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Jan 26, 2010 05:46 PM

Your heritage and your cooking...

So, I was wondering lately -- how many of you mostly prepare dishes from your cultural or ethnic heritage?

I am German born and raised, but I would say that the majority of dishes I prepare are not German. I cook a LOT of Italian, Asian, American, or French influenced food.

While I like a variety of German dishes and enjoy having them when I'm back in the homeland, I've never felt compelled to learn how to make spaetzle, or tafelspitz, or schweinshaxe, or any other typical German dish you can think of.

With the execption of my German-style cucumber salad which I make rather often because I LOVE cukes, there's only a few German dishes I make, and rarely:

Wiener Schnitzel (which really is Austrian, but close enough)
Rotkohl / braised red cabbage

Though my favorite breakfast/lunch food at home is a decidedly German-influenced dish, strammer Max: toast with ham, cheese, and a fried egg on top.

Hmmm. Maybe I'm more German in the kitchen than I thought I was '-)

I'd love to hear about you!

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  1. well, by birth, i'm a New York Jew via Eastern Europe & my ancestry is primarily Russian & Polish, but people who don't know that usually assume i'm either Italian or Greek. and now that i think about it, the bulk of my everyday cooking is probably more influenced by those areas of the Mediterranean than anywhere else. hmm...unless stuffed cabbage counts, i'm not sure i've *ever* prepared a traditional Polish or Russian dish in my life!

    of course Ashkenazi cuisine for Jewish holidays is another story entirely.

    1. I'm third generation, mother German/Czech, father English. So mostly American, but one taste I got from Mom was a love of sauerkraut with pork and potatoes - either kielbasa or pork chops. Love red cabbage, and veal stroganoff with noodles. Also a cucumber salad Mom used to make that was mostly cucumbers marinated in white vinegar with various spices - is that German?

      Not much heritage from Dad's side - his mother was a truly heinous cook - have you ever had a gristle sandwich?

      1 Reply
      1. re: pasuga

        enjoyable thread. I am Chinese-Canadian but cooking (amateur not professional) is eclectic. Lots of Italian/ French but Greek, Korean, Mexican, Thai is as likely as cuisine from my upbringing. When i do cook Chinese, it is more homey, hot pot casseroles, simple noodle soups. I think back with gratitude of the healthy fresh chinese food I had growing up (3 different dishes, usually a steamed fish, stir fried chinese vegetables etc) and did not appreciate as other kids got TV dinners. I was certainly raised to appreciate good well prepared food with diverse flavors and ingredients. That legacy more than the cuisine of my heritage is what influences my cooking now.

      2. I identify most with the 3/4s of me that's German. My father's mother, in particular, was a superb cook who made simple but scrumptious dishes. She also held on fast to her German heritage. When she first came to this country in 1913, she was ten and settled with cousins on their farm -- in what became Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood ("Harlem" is Dutch for "farm"). She lived all over New York City during her life, but traveled almost weekly to the City's Yorkville district on the East Side near 86th Street to buy German specialties.

        The man who taught me my foundation in cooking was also German. He gave me my first job -- washing dishes in his fine-dining restaurant. He could execute the French repertoire magnificently but the dishes that he created which were the most memorable were from the cuisines of Alsace, Austria and Germany. He helped to "amplify" the impression my German heritage made on me. We spoke German almost exclusively together -- and before long I put my dish-rags away and was cooking next to my mentor.

        The thing my grandparents -- and my first culinary teacher -- had in common beside their country of birth was that they survived horrendous poverty. My grandparents raised kids during the depression and my mentor survived the poverty and famine in post-World War II Germany.

        Most people see three slices of bacon and think "that's not even enough for breakfast for two." I think "if I chop the bacon up and saute it with potatoes and onions, I can serve four for breakfast if I put poached eggs on top of this hash..."

        When I make my grandmother's chicken soup with German soup noodles -- made from eggs and flour and rolled out very, very thin with a rolling pin (okay I use the pasta rolling/cutting machine these days) -- it's as if she's still with me.

        Cucumbers were a luxury that even after she was comfortable Grandma wouldn't buy. Her pickled salads were heavy on the cabbage, onions, carrots and celery. I make the same sweet and sour vegetable mixture to this day. Also red cabbage with spices and apples.

        The thing that reminded Grandma of Germany, and of the German farms in this country, was asparagus. She loved canned asparagus, but would only allow herself to have it if a family member brought it over. The few times, as a teenager, I made steamed fresh asparagus for her with lemon butter, she savored every last bite. Of course, I can't make asparagus of any sort without thinking of her.

        I make apfelkuchen (kind of a cross between an apple cake and an apple tart) a couple of times a year. I wish I made Linzer Tarts more often than every other year. The thing I don't make are the wonderful yeast-risen coffee cakes Grandma used to make.

        Pot roast is nearly a sauerbraten when I get through with it. Chicken in the pot gets big fluffy dumplings redolent of dill and black pepper. Pork roast is redolent of garlic and sage. The coating for my schnitzel is made with just the right kind of bread crumbs, a bit of lemon zest, and a whisper of nutmeg.

        When fooling around in the kitchen, I'll use ideas from my German repertoire more often than I use techniques from the training I've received in the classical French or Italian cuisines.

        Now go figure that for the last 18 years, I've run 3 different Chinese restaurants... what does *that* have to do with anything? (Well, the Germans did build a brewery in Tsingtao...)

        39 Replies
        1. re: shaogo

          I'm a gringo that was raised in a barrio in Tucson. I consider Sonoran my heritage.

          1. re: mrbigshotno.1

            I'm your basic European mongrel, extra emphasis on western Europe, Germany, and the British Isles. I was raised in the Tucsoneast-side housing boom barrio of Tucson, which is not as cool and romantic as the other older barrioss there, but it was home.
            I consider myself Sonoran, too. I don't cook German or French or British Isles, but I cook a lot of Sonoran, and more recently, expanded Mexican-Caribbean.

            BTW- Shaogo, I thought for sure you were Asian- specifically Japanese!

            1. re: EWSflash

              "Shaogo" sounds Chinese, not Japanese.

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                You're right, Mr. Fujisaka. "Shaogo" is a bastardization of "Xiao Gou," for "little dog," in Chinese (Mandarin).

          2. re: shaogo

            Thanks for your long post. Interestingly enough, because of your other posts & partly due to your username, I had taken you for someone with an Asian background -- go figure '-)

            And how could I forget Spargel? Of course, I love, love, love (WHITE) asparagus like every true German. One of the things I eat a lot of when in Germany, since you can't get decent white asparagus in the U.S.

            1. re: linguafood

              In New York City there's white asparagus around once in a while that's very, very good. I remember Schaller and Weber (a German meat market) even selling it. But I think it was Holland asparagus, not German.

              When people approach me (paunchy caucasian guy) in our Chinese restaurant and say "funny, you don't *look* Chinese!" trying to be funny, I assure them that I *am* Chinese but was disfigured in a horrible accident. They usually shut up after that.

              1. re: shaogo

                Well, imported asparagus would taste better than what is available grown stateside. Of course, it won't be as fresh as harvested that same morning '-)

                Love the resto story '-D

                1. re: linguafood

                  Why would imported Asparagus automatically be better?

                  1. re: bbqboy

                    I was wondering that, too. We get fabulous locally grown asparagus (green, purple, AND white) here in Ohio in the springtime, generally April. It tastes best if I cook it the day it's picked, so it's hard to imagine that asparagus shipped from overseas would be of a higher quality...

                    1. re: Niki in Dayton

                      Niki I live on the other corner of Ohio from you and my parents had a large veggie garden that included asparagus and I never understand their fascination w/ the first white asparagus in April and May.

                      My mothers family is Alsatian and my fathers family is Bavarian so I am very familiar with German/French and central European food, but white asparagus is something that I never developed a taste for.

                    2. re: bbqboy

                      It wouldn't, b/c it wouldn't be as fresh. However, any white asparagus I've had in the US -- and mind you, probably not grown locally, so ALSO not day-fresh, has paled in comparison to what is available in Germany. It's a matter of soil, really, and there are a few areas in Germany (around Schwetzingen in the south, and near Berlin in the east) that produce the BEST asparagus in the world. It's more flavorful than anything I've bought stateside. But surely, I am biased '-P

                      1. re: linguafood

                        My German friend tells me the same, that the white asparagus in Germany is far superior to anything she's ever had in the states. Good to know because I have never "gotten" white asparagus--but I've never had it in Germany.

                        1. re: nomadchowwoman

                          You know what? Maybe it's a cultural thing, too. Something you have to grow up with. My man doesn't "get" the whole asparagus hysteria we Germans experience during that short season (early/mid April depending on the weather to June 24) at all, either. We go absolutely bat shit over our spargel, and most Americans/non-Europeans think we are crazy. I think we might be '-)

                          But farm-fresh (and not as a meaningless slogan, but harvested that same morning), steamed asparagus with drawn parsley butter, new potatoes, and smoked ham is an orgasmic experience to most Germans.

                          1. re: linguafood

                            Hence the unusually high number of conceptions in Germany in April, May and June.

                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                              There's a reason for the line "Veronika, der Spargel wächst" in the 20s song Veronika, der Lenz ist da = Veronika, spring has arrived.

                              ("veronika, the asparagus is growing"... no metaphor whatsoever haha)

                              1. re: linguafood

                                Oh, thx, I'm going to impress my friend w/that line next time I see her!

                            2. re: linguafood

                              Is it mainly white asparagus in Germany or are you also big on the green as we are in the UK (we never see homegrown white)?

                              1. re: Harters

                                Nah. Nobody really cares about green asparagus in Germany. I remember seeing my first green asparagus.... in the 80s maybe? Back then, it was exotic, so people bought it. But it never could create the same, ridiculous obsession as white asparagus.

                                I do like it roasted (the green, that is), or grilled, or as part of pasta dishes. But it can never win over the white gold hahaha.

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  I guess I gotta jump in.

                                  We had an asparagus patch while growing up. We had a season long each year of tender, very young, slim asparagus quickly streamed and served withing four minutes of harvest. Nothing beats this. Aspragus is a perennial; and we had the same patch produce year after year; each year after a long, healthy winter dormancy.

                                  I've awaited and savored the first white asparagus in Germany! Delicious but not as good as the home patch.

                                  I've had fresh green and newly harvested white asparagus in Peru. Delicious and as good as that in Germany.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    Not having been to Peru, I'll have to take your word for it, Sam.

                                    One thing that might influence the 'not as good as the home patch' might be personal and emotional attachment, no? Homegrown anything will most likely beat out some random veggie you didn't pour your heart and labor into. Just my 2 pfennige '-)

                                    (knowing how MUCH you love that 'moronic sideways smiley)

                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      You're right, of course.

                                      But ... I think little beats being able to harvest young and fresh shoots and to cook then ever sooo lightly and quickly consume them!

                                      As to heart and labor: almost none whatsoever. Bit of weeding and regular watering and nothing else. No hilling up and covering with soil and all that.

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        But then it won't stay white, dude. Two different animals, or rather, vegetables.

                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          You should visit the north coast of Peru. They produce both green and (buried) white. Would be interesting to see what you think.

                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Sam- when we go to Puerto Penasco, Mexico (nearly to the top of the Sea of Cortez) in Oct-Nov, the vendedores de mariscos always have tons of fabulous asparagus, which I thought was more of a spring thing. Would you have any idea where it comes from and why it shows up in the fall? I have a hard time believing that a relatively backwater northern Mexico town would be pulling in spring produce from Chile, et al.

                                      1. re: EWSflash

                                        China is the world’s largest producer of asparagus (88% of global production in 2004). Peru is globally the largest exporter (22% by value) followed by Mexico (16%), the US and Spain (14% each). In order, the US, Germany, and Japan are the world’s largest asparagus importers

                                        Mexico now sows some 8,000 ha of asparagus, produced 55,000 tons (2002, greater now), of which 50,000 tons of fresh were exported. Mexican production is from Sonora, Baja California, and Guanajuato. Availability over much of the year is due to two irrigated production seasons.

                                        Peru produced 185,000 tons in 2003 – with 65,000 tons exported fresh and 114,000 tons processed and exported. Other smaller producers include the US, Germany, Greece, Spain, and Japan.

                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                          Any way to distinguish Linguafood's beloved White Stalks in those figures, or is it really a German/European treat?

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            I am not quite sure what exactly you are trying to say, but quantity -- with regard to asparagus, means next to nothing. It's all about quality, and that comes from the terroir the asparagus is grown in.

                                            China and Mexico can export all the (white?) asparagus they want, but I'll take my spargel from Beelitz or Schwetzingen over imported any time, from early April to June 24. Asparagus is a seasonal vegetable that should NOT be available year round. And I continue to believe that Germany produces the best in the world (until convinced otherwise... but why would I even buy imported asparagus if I can get the real stuff).

                                            1. re: linguafood

                                              The numbers above were in answer to EWSflash's question to me regarding Mexican asparagus production.

                                              I was NOT saying anything further to you but Genießen Sie Ihren deutschen Spargel and that I hope you get to try Peruvian asparagus in Peru.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Vielen Dank, werde ich tun!! And I hope I make it to Peru some day as well, though asparagus will not be high on my list.... too many other regional things to try, I bet :-D

                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                  Oh, man! Only on Chowhound:

                                                  A Japanese-American, living in Columbia, speaking German to a woman about Peruvian asparagus!

                                                  This is priceless!

                                                    1. re: shaogo

                                                      Reminds me of a post yesterday where someone was recommending a Portuguese version of a Peruvian cookie that's actually made in Japan:

                                                      When I read it I remember thinking, "Now THAT"S globalism!"

                                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Peruvian is almost exclusively what we see in the UK when it's not our own short season. Personally I don't rate the taste by comparison and almost never buy it. I'm happy to gorge for the six weeks of Brit grown.

                                                1. re: Harters

                                                  Personally, I now buy only Colombian green at my supermarket.

                                                2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  Thanks- that explains it. Penasco is in Sonora, just across the top of the Sea of Cortez from San Felipe in Baja.

                                                  I had NO idea that Mexico was the 3rd largest producer of asparagus.

                                    3. re: linguafood

                                      Über alles! near here in southern NL i get spargel grown in a neighbouring province. i always picked up several kilos [directly from the farmers] to bring back when visited a friend who lived somewhere between Bremen and Hannover. and then even deep in the countryside with the farms on all sides. there are countless Spargel signs on country road in the spring. i like NL spargel fine but i say this about most other NL [greenhouse!] vegs 'sieht gut aus aber schmeckt nach nichts'. :(

                                      Spargel mit geräucherter Schinken:)

                                      1. re: Pata_Negra

                                        mmmmm. the picture sieht SEHR gut aus. nice fat stalks :-D. not sure about the hard-boiled egg, tho.

                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          c'mon Lingua-- grated hardboiled egg or egg sauces such as hollandaise on asparagus are about as classic as you can get! :)

                                          and of course whatever asparagus is most local and fresh is always going to taste the best. we had a large asparagus patch in our garden and ate it just-picked in season. i'll also happily buy it at the farmer's market-- at the supermarket, not so much, unless i'm desperate.

                            3. re: shaogo

                              Your post almost made me cry. What wonderful memories and what a wonderful culinary inheritance you were given. Thanks for making my day!

                            4. Polish and Pa Dutch background, raised in Philly. I was probably more influenced by the neighbors Italian cooking, although we did have pierogies, stuffed cabbage, fresh kielbasa at home. I still make that stuff, but not every day. And I bring a cooler of scrapple back to Texas whenever I get to Philly.

                              1. I'm fourth-generation Canadian on my mother's side (family originally from Ireland), and first-generation English on my father's. My baking comes largely from my mother's side - she had me rolling our piecrust beside her from the time I was 4 or so - but my cooking -except for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding - has rather little to do with the Ontario cooking of my upbringing (meat, two veg, potato variety). It's developed over time, including Chinese cooking from time spent in Asia, Indian and other south and southeast Asian and Eurpoean cuisines I've come across and enjoyed. I credit The Time-Life Foods of the World series and the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, both of which my mother got me when I was a teenager and which I read cover to cover avidly, with expanding my cultural as well as culinary horizons.

                                11 Replies
                                1. re: buttertart

                                  I have that series too...inherited from my husband's're so right about the cultural as well as culinary information. It's an awesome series. I have to admit, I haven't really cooked from it much, but it's one of those things I plan to do someday:)

                                  1. re: sunflwrsdh

                                    I haven't either a teriffic amount - made an Indian dinner from it with my boyfriend when I was a kid, my first foray into Indian food - but have made things from the Quintet of Cuisines (the stuffed endive from the Belgian section and the émincé / Geschnetzeltes of veal (better with venison) from the Swiss, and the Finnish cardamom sand cake from Scandinavia many times. The recipes work very well. I am intending to fill out the series with the volumes that got lost or left behind along the way in transcontinental moves once we move (a very good source for this and other 60's/70's cookbooks: The Title Page used bookstore just outside Philadelphia. Feel fee to email me if you want their email address).

                                    1. re: sunflwrsdh

                                      Just read a very amusing piece by Nora Ephron in "American Food Writing" Molly O'Neill ed. from 1968, re teh food scene then and the controversy over the T-L FotW series, especially the French Provincial Cooking volume. Seems the food Establishment was much smaller then but very given to internecine battles, intense rivalries, etc much as it is today.

                                    2. re: buttertart

                                      I'm Canadian as well, grew up in Eastern Ontario... til now I thought my family's mostly Scottish/English background was the reason dinners were protein/2 veg/potato. Maybe it was a regional thing?

                                      I have my Dad's side to thank for my affinity with Scotch, and Mum's side for my sweet tooth. (Gran is French-Canadian who married a Scot). I've never made haggis, detest overboiled veg... I can't say I've ever gotten into the 1/4 french-canadian much either. I did learn one thing from Dad and Gran - to be fearless in the kitchen. I hope to learn a few recipes from Gran, an opportunity I didn't have with Dad or his Mum, and pass on kitchen wisdom to my own kids.

                                      1. re: maplesugar

                                        I think the dinner (which we called supper) composition was partly from ethnic background and partly from home ec training which was widespread from at least the 1930's on.

                                      2. re: buttertart

                                        Funny you mention Woman's Day magazine. When cleaning out some old recipes my mom had given me, I discovered many little cook booklets from that magazine. They date back to 1961 and eack covers 1 type of food - except for one that is James Beard's budget meals. I had a blast going through them.

                                        1. re: nvcook

                                          Man, I'd love to see them. I loved those (I started reading Family Circle and Woman's Day pretty much as soon as I could read - my mom got them at the grocery store back when you had to go to 2 different chains to get both of them - and I still get them, comfort food for the brain). The Christmas cookie ones were really great. WD also used to have excellent crafts for Christmas articles with great knitting patterns - my husband has 2 Fair Isle vests I knitted for him from one, pattern maybe ca 1976 (knitted later and wish I could lay hands on the pattern again). The crafts - and the recipes - have been dumbed-down to some extent over the years unfortunately. FC I believe it was also ran a great column by Peg Bracken, one of my heroines, for some years.

                                          1. re: buttertart

                                            I have always loved me some Peg Bracken. I bought my noncooking sister Peg's "I Hate to Cook Book" back in the '70s because I thought it was just perfect. Her 'how to cook wild rice' essay was just priceless, esp. back in the days before farmed wild rice (an oxymoron? Maybe, but I for one am grateful).

                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                              She was great. wasn't she? I love her breezy style. Several things she wrote pop into mind at appropriate moments.

                                            2. re: buttertart

                                              Are you my twin switched at birth?! Ditto on the knitting patterns - I belong to a group here known as the "happy hooker". (Since prostitution is legal in Nv, that sometimes gets odd looks). I have 2 of the Christmas cookie booklets myself. But, really...James Beard on a budget?!

                                              1. re: nvcook

                                                Maybe so! Have to get knitting again. James Beard on budget cooking is amusing - get the malossol instead of the sevruga, it's cheaper. (His Menus for Entertaining suggests a store cupboard for unexpected guests that would run you about $1000.00 nowadays).