(this piece originally ran 5/08, but always makes us laugh)
I have two words to say. Butt soup. Now that I have your attention…
When my son Lucca was 4 we had a problem getting him to stop eating with his hands. “Stop it, Lucca,” I scolded. “Why?” asked Lucca. “Because we don’t eat with our hands,” I said. As I said it I instantly realized that I was possibly setting my child up to be the ‘ugly American’ in his future world travels by creating an unnecessary hierarchy of customs, so I added in the same breath, “…in our culture. In other cultures it’s accepted to eat with your hands, but in our culture and with this particular food item, we use silverware.”
A couple months later, out of the blue, Lucca asked “Mommy, what’s that culture where you can eat with your hands?” “Ethiopia,” I answered, “and perhaps in some parts of India. Why?”
“Can we go to that restaurant?” Lucca responded. How ingenious, I thought. We did a Google search for “Ethiopian Restaurant Chicago” and found a great place called Ethiopian Diamond. Telling the story of how we chose to be there opened a conversation with the server, who was from Ethiopia and shared insights into the food and his homeland. As we ate the “injera,” the traditional Ethiopian bread used to scoop the food, we asked Lucca to imagine how different cultures have similar ‘versions’ of foods as staples in their diets: Pita bread in Lebanon, tortillas in Mexico, naan in India…and we had a fun family outing and new experience together.
Remembering the fun of that experience, we decided to go on another cross-cultural culinary expedition. This time the process was simple and easy to replicate: 1. We looked at a world map. 2. Together, we picked a country. We went through a few–China, Italy, etc.–before we settled on one with food we had never tried: Czechoslovakia. (Using a globe might be fun at this point too, to add the element of chance to the selection process.) 3. I logged onto Metromix.com and typed in the name of the country and our zip code. We picked Operetta, which was the closest to us, but still in a new neighborhood.
We had fun imagining our server’s life in Czechoslovakia as she told us her story. We tried dumplings (very different than a Midwesterner’s idea of Chicken and Dumplings), shared two different dishes, had a nice cold Czech beer (just the adults), and a big waffle ice cream sundae for dessert. (As in “we have to try dessert mommy, it might be something we’ve never tried.”)
What I hope from this experience is that Lucca will learn by example as he sees me pushing the edges of my own comfort zone, exploring new areas of the City and trying new things, and that his own sense of curiosity and appreciation for the many perspectives in life will be piqued. I believe this to be true, although the immediate learning in an experience is not always what you might expect.
Which brings me back to the Butt Soup. The real highlight for my then 6 year old child, who had just learned to read? He got to say “butt.” Out loud. In public. In a sentence. Multiple times, and with legitimate reason: It was written clearly all over the menu, as in, shall I have the Butt Steak or the Butt Sandwich? “I think we’ll just try the Butt soup.”
But…rest assured he’s eager for the next outing.
Photo credit tzejen on flickr
Ethiopian is my favorite of all the many ethnic cuisines; I love doro wat, though I can live without that sweet mead wine. Blech!
So great you doing this with Lucca. Growing up, ethnic foods was La Choy, as in “La Choy makes Chinese food swing American, why not!” That felt risky. Somehow, despite the fact my family’s palate is still very conservative, I’ll try anything and love most everything. It wasn’t until college that I learned there were options, and right away a jewish friend (not you) gave me gefilte fish, and my friends from India cooked dinner for me. I’ve never looked back. Lucca is going to be some fabulous chef!