Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ask the Internet: Parents and Ethnic Food

ETA @ 4:40pm EST: You guys, I'm an idiot, and I should have phrased this differently, to be more inclusive of various cultures. (Something like what commenter frabjous suggested: "Do your parents eat foods from cultural traditions other than their own") I apologize, and hope we can re-consider the question from that point of view.

Today's question comes from the new knowledge that my mom likes Thai Peanut Curry. It's actually many questions, but I think it could lead to an interesting discussion.

Q: Do your parents eat at ethnic (meaning: not traditional American-style) restaurants? If so, what kind, and how did the change come about? If not, are you trying to expand their palates? How?

Wiki's Jucember
A: Native New Yorkers both, my parents grew up with the occasional ethnic meal, usually Italian or Irish. As they grew older, Chinese dishes crept into their diets, and nowadays, they're crazy about Thai food. I'd love to get them into Japanese or Indian, but my dad's aversion to curry and raw fish might prevent that from ever happening. This has translated somewhat into their homecooking, mostly through Italian- and Chinese-style dishes.

So, what about you guys?

Note: I'd like to focus specifically on parents, and/or people whose eating styles have been entrenched for a few decades. Might turn the responses into tomorrow's post...

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

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33 comments:

Karen said...

My parents are on the older side (mid-60s to a 24-year-old me) and they took me to ethnic restauants constantly as a kid. Chinese, japanese, thai, korean (BBQ of course), mexican, indian (which I rejected until mid-college)... the only one I feel we didn't hit often was mediterranean, and was more a result of location - suburban SoCal - than preference. Much of this was to make up for their cooking knowledge, focused only on Top Ramen, toast and fondue on special occasions like Thanksgiving. But I do always remember to be grateful that I was exposed to all this early in life. I still have friends that eat hot dogs and hamburgers exclusively.

bethany said...

My parents eat some ethnic foods they can get in their hometown, like Mexican and Chinese. The biggest thing preventing my mom from expanding into other kinds of foods is that she is very sensitive to spicy things, which rules out a lot of cuisines! I served a mild lentil curry when they were visiting and they seemed ok with it. (Granted, when we use the mild curry powder it isn't as good as when we use the spicy kind!) They also hate cilantro, can you believe it?

Jen said...

Ha, good question! For the most part, my parents think "ethnic" food is strange and unappealing. They do like Tex Mex if it's mild, and they'll eat Americanized Chinese and Italian. That's about it. They have been in situations where they've had something more exotic/authentic and they'll be polite and nibble but then come home and tell me how weird it was. But it's better than my Grandma. The most "ethnic" food she'll eat is spaghetti with meat sauce. And we live in Chicago, so it's not like we're off in some little secluded rural area!

Jenna said...

My mother is at least willing to cautiously try new foods. She has learned to enjoy Mexican (lots of family spent time as missionaries there and two of her nieces have married lads from Mexico - so we've all gotten a chance to learn to appreciate real Mexican food, not just the fast food versions), happily eats most European styles, and is, slowly, venturing into various Asian foods.

My dad? Despite time all over the planet as a Marine - he eats about a dozen TOTAL meal options. My brother and I (and now our spouses) have tried (so has mom) to lure him into trying new things... but we have for the most part given up due to the fits that have occurred. In public. For my wedding rehearsal dinner that was help at my husband and I's favorite Chinese restaurant (a central dating place - to the point they take a VERY proprietary view of our marriage... and want us to have kids almost more than our own parents!) we had to supply a "normal" steak for him because of the fit he threw. Won't touch spice. Won't touch anything that his mom didn't cook 40 years ago in southern Ohio. VERY limited.

Which is one of the reasons my mom loves to visit my brother and I - we always take her out to new places and give her a chance to try new things!

Nanc said...

We were raised in Ohio suburbs, and there wasn't much available for ethnic foods and we didn't eat out often. But my parents must've been introduced to ethnic foods at parties or Potlucks, because my mom would try to recreate dishes at home. They were highly Americanized, though, somewhat due to ingredient availability.

I remember stir-fries, pasta dishes and "Mexican night" meals in rotation with the regular meat & potatoes kind of dinners. (Oddly, I don't recall much grilling out except for group picnics or camping. I don't think my father owned a grill until fairly recently.)

I will say that my BF ground up wasn't served these "weird" foods like we were and she's always been less adventurous as an eater. Still is today (and cooks American meals for her family now). Go figure.

alltheprettylittlethings said...

My Dad would not even try sushi, indian curries, chinese or anything like that if it was the last food on earth....

thesixthletter said...

Growing up, the only ethnic food we ate was taco night at home, Chinese takeout, and the occasional gyro when on vacation in Chicago. When I went veg a few years ago, and started experimenting with cooking, I shared a lot of recipes with them and helped them change their palates a little! Now when they come visit me in SF, we always go to a different restaurant so they can try new things.

Amy said...

My mom is much more adventurous than my dad and since she does most of the cooking, he gets exposed to whatever she's in the mood to try. Travel has helped expand their interest in ethnic foods; after they returned from India, there was an increase in Indian dishes prepared at home, despite my dad's aversion to spicy things.

Also, in their quest to be healthier and eat a more plant-based diet, they have significantly cut back their meat intake. Here's where ethnic recipes also come in handy. Mom makes a delicious tabbouleh and, in searching for new veg-based recipes, stumbles upon various ethnic foods.

I'm pretty proud of them. They're in their 60s and are great about exploring ethnic foods!

alexis said...

My parents are also native NYers (bronx and harlem) - italian-amer food is our native cuisine, and chinese food was our takeout staple. On girls-nights (mom's night out) they'd often go to japanese steak houses, but my mom would never touch sushi. Dad is more adventurous on the sushi tip. My best friend is korean, and I dont think either parent has ever been to excited to try leftovers id bring from her house. My boo is brazilian, and the fam loves churrasco as well as homestyle cooking (rice, beans, stews w pumpkin or cocounut milk and cilantro). I work in a Central American area, and my mom was initially scared of but now enjoys pupusas. But yeah, when im home in the bronx, its home cooking 90% of the time, if not its CROSBY PIZZA (ahhhhhh delish), chinese takeout, or visit to the couple of italian restaurants we love. I can count on one hand when we've deviated

alexis said...

An add on - my Texan friend is crashing with my parents as she looks to stabilize in NYC. As a thank you, she'd often make Tex-mex dinners or "american" things like casseroles. When my dad and bros would see them on the dinner table, theyd exclaim "what the f*ck is that?" thinking my mom was experimenting and not reaslizing they should be polite to my friend's contribution. So yah, tex-mex and middle america, in addition to korean, are all super exotic to my rents

alexis said...

lastly, SORRY, they both enjoy puerto rican and dominican arroz con pollo, arroz con gandules type dishes. And greek, which i didnt think to mention cuz its close enough to italian to not feel exotic. But my mom has a coworker who' african american, from the south, who brought soul food into work, and my mom is dying to learn how to make it (i am too!)

Anonymous said...

We grew up in a small town and while we had lots of access to Mexican food there wasn't any other kind of ethnic food. I have long since stopped trying to expand my parent's palates. They're not going to change but at least they enjoy what they're eating. They both also hate garlic, which is strange to all of their children.

Annie said...

My parents enjoy a lot of different food, but tend to not try new ethnic restaurants on their own. For the most part, they're good about trying new things when I suggest them: my mom loves Thai now, and didn't love the texture of sushi but I was glad to see her try. My dad has sensitivity when it comes to spices (even garlic, which is so sad for him; we're Italian!), so he can't branch out quite as much, but he enjoys a lot of different flavors.

alternakiddy said...

Actually, my siblings and I are far more adventurous than our mom. She's Italian, but only likes the dishes she grew up with, for the most part. Being a kid and having to eat something sometimes means not wanting and not choosing to eat it later.

She's actually pretty picky. One thing she gets excited about trying is snacks, chips, and crackers especially. So I guess she's adventurous in her own way.

Karen said...

@Jenna- my father is the same way except he is Chinese. He can't more than 1 day without eating Chinese food (according to him dim sum doesn't count as Chinese food. What?). My mom cooked various Chinese dishes growing up and I always got yelled at for never eating. My auntie took me out one day and gave me a bite of her gyro! That was it. I got a job in high school and used the income to go out to eat. I tried everything we had in the neighborhood. My father would get upset that I wasn't home for dinner but I was SO tired of rice. After 10 years away from home and a major foodie education I find out my mother loves different cuisines too. She's willing to go anywhere and try anything we order. Now I come home and she asks where we are going for dinner. Then my dad either has to join us or stay at home and cook his own. Both are torture to him.

Suzanne said...

We had a standing Thursday night at the ONLY Mexican restaurant in our town (and its a BIG town) in the 70s. Now there are 100s of Mexican restaurants here (times changing for the BETTER.) Loads of Italian back in the day, and we went to hit both of the Chinese ones then too.

My parents like to eat and love spicy food, plus they like trying new things. We grew up eating what they ate and never thought about it!

Meister @ The Nervous Cook said...

Let me start by saying how much I love my mom, and that I wouldn't change a thing about her… except maybe to make her a little more open-minded about food.

She's very, very unadventurous when it comes down to what's on her plate, and her inability (or unwillingness) to try "challenging" or "unusual" dishes actually seems to have something of an impact on the way she views other cultures in general. You know, the thinking kind of becomes "I can't believe those people eat that stuff."

When I describe to her how much I loved this or that dinner at this or that ethnic restaurant, or how I experimented with cooking a new Indian dish, she blinks at me in amazement and says, "I wish I were as brave as you," and I wish she were, too! I try to remind her that the "weird" things on an Indian or African menu are dishes enjoyed by millions of people around the world, and people don't typically eat things that are "disgusting," but to no avail.

However! I'll happily go out for a wonderful, chatty mother-daughter dinner of red-sauce Italian or straight-up American fare with her anytime: Despite our different tastes, she is undoubtedly my very best friend on earth. A small price to pay!

TJ said...

Well, I am not sure where to go with "ethnic", since we belong to one of those. Being from the Caribbean, we have a rather different cooking style than in the US. However, once in the US, my parents have not deviated one bit to what they used to cook at home. They are also rather unwilling to try new things (as demonstrated by my tried and failed quest to get them to try Alfredo pasta). They have always had marinara sauce done one way and will do until the end of the days... if it isn’t, it’s failed pasta. Same for rice, beans, meat, salad, soups… They're willing to try something new and 'put up with it', but they WON’T like it. Doesn’t matter what it is, how it's made or how it tastes, it's in their heads that they cant like it and they will go along with the courtesy of trying it, but after its gone, they wont bother with it. It’s sad, because it has severely limited me and my sibling’s exposure to food. Like my parents, 3 of my 5 siblings will still eat pasta only done that one way, and anything else is a failure they won’t try.

Michelle said...

My mom - strictly Chinese or pizza in terms of ethnic food; however, I did get her to enjoy dumplings.

My dad and stepmother are more adventurous, and I've taken them for Indian and Korean food which they've enjoyed - as long as I do the ordering.

Adrienne said...

You know, it's weird. Growing up we just didn't have much access to ethnic food here in the midwest- Chinese and Mexican were about it. But both of my parents (who are divorced) as well as me and both of my brothers all like or are willing to try all kinds of things. I don't know how we all got so non-picky!

Jill said...

Two words. Food Network. Seeing someone they admire: Giada, Rachel, Jamie, try an ingredient or food makes my in-laws a little braver. Top Chef helps too. Stuff like polenta and risotto are good "different" but kind of bland foods to start them out on too.
I didn't realize how lucky I was with my parents' deep love of ethnic food until I met my husband's meat and potatoes family.

ilikecoffee said...

My dad is from hawaii and didn't even eat "american" food growing up. My mom grew up in WA state and only ate american food. They met, married and moved to Texas where the picked up a love of Mexican food. Growing up, we ate rice at every meal (leftover from my dad's hawaiian/chinese heritage) but ate a ton of mexican food. My parents are willing to try everything though when they're choosing for themselves they usually stick to mexican or american.
the in-laws, on the other hand...whew. if i say that they pronounce the "ll" in "tortilla" as an actual "l" does that explain their idea of ethnic food? i guarantee you that if i said "curry" or "cumin" or "wonton" they might not even know i was talking about food.

frabjous said...

This question assumes that your parents are not "ethnic" but "traditional American" That's an extremely loaded way to ask the question!

Next time, I hope you will consider a phrasing like "Do your parents eat foods from cultural traditions other than their own?" Then the people whose parents, like mine and TJ, did not come from the "non-ethnic" ethnicity of "Americans" would feel more included in the conversation.

Kris said...

@frabjous @TJ: You guys are 100%, totally in the right. I should have phrased the question differently, and I apologize. I'll edit in the original post.

ellabella said...

my parents are both good sports when it comes to new foods, although my mom is more cautious than my dad is. when dad and i visited japan when i was about twelve, he scarfed down everything he was offered and loved it! he even came home with the idea that we should eat "only japanese food from now on!" you can imagine how this idea went down with my mother, who was going to have to prepare and shop for said authentic japanese meals...

mom doesn't like things very spicy and also she simply detests beans, so that limits a lot of ethnic options. she loves anything from cook's magazine, though, and she's acquired a few ethnic recipes from there (empanadas stick out in my memory). also, whenever i make something she makes it a point to try it and give it a fair shot. i made aloo gobhi once that she adored, and asked me for the recipe for! she makes it as a side dish alongside regular roast chicken and other dishes now, and sometimes brings it down to my grandmother's for dinner. and grandma surprisingly loves it too!

shil said...

My family is Indian, so of course we ate a lot of Indian food growing up and still do. My mom has been vegetarian her whole life (it's a big deal / quasi-secret from her side of the family that me, my sister, and my dad are not), so she sometimes has a hard time at Chinese or Mexican restaurants where she can taste that everything has been "cooked with meat". But beyond that, my parents are super adventurous when it comes to eating. My dad will eagerly try pretty much anything and I can probably count the number of foods he actively dislikes on one hand (processed cheese, one Indian vegetable,... that's it). He also loves introducing other people to new foods, including elderly relatives visiting from India (and me!). I love visiting my parents - the food is always SO GOOD!

Annie said...

I'm 25 and my parents were born in the 1950s. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio.

They love "ethnic" food and actually cook Japanese quite a lot at home, after we all visited Japan together in 2008. We went to Mexico together in 2007 and my mom had no problem with eating street tacos; when we got back to Columbus we found the good, authentic taco trucks in the Mexican neighborhoods and ate there together at least once a month. They also like Indian, Mexican, Greek, Vietnamese (there's this great cute restaurant in their neighborhood they love going to), Italian, Chinese... I'm learning them on Korean (I live in Hawaii now where Korean food is EVERYWHERE) and I think they like it. I think they will pretty much try anything.

My mom is a bit more open-minded than my dad, but my dad will always try something - he usually sticks to tamer things like chicken tandoori or korean BBQ chicken. My mom likes vegetarian food a lot. One time when I was in high school she took me to a really fancy vegan restaurant, just because (Dragonfly Neo-V, it's pretty famous!), and enjoyed it.

They dragged me to Chinese restaurants all the time when I was little, which for some reason I HATED as a child. I have a distinct memory of my mom asking the poor waitress for permission for my brother and I to eat Happy Meals while they had Chinese.

I'm very, very grateful for that now, though. I love ethnic food and was very prepared for travelling and living in Hawaii, which is obviously very different than the Midwest.

Anonymous said...

My family's cultural heritage is deeply Appalachian, which means cuisine that features starch on starch (i.e. noodles on mashed potatoes), meat, and a few veggies usually cooked to squishyness.

Nevertheless, my parents somehow rose above their roots to cook interesting things at home (no Mexican or Chinese restaurants in our rural little town!) and took us kids out to eat at interesting places when they could.

Today, my parents eat EVERYTHING and love trying new foods. They can't wait to come visit us in California because of the delicious smorgasboard of cuisines readily available. My sister is more picky about "spicy" foods (which include onions/garlic), but as for me and my folks, bring on the "ethnic" cuisine!

Sally said...

I'm the parent and I will try foods from other cuisines more often than my daughters. However, I don't think it's necessary. The only true benefit I can see in it is that it makes one a more flexible dinner partner. It will also keep one from starving if the food from another culture is the last food on earth.

While I do cook dishes from other cuisines at home, it's pretty limited -- Italian/Mediterranean, Mexican and Chinese/Asian. I choose to limit it for monetary and storage reasons. If I want something from another cuisine -- well, that's why there are restaurants.

Anna said...

My mother went through a period of making the same five things a week- mac and cheese, meatloaf, spaghetti, etc.
They're a little more adventurous now, going out to the Chinese buffet now and then, and enjoy Mexican now and then. I don't know if pizza or spaghetti counts as Italian.

I am in my thirties, and raising four kids. We've tried so many things! My new adventures are Indian-related. I usually start with frozen microwave meals- small investment, just a little adventurous. If I like it, or know that I can adapt it for my family, I'll try a few recipes.

So, my kids have a much broader palette. Cuban, Moroccan, Chinese, Greek, Mexican, Italian, they like most all of it. And if they don't, at least they've had exposure to it.

Ali said...

Oh ma god, the idea of Irish food being "ethnic" makes me laugh so hard I could cry. My parents were Irish immigrants, all I ever ate (ever) was Irish food (I was 8 the first time I tried pizza, I was livid we hadn't been eating this all along.)

My parents considered hot dogs "ethnic" food and never really changed their eating habits, so I can't offer any suggestions. I would, though, offer the suggestion that no one, ever, try authentic Irish cooking as a way to broaden their culinary palate.

River (Wing-It Vegan) said...

Hi Kris, I just wanted to let you know about this blog that has been copying posts from other blogs and republishing them in full. I found one of yours here: http://vegandinnerrecipes.com/vegetarian-recipes/ask-the-internet-parents-and-ethnic-food/

They copied a lot of my posts too, without my permission, so they might have copied more of yours too.

Kris said...

@River: Thank you! More and more SEO-based sites like that are popping up lately. I just commented the hell out of it, so hopefully they'll get the message.