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How Does Your Ancestry/Background and Home Country's Background Affect Your Cooking/Eating?

So I am currently wrapping up a course that I am taking that is all about Food and Culture. For my final paper, I have chosen to discuss how the ancestry/background/ethnicity of Americans affects their modern day cooking. We hear so much about how people's cooking isn't what it used to be, and everyone just eats hamburgers and fries; but I have some serious doubts about that. Maybe it's just how I was raised?

But, it got me to wondering what Chowhounders are like...I regularly read about the amazing food that you all put out, and am wondering how your past (and your family's past) affects your present day cooking/eating?

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  1. Absolutely...I was born and raised in Zimbabwe, university in England and lived in Asia (Thailand, Singapore, Philippines and Indonesia) for nearly 7 years and i can say that what we eat definitely reflects both my ethnicity and my travels.For example, last night we had a chicken curry, based on the curries of Kwa-Zulu Natal, tonight it's bangers (sausages..) and mash potatoes, very English....tomorrow it's prawn laksa, my favourite from my days in Singapore.

    For an article that discusses how the foods of SE Asia have influenced the food of Southern Africa, please take a look at our website (www.safariclubmiami.com). If you wish to discuss, please feel free to leave your contact details on the site and I'll contact you.

    1 Reply
    1. re: miami_african

      Thank you so much for your response! I will definitely be taking a look at the article :)

    2. Especially during Fall and Winter, my food choices are heavily identified with Russian/Eastern European. We like noodles, all root vegetables, dumplings, sour cream, beer-and-wine-braises;kraut, cucumbers, vinegar, dill....it's probably a heavier style of eating than many of my other fellow CH-ers.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mamachef

        Mine is very similar. I am a mutt of all types, but focusing in Western and Northern Europe. I've found that noodles, braises, and LOTS of potatoes factor into my cooking in the winter (and even in the summer). My cooking is heavy usually.

      2. I am of Cuban ancestry so there are a lot of influences in the food I like. I think it probably influences me in being more adventurous than most Americans when I go out to eat, I always want to have the food that I have never had before. When I lived up north for a few years I noticed that many people were worried about eating a strange dish, but to me it has always been the stranger the better.

        As far as cooking goes, for a lousy cook I have a remarkable spice cabinet and I am very garlic-friendly. I'm not afraid to go wild with the cumin.

        1 Reply
        1. re: redfish62

          When you do cook, are your dishes more Cuban influenced?

        2. I am of Irish ancestry, raised in DC. And I have turned away from the foods with which I was raised. I do not boil meat. Nor do I boil most vegetables. And I eat lots of ethnic foods that still scare my parents. I was raised on salt and dried parsley but now use fresh herbs, lots of chilies, and enjoy well-spiced foods. I do, however, still use real butter and milk.

          27 Replies
          1. re: mojoeater

            Also of Irish descent, but raised in Philly. Never heard of boiled meat: meat was roasted, broiled or fried (then again, the last descendant with a brogue was early 1800s). Veggies were fresh or, if not in season, frozen; and yes, sometimes boiled. But never canned.

            I have always said for an Irish woman, mom was a hell of a good Italian cook (lasagna, stuffed shells, baked ziti). But we didn't have a lot of money growing up, and these were probably cheap ways to provide good, nutritious food to a family of six. And since we were in a city with a good number of Italians, the accompanying bread was always good (and cheap) too. Mom has often mentioned, though, that for her parents even spaghetti was a foreign experience and she never had pizza until she was an adult.

            Never had corned beef and cabbage served at home; though New Years day was always a pork roast and potatoes with sauerkraut.

            Lots of fish--Ireland is an island after all. And lots of potatoes--baked, mashed, left over mashed fried as potato cakes with onions.

            Mom was always a gardener, so in season always fresh mint, basil, rosemary, oregano, jalapenos, bell peppers, tomatoes, etc. Who knew that, in a protected side yard in Philly, rosemary will live year round?

            Actually my 82 year old mom now eats a lot of ethnic food I find scary. She has discovered a love for very spicy Thai, Korean, Vietnamese.

            1. re: gaffk

              My grandmother was born in Ireland and taught her daughters how to cook - how to put a hunk of meat in water with salt and boil it. Potatoes were served with butter and dried parsley, whether mashed or served in chunks. Once in a while that hunk of meat would be thrown in the oven - on top of potatoes with butter and parsley. They never ate fish. I do believe grandma discover frozen veggies (she never had a garden) which explains the grey peas and beans. Everything was mushy. Only things served fresh were iceburg lettuce and carrots, which constituted a salad.

              1. re: mojoeater

                Sounds awful. I'm glad I am two centuries removed ;) And really, how do you "boil meat"?

                And how does a person grow up on an island in the North Atlantic and NOT eat fresh fish?

                1. re: gaffk

                  She might have had fish in Ireland, but never served it to her 9 kids in the US. Thus, I grew up with fish sticks as the closest thing. My least favorite meal as a kid was frozen then baked fish sticks and boiled peas. Of course, my older sister always asked for it when she wanted to torture me.

                  1. re: mojoeater

                    Sorry for you. I am now pushing 50 and have never yet tasted a frozen fish stick. Then again, we were only 4 kids on a very limited budget--9 may have pushed the limit (especially since all 4 were girls) to frozen fish sticks.

                    But I think more than the food, the 6 of us around the dinner table at 6 o'clock sharp is what I'll really remember, regardless of the food serverd.

                    1. re: mojoeater

                      Fresh fish for a family of nine kids could get pretty expensive, unless you happen to be living close enough to the water to buy at the docks, or go fishing yourself.

                    2. re: gaffk

                      I grew up in Northern Ireland, and my mum's parents - farmers in Fermanagh- would have been aghast at eating fish. Bearing in mind that they had an abundance from Lough Erne and my grandad was a very handy fisherman, so supply certainly wasn't an issue - you just did not eat fish.

                      However, my dad's family who came from a rather more well off and cosmopolitan background, would see fish as normal and edible, but fish was certainly not a common foodstuff for the majority of the population.

                      My greatest culinary influence has been my mum, who was an absolute Elizabeth David devotee and devoured the food articles from the London papers. She was 20 years ahead of her time and served us great food. We also spent a lot of time in France which helped.

                      So, for my mum, French and European cuisine was where the excitement lay. For me, that's not so exotic, but I've travelled to the US and the Far East, and lived in London where you can find pretty much every cuisine.

                      1. re: serah

                        Wow, that's surprising. Guess maybe the fish was more a product of being close to the Atlantic coast here in the US?

                        1. re: gaffk

                          Might I offer the theory that the objection to fish in Northern Ireland was more based upon politics and religion than deliciousness or availability. Fish being an essential part of the Catholic diet on fridays throughout the year, as well as several other holy days.

                            1. re: MGZ

                              So they would've rather starved than eat fish? Ah, sweet religion.

                              1. re: MGZ

                                My mother and husband are both Irish and Catholic. Neither grew up eating much seafood at all.

                                1. re: southernitalian

                                  I have no intention of derailing this topic more, so I will simply note that prior to Vatican II (c 1965) abstaining from eating meat on fridays was considered a penetence by devout Catholics. Thus, for centuries the practice of eating fish on that day was de rigeur on that island, much like it was along the coasts of every other Catholic nation in Europe.

                                  1. re: MGZ

                                    Except when the English wouldn't allow it. And that went on for centuries so it may have just fallen out of favor. My in-laws talk about catching and eating eels and mussels but they both said their mothers never served fish and they didn't know anyone else who ate it. They said they ate cheese sandwiches on Fridays growing up and they still don't eat meat on Fridays to this day. A fried egg sandwich, grilled cheese, etc.

                                    1. re: MGZ

                                      Fish frys every Friday night at all the bars in Sayreville/South River, NJ, going into the 3rd generation. I' a "recovering catholic", but sill gotta have my weekly dose of fish.
                                      The kolbasi our church members would make and sell as a fund raiser, blini breakfasts and stuffed cabbage suppers.
                                      I'm a kapusta junkie to this day.

                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                        My Catholic-born mother loves to say that the best thing she ever did for me was *lapse*. Her family had 'spaghetti' on Fridays (noodles and jarred sauce, an odd choice for a family so proud of its French-American Detroit farmer roots: my mother's people settled there when it was still a trading post).

                                        But I do remember the Friday fish frys that were prominent in our town, and what a treat it was to be able to go to some lodge, or church basement, with the smiling ladies serving out of aluminum trays, under the echoing din of voices, my parents watching my behavior as we took our square of space amid the communal seating.

                                        That was a nice, and unexpected, memory.

                                        1. re: onceadaylily

                                          Resurrecting fish Fridays has been a joy for me. We didn't observe the Friday penance growing up and continued our full fare of meat-heavy straight from Sunday to Sunday. If I didn't have this small penance, I likely wouldn't have learned to make wonderful fare like cha ca thanh long, sambal steamed fish, Tamil fish curry, shrimp pad thai and som tum, roasted tahini fish, and the soup that sustains me through most of Lent: oden. Being a temporary pescetarian while dining out has made recognizes the luxuries of our diet more, but find great surprises in new ways of eating.

                                          1. re: onceadaylily

                                            Oadl, you wouldn't happen to be from Milwaukee, would you? I had the best fish fries of my life when I was in college in MN and we'd drive over the border to pig out in Wisconsin.

                                            1. re: mamachef

                                              Michigan, mama, just south of Detroit, known for Catholics, cars and cherries. ;) But when I left home, I was asked numerous times if I was from Wisconsin. Aside from speech patterns, we have a very similar culture, I think. I always bug the boyfriend to do a long weekend in Wisconsin in a small cabin somewhere, but the boy does hate to be unplugged. Maybe the prospect of a really good fish fry will help my cause.

                                2. re: serah

                                  What is a traditional meal for your family? Is there anything in particular that you would say you ate more than anything else? That is an interesting background for sure, and I am going to look around and learn more about Elizabeth David. I did a quick google, and she looks absolutely fascinating!

                              2. re: mojoeater

                                It all sounds very familiar. I still love parsley and butter in my boiled potatoes - good! The only meat I boil (more at simmer) is corned beef, but that isn't an Irish dish it's American-Irish.

                                In the history of Ireland, the Irish were never big on fish. The English yes, the Irish no.
                                The famine would not have been so terrible if they had been accoustomed to eating more fish.
                                Back in the 80's I spent 2 weeks traveling around Ireland, let me tell you I never saw a salad. Most fruits and vegetables are imported and so the cost is higher and Ireland having been a poor country people eat a lot of meat, bread, and root vegetables. They excel when it comes to pastries, scones, and breads...delicious!

                                1. re: dartanian

                                  Again, if one was caught trying to fish during the famine, the punishment could range from imprisonment to death. They had no boats, no nets.

                                  My in-laws both grew up very poor but said they both ate a lot of lamb, turnips, potatoes, good bread with fresh butter. That's still what they like to eat. One is from the northern part of the country (still in the Republic) and one is from the south.

                                  Now they're discovering (or hearing from home about) the incredible cheeses coming out of Ireland and proudly serve them to guests.

                                  My mother (whose parents were from Cork) never ate fish growing up. Her first Christmas Eve with my father's Italian family was a pleasant surprise.

                                  1. re: dartanian

                                    Heh, the only veg I really, really miss from Belfast is something called "soup vegetables" No idea what exactly it its - basically a mix of chopped up green leafy vegetables that goes into making soup, along with some pearl barley. You can get soup mixes in England but nothing comes close to soup veg soup.

                                2. re: gaffk

                                  I think I had potatoes with almost every single meal growing up. I would *beg* my mother for rice instead of the mashed/baked/boiled/etc potatoes. It's interesting that your mom has a very spicy preference now, as I find the same with my family. We grew up on a blander diet with more traditional foods, but now it is a case of more spice, more heat, more burn.

                                  1. re: milkyway4679

                                    I guess she always had a taste for spicy (hence the home-grown jalapenos); but definitely more pronounced as she grows older. We had some people over for a football game a few weeks ago and she made wings that practically burned everybody else's lips off--she thought they were good ;)

                                3. re: mojoeater

                                  I grew up on boiled potatoes and vegetables, but no boiled meat usually.

                                  1. re: milkyway4679

                                    Irish American/All grandparents hail from the Republic. Irish are not known for their fine cooking. Grandmother boiled meat until it looked like a shoe. Potatos EVERY NIGHT! I kid you not. Grandmothers' mashed potatos were lumpy and dry. I will say, though, that my grandmother brewed the best tea. I dunno what it was, but she took such care and having tea was a daily ritual when we were kids. She would put the tea in a teaball, steep it for a bit and cover the tea kettle with a cozy. I really miss her tea.
                                    Now..on the other my mother was a step up on the Irish Cook thing. Her "spice" cabinet literally consisted of salt, pepper, and onion salt. Once again, we would have potatos every night. She would go through a 5 pound bag of spuds a day--I had two brothers and my dad loved his spuds as well--there was usually a little left for me and my two sisters. Spaghetti was served with Ragu from a jar. Broccolli as other green veggies were cooked to the point of being olive green. The only fish we ate was Mrs. Paul's fish sticks and they were consumed on Fridays--even after the Vatican said we could eat meat, Friday evenings were always fish sticks and spaghetti. One thing my mother was genius with was with a roast. My god, she perfected Roast Beef--actually rare and beautiful..her leg of lamb was to die for as was her Fresh ham. I am an excellent cook, but I've never seemed to measure up to my mom's ability to cook a roast. On the other hand my fiance is French..and you know what THAT means! I've learned to become a great cook with help from his family!

                                4. I'm comfortable with vinegar, sauerkraut, bread and lard for frying. (German background).

                                  Have gotten more comfortable w/ chilis, tortillas, chorizo and lard for frying. He He. . . (Living in USA SW region).

                                  To this day DS hates vinegar, sauerkraut and eschews lards cuz' of fitness plan.

                                  I've never gotten used to onions ( raw or cooked ) w/ either cuisine.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: JerryMe

                                    I am a terrible German, as I cannot stand sauerkraut. I do love sausage though, and there is a local German butcher in my area that sells handmade sausage. I love their products.

                                    So the region you're from has definitely affected your cooking...do you ever mix your German heritage with the SW region cuisine? Sausage tacos? Sauerkraut burritos? :)

                                    I love onions personally, and it shows in my cooking. I always put way more in than asked for because I know I love more!

                                  2. The Korean cultural food traditions and habits I grew up with definitely guide my eating preferences today. It isn't the most convenient, nor does it happen all the time, but I prefer having lots of variety at the table: spicy kimchi, savory marinated tofu, sharp greens, salty fried fish, crisp seaweed, fluffy egg, chewy dried radish, deeply flavored and spiced jjigae (stews) or clear and simple soups, etc. Unfortunately, I'm only one person and all the dishes are labor intensive, so I veer more towards simpler meals with rice, soup, a fish, a few vegetables... I don't distinguish between breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods, and though love a great piece of blue steak and wine, prefer galbi and soju.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: link_930

                                      Wow! Those all sound fantastic, but definitely labor intensive. Would most of those dishes be served at a typical Korean meal, or is that a personal preference?

                                      Do you feel that most of your meals are Korean-based? When you eat other cuisines, what types of cuisines do you prefer?

                                      I also rarely distinguish between breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I have no family history of that...so I don't know where i picked up that preference!

                                      1. re: milkyway4679

                                        All those side dishes are called banchan, and yes, are served at a typical Korean meal. And yes again, most of the food I eat at home is Korean :) Funny that you ask about other tastes -- I deleted from my initial post because I ran out of laptop battery, but was trying to connect my preference for select foods from Indian, Latin Caribbean, Armenian, Persian, and Chinese cuisines to the background as well.

                                      2. re: link_930

                                        link, how do you make savory marinated tofu?

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Alkapal -- it's called "dubu jjorim." You basically fry the tofu, then simmer briefly in a mix of soy sauce, Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru), minced garlic, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and chopped green onions. I save some of that sauce and add chopped jalapenos and onion to it as an additional dip. Here's a pretty good idea of how to make it (except I don't use sugar):

                                            1. re: link_930

                                              oh link, thanks so much for sharing this! it sounds fabulous!!!

                                        2. I'm of "mixed" ancestry; my mother was born in Belfast, Ireland, of northern English parents, and all three emigrated to Los Angeles when my mother was seven. My father was a fourth generation native Californian of "pioneer" stock who settled as orange growers in (where else?) Orange County. About the most ethnic thing I remember my mother making when I was a kid is not corned beef and cabbage, but tamale pie! Hey, we lived about five miles from the Mexican border. During World War II (Pearl Harbor was bombed when I was 8) there were great food shortages and serious rationing but my family was extremely resourceful, and my grandfather (my father was away for most of the war in the Navy and we lived with my mother's parents) raised chickens,rabbits, and had a victory garden that included everything but French or Italian truffles! My mother bought beef for the week every Monday in Tijuana, Mexico, from a butcher shop that had the carcasses from Sunday's corrida. She preferred the shoulder roast that was pre-pierced by the matador's sword so she could stuff it with garlic. The butcher always saved that cut for her. She also bought sugar in Mexico, which was severely rationed in the U.S. Consequently I grew up with little to no scars of deprivation. In fact, the opposite.

                                          As an adult, I have lived in both Turkey and Greece, and it shows in my cooking. I had several Japanese American friends as a kid, and Japanese cooking has been a lifelong influence in my cooking. Actually, I learned to cook seriously while I lived in Turkey, and blindly lucked out by having a professional executive chef retire into my employ. She taught me to cook classic (1950s) French and Ottoman/Byzantine cuisines. Hey, three years of private tutoring six days a week can't be all bad! My mother considered cooking her source of power over the family and therefore would not teach me to cook. But I had to do the dishes regularly BEFORE dishwashers OR detergent. Soapy tepid dishwater and marinara sauce is disgusting!

                                          Living in Turkey when we did (1957 thru 1960, inclusive) was a world unto itself because of the monetary exchange rate. Incredible things were available from the Turkish economy, such as shrimp the size of small lobsters, fresh Black Sea beluga caviar by the kilo, fruits and vegetables that have never been equaled, and I have never had really good lamb outside of Turkey or Greece. And the yogurt! <sigh> Human memory of taste and smell is the most accurate memory we have, and I am so fortunate to have such great memories!

                                          I'm an adventurous cook, but for the last thirty years I've had some serious food allergies, and that has shaped my cooking by necessity. For example, in college my best friend was an exchange student from New Delhi, who taught me a good foundation in Indian cooking. Since the allergies I'm allergic to garbanzos and turmeric, so I've given up on Indian food.

                                          I'm a creative cook and most often prepare dishes from what is on hand. As I age, the arthritis in my hands makes many things more difficult, especially cooking at times, and I'm very blessed to have a housekeeper who is a very willing sous chef. "The Joy of Cooking" is sort of an understatement for me. I bask in it , and I've always been sort of "over the top." Roast suckling pigs for Christmas dinners. Elaborate wedding cakes for friend's and family. Croquembouches, abalone feasts for dozens, peek-a-boo sugar Easter eggs with scenes inside. And, as you might imagine from all of this information, a life long battle with the bathroom scale. Damned scale! '-)

                                          18 Replies
                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            Wow! I have always read your responses on other threads with great interest, but never knew what a varied background you had! It is fascinating to read all that, and I can definitely see everything has influenced you.

                                            I am 21, and just really starting to find my place in the kitchen. I find my food being strongly influenced by both my family's heritage (which is a huge Northern and Western European mix), and also Puerto Rican/Hispanic cooking. A friend from Puerto Rico taught me to use certain spices, and I have taken what I was taught, and begun to create my own recipes using the same spices and techniques. This is mostly where the paper has come from. There is a lot of commentary on this "fast food nation" but having been an avid foodie from a young age, I know that not everyone's lives focus around fast food, especially after having found Chowhound. I learn so much here, and knew that when I came up with the paper topic, I wanted to see what the 'Hounds had to say about it. It's just fascinating to me, as everyone here has such varied backgrounds.

                                            Thank you for sharing :) It was fascinating to read, and makes me want to travel even more!

                                            1. re: milkyway4679

                                              I think you are remarkable for your interests and how you pursue them. Hooray for you! Is there any chance you would consider posting your paper somewhere that we could read it? I'd be very interested in what you write. Think about it, okay? :-)

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                Oh of course I can! I don't mind. It won't be done for two or so weeks though! It's an exam, so I will just figure out a way to post a copy somewhere and then post the link for people to read if they want...it's probably going to be 12-15 pages, but hopefully it will be interesting! :)

                                            2. re: Caroline1

                                              This was a wonderful read! You have had an amazing background which contributed to your eclectic culinary interest and cooking skills. The more you travel and experience different cultures, the broader your interests become and the more interesting your menus become.

                                              My background is mostly Russian and Baltic so my upbringing still influences my palate, i.e. sour cream, mushrooms, dill, potatoes, etc. However, because of my living in Germany, Belgium and traveling all over Europe, especially France, I have added these culinary influences as well. I also grew up in Texas, so the Southwest taste buds are still there.

                                              1. re: igorm

                                                I think you're right that travel and experiencing different cultures is an important factor in food appreciation, but I also think that curiosity, an expanded awareness, plus a greater tolerance for things different are critical components too. Without them, there is no growth or appreciation. When I lived in Turkey, back in the late fifties, I was stunned when several Air Force wives arrived, looked around at how different Turkey was from their little corner of the U.S., and turned around and flew home leaving their husbands to stay in Turkey much longer than they would have had to if they had remained together. A closed mind is lethal, to life and to relationships. I suspect the unifying factor among Chowhounds is insatiable curiosity about everything, but we're also blessed (or cursed, depending on how much self control we have) with wild and crazy taste buds!

                                                Your background makes for some GREAT meals! Ever tried sauerbraten tacos with smetana, and a shredded Brussels sprouts slaw on the side? '-)

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  No, but last Saturday I made chicken/turkey cutlets, spaetzle and mushroom sauce, and braised red cabbage. Yum!

                                                  1. re: igorm

                                                    Double yum! Care to share? Is it a grind of the two meats together, and do you make your own spaetzle? Talk to me, here.

                                                    1. re: igorm

                                                      I'm more curious about how you shape your spaetzle than if you make your own. I use a long spatula (the kind for frosting cakes, not turning pancakes) to "cut" my batter off the edge of an upside down cake pan into boiling liquid. Been making it that way for decades. I was shocked the first time I saw a gadget for making spaetzle by smushing the batter through what looked, for all the world, to me like a potato ricer. So how do you shape yours?

                                                      And do you actually have a chicken/turkey hybrid and made schnitzel, or was it a ground mix for patties? What do I know? Maybe poultry farmers are mixing breeds! '-)

                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                        Actually, I used two pounds of ground chicken and two pounds of ground turkey, added four eggs, six slices of french bread soaked in half and half, salt and pepper; mixed all together by hand and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour. Formed the cutlets using about 1/3 cup each and dredged them in bread crumbs. Let them sit in the rerigerator for 30 min. and sauted them in butter, 4 min. on each side.

                                                        The spaetzle, I used a basic spaetzle recipe leaving out the cloves (I don't like the clove taste). I used a spaetzle maker to form my spaetzle over boiling salted water.

                                                        1. re: igorm

                                                          I don't like cloves in spaetzle either, and experience has shown me that there are about as many varieties of spaetzle as there are cooks. There's a German restaurant near me where I had spaetzle once and will remain so forevermore. They make their spaetzle out of rocks! I like mine firm but tender.

                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                            Is that the German restaurant in Plano near the expressway?

                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                Yes, when we lived in Richardson.

                                                                1. re: igorm

                                                                  Aha! A shared experience. Granite spaetzle! Their wurst is pretty good though.

                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                    Sometimes you have to roll with the punches. I guess you could say we were neighbors

                                                                    1. re: igorm

                                                                      I suspect you gained much gastronomically, by moving from Dallas to Chicago. Well, except unpredictable winters... Yesterday was 88F! A year ago was DEEP snow. Merry Christmas!

                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                        Yes, the food scene in Chicago is superb as well as the city in general. The winters are unpredictable but that adds to the enjoyment of true four seasons. Merry Christmas to you and a Happy New Year.

                                              2. I'm of Italian ancestry, both sides, and great cooks on both sides. I grew up with Italian food, Italian -American food and burgers/fries/coke, Italian Deli's and Jewish Deli's and neighborhood Chinese restaurants. As a kid I probably had more adventures in food than other kids in the neighborhood (other than ethnic Chinese or Japanese, this was the 50's). We would eat tripe, eels, muscles regularly and other things my Italian born grandmother wouldn't name. I would go with her to get live chickens and I still remember the smell (pu-ee) and all the feathers flying. Our meals were a celebration of delicious food made well. At home now my wife and I cook mainly Italian style with me trying to desperately remember all those recipes. Our kids grew up eating well at home and being adventurous at restaurants. It's a wonderful life!

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: catspercapita

                                                  Wow! That sounds fantastic! Do you still eat tripe and eels? :)

                                                  1. re: milkyway4679

                                                    No more tripe or eels. I never learned how to cook them. But I'll eat them when available.

                                                2. "and I have never had really good lamb outside of Turkey or Greece".

                                                  Wow, don't I know it!!!!! I grew up all over the globe but spent two years in Turkey. My upbringing greatly influences how I cook now. I love all foods and scoff at none. That includes "junk food" from the good ole' USA from the 1960's and 1970's. I love all food. My daily regimen of after work cooking embraces mostly Persian and Mediterranean flavors and menus. Isot pepper, sumac, sheep and goat cheeses, eggplant, etc. All good. But....give me a bag of Cheeto's on the weekend, LOL.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: sedimental

                                                    LOL I do love some cheetos! But Persian and Mediterranean? Do you cook the food styles separately, or do you combine your favorite flavors into meals?

                                                    1. re: milkyway4679

                                                      Both and all. What I meant was, for me, due to my upbringing- I find it naturally easier to make a quick weekday meal of tomatoes, garlic, eggplant and rice...than I would meat, potatoes, celery and cheese. That is not the case for my other family members that grew up in Canada and the US.

                                                  2. What a great, interesting question to get everyone thinking!

                                                    The entire attitude toward cooking and eating I have, for the most part, comes from my Mom's (the Hungarian) side of the family.

                                                    The family meal is probably where the food culture most revolves. It was not (and still isn't) just a sit-down-and-eat affair, but a day-long event of talking, cooking, eating, and more talking. I used to laugh sometimes, realizing the very comfortable living room was only breached when it was time to open presents on Christmas; afterward, it was straight back to the kitchen and hard wood straight-backed chairs. But that kitchen table at my Nana's house was always where everyone wanted to stay to hang out and talk. I guess, with generations of Hunkie cooks all together doing their thing, that was where the actions was, anyway.

                                                    Now, at my folks' house, it is still very much the same. We have big family gatherings and nobody leaves the dinner table. There's noshing and food prep before dinner, then a multi-course meal we've usually been making most of the day, followed by more conversation and coffee afterward. As I grew up, it always struck me as odd when families would get together and watch TV or such, still does. It just seems so bizarre to me, so counter to the ideas of a family gathering I was raised with in our immediate and exended family.

                                                    Of course, with all these great cooks around, my brother and sister and I all wound up loving to cook and, at least I can say in my case, particularly loving cooking for people I love. And, the coolest thing, I think, is that all of us have developed a love of old-school from-scratch cooking. The cooking is so much a part of the enjoyment of the meal, rather than a chore. It's a good thing we all live in different states or we would constantly be having immense, elaborate meals and it would feel a bit too Henry VIII for comfort *heh*.

                                                    Our background effected the character of the food, too.

                                                    There was so much flavor and gusto in the food we grew up with, so we also wound up being very adventurous as eaters and cooks. The prevalence of robust spice and garlic in the cooking our Mom learned from our Nana and hers, as well as the presence of what most kids would consider "gross" taught us to appreciate a lot of things we probably wouldn't have otherwise. I still cook with lots of innards and funky bits and love to play with making unusual and robust flavors work together in a dish. Only now, the playground covers a huge variety of cuisines instead of just what one could easily cook with ingredients readily available in old NJ neighborhoods back in the day.

                                                    1. Hmm ... I'm a second-generation American. My father's side, Scot and French-Canadian, don't cook period so that left my Irish-German mother's family. I grew up with sauerbraten and dumplings and Irish stew and corned beef and cabbage. However, thanks to an Italian neighbor when my mother was a child she learned how to make great Sunday gravy, and when her family moved to Florida in the forties--I had an uncle with health problems and back then the cure was "move to Florida"--she picked up a lot of great southern cooking from the family's housekeeper. I think as a result the majority of my family goes for plain hearty dishes--I'm considered exotic because I love Indian food, go figure ...

                                                      1. I am about as Canadian as they come, my dad's family came to Canada from the US in the late 1700's, my mom's family is from Newfoundland as far back as they can go. Perhaps my ethnic background isn't really much of anything other than old (if that makes sense)? That being said, we ate a lot of plain food growing up. My mom was an outstanding cook, for plain food. She thought of cooking as a chore, not a challenge. My dad does a mean turkey, great hash, and amazing soups. She's 90 and cannot cook anymore, he's 87 and cooks 3 meals a day for the both of them. I hope that will be me someday!

                                                        I taught myself to cook after I left home, and have become more adventurous over the years. The only spices in our house growing up were salt and pepper and poultry spice. I learned to love onions and garlic and have grown from there.

                                                        There are dishes from childhood that I make with my own twist, but to me cooking is about enjoying life not a chore.

                                                        1. I am Korean. I sometimes watch foodnetwork with my mom but you will never hear her saying, wow, that looks so tasty. All she ever says is, Oh my, look at that..look at how much sugar they are putting in to that thing....oh my, what is that white thing..Is that butter...don't tell me she is going to use that whole stick of butter! She doesn't need that much oil to stir fry that thing.
                                                          No wonder Americans are so fat!
                                                          lol It's actually quite hilarious.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Monica

                                                            I do not think that is just your Korean Mama saying that. I enjoyed reading your post. Very funny. I wonder about their discrepancy between when they SAY add 2 TB butter as they add more like 6. Your mom must freak over the cheese.

                                                            I am exploring all things Korean cooking and food lately. Yours is a rich and interesting heritage in food and in culture.

                                                          2. I'm of Greek ancestry and it definitely influences what we cook on a daily basis. We work with very few actual recipes at home and a lot of stuff is Mediterranean-influenced in terms of spices or desired preparation or how it's served. More often than not we just have a plate of meze, whatever is in the fridge. At Christmas, we make traditional Greek dishes including our own phyllo for spanakopita and homemade stuffed grape leaves and there's nothing better. I tend towards the simple recipes and seasonings of this style - OO, lemon, garlic, oregano instead of complex dishes with tons of ingredients and spices, and the more complicated the cooking style and # of ingredients, the less we eat it, even as takeout (e.g. Indian or any Asian).

                                                            1. I grew up in Pennsylvania and my mother was not a cook. It was frozen veggies or canned. Salad was lettuce, tomatoes, and Miracle (gag) Whip as salad dressing.

                                                              I moved to Southern California ~~ can you say MEXICAN FOOD????
                                                              Then I married into an Italian family with a genuine Sicilian MIL who was an outstanding cook. She was the most influential person in opening my horizons into what good fresh veggies and garlic and olive oil and pecorino cheese and etc. etc. etc. etc. could be in the right hands. Thank you Josephine.

                                                              1. I'm of Chinese (Cantonese) ancestry and spent a few years helping out in my parents' restaurant. My cooking style has a very strong Cantonese influence:

                                                                1. Knives are never used when eating. Everything is cut up before it gets to the table. Usually, this is done prior to cooking. But even when I cook something non-Chinese (e.g. turkey, beef roast), it will be cut into smaller portions before being served. "We're at the table to eat the food, not the butcher it!" :-)

                                                                2. Emphasis on light sauces and clear soups.

                                                                3. Heavy emphasis on fresh veggies and meats with minimal seasoning or seasoning that has a lighter flavor (e.g. ginger, green onions).

                                                                4. Lots of rice and veggies at almost all meals. Meat is served in limited amounts.

                                                                5. Veggies need to be tender but crisp.

                                                                6. Dessert usually consists of fresh fruits.

                                                                7. Fish is almost always served with the head and tail attached.

                                                                I use ingredients from different types of cuisines (e.g. American, Mexican, different Chinese regional ones), but it's very obvious (to me at least) I'm using a Cantonese cooking style.

                                                                1. I was actually thinking about this the other day and I've realized that my background really didn't influence my family's cooking/eating or even mine.

                                                                  My family has a mainly Irish heritage (with a few mix-ins for percentage points) and my mother cooked mainly Italian dishes when I was growing up. She always included some type of meat, veg, carb---not really on purpose, I suppose, just because it seemed a bit more square.

                                                                  As far as eating, my whole family eats extremely fast. We never really took our time growing up because one of us would always be rushing to practice, games, friend's houses, etc.

                                                                  We also never had dessert in my house. Ever. It just seemed impractical after eating a full meal.

                                                                  Our family had the advantage of being surrounded by a group of friends who were fabulous cooks as well. I think this is why I became adventurous with food early on---trying other foods that I normally wouldn't be served at home.

                                                                  Another thing, we always kept Oreo's in our fridge. Everyone thought that was weird. They also used to come over and raid the bag. Just saying...

                                                                  1. By way of background, I was born not much over forty years ago. Three of my grandparents, including both grandmothers, were Eastern European (Poland & Slovakia). Only one of them was born here.

                                                                    Their ethnic food traditions are still relevant to me and, to an extent, much of my family. These traditions are most recognizable at Christmas and Easter; however, certain personal food traditions of my grandmothers are recognizable throughout the year. For example, pierogi, a time consuming and often messy preparation, are a “couple times a year” treat. They are seasonally requested by members of both sides of the family. On the other hand, my paternal grandmother’s crabcake formula is something I will employ whenever the mood, or an abundance of crabmeat, requires.

                                                                    The Ethnic food traditions beyond my cooking are of similarly note. I like to go back to “the old neighborhood” occasionally for fresh, as well as smoked, kielbalsa (and usually, other pork products). Somehow buying it from the butchers that my grandfather selected makes me believe that it is more authentic, more “real.” The same was true of bakeries where I could get bobka and pastries. (Sadly, the bakeries I knew are all gone and I have not found any within a reasonable distance.)

                                                                    At bottom, I love the flavors of the foods associated with the “homelands” of my ancestors– pork products, garlic & onions, root vegetables, cabbage, etc. I admit that sometimes I will update preparations. I am sure my grandmothers never barbecued fresh kielbalsa or stuffed pierogi with roasted garlic and butternut squash.

                                                                    When I was younger I was interested in food and cooking and watched my grandmothers, sometimes even taking notes. As I got older, I cooked more and more. That practice permitted the development of skill. In time that skill manifested and others began to enjoy what I would cook. Consequently, I am often asked to make things my grandmothers made. I do so gladly and, honestly, embrace the role of “keeper” of the traditions.

                                                                    Good luck with your project, as well as your studies – there is always much to learn.

                                                                    1. Three of four grandparents were born in Italy, I am ROONED for places like Olive Garden, Carrabas, Bucca Di Beppo, Macaroni Grill, et al.

                                                                      Two of four grandparents grew up in poverty in Italy, so they ate foods that "rich" people didn't eat, and they valued every scrap of food, resulting in creative cooking and eating... I learned to love foods like salt cod, calamri, polenta and tripe, which were "poor people" food for my grandparents generation

                                                                      I cook some of what my grandparents did, but to be honest with you, I cut WAY back on the fat and salt compared to them.

                                                                      Overall I think because my family has always been so "food centric" that has given me an appreciation for good food, which I am now passing along to my daughter, who at 12 years old has a pretty sophisticated palate that goes beyond hotdogs, hamburgers & french fries

                                                                      1. German background pretty much all the way, but I rarely prepare German foods (although I crave rotkohl in the winter). Don't get me wrong, I like German food - but my cooking is definitely more southern european: Greek & Italian come to mind. Italian cause I'm a pasta fiend, Greek cause my mom "dated" a Greek dude for 18 years, and so both of us were exposed to all kinds of deliciousness. It definitely explains my love for garlic, even tho it seems to agree less and less with me.

                                                                        I also like to prepare Chinese & Thai food. Wiener Schnitzel is a rarer occurrence in our house than fried calamari...

                                                                        1. Make sure you post a link to your paper. I would love to read it. This is such a fascinating topic!

                                                                          1. I would say that my ancestry/background affects my cooking and eating very little, and to what little extent that it does, it's not from learning my heritage from my parents, but instead being interested in foods or cuisines BECAUSE it relates to my background.

                                                                            I'm mostly German on my mother's side, pre-Ellis Island, German communities in the midwest. Primarily English on my dad's side, from even earlier back, also more recently in the farm country of the midwest. I grew up with standard midwestern cooking, enlivened by my mother's interest in cooking (mostly French) and my dad's insistence that we try new foods wherever we could (which wasn't much locally, but more of an opportunity when we traveled). We ate some fish, but not much; lots of meat; spaghetti was the only Italian, along with my mom's homemade pizza (no pizzerias nearby until I was older); boring vegetables.

                                                                            At home these days, we rarely cook "standard American" food. Husband's Indian, and grew up not eating much meat, and I have never liked meat a lot, so it's a lot of vegetarian. When we eat meat or seafood, it's the higher-end stuff. We eat some Indian, more Italian, some French, some New Orleans, some Mexican/Tex-Mex. Our cooking is primarily influenced at this point by what we like to eat and what foods we've enjoyed during our travels in Europe. The only member of the family who eats hamburgers is me, and mine are buffalo; we do all love truffle fries, though!

                                                                            Occasionally we'll have German food night - a killer weiner schnitzel that's probably not terribly authentic (I don't think it traditionally has Parmesan mixed in with the bread crumbs), along with delicious buttered new potatoes. I'll sometimes make Welsh rarebit or Yorkshire pudding for me and the kids; I can't think of any other English foods we make (not surprisingly). Christmas dinner includes either trifle or pudding, both recipes from my mom. I doubt she got them from my dad's (English) side of the family; they're just recipes she liked. But part of the reason that I like to make those particular desserts is, indeed, due to my English heritage. And I like to make pfeffernus, because they're German (even though my mother never made them).

                                                                            1. Fascinating discussion you've prompted, milkyway :-)

                                                                              I'm of mostly Danish, a little Italian, and mixed American & native American descent, and I grew up living in Denmark, the northeast US, and Italy. I still possess a strong emotional and cultural attraction toward both Danish and Italian food, and also toward some of my Vermont food heritage (trout, venison, pumpkins, maple syrup, etc.)

                                                                              What has always interested me is how I've come to adopt other cuisines not from my own background so thoroughly into my kitchen. For instance I've spent several decades, since my early twenties intensely learning and eating first Vietnamese, then Cambodian, northern & Sichuanese Chinese, and most recently Korean and Japanese food. Dishes from all these culinary traditions still form a part of my regular cooking & eating.

                                                                              Another thing that has always intrigued me is that I've always liked good fat, animal fat in particular: Italian lardo, our Danish `fedt' (a mixture of duck and pork fat rendered deliciously with onions, apples, and thyme, and used in lieu of butter with certain open faced sandwiches, or just smeared on a slice of dense Danish/German-style rye bread with a sprinkling of salt), or simply the roasted or pan-fried verges of steaks, lamb roasts, and pork chops --I've always felt a certain relish in eating these fats that felt almost like a biological or genetic compulsion, perhaps from my Scandinavian forebears?.

                                                                              I haven't read any specific research in this area, but I'm reminded of the supertaster research carried out by Linda Bartoshuk in the '90s. While supertaster, mediumtaster and nontaster status isn't caused necessarily by genetic or cultural background, it is linked to ones genetic background for sure, and a person's taster status does confer certain food aversions that might have grown into wholescale food culture taboos over millennia.

                                                                              I find both the hard science and the cultural anthropology aspects of food and taste to be equally fascinating! And as December rolls along, I'm totally in my Danish christmas food groove --baking delicious crispy-thin brune kager (cookies) and also incorporating my Italian roots & upbringing with a guanciale curing in the other room and a coppa di testa (headcheese) setting up in the fridge. Cooking these foods, certainly at holidays, has become a deeply happy-making ritual for me.

                                                                              1. Milkyway4679: I would imagine *everyone's* ancestry / ethnicity / background affects their cooking or eating in *some* way. What more specifically are you trying to find out?

                                                                                I find your idea that "everyone just eats hamburgers and fries" missing the point that burgers and fries are not "ethnicity-free" foods - they too have a cultural background, which may have been co-opted by large fast food enterprises and spread out over North America (and now the globe) to be universal, (like blue jeans, or Western business attire). But for many families, hot dogs and hamburgers may be their ancestral ways. And foods like pizza (though very Americanized) went the other way.
                                                                                Am I missing your argument here?

                                                                                My own cooking background parallels those of many people on this site:
                                                                                1) I love good eating 2) therefore have developed competent cooking skills 3) which are focused on the food of my "ethnic" background because I find that food satisfies my desire for tasty, healthy, and affordable food and 4) I want to share these with my family and mould my kids' palates.

                                                                                So most of my cooking is South Indian vegetarian, followed by other regional Indian vegetarian, followed by any other vegetarian - e.g. Thai, Mexican, Italian etc. Many of the dishes I make from these other cuisines may be pretty ersatz in terms of authentic techniques or ingredients, but they satisfy my criteria (taste, health, affordable).

                                                                                So a typical week's dinners might be:
                                                                                1. Rasam, cabbage poriyal, rice, yogurt, lemon pickle
                                                                                2. Spinach masiyal, beet-carrot sabzi, rice, yogurt, mango pickle;
                                                                                3. Punjabi chhole, gobhi sabzi, chapatis, yogurt, kachoombar salad;
                                                                                4. Vegetarian chili and cornbread;
                                                                                5. cheese tortellini, home made pasta sauce (tomato based and rather spicy, and with added veggies), steamed and seasoned broccoli, garlic bread;
                                                                                6. Lemon rice, green beans poriyal, mixed vegetable koottu; yogurt and pickle;
                                                                                7. Paneer makhani, parathas, green beans sabzi, raita.

                                                                                Leftovers for lunch, and maybe the next day's dinner, as I usually cook in larger quantities so I don't have to cook every day. Plenty of junk snacks mixed in (store-bought cookies, potato chips, cheetos, veggie nuggets, cheese sticks, etc.)

                                                                                Weekday breakfasts are convenience foods (toast, cereal, frozen waffles etc.) and weekends we try to do better - homemade waffles or pancakes, dosais or idlis, upma, etc.

                                                                                Most middle class immigrant families of my ethnicity seem to cook in a similar way.

                                                                                My husband's responses would be very different, because he is of "mainstream" US background (Midwest), but is happy to eat what I make.

                                                                                I know people who seem very lost in the kitchen and find the idea of chopping vegetables too daunting, but that's not because of their ancestry or ethnicity .....

                                                                                5 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Rasam

                                                                                  I think it's really interesting that your American born husband is totally ok with the traditional foods you make most of the week. Does he ever ask you to prepare foods that he grew up eating?

                                                                                  Husband and I have the same background (Sephardic Jewish) but he gets so upset if I cook traditional food all week. He likes variety-- and I do what I can within the kosher parameters.

                                                                                  1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                    No he doesn't. I don't think his parents were good cooks, so I don't have to compete wtih (otherwise saintly) mother in law's foodways. :)
                                                                                    Also, husband was driving force behind family turning veg, so most of his family's food would no longer work for us. Luckily I know lots of veg food so it all works out well.

                                                                                    Also, husband does get variety: pizza, pasta, Mexican, etc. fairly often.

                                                                                    I think Sephardic cooking is so interesting and varied. What other things does your husband like?

                                                                                    1. re: Rasam

                                                                                      I think it may have to do with his family not being such great cooks.

                                                                                      I cook mostly veg, meat or chicken once a week. Husband is very active and has a big appetite, so sometimes I'll make a veg meal with grilled chicken on the side for him.

                                                                                      Husband will eat pretty much anything, and he's open to whatever I'm cooking. He makes suggestions only if he knows I'm going grocery shopping- very considerate of him. Last night I made an easy vegetable soup and olive and mushroom pizza. Some of his favorites are tofu and vegetable stir fry, soup, quesedillas, chili, anything with mushrooms, steak, noodles with meat sauce, pasta with artichokes.

                                                                                      We eat tons of vegetables-- most of my grocery budget goes to buying fruits and veggies. Butternut squash, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, string beans, mushrooms, swiss chard, red cabbage... some of our favorites.

                                                                                      I also make a lot of homemade hummus and black bean dips. I'm pregnant and don't have much of an appetite... so I make lots of easy to transport and eat things that can stay in the fridge. Works out well b/c there's always something to snack on in the fridge.

                                                                                      If you're interested in Sephardic cooking... definitely see if you can get the book "Aromas of Aleppo." It's a Syrian cookbook that has beautiful photos and recipes. Some of the recipes are simple and some are a bit more involved.. but it really showcases the flavors of the dishes.

                                                                                      1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                        Thanks for the cookbook recommendation, I will definitely look out for it. When I get my hands on it I will ask you which recipes you have found particularly good.

                                                                                        I too have hummus always made and in the fridge - something the whole family agrees on :) I do 1 lb dry chickpeas at a time, then half is regular hummus and the other half is flavored with something....

                                                                                        Congratulations on the pregnancy, and may you have a good little foodie :)

                                                                                        1. re: Rasam

                                                                                          The cookbook pretty much has everything I've been eating my whole life! Every family has their variations.. but it's all similar

                                                                                          Husband and I will both eat pretty much anything.. I hope the kid turns out the same way!!

                                                                                2. I'm half Turkish and half Scots-Canadian. Both of my grandparents on my Mum's side emigrated to Canada as adults, so that Scots influence was still very strong.

                                                                                  I make a lot of Turkish dishes on a weekly basis, and will make things such as borek, dolmas, and baklava for special occasions. Oddly it was my Canadian mother who had learned how to make these dishes, possibly because she liked them, or perhaps to please my father, most likely a bit of both and taught me how make them. Of course my family in Turkey also taught me how to make many dishes, although my Aunts now have cooks as they're too old to cook all the time. The cooks find it slightly odd that I want to watch them cook certain dishes, but are happy to oblige me. Once once commented to a friend when opening my fridge "I don't have any yogurt (plain yogurt)? How the heck does a nice Turkish girl not have any yogurt in her fridge?" She laughed. Even when I'm not making a strict Turkish dish, you can still see the influence in my cooking; some meat, rice, and lots of fresh or cooked seasonal vegetables, simply prepared, and a simple salad with lemon and oil dressing, and some times a lot of little meze dishes. Oh, and Caroline1 is right, the lamb in Turkey is much better than here, as are the green peppers, love those things, they don't taste the same here.

                                                                                  From my Mum's side I get a lot of the meat and potatoes sort of dishes. As well as a lot of fish dishes. Someone in that side was from the outer scottish isles, and so some of those dishes do have some Scandinavian influences; like pickled fish. Stews, game birds, trifle, are also very common, both in my house and when I was a child. Even my Grandmother's stuffing recipe has oats (steel cut) in it and vaguely resembles haggis recipes with out the sheep's stomach bit. I also think that this side influenced my love for French cooking. That side always saw French food as the pinnacle of gastronomy.

                                                                                  There was also a third influence in my upbringing. My parents had a lot of Hungarian friends, so there were many Hungarian dishes that we'd have both at home and at their houses. I never saw these dishes as odd or strange, they were perfectly normal too me. But I'm not as adept at making these dishes as I am the other family influenced ones as i didn't see them being made as often.

                                                                                  Of course living in California also influenced my cooking, especially with the abundant produce available. And of course all that California Cuisine stuff.

                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                                    I am so curious as to how the green peppers in Turkey taste so different than in the U.S., can you explain more?

                                                                                    This has been a very interesting topic to read about - thanks OP!

                                                                                    1. re: cheri

                                                                                      Lots of factors enter in. I can's speak for cosmogirl, but I lived in Adana, Turkey, a very important agricultural center in that country. The depth of the topsoil was phenomenal, compared to the rest of the world. And then there is the type of seed used to grow crops. Most of the fruits and vegetables available in U.S. markets -- especially but not exclusively those grown in the U.S. --are hybridized and special plants that have been modified in ways to maximize shelf life and shipping convenience of agribusiness without much thought (if any) to flavor. And no, I'm not talking extremes. As an example, do you know that U.S. agribusiness bred a cube shaped tomato a few decades back because it utilized more space in packing crates and thereby increased profits? Two problems: Consumers weren't comfortable with square tomatoes, plus they didn't have much flavor. My guess would be that Turkey isn't the only country in the world with great tasting peppers and other foods. There are even a few people right here in the U.S. who grow their own produce and use heirloom seeds who also enjoy great bell peppers and other fruits and veggies. Too many Americans are totally unaware of what we've lost when it comes to flavor. Pity!

                                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                        That is a great point! I have never been to Turkey but I do grow my own veggies. The heirloom seed catalogue I buy from offers lots of heirloom seeds from all around the world, including Turkey.

                                                                                        Even when my frightfully short growing season gives me an August frost, my tomatoes still have a better and more complex flavour than store bought tomatoes!

                                                                                        And, if the above post inspires anyone to try a veggie garden, if I can do it, you can too!

                                                                                        Funny, now that I think of it, living in California, after the cold of Ontario, CA, my grandparents grew veggies and fruit in their yard! We ate avocados, oranges, lemons, asparagus, cactus fruit and even the occasional pumpkin! See, ancestry, even if it is very immediate ancestry, plays such a big role!

                                                                                  2. This is a great topic, and I enjoyed reading the previous answers.

                                                                                    Like many others here, my ethnic background and my travels are reflected in what I prepare or what I order when I dine out.

                                                                                    I am of Russian/Polish heritage, but very little of that was served when I was growing up. My parents were typical second generation and we were fed "modern" 50's and 60's American food for the most part. There was fresh kielbasa at Easter and Mom would occasionally make Golubki, but not much else "ethnic" was served. In fact we were occasionally told of the "horrors" of Bopcha'a cooking or the awful things my Dad had to eat as a child.

                                                                                    A good portion of what Mom cooked, however, was from scratch. Dad planted a vegetable garden every spring and there was usually enough to can or freeze some for the winter months.

                                                                                    I have since rediscovered some of the ethnic cuisine. For instance, I have an appreciation for properly prepared perogi, and seek out good kielbasa and dark rye bread. I also try to make a Pashka at Easter. DW, who is of Irish heritage, also likes my ethnic fare. The local Ukrainian Orthodox Church has a sale a couple of times a year, usually Christmas and Easter, where they sell homemade ethnic fare. I have to get there early to be sure to get a babka and a box of Khrustiky for her.

                                                                                    Despite her Irish background, DW, too, was raised purely on American fare, and has no real desire to "rediscover" the ethnic fare of her grandparents.

                                                                                    Having been raised in Vermont, there is some New England regional food I still crave. Fortunately I can find New England style hot dog buns, B&M baked beans and brown bread, and Cain's mayo here in central New York. A Moxie fix requires a road trip but Autocrat coffee syrup (from my time in Rhode Island) is available on line. While in the Navy, when we went overseas I skipped the sailor bars and explored the local dining whenever it was safe to do so.

                                                                                    While I enjoy a good burger and fries occasionally, I am glad I stepped out of that mold and am able to enjoy so many other great foods.

                                                                                    1. Another person of Chinese (Cantonese) extraction checking in. My parents were immigrants, so we almost every dinner was Cantonese. Although I went through the usual teen stage where I'd only eat "American" food, once that passed I found that my tastes have been distinctly shaped by my upbringing.

                                                                                      If I go more than a day or two without eating decent vegetables, I will crave a huge plate of stir-fried veggies, and will make that my entire dinner at times. Plus, they have to be either Chinese vegetables or dark, leafy greens (like kale) that make me think of Chinese vegetables. I also can't stand mushy vegetables, have never used frozen or canned vegetables (canned pumpkin for Thanksgiving pie notwithstanding), and don't understand the need to smother vegetables with anything.

                                                                                      Conversely, I prefer my red meat marinated.

                                                                                      Fish and shellfish has got to be fresh, preferably still alive when I've gotten them. Seafood should be lightly cooked, just barely done. The tomalley is the best part of the lobster or crab.

                                                                                      I also love anything with bone, and I will happily eat the cartilage off the ends of bones, as well as crunch into poultry bones for the luscious marrow.

                                                                                      There are certainly many food items I don't like, but I never automatically assume something isn't tasty or edible.

                                                                                      1. My Mom was born in the early 20th century in the very rural west coast of Ireland by a river that is today considered an angler's dream. They were farmers, very poor and lived off the land - they did not eat fish. She came to the U.S. in the early 60's.

                                                                                        So I grew up Catholic and, as others have mentioned here, we usually had fish on Fridays. The rotation included fried filet of sole w/ spaghetti in Ragu marinara and frozen spinach or Mrs. Pauls fish sticks w/ spaghetti in Ragu marinara and frozen spinach or, the ultimate, canned tuna simmered in Campbell's celery soup over toast.
                                                                                        Other than the sole these dinners scarred me to the point that I didn't eat fish again until my late 30's. I'm ok now and broil, grill and bake fish weekly but no fishsticks or Ragu ever.

                                                                                        We never had a roast chicken until I cooked one in my mid-20's and I'm not sure if this was my Mom's personal taste or not although I have never seen any of my Irish or English relatives cook a roast chicken either. My Mom was suprised to really love roast chicken and it became her most requested dinner when I cooked for her.

                                                                                        Beef was never served rare or even medium rare in our house. I remembering my Dad carving the roast beef for Sunday dinners and having to carve all the way to the middle of the roast to get me a couple of pink slices because I loved rare beef (and still do). I think the love of overcooked meat is definitly an Irish thing and have seen it served this way in the homes of many of my relatives.

                                                                                        While my Mom did make corned beef & cabbage a couple of time a year she longed for her boiling bacon. As a teen and young adult I spent summers in Ireland & England w/ relatives. On my return to NY at the end of each summer I always smuggled a piece of boiling bacon (and rashers, sausages, bread, Kerrygold butter, bon bons and bullseyes) in my carry-on for my Mom. There would be a big fry up the next morning and a boiled bacon, cabbage and potato dinner the next night. I still do love a nice boiled bacon dinner except now I just drive into Queens to get the bacon instead of sneaking it past Customs.

                                                                                        Other than root veggies everything was boiled into submission. I was suprised and delighted to discover how lovely green veggies could taste when cooked properly and I have not had to force feed veggies to my dogs since my early 20's.

                                                                                        Some other customs that I grew up with and still practice:
                                                                                        Sunday dinner was served between 2:00-4:00 in the afternoon
                                                                                        We never had dessert after dinner except on holdays
                                                                                        Soft boiled eggs and buttered white toast with the crust cut off whenever we were sick
                                                                                        Hot strong tea w/milk & sugar when I have a cold even though I'm a coffee drinker

                                                                                        Awareness of how food impacts health and the diversity of foods available now are probably why I'm a very different cook from my Mom. But I still love a nice boiled bacon dinner.

                                                                                        8 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: EM23

                                                                                          Roast chicken was a staple--crispy skin with butter and poultry seasoning. Served either with buttery rice, stuffing or mashed potatoes, depending on mom's whim.

                                                                                          Beef was close to raw. My German grandfather swore that was why the Irish were wild, as he preferred no sign of blood. (Yes, 1\4 German, but the Irish won out with their 3/4).

                                                                                          Dinner was promptly at 6 pm with both parents and all four girls. Dessert was served every night and dinner was never complete until dessert was finished.

                                                                                          Coffee is taken black: no cream, no sugar. Tea has lemon and, if sick, honey. I must always remind myself when having guests to have 1/2 & 1/2, sugar, honey etc available since I never use any of these.

                                                                                          Agreed, Sunday "dinner" was 3 pm. Perhaps that is why every holiday meal, whomever is hosting, begins at 3.

                                                                                          1. re: gaffk

                                                                                            So different from my family customs! What part of Ireland is your family from?

                                                                                            1. re: EM23

                                                                                              Both mom & dad tried to do the geanology thing in the 90s (they were then retired and living near the Philadelphia resources), but I cannot remember. And after my sister and my dad died, mom threw it all away (something about mad ghosts); so I'll never know. I don't think either got very far anyway as we are 100+ years away from our roots..

                                                                                              Whenever asked, the only grandparents I knew asserted that we were American. No nods to the old country. Hence the chicken, beef, turkey, etc.

                                                                                              And after reading the "no seafood" posts from Ireland I am perplexed

                                                                                              1. re: gaffk

                                                                                                100 years makes a huge difference - no lemon was ever squeezed into my Mom's tea:-)

                                                                                                Your comment about your grandparents not acknowledging their history rings true. My Mom didn't get into the "fond memories" thing either - I think life was hard and the memories were not as nice as the movies and songs that we know in America have made them seem.

                                                                                                1. re: EM23

                                                                                                  Yes, I am sure there was a reason they left and never looked back.

                                                                                                  1. re: gaffk

                                                                                                    My paternal grandfather changed his last name when he came over. He was a doctor and the Irish weren't exactly embraced in that profession at the time. He met my grandmother (also off the boat) over here and they raised 5 kids. My mother's dad came over and got into construction. My grandmother on that side came over at 5 and lost her brother on the way over, so was an orphan raised by Irish non-relatives in the US. After they married they had 9 kids and worked themselves up from real poverty to a decent living.

                                                                                                    So all of them were born in Ireland (Cork, Kerry, Clare and Galway) and came over at various points in their lives. None of them ate fish. Both women boiled the hell outta veggies and if they didn't boil meat they roasted or pan fried it until it was beyond dead. My dad's dad wouldn't bother entering a kitchen and preferred whiskey to food. My mom's dad liked to cook breakfast for the brood, which grew to easily 40 after their kids had kids. He was a huge man with a huge heart.

                                                                                                    1. re: mojoeater

                                                                                                      Again, 200+ years removed from Ireland; always lived near the Atlantic coast in the US.. Never had boiled meat, never had boiled potatoes; always had fresh fish, fresh veggies.

                                                                                                      1 quarter German (von Heicke became Hickey to fit in to Philly in WW1) and still crave grandpop's potato salad.

                                                                                          2. This is not my ancestry but as a girl I lived in Argentina, sixty years ago when afternoon tea was still one of the four regular meals of the day, and I have never since stopped missing tea, which remains my favorite meal for entertaining guests. Thin sandwiches, scones with butter and jam, little cakes, a big cake, and a huge pot of hot tea---and if you add meat or egg, it becomes a High Tea, an early substitute for dinner. And there's a certain amount of ritual, for example you don't eat a sweet until you have had something not-sweet like bread and butter or a sandwich. Tea is poured by the senior woman present. When you offer seconds or thirds you say only "Will you have some cake" and never "Will you have some MORE cake" because that implies you've been keeping an account of how much your guest eats. Strong Anglo-Argentine influence. Lovely tradition, delicious food.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: Querencia

                                                                                              I can't tell you how much I love this, Querencia. So....gentle, so codified, so absolutely nice. The first party I throw after the New Year is going to be a tea, and undoubtedly I will be asking you for suggestions. The Senior woman present will be Mrs. Suttle from Texas, but she can't pour, so what would the etiquette be then? The next-senior (her daughter)?
                                                                                              Anyway, this post made me glow, and think hard.

                                                                                            2. Background definitely influences my cooking...and location. My grandparents all came to USA from Eastern Europe at the end of the 1800s. My comfort foods are the Jewish foods I grew up with - blintzes, chicken soup with matzoh balls, stuffed cabbage, thick stews (using those inexpensive cuts of meat), potato pancakes, kugels, bagels, lox and cream cheese., homemade pickles. And for dessert sour cream coffee cakes, mandlebroit (same as biscotti), cheesecakes, apple cakes.
                                                                                              We celebrated Hanukah this past weekend and ate brisket and potato pancakes with homemade applesauce and sour cream. The California influence was in the arugula salad, fresh green beans, a persimmon and pomegranate salad, steamed carrots (instead of carrot pudding) and fresh fruit pies.
                                                                                              Like most cooks, I have lightened many of the recipes to meet better nutritional standards but I wouldn't dream of changing my grandmother's potato pancakes.

                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: ola

                                                                                                what fascinates me is how many generations food memories survive. my sephardic ancestors left portugal sometime in the early 16th century, migrated across europe and ultimately to turkey and the ukraine. there they remained until branches from both families migrated here. i make brisket my grandmother's way, which she says is simply "the way" forever in her memory: with lemons, cinnamon, prunes, clove, tomatoes and honey. One of our relatives married a man from Morocco and when he ate her brisket he said "my sister makes this only with lamb, but the same taste really." We decided these flavors simply were preserved in family memory and tastebuds for 500 years.

                                                                                                1. re: teezeetoo

                                                                                                  That's amazing, the feeling of continuity across centuries. I can imagine the Turkey branch of your family was able to get the ingredients to cook the brisket in the way you describe, but in Ukraine? And they retained their Sephardic identity (isn't Ukraine considered Eastern Europe) and didn't cross pollinate with the Ashkenazis.....

                                                                                                  I imagine your family over centuries, older generation cooking and younger generation learning the same dishes, and keeping that going. Nowadays (like the thread on what kids think is normal nowadays) more and more people are internationalized in their cooking and eating and without some attention, may lose ancestral foodways.

                                                                                                  I feel quite strongly that I want my family 's everyday food to be from my heritage. Some migrants feel that way, while others seek assimilation. I want my kids to feel connected to, like, crave, and cook, the foods I like, though we all eat lots of international and junk food too.

                                                                                                  But for health reasons, and heritage reasons, I want my kids to enjoy 'my' food, instead of defaulting (as OP said) to fast food burgers and french fries.

                                                                                                  1. re: Rasam

                                                                                                    Many Russians/Ukrainians/Poles are of Spanish/Portuguese origins though many don't know much about their earlier history. YIVO keeps "names" records and has confirmed the connections based on names, for example. Many Ashkenazis and Litvaks in fact are latecomers to Eastern Europe and were part of the Iberian diaspora. Even some Yiddish words are clearly neither Germanic nor Eastern European in origin: tzibbeleh for onion is surely from cibolla. As to the availability of lemons in the Ukraine, I don't really know much about how they got their food: Odessa was always pretty cosmopolitan but i would guess at certain times of the year any food from "outside" was pretty expensive. However, I do remember my grandmother saying that Roumania and the Ukraine were breadbasket countries with excellent soil until their environments were destroyed. I have another friend whose grandmother always made some kind of jelly doughnut around Chanukkah (she is from Bessarabia) along with the potato pancakes. She says she's been told by her rabbi here that that is a sephardic tradition but no one in her family every self-identified as Sephardim.

                                                                                                2. My background is mostly French Canadian with a bit of dutch/german. My parents were both from east coast Canada and I feel that has influenced me a bit, however can't say they made any french/dutch/german dishes that I am aware of. Both of my parents passed away before I was 21 so I also feel I did not take a lot of their cooking recipes/techniques with me. I remember my mom made homemade lasagna, scalloped potatoes, and root vegetables. My dad made clam chowder......which I actually found the exact recipe (military clam chowder) on the internet not long ago and tried it. It was not what it tasted like when I was young....lol. I also remember powdered milk and molasses which I don't like. I do love seafood and that is from my dad frying up lots of things including mackeral...yum.

                                                                                                  I missed out on a lot as I did not ask questions and my parents did not speak too much of family history so if I can add anything it is to do your best to pass on your traditions as soon as you can and even write down things that your family did to pass on to the next generation.
                                                                                                  I learned my cooking from cookbooks (Campbells cookbook was the first), friends and trial and error......and now in my thirties and still not all that good, although I enjoy trying and that's what counts.

                                                                                                  1. I'm of northern Indian descent and I'd say that is a heavy influence on my family's food choices. We eat home made Indian food about 50% of the time, broadly speaking. That aside, I'd say the international repertoire at home is also influenced in some way by our heritage - namely,, our preference for bolder, spicier flavours...we lean towards the more robust, less subtle Italian, Mexican, Szechuan etc recipes. having said that, when eating out we are happy to try out anything...

                                                                                                    1. I'm an Eastern European mutt -- Polish/Slovak/Ukrainian, 3rd or 4th generation depending on the grandparent. Obviously, a good deal of the food overlapped, even if there were slight differences in names or pronunciation. Even though both my parents rode the post-war boom and went to college and my dad went on to become a dentist, we still ate a lot of the basic stuff they both grew up on, and frugally. Both sides of the family were ardent vegetable gardeners, and my Polish grandmother was a bionic canner of tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato chili sauce. Pickled everything -- mixed cauliflower, carrots, cukes, and sometimes just cukes. This would last through the winter. My dad, in retirement, has taken up the canning now and makes his own kraut in the basement shower. My husband joined him in making a batch last Christmas that then came home with us in a covered crock, we harvested it and froze it and I still have a supply in the freezer.

                                                                                                      The Ukrainian grandmother was an amazing scratch baker and loved trying new things. So in addition to chruschiki and a fantastic cheesecake at Christmas, we'd also find something like chocolate decadence (this WAS the 70s) or the Harvey Wallbanger cake. She, and her sister, were also great cooks, fantastic potato pancakes, the traditional fresh ham roast, pierogi, khrin (the beet/horseradish mashup). My great-aunt branched out into French and other cuisines in the 70s and mastered that, too.

                                                                                                      The Ukrainian gram lived in the Italian neighborhood, and my grandfather (Polish) challenged her to make a better spaghetti sauce. "Why don't you go next door next Sunday and watch Teresa make her sauce, it's so much better." So she did, and then tinkered over time and by the time I was on the scene, her sauce could stand up to, and sometimes beat down, any made by a "real" Italian. I learned to make that sauce just by being with her in the kitchen a lot as a kid. I still make it, and my brothers request it because their versions don't quite have "it." Actually, that area of western NY is very Italian, so I cook a lot of the basics now, because I grew up eating that way at friend's houses and when we'd go out.
                                                                                                      My dad caught the cooking bug about 20 years ago, and set about learning French techniques and now makes a lot of intricate and delicious food along with the old favorites.

                                                                                                      I still make a lot of the traditional stuff, golumpki, kapusta (which to anyone else is saukraut, but my Polish gram's is a bit of pork -- fatback, bacon, whatever you can scrounge -- browned with onion, add shredded fresh cabbage and cover with a can of tomatoes and their juice. Simmer and you get a mellow side that's a beautiful reddish orange), pierogi, kielbasa.
                                                                                                      Like my aunt and dad, I also try other stuff and sometimes combine. As an example, I was making a cassoulet last winter for six, got a call that added some unexpected guests, so I needed to stretch a bit. So I made a pot of the kapusta -- it added color and meshed well together, which I had hoped, but wasn't sure of.
                                                                                                      So I still have my ethnic foundation, absorbed the Italian-American influence of the area where I grew up, am eager to try new things. Most recently, I've been working on becoming fluent in the flavors and foods I've tasted in Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. But true to my roots, I find myself really loving the homestyle food -- rice and beans, ropa vieja, soups and stews. Sometimes very similar, except for the spicing.
                                                                                                      I've loved reading everyone's replies and I, too, would love to see how your final paper comes out.

                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: lsmutko

                                                                                                        Ahh, thanks. Those pigeons sure sound good right now.

                                                                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                          Hey MGZ, I had read your post and it just reminded me so much of what I miss.

                                                                                                          Our Christmas pierogi assembly started three days before Christmas Eve, make the dough on day one. Fillings day two -- potato and farmer's cheese or kraut and mushroom. Fill and crimp and initial sautee on the gas stove in the basement the day before. Portion out what was to be quickly warmed in the oven on Christmas Eve for the party and what was to be sent home with the attendees. Store in the old lever-handled fridge in the basement.

                                                                                                          The take-home portions were wrapped in layers in wax paper and then packed in old shirt boxes and tied with kitchen twine. Also in the downstairs fridge.

                                                                                                          This would accompany the left-over potato salad that was sent home in washed out and reused half-gallon milk cartons. That woman threw out nothing!!! It could always be repurposed. Onions hung in the cellar from the beams in old pantyhose, which could be a little startling when you rounded the corner in the dark.

                                                                                                      2. Something that just occurred to me is that BOTH my Grandmas and my mother kept cupboards, larders, pantries, fridges, freezers, attics and basements full of food. And both had survivived the Holocaust, which totally informed their choices and my mom's - and explains why, although nowhere near the extremes they go to, I also make sure I've got what I need on hand, always. This just seemed to fit the spirit of the OP, though in a different way.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: mamachef

                                                                                                          My bubbe and her sister got out of Minsk right before the war started. Her family was not so lucky. Her kitchen was like this as well. She lived in a small apartment but always cooked for an army. I think this was why I had such a negative reaction to the one-time poster a few years back who asked who still bought frozen or canned foods and wanted to know why.

                                                                                                        2. The sad reality is that it doesn't.

                                                                                                          My mother is Ruthenian (look it up) and her parents came to the United States as adults (1902). Mom and her nine brothers and sisters were determined to be Americans. My mother's cooking was intensely average American in style. (She was a good cook, but very plain.) She and her sisters made nothing distinctively ethnic, with a single exception: pierogies stuffed with potato and cabbage. They were known by all of my generation as "auntie's specials", and they were a rare and exotic treat.

                                                                                                          1. I'm from an old Southern family down here in Florida. We got booted out of Scotland to Northern Ireland during the Highland Clearances, then shipped to Jamaica to work in the cane fields, and ultimately ended up in the Georgia colony back in the early 1700's.

                                                                                                            As such, I was brought up eating Southern US staple foods. Anything not boiled, salted, or pickled, was deep fried in a skillet.

                                                                                                            While I enjoy new foods, I'd still push it all aside for a plate of fried chicken, okra, grits, a bunch of boiled collard greens, and a bowl of pinto beans with some cornbread or buttermilk biscuits on the side.

                                                                                                            1. Great topic. Thanks ,everyone, for the stories...
                                                                                                              I'm Yankee (birth, breeding and natural inclination) and my ancestry is British (English, Scots- Irish) and German. With that heritage, I LOVE beer, preferring British ales to German lagers..
                                                                                                              I like peasant food, whether it's steak and mushroom pie, chimichangas, tourtiere, baked beans,ribollita or pho.
                                                                                                              My attitude towards immigration is simple: if you're willing to obey our laws and have an interesting cuisine- Welcome!

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: mollydingle

                                                                                                                i support your suggestion that the next immigration law require involvement in food.

                                                                                                              2. Ive really enjoyed reading these replies.
                                                                                                                I'm a Greek-American. I grew up in northern VA and now live in Athens, Greece. We definitely retained our traditions while living in the States and I visited Greece often- my cooking reflects that. I have grown up with lamb, octopus, sea urchin, fresh fish (with the heads on of course), and lots of substantial vegetarian main courses. Although I am definitely a carnivore, I think the most significant gift of my Greek food education is being familiar with beautiful vegetarian based meals that are healthy and very flavorful.

                                                                                                                As food is often the center of many cultural traditions, I have to say that some of my dearest memories have been cooking or baking together with family and friends on religious or cultural holidays. A few years ago my grandmother and I spent the entire day making the dough, shaping it, frying it, and making syrup for Karpathian baklava- quite different from the familiar baklava recipe. I was incredibly happy the whole day. It was one of those rare occasions where you feel no stress and things are simply happy. We all know those moments are fleeting! ..cracking fresh almonds with my aunt in the village...
                                                                                                                A great handful of those kind of days gave me a very sentimental attitude about food.

                                                                                                                Even though I live in Greece now, I definitely don't cook Greek food everyday. ..But I do take advantage of the fresh fruit/veggie markets, as well as the seafood and meat markets in the Agora. My friends from different places have shared recipes with me that I cook regularly and have become part of my own culinary traditions- Iranian, Indian, Lebanese, etc.
                                                                                                                Growing up in VA, my parents and I were always regulars at the local Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean restaurants. I make Asian food at least three times a week.

                                                                                                                My only complaint about my food-life in Greece is that I can't find rhubarb anywhere and I love it! After one trip to Switzerland, I smuggled back a huge bag of it!

                                                                                                                1. I've done lots of genealogical research and basically I am french-, irish-, welsh-, scots-canadian, german and plain old french. On my mother's side, there is not much to go on so I just see them as french. On my father's side, I've gone back to the 1600s and a little beyond when possible but kind of hard to go back any farther since records were not kept the same way. Amazing to see the inter mingling of families over several generations, the name changes, the numbers of children, the numbers of children who lived very short lives and...

                                                                                                                  Whoops, got off topic. I've always seen myself, before my research, as french-canadian and irish-canadian. When I cook, I cook as my father and my grandmother cook(ed). My father's cooking took on a decidedly californian style, everything mexican, everything was fresh and had lots of veggies and tomatoes. His family emigrated from northern ontario to california when he was 13 and it sure shows in his cooking.

                                                                                                                  My grandmother cooked as her father cooked during the depression. Fat, beans, toast, butter. And, she also had a somewhat more canadian style, meat, starch, veggies. I'm not sure if that is the irish or just what developed into a canadian thing.

                                                                                                                  I love to make great grandpa's canadian baked beans. So simple yet so yummy. Great northern beans, onions, bacon. Cook the beans till almost done, strain, put in an oven crock dish, layer with two onions chopped and a pound of bacon, let bacon be the top layer, add water, bake till done.

                                                                                                                  I find that I also have my own bland style separate from my family and their country. I love spices and flavours but I tend to prefer bland, simple dishes. Steamed veggies over a bed of rice. Done. I think that is just my own thing based on my tastes and my delicate palate. I can taste sweetness and flavour and subtleties in anything. I like enjoying carrots just the way they are, for example.

                                                                                                                  I do cook a lot of dishes that are based on my dad's cooking. Lots of tomatoes, veggies, ground turkey, cheese. Sometimes, I can't be sure if the dish was meant to have an italian or mexican flair. Either way, it is yummy!

                                                                                                                  1. I am Indian through and through and the penchant for spices if present in abundance.
                                                                                                                    Anything I make ends up having atleast 5-7 spices, cakes and desserts included. I love working with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, allspice, nutmeg.

                                                                                                                    Growign up our family ate more meat than most others, In fact if one dish was to symbolize my childhood, Chicken tikka would be it! And that preference for grilled meats is very prominent in my taste preferences and I seldom grill meat with just salt/pepper (unless it's steak)

                                                                                                                    there are certain things ou will always find in any meal I put out:
                                                                                                                    - A salad/ cooked veggie dish
                                                                                                                    - A meat dish
                                                                                                                    - A dessert (yogurt/fruit/ice cream/chocolate...anything, but it's always there)
                                                                                                                    - coffee/tea at the end

                                                                                                                    The one thing that has changed from having travelled, ventured into new cuisine is that I have lost the taste for chapati's or parantha's. The Meat and 2 veg is something I enjoy very much today. No starch required.

                                                                                                                    And LOTS of little green chili's (the tiny finger ones...yum!)

                                                                                                                    1. So, where is the link to the paper? It must be done by now and, weirdly enough, we'd all love to read it.

                                                                                                                      1. I'm 100% Czech (Bohemian) on both sides of my family. Married a 100% Ukranian. So basically the same kind of food heritage.

                                                                                                                        That said, my husband hasn't eaten any red-meat products for going on 40 years now, & thus I can't say our "heritage" has had a marked effect on our eating habits outside of holidays.

                                                                                                                        Holidays do entail things like Pierogis, Roast Goose, Czech bread dumplings, etc. But day-to-day living consists of much healthier & varied fare.

                                                                                                                        1. milky--Don't you owe us a copy of your paper by now?

                                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: gaffk

                                                                                                                            I suspect she's on holiday break. She hasn't posted since the 14th.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                              Oh that's right . . . I want to go back to college and get time off on the holidays. (While, of course, keeping my salary ;)

                                                                                                                              1. re: gaffk

                                                                                                                                That would put a hole in your starving student syndrome! '-)

                                                                                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                  Yes, but I don't think I ever want to return to the days of Domino's multi-pizza deals (which the roomie and I would eat for a week) and hot dogs. Blech.

                                                                                                                          2. I cook like an orphan who doesn't know her ancestry, or maybe like a reactionary in response to her mother's mediocre cooking. My parents are of English, Scottish and French (Cajun) ancestry, although most of their ancestors came to the US very early. My dad's family ate typical southern WASP food (gelatine salads, anyone?). Ditto for my mother's family, except with the Cajun influence thrown in on occasion.

                                                                                                                            Growing up, we moved all over the US, so my mother adopted various foods, chowder from New England, Cal-Mex and Italian from California, tempura from the Seattle area and added them to the family repertoire. She didn't actually seek out new tastes the way I do, but accepted them if they were thrust upon her. Unfortunately, she did not hesitate to use boxed mixes as shortcuts for just about everything and swears that one of my first phrases was "It tastes artificial!" She just never understood my aversion to chemicals and thought I was being difficult.

                                                                                                                            When I was a junior in college, I spent a year in France living with a French family, and ate real food on a daily basis. It was an epiphany. I asked my French hostess for recipes, so when I returned home to my family in California for one last summer (20 lbs overweight, I might add), I did most of the cooking.

                                                                                                                            Now, as a 47 year old adult, I love to try new foods and will drive a long way to try an ethnic restaurant if it sounds interesting enough. I also love to cook just about anything, but generally prefer vegetarian food.

                                                                                                                            1. I'm 100% Czech (Bohemian) on both sides of my family & my husband is 100% Ukrainian.

                                                                                                                              That said, I can't say that our ancestry has any real effect on our cooking except where holidays are concerned. Then Czech bread dumplings, pierogies, sauerkraut, etc., etc. always figure. But as far as everyday cooking - the sky is the limit, & we don't lean towards dishes from our or our families' pasts.

                                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: Breezychow

                                                                                                                                Agreed, my father was Czech and we hunted, fished, and ate all manner of country
                                                                                                                                gourmet treats. I love the nasty bits - pig ears, liver dumplings, tongue, testicles,
                                                                                                                                jaternice, all the nasty bits.

                                                                                                                                My wife and I own over 200 cookbooks, a lot we got at old used book stores. There
                                                                                                                                are things I'd like to try just can't do them all.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Johnny West

                                                                                                                                  I also collect cookbooks & have hundreds of them - including a few old Czech ones I inherited from family members.

                                                                                                                                  And jaternice!! Yum! My parents used to be able to get it fairly locally in NY, but alas no more. So a couple of times a year I send them a gift pack of it (along with jelita, head cheese, etc.) from Crawford Sausage Co. in Chicago (www.crawfordsausage.com). Good company, good quality, excellent customer service in case you're ever looking for a source for these great products.

                                                                                                                              2. I've always been fascinated with this subject. It wasn't until I met my partner that I realized just much my style of cooking/eating/entertainng was affected by my Italian ethnic background. I grew up in a very Italian area--Staten Island, NY--and moved to the DC area to be with my partner. The way her mother cooks (who lives with us) is waaay, way different than how I cook, and to be honest it caused a bit of turmoil when I first moved in and started cooking. My partner's background is Polish/German/Russian, and grew up eating lots of casseroles and lots of meat and two veg type of meals, canned vegetables, etc. We NEVER ate canned vegetables growing up (except for the occasional canned beets, I suppose), ate lots of fresh fish, lots and lots of pasta, etc. Sunday dinners, of course, with pasta and meatballs and sausage and all of the best stuff in the world :-)

                                                                                                                                When I moved down here, it was a huuuuge challenge. First of all, I had a hard time finding good ingrediants (like good veal, sausage, fresh mozzarella, etc). So when we visit my family in NY--once a month--we pack a cooler and I buy all of the stuff I need there, at the butcher shop near my parent's house. So right now I have a deep freezer full of meat from NY. There were certain things I didn't expect--things I didn't even know were "italian" until I came down here and realized not everyone grew up eating that. For example, chicken cutlets. Any Italian American reading this knows about chicken cutlets--breaded and pan fried. We--and everyone else I knew growing up--ate them often, almost once a week. Down here, not only had my partner never eaten that before, but I can't even find chicken cutlets!! I had NO idea that this was an Italian thing!

                                                                                                                                If anything, moving to this area has made me even MORE proud to be an Italian and of the rich culinary heritage that that brings. I've learned to compromise a bit--I no longer cook pasta 4 times a week, we have it just twice a week now. And I've learned to make things like cheesesteaks (one of my partner's favorites, which we're having tonight) and pierogies. Actually, it's probably made me a more adventerous cook, because in realizing that these Eastern Europeans didn't want to eat Italian food every night, I learned to make Thai, Indian, Mexican, etc. I've also introduced my partner to a number of foods...it helps that I'm a good cook!

                                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: italia84

                                                                                                                                  >>>>I can't even find chicken cutlets!!<<<<

                                                                                                                                  What distinguishes chicken cutlets from boneless/skinless chicken breasts?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                    Chicken cutlets are breasts pounded thin and coated with bread crumbs.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: igorm

                                                                                                                                      Actually, that's not exactly true. These days one can buy raw chicken "cutlets". They're not pounded chicken breasts, but scallopini-thin sliced chicken breast "cutlets". No pounding necessary.

                                                                                                                                      Oh, & the term "chicken cutlet" has nothing to do with breading. Not all chicken cutlet recipes call for breading.

                                                                                                                                2. This is a fascinating thread. I'm English (and live in England) and it's so interesting to hear about the mixed heritage which is the norm in America.

                                                                                                                                  I was brought up eating very plain, English food. My mum was a good plain cook, and a whizz at pastry, but not very interested in food. We also didn't have much money, so I grew up eating lots of mince (ground beef), potatoes and pies. We would have a roast dinner every Sunday, without fail, always with Yorkshire Pudding and roast potatoes, and the leftovers would be Monday's dinner (shepherd's pie, bastardised seventies curry, meat and potato pie, Lancashire hotpot). We would usually have fish and chips on a Friday. Puddings would be bakewell tart, lemon meringue Pie, rhubarb crumble, apple pie. All very traditionally English.

                                                                                                                                  Needless to say, we don't eat like that at all! My food epiphany came in my teens, when I realised I was good at languages and studied French at school. I spent quite a bit of time with French families and the food! A revelation. I still remember the meals that my French hostess, Marie, whipped up as a matter of course. Three courses de rigeur for lunch and dinner. Very traditional stuff like oeufs mimosa, potage de legumes, rillettes de porc, roast meat of some description. Always cheese and salad. She kept chickens and made the most beautiful omelettes, huge and perfectly runny in the middle. I remember going to a 25th wedding anniversary party once with the family, and we ate, and ate and ate, had a small break, and then ate some more!

                                                                                                                                  I love to cook now, and my food influences are from all over the world. We rarely eat the same thing twice, much to Mr GG's chagrin! Interestingly, my parents are much more adventurous now - perhaps because my Dad does a lot of the cooking!

                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: greedygirl

                                                                                                                                    greedygirl, you're making me crave an omelette Baveuse.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: mamachef

                                                                                                                                      They were fabulous, and I'm not even that much of an omelette fan.

                                                                                                                                  2. "I AM "what I cook and eat. My cooking is my identity.

                                                                                                                                    1. Two of my grandparents came to the US from Ireland at the turn of the 20th century. That grandmother could not cook, so my father's great food tradition came from his next-door neighbor, who had come over from Italy. His favorite food was pasta, and he grew tomatoes and basil all of his life, after having a garden with Lina during the Depression and lasting until he went in the Navy in WWII. And he passed this love of Italian food on to me. There's simply nothing better in the world than good pasta.

                                                                                                                                      My mother's mother was born in the USA, to French-Canadian parents. She made desserts from scratch (though I wouldn't come to know that term for a long time). That grandfather, whom I never met, was born in Austria.

                                                                                                                                      My mother did the cooking and it was typical American crappy food of the '50s and '60s:

                                                                                                                                      * roast something on Sunday

                                                                                                                                      * something made from the leftover roast on Tuesday

                                                                                                                                      * chili

                                                                                                                                      * meatloaf from time to time

                                                                                                                                      * Velveeta mac & cheese on Friday

                                                                                                                                      * something called "casserole" that had meat, carrots, potatoes, rice, and tomato sauce, made in the pressure cooker.

                                                                                                                                      * salad (1/4 wedge of iceberg, with Kraft Catalina)

                                                                                                                                      Except for lettuce and tomatoes, vegetables came out of the freezer (carrots, corn, peas), and occasionally cans (creamed corn). Potatoes came out of a box labeled "Instant Mashed." Or they would be baked.

                                                                                                                                      My mother's favorite meal: a "good" steak. I never liked steak except for filet mignon, which some people say has no flavor.

                                                                                                                                      Once a week, my father would make pasta (from a box; he'd make the sauce). And once a week, we would have pizza. We lived in NJ, so we didn't need "toppings."

                                                                                                                                      During the summer, there'd be bluefish someone had caught. My father and some of the neighbors would go fishing down the shore, and they'd split the catch. There was always bluefish, which someone would clean, then grill with lemon and onion inside.

                                                                                                                                      Only later on, when I was in college, would my mother develop an interest in cooking, and we cooked our way through Julia's THE FRENCH CHEF COOKBOOK over the phone together for a couple of years in the '70s.

                                                                                                                                      But it's the Italian connection that means the most. My favorite meals at home were the pasta and the pizza (and also the chili, which is practically Italian). I'm having cavatappi today for lunch with what most of you know as Marcella's butter/onion/tomato sauce, but which my father made my whole life.

                                                                                                                                      I'm going to roll out some pasta as part of COTM in March, using Jamie Oliver's recipe in JAMIE'S ITALY, which calls for 00 flour and egg yolks. I got the book and I'm going to start as soon as I get some 00.

                                                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                        An interesting thought you've suggested - the importance of the area or region we grow up in affecting what we eat and how we cook. Like you, my Jersey childhood certainly permitted influences from Italian cuisine/ingredients.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                                          My father used to call NJ "the land of the Three I's: the Irish, the Italians, and the Israelites."

                                                                                                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                                            Why do some regions, I.e. Cajuns, place a high degree of impotence to flavor and others, I.e. West Texas, do not

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Ntbiv

                                                                                                                                              I know it's just a Freudian typo, but the "impotence to flavor" made me LOL :)

                                                                                                                                        2. I frequently refer to myself as a British Isles mutt - My maternal grandfather was of English descent, but that 1/4 of the family came the the colonies in the late 1600's and have been in the tidewater VA and northeastern NC ever since. My maternal grandmother was 1/2 Scots-Irish and 1/2 just plain Irish. The history of my father's side isn't documented as well, but based on where my paternal grandparents were born and their physical appearance, they were both mostly Scots-Irish.

                                                                                                                                          In terms of family cuisine, we had a pretty varied diet when I was growing up, but it mostly falls under the catch all of "American." Most dinners were some kind of roasted, baked, or pan fried meat with a green vegetable and potatoes. The potatoes have as much to do with Irish heritage as they do with the importance of potato farming in our part of NC. Our special occasion foods are distinctly Southern, and can be traced both to the English/Irish/Scottish foods and to West African foods.

                                                                                                                                          1. If anything, I think I tend to shy away from cooking the foods I was brought up with in part because my family of origin is full of cooks who don't care about food. I'm half mish-mash of indistiguishable central european and half german, and grew up in central Pennsylvania. We ate a very strict meat, potatoes, and soggy boiled veg diet. And while I was provided the fuel I needed, I didn't equate food with pleasure until I was out of the house. Then, away at college, I tried all sorts of the college kid chinese food, baked goods that the amish sold at the market around me, and the heavenly food my Iranian boyfriend at that time loved to make together with me. I also began to save up my money and travel, and eat, and eventually settled on Asian cuisine as my favorite, particularly Thai and Vietnamese for their complex but refreshing flavors.
                                                                                                                                            I do enjoy a good starchy meal and enjoyed the food in the Czech Republic, where I lived for a year. But at home, you will mostly find me firing up my wok, or walking a few blocks to get take out from the Lebanese place there.

                                                                                                                                            1. My mom was Pennsylvania Dutch. Therefore I was lucky to experience good roast pork, pickled eggs, suerkraut, egg noodles cooked broth,
                                                                                                                                              My wife is Mexican American and I have the best carne guidasa, enchiladas, mole
                                                                                                                                              Variety is the spice of life

                                                                                                                                              1. Since I married into a Mexican American culture, I discovered that many do not enjoy a wide variety of vegetables, yet some popular cookbooks of that culture have many good vegetable receipes. Of my family members, they seem to stick to potatoes, corn and beans.
                                                                                                                                                Is this a cultural issue or an economic issue?

                                                                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: Ntbiv

                                                                                                                                                  Economic issues can become cultural traditions in a mere generation's time. And, given that potatoes, corn, and beans are not only delicious, but so ubiquitous in the US for their easy preparation, it's hard to know which is the case without asking that person.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Ntbiv

                                                                                                                                                    They ate foods that were affordable, tasty and variable, and those foods become our comfort foods. As Once says, economics quickly become traditions.