Canada’s cities diversify and so do marriages. The result is blended cultures and this is most evident in blended menus.
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of blending contrasting cuisines. It can be done and the result will surprise and please your guests.
The key to merging multi-ethnic foods is to fuse, not confuse, says Gamini Hemalal, president and master chef at Golden Chefs & ICEGUYS in Toronto.
His advice: Balance the flavours with minimum repetition and focus on flavours with a variety of textures. The ultimate goal is to please all five senses.
“Pairing is based on a variety of tastes, textures and techniques. The idea is to give a balanced variety in ingredients, cooking methods, textures and flavours.”
For exciting flavour combinations, try pairing opposites: Sweet with sour, cool with warm and simple with complex.
Good ethnic pairings depend largely on the personal taste of the client. Some tried and true combinations are Thai/Western, Tex/Mex (Texan and Mexican) and Italian/Arabic foods.
Meat or vegetarian
If you are serving meat consider your guests and the cultural or religious implications.
Zerlene Mekdeci, event coordinator at Impresario Events in Toronto says if you’re Hindu you don’t want to eat beef. Or if you are Jewish, you might not eat pork. If you are serving meat, aim for chicken or fish dishes.
Some cuisines are also traditionally prepared with less cooking like sushi or rare steak. You could offer a selection of vegetarian options for those who don’t eat meat.
Some like it spicy
While you might like highly spiced foods, tone it down for your guests. Not all your guests will share your love for curried chicken.
Usually when you’re discussing things with the caterer or the banquet hall you have an option of mild, medium or hot. It is best to go with the mildest option.
If both cultures tend to like spicy food, such as West Indian, that’s a different story. But if one culture generally has a bland diet, like the Irish, it’s best to play it safe.
Those who enjoy the heat will still enjoy the food, but it will save those with more sensitive palettes from spending their entire meal wiping away tears.
Filling in your guests
Once you have decided on the menu, the different food options need to be clear to your guests.
Zerlene says: The best way to do this is by having menu cards similar to what’s used in restaurants.
If people just get a plate of something that they can’t identify you have the “yuck” factor and they don’t want to try it.
Instead have menu cards on the table that explain the dish so your guests won’t have to play guessing games. It is also a good idea to include translations, where applicable.
If you opt for a buffet style reception you can have cards at each station with the ingredients of each dish. Consider having a heat-code, like three jalapeno peppers to indicate very spicy. This will tell your guests that it might be a little too spicy for their palettes.
You can also have menu programs, similar to wedding programs, so you get something more than the name and description of the dish. Include the cultural importance of a particular dish, along with its ingredients.
It helps people feel more comfortable and even excited about what they’re eating.
Photo courtesy of CaterTrendz Culinary Production