Cultural heritage in your tummy

Most of the time I think we just go along without thinking much about such big themes as Our Cultural Heritage. But these days I've been contemplating more and more on this. One reason for this has been the movie Lost in Translation. For various reasons, this movie has brought up a lot of debate and thinking about what it is to be Japanese. (Some of the conversations about the movie are on my other blog.)

One way that we experience our own heritage, or other cultures, is through the food we eat. For foodies, this is obvious, but for non-foodies I think this very important aspect of our lives is overlooked. Having lived for most of my adult life (and much of my childhood) outside of Japan, one of the ways in which I hold on to my Japanese heritage is through food. When I eat something so very-Japanese like natto, I'm not only eating it because I want to, but the whole experience reminds me of times in the past. It reminds me of the homemade natto my grandmother used to make (wrapping the beans in rice straw to ferment it). When I make tempura, it reminds me of the ones my mother made, or the huge mounds of vegetable tempura that my aunt would make for family gatherings. When I make miso soup, the smell of it reminds me of the past, in a good way.

It's not just Japanese food though. Having lived in New York for many years, I feel fits of nostalgia for things like bagels and pizza and hotdogs. So, when I bake bagels, it reminds me of those monster bagels I used to get from Ess-a-Bagel. I have yet to duplicate a real good New York style pizza, though I've come close. As for hotdogs...well, whenever I am in New York I have to make at least one trip to Papaya King on 86th and 3rd for their "better than filet mignon" hotdog with a cup of papaya or mango juice.

If I look at what I eat though, it's a mishmash, as I am sure it is for most people. This past week or two for instance, we've had spaghetti a couple of different ways, a mushroom risotto, chili con carne, a chinese meal featuring sweet and sour pork, a Japanese-style and Indian-style curry (on two different nights of course), and cornbread. For lunch we often had the typically Swiss combination of crusty bread and cheese. We cooked and ate that all without much thought for cultural heritage, but what we eat reflects where we've been, and who we are.

How does the food you eat reflect who you are?

Add new comment

Filed under: