Cooking the national dish of every country is this TikTok chef Seema Pankhania’s goal

Seema Pankhania Photo Facebook @Seemagetsbaked

As glamorous as it sounds, world travel is not for the faint of heart. But Seema Pankhania is sharing an easier way to travel the globe without leaving your doorstep, and inspiring a new wave of ambitious home cooks to follow her lead.

This 25-year-old London-based food creator is best known for her series “Around the world in 195 meals,” which she started in 2021 to learn about every country’s national dish. Millions have tuned in to watch the bubbly home cook journey from Singapore’s silky white Hainanese chicken rice to Tanzania’s fluffy ugali.

One year into the project, Pankhania, who posts under the handle @seemagetsbaked, is nearly halfway done with her travels. She just wrapped up a Haitian dish of citrusy fried pork with pickled cabbage, known as griot and pikliz, and shows no sign of stopping.

At first, cooking the national dish of every country seemed like a pipe dream project. There was the apparent challenge of finding specialty ingredients and acquiring regionally specific cooking equipment. According to Pankhania, however, many of the recipes called for ingredients she already had – and most were also quite affordable and accessible to vegetarians.

“Imagine how many other dishes are from other countries that we don’t know about,” she says. “They’ve got all these ingredients that we’ve already got lying around in the house. And we’re just using them in a different way.”

In her well-traveled kitchen, Pankhania also welcomes guests from each country to share more about the dishes. Early on in the series, Pankhania received critical comments from viewers who claimed her recipes were not correct or representative. But instead of halting the videos, she revised her approach and began soliciting recipes from viewers, sometimes contacting as many as 20 people to learn about a single dish. Midway into her videos, you’ll hear her guests sprinkling in tidbits of wisdom – a dish’s origins and variations, kitchen tricks, and the best time of year to eat it. Now every week, millions tune in to see Pankhania unveil the next national dish and watch her unofficial international culinary council expand.

Born and raised in Southall, West London, Pankhania has always been surrounded by worldly cooking, especially from her mother.

“Growing up, we never, we literally never had takeaway with everyone’s restaurants,” she says. “We never had oven food. It was always home-cooked food, a different meal every night.”

After graduating, she toiled in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants for nearly two years but began dreading the long hours. When a minor motorbike incident forced her to take two weeks off, she switched gears and applied for a job at Mob Kitchen, an online cooking channel based in Britain. It was there, surrounded by recipe creators, that she flourished with social media and planted the seeds for her own channel.

Even as a seasoned world traveler, Pankhania admits that her favorite recipes hit a bit closer to home. Her butter chicken – chunks of tandoori chicken in a butter-rich tomato gravy – remains one of her most-watched videos, with 13 million views on TikTok. And Pankhania’s favorite recipe is a tomato curry, a comfort dish thrown together in a rush with only stewed tomatoes, garlic and coriander. Its simplicity evaded her as a kid, but now she’ll reach for it any hour of the day. “It’s the equivalent of making instant ramen,” she says. “It’s a really quick thing that takes like 10 minutes to put together.”

In the comments under Pankania’s videos, followers from around the world frequently chime in and ask her to make their national dishes next. And while she enjoys sharing this rapid culinary travel, she also nails down the importance of looking inward, starting with the simple idea to cook something new every day.

“People kind of get stuck in this routine. We make pasta, we make a curry, we make the same thing over and over again,” she says. “But there’s so many other things out there that we can learn to make. We just don’t know about them.”



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here