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Y’all, when I came up with the post idea on how to explore different cultures at your dinner table, I quickly got antsy to write it. I was just super excited about it and couldn’t wait to share and hear your ideas as well! I may have gotten carried away with it, so I’ve divided this into two parts.
Anyway, I’ve always loved learning about other cultures. I’ve also been very blessed to be able to visit and explore many places. I even married a man who has citizenship to three, yes THREE, different countries (I know, right? I’m so jealous).
I also think it’s crucial to teach our children to explore and learn about different cultures. It fosters understanding, deeper relationships, an appreciation for what we have, and the motivation to better ourselves. Importantly, it teaches children to embrace differences rather than judge people based on stereotypes.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time, money, or motivation to travel and learn when they have kids running around. And that’s OK, you know why?
Because food and mealtimes are arguably among the most treasured traditions of pretty much every culture.
And you can honor those cultures by recreating some of those traditions in your own home! Here’s a few ways to celebrate the world (and have fun learning) at your own dinner table:
1-) Spain: Tapas
Oh Spain, how I love thee! I studied abroad two summers in Spain, and I learned very quickly that the Spanish love two things: jamón (Spanish for “ham,”) and tapas. If you’ve never heard of tapas, they are small plates that are shared. The closest tradition to American culture would be appetizers except you won’t be finding barbeque chicken wings or fried pickles. Instead, you’ll find lots of aceitunas (olives), meat, patatas fritas (fried potatoes with tomato sauce), calamares (calamari), and tortilla española ( Spanish omelet).
Many tapas are easy to prepare, you just have to find a good recipe (except olives…you can just pour some into a bowl and voilà!). And if you make extras you can eat them as snacks throughout the week!
For the mammas and pappas: Enjoy tapas with a good Spanish Tempranillo or other Spanish red wine. Just be careful, Spanish wines are high in alcohol content!
2-) China: Hotpot
One of my friends from grad school is Chinese, and she introduced me to real Chinese food…it is not the Chinese American cuisine most of us are used to! She liked to host traditional Chinese hot pot meals, which are similar in concept to French fondue: you cook the food at the table in a hot liquid. Hot pot meals are normally cooked in a broth…you could even just buy some broth of your choosing and add scallions, garlic, etc. You will need a way to keep the broth hot; a fondue pot, shabu shabu (a Japanese hot pot cooker), or a regular pot with a plug-in electric heater should all work. Add food of your choosing and enjoy some good family time while you let your food cook!
3-) Italy: Homemade Pasta
An international food post would not be complete without good ol’ Italian pasta! If you’re feeling up to it, homemade pasta is cheap to make…just eggs, flour, and spices of your choosing. Pasta is also kid-friendly, so you can count on your kids gobbling it up! Just a heads up though… it can be a little time consuming.
If cooking boxed pasta is more your style, you could always take a whack at making your own sauce instead. Italians prefer to let their veggies cook for a long time, so start early in the day (a great lazy weekend “project”) and relax while the aromas of tomatoes and garlic infuse your home!
4-) India: Eat with Your Hands
My friend and post-doc I worked with in grad school is Indian, and he always shared his food with me (yes, I bonded with most people in grad school over food). We frequently chatted about different cuisines and food traditions over lunch, and he taught me that many Indians actually eat with their hands. Indian food can be a little bit messy, so this really surprised me! Not much later though, he proved his point when I saw a TV special of a backpacker traveling around India and tasting street food. Everything he bought was provided without utensils….he just dug in with his hands!
Finally a good excuse to get messy with your food! For those who don’t like spicy hot dishes or Indian food at all (how? I dunno), just go ahead pretend by eating any meal containing rice with your hands. And for the optimal experience, may I recommend an aromatic rice like jasmine?
5-) France: Multiple courses or Crêpes
When I visited the French countryside with my friend, her family held a big get together with an even bigger meal. I can’t even remember how many courses there were now, but it was AMAZING! Dinner was very slow, taking about three hours to get through the whole meal (yes, you read that right). Of course, you’d never realize it with all the good conversation and good wine going around!
Obviously a three-hour meal is never going to happen if you have little ones running around. But dinner naturally slows down when you purposely put one course out at a time instead of family style. As a result, you can enjoy the people and food in front of you in the moment…rather than keeping a steady eye on those mashed potatoes to make sure no one takes the last portion before you (don’t be shy, we’ve all done it).
If you decide against planning out a multi course meal (which I totally understand!), why not indulge in some French crêpes? Crêpes are easy to make (you could even just water down your plain pancake batter if you want), and fun to eat! The French commonly eat them with Nutella (the warmth of the pancake warms the Nutella and makes it melty and unbelievably yummy!), but have fun and be creative with it! Bonus… I truly can’t think of one kid or adult who wouldn’t like a good Nutella-filled pancake (but please, substitute if you have a nut allergy!).
Now if you would excuse me, all of this food talk has got me hungry. See you soon!
For more ideas on how to explore different cultures at your dinner table, check out part 2!