Noodle Narrative – Adrienne Liou

Noodle Narrative

Adrienne Liou

For my interview, I interviewed my childhood best friend, Paul Kim. We have been family friends our entire lives and went to the same school kindergarten to twelfth grade. He is half Korean and half Taiwanese and was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Paul is currently a student at New York University, and he is studying journalism with a concentration in food studies. I felt as though he would be a good interview candidate, as he has had an interesting experience with food in general as an Asian who was born and raised in the United States. Paul would also have an interesting perspective on noodles because he is currently studying foods in his classes.

Paul was born and raised in the south and because of this, he did not have to chance to really identify with his Asian identity. The staple southern foods are not the same as the foods he had at home as a kid. As one of few Asians in a predominately white school, he felt as though others were not accepting or understanding of his complex cultural background. Others lumped Asians into one category, but Paul was aware that there were distinctions between his Korean and Taiwanese cultures. Because of his environment, he grew up with a vague Asian-American identity. This all changed when he moved to New York for college. There is a higher population of Asian Americans there than there is in Atlanta, thus there is more Korean and Taiwanese food for him to experience. This allowed him to understand his two cultures better than he had been able to while growing up.

Because his childhood lacked a lot of the authentic and distinct Asian culture, he grew up eating noodles such as lo mien and ramen noodles. These noodles are not a good representation of true Chinese noodles as dan dan mien, zha jiang main, or dao xiao main are. While these are types of noodles that Americans label as “Asian noodles,” they are not quite traditional or authentic noodles that would be eaten in Asian countries. However, like these noodles, Paul also does not follow the traditions of someone from Asia. These noodles represent Paul as they incorporate some Asian characteristics, but they are also American.

As a New York resident, his favorite noodle restaurant is in the heart of New York City, Momofuku Noodle Bar. Not only is this restaurant in a convenient location, but it is owed by a Korean-American chef, David Chang. This chef also does not really identify strongly with being Korean. He is able to make ramen, but it is not ramen in a traditional sense. David Chang is known for his combination of Asian flavors with a French Technique. Paul is able to relate well with these noodles from Momofuku Noodle Bar and this chef because they all have Asian aspects to them, but they have a blend of other cultures as well.

Next, we discussed how Paul’s habits of eating noodles have changed over time. He describes his way of eating noodles as “chaotic.” When he was younger, his way of eating noodles and food in general was set to a specific schedule. He would eat breakfast before school, lunch at the same time every day, and dinner when his mom had finished cooking. When he started cooking on his own, he cooks when he has the time, whether it is for dinner or 3 o’clock am. He describes noodles as his favorite late night snack due to the burst of energy you get right after eating them and then the “crash” that happens shortly after.

Later, we discussed how the changes in society are influencing the noodle. Paul has become aware that Asian culture is now more prominent in western societies. As the fastest growing ethnicity in America, people are less compromising with food. There has been a shift from eating Asian-American food to eating true traditional Chinese food. There has also been an increase in distinct flavors from the different provinces in China. The phrase “Chinese food” is now too general and can be compared to saying “European food.” There is a large variety and flavors from the different areas that these generalizations are not specific enough. Now, there is more regionalism in food. For example, there is Sichuan food, Guangdong food, and different flavors from many other provinces in China.

Later in the interview, we discussed how other cultures are manifested in the noodle’s cultural DNA. Other cultures are influencing Chinese foods and noodles because people themselves are influenced by other cultures. Because of globalization, there are more foods that are merging, creating a type of fusion of cultures in food. Paul brought up an example of Vietnamese Cajun pho. This is a noodle in a soup that is traditionally from Vietnam, but when the Vietnamese refugees moved to America during the Vietnam war, they were influenced by the Cajun flavors in Houston and gulf area. This led to a fusion of flavors which became a pho noodle soup with crawfish instead of the usual beef.

Finally, we discussed Paul’s favorite noodle recipe. His favorite recipe is a Cajun pho noodle soup. This was the food that truly got him interested in writing about food. He realized that there is a lot of history to be told through food. His Cajun pho recipe took a total of four hours to complete. He was so happy with his finished dish that he went back for two more servings. When he does not have the time to make this pho dish, he enjoys making instant ramen, as most college students do. These noodles may not be as labor intensive as the pho noodles, but they still put a smile on his face.




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