Exploring food cultures around the world (and in our own homes)

pastries-up-close

Written by Stephanie of Keeper of the Home and EntreFamily Travels. Welcome, Stephanie!

As I write this, I’m staring out the window of a cafe on a cobblestone plaza in Northern Argentina. Directly in front of me is a white stone building with a terra cotta tiled roof, grand archways, and a statue of an austere looking fellow named Guemes.

I’m sipping on a glass of agua con gas (carbonated mineral water), a plate of Argentine pastries to my left, which were brought to me “on the house” for reasons I couldn’t understand. This country seems determined to send me away in a size more “grande” than the one in which I arrived.

Another round of cafe con leche (milk coffee) is on the way to boost my brain function from the lack of sleep due to attending a Carnival parade until 2 am last night.

our-family-in-argentina

Who am I and what in the world am I doing here?

It’s an honor for me to join the Simple Bites team. I’m a long time food, health and homemaking blogger over at Keeper of the Home, as well as a Simple Bites reader since its inception.

For the past three years I’ve been sharing my love for green and natural living on Simple Homemade, but a change of plans and scenery this winter caused me to shift gears.

You see, on January 21st our family embarked on a rather unusual and ambitious journey. Together with our four young children (ages 8, 5, 3 and just turning 1), my husband and I are traveling around the world for an entire year!

First on our itinerary is a 3 month stop in South America, which includes time in several parts of Argentina as well as Uruguay. Following our time here, we’ll travel around Europe for 8 weeks this spring, then settle in southern Spain for the summer. Then it’s off to Turkey for a month, then hopefully Israel, Africa, Indonesia, China and Hong Kong, Australia and who knows where else!

ry-and-joy-at-outside-colonia-restaurant

Thinking about “food culture”

I hope to share more details about local foods in the places that we visit, recipes I learn, shopping the markets for seasonal foods, how to eat well while traveling, and finding nutritious, whole foods no matter where you are.

What has really sparked my attention so far, though, has simply been the unique food culture that we’ve experienced here in South America. While it can be easy to find my own culture’s way of doing things preferential, I’ve been intrigued as I contemplate the different ways that people eat and drink.

Such a basic necessity of life, but such variety in how it can be done!

coffee-and-sweets

Food phenomena that I’ve noticed in our first few weeks here:

  • Breakfast as an afterthought. It usually consists of a hot drink like coffee or mate with milk, and perhaps a croissant, a biscuit or cookie.
  • Lunch as the primary meal of the day, and not until 2 pm. In most of South America, particularly wherever the afternoon siesta is observed, this mid-day meal is the largest, longest and most important.
  • Late dinners, always after 8pm and frequently not beginning until 10pm. In the home, this meal is lighter and more modest, but in restaurants it is a lengthy, lively and waist-expanding experience.
  • The absence of a to-go culture. In both the USA and Canada, we drink our coffee in take-away cups or mugs and pick up fast food through the drive-thru. Here, I need to sit down and sip on a cup in a cafe. Even convenient foods like hand-held empanadas are frequently eaten at the shop where they were purchased.
  • Sugar, sugar, everywhere. It’s a hundred times easier to find a coca-cola than it is a bottle of water. Fruit juices have additional sugar or high-fructose corn syrup added. Croissants are usually sweet, even when used to make a sandwich. Dulce de leche, their delicious milk caramel sauce, is added to everything, even spread on toast!
  • Many meals and snacks have a high emphasis on refined grains, dairy and meat, with vegetables (and fruit, to a lesser degree) making an appearance usually only in the main meal of the day.

asado-meal-on-table

I’ll admit, I’m not loving some aspects of South American food culture. A hearty breakfast is a must for me, I’m ravenous long before 8pm, the sugar consumption is over the top, the lack of fresh produce is difficult, and I really miss carrying a mug of coffee or tea around with me.

On the other hand, I’m drawn to some of their customs. Eating the largest meal of the day in the afternoon, instead of before bed, seems both wise and possibly more relaxing. Their extravagant late-evening dinners or Sunday afternoon barbeques are important social times, when friends and family linger and connect with one another.

These types of details make up the culture of how people are both nourished by food, as well as how they enjoy it and wrap their society and relationships around it. We don’t tend to give this much thought in our day-to-day lives, but food culture is such a part of who we are and how we relate to people!

our-first-grocery-shopping-trip

My first attempt at grocery shopping in Buenos Aires, doing my best to find foods that suit our whole foods style of eating.

Considering the food culture in our own homes

It got me thinking, if someone were to visit my town or stay in my home, what type of food culture would they observe?

I honestly have no idea how they would react to the way that we eat, but I do find myself thoughtfully considering questions like these:

  1. How often do we eat food aimlessly or without slowing down enough to appreciate it?
  2. Are we making it a priority to use mealtimes as an opportunity to shares our lives and connect with one another?
  3. Could I make certain meals less time consuming in their preparation, in order to give more time and energy to others?
  4. What do I model for my family about a healthful and balanced approach to food and meals?
  5. How can I learn from both the positives and the negatives that I see in other cultures?

Aimee has written about her experiences and why it is so important to create a healthy family food culture. Traveling and exploring in other parts of the world is making me think harder about the food culture that I’m for creating for my own family.

My encouragement to you, as well as to myself? Regardless of how we do things in our individual families, let’s purpose to be intentional about not only what we eat, but how, when and why we eat it as well.

How would you describe the food culture in your own home?

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie's interest in food began when she used whole food and traditional nutrition to bring healing to her health challenges, but it quickly grew into a love for backyard gardening, fresh flavors, and simple but lovingly crafted family meals. This year will find her stepping on every continent in the world, as she and her husband take their 4 young children globe-trotting. She's eager to study cooking in as many countries as possible, scout out the local markets, savor the unique cuisines, and glean inspiration from the pots and pans of the people she crosses paths with. You can find her sharing about natural homemaking at Keeper of the Home, or weaving travel tales on EntreFamily Travels. She has also written 3 books to help families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods.

Subscribe For Free!

Like reading this post?
Get more delivered to your email inbox.

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. I look forward to reading more!

  2. I really enjoyed your post! We lived in Buenos Aires for one year with our (then) four young children. There are still things that we miss from our time there. I found plenty of wonderful fresh produce; and the beef was fabulous. Since our children had early bedtimes, we found that just about any pasta place would feed us dinner at a more normal hour, if I didn’t want to cook that night. Even though it is summer there now, you may want to experience a Submarino before you leave the country–hot chocolate Argentine Style. My kids still talk about those and my oldest of 26! I know your family will have wonderful adventures. It will change you all for the better. Happy travels!

    • I applaud you for living a year in Buenos Aires with four small kids! We found the city a bit too large and intense, and tiring to be in with young children, but perhaps it was just where we were staying in central BA? I was able to find plenty of produce to buy (love the produce stands every block), I just didn’t feel like enough of the restaurant options included that produce, but maybe I didn’t get to explore them enough in the time that we were there. The beef is good, for sure. I’ve heard of the Submarinos but not tried them yet, so I’ll make sure that we do that! I’m sure my kids will love it. :)
      Stephanie Langford’s last post: Winter Giveaway Week: Win 1 of 10 Copies of the “Better Than a Box” eBook

  3. That is crazy awesome! Sounds like an adventure of a lifetime!
    Caroline @ chocolate & carrots’s last post: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Biscotti {Giveaway}

  4. Interesting post! I hope that you will do more as your trip continues, I would love to hear about your experiences in other place.

    • Nestra, we’re excited to welcome Stephanie as a regular contributor here on Simple Bites. She’ll be giving us updates on her trip progress and bringing us fresh insight on food culture around the world. Stay tuned!

  5. It’s really interesting to hear about food cultures from around the world. And to think of our own food cultures at home! I couldn’t handle the late meals but I do really like the idea of the main meal being in the middle of the day – especially since right now I’m suffering from some pretty bad pregnancy induced acid reflux.
    Steph’s last post: Anticipation

  6. Welcome, Stephanie! It’s nice to read your lovely writing, and I look forward to hearing more about your journey as your year abroad progresses.

    I know the food culture in my house is quite different than that of my neighbors on either side of me–one side are empty nesters who mostly eat take out or grill steaks, and the other side are vegetarians with young kids. Makes me pause and think that it’s hard to gloss over a food culture for a society, because everyone’s kitchen is different. I love my CSA farm share and the produce we get from that during the season shapes what we eat all year long. Thanks for this post!
    kirsten@FarmFreshFeasts’s last post: Acorn Squash, Chick Pea and Chicken Faux-roccan Stew

    • It’s true that food culture can vary so much, even within the same culture. I’m sure that the longer I’m here (or anywhere) I will see more of those distinct and unique cultures that show up in the various families, homes, neighborhoods, etc. It’s difficult to see them when you first begin to experience a new place, but I could absolutely point out variations among people I know back home.

      Love that you get a CSA farm share. I garden a little too much to make it worth it for me, although I’m still tempted to try it one year. The stew recipe that linked up as your latest blog post sounds delicious. :)
      Stephanie Langford’s last post: Winter Giveaway Week: Win a ProPur BIG Water Filter System (valued at $290)!

  7. I’ve enjoyed reading this – and the photos – but I have to protest the use of “South American food culture.” South America, as you know, is huge. Brazil, alone, has many different cultures represented. So does Argentina. Leave BA and go to the South, very different food and habits. In Brazil, breakfast is huge. You haven’t lived till you experienced breakfast in a Brazilian hotel.

    • You’re making me really want to visit Brazil. That sounds amazing! :)

      I probably should have worded it more as the area of South America that we’re in, since you’re right that I haven’t experienced many of the other cultures represented. So far we’ve spent almost a month total between Buenos Aires, Uruguay, and the Northwest part of Argentina (near Bolivia and probably more a mix of both Argentine and Bolivian foods and eating habits). Many of the things I mentioned in the post have been true in all the places we’ve visited so far and ring true with some of the literature that I read as I prepared for our trip, but I’m quite certain you’re right that it doesn’t represent “South America” in general. Thanks for the comment!
      Stephanie Langford’s last post: Winter Giveaway Week: Win a ProPur BIG Water Filter System (valued at $290)!

  8. I”m so glad you’ll be sharing more about food culture as you experience it first hand! That is always such an interesting part to observe and participate in, one of my favourite (or not, depending where we are!!) to enter into.
    We are definitely North American in our approach, its where we live but we strive to bring some of the thoughtful Italian culture into our mealtimes. Supper is typically our main meal and one where we linger a little longer.
    Breanne’s last post: How to Be Awesome (when you don’t feel like it)

  9. Food culture is so fascinating. I’m so glad that you will be reflecting on this part of your year long journey and it will be very interesting to see how it changes your family’s food culture when you return home too.

  10. As I was reading this, the thing that struck me was the absence of produce. When I’m grocery shopping here, I’m always in awe of the amount of produce that our Hispanic neighbors are piling in their grocery carts compared to mine, so I would have expected that to be true in South America as well!

    • You know, it’s funny, because I see produce stands everywhere (though I am frequently surprised by the poor quality of the produce, considering that it’s currently summer/harvest time here). But despite the fact that I see tons of it, I just don’t feel like it makes it into their meals in a starring way. As condiments, as small fillers in things like empanadas, sometimes as a side salad for a huge meat meal, etc. I probably still have more to learn about how/when they eat their produce, something I hope to explore more as our time here goes on. It’s feeling like a bit of an unsolved mystery to me right now!
      Stephanie Langford’s last post: Winter Giveaway Week: Win 1 of 2 Annual Memberships to “No More To Go” Menu Plans ($64 Value Each)

  11. Stephanie, I live in Uruguay and really enjoyed reading your article. It is fun to see ourselves (Argentina & Uruguay are very similar) through foreign eyes. Food culture is very rich in many countries of Latin America (it is true that Brazil’s coking is unique), but I have to be honest: if you want to try the BEST food in the world, you should be heading to Peru. Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip !

  12. Oh What an adventure, this is going to be great. I am really looking forward to reading what you have to say and wishing you all the very best!!!
    se7en’s last post: International World Book Giving Day Blog Hop – And A Progress Report…

  13. One of the ways we try to understand various cultures is to eat at restaurants from various cultures: India, Korea, Vietnamese, and El Salvadorian are some of our favorites. It helps our kids to know that chicken nuggets are NOT where it’s at!
    Jen@anothergranolamom’s last post: Why I Believe in Dessert

  14. I agree that it is difficult to generalize about food cultures, as here in the US we have so much diversity. I loved the food and the emphasis on fresh produce that I saw in Costa Rica when I was there, but what I found interesting is that I learned how to cook Tabouli from my Costa Rican friend. We are a global society now. Have fun and I wish I was going with you!
    Shelley Hopkins’s last post: How’s the Weather today?

  15. Hi Stephanie! I agree, it’s easy to accidentally generalize a food culture, but in my travels, I’ve found by and large, many cultures eat much later than we do in America. When we lived in Turkey, neighbors would frequently sit down for dinner at 10 p.m.—with little kids around the table! And our kids had already been asleep for two hours. :)

    I’ll be curious to hear if certain universal ingredients affect you differently in different parts of the world. For instance, I had no problem eating wheat products (bread, etc.) in Turkey and Eastern Europe, but I have a heckuva time dealing with it in the U.S. (Good ol’ GM stuff, I’m sure…). And of course, for personal reasons, I’d love to hear and learn from you how you handle keeping your kids well-fed and healthy with a whole-foods diet while traveling. The amount of Coke-Fanta-Sprite is unreal!
    Tsh @ Simple Mom’s last post: That time-honored, sanity-saving ritual: menu planning

    • That’s interesting to me that the late dinner thing is common in many places. I wonder if it has to do with the heat of a place? Maybe those of us from more Northern climates are used to eating earlier because that’s the end of our workday, whereas those in a hot climate often take some sort of siesta or afternoon break due to the heat, then go back to work, thus the end of their workday is naturally later? But it’s definitely the same here, with people often eating later than 10 and with young children at the table. We’ve done it a few times and our children handled it ok, but it felt a bit crazy.

      I haven’t noticed any difference between ingredients yet, but then we’ve only been in one major area so far. I totally agree about the amount of pop! It really does astound me! I’m working really hard to try to keep us well fed, which is sometimes easier said than done. I’ll likely write up a post about it soon on KOTH, because, well, it’s sort of my life right now. :)

  16. my absolute favorite subject is discussion of every day life all over the world. how others eat, live, keep home, raise children, chat? so basic and fascinating. i even love our local culture here in nova- so different from nyc. =D

  17. You are pretty much the coolest person ever! Looking forward to following your blog!
    Have fun!
    Maggie’s last post: In Between Weather In Functional Fashion

  18. What an adventure you’re on with family in tow! I feel for you when I’ve lived overseas in two different countries (Germany & now Portugal) for over 6 years, and it still can be difficult to figure out where I can get what we need or how they are eating. I just told a friend tonight that I’d like to take a cooking class so I could really learn more of how the Portuguese cook. It’s also humorous to have finished another birthday party today, and see how the national children don’t like our normal American party fare (or maybe they’re hesitant to try).

    Sodas and refined product pastries are rampant on this side of the ocean too. It’s shocking to go home to the U.S. and see how many healthy food choices there are. We’re always thankful when we see the nutritional concern from the U.S. trickle down to us here.

    Blessings on your journey!
    Jenni’s last post: A Rainbow’s End

Speak Your Mind

*

CommentLuv badge