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Jul 6, 2008 09:16 PM

What did you grow up eating? typical meal? (moved from Manhattan)

Just curious how some of you hounders (manhattan and elsewhere) were raised on what type of cuisine.

For example, i have a friend who's from Philly, and he had "bad american food like casseroles and processed stuff" which, according to him, "is why i'm not a foodie."

This seems to make sense as my friend simply "eats to make the hunger go away" which is a sad reason for eating, esp. if you live in NYC.

I believe that sometimes, if you grow up eating bad food, the opposite happens -- you can become a gourmand due to the bad memories of bad food.

based on my parent's culture, i was fed a mixture of chinese food, taiwanese dishes, and japanese food.

even though we were born here in the US, every day was chinese cuisine. Rice was a constant at every meal, no questions. My mom had to make a separate, even more authentic meal for my dad (i.e. more "weird" dishes).

However, this doesn't mean i had my share of american indulgences. outside of the home, i had every single type of "classic" american meal, snack, and fast food!

just curious,,,

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  1. Excellent question but perhaps not appropriate for the Manhattan chow board. i'll answer anyway.

    Fortunately for me, my parents were great, though not inventive, cooks and made everything, literally everything, from fresh, unprocessed things found at the dreary supermarket. Diet was heavy on rice, sauteed green leafy vegetables (which I hated), and a variety of other things, sometimes lobster, sometimes pork buns. My father is enthusiastic about cooking, and that's where I get my own interest.

    My mom made everything from scratch. I used to help her make wonton wrappers from scratch and would spend hours perched on a stool at the table spooning her meat and veggie mixture into the wrappers. Or, I'd be recruited to shell peas or shell shrimp. She made her own soy milk, which I hated. She also makes a mean salt and pepper pork chop.

    My dad is the more adventurous Food Network-loving cook in the family. I see the appreciation for fresh, seasonal ingredients and obsession with cooking without shortcuts as the only natural approach to making food. I try to do that today, when I occasionally cook.

    Then again, my parents never tried to limit my diet so I also grew up enthusiastically eating from every single fast food joint in my town, so I like my fried chicken and tacos. I'm surprised I didn't get coronary thrombosis at the age of 14.

    1. My folks had 4 kids, generally 5 years apart, me being the youngest. My father rarely cooked, perhaps only breakfasts. My mom was the typical (for the time) housewife - take care of the kids all day, making sure they eat lunch, then fire up the stove or oven to make sure supper was ready when dad got home from work.

      Lets see, 'chili con carne' served over rice or noodles to stretch it, boiled dinner, lotsa mashed potatoes as sides, an oriental dish about every two weeks, some type of large cut of meat (roast pork or beef or ham) about once a week, steak and cornbread every sunday (she'd make an extra cornbread for the bachelor 'old man' across the street).

      Summers, we'd have a barbecue once a week. Well not a true barbecue, since we didn't even know what that was at the time, but rather grilled stuff; cheap nights hot dogs or hamburgers. Other times, chops or steak.

      Italian style pasta or lasagna would frequently enter the rotation.

      I read somewhere that a typical household has less than 20 meals that are prepared regularly, just rotated for variety.
      I was skeptical at first, but gave it a count...I'm not as varied as I had thought...

      1. Japanese o-kazu was the most frequent: small amounts of meat and lots of vegetables, including asparagus from the patch in the yard, quick cooked in small amounts of liquid and served with quantities of rice. All other Japanese foods were common, but not necessarily everyday. All from scratch. Mom also cooked good Chinese, Mexican, and "American" and had a smattering of dishes from Armenian, Swedish, Filipino, German, Basque, and other traditions. Her cakes and cream puffs were famous. Dad grilled steaks or we had sukiyaki on Sunday afternoons. American holiday fare was all-American. Japanese holiday food was all Japanese. The family ate clams and abalone gathered at the coast. The cousins and I fished (trout) and hunted (dove, duck, pheasant). Almost all of the cousins on both sides learned from the aunts how to cook.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Pretty standard fare at my house, my Mom was a good cook but not terribly adventurous. Almost always protein, starch and veggie plate...baked chicken, broiled steak things like that. She alaways used fresh, never canned veggies and began throwing new things into the mix later in her life. She was a single, working Mother of 3 so she needed a lot of help and that is where my love for cooking started.

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            ooh...cream puffs! home made cream puffs! I am soooo jealous...

            My mother had many wonderful qualities, but alas, cooking was not one of them. My poor father, probably thought he was going to be well-fed when he married her (my maternal grandmother was a FABULOUS cook. Unfortunately she lived about 2500 miles away in LA when we were growing up in Houston; at least I got to eat her food a bit more often once we moved back to the Bay Area at age ten for me or so)...anyway, sometimes I think cooking can skip a generation unless one is careful about passing it along to one's kids (I am a good cook and my daughter has become a very good one. My son, well, I tried...)

            but anyway, we typically had fairly traditional American meat and a (often frozen ) vegetable type of meals growing up. However, my mother didn't serve lots of starches, which she considered less healthy, and she was very careful about sweets and fats as well. Mostly unprocessed and low-fat, low carb foods. Sort of ahead of her time on the high protein, low carb type of diet, although she modified that later in life and started including more pasta in her meals after she took up long distance running at about age 50. But as a kid, pasta was a very occaisonal thing, Dinner might be roast chicken or flank steak (both overcooked), or perhaps hamburger patties (often without the bun) served with vegetables. In addition to meat and at least one vegetable, there would ALWAYS be a salad, usually iceberg lettuce, tomatoes in season or otherwise radishes, diced carrot, cucumber, perhaps green onion. I actually like iceberg lettuce now. Given the focus on 'healthy' foods desserts were fairly rare, though there was often ice milk (NOT ice cream!). If we had bread, it was whole wheat. Milk was non-fat. You get the picture, There was always fruit in the house which was available for dessert as an alternative to ice milk. Watermelon and stone fruit in the summer, apples in the winter. I still have the habit of having a bowl of fruit available.

            On Sunday evenings, she took a night off from cooking. My father never or rarely cooked, and Sunday nights we went out to eat. Interestingly, though she wasn't an adventurous cook, she and my father were fairly adventurous eaters, and Sunday night dinner was almost always at an 'ethnic' restaurant: often BBQ or Mexican when we lived in Texas, somewhere Chinese in Oakland's Chinatown when we moved back to California, followed by a trip to an ice cream shop for dessert. I think the eating in ethnic places may have started as a way to eat out less expensively (we were a family of five, six when my youngest sister came along), but they found they enjoyed the food and more informal atmosphere, as did my sisters and I, and kept up the pattern even when the budget would have allowed for more expensive dinners out.

            About once or twice a month my mother did make one dish I loved: it was a casserole of fresh brocolli, sliced hard boiled eggs and melted cheese. (maybe I was craving the fat in the cheese! :-)) She also made a pretty darn tasty braised beef tongue (my guess is that long cooking was a good thing with that particular dish), but unfortunately, it was only an occaisonal treat.

            We almost never had pork or bacon in the house (My mother was a non-observant Jew, though we certainly ate pork at those Chinese restaurants we went to). I can remember my father begging her without success to make pork chops (though why, who knows: I am sure she would have overcooked them :-( ). Honestly, though, thinking about it I am not sure that her reluctance to make pork was just based on her religious/cultural background: it was probably too 'fatty' for her....

            I don't remember much fish, but in the summer sometimes we went crabbing, though I remember the process of catching the crabs much more than the actual eating of them.

            Cake was something we only had on birthdays, and then it would probably be from a mix, or sometimes from the bakery....

            1. re: susancinsf

              lol......I LOVED that brocolli, cheese and egg thing too!! Maybe it was the fact that the brocolli was fresh...

              And I enjoyed the fact that there were always salads in our house. I used to be the big salad mother commented that when I went away to camp there was too much salad..

              And although as Susan has pointed out, although there wasn't a lot of fine cooking in our house, and the meats were usually overcooked, at least there were plenty of fruits and vegetables...and often good ones. My father liked to drive to some place in Texas to get the "best" watermelons every summer.

              And there was an emphasis on healthy foods; I think it came from our paternal grandfather. He was a "health food nut" before such a thing existed. I can still hear him arguing with some restaurant waiter about why they should only serve whole wheat bread. That and the fact that my grandmother was such a wonderful cook may have been reasons why most meals we had when visiting them were at home...:-)

              One thing I remember our mother serving that I still like today: rice (usually leftover but re-heated) served with honey and a bit of milk for breakfast. Maybe it was the sweetness of the honey. Sometimes I wonder if that wasn't a "go-to" dish for her when money was tight. (Breakfast was usually cold cereal, but NEVER anything with sugar...Raisin Bran was as sweet as we got....). Funny thing about the rice: My husband fondly remembers eating the exact same thing for breakfast when he was growing India.

              1. re: janetofreno

                oops...Just realized an error that only Susan will catch, and the edit function is gone. The "health food nut" was our maternal grandfather. Our paternal grandfather died before we were born.....My post will make more sense referring to my grandmother the great cook if you realize that.....

                1. re: janetofreno

                  hehe, I almost mentioned the rice and honey as my second favorite dish after the brocolli! <bg>

              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                whenever my dad cooked (vietnamese) we always ate the lots of veggies small amount of protein (usually tofu and fish occasionally free range chicken or eggs) and rice (he inisted on brown) . my mum is italian so she cooked lots of grilled vegies and pasta, she was on the whole grain pasta trend way before it became more normal. she made great artichoke omlets, chicken soup, pasta that always had a tomato based sauce never cream or oil and roasted pigeon and chickens.
                but we travelled alot throughout my childhood we only came back to autralia full time last year, we lived in saudi arabia until i was four in a compound where my dad was the doctor and because of all the different cultures and the fact there was always a party going on we ate a large variety of different cuisines from middle eastern to ethiopian.
                after that we went back and forth to france until i was twelve and my mother slipped in a few rabbit stews and traditional french dishes now and then (and of course the restaurants ruled!)
                during my early teens my dad did locums everywhere indonesia, japan, all around britan and mexico so since we usually didn't have a kitchen a typical meal was seeking out a hidden restaurant i am so thankful i have been fortunate enough to expierience such a broad range of food from such a young age its why i love to cook now.

              3. A good question that I cannot answer adequately. My dad was a hunter so we tons of game but it was so poorly cooked by my dear Mom. She was a horrible cook (she hated it) so I believe that is one of the reasons I fell in love with cooking. Out of necessity! I took over the job at a very young age and began experimenting with game. We also lived on a farm so had access to fabulous pork, beef, ducks, geese, chickens, etc. We also had a huge garden so I learned a lot about veg. We also made our own fresh butter. I started to do all the preserving and canning when I was 12, sometimes canning 50 quarts of raspberries in one day!

                A typical meal would have been fried elk steak (extremely well done!) with plain boiled potatoes and unseasoned garden veg.

                Some dishes I recall were canned spinach with vinegar, awful beet borscht, overcooked elk, and so on. However, my Mom made (and still does) the best buns on the planet. Oh, and canned fresh chicken. Funny how that works! :) She now calls me nearly every day asking about a certain recipe or cooking technique or ingredient. I am so pleased that she has now developed an interest!

                2 Replies
                1. re: chefathome

                  I'm loving this thread, but what is canned fresh chicken?

                  1. re: Steamed Dumpling

                    Maybe it's canned at home, so it's canned 'fresh'?

                2. These are great stories and stir up lots of memories for me. I just wish people would add what part of the country, or world they grew up in. For instance, I grew up in the Boston area and we had regular meals like fried mackeral, or fishcakes and brown beans on Friday nights, but I don't think that would be typical in, say, Arizona, or Wisconsin. Thanks again for the wonderful writing.