The Joy of Cooking for Immigrants

According to International Students Inc. (ISI), 75% of international students will never enter an American home. Though I could not find a comparable statistic for immigrants to America in general, I would assume that it might be a similar percentage. This is tragic to me!

I love inviting immigrant friends over for a meal. I cannot count the number of times someone has said to be when walking across the threshold into my house, “This is the first American home I have ever visited.” What a joy to share that special moment with them!

But this special moment can also be intimidating if you’re the host! Maybe you’ve just invited someone over (GREAT JOB!!! You’re changing the statistic one immigrant at a time!!) but then you have a moment of panic: What will you talk about? Will it be awkward?? And, what in the world will you cook???

Here are a few quick suggestions you can read while you take deep breaths in the grocery store check out line or standing in front of your fridge.

1. Ask about dietary restrictions.

If you know your friend’s religious affiliation, you will have some pretty clear clues to what may be off-limits for them. Muslims and Jews do not eat pork. Hindus do not eat beef and some are vegetarians. But your best bet is to simply ask, “Tell me about your food preferences. Is there anything you cannot eat?”

2. Google cuisine from their country.

I recommend doing five minutes of internet research before planning your menu, not so that you can cook them dishes from their country (yours would likely be lackluster to what they already make in their own home), but rather to give you an idea of the kinds of foods they may enjoy.

For example, when I cook for Ethiopians, I do not make Ethiopian food per se, but I make things that are spicy and saucy, and I often serve some kind of greens on the side. When I cook for Chinese people, I don’t make Chinese food per se, but I often serve rice and incorporate a lot of vegetables.

3. Think “make your own taco,” not “Tex-Mex casserole.”

It’s always helpful to keep foods as “deconstructed” as possible when you don’t exactly know people’s tastes and preferences. Having ground meat, cheese, onion, tomato, salsa, guacamole, rice, beans, and tortillas set out for people to pick and choose and sample to make their own burritos is better than mixing all of that together into one big casserole.

And, lastly? Remember that if love and welcome are on the menu, your meal will be a success, whatever else you decide to cook.

Bon appetit!



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