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America: a melting pot of culture and cuisine

Sasha Sears and Jess Hess

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A little bit of salt, a little bit of pepper, and that should do the trick.
For culinary aficionados, this bland flavoring would slide the meal straight from the frying pan to the trash can. With such a variety of spices and sapor galore, it would be crime for seasoning to be isolated to just salt and pepper. For novice foodies, there is a lot to be learned about the array of foods, specifically at Perry.
Ethnic cuisines have been shaped by centuries of food exchanges between innate groups and immigrants from all over the world.
Without acknowledging the diversity of Perry Meridian High School’s own cultural variance, it is challenging to appreciate the seasoning of dignified meals.

For students at Perry, their food is heavily associated with their culture and customs. Senior Myat Mun says that at home, her meals consist primarily of Burmese dishes despite living in the United States for seven years.
Despite her interest in cheeseburgers and fries, Mun still prefers the comforting flavors of her home in Burma, even being 8,000 miles away.
She and her family embrace their culture with traditional Burmese foods, such as chicken curry and rice. She misses Burmese snacks, like jackfruit, a traditional fruit in southeast Asia.
Mun, who takes pride in her snacks, says, “I remember it tasting sweet, but many people don’t like the smell.”
Her family still cooks traditional foods on Burmese festival days. One of these festivals is Thingyan, or the marking of the Burmese new year. While the day is submerged in fun water-play, it’s also immersed in food. Burmese tea salad, for example, is one dish Mun has a distinct interest in. “You can eat tea salad anytime,” she adds.
Tea salad, made of dried beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and then tossed with the tea leaf dressing, is a comfort food, filled with the perfect assortment of crunchy and crumbly ingredients. Mun says, “I eat it with rice.”
Another food she remembers, and one that is made at home frequently, is Mohinga, a rice noodle and fish soup.
In her culture, she says, “We eat with our hands. We give curry to the adults before we eat.” She adds, “We also ate without a dining table. We ate on the floor.”
Since moving to America, her customs have altered slightly. Her family now eats at a dining table, but Mun herself jokingly says, “I mostly eat in my room.”
Senior Daisy Robles smiles when discussing the food her mother bakes and sizzles for special dinners at home. No matter the occasion, Robles says, “The three things that are always going to be on the table for Mexican cuisine are rice, tortillas and beans.”
She continues to attribute her culture by mentioning the more unconventional foods in correlation to Americanized tastes. In order not to generalize Mexicans as a whole, Robles makes sure to address how her family individually incorporates aspects of the cow, from the foot to the head, into her meals.
In addition, Robles describes that there is a variety of spices and papayas that are not commonly marketed in the United States. Unlike a country across the world, it’s more likely for authentic Mexican ingredients to be incorporated into her family’s dishes because of the regional proximity.
When asked about what her family would eat for breakfast, Robles states, “For a lot of Mexican families, a cup of coffee is what we have for breakfast. We normally eat later lunches and dinners, and if we’re hungry at night, there’s another cup of coffee waiting to be had”.
To accentuate the jolt of her morning coffee, she nibbles on concha, a sweet bread with sprinkled sugar on top.
Her family tangos between the two cultures when deciding what to fix for dinner.
Within a large majority of Mexican recipes, there isn’t a specific regulated amount of ingredients.
“It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that type of mentality,” says Robles.
A dish Robles is more than happy to advocate is her mother’s Mexican version of paella. Paella is a golden-rice base, served in a massive pan, toppled with vegetables and sometimes includes shrimp, snail or chicken meat. While paella has some sweat inducing rules to follow, the essential one is elementary: There is no such thing as a version for a singular person.
“Paella is really just an excuse to gather people,” Robles says.
The Food for Thought Club exhibits exactly that: bringing people together. Sparked by a grouping of Christine Dearth’s Philosophy Club members, an adventurous and food-loving club established itself in trying foods across differing cultures. Some of the dishes that have been tried originate from Morocco, Greece, India and Myanmar.
“Everybody gets in groups and we decided that one person will bring entrees, one person will bring appetizers and another will bring desserts,” according to Dearth. “One time we made Greek Falafels from a chickpea base.”
It’s different every time, hence the group choosing a new country for every get-together. The meals tend to express many cultures and heritages of the participants themselves.
At the end of her conversation, Dearth references how food is one of the leading catalysts for blending cultures together.
Dearth mentions, “The kids enjoy It’s more fun when I get to taste meals that aren’t always Americanized.”
Senior foreign-exchange student Martina Ulissi’s first words, when asked about her favorite Italian dish is “pasta”. Back in Italy, there are a wide-variety of pastas in which to indulge. Ulissi specifically mentions ones with fish and vegetables. Even though the pastas made with fish and seafood are more expensive,“they aren’t as good,” Ulissi says.
“The pastas with vegetables are more common in Italy because they are cheaper,”she adds. “They were made by poor people years ago, so it doesn’t matter how much you spend because the best ones are made with ingredients that are cheaper.”
Tapping her fingers on her desk, Ulissi references an Italian pasta named Carbonara. Made with egg, hard cheese, guanciale, and pepper, this Roman dish gets gobbled up by her family quite frequently.
“We don’t have specific recipes for this in Italy. The difference in flavor comes from putting the salt before the oil or the oil before the salt.”

When asked about Americanized Italian food, Ulissi says, “From what I’ve tried, it’s not very good.”
During lunchtime, Ulissi brings her own lunch. She isn’t used to the repetitive nature of the high school’s cafeteria just quite yet.
“It’s a lot of chicken, almost too much chicken in a week.” Ulissi continues to reinforce the idea that the food isn’t as “important” as the backstory of a culture.
Janice Saylor, French teacher and the sponsor for Perry’s own World Languages Club, states food and culture go hand-in-hand. World Language Club has explored various types of foods during its Friday lunch dates, including Thai, Japanese and Burmese food. This year, they plan on exploring Mexican food and “whatever else the group comes up,” she says.
Eating isn’t only for “yummy” food, she says, but also “to demonstrate a culture that already exists and encourage new cultural experiences.”
Her travels in Europe introduced her to a starkly contrasting customs. Meals last longer, have smaller portions, and focus on the moment instead of the next activity in the day.
Her stay with a family in Germany introduced her to the unmistakable necessities of a meal: meat, chees and bread. Smiling, she remembers the memory in great detail:: “The suppers were very simple. Even then, we took a long time eating because it was about enjoying it.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Americans live in a grab-and-go culture, which early twentieth century industrialization brought about. Research shows that nearly 20-30 percent of teenagers skip breakfast due to time restraints and a preference for sleeping in. However, not everywhere in North America is like this, according to Saylor.
Although Quebec and the United States share a similar geography, Saylor has a distinct love for the more social aspects of meals in the Canadian province.
“In Quebec, they eat a lot of the same stuff as we do, but again there’s some differences with the eating of the meal. It takes longer and you appreciate it,” she says, doting on the familial comfort meals bring.
Sophomore Claire Bilodeau discusses a favorite French recipe that comes from Quebec. “I have a cookbook at home that has traditional Quebec recipes. Creton is a breakfast food with ground beef, onions and spices. My grandmaman used to make it,” she says.
Its texture and taste resemble the French dish almost identically where the meats are most commonly substituted between pork or beef. Creton isn’t a specific form of a celebratory food ; it is a “special” breakfast treat for Bilodeau’s family.
Due to her language barrier, Bilodeau did not have many opportunities to cook with her grandmother. “It made it hard to cook with my grandmaman, and it still makes me really sad.”
However, her father still intends to keep incorporating much of his culture into her meals, especially the aspect of taking time to enjoy the process and not just the result on the plate.
With all of these dishes being deliberated over, it may entice cultural awareness to rise, even in Perry’s small part of the world.
“We have our world language week.”On Asian day, students have rice bowl. On German day they serve pretzels. Saylor says, “At least it’s getting students a little bit aware.”

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