How to Cook and Eat Food From a Culture That Is Not Your Own

I am informed that in the year 2021 there is still a great deal of confusion about how to cook and eat food from a culture other than one’s own. But don’t worry, I—the prophet who brought you the Food Commandments—am here to help you. Read this short guide and you too will know how to cook and eat food from a culture that is not your own.

How should I cook and eat food from a culture that is not my own?

However the fuck you like.

Really?

Yes.

Can I sous vide my idlis and make chilaquiles with Doritos?

Knock yourself out.

So there are no rules?

I didn’t say that.

This is the worst Socratic dialogue I’ve ever been part of.

Look, do you want help or not?

I’m sorry—so, what are the rules?

There are no rules for cooking and eating food as you enjoy it. Period. There are, however, rules for how you talk about it in print or online—whether on Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, Facebook, Substack or if you’re a really cool person, on a blog.

And these rules are?

  1. Do not make any kind of authenticity claims about how you have cooked or eaten the food of a culture that is not your own.

People from within a culture can and do argue all day long about how something “should” be made or eaten; people from outside that culture should stay out of these matters as they stay out of other people’s family quarrels. The only exception is if you have in fact immersed yourself fully in that culture and know it intimately.

Does reading a Wikipedia page count as immersion?

No, and nor does attending a few sessions of the Oxford Food Symposium or reading a Twitter thread about it.

Okay, what are the other rules?

2. Do not claim to have improved or refined or, heaven help you, “elevated” the dish of another culture by whatever you’ve done to it.

But I can still call my buttermilk-brined fried chicken with gochujang and fish sauce Tandoori Chicken, right?

No. Words and names have meanings.

Even after the Donald Trump presidency?

I’m afraid so. (But that does sound like a tasty dish. You should figure out a name for it.)

So what’s the rule?

3. If your version of a dish is missing key ingredients or methods do not give it the canonical name of the dish.

Depending on how close you are—and for this I’m afraid you’re going to have to do some research—you can say you were “inspired by tandoori chicken” or that you’ve made “my version of tandoori chicken” or something like that. No one will care.

Is there a corollary?

Funny you should ask.

4. Do not either make a traditional or near-traditional version of a dish from another culture and call it something else and promote it with a cutesy hashtag. This never ends well—though it can make you a lot of money if you are white and have an in with the New York Times food section or other legacy food media.

But I can say that I made a quick, weeknight version of something, right?

Yes, weeknights and the need for quick cooking exist in all cultures.

Anything else?

5. Even if you have followed all the rules above you are forbidden from ever garnishing anything with raw haldi/turmeric powder.

Can you put them altogether in one concise list?

Here you go.

0. Cook and eat the food of a culture that is not your own however the fuck you want.

But when talking about it in print or online:

  1. Do not make any kind of authenticity claims about how you have cooked or eaten the food of a culture that is not your own (unless you have truly immersed yourself in that culture).
  2. Do not claim to have improved or refined or, heaven help you, “elevated” the dish of another culture by whatever you’ve done to it.
  3. If your version of a dish is missing key ingredients or methods do not give it the canonical name of the dish.
  4. Do not either make a traditional or near-traditional version of a dish from another culture and call it something else and promote it with a cutesy hashtag. This never ends well—though it can make you a lot of money if you are white and have an in with the New York Times food section or other legacy food media.
  5. Even if you have followed all the rules above you are forbidden from ever garnishing anything with raw haldi/turmeric powder.

Thank you so much! How can I ever repay you?

Gratitude is nice. Money is better.


 

3 thoughts on “How to Cook and Eat Food From a Culture That Is Not Your Own

  1. Thanks for clarifying all this. It can all be so confusing. Cathy makes a mean Ethiopian dinner since she learned to cook it while living there. For dinner we’re having leftover’s frozen from last time, but just in case, we will call it Cathy’s Ethiopian style dinner. I am making a version of foul from a can of fava beans, but Cathy says its ONLY eaten for breakfast. But I don’t care.

    Like

  2. It seems unlikely that I will ever try my hand at recipe-blogging – no matter – if I do, I’ll use your recipe posts as a model.

    Generally, top google recipe matches lead to posts that provide much that is superfluous – mainly “encouragment”, along with other prose – the collection of which I put at the bottom of a textfile under the heading YAK YAK (stolen from a favorite sports commentary show).

    Ingredients and Process are put at the top – sometimes in outline form – I may thus produce a dish and have a decent chance of replicating it with minimum of grief.

    I see that you have Recommend Reading that lists various Indian Food books, along with Whisky Links. Perhaps a new category with “food links” to reliable online references is in order?

    Like

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