Ethnic Groceries: Step Back in Time with Your Ancestors’ Food

Slashfood, a blog on food and cooking, asks “Are There Ethnic Grocery Stores in Your Neck of the Woods?”

I thought it was just in my neck of the woods that small ethnic grocery stores were the place to go for the hard to find supplies I need for my multicultural cooking and lifestyle. It seems that all over the country, folks are traveling to seek out small markets to find Sriracha sauce, real leaf lard, weird and tasty candy, black chickens, exotic produce, interesting spices, and Asian condiments. This is the exact opposite of one trend I reported recently where some neighborhood grocery stores are tailoring their wares to fit the local cultural profile. These are stores that focus on specific products, and people seek them out for what they consider traditional foods or for items that are difficult to come by in the more generic supermarkets.

Are there ethnic grocery stores or restaurants in your area that match your ancestors’ ethnic roots? Have you explored your family’s historical preferences and tastes for food from around the world?

When I was a child, people would ask me what I was in terms of my ancestry. What they really wanted to know was if my family has some affiliation with an ethnic heritage which often included specific foods, recipes, and cultural traditions. My reply was always “American-mixed-mutt”, which turns out to be more true than I ever imagined.

On two direct sides of my family tree, my families arrived in North American in the 1600s. These families also intermarried with the “locals”, mixing things up even more. Later on, they continued their lack of discrimination in choosing their own ethnic heritage folks to breed with, and the “mixed mutt” definition has turned out to be very true. Only one direct line arrived in the 1800s from Norway, marrying with their own until recently. The rest came from English and/or Scandinavian roots, but far back in history rather than like most, arriving more recently. Our family now is completely disconnected from European culture and traditions. I didn’t grow up English, Norwegian, or Irish meals whipped up by my grandparents. No recent international traditions were passed through relatives. Just hot dogs, apple pie, hamburgers, and pizza. Grease and heart attacks.

Still, I love ethnic food more than American “ethnic” dried, pre-made, canned and boxed foods. Give me Greek, Russian, Spanish, Middle Eastern, Jewish, South American, Thai, Chinese…my food tastes are very varied. As I travel, I love eating the local food groups and learning all about other cultures, since, in a way, I have little of my own.

Think about your own family’s food heritage. Did you grow up with ethnic food traditions? Family recipes carefully carried over the seas by ship and passed down through the generations? Or are your roots so deep, you grew up eating what your great-great-great-great grandmother cooked way back when?

Consider checking out your family’s food heritage and visiting local ethnic grocery stores in your area to explore the foods of your ancestors. Research recipes of traditional holiday meals or festivals and prepare them for your own family, with stories and tales of the family and/or of how the traditions were respected and enacted.

Consider this an invitation to taste a little of your family history while you explore it.

Most Recent Articles by Lorelle VanFossen

About Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle VanFossen hosts Family History Blog covering her ancestors and related family members. She is one of the top bloggers in the world, and host of the Lorelle on WordPress, providing WordPress and blogging tips for bloggers of all levels. A popular keynote speaker and trainer, she is also editor, producer, contributor, and official disruptive thinker for Bitwire Media which includes WordCast, Making My Life Network, Stories of Our Journeys, Life on the Road, WordCast Conversations, and the very popular WordCast Podcast.
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