For a period of about a year, I lived right next door to an Oporto. Barely a weekend would pass when I wouldn't go out drinking with friends, then jump in a cab home and spend the whole trip silently chanting to myself, "Don't go to Oporto... Don't go to Oporto... Don't go to Oporto..."
Then I'd wake up the next morning, roll over to look at my bedroom floor, and groan: Oporto wrappers. Every freakin' time.
It's because of that boozy, fatty year that I've come to think of Portuguese-style chicken as drunk food. Or at the very least, junk food. It's the stuff you eat during a night on the town - or the morning after a night on the town.
But really, Portuguese chicken deserves more respect than that. It deserves more love. And there are plenty of other foreign foods that are the same, cuisine we've come to think of as junk, when in fact in their home countries these dishes are national obsessions to be revered and eaten with pride.
These foods, below, deserve more respect.
There's a certain level of social shame involved in eating a kebab, and it is thoroughly undeserved. Go to Turkey and you'll find kebabs are respected; they're made with love and care; they're consumed by very sober people who just appreciate the greatness of minced meat, vegetables and sauces wrapped in pita bread. There's no shame in that.
Blame the USA. It might have been Italy that invented pizza, but it was the Americans that became obsessed with it, eventually developing the deep-pan, extra-cheese, 14,000-ingredient monstrosities you can order online for your house party right now. But go to Italy, or some of the more traditional pizzerias popping up now, and you'll find pizza for gourmands: a thin base, small dollops of buffalo mozzarella, maybe one or two toppings, and a wood-fired oven. Perfection.
Sweet and sour pork
OK, not sweet and sour pork, but Chinese food in general. "Going out for Chinese" for some people still means dipping into a bain-marie of greasy goodness, the likes of sweet and sour pork, beef and black bean sauce, fried rice and spring rolls. But there's so much more to the cuisine of this huge country: start from xiao long bao, the delicate Shanghainese "soup dumplings", and you'll never look back to the bain-marie.
As mentioned before, several (hundred) drunken trips to takeaway shops have led me to the belief that this is junk food. However, go to Portugal, dine on rotisserie-roasted chicken in a place that's been doing just that for hundreds of years, cooked by passionate experts, and all of a sudden you're understanding how this dish has become so famous.
Our obsession with fancy tacos comes as a welcome relief from untold years of Old El Paso blandness. Tacos, over here, have always been pretty boring, family-friendly affairs; in Mexico, however, they're a revered staple, the ultimate in street-food snacking, something that can be bought for not much more than a few cents, could be filled with just about anything from goat meat to cactus flesh, and will taste incredible.
Unfortunately we've come to accept half-rate bangers as normal. You throw them on the barbecue, char them to within an inch of their lives, drink a few beers and don't even think about the taste by the time it comes to devouring them. But go to England, or Germany, or Switzerland, and taste the sausages over there. They're delicious. They take snags to a different level. You have to respect that.
Every destitute student's end-of-pay-cycle meal of choice is deserving of much more esteem. In Japan it's still a snack food, a meal for people on the go, but it's not looked down upon. It's not scoffed at. For evidence of this, just check out the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, an homage to the man behind the ubiquitous plastic cups of noodly goodness.
Those beef skewers you pick up from the supermarket to throw on your gas barbecue could be so much more. Visit Iran, or Georgia, or Turkmenistan, and you'll find people serious about their meat on a stick. Lamb and chicken is lovingly prepared, basted, skewered and roasted over hot coals to produce a food that would make your the ones we get here whimper with envy. That's the way shish-kebabs should be.
*Shish-kebabs should technically just be called "kebabs", but I've used this to differentiate from the other version.
Which foreign foods do you think deserve more respect?
- FFX Aus