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Bread And Butter: Merging Food Cultures


I’m from southwest New Mexico. My husband is from southeastern Idaho. Geographically, they are not far one from another. Food culture wise, however, they are worlds apart. I was asked, recently, what we had to sort and merge by way of food preferences after we married. Honestly, I didn’t think it was a lot, but then I actively started thinking about it and quickly changed my mind.

I’ve mentioned before and I’ll probably mention again that food in southern New Mexico is a culture all to itself. It’s ingrained in the very fabric of who we are and we are extremely serious about it. In addition, we also don’t really get how different our eating habits are until we move out of state. A fact that was glaringly obvious to me in college and over and again in the years since. I will never forget a local restaurant near my college trying to pass off scones with fruit and whipped cream as sopapillas; a tragedy I was gratefully warned about by my sister who preceded me. No amount of longing for a treat from home could twist that food horror to be ok. (Sopapillas are not scones, for the record. They are a fry bread traditionally served as dessert and loaded with honey in the fried air pocket. But, they can also be stuffed with beans and meat and chile for breakfast or lunch.)  I often joke that I cut my teeth on green chile bean burritos like others did with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I say a joke, but it’s probably more true than not.

On our first date, I made my now husband enchiladas. But not any enchiladas, New Mexico stacked egg enchiladas. Which could be an entire topic all on its own and, honestly, probably should be. I can look back now and see the presumption that dish served on my behalf, but it was not something I was cognizant of at the time. My enchiladas tend toward spicy and I served that spice with nary a thought to Idaho tongues. I don’t remember a lot about his reaction (I think it was favorable!) but I do know those enchiladas have been folded into the fabric of our family since (which, I guess, solidifies its favorability years ago).

At the beginning of our marriage, I did a lot of the cooking. In the two plus decades since, my husband probably cooks more than I, although the dishes and moods are jockeyed about, evening the task somewhat. But what is absolutely true is that New Mexican flair shows up far more often regardless of who is manning the stove. I’m unsure why that is. It could be that my food culture was more dominant or that my early cooking set the tone or that I’ve dragged him to my beloved blue skied home state often enough I’ve converted him to all things green chile and spice, but whatever it is, it remains true regardless. That isn’t to say potatoes don’t have a strong presence in our kitchen. They do. I have a child who would happily live on them if possible. But casseroles? Those didn’t make the cut. However, when I think of southeast Idaho, I’m often at a loss beyond the potatoes and casseroles as to a standout food choice. Maybe that is why my husband’s culture leans from years spent living in England and British and Indian food were the main influence we had to merge. And I will admit that tacos are far more often what’s for dinner over curry, still, though my husband would love if my tastebuds cut him a break in that category a little more often.

I wonder if this merging of food cultures in partnerships is simply something every new coupling goes through, no matter of origins. Certainly, families, as mini cultures, have a shorthand in food their life long next-door neighbors wouldn’t share exactly. We think of the big, country differing cultures, as being the toughest to work around, but I wonder if that actually wouldn’t be easier? I think I might be more willing to tackle food literally foreign to me and my upbringing over letting go of my way of making, say, potato salad. I can imagine a situation where we take our rule for eating in our home (you have to at least try one bite of everything before rejecting it) and applying it to one another’s food choices. Would that be the smartest way to forge a blended harmony? 

I can’t remember how or why we settled where we’ve settled. New Mexican food, at this point, is simply food. We have dishes from both sides that are just our side, now. I wish I could remember, exactly, in order to answer the original question, but maybe this is the hope they were really looking for. There comes a day when rivaling food wars settle. Preferences are made. And a new couple becomes an old couple and at some point food just becomes a short hand language where you don’t really remember where it started. A melting pot of deliciousness.