Global Cuisine United: Part One

Maybe it's the cold of winter or news stories about world conflict, political fighting, and general unrest, but it seems like it's far too easy to spend time focusing on differences and widening the gaps among people the world over. Maybe that's just a sign of our times or it's been that way forever, but I'd like to take a little time to focus on some similarities — in the kitchen. Instead of wondering how foreign anything different might be, let's spend some time celebrating some delicious things we have in common, even when we call them by different names. We'll begin this journey with a look at breakfast.

Pancakes are known for being traditional American and Canadian breakfast comfort food. Light and fluffy, we tend to top them with butter and maple syrup, although fruit is also a great addition. But lest you think we're the only ones anticipating these delicious treats, one only need look to the south to discover Mexico also has a penchant for pancakes. They call them hotcakes and they are quite similar to the pancakes of their northern neighbors, although they tend to be laden with cinnamon. Of course, England has a love for pancakes, too, and they even call them that. However, they tend to serve them topped with lemon and sugar. And most people are familiar with the French crepes, thin pancakes the are often folded around sweet or savory fillings. But before you decide that's where it ends, take a look at these other ethnic approaches to the lowly pancake:

  • Venezuela and Colombia enjoy cachapas, or corn pancakes that are usually folded over — crepe style — fresh melted cheese.
  • South Africa boasts pannekoeke, another version of crepe-like pancakes, often filled with sweet fillings.
  • Japanese diners favor okonomiyaki, or savory pancakes, named for the word okonomi meaning “what you want” and yaki meaning "grilled". They are made with flour, egg, cabbage and a choice of whatever endless ingredients you want.
  • Malaysians rush to the table for apam balik, or folded pancakes made with a rice flour blend, then stuffed with a sweet peanut filling. They are often served standing upright.
  • Iceland enjoys pönnukaka, a crepe-like dish cooked in a special pancake pan. They take their pancakes seriously!
  • Hungary serves palacsinta, their own version of crepes.
  • Russian families love olady, which are small, thick pancakes made with yogurt or soured milk like buttermilk.
  • In China, cong you bing or scallion pancakes are typically made from dough, not batter. They are often served with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce.
  • Austria boasts kaiserschmarrn,or fluffy pieces of caramelized pancake. It's eaten with nuts, raisins, apples and other sweet ingredients.
  • The Greeks enjoy tiganites, thin pancakes traditionally topped with honey, cinnamon, and yogurt.
  • Scotland makes Scotch or Scottish pancakes that are small and thick. They are often called drop scones.
  • In Korea, kimchijeon or kimchi pancakes are flour-based pancakes with finely chopped kimchi and scallions.
  • Eastern Europe is known for blini or blintz, thin pancakes common in many Eastern European countries. They’re thicker than French crêpes, made with wheat or buckwheat flour and yeast, and filled with sweet or savory stuffing.
  • Somalia's version of the pancake is known as anjero,a spongy flatbread made with raising yeast flour. It’s similar to the Ethiopian injera, which is made from a slightly fermented teff flour.
  • Sweden makes raggmunk, or savory potato pancakes.
  • Finland, on the other hand, makes pannukakku, a puffy pancake baked in a special pan. It's then cut into single-serving slices and top with powdered sugar, cream, fruit, and other sweet fixings.
  • Similarly, the Netherlands enjoy pannenkoeken or Dutch baby, a sweet souffléd pancake topped with sugar and fruit.
  • Australia serves pikelets with afternoon tea. These petite, small and thick pancakes are often served with jam and cream.
  • In India, uttapam are made with blended batter of fermented rice and black lentil and mixed with spices and chopped onions. A savory pancake to enjoy!
  • Poland enjoys naleśniki, which is the Polish version of the common Eastern European Blini or blintz rolled and filled with sweet or savory cheese.

Anyone feel like an international plate of pancakes?

I find it comforting to know that something as comforting and pedestrian as a plate of pancakes is something that can be shared across oceans, language barriers, and culinary traditions. It makes a sometimes strange planet seem just a little bit smaller.

If you enjoyed this look at a simple cuisine the world over, look for additional segments in this series throughout the month. We'll be taking a look at other dishes that have their own place in kitchens all over the world. Until then, enjoy pancakes in whichever form you put on your plate!