The ethnic menu has arrived in the Roman elementary school lunchroom. The first day had mixed results -- with a few adventurous children trying the Bangladesh vegetable Biriani, fishballs, yellow lentils and rice and milk pudding while the majority turned up their noses and ate only bread. Mothers are already petitioning for an Italian alternative on the menu for ethnic-lunch days because their children, "can't be expected to fast until 4:30 pm."
A teacher called it, "An interesting test in which we could clearly see the children's' fear of new things and stereotypes coming from the family." Another teacher acknowledged that the experiment was useful, "but that it needed to be better explain in advance not only to the students, but also the parents."
One student talked of "strange fish" and said that he didn't like the yellow rice. Another student echoed the first, "the pudding wasn't good at all, it was strange to find rice in it, not like I am used to at all." Another even tried all the dishes, but the flavors were "too sweet" and therefore he didn't eat much. He then conceded that he was sorry to see so much food thrown away because there are lots of children in the world who don't have anything to eat. In any case, he is game for trying another ethnic-lunch day.
I have so many stories about Italian children's' diffidence to foreign cooking (foreign often being defined as, "not prepared by my mother."). I have been put to test many times by a tableful of children as they very, very cautiously dig into a pasta with tomato sauce prepared by an American (come sarà mai?). They had been warned by their mothers about pasta scotta prepared by the infidels.
Food rules are taught very young and by the time an Italian reaches elementary school they are well ingrained. To soften the chaos created by the Bangladesh menu, it was presented as a first course, second course, side dish and dessert so that, at least, it adhered to the Italian food-order rules.
Next on the list are meals from: Romania, Albania, Poland, Peru, China, Morocco and the Philippines. Will the children survive seven bread-based lunches or will they break down and have a taste?
Important lessons for becoming Italian: Change is hard. Having choice (or innovation) is not necessarily desirable. New things are rarely better and often worse, so it is best to stick with your usual plate of pasta.