The History of Ramen in Japan

Cydni Holloway


Professors Li and Ristaino

9 August 2019


The Complex History of Ramen

Abstract: In this paper, I attempt to explore the history of ramen. Ramen is linked to the different stages of Japan’s development, and I thought it was important to show. Ramen has ties to both World Wars, and the industrialization of Japan. Ramen transformed from a food that was associated with working class communities to a food that was enjoyed by trendy youth. Additionally, the food was so fundamental to Japan that was able to survive the food rationing system during the second World War. Ramen is Japan, and this paper seeks to explain why.

            The new food craze in the United States is ramen. Trendy ramen restaurants are popping up left and right in buzzing cities, and food enthusiasts are flocking to the restaurants to try one of Japan’s most famous dishes. America’s newest exotic and trendy dish has been a staple in the Japanese diet for centuries. The dish gained popularity over a century ago in Japan because of its affordability and accessibility. Ramen and Japan are inextricably linked to one another. The history of Japan has been reflected in the history of ramen noodle soup. In this essay, I will be examining the complex history behind Japan’s national dish.

            In everyday American life, ramen is associated with college students who have limited budgets and new trendy eateries. One of those trendy eateries opened in New York City a few years ago and is known for being one of New York’s best ramen restaurants. When the owner of the restaurant, Ivan Orkin, was asked what ramen is to him, he responded by saying that “you would think it’s just soup noodle-I wouldn’t blame someone for thinking that-yet it’s really anything but” (Kasper). In just a couple of sentences, Ivan was able to summarize what ramen means to so many people. Essentially it is just a soup noodle dish. Ramen is a soup dish with noodles, stock, and flavoring sauce. The noodles in ramen are particularly unique because they are made from wheat flour, water, salt, and kansui, which is baking-soda flavored water. The kansui is what makes ramen noodles unique. It gives the noodles it’s slick texture and distinct yellow color. Like China and Italy, different regions in Japan have their own techniques of making ramen noodles. Western Japan is known for having less Kansui in their noodles, while the east and northern parts of Japan have more Kansui. The broth component in ramen is made from cooking meat, usually chicken, pork, or seafood, down to a simmer. The meat used in ramen broth also varies by location. Ramen shops in Tokyo almost exclusively use chicken for their broth, while ramen shops in Kyushu make a very distinct broth with pork and pork bones. The last component of ramen is the season sauce known as tare. The main three flavors of tare are salt, soy sauce, and miso. Almost every ramen chef makes their own version of tare that they keep unique (Solt 3). Ivan Orkin is known for making his ramen unique with a Sofrito tare. Sofrito is a seasoning blend made of garlic, onion, and bell peppers that originated in the Dominican Republic. Orkin says that the sofrito gives the dish “layers, and layers of flavor” (Kasper). Ivan’s ramen shop is located in New York City, and New York City is known for having a large population of Dominican Americans. The intermingling of Japanese and Dominican cultures is the perfect example of how cultures mix to transform traditional dishes, and believe it or not, ramen itself is another example of that.

            Japan’s national dish is actually a Chinese food. Historians debate over when and how the noodle soup was brought to Japan. Some scholars say that a neo-Confucian, Shu Shunsui scholar brought the noodle dish to Japan when he escaped the Manchu dynasty in China and fled to Japan to be an advisor to Tokugawa Mitsukuni, a Japanese Lord. Despite this story being a great example of how the history of Japan is reflected through the history of ramen, by showcasing the close relationship between Japan and China, many scholars think that this narrative is an attempt by Japan to elevate the cultural beginnings of Ramen. The main issue with that theory is that there are no records of Sshunsui cooking ramen(Herman). The more accepted theory is that ramen was brought to Japan in the late 1880s as Chinese migrants moved to Japan and worked as chefs in Chinese restaurants in Japan. An authentic Chinese version of ramen was served by Chinese cooks to other Chinese migrants who worked in the Japanese port city of Yokohama. As time passed and as Japanese workers began enjoying ramen, the dish began to resemble Japanese food culture more. Chefs began to include soy sauce, pickled vegetables, and pork into this dish (Solt 5).

            In fact, the dish was originally referred to as “Shina Soba”. “Shina” means China and “soba” means noodles. The term “shina soba” is not frequently used anymore because of its ties to Japan’s imperialism in China. After the United States and its allies defeated Japan in World War II, the Chinese government began to protest Japan, and the term was no longer used on a mainstream level in an attempt to separate Japan from its past that was heavily criticized. However, the term is still used by Japanese nationalists who look back on Japan’s imperialist decade with nostalgia. The other term for ramen, Chuka soba, was popularized in the 1940’s, and is still used to refer to ramen until this day. Chuka soba is used interchangeably with Ramen(Herman).

            After its initial appearance in the late 19th century, ramen quickly grew to be one of Japan’s most popular dishes. The growth in ramen was synonymous with the industrialization of Japan. As wages for Japanese laborers increased in the 1890’s, so did the amount of independently owned eateries in Japan. A survey conducted by the Tokyo municipal government shows that “by 1897 there were 476 formal restaurants, 4,470 small eating and drinking establishments, 143 tea houses, and 476 sake houses (Solt 22). Industrialization in Japan continued to grow after the first world war. In fact, Japan’s “industrial output rose from 1.4 billion to 6.8 billion yen” (Solt 22) within only 4 years. As Japan’s manufacturing and industrial industries began to grow, its agricultural industry remained stagnant. Additionally, the booming agricultural industries in Japanese colonies, Taiwan and Korea, began to out produce Japanese farmers, driving profits from Japanese goods down. As working in the agricultural industry began to be less appealing, men and women moved to metropolitan areas to search for better work. When these people moved to cities to find better jobs, they also found shina soba. Shina soba fit the needs of their busy lives (Herman). It was convenient, affordable, hot, and delicious. The dish was made relatively quickly and consumed even quicker. Additionally, compared to traditional Japanese soba noodles that were made without meat, the meat in ramen made it hearty and filling.

            Another factor in the popularization of the noodle was the invention of the noodle making machine. The machine initially appeared in Japan in 1883, and in only a few decades, using the noodle maker became more popular than making noodles by hand. Similarly, raw goods such as flour and soy from the countryside began to be delivered quicker to the city quicker, and this sped up the popularization of ramen (Solt 24).

             Ramen’s humble beginnings and controversial political ties stayed with the food for decades. The “low status of Shina soba- a dish introduced by people from Shina (a defeated nation, no longer considered worthy of emulation after the Sino-Japanese war), unlike more highly regarded foods such as bread and cake, which had been introduced by westerners- illustrated the class differences associated with the primary consumers of each type of wheat- flour-based- food”(Solt 23). Part of the reason western foods like bread and cake were seen as more elevated than ramen is because the west represented the imperialization that Japan was trying to emulate.  This is another example of how ramen mirrored the socio-political forces of the time. The idea that ramen was a food for and by the common people of Japan was illustrated by the first Shina Soba Producers’ Trade Union of greater Tokyo in 1928(Solt 24). This trade union also shows how the working class were beginning to emerge as a political force in Japan.

            However, the noodle soup’s popularity died out during Japan’s involvement in World War II. After Japan was defeated in the second World War and lost its food producing territories like Taiwan and Korea, the nation began to face food shortages. Additionally, one of Japan’s staple foods, rice, became limited as rice harvests began to fail in East Asian countries(Lombardi). In fact, the United States government issued this statement regarding rice harvests and the quotas that rice farmers were expected to meet:

                        “the delivery of rice is annoying the farmers so much that so much that some of

                        the most needy have even hanged themselves. The newspapers avoid reporting                                such tragedies. It is not a bit necessary for farmers to deliver any part of their                                hoyu-mai (rice quote for living) in order to complete their rice delivery quota; as                                     long as they do not sell all or part of their delivery quota to illegal channels. Some                youth organizations posted bulls, etc., warning farmers against the black market,                                   but I contend that before doing so, they should make the authorities decide on a                                     more reasonable quota so that farmers can complete their delivery one hundred                                 percent” (Lombardi).

This quote shows how food was used as a political force after World War II. The United States government issued this statement to make their control over Japan and its resources seem reasonable. The wanted to seem like they were prioritizing the needs and wants of the Japanese. However, in other political sectors, like the Communist Party, used this statement to show the inefficiencies in capitalist governments. The Communist Party wanted to show that major decisions should be made by working class everyday people, and not large corporations or detached governments. At this time, America was in control of Japan’s post war government and began to flood the nation with wheat. The wheat was turned into both bread and ramen that was entirely controlled by the government. In an attempt to make sure that everyone was able to receive the same amount of food, and to limit the threat of food shortages, the government made it illegal to buy or sell foods during this time(Herman). The major problem with Japan’s food rationing system is that it ran almost 20 days behind schedule at some points in the year. This caused black market vendors to open up. In order to avoid starvation, Japanese people began to depend on the Black markets as a method of survival. Wheat that was secretly meant to go to flour mills, was sent to the black market where ramen was made. This was a very dangerous job, and the chance of being arrested was extremely high. In fact, the Japanese mafia controlled most of the Black-market shops and they extorted vendors for money. In Tokyo alone, an estimated 45,000 black market stalls existed(Lu).

            As the government started to remove restrictions on food, especially wheat flour, the number of ramen shops in Japan began to rise. The number of shops rose quickly, because creating a ramen shop was easy to set up and an easy way to make money. The only things you needed was a set of equipment that included bowls, chopsticks, noodles, soup base, hot water, and toppings that large corporations would rent out to smaller vendors. Additionally, as people returned to Japan from the war, they began to look for ways to make a living. The food that was initially known for being a dish of and by common people kept its reputation intact. Many Japanese people used ramen as a method to reinstate themselves in Japanese everyday life(Lu). By the mid 1950’s ramen reached its pre-war glory. From the 1950s-1970s, Japan began to experience another huge economic boom. Transportation infrastructure was being constructed and new developments were being made for the 1964 Olympics in Japan, much like the ramen boon that took place in the early 20th century, many industrial workers who helped to build many of these new projects ended their work day craving a nutritious and filling meal that they could afford. The food soon became an everyday item, especially for people who grew up during the World War II period that used ramen as a way to get by(Lombardi). In a sense, ramen provided a sense of nostalgia to the Japanese who lived through the war.

            Another reason for the popularization of ramen was the shift in what was considered healthy and nutritious during the United States occupation in Japan. The ministry of Health and Welfare began to heavily promote the idea that wheat was far more nutritious than rice, and that rice eating people were extremely different from wheat eating individuals. One article states that “The character [seikaku] of rice-eating peoples and the character of wheat-eating peoples are naturally different, where the former believe that people eat because they exist, while the latter believe that people exist because they eat. Each of these are the result of the types of food that they eat, and while the former is resigned and passive, the latter are progressive and active” (Lombardi).  Another nutritionist went as far as shaming parents for feeding their families rice by saying “Parents who feed their children solely white rice are dooming them to a life of idiocy. . .. When one eats rice, one’s brain gets worse. When one compares Japanese to Westerners, one finds that the former has an approximately twenty percent weaker mind than the latter. This is evident from the fact that few Japanese have received the Nobel Prize. . .. Japan ought to completely abolish its rice paddies and aim for a full bread diet” (Lombardi). The quotes show that food culture goes above and beyond what is available to eat most of the time. It is partially about being able to keep up with a certain image. Japan saw the western world as something to aspire to be. And in some ways, Japan was very influenced by western ways of life. While the quotes are extreme examples of portraying the western diet as the better diet, the food intake was linked to the intellectual levels in the smarter countries. In fact, when instant ramen was initially invented, it was initially marketed to housewives and people with families, because the wheat based dish was seen as being extremely nutritious (Solt 67).

            By the 1980’s, what ramen stood for began to change. The dish that was quickly made at pushcarts on the street for just a few yen, began to have a different association. The pushcarts began to close and were replaced with ramen shops that specialized in different styles of ramen. Ramen became trendy and began to be associated with the “young urban consumer who was labelled with the term Shinijinrui, “new breed” (Lombardi). Ramen went from being a dish that resonated with less affluent people to a trendy dish that was more about taste and eating out with friends that a nutritious meal. As the status of ramen elevated in Japan, ramen chefs began to create their own twists to the dishes. Ramen chefs even began to reach a certain level of acclaim in Japan. Ramen chefs. including Ivan Orkin, who was mentioned earlier in this essay began to talk their specific ramen styles. Orkin explained that his “ramen style is a very small, niche market. The most popular style is the tonkotsu, where ton means pork and kotsu means bone. The pork bone soup is very milky and rich. I like it very much, but I tend to like to cook a lighter style. As a chef, I love sending people home to feel good for many hours after they eat my food” (Kasper). A ramen museum was even built to praise the food and introduce people from all over the world to the complicated history of ramen.

            Finally, ramen turned into a Japanese dish. In an attempt to dissociate ramen from its Chinese origins, ramen chefs began to wear traditional Japanese clothing while preparing the dish. They also began to remove the red and white decorations that symbolized China and replaced them with traditional Japanese decorations. In the early 2000’s, Japanese people began to migrate to different parts of the world, and brought their culture with them. Ramen became a worldwide phenomenon(Lombardi). Ramen shops all over the world began to open up, and many people, particularly, trendy younger people, began to catch on. Today, ramen serves as a symbol of Japanese culture on an international level.





















Works Cited

“The Art of the Slurp (or, How to Eat Ramen).” The Splendid Table,

Herman, Alison. “The Messy History of Ramen.” First We Feast, First We Feast, 1 June 2018,

Lombardi, Linda. “The Social History of Ramen.” Tofugu, Tofugu, 11 Aug. 2014,

Lu, Hunter. “The Illegal Ramen Vendors of Postwar Tokyo.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 24 Aug. 2018,

Solt, George. The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze. University of California Press, 2014.

crawfish and pasta-cydni holloway

Crawfish and Pasta


Pasta sits upon the shelf

Crawfish crawls on the ocean floor

One has a shelf life

One lives a shelled life

And Yet

Both foods bring enormous

Amounts of Joy

Pasta and Crawfish represent something

They stand for something bigger

Pasta is Italy

Crawfish is Acadia

how is it so?

Pasta is kneaded and rolled

Crawfish crawls until it is caught

And then, both are boiled

One is inanimate

Lifeless, motionless, inert

The other is animate

Conscious, breathing, alive

And yet

Both foods bring enormous

Amounts of Joy

Pasta is the food of Italy

The people of Sicily, Tuscany, Calabria, and Umbria

Crawfish is the food of Louisiana

New Orleans, Plaquemines, and Bogalusa

Italian pasta evolved from Chinese noodles

Crawfish evolved from its biological predecessor

Crawfish is to Louisiana


Pasta is to Italy

Paranephrops planifrons







Pasta traveled from China to Italy

From Merchants who exchanged cultures

Centuries ago

Crawfish traveled from

The different crevices of the ocean

Both embody





I chose to imitate “the poetry of pasta” in my poem. I chose this piece because I enjoyed the way the poet described how pasta was the result of cultural exchanges by visualizing the journey that pasta made. When the poet wrote that pasta “swam all the way across the Atlantic to America,” he or she personified pasta and brought the food to life. This writing technique is effective because it helps readers connect to pasta on a deeper level. By giving pasta human qualities, readers are able to appreciate, be compassionate towards, and form relationships with the food. I also enjoyed how the poet was able to mention numerous types of pasta towards the end of this poem. I thought this was the perfect poem to imitate, because I would be able to compare and contrast pasta and crawfish. Like pasta, crawfish is delicacy in Louisiana. Families gather during crawfish season for what is known as “crawfish boils”. The men of the family usually buy live crawfish by the pound and boil the crawfish with spices, lemons, oranges, celery, onion, garlic, potatoes, corn, and sausage. The process of boiling crawfish is almost as complex and hectic as a kitchen full of Italian Nonas making Sunday dinner. The bright red crawfish are washed off with a water hose to get the extra mud off of the “mudbugs”. This usually draws the attention of the kids, who stop their games of hide and seek, to see if they can pick a live crawfish up without getting pinched. As the crawfish cook, tables and chairs are set up, and old newspapers are placed on top of the tables to absorb the juice from the boiled crawfish. Teenagers are usually in charge of filling coolers with ice and sodas, or “cold drinks,” as they are called in Louisiana. Before I Let Go by Maze plays in the background as the hot crawfish and fixings are poured on the newspaper. As the steam rises and then disappears, the smiles on faces become evident. Conversations begin to die off as everyone picks up a crawfish, takes the head off and sucks it, peels the tail, and pinches the meat. Like the chefs that are described in the Rhapsody of Pasta, the men responsible for boiling crawfish are quickly put back to work as “additional requests suddenly arrive” (Xi 455). The chefs hurry back to the boiling pot, making sure to be receptive to criticism by making the next batches of crawfish spicier or putting more corn in the batch.  This scene is common across Louisiana, and speaks to the power of Crawfish.

I learned that pasta is a living part of Italian culture. I always thought that pasta was an inanimate object that has stayed the same for many years. The poet made it apparent to me that pasta is ever evolving and it runs through the veins of Italian people. The poet describes pasta as being “strong”, and in many ways, it is. Pasta, like the Italian people, is strong. For a food to survive for centuries and be able to retain its integrity, it has to be strong. Through my writing, I was able to realize that crawfish is no less important than pasta. Pasta is eaten year-round by people all over the world- far more than crawfish. In contrast, Crawfish is a seasonal food that is eaten in very specific parts of the world.  Because of that, I felt that crawfish was less significant than noodles. Through writing this poem, I was able to realize that both foods make people feel a warmth that travels through their bodies and makes their hearts smile. Eating both crawfish and pasta symbolizes ritual and tradition. Crawfish boils have been a tradition in Louisiana for multiples decades, and methods of preparation have changed very little. Crawfish boils happen on special occasions like Easter Sunday and during family reunions. My grandmother ate crawfish on Easter Sunday. My mother ate crawfish on Easter Sunday. I eat crawfish on Easter Sunday, and my children will do the same. While “pasta may have a much older pedigree, going back hundred-if not thousands-of years,” (Demetri) it is no more important of significant than the less recognized food traditions in Louisiana.

The piece that I read has cultural DNA throughout. The poet strategically used Italian words throughout the poem to embody Italian culture more effectively. The poet also mentioned many types of pasta and their English translation. For example, the poet mentioned vermicelli, which translates to “little worms.” By doing this, the reader is able to develop a deeper understanding of Italian culture through noodles. I attempted to embed cultural DNA in my project by mentioning cities in Louisiana, such as Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Opelousas, Plaquemines, and Bogalusa.  Most of these cities are not well known, but crawfish is extremely important in these cultures. Many of these cultures thrive on the crawfish and seafood industries and make most of their money from crawfish. I thought it was important to mention these cities, because they are an integral part of my relationship with crawfish.

Overall, my poem attempted to compare and contrast crawfish and pasta. Through this project I was able to learn that both crawfish and pasta hold a special place in people’s heart, and symbolize life, love, and family, tradition, memory, and ritual.

Cydni Holloway- What is the noodle?

The noodle is a food that is eaten in numerous countries around the world, but ​what exactly is the noodle and how do we define​ ​it​? From a biochemical point of view, most noodles are a combination of eggs and flour. These two simple ingredients are found almost every crevice of the world, and are relatively inexpensive. The flour and egg mixture, that only begins to resemble noodles after hours of mixing, kneading, rolling, cutting, drying is made of mostly carbohydrates and proteins. These two macronutrients give the body long lasting fuel and energy. The practicality and accessibility of noodles makes it a staple food. However, the noodle goes beyond its practical uses. Noodles in both Italy and China serve as pillars for community and tradition​. For these reasons, I define the noodle as a multidimensional, yet practical food item, that serves as an anchor and a symbol of stability in many households across the world.

The noodle is multidimensional both literally and figuratively. In both China and Italy, the noodle takes on various shapes and clings to sauces that have wildly different flavor profiles. Two types of noodles that date back to ancient China are the shui yin and bo tuo. The “shui yin is cooked by pulling the dough into strips as thick as chopsticks, cutting these into segments 30 cm long, soaking in a dish of water, then pressing them into flat noodles shaped as a leek leaf and cooking in a pot with boiling water. Bo tuo is especially smooth and delicious” (Ma and Zhang 209). Similarly, noodles in Italy come in various shapes and sizes. For example, Bucatini are “thick spaghetti-like noodles with a hole running through the center” (menuism), and they are usually served with buttery sauces. On the other hand, Ditalini, is a “tiny tube-like pasta​” (menuism). In this way, the noodle serves as an unofficial symbol of the diversity that is present in China and Italy. China is a massive country with diverse regions and groups of people, and it is well-known for its long history. The noodles are analogous to the country as a

whole, as they have been around for centuries, and represent the different regional cultures by having such variation in how they are made. For example, East China is known for Shanghai noodles. Shanghai noodles is a mouthwatering combination of fragrant, flavor packed green onion, cabbage, refreshing ginger, and a choice of meat. The journey that your taste buds go on while eating Shanghai noodles is nothing short of marvelous. The flavor profile in the noodles completely mirrors the cultural profile of East China that is known for its light and mellow, yet flavorful cuisine. On the other hand, North China is known for its Beijing fried bean sauce noodles. These noodles are brown in color and delectably sweet in taste. The fried bean sauce noodles mirror the sweet tastes that are common in northern China. In Italy, noodle shape and sauce depends heavily upon the region in which the noodle dishes are being made. For example, noodles in the southern region of Italy, which is home to breathtaking beaches and fresh seafood, is often paired with the locally produced olive oil. For these reasons, noodles serve as a clear reflection of Italian and Chinese cultures.

Additionally, the noodles play an integral role in food culture, because people are able to experience highs and lows with the noodle right by their side. In Terry Durack’s Noodle, the narrator’s grandfather ate the “glossy, gleaming, and studded with mushroom and pork-and-for such a special occasion-abalone” long life noodles for his special 60t​ h​ birthday in a room filled with laughter, warmth, and sounds of his grandchildren slurping the lengthy noodles as they ate (Durack 88). The same man also ate the long-life noodles at his 100th birthday celebration as he basked in his loneliness after outliving most of his family members. The long-life noodles symbolized tradition and stability in many Italian and Chinese homes. Noodles are there for people during their highs and in their lows. In many Italian-American homes, the entire family

gathers on Sunday afternoons to eat a big pasta meal (Oteri). First and second-generation Americans continue to keep this tradition today in an effort to hold tight to the traditions from their homelands. The dish would usually consist of a bright red sauce made from perfectly ripe tomatoes and fusilli that was made by Nona’s only a few hours prior. For many Italians, “Pasta means Italy”, and being connected to Italian culture means eating pasta (Identify). Not only does pasta symbolize Italy’s diversity, but it also acts as a unifying force that is able to anchor people in Italian culture. In Italy, pasta brings people together on a micro and macro level. Pasta acts as a great unifier in Italy, Pasta is able to bring families together, they bond with pasta making techniques that have become integral parts of family. Pasta also unites the different regions of Italy due to the shared consumption of specific types of pasta; and finally, pasta is able to unite the entire nation because of the pride many Italians share in pasta.

However, pasta doesn’t solely have emotional ties in Italy. Growing up, my mother would cook what she called “spaghetti and meat sauce” every Thursday. No matter what was going on in our hectic world, I was always comforted by the taste of spaghetti that had been drenched in butter and the canned onion and garlic tomato sauce that my mom bought in stores. The dish would always be ready by the time I made it home, but I would always make the garlic bread. As my stomach growled after a long day of school, I would eagerly set the oven, cut the French style bread, add the garlic butter sauce, and warm the bread until it was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. This scene remained the same for almost every Thursday of my life, until I moved to college. It still brings me an incredible amount of peace to think about how that one meal, would always make my day just a tad bit better.

Going back to my initial definition of the noodle, a​ ​multidimensional, yet practical food item, that serves as an anchor and a symbol of stability in many households across the world; The multidimensional aspect of the noodle standout to me the most. The noodle is integral in so many cultures, and has been able to travel from China to Italy, to the rest of the world, because it is able to change shape and form. In this way, the noodle is limitless. I am looking forward to witnessing how the noodle continues to transform as time passes.









Cydni Holloway blog #2-The pristine dining table

I am Cydni Holloway, and I am a student at Emory University. I conducted this study because I wanted to learn more about my grandmother’s dining room table. Growing up, it was always sort of a mystery for me, so I thought it would be interesting to observe the table from an outsider’s point of view.

When I let my grandmother know that I would be coming over to learn more about her kitchen table, she did like any grandmother would, and asked me what I wanted to eat. I told her that crawfish étouffée sounded good and she agreed. I let my grandmother know that I was there to observe her dining table, but I also wanted to be as hands on as possible and help her cook the étouffée. I did this because the anthropological method that I decided to use was participant observation. According to Crowther, participant observation involves immersion and helps a person understand the culture of thing they are studying from an authentic point of view which contributes to a “greater body of work of social anthropology” (Crowther, 2013). I wanted to understand how my grandmother’s dining room table was used and perceived from an outsider’s point of view, and this method seemed most applicable and logical for this anthropological study. Directly participating in my cooking and eating process would allow me to get a true sense of what her dining room table actually was.

As I observed this dining room with a fresh pair of eyes, I noticed it looked spotless. The dining room was right next to kitchen. It was a spacious, yet intimate room. Behind the dining room table sat a display case that contained all of grandmother’s china. These beautiful and timeless blue and white plates looked like they had not been touched in years. In front of her perfectly displayed China, sat my grandmothers dining room table. It was sturdy and looked freshly polished. It was free of scratches and looked almost brand new. It was a medium caramel brown wooden color. The table’s legs where thick and had beautiful detailing on them that reminded me of the detailing that can be found on Roman columns. The table was an oval shape, and had six chairs spread around it.

As the fragrance of onion and crawfish began to fill the air, what once was diced onion, butter, and flour began to resemble étouffée, the dining table still remained spotless. I asked my meme why she didn’t use the table more frequently, and she let me know that it’s how she grew up. It’s been a family tradition to reserve the dining table for very special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. She said she didn’t know where this tradition came from, but she said it was common among everyone she knew.My grandmother’s explanation made me feel like I understood the kitchen table a little more. It was about traditions that were passed down, and traditions don’t always make sense or have clean explanations. My grandmother was fine with not knowing the specifics ,and so was I. She also let me know that dining room tables were meant to be preserved and kept in pristine condition in her culture. Junru mentioned that the “Chinese stress the aesthetics of food, the refinement of dining ware, and the elegance of the dining environment”(Junru 32). This statement reminded me of my grandmother’s dining table. It functioned as a massively beautiful piece of decoration that took up space, more than it functioned as a place where people eat.

Once the food was ready, my grandmother asked me to set the table. I pulled the yellow place mats from the drawer next to the oven, and grabbed a couple forks and knives. Slowly, the piece of furniture came to life. It was almost as if the golden-brown table went through a renaissance. As the savory étouffée pleased every taste bud in our mouths, we were both sure to not spill anything on the table. Every time I picked my ice-cold cup of sweet tea up to take a sip, I was careful to place the cup back down on my table mat to make sure that the condensation on the outside of the cup wouldn’t touch the wooden surface of the table. I did this out of respect. This piece of furniture seemed to be loved and respected by my grandmother, and I decided to do the same. Some people show that they love an inanimate object by using it constantly, while others try their best to preserve these objects. My grandmother preferred the latter.

After we finished eating off of paper plates that had far less value than the china plates that sat behind us, I offered to clean the table. I offered mainly because it was the polite thing to do, but also because I wanted to fully embrace being a participant observer. My grandmother insisted that she clean the table. I figured that she wanted to clean the table because she wanted it cleaned a certain way. After the place mats were put back in the drawer next to the oven and the dishes were put in the sink, the dining table transformed back into a mystery and something to be avoided and protected from damage.

As I reflected on the evening that I spent with my grandmother, I wondered why she allowed us to have dinner at the table that was reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. After a few moments, it dawned on me. The table was not about a specific holiday, but it was about special times spent with family


“Introduction” in Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food by Gillian Crowther.  Preview the document

“Food and Drink Traditions” Preview the documentin Chinese Food by Liu Junru.

Cydni Journal #1: Gumbo

My favorite dish is Gumbo. Gumbo is a creole soup dish. The soup is made from a flour and oil base know as roux. The roux is then seasoned with the creole trinity that includes, bell pepper, onion, and celery. The roux is then diluted with a stock, usually seafood stock. Finally, a variety of meats are added to the soup. My family usually adds chicken, shrimp, blue crab, ham, and a variety of sausage. Gumbo represents my cultural background because the dish has roots in my hometown, New Orleans, and has both Creole and Cajun influences. My family is Creole, and I grew up making all types of Creole and Cajun dishes with my grandmother as a kid. She taught me how to make jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, stuffed bell peppers, and crawfish bread just to name a few. These dishes are unique because they are influenced by French, Spanish, West African, Native American, and Haitian cultures. Similarly, my family heritage is very diverse and has roots in Haiti, West Africa, France, and Spain. In fact, my mother’s maiden name is “Jeanpierre”, which is a Haitian Creole surname.

I could’ve picked any Creole dish, because I think they are all equally delicious, but gumbo holds a special place in my heart, because preparing it has become a family tradition for me. My family only prepares gumbo for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I only eat it a couple of times a year. We usually wake up very early to do all of the preparation. My mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, and I each have our own specific roles. I usually peel and devein shrimp. My mom boils fresh shrimp heads to create her homemade seafood stock. My sister cuts up huge amounts of garlic, onion, celery, and bell pepper.  My aunt cuts up different types of sausage and seasons the chicken that goes inside the gumbo, and my grandmother makes sure that everyone is doing their job. After hours of hard work, the dish is finally ready. We all grab our bowls and fill them with a generous serving of rice, and a nice serving of gumbo. I was known for eating all of the shrimp out of the pot. We would pass the bottle of file seasoning around the table and enjoy. The first few bites made all of the hard work worthwhile. Over the years, my family has made so many memories in the kitchen preparing gumbo, and for this reason it is my favorite dish.

There are plenty of theories on how gumbo originated. Some people say that it originated from Bouillabaisse, which is French seafood soup. However, that theory has been disproved because of the major differences in preparation technique. Some critics of the theory claim that the Bouillabaisse explanation for gumbo is an attempt to white wash gumbo by implying that gumbo began with the French elite in New Orleans. Other scholars believe that Gumbo came from West African slaves that were brought to the French colony in large numbers. In many West African languages, the word for okra is “ki ngombo” or simply “gombo” and okra is included in many gumbo recipes and is used as a thickener. Gumbo was once associated with both the West Indies and New Orleans, because both places had a variety of soups that used okra as a base. However, as time passed, the dish solely became associated with New Orleans because of how much the people in Louisiana embraced the dish. Beginning in the 19th century, recipes for different varieties of New Orleans style gumbo began to appear in cookbooks. The interesting and complicated history of gumbo, mirrors the history of New Orleans. Gumbo makes me proud to be from New Orleans.

Photo of myself (far right), my older sister(far left), my grandmother, and my little brother.


  • 2 pounds unpeeled fresh large shrimp
  • 1/2 cup butter, divided
  • 2 (32-ounce) cartons chicken broth
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, sliced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle amber beer
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup green onion tops
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 pound lump crabmeat
  • Cooked rice for serving


  1. Peel and devein shrimp, placing shrimp shells in a large pot. Refrigerate shrimp until needed.
  2. In a large pot, melt 1/4 cup butter over medium heat. Add shrimp shells and cook until pink. Then add broth.
  3. Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm until needed.
  4. In a large Dutch oven, cook sausage until browned. Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  5. Add oil and remaining 1/4 cup butter to Dutch oven. Heat over medium heat until butter is completely melted.
  6. Add flour and stir with wooden spoon until smooth.
  7. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently until roux is a dark caramel color. This will take 30 to 40 minutes.
  8. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  9. Add green pepper and celery and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring often.
  10. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.
  11. Add beer and stir in well.
  12. Pour shrimp stock through a fine-meshed sieve into Dutch oven. (I like to add it in 3 separate additions, mixing well between additions.
  13. Add Cajun seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and bay leaves, plus the reserved andouille sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
  14. Add green onions, parsley, and shrimp. When shrimp are pink, remove from heat and stir in crabmeat.
  15. Serve with white rice.


Source for information about the history of Gumbo: