Well it was a Tuesday night of My Kitchen Rules that saw contestant Zana (and her subservient Italian houseboy with the spot of Velcro below his bottom lip) become a nightmare version of King Midas where everything she touched seemed to turn to ‘Albanian’. An example being her attempt to claim paprika and pita. Pita and paprika are about as Albanian as proportionate facial features and above average height.
So to prevent this misunderstanding happening repeatedly, I’m going to clearly outline which dishes belong to five selected nations as well as another five honourable mentions.
Any spin on pasta, pizza, garlic bread or risotto, Italians get to claim. Pizza alone is a brilliant creation that no one should be allowed to take off you. I mean seriously, it’s a series of delicious toppings melted together on top of an edible plate! It’s yours and that was clear once a group of Japanese born ninja turtles loved their food so much that they decided to take on Italian names. And full credit to Italians because they don’t so much live by a food pyramid as they do a food leaning tower of Pisa, and it’s leaning because it’s built completely on the weight of carbohydrates. Sidenote, they’ve also done more for the consumption of tomatoes than if Mr. Heinz bought the city of Napoli and they’ve shown that a brilliant way to ensure no one else claims their sauces is to name them after Italian cities. I’m also prepared to give you tiramisu, canoli and the stingiest coffee ever that serves the purpose of outlining who to drop from your friendship group when they mispronounce it “EXpresso”. Really, the power of Italian cooking is that a pizza & pasta restaurant in Shepparton can put pineapple, egg and raw prawn on top of a dish and call it the ‘Aussie Special’ but it’s still an Italian dish.
Here’s what the French get; raw steaks and burnt custards, unsatisfyingly small portions and unnecessarily long breads as well as pate and dishes that look more like art instalments than dinner. They get expensive cheeses, oily oxygen-filled pastries and yoghurts that belong in kids’ lunchboxes more than on dinner tables. Unless Manu likes ‘Yoplait Petit Miam’, in which case I could be wrong. If you find that at some point during the preparation of the food you’re using wine more than a Greek dish uses olive oil and then it takes you 45 minutes to plate it up, there’s a good chance whatever you’re making is French. FYI Zana, that’s how you assign credit for a dish. See even in McDonald's Tirana, I’m pretty sure they still call them French fries. If the dish ends in a silent letter, isn’t pronounced how it’s spelled, various ingredients are supposed to have mould on them before preparation and the dish costs $130 per head, it may also be French. Technically there’s a French theme to every meal seeing as we’ve already labelled stages of dining as hors d'oeuvres and entrée. Meze has tried to take the monopoly off it so valiant effort.
There are far too many countries and different dishes in Asia with richly delicious dishes so it’s only fair that when assigning credit, we just roll with a general “Asian” label. If in doubt, go with this logic; the dish’s label goes to the place where it came from, not from the person making it. It’s probably a key reason why in Dandenong there are no “Albanian sushi” shops. If your dish contains a mix of sweet and sour flavours, unless you’ve accidentally spilled your dessert into your main, then you’ve got an Asian dish on your hands. Anything rice-based, be it noodles, main dish or alcohol can be claimed by Asia. They gave us fish that doesn’t need to be cooked, ice-cream that can be fried and MSG that can go with everything. The other great thing about Asian cuisine is it’s so popular, identifiable and comes with its own culturally specific cutlery that it requires little detailed description here and is pretty much “Zana-proof.”
If the hero of your dish is a combination of lamb, lemon and a suspicious absence of lettuce in any of your salads, that’s a Greek dish. The only way it could be more Greek is if it was served with a side of financial crisis on a bed of yoghurt and a plate made of an old marble tile. This includes gyros and moussaka. As for dessert, galaktoboureko and tulumbe can have the Greek flag planted on top of them because any dessert that can turn you from ironman to diabetic in one sitting is decidedly Greek. Worth also mentioning that Greeks and Serbs get to share a number of dishes including pita though because we share so much anyway including borders, a religion, a Cyrillic alphabet and a history of fighting the Turks.
This leads me nicely into Serbia. This is a fun one because basically if the dish caters for approximately 10 times the number of guests you’re hosting, I’d like to say that it can be claimed as a Serbian dish. If it contains cabbage, a large quantity of beautifully prepared but proudly un-marinated meat, sausages with no skin on them, is considered too salty by the Australian dinner guests and anything where beans are a main dish rather than a condiment, it can be claimed as a Serbian dish. Cevapi, pljeskavice, sarma, kajmak, kacamak and proja are stamped with the “4 C’s of ownership”. As for the sweets; look to whatever an old Serbian baba makes like she went to school for it and you’ll find your answer. They don’t know how to lie and take great pride in making exclusively Serbian specialties so you can be sure zito, oblande, knedle and even Zana’s krofne can be painted ‘red-blue-white’. It’s fair to also say that if there are more than 1000 calories per square centimetre of the dish you’ve prepared, it’s a Serbian dish. If the peppers are minced into a relish, the yoghurt is poured as a drink and the entrée is heavier than most mains, this is also a good chance it’s Serbian.
They get schnitzel, stuffed sausages, pickled everything and heavy beers. The food may not be the best, but the waitresses serving it often are.
Curry, samosas and just generally food that spends more time going out that coming in.
From burritos to quesadillas to nachos and tacos as well as jalapenos and salsa, if the ‘J’ in the dish is pronounced as an ‘H’, the ‘L’ is pronounced as a ‘Y’ and the final stage of preparation of the dish has to be done by the diners at the table, you get to claim it.
Tapas, churros, paella, sangria and chorizo. From dips and drinks, to dinner and desserts, you can safely plant your flag on these dishes and rest assured you won’t look like a culinary version of your homegrown explorer Christopher Columbus.
Pies taken from the English, a cake named after a Russian, biscuits named after soldiers. Also, meat taken from the animals on our coat of arms, flavourless wheat-based breakfast biscuits, yeast extract spread. Coles and Woolworths snags and burgers aren’t the finest product but apparently they seem hell bent of bringing them out at every barbecue/celebration/dinner party so it seems fair to include them as a national dish too.
So my sign-off here is half for Zana and half for the MKR contestants to come:
To Zana; like a dodgy worker at an even dodgier accountant’s office, you’re trying to claim way too much! Your Porsche isn’t an Albanian car just because you drive it, your local Woolies isn’t an Albanian supermarket just because you shop in it and unless Jamie Oliver has fallen on extremely hard times and had to start selling his merchandise from a van in the city of Tirana, I’m pretty sure you aren’t using Albanian cookware either. The key point to take away from this is that just because someone in your country makes it, doesn’t make it a national dish of your country.
To the rest of the contestants: In the end, like a politician making a speech at a festival and thanking the traditional owners of the land, when you’re putting that MKR meal on the table, thank the traditional owners of the dish. Consider giving credit to the country that’s really responsible for the dish you’re preparing. Something along the lines of; “tonight’s dish is a Hong Kong salad with Vietnamese noodles, brought to you by Gavin and Karen from Wangaratta.” Happy cooking!
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