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Angola. A country rich in natural resources and food variety

Culture / -

© Anthony Asael_Art in All of Us_Corbis

The culinary tradition of Angola draws upon its own rich regional and ethnic roots, which over the centuries have evolved by absorbing other gastronomic cultures, especially those of Portugal, Brazil and Italy.

Let’s start with a curious statistic: in June 2015, the financial analysis company Mercer listed Luanda as the most expensive city in the world. But note well: this classification referred only to costs affecting non-Angolans visiting the city: the vast majority of Luanda’s five million inhabitants are light-years away from being able to afford this kind of consumption. Nevertheless, the statistic, picked up and amplified by the press all over the world, does highlight the difference between this Central African State and most nearby nations: its natural resources make Angola one of the richest countries in Africa, being its second oil producer after Nigeria and its fourth diamond exporter.
 
Unfortunately, only recently has the country been able to implement a policy of economic development: until 2002 it was caught in a long civil war, thanks to which to this day only 3 percent of its potentially arable land is actually under cultivation. Apart from widespread subsistence farming, various flourishing coffee plantations exist, recently returned to production after many years of abandon. Worth mention also are the country’s fishing resources: its 1,600 km Atlantic coastline yields roughly 250,000 tons of fish per year.
 
Portuguese, Brazilian and Italian influences on local cuisine: even polenta!
Given its natural abundance, it’s no wonder that Angola’s cooking makes lavish use of fresh ingredients and contrasting flavors which blend harmoniously. Its culinary tradition draws upon its own rich regional and ethnic roots, which over the centuries have evolved by absorbing other gastronomic cultures, especially those of Portugal, Brazil and Italy.
 
Portugal (from whom Angola achieved independence in 1975) introduced various Mediterranean elements such as rice and tomatoes, and cooking techniques such as frying and pre-frying. Other typical Portuguese elements which have become fixtures in Angolan food are cornflour bread, dried salt cod, cheese, yogurt, onion, garlic and eggs. Also certain recipes, such as soups (green soup, chicken broth), fish or goat stew, dried cod with cream, pork, duck with rice or cabidela rice. Many ingredients were introduced from Brazil, including cassava, sweet potato, chilli pepper, tomatoes and black beans. Italy too has left its mark on Angolan cuisine, through pasta and even polenta… made from cornflour, just like authentic north-eastern Italian polenta.
 
The baobab influences the Pavilion’s shape and the tastes of its cooking
Angolan cooking is well represented in Angola’s Pavilion in Expo Milano 2015, in the second floor show cooking sector where various chefs demonstrate the way traditional dishes are prepared in domestic contexts.
 
The Angolan Pavilion has wooden exterior facades modulated to reflect the bold kinds of pattern used on typical local fabrics, while the building unfolds around the central focus of a stylized baobab tree, which for Angolans represents the tree of life and a metaphor for the female body.
 
The interior walls are covered with panels illustrating the country’s food production: fishing, stock rearing, agriculture and apiculture. On the ground floor, the baobab’s branches are hung with video screens showing interviews with some of the country’s most celebrated representatives. If you seriously wish to try Angolan cooking, you should go up to the roof terrace, surrounded by botanical gardens. Here you will find a panoramic restaurant in a partly open-air space, where Elsa the cook offers fish specialty dishes with Afro-European flavors, including swordfish baked in foil and lobster bisque. And a trio of tropical mousses to finish.
 
On the ground floor stands a more informal restaurant, offering baobab fruit products in various forms: as fruit, fruit juice or in desserts. Another must is the Chicken Muamba, cooked with peanut cream.
 
 

Afghanistan, a country of spices and ancient traditions

Culture / -

 
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© Alison Wright/Corbis
© Wali Khan/Xinhua Press/Corbis
© Xinhua Kabul/Xinhua Press/Corbis
© Ahmad Massoud/Xinhua Press/Corbis
© Ric Ergenbright/CORBIS
© Alison Wright/Corbis

A history marked by rulers and by the passage of peoples from around the world. A culture steeped in the customs and traditions brought by those traveling between East and West, where traditions have been influenced by Islam and by a mountainous, harsh terrain. This is the ancient country of Afghanistan.

Oman. An ancient land, waiting to be discovered

Culture / -

©-Matteo-ColomboJAICorbis

The Sultanate is opening up to the world through the development of sustainable tourism, thanks to its beauty and a deeply felt hospitality expressed also through its cuisine.

Throughout history a land of travel and trade, mentioned in “The Travels of Marco Polo”, Oman is a fascinating country, starting with its lively and colorful capital Muscat, with its museums, the old houses in the ancient walled city, its port swarming with traditional dhow sailing boats, and its Royal Opera House.
 
Outside the capital, Oman’s landscape is full of picturesque beauties: little mountain villages, Bedouin settlements, spectacular fortresses guarding the ancient incense routes, the natural swimming pools of the wadis (deep valleys scoured out by the rains in the mountains, usually rich with palm trees), unspoilt beaches and diving areas with turtles and dolphins.
 
The country’s climate is strongly conditioned by the Khareef, the summer monsoon which sweeps in from the Indian Ocean and fills the Dhofari Desert with luxuriant foliage. This makes it possible for the Boswellia trees to grow, with their perfumed incense and frankincense resins, and feeds the Aflaj, the ancient irrigation system made up of canals and dams constructed over 2,000 years ago and included by UNESCO in its World Heritage list.
 
The Sablat: the essence of hospitality
The heart of Oman’s hospitable culinary practices lies in the ritual of coffee and dates, and the sharing of highly spiced dishes. This takes place in the Sablat, the room in typical Omani homes where the family welcomes guests during traditional festivities.
 
In Oman meat and fish are frequently prepared in the tandoori, masala or tikka styles: the country’s cuisine is extremely influenced by Indian cookery, to the point where biryani (the Indian dish with aromatized rice with pieces of chicken, lamb or fish) is considered a national dish, as are kabsa or makbous (where the rice comes with a tomato sauce).
 
Naturally, Middle Eastern influences are strongly felt, but then again, so is African cuisine, with some restaurants serving Swahili and Dhofari dishes, where coconut is widely used.
 
One of the ideal times to visit Oman is at the end of Ramadan, known as Eid-al Fitr. This features a week of traditional festivities: broadly speaking the equivalent of the Christmas festivities in the West, this is a wonderful period for typical cuisine, communal feasts in villages and cities, and colorful traditional singing and dancing.
 
At Expo Milano 2015, Oman from four points of view
Oman’s Pavilion is subdivided into four areas, representing respectively its water, its oases, its sea and its traditions. The first area is focused above all on the management of water resources. The second concentrates on the country’s main cultivations, from the honey of the oases to hazelnuts and even the rose harvests in the mountainous region of Jebel Akhdar. Date palms represent the center of Oman’s traditions and are therefore at the center of this section, featuring the “one million palms” project, which is foreseen to be completed by 2025. In the third area the visitor explores the treasures of the country’s coastal waters and its flourishing fishing industry, still based on traditional techniques.
 
Oman has set itself the goal of redoubling its fishing yields over the next 30 years, and is currently implementing a series of new laws for safeguarding certain marine areas and encouraging the fishing of native fish species. The fourth area focuses on Oman’s legendary hospitality, reproducing among other things a traditional Omani kitchen, with all the utensils and ingredients necessary to prepare its delicious traditional dishes.
 
 

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