There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. What better way to do it than by tackling it one bite at a time? Though plenty of cuisines from around the globe have been popularized and become prevalent here in the States, a plethora still haven’t gotten their due. So, we scoured the planet to find up-and-coming culinary traditions that should be on your radar – from the South Pacific and the western shores of Africa to Asia – and then ferreted out stateside restaurants showcasing that fare. Here are 5 emerging cuisines you need to try right now.
AUSTRALIAN: Burke & Wills, New York, New York
The Land Down Under has a lot more to offer foodies than Vegemite, Foster’s beer, and Tim Tam biscuits. Discover some of the possibilities at this Aussie redoubt powered by executive chef Rodrigo Nogueira, an alum of Montmartre, Colicchio & Sons, and Resto. The menu boasts plenty of contemporized fare from the southern hemisphere. Yes, they serve kangaroo. The ultra-lean, pleasantly gamey protein is offered two ways, either as a loin steak or in the form of a ‘Roo Burger – a kangaroo-pork patty topped with pickled onions and tomato jam. If you’re in the mood for Australian-accented seafood, there’s fennel-y, gingery pan-roasted scallops, mussels, and clams. To finish, opt for Pavlova – practically the country’s official dessert – made with whipped cream, passion fruit curd, berries, and kiwi fruit. However, we kindly request that you refrain from doing your Crocodile Dundee impersonation until after you’ve left the restaurant.
TURKISH: Ankara, Washington, D.C.
Incorporating familiar elements of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food cultures, Turkish cuisine stands on its own. Begin with an array of hot and cold mezze dishes, such as karides guvec (shrimp baked in tomato-garlic sauce), fried mussels in a garlicky, walnut-rich sauce, and cigar-shaped sigara borgi (phyllo wrapped around feta and then deep fried). And you must order one of the pideler. The Turkish-style pizzas are open-air, doughy canoes brimming with a combination of cheeses, vegetables, and meats. The peynirli is a standout, sporting feta, sautéed onions, herbs, and a sunny yolk. Dips and spreads (definitely order the creamy haydari amped with dill and garlic), salads, and plenty of grilled meats fill out the rest of the menu. [Photo by Maria Bryk]
LAO: Bida Manda Restaurant and Bar, Raleigh, North Carolina
If you haven’t tried this southeastern Asian cuisine before, here’s a great starting point. Expect fresh ingredients that sing on your tongue, spicy components packed with zing, and unique taste combinations that linger in your memory long after your meal is over. Prime examples are the crispy pork belly resting in a deeply aromatic Kaffir lime leaf coconut curry broth (mee ka tee), caramelized ginger pork ribs (thom khem) that slide off the bone with the merest of nibbles, and beef larb salad packed with herbs from the Far East galore. To finish on a sweet note, there’s traditional purple sticky rice topped with pureed mango and coconut custard. Or, simply order a powerful iced Lao coffee enriched with plenty of condensed milk. The coolness and the creaminess of the drink will help subdue any fiery flavors from your meal.
SENEGALESE: Bissap and Little Baobab, San Francisco, California
Get a starter course in West African cuisine at this energetic Senegalese restaurant, which helps bridge the gap between the familiar and the foreign. Inspired by colonialist interlopers and its neighbors, the food is an electrifying mix of North African, French, and Portuguese elements fused together to create a singular sensibility. Fried plantains are a staple on the continent, served here with a tangy tamarind-yogurt dipping sauce. Traditional mafe is characterized by its rich peanut butter curry sauce, which covers tender chicken and vegetables. The yassa stars a lemon-garlic-mustard sauce atop your choice of chicken or tilapia. The same sauce graces dibi, grilled lamb chunks accompanied by rice and vegetables. This part of the world is not known for its dessert culture, but you should definitely indulge with a bowl of thiakry, a Senegalese yogurt redolent with cinnamon and nutmeg speckled with chewy raisins and sweetened cous cous not unlike rice pudding.
HAWAIIAN: MW Restaurant, Honolulu, Hawaii
The island fare of the Aloha State is one of America’s most under-recognized regional cuisines. Here, Asian and South Pacific culinary traditions meld with mainland practices to create fusion fare more than worth the price of a plane ticket. This forerunner of modern-minded Hawaiian cuisine deftly elevates the ingredients in surprising, eye-catching presentations. Classic poke (pronounce POH-kay) – diced raw ahi tuna – arrives crowned with glistening miniature orbs of trout roe and small slabs of briny uni. Take a bite of the crispy arancini balls and you’ll find butterfish and unagi (Japanese freshwater eel). Comfort food comes alive with the fried pork tonkatsu sandwich and the meatloaf-like moco loco topped with a runny sunny side up egg and accompanied by vegetable fried rice. For a fun finale, take a spoon to the restaurant’s version of shaved ice: a delicious jumble of snowy strawberry crystals, soft tapioca pearls, and creamy mochi ice cream.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell.