Food is a powerful force. It brings us together at mealtime. It shapes our daily experiences. And, it introduces us to new cultures. Just one meal - at home, at a restaurant or even near a food truck - can have a profound impact on our views, our memories and our lives. It doesn't have to be a formal or fine-dining experience. I've found it to be just the opposite. In fact, for me, it even has been something as simple as one glass jar passed among friends.
A few months ago, we had friends over to our home for dinner. It was a casual potluck-style dinner, with my family serving the main course and our visiting friends bringing the side dishes. In that one evening, over a meal that melded together our individual culinary customs and traditions, we shared stories of our respective cultures and the role food played in it all.
An appetite for cultural appreciation
Our friends trace their roots to India and Singapore while our family tree includes ancestors from Germany, Russia, Poland and Romania. As I put the finishing touches on our main course, I noted the slight skepticism of our friends in serving salmon simply broiled in the oven void of any spices. I saw relief visibly wash over one of our friends' faces when we suggested eating it - not just plain, but with mango salsa on top.
Why the touch of apprehension? Because our friends have a strong palate for spicy foods. It is the spice that often makes their meal enjoyable, memorable and delightful. For them, spice plays a premier role at every meal.
With this apprehension came opportunity - for discussion, for sharing and for understanding among both of our families.
As we moved to our communal table, we discussed the differences in how both families typically prepare our family meals or select our favorite restaurants. As we lobbed story after story across the table, we laughed about the similar apprehension they felt during a recent Thanksgiving dinner at another friend's house when they were served a turkey also void of spices.
Then tables were turned when our friends showed us how they intended us to enjoy the crispy, thin spring rolls they brought to our meal that evening - with plenty of spice.
United through food
Our knowing friends brought their own spice with them - a jar of Mother's Recipe Mango Chilli Pickle. I love how the label says it contains "crisp, handpicked green chillies and luscious mango pieces [that] come together to tease your taste buds." And, that it did!
While the product comes in varying degrees of spice levels, they let us dive right in - with the spiciest pickles. And, they were incredible!
The Indian "pickles" added just the right amount of heat to our spring rolls, adding the perfect compliment to our cross-cultural meal. My husband and I often try to have a bottle of srichara near us at most meals and were thrilled to be introduced to a new global hot sauce - especially one favored by our friends.
Our evening was indeed a memorable one. By simply serving plain salmon and trying a new spice, our eyes were opened to our respective cultures and we said our goodbyes for the evening with a new appreciation for, and understanding of, our culinary traditions.
The spice of life - for dialogue and meals
I was surprised and very touched to receive a gift from our friends the other day - a jar of Mother's Recipe Mango Chilli Pickle.
Our friends knew we enjoyed sampling it and learning more about their culinary traditions, and they helped us continue to savor the experience with a simple, meaningful token of our evening together. Now, whenever we open up the bottle, the memories from that evening come rushing back as we feel the now familiar heat of the spice coursing through our mouths.
Food is indeed a powerful force. And, this one bottle of spicy "pickles" will forever remind us of its ability to bring us together and provide us with new experiences that will stay with us forever.
Has one food or culinary experience helped open your eyes to new cultures and traditions? What have you learned about other cultures from dining with friends from diverse countries? And, what is your global spice of choice? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.