Sample Essay on World Cuisines: How Is a National Dish Chosen?

We can learn a lot about a nation’s culture through its food. Popular dishes can tell us what ingredients are readily available and also reveal something about the nation’s history.

The national dish of Dominica was selected by a nationwide census. Jamaica has an “unofficial” national dish made from popular imports from other countries. Brazil has a national dish that is loosely based on the foods from European countries, but with its own distinct tradition and flair.

The choices of each of these national dishes tell a story about the people, their culture, and history.

Callaloo soup was chosen by the people of Dominica by the census in 2013, with “Mountain Chicken” coming in at a close second. The history of callaloo soup goes all the way back to the African slave population of Dominica that was enjoying this unique dish as early as the 1700s. The soup is made of ingredients that are readily available in Dominica: leafy vegetables, meat, seasoning, and coconut milk. It is popular during the carnival season, but is often served at parties in general. Callaloo is a good example of a dish that is deeply rooted in history and tradition.

Unlike Dominica, the Jamaican people chose a national dish made of ingredients that came from elsewhere. Yet “ackee and saltfish” is intrinsically woven into the history of this country. Ackee is a fruit that was imported to Jamaica from West Africa; despite the fact that it is not indigenous to Jamaica, this is the only country where ackee is considered to be edible. Saltfish is also a longtime staple of the Jamaican diet; it was imported from New England as a cheap and satisfying source of protein for African slaves. Although saltfish was universally disliked in most of Europe, it remained as a favorite in Jamaica long after the Emancipation of the slaves. Although Jamaica has never declared an official “national dish,” these two imported foods are so interwoven with Jamaican history and tradition that they are considered the “unofficial” national dishes of Jamaica.

The feijoada has been the national dish of Brazil for so long that no one quite remembers how it has become so popular. Some believe that it is a throwback to early days when people needed a dish that could be made with the leftover parts of an animal after the good ones had already been used. Others believe that it is simply a newer incarnation of the stews that are a beloved part of Portuguese cuisine. Be that as it may, this stew made of sausage, pork, and beans is inextricably linked to Brazilian holidays and celebrations. It is a popular dinner for a lazy day spent with family or for community festivals. Variations to this recipe abound. A traditional feijoada is made with pig’s feet and tail, as well as other kinds of meat. Other versions are more modern, using ingredients that can easily be found at a grocery store, like sweet sausage and spareribs.

National dishes are unique reflections of the varied cultures of each country. No two countries are the same, and their national dishes have their own history.