Cooking Up Culture in Quarantine


5 minutes

The Second in Our Series on Virtual Cultural Experiences

When you think back on your travels, food evokes strong memories. That tangy barbeque you had in the American South. The paella in Madrid. The steamy, spicy Saigon phở that cleared your sinuses. You’ll even remember the food that made you 🤢 (Deep-fried Donghuamen Night Market tarantula, anyone?)

When stuck indoors, you’re limited to whatever you’re able to cook up at home. Luckily, we’re here to whet your appetite! This entry in our series of digital cultural resources focuses on options to explore culturally-significant foods.

Do you like your virtual food experiences mild, medium, or spicy? Our findings are organized based on level of complexity. Some are as mild as following Instagram recipes. Medium options include more time-consuming webinars. Others consist of spicy, fourteen-hour university classes. Throw open your cupboards, preheat your oven, and prepare to dig in!

Mild

Let’s start with some easy options. Social media usage has, predictably, skyrocketed during social distancing. Lacking face-to-face interaction with other humans, people are spending more time on phones. Given that you’re going to be whittling away the hours on social media anyway, why not incorporate a bit of skill development?

Young person snapping a picture of food for social media
Plus, you can put your creations on your own Instagram!
Image courtesy of Pexels

What can’t you find on Instagram? Many celebrities have been dabbling in food-related content of late. You’ve probably heard of Chrissy Teigen (if you haven’t, you might have been quarantining on the moon). Chrissy has a delightful foodie account; recent posts have featured all-American staples such as hotdogs and Boston Cream Donuts.

On the subject of aspiring American Instagram chefs, let’s take a quick hop across the pond to the UK. Queer Eye’s Tan France did just that, appearing on a celebrity edition of The Great British Bake Off. He’s been streaming Indian cooking tutorials ever since. Similarly, 2015 Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain produces daily tutorials live on her Instagram Stories. Our final English recommendation is London’s oldest food market, Borough Market, which had to close up shop during the pandemic. However, its Instagram often features dish inspiration and live tutorials.

Let’s stick with the theme of markets and migrate back to America. Baltimore’s The Food Market, in the American state of Maryland, is exactly what its name implies. Their Instagram features recipes and tutorials by award-winning Chef Chad Gauss.

Medium

You may be looking for something with a little more depth than Instagram Stories. We’ve got you covered. If there is one thing that the American culinary landscape is not lacking, it’s depth. Accordingly, we have a few recommendations that will allow you to probe a little deeper into the cultural history of American food.

A great place to start appreciating American food is with the country’s first peoples. Native American cuisine expert Lois Ellen Frank released a free webinar introduction to the topic, followed by a cooking demonstration.

Our second recommendation will introduce you to another American culinary tradition: barbeque. The U.S.A. did not invent barbeque (that distinction belongs to the native peoples of the West Indies). Nevertheless, the technique is an important aspect of food culture in many American regions. And while local restaurants may only allow you to carry out food, you should still be able to get a slab of meat from the neighborhood grocer to experiment with barbeque.

Smoking barbeque grill with hotdogs and hamburgers cooking
Doesn't this look tasty?
Image courtesy of Pexels

Enter BBQ With Franklin, an American Public Broadcasting Service web series. Over the course of eleven free episodes, host and self-proclaimed “BBQ nerd” Aaron Franklin will impart technical knowledge and cultural context regarding all things barbeque. As a bonus, several episodes cover barbeque’s place within the uniquely North American holiday of Thanksgiving. If your interests converge in America, food, and culture, then BBQ With Franklin is a must-watch.

Spicy

Let’s get a little spicier! Free offerings are nice, but if you’re willing to pay, you’ll find the quality of instruction quite delicious. Baltimore Chef Shop, a “teaching kitchen,” has adapted to the stay-at-home lifestyle with a wide array of online interactive cooking classes.

We vouch for Baltimore Chef Shop because of their clear appreciation for culture. Want to continue your virtual road trip through the American South? We’ve covered Native American food - prevalent in the Southwest - and barbeque, a Southern staple. Make a pit stop in Louisiana: Baltimore Chef Shop offers a tasty Creole: Gumbo and Maque Choux class. Or linger in the South for their Southern Fried Chicken Dinner class.

Sticking with our focus on American food, they also offer upcoming classes on apple pie donuts and cherry pie! Want to broaden your horizons? Baltimore Chef Shop also offers classes on Indian, Jamaican, Chinese, Mexican, Greek, Korean, Japanese, and Thai food! If these aren’t enough, you can even reach out to them to host a private online cooking class for you and your friends!

Two chefs preparing food in a restaurant kitchen
You'll be cooking like a professional chef in no time!
Image courtesy of Pexels

Hopefully this list has provided some insight on how you might fill your belly, all the while getting a taste of cultures old and new. On a more serious note, the current global situation has left millions without adequate food, both in the U.S.A. and around the world. As long as you’re in a food-focused mindset, consider helping those in need. Here, for example, is an option to donate to America’s hungry.

As global travelers we consider ourselves to be culturally sensitive and adventurous. These traits are not easily adaptable to isolation, but nevertheless we hope this article has given you some ideas. Stay tuned for more in our virtual cultural exchange series!

Matt Wallace

Matt Wallace is the Community & Digital Content Manager for the InterExchange Marketing team. He received a Master of Science in Global Affairs from New York University, and worked with the State Department and two New York organizations with missions to introduce young people to multiculturalism and international relations. He is excited to leverage this experience with InterExchange!

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