The Culture of Food in the Holidays

by Ana Flores | December 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm | comments

Food is a huge component of any holiday celebration, and adding a multicultural element to it just makes it that much more of a vibrant feast. The more cultures present in one blended family, the more traditional foods and recipes need to be included in the menu.

For example, my husband grew up in Mexico and I grew up between El Salvador and the U.S. For him, Christmas can’t happen without some bacalao and romeritos on the table. For me, Salvadoran-style tamales are a must. Turkey is the one dish we can both agree on.

But, should the turkey have traditional stuffing, a sweet Mexican-style one, or just the delicious red sauce we drench it with in El Salvador? Tough decisions. My father, who lives in Houston, goes around this dilemma by opting to have two or three different turkeys!

No matter what ends up being in the menu, we both agree it just will never taste the same as it does in our countries of origin. Something about the rawness and freshness of the ingredients bought at the local markets just can’t be replaced.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying to bring the tastes and aromas we’ve grown to associate the warmth of the holidays with to our daughter’s palate.

We use food as one of those bridges–language being the other–through which our cultures are preserved and transmitted. Food fuses and crosses boundaries so well that it’s easy to integrate into any multicultural holiday and get kids excited about tasting new things and hearing the stories behind them.

One dish I’m looking forward to testing out for our holiday meal this year is the ensalada de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve salad) from Mexico. Oddly enough, I never had this during the years I lived in Mexico, but have recently discovered it through my food blogging friends. Since I’ve also just recently become a fan of beets, I’m more excited about making this with my daughter.

I found several recipes for ensalada de Noche Buena online and realized there are many versions of it. However, all share the main ingredients of beets, oranges, jicama, peanuts and lettuce.

I’m testing this one by Homesick Texan and this much simpler version by What’s Cooking Mexico.

It will be great to add this seasonal, traditional, and healthy side dish to our already growing multicultural holiday menu! And while my husband and I will continue to look for new dishes to blend cultures at the dinner table the one thing we always agree on is that we will always enjoy them together, as a family.

What food traditions do you share with your family?

Ana L. Flores is the co-founder of SpanglishBaby.com, a community and resource for parents raising bilingual and bicultural children.