Discover Intangible Cultural Heritage, One Bite At A Time

From couscous and beer to kimchi, how many of these UNESCO-recognised foods have you tried?
Korea's popular side-dish, Kimchi
Korea's popular side-dish, Kimchi Shutterstock

Just like historical monuments, customs, and traditions, food also gives us a deep insight into a culture. After all, what people belonging to a particular country or ethnicity eat is intricately intertwined with their history, evolution and society. A bite of something that's been passed through generations often packs more than just flavours - they fill the untold stories of change and adaptation as well as struggle and perseverance. These then graduate from being a dish to becoming a heritage meant to be celebrated, upheld and conserved. As an ode to that, these food practices from across the world have been enlisted in UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. 

Belgian Beer 

Try beer in Belgium
Try beer in BelgiumShutterstock

Think Belgium, think beer. Belgians have been involved in brewing this gold elixir since the ninth century. Presently, it is home to almost 1,500 types of beer. It has not just been a thing of the ordinary folks, but even among monks from the Trappist community who brew it to gain profit, which they donate to charity. Although Trappist beer continues to thrive, craft beer has gained quite a preference since the '80s among Belgians (and the world) as well. Over the years, brewing has evolved significantly, embracing many sustainable techniques and technology. 


Korea's popular side-dish, Kimchi
Korea's popular side-dish, Kimchi Shutterstock

No Korean meal is complete without Kimchi on the side. This dish of preserved vegetables (mostly cabbage) seasoned with hot spices and condiments is a kitchen staple in every Korean household - transcending the ever-invasive social differences brought on by factors like class, economic background and region. However, Kimjang or the yearly process of preparing Kimchi, is just as important - the process begins in spring and follows through till winter. The laid-out affair of preparing Kimchi encompasses a fundamental social purpose, as it preserves the custom of transmitting skills and ideas across generations and between the members of society. 


Lavash bread in Armenia
Lavash bread in ArmeniaWikimedia Commons

This delicious, indulgent flatbread belonging to Armenia has transcended the country's border to become a crucial feature of most meals across the Middle East. Behind the simple dish made with only a few fine ingredients is a painstakingly long process undertaken by the women. To knead, mould, and stretch the dough until it takes on a flat shape, requires skills honed over years and years of making lavash. The flatbread that accompanies a diverse selection of cheese, meats, vegetables and dips also has a ritual and social importance - it is considered to bring fertility and prosperity to newlyweds, as well as strengthen social ties and family bonds. 


The white nsima undergoes a tedious process of making
The white nsima undergoes a tedious process of makingWikimedia Commons

Belonging to the culinary tradition of Malawi, Nsima may seem like a simple dish when described, but it stands far from it. Although it is just a porridge prepared with maize flour, the process of making it is what sets it apart as an intangible cultural heritage. From growing and harvesting the maize to pounding it into fine flour and preparing the dish, every step is closely tied to the Malwians' way of life, which is why eating Nsima also becomes a communal endeavour. 


Couscous makes for staple in these countries
Couscous makes for staple in these countriesWikimedia Commons

Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia - what do they have in common? Couscous! No party, wedding or family get-together is complete without couscous. It is very quickly the star of every meal. What gives it that status is the long-standing practice and knowledge that goes behind preparing this staple dish, passed from one generation to the next. More than that, it's also come to adorn a socio-political character, for it is hailed as a symbol of international cooperation.

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