Merging culinary traditions: Ugandan & American

So recently, I have been thinking a lot about food. First, Anthony Bourdain (*swoon*) aired his last EVER show of his acclaimed Travel Channel series (in Brooklyn): Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. And the world is a little dimmer now.

Then, I went to my monthly book club where we discussed food critic Mimi Sheraton’s memoir: “Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life.” We had a thoughtful discussion on taste subjectivity, acclimation to certain foods, and genetic food aversions (apparently some people are genetically programmed to think cilantro tastes like soap).

To top it all off, I cracked open an egg to make an omelette, only to find some rancid, foul-smelling liquid inside. I made my husband swear never to buy Market Basket eggs ever again. Not that they are really the culprit. It just made me think about the food processing standards we have in the US– or lack thereof, and how delicious fresh, local food really tastes.

A common theme that Anthony Bourdain repeated on his show, is that food is the ultimate truth-teller. Behind every meal is a piece of history, and the key to truly connecting to a culture and people in a way that only food can do. Do you want to really understand someone? Eat their food.

So Thanksgiving is coming up. and I have been thinking a lot lately about culinary traditions, and what it has been like eating and cooking with a Ugandan husband. I have come to understand Hiller better through his culinary tastes and traditions, and I realized that my own eating habits have changed after knowing him. That happens in marriage doesn’t it? You each find yourself shifting into one another’s likes and dislikes.

So a little bit about me: My mother, of Mayflower stock, also had a passion for France and well-balanced food. I grew up eating meticulous meals with at least 4 separate components on the plate. There was always a salad and usually some kind of dessert at the end. When we went out to eat, we each ordered a different dish, then passed our plates around the table to share, thus expanding our taste-bud experience. My father was born in London, and on the rare occasion he would cook, it was usually frozen fish and chips, or pizza out of a cardboard box. I discovered Indian food and sushi while in college and continued to sample different foods wherever I traveled. My mother’s mantra of “You have to eat three bites” has served me well. It turns out I have an iron stomach and I will try anything once, as shown in the following video from Estonia (don’t worry about the language, just pay special attention to my face at the very end…)

So far, blood sausage and head cheese are the only things I have really had to force down. I am not a huge fan of shellfish, and “mild” salsa still feels pretty hot to me–but I am working on building up my “spicy” tolerance!

Enter Hiller onto the scene. We met in Uganda, and my, the food there is delicious. All of it super simple and fresh. Here are some examples:

Eating porridge, bread and boiled bokora bananas for breakfast.

Example of an open market in Uganda.

One of my favorite dishes: Hiller’s “beans and greens,” rice, fruit and “posho”– a sticky loaf of cooked maize flour and water used to soak up the sauce.

One thing I noticed, however, is they pretty much cook the heck out of everything. If it’s not fully cooked, or has a peel, it’s a health hazard, so when we came to the US and I ordered something like this:

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t this rare, but this is what it looked like to him 🙂


Here’s another thing. I love salads. Like this one:

I see: DELICIOUS! He sees: BREEDING GROUND FOR GERMS (and what are those weird looking red things??)

Here is something I found really funny. When we were in Uganda, he introduced me to a local delicacy: Fried grasshoppers. I tried one, and I actually liked them–tastes like fried chicken. Really.

Fast-forward about a year and there we were, walking through Market Basket, when Hiller starts backing up and turns to me with a frightened look on his face. “What are those things??” He said, pointing at the lobster tank. They are so scary!

Ok, I guess they are kind of scary. I guess ugly is in the eye of the beholder.

So our relationship, as you can see has had to have a lot of give and take in the food department. For example, instead of salads with large leafy greens, I make salads with grains to hide the vegetables (like these recipes I posted about). He tolerates recipes with cheese products in them and tries not to gag as I eat my Brie smeared on bread. I love it whenever he makes “Hiller’s Food,” and find every opportunity to let him take over the kitchen.

He has discovered foods like mashed potatoes, grapes and PB & J. He will even try some things at the salad bar. And I found I have adjusted my cooking for him–making more sauces and soups to pour over rice, and sauteing my greens in garlic and olive oil instead of eating them raw.

An example of something I made recently…Butternut Squash Couscous.

I still make my own hummus, munch on my raw spinach, and order my meat medium rare, and he still cooks his gizzards and liver, and demands his meat without an ounce of pink. We both don’t care for super spicy, and I am totally fine without shellfish. He’s not a big sweet lover so that helps to keep me in line 🙂 Overall I think we have come to a happy middle.

Our daughter Jenna, however, has taken sides. She will eat anything her daddy puts in front of her and looks to him as her culinary mentor. Like her father, she is obsessed with posho, chicken and bananas. Daddy’s little girl.

Eating corn-on-the-cob–just the way her daddy taught her.

–Madelene Pario


4 responses to “Merging culinary traditions: Ugandan & American

  1. Culture and traditions do tend to merge in what we eat and in the way we eat! I laugh when I see my French husband grab a mug of tea and take it in the car, mirroring our American “on the go” culture. This would have been unthinkable for him five years ago! -Marta

  2. Re, boudin ( blood sausage); Cajun’s also call their rice &pork liver, etc., or with crawfish sausages boudin.. Made & sold only in Louisiana , it’s delicious ! It’s sold like hot dogs by all the local variety stores as a snack food. The blood sausage was also made & eaten by French Canadians too.

    • Hmmm…I’ll have to try it, thanks! The only kind I had was in Estonia, and I just wasn’t a fan…made with bulgar, spices and blood. But I know there are different types!

  3. Pingback: Risks: Then & Now « Connect Shore·

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