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Very multicultural families: What foods can you all agree on?

  • c

My family is Chinese, Indian, German, Swiss, Irish, not all of whom have been tempered by the homogenizing influence of living in a diverse city. I'm wondering what I'd do if (really, when) I bring them all under one roof, for one meal. Are there dishes you've come across, not necessarily from these cultures, that you've found to be universally (or near universally) appealing?

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  1. I grew up in a family comprised of Filipinos, Pakistani/Middle-Eastern hybrids, Creole, Argentine and generically American members, so we had not only ethnic differences, but differing religious restrictions. In general I found that we could all come together with comforting, starchy dishes: usually something with rice or noodles to satisfy the Asians among us. Biryanis were well-received if not too heavily spiced; fried rice or paella were near ubiquitous. Noodles like pancit or chow mein were also popular. Otherwise it was American food that brought us together. Everyone loved barbecue. Hot dogs, burgers, ribs, and the occasional bulgogi or tandoori. Everyone happily ate a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with the caveat that half of us would eat rice rather than potatoes or stuffing. And if we were to go out for dinner, we could all agree on Chinese: it's a uniter, not a divider.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JungMann

      Starches are a great idea, JungMann (except for maybe the diabetic members of the clan) -- thanks! I hadn't thought of making biryani for my Chinese relatives. That might be an Indian dish they'd actually eat.

      I do think most everyone will eat mashed potatoes, too.... And maybe latkes can unite us all.

    2. We're Native American (NDN), Hispanic, German, Swedish and something else around here. It escapes me at the moment. I do the whole fry bread and squash thing, which the rest like. I'm also a good bit Swedish and grew up in a house with a Swedish dad and Grandparents (adopted) who were very keen on the passing on of the food of the old country (first generation). I do Swedish food and love my creamed herring. Which is a good way to clear the kitchen, since everyone else hates it.

      My husband (German descent and pretty close to the food of his ancestry gastronomically speaking) will eat anything, but is very fond of meat and potatoes.

      Two of my boys (adopted) are Hispanic. One is not too keen on Mexican food, but the other one is starting to get this whole Latin Identity thing going and wants to eat Mexican food. The problem is, to a ten year old, Taco Bell is Mexican food. Shudder. I'm hoping his tastes broaden after a cruise to Mexico we are planning.

      Taco Bell. Ugh.

      I'm also someone who cooks from many regions and cuisines. So there are a lot of Asian influences and Southern European. I don't do much African. I've not fallen in love with the cuisine, yet.

      2 Replies
      1. re: nliedel

        You sound like you have a really wonderful family, nliedel -- despite the fact that they don't like creamed herring (I'm not sure I can wrap my mind around that ;).

        What do you serve when you have everyone over? Do you just borrow a little from each culture?

        1. re: cimui

          Creamed herring, of course. LOL!!!

          I do some meals sometimes and others other times. Depends on what I want to cook. It changes daily.

      2. Sorry if this gets posted twice. For us, pancit and lumpia are always a hit. Fry bread, of course, but I don't make it that often. Green salad always goes untouched, so I don't even bother anymore.

        1 Reply
        1. re: foodiemommy

          Haha. At least everyone is united in their DISlike of salad. :) It's the same way in my family. Only people who are dieting will eat salad -- and then they do it with the most mournful look on their faces....

        2. Growing up in a family comprised of mostly Korean with some Japanese, Cajun, Irish, German and Chinese, we've found that rice, Korean BBQ, salmon (seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika), jap chae, steak and salad (1000 Island for the Koreans, vinaigrette for the others) were loved by all. Unlike JungMann, not all of the Koreans liked hot dogs, burgers. Kimchee and a lot of the banchan didn't go well with some of the non-Koreans. And I grew up in a family where almost all the older people hated Indian food.

          And I agree about the Chinese food. Good uniter.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Miss Needle

            My older (read: parent's age or older) Chinese relatives HATE Indian food and my older Indian relatives HATE Chinese food. I suspect it has to do, in part, with the 1962 Sino-Indian war.

            Everyone can agree on Korean barbecue except for the Indian vegetarians!

            1. re: cimui

              Wow. I don't think I've met anybody who's hated Chinese food.

              What about dumplings? Every culture's got dumplings of some sort. You can have veggie ones for the Indian vegetarians. If you want to do it East Asian style, just call them mandoo or gyoza for your Indian relatives.

              1. re: cimui

                Here in CA, we actually have a few Chinese Indian restaurants. Would your family be ok with that I wonder?

                1. re: justagthing

                  I know the younger ones are fine with just about everything, including Chinese Indian. (We had it in Hyderabad not too long ago.) But the older ones are firmly attached to S. Indian food, with only one exception that I've discovered for Italian food. They don't even like N. Indian.

                  I personally think it's great!

                  1. re: cimui

                    Me too. I can't eat spicy anymore. I lost the ability when I got pregnant with number three and it never came back. It's painful for me. It has to be hormonal. Anyway, I used to love South Indian, but I can't manage it without pain now. I'm still in mourning for my taste buds.

                    1. re: nliedel

                      Oh, that's rough--I'm sorry! But I do think there are a good number of South Indian dishes that aren't all that spicy hot. Have you tried just plain dosa, vada, or utthapam? You can't get any less hot than iddli!

                      1. re: cimui

                        I love dosa, but am not familiar with Vada. Which means I'm about to go on a recipe hunt.

            2. I should mention that many family members are from the homeland, or are first generation. So most of them are still very much tied to the home cuisine.

              1. Deep fried food seems to cross a lot of boundaries, really anything deep fried seems to go over well with everyone. Except the health nuts and/or the poor souls only eating salad!

                5 Replies
                1. re: moh

                  And even the diabetics can have a little bit of it. Great idea! I'm thinking deep fried cashew nuts (dusted with masala for those who like it that way).

                  Everybody eats French fries, too.

                  And yogurt...

                  1. re: moh

                    Yes, deep frying is a great unifier. Where I'm originally from, we love our fried, freshly-caught pickerel and Sturgeon Falls-style French fries, and my husband's Filipino family goes crazy for that too.

                    1. re: foodiemommy

                      Just curious, how are Sturgeon Falls-style fries different from fresh-cut fries from other Ontario chip wagons? Do they use a special potato or oil?

                      1. re: phoenikia

                        very hot peanut oil, from what i understand. most importantly, the chips don't taste like the oil is dirty like at a lot of places. there may be threads on this if you have a look...not sure though.

                        1. re: foodiemommy

                          I think that's the same thing that makes the fries at Quebec chip wagons so unique (and so much better than McD's, BK, Harvey's, etc.). I also think the Quebec fries (never been to Sturgeon Falls, sorry) are cut thinner than the fries at most Ontario chip wagons, so instead of getting a chip where the centre is still untouched by heat or oil, the Quebec fries are hot, limp, and addictive.

                  2. well seasoned grilled/BBQed chicken thighs (breasts are too dry!) are a good uniter...

                    1. I've got Chinese, Irish, Italian, and Eastern European Jewish in the family. Also, one family member is a very picky eater with an inflammatory bowel disease; another two are vegetarians.

                      When we all get together for a meal, everyone likes homemade chow mein (with American broccoli and chicken or beef), everyone likes barbecue (ribs, fish, soy sauce chicken, steaks), and everyone likes bok choy in sweet brown sauce. Also, everyone loves apple cake -- I know, desserts are always the easiest!

                      1. Interesting thread. My background is English Canadian, my wife is Chinese, and most of the cooking in our house is done by our Filipina nanny, but there are a few dishes that I prefer making, and my wife does all the baking.

                        Our diet is quite eclectic - Philippine foods like adobo, calderete, and lechon; Chinese foods like hot & sour soup, various noodles and fried rices, steamed fish; Western dishes like roasted beef and pork, mac 'n cheese, and grilled steaks, lamb and pork chops. We also sent the nanny to a Thai cooking class, so we also enjoy Tom Yang soup, beef with basil, and Pad Thai. We don't eat a lot of burgers or hot dogs, since only the older daughter and I like them. Other ethnic foods we do enjoy include southern fried chicken (more often take-out than home made), Montreal smoked meat, and most Italian dishes. We don't make a lot of Vietnamese things at home but we often go out to have it. Tacos and nachos is always a fun family thing, but other than that, we don't have a lot of Mexican inspired stuff. Occasionally have a curry, but I think it's more Thai-inspired than Indian.

                        My specialties include roast turkey with sausage/apple stuffing, crown roast of pork, and BBQ leg of lamb. My wife likes to make red-cooked pork and various dumplings.

                        And now, our secret horror: about once a month, we order from the local Chinese-Canadian place. Fried rice, beef with vegetables, Cantonese chow mein, egg rolls, chicken wings, and - gulp - sweet and sour chicken. Somehow, it all disappears.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: KevinB

                          I still love sweet and sour chicken. I'll go down with the ship with you...

                        2. I grew up with a korean mother and a "white" father who's parents are from central maryland. They are big on amish/mennonite/german fare so I guess you could say that I grew up eating a lot of kimchi and sauerkraut (not that i'm complaining). Believe it or not, my dad eats ANYTHING. That man loves korean food and never complains when all there is to eat for dinner is a bowl of daengjang chigae and a thing of kimchi. He loves it all and yes he does love beongdaegi (silk worm pupae).

                          My american grandmother loves kimchi, but only loves the fresh stuff. Her husband, my grandfather hates the stuff and likes to call it "kimshit"...but he LOVES my mother's kimbap and like us, likes to dip it in my mom's egg drop soup. He also really likes korean bbq and chapchae, but who doesn't like bulgogi and chopchae.

                          Whenever bulgogi or chopchae is served, my sister and I always ask my mom what "white" people are coming over for dinner ): We would much rather eat something like nakji boekum or stir fried chitlins.

                          1. Yes, you have obviously overlooked that popular staple of multi-ethnic tables - the Bratwurst Masala Eggroll, covered with Raclette. Oh....and a six pack.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: HSBSteveM

                              The six pack is often a good idea, except for the teetotalers. In my English/French/German/Scottish household, my Dad would sometimes even let us kids have a sip----but only from his can and only if he was there. If we boys tried to sneak some on our own------LOOK OUT!!! Ah, memories!

                            2. Italian + Irish + Russian Jew= chicken noodle soup

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: southernitalian

                                I always thought pretty much everyone liked some form of chicken soup, until I met my friend's husband (Italian-American background), who wouldn't eat the soup I had served because it's what "old people" eat. First 30something soup-hater I've met. But I doubt his dislike for soup has anything to do with his ethnic background.

                                What I think might be close to universal is cookies.

                                Kourabiethes aka Mexican wedding cakes aka Russian tea cakes/tea balls aka shortbread aka Austrian vanilla kipferl aka pecan sandies etc.

                                1. re: phoenikia

                                  Me, I'm a 30-something chicken noodle soup hater. Could never stand the stuff.

                              2. Not counting belts and cardiologists, nobody doesn't like fried chicken.

                                1. Interesting thread. I love how multiple posters had a bit of Filipino in there. Someone once told me Filipinos were the Triple Sec of the world, as in they mix well. It was in the 80's. Anyway, my family is Filipino-Panamanian-Puerto Rican-Croatian and our common bond is PORK. Roast pork shoulder is our go-to for parties, when there's not enough folks for a full on roast pig. Also, stews like sancocho or sinigang are great, everyone likes hot tasty broth.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: yamalam

                                    Never really liked the sinigang - just a bit too sour for me. The nanny makes it from a "Mama Sita" mix; do you do something different?

                                    Never heard of "sancocho"; what part of the islands is that from? Wife and nanny are both from Zamboanga, Mindinao. Could you describe the dish?

                                    1. re: KevinB

                                      It's a stew found in Panama, as well as several other Spanish-speaking countries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sancocho

                                      1. re: phoenikia

                                        Sancocho is also a big Dominican thing - my husband loves sancocho de habichuelas.

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          I believe there's a version of sancocho for just about every Central American country. My favorite is kind of a Puerto Rican-Colombian hybrid, with corn, platanos, pork, and yuca. Do you put goat in your Dominican version?

                                          Kevin, I use tamarind paste for my sinigang, I don't like all the sodium and other gunk that they put in the mix, and I like mine really sour to balance out the meat, mmm:) My grandma used to use actual tamarind pods but I never have myself - I believe she would boil them and then mash them and strain to get out the juice. Maybe I'll try it next time and let you know.

                                      2. re: KevinB

                                        KevinB, I'm not crazy about the sinigang, either. That's why I never bothered to ask my mother-in-law (also from Zamboanga, BTW) to show me how to make it.

                                        Yamalam, I never truly appreciated pork until I started eating Filipino food, so I enjoyed reading your post.

                                    2. When I lived in a very multi-ethnic student apartment building at university, we would have a few parties each year. The starches -- rice, egg noodles, boiled potatoes were supplied and everyone was to bring a dish to share. It was great because everyone got to share their traditions. Maybe you could try something where they all bring something, come together and try new things.

                                      Or go with something like roast chicken that is pretty universal.

                                      1. American, Dominican, Indian, Spanish, Russian, German, Chinese, Italian family over here. One meal we all agree on is Thanksgiving. Other meals that are hits - Thai: some sort of whole fish, curries, noodles, rice, vegetables, fresh spring rolls, deep fried tofu; Chinese: whole crispy fish, noodles, rice, mushrooms, green vegetables, lots of brown sauces, which my American mother hates; Bagels and cured fishes for breakfast. I think the last one is more because we're all New Yorkers than anything though. We tend to go heavy on the cheese when the Chinese part of the family isn't present.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: gini

                                          cool family, gini! I'm irked that i somehow missed all these great posts (i think since posts are no longer considered "recent posts" that show up in your personal list after a while).

                                          curious who in that bunch likes brown sauces, tho? we *all* agree to hate brown sauce in my fam. ;) well, actually, maybe the german contingent would stand up for it.

                                        2. Also, we all like ceviche and pho. Often times my favorite pho place is 48% Vietnamese patrons and 48% Mexican patrons.