Family and Food in Culture Around the World

People grow up eating food popular in their own culture, often forming an emotional attachment to it over time. This is especially true of foods eaten during childhood that elicit feelings of comfort or warm memories later as an adult.

Food is also important as part of the larger culture. Families pass down recipes to younger generations while people who immigrate from one country to the next to bring their culinary traditions with them. The ability to prepare and eat food from their home country helps to lessen the feelings of loneliness for many new immigrants while enabling them to remain true to their heritage.

Immigrants Opening Restaurants

Eager to share the food of their homeland with neighbors in their new country, some immigrants open restaurants to prepare and serve traditional dishes. However, it isn’t always possible for the food to remain entirely authentic. For one thing, ingredients vital to the flavor of the dish may not be available in the new country. Another thing immigrant restaurant owners must consider is that they may have to adjust each dish somewhat to make it more palatable to local diners.

The Values Associated with a Country’s Food Doesn’t Change

Despite necessary changes to flavor and ingredients, food associated with countries around the world continues to reflect the traditions, values, lifestyle, and beliefs of the originating country. For example, balance is a valued trait in China. Because of this, the Chinese strive for balance with bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and spicy tastes when preparing food. The Chinese also place a high priority on beauty and complexity when serving food in the most ornate style possible.

Americans tend to center their meals around a meat-based protein. With flavored meat at the center of the plate, they build around it with side items like vegetables. In America, like most cultures, food is a huge part of the celebration. People celebrate each season, holiday, and the milestones of life by preparing large amounts of food and gathering together with loved ones.

Cultures around the world also place a different emphasis on which meal of the day is the largest or most important. Americans typically eat a lighter lunch and reserve dinner as the largest meal of the day. In cultures such as South America, lunch doesn’t start until 2:00 p.m. and is the largest meal of the day. Dinner also begins much later around 8:00 p.m. and can last for a few hours. The times and importance of the meals mirror the value that the culture places on them.

Dining Rituals Equally Important

Most cultures follow traditions regarding how people behave during meals is just as important as the food itself. In China, family and food have a very important cultural significance. It is customary to reserve a spot at the table for the head of the household or a guest of honor held in particularly high esteem. Others sit around the table in a hierarchy according to their perceived importance.

The youngest person in the family typically sits directly opposite of the oldest or most respected. He or she learns from a young age to honor the elder by formally inviting that person to start eating before everyone else seated at the table. Eventually, that young person will sit in the seat of honor and the tradition will continue with a new generation.