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Noodle Narratives : Head chef of Chinese restaurant who has never been to China

Chinese food is easily found in every countries. For me, raised in China’s neighbor country: Korea, it was easier to be exposed under the Chinese cultural influence. However, I never had chances to have curiosity about how different cultures could have impacts on the change of Chinese cuisine until discussing about this during classes. I just accepted Chinese food as they were viewed in my home country without any doubt that it will be just the same in China. As I discussed more about the authenticity of Chinese cuisine in the United States, I began to raise questions about the perspectives of immigrants who were directly involved in the Chinese food industry.

Of the many Chinese restaurants around Atlanta, Man Chun Hong is one of the authentic Chinese restaurant and also a Korean version of a Chinese restaurant. When I first heard that it was an “authentic” Chinese restaurant but at the same time a Korean styled Chinese restaurant in a complete new country, the United States, everything became confusing. I decided to interview the owner or the head chef of Man Chun Hong to find out how he have adapted Chinese culture in American society. My main focus of the interview was to find out how each cultures of this own identity affected his career in bringing in the Chinese culture to America and whether he set a premium on the original meaning of the food from his home country in daily lives.

When I first picked up the phone to ask for a permission to interview the owner of the restaurant was the start where everything went against my expectations. I first explained what the interview was for in Korean, expecting the owner to be one of the Chinese immigrants who moved to Korea at a young age. Once I explained that I was a student at Emory, he said “Can we do this in English? I prefer English to Korean.”. That point I realized my assumption that he will be either Korean or Chinese might be wrong and that my focus of this interview might be changed.  While conducting the interview, I had to change the questions according to his answers to the previous questions. My anticipated results were unreachable, however I was able to find out his own unique ways in adapting new cultures.

Jason, the head chef at Man Chun Hong, was a Chinese immigrant who was born in Korea but raised in America. Although he owned a quite authentic Chinese restaurant, he said that he has never been to China before. I couldn’t understand how he could deliver a culture of a country he has never been to. Then when he mentioned about his dad as an influence of his career, I was able to emphasis the family influence of Asians on one’s career. He said, “You know the president of Korea? Her father (who was also president of Korea), Park Jung Hee. My father is his personal Chinese chef. My dad is all that.” He conveyed the importance of family member’s influence of Asian on career on that point. It was quite common for the next generations to take over the career their parents had in their lives. When this happens, usually the family has its own unique ways of cooking that no other families have. This applied to Jason’s family too. His dad was the first chef who opened an authentic Chinese restaurant with Ja-jang-myeon and Jjam-bong of Korean style. He inherited this style to his own restaurant which resulted in both even proportion of Chinese and Korean customers along with some American customers. It was somewhat interesting to find third generation still getting influenced by parents’ career “grown up in a restaurant basis”.

My second question sets were focused on whether the original dishes of his menu were affected by any factors such as the local people’s preferences or his own identity. In class, we often compared the authentic and americanized restaurants through discussions after reading and watching movies. Based on the discussions, I assumed that his own identity since he is an immigrant of more than two countries may have influences over his dishes. However, his dishes weren’t affected at all and maintained the authenticity. Rather he spoke about his effort trying to elevate the quality of food. With the recipes remaining the same, the dishes were added with the ingredients that made them healthier. He said that, “For lot of Korean customers who are health conscious, you know that noodles are made out of flour. If you noticed the color, I put spinach in it.” It was also very interesting to find that he was trying to maintain the dishes as they were back in China but trying to improve the dishes in his own ways. Although he wasn’t really aware of the significance of noodles in China, he created his own meaning of noodles when cooking.

Lastly, I focused on the environmental elements of his restaurant. I was initially going to ask about the intention of the decorations that seem to connote a certain culture. One of my question specifically focused on which decoration the owner intended to put where and why. However, the restaurant was quite modern. It was hard to tell what restaurant it was just by looking at the interior. Jason mentioned that he wants his restaurant to be the “multi-cultural”. “If you focus on only one culture, it is not going to do well. I want everybody to get involved.” He said he wanted to keep the restaurant quite modern for everybody, especially for the American customers to get involved.

Although the interview didn’t turn out as I was expecting it to be, it truly did give me new insights. On top of focusing and researching more deeply on the contents we already talked about, I could highlight Chinese, Korean, and American immigrant’s perspective on the restaurant industry and especially on the noodles. I certainly felt that it was very fascinating to see food being the great means to exchange cultures. The head chef who has never been to China before and who has earned award for top three Chinese restaurant in Atlanta surely delivered his own unique ways of adapting his experiences of Chinese food to America.

Interview with the head chef of Manchunhong

 

I did my interview with the head chef at Manchunhong, a Chinese restaurant. This interview focused on how the third generation of immigrant brought new cultures (Chinese food) and how he changed into his own ways to fit into American society.

Interview questions:

  1. In what country did you spend the most of your life and for how long? Where were you born?
  2.  Which country do you call home? (China, Korea,  America)
  3. Is this restaurant a Chinese restaurant?
  4. Did your identity, being an American, affect the cuisine? Did it change the original dishes from your home country?
  5. Did the dishes change to the local people’s taste and preferences?
  6. How did you get to start cooking? How did you end up opening a restaurant here in America?
  7. Did your father open a ‘authentic’ Chinese restaurant? Did you have similar menus to your father’s restaurant?
  8. Which menu do you think represents your culture the most? Is it noodles?
  9. Being raised in America, do you know about noodle’s cultural significance in China?
  10. Do you cook noodles with the same cultural significance as you would do in your home country?
  11.  Where do you see your career in ten years? Would this restaurant be the ‘authentic’ Chinese restaurant or Americanized-Chinese restaurant?
  12. How do you want your restaurant to be described to other people?

D6: Eating-out at a Italian Restaurant

Unlike long ago, when we had to actually visit a particular country to experience its culture, today, we can easily experience different cultures in one place at second hand by various method that had not existed before. Restaurants are one of them, which contains  one culture not only in food but also in other factors that make up one food culture. By visiting Italian restaurant last week, and reading “Eating out and  Gastronomy” ,  I could understand more in depth about one culture.

Until I read “Eating out and Gastronomy”, I realized that I never thought about what kind of changes a certain culture had to go through in order to be in current shape of restaurant.  According to the reading, it is mentioned that eating at home was only considered “safe”. Long ago, it wasn’t very normal to eat out, which is considered very normal nowadays, and that even restaurants where customers could seat and enjoy the meal weren’t something usual and rather street food was considered normal. This whole new facts made me think of my own culture. I realized that in Korea, restaurants first started as some form of street food. When public transportation was something uncommon in societies, people used horses as tools of transportation. However, there was a limit to a speed and people usually couldn’t arrive at the destination in one day and had to stay at a certain place on the way called ‘jumak’. People were allowed to stay overnight and also eat meals on their ways. Although you could “sit” down and eat, it wasn’t somewhere you would go and eat occasionally as you would go to restaurants nowadays.

I am not sure if my experience at a pizza restaurant in Italy was some form of street food that was on its progress to be a restaurant. However, when I visited this pizza restaurant in Italy, it was shaped just like any other restaurant but there were no place to sit, just like street food. That pizza restaurant might have maintained such method for economical issues or traditional issues. It did not struck me as it did now after knowing the history at that time.

I feel like although I could not perfectly relate such historical feature to the restaurant we went as a field trip, I could still notice different cultural feature in food itself. The Italian restaurant, Baraonda Ristorante, certainly was authentic. Although there are many Italian restaurants around us, they are customized to certain culture that is located in. In Korea, where I grew up the most, it was very common for people to go out and eat pasta but something that is Koreanized. Pastas that I tried at the restaurant were something that I have never tried. Some of the dishes like Lasagna were similar, however I could feel that some dishes indeed tasted like the “authentic” Italian food.

Oily but Crunchy Tangbing

Having lived in Korea for most of my life, I was able to relate and sympathize in many features of Chinese culture.  Although China and Korea are two different countries with its own language, history, and culture, sharing the edge of the country border made two countries share many things in common, especially in the sense of food and its meaning.

In the last class, we mainly talked about the attitude of Chinese people toward the food and culture.  Chinese people have two main ways to approach to the food; fist, visually and second, spiritually  but both highly valued in the right balance.  Chinese people seem to stress the aesthetics of food, the refinement of dining ware, and the elegance of the dining environment. For each dish, Chinese people would focus on the color as we talked about during class with the shark pin being the exception.

Fieldwork method for the Chinese Long Noodles (Jina Kim, CHN190)

Along with sociology, anthropology also plays a significant role in understanding food beyond its superficial sense describing the essential part being the basic foundation of culture and the society. In the reading of “Eating Culture – An Anthropological Guide to Food” the author describes in depth how anthropology allows us to reach to the historical and cultural aspect of dishes through different methods. Through the reading, I could closely connect one specific method, ethnographic fieldwork method, to understand the Chinese recipe for Long Life Noodles.

First of all, to briefly define ethnography, it is defined as the scientific study of the customs of individual peoples and cultures which further rests on the observations and experiences of the participant in a society.  Ethnographic fieldwork has been producing a holistic record of all aspects of specific culture. This method is able to analyze food from personal perspective to social structural perspectives.  Long life noodles which is considered one of the dishes that contain a certain culture would be a good example to understand this anthropological approach. Chinese people believe that the length of noodles on special occasions such as birthday has significant relation with the length of a life. Such belief would be found only in China which clearly implies the influence of the cultural aspect of dishes.

Specifically, I would conduct my study  by using the participant -observation of the ethnography fieldwork. In the last class, our group focused on the developmental approach trying to deliver the realistic problem that might occur between different generations. Although, it is highly influential among the people in China being the tradition, culture doesn’t stay the same and changes throughout the time depending on the change of the lifestyle. Considering this fact, through participant-observation method, I will be able to gain an insider’s perspective on certain culture and simultaneously apply an outsider’s perspective to draw wider conclusions about how the culture and the society has changed. Since it involves everyday tasks, I would be able to detect in which part  people put emphasis on unconsciously  in all steps of cooking which includes ingredients preparation, cooking, cleaning. Detecting each of these steps of preparing dish would allow me to know whether their belief of this ceremonial dish of long life noodle has changed solely or the importance of certain ingredients of the dish has changed. Also, to get the candid thoughts towards this event, my research could also be accompanied by interviews at educational institutions on different age levels. I could interview first to the students and second to the instructors about their personal feelings and thoughts towards such tradition. This method, as mentioned in the book, would have effective means of tracking how food traditions are learned and shared across generations, and how new foods are viewed and incorporated into cuisines.

Through the compilations of the insiders’ perspectives on food, by extension, on culture and history of their society, I would be aware of the gaps between what people say and how the way they construct their culture is put into practice experiencing the reality of culture. Overall, I would be able to put the ideas together in a wider perspective.

Domain Entry 2

As mentioned in the Sociological perspectives on food and eating, Food and eating is not a simple activity for humans to obtain required nutrients but an activity through which humans can perform one’s identity or by extension, society’s distinct cultural life. In the movie Big night and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, three approaches which are functionalism, structuralism and developmentalism can be found. Functionalism is based upon an analogy between a society and an organic system. Just as body consists of different organs with certain roles, society is seen as a set of features and intuitions which make their own contribution with functional significance. In both movies, two chefs primarily focus on the very basic steps of cooking before anything else. In Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, the first few minutes of the movie only displays the Master chef preparing for his “Sunday dinner with his three daughters” ritual from very first step which is choosing the right ingredients himself. He also emphasize on how salt shouldn’t be used at all in all dishes. He focuses to follow the tradition. Moreover, when he points out to Jin-Chein used too much ginger in her dishes, we can assume that he regards the very details very important which will make up the dish as whole in the aspect of functionalism. Also, Primo from the Big Night insists to stick to the fresh ingredients when making his dishes. Structuralism differs from the functionalism in that it claims to look below the superficial linkage into deep structures analyzing the very structure of human thought. This perspective can be shown in both movies in that both chefs tried to continue with their traditions even with some struggles. In Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, the Master chef Chu was very strict on his family ritual which was to have dinner in course in such a high quality in both the taste and the visual. Every time each of the family member had announcement to deliver which includes marriages and promotion, they would use that family time of having dinner together as a chance to be candid being away from the busy daily life of their own. Throughout the movie, the three daughters and Master chef Chu ease this struggle through the family ritual which plays the role of communication.  In Big Night, Primo also tries to stick with the tradition keep selling the genuine Italian dishes after finding what the customers really want in American style. In developmentalist perspective, social change becomes a primary focus in terms of its directions, processes and its origins.  In Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, there were two approaches: First, in family ritual and second, in society’s tradition as a whole. The Master chef Chu was very strict on his daughters to be in his kitchen for cooking. In a more broad sense, he didn’t let Jia-Chein to continue her interests in cooking but at the end he acknowledged her talent. Also, when at first he always had insisted the formal course for meal, he later knew to make it simple for Shan-shan’s lunch at school. Being simple in meal also links to Jia-Ning’s job working at a fast food store. These changes were suitable and necessary for the social change under the aspect of developmentalism.  

Sociological Perspectives on Food and Eating

The primary focus of this book is not on the biological but on the social and cultural dimensions of the food system. According to Goody, providing and transforming food can be conceptualized in terms of five main processes. These include production, distribution, preparation, consumption and disposal. Examining the multiplicity of flows and linkages among these processes, the sociologist questioned about the ways they are organized, the ways the system is monitored and regulated.

In nutritional terms, human beings have surprising diversity of the sources from which they can obtain the nutrients required to keep their bodies in existence and to fuel their day to day activities. Unlike any other omnivores, they share truly impressive nutritional versatility. However, such feature involves certain risks that can  lead to bad experiences.

For humans, eating is not simply an activity aimed at obtaining required nutrients. It contains the cultural sense. The most fundamental distinction made by human beings is between edible and inedible, indeed some being rejected as unacceptable depending on their cultural experiences and also ‘consuming’ meanings and symbols. The symbolic dimensions of the foods we eat have such central importance being virtually limitless and also being imbued with meanings of great significance according to the occasion. They are often associated with festivity or religious observances. However, the food symbolism also has darker sides such as dangers of disease, immorality or ritual pollution.  Food exchanges between individuals can be used to symbolize the expression of patterns of social differentiation. These include class, gender, age and ethnicity.

Food is also central to express individual identity. As Fischler points out, the process is not only conceived as a physiological but in terms of human beings’ beliefs and our collective representations. Both in terms of the formation of individual identity and the transmission of culture from generations, the process of socialization has become central importance internalizing the norms and values of society. Moreover, socialization is not merely a passive process but being aware of accepting an over socialized view of the human individual from conflicting pressures. Thus, crucial feature of nutritional socialization involves learning how to reduce the risk of hazardous substances in life. Such actions leads to distinguish foods from non-food establishing the conventions of food.

The question now arises as to what theoretical resources have been brought to bear by sociologist to analyse food systems in terms of their symbolic properties and social processes. Goody came up with three main approaches  under which studies of food and eating can be classified which are functionalism, structuralism and developmentalism.

Functionalism is based upon an analogy between a society and an organic system. Just as body consists of different organs with certain roles, society is seen as a set of features and intuitions which make their own contribution with functional significance. Although functionalism has remained at the core of sociological analysis, due to severe changes in the social system, it is now considered old fashioned.

Structuralism differs from the functionalism in that it claims to look below the superficial linkage into deep structures analyzing the very structure of human thought. It is examining a wide range of anthropological material and ethnographic data which lead to recognition of universal, underlying patterns. Seeing food and eating from a structuralist perspective, the structuralist gaze is directed towards the rules and the conventions that govern the ways in which food items are classified.

Finally, the developmentalism is something of a residual category into which can be place a range of approaches which exhibit common features and preoccupations. In this perspective, social change becomes a primary focus in terms of its directions, processes and its origins. With this perspective, in terms of food and eating, we can observe a degree of menu differentiation.

About me

Hello.  My name is Jimin Kim.  I was born in Korea and was mainly raised in Korea except for three years of my life when I went to New Zealand to study English.  My experience in New Zealand exposed myself to various cultures. Since then I started to gain interest in learning different cultures. I later attended foreign language high school in Korea. I majored in Chinese along with English. Then I decided to go abroad to study.  This decision made me attend university in the US, here in Emory.  With the precious opportunity of the freshmen seminar, I chose to extend my interests in various cultures and found this combination of Chinese and Italian classes perfect for me.

To briefly talk about who I am other than my academic interests and experiences, I am an outgoing person who likes to be involved in social events. I tend to socialize with others in both informally and formally. Especially I love to be in situation where you can communicate with others in natural environment like dancing with others. Although being in a new cultural atmosphere is making me be myself a bit difficult, I hope to get along with other students taking this course too.

 

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