When you recall nostalgic smells that remind you of your childhood, what do you think of? Your mother’s perfume? A favorite stuffed animal? In a recent poll, fresh-cut grass was the most common answer to this question, and second to that was the smell of certain meals being cooked.
This illustrates the importance of food in culture, and how the two go hand in hand. The smell of a home-cooked meal permeates even our most basic senses and fondly sticks in our memories. We seek to recreate the tastes and smells of the dishes we grew up with. Let’s explore this relationship between culture and food, and what it looks like around the globe.
What Is the Relationship Between Food and Culture?
Thriving culture and delicious food go hand in hand. For example, consider Chicago. You can pop into an art museum, have bibimbap for lunch, catch a show at The Chicago Theatre, and maybe pick up a Chicago-style hotdog on your way home. Chicago was built by a wide variety of immigrants, making it one of the top ten most diverse cities in the U.S. From this diversity, vibrant food culture and society thrive.
Chicago is just one of many cities known partially for its food culture landscape. We can think of a few other delicious examples of interesting food traditions, in Chicago and around the world.
Some Tasty Food Traditions Examples
Grab your grocery list or weekly meal plan and get ready to start jotting down ideas! We know these food traditions certainly made our mouths water and affected our dinner plans.
African Peanut Stew for Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture modeled after traditional African harvest festivals. Maulanga Karenga, a leader and activist of the Black Power Movement, created the holiday in 1966 in the aftermath of the Watts Rebellion to encourage pride in Black history and accomplishments. The holiday continues to provide an avenue for African Americans to honor and reconnect with their African heritage.
Like many cultural holidays, Kwanzaa is full of its own interesting food traditions. These are less about one particular dish and more about cooking and trying a wide variety of African or African-influenced meals. The food is meant to be shared with family and friends during this holiday, bringing people together to carry on the cultural traditions of Africa.
One common dish that is cooked throughout the year and especially admired during Kwanzaa is African Peanut Stew. Imagine a hearty, spicy, fragrant dish made with peanuts, meat, tomatoes, and other flavorful ingredients. Peanuts, or “groundnuts,” were brought to Africa by Spanish and Portuguese colonists, and then traveled to the U.S. with enslaved Africans. Soups and many other meals made from groundnuts became staples among enslaved Africans, as the hearty sustenance was a grounding presence in the brutal days of slavery. Now, it still serves as a tasty dish that leaves us in deep reflection and with a full stomach.
Deep-Dish Pizza in Chicago
Deep-dish pizza is the epitome of Chicago food traditions. It’s even sometimes called “Chicago-style pizza.” If you’ve never been fortunate enough to try or make one, imagine a pizza, but taller, with more dough, cheese, sauce, and everything else that makes a pizza delicious.
Although it is so iconically associated with Chicago, the roots of deep-dish pizza can be traced back to Italian and Mediterranean culture, where flatbread was first documented in 997 AD. This led to modern-day pizza, which became a hit in the Italian city of Naples due to its popularity among the working class. Because living space was not widely available in Naples, people spent a large portion of their time outside, including cooking and eating. Pizza was easy to prepare in outdoor ovens and sold street-side for low prices, making it a staple for Neapolitan families.
Immigrants from Naples found their way to Chicago in the late 1800s and early 1900s, bringing pizza with them. In 1943, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo decided to make an Italian-American version of pizza, resulting in the crunchy, cheesy deep-dish pizza we know today. Since then, many families have opened and passed down deep-dish pizza recipes and restaurants, carrying this Chicago legacy to future generations.
Lunar New Year Dumplings
On the other side of the world, East and Southeast Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year with family and feasting. The feast almost always includes dumplings, which are delicious pockets of dough filled with a wide variety of scrumptious ingredients, from meat to sweets. Many Asian families enjoy the tradition of making dumplings together. Some families also hide a small item in one dumpling, like a coin, promising luck to the person who bites into it.
Maggie Zhu, a modern Chinese cooking expert, shares her family’s dumpling experience growing up:
“Every year, my family makes boiled dumplings from scratch for Chinese New Year’s Eve. Everyone works together to make the dough, roll out the dumpling wrappers, and fill them one by one…it takes hours. During that time, everyone is chatting and catching up, with the TV on, showing Chinese New Year programming.”
The dumpling most commonly associated with these traditions and the Lunar New year is jiaozi, which has origins in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD). The shape of jiaozi is reminiscent of gold and silver ingots used in this time period, making them a symbol of wealth. Cooking, eating, and sharing dumplings during the Lunar New Year are said to bring about prosperity and luck. This treasured tradition will no doubt continue through the ages.
Eager to Try These Dishes? Order the Ingredients Now with OjaExpress!
Food traditions are an integral part of our society, connecting people around the world and through time. Whether you’re looking to cook a familiar dish, or maybe try a different one to start a new tradition, OjaExpress has got you covered.
Our founders saw a gap in the grocery delivery market, and that gap was between customers looking for authentic cultural ingredients and the numerous ethnic grocery stores that sell them. Based in Chicago, we seek to be the United Nation of groceries at your fingertips, and to make ethnic foods accessible to everyone. Ready to get started? Hop on over to our website, fill your virtual cart, and have fresh, ethnic ingredients delivered to your door for making dinner tonight!