Apropos the 'Rising food costs' in these tough economic times thread, I'm always trying to figure out which World cuisine is the least expensive in which to cook but deliveres the best 'bang for the buck' in terms of flaver, a few thoughts:
CHINESE- I would think this would be the first choice, but authentic Chinese cooking involves costly things such as: preserved mustard greens/szechuan pickles, Shaoxing wine, jarred bean sauces/pastes, wolfberries/lotus seeds and various dried fungusy/ fishy things (lily flower/cloud ear/silverfish.etc.). So I'm on the fence with this one.
INDIAN- This would seem another logical choice as the cuisine is mainly legumes, rice, flour and vegetables, but it does involve the use of A LOT of spices/seasonings, and those can be kind of costly such as cardamom, real cinnamon and saffron. Also quality Basmati rice will take a pretty good hit on your wallet. Nonetheless, even with all that I would still rank it #2 in the most frugal cuisine department.
ITALIAN- Italian food is unthinkable without ingredients such as quality olive oils, pancetta/prosciutto, veal, reggiano parm./pecorino, balsamic vinegars, olives, salted capers, and anchovies, among others; and those are costly and their absence would be noted and would make for a rather poor Italian meal.
MEXICAN- I think this is probably the #1 choice, as you can feed a family with only a chicken, beans, tortillas and about 8 vegetable types, some dairy products and a minimum of seasonings. This type of cooking 'fortunately' lacks really expensive 'essentials' (Tequila excepted!) and seems to be mainly an inexpensive and tasty manipulation of around a dozen or so main ingredients.
GREEK/LEBANESE/ NEAR EASTERN- I know there are differences in these particulat cuisines, but they are similar in their use of legumes, breads, spices, vegetables (eggplant) rice and LAMB!! (and pork in Greece). I put this one at #3.
SOUTHEAST ASIAN- Same as with Chinese.
FRENCH- Out of the question as the heavy use of dairy and expensive meats make it not terribly frugal, IMO.
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