The Rules

Here’s  the challenge.  We can’t actually afford to fly around the world and enjoy the culture of what the world has to offer, but we can likely use resourcefulness, creativity, basic research and a plethora of international food shops within striking distance to cook up a range of meals from around the world.   Eighty meals from countries around the world should suffice.  And while there’s around 193 countries, there’s probably a fair few that either have fundamentally unpalatable food (I’m looking at YOU, England),  a fair few that will have a signature dish that may well be hard to distinguish from their neighbours (does the standard soup in Vietnam really differ *that* significantly from Laos and Cambodian fare?) and there’s going to be a few places we simply won’t be able to find a signature dish.

There’s also the problem of  the smaller states –  does Monaco really have a stand-out unique dish reflecting their culture (and if it does, it’s probably out of fiscal reach – a plate of Euros dusted with gold served on a bed of Ferraris with a sprinkling of casino chips on the side?).   Throw Vatican city into that lot too – while there’s a been a fair share of corpulent Popes, bread wafers and wine just won’t cut it (I expect they’ve probably ordered in carbonara from down the road).   There’s a bunch of trumped up little states in Africa that probably could be grouped together into a single dictatorial meal (probably  French-inspired).  There’s also countries which are so distressed and riven by famine that it feels wrong to seek out their best meal.  So, Somalia is probably off the list.   Then there’s the countries where eating is generally not done by the humans – Antarctica is a dead zone when it comes to finding good kitchens.

So, we’ll settle on 80.   80 meals in one year, shouldn’t be too hard – two a weekend for 40 weeks (Mid-week is too hard).   That leaves 12 spare weekends for Xmas & Easter, holidays, events, etc.

The Rules

We need rules, otherwise it just feels a bit too aspirational, easy.   Beyond the basics of 80 meals in one year, the rules will need to be:

  • No double-counting.  Each country can only appear once, even if the breadth of possible meals is vast.
  • Meals can be a breakfast, a lunch or a dinner (how else can I squeeze in Hong Kong’s Yum Cha).
  • Variety. Ignoring the poles, we need to spread the meals evenly.   Trying to divide this fairly would be like organising a vote in the UN and I’m motivated by hunger rather than a sense of equality.   Given that even with a blizzard of states the food will generally evolve by climatic region, we’ll split the world up into regions.   The UN of course has a catalogue for this, and we’ll group these roughly into regions, aiming to have  enough countries to pick from.
    • Northern America + Caribbean (31)
    • Central + South American (22)
    • Eastern + Central Asia (12)
    • South Asia + South-East Asia (20)
    • Western Asia (18)
    • Western & Southern Africa (22)
    • Northern, Middle & Eastern Africa (35)
    • Oceania (24)
    • Northern & Eastern Europe (26)
    • Southern & Western Europe (25)

10 regions, 8 meals from each.  Shouldn’t be too hard.

  • Exclusions.  As before, we’re not going to eat from trumped up suburbs acting like countries (i.e. Monaco).  To qualify, a country must have at least two of the following:  a degree of home rule, its own national language, or its own currency.  Colonial outposts – which can meet this criteria – also have to be generally out, as they’re probably going to just have the same cuisine as their parental country.  Saint Pierre and Miquelon – a French municipality in the corner of North Eastern Canada is essentially French.    Google hasn’t turned up a single valid reference to local recipes so it has to be out on two counts.  That’s another exclusion – if Google can’t find a recipe reference to a region, it’s out.
  • Inclusions.   I want to try Haggis, so I’m sorely tempted to include Scotland, even though it doesn’t pass the exclusion rules.   Hence, I can include countries if I want to.
  • Cooking vs. Eating out.    The premise is that this must be cooked at home, but we have 10 leave passes we can use out.  Otherwise we’ll never get Yum Cha.
  • Weirdness.   If the food is robustly weird – like monkey brains or deep-fried locusts –  then it’s not on the menu.  Two very good reasons rule abject weirdness out:  Supply (where the hell does one buy monkey brains, unless parliament is in recess) , and Demand (I have children.  Peas are a challenge, let alone insects).

To my mild dismay (but perhaps not surprisingly), this has been attempted before but with some subtle differences;  Epicurious has a weekly video series where they are doing 80 dishes but they are breaching my  rule #1 – they’re already had 8 meals from the US and 6 from France.  Too easy.  Then there’s a couple in Melbourne doing this by restaurant, but they’re not following my rule # 2 – not enough variety (62 meals from Asia is too easy), and they’re eating out rather than cooking.      Plus there’s a couple that flew around the world for 3 months and had simple meals in each country but not only did they shirk on all countries they also… flew.  Doesn’t count.  Well, not for this anyway.

So, we’ll start.  First stop is the combination of Northern America and the Caribbean.    Northern America has these countries in it:

Clearly we needed to pair this with another region to make up our 8 meals.   The Caribbean adds 26 countries to the list.

So, we’re off!


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