If you are in need of a little spice in your culinary life, the City of Gastronomy series is a good place to start.
Are you looking for the best food around? Look no further than the website of United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It may seem like an odd place, but UNESCO has created a new cultural designation: City of Gastronomy.
So what does all this mean and how does it relate to diplomacy? Since 2005, UNESCO has nominated four cities to hold the title of City of Gastronomy: Popayán, Columbia (2005); Östersund, Sweden (2010); Chengdu, China (2011); and Jeonju, South Korea (2012). Candidates are nominated because they have a vibrant, traditional style of food that is both still in practice and indigenous to the area. In addition, the cities are required to be home to traditional chefs, unique culinary practices, culinary schools, traditional markets, and festivals, all respective to the particular style of cooking. And as a nod toward the environmentalists, they must also only use food that is completely local and sustainable.
Popayán, a town in Colombia, makes this list for its combination of traditional Spanish and indigenous cultural dishes. They are famous for fried food that is heavy influenced by local chilies and peppers, including pipián tamales and empanadas de pipián. Popayán was the first city chosen because of its rich cultural heritage and the worldwide recognition of their food.
Far to the north is Östersund, Sweden. Östersund relies on Swedish ingredients and preparation special to the northern regions: reindeer and moose meat, wild berries, mushrooms, and small scale farming. The city also hosts the Saerimner Festival to celebrate their idiosyncratic farm-to-table process and has an annual winter fresh market, the Gregoriemarknaden. It has been held in the same location for a thousand years.
Jeonju is the most recent entry to the list despite being one of the oldest cities. The Korean city is famous for its many food markets and festivals that celebrate the history of the local food. Perhaps the most recognized is Jeonju bibimbap, a dish that contains beef, rice, and vegetables, including a healthy serving of local bean sprouts. Jeonju bibimbap is also considered one of the best representatives of traditional Korean food.
These cities are getting a large helping of food diplomacy promotion from UNECSO. Chengdu, for example, gets free advertising from the UN, whose audience reaches most corners of the globe. It is home to the Szechuan style of Chinese food, a cooking method based on five separate flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty. So China, and Chengdu specifically (like the others on the list), becomes a hotspot for tourists, food critics and anyone else looking to diversify that eating habits.
The benefits of recognition as a City of Gastronomy are twofold. The state earns tourism dollars for simply maintaining its traditional culture, and they also gain soft power by having inquisitive people dig into the culinary backstory and the heritage that led to its development. That kind of attraction can go a long way towards changing a public’s opinion about a country.
photo credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Korea-Jeonju-Bibimbap_festival-01.jpg