I started a blog about feeding guests of other cultures is because that is virtually the only kind of feeding I do, even when we don't have guests. My husband was raised in the USA and I was raised in Brazil, so we grew up eating quite differently. While he was eating biscuits, grits and gravy like a good Southern boy should, I was crunching raw chayote and sucking mango seeds in northern Brazil. Thankfully, I spent time in North America as a child, too, and really we developed quite similar taste.
"We can feed our guests anything, but it serves them when we choose flavours they can enjoy."
However, living in India and now Germany has meant that most guests in my home do not have North American roots, and I'm always wondering what our guests will enjoy eating. Of course, we can feed our guests whatever we want, but it serves them and builds our friendship when we feed them flavours they can enjoy.
I have four general ideas for feeding guests of other cultures, so far. There is some overlap between the ideas. (Of course, it is always important to ask guests if there are foods they cannot eat or do not like to eat, but these are just more general tips.)
Idea #1: Use main ingredients which are somewhat familiar to your guest.
Usually you don't want to make something that is extremely different than what they are accustomed to eating or drinking, because they may not like it. But you also don't want to exactly imitate something that they had back home, because you probably won't make it as well as Mom did. If you're not very familiar with what people from particular parts of the world eat, Google is your friend. Ask "What do Arabs eat?" or look up "typical foods in Tunisia" and get an idea of what they are accustomed to, so that you can make something with a few familiar ingredients.
I realized this when both our Indian and Syrian friends enjoyed this bulgur salad. I think that this is because it has ingredients that are familiar to them (bulgur, chick peas, cucumber, bell pepper), but perhaps they have never eaten those ingredients in a salad format before, so it is a different twist on flavours they can enjoy. But maybe you don't know where to find bulgur or don't have a clue how to make chick peas. You can learn, or you can read on....
Idea #2: Feed guests a meal or snack from your home country, adjusted to their cultural tastes as needed.
Wouldn't you be excited if your Italian friend had you over for homemade pasta, or your Middle Eastern friend brought you baklava from his home city? I am in my bliss when my Indian friends make homemade aloo paratha for me. In the same way, your international friends might enjoy having the homemade version of foods you grew up eating.
As North Americans we don't have so many traditional foods as some countries, but if you hail from Canada or the USA, here are a few things your guests may feel privileged to eat in your home:
- burgers and fries
- "meat and three"
- homemade loaf bread
- cookies (especially chocolate chip!)
- pie, or
"Your international friends might enjoy having the homemade version of foods you grew up eating."
TexMex can also be interesting to people of other cultures, because it is a twist on some ingredients they may have eaten before (like cilantro, beans, tomatoes, corn, yogurt/sour cream) mixed with other not-too-scary ingredients (cheese, avocado, tortilla chips). Most guests will also find it interesting if you make something that was your grandma's recipe or was a traditional food in your family.
Idea #3: Serve a meal that allows guests to pick their own toppings or mix and match ingredients.
If some of the ingredients in the meal you want to serve are a bit unusual, allowing people to pick their own toppings or mix and match ingredients on their own plates works well. I saw my North American friends in India serve meals like this successfully many times. Here in Germany I sometimes serve a salad as a meal, but have five to eight bowls on the table with different options of toppings and dressings, which lets each person pick toppings that suit him or her.
Idea #4: Consider including some "universally enjoyable" foods on the menu.
A lady who often hosts Muslim families in her Chicago home said that in addition to making a dish their guests might be familiar with and making an American-style dish, she usually plans to have rice, fruit and hot tea on hand. If the immigrant guests she is feeding don't like anything else that is being served, at least they can probably eat those things. I also think that bread, pizza and pasta (depending on the toppings), and chocolate are almost universally enjoyable.
As time goes by, I hope to collect more resources from people of different cultures and create specific guides, such as "How to Host an Indian Guest" or "How to Show Hospitality to your Moroccan Friend". But to begin with, I've found that these general tips are working well in our home. I hope they help you too, in the adventure of feeding foreign friends!