A Bite of Culture – Food as a Reflection of the People

By Emily Kim

Every country has its own unique cuisine. This is why, often enough, one of the first questions we ask someone who has returned from a trip is, “How was the food?” More than visiting a country’s famous sites and attractions, I like to travel to new places to try their food. Throughout my life, I have realized that food is so much more than delicious substances that fill one’s stomach. Rather, just like language, music, or any other aspect of culture, food can reveal so much about the country from which it originates. Three cultures (and therefore food) have dominated my life and, together, they have defined my identity. Allow me to explain.

Whenever I return to America after travelling, I am always shocked by the enormous portion sizes. Everything is unnecessarily huge! In addition, there are always so many choices on the menu that it is hard to decide just what to order. On top of all the choices, there are also so many sides as well! Salad, soup, and fries, just to name a few. There are so many elements, but they are all clearly separate entities. And while this nature of American food may be overwhelming at times, I think it sheds light on various aspects of American culture. We Americans like things big and feel constrained by limitations. It also reveals our individualistic nature as well; we like the power to choose and respect the boundaries we establish between things like work and play, friends and acquaintances. Lastly, one cannot forget the diversity of American cuisine. In the States, you can find authentic food from everywhere! This is only fitting, for America is a melting pot, home to people from all over the world.

Korean food also reveals so much about the Korean culture, the culture of my ethnicity. In a traditional Korean meal there are usually one or two main dishes accompanied by numerous side dishes. Instead of each person ordering their own dish, the whole party will share all of the food on the table; it is too much for one person to enjoy all by him or herself. This manner of eating reveals the communal nature of Korean culture. There is great emphasis on generosity and hospitality, and one of the biggest ways this is expressed is through food! Korean food can also be very interesting and creative. On the streets of Korea, you will find traditional foods transformed and adapted into dishes you would never expect. Take the french fry battered corn-dog or bulgogi pizza for example. It mixes old with new, often producing a combination that makes both even better. This reflects a progressive side to Korean culture and its emphasis on innovation.

Perhaps one of the most unknown and underrated cuisines in the world is Indonesian food. Having spent half of my life living in Indonesia, I have come to love the country, culture, and of course, food. While Indonesian food may not always look the most appealing due to its many spices, curries, and its tendency to be all mixed together, the flavor of each dish certainly packs a punch. Similarly, the country of Indonesia is a hidden gem. There are so many breathtaking sites and attractions that no one has ever heard of. At first, the people may seem shy and reserved, but once you befriend them, they are some of the most sacrificial and hospitable people you will ever meet.

American food, Korean food, and Indonesian food are undeniably some of my favorite cuisines, and I do not think that it is a coincidence that these three cultures have all played a crucial role in shaping my identity. This is because, as I mentioned before, food is so much more than something with which to to fill our bellies. When we take a bite of a nation’s food, we get a taste of its very own culture. And based on my experience, if you love the food, chances are you will love the culture as well.

Photo from Pexels

Emily is a rising senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Occupational Science. After spending the first nine years of her life in Southern California, she moved to Indonesia with her family. It didn’t take her long to fall in love with her new home, the people, and especially the food. During her time there, she made friends from all over the world and developed a strong interest in cultures and languages. In her spare time, Emily likes playing sports, brewing Thai Tea, and simply spending time with her family and friends.