In second grade, my class had a “cultural day,” where everyone brought in their favorite foods from their culture. I brought in my absolute favorite—borek—a delicious combination of phyllo dough, cheese, and parsley. I thought everyone would love it just as much as I did, but after a day passed and my mom’s baking dish was left barely touched, I realized I was, well, wrong.
If you’re Middle Eastern like me, this scenario has probably happened to you at some point. Growing up in America with a Middle Eastern culture is definitely not a walk in the park. Let’s be honest, your mom wouldn’t let you walk in the park alone anyways.
Food is such a huge part of our culture though, so it’s bound to pose some struggles along the way. But hey, looking back I wouldn’t give up any of it, especially because being Middle Eastern means an endless supply of baklava. Yes, please.
1. Trying to explain what za’atar is to your friends
Or kibbeh. Or any food. Explaining your culture’s food is harder than organic chemistry—and you would know, considering doctor is one of the two jobs your family will allow you to go into (BTW, za’atar is a thyme seasoning blend, which tastes amazing with olive oil and toasty bread).
2. Your grandma constantly feeding you like the world’s ending
“Eat, you’ll grow taller.” “But grandma, I’m already a full-grown adult.”
3. Your freezer always looking like this
Between your mom, teta, sitto, hale, yenge, and all other random elder ladies that enter your home, trying to fit something new into your freezer will be harder than passing college courses.
4. Getting weird stares from your peers during lunch
“What’s that??” said every disgusted face at the lunch table, looking at the kibbeh you have packed for lunch. Mom packing you Lunchables? Never.
5. Your family judging you for trying fad diets
“Vegan? No meat? Okay, no problem, just eat this cheese and yogurt instead.” And you just wait until you tell your family you’re on a juice cleanse.
6. Holiday gatherings = 50 different kinds of food
Now, none of your friends will understand what “a lot of food” is until they go to a holiday dinner with your family. Leftovers for
days weeks. Months even (pretty sure I still have leftovers in my house from Thanksgiving).
7. “So, you eat Greek food, right?”
No, we’re not Greek, so we don’t eat Greek food. Get it right people.
8. Every dish looks the same, but is completely different
Meat, rice, vegetables. Whether it’s stuffed, stacked, piled, linked, chopped, or mixed, the premise may be identical, but you know they are all so different, and don’t you dare suggest otherwise.
9. Food magically reappears on your plate once it’s finished
You have to learn to eat really slowly, or else there will be five more servings poured onto your plate in a heartbeat.
10. Your grandpa always smells a bit like Arak
How your grandpa could drink five of these in a row will always amaze you, but when you realize it turns white when mixed with some water, you know it can’t be good for you.
11. Always having parsley stuck in your teeth
Tabbouleh may taste amazing, but that green stuff gets stuck in your teeth for hours. Not even floss can help.
12. Having a full-blown feast for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
The American idea of “a lot of food” and the Middle Eastern idea of “a lot of food” are completely different.
13. Being extremely proud of who you are
Being Middle Eastern can feel like an incredibly big pain, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. Bring on the hummus, spread it on everything.