As a Filipino-American who immigrated to the U.S., one of the biggest culture shocks for me was the inherent stigma towards ethnic foods. As a child, I often avoided packing Filipino food for school in fear that my peers would sneer at what they perceived as this weird foreign substance on my plate.
Over the years, I’ve gotten too familiar with the usual questions: “What is that?” or “Is it good?” I’ve learned to be a good sport about their curiosity and this often gave room for me to introduce my peers to new things. For the most part, however, my attempts have been met with grins and giggles.
In retrospect, being subjected to this sense of shame and embarrassment of my ethnic roots, namely my food, has shaped me to become more open to other people’s cultural cuisines.
As such, I’ve made a promise to myself to try new things and to base my opinions on food through what I’ve personally experienced. It is this same openness and mentality that I fervently wish that my Americanized peers would carry.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met a great deal of open minded people in the U.S. that have embraced all sorts of ethnic dishes. Still, I continue to experience a sense that others refuse to try new foods because they hold inherent biases towards these foods or that they have been socially taught to believe ridiculous stereotypes.
For example, many people have asked me if I eat dog based on my obvious Asian heritage. I’m certain that other individuals of different backgrounds have experienced this extent of stereotyping and, quite frankly, it’s tiring.
My experiences with these types of circumstances have only really occurred within the U.S. In most other countries, people are more accepting and I think we can all learn from that. Perhaps it is largely due to the heavy influence of food within cultures in countries like the Philippines and many others.
Upon entering a Filipino household, I’ve always been taught to eat food that has been offered to you even if you’re full or even if you don’t particularly like that certain dish. To us Filipinos, being accepting of people’s food is an ultimate sign of respect.
I’m not implying that everyone should hold these beliefs and I acknowledge that people have good reasons to think otherwise. But, a little bit of open mindedness can go a long way and you might even discover your next favorite dish.
During high school, my World Cultures class had stopped over for lunch at an Indian Restaurant and I was astonished to find the number of students that chose to bring their own bagged lunch. Witnessing this, I was convinced that people would rather bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over trying amazing Indian dishes for free.
There is this level of abhorrence towards foods that don’t appear like the standard pizza or burger and the appearance of food shouldn’t be the decision factor to begin with. To me, people’s unwillingness to be more open to trying new foods is a huge flaw in character.
We live approximately 20 minutes away from Chicago, one of the most diverse U.S. cities in terms of culture and food. Driving through downtown Chicago, you will find a plethora of ethnic restaurants. From Mexican to Greek food, we literally have a selection of the world’s best foods at our fingertips. Take advantage of this.
Whether we like it or not, our food is very much a part of our culture and identity. The historical and ancestral context behind our cultural dishes are worth learning about and you can start by simply trying something new.