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Pairing Food with Music

From the minute I begin prepping for dinner, throughout the cooking, dining and meal clean-up, if it's Italian I'm cooking I've got Italian music playing in the background. Andrea Bocelli works well for me, and so does (some) Pavarotti, but I also enjoy "Dean Martin Sings Italian Favorites" as well as a couple of "generic" Italian CDs that have all those old songs everyone recognizes (Santa Lucia, Funiculi, Funicula, etc.) Hokey, sure, but for me, it's all part of the joy of cooking and eating Italian.

But I'm without a musical repertoire for other ethnic cuisines. What music should I be listening to when the menu is Mexican? ...or Asian? ...or Greek? ...or French? And, in addition to the music, are there other things you do to add "ethnic ambiance" to your at-home dining experiences?

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  1. I've been given cookbooks with music CDs. There is a series:


    Personally, I like quiet when I can get it, and that includes meal prep. But, the adding ethnic ambiance reminds me of Sandra Lee spending time changing her drapes and tablescapes to match what she's semi-cooked.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chowser

      Well, depending on what it is I'm eating, I've been known to end a meal with my clothing matching the colors of the food on my plate. :)

      In all seriousness, though, I DO give consideration to the colors of the food I'm serving, and try to choose my dinnerware to enhance the look of the food.

    2. Great post. During my mise en place: slicing, mincing, pounding, filleting, whisking, etc, I usually play kick-ass rock and roll, always with a glass of wine. Huey Lewis can be very motivating. As soon as something starts to smell good (usually the garlic) and I can wipe my brow, I switch to one of the 3 tenors, or classical, before the guests arrive.
      Mealtime: unclear. Mexican -try The Gypsy Kings. Otherwise, I go with Serius classic.
      Asian or Greek, I defer to others..

      1 Reply
      1. re: Veggo

        I usually don't listen to music when I'm cooking a simple meal. When I'm preparing something more elaborate or for guests I usually have 1980's alternative music on in the background because that helps me get into a happy and festive mood. After this post I'm going to try to make a game out of it. Pairing music to food. This weekend I promised my husband Mexican and I'm going to break out the Selena soundtrack.

      2. What a fun post!

        When I'm preparing something that I'm familiar with or is somewhat tedious, i.e. I can make it in my sleep, or I'm having to do a lot of chopping, that sort of thing...then I like to play stuff that I can really sing to. The Moulin Rouge and Wicked soundtracks are favorites, or stuff like Evanescence, Tori Amos, Dave Matthews...I guess it's more song-specific than artist specific. I have a running list of really good belting tunes :-)

        If it's something that requires more finesse and attention, I prefer instrumentals; Barber's Adagio for strings, or Jesse Cook-esque flamenco.

        I love the idea of having ethnically themed music though - will definitely give that a try! Tonight is Mexican, tomorrow Italian...this should be fun! :-)

        3 Replies
        1. re: Aloo0628

          DO tell me about your Mexican music selections.

          1. re: Aloo0628

            I love to sing while I cook, and even more when I have to do the dishes.

            1. re: mordacity

              If I sang while I did the dishes, I'd have no help in the kitchen.

          2. I love listening to Putamayo when cooking.

            1. Although I don't usually match my music to my cuisine..... (Led Zeppelin while making Marcella's Bolognese, anyone?) I do have to listen to merengue, salsa and bachata when trying to replicate my Mom's Dominican cooking. It gets me in the mood and it helps me channel the Dominican Culinary Gods! LOL

              1 Reply
              1. re: HungryRubia

                That's totally me! I love blasting some Zeppelin when cooking for some reason. I also really like some of the Putomayo stuff, on other occasions.

              2. Can't imagine mincing garlic without Bach's Well Tempered Clavier Book II playing. When preparing meatloaf, Book I.

                1. Jazz always works for me. Billy, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Ella when I want to sing, something with a steamy sax when I juat want to sway (Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon) Chet if I want a mix (no pun intended). I can always listen to good jazz.

                  There is also a series of CDs with lounge misic that is always amusing to listen to while cooking. The series is called "Ultralounge"

                  When cooking Mexican/Cuban, we throw on CDs that we picked up in these countries while on trips. Brings us right back to our trips.

                  French is easy, as we live in Quebec and have access to Quebecois music culture as well as France French music.

                  But Asian, haven''t really found something for that. I am not a huge fan of Asian pop. Asian classical is better, but I am a Western baby when it comes to music.

                  1. I don't think I play certain type of music for cuisines. It just depends on my mood, can be anything from Jay-Z to Rachmaninoff. I notice that if I have to do a lot of tedious work like chopping, I end up playing a lot more rap/hip-hop and dance. And if I'm doing something complicated I don't have music playing as I like to concentrate.

                    1. This is what I'd play for dinner parties, depending on the food:

                      French - Carla Bruni's "Quelqu'un m'a dit" or Keren Ann's "La disparition"
                      Italian - some Gianmaria Testa or old-school Gianna Nannini
                      Mexican - Lhasa de Sela's "La Llorona" (even though she's technically Canadian)

                      Not sure what I'd play for Asian cuisines - probably the soundtrack to a movie based in those countries.

                      A nice universal CD: the soundtrack to The Red Violin.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: piccola

                        Hi there, pairing food with music is something that I think really brings a whole other level to a dinner party, an evening with someone special or a night in the kitchen with your iPod. Check out my San Francisco-focused food blog, eating/sf (eatingthroughsf.blogspot.com)--and the Musical Pairings section (recommended music pairings for the food that I cook).

                        1. re: KaseyF

                          I really love your Musical Pairings concept, Kasey. I think I've been laughed at more than once as I've hunted for just the right music to accompany a particular menu. Let them laugh! To me, the music is another facet of the presentation. And if I'm the only one at my dinner table who notices, so be it!

                      2. For French night at my monthly supper club I put together a playlist including Carla Bruni, Paris Combo, Alizee, selections from the Triplets of Belleville soundtrack, a bit of Hotel Costes Quatre, Coraline Clement, Pink Martini, and Camille.

                        Latin night featured Ottmar Liebert, Astrud Gilberto, Gypsy Kings, Carlos Santana, Rodrigo y Gabriella, and Los Lobos.

                        Pan-Asian night is coming up though and I have NO ideas for that playlist as of yet. Suggestions welcome!

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: GSM

                          Thought I'd share how I'm solving my quest for Asian-style music. I've set up a channel using Pandora-- I enter the names of one or two Japanese pop artists and Pandora will find music in a similar style for me.

                          1. re: GSM

                            Pizzicato 5

                            A Japanese band who are probably best known for their song 'Twiggy Twiggy vs James Bond'

                            1. re: frittering_away

                              Yeah, that's who I plugged into Pandora. Ended up with a weird mix of music but it worked well enough.

                              1. re: GSM

                                I could see that giving an odd mix.

                                1. re: GSM

                                  I was just thinking about Pandora. It would be interesting.

                            2. Mexican: Mariachi musc and Linda Ronstadt: Songs of my Father

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: DonShirer

                                I love it! I just ordered it from Amazon. Thanks, for the rec, Don.

                                1. re: DonShirer

                                  I was going to recommend the Ronstadt CD, that is a fun one to belt along with.

                                  I get a huge kick out of playing the old manhattan transfer "java jive" while waiting for my french press in the morning.

                                  Otherwise, opera is a must. I think Puccini transcends all cuisine.

                                2. When I'm cooking it's always a toss up between "Why does it hurt when I pee" by Frank Zappa or "Wang Dang sweet poontang" by the nuge.

                                  1. To take your pairing further still, I like to have an entire theme to my days & evenings from time to time. One day last spring, I 'forced' (heavily enticed?) my hubby to attend a performance at a local university of a japanese tea ceremony, followed by a flower arranging demonstration. That evening, I put on my kimono (shorter americanized version- I forgot what it's called) and we went out for sushi. We came home and hunkered down on the couch with some saki and a quazi-asian movie. I will often do theme evenings- and pair food with movies, horse races, foreign holidays, garden inspired, etc. Makes for a fun evening! (He won't do horror movies, but I will think up a pairing on my own for that!)

                                    1. As I said in the "waht is the favorite thing in kitchen post" well mine is my ipod and ipod docking station...I love to listen while I am in the kitchen...when cooking everyday meals it is on AC/DC, Heart, Pat Benatar, Puddle of Mudd, ZZ Top, anything like that, when making Bermuda Island favorites I have Jimmy Buffet playing in the back ground, love Pavarotti when cooking Italian ...you kind of see a pattern??!!

                                      1. I've been meaning to post this for you--the soundtrack to Calle 54--link includes samples:

                                        I picked it up after seeing the movie when it came out. Would highly both recommend the DVD and the soundtrack if you have any interest in Latin jazz. It'd pair nicely with any Latin-inspired dishes/drinks you feel like making, though honestly, I love to blast it in the car. Very favorite track is #5 "From Within" from Michel Camilo.

                                        1. Weird aside:

                                          I always cook with the music on and often sing wile prepping or doing dishes


                                          I CANNOT prep food or cook with my ipod on. I become braindead.

                                          1. I was rifling through my opera compilation cds and I think I've found the perfect cooking cd
                                            For example:
                                            Funiculi Funicula - perky prep and chopping
                                            Verdi's Anvil chorus from Il Trovatore- kneading bread/pounding scalloppine
                                            Puccini's O Mio Babbino Caro for coaxing starches out of your risotto(your tears count as seasoning


                                            I am also reminded of Kramer and Newman making sausage to polka music on Seinfeld, ha