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Two Cultures, One Delicious Cuisine

Two Cultures, One Delicious Cuisine

Two Cultures, One Delicious Cuisine

A Melting Pot of Flavors

Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I was transported to another world every time I opened the pages of an Enid Blyton novel. The Famous Five’s lunchtime feasts of cold meats, salads, plum pies, and custards were a far cry from the spicy stews and rice dishes that graced my family’s table. Yet, those fictional meals captivated me, fueling my imagination and planting the seeds of a lifelong fascination with the intersection of food and culture.

As a first-generation Eritrean-American, I’ve long grappled with the duality of my identity. When people ask where I’m from, I often find myself caught in a guessing game, the sheer diversity of my heritage leaving them bewildered. Am I Indian? Brazilian? Asian? The truth is, I’m a product of two distinct cultures – Eritrean and American – and the culinary traditions that have shaped me reflect this rich tapestry.

Just like the potato chips and homemade awazay sauce I enjoy, my identity is a delectable fusion of East and West. [1] On one hand, I proudly don my traditional zuhras and cheer on Eritrean runners in the Boston Marathon. On the other, I’m a die-hard Patriots fan and celebrate the Fourth of July with fervor. My palate, too, is a melting pot, seamlessly blending the spices and flavors of my Eritrean heritage with the comforts of American cuisine.

Bridging the Culinary Gap

This dynamic dance between cultures is something I’ve witnessed firsthand in the kitchen. When my Eritrean mother attempted to recreate the English dishes I’d read about, the results were often a far cry from the idyllic images in my mind. Tinned margarine and limited access to ingredients meant her Victoria sponge cake was hardly the light and fluffy delight I’d imagined. [2] Yet, these culinary missteps only deepened my fascination with the ways in which food can both unite and divide cultures.

In the years since, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty that lies in the blending of culinary traditions. Take the classic American dish of gumbo, for instance. When I mentioned to a friend that I planned to make a shrimp and okra gumbo, she immediately asked, “Cajun gumbo or Creole gumbo?” [3] It’s a question that has sparked endless debate, with scholars and foodies alike vying to untangle the nuances between these two beloved Louisiana cuisines.

At its core, the distinction between Cajun and Creole cooking boils down to geography and history. The Creole cuisine of New Orleans, with its French, Spanish, and African influences, is characterized by the use of tomatoes, cream, and refined techniques. Meanwhile, the Cajun cooking of Southwest Louisiana emerged from the hardy, resourceful Acadian settlers, who drew on the bounty of the region’s marshes and prairies to create hearty, rustic dishes. [3]

Yet, over time, these two culinary traditions have become inextricably linked, each borrowing and blending elements of the other. The holy trinity of onion, bell pepper, and celery is a common thread, while okra makes its way into the gumbos of both cultures. [3] In the end, the true essence of Louisiana cuisine lies not in the distinctions, but in the delicious convergence of these two rich and storied food traditions.

Finding Comfort in the In-Between

As a self-proclaimed okra enthusiast, I’ve had the privilege of exploring this culinary intersection firsthand, thanks to a fortuitous collaboration with Ruchi, a fellow chef and dear friend. Hailing from India, Ruchi introduced me to the world of Indian okra, a smaller, brighter-hued variety that boasts a flavor profile distinct from its American counterpart. [4] Together, we embarked on a culinary journey, blending our respective cultural influences to create dishes that celebrated the humble vegetable in all its glory.

Through our partnership, I learned that the key to taming okra’s notorious sliminess lies not in Cajun-style pre-cooking, but in the simple addition of yogurt – a trick Ruchi brought from her family’s Indian kitchen. [4] I, in turn, shared the Southern technique of soaking okra in buttermilk before frying, a method that produces a delightfully crisp and crunchy exterior. [4] In the end, our culinary collaboration was a testament to the power of cross-cultural exchange, a reminder that the most delicious solutions often lie in the space between traditions.

Indeed, it is in this in-between space that I have found the greatest comfort and joy. No longer do I see my dual identity as a burden, but rather as a profound blessing. I am not just American or just Eritrean; I am a tapestry of both, weaving together the best of these two worlds to create a rich and flavorful life. [5] Just as the awazay and potato chips coexist harmoniously on my plate, so too do the traditions of my heritage and my adopted home.

A Culinary Celebration of Diversity

As I reflect on my journey, I am reminded of the wise words of the fourth-century philosopher Libanius, who once declared that “if your aim in traveling is to get acquainted with different cultures and lifestyles, it is enough to visit Antioch.” [1] Though his ancient words were spoken of a different time and place, they ring true today in the vibrant, multicultural city of Boston, where the flavors of the world converge in a culinary celebration of diversity.

It is here, in this dynamic urban landscape, that the rich tapestry of Korean cuisine has found a new and captivating home. Just as my own identity is a fusion of East and West, so too are the dishes that grace the tables of Korean restaurants in Boston – a harmonious blend of traditional techniques and contemporary flair, seamlessly bridging the gap between cultures.

Whether it’s the fragrant, slow-simmered soups that evoke the comforts of a Korean grandmother’s kitchen or the bold, innovative interpretations that push the boundaries of the cuisine, the Korean fare of Boston is a testament to the power of culinary cross-pollination. [6] In every bite, one can taste the echoes of centuries-old traditions, mingling with the vibrant influences of a new, multicultural landscape.

Embracing the In-Between

As I savor these flavors, I am reminded of the profound truth that has come to shape my own perspective: that the most beautiful things often emerge from the in-between spaces. It is in the melting pot, where cultures collide and traditions intertwine, that the most delicious – and, indeed, the most meaningful – creations are born.

So, as you embark on your culinary journey through the diverse landscape of Korean cuisine in Boston, I invite you to embrace the beauty of the in-between. Celebrate the fusion of flavors, the blending of techniques, and the rich tapestry of cultural influences that make this cuisine so captivating. For it is in this space, where the boundaries blur and the unexpected flourishes, that we find the true essence of what it means to be alive – to be a part of a world that is far richer, more vibrant, and more delicious than any single tradition could ever hope to be.


[1] Anya von Bremzen, “Turkish Delight: A Guide to the Historic Cuisine of Hatay,” Airbnb Magazine, accessed April 28, 2023,

[2] Feven Yohannes, “Stuck in the Middle: A Hidden Blessing,” Voyages Journal, accessed April 28, 2023,

[3] George Graham, “Cajun and Creole: What’s the Difference and Which is the True Louisiana Cuisine?,” Acadiana Table, accessed April 28, 2023,

[4] Tanorria’s Table, “When Two Cultures Collide: Okra,” accessed April 28, 2023,

[5] Feven Yohannes, “Stuck in the Middle: A Hidden Blessing,” Voyages Journal, accessed April 28, 2023,

[6] Instagram post, @koreancuisineboston, accessed April 28, 2023,

[7] Quora, “What are some examples of the same dish being prepared or served differently across different countries and or cultures?”, accessed April 28, 2023,