November 28, 2008 / 11:06 AM / 10 years ago

Travel Picks: 10 Most Interesting Traditional Foods

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Never mind slow food. Lonely Planet’s travel guidebook “Best in Travel 2009” lists the global communities cultivating and preserving old food.

The Siwa Oasis village is seen in a file photo. REUTERS/Nasser Nuri

This list is not endorsed by Reuters:

1. Siwa Oasis dates, Egypt

In 332 BC, Alexander the Great followed birds across the scalding sands of northwestern Egypt to find the legendary Siwa Oasis. His goal was a private consultation with the oracle of the Sun God, Amon-Ra, who would anoint him the next Egyptian pharaoh, but there can be no doubt that he sampled the dates and olives of Siwa, among the finest in the world. Today each crop is still cultivated in private gardens tended in the traditional way.

2. Hachiyagaki persimmons, Japan

These priceless honey-sweet persimmons were once given as gifts to Japanese royalty. But with the tilling-under of fields for silk production, the fruit trees disappeared until the 1940s when a 20-year-old farmer launched an extensive search and located a single remaining ‘mother tree.’ A few elderly villagers remembered the traditional ways of preparing these persimmons and there are now 87 producers in the Gifu prefecture.

3. Mite cheese, Sachsenanhalt, Germany

Mite cheese is like something out of the Dark Ages. Prepared with an ancient technique from the Middle Ages that has only recently been revived, mite cheese may be one of the most unusual foods you’ll ever eat. In Sachsen-Anhalt, raw low-fat cheese (quark) is placed in wooden boxes full of mites that crawl all over the cheese. After three months the mite’s excrement turns the cheese reddish-brown, and at one year it turns the cheese black, at which point it is consumed.

4. Ijka corn, Colombia

Few of us live corn like the Arhuaca people of northern Columbia. Calling themselves Ijka, which means ‘men of corn’, the Arhuaca eat corn in all their meals and also use corn’s four colors (yellow, coffee, black, and white) to outline their view of the universe, and as the basis of their social structure. This holy food is used in rituals and as a therapeutic tool.

5. Guarana, Brazil

Guarana shows up in buzzy fruit drinks at health food stores, but few people know of its origins in Brazil’s rainforest. The 8,000 members of Brazil’s Satere-Maue tribe use an ancient technique of mashing the plant’s seeds into a hard bar to grate grate on food and drink. Guarana is rich in caffeine and vitamins and helps combat fatigue and stimulate cerebral activity.

6. Mustard oil pickles, India

Indians preserved many of their fruits and vegetables by storing them in a mixture of mustard oil and ground spices to create flavorful batches of artisanal pickles. With this technique they were able to eat lemons, mangoes, bananas, onions and other foods alle year. It is easy to see why Indians honored the mustard plant with an important ritual each spring.

7. Txakoli white wine, Spain

First described in a document from the year 864, Txakoli white wine is traditionally seasoned in large, old oak barrels then drunk while still young with a sparkling feel in the mouth. Despite its ancestral roots in Basque culture, fewer than two hectares of grapes remained in production by 1988 but this fruity white wine is now recognized by wine connoisseurs the world over and has been brought back from the brink of extinction.

8. Pre-Columbian salt production, Mexico

In the Mexican state of Colima, they have been gathering salt in a traditional way for at least 500 years. One highest-quality type is called flor de sal, which must be collected by hand, a time-consuming process limiting production to 90 tonnes a year.

9. Chuno blanco, Peru

Extreme temperature variations in the Andes present the perfect environment for this ancient method of preserving otherwise bitter and inedible potatoes. Three freezing nights, three sunbaked days, a bit of barefoot stomping and a two-day bath in a frigid river is a ritual still carried out by the Quechua and Aymara peoples on the border of Bolivia and Peru. Ideal for travel but looking more like pumice stones, naturally freeze-dried potatoes are a treat in the local markets.

10. Manoomin, Minnesota

The only grain indigenous to North America, manoomin (wild rice) has long been harvested by the Anishinaabeg tribe of the Great Lakes’ White Earth Reservation. Not to be confused with commercially cultivated wild rice, manoomin grows along the shores of the Great Lakes and is hand harvested and hulled. Nearly extinct 100 years ago, this aquatic grass has made a remarkable comeback.

(This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2009)

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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