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Why do we do this ?

Why is it when we have a special guest at our house we decide to cook or talk about what is common from their ethnic backgrounds? My wife is German and most people seem to think that all she wants to eat or make are all things German, not true.

When we are guests to someone elses house do they insist on talking about hamburgers and fries, LOL ?

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  1. Oh, this could be due to a myriad of reasons -- some very innocent and others -- well, let's just say it's probably beyond the scope of this board and would probably lead to some very heated discussions.

    I find that some of our visitors from other countries want to eat food of their home country when they visit America. When my grandmother used to live in Korea and visited the States, do you think she wanted steak or meatloaf or fried chicken? No! She was looking for rice, kimchi and banchan. Personally, I found it a bit strange as the last thing I want to eat is "American" food when I travel. I want to eat things that I can't find as easily in my hometown -- whether I'm traveling to Bangkok or to New Jersey. And then I meet folks like myself who aren't that interested in eating foods that they can get in their city/country. I do have to say that if I'm in a place for an extended period of time, I do tend to miss food of my hometown. I was in Korea for 3 months and wanted a burger and fried chicken so badly at some point.

    I've mentioned this on this board before, but I got really peeved when I had dinner at my ex's parents (not Asian) for the very first time. His mom insisted on having Asian pears at the dinner table and was so worried that I wouldn't be able to eat any manicotti, meatballs, brasiole or antipasto. Come on, I love that stuff! My ex kept telling his mom that I was born in America and that I eat everything. However, it was so fixed in her mind that she must have Asian pears there to make me feel more comfortable. In addition, she was so shocked that I wasn't 5 feet tall as her views of all Korean people all came from the two ladies that ran the Korean deli down the block. Sigh ... While there was no malice on her part, it really did annoy me a great deal.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Miss Needle

      I seriously think rice is addictive... I go into withdrawal after a few days. A few years ago, my Asian family went on an extended trip to Germany. We're not shy about trying new foods or anything, but after a week or so we were actively searching out Chinese places just for the rice. And it's not just simply an "I miss eating rice" sentiment, we all got pretty cranky about it.

      1. re: mogo

        I worked on a project in the Middle East (building and commissioning a new gas plant) in the middle of nowhere that had no on shore living facilities for the workers. So they towed two huge "live aboard" multi-storied barges to the site and then anchored them to the shore. The Filipino and Korean workers had it written into their contracts that they got rice in all 3 meals, 7 days a week.

    2. That may be true in the US, but even more odd but regular responses await the guest in other countries: after years and years and years in the Philippines, filipinos would still ask, "Oh, have you tried filipino food?" Then there is Colombia, where I now live: most Colombians simply don't think about or discuss food - neither among themselves nor with or among non-Colombians.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Sam, according to an old friend who recently attended a family reunion in Colombia, there are very good reasons for Colombians not caring to talk about their food. I wouldn't know; the only Colombian food I've tried was pretty good, if relentlessly redundant in the starch department.

        1. re: Will Owen

          With my most extreme and sincere apologies to jungman, both filipino and Colombian cuisines don't quite make it into the list of world class for very similar reasons - lack of spices or picante, a lot of fried and carbs, comparative lack of complex technique). Filipinos, however, love their food and are insulted if anyone might suggest that they don't have the greatest foods (and legendary hospitality). Colombians, on the other hand, also love their food but don't really discuss it and don't really care what others think. AND! In both countries, everyone from the president to the last guy or gal eats roughly the same respective food. Cooks recruited from the ranks of the poor cook their own foods for the rich in both countries.

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            I don't know, a really good dish of pancit is up there on the list of my favorite comfort foods.

            1. re: lulubelle

              Don't get me wrong. I cook a lot of filipino dishes. Can't say the same for Colombian. Hmmmm.

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                From my limited experience, I'd guess that a unified cuisine across class lines is more common than not throughout Latin America. My niece's husband is from an upper-class Peruvian family, and when his parents were visiting at Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, their several contributions to the feast included a dried-potato stew that was most emphatically peasant food. It was also very, very good.

                My father-in-law, whose cooking is mostly French, fell in love with the Colombian potato/chicken/vegetable stew (whose name escapes me!) a long time ago. He cooked it at our house once, and used up every pot in the kitchen! Then recently he heard about a Colombian restaurant in Glendale, called to confirm that this was on the menu, and of course we all had to go there. No, not exciting, but very nice.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  Did your Peruvian in-laws bring the chuño? Chuño soup is very Andean (Peru and Bolivia) and very campesino! You make chuño by dancing/stamping on the cut up potatoes in the Altiplano. Conditions are so cold and dry that you get freeze dried.

                  The Colombian dish is sancocho de gallina: the chicken stew that everyone eats. Good example.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Yes, they brought the potatoes, in a plastic bag. I assume they either got them at a Latino store with Peruvian products or via mail order, since they've lived in New Jersey for many years.

                    And yes, sancocho was the name I'd forgotten. I imagine everybody eats it because the only easy way to make it is in a giant pot that you just keep adding to as it gets consumed.

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      For sancocho, the chicken is usually served on a plate along with rice and avocado. The Bogota version is even better: add sour cream and capers to the soup/stew when serving.

            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

              That's it, Sam! Next time you're in NYC, you have a standing invitation to come to dinner so I can show you why I think why Filipino cuisine, with its interplay of salty and sour, bitter and sweet, combining techniques ranging across the globe, deserves to be considered among the best of international cuisines!

        2. It's probably innocent - maybe the guests probably aren't familiar with German food and figure your wife is, so they may want to know about it. Maybe they are trying to search for common ground ("oh, I also LOVE sauerkraut!").

          If someone cooks German food because your German wife is coming to dinner, they probably are just trying to make her comfortable. Some families have "traditional" food that's passed down from generation to generation, so we sometimes assume that you've eaten that "traditional" food growing up, are used to it, and like it. Or perhaps they like German food, know that some people might not like it (and thus don't usually serve it to company) and are excited to have someone over who (they figure) won't turn her nose up at sauerkraut (or whatever). Same thing as when wine afficianados have a fellow wine person come over and break out the good stuff that they normally wouldn't "waste" on non-wine lovers.

          I've had a lot of people ask me about the food we eat in the US or how their food is different from what I am used to, when travelling abroad, and when people learn that I grew up in Hawaii, a lot of them want to talk about Spam and poi (and sometimes Hawaiian pizza or some other pseudo-Hawaiian foods). I figure that with the Spam and poi it's just somewhat foreign to them, they've heard negative things, and are curious, and with Hawaiian pizza, etc. they are just trying to find common ground.

          When I was an exchange student in India, my host family's cook would make me fried eggs for breakfast, even though no one in the family ate them. They figured that fried eggs and toast is an American breakfast and wanted to give me what I was used to. Truth be told, at home I almost never ate a heavy breakfast - I was used to having fruit and maybe some bread. It was sweet, and those eggs were tasty, so who am I to complain? After a while, though, I told them that while I appreciated it, I didn't need the cook to cook a whole separate breakfast for me and I'd love to eat what they ate since I was there to learn about India.

          People are just trying to be polite the best they can - like when you stock beer for a party even though you don't drink beer because you figure some of the guests might want it or if your family likes really spicy food but you tone it down for guests because you figure there's a good chance they don't eat food that spicy normally. There's clearly a potential for offense in it, but I'd rather have the person try than just say "oh well, she's a guest in my house and she'll eat what we eat whether she likes it or not!"

          1. In terms of talking about food, I think it's a way to approach talking about cultural differences without moving into anything inflammatory. Certainly when I lived in Japan, people asked me what people traditionally eat in the US. People are curious, but at least in a dining type of situation, you usually don't want to veer into something with just an acquaintance that could make one party angry.

            1. I truly think that we as home cooks/hosts might be looking for some affirmations from the guest *expert* that we are "doing it right," with regard to the menu presented and execution of same. I think it's all innocent and well intentioned.

              Now, if all I fed my Scandinavian family was Scandinavian food, things would get a little stale very fast. The German menu for your German wife might be a lovely invitation to discussion of the cuisine upon first meetings or special occasions, but if it's the norm, it would also get old fast. Variety...you know what they say.


              1 Reply
              1. re: cayjohan

                Oh My Gosh! I thought my boss was the only one that did this. We often entertain French winemakers and he always wants to take them to this crappy, (read really boring mediocre) French "bistro" in our city.....I am always horrified. After years of taking one guest, (who was a chef in SF and in France) I had to make it stop! We are in Southern California and the wealth of ethnic food we can share is astounding....stop with the bad versions of their food already....things are better now and our guests always seem so much happier.

              2. I can tell you that when I went to Germany the last thing I wanted to drink was an American Beer !!!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jimbosox04

                  and in Germany a beer is cheaper than soda or water so it's almost like a crime to not order it at every meal!

                2. I studied in England and the best party we had was an "american" party they threw for me. Everyone brought what they considered to be American food, or "vittles" as they called it thinking that's what American's called food. Too many John Wayne movies. There was plenty of Bud.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: chowser

                    I'd love to hear what they made / brought - and any interesting twists on the vittles.

                    1. re: ElsieDee

                      This was college so it was college type food, no cooking--twinkies, peanut butter on everything, budweiser and bud light, American cheese stand out but it was a long time ago (in the 80's). It wasn't easy for them to find things. It was more fun than chowhoundy, definitely not about the food.

                    2. re: chowser

                      Ha ha. This reminds me of the time I was in Seychelles and met this guy who thought that all Americans talked like John Wayne. He tried his very best to talk to me in his John Wayne accent.

                      It is kind of amusing what notions people have about other cultures. For example, a lot of people think I eat beef on a daily basis because I'm Korean-American, and all they know about Korean food is Korean BBQ. The thing is that I don't eat Korean food all the time, and I don't eat beef very regularly.

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        Reminds me of that John Cusack Movie, Better off Dead, when the mom serves french fries, french bread and french dressing for the French exchange student.

                    3. I may also be guilty of inquiring about somebody's ethnic background, but it's just because I am curious about other cultures. I haven't traveled much and am making a mental note of all the places that I would love to visit. I also don't bring the subject up constantly.

                      Funny thing though, I thought everybody gets their burgers from McDonald's and coffee from Starbucks ;)

                      1. I don't find that at all. My wife is Russian (and sounds it - she didn't move here until she was in her 20's), and our non-Russian friends neither talk about nor try to make Russian food when they have us over. Our Russian friends, on the other hand, would never dream of starting a dinner party without an endless array of zakuski!

                        1. I think it is a semi-misguided attempt to make people comfortable, unfortunate in its reliance on assumptions and stereotypes. I think it is unconscious for the most part, and I am sure I have done it at some point. Here in Bhutan the local cuisine ranges from pretty spicy to face-melting, with rice. Admittedly it can take some getting used to and it is more than a lot of foreigners can take. However, I still really hate walking into a restaurant and having the person on duty stammer about how they can make me some French fries or steamed vegetables, apparently they think that is what white people eat. It's hard because it is true to some extent, but I would still love to be given the benefit of the doubt that I might want to eat authentically. It's OK if they ask 'do you take chili' as long as they believe me when I say 'yes, every day', what bothers me is the stereotype before I've even sat down and looked at a menu. I know they are only trying to be helpful, but it gets old.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: babette feasts

                            Yup, the mother of one of my friends gave me lots of sun dried pork fat but no chiles because I wasn't Bhutanese.

                          2. I dont do what you mention.

                            When we have guests from the Philipines, the last thing I am going to do is serve them, or take them out for Filipino food, that just does not make any sense.

                            We go out and eat things they either cannot find in the Phillipines, or items that are cost prohibitive in the Phillipines.

                            Thankfully when I have been a guest in homes out of the country I wasnt taken to or fed McDonalds(I wont even eat at McDonalds here), or some other sterotypical American food. I want to experience the places I visit, and I do the same for my guests.

                            1. Years ago, DH taught international law classes to mainland Chinese students and Taiwanese students in an MBA program here in Denver. There were usually 15-20 adult, professionals in each class. We always invited them to our home for an American-style meal. Most had never been to the US and none had ever been to an American home. I would prepare typical Southern-style picnic foods. The highlight of the party was always the house tour where we invited the students to open cabinets and closets to get an idea of a real American home. (Well, maybe I had spent 2 weeks prior cleaning cabinets and closets)
                              Now in our home in Mexico, I still cook typical Southern-style American foods for our parties. Most ex-pats are hungry for the familiar American foods and a lot of our Mexican friends haven't ever had home cooked American foods.

                              My favorite meal ever was served in the home of some Afghani (sp) business associates a few years ago. DH, me and their family of 4 and the table groaned with the weight of all the Afghani foods. We were honored to be included in their family meal and to taste a cuisine that we had never had the oppurtunity to try.

                              1. When I was in Pisa many years ago we made a lot of Italian friends. I was staying with relatives of my best friend, and they had been living there for 8 months already and were part of the neighborhood. Just before we left to come home to America, we threw a huge party and served American food - burgers and fries are all I can remember now. This was mid-70's and you could not buy many American products in Italy, and there were not yet any MacDonald's there either, so it seemed very out of the ordinary to our friends. I remember going to the bakery to try and approximate the soft burger rolls we were used to, and winding up using focaccia. They weren't real American burgers but they sure were tasty! We also wound up making our own version of catsup which was not available there in those days.

                                Now I'm sure there are MacDonald's in lots of small Italian towns, but back then it was pretty exotic and tasty to our friends! I know they enjoyed it (or pretended to anyway).

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Catskillgirl

                                  When my sister's husband was still in the Air Force,they all lived in southern Italy for a while, in San Vito dei Normanni near Brindisi, and my mom and I went for a couple of weeks' visit. We were there during a major national holiday in March, and some neighbors whom my sister had befriended invited us for their holiday (midday) dinner, a very typical and very good working-class feast, with homemade orrechiette, beef roll in sauce, salad and lots of homemade wine. I had to get back to the States, but Mom stayed another week, and reciprocated with a typical Owen family warm-weather dinner featuring fried chicken and potato salad. They all loved the chicken, but found the potato salad inedible, because apparently Italians can't abide raw onion. They were very polite about it, of course.

                                2. We don't do that. Far from it. We'd be much more inclined to do a barbeque or a taco party. Something more "down home." I don't know anyone who tries to cook food-types from the guest home country. Doesn't make sense to me.

                                  1. I have to admit I would never attempt to accomplish an ethnic cuisine that I'm not familiar with if hosting a guest. I applaud you and your wife on making your guests feel "at home".

                                    Your post reminds me of an experience I had several years ago. I was fortunate enough to be traveling in France with a co-worker who's family lives just outside of the Loire Valley. I was THRILLED when I was invited for lunch at their charming French country side home. I couldn't wait to get my hands on simple, rustic, home cooked French farm food.

                                    Imagine my surprise when my friend's Mother set out Cheeto's and potato chips as an appetizer!

                                    Thankfully, that was where their particular need to make me feel "comfortable" ended. The appetizer course was followed by homemade apertif's, the best roast chicken I've EVER had, a Thanksgiving-esque spread of wonderful, home grown vegetables, fantastic local wines, local fruit & cheese for dessert followed by a round (or 2 or 3....) of her Father's homemade digestives.

                                    At any rate, it was obvious to me that the hostess went through great pains to make sure that I felt welcome and comfortable in their home and I will always be eternally grateful for that experience. I also personally was humbled and honored that she went through such obvious great pains to find Cheeto's in the French country side. I have to admit, what I am dreadfully ashamed of is that her perception of American's and what we like included Cheeto's at the top of the list!

                                    I think that as hosts, we are inclined to want to make our guests feel "at home" and it seems that you translate that to trying to assimilate your guests home country into the occasion.

                                    As to your question as to "why" you cook and/or talk about their backgrounds - I can't answer that. I just personally would prefer to educate them as to my background and experiences. When I'm a guest in someone's home - I want to learn about them....I already know more about me than I care to :)

                                    1. I think a lot of people are making a somewhat considerate attempt at finding common ground. Throughout most of the world, food is a very intimate, albeit unconscious, means of shaping identity. And through food, we can forge connections with the basic essence of a guest, a client, a prospective friend by conversing with the person that grew up on this dish of pancit we're sharing or the Palatschinken we're remembering.

                                      Being far removed from the cuisine I grew up with and my family, I oftentimes find myself homesick. Were a host to offer me a bowl of spicy nihari or an elaborate chicken relleno, not only would I be flattered, but utterly grateful for the thoughtfulness and effort that went into bringing me back home. Instead I am more often treated to greasy baked ziti and questions about what duck fetus tastes like. Sam, I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned balut is far superior to the Italian-American food that is so roundly praised and put under my nose in these parts.

                                      1. I do not believe that we do this. We have several friends from South Africa. We've been to each home for "traditional" South African fare and have loved it. When we reciprocate, my wife usually does more of a New Orleans-based menu. I might pair a SA wine, if appropriate, but that is it.

                                        Now, I did host a wine tasting, that happened to start off with some wines of Germany. The winning bidders on this lot, were two physicians, who were partners and great friends. They both were from Germany. When we hit the Auslese Riesling, one of the physicans corrected my pronunciation. I turned to his partner, for clarification. The fist commented, "he doesn't speak English very well, and almost no German. Don't ask him!" Still, in my Mississippi accent, I managed to get through - heck, English is a second language for me too.

                                        No, we do what we do, and hope that our guests can appreciate that.

                                        When guests in Europe, or the UK, I do not find that our hosts attempt to serve us US fare. Most concentrate on the foods/preperations of their native country, and we greatly apprecite that, even if, inside, we might not appreciate that particular treatment.

                                        If I had a great recipe for some dish, indigenous to some area’s cuisine, and my guest happens to be from that place, we might do a single course, in hopes that we could provide them with a “special welcome,” and also learn how they would do, or how they had experienced, this dish in their homeland.

                                        That would be it.


                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          My preference when travelling in foreign countries is to try to have food experiences that are as authentic as possible. Usually this requires finding a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that doesn't see too many foreigners pass through its doors. Too often, the food at places that have become known to travellers becomes safe, bland and watered down in its ethnic uniqueness. Sure, it's flattering that the owners would like to make me feel at home in their country and in their restaurant, but what I'm really there for is the house specialty or whatever the people at the next table are having.

                                          On a guided junk excursion in Halong Bay, Vietnam, I visited a fish farm and was served lunch on a patio overlooking the fish ponds. What came out of the kitchen was a series of deep fried dishes: fish balls, fish nuggets and fried potatoes with ketchup. It was brutal. My boyfriend and I wandered inside the living area to see what our guide was up to. He was seated on the floor with the family, eating from a communal bowl of steamed whole fish. There was rice, a side dish or two and homemade (hooch) rice wine and snake wine. We were beckoned to join. My boyfriend made friends with the men by sampling the snake wine and arm wrestling with the war veterans. I sat down and was immediately offered a bowl and some chopsticks. One of the men fed me pieces of fish like I was a baby. Maybe he thought I couldn't handle my own sticks, or maybe he was just pleased that I was interested in his family and their way of living. It was utterly charming. After a few sips of the very potent rice wine, I was cajoled into entertaining the family with their laserdisc karaoke machine. It was hilarious. After my tipsy 6-song set, we sat with the family and enjoyed some tea. Few words were spoken, since they spoke no English and our Viet was limited to "thank you". Our guide translated a bit, but it wasn't really necessary. We just enjoyed each other's company. That's the kind of experience I had hoped to have.

                                          At home, when someone comes to my house for a meal, I inquire in advance as to dietary restrictions and/or preferences, then do whatever I want, based on my guests responses. I try to cook something that will be new for them, but not necessarily from my own culture. In my culinary world, it's all about new experiences and realizing that no matter what the ethnicity, if it's made and served with love, people will enjoy it.

                                          1. re: 1sweetpea

                                            The very LAST thing I would attempt to cook for a guest of a different background would be food from their culture -- how could I possibly come close to their own "home cooking"? It would be a recipe (no pun intended) for disaster. If they were very good friends, I might ask them to bring something that they made as a way of opening up my eyes to a different cuisine, but I would not attempt to cook it for them. Same thing with taking people to an "ethnic" restaurant. I know I get annoyed when I go to another city & look at their versions of Philly food.

                                            On the other hand, I work with a number if consultants who are Indian. We began to do something called "Happy Belly Friday" lunches, where we try a different ethnic restaurant every other Friday, including Indian restaurants. They have been very happy to educate us non-Induians about Indian food, and give critiques when we are in the Indian restaurants: "this is close to what I would get at home"; "my mother makes this very differently"; "this is not a very good version of saag paneer". We talk about food customs and the ways food is part of our different cultures. We have a wonderful time.

                                            I think that people tend to fall back on the subject of food as it relates to another person's ethnicity because it is such a common thread between people. Kind of like weather, it seems to be a "safe" subject that can open up a conversation. The problem is that, whereas everyone eats, not everyone is as focused on food as we Chowhounds are, and the perception could be that one is buying into cultural stereotypes when you go down that road. Personaly, I am fascinated by the similarities between culinary cultures. For instance, many cuisines have a stuffed starch item, like a wonton, or ravioli, a tamale, or pierogi. They've got a type of savory "pie", such as a pastie, an empanada, an asian bun. Many cultures wrap things in leaves, like banana, taro, corn husk, or cabbage leaves. I just love learning about the way food relates to someone's culture.