The variety of flavors and appearance found in foods across the globe are key indicators of the lives of the people preparing the meal. Even across the same country, there are subtle variations in meals across multiple regions that can tell of the local experience. Many times this is a tale of overcoming adversity via ingenuity. In many regions also, there are cultural norms that surround the sourcing, preparation and consumption special meals. These customs may be tied in with times of ecstatic celebration or times of solemn remembrance. Food is a moving tapestry which tells the history and the many influences on a particular culture.
In the United Arab Emirates for example, there are many deep roots in Bedouin and Ottoman culture. This resulted in many traditional desserts featuring dates, flour, honey and nuts with healthy doses of cheese, milk, syrup, rose water and other spices being added for the finishing touch. One very important reason for this healthier type of dessert is due to the month of Ramadan. During this month of fasting, in each sitting many believers need meals and snacks highly packed with nutrients that are tasty. Having a meal or snack rich in vitamins and high quality calories ensures the spiritual laws are observed while nourishing the physical body.
Moving into the modern era, thanks to the development of great industries, the UAE has become a very tasty melting pot of cooking influences. This delicious mixing has caused many hybrid and fusion type desserts to appear. One example is this Baklava remake where a Euro-American cheesecake was incorporated into an Emirati oldie.
Taking a peek at East Africa, there is the country of Ethiopia where there is a very unique bit of culture. The language of Amharic dates back to the 12th century and within it, there is also no exact word for dessert. By its very nature, there is no traditional dessert in the Ethiopian culture. After experiencing the spicy flavors of an Ethiopian meal, the traditional accompaniment is a honey wine (t’ej) or t’ella a traditional and grainy Ethiopian beer. Ethiopians therefore have had to improvise in the sweet meal department. Being relatively new to the sweet meal game, desserts from the East African nation have been heavily shaped by British, Italian, Greek and Arabic influences and infusions. One example of this is the Injera Bread Pudding; Injera is a large part of Ethiopia’s national dish going back many centuries. Another example is the Ethiopian spin on pierogi. This dumpling is usually has savory fillings such as chicken or lentil beans. The Ethiopian version is called destaye which means “my happiness” in English and is now served as an end of meal treat. Destaye, in some regions, is a triangular pastry shell filled with a cardamom, other spices and a mixture of coconut, raisins, and nuts.
Moving over to Asia, the country South Korea has a vibrant and highly active metropolitan type of culture. Its dessert history has roots reaching back to the 14th century were early forms of patbingsu can be found. Patbingsu or patbingsoo literally translates to red beans shaved ice in English. Patbingsu is a cold confectionary dish that has many modern variants which can include fruits, ice cream, jelly, cornflakes and just about any topping that can be imagined.