Melting pot vs. crock pot

Everyone has tradition in their lives, and traditional foods are a part of what shapes our family and its legacy.

We also talk about the blending or assimilation of cultures, and even in food, there is fusion cuisine.

Some of those blended results become a part of a blended culture, like hotdogs in North America, brought from German immigrants who liked their sausages in a bun.

Such a lovely combination of new and old, right?

Then, I started to wonder, how do we ensure the best of both worlds?

Can we have a homogenized blend of various wonderful elements and still have room for those elemental cultures to keep their unique traditions alive?

How do we keep heritage alive in our families while still connecting in our communities? Should we be afraid of losing our unique identities?

We have kids try different foods when they are little to help shape their palates (and apparently, can help them avoid having food allergies according to the latest studies).

Can we not extend that philosophy as adults and shape our palates in a worldly fashion? Venturing into a grocery store that carries specialties from other parts of the world can open our eyes and taste buds to a broader horizon.

Eating and cooking international foods gives us a taste of other cultures, literally and figuratively.

I remember visiting the bulk spice store we had in Calgary when I was a kid. It was owned by a family who had emigrated from India, and so logically they carried many spices pertinent to their cuisine.

In the 1970s, these exotic ingredients weren’t stocked at Safeway and there was no big box store with a huge inventory of products. This place really was another world for me, and for my mom too, in her cooking.

When you walked through the shop door, your nose would twitch from the aromatic smells of cardamom, turmeric and coriander.

The shelves had wonderful surprises like sheets of dried apricots (before we saw fruit leather from SunRype), balls of cheese in oil and melted clarified butter in a jar (wow, that’s different), and pickled vegetables (who knew pickles didn’t have to be cucumbers?)

There were bulk bins full of all kinds of legumes and rice. I had never seen a chick pea before and didn’t know rice came in so many varieties.

While my brother and I wandered the aisles in awe, my mom would scan for ingredients she needed for a new recipe she had found. At first she would often ask the shop owner for help, making sure she had the right kind of spice or grain.

The woman was soft-spoken, and she wore beautiful flowing saris in vibrant colours. She had what seemed like magical shoes that had points at the toes. I though she must have come from a magical place.

Although everything about this place was strange and new, being able to share ideas on cooking and then eating food with these flavours gave us a chance to bridge the gap between us and this new culture.

I became more comfortable with the flavours and smells, and more adventurous about trying other things. As I grew older, I felt as though these exotic meals were intrinsic to learning to live in a big city and preparing for the even bigger world out there.

The simple experience of grocery shopping was a first step in understanding that different didn’t mean unacceptable or unfriendly. That truth existed for the food and also for the people.

Learning about another culture even a little bit was an impetus to learn more about my heritage as well.

I was keen to get recipes from my grandparents that represented traditions and a different taste.

In developing a sense of pride for my Icelandic and Scottish heritage, I wanted to share that heritage with others. Making food turned out to be an easy way to do that.

“Vinertarta” sounds funny, but it looks good. So, every Christmas, I make some to share at our traditional dessert party, along with shortbread and other goodies. My hubby makes Sugar Pie, something from his Quebecois upbringing.

And we share stories with the neighbours as we munch on these delicacies.

I do enjoy innovative, new cuisine from chefs who want to blend ideas and ingredients. I appreciate knowing where all those elements come from however.

Just like people, ingredients have unique identities that deserve to be recognized. They can also be valued in a group, as part of a greater whole.

We just need to keep sharing — our food and our selves — to foster understanding.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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