Olympics Culture Tour and Menu Plan

It’s Olympics week!

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This girl is pumped.

Which is a bit funny to me now, because when I was a kid I remember hating when the Olympics came on. All the adults wanted to do was watch all these boring or weird sports and it seemed to last FOR-EVER.

I think my perspective changed once I was living in other cultures, and fell in love with them. The Olympics is such a fun opportunity to see other cultures and learn about them.

I love how a little bit of knowledge about a culture, it’s cuisine and customs can break down barriers with others from that background or who have visited there.  It’s like an “in” with people, and I like people.

As a mom I especially love this opportunity to teach my kiddos about the way other people live. I hope at some point to immerse them in other cultures of the world, but for now I can suffice for exposure.

When the Olympics roll around, I try to come up with a game plan/shopping list a few weeks out. Wikipedia is my friend. I look up what some of the largest delegations coming to the Olympics are, and start there. I also try to go specific to which season it is. The winter/summer Olympics have very different countries represented, so I try to focus on countries that will be more prominent in the current season. This years choices were:

Russia (of course!)

Germany

Switzerland

Japan (who knew?)

While I want to expose my kids to different cultures, I don’t want them to be completely turned off by them. So even though Norway was a top contender, after researching the food, and knowing my children’s palettes, I decided against that country (for this year). I also don’t want to overwhelm my kids, or myself, so I stick with a handful of countries. Some times you need a breath of normalcy in the midst of a lot of newness. And who can bust out all new meals with foreign ingredients, and a brief teaching on each country fourteen nights in a row?!  Not this girl!

Then comes more research. Again, Wikipedia is my friend. First I search the cuisine for each culture…because that’s my thing. Maybe you’re a gardener and you want to more focus on indigenous plants, or you are a wordsmith and the language is your gig…whatever works best for you and your family. This is about education and exposure, not perfection.

Russia was easy for me, since we lived in Ukraine, which was formerly part of the Soviet Union and has very similar culture. The other countries took a bit more time. Here are the dishes I’m making for each country and some other ideas, if my suggestion seems a bit too daunting.

Russia:

I’m making borscht (recipe coming soon) and blini (small pancakes) with caviar. We love this part of the world and are quite educated about it, it’s culture and want to impart a lot of it to our kids. So we are over doing this night.  Plus the caviar was only $15 at Whole Foods…why not? Easier options are:

Medium-Hard: Beef or chicken stroganoff

Medium: Deconstructed Galupsy (basically a cabbage soup)

Easy: Pierogi, which you can buy in most frozen sections, but are called Vareniki in Russia

Germany:

Well, you can’t go wrong with Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal cutlet), so I’m making that with boiled potatoes and white asparagus (if I can find it!) Other options are:

Medium: Bratwurst and potatoes

Easy: Pumpernickel bread with sliced cold cuts and cheeses (this is a typical German breakfast)

If I’m feeling extra ambitious, I’ll make a Black Forest cake for dessert, or settle for some yummy German chocolates we pick up at World Market!

Switzerland:

When we were in Switzerland we were served a serval course traditional Swiss Fondue. I will be attempting to recreate that by making a cheese fondue, a fondue chinoise (broth, where you dip meat and veggies in to cook them), and then a chocolate fondue. The tricky part of picking Switzerland cuisine is that Switzerland has regions that are primarily impacted by their neighboring France, Italy and Germany. So their cuisine often resembles more that of these countries. You can’t go wrong with Swiss Chocolate, Swiss cheese (Emmental, Gruyere), muesli, and Ovaltine! Since we all probably have the token fondue pot up in our cabinet, might as well break it out and try at least one of the fondue varieties listed above!

Medium: rösti, which is basically hashbrowns, served with a fried egg and spinach

Easy: quiche, in most frozen sections (although it seems French, apparently quiche originated in Germany, so this country sandwiched between Germany and France has made quiche commonplace.)

Japan:

I’m making a miso soup with chicken thighs, vegetables (carrots, baby corn, daikon or turnip and green onions), with udon noodles. I’m kind of doing my own play on chicken noodle soup, Japanese style.

Medium: chicken yakitori (chicken thighs skewered and grilled, often with a similar sauce to teriyaki)

Easy: take out, store bought sushi, or hibachi

I hope that gives you a few ideas, options and inspiration of ways you can expose your kids to different culture during these Olympics! I’m going to be sharing my recipes, and bits of information I plan on teaching our kids, and some other resources as the week goes on, so stay tuned!

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