Foods and culinary traditions in Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage

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October 1, 2021

By | October 1, 2021

Hawkers, Neapolitan pizza makers, the argan tree, and more have made it to the list

Only a select group of foods, cuisines and culinary traditions have made it to Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. These unique practices and know-how are often passed from generation to generation. Let’s look at some of them and what makes them so special.

Hawker culture in multicultural Singapore

Asian couple enjoying a snack at a hawker center during the weekend in Singapore, Asia. They are smiling as they talk and enjoy sugarcane juice and fried bananas.Hawker centers are a place to meet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with family and friends — Shutterstock

Hawker culture has become an integral part of life in Singapore, with hawkers of all backgrounds preparing meals that reflect the multicultural nature of this small Asian city-state.

It originated in the street food culture and combines various cuisines — Chinese, Malay, Indian, and many others — to create dishes that fit the taste buds of the locals. Many hawkers often specialize in a particular dish and pass their recipe and knowledge onto the younger generation and apprentices.

Considered “community dining rooms”, hawker centers are a place to meet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with family and friends. Spending time there is often accompanied by playing chess, busking, and art-jamming. 

Strengthening bonds during nsima, Malawi

A tiny road in the field near the grass and corn in Malawi. Amazing african mountains on the background.Corn is an essential crop of Malawi — Shutterstock

The meaning of the Malawian word nsima is two-fold: on the one hand, it’s a culinary tradition in the Malawian culture, and on the other, it refers to thick sticky porridge made out of cornflour that is also a part of the tradition.

The tradition of eating nsima brings together the whole family and village and strengthens the bonds between their members. Nsima follows a long and elaborate process of growing corn, storing, and processing it. Already young girls are involved by pounding and sifting flour and boys by hunting for animals.

Neapolitan art of pizza making, Italy

Neapolitan Street food stand. Calzone fritto, Pagnottiello and Pizza among the traditional dishes offered for saleAbout 3,000 pizzaiuoli are performing in Naples today — Shutterstock

Unesco has recognized the art of the Neapolitan pizza maker as a cultural heritage since 2017 — strengthening Italy’s position as the country with the most Unesco sites in the world.

The tradition goes back several centuries and is passed down from generation to generation, together with the know-how, experiences, and gestures of the pizzaiuolo. The basics also include the knowledge of making dough (water, flour, salt, and yeast), kneading, letting it rest and rise, stretching and beating, and rotary movements once it’s in the oven.

About 3,000 pizzaiuoli are performing in Naples today, and they are divided into three main categories: the Master Pizzaiuolo, the Pizzaiuolo, and the baker. Young apprentices observe their masters at their bottega and acquire the necessary knowledge to become masters one day. 

Arabic coffee — the act of generosity

Bedouin man serving Arabic coffee in Wadi Rum,JordanDrinking coffee is associated with socializing and conversing — Shutterstock

In Arab societies, serving coffee is seen as an act of hospitality and generosity, and it’s associated with socializing and conversing. It’s an important part of family life and passed on within the family. 

Traditionally, it’s prepared in front of the guests and starts with roasting coffee beans over a fire until they change color. Afterward, they are turned into grinds and then added into a pot with boiled water. The oldest or most important guest is poured the first cup, filling up a quarter of it — it’s a custom to drink at least one but no more than three cups. 

Making kimchi goes back to ancient times, North Korea

sautéd Kimchi in black bowl served with spicesThere are countless variations and use of kimchi — Shutterstock

Kimchi is among the most popular dishes in Korean cuisine, and its tradition goes back centuries. There are countless variations of this food depending on the climatic conditions and customs. 

Kimchi is mainly salted and fermented vegetables with the addition of spices, fruit, meat, or fish and seafood. It’s eaten with almost every meal and on special occasions, and its preparation is a collective effort starting from childhood and passed from mothers to daughters or between in-laws.

Qvevri — ancient wine-making method, Georgia

Qvevri, Georgian traditional jug for wine making near the stone wall at monasteryLarge lemon-shaped pots are used to make wine — Shutterstock

Qvevri is an ancient method of producing wine in the country of Georgia. It takes place mainly in the villages where unique grapes are grown, with the entire community joining in wine-making activities.

The word qvevri translates to “which is buried” and it refers to large lemon-shaped pots that go up to their neck into the ground. The pot is also where the entire process of bringing the wine to life happens — it contains pressed grapes, skins, stalks, pips, and more and left in the pot for five to six months before it’s ready to be drunk.

Mexican cuisine — a modern-day favorite 

traditional mexican foodTomatoes, beans, avocados, chili, and more are staples in Mexican cuisine — Shutterstock

In many places, Mexican has become a popular food choice in the last decades. However, traditional Mexican cuisine is more than what lands on our plates on a night out. 

Farming, rituals, culinary techniques, customs, and more are part of the process. The cuisine is based on corn, beans, and chili with other ingredients, such as tomatoes, squashes, avocados, cocoa, and vanilla. It’s known for its distinct flavors and spices, which have resulted from the interaction of Spanish conquistadores’ with the Aztec and Mayan cultures and the French.

The beautifying effects of the Moroccan argan oil

Processing argan seeds , Product of MoroccoArgan trees only grow in and around Morocco — Shutterstock

Argan is one of Morocco’s biggest exports the tree only grows in and around Morocco. Its oil is used for many different purposes, such as cooking, medicines, and cosmetics. Often it’s given as a wedding gift and used in abundance in food preparation.

A lot of effort goes into extracting the oil from the tree’s fruit, including harvesting, drying, pulping, grinding, sorting, milling, and mixing. Typically, women — known as “argan women” — are the most involved in the process and pass their skills onto their daughters.

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