Sunday, June 18, 2006

Wanted: Items for Cultural Exchange

There are a lot of things that I like about my flat and my flatmates, but by far one of my favorites is the way food is shared. At home, it's pretty much the norm for roommates all to buy their own food and if they share anything at all, it's only stuff like condiments or milk (although I have known many houses/apartments that have five separate bottles of mustard in the fridge). Here the norm is that everyone puts money into a flat bank account each week, shopping is done together, and people rotate cooking for the whole group.

At first it was pretty weird to me to do things this way, and I always felt like I was eating someone else's food. It also felt strange to eat real dinners instead of quick stuff that can be made in single portions. And even more strange to actually have all five people eating together almost every night. Back home, even when everyone would be home eating together at the same time, it still seemed very individual because you were eating food that you'd cooked by yourself and for yourself. As cheesy as it sounds, my flat now feels more like a family.

Also fun is that I am definitely getting a taste of Kiwi culture (pun only partially intended). The foods are not that much different from what we eat, but there have been a couple things that have confused and/or surprised me:

  • "Caster sugar" (what we would call white sugar)
  • Hundreds and Thousands (sprinkles, like you'd use for cakes or cookies)
  • Golden syrup (still not sure what the American equivalent is, but I think it's corn syrup)
  • Crayfish (much bigger than our crayfish at home--no wonder it was so expensive in Australia!)
  • Creme fraiche vs. double creamed vs. thickenend cream vs. sour cream (I am still not sure what the difference between all these things are, but I just buy whatever it says on the package)
  • Chicken flavored potato chips (not as bad as you might expect)
  • Kumara. It was described to me as a "Maori potato," and to me it seemed to be about halfway between a sweet potato and a regular potato in terms of taste. Delicious.
Of course they have been interested in what I eat as well. Here are some things that have confused my flatmates:
  • Peanut butter and jelly. This was confusing for two reasons: first, what they call "jelly" is what we call "jello," so the combination sounds pretty gross. Second, they never put the two together. They put peanut butter by itself on toast (same with jelly/jam), but they never put the two together
  • Pretty much all Mexican food. They did not know what tortilla chips were (they call them corn chips), and not only had they never heard of quesadillas, there is no equivalent! A sad life they are leading in this country...
  • S'mores. This did not surprise me after talking to people in Australia about it, but the real surprise came when I tried to explain them and they didn't know what a graham cracker was. That was harder to explain.
  • Twinkies, ding dongs, ho-hos etc. They have heard about these on TV, but didn't know what they were. These were also hard to explain because you just can't put into words how over-processed they are. I think I'll just have to go have some shipped over or bring some back when I go home.
  • Corndogs. Another of America's treasures that you just have to taste to understand.
  • TurDuckIn and deep fried turkey. This wasn't so much confusing to them, but it was the first thing they thought of as being "American" food and were disappointed to know that I have never eaten either.
As you can see, my flatmates have a pretty sad impression of what Americans eat, but I couldn't really think of any truly American dishes. With 4th of July coming up, I'd like to cook them something that is uniquely American. Any ideas?


esl said... dogs???

Anonymous said...

Barbecue sauce on chicken or ribs or something. Potato salad--not German potato salad, but the Americanized version. Or you could go church basement pot luck and try jello with fruit cocktail and/or mini marshmallows, the green bean casserole with mushroom soup and dried onion rings, and shake and bake style chicken.
You are right. Not a lot of really authentic American food beyond the ubiquitous burgers and hot dogs. Maybe it is because America is such a melting pot.

dm said...

Bean salad, potato salad, fried/grilled chicken, and, of course, s'mores. Happy Fourth!

teana said...

fried chicken, baked beans, burgers, ribs, anything bbq'd, potato salad, um, you can always go soul food if you're up for it. haha, though anything thanksgivingy is good. yum, dressing. you can just put together a july 4th bbq picnic

Geetha said...

Man, if only I knew how to cook soul food...

Sandy from Adelaide said...

Caster sugar is, I think, called superfine sugar in the US.

Golden Syrup is made from sugar cane.

Kumara is an orange variety of sweet potato.

Yes, I have tried corn dogs. It was one of my missions in life when I visited the US. I have also tried Smores but needed to have a friend send me some Graham Crackers to do it!

Cynthea said...

My roommate christi never really ate regular 'family style' meals till living with me. I can't help it...i like to share food and i like to eat with someone.
Now that there's 4 of us in apt it can be fun. Its not every day, but we have certain nights where we chip in a cook a huge meal to share.

As for american food....I would think that there's nothing more american than apple pie.

Cornbread is also very American, seeing that corn is one thing that's native here. Jello salads at potlucks may be american but they are gross as hell.
Something my roommate Christi makes for us is Indian Fry Bread tacos.
its sooooo good, and not too hard to make, even if you're not a genuine native american. ;-)