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Melissa MacEwen | The Roaming Fork

The Journey Begins

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 12:02

Hi. My name is Melissa, and this semester I will teach you how to eat bugs. That, however, is but the tip of the iceberg for the dietary adventure I hope to take you on.

Aside from my personal dislike of the starch and cholesterol-heavy dishes that pervade American cuisine, I have no qualms with this country’s cooking. Honest. However, I do feel that our food tends to be rather bland. Once you get past the foods and dishes that have sort of melded into American cuisine and culture — shout out to Golden Light, Amsterdam Falafel and Anna’s Taqueria — you’re left with the “classics,” the staples that comprise the backbone of what people think of when they picture food in the United States.

When I think American cuisine, I picture an amalgamation of Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. And there are a whole lot of dishes based in corn, potatoes and meat and cream going on here in ’Murica.

However, one of the best aspects of living in the U.S. of A., especially in a semi-urban area, is that we are constantly surrounded by food from other nations. Want Tibetan momos for lunch, Pad Thai for dinner and chicken lo mein for a late-night snack? Consider it done. An unintended consequence of this ready availability, however, is that we are frequently left categorizing foods and ingredients based on their origins. For example, to many Americans, any food that involves a curry is automatically considered Indian, and any dish that involves a mole sauce is Latino. While there is some validity in these categorizations, they can lead to food that isn’t from our mother culture feeling “foreign,” or “different,” and can make us hesitant to attempt to integrate these ingredients into our own cooking. This is a shame.

With this column, I’d like to make foods that are lesser-known in America a little more familiar and a little bit more approachable. Every week, I’ll focus on an ingredient that is significant to another culture: I’ll do a bit of research about it, prepare it and tell you all about how it goes. I intend to cook foods that are staples of different cultures, along with foods that are regarded more as delicacies or treats. It will be an adventure, and I intend to eat plenty of insects. I might also clean out my savings account. (Oh, the things I do for love. And for you, dear reader.)
My goal isn’t to highlight the “weird” foods of other cultures — though that is tempting — so much as it is to expand the American palate. Apart from plenty of Internet research, I have no credentials and don’t know what I’m doing. In fact, I’ll go so far as to point out that I lived off of ramen for a few weeks in my sophomore year but, hey, I like a challenge as much as the next guy.

By the end of the semester, maybe I’ll have convinced you that ingredients need not be bound to particular cultures, but instead can (and should!) be enjoyed anywhere they can be purchased. Heck, by the time we get to mopane worms, maybe you’ll be ordering some of your more exciting ingredients online as well. My only disclaimer is that I am a pescetarian and unfortunately won’t be eating a number of the meat-based dishes that are so important internationally. Maybe this column will make you a little bolder, or maybe you’ll just enjoy being grossed out. Either way, be sure to check out my accompanying photos at: http://blogs.tuftsdaily.com.

Next week, we’ll start off with a bang (or more of a gelatinous sizzle?) with sea cucumbers.

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Melissa MacEwen is a junior majoring in biology and English. She can be reached at melissa.macewen@tufts.edu

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