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Combining the word hand(son) and taste(mat), Koreans use the word son-mat to compliment the food. One of the things that I learned during 3 years of studying abroad is that it takes a lot of effort to cook. I did not realize how great my mom was to prepare dinner in 15 minutes. When it comes to cooking, following the right recipe is of course, important. However I believe that there is something more than just following right steps. I have never seen my mom cooking with a recipe book. She always did it how she wanted, and believe me she is the best cook in the world. How is this possible? How can she cook a delicious plate without following the perfect recipe? She added a secret ingredient every time, and that is what we Koreans like to call son-mat.

When I was young i would smell delicious smell of mom cooking from my room. That means its around 7:20p.m. and my dad is about to come from work. When he comes home, mom my sister and I would gather at the dining table and start eating. Our dinner time looked very similar to the Sunday family dinner time of Chu family in the movie Eat Drink Man Woman (Lee, 1994). When ever the Chu family gathered and ate dinner together, they always had a little special announcement. My family did not have special announcements every day, but we would just talk while eating. It is nothing special, but I really enjoyed those small talks. As my sister and I grew older, all four of us gathering at dinner time got rarer and rarer. My dad always wanted us to join the dinner and sometimes got upset when we did not. I never understood him when I was young, but I started to understand the importance of spending time together. There are many times when all four of us are at home but not actually being together. We would do our own things in our own rooms. Dinner time was a chance for all of us to get together. People eat together to interact and to care. When it comes to family dinner time, that caring grows to love.

When I smelled my mom cooking at 7:20p.m, I would often go to kitchen and help her prepare dinner. Since I rarely went out with my mom to do special things, those time cooking with her became a special thing between us. She always made me taste it first and I can still remember her in joy whenever I said it was good. Just like my mother, a famous chef once said that he cooks to see the smile of people who eat his dish. I believe what he said is the essence of cooking. My mom too, always thought about us when getting ready for dinner. She remembered what we liked and disliked, and cooked a perfect dinner for us. She puts a little more extra effort in cooking because she really cares about us and hopes us to enjoy the meal; in other words, she adds her magical son-mat. In the Movie Big Night (Scott and Tucci), that  son-mat is what Primo lacked. As much as his food was not appreciated by Americans, Primo himself did not care about them. He may be the greatest chef in Italy and is making a perfect food, it will not be as great since he did not actually care about the people who will be eating it. For the big night however, Primo added the son-mat. He really wanted people to enjoy his food from the bottom of his heart and that feeling got delivered to the people through son-mat.

While watching the two movies, I tried to look for the difference of the two cultures. I did not notice any difference while I did find one common fact. Cooks love to make food for the ones who he cares, and people who eat that together gets very happy.  It is hard to explain, but son-mat actually exists. If you doubt it, try it yourself. Ask the person you love to make you a salad. Even tho it is just a simple salad, you will be amazed by how good it is.

Web Post 1

Wenkai Xu

ITAL 376 W

Prof. Hong Li

Prof. Christine Ristaino

Web Post 1

June 6, 2017

The film Eat Drink Men Women, directed by Ang Lee, tells a story of a traditional Chinese aged Chef Master Zhu who lives with his three grown up daughters. While Big Night directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott depicts two brothers who move from Italy to America to pursue their dreams. Both of the two films share one similar characteristic: they all use food and traditional culinary art to show the family relationship, as well as the main characters’ altitude and personal beliefs. Master Zhu in Eat Drink Men Women and Primo in Big Night are both marvelous chefs and have devoted much of their life in cooking. However, they are stubborn and not doing well in expressing themselves. Food or the cooking, seems like a language for them to communicate with other family members and express their feelings.

After watching both of the movies, I can relate some plots to my own experience, especially the dinner scene presented in Eat Drink Man Women. Even though none of my family members have a career in cooking, we still cherish the tradition of a big family reunion dinner and all of the family members are devoted to the dinner-making preparation. As a traditional Chinese family, when it comes to an important festival like the New Year’s Eve, all of the family members living in different places gather together to make dinner together, to chat together and to eat together. Just as Master Zhu family’s weekend dinner depicted in Eat Drink Men Women, the dinner is not merely one simple dinner; it is one family ritual: a kind of emotional bond between all the family members. I remember that I was always making dumplings with my cousins and chatting with them before the New Year’s Eve. Food preparation is a great opportunity for me to communicate with my relatives and have a deeper understanding of each other even though we might only meet once or twice a year. To some degree, food or cooking is really one indispensable element in my culture.

Addtionally, what impressed me most in both films is the collision between tradition and modern, not only in foods aspects but also between different ideas. Master Zhu and the two brothers all represent the traditional side while the opposing side is the modern one. In the Big Night, modern America’s fast-food eating styles troubles the Italian brothers greatly. Here is the dilemma of the brothers: On one hand, their customers’ expectations of “Americanized” Italian food requires them to make fast-served pastas. On the other hand, Primo’s perfectionist altitude toward authentic Italian food doesn’t allow him to make such casual food. His steadfast belief and faith towards Italian cuisines made Primo reluctant to compromise, causing a failure in attracting modern customers. Eat Drink Men Women demonstrate such collision in a different perspective: mainly the conflicts between the traditional father figure and his daughters with modern ideas. Mr. Zhu holds the traditional belief that “Being a chef is not a girl thing” while his second daughter Jia-Chien truly loves cooking. Mr. Zhu wants to keep the family together while his daughters intend to move out to seek for self-autonomy. The old traditional patriarchal status is being challenged by the modern pursuit for individualism and self-autonomy. One of Chinese traditional belief is to suppress one’s desire and to sacrifice oneself for the whole good of a community while modern individualism encourages people to pursue personal desires like delicious food or carnal love. Mr. Zhu’s loss of taste might be understood as the refrained desire. It is the conflict between the tradition and modern development in Eat Drink Men Women that gives audience an authentic view of Taiwan’s late 20th century social milieu.

Conclusively, both of the films use food as a media to show not only the family relationships, but also the conflict and integration between tradition and modern.

Food Culture, Family, and Community

Food is something that can bring almost anyone together. People all around the world have different notions of eating and community eating. Certain aspects or mannerisms in different cultures of community eating can be viewed as rude, polite, even expected or respectable. For example I just spent over a month and a half in Spain, where it is considered normal to openly watch TV while eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. While this strange custom is considered the norm in Spain, in many other cultures including our own watching tv can be considered rude. However, unlike our own culture in Spain it is considered extremely rude to be on your phone during any meal even though watching tv is normalized. We watched two movies that dealt with these themes and the cultural and community influence of food on family and our daily lives. Moreover, both of these movies (Big Night and Eat Drink Man Woman) deal with how food affects our lives regularly without even us being aware of it, but also how we deal with food, community, and eating in the modern world today. In Big Night, two Italian immigrant brothers work together running a restaurant, one the head chef and the other working front of the house as host and waiter. Each character has such an attachment to their heritage as an Italian and yet they are thrown into this new society where many Americans don’t appreciate their authentic food quite as much as their customers in Italy. It even drives the two to argue about constantly changing the menu to something more familiar to those in New Jersey. However when it comes down to it, a famous singer is invited to the restaurant for a special night and the two brothers bring everything together to prove that their dream restaurant is more than a pipe dream. That night the two brothers make “Timpano” a baked pasta inside a pasta dish. Supposedly a great tradition, the two brother bond and laugh over this amazing past time. Even though the singer never shows, the brothers stick together, stick to their heritage and Italian cooking, and never admit that they will end up working for the restaurant “sell out” down the street. This parallels the other movie we were assigned to watch, where even between all of the daughters different jobs lifestyles, beliefs, and traditions the whole family still manages to sit down every Sunday for a family meal. This family meal is so much more than just a family meeting where people sit down to eat. Each meal brings the family closer and closer, and the family progresses to discuss more modern and interesting revelations even though the original meals started out with a attitude that was closer to father knows all and everyone should listen to him. These casual sit downs eventually lead to a greater understanding between the family members who have differing lives and consequently differing viewpoints. This community aspect of eating brings people together without them even really noticing or paying attention to this healing aspect of the food.

Blog 1: Eat Drink Man Woman and Big Night

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Eat Drink Man Woman delves into Taiwanese familial culture, expertly framing it with food, which is of course a cultural staple. As Chu mentioned late in the movie, he and his three daughters all lived under the same roof, but were living what seemed like completely separate lives. There was, however, one obvious focal point: food. The weekly Sunday dinner, at first dreaded by Jai-Chien, saw the father and three sisters come together, and often, saw them relaying important life information. Jai-Chien’s real estate deal and promotion, Jai-Ning’s pregnancy, and Jai-Jen’s were all announced over a dinner. Big Night looked at similar themes and familial struggles, but through the lens of an entirely different culture. It examined the extreme importance placed on tradition when it comes to Italian food culture and also showed the viewer the give and take of two Italian brothers, Primo and Secondo. Like in Eat Drink Man Woman, these siblings also lived very separate lives, specifically in values and mindset, but were tied together by food in the form of their restaurant.

The process of making food was prominently seen in both movies. In Eat Drink Man Woman, a number of aspects of the process stood out. First, the presence of live animals in the cooking process seemed to be emphasized. In the first scene we saw Chu clean and prepare what began as a live fish. Later, he walked out to his back yard to capture a live chicken. The camera pans across the kitchen to show a group of live frogs. It seemed that every ingredient was on sight, and that Chu was involved in the entire process, all the way down to killing the chickens. The second aspect that stood out was the way every by-product of his cooking was used. On multiple occasions we saw Chu straining the fat or grease from one of his dishes onto another dish. What I got from this was that Taiwanese cooking culture is one of little waste. Everything Chu did in the kitchen was done with absolute precision, which parallels the cooking process shown in Big Night. One of Primo’s first lines is him telling Secondo not to dice the garlic too finely. Primo, the master chef, was both an artist and a scientist with his craft and its consumption. He is enraged by customers who would dare order multiple starches, because the science of pairing is of utmost importance to him. This is where we see the Italian focus on tradition when it comes to food. It’s tradition for a reason, however, not tradition for the sake of tradition. Primo is as uncompromising in his disgust for multiple starches as he is in his preparation of risotto.

In fact, the scene with the starch loving American’s was a perfect juxtaposition of Italian food culture and American food culture. Italians care about the pairing of food, and its gastrointestinal effects, whereas Americans do not seem to take these things into account. The Americans complained about how long the wait for the food was, but in Italy, dinner often goes on for multiple hours. Having lived in the United States for my entire life, but having traveled to Italy and other places in Europe, these difference firmly stuck out to me. I saw similar differences in Eat Drink Man Woman. When they ate dinner together, for the most part, they served each other, whereas in my experience in the United States, it’s more of a free-for-all. Also, the serving sizes seemed much smaller compared to those in the United States.

I feel that participant observation would be an effective anthropological method in observing both Italian and Taiwanese culture. Both movies gave a taste of what this method would show as the films paralleled the method format and I now feel that I have a better understanding of the familial relationships, norms, and food of both cultures.

Blog Entry 1

The Ang Lee’s film “Eat Drink Man Woman” expresses the story happened in a family consisting of a father and three daughters. The father is a Taiwanese semi-retired famous chef Chu and he lives with his three unmarried daughters, who all want to leave home and forsake independence. As his wife has died and a close friend passes out after, the widowed father struggles with his daughter’s willingness of leaving him. Every Sunday, the father prepares an elaborate meal for collecting the three daughters. The food preparation is precise and complicated. For every dish, the chef needs to select the fresh ingredients, wash the ingredients thoroughly, and manipulate the food for hours to provide exquisitely delicious, perfect in color, aroma, and taste Chinese dishes. This detailed preparation of food conveys the father’s concerns and devotion to his daughters. For example, in one scene, the father reviews his second daughter’s facial expression carefully after she tastes a bite of the food, seeking for the feedback. However, she frowns, showing her dislike of the food. The father suddenly becomes nervous and inquires what happened. It reveals the father’s eagerness of obtaining the daughter’s attention. On the other hand, because the three daughters are tangled with their jobs and romantic relationships with boys, the lonely father, who loses his taste and thereafter cannot work for the restaurants, detects the generation gap between him and his daughters. He feels himself useless, and seeks for opportunity to cook for other people. Therefore, in his leisurely weekdays, he begins to prepare bento for his neighbor’s daughter. In the daughter’s primary school, all her classmates are passionate about the food made by chef Chu. This helps him recover from the sadness caused by his health and family.

In the movie “Big Night”, two Italian immigrants open a restaurant in America to pursue a better life. The older brother, Primo, is a master chef and wants to make authentic Italian food. The younger brother, Secondo, is more “businessman”. He deals with money and wants to utilize the restaurant to achieve his American dream. Both these two characters express the true situation for first generation Americans, who left their country and familiar culture to an exotic one. They try to assimilate themselves to Americans while keeping their passion to their loved country and culture. Primo loves Italian culture and cuisine, and therefore distains the Americanized Italian restaurant across the street. The authentic food preparation of choosing fresh ingredients and refusing to change the dishes catering to American tastes conveys his reminiscence to his family and food in Italy. The last scene of the movie is about all the brothers making breakfast for each other, eating it with silence, and finally hugging. It is all about family and brotherhood. Even after a fight last night, a small meal of breakfast can resolve everything.

Both the two movies have some similarities and differences with my own family situations. The father’s relationship with his daughters in Lee’s movie is almost similar to my mother’s interactions with me and my younger brother. Even though growing in a legitimate Cantonese family, my brother and I are more interested in Sichuan food.

As we grew up, our dislike for food made by my mother developed gradually. Mother started to be frustrated when we prefer eating outside. I guess her feeling would be similar to chef Chu, who wants to take care of the children via preparing food for them. Second, I believe my mother encounters the same situation with Primo. As my family moved from Hong Kong to Wuhan, all the family members except my mother changed to prefer food with more pungent flavor. However, my mother still emphasized in every meal that she couldn’t abandon the Hakka style (a traditional Cantonese style) in her cuisine.

Nonetheless, studying abroad experience changed my preference to the food again. During the first semester of college life, I missed the dishes made by my mother deeply. After that, I gradually started to accept the tastes of the traditional Cantonese cuisine. In this case, my mother finally encountered the situation that is different from the two brothers in “Big Night”, who experience failure in the very last night. Primo cooks for the guests, but my mother prepares food for the family. This should be the most significant difference between my mother and the two brothers in the film. I can finally understand the love and affection from my mother’s dishes while the guests are more interested in their personal satisfaction after a long day’s work.  


Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)

  • How does food preparation and eating reveal important information about family relationships?

The father of the family is a Master Chef and treats food preparation as a sacred tradition. He holds himself to extremely high standards and will only cook complex dishes because he believes that simpler ones do not prove worthy of his time or talent. He has taught his daughters his craft and the middle daughter especially has taken to it with great skill. They join together every Sunday for family dinners to critique the quality their father’s preparation and to share important news in their lives, much of which revolves around prospects for romance and marriage. 

  • What did you learn about Chinese culture through the interactions of food and family?

I learned that food preparation remains a significant way of preserving traditional Chinese culture. Master Chu keeps the old recipes alive and acts creatively to combine new ingredients in ways that conform to traditional, accepted dishes. For example, when the banquet hall kitchen experienced a crisis with a failed Shark Fin soup, they called Master Chu over immediately, and he rescued the dish by turning it into Joy Luck Dragon Phoenix.

  • Are there any similarities between your own family and the family in the film?

In my family growing up, we shared family dinners every night. Now that my siblings and I are older and spread out, we do not dine together so regularly, but when we are all together for a special occasion, we celebrate with a Sunday dinner together after attending church.

When we visit my Italian grandparents, my grandmother will spend all morning and afternoon preparing a large family dinner feast for all to enjoy. My grandparents even cultivate their own backyard garden, so like Master Chu, they can prepare homegrown fresh vegetables for family dinners. In this, they demonstrate that they partake in food procurement as well as food preparing and consumption.

I noticed something that occurred several times throughout the family dinners displayed in the movie: as one person prepared to announce something important, they were swiftly interrupted, either by another family member at the table, by a phone ringing, by a neighbor, or by some other distraction. I can identify with this from my own experience in family of six, where, when we are all together, it can be difficult to carry on a conversation for any length of time without being interrupted by someone or something out of your control. I empathize with the daughters in the film in this regard – many of their more meaningful conversations occur one-on-one or in a smaller group setting while cleaning up after dinner.

Master Chu’s knife skills
First family dinner


Big Night (1996)

  • How does food preparation and eating reveal important information about family relationships?

Because they run a restaurant together, the brothers’ entire relationship is based on food preparation and consumption. Primo holds food quality in the highest regard, so he treats his food as sacred and despises those whom he perceives to disrespect the value of food. When a guest orders two starches together, risotto and pasta, Primo calls her “a criminal” for not appreciating his proper food pairing. Primo also loathes Pascal, the restauranteur down the street who uses Italian branding but serves American favorites such as steak and lobster instead of preparing traditional Italian foods.

Primo believes that “to eat good food is to be close to God,” and works to prepare food worthy of this comparison. He believes that this quality alone should suffice to drive patronage of the restaurant, and he does not understand what role business functions such as marketing, advertising, and beating the competition play in managing a successful business. Because he thinks that “they should come just for the food. Just for the food!”, he works harder at raising his standard for delicious food, not realizing that business success involves more factors. Secondo understands this complexity, and this stubborn disparity of belief causes friction between the brothers.

  • What did you learn about Italian-American culture through the interactions of food and family?

Throughout their day-to-day activities, the characters exhibit various moments of drama – needless aggression resulting in minor flare-ups throughout the day. This seems representative of Italian-American culture at large, where conversations can become confrontations in the spur of the moment. Due to the high passion of the Italian culture, family conversations can often involve quick escalations of yelling and shouting at each other about an issue, only to quiet down just as quickly and return to amicable interactions. 

At the end of Big Night, Secondo displayed this quality magnified by passive-aggression: Secondo harbored resentment against Primo at his perception that his job of managing the restaurant (especially its finances) proved much more complicated than Primo’s job of managing the kitchen. Secondo’s mind often goes in many directions as he works to keep the restaurant afloat, and he finds it stressful to manage it all. In contrast, he thinks that cooking is a much simpler task, so he resents Primo for only having his “head in the pots” and not contributing equally to the success of their enterprise. However, Secondo does not communicate this directly to Primo to resolve his resentment, but rather holds it in until it causes him to explode in their fight on the beach. 

Despite this harsh conversation where they are finally honest with each other, their fight de-escalated the very next morning, when they each put their arm around the other in a show of familial solidarity. They’re family, so they continue on in the struggle together, illustrating the Italian culture’s high value placed on family.

Primo tossing a Fiorentina sauce
Il Timpano

Blog Entry 1

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Right off the bat, at the beginning of the movie Eat Drink Man Woman, I realized the differences between the family roles depicted in the movie compared to that of my own. The father spends the entire day tending to his cooking and using live animals straight from his backyard to add to this Sunday meal that he prepares for his family. In a place like the US, we don’t exactly have the luxury, or quite frankly, the effort to engage in a similar cooking routine, and, instead, we tend to buy meat from the store instead. However, not even twenty minutes into the movie, I can relate to the similarities of this reluctant family dinner that occurs. Coming also from a family of three sisters who have all grown up now, it becomes difficult to all come together for a meal like this, and I understand the feelings expressed by the daughters, although I don’t agree with their reluctance. It’s clear this father uses his skill in cooking to ensure that his family doesn’t stray too far from him by mandating Sunday dinners. You could probably assume that this has been his only way to successfully bring all three of his daughters together for more than a few minutes. Additionally, you can tell that the effort the father puts into cooking, and at the end that the daughter puts into cooking, that the family dynamic is strong and stands strong, withstanding any hardships or difficulties.

In the second movie, Big Night, it’s obvious that the act of cooking together is what allows the two brothers to thrive as a family, and keeps their dynamic up through the tumultuous journey of introducing foreign tastes to new people. The similarities between this specific movie and my own family/culture lie among the acceptance of new cultures. Oddly enough, I’ve always been pretty picky (oops) regarding the food that I choose, and I have to admit that my palette isn’t the most open to new tastes. So seeing this new culture brought about to individuals with a stereotype about said culture is pretty amusing. When one of the customers at the restaurant asks “no meatballs with the spaghetti??”, the automatic response I have is to scoff, given the closed mindedness of the situation. We’re so used to things being tailored to our tastes, that our own taste buds have closed themselves off to new ideas. While this movie is more tailored towards a new food culture and not so much about family, but about bridging gaps between cultures with food, it still demonstrates how various cuisines can build foundations between individuals and cultures.



From both movies, I feel more exposed to different cultures. Within the Chinese culture, a good family dinner can be seen as one that welcomes any and all conversation and big news like “announcements” for the family. For the Italian culture, you come to realize that food crafted by the chef is an unspoken language rather than just food itself – It’s food for the heart and soul, not solely the stomach.

Professor response to Domain entry 1: CHN/ITAL 190

Dear Students,

We truly enjoyed reading your first Domain entries and were delighted by your creativity, enthusiasm, and insightful reflections.

In your writings, you demonstrated good understanding of the three sociological approaches to food studies. We particularly enjoyed the specific examples you gave to illustrate the approaches. For example, Dania’s analysis of her family’s preparation for the Dia de los Reyes holiday is a very compelling example for the functional approach. Angela’s iceberg metaphor connects the three approaches in creative and thoughtful ways. We also appreciated the entries in which your alternative representations were based on your personal learning style. Lucy’s flow chart and Ameya’s rap song are two great examples.

Our suggestions for future entries are below.

  1. While reading/watching, think what content/idea resonates with you best or surprises you the most. When writing, try to focus on one specific theme that you feel compelled to write. Our entries are short and it is not possible to touch upon all the information presented in your readings or movies. In other words, avoid summarizing all the key points in your readings.
  2. Create a concise and strong introductory paragraph to not only state your main idea but also pique readers’ interest.
  3. Try to include specifics and details in your writing so your ideas are adequately supported. You may include your personal experiences and the insights you gained in other courses/readings.

We think you had fun writing this entry. We hope you continue having fun in your reading and assignments. Please let us know if we can be of help to you.

My Learning Style and a Taste of Sociology on the Menu (Rhea Nair, ITAL190)

Learning Style As you can tell, I’m a Global, Visual and Intuitive learner. I was pretty surprised by how strongly I leaned on the last three scales, but I decided to put these results to the test with the reading we were assigned. While Breadsworth and Keil’s (third chapter of) Sociology on the Menu was certainly an interesting read, it personally took me some time to move past how dense the material was and really start thinking about food systems from a sociological standpoint. In a nutshell, what I came to realize from the reading, was the food systems can, have and continue to be analyzed in a number of different ways, and what is considered the most relevant changes and repeats itself over time. The three main approaches described in this reading, which all implicitly accounted for culture, were: Functionalism Comparison to a human body; intricate and unique parts that serve a specific function, and rely on mutual interdependence. Structuralism Addresses the need to identify and understand the underlying thought process behind individual and societal choices Developmentalism Observes and accounts for the effect of time and thus takes into account changes as well as conflicts and contradictions in food systems  

A strong haiku

after love the sweet burst of cherry tomato G. Claire Gallagher, How Fast the Ground Moves, 2001