My most vivid memories from traveling are never shown on postcards. Smells of sizzling chorizo covering taco stand grills in Mexico City, sounds of yelling vendors boasting about produce in East Jerusalem markets, or Serbs singing tamburaši until dawn–this assault to my senses in a new place provides my greatest high. I constantly carry these untouchable souvenirs with me, fueling my insatiable curiosity to travel the world–to experience exactly what makes a particular community unique.
UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list tries to raise awareness and protect these rituals and traditions passed through generations in the face of adversaries like globalization or climate change. Yet along with Chinese shadow puppetry, the chants of South Pacific Colombian marimba, Nigeria’s Ijele Masquerade, and some 300 other examples, few food customs made the cut.
A couple of dishes such as collectively making kimchi in Korea or the measured preparation of Turkish coffee are included, but very few nations or regions are singled out overall. In fact, only four different cuisines in the world are recognized on the list, arguably with the world’s most authentic culinary heritage:
- French gourmands can rest easy, the world recognizes that a meal in France is not simply about eating. The conviviality while sharing, tasting, celebrating speciall occasions and pairing food with wine is uniquely French, not to mention their contribution to concept of restaurants (see Rise of the Restaurant). Inscribed on the list in 2010.
- From planting and harvesting to cooking and eating, traditional Mexican cuisine is an elaborate model, laden with symbols, unique farming methods, native ingredients, collective participation, and much more. Inscribed on the list in 2010.
- Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Portugal share the high fiber, low fat Mediterranean diet to safeguard it from the onslaught of junk food and foreign impostors. Inscribed on the list in 2013.
- Japanese elevate food to an art form, relying on fresh ingredients, balanced nutrition and seasonal aesthetic presentation with a respect for nature and community. Inscribed on the list in 2013.