How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Five ethnic food tastes worth acquiring: The meat edition

Photo by Manogamo/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Last week, Multi-American delved once more into that culinary landscape where some diners fear to tread, the territory of the unsung ethnic delicacy.

These are the dishes that don't necessarily sound good, look good or or even smell good, but are worth trying because they are unexpectedly delicious.

Our first series in March covered a range of foods, from drinks like the Vietnamese avocado milkshake to main dishes like arroz con calamares en su tinta, a particularly unattractive squid dish served in several Latin American countries.

The series last week focused on meat dishes, cooked, raw and canned. True to form, none sound like anything one would rush out to try, but don't be put off. For any carnivores who might have missed these treats, here they are in a convenient list. Dig in.

  • The clever and delicious Spam musubi, which looks like a giant piece of sushi and is a popular snack in Hawaii. In a typical preparation, the sliced Spam is grilled and simmered in a mix of soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine. It is then placed atop a giant piece of Spam-sized molded sushi rice (there is actually a gadget called a Spam musubi rice press) and, in the simplest version, the entire thing is wrapped with a piece of nori, the dried seaweed wrapper common to sushi. Sounds odd, looks odd, tastes great.

  • The very red, very raw chee kufta, popular in Armenian and Turkish cuisines (and known as kibbeh nayyeh in Lebanon). Eaten as a cold appetizer, it consists of ground beef or lamb mixed with fine wheat bulghur and seasonings, which in the typical Armenian preparation consist of red and black pepper, water and salt. It is then garnished with scallions, parsley and a generous amount of olive oil. The trick to a great chee kufta is very lean meat, preferably ground by the cook. One reader described it as "a special luscious dish."

  • The spicy Ethiopian kitfo, a distant relative of chee kufta that is also typically served raw. The dish is made from minced lean beef that has been flavored with an elaborate spice blend containing chili peppers and fragrant spices, among them cardamom and cloves, and with seasoned clarified butter. It’s usually served with flat injera bread and a mild cheese, which balances the spice.

  • The winner for weirdest name is rabo encendido, which translates from Spanish to "tail on fire." But what sounds like a painful bovine affliction is in fact a tasty stew of beef oxtail in a mildly spicy tomato sauce. It’s popular throughout the Caribbean, found in Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican cooking. As with other oxtail preparations around the globe, it’s a dish born of necessity, the product of creative cooks who couldn’t afford to waste a scrap of meat and made it taste good.

  • The slow-roasted goat dish that Haitians refer to as cabrit, or kabrit. The meat is marinated in key lime juice and other seasonings, then slow-cooked until it is fall-off-the-bone tender. Prepared well, the meat loses its gaminess, usually the most off-putting aspect of eating goat. That and the fact that the critters are cute and inhabit petting zoos in the United States. But much of the world sees goats as dinner, for good reason.

Have an unsung ethnic delicacy to suggest, a dish that gets an undeserved bad rap? There will be more lists, so please, note your suggestions in the comments below. Photos are welcome.
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