“They’re going to love this!” ← Famous last words of a naïve cross-cultural chef, preparing food that’s totally unlike anything the guests have ever tasted.
Has anyone else been there? I sure have. Lots of times.
One time, I was so proud that we were having our son’s Chinese preschool teachers over for dinner. I was working my little tail off to prepare Mexican food, making tortillas from scratch and everything. We knew Mexican food was awesome, and wanted to share something really special with them. It might be different from the local food, but they’d love the chance to try something new, right?
Fast forward to the middle of the meal, when three very sweet young teachers were sitting around our table, trying to be polite about the food we had served. Despite their smiles and reassurances that they were enjoying dinner, it was pretty easy to see that they weren’t.
I could tell it was weird and awkward for them to be using their hands to pick up the food. The flavors were nothing like what they were used to, and it wasn’t a welcome change.
Biggest flop? The refried beans. Beans in China are often featured in sweet things, like shaved ice dessert, ice cream, or sweet breakfast buns. But I had made them salty, which is gross if you’re expecting sweet. Worse, it was just a bowl of mushy beans, not beans as an ingredient in something else. Honestly, I think they struggled to gag down even one bite of the beans that we thought were a delicious taste of home.
There were plenty of other culinary flops when I tried to introduce local friends to our “exotic” tastes, like apple cinnamon muffins or sweet potato casserole. Eventually, I learned which dishes were most likely to go over well, and which were most likely to leave my guests confused/gagging/hungry.
How have your attempts gone? What lessons have you learned along the way?
If you’ve ever hosted guests from another culture (or have wanted to), there’s a great podcast over at Taking Route on Extending Hospitality Cross-Culturally. It features an interview with the awesome lady behind The Serviette, who shares very practical tips for those of us who invite over people from other cultures. (Butter Chicken for a Crowd is one of her most popular posts. Yum.) I’m honored to have a little part to play at the very end of the podcast. Give it a listen here.
P.S. If you were hoping to get in on the Launch Team for my first book, there are still a few slots left! [Update: Launch Team Sign-Ups are now closed! Thank you for your interest. Sign up at my author website to be notified when HOME, JAMES is released!]