Yes, we have fruited plains, but we have no bananas...
October 8, 2015 12:35 AM   Subscribe

Today, even the most obscure ingredient can often be sourced with the click of a few buttons, but back in the day... I'm looking for examples of recent (+/- last 100 yrs) groups of immigrants coming to the US and how either not having access to their usual ingredients or having access to new ingredients may have impacted their traditional recipes.

For instance there was a large influx of Hmong/Mong to the US following the end of the Vietnam war. I'm curious if adjustments were made to their traditional recipes that have since became the accepted version of said food for the Hmong/Mong living in the US. ie: Is there such a thing as Hmong American food these days?
posted by jenquat to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
scandinavian recipes were often adapted and you can find many of them in church cookbooks from the 50's and 60's... I am sure other people can give you more info!
posted by pairofshades at 1:15 AM on October 8, 2015

I believe it's in Madhur Jaffrey's Invitation to Indian Cooking that she mentions a recipe that's traditionally wrapped up in banana leaves. For Westerners, she advises to use that all-purpose wonder, aluminum foil.
posted by Liesl at 4:34 AM on October 8, 2015

Isn't this the backstory behind the (American) association between the Irish and corned beef?

I'm not sure about Hmong American food but there is a fair bit of Hmong hmong food to be found in St Paul MN. Having never been to Laos or eaten Hmong food elsewhere I can't say how Americanized it is but hmong farmers were always pretty well represented at farmers markets and seemed to be growing the things they liked/needed to cook with as well as more commercially viable crops.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 4:38 AM on October 8, 2015

Best answer: There are many significant differences between Old and New World wine.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:46 AM on October 8, 2015

Best answer: Andrea Nguyen (author of many wonderful Viet/Asian cookbooks) occasionally talks about this kind of thing on her blog, as her family migrated to California from Vietnam in 1975:

Cooking Vietnamese Food in 1970s America: Things We Were Grateful For

Depending on your age, you may remember a time in America when there was no fish sauce at the supermarkets.

"They were always fresh in Vietnam. We had no dried banh pho when we lived there."
posted by gueneverey at 8:29 AM on October 8, 2015

Best answer: I grew up kinda close to an Air Force base in central Arkansas, where there's a sizeable Laotian community. The neat thing is that they're at least partially credited with revving up the local farmers market scene (especially in Little Rock) because they banded together and started growing and sharing produce important to their traditional cuisines. I'm sure there are substitutions (I can ask one of my Arkansas Hmong friends if that would help you out), but what strikes me most is the preservation and propagation of foodstuffs instead.

Also, not in the U.S., but I like the pav bhaji story (India + Portugal = delicious).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:39 AM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My church sponsored a Vietnamese immigrant family in the 70s and I became very close with them. I remember in the first few weeks how bewildered they were by the simultaneous abundance in our southern grocery stores and the utter lack of many ingredients that they considered critical. Their oldest son was close to my age and he confided that his mother was embarrassed at how bad the food was that they shared with me because she couldn't find so many things. Several weeks later, I discovered a tiny, dingy "asian grocer" that was really Korean and introduced them to it by getting my mom to drive us there. I remember Mrs. Nguyen crying as she grabbed fish sauce and tamarind paste and other critical ingredients that she had abandoned hope of finding in the US. She and her eldest daughter took the preperation of the broths for their many soups very seriously and although they still complained that they were without some seasonings seemed satisfied with the outcome of their new batches. I think back now and marvel at how gracefully they dealt with their relocation to an area where they were initially the only Hmong nearby, surrounded by foreigners with foreign customs and foods and everything. Within a year, there were a number of other families who drew on each other for support, but those first months must have been a nightmare for them.

Although pho and other such dishes have become ubiquitous now, I've never had anything to touch that fragrant soup with tiny tender floating meatballs in their small house decorated with cast-off stuff from various folks around town. Twenty some years later I told one of the kids that and they told me that I always was crazy.
posted by Lame_username at 9:41 AM on October 8, 2015 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: LOVELY ANSWERS, mefites! Keep them coming, please!

late afternoon, I was still fixated on the changes in the traditional cuisine and was thinking about how this was mitigated by immigrant families often having small gardens, but hadn't gotten to "and then they started selling their veggies and thereby improved the local food system", which works perfectly for my purposes.

For those of you still playing at home, my question can be expanded to "how have recent immigrants made a significant impact to the US food system or US regional cuisine?"

And thus endeth the threadsitting.
posted by jenquat at 10:08 AM on October 8, 2015

Best answer: In our home Chinese cooking, we substitute celery for bamboo shoots. I rather suspect it's a standard substitution, but I don't know.

I heard a discussion on the radio (Faith Middleton on NPR) a couple years back about local sourcing of food in Connecticut, and how some farmland is getting back into use due to the locavore movement. One of the things mentioned was that a farm was growing a particular variety of greens traditionally used in latin cooking, and which could easily be sold in latin markets in Hartford. I was also interested to see a field of flaming red chili peppers in Simbury, CT. You would not have see than 50 years ago.

I remember reading somewhere that a large percentage of the world's supply of semolina (the wheat used in pasta) is grown in the US (Nebraska? S. Dakota?).

And a final thought: the use of olive oil in the US has increased demand to the point that there is a lot of cheating in the food chain. Other oils are sold as olive, even virgin olive.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:05 AM on October 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I remember reading somewhere that a large percentage of the world's supply of semolina (the wheat used in pasta) is grown in the US (Nebraska? S. Dakota?).

Durum wheat. North America accounts for about 17 percent of the worldwide durum harvest.

Commercially produced dry pasta, or pasta secca, is made almost exclusively from durum semolina. Most home made fresh pastas (pasta fresca), such as orecchiette, cavatelli, and malloreddus, also use durum wheat or a combination of soft and hard wheats.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:39 PM on October 8, 2015

Best answer: My American-born but still very Polish mother-in-law gave me her mother's recipe for stuffed cabbages (galobki, pronounced gwumki) and insisted that Campbell's tomato soup was the very best way to get the sauce just right. I still have no idea what a traditional authentic recipe would contain.
posted by CathyG at 1:33 PM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is my friend Mindy's story about her Taiwanese grandparents and their neighborhood garden.
posted by MsMolly at 4:50 PM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

In Ethiopian cuisine, injera is traditionally made with a grain called tef. This isn't always available outside Ethiopia (it's not available in Australia, at least, but might be available in the US). Using wheat instead means that the injera tastes different and is less healthy.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:57 PM on October 8, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you ALL for fabulous input! I highlighted the answers that will most directly apply to my work, but truly, everyone gave me...(forgive me)... food for thought.
posted by jenquat at 6:09 PM on October 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

In general I bet 1950s-60s ethnic church cookbooks would be a really great source for these sorts of improvisations. I grew up eating my grandma's Armenian cooking which was stuck in the pre-1950s of Central California, when she learned to cook all of it. There were plenty of things nobody could get locally - some of them they just made themselves, like yogurt, but there definitely were all kinds of weird and unorthodox uses of ketchup, gelatin, and all the other convenience foods of the 50s.

My grandma had an earlier edition of this one, if you're interested in spending 19.95 on what I recall to be a reasonably fine sampling of period Armenian-American recipes.
posted by town of cats at 8:27 PM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

This isn't American, but there's a wildly popular quasi-staple in Israel called Ptitim, which is a toasted pasta formed in to small (BB-sized) balls. It was invented early in Israeli history by the food company Osem as a replacement for rice and couscous - many of the earliest immigrants to Israel were from cultures which traditionally had rice or couscous as a staple starch, but they couldn't be easily grown and yield was very low. Ptitim was created as an inexpensive substitute, and now more than fifty years later is extraordinarily popular as a grain dish in its own right.

(Another popular Israeli dish, chicken schnitzel, has a similar origin story - European immigrants to Israel brought schnitzel with them, but the veal which was traditionally used was expensive and difficult to raise, so it was replaced with chicken).
posted by Itaxpica at 9:59 PM on October 16, 2015

Growing up, my mother's approximation of the sauce for gado gado was a mix of crunchy peanut butter, Heinz ketchup, and Franks RedHot. The real deal is made by crushing peanuts with gulah melaka (palm sugar), fresh chilies, tamarind, and limau assam (calamondins/kalamansi limes), none of which were to be had in the midwest in the 80s.
posted by Westringia F. at 8:37 AM on October 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

My American-born but still very Polish mother-in-law gave me her mother's recipe for stuffed cabbages (galobki, pronounced gwumki) and insisted that Campbell's tomato soup was the very best way to get the sauce just right. I still have no idea what a traditional authentic recipe would contain.

My Polish grandmother (when she still cooked) used tomato sauce/ketchup in EVERYTHING.
posted by prettypretty at 5:15 PM on October 18, 2015

Finding manioc flour for Brazilian recipes was difficult in the 60s and 70s. The recommended substitution was cream of wheat. For Queso Minas (a semi hard cheese) you could use Muenster but its not really the same. And alas the elusive Dende oil was not to be found anywhere! My mom used vegetable oil with paprika and chili powder. It's actually still hard to find in a grocery store in my neck of the woods.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:19 AM on October 23, 2015

My Chinese parents immigrated from Taiwan to Connecticut in 1965. The substitutions were many, the one I remember best is every year when my aunt from D.C. would come to visit bearing a Virginia ham (country ham) that was their best equivalent for Chinese cured ham.

Others: My mom used apple cider vinegar in place of rice wine vinegar, and sherry in place of chinkiang vinegar. She made winter melon rind soup with watermelon rinds.

Not a substitution, but it took me a while to realize that my parents stuffed our Thanksgiving turkey with glutinous rice stuffing because that's how they stuffed roasted ducks. And I've since found that is a common new world stuffing substitution for Chinese families.
posted by girlhacker at 9:23 PM on October 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

My mother, on her first introduction to American style Chinese take-out, thought my father was trying to poison her. It got better through the years. But to be honest, my mother became an industry of food resourcing for Vietnamese items in Central California. We did multi-day annual trips to Los Angeles and San Francisco to get Asian ingredients. What she could not buy, she grew or made. This included growing her own melons to pickle with fish, mints, fruits, vegetables and poultry. She could not convince my dad to convert our suburban yard into raising a pig, though.

She knew that fish sauce was impossible to get so brought cases of fish sauce out of Vietnam before the fall. This was problematic in one instance because a case broke in the plane of a family friend.

Substitutions included getting inferior rice, such as, regular long grain, Kikkoman instead of regular Chinese or Vietnamese soy sauces, going to swap meets where people sold live poultry. My mother was an excellent gardener so she was one of the first to grow lemongrass, opa, and other vegetables. She developed a taste for dove and so subbed that out for small fowl found in Vietnam. No rice vinegar so regular distilled and some time cider but she started making her own vinegars once she found someone who could give her the starter/mother from wine making (the finest vinegar was made from gin, water and banannas.)

In retrospect, food was the one way she kept being connected to a place she ended up being in exile from for 40+ years.
posted by jadepearl at 6:25 PM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

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