Melting Food Culture Together in the Kitchen


How many people do you know in relationships with someone who is the exact same cultural heritage as them?  I know zero. Which is interesting compared to how many friends I had growing up who were 100% Italian or Irish. According to the 2010 US Census, 9.5% of marriages in the US are inter-ethnic, and as you may guess, this number is growing. So how does you and your spouse’s ethnicities play a role when it comes to food in the home?

Culture plays a significant role among relationships, especially when it comes to meals. Think of your own family gatherings. Most likely, it involves food, whether it be the focus (such as Thanksgiving), or a by-stander. There are probably certain foods that tend to show up to these events. And you would be disappointed if it was any other way. So when it comes time to combining your beloved heritage foods with your significant other, take the following approach.

Understand your partner’s food heritage (and know when you’ve made a cultural faux pas)

I come from a family where we were “food raised” by my 100% Italian mom. My Polish/German/English dad couldn’t resist her cooking, and therefore all I knew growing up was Italian food traditions. Particularly that tomato sauce comes from tomatoes, not from a jar. So when I saw jars of “pasta sauce” in Mr E’s bachelor pad, I made it very clear to never serve it to me. And Mr E returned the sentiment.

Mr E is half Mexican, and is very particular when it comes to the food.  I learned this when I made him dinner using an Old El Paso fajita kit. Therefore early on in our relationship we established boundaries when it came to foods from our respective cultures – nothing from a jar, can, or box.

Make family recipes (but it’s OK to make them healthier)

The best way to learn about your partner’s food culture is to experience the foods first-hand. Have meals with the family. Get that super-secret recipe from your in-laws to create at home. Mr E taught me how to make tortillas (although he makes them better), and Mr E does a fabulous job of reheating my tomato sauce.

Keep in mind, many traditional recipes can be modified to create healthier versions. Replace the butter in recipes with heart-healthy oils, or prepare using a different cooking style, such as baked vs fried.  There are many simple swaps that can keep the integrity of the meal and tradition without sabotaging their history.

WARNING! Do not serve the modified version to your in-laws unless your significant other approves. Keep the recipe as it was passed on to you in these instances.


Create your own cultural creations

Just like relationships are becoming inter-ethnic, so can meals. Combine your favorite foods from your respective cultures to create new meals. In our home we’ve made some of the following MexItalian meals:

  • Mediterranean Tacos: using fresh fish, bruschetta, olives, and feta on tortillas
  • Enchilada Lasagna: swap enchilada sauce for the tomato sauce and create a filling of chicken, cheese, and veggies layered with lasagna noodles
  • Caprese Quesadillas: fill tortillas with fresh mozzarella, tomato, roasted red pepper, and fresh basil, served with a side of bruschetta

Just like cheese from any culture can melt together, so can your respectiveculture food heritages. Listen, learn, and embrace traditions when it comes to culture, food, and your significant other. And don’t forget to create your own food culture within your relationship.

What cultural learnings or mistakes did you make with your significant other? How have you modified traditional family recipes? Have you created your own cultural style of cuisine at home? Sound off in the Comments!

18 thoughts on “Melting Food Culture Together in the Kitchen

  1. I love this post, Mandy! Culture in the kitchen is often something we don’t think about with our significant other. Great ideas for blending tastes & cultures 🙂 love the cultural creations!!

  2. Great post! Even within the same culture I have found variations in my experience…beautiful variations! I agree we can enjoy cultural cuisine and add twists to them. Often the case in our household as we grew up in the west and have an eastern heritage. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love this post! I grew up in an Italian household as well! My husband is primarily Irish and picky so while he doesn’t have the strong cultural ties I have I still have to include some basic meat and potato type of meals and had to figure out what to feed all of them for St. Patricks Day! No corned beef for me 😉

  4. I love this post! Ive tried adding my own twist to Bannock for my partners family, I still can’t get it to turn out anywhere close to the same way his grandma makes it! I think I try and make it “too healthy” 😉

  5. Loved reading this! Neither me nor my boyfriend grew up with a ton of authentic ethnic/cultural recipes, but it’s still so interesting to see how the environment that you grow up in can influence the foods that you choose now. My boyfriend basically grew up on the standard American diet, so he was very hesitant to try some of my vegetarian dishes when we first moved in together. He’s definitely slowly warming up to them though (and there’s not nearly as many frozen TV dinners in our freezer anymore!)

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