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Ethnic food differences in various countries

  • a

i am interested in the peculiarities of immigrant cuisine of varying countires.

for example -chinese-american food is probably a lot different than chinese-british or chinese-german.

any great examples?

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  1. An interesting question. On the whole I've found that American renditions of ethnic foods (by which I mean primarily Asian foods) replicate other American taste preferences, tending to be sweeter and sometimes fruitier than their European counterparts. Other differences depend on the local ethnic origins of the population. So Indian food in London, for example, is almost entirely Northern Indian (especially Punjabi -- think rich sauces and great buttery breads), with some Bengali food around Brick lane (more complex spices, coconut). US Indian food is both more various and worse, imho, with more South Indian influences (vegetarian food, dosas, dal etc.)
    Colonial and imperial history plays a huge role. That must be why I had an incredible prix fixe ($8) Vietnamese dinner at a hole in the wall in Paris a couple months back. The Pho was much richer and much meatier than any US version I've had; a shrimp salad contained an incredible variety of very delictate herbs (many not known to me) rather than the overpowering mint of my local chains. Sigh.
    But I'm sure some things are much better here! I've seen interesting spins on pan-mediterranean/Turkish food in my local area (Boston), at restaurants like Oleana and Casablanca in Cambridge. In many European cities (even Berlin) the kebabs are great, but Turkish food is _just_ kebabs.

    1. chinese-british is definitely different from chinese-american! ever since i moved to england i've searched for a bowl of american-style wonton soup, some moo-shoo pork, and other dishes that were my comfort foods growing up. i either can't find them here, or they're completely changed. and lots of the chinese here seems to be deep-fried. of course i'm sure none of this food bears any resemblance to real chinese food. i just miss what i'm used to!

      the other food i have some experience with is middle eastern/mediterranean. i've found very little variation in foods like felafel, hummous, matabal, and grilled meats among the u.s., london, and actual middle-eastern countries that i've been to. each has a range of quality, but i've found the tastes to be similar no matter where i've eaten the food.

      3 Replies
      1. re: hobokeg

        Yes, but in California at least, hummus has become something you can graft nearly any flavor onto. Besides the pistachio hummus in Persian restaurants and the hummus with ground beef in Lebanese restaurants, in the supermarket you'll find Americanized versions with garlic, sundried tomatoes, carrots, you name it.

        1. re: Chowpatty

          hummus with ground beef? I'm half Lebanese with several good cooks in my family and have never heard of such of thing. In fact it would probably produce the same, "ewwww" in my family as it did me. And garlic is a normal ingredient in basic hummus.

          1. re: LisaLou
            Seamus Mitwurst

            My first encounter (that I remember) with hummus was at a Morrocan restaurant in Atlanta many years ago.

            It was spiced and sweet.

            Everything I've ever had after that was garlicky and savory.

            I miss that first taste, though I love the rest.

      2. If you go to a "ristorante cinese" in Rome's little Chinatown, expect something different than Americanized Chinese food indeed.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Karl S

          Well yeah, but examples please.

        2. There are actually 2 varieties of immigrant cuisine in new countries.

          The first type is probably the most well known changes to ethnic cuisine and deals with immigrants changing, or even dumbing down (in the case of heavily spiced food), their cuisine to the tastes of the local population and can be seen in the ubiquitous Chinese and Mexican restaurants throughout the mall food courts.

          The second type deals with immigrants varying their cuisine for their own tastes based on the availability of certain ingredients in their new country. An example would be like the Chinese-Indian food which was created in the 1800's when Chinese immigrants moved to India. Their cuisine changed based on the availability of certain types of chile peppers, lack of available beef in a Hindu country, etc.

          1. The Chinese food I had in Madrid had ham in _everything_.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Chorus Girl

              I live in Madrid and haven't found that to be the case at all.

              What I have found is that Chinese food here tends to focus a lot more on fresh seafood that you will find in the States. The portions are smaller (and cheaper) and you don't find the sweetness of Americanized Chinese food. Also at places that have a significant Spanish clientele, there tends to be a section of ther menu devoted to tapa-like offerings.

              All and all, there is quite a burgeoning Chinese population here and the quality is surprisingly good, if you know where to look.

              For other cuisines, it is similar. Lots of places--cuban, indian, peruvian, colombian, mexican--have small plates or street-food-type offerings.

            2. Chinese food is a good cuisine for benchmarking, isn't it? The Chinese food in Peru, Chifa, is also different from Chinese in the U.S. The emphasis is on the rice, and it's considered an art form.

              I've also had variations of pizza in several countries, and I find the toppings are really influenced by local cuisine. So Pizza Rolandi in downtown Cancun serves excellent shrimp pizza, but their pepperoni wasn't that great. And a Margarita pizza in a pub in Southern England probably wasn't the best choice there. And the crusts also vary from place to place, though I've had more thin crusts outside the U.S., and more medium to thick crusts within (ranging from NY style to the very thick Chicago style).

              And this isn't quite following your question of immigrant foods in other lands, but I'm fascinated by the way the same food prep method can vary across countries:
              One staple that varies greatly in different countries is grilling, or what we call 'bbq' here.
              There's Shwarma in Middle Eastern countries, with an emphasis on the quality of the meat and accompaniements. Then there's Tandoori in India and Nepal. In Peru, you'll find the cheaper cut of meat (beef heart) marinated until tender, then cooked on skewers. And in the US, 'cue' is such an important food type that it varies regionally and is the subject of many arguments.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Dev

                Your description of BBQ makes me think of what we used to call the "true foods", that is every ethnicity had a version.

                BBQ (tandori, bulgogi, etc.)
                fish soup

                1. re: Loren3

                  That is a good way of describing it.

                  You could add to the list:
                  noodles (kreplach, lo mein, spaetzle, etc)
                  crepes (canneloni, palachintas, crepes)
                  and so many more!

                  1. re: Dev

                    Or our favorite, stuffed dough: Kwoh tieh (potstickers), gyoza, mandu, knishes, samosas, etc.

                    1. re: Akatonbo

                      porridge (congee, risotto, kitchree, etc)

                      sandwiches - many countries have their version of bread with something in between

              2. As others have mentioned, the obvious answers are availability of ingredients locally, and native tastes. But what I notice are regional differences here in the US, where chinese food in LA tastes different from chinese food in San Francisco, as well as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and I'm sure many other regions. I wonder what Chinese food tastes like in the south.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Eric Eto

                  Some of the worst we ever had was in Nashville. What were we thinking? It was late, the place was across the street from where we were staying, but it was so abominably bad!
                  I canno even remember what we had. But we had some very good Dim Sum in downtown old Orlando. We were among a very tiny handful of caucasians.

                  1. re: Candy


                    It is possible to find edible Chinese food in and around Nashville, but there simply is not sufficient Chinese population to sustain a really good restaurant. Many years ago, a Chinese man, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt and a serious connoisseur of his native cuisine (Cantonese) started and ran a pretty damn good restaurant, recruiting and hiring all the Chinese-native staff he could find, and eventually began offering dim sum on weekends. And then a couple of hillbilly punks mugged and killed him outside of his house one night, and his widow just couldn't keep it going.

                    The best ones there now are okay places if you're Jewish and it's Christmas, but none better than that.

                  2. "Chinese" for food is a very vague and vast definition, imo. Even within China, where two villages next to each other could speak completely different dialects, cuisine varies greatly. So when imported whoever gets to a foreign country first spreads their home cooking. E.g., in NY, earliest immigrants tend to be from Fujian, on West Coast - Cantonese. In Britain, where mostly immigrants come from Hong Kong, the food is mostly Cantonese, and so on. There was an excellent article in the NYTImes a while ago on Chinese food from differenet countries in NYC (Peruvian, Indian, Brazilian etc.). The food was so different, but nevertheless qualified as 'Chinese'. One expert defined main characteristic of Chinese food as scalions and soy sauce. I kind of agree.

                    As for Middle Eastern food, eventhough shawarma and kebabs seem to be the same, they have slight differences, mainly in spices they use. One my Lebanese friend was making fun of me when saw me eating fish with rice - he said 'you eat like Yemeni'.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: welle

                      I was thinking about the same thing while reading the posts. I was also thinking it depends on where in the country they come from also from what class. I remember reading recently that most of the upper class and thus better Chinese cooks haven't come over until relatively recently well after the idea of a "Chinese Restaurant" was established. Whereas maybe in another country Chinese who cook for a living might have emmigrated and set a higher precendent for Chinese cuisine.

                      You last comment made me think of the scandal in my Lebanese half of the family when one of my cousins married into another Lebanese family that uses cumin in their cooking. We don't.

                      I'm hoping some of this might give insight into why you can't get even halfway decent Chicago pizza outside of Chicago.

                      1. re: LisaLou

                        Yes, class definitely plays role in many cuisines, but in Chinese it is probably most pronounced, even linguistically the class barriers are pretty high overthere. My understanding is, their arts, politics, literature and cuisine are so intervined; one has to have a deep knowledge of classical literature and poetry to truly appreciate and know how to cook some dishes (most likely conceived to serve the kings).

                        In America, early immigrants were poor peasants and mostly men who had left their wives and children back home. They probably started cooking out of necessity.

                    2. Growing up in Korea, I ate a lot of Korean-Chinese food, which includes dishes I've never seen in Chinese restaurants in the U.S., though recently, I've been seeing Korean-Chinese restaurants cropping up, like in Koreantown in New York. Stuff like noodles in black bean sauce, spicy seafood noodle soup, sweet-and-sour pork that's crispier than what's served in the U.S. I know there's some basis in Chinese cooking for these dishes, but they've evolved/mutated to something different in Korea. These dishes are such a staple food, from cheap takeout places to high-end hotel restaurants. I don't know enough about regional Chinese cooking to draw a strong conclusion, but I've always thought that Korean-Chinese food drew more from Szechuan cuisine, which would be more in keeping with the Korean palate for spicy foods.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: AppleSister

                        The Korean-Chinese are mostly from Shandong and brought their dishes with them.

                      2. I've been to a bunch of Chinese restaurants in Paris, and I have noticed that the portions were WAY smaller than in the States. There is more emphasis on steamed dishes (a la vapeur) than I usually see here in the Midwest. And the dishes aren't spicy at all - no hot pepper oil on the table, even. But I think these were mostly Cantonese-style restaurants.


                        1. g
                          Geoff Galitz

                          1) Japanese-American vs Japanese-German
                          In all honesty, I really didn't go looking to
                          visit every Japanese place I could find in Germany (where I visit at least once a year for about a month at a time) but in general the sushi rice seems to have a lot less vinegar than I have grown used to here. That translates to a bland sushi experience (to my taste). Meat and seafood dishes were actually quite good, though.

                          2) Italian-American vs Italian-German
                          Pretty much the same with the same level of varience between Italian cusine regions except for the increased use of curry with noodles! Quite yummy, but certainly not something I find over here in the States. We're talking Rigatoni with curry. Yum.

                          On the pizza note, the German style of serving pizza is actually closer to the traditional Italian way of serving pizza. One size pizza for one person with the same type of ingredients (egg, cooked tuna, spinach for example and also a lot less cheese).

                          Another fun item... small pizzerias in West Germany (especially around Cologne) tend to be Palestinian run rather than Italian.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Geoff Galitz

                            Pizza in China and much of asia incorporates seafood, with toppings such as squid and shrimp considered the norm. Also, they like to dip it in katchup.

                            I tried it just for kicks. And never ate it again after that.

                            1. re: Geoff Galitz

                              Curry on noodles in Italian restaurants must be something special for your region. At least in the North (Hamburg) you won't find something like this in an Italian restaurant.

                            2. I suspect overall there's no much difference between Chinese-American food vs Chinese-Canadian food? Here in Montreal(Canada), many of the pizzerias are owned & run by Greeks or Lebanese.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: BLM

                                Having spent so much of my life in southern California, where Chinese cuisine goes all over the map from Americanized (where the kitchen workers are, in the vast majority, Latinos-- however, the food is sometimes really tasty!) to "damn near" traditional, I find Chinese cuisine outside the West Coast tends to be sweeter, saucier and clumsily spiced ("er, soy sauce ain't a spice, Chester!"). When my folks lived in Montréal, we would go to a "Szechuan" restaurant called Chrysanthème or something; the food was pretty tasty, but there was none of the heat that I associated with the Szechuan cuisine I ate/eat here at home.

                                Other Asian cuisines here in this part of the US stay close to traditions, with some notable exceptions (Vietnamese fusion cuisine, which is phenomenal when it's done well). Ingredient quality also plays into the equation; when you can get fresh ingredients easily and year-round, you can stay closer to the traditional recipes.

                                The issue of Italian food rages hot in the Los Angeles board, specifically in the inability to find NY-style pizza here. I don't know that I'd necessarily call that a bad thing; when one finds good 'za here, it tends to be uniquely Its Own Creation, not like NY or Chicago-- or, in the case of my favorite purveyor, the pizzas are more like in Naples or Rome or Reggio di Calabria.

                                Middle Eastern food? This area is vast enough that any niche provider can find an audience. Lebanese? Persian? Israeli? Greek? Cypriot? All represented here, and all with their devoted fan base. But there's also a lot of cross-pollination of menus and preparations, so "purity" is eventually lost. As long as the food tastes good, I'm fine with it.

                                1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                  Interesting point about LA pizza. On the Toronto board we get people looking for "Chicago deep-dish pizza" or "authentic burritos like in SF"... or even "Ottawa style shwarma" or "authentic Quebec poutine". I always wonder why people expect to find good regional American food outside of America...

                              2. 1. "Chinese" food in Cali, Colombia, served with white bread
                                2. Jolibee hamburgers with sugar in the meat in the Philippines
                                3. Chinese food in the Philippines is unlike any in China, more like filipino
                                4. Spagetti in the Philippines with sweet ketchup based sauce
                                5. Burgers and dogs in Colombia with ketchup, mayo and crumbled potato chips
                                6. Lebanese food in Cali, Colombia, surprisingly good and unchanged for decades
                                7. Basque in California--think its the "real" thing
                                8. Indian food everywhere, even in India--more use of pre-mixed curry rather than home formulated from different spices
                                9. Recent sushi combos in the US that other CHers have shared--incredible!
                                10. Pizzas around the globe--wild and whacky

                                1. Chinese food in Japan-Ramen and gyoza
                                  Japanese food in USA-Ramen and gyoza

                                  1. My experience is mostly in S. America.
                                    In Uruguay our mexican food tasted distinctly like uruguayan food (layers of thick flavorless cheese over ham) and far from what I had in Mexico. Much of the food we had in Uruguay was italian, as there are a lot of immigrants, and it reminded me more of what we got in Italy when travelling on budget than what you get in the US. however, Italy on a budget involved a few meals we saw go into a microwave on their way to our table...

                                    The best food I had the entire time in Uruguay was the lebenese food, and I have yet to find any as good here in seattle, though I try from time to time.

                                    Like mentioned above the Chifas in Peru and Ecuador tend to be different from american chinese food. I found them to be blander, less emphais on different sauces, more emphasis on the meats (usually ham, occaisonally seafood)...

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: dagoose

                                      Right. Lebanese is good in Cali, Colombia, as well.

                                      Mexican is inedible here.

                                      Chifas in Peru serve plenty of chicken, beef, and fish; but salteados are popular--foods tossed in a wok.

                                      I ate Italian in Argentina in the 70s that stood up to what I ate later in Italy.