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Role of Food and Cuisine in Cultural Adaptation

Masala Meets Mac and Cheese: The Delicious Diversity of Integration
role of food and cuisine in cultural adaptation in america

If it was about physical relocation, you could have managed (we think) but as an Indian immigrant you also need to take into account the cultural adaptation. This cultural adaptation comes with several layers including identity, heritage, language, and most important of all food and cuisine. As an Indian, if you are not a foodie, we wonder how you have survived in India all these years. But when you move to America you are bound to face the question of where to get food, our bad, where to find “good” “Indian” food. Because let’s face it Americans don’t really have healthy eating habits and trust us, you can’t survive on McDonald’s lifelong. You NEED Dal Chawal. This brings us to the role of food and cuisine in cultural adaptation in America, as finding and incorporating familiar foods can significantly ease the transition and help maintain a connection to one’s heritage.

We are now moving to the part where we explain how as an Indian immigrant you will be able to culturally adapt to the American lifestyle with food being its intrinsic part.

1. Culinary Heritage

When you compare Indian cuisine with American cuisine, it is to happen that you will wonder, why do they even have these many items when they don’t add flavors to their food items? It’s not their fault, you belong to India which is considered as the fortune of spices, the land of flavors. As an Indian immigrant, food will serve as a powerful link to your roots back at home. Ignoring the physical distance you still can experience your food and through it your culture in America by cooking for yourself. We have provided some aspects as to how food and cuisine influence the cultural adaptation of Indian immigrants in America.

  • Cultural Connection

The traditional Indian dishes serve as a cultural connection to the immigrants’ roots and pass down the culture to future generations through food and exquisite delicacies. Your favorite food items will provide a sense of continuity and stability when you are trying to adapt to a new culture.

  • Comfort

As an Indian immigrant when you move to a new country you ought to find comfort in various items. And food is one of the few things that will provide you comfort amidst the challenge of cultural adaptation. You can get the feeling of security and nostalgia as and when you cook and eat similar dishes. This might also help in coping with homesickness.

  • Bridge the Gap

When as an Indian immigrant you share your food practices and your cuisine with your American counterparts you will realize that you are actually bridging the gap between two very different cultures. This cross-cultural exchange and understanding will help you to build friendships and foster new connections. This brings cultural exchange and mutual appreciation. Your experience with the American food culture will make your life as an Indian immigrant a lot more fun and a lot less easy. How you can experience American culture will depend on exposure, curiosity, and willingness to experiment.   

  • Adaptation

As an Indian immigrant while you can preserve your “passed down” recipe you can also innovate and adapt the recipes as per the local ingredients and culinary influence. The fusion of Indian dishes with local, American ingredients will bring about the reflection of your culture as you embrace the American culture side by side. When as an Indian immigrant you start the fusion of Indian and American cuisines you will realize how easy it is to adapt to the American culture. The combinations that will come out of this fusion could be in any way like new ingredients, cooking techniques, and flavor combinations. You will not only be making innovative dishes but also adapting one new culture while preserving your existing culture together.

  • Community

Food will play a role in helping you to build a community. The community of fellow Indian immigrants. You can participate in potluck dinners, and feasts in festivals and celebrations. You will become closer to the people of your community because that is what food does. This way you will have a community that will also become your support network and you could actually have a family away from family.

2. Balance

After the culinary heritage, another aspect that is important for Indian immigrants when wanting to adapt to the food culture in America is to find the right balance. As America is a diverse country, there are cuisines from all around the world, which come from people who belong to different countries and races. So, for Indian immigrants adapting the American cuisine would mean finding a balance between embracing new flavors while simultaneously saving your culinary heritage.

  • Food Preferences

The kind of food you prefer is a completely individual choice. The experience that you have with American food and its adaptation would also depend on your preference. There is a chance that you are one of those immigrants who are eager to accept American fast food and convenience food or one of those Indian immigrants who find comfort in home-cooked meals and traditional Indian food. You could also find comfort in recreating your favorite dishes with an American twist or even twitching the American cuisine to suit your Indian taste buds.

If you are the kind who likes to explore new culinary offerings, you can take on the adventure of culinary art. You could actually indulge in different cuisines of the world and experiment. You could even include some of the food items from all around the world in your ‘Desi’ cooking. You could dine in ethnic restaurants, attend food festivals, or even take on cooking classes in a particular cuisine to make sure that as an Indian immigrant, you are able to adapt to the American food culture while continuing to keep your culinary tradition alive.

Further, not only will your food preferences have an effect on your choice of American food but even your choice of Indian food might be different. This could be because of your cultural upbringing, personal tastes, and adaptation and adjustment to a new environment. Further, your dietary habits, religious beliefs, and health considerations will also play a role in how far along you can embrace American culture.

3. Challenges

Your journey as an Indian immigrant in America has to be full of excitement and discovery. But along with it will come some challenges. You might believe that you will be fine as you are familiar with Indian dishes and cuisine and know how to cook some of the basic ones. But trust us when we say, you will have to adapt. There is a chance that you are not able to get the ingredient that is so important for your dish and you might have to do with new or local ingredients.

Do you know what “Hing” is called in English? We all remember the scene from the movie ‘Queen’ where Kangana’s character “Rani” struggles to get “Heeng”. This could be you too. There can always be that one food item that you will not know how to pronounce in English. And this language barrier will make you invent and create new dishes out of all the ingredients.

And then comes the situation when you will meet someone who will “know” more about Indian cuisine than an Indian immigrant like yourself. Their misconceptions and cultural differences will further make your job to adapt to the food culture of America even tougher than it already is. Your dietary restrictions or allergies which up until now were taken care of either by your parents or your cook, need to be your concern and thus, you will need to learn to cook as per your health requirements. This could be a daunting task if you are not well-versed with American food quality and types.   

4. Opportunities

The challenges that you face will also bring certain opportunities, these opportunities will help in your growth, learning, and of course in cultural exchange. As you embrace diversity in food and cuisine, you will realize that your community is only growing. There is nothing better than food that connects people and trust us, it is a spiritual experience when you connect via food. 

As you meet people from different backgrounds you will realize that you are seeping into American culture much more easily than you would expect.

As you continue to interact with people who have different eating habits and food preferences you also start adding to the rich cuisine culture of America. Because now you are part of the American life and hence your food choices also make up the American culture. And when you are part of the American culture your respect and preservation of your culture improves automatically.


Your food is your food, none of our food. LAME. Nevertheless, what we mean to say is that your food preferences and choices will make you part of the American culture sooner than you realize. Food and cuisine have always been the powerful markers of a society’s culture. Therefore, your Indian food is the gateway to your Indian cuisine, vibrant as ever. The food items for Indian immigrants will also serve as a mark of identity when adapting to American culture. This mark of identity is important so that you keep on staying an Indian even when you become an American. And what else is better than food to keep that Indian alive in your American self? Love for Shahrukh Khan might be better, but food does the job as well.

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About The Author

Picture of Drishti Choudhary

Drishti Choudhary

Drishti is a bibliophile whose writing describes her views about everyday nuances. She writes to explore a diverse realm of thought. With a keen focus on feminism and politics, she champions equality in society.
Picture of Drishti Choudhary

Drishti Choudhary

Drishti is a bibliophile whose writing describes her views about everyday nuances. She writes to explore a diverse realm of thought. With a keen focus on feminism and politics, she champions equality in society.

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