One wonderful thing about living in America today is the food. I don’t just mean burgers and other American fare. I mean incredible ethnic food. Over the years, I have lived in different parts of the country and have always been impressed with my ability to find wonderful, culturally diverse restaurants. Whenever I find a great Thai or Indian restaurant I enthusiastically offer to take family visiting from out of town to check it out. But what I soon realized was that my parents’ generation wasn’t really a fan of any of it. They hadn’t grown up with the option to choose the type of cuisine they ate. There was American food, plus whatever their mothers cooked, and that was pretty much it.
But my peers and I have had the good fortune to be surrounded by delicious food from all over the globe. Now, the idea of having something like sushi doesn’t even get a second thought. I crave different cuisines probably more often than I crave typical American dishes. And the same goes for my friends.
Here are some ethnic dishes that are so commonplace in America that one could find them almost anywhere — at least in big cities across the country. These very foods would have been considered eccentric not too long ago, but now they’re in a constant rotation in the homes of countless Americans.
6. Báhn mi sandwich
When I first tried this unbelievable plate of Vietnamese food at the mature age of 32, I was appalled that I hadn’t had it sooner. Mostly because I had missed years of enjoying this salty/sweet/spicy/crunchy combination of baguette, grilled pork, pickled carrots and jalapenos, cilantro and spicy mayonnaise. (There are several ways to prepare it, but this is my favorite.) The words “báhn mi” actually mean “sandwich” in Vietnamese, and this combo has become an indulgent treat in my home.
Another incredible dish from Vietnam, pho is a soup that will fill your soul as it fills your belly. The boiling hot broth cooks the meat (usually ox tail or beef, but sometimes chicken), as well as rice noodles, bean sprouts, and herbs like cilantro and basil. The soup is further seasoned with citrus, like a generous squeeze of lime. It is the most satisfying thing on a cold day, and is so scrumptious that you are left wanting more, despite all that goodness sloshing around in your stomach.
4. Chicken tikka masala
This creamy, spicy chicken dish is so common that you can find kits to make it in your grocery store, and frozen versions of it at Trader Joe’s. If you get the opportunity, however, to get it served hot off the stove with some soft jasmine rice and steaming nan (Indian bread), then jump at it. You’ll be wiping up the sauce with the nan, and asking for seconds and thirds. My brother, who had the same Italian upbringing as me, actually puts chicken tikka masala above any of our traditional family meals as his favorite. Blasphemy? Perhaps to our grandmother, but I completely understand.
Before last weekend, I had no idea that Nutella wasn’t necessarily known by EVERYONE. My roommate and I practically lived off the stuff in college, so when my father-in-law didn’t know what it was when I pulled it out of the pantry, I was shocked. The creamy, chocolatey, hazlenutty goodness in a jar (originally from Italy) is enjoyed all over Europe. Considering my father-in-law’s reaction, I supposed older generations haven’t been exposed to it as much as younger ones here in America. The only problem with Nutella is that it’s too good. It is far too easy to polish off a jar when you have some crusty bread lying around.
2. Pad Thai
While I tend to prefer spicy curry Thai dishes, I know that I can always be comforted by a good plate of pad Thai. The stir-fried rice noodles are cooked with eggs, tofu, garlic, peanuts, bean sprouts, and a protein (like shrimp or chicken), among other ingredients. When done right, the noodles aren’t dry, and every bite offers a chewy, satisfying mouthful of flavor. Once again, this dish is so ubiquitous that you can find it at any grocery store, but it is NEVER as good as it is hot at a Thai restaurant.
While pregnant, sushi was probably the hardest thing for me to abstain from. Fresh raw fish coupled with perfectly cooked sticky rice, and some soy sauce and wasabi is all I really ever want. My friends and I could happily eat this Japanese dish every single day — if it weren’t for mercury concerns, of course. My parents and their friends aren’t so quick to jump on the raw fish train — they all think we’re nuts. But it is one of the most perfect things in the world, and fortunately for me, it can be found just about anywhere.