Immigrant Cuisines and Ethnic Restaurants

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 31

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The following episode transcript and images will remain for posterity. Enjoy!

In today’s podcast we’re going to explore the significant ways in which American eating habits have been shaped by immigrants. We’ll start by investigating the social aspects of immigration, and how food cultures are imported and adapted. Then we’re going to focus on how Italian, Jewish, and Mexican foods entered the American mainstream, and why they are so popular.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• A New Way to Cook Vermicelli

Antonia Isola was the pseudonym of Mabel Earl McGinnis, who wrote the first Italian cookbook published in the United States in 1912, entitled Simple Italian Cookery. She had spent time in Rome and purported to introduce mainstream Americans to authentic Italian food, a process that continues to this day. As one can see from the following unusual technique, Italian food and Italian-American food had already begun to drift apart, and this recipe clearly reflects the latter.

Timbale of Vermicelli with Tomatoes (Neapolitan Recipe)

Take ten medium-sized fresh tomatoes and cut them in two crosswise. Put a layer of these into a baking-dish with the liquid side touching the bottom of the dish. Now put another layer with the liquid side up, sprinkle on salt and pepper. Break the raw vermicelli the length of the baking-dish and put a layer of it on top of the tomatoes. Now add another layer of the tomatoes, with the skin side touching the vermicelli, a second layer with the liquid side up, salt and pepper, and another layer of the raw vermicelli, and so on, the top layer being of tomatoes with their liquid side touching the vermicelli. Heat three or four tablespoons of good lard (or butter), and when the lard boils pour it over the tomatoes and vermicelli; then put the dish into the oven.

Suggested Reading:

Denker, The World on a Plate: A Tour through the History of America’s Ethnic Cuisine.

Diner, Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration.

Gabbacia, We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans.

Mintz, Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Power, and the Past.

Pilcher, Que vivan los tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity.

Witt, Black Hunger: Soul Food And America.

Zeigelman, 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement.

Images courtesy of:

• Immigrants and the Statue of Liberty: By Edwin Levick, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Emma Lazarus poemPublic domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Immigrants on a steamship: Library of Congress
• Jewish Immigrant Neighborhood: Library of Congress
• Hard Shelled Tacos: Thinkstock
• Pizza Comparison: Shutterstock
• Lutefisk: Shutterstock
• Bialy: Shutterstock
• Pizza by the slice in Venice: Thinkstock
• Zucchini: Thinkstock
• Olive Oil: Shutterstock
• Wine grapes: Shutterstock
• Spaghetti ; Thinkstock
• Lasagna: Thinkstock
• Gelato: Thinkstock
• Tomato sauce in a can: Shutterstock
• Jewish Market: Library of Congress
• Pastrami: Thinkstock
• Matzo Ball Soup: Shutterstock
• Luckshen Kugel: Shutterstock
• Bagel: Shutterstock
• Variety of bagels: Shutterstock
• Jar of salsa: Shutterstock
• Mexican meal: Thinkstock
• Nopalitos: Thinkstock
• Chop Suey: Shutterstock
• General Tso’s: By 1700-talet (Own work) [CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons