Learning Culture Through Food

Tanantha Couilliard November 2, 2010 Comments Off on Learning Culture Through Food

The holidays are approaching. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day play an important role in people’s lives. Family get-togethers and a comfort meal bring everyone to the dining table. Asian Americans are known to fuse Asian cuisine with American cuisine and this is especially evident during the holidays.

Preserving our heritage through food is one way — and the tastiest — to keep our ethnic culture alive and relevant. We learn culture through food; it can tell a story through its preparation and ingredients.

Roxan Kruse, a Korean American, is the Los Angeles-based author of the “Kitchen Meditation” food blog. Kruse said for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, she’ll prepare Western cuisine but will incorporate Korean staples such as rice and kimchi alongside the stuffing and cranberry sauce.

“As for New Year’s,” said Kruse, “that has been and always will be traditionally Korean. Growing up, we would all dress in the Korean hamboks [traditional Korean dress], and do the traditional bowing to the elders. We served all the traditional Korean food.”

Kruse wanted to preserve a holiday to honor her heritage and participate in cultural traditions.

“I think it’s valuable to keep the tradition that I can pass on to my kids in the future,” Kruse added.

Lazaro Bernal, a Cuban American author of the Miami-based “Lazaro Cooks” food blog, plans to serve roast pork leg and oven-roasted turkey this holiday season, but not without incorporating Cuban-inspired delights such as rice, black beans, and pork.

One of the great things about living in Seattle is that we have access and opportunities to indulge in multiple kinds of ethnic food. We’ve learned one another’s food — and thereby, one another’s culture. It’s not uncommon to see Vietnamese Americans enjoying Ethiopian cuisine near Pike Place Market; Chinese Americans trying out Pakistani food in Wallingford; or Caucasians trying out Cambodian food in Chinatown.

Thanh Thi-Hong Nguyen, a Vietnamese American cook enthusiast, said that for the holidays they serve food from around the world, also fusing American traditional holiday cuisine with Asian-inspired ingredients and celebratory dishes.

“I will prepare two turkeys for Thanksgiving,” said Nguyen. “One will be prepared with butter, spices, and traditional stuffing while the other will be marinated with Asian sauce and roasted similar to Asian roasted duck,” Nguyen said. She’ll also add a hearty Vietnamese beef stew called Bo Kho, to the dinner table, to complete her flavorful spread.

Another equally flavorful option, but far more nutritious is “going organic”. Since the holiday dinner table is usually filled with heavy ingredients, sumptuous sauces, and towering side dishes, using organic ingredients is a healthful way to enjoy consuming food.

Bernal believes organic food means a better quality of life for his family and has advocated for all blog posts to encourage organic ingredients.

“Everything I serve is organic,” said Bernal. “It is a personal preference. I support organic and sustainable food. I’m in a better position in life that I can do this for my family,” Bernal said.

Going organic isn’t cheap but there are alternative, budget-friendly ways to prepare your holiday meals. Whole Foods grocery store is the most popular place to shop for organic foodies. Farmers markets are also highly recommended. Asian or non-Asian produce can be found there. Pesticide-free produce is also considered “organic”.

Another great way to incorporate budget-friendly, organic food into your diet or holiday dinner this season, is to sign up for a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture). You will receive deliveries of fresh seasonal and pesticide-free produce right at your doorstep at a set price every week. There are several CSA vendors in the Seattle area. Each vendor offers different packages and produce depending on what they grow. Needless to say, it’s fun to find out what is in the box each week!

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