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Effect of ethnicity/culture on eating & dining


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I really enjoy reading so many posts here by people who have specific cultural and ethnic backgrounds or food related experiences gained by virtue of where they lived during their upbringing. The range runs far and wide - we have members with deep roots in the American South, India, Indonesia, Japan, the UK, the Jewish diaspora , Italian-American etc. (the list is nearly endless).

My ancestors are predominately Irish with a bit of German thrown in but I'm so far from my roots that I can't identify with a specific culinary tradition related to my ancestral culture. Apart from the usual suspects like roast beef, fried haddock on Fridays, meatloaf, potatoes, potatoes and more potatoes..... I lack an identifiable food culture to call my own. It's hardly an issue as I learn so much here and am open to trying new things but I'm curious about the experiences of others.

Do the culinary traditions of your childhood and upbringing have a profound or even a subtle influence on your style of cooking, your dining out choices and also... do these influences somehow inform your perception and assessments of other cuisines that you try? The recent post that prompted these ponderings was Jason Perlow's assessment of the BBQ brisket served at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party. His direct comparisons were to the style and characteristics of brisket as prepared in Jewish homes. There are so many variations on this theme - comments and discussion will be appreciated.

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I'm 1st generation Chinese-American---Cantonese specifically---so my palate has really been shaped by my upbringing. For one, I like clean flavors that let the tastes of the main ingredient shine through, so I prefer California cuisine to anything with heavy saucing. I was appalled the first time I went to a traditional Thanksgiving at someone's house and was confronted by casseroles and sweet potatoes with marshmallows!

I also can't go more than two days or so without making myself a heap of stir-fried green vegetables and really can't stand overcooked veggies or seafood. Oh, and I also like my meats to have some kind of sweetness in the marinade. And, to my co-worker's dismay, I also can't eat anything sweet for breakfast; my ideal breakfast would be a steaming bowl of jook!

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I too have really come to appreciate clean and light flavors that let the ingredients shine through - it's probably why Vietnamese food is my favorite cuisine. Havng grown up eating (or should I say being forced to eat) limp, overcooked and bad tasting veggies, it was quite a revelation to me when I tried properly cooked veggies and greens for hthe first time as a young adult.

There are some heavier cusines that I've grown to have a deep appreciation for, most particularly "soul food" (fried chicken, slow-cooked collard greens, mac 'n cheese, etc.). Still can't tolerate candied yams, especially with sweet potatoes but to each their own.

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Wow.

I spent my upbringing on three continents, USA, S.America and Europe, but I was born as WASP as they come in Connecticut. Because I traveled so much, I feel much distance from most Americans, and their palate. I could wax prodigiously about how each country influenced my culinary tableau, picking out my favourites, but the real reason my cooking is the way it is is because of my Mom.

Regardless of where we were, my Mom went to great lengths to find the freshest ingredients. I was dragged to the market every morning when I was home from school. Someone had to carry the bundles of fish and fruit and vegetables. When she or my Dad found something new and interesting at a restaurant, they chatted their way into the kitchen, poured some wine for the cook, and by week's end that dish was on the table at home, it's secret devined. I grew up in a family that lived for food.

I didn't realize how useful those trips to the market would be until I started cooking for myself. Shit out of a can? A box? Hey, my college roomates can knock themselves out. I'm going to the market to find the good stuff, then I'm going to find an interesting recipe... Couple that with a growing realization that processed foods give people a host of mysterious conditions, reactions and gawd knows what else, so I am a strictly-fresh product evangelist. This can be a pain when dating...

What I guess I'm trying to illustrate is it really an issue of international exposure to food, or exposure to international food, or just a little pluck and imagination that influences one's style of cooking?

My Mom taught me to accept nothing less than the freshest product available and to treat it with respect and reverence. Did she learn that in Brazil where she was born? But her parents were English/Australian/Bostonian! Those who grow up in traditional cultures of one kind or another grow attached to the local customary cuisine. Some will tire early of it and seek out new tastes from other countries thanks to modern trade distribution of foreign food, others won't and be just as happy, thank you. IOW, maybe you don't have to travel, but just have a sense of adventure?

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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My childhood culinary traditons were unusual (but I did not realize it at the time) because the two people who were most important in the household were Victorians and ran the household their way.

My great grandmother was a stickler for tradition and even now, when I go to a formal dinner, there doesn't seem to be enought flatware on the table.

The basics were English, overlaid by certain foods of India and the middle east, where my grandfather had spent some years. All these prepared by a Gullah woman from the Carolina lowcountry who had her own traditional way of preparing foods.

Many times there were rather ecletic combinations of foods appearing on the table. There was a very large extended family so each meal included several main dishes and numberous sides.

Family meals during the day usually included us children, but often we had our supper much earlier than the adults had dinner, particularly if any guests were visiting.

We were expected to eat what was put before us without argument (or making faces). This taught me that wonderful flavors can be found in the most mundane-appearing items. Every new food is an adventure.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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this topic has really struck a chord with me. i'm chinese-american and grew up eating noodle soup, and like hest88, jook and stir-fries. but the thing is i didn't appreciate them at all. i remember one time my brother and i went nextdoor to play with our neighbors, who were very americanized chinese. the mother, mrs. yee, made us lunch that day, kraft macaroni and cheese with pieces of hot dog mixed in. that was my kind of a meal back then and i told her so. "i wish we ate stuff like this. my parents are making mai fun (rice noodle soup)." she replied, "i wish i was eating at your house."

how could i not appreciate the rich flavors of pork broth that had simmered all morning? the tender noodles, the thinly sliced char siu. stupid child.

i feel now that my palate is rather unrefined. i wish i had paid more attention back then. is there a critical age point in teaching the palate, like there is in learning language?

dexygus
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i wish i had paid more attention back then. is there a critical age point in teaching the palate, like there is in learning language?

Hoo boy. We had papayas everywhere when we lived in Brasil, I was 12yrs old and I hated 'em. These days, I buy a big maridol papaya and have a little for breakfast everyday.

I also broke out in hives when I had lobster at 13yrs old, now I live in Maine and... well, um... do the math! :rolleyes:

Go figure. I'd say I had to be in College before I started opening my palate to new horizons, but that's me.

Edited by johnnyd (log)

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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Hoo boy. We had papayas everywhere when we lived in Brasil, I was 12yrs old and I hated 'em. These days, I buy a big maridol papaya and have a little for breakfast everyday.

I also broke out in hives when I had lobster at 13yrs old, now I live in Maine and... well, um... do the math! :rolleyes:

Go figure. I'd say I had to be in College before I started opening my palate to new horizons, but that's me.

Yeah when I was little I loved McDonald's happy meals. Now I can't eat any fast food except for fried chicken and fries (love anything deep fried).

I used to hate eggplant because I thought the purple color was really scary and the texture squishy but now I eat eggplant all the time.

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I grew up in the US South, and was lucky enough to have a grandfather who enjoyed cooking and gardening, and a father who also takes great pleasure in his kitchen (he doesn't garden, but is particular about selecting choice ingrediants). And they made me a food lover willing to try just about anything put in front of me, no matter how non-Southern. The only thing that I can think of as Southern that was ingrained in me would be the contents of a proper breakfast, in that it should include grits and not hash browns, and biscuits rather than toast.

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i feel now that my palate is rather unrefined. i wish i had paid more attention back then. is there a critical age point in teaching the palate, like there is in learning language?

Dexygus, I don't think it's ever too late to start appreciating food. I'm also from a Chinese-American (Cantonese) family, the first generation born in the U.S., and was a nightmare of a picky eater growing up. I didn't gain an interest in food until college. But now that I'm learning how to cook, I find myself calling my parents constantly for recipes and tips so I can recreate their char siu spare ribs or fried rice or wontons. It's been a nice bonding experience and it makes me happy to know that I can at least carry on part of the culture, despite big shortcomings in language and other areas.

Home-cooked meals were almost always Chinese growing up, though McDonald's was a regular Saturday afternoon fixture. (Side note: My parents adore McDonald's - that's where my dad asked to go for Father's Day. Hmmmm.) As a result, I'm picky about steamed vegetables and tofu firmness and white rice stickiness. I also have no qualms about chicken feet, whole fish with eyeballs still in place (great for poking with forks and zinging across tables!) and smelly, unidentified dried foods.

Special "American food" treats were Kraft macaroni+cheese (still a guilty favorite food) and Hamburger Helper. My mother also made lasagna with cottage cheese, which could have been an English misunderstanding - she heard "ricotta cheese" and thought it was "cottage cheese," I think.

One last note on the learning curve for food appreciation. I used to think my parents were unable to enjoy anything but Chinese food (and McDonald's) because no matter where we went on vacation, they would try to seek out the Chinese restaurant. But I've been noticing over the last year that they've been branching out, even though my brother and I are no longer at home to drag them to new restaurants. I wonder if the turning point was a visit to Trio - we went there around November 2002 with super-foodie relatives - and my mother still raves about it as her top food experience.

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I'm 1st generation Chinese-American---Cantonese specifically---so my palate has really been shaped by my upbringing. For one, I like clean flavors that let the tastes of the main ingredient shine through, so I prefer California cuisine to anything with heavy saucing. I was appalled the first time I went to a traditional Thanksgiving at someone's house and was confronted by casseroles and sweet potatoes with marshmallows!

I'm 1st generation Cantonese-American too.

But I like candied yams and I liked tuna casserole a lot the only time I've had it.

Didn't like jook as a kid, or tang yuan (tong yuen).

Stilll can't stand tang yuan, but jook is pretty good.

Of course, I also like pigs feet, taro, chives, eel, and any kind of noodle (wheat, egg, rice). Actually I can't think of a noodle I don't like, Chinese or otherwise.

Ah, what am I saying.

All noodles are Chinese.

:raz:

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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Special "American food" treats were Kraft macaroni+cheese (still a guilty favorite food) and Hamburger Helper. My mother also made lasagna with cottage cheese, which could have been an English misunderstanding - she heard "ricotta cheese" and thought it was "cottage cheese," I think.

No, cottage cheese is called for in many "American-style" lasagna recipes; that's what I ate growing up. I don't know if ricotta was commonly available in suburban grocery stores when I was a kid (1980s), but I never heard of it until I was an adult.

Hungry Monkey May 2009
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My mistake, then, on the cottage cheese. I'm sure I must have had some horribly insulting "what are you doing putting cottage cheese in lasagna" argument with my mother in the last couple of years. Will have to call and apologize for being a snotty daughter.

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I grew up in the deep south as well, but moved to Delaware by the time I was 12 or so. My parents, however, both having been from the south themselves continued (and my father continues) to cook like that.

I remember my friends always loving to come over for sunday breakfast of biscuits with sausage gravy, ham steaks, grits, eggs, preserves, red-eye gravy, and whatever else my father felt like cooking up. I always figured that was what everyone ate on Sunday mornings before church.

I never experienced green beans that weren't cooked in the souther style (i.e. stewed all day with a ham-hock, ala preparation for collard greens) until I was in H.S., and when I saw those lightly oil-coated green crispy things with slivered almonds on top, I was confused about what such a nice restaurant didn't know how to properly cook green-beans. I still can't stomach green-beans that are actually still bright-green and have crunch to them, blech.

The meals of my youth included lots of cornbread (at least a couple times a week), okra (fried and stewed), fried chicken, country fried steaks, collard greens (apparently my favorite food from as young as 2 years old), and lots of other great Alabama cuisine. My father could also prepare some pretty solid renditions of chili, baked beans, and beef stew while my mom was a master of all manner of casseroles, meatloaf, and dishes such as candied yams loaded with marshmallow. When my parents stepped out of their comfort zone the results were often disasterous, so they rarely experimented.

Nowadays I still have a love for all of these foods, and cook up a big pot of collard greens at least once a week. I am trying to add some dishes from the southwest, Mexico, and Louisiana into my repertoire, as these fit my palate perfectly. Living in the shadow of Philadelphia, and right near the Chesapeake Bay, I also have learned to heartily enjoy Italian-American food and fresh seafood of all variety, preferably spiced with lots of Old Bay.

I prefer strong flavors and rich dishes. I have tried some hauty-tauty french recipes, but the ones that really end up making me smile are the ones loaded with cream, butter, and lots of herbs. I enjoy the style of schezuan Chinese cooking that take-out places offer: greasy and over-spiced, but I have never found joy in simple vegetable stir-fries or Japanese style noodle soups. I have tried several Thai dishes and have loved them all, the coconut and chile flavors playing brilliantly off of each other, who knows if it was authentic or not (all of my Thai meals have been at this place in West Hollywood... truly can't recall the name right now as I haven't been out there in years).

I am trying to expand my horizons, but invariably I tend to prefer a full-on punch of lots of flavors, conflicting or not, to subtlety and balance. I will still take a neat glass of bourbon over a glass of any wine I have ever tasted any day.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Looking back, I'm surprised by the amount of Greek food I ate growing up. At the time, I didn't think we ate any differently than other people (and we certainly ate meatloaf, pizza and Chinese food like all Midwestern Americans) but now I realize that almost every other dinner (and some breakfasts) were ethnic. To this day, I eat this food as one of my favorite comfort foods (along with meatloaf, pizza and Chinese food). It took me many years to be able to stomach vegetables not thoroughly cooked through (briami veggies are typically cooked for 2 hours or more) and lamb well done. I still seldom use oil that is not olive oil and keep a can of tomato puree handy at all times and think nothing of flavoring savory foods with cinnamon or mint.

Kevin

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My mother also made lasagna with cottage cheese, which could have been an English misunderstanding - she heard "ricotta cheese" and thought it was "cottage cheese," I think.

I actually started using a mix of low fat ricotta and non-fat small curd cottage cheese in my lasagne in an effort to reduce the fat content (along with a really good quality hot Italian style turkey sausage available here). Never did read a recipe for lasagne but sure am glad I stopped boiling the noodles. I don't use the "no boil" noodles - just some extra sauce and a bit of extra cooking time for the regular dried ones and they come out nicely al dente.

Ah, what am I saying.

All noodles are Chinese.  :raz:

If you say so herb :biggrin: I imagine it must be true - the only noodles I got to eat as a kid were Mueller's wide egg noodles, boiled and then fried in butter until they got browned and crispy on the edges. I imagine my German and Irish ancestors were still gnawing on charred hunks of meat when the Chinese had ong since perfected elaborate noodle dishes.

I think that if my father had been a more adventurous eater, my mom would hvae stepped up to the challenge but she had to accomodate his tastes (he is known to friends and family as "nothing on it O'Neill" - he considers black pepper and ketchup to be exotic foreign spices!). Although my mom grew up eating fairly mundane Irish-American food, fresh ingredients were of paramount importance. My grandmother had two vegetable vendors who stopped by every day but Sunday - one in the morning and one in the afternoon - she bought plenty from both and insisted on fresh veggies every day for all nine kids. Also, despite the fact that she knew the butchers (or perhaps because of it :laugh: ) , my mom was required to pick out the cut of chuck when she was sent out for ground beef and watch the butcher grind it - pre-ground beef was not to be trusted (some things really don't change!).

I tried my first frozen bagel at age 16 and my first "real" bagel at age 18. That was around the same time that I tried such exotica as Chinese take-out food, cheesecake etc. - it really was a sheltered life. Since then I've grown to the point where I'll try damn near anything once (short of things like tripe and Rocky Mountain Oysters).

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I am Korean-American and I notice that I feel weird if I go too long without eating rice. It can be any kind of rice: jasmine, basmati, regular med grain rice, but it must be rice. However, when I eat out, I do go to a variety of places, not just Korean. But rice is always in the next meal, so comforting. Nothing in my mind satisfies like a good bowl of perfectly done (med grain?) rice.

Our holidays are a mishmash of Korean and American foods. Or at least they used to be. Now my sis does the cooking and she just makes turkey and some gravy, oh and stuffing.

I think California has really molded our eating habits. I can't think of a cuisine that I don't like. We're lucky because we have all sorts of great little restaurants near us.

Edited by jschyun (log)

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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... the only noodles I got to eat as a kid were Mueller's wide egg noodles, boiled and then fried in butter until they got browned and crispy on the edges.

:smile::smile:

I was just thinking about this the other day for the first time in ages and ages. Whenever we had leftover noodles of any sort (but usually it would be either spaghetti or Mueller's wide egg noodles) my mother would warm them up by frying them in butter until they browned and got crispy. We LOVED it! It was by far our favorite way to eat noodles, and we would always ask our mother to make extra so there'd be enough for leftovers. :smile: I don't remember ever liking the "original" dinner as much.

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The best thing the 'rents did for my sister and I growing up was insist that we wouldn't be influenced by their preferences - we ate stuff Dad didn't like when he was out of town, and vice versa. We too were CT Yankees, but mom's food had more of a French influence and Dad's food was were we learned about hardcore chili and spicy food. And, of course, there was all that good New England Protestant Seafood.

However, my neighbors were all over the ethnic map (Italian, Lebanese, Asian) and I always felt we had the boring food. Mom's spaghetti was notoriously horrific, she had no idea what a wok was, and items like artichokes and fondue seemed mundane.

I still feel like I have a lot to catch up on in terms of my own taste, but now I think that's because I was exposed to so much as a kid that I can appreciate the variety now.

--adoxograph

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I grew up in Hong Kong but moved to Canada when I was 11. Since there are so many restaurants in Hong Kong, my families searched for new restaurants every week for family gathering. Although my mom had a full time job but she still went grocery shopping in the market everyday. I regret that I did not pay any attention to what I was eating......... I would just eat them without knowing the name of the ingredients and the preparation method. Most things that people would not expect their kids to like in North America(Example: organs and seafood) are common ingredients in my childhood. There are lots of ethnic food in Hong Kong so I had a chance to try some of them.

We would eat more oily food at restaurants so at home my parents cook with little to no oil. There is soup, lots of green leaf vegetables, and rice/noodles every meal. Fish and tofu are the most common protein and we rarely eat beef at home. To these day, I still don't like large amount of meat, it is just sick to me. I miss all the food from Hong Kong(only 9 more days till summer, I am so happy). Also can not eat the sweet food here(donuts, cakes, cookies) because most of them are too sweet for me.

Even though I live in Canada now but my family still prefer Cantonese meal. They don't like salad, large amount of cheese, frozen seafood, frozen dinner, Kraft, and lots more things :hmmm: . I don't think they would ever enjoy eating Canadian style food since they love the huge variety of Chinese food.

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I grew up in North Carolina, and like other Southern posters in this thread, have been most deeply imprinted on/by breakfast. :smile: If you're gonna take the time to make a big hot breakfast, then you've got time to make biscuits and grits (slow-cooking, please.) I still buy country ham from a supplier in NC, and love "redneck prosciutto and melon" (country ham, cantaloupe, and red-eye gravy) more than just about anything in the world.

The biggest influences were probably familial: everybody in my family cooked well(my dad was a complete grill-master, and my mom and grandmother could cook anything from scratch) and there was a total obsession with fresh ingredients: we had a garden, but also made liberal use of the farmers' market and traded fresh produce with the neighbors. Mealtimes were also big social occasions.

I eat and cook a wide variety of cuisines these days, having had a firm foundation in food appreciation, but at our house we still eat a lot of "soul food," in both Southern and Jewish varieties. Through my wife's influence, I have learned just how much comfort there is in a well-executed brisket smothered with onions and a good noodle kugel.

enrevanche <http://enrevanche.blogspot.com>

Greenwich Village, NYC

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.

- Mark Twain

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Since then I've grown to the point where I'll try damn near anything once (short of things like tripe and Rocky Mountain Oysters).

I was slightly picky as a kid, as I mentioned.

Wouldn't eat pig's blood or sour vegetable, although I'd try pig's blood now, and I actually like sour vegetable.

Tripe is one of my favorites, as is any organ meat, as evidenced by my offal tour here.

(Rocky) mountain oysters are on my "to eat" list, as is haggis, turducken, fugu, etc.

I don't know that I will like them, but I do so want to try them.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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this topic has really struck a chord with me.  i'm chinese-american and grew up eating noodle soup, and like hest88, jook and stir-fries.  but the thing is i didn't appreciate them at all.(...)

:laugh: Me too! On the occasions when my mother made them, roast chicken, steak, baked or mashed potatoes, traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, and spaghetti and meatballs were wildly exciting to me. So was McDonald's. Though I never liked Kraft macaroni and cheese or hotdogs, and still don't for whatever reason.

My childhood memories of jook mostly involved eating it when sick, so for the longest time I refused to touch it after that, though nowadays I love it.

how could i not appreciate the rich flavors of pork broth that had simmered all morning?  the tender noodles, the thinly sliced char siu.  stupid child.

:laugh::laugh::laugh:

Just one of many Stupid Child Moments: thinking I knew better than my mom about what comprised cleanliness in the kitchen, and taking her old nicely seasoned wok and attacking it with a brillo pad until all the seasoning had been scrubbed off. *bonks self over head*

i feel now that my palate is rather unrefined.  i wish i had paid more attention back then.  is there a critical age point in teaching the palate, like there is in learning language?

Man, I hear that. My parents were Shanghainese so I grew up eating Shanghainese home cooking. There are a lot of things Mom used to make that I don't know how to make now, and now that she's gone it's too late to ask her. Granted, in my own circumstances there were other significant factors involved in the rift between me and the rest of my family over the last 15 years that would still be hell to deal with now if she were alive, but it still makes me sad to think about it.

I don't think it's ever too late to learn anything though. I've been trying to do it for awhile now, now that I'm old enough to have the wisdom to appreciate what I no longer have. :wink: Though one thing that's made it more difficult is just the sheer number of white guys I've come across who try to lecture me about my background. Seems like each year it gets worse and worse on several orders of Oh. My. God. Shut. Up.

Were you allowed to have Japanese food as a kid? This too was something I didn't taste until my early 20's because my mother wouldn't hear of it under her roof. Same thing for anything made in Japan, she'd check the labels of every manufactured good before buying it to make sure it was made elsewhere. Tony Bourdain had a brief passage in Kitchen Confidential about his Chinese food chef instructor at CIA, and that pretty much described my mom's views to a T. Nonetheless, I took to nigirizushi right off the bat.

Pat

"I... like... FOOD!" -Red Valkyrie, Gauntlet Legends-

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I am Korean-American and I notice that I feel weird if I go too long without eating rice. It can be any kind of rice: jasmine, basmati, regular med grain rice, but it must be rice. However, when I eat out, I do go to a variety of places, not just Korean. But rice is always in the next meal, so comforting. Nothing in my mind satisfies like a good bowl of perfectly done (med grain?) rice.

Yes! I feel it too if I've gone without rice for more than a few days.

I also remember when I was a teenager the first time I saw non-Asians eating Chinese take-out. They'd eat all the meats, if there were women among them they'd eat some of the vegetables too, and leave all of the rice. Distinctly remember wondering if their tongues got tired from it, if they weren't already suffering stomach aches from the iced drinks they were downing at the same time. :biggrin:

Pat

"I... like... FOOD!" -Red Valkyrie, Gauntlet Legends-

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I don't think it's ever too late to learn anything though. I've been trying to do it for awhile now, now that I'm old enough to have the wisdom to appreciate what I no longer have. :wink: Though one thing that's made it more difficult is just the sheer number of white guys I've come across who try to lecture me about my background. Seems like each year it gets worse and worse on several orders of Oh. My. God. Shut. Up.

This is so funny.... Gah... I've had the same experience too... hahahhahhahaah

At least they don't come up to you and say, "you know my ex girlfriend was Korean...."

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