When I was growing up my parents always encouraged me to try everything. They never forced me to eat anything but I was always expected to be polite if I didn’t like something. For much of my life this was no problem, as I rarely encountered things I didn’t care for, except for cow brain tacos an uncle once offered me. When I went overseas my culinary horizons broadened. In most instances I could order something that was to my liking. There were however situations, such as in a family dining experience where there was no other option. Living in a multicultural family this scenario is bound to present itself. Certainly it has never been my intention to insult someone but eating an eyeball or liver wrapped in stomach lining is not in the cards for me.
I have found that in most situations I am able to avoid the main dish by a) feigning illness b) eating around it or c) politely declining when offered. After having this situation arise many times I simply won’t lie any longer. If there is something I truly won’t eat I gently tell the host how much I appreciate the offer and time spent but it’s not something I eat, however I am so happy to eat the other parts of the meal. This is a tricky situation any way you slice it. This is not a one-sided issue. While we view other cultures dishes as unappetizing the same can be said for the food we are accustomed to.
On one of my visits to Morocco my in-laws asked me to make an “American” dish for them. I was not much of a cook at this time and needed to find something that I could get all of the ingredients for in Morocco. I decided on a chicken stir fry, thinking who wouldn’t like rice, chicken and veggies. It flopped – big time. I could see them picking at this dish that I thought was amazing and they must have thought resembled dog food! Thankfully no one said anything and ate a little bit. From that point forward I really took into consideration the food tastes of my guests. I really think that to avoid hurt feelings and to offer the best experience for everyone this is a must. Not everyone is polite when met with food that is unappetizing and “weird”.
I don’t choose to make food that my guests could have at home, because then they would just eat at home! But, if for example, I know that there are specific spices or vegetables that make up the food they are used to I try to use those same flavors and ingredients in new ways. If they are repeat guests, like in-laws, on each subsequent visit I take things a step further until they are more used to and comfortable with the foods of my culture. These experiences have also taught me more about cultural understanding. What is polite in my culture may not be the same in my husbands. I used to take huge offense when an in-law someone would tell me I looked like I had gained weight. That’s just not polite! I’ve since learned that those sensitivities Americans have about the subject are not the same for Moroccans. Who knew that so much cultural understanding and patience was needed just to handle meals?
I would love to know what experiences you have had dealing with foods in diverse families? Have you had to come to terms with in-laws not liking or not being willing to even try your cultural foods or vice-versa? How have you handled those uncomfortable moments?