This is the fourth article in a series; see also: Cooking with Kids, Create a Kids’ Tasting Menu, and Get Out and Explore.
Trying different ethnic cuisines is an easy way to introduce kids to new kinds of food and to expose them to another culture’s language, smells, and décor (even if it’s 1970s Restaurant Style). Experiencing another culture’s food also helps expand a kid’s definition of “food.” For example, our local Taiwanese place serves jellyfish — we don’t expect our daughter to eat it, but it’s a good idea for her to know that people eat all kinds of things. I was lucky to spend time in New York City and Miami as a child. These are great eating towns, mainly due to the wide availability of ethnic food. Eating Puerto Rican-Chinese food as a small child did a lot to seal the deal on my future food obsessions and sense of culinary adventurousness. I wanted to do the same for my daughter, so by the age of 2, she had eaten Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Salvadoran, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Ethiopian food. None of the food we gave her was particularly challenging, but by exposing her early to what we like to eat she is now more willing to try different foods. The Seattle area has a wide variety of ethnic restaurants to try, but you can also get into the ethnic zone by cooking at home. Like any other adventurous eating project, your kids might not take to it overnight, but repeated exposure helps. (Disclaimer: Lest anyone think my kid is some kind of poster child for adventurous eating, rest assured that she’s a medium-level eater. She’s annoyingly picky and vegetable-resistant like the rest of them.)Here are some ideas for introducing your kid to ethnic food, by culture. Note that the restaurants I mention are just a suggestion. It’s all a matter of taste, so explore different places until you find your favorites.
Japanese FoodOne of the world’s great cuisines, Japanese food is simple yet sublime, relatively healthy, and fun to eat. It also features great variety and is not just about sushi. (Unfortunately, it can also be quite expensive.)
Korean FoodA lot of Korean food is spicy and most of us are not as familiar with it. But the flavors are very intriguing and it’s worth the effort to step out of the comfort zone and try it.
Chinese FoodMost Americans are familiar with standard Chinese food so I won’t cover it. But for a change of pace, try a dim sum meal — children love dumplings and will eat things they might not normally eat (like shrimp) when they are wrapped up in a steamed bun. Here’s a great overview of dim sum.
Ethiopian FoodAfrican food is not well represented in American cuisine, but Ethiopian food is getting more popular, especially with vegetarians, because it’s absolutely delicious. It’s also fun for kids because they get to eat it with their hands.
Thai FoodAnother of the world’s great cuisines, Thai food is haunting, complex, and full of regional variation. It is also incredibly spicy, but most Thai restaurants are pretty good about lowering the spice level for kids based on a spice star system. As the kids get more adventurous you can up the spice level.
Vietnamese FoodSimilar to Thai food but overall less spicy, though that depends on the region and who the restaurant is catering to. Like Thai food, Vietnamese food has something for everybody, with all the different noodles, soups, stir-fry, and grilled meats.
How to Grow an Adventurous Eater, Part 1: Get Your Kids CookingHow to Grow an Adventurous Eater, Part 2: Create a Kids’ Tasting Menu
How to Grow an Adventurous Eater, Part 3: Get Out and Explore
Elise Gruber is a writer and project manager who grew up in Miami, where the eating of clams and conchs was considered normal. She loves to cook and think about food so is not enjoying the “beige food years” so much. In fact, she nearly burst into tears of joy when her kid yelled, “Mommy, I like beets now!” at the salad bar.