Think about it, few people regularly wake up hungry. We usually start to get hungry later in the day after we’ve started work, school, or whatever it is you do when you pretend to call in sick. A balanced lunch in the middle of the day is what you need to keep your blood sugar levels stable and to keep you from feeling sluggish.
But we don’t always have time to make lunch and when we do, what’s not to say we don’t just end up making the same old boring, probably even unhealthy, stuff?
Welcome a little adventure into your daily routine. These authentic, but still easy to make, lunches from around the world are sure to make you excited about your midday meals.
Lunch Recipe #1: Chirashi
Who doesn’t love sushi? It’s a balanced combination of carbs, fish, and vegetables in one bite-sized package. It isn’t a dish for the clumsy, though. While making sushi is simple enough, it’s the rolling part that most people struggle with. So why not try sushi that doesn’t need to be rolled?
Chirashi is the deconstructed version of sushi. The dish is a type of rice bowl meal that features common sushi ingredients like tamago (egg), maguro (tuna), and salmon set on top of a serving of vinegared rice. With a wide range of topings to choose from all in one bowl, you get to taste your favorite sushi varieties in each bite.
The first step to a good chirashi lunch is to make good sushi rice. Remember when I said these would all be authentic? Because it is.
This sushi rice recipe comes from none other than Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Chef Morimoto recommends using a short grain rice and washing it vigorously before cooking it in a pot. Note: You do not boil rice and drain it. Do not hurt Uncle Roger like that.
Lunch Recipe #2: Sichuan Mapo Tofu
Not a fan of uncooked fish? What about a spicy tofu dish instead?
Mapo tofu is a popular spicy dish from China’s Sichuan province. This mouthwatering mix of meat, tofu, douban (fermented chili paste), and douchi (fermented black beans) make it a popular lunch meal in the region.
It’s a shockingly old dish as well. Mapo tofu was initially created in 1862 by Mrs. Chen who owned a restaurant called Chen Heng Seng. The restaurant, which can still be found in Chengdu, Sichuan, often served mapo tofu for blue collar workers who would bring their own tofu and ask Mrs. Chen to cook it for them. Why they’d go through the trouble of bringing her their tofu is quickly explained once you get a taste of this lunch dish.
Vivian Aronson from Cooking Bomb is a popular TikTok vlogger who runs a YouTube channel where she teaches how to make yummy Chinese dishes like mapo tofu. For this lunch dish, you’ll need Sichuan peppercorns, douban, douchi, chili, and, of course, the tofu. Just how good is her recipe? Well, Vivian is from Sichuan! You can try her recipe by cooking along to her video.
Lunch Recipe #3: Moussaka
Moussaka is a dish with a lot of variants. A good way to describe it is that it’s an eggplant and meat lasagna. The answer to how to make moussaka changes depending on who you ask since the dish has iterations in Egypt, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Greece.
For this recipe, we’ll be going with the Greek version of the dish made by Akis Petretzikis. You’re going to need a lot of herbs and spices so make sure to stock up on parsley, basil, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Gosh, you can already smell it from that description alone.
The dish uses eggplants, zucchinis, and potatoes as a base, essentially using it as a replacement for the wide noodles used in typical lasagna. You’ll also have to prep a creamy bechamel sauce. After that, all that’s left is to assemble your moussaka.
Sound like a lot of work? Probably. But hey, I said healthy and authentic, not quick.
Before you write this recipe off, check out Petretzikis’ guide on how to make authentic moussaka. If that doesn’t convince you to make it for tomorrow’s lunch, I don’t know what will.
Lunch Recipe #4: Jollof Rice
They don’t call it party rice for no reason. Once you get a taste of this Nigerian dish, you’re going to feel a flavor party doing the cha-cha on your tongue.
SisiYemmieTV does not play around. You can tell her jollof rice is killer because she tells us, “Add everything so that your enemies know you are cooking.”
Jokes aside, I find it interesting that she chooses long grain rice because, and I quote, “It is never sticky.” That’s basically the exact opposite of Asian rice preferences. That said, I can see why it would be a better choice for a dish like jollof rice.
For this Nigerian jollof rice recipe, you’ll need a ton of red bell peppers, chilis, and onions. As for the spices, you’ll need thyme, curry powder, chicken seasoning, ginger powder, rosemary, white pepper, and paprika because SisiYemmieTV does not hold back. Her recipe uses chicken for the meat, but if you’d like a more exotic jollof rice for lunch, Sisi Jemimah’s Recipes has one that uses goat meat.
Lunch Recipe #5: Tom Yum
Tom yum? More like tom yummy. Okay, fine. I’ll quit the bad jokes before you lose your appetite for lunch.
Tom yum is a Thai soup dish with a vibrant sour and spicy flavor that’s sure to wake you and your nostrils up. Unlike Sichuan mapo tofu, the origins of Tom Yum are relatively unknown making it possible that the dish has been around for longer than most Thai can remember.
Many believe that tom yum can trace its origins to central Thailand where the Chao Phraya River is located. It’s not a far-fetched theory given that the river, sometimes called Maenam, flows through Thailand’s fertile central plains until it reaches the Gulf of Thailand. The abundance of shrimp in the river, a key ingredient of tom yum, has led people to speculate that Chao Praya had a hand in the origins of the dish.
As for how tom yum became popular around the world, the story goes that the 1997 financial crisis, which affected several Asian countries, began in Thailand leading it to be nicknamed as the “tom yum goong crisis.” Now, I’m not sure how true that is, and frankly, I was born too late to remember. But what I do know is that Chef Ohm Suansilphong has a killer tom yum recipe that you can follow here.
Lunch Recipe #6: Sinigang
Sinigang gang represent!
There’s no shortage of sour soups to be found in Southeast Asia. If you’re not in the mood for tom yum’s seafood goodness, maybe a pork sour soup would be right up your alley. Sinigang is a lunchtime favorite of the Philippines and it’s the closest thing the country has to a national dish for one good reason: unlike lumpiang shanghai and adobo, its name and ingredients are all native to the country.
Sinigang is a tamarind soup consisting of tomatoes, okra, water spinach, pork, radish, and taro. Yes, taro. The stuff that goes into your boba tea. The taro gives sinigang a thicker, creamier consistency that sets it apart from tom yum.
How good is sinigang? So good that it’s what I’d make for you if you were my guest and that’s totally not because sinigang is the only thing I can reliably cook. You can try this dish for lunch with this authentic recipe. Don’t forget to turn on the subtitles so you don’t miss a thing.
This hyperflexible dish can also be cooked with pork belly, beef short ribs, or seafood. So if you’d like to see all the versions and don’t want to read subtitles, you can go to Featr.
Lunch Recipe #7: Beef Bulgogi
K-pop isn’t the only thing South Korea has contributed to the world. Among the East Asian country’s finest creations is bulgogi, a dish made of thinly sliced beef that’s been marinated in sugar, soy sauce, garlic, leeks, and grated Asian pear. The result is a sweet and savory meat dish that practically melts in your mouth.
Bulgogi has a long history that stretches back to the Goguryeo era during which a skewered meat dish called maekjeok became popular. Maekjok later evolved to be a marinated beef soup made by soaking the beef in cold water called seoryamyeok. Later, it would become neobiani, a charbroiled beef dish that more closely resembles modern bulgogi.
It’s unknown how neobiani became bulgogi but today, there are two versions of bulgogi: the grilled bulgogi and the brothy bulgogi.
Chef Jia Choi, owner of Ongo Food Communications, a cooking studio in Insa-dong, Seoul, teaches us how to make authentic Korean bulgogi in this video. While Chef Choi has no problem with substituting leeks for green onions and chicken breasts for beef, but she draws the line at substituting Western pear varieties for Asian pear.
“It has to be Asian pear,” She explains while grating the fruit, “Western pear doesn’t have the same enzymes.”
When you sit down to eat your bulgogi for lunch, take a moment to appreciate how this dish was also enjoyed by Korean kings and royals for centuries.
There’s More Than Enough Food but Millions Don’t Get to Eat Lunch
Food insecurity isn’t caused by food scarcity. If anything, there’s an overabundance of food in the world. We produce enough food for 10 billion people. That’s a big lead from a global population of roughly 7 billion.
In the U.S., the issue of food security is felt most strongly by Native American communities. 1 in 4 Native Americans struggles to put food on the table compared to the national average of 1 in 9.
Organizations like Feeding America address food insecurity issues for people living in the U.S. by distributing food to thousands of families all over the country. Food Not Bombs extends its mission to alleviate hunger across multiple borders by gathering food that would otherwise be discarded for distribution to people in need.
Food Not Bombs is dedicated to taking nonviolent direct action to help marginalized communities get better access to food. You can make a donation here.
That said, all of these are just bandage solutions that don’t address the underlying cause of food insecurity and starvation that leads to the deaths of 45% of children under 5 years old. Food insecurity is a systemic issue whose real solution is in government legislation, increased wages, and better funding for social services.
If you believe in ending hunger, volunteer, advocate, vote, and donate to help the cause and make the world a little less crappy.