What I Learned Cooking the Food of Every Country on Earth

I feared the kitchen but loved geography, so I made my own A-to-Z global cooking challenge. Here's what I found out.

Freshly cooked dish of tasty pasta with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese in the shape of the world .(series) Per Bengtsson / Shutterstock

About six years ago, after 30 years of never setting foot in the kitchen for fear I’d accidentally poison myself (again -- don't ask), I took it upon myself to finally learn to cook.

And, since I have a thing for geography (and an OCD-based list obsession), I decided to cook the food of every country in the world. In alphabetical order, of course.

I found recipes online, learned there's a small community of people who do this, and completed some 200 countries. Now I'm in my second go-round.

And, I have learned these 10 truths — global truths, if you will.

1. Everything starts with an onion

man cutting white onion with knife, wide photo
GCapture / Shutterstock
Most recipes begin with chopping an onion.

Seriously. I’ve cooked probably over 300 savory recipes of the world. And only about 20 didn’t involve some kind of onion, be it yellow, green, white, red or shallot.

This meant I finally had to learn how to peel and chop those suckers quickly without my eyes tearing up if I was ever going to get dinner on the table on time.

Who knew the simple edible bulb was so completely universal? (Well, aside from people who already knew how to cook.)

2. Things are the same all over

Hainanese Chicken Rice
No matter what country it is, there's probably a chicken-and-rice dish.

Someone else who had attempted this every-country thing (and had to give up) gave me an early suggestion: If all else fails, there will always be a chicken-and-rice recipe for any given country.

It's an awfully broad generalization, but it covers a good hunk of the world.

You also find that — maybe obviously — places that are close to each other and share a similar topography and/or colonial history have cuisines that overlap almost entirely.

Food from northern Europe will always make you break out the dill. West Africa almost always involves peanuts, and island nations of Oceania and the Caribbean will have you stocking up on more coconut milk than you ever thought possible.