Sandy Lin, a rising sophomore student at Emory, has been part of diverse cultures as a half-Taiwanese and half-Korean. Although she considers Seoul, South Korea to be her hometown, she has lived in several cities, including Nanjing, Shanghai, and Atlanta. Moving around from one place to another, Sandy has been part of myriad societies, cultures, histories, and food, especially noodles. I thought that interviewing Sandy would be a great idea since she can talk a lot about the differences that she sees in the cultural DNA and about the myriad types of noodles that she had first-handed experiences to.
Sandy has been part of both cultures, Korean and Chinese, in celebrating special occasions, and following traditions. Sandy and her parents, despite their ethnicity, grew up in South Korea, which also led them to celebrate both. For example, Sandy talked about the noodles that represent the longevity of individual’s life, mentioned in several class readings, and how she followed the Chinese tradition of eating them for birthdays and New Years. It was unprecedented and fascinating for me to hear it from Sandy that she follows this tradition as I have only encountered this in the readings. Comparing Korean noodles and Chinese noodles, Sandy believed that Chinese often had special occasions where they would have to eat specific noodles, as mentioned earlier, while for Koreans, noodles were mainly eaten on a daily basis regardless of occasions. The tastes are drastically different; jajangmeon is a dish that is present in both Korea and China. It is read as Jajangmeon in Korean while the Chinese call is Jajangmian; almost of the same pronunciation. Although they may look similar, they taste drastically different as the Chinese version is salty and meaty, while Korean version is sweet and more vegetable-based. As Sandy has experienced the myriad cultures, noodles, and traditions I believe that this led her to become the open-minded and multicultural individual that she is today.
There is plethora of countries that have special traditions regarding noodles. As observed from the similarities in Jajangmeon of Korea and China, the cultural DNA and noodles of China have had significant impact from Korea and vice versa. Such phenomenon arises largely due to the numerous invasions, wars, and trades that have been happening between two nations since millenniums ago. Through these encounters, cultural exchange also took place vibrantly leading to such culinary parallelism. Thousands of Korean independence activists during the Japanese occupation in early 20th century resided in China to remotely fight for Korea’s independence. Upon the end of Japanese occupation, they returned back home with much patriotism and various Chinese dishes which exist to now as “Koreanized Chinese dish”. Nevertheless, with her first-hand experience on both Korean and Chinese culinary culture, Sandy is indeed the living example of the historic noodles exchange who encompasses both Korean and Chinese cultural DNA. Seen in readings for class regarding regional differences in pasta for Italy that were due to the invasions from different countries, leading to the cultural changes in the regions, I believe that Sandy’s thoughts can be parallel to these occurrences.
To Sandy, noodles, in general for Chinese and Koreans, are a main sustenance and can represent most eating habits of Asians, along with rice. Regarding the dietary aspects of noodles, Sandy believes that noodles can be a balanced meal. Compared to rice, where it can just be eaten alone, Chinese noodles are mostly eaten with sides, such as vegetables and meat. These combinations can be seen to give you a balanced meal, as a bowl of noodles can give you the amount of nutrition that you would need. These sides that provide the healthy aspect in noodles can also be a factor of showing the socioeconomic class of individuals. For example, years ago, when noodles were even more common than rice, as rice was expensive, the sides would mostly be local and seasonal vegetables for lower socioeconomic class. As society started to change and China became more prosperous, there were different sides that came along with noodles, such as the noodles accompanied by shark fin soup, indicating a higher socioeconomic class. The noodles that were eaten in the past would have been a less balanced meal that those that are eaten today, served with difference sources of protein and fiber.
In the interview, Sandy mentioned that Lanzhou ramen is her favorite noodle dish. Lanzhou ramen has a sentimental value for her as it was a local dish that she ate with her friends when she was in school back in China. It holds a special place in her heart as there are countless memories with her friends grabbing lunch from the store. As she ate the same dish in Atlanta with the same friends whom she shared the bowls of Lanzhou ramen with back in her childhood, the tastes were similar to the ones that she ate back in China; yet, there were subtle differences due to the access of ingredients that were added to the ramen. Although she went with same group of friends to eat ramen that taste very similar, she prefers the noodles that were eaten when she was younger. I believe that this may be due to the atmosphere and accessibility of the noodles. The atmosphere of the noodles is completely different from a street vendor selling their specialty to a fine Americanized-Chinese restaurant with endless air-conditioning. As opposed to her childhood times when Lanzhou ramen was a to-go-to place for daily school lunch, she does not have the same accessibility here in Atlanta, leading to her differing perspectives on the noodles from China to United States.
After interviewing Sandy, I have received a lot of insight from a person who has been influenced by multiple cultures. Sandy’s cultural DNA is rather unique, which can be seen from her interview and experiences that she had until now. From her perspective, I learned about the similar but different cultural noodle distinctions of Chinese noodles in China, Korea, and United States. If given the opportunity, I hope to go and see the differences myself by trying Lanzhou ramen and jajangmian.
Interview Questions –
What is your name and how would you identify yourself ethnically?
Where have you lived? And where is your hometown?
How have the noodles been different in places you have lived?
When and how often did you eat noodles with your family?
Did your family cook noodles often? Is there a family traditional dish that y’all cook?
What does noodles mean to you?
How did noodles affect you culturally?
How do you think noodles affect your diet?
In China what do you think the role of noodles are?
How did the changes in the Chinese society reflect in the noodle dishes in China?
In the span of 20 years that you have been alive, do you think that there were changes in noodles? What do you think have caused these changes? Did these changes affect your diet?
What is your favorite noodle dish and why? Does it have a special meaning or place in your family?
What do you think about the Americanized Chinese noodles? Do you think they are represented well in America? Why or why not?
Do you think that other cultures have impacted the cultural DNA and the noodles itself? Why or why not?
Since you are half Chinese and half Korean, do you think that there are big differences in Chinese noodles and Korean noodles?
JaJangmeon is a Korean version of Chinese noodles. Is it a good representation of Chinese noodles? Why or why not?
If were you were to eat your favorite noodle dish that you mentioned before in China, Korea, and US, how different would they be?