What Immigration does to Cuisine

An Easter feast at Thea’s house

The F Word

In my household, the F word is a sacred one. It’s a word attached to family, conversation, debates, rants, and of course, chewing. That F word is food. I guess it should be two F words: family and food. I often wonder if one can exist without the other under this roof. We’re a family of five, plus another hundred, dispersed between Canada, the States, and Greece. Distance never stops us from meeting to share a meal, and a rather loud conversation. But I digress. Food. In the Greek culture, like any culture, we have a dish for every occasion. Lamb on the spit at Easter, Voliotiko pork on Christmas morning, Vasilopita on New Years Day. These are traditions in my family, as well as in Greece.

But today, I’d like to talk about what happens to tradition once you’ve crossed the border. Once you leave the motherland, you find yourself in a supermarket, eying various genetically modified vegetables. There’s a shift in a tradition once you’re faced with new ingredients.

My mother does most of the cooking in the house, followed by my dad, me, and my sisters. Dad manages the barbeque, seafood, and various hunks of meat that don’t fit in the oven. He makes a mean platter of butterflied shrimp seasoned with paprika, olive oil, lemon, and the essential salt and pepper. Mom makes dishes from kota sto fourno (roasted chicken and potatoes in the oven), to kreas kokinisto– a hearty stew of green beans, potatoes, and chunks of meat in a thick tomato sauce. I’ve just learned to make my own rendition of Saganaki- the appetizer you love to order in Greek restaurants where servers flambé a slice of cheese before your eyes.

But with learning new recipes and introducing dishes from different cultures into our home, is our cuisine compromised? I personally don’t think so, because we haven’t replaced our traditional dishes with, sushi, for example. We make our traditional meals more than we experiment, but every meal comes from some degree of experimentation.

To wrap up this post, I’d like to pose a question: does a culture define its cuisine, or does cuisine define a culture?

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