioned it more along the lines of Iron Chef where everyone got to write down a "secret ingredient" then everyone would bring a dish containing that ingredient. Of course, bacon and chocolate were the best nights. ๐Ÿ™‚ It was a lot of fun, but then we had kids and everyone got busy. You should definitely do it! Oh, even drinking a wine from that country would be nice!

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