Mark Shimada

Culinary Passport: Food and Language Across the Borders

Ahoy, foodies of the world! Ever found yourself in a foreign land, menu in hand, and suddenly realized... "Hey, I know that word! Whew! That’s one less word to remember." But, it’s more than that. Every food name adopted from another language is a testament to language and culture, where the food name was best adopted rather than translated. 

Let’s see which languages have had the most number of adopted food names. In addition, discover a unique phrase related to food, language and culture for French, Spanish, Italian, or Czech. 

1. Italian: Mamma Mia! That's Familiar!

Topping our list is Italian with more than eight foods! Close your eyes and see if you can guess them. Italian cuisine has found its way to many corners of the world. The dishes that have migrated alongside Italian immigrants: pizza, lasagna, risotto, tiramisù, bruschetta, panettone, gelato, and pasta with all the many types: spaghetti, linguini, fusilli, macaroni and more.

Picture yourself enjoying gelato in a bustling piazza, and taking in the world around you. You could say "Dolce far niente", which literally means "the sweetness of doing nothing." It’s not about being lazy, but rather the Italian art of finding joy in the present moment while taking a break from the daily hustle. 

2. French: Oh là là! More than Just Croissants!

In second place are French foods with seven, each uniquely diverse. A croissant for breakfast? Quiche for lunch? Crepes for a dessert or savory for dinner? Here’s the list of those commonly enjoyed French foods: croissant, quiche, brioche, ratatouille, mousse, crepe, and baguette. 

The French have a passion for the origin and uniqueness of their produce. Especially over wine and cheese, you may hear the word “terroir” which doesn’t literally just mean soil, but the entire environment where produce originates, from the climate to the farming practices. Listen carefully around the French over wine, cheese, and meals to learn the language used around that word and the subtleties of its use.

3. Mexican Spanish: Arriba! Tacos, Burritos and More!

Mexican food has spiced up our lives with several foods. Restaurants, food trucks, food courts, and more have all enjoyed offering unique versions of the taco, burrito and enchilada. Regardless of what’s in a taco or burrito, the soul of the taste remains Mexican. Taco, burrito, guacamole, enchilada, salsa, nachos, and churros.most familiar, 

Mexican Spanish: Important to Mexican culture and food is the word "sobremesa" which refers to the time spent sitting at the table after the meal, chatting and enjoying each other's company. It's more than just lingering at the table, it reflects the Mexican value of family and community.

4. English 🍔: Wait, Isn't That... Universal?

English has scattered its vocabulary seeds globally, and food is no exception. Toast, sandwich, muffin, biscuit/cookie, cupcake, hamburger, and pudding are in your grocery stores, restaurant menus, and probably even used naturally in your mother tongue at home. But, did you know that the hamburger originates from Hamburg, Germany, not from McDonalds?  

5. Brazilian Portuguese 🍖: Sizzling with Samba Flavors!

Ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse? If so, you've probably heard of 'churrasco,’ grilled meat.' There’s açaí, the healthy berry that has found its way into granola bowls and smoothies. Others that have traveled across borders include Feijoada, the black bean stew with pork; caipirinha, a national rum cocktail with cachaca, a rum made from sugarcane, and pão de queijo, cheese bread balls that are gluten-free. 

Brazilian Portuguese 🍖: "Saudade" is a unique term that describes the emotional nostalgic longing for something or someone, suggesting a connection between food, love, and memories. It could be a grandmother's recipe or the taste of açaí on a summer day.

6. Czech 🥖: An Unexpected Foodie Adventure!

Last but certainly not least, we have Czech. Ever heard of 'koláč'? It’s a circular sweet pastry with a fruit filling, also referred to as a danish pastry in the US. There’s also goulash, which is guláš in Czech, but is actually Hungarian in origin. Fried cheese, most likely popular across borders because of Czech nationals making it and serving it in other countries. 

Czech 🥖: The Czechs have a term, "prozvonit", which means to call a mobile phone and let it ring just once so the other person will call back. It’s a small act, but it speaks volumes about resourcefulness and connection. Imagine ringing someone just to invite them over for a hearty meal.

The Last Bite

Many of these foods, while having origins in one country, have become global favorites and retained their original names as a tribute to their cultural roots.

While it's tempting to stick to the familiar dishes, venturing beyond is where true immersion begins. We say, why not immerse your taste buds too? Every bite tells a story, every dish sings of its homeland.

As you continue on your language journey, remember: it's not just about mastering the grammar or expanding your vocabulary. It's about diving deep into the culture, savoring its intricacies, and understanding its soul. 

So, as you embark on your next foodie adventure, remember: with every plate, you're also getting a taste of the culture and language. And as they exclaim in every tongue, every dialect, and every corner of this vast world... "Yumm!"

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