Culinary Tourism of Italian and Chinese Cuisine: Naya Shim

Culinary Tourism of Italian and Chinese Cuisine: Is it Too Late to Turn Back?

Abstract: I took a chance on a new Netflix show to watch called, “The Chef’s Line,” which is a competitive cooking show that takes line-chefs from a top restaurant and everyday home cooks to battle out dishes from the home cook’s own ethnic cuisine. Judges with years of experience then critique the dish’s execution of authenticity, flavor, creativity, and texture. It was an interesting comparison between the tastes of home and professional culinary technique, which made me wonder if tradition and authenticity can truly be beaten and if not improved by chefs. However, as a viewer of the show I also became aware of my attraction to the pageantry of food in the world of cooking shows and docuseries. This paper explores the way the humans consider food as a spectacle (specifically via culinary tourism) and how globalized cuisines struggle to maintain and preserve the authenticity of its national culture through diaspora, economic growth, media and social conduct.

Food in its traditional sense was served as a medium to nourish the body and bring people together, but affluent modern-day societies are reassigning this initial purpose of food to nourish desires, feast the eyes, and distinguish people by class, race, and privilege. The heavy reliance on visuals in correlation with the rise in media makes it even easier to influence what consumers eat and ultimately prevails the human body’s natural intuitions such as the innate sensation of hunger. Although globalization has economic and political benefits on an international scale, it is detrimental to the survival of ethnic cultures, especially in the age of information and technology. Chinese and Italian are two of among the top globalized cuisines that have successfully gained an upper-hand leverage of influence through food, yet the countries also exemplify challenges of keeping the authenticity of their cultures and history alive. Therefore, with the commodification of culinary tourism, globalized cuisines cannot be, and are not, authentic cuisines. Is it too late for Italy and China to turn back?  

Even though food is a commodity itself, the commodification of the aesthetic of food has given rise to a whole new industry – culinary tourism. The first-world luxury of culinary tourism and the constant accessibility to food prioritizes the innovations for visuals and tastes at the cost of a dish’s cultural token. The dangers of this process called deterritorialization, “or the delinking of cuisine from place,” is that food can inherently encourage stereotypes and close-mindedness towards traditions and rituals that have been a part of a national identity for generations (Farrer 9). The consideration of culinary tourism as a luxury derives from the idea that food is sought out for the experience rather than an element necessary for survival. The purpose of food has been redefined to validate the trendy lifestyles of upper and upper-middle class consumers. Whether that means paying a visit to Italy or China for food and drinks, or simply going to a restaurant in a new city or small town, culinary tourism has opened up opportunities to travel the world without exactly leaving a country, all thanks to the clever engineering of urban foodscapes. For those with financial capital that can afford to participate in culinary tourism, “consuming ethnically coded food is more than a cultural activity closely related with kinship and ritual; it is also a long-standing material practice in global commerce and exchange” (Mannur 28). As a result, acquiring cultural capital has become just as much of a sign of wealth and prosperity as financial capital.

The first and most obvious identifier of wealth and lifestyle in [Chinese and Italian] cuisine is the difference in setting of casual dining and fine-dining. With this, people start to make criteria for higher and lower tastes, as “taste for fine cuisine is an organizing practice that makes distinctions not only among dishes and their flavors but also among the people who make and consume them” (Farrer 5). Italian cuisine’s association with fine-dining comes from use of highly esteemed chefs creating art pieces whereas many Chinese take-out restaurants make quick food that is casually meant to eat at one’s own home. Chinese takeout food is “bland, cheap, and greasy,” often a product of a family-run business instead of trained professionals (Wu 39). In fact, chef’s raise more concerns about the jeopardies of accurately depicting the appearance of their food because “the photographs impinge on the artistic value of the food. Amateur photos taken in dim restaurant lighting on smartphones fail to capture the artistry of the food as intended by the chef” (McDonnell 244). Regardless of dining experience and setting, one of the handful similarities between Italian and Chinese cuisine is that they fit into the global mentality of capitalism because most of its food is convenient in their own unique ways, especially when it comes to the cereal-based foods. Cereal based foods are also the most sensitive to demand and selection pressures because of its convenience and malleability to be paired with many flavors and ingredients regardless of its authenticity. Preparing pizza or pasta in the house seems like an attainable task, as dried pasta, sauces, cheese, and pre-made dough are easily found in the aisles of any grocery store. Unlike Italian food, these certain spices and ingredients for Chinese recipes require a separate trip to an Asian food market, making homemade Chinese dishes not so convenient for non-Chinese cooks. “There exists a demarcation between those who eat for sustenance, and those who eat for something more – whose class position puts them beyond the exigencies of calories for cost, thereby enabling expressions of alternative logics imbricated with cultural tastes” (McDonnell 264). In the realm of fast-food, Chinese take-out is meant for sustenance as it never fails to deliver on a rainy or snowy day, holiday, or late-night snack. Chinese take-out also does not require much dining furniture due to the user-friendly containers and plastic utensils it comes with. Meanwhile, pizza and pasta require an extra set of plates and are not as easily transportable or accessible 365 days a year from restaurants. Authentic taste is believed to be able to derive from both casual and fine-dining settings, but culinary tourism has actually ruined the chances of genuine authenticity as a characteristic for either atmospheric setting.

            Culinary tourism is intensified via social media platforms and blogs where aestheticism is appreciated and endless records of food are kept. Whether it is through writing, photos, or videos, media has a significant role in globalization as “transmitters of instrumental symbolizations—in all the dimensions in which globalization proceeds” (Kuang 70). Along with this new approach to a culinary gaze comes the term “foodie,” which is any person who has a love for eating, publicizing the experience of, and trying new ones, too. A foodie’s participation in the culinary media realm shape and give rise to globalized cuisines, encouraging voyeurism and degrade the attractiveness of home food production (McDonnell 242). Correspondingly, there becomes is an increased pressure for restaurant-owners and chefs to constantly evolve dishes that cater to this up-and-coming generation of food connoisseurs that will, in essence, publicize and criticize the food and restaurant for free. While some foodies and tourists are attracted to the idea of trying many styles of familiar dishes, others look for new exotic flavors and composition. Unfortunately, the concerns to make food desirable and edible for a global audience still largely dilutes the meaning of authenticity.

When it comes to food, the definition of authentic can mean anywhere from the environment, the people, ingredients, flavor, recipe, and even the technique. But out of all of these conditions, authenticity most often associates itself with the concept of home. However, the continuous diaspora of immigrants and migrants inevitably impacts the authenticity of many tastes and cultures as they make themselves at home in new regions outside of their place of origin. Cultural exchange can occur over communication or trade, which makes food vulnerable to such external influences that can alter recipes, techniques, ingredients, and introductions to new flavors. Italy and China happen to have deep histories with much geographical diversity that also face the challenge of their own regional influences, especially pasta. (Italy’s Culinary Heritage 8). However, immigrants embrace the burden of bringing the most authentic forms of themselves under specific boundaries when it comes to culinary tourism. It is no easy task to introduce anything unfamiliar, foreign, or exotic when it comes to food practices without any negative connotations that derive from stereotypes and cultural biases. Unfortunately, Italy and China already have contrasting reputations that are in place – romantic and exotic – and face different obstacles when it comes to meeting global spectators’ expectations.

The globalization of cuisines means it has been generalized to embody the perception of the home-country; advertising the good, testifying the bad, and hiding the ugly. This is where media is both a helpful and hurtful tool when it comes to establishing a national image. Although some photos and videos can be set up to prejudicial information, others act as a very transparent lens that give a firsthand look at the culture and lives of native people. The problem with this is that like many countries, some regions are more developed than others. But media has the scary ability to twist reality and words to exhibit any type of visual evidence in support of any sense of barbarity, immediately putting one’s own culture superior to the other as an excuse to form a valid, but possibly incorrect, opinion. From personal observation, media and entertainment in America, associates Italian food with fine-dining, romance, familiarity, and professionally made. Contrastingly, Chinese food is synonymous with take-out, cheap, exotic, and family-owned and operated. It is important to distinguish the differences between the familiar and the exotic as part of the presentations for Italian and Chinese cuisine. Though many of these characteristic traits are used as methods to further promote culinary tourism, the immigrants are, in essence, accepting their new identities that foreigners have established for them to assimilate themselves with. Therefore, not only does globalization drag out the lineage of food away from the country of descent but also the people. Regional dishes “are living records of the way in which a society lives, thinks, and feels,” which makes food a very central aspect towards the understanding of distant culture (“Italy’s Culinary Heritage” 8). As globalization and the popularity of culinary tourism grows, so does the fabrication of foodstuffs and the loss of historical records and tradition, slimming the chances of recognizing pure authenticity.

The demands for culinary tourism of any globalized cuisine is made possible in almost every major city in the world due to ethnic enclaves. The irony of globalization is that it disassociates the native people farther out from home and attracts foreign people in. It is a common misconception that the best place to get authentic food is the country itself of that particular cuisine because culinary tourism around the world is synthetically fashioned to any newcomers. The same then applies to ethnic enclaves that were once sources for some of the most authentic versions of food one could get outside of the home-country since the first ethnic businesses to open are usually food related (grocery stores, butchers, and restaurants) for the sake of recent immigrants to have access to ingredients native to their country and prepare dishes from home (Il Ventre Di Torino 95). Constant language barriers and cultural pressures for immigrants over an elongated amount of time led to the production of their own jobs and entrepreneurial endeavors, which ultimately formed communities such as Little Italy and Chinatown. These small businesses “offer employment opportunities for newly arrived migrants, who might not have language skills to find jobs in the host country” (Il Ventre Di Torino 95). Interestingly, the labels of these two ethnic enclaves seem to reflect the same perceptions of Italy and China as previously mentioned. “The establishment of food-related businesses [usually] indicates that migrant communities are putting down roots,” but it seems that Italy’s so-called roots were given more room to grow than China’s (Il Ventre Di Torino 96). Italy has been given the title of a little-country whereas vast China is confined to a town. This observation ties back to the stigmatization of China’s association with the exotic and dirty and Italy’s style of familiarity and cleanliness as a branch of European culture from a Eurocentric standpoint. A more in-depth observation for the so-called confinement of Chinatowns is that “in a restaurant kitchen that is largely mono-ethnic or where entry is closed by religious, linguistic, or other barriers, the culture of that kitchen will spread in a more limited fashion” (Farrer 14). But when it comes to Chinese food, the preparation may require some extra knowledge, skills, and tools to execute a noodle dish that simply cannot be imitated by any restaurant.

Due to culinary tourism, ethnic enclaves are not always the best representations of their home countries. In fact, it is quite opposite, as ethnic enclaves have become a spectacle rather than an embodiment of so-called true culture. For Chinatowns, the evidence of this is embedded in the elaborate gates of Chinatown, splashes of red and names such as golden, panda, wok, lucky, palace, jade, dragon, and garden are displayed to capture the crux of China’s civilizations. On the other hand, Little Italys around the world are also a spectacle with the air filled with the voices of loud Italian accents, open kitchens that showcase pizza dough being tossed up, and the Italian flag as the color scheme for many shops. As much as the food and culture in both Chinese and Italian cuisines have undergone many changes, the common theme across all ethnic enclaves is that they are frozen in time. There are no imperial gates in modern China or fast-pizza joints on every block in Italy, but these are the consequences of rebranding or traveling cuisines, which “are usually still identified through place names and are re-grounded in new settings, through indigenization, rebranding, and other processes of adapting to local circumstances” (Farrer 1). As a brand, Littly Italys and Chinatowns go untouched and are never elaborately updated amongst the rest of the urban cityscape they are located in, perhaps because it is the only way to keep the essence of the culture visual to the eye. Again, it all comes back to the notion of the heavy reliance of aestheticism in modern-day life. This is at no fault of the immigrant families because it is their role as business-owners to tailor to the demands of consumers. The diminishing sense of authenticity is largely at the fault of society and the consumers for the lack of knowledge in cultural relativism and bias.

Unfortunately, culinary tourism and the efforts to be widely accepted even effects the home-countries themselves. The Porta Palazzo, a multiethnic market environment located right in Italy, just recently experienced a change in the 2000’s. Author Rachel Black recalls her second visit to the market without a couple who sold live chickens. It turns out that during renovations, the administration prevented the long-time vendors from returning because of public health concerns that derive from live poultry. Another fellow vendor “noted that this was a huge loss to the market in terms of authenticity” (Il Ventre Di Torino 115). Even ethnic enclaves within Italy itself has lost a sense of its own domestic authenticity, which is the harsh reality that culinary tourism dawns upon many ethnic communities. One of the many dilemmas attached to indigenization is the association with Asia and dogmeat, where the traditional and ethnic practice is criminalized in the western world especially, in the United States. It is one example of a part of China’s select regional cuisines that cannot be embraced, as dogmeat is used as an excuse to humorize Asian culture and evidence to further support the claim of such primitive behavior (Wu 42). This stems from the cultural bias of American families forming close relationships with their pet dogs, and the failure to understand the medicinal practice of eating dogmeat that Chinese people for thousands of years have benefitted from. There is undoubtedly a hypocrisy and cultural ignorance towards Chinese cuisine’s traditional medicinal usages, as the iconic dish chop suey that usually incorporates recognizable meats, “derives from the Chinese phrase zasui, which refers to a miscellany of chicken livers, gizzards, fungi, bamboo shoots, pig tripe, and bean sprouts in a brown sauce” (Chan 178). As a result, cultures must willingly be rebranded under a specific list of conditions that are conventional to a widely Eurocentric audience.

However, countries have utilized the soft power of food by enacting policies and organizations not only to increase tourism, but to encourage agricultural exports and express cultural diplomacy (Farrer 15). The overall objective of government involvement is to establish a set of conditions that becomes nationally, and later globally, accepted for a recognizable identity under their own terms. Therefore, culinary soft power can be utilized by “local, regional, or national governments to promote and sustain culinary styles or traditions that are meant to be representative of a nation” (Assmann 1). In this case, food is a great tool to infiltrate the lives of others and provide a learning experience, not just a dining experience. Italy has done this by establishing the first annual World Pasta Day on October 25, 2006 mutually around the same time the Porta Palazzo was making its adjustments (“The Truth About Pasta” 25). The global celebration of pasta on this day is also a moment to educate the world about pasta’s cultural significance and honors Italy as its birthplace. China has taken the direct-route of media and took a federal investment on a state-run food docuseries called, A Bite of China, to showcase stories of the connections people have with food, the diversity the country’s true regional cuisines, and the elaborate preparations real Chinese food requires to counter the conventions of general ts’s chicken and lo-mein (Kuang 69). For Italy, the country makes efforts to overcome the stigmatization of the unhealthy attributes of pasta whereas China broadcasts different regions of China and reflects on its national history to highlight the details of “the country’s foodscape in terms of its discursively constructed history, culture, and materiality (Kuang 69). By backing up knowledge with factual statements and evidence, nations intend to transform the misinterpretations or misunderstandings behind many of the stereotypes that impact one’s experiences from any predispositions.

It is worth recognizing the industrialization of food as an experience, because the epidemic of culinary tourism has undoubtedly affected every globalized cuisine’s chance in the world to re-trace the roots of its own past in the search for authenticity. With the multiplicity of skewed impressions and records on food experience through the parallel growth in media, it is very confusing for the consumer to understand a strict definition for authentic Italian and Chinese cuisine. However, food is still revered as a part of daily life, which means an opportunity for nations to perpetually educate and familiarize themselves through food every day. So, to answer my question earlier – yes – it is indeed too late for Italy and China to turn back from globalization and revive a traditional authentic identity. On the bright side, there is a promising future for countries such as Italy and China because globalization is an opportunity to redefine a nation’s identity and reputation to shape a whole new meaning of what is authentic. By enforcing the establishment of national cuisine and utilizing the power behind food, it is time for new traditions to take place.




Works Cited

Assmann, Stephanie. “Global Engagement for Local and Indigenous Tastes: Culinary Globalization in East Asia.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, vol. 17, no. 3, 2017, pp. 1–3., doi:10.1525/gfc.2017.17.3.1.

Farrer, James. “Traveling Cuisines In and Out of Asia: Toward a Framework for Studying Culinary Globalization.” The Globalization of Asian Cuisines: Transnational Networks and Culinary Contact Zones, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 1–19.

“Il Ventre Di Torino: Migration and Food.” Porta Palazzo: The Anthropology of an Italian Market, by Rachel E. Black, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012, pp. 93–118.

“Italy’s Culinary Heritage.” The Classic Italian Cookbook, by Julia Della Croce, Dorling Kindersley, 2000, pp. 8–17.

Kuang, Lanlan. “China’s Emerging Food Media: Promoting Culinary Heritage in the Global Age.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, vol. 17, no. 3, 2017, pp. 68–81., doi:10.1525/gfc.2017.17.3.68.

Mannur, A. “Culinary Nostalgia: Authenticity, Nationalism, and Diaspora.” MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, vol. 32, no. 4, 2007, pp. 11–31., doi:10.1093/melus/32.4.11.

McDonnell, Erin Metz. “Food Porn: The Conspicuous Consumption of Food in the Age of Digital Reproduction.” Food, Media and Contemporary Culture: the Edible Image, by Peri Bradley, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, pp. 239–264.

The Truth About Pasta.” The Truth About Pasta, Oldways Preservation Trust , 2006,


Journal #4 Naya Shim: A Taste of Independence

“Work hard and earn everything you have, Naya. This way, no one can ever take anything from you.”

My mother used this mentality and saying to push me to learn everything I know today. Her biggest goal for me as her oldest and only daughter was being independent, and it all started in the kitchen. Our small, yet stuffed fridge was the holy mecca of food; it had everything from steaks, beef short ribs, ox-tail, ground turkey, kimchi, pesto, Greek yogurt, rice cakes to soy paste. I guess this was just the epitome of living in a Korean-American household.

Average Shim Household Menu on a Saturday:
8:00AM – The thick aroma of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and toast would fill up our home in the morning, especially on weekends. Waking up to the sound of bacon sizzling on the stove and the smell of bacon and eggs was the best. We’d walk down to a cloud of hot smoke-y air from the heat of the stove. But smelling the food itself from upstairs was definitely enough of a reason for us kids to get out of bed. (I learned pancakes were just a way for my mom to get us to eat our fruit, decorating it with a colorful array strawberries, blueberries, and bananas).

1:00PM – Lunch time meant something quick and easy for my mother to whip up in the midst of her busy day full of housework: fettuccine alfredo with chicken and pesto.  Often eaten with chopsticks in my home, Alfredo sauce was our favorite, and my mom would make a quick and easy recipe from scratch using heavy cream and fresh parmesan cheese. If the food processor is going, it meant she was making pesto for that day. Grinding up the olive oil, parmesan, basil, pine nuts, with a dash of salt was enough to overpower the smell of chicken grilling on the skillet – our protein element for the dish (pasta was also the safest option for lunch when friends came over for playdates on the weekend because who doesn’t love pasta?).

7:15PM – Dinnertime was a family favorite and considered the most important meal of the day because dinner meant family time. No matter how busy my dad was for work, he would always make sure to come back to eat with us. For my mother and I, dinner meant bonding time. It was common to eat a Korean dinner. It was as if my mom wanted to remind the family of our roots and culture at the end of the day. Kal-guksoo was the first [Korean] dish I ever learned how to make; it was easy, delicious, and acceptable to be eaten at any time of day. We ate this dish at least once during the weekend, but it didn’t always have to be dinner. Sometimes we’ll have these noodles for breakfast.

This kind of bonding time with my mom was silent – we did not speak. Though the kitchen was loud enough already, my mother did not have to explain herself or the recipe. Pure. Focus. I just watched my mom dance around the kitchen while I cut potato she gave me and a small knife to practice cutting with, but what took me 10 minutes to dice a potato took her 10 seconds to finish all the vegetables for the broth. How did she do it? Dinner was the most elaborately prepared meal, and I carefully watched her prepare two hours beforehand: *chop chop chop chop* the sound her quick knife work of mincing garlic, julienning carrots, dicing potatoes, and slicing green onions.

The best way to describe the kitchen before dinner is organized chaos. The sound of clashing pots and pans hitting the stovetop, the sink running, the water boiling, the fan going, and the knife chopping against the cutting board. It was the perfect formula of sounds for kal-guksoo noodles with banchan (korean side dishes at home usually consist of kimchi, seasoned bean sprouts, green peppers with soy paste dipping sauce). She made preparing the same dish in three different ways for the family look easy. Yes, THREE. The first bowl was made without any veggies or meat for my picky little (and youngest) brother, he got served first. Then, she added the main ingredients for the broth and served my brother and I the original simple noodle dish. Lastly, she would add the seafood and spicy red pepper paste to make a spicy version of the dish for herself and my father. But this sequence also meant, the children would eat before the adults get their meal. This was against all of my innate Asian filial piety instincts.

“Excuse me, miss? Do you mind bringing out my kids’ dishes first if they are ready? They are hungry,” my mother would ask the waiter at a restaurant.

My mother always puts the family before herself, and it isn’t only with noodles or in the home. She would serve herself last, but if my mother felt ill, too tired, or didn’t have time to cook, there would be no meal to serve. As the oldest and only daughter, I learned my duty was being the “second mother” since the day I learned how to make kal-guksoo. Sharing this recipe and experience with me was her way of passing down her magical wand of power in the family.  It was this day I learned that being independent meant not only being able to take care of yourself, but others too. And this, was the start of my journey to feel empowered and capable.

*Phone conversation last week* “Naya, thanks for sending me pictures of the food you make! I think it’s so funny that you told me you didn’t want to be like me when you were little. A-housewife-that-spent-all-her-time-in-the-kitchen. Look at you now! You’re always in the kitchen cooking in your free-time.”

This is true. Over the years I have learned to use food to my advantage and show people the extent of how much I truly care. It is the reason why I spend an hour cooking for my friends when I still have homework and laundry to do. It is the reason why I hosted a separate Thanksgiving dinner amongst my friends, not family. I learned to make many recipes from scratch, including noodles, just like my mother. I didn’t want to buy pre-packaged foods and dried pasta to only be a part of the cooking process. I want to be there from beginning to end, start to finish. From one end of the noodle to the other, I want the consumer to know that was all from me.

Though I am not with my family, I cook my own meals because I need myself. I do not have anyone else to rely on to feed me in my apartment, and for this I am independent. No one can take my food from me that I make for myself. I decide where my food goes, whether it is for me, my friends, family and guests.


I chose to imitate Alane Salierno Mason’s “The Exegesis of Eating” chapter in the The Milk of Almonds because the story reminded me of my relationship with my mother. Even more so, food helped me discover one of many purposes I can serve in life. Similar to the narrator, I wondered if I was needed and soon had to step up to the plate and care for family when an important female role in our lives could not. I loved this piece because the writing was very detailed and descriptive for the story it was telling as well, so I chose this piece in efforts to make my creative writing to have the same effect on the reader – immerse them in the time, place, and experience with the noodles and my family. I figured there was no better way to do this but take on this writing style and engage all five senses.

I learned about Italian culture from a multi-generational perspective, seeing and hearing it from the experience of the author via the language and interactions with their grandparents. The gender roles in Italian culture are very similar to me own, which is why I can see how my own cultural DNA is embedded in the piece. When I was younger, I didn’t like the idea of being stuck in the kitchen like my mother. I wanted to work a corporate job and make money instead of being at home all day. But I soon found a love for cooking and giving food to others when I saw how my food can make people happy or feel better, the same ways the grandmother’s food could make the grandfather feel. I feel like I have a deeper purpose and that I am needed when people ask me to make food for them.

I also felt connected to the grandfather in someway, because he had to learn how to cook for himself when his wife fell sick. There were many instances while growing up that I had to learn how to cook for the family when my mom could not. Through the similarities in my own life and the class reading I extracted from my own culture that a woman keeps families alive. They put food on the table to survive, even if the process gets tiring or even boring for them.

I learned a little bit about the perspective of a couple where one was native to America, whereas the other came from Naples, Italy to America way later in his life. Similar to the couple in the reading, my mother and father were both born in Korea. Except, my father came to America when he was 3 years old with his family and my mother came for college around the age of 18 by herself. My mother learned how to survive on her own, while my father grew up in a very traditional household under the care of his parents where the man did not need to know how to cook. Rather, cooking was a female’s role in the house. I learned that Italians also give back and take care of the elders when other generations can’t, the same way I take care of my family and when my mother can’t.

I learned that my Korean culture, and more specifically my family’s particular Korean-American culture, has adapted to our lifestyle here in the United States. While many Asian families serve the elders first, my mother just wants us to eat before the food gets cold instead of waiting on her or my dad to finish up their chores and errands. We do not always eat Asian food at home either, especially when there are guests over for playdates or visits. It is hard to make fancy noodles, but easy to prepare a fancy steak dinner. Through my writing and reflecting on my past, I’ve learned that food was a significant means of communication for my mother. Food is her way of telling us how much she cares, more so than satiating our hunger.

Naya Shim Journal #3: The Slippery Grasp of the Noodle

The identity of noodles may be ever-evolving, but there is no doubt it is a food that is considered an art. As with any art, the noodle has the ability to move, change, and inspire people whether that may be physically and emotionally. The readings for this week supports this because it seems that there is always a symbolic representation for the food when it is placed on the dining table. In other words, food is eaten and served with purpose.

Consequently, the noodle is able to even have the ability to reflect the culture, regions, cities, and people that cook them, which is a really special characteristic to have. The article, Noodles, traditionally and today, opens up with the increase in variation of noodle shapes and styles overtime, starting as early as the Han dynasty (209). Yet aside from the main ingredient and the preparation of the noodle, what distinguishes one from another is the meaning of each noodle. From observation, I find that noodles to Chinese people are a supplement to life and sociality, while Italians make it a way of life.

For instance, the “Crossing of the Bridge” story portrays the noodle as a supplemental aid to help this boy pass his imperial exam. The chef, who is not family, still shows care for the wealthy boy he serves and embodies a Chinese cultural value – an immense amount of loyalty. He travels a long journey and prepares an elaborate noodle dish with lots of time and dedication, as if the noodle was a medium of a transferal of ‘good energy’ from one person or another. For this, I find the noodle is powerful. However, this also means that the definition and meaning of a noodle (and even pasta) is hard to summarize because it is personal. On a larger spectrum, the noodle to Chinese people still supports my previous claim that it is only a supplement to life and sociality because overall people have established traditions to consume certain dishes during birthdays, weddings, marriage, moving homes, and seasons (“Noodles, traditionally and today” 210).

I say that Italians make pasta a way of life because their life revolves around the food. This especially applies to immigrants, who were able to bring a piece of their homeland with them to a new country (“History of Pasta” 1). Through food and opening up restaurants, it led to the establishment of ‘Little Italy’s’ in major cities, allowed such immigrants to make foreign places feel like home through these ethnic enclaves. More importantly, the food became a way of life because it was a source of income. While noodles carry meaning, pasta is the glue that carries the other ingredients in the dish as observed in An Intro to Italian Pasta. Overall, pasta has the power to bring families together, and it even has the power to carry on bringing people together who have distinct differences in language and culture. Amongst all of these barriers, there is a reason why pasta was named the world’s favorite food in the survey conducted by Oxfam, according to The Truth About Pasta (5). Between noodles and pasta, it is so rare to see other food have the same ability and impact to move or change entire nations and cultures.

Therefore, pulling from the readings about Chinese and Italian significance of the noodle as well as my own Korean culture, the definition of the noodle to me is a cereal-based food that provides comfort and energy to one’s lifestyle and body. It enhances life not only nutritionally because it can incorporate vegetables and meats necessary for a balanced diet, but comfort during times of need such as sickness. Noodles and pasta have the effect of one big hug, as if the noodles or pasta wrap around your body and provide security. This could be economical for a restaurant-owner, emotional for a child or adult who is homesick, feeling down, or simply feeling the tender, loving, care from a parent or grandparent that was used to make the dish.

My representative photo below to is a string of diverse people, as if it was a string of pasta or noodles, wrapping around the world bringing people together. Yet, they are standing around the world as if it was protecting the Earth. Whether this means protecting your home, your country, by consuming noodle/pasta dishes, we protect our identities and culture, and strengthen friendships and relationships. Best of all, noodles and pasta around the world show us what it means to be human by caring for each other and satiate our basic needs like hunger.

Journal #2 Naya Shim – What Goes Around Comes Back Around

My name is Naya Shim, and I am a Korean-American that can speak conversational mandarin, read, and write. On top of the language, I have been really interested in Chinese culture. However, I have never gotten the chance to gain much exposure from my hometown while learning the language. In college, I’ve had incredible opportunities to meet many friends and build relationships with both international and Asian-American students. As a result, I decided to conduct my study about my boyfriend’s table because when I first met the family, I was very nervous about making a good first impression. The last thing I wanted to do was be disrespectful of any of their daily routines, Chinese culture, and most importantly be impolite at the dining table with the wrong etiquette. For this, I had to carefully observe and pick-up on the dining rituals through participant observation and watching the people around me. I also interviewed my boyfriend, Alex, to gain a deeper and more personal perspective because I did not want to rely on my own personal observations where biases could have affected my journal entry!

My first visit entailed a week-long stay in their home, and the parents did not hesitate to make me feel welcome. One of the first things I was asked was if I was hungry and needed to eat. Once I arrived to the house there was a housekeeper living with them to cook and clean, which is very different to what I am used to at home. The nanny was old enough to be my grandmother, and I found it interesting that the mother and nanny would share the role of cooking in the house. This already gave me the impression that food is in fact a shared experience in Chinese culture. The dining table is also a part of an everyday routine. Alex: “Everyone is always kind of running on their own schedule but we always make it back together for dinner.” Dinner was a family meal with an elaborate dining setting for everyone to enjoy and catch up about their day. What supported this the most was the lazy susan in the middle of a table, which I’ve never seen before. My father talks about eating at restaurants with lazy susans during his business trips to China, so I did not expect to see one inside someone’s home-kitchen.

What interests me about my boyfriend’s table the most is the size and shape. I noticed a new flower from the backyard garden every day in the center of the table when it was not used for dining. The table was not really used for anything else other than eating. Observing the lazy susan on this small table made me wonder why it was necessary. When I asked in the interview whether or not there was a significance of the round table, his answer was “round tables are more traditional of Asian households, I think.” This was an interesting answer because my family and extended family have square or rectangular tables. I wondered if it was because my family was too westernized.

Alex’s round table was quaint enough for a family of four to dine there and comfortably reach for the food. However, the lazy susan served a large purpose on the small-midsize dinging table – harmony. Everyone gets the same opportunity to eat the many varieties of food by spinning it around to each family member without interrupting conversation. Alex: “Yeah, if it’s just the four of us it’s four/five dishes and three meats and two veggies. Oh and we also ALWAYS have soup to start with.” In the “Food and Drink Traditions” chapter of the reading, harmony was an ideal that was most present through the flavors, which really aided my understanding of dining with this new family (66). Dinner at the household always started with a soup or broth to warm our stomachs. As pictured, a typical dinner would include a variety of flavors from the sweet barbecue marinated beef ribs, salty vegetables, spicy stir-fry noodles, potatoes, and green spinach.

  There were harmonies amongst other cuisines as well, as lunch and dinner involved more casual meals such as pasta or steak. In fact, Alex even mentioned that “wooden placemats are made in Italy that we got during a family trip” without even knowing the background information about this class! A really interesting observation between the lazy susan and placemats – a mix of western and asian cultures.

Harmonies reflected on temperatures of food as well. Cold food was not served for breakfast and often consisted of noodles. I would wake-up in the morning craving eggs but the chicken broth never disappointed! It actually made me feel great waking up to something warm other than greasy bacon and eggs.

I have never had an authentic home-cooked Chinese/Cantonese meal before, but the food went beyond my expectations. My biases lie in the greasy, oily, unhealthy Chinese-American food that I’ve grown up with when ordering Chinese take-out. Through my own experiences in this house, I was able to overcome these personal biases. The food and medicine reading really helped me understand the medicinal and health connections that played a crucial role in the family’s daily routine.

Every night before bed, everyone was made a cup of hot water brewed with goji berries. My first cup was a bit hard to finish, but it was meant to help digest our dinner and food from the day, boost our metabolism, and warm our stomachs all before going to sleep. I now incorporate this into my daily routine back in Atlanta as well after feeling much better drinking the water (pictured below).


Formal dining does not occur on this dining table, but in a separate dining room with a long rectangular wooden table according to this interview. Perhaps the different shapes and sizes encourage a specific dining experience. I concluded that the small round table enforce an intimate setting where everyone can see and talk comfortably. It is accessible and everyone is an equal. A round table means no one is above another my sitting at the head of the table, yet the father is often served or offered the first take of the food first. Alex says that “no one eats at the table until everyone is seated.” My favorite part of the day during this trip was eating dinner because I felt so welcome into their home sitting elbow-to-elbow with all the family members. In essence, I already felt like a part of the family and not just any random stranger.  The lazy susan allows what goes around to come back around. A true shared dining experience. Through sharing and round spaces, the environment provided me a sense of safety and visibility. I felt seen and comfortable, which is why I believe I miss the home-cooked meals the most when thinking about my trip. The food and the way it was able to make me feel has left a long-lasting impression and definitely makes me want to go back again!

Sujebi: Hand-Pulled Noodles

As I mentioned on the first day of class, a dish that holds deep sentimental meaning to me is sujebi – a hand-pulled Korean “noodle” dish. This dish not only represents my Korean heritage, but the strong women in my family that I have the pleasure of looking up to. My grandma and mother are the backbone of my family and a large part of the reason why I am here today. As a first-generation immigrant family on both sides, my grandmother and mother were both very courageous to come to the United States to live a better life. My grandmother supported my grandfather and her son (aka my father), and my mother supported herself as a young college student. It was not until later on in her life that my mother would also be supporting my father before settling down to start a family together in a new country they would call home. I love this dish not only because it is delicious, but because it is just as fun to make as it is to eat. A normal activity at my grandmother’s house would be to sit down on the kitchen floor and take turns kneading a large bowl of homemade dough until it was sticky enough to pull apart and put in the boiling pot of broth. There was something magical about the way something so delicious could derive from our hands. Made with lots of love, energy, and a grandmother’s touch, the bite-size hand-pulled noodles were always a delight to eat.

My relationship with my mother is always an interesting story to tell, because of our cultural and language barriers in the way during my upbringing. Because she was my mother whom I lived with every day, unlike my grandmother, our daily lives together involved many arguments over miscommunication and misunderstanding. Our best form of communication ended up being food, which quickly served as a medium that we both used to show our love and affection for each other. Coming from a different country, my mother was not familiar enough with Western food culture to make me steak, chicken, or pasta dishes for dinner after school. My mother knew how much I loved noodles and pasta, so sujebi was the Korean-alternative dish that she knew I would enjoy to eat and could even help her in the kitchen to make. Cooking was the only fail-proof time that did not involve any fighting, and to this day, is a very important activity to me that I now love to do.

Sujebi requires some effort in preparing the dough but uses very minimal ingredients. Therefore, sujebi to me is also the embodiment for enjoying the little things in life. Beyond the precious time I got to spend with my mother not arguing, she did not have to buy expensive ingredients or prepare a lavish meal to make me happy; the meal was affordable for a new family on a tight budget. Especially on days when we could not necessarily afford any protein or immediately go grocery shopping, an easy mixture of flour, water, and salt could be used to make the dough. The best part about this dish is that you can. As a result, sujebi was also the perfect dish for a picky-eater, like myself, because my mother could put in all of my favorite vegetables and still make it taste very good. Sometimes the soup stock would be beef, vegetables, or seafood, depending on the day. It never fails to come together. I quoted noodle earlier in the first paragraph of my introduction for sujebi because the noodle itself is not in the standard form of long strand. Rather, it is a bit-size flat lump of dough that requires no slurping and chewy to eat! I personally relate the consistency of it as al-dente, which is one of the reasons why I like this dish.

Though I am not a fan of using Wikipedia, it was actually very difficult to find a reliable historical that wrote about sujebi. According to the page, sujebi derived in the Gorveo period from 935 to 1392. There are many noodle-variations amongst different Asian cultures, so I was really intrigued to read that this atypical shape of noodle emerged very early in its time. While the hand-pulled noodle shape is specific to sujebi, different geographical locations call sujebi by different names around South and North Korea. In North Korea, the dish – milgaru ddeudeo guk – translates to “wheat flour, hand-torn, soup.” Other name variations for sujebi around South Korea by itself includes ddeudegi or ddedeokguk, ddeoneonjuk or ddiyeonjuk, sujibimiljebi, or milkkarijang guk, dabureong juk or beongeuraegi. ( Personally translating this myself, the name variations all agree that it is a soup-based dish, a type of flour-based noodle that is hand-pulled or torn.

There is no historical fact on this site, but my personal prediction is that the hand-pulled noodle was invented for convenience. If someone could not afford the technology, time, and tools to make long string-like noodles, the next best alternative would be to use our own tools: hands. Wikipedia did say that sujebi first made its appearances in specific celebratory occasions, making it a special dish. However, this luxury did not last long as it quickly became a staple food for many commoners. The ingredients are not costly, and can be made from scraps like myself! The recipe below is my own mother’s, which I have used in the very picture I attached of the dish. However, since I did not have all the vegetables she recommended for the broth, I just used beef, tofu, potatoes, peas, and onions! I am very proud of this as it is the first time I made sujebi by myself without having my grandmother or mother to help me. I was craving a taste of home and feeling quite homesick during my first week in the new apartment after I moved to Atlanta. I even shared with my roommate and her friend and they both seemed enjoyed it as well.

My Mother’s Sujebi Recipe:

Hand-Pulled Noodle Dough:

  • 3 Cups of Flour
  • 2 Teaspoons of Salt
  • 1.25 Cup of Warm Water


  • Pot of Boiling Water
  • 3 Large Dried Anchovy
  • 1 Cup Fresh Cut Green Onion (Sliced)
  • 2 Potatoes (Cubed)
  • 1/2 Cup Zucchini (Sliced)
  • 1 Egg (optional)
  • Cubed Flank Steak (optional)
  • Seafood (optional)

For the dough: Combine the flour, salt, and warm water in a large mixing bowl and stir until it forms a dough-like consistency. Set aside to sit until broth is ready (~10-15 minutes).

For the broth: Bring a pot of water to a boil and add dried anchovies for 5 minutes. Take out anchovies and add the green onions, potatoes, and zucchini to boil for 10 minutes.  While vegetables are cooking, take the dough and pull apart a little piece about 0.5 inch. Use thumbs to press into a flat shape and add into boiling pot. Repeat this step until all of the dough is used. You know it is done cooking when the dough expands and rises to the top (kind of like tortellini!). Optional: add an egg to broth and mix to scramble for extra flavor. Serving size: 2-3 people.

My own sujebi I made from my mother’s recipe with a little tweaks!

A friend eating my sujebi dish I made

A photo of me with my grandmother (left) and mother (right), aka the women I described in my life.

Overall, this dish will and always be so special to me even if I do not eat it at home, because I know the dish must always be handmade. I know it would be handmade because asian markets do not even sell pre-made versions of this dough to use for sujebi. After all, the dish would not be called sujebi without its hand-torn noodle dough bits. Whether I am home, at a restaurant, or by myself in my apartment, I eat this dish with praise and thanks for the person who gave me their time, energy, and care in preparing it for me.