While many people think of the main dish as the dominant force in a meal, the side dishes are the components that give a meal real flair and definition. The main dish in the US is often a protein, and they tend to be sturdy and hearty. Side dishes are smaller than a main and can be lighter and more playful, and change with cultural preferences more easily than a standard main dish. They’re often made with vegetables that are complementary to the main. Starches are also important as a side dish; they’re filling and satisfying, and when you have things like steamy potatoes or fluffy rice in a sauce, they act as absorbent little sponges so you don’t miss any flavor.