What is Micro Cuisine?
I recently came across the phrase micro cuisine (sometimes referred to as niche cuisine but that terminology just doesn’t work for me) and have spent the past few weeks attempting to understand what exactly that means. If you attempt to look up the phrase you will find that what you get is mostly stuff about microwave cooking. But micro cuisines are not about technology, they are about food culture on a very regionally specific level.
When I travel I am most interested in local foods that are specific to the area I am in. I want to eat local, and hopefully foods I have never experienced and can’t get in my home countries of Canada or Ireland.
Where does micro cuisine exist?
So what is micro cuisine and where can we find it? The best two definitions can be considered part of the whole. The idea of micro cuisine is food that is available in your community that is made or produced in your immediate area.
Sort of a 100-mile diet but closer this can also be called ‘hyper-local. Fruits and vegetables that are grown locally or a little shop that produces its own Charcuterie or makes its own cheese. Some examples of micro cuisine are Keralan cuisine from Southern India, Parsi from Mumbai India and some Malaysian cuisines.
Here and there around the world one can also find areas or regions that for one reason or another have been isolated and developed their own style of cooking with ingredients that are exclusive to that region. India is the first place that comes to mind. What we as Westerners experience of Indian cuisine is but a mere drop in the bucket compared to what is actually truly authentic.
There are also pockets of immigrant or refugee populations that have developed their country of origin recipes to adapt to the ingredients found in their new home. This is where the definition of micro cuisine comes in, using local ingredients in recipes that come from a different country or area.
This leads to another interesting definition of micro cuisine as in any foods or dishes that are produced specifically to a small area and the culture that resides and lives in that area. A perfect example would be the cuisine of the Parsi people in India whose food is a combination of Persian and Indian.
Alternatively, the Penang people in Malaysia have created one of the world’s best street food cultures. Indigenous cuisine in North America would be a micro cuisine as it differs from one region or traditional tribal area to another.
The common component of micro cuisine is not necessarily the fact that the food is specific to an area but that it takes area-specific ingredients and has developed a cuisine based on those ingredients, which is combined with the cultural background of the cook.
Parsi cuisine is a blend of Indian and Persian food created by the Zoroastrians who left Persia (Iran) to pursue their religious beliefs in peace. They were accepted into India and over the years, their food has combined traditional Indian ingredients blended and merged with Iranian ingredients to produce a very specific local cuisine.
In North America, there is now a great deal of interest in indigenous foods created by aboriginal chefs and cooks learning how to use ingredients that are native to their local area and hark back to their communities original use of those ingredients. From the coastal area, natives use of seaweeds like dulse to the Plains use of maize, beans, squash, fiddleheads, ramps, wild cranberries, chokeberries, cactus and a wealth of wild plants that can be used to create new dishes from ancient cultural recipes.
There has been a surge of interest in traditional and indigenous food culture with a growing demand for these types of foods among foodies and those immersed in food culture. From the indigenous peoples across the globe to smaller unique cultural communities in the Yucatan, Asia, China, India and Africa local cooks, chefs and food historians have gathered information and recipes to preserve these cuisines and food cultures.
It is of great historical importance not to mention societal to preserve and pass on these traditions that have arisen through either diasporas or great migrations of various cultures. From the Chinese populations in Asia and the South Pacific to the Plains and Pueblo First Nations people and those populations whose isolation preserves their food heritage these are cultural riches that deserve to have greater attention paid to them.
In the broader sense, European food culture also has pockets of micro-cuisines these areas have been far more impacted by European sensibilities but items remain within the European nations of areas that have some isolation from the rest of the country.
Sardinia and Sicily come to mind as distinct regional cuisines that are often conflated with Italian cuisine, which is not a monolithic culture. Spanish foods such as Iberico Jamón, whilst known outside the country as a gourmet item, are also relatively regional. Spain, Catalonia and the Basque areas have quite distinct food cultures that could be considered micro-cuisines.
This series of food articles will concentrate on a variety of micro-cuisines found throughout the world. I hope that it will give you some insight into the existing cuisine and allow you to learn more and find purveyors of these cuisines in your local areas. At the very least, it will inform your orders the next time you go out for dinner.
Global micro cuisine
Here are some cuisines I want to learn about:
- Romani Food: The Roma originally came from Northern India and are now scattered all over the globe but in Slovenia, a new food business has been developed with the Roma people working in the business and sharing their cuisine and culture.
- Korean-Uzbeki apparently in the 1930s Stalin moved thousands of Russian Korean people to Uzbekistan
- Georgian cuisine, Georgia lies at the crossroads of Asia and Eastern Europe and the food here has been a best-kept secret for many years apart from the Russians who adore Georgian food.
- African Foods: West Africa from Liberia to Nigeria, East African Ethiopian and South and Central African, Tunisian/Moroccan and North African.
- Parsi a blend of Persian and Indian cuisines
- Penang this island food paradise offers a blend of Thai, Chinese and Indian cooking and Malaysian street food and it is some of the best in the world.
- Nyonya a delicious hybrid cuisine of Malaysia’s Baba Nyonya is a fusion of Malaysian and Chinese culture.
- First Nations across the USA and Canada
- Icelandic and other Baltic cuisines from Johnson’s Delight to pickled herring and smoked salmon the Baltics have a wide range of ingredients we just don’t see in Europe or North America.
- Middle Eastern which is more than just hummus and pita bread
I would be really interested in hearing from you about a cuisine you think needs to be explored or discovered. If you would like to read more or check back for more stories on various micro-cuisines you can click here to bookmark