Ethnic American Cooking, Recipes for Living in a New World

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Ethnic American Cooking by Lucy M. Long, Rowman & Littlefield 2016, hardback $38.00, 321 pages

I’m in favor of liberalizing immigration because of the effect it would have on restaurants. I’d let just about everybody in except the English.

–Calvin Trillin

But without the English, according to Lucy Long, we’d have to give up a Maryland classic–Smith Island Cake.

This book is a little bit mind boggling, and depending on your politics, you’ll be more or less impressed with the U.S. Our country has made room for the German, French, and Italians, but also for Micronesian, Gypsy, and Djiboutian communities. And though their foods may not have trickled into the American diet the way pizza and burritos have, just wait.

There’s a food truck near my house that sells a delicious dish from Mail, lemony Chicken Yassa, and Algerian Shakshouka has become my go-to quick dinner, especially when the tomatoes are piling up at farm markets.

This book is excerpted from a larger work, the two-volume, Ethnic American Food Today, A Cultural Encyclopedia, which provides more information into foodways and cultures, drawing on ethnographic research and personal experience. This volume is for cooks. A few maps at the beginning will orient you and headnotes offer a brief discussion of each country’s cooking style and influences.

But it’s about the recipes. And part of the fun is armchair quibbling over what the representative dishes are. It’s interesting to see that Sicily’s distinct food culture is treated separately from other, mainly southern Italian communities. But Spaghetti with Anchovies and Walnuts never made it to my family’s table–though maybe now it will. You won’t be surprised to find Bulgogi representing Korea, though with only a mention of kimchi. And I’ve been making Dutch baby pancakes for breakfast without knowing they are a Finnish dish.

Part of what makes the book so interesting is how ethnicity is parsed. In the introduction, Long defines ethnicity as “groupings that were culturally distinguishable from a larger social system of which they formed some part.” National boundaries don’t always figure into it.  Jewish food is represented by both Ashkenazi and Sephardic dishes. Native Americans are divided into Pacific Northwest, Plains, Southwest, and Woodlands. Contested states like Palestine and Taiwan are represented as are perhaps overlooked groups like Roma American and people from San Marino.

You can still haunt the church fairs for authentic flavors, but now you can make them in your own kitchen too.

 

 

 

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About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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