Wherever I travel in the world, there are a few things I like to get figured out as soon as I land. Naturally, WiFi is a big one. Getting a good coffee is another. Getting both in the same place is something of a “bingo” moment.
These things may not seem very culturally enlightened, but many of us feel it’s good to have the basics covered before we get sucked in to the local culture.
And here’s where the next big essential comes in: food-to-go. Food that you can grab from a corner shop, a café, a bodega and carry it with you until hunger calls. Food you can rely on when you’ve got a full itinerary and you haven’t always got time (or money) to sit down in a restaurant.
What’s more, this kind of snack is almost unfailingly authentic. Eateries have a tendency to spruce up the local fare for tourists, or default to international cuisine in the name of sophistication. The most satisfying, portable and authentic food to carry, though, is usually what parents are sending local kids to school with. And usually this is some kind of bread.
Back home, I could survive a week or more eating nothing but bread products. Sandwich, honey-dripped toast or soup with a barm dunker—what more do you need? Stretching back across the centuries, bread has nourished peasants and kings, schoolteachers and builders: it’s convenient, adaptable and filling.
On the road, bread is all these things and also exotic. It needn’t be complicated for it to be so. It’s great to be in Bosnia during Ramadan, for example. All year long, you can buy somun (Bosnian flatbread) from the bakeries if you get there before they run out—but during the Muslim holy month it is freshly baked in enormous quantities to break the fast of the locals each evening. It’s truly beautiful to see a cannon fired in the hills of Sarajevo each evening to mark the end of fasting time. Muslims and non-Muslims alike enjoy the smell and taste of somun in this particular period.
For convenience, there are few bread types handier than Norwegian lomper. Made from potatoes and flour, it is as satisfying as a good pancake, and when eating it at home it’s great to make the most of it by following a savory course (lomper wrapped around cheese or fish and fresh salad) with something sweeter (peanut butter and jelly, anyone?). As long as you’re good with the basic ingredients of the bread, you can really do anything with it.
This makes it even better as a portable option. When you’re on the go in Oslo and don’t want to pay the equivalent of nine bucks for a take-out sandwich, a visit to the supermarket for an eight-pack of lomper and some cold cuts or cheese slices is a life-saver. No knife or butter is needed.
Norwegians haven’t always been as affluent as they are today and, like many of the world’s most delicious foods, lomper has very down-to-earth roots (if you’ll excuse the potato pun). In poorer times (think 18th century) Norwegians would mash leftover potatoes up to make full use of the goodness rather than throwing it away. Mass emigration to the States a century later means that in certain American towns with strong Scandinavian identities, you can still lay your hands on the good stuff without having to cross the Atlantic.
So you can see why this infographic, with its A to Z cross-section of breads from across the world, has caught my eye. For many people, bread is a staple to take for granted, but for the more mindful among us it is a cultural icon to be understood and enjoyed in all its myriad forms.
The vánočka bread of central Europe is a new one for me. Sweetened with raisins and sugar, topped with almonds and butter, it is chiefly a Christmas treat in the Czech Republic and neighboring nations, but you can be sure I’ll enquire after it in the local bakeries whatever time of year I happen to visit.
Or how about that hembesha from Eritrea? Hembesha is spicy, doughy bread, which makes it strangely open to being enhanced by either sweet honey or fiery stew. It calls to mind some Eritrean friends I met on a course a few years back. New to the country, they didn’t have much money or much English—but their passion for food and their desire to share their culture (and their lunch!) was warming to the heart.
It’s a great reminder that identifying the best local food to eat abroad is not just about filling our bellies or saving a few pennies, but engaging with our neighbors on the most basic and universal levels. The deliciousness of bread around the world is an added bonus!
A to Z of Breads From Around the World [Infographic] brought to you by Expedia Canada
Author: Marilyn Vinch
Editor: Travis May