Katharine Shilcutt, writing for the food blog of the Houston Press, has done some ground-breaking work on the gastronomic-linguistics-meets-cultural-norms front. While (or perhaps because) her project falls short of being a doctoral thesis, it's highly illuminating. It's hilarious. And—this is the greatest praise I can marshal—it's worth clicking through a four-page article to read. The project is entitled "Texan Concepts of Ethnic Food: Breaking It Down, Venn Diagram-Style."
Shilcutt describes her project as follows: "I polled Texans—not just Houstonians—on what they thought of when they were asked to consider foods from places like Ethiopia, Lebanon, Germany, and several other countries.... And then I set out asking people that were actually from those countries what their idea of commonly consumed foodstuffs were."
The result is a series of Venn diagrams. On one side: what Texans thought people from another culture ate. In the middle, overlapping section: foods that both Texans and folks from the culture in question named. In the final section: foods that only people in the given culture named.
So, for example: Texans think of Mexican food as including fajitas, refried beans, and tequila; Mexicans and Texans named tortillas, menudo, and tacos; Mexicans only named micheladas, chilaquiles, and carnitas.
Image source: Houston Press.com