Monthly Archives: July 2016

Interview Questions

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  1. Could you please introduce yourself and tell us where you are from?
  2. What inspired you to work with a cuisine in which noodles hold prime importance? what is it that you most enjoy about using noodles as a key ingredient in a dish?
  3. What are some ingredients that you feel feel hold pivotal importance for any noodle dish? Do you feel many chefs of other Chinese restaurants take the value of these ingredients for granted?
  4. “people eat as much with their mind as they do with their mouth”, in context of this saying, how have you set up your restaurant to make the experience of your customers as authentic as possible?
  5. The Chinese are known for being extremely particular to the order of sending out hot and cold dishes. They also pay close attention to the order of savory, spicy and sweet dishes. Do you follow any particular pattern of serving your food, or is it simply served in the manner the customers ask to be served?
  6. As a chef and a restaurant owner, you must be aware that any single recipe is not just a manual for preparing a dish. The flavor, aroma and ingredients used to set up the dish all have an origin where they were mixed to obtain this flavorful combination. Is their any particular recipe that is your favorite? Do you wish to remind your customers of something or create a particular feeling in their minds when you serve this recipe?
  7. could you name some native Chinese techniques that are specially used to make noodles? are there any particular cooking utensils that are made specially for cooking noodles?
  8. Do you often face cultural conflicts? for example, do customers often tell you to add certain ingredients like spice or salt or even ask you to bring a side dish that is simply not compatible with the main dish? how do you feel about such situations.

#Domain Entry 2: The Participant Observation Method

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A very important part of researching about new cultures, or exploring anything remotely unknown is in the way in which we experience it. For example when we travel we eat the native cuisine, drink local beverages and enjoy the feel of the place as an outsider peering inside. However, I feel that if we really want to dissect the cuisine considering all of the sociological, and cultural aspects we need to be a part of it in such a way that we are also considered native.

Living in what is sometimes called one of the food capitals of India, Kolkata, I have had a very hands-on experience with food. All my life I have been surrounded with foods from different cultures, different parts of the sub-continent and the world, and mostly the unique and absolutely delicious treats which the city is famous for. Being a part of this environment, where Muslims ate biryani in a restaurant right beside Bengalis eating ‘Paanta’ bhaat, and knowing the reason why the two different cultures cooked rice in two different ways yet eat at the same place pushed me towards the participant observation method. It got me thinking that I needed to be involved in the culture if any of my research was to ever discover the distinctive and idiosyncratic practices of the foreign culture.



Participant Observation is a method of fieldwork that provides the most qualitative research results. It allows one to be a part of the whole culture while being there and therefore provides a kind of objectivity to another culture. Human beings tend to relate the other culture to their own background to give them a clearer picture of the alien environment and that is where participant observation plays the most important role. This method allows you to learn and reciprocate recipes and formulas dating back a few hundred years, which would never have been a part of discussion if the method of fieldwork were to be an interview.

Interviews, might give insight into the person, his lifestyle and maybe the culture but participant observation allows you to be a part of it and experience it for yourself, allowing you to have your own opinion and perspective on the practices of the new culture. Participation observation also allows questions to be asked while the tasks are being conducted thus allowing room to gain the necessary background insight into the day to day lives of the people and also their ancestors.

The recipe I would have liked to use in the participant observation method is the Long Life noodle recipe. Conducting research into the recipe with this method of fieldwork will allow me to see how it is made and prepared, while trying to do so myself. While at the task I would ask my hosts questions about the recipe, like why do they use those particular ingredients and why only in those specific quantities. It would be interesting to know if the ingredients put into the dish would have some medicinal or herbal qualities that benefit the human body. Also at the end the best part about this method of fieldwork is trying some for myself, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Professors’ feedback about blog entry #2

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Dear students,
We were thrilled with your second Domain entries and continue to be impressed with your insights, creativity, and investment in the material.

In this Domain entry you reflected upon the ethnographic fieldwork methods and applied them to your proposed research on the noodle recipes or other food items. We were impressed with your depth of understanding of the methods and your thoughtful probes as “anthropologists”. We particularly enjoyed those entries that included specific information on how you would analyze the noodle recipe (and/or other recipes). We also appreciated the supporting materials many of you included in your entries, such as pictures, videos, and links, etc.

Below are some suggestions for future entries.

  1. Please be sure to submit your entries on time on Domain. If you still have technical difficulties uploading your entries, please let us know as soon as possible.
  2. Please include a meaningful title for your entries and write your names below the titles. We are having a difficult time identifying the authors of the entries.
  3. Please read the instructions for each entry before writing them.
  4. When describing how you would use a fieldwork method to examine a food item, please think about the specific goals/aims, i.e., what exact you hope to accomplish? This will serve to guide you in your participatory activities and your methods for analyzing the data.

Thanks again for your great work and your creativity! We are enjoying the class!

Our best, Hong and Christine

Fieldwork in Food Culture

In Anthropology, fieldwork proves to be the major foundation of research. Having conducted my own fieldwork in a variety of different research projects, using many methods, some of which include participant-observation and interviews. It is important to remember that when deciding on which methods to use for fieldwork, there are pros and cons to every method, and these pros and cons will differ based on the research. Crowther describes participant-observation as “trying to gain an insider’s or emic perspective on a culture and simultaneously apply an outsider’s or etic perspective to draw wider conclusions about how the culture and society works” (xxi). Thus, an outsider must study the insider’s culture through actions and observations. Like Crowther, I believe participant-observation is the primary method that should be used when learning about a different culture’s food because much can be learned from the entire process: the choice of ingredients, the preparation of the ingredients, the cooking, the presentation, the eating, and the clean up.

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Prior to Italy’s unification in the late 19th century, it was divided linguistically, politically, and culturally. As mentioned in the video “A Brief History of Italy” from the Intro to Italian Food VoiceThread powerpoint, a number of dialects began to transform and solidify according to the various political and historical influences. This video mentioned the Spanish in Sardinia, the Austrians in Venice, the French in Naples, and the Muslims in Sicily, though this is just the tip of the iceberg. As these cultural influences cemented themselves, linguistic forms that were mutually unintelligible arose in the disparate regions of what is today modern day Italy. Alessandro Manzoni unified the country with standardized Italian, but various dialects persisted. I have to imagine that the differences in language created a certain inability for communication across all regions. As a result, linguistic sovereignty translated into cultural sovereignty. Cuisine is a huge part of culture, and therefore became unique from region to region in Italy, in part due to linguistic disparities. Foreign invasions and lack of unification until late 1800’s also affected noodles in Italian cuisine. Different noodles, in terms of shape and texture, come from different regions.

The author of Al Dente, Fabio Parasecoli, confirms that Italian cuisine has been evolving since the arrival of the Greeks, Arabs, Normans, and Spaniards. He also attributes this evolution in Italian cuisine to globalization, which is fast and intensifies exponentially. Parasecoli states that globalization’s effect on Italy took hold most noticeably at the end of the 1950’s during, what he calls, the “economic miracle.” This period was marked by fast growth, and Italians found themselves with more money than before. This caused a shift from the native Mediterranean diet towards a diet rich in meat, cheese, sugar, and, ultimately, fat. This caused cultural conflict because the food associated with the rich is both appealing and delicious, but compromises the health of Italians and deviates from the traditional Mediterranean diet.

After the fall of Rome, Italy had no capital or center, but rather many centers and capitals in various regions. This diversity is reflected in the cuisine. Some examples of this are:


Tuscany: “bean-eaters”/particular kinds of beef


Marche: Greek and Etruscan influence – lots of sea food, lots of agriculture


Umbria: Mountains dominate this region’s landscape. As a result, superior olive oil, herbs, and meats are characteristic of this region


Campania: The tomato thrives in this region, making pizza and pasta signature dishes


Calabria: robust fruits and vegetables


Piemonte: best butter, cheese, and milk, best wine


Sicily: dishes with sardines and salted anchovies.


These regional influences are analogous to what we have in the United States today. We associate the Mid-Atlantic and northeast with crabs and it’s superior seafood. The South is known for soul food, Louisiana has Cajun influences, and the Southwest is known for its Mexican-inspire cuisine. These are just a few examples of the way that a region’s history affects its cuisine.

Once Homemade Now Store Bought

Chinese mooncakes are a traditional dessert eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. For most families, the food is not the primary concern, but the reunification of the family for a short period of time. The Chinese love to cook and they take pride in their cooking. Whether it is something as simple as steamed bread or as complex as mooncakes, they pride themselves in their ability to not only make the wonderful food, but their ability to provide for their families. In China, the family is most important. Cooking is done for the family. Farming is often done as a family. Work is done to be able to provide for the family. Though this principle holds, as we become busier with our day to day lives, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain our traditional practices, such as making mooncakes with our families. When I was a child, every Mid-Autumn Festival, my mom and I along with some women in our community would gather together to make all sorts of different mooncakes: red bean, mung bean, egg yoke, mixed nut. We all gathered around a long table and made mooncakes production line style.  I still remember helping my mom make the bean paste with our old hand cranked grinder. I was the official taste tester of the bean paste. If we ever had extra bean paste, I walked around the kitchen with my little bowl and a spoon while the other kids looked longingly at my bowl of yumminess. Last year was the first Mid-Autumn Festival I ever celebrated without homemade mooncakes. I got them from H-Mart instead. Being at college, it is difficult to maintain some of my culture’s traditions, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy the food. One point to H-Mart for making mooncakes readily available. I must say, however, that a certain aura is lost when you just pick up some mooncakes from aisle five of the grocery store. I’ll have to ask my mom to send me a care package of mooncakes this year. Chinese Mooncake Recipe For the dough: 100g cake flour or all-purpose flour 60g pancake syrup   *normally golden syrup but that is sometimes hard to find so I improvise* ½ tsp kansui 1 egg For the filling: 150g adzuki beans 100g sugar 1½ sticks of unsalted butter Instructions for the dough: Measure out the cake flour into a large mixing bowl. Crack one egg and beat the egg evenly. Add the beaten egg into the flour and begin incorporating the egg into the flour. Next, add the pancake syrup and kansui. Mix all of the ingredients until they are fully and evenly incorporated into the dough. Sprinkle some flour onto a clean flat surface. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl, place it on the flat surface, and knead the dough until it becomes a smooth ball. If the dough is still too wet, add some flour. If the dough is too dry, add a little bit of pancake syrup. When the dough is finished, place it in a covered large bowl and allow the dough to settle for half an hour. Once the dough has had time to settle, remove it from the bowl and knead the dough again. Replace the dough in the covered bowl and allow the dough to settle as you prepare the filling. Instructions for the filling: Presoak the adzuki beans in water the night before you plan on making the red bean paste. This helps the red bean paste to soften and makes it easier to turn the beans into a pasty texture. After the adzuki beans have been soaked, boil a pot of water and allow the adzuki beans to cook for half an hour. Be sure not to mash the adzuki beans when they are in the boiling water as we do not want the water to be incorporated into our paste. I like doing this step in a pressure cooker. Remove the beans from the boiling water and put them in a food processor or a powerful blender. Blend the beans until they are a pasty texture. Blend more for a smooth texture and blend less for a lumpy textured paste. You could also do this step by hand using a hand cranked grinder. Once you have the paste the texture you want, heat a large wok and melt half a stick of butter. When the butter has completely melted, pour the bean paste into the wok. Cook the bean paste thoroughly being sure not to allow any of the bean paste to burn or stick to the wok. Create a pit in the middle of the bean paste in the wok and add the remaining butter in small chunks. Add sugar to taste. The bean paste should be a dark reddish brown color when it is finished, but it will still be smooth and sticky. Do not cook it until a crust forms; at this point, the paste is too dry. Remove the red bean paste from the heat. Instructions to construct the mooncake: Roll the red bean paste into medium sized balls. It is easiest if all of the balls are relatively the same size. Next, roll the dough into medium sized balls as well. Flatten the dough into a circle. The dough should be fairly thin so that the design from the mold is prominent. Place a red bean ball in the center of the flattened dough and enclose the bean paste in the dough. Make sure the dough is completely sealed or it will crack back open when placed in the mold. Sprinkle a little flour into the mold so the dough does not stick. Plop in the ball of dough and bean paste and flatten the ball so it reaches all corners of the mold and the back side facing you lies flush with the back of the mold. This will give the most beautiful result. Flip the mold over and gently tap it on a table to release the mooncake. Bake the mooncake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper at 350ᵒF for 5 minutes. Then remove the mooncakes and brush on an egg wash. Continue baking until the mooncakes turn light golden brown. Traditionally, the round molds and the square molds are most authentic. Nowadays, I’ve seen Hello Kitty and Rilakkuma mooncakes, even mooncakes shaped like koi fish.

The Chinese Attitude

Chinese culture has a certain reverence for food in that they believe it is one of the most important factors contributing to one’s health. First, in a more literal sense, they believe that food is a source of nourishment akin to medicine. In the markets, one will often see a variety of herbs, spices, plants, and other items considered to be “nourishing” in the form of medicine or natural remedies. Furthermore, these Chinese medicines are prepared exactly like one would prepare food, specifically soup, as a combination of these ingredients are stewed together. The preparation of these medicines requires a mindfulness not just of the choosing of ingredients for a certain individual’s needs, but also the flavor of the medicine itself.  Secondly, food and the act of eating is a very important, prominent part of Chinese culture. Eating is a daily activity and because of this, the Chinese culture takes it very seriously when it comes to make the experience an enjoyable one. In addition, eating is a very communal experience and it is customary that everyone eating, whether it be family, friends, or associates, eats from the same dishes and larger bowl of soup. While not exactly medicine, the act of eating and sense of community that the Chinese attribute to it are as nourishing as a medicine made from food could be. Having family and friends together to enjoy food creates a balanced atmosphere and traditionally, Chinese culture prominently features the idea of balance in life.

When I was young, whenever we saw my grandparents (mom’s parents), I knew that every night was a feast. There would be a chicken dish, a beef dish, a whole fish, three or four vegetable dishes, and so on. But the one night I looked forward to was Beijing Kaoya. Beijing Kaoya is roasted duck and the trick to this is heating the walls of the oven and then letting the heat coming off the walls cook the duck. This keeps the meat moist and tender, but the skin becomes extremely crispy. The roasted duck is cut and separated into meat and skin. Then everyone begins the process: You take a pancake/wrapper and spread some sauce on, which is usually hoisin or sweet noodle sauce. Then, you add some duck meat, some duck skin, and green onions, and wrap it up. I cannot get enough. Beijing Kaoya’s history can be found as early as the Yuan dynasty where from then on it was seen listed consistently on the imperial court menu. As time went on, it became a favorite dish of the upper class. Now in modern days, it isn’t necessarily a common dinner by any means, but it is not reserved for any upper class standard. Doing this assignment, made me look back on the Beijing Kaoya dinners I had as a kid, and I had no concept of this then, but that was quite representative of what I read leading up to this blog post. All of my grandma’s food brought all of my family together to just sit around a table and enjoy the food in front of us. I think that the real power in food is its ability to evoke things or feelings from us, like memories or nostalgia associated with a dish.




Foreign Influences on Italian Cuisine (Post III)

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Understanding the migration and invasion patterns of foreign cultures on the Italian peninsula is essential in order to appreciate the complexities behind the development of Italian cuisine. Although unification is a relatively recent event in Italian history, the Italian states have long since adapted to these various cultures to produce a distinctive Italian food culture (albeit with regional variations).

Under the Greeks, Italians’ food production and consumption intermingled with Greek traditions, which helped to develop a particular taste and presentation that characterizes existing Italian food. However, following the Roman conquer over the Italian peninsula, imports from all over the word (as far as China) were introduced into Italian kitchens. New ingredients such as spices and wheat further diversified Italian cooking.

Obviously, one cannot expect the cuisine consumed by current Italians is the same dish that is currently in circulation. The eating habits, as well as cooking techniques and ingredients chosen, represent the diverse culinary history of Italy. During the occupation under the Roman Empire, food preparation and production was an important cultural feature of Italian life. The only cookbook from the time (approximately I B.C.E.) discusses food preparation techniques that can still be seen in some Italian recipes today. I found it interesting to note that even under Roman rule, the ‘Italians’ were attempting to ‘standardize’ their recipes in order to avoid outside cultural influence(s).

However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Italian states began to diversify their ‘personal identities’ and their culinary rules. Thus, each region started to develop individual ways of preparing food, as well as what ingredients and recipes were used. Due to the geography and climates of the region, certain crops became staples in various regions: for example, in the southern regions of Italy, citrus fruits (including tomatoes) became characteristic of their dishes, while in Tuscany beef was a prominent ingredient.

Furthermore, diversity in starches (such as bread and pasta) became characteristic of Italian region: as noted by the picture from Tuesday’s class, southern regions preferred the spaghetti noodle (known for its hard exterior and its boiled preparation), compared to the soft egg noodle of the northern regions. Such variations can be accounted for by foreign cultures, as well as geographic constraints. For example, the southern regions of Italy are relatively close to their North African neighbors, who have been known to use spaghetti noodles in their dishes, as well as certain other ingredients characteristic of the south. However, noodles traditionally found in northern Italian recipes have little presence in these North African states. Today, each region still is characterized by certain dishes and ingredients, yet they too continue to change due to a globalized food system.

Similarly, in my culture (and Latin American cultures overall), influences from foreign cultures have significantly altered food preparation and consumption. For example, in Honduran culture, the preparation for cooking tamales often takes a few days or a week (due to processing the corn meal to make a soft flour). However, in the United States, tamales can be made in only a few hours due to changes in cooking techniques (such as industrialization of cooking tools). Although one still sees the traditional mode of tamale preparation in Honduras, street vendors in major Honduran cities sell ‘quick made’ tamales (similar to hotdog stands). Influences from indigenous cultures (especially Mayan), Spanish, French, Arabic, and American cultures are the most prominent in Honduran food culture, especially as certain regions attract more immigrants and tourists (the rural areas maintain a strong attachment to Mayan and other indigenous food traditions). Thus, migration patterns and geographic neighbors have replaced ‘conquering’ (for the most part) countries as influences on food culture throughout the world.

(Map illustrating global migration patterns)

A Mixing of Culture

It is by no coincidence that Italy offers an array of different cuisine in every corner of its peninsula. This diversity in methods and styles of cooking similar dishes was brought about by the cultural differences within different regions of the state. For it wasn’t until about a century and a half ago that Italy became a nation. A lot of these flavors and ingredients  that make up the dishes in Italy come from many different cultural regions around it and have evolved slowly and combine to shape Italy’s cuisine today. Furthermore, the regional characteristics of several dishes were brought about by years of conflict, division and difference within what is now Italy.

To begin to delve deeper into the origins of the cooking in Italy today, one must first appreciate the significance and the reach of the Roman Empire, which spanned from much of Western Europe to east of the Mediterranean Sea. This meant that vegetables, grains, spices, and other ingredients were able to be shared across the Mediterranean, North Africa, and what now constitutes Western Europe. With Italy being central in this great empire, it was able to absorb these influences from all the cultures surrounding it.

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy separated itself into different regions based on occupation by people of different cultural backgrounds. These lines drawn within the country were essential in keeping each regional cuisine unique. Influence from the Christians, the Muslims, the Spanish, the Arabs, along with many others has shaped different regions in the Italian state. These influences slowly evolved to differentiate regions of Italy by style and method of cooking. Furthermore, one may find differences in regional cuisine in Italy due to the ease of growing crops across different regions.

Similar to how Italian cuisine has been shaped by several different outside cultures, Vietnamese cuisine owes much of its history to French influence. Vietnam became a part of French colonialism in the late 19th century. During their occupation there, France contributed much to Vietnamese culture and food. Different recipes and methods of preparation were brought over by the French and adopted in several dishes.

A great example of French influence on Vietnamese cuisine is the banh mi. This sandwich embodies the cultural melting pot that occurred with French colonialism. It contains a combination of grilled meat, pickled vegetables and pate, an illustration of the Vietnamese fondness for herbs and crisp vegetables and the French influences of pate and meat. Along with this dish, the French brought to Vietnam coffee. It is now a big part of Vietnamese culture, as coffee is enjoyed throughout the day as a refresher and as a source of energy. It is loved so much that Vietnam is now the second largest exporter of coffee in the world.

The culture and cuisine of any country is ever-changing, absorbing the influences of the different  cultures that surround it. This may sound like a bad thing and a break in tradition, but it can actually be seen as something positive. This mixing of culture allows the best ingredients and methods of preparation to shine in the cuisine. It is quite evident in both Italian and Vietnamese cuisine that this cultural mixing and influence has led to beautiful delicious dishes in both countries.