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OPINION: Diversity on your plate: Why ethnic cuisine matters


In a world rich with cultural diversity, the flavors of ethnic cuisine aren’t just about satisfying hunger — they’re a gateway to understanding and appreciating the myriad of cultures that surround us. Therefore, it’s crucial for everyone to step out of their culinary comfort zones and explore the flavors, traditions and stories offered by ethnic restaurants. Doing so not only delights the taste buds, but also fosters a sense of curiosity, respect and openness towards different cultures. 

Being from Europe, I’ve had my fair share of culinary adventures. Imagine my delight upon discovering that even in Ohio, I could get my hands on culinary gems like Currywurst or Spätzle, along with foods like Hummus, Baba Ganoush and Falafel (among many others). However, it dawned on me after months of subsisting on mainly bar food and burgers that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for foreign flavors. 

While I respect personal taste preferences, I’ve come to realize that some individuals avoid ethnic cuisine altogether, whether due to disinterest or principle. Here’s the thing — I firmly believe in the value of stepping out of your culinary comfort zone. Because, let’s face it, the world is full of delicious surprises, and it’d be a shame to miss out on them.

Having a knack for German food, I was ecstatic to stumble upon Döner Kebab on the menu of a small authentic German restaurant in the midst of North Canton, Ohio. Impressed by my initial experience, I contacted the owner, Mike, who kindly agreed to an interview. 

Sitting down with Mike over a German beer to chat about his restaurant was a delightful and laid-back experience. The relaxed atmosphere perfectly reflected the warmth and hospitality that guests encounter when dining at the New Berlin Brewing Company, with the name being a nod to the town’s history as New Berlin before it became North Canton.

And, my oh my, the story behind this restaurant hit home for me. Mike had always harbored aspirations of opening his own restaurant, often saying, “That’s going to be in the restaurant.” Then, fate intervened when an exchange student from Germany stayed with him in 2011. It’s a touching story. During her stay, she would cook authentic German dishes for the family, effectively introducing them to German food. She eventually fell in love with a local woman and continued to visit after her exchange ended. Now happily married and living in Germany, the couple plans to return to Ohio.

In a light-hearted tone, Mike reminisced, “She would come back in the summers to quote unquote visit us. Where we all knew that we were a part of the equation, but certainly not the central part of the equation.”

It was during COVID that Mike began home brewing, which ultimately inspired him to leave his job, cash in his equity and embark on the journey of opening his own restaurant in 2021. 

Fusing German pub fare with his passion for beer, Mike’s vision came to life.

With his twin sons working alongside him and his wife, who is a teacher but frequently works at the restaurant, Mike receives ample support. Additionally, the logo, a stern-looking bear, was crafted by the wife of Mike’s former exchange student — referring to the mascot of Berlin.

Initially starting with a small menu, Mike gradually expanded the offerings over time. Six months ago, they introduced Schnitzel to the menu, which has since become the top-selling item week after week. People seem to enjoy trying out new dishes and flavors unknown to them, he said. 

I asked him how he thinks his restaurant is making the local community more diverse, and I completely agree with his answer.

“I think it’s exposing folks to foods that they haven’t had before,” Mike said. “And then, you know, in my experience they fall in love with a cuisine that’s new to them.” However, his menu also offers American fare, such as grilled cheese sandwiches, BLTs and more.

I then asked how he incorporates authentic German flavors while also catering to American preferences, and his response was fantastic.

“It’s an easier answer, spoken through our exchange student’s observation, which was if you’re coming for an exact replica of a taste from home, you’ll be disappointed,” he said. “But if you’re coming for a fantastic meal inspired by tastes from home, you will be in heaven.”

When discussing the promotion of cultural understanding and appreciation, Mike put it simply, “I think we are all driven by our stomachs. So an appreciation for a culture certainly can come stomach first.”

Overall, talking to Mike was a fantastic reminder that food is not just sustenance, but a bridge that connects us to different cultures and traditions. As we savor the surprises that ethnic restaurants offer, let us remember that each bite tells a story.

Wrapping up our conversation, I couldn’t resist asking Mike about what cuisines he’d like to see represented more, to which he replied that he’d love to have more Indian and Thai places. And to top it off, Mike casually mentioned a hidden gem of a Jamaican restaurant nearby. Looks like I’ve got my next culinary adventure already mapped out!

Lara Kilchenmann is an opinion writer. You can contact her at [email protected].

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