One of the huge advantages of urban living is being able to easily introduce kids to cuisine that does not include chicken fingers or fries. I was raised in the suburbs outside of Washington, D.C. to parents that were well-traveled, having lived overseas at various points and who are very embracing of ethnic cuisine. Dinners out meant driving to Adams Morgan for Ethiopian or to Bethesda for Indian nearly as often as getting take-out pizza. When my husband and I had kids it was never an option as to whether or not we’d continue our pattern of eating ethnic; having a baby was no reason to suddenly head to a chain pasta restaurant.
Here in the city we have an abundance of amazing, interesting and very kid-friendly foods to choose from that originate from other nations. The key is to start with fun finger foods and work from there. Herewith, a few suggestions:
Japanese: the appetizer menu alone will offer a bounty of good eats for the younger set. Try fried gyoza (miniature dumplings), edamame (steamed soy beans), shrimp or vegetable tempura, and miso soup. All are very mild and appealing to a developing palate. The more adventurous eaters can nibble on vegetable sushi rolls or ones with bits of grilled salmon or tuna. There are sushi places in nearly every downtown neighborhood, and many places offer happy hour specials during the week that include discounts on appetizers. Be sure to ask for chopstick helpers, the small plastic holders that help young diners master the tools while proving them great entertainment.
Ethiopian: your kids will be delighted that everyone eats with their hands when you head to Dukem in Mt Vernon or another local Ethiopian place. Food is served in small piles on a large platter, and eaten with pieces of injera, a spongy fermented bread. With veggie, fish, beef and goat options, there is something for everyone but a good first bet is one of the combination platters that offer yellow lentils, potatoes and carrots, and other rather benign choices.
Vietnamese: offering delicious bowls of noodles in steaming broth, with cilantro, jalapenos, chiles, and more acquired-taste items on the side, as well as interesting yet not-too-strong flavors like lemongrass-smothered white chicken, Vietnamese is a great choice for introducing kids to world cuisine. If there’s a total rebellion at your table, there’s always steamed rice that can be washed down with mango nectar. Mekong Delta, in Mt Vernon, always has kids at one of the only eight or so tables in the restaurant. The school papers and artwork displayed by the owner’s young children is a sign that kids are most welcome.
Indian: one of the first cuisines embraced by my two girls even in their early picky phases, Indian/Nepalese provides that cold-weather comfort-food answer to my family that meatloaf provides to others. Shahi paneer, cheese cubes in a rich, creamy tomato-based sauce served over steamed rice is a mild option for little ones. Choose a potato- and pea-stuffed samosa to start, then biriyani, a rice dish with nuts, vegetables, and meat, if you so choose. There are several good places to eat Indian in Baltimore; many are clustered in a two block radius in Mt Vernon.
Thai: fresh spring rolls (as opposed to fried) filled with lettuce, egg, and tofu are healthy and easy options for kids. Grilled chicken or tofu accompanied by a peanut dipping sauce is a perfect food for kids, and pad thai or another mild noodle dish is a fan favorite. A sweet treat at the end is mango sticky rice: sliced mango over coconut-milk infused rice with coconut shavings. NOTE: Thai cuisine ranges from saturated with peanuts to merely sprinkled with them; those with severe allergies should probably avoid Thai.
Middle Eastern: hummus, warm pita bread, grilled chicken kabobs—most kids will recognize these as not being too high on the weird food scale. More adventurous eaters might be entertained at the idea of eating a leaf—grape leaves stuffed with rice. From Baba’s in South Baltimore to Lebanese Taverna in Harbor East, Middle Eastern is readily accessible throughout the city.
City living is all about celebrating diversity; what better way than to introduce your kids to the world than by teaching them to embrace different cultures and people through food?
Claire Mullins was the Communications Director for DBFA until recently, when she left to rejoin private industry fulltime. She lives in Federal Hill with her husband and two girls, and eats out frequently.