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helenjp

Southwest - how conservative?

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Son2 is off on a fairly lengthy school trip this summer, involving a homestay in Arizona where he will be expected to cook up something Japanese for his host family.

It took me a while to figure out that Arizona falls under "southwest", so you can guess how much I know about the Arizona family dinner table.

Son2's best dish is pasta carbonara (no-cream style) but he's a keen enough cook to learn some new dishes before he leaves.

The question is...how adventurous are people, really? Should he be thinking pork/chicken/beef/egg with a Japanese twist, or can he take it a little further than that?

Would simmered dishes such as eggplant in soy sauce be too horrifying served at room temperature or lightly chilled? Fish-based flavorings? Fried tofu pouches?(I can hear some of you saying "Come ON!" but I've met a good number of people who would never take a bite of any of those.

And the second question is, how hot is it going to be in August? In Japan, the humidity at that time of year means that people turn to chilled noodles and chilled boiled vegetables at that time of year. Does the dry heat make a big difference to summer eating habits?

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Phoenix in August will be utterly miserable. There's no way around that. The only saving grace is that everything is air-conditioned, but when you're outside, it's like a blast furnace.

As far as how conservative are the locals when it comes to food, that's impossible to say. Phoenix is a large, cosmopolitan, sophisticated city, and I don't think you can lump its residents into any sort of culinary adventuresome or unadventuresome group. You'll find plenty of both types.

I would keep in mind that Arizona is home to a great many Hispanics, and they are accustomed to spicy food.

I'd advise your son to just cook what he likes best, and I'm sure the family will like it, too.


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I agree with Jaymes. The only thing I could add is be that the family probably expects something recognizably Japanese.

Also, avoid natto. :raz:


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I don't think you need to worry. Phoenix is home to a large Asian community so the flavors are very familiar most people living here. If the host family has already volunteered to welcome an overseas student, they are pretty open and adventurous already. I say let him cook what he feels he does best.

The weather in August is tough, it's the middle of our Monsoon season. Afternoon thunderstorms and dust storms are common. The humidity level rises to average 40-50% with temps 105-110F. Everything is air conditioned, so comfort is achievable. The worst moment is getting into a parked car, ugh. Most houses have a pool or access a community one. We do any outdoor work after the sun goes down or early in the morning. Does his trip include the Grand Canyon? The weather will be significantly different there. Phoenix is only an hour or two away from cool mountains temperatures.

I might try natto......once.

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It really depends on the family, as others have said Phoenix is huge and very cosmopolitan. One distinction we have is that there are more sushi restaurants per capita here than any other American metropolitan area. (yes, it's a land-locked state and it makes no sense whatsoever)

We have all sorts of international dining available. Just near my house there's a Russian place, a Lebanese place, a Persian place, a Brazilian place, a Castillian place, a vegan Thai place, two Sushi houses, a teppanyaki place, and a Sicilian place. -Plus all of the ubiquitous chains and lots of Tex-Mex.

What might be a good idea is some of the homestyle sushi-related dishes that are in fun shapes. I shared a house with two women from Japan while I was in college, and they taught me how to make temari balls, a sushi 'cake', and other fun items as well as scattered sushi. When I make these for parties at my house, people seem to like them. I try to use mostly vegetables and tofu (I'm vegetarian) that people recognize along with a few Japanese specialty items. People seem pretty impressed because they are used to fairly limited, traditional restaurant-style sushi menus with just fish and nori, and they've never seen anything made in the fancy shaped molds/presses, or the colored/flavored rices, like the rice balls that are often packed in bentos.

Most Americans are also unfamiliar with most Japanese type salads, and the freshly made pickles.

I hope this helps! I'm a huge foodie, and I have practiced these a lot, so these items are fun for me. I hope that I am not suggesting too much! Even chirashi would be received as very different and fun, I think.

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Thank you all for so much information, both on the area and what to expect. I don't know whether he will get to travel at all in the region, but I'm guessing he will be based somewhere in the Phoenix area.

I know that son2 will be interested in the Spanish/Mexican/Indian influences...even the tacos or burritos he's eaten are only Mum's ignorant "best effort", since I've never been to the US myself.

Natto...it would have spent a good fortnight in his suitcase by the time it got to Arizona! On the other hand, there is a type of freeze-dried natto which allows you to taste the stuff without dealing with the sliminess.

Salad-style pickles...that had crossed my mind as very summery and fresh.

I had no idea that sushi would thrive so far inland, but that's great news for a summer menu, thank you!

Thanks for the hint on bentos...with no small children, I have no excuse to buy silly bento stuff, but I bet that even adults would have fun molding boiled eggs into stars and hearts etc.

One more question...what (smallish) items should I ask him to try to bring home. Dried beans? (So expensive and hard to find most types here.)

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As a way to choose among your menu options, you could consider what ingredients are most readily available in Phoenix, and what produce will be in season when your son takes to the kitchen. That strategy will keep the costs down and make an easier start to the meal, just with the shopping. Eggplant is a great choice for the summer. Summer squashes, green beans, cucumbers, corn, peppers, and tomatoes all peak in the summer too. And remember those summer fruits, all the stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines) in early to mid-summer, then melons in late summer.

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Seconding the idea of anything shaped/constucted. If there are kids in the household, I am sure they would like to learn how to make sushi or rice balls, and most people enjoy those. For chilled dishes, I have monetarily forgotten the name of those slices of tofu topped with tomatoes and things-- so good in the summer. A meal with some of those items and chilled edamame, cucumbers, and pickles would be heaven in the hot weather.

Anywhere in the US, you run the risk of people being upset about the idea of sushi containing raw fish, or certain textures. A lot of people I know are freaked out by eggplant and okra in any kind of dish. I wouldn't avoid those, just make sure to have some rice or something that anyone can eat.

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I think it's a bit premature to be planning gifts and foods to serve. With every single well-organized exchange in which I've been involved, a month or so before leaving, the students receive an information package which includes mini-biographies of all the members of the homestay family. It's best to wait until your son receives that, and then think about what the family might enjoy. (But I've also been involved in one or two disorganized exchanges where the host families hadn't even been decided until a week or two before departure, and those were with US-based schools.)

That being said, Osaka-style okonomiyaki, curry, and nikujaga are usually sure bets. Very few furreners dislike those things, and nikujaga in particular is very familiar to people who don't know much about Japanese food. If he does nikujaga, I would suggest bringing a bottle of good quality mirin that he can leave behind for the family, as those are hard to find. For Osaka-style okonomiyaki, consider sticking a nagaimo into his luggage, and okonomiyaki sauce (which I find to be outrageously expensive outside Japan considering what it is). Also, gyoza can be a fun way to involve the host family members in the making of the dinner, and all the ingredients including the wrappers are readily found in East Asian markets.

As for what to bring back for you, beans are a good choice if you like them. Also, dried chiles are light, and not as readily available in Japan. Then son2 can experiment with more Mexican-type foods when he returns.

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Once you know more specifically where he'll be, we can recommend places he can go shopping. There are several dedicated Japanese shops in town, each with it's own fairly unique supplies. Plus, we have larger supermarkets that try and cover all of Asia and that have a fairly good supply of some of the more common Japanese foods and accessories.

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I would suggest bringing a bottle of good quality mirin that he can leave behind for the family, as those are hard to find.

The only problem with this would be if he's not 21, the age at which one can legally consume alcohol across the U.S. He'll need to declare any alcohol at customs, and if he's younger than 21 and declaring alcohol, it could be taken.

MelissaH


MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

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I would suggest bringing a bottle of good quality mirin that he can leave behind for the family, as those are hard to find.

The only problem with this would be if he's not 21, the age at which one can legally consume alcohol across the U.S. He'll need to declare any alcohol at customs, and if he's younger than 21 and declaring alcohol, it could be taken.

Salted mirin should avoid this problem, as it can't be drunk. Same reason you can get cooking wine in stores that don't sell alcohol.

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