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Multicultural Manners : The Delicate Diplomacies of Food

October 28, 1995|NORINE DRESSER

Caterers planning the menu for the 50th anniversary celebration of the United Nations in New York carefully consider the varying food taboos of their world leader guests. Muslims and Jews cannot eat pork or shellfish, nor can Muslims have alcohol, even in sauces. Hindus must not eat beef.

What should they serve?

The chefs figured out a tasty and non-offending menu for their Oct. 21 dinner. Appetizers included mushroom risotto cakes, sweet potato pancakes and cheese polenta diamonds. They served salad, roast chicken breast, rack of lamb with vegetarian side dishes. Dessert was controversial in name only--multilayer ice cream bombe.

Guests, too, may face cultural dilemmas when presented with unfamiliar foods. Consider the predicament of Jack, an American businessman working in the Middle East. Sudanese acquaintances invited him and his family to participate in a feast celebrating the end of Ramadan, a Muslim 30-day period of fasting. When the Sudanese served soup with ants in it, Jack's children where shocked, but Jack knew it would be an affront to reject the food. He warned his offspring, "If you want to see the light of day, eat the soup and when you're finished, say 'Thank you."' Today the children joke about being victims of child abuse because they were forced to eat ant soup.

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