in the space of a question

You ask about where I came from


You ponder which nation

from near or far

if I was loved

looked over with care

of the people it took to bring me to you

how long I had taken to grow


You think about the sustenance that touched my heart

the same dishes that now touch yours

that make everything grow

nourish everyone


You think about the threads I grew up with

how many connections have come

from that undying strand

how many connections will arise again


of grandmother who spends nights

boiling bone broth for the rice threads of phở

to fulfill my longing for our motherland


of neighbor who spends weekends

teaching me the buckwheat threads of crozets de Savoie

to fulfill my knowledge of a European culture far west


of dear friends who spend all-nighters

ordering the greasy threads of lo mein

to fulfill our midnight hunger for food and knowledge


of [host] mother who spent every sunrise

stir-frying the glass threads of 잡채, japchae

to fulfill my love of hosts-turned-family


of loved ones who spend their time

lighting the stove, lighting our hearts, from sunrise to sunset

to fulfill our connections


so much effort








in this moment

between you and

this soulful of me


What piece did you choose to imitate?

Jennifer Barone’s “zucchini” in Saporoso.

Why did you choose this piece?

The poem’s distinct title drew me in at first—who wouldn’t be, if the bold-faced letters spelled out an under-appreciated vegetable?

But the more I read, the more I was drawn to the poem’s synchronous simplicity and complexity. The author’s ability to at first question “Why?” allows the reader to embark on the discovery journey with her; her “I wonder”s and “I think”s reflect the depths of her curiosity. The humble zucchini was used to describe something more than an ingredient, and the piece began unravelling its layers before my eyes. I had started the poem because of the vegetable; I stayed because of the fruit of its message.

What did you learn about the culture of the original author through imitating his or her style?

The author used the forgotten zucchini as a metaphor of a culture, forgotten to her. Her reflection brings about the realization that the zucchini is more than an ingredient for her, but an abstract piece that makes up her identity.

She connects the zucchini with the sun, the earth, the soil—things that nourish and bring life to the earth and to life on earth. The way her curiosity approaches the zucchini makes me think of her culture not in the sense of traditions, but a culture where discovery and enlightenment are encouraged. The zucchini is used to illustrate her appreciation of the people who cooked for her, highlighting a culture of profound respect for the relatives, families, the hard-workers who took part in raising her nature. Thus, the zucchini, grown by her people in the soil of her culture, becomes the soil in which she plants the seeds of realization and gratitude for them in return.

What did you learn about your own culture while writing?

A Vietnamese-born who spends her nights with Chinese-American takeout studying French culture after having left all of her heart in South Korea.

Somewhat of a peculiar amalgamation of cultures, no?

So peculiar some find it hard to attribute me to more than one culture, resorting to outline neatly labeled circles: “Vietnamese southerner.” “Americanized.” “Francophile.” The ever-so-cutting “Koreaboo.” Circles that never touch, a Venn diagram without intersections.

In writing, I am reminded again of those tags—of what I am solely not. Like so many others, my “culture” is not one fabric of neat stitches, but a patchwork of tattered threads.

And one of those threads that has consistently wove through every patch is the noodle. The thread shifts colors and ingredients, and reshapes with different thinness and thickness; each a variation of the noodles of my life.

Threads of , bún, and bánh bind together the patches of my childhood; the mornings that find streets drenched in rain, while my grandma warms the house with her vermicelli steeped in bone broth.

Threads of nouille and pâte bind my “method-learning”; evening finds my French neighbor showing me how to cook the pasta of his native city, a pasta tradition overshadowed by the prominence of his motherland’s peninsular neighbor.

Threads of lo mein and ramen bind my late night studying with friends; the midnights that find us huddled together, enjoying the last of the leftovers (and the last of our sanity before an exam).

Threads of 국수 (guksu) and 면 (myeon) bind the nostalgia of a short life abroad; the early dawn that finds my [host] mother humming in the kitchen, cooking my favorite glass noodles every single day before school, and the little brothers I never had, two sleepyheads yawning at the table.

A collection of cultures, a multitude of experiences and lives led, united by the stitch of the noodle thread. Thus, I do not believe in assigning labels to categorize ever-changing, ever-growing things such as ourselves—for we are not defined by words, but are created by our memories, our experiences, and our connections.

Is there cultural DNA embedded in the piece you read and in your piece? How does this DNA manifest in the texts?

“You” and “I.”

Probably two of the most powerful words in the English language. They establish the entire perspective, the relationship between audience and author. They reflect the exchanges between every person, every culture, every connection.

In the original “zucchini,” “you” and “I” are used to emphasize the intimate relationship between the zucchini and author, one that eventually extends to her identity and her culture, establishing her cultural identity and DNA.

Upon closer inspection, you might notice “you” and “I” had been turned on its head in my interpretation; this version of “zucchini” reverses every “you”s and “I”s in the original.

Thus shifts the entire perspective, from the original’s first person point-of-view to this second person view—the reader’s. I wanted to alter the course a bit from first person; after all, my personal relationship with the noodle, my own cultural DNA, has already been established in past written compositions. I wanted to extend my realization of the noodles and its role in my life to you, the audience from my past, present, and future. The ones who ask(ed) me “Who are you? Where are you from? What do you identify as?”; the ones who themselves the same questions. My cultural DNA is not enclosed within one culture; it is shared, inextricably linked between many. This connection was something that I wanted to portray through a connection between “you” and “I,” myself and the reader—the ‘u’ and ‘i’ in “zucchini.”

(And hopefully, that explains the somewhat funky-looking title)

The Present, the Future, and the Past(a)

I have absolutely no idea where to begin.

The class discussion about the noodle definition quickly concluded that the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries confine the noodle to such lifeless, one-dimensional qualities that it resembled nothing more than an ingredient, a mere doughy base of meals instead of the gastronomic foundation of cultures. And if something that provides meanings failed to capture a fulfilling essence of the noodle — then how could I? I am not one to circumscribe subjective things within a box of objective definitions, and throughout this class’ progression, I think we have started to comprehend the noodle as something more than a concrete object: an entity.

Like the golden thread, if you will. The noodle winds through the fabric of time, fastening cultures, traditions, countries — humanity — together. A golden thread of frayed ends, without an easily discernible introduction or conclusion (much like this written blog).

Although I still have no idea where to begin — I think history does. History can offer us a delicate start of the thread in Italy, home to the debate of whether it was the Etruscans or Marco Polo (upon his return from China) who brought the noodle to the peninsula. The noodle took form as the well-known Italian appellation “pasta,” from impasto, the blend of dough and water that “waits to be shaped by the expert hands of the pasta maker that ‘feel’ its warmth” (Form and Substance, 10). Such a description animates the pasta with qualities of a living, breathing entity, pliable under whomever holds it. This adaptability is evidenced by the countless pasta variations, each originating from different regions in Italy. From Arab-influenced macaroni in Sicily, to Piedmont’s agnolotti (stuffed pasta pockets), to Sardinia’s fregula (crumb-like pasta) and malloreddus (saffron-infused shells) — the diversity in pasta types and sauces are as abundant and widespread as there are geographic regions (Julia Della Croce’s Classic Italian Cookbook). As “pasta meals really represent the simple pleasures of life,” each type is made from the same simplicity of flour, water, and salt (Truth About Pasta, 20). However, it is the texture that gifts each its unique character. Thin butter or thick tomato sauces would generate a different feeling with, say, long strands of linguine than with soft dumpling-like gnocchi. Yet, all the distinct forms of pasta are created from the same humble origins, and fall under one element — pasta — a unifying form reflective of a unified Italy in the 1800’s. The golden thread of the pasta noodle links the people and mirrors their strengths: adaptable, unique, and firmly united as one.

If we follow history down the trail of cultural gastronomy, we will inevitably arrive at another prominent niche of the noodle: China. The first recorded discovery was during the Han Dynasty; the original form was named bing, or wheat “cake” (Shu Xi’s Rhapsody on Pasta, Knechtges 449). The dough was hand-pulled longer and longer until it resembled the unmistakable strand of the modern noodle. This creation eventually established its place in the warmth of not just the kitchen, but in the people’s hearts. Na Zhang’s Noodles, traditionally and today details the numerous ways “‘human nature’ and ‘worldly common sense’ materialized in the noodles” (Zhang 210). Gravy noodles (打卤面), served during occasions of matrimony or of moving into a new residence, represented a new “flavored” life; “dragon whiskers” noodles (龙须面), served on lunar day in February, embodied the honored creature. The noodle wove its way into the people’s traditions, and also into their traditional values. Adding vegetables and eggs was equivalent to adding the “principle of ‘food diversification,’ and promote health for people” (Zhang 212). Meanwhile, the namesake of “dutiful son’s noodles” (孝子面) is the story of a man who cooked noodles for his sick mother with such efficiency, care, and tenderness that she soon healed, thus integrating the honored core of filial piety into the very nourishment the people consume. The “longevity noodle” (长寿面), typically eaten on birthdays, symbolizes long-life and durability. Interestingly, in the narrative Long-Life Noodles, the dish oversaw not only the hopes and prosperity of one man, but also his despairs as he descends into misfortune and outlives his loved ones (Durack 88-89). For him, longevity noodles morphed into a cursed emblem of his long life. With this, the noodle appears to be so intertwined with the people themselves that it not only manifests within our customs and values, but also within our existence, within each apex and nadir of our lives.

The noodle thus transforms into something more than a mere reflection of humanity — it becomes the golden thread of the human experience.

The noodle, to me, is nicely encompassed in this graphic design.

Source: https://www.123rf.com/photo_59668476_stock-vector-logo-or-label-meal-line-style-logotype-template-with-noodle-easy-to-use-business-template-vector-abs.html

I took a liking to this image, ambiguous yet full of possibility. The utensils overhead are unclear. The noodles are not in any distinct, easily recognizable form, but this same shapelessness allows the beholder to envision any form of the food that brings them meaning. The lack of color leaves anyone to paint it with whatever preferred shade, much like a page from a coloring book; perhaps yellow like the traditional pasta, white for rice noodles, maybe green to reflect the “nutritional” noodles of our modern progressive times… In the end, the palette is our palate. This ambiguity does not assign a specific culture, custom, people, etc. to the noodle, instead focusing on its connections to us. Therein lies the malleable, abstract nature of the noodle that I think the dictionary definitions lacked.

Perhaps this was not intended, but it also seems like the image resembles a house: the utensils the roof, and the noodle the hearth and heart of the residence — a foundation of the people’s homes and roots.

For me, the noodle is interwoven in my memories.

My memories of the noodle are threaded through my relationships and connections with others: the past memories I nostalgically recall, present experiences that I treasure, and the future curiosities that I await.


Ghosts of noodles past: a few noodle dishes embodying the tender nostalgia of my life in Korea. Top left: First time with my [host] family at the original Chinatown in Incheon, before exploring gorgeous murals depicting the rich history of the Chinese-Korean fusion, a culture that breathes and thrives among the people, and manifests in the very 짬뽕 (jjamppong, spicy seafood noodles) and 짜장면 (jjajangmyeon, black bean noodles) we devoured. Bottom left: My [host] brothers and I wreaking havoc at an all-you-can-eat ramen and 떡볶이 (tteokbokki, rice cake) hotpot buffet. Top right: My last noodle dish in Korea, 잔치국수 (janchi guksu, wheat noodles in light anchovy broth), with my [host] mom and brother before the tearful trip to the airport. The noodles tasted especially salty that day. Ghost of noodles present (bottom right): nocturnal shenanigans with friends at Pho 24, my home on Buford Highway, open 24/7 for all who crave a warm bowl of pho — even at 2 a.m.

At every period of my life, at every climax, every bottom, and every curve in-between, a variation of the noodle has made its presence.

But perhaps to a historian, the noodle is the intersection of cultural thought and philosophy; perhaps to a chef, the handed-down recipe embeds their family’s values; perhaps to a college student, it means all-nighters with take-out and microwaved ramen.

And so, the question “What is the meaning of the noodle?” unexpectedly mirrors the infamously intricate “What is the meaning of life?” mystery itself. And like my answer to the latter, I gingerly offer: it is whatever humanity — you, me, we — want it to be.

Its “definition” is as broad and profound as there are people themselves. With each person, with each life — each human experience — the noodle delicately morphs and regenerates with another nuanced meaning.

Thus, the golden thread continues weaving through the kaleidoscopic patchwork of cultures, across the undulating quilt of history and time.

And on a rainy Wednesday night, the noodle weaves its way into the present, where a light-bulb flickers on, and a laptop screen begins flashing with the words: I have absolutely no idea where to begin…

Food Pho Thought

One step, two steps, a stumble.

The toddler waddles her way across the street, towards metal carts with pots of steaming broth, fresh noodles, warm baguettes, and fragrant herbs. Greeting the vendor with a familiar grin, she plops down and happily devours the noodle soup.

That’s one of my first memories as a toddler: a never-ending stream of rain and mopeds on unpaved streets, a never-ending stream of faces in the crowd, and a gathering of the faces I loved around a rickety table. And in the middle — piping hot bowls of phở, wrappers from bánh mì (baguettes), or plates of bánh xèo (savoury pancakes). My familys restaurants were never out of reach; there on the street, I would savor food made by neighbors, by family, by loved ones. Congested streets and stuffy air faded away, defeated by the sublime dishes cooked right outside the vendors’ houses and diffused with the same dedication and love they put into meals for their own families. That’s one of the charming phenomenons of my motherland that I miss most: “street food” was almost synonymous with home-cooked food. With each bite, there was laughter, teasing, gossip, snot, and tears (reminder: toddler). There, at the intersection of crossroads, lies the intersection of my life with those I loved, and those I would meet and come to love. The wobbly plastic stools, the smoke from vehicles — sure, it wasn’t fine dining, not in the slightest, but the memories that those dishes gifted me is something I would never trade, not even for the finest gastronomy in the world.

Source: http://afamily.vn/ha-noi-va-nhung-thien-duong-am-thuc-duong-pho-tren-the-gioi-20140704111428822.chn

Phở. I don’t believe this requires much of an explanation; it is the one dish that flashes in our minds at the mention of Vietnamese cuisine. There’s no doubt that it is one of — if not, the — quintessential Viet comfort food. Nothing quite compares to the contentment brought by hot broth warming up your throat, satisfying slurps of chewy noodles, and bright notes of sweet herbs.

Source: https://www.cooky.vn/blog/cach-lam-cac-mon-bun-pho-banh-canh-noi-tieng-cop-mac-viet-nam-4234

Bánh mì. The ultimate Vietnamese fast food. Baguettes filled with barbecued or cold meats (or for me, tofu), generously lathered with sauces and liver paste, and stuffed with pickled carrots, daikon, and cilantro. The salty-sweet combination of thick cuts of protein and tangy veggies on buttery toasted bread? Sorry, Subway.

Source: http://banhbaongoc.vn/sao-han-phan-ung-the-nao-khi-an-banh-tuoi-banh-mi-viet_d217.html

Bánh xèo. Literally, “sizzling cake.” Shrimp or pork, bean sprouts, mung beans, and herbs, wrapped in crispy rice batter. Vietnamese pancakes, Vietnamese crepes — whatever you call them, they are bound to satisfy the savoury breakfast cravings.

Source: https://jamja.vn/blog/banh-xeo-ngon-o-sai-gon.html

These foods that bring back memories of my childhood are native to Vietnamese culture, but all three are widely imprinted with French influences. As Vietnam was once colonized by France, aspects of the French culture have left their mark on Vietnam’s, such as the language (the romanization from Chinese-based characters was completed by a Frenchman) and, of course, the cuisine. French roots are even embedded in phở’s name; the dish is pronounced “fuh,” almost exactly like the French word feu in pot-au-feu (“pot-on-fire”), which references the French dish that requires an extended amount of time to stew and boil bone broth to arrive at the same deeply aromatic flavor iconic in phở. Bánh mì, meanwhile, became a classic in using some of the classics of France’s cuisine: the baguette and liver pâté. And bánh xèo is quite literally the Vietnamese version of the thin French crêpe, but with savoury fillings. These foods, these emblems of Vietnamese cuisine, in fact nest emblems of another culture. The realization strikes me every time, serving as a reminder of the extent of colonization and its everlasting effects. And as I grew up, I realized that influence has made its mark on me; my passion for French culture pushes me to pursue French studies in college. Although I have left Vietnam, I am ironically almost a product of that cultural colonization and influence — a reflection of the very dishes I adore.

The rest of my adolescence passed in Arizona, where heat and intensity permeated the air, but vanished from non-native cultural cuisines. At the restaurants, I grimaced at broth from packaged containers, leftover mushy noodles, and week-old bread. Gone was the vibrant street life, gone was the time loved ones spent together. Everything became entangled in the whirlwind of work and school. Thankfully, the latter brought me here to the south, where I have found a refreshing change of atmosphere. I’d chosen Georgia, attracted by Emory’s diversity in thought; instead, I fell for Atlanta’s diversity in spirit. What originally struck me as a rusty, monochromatic city soon became a bustling center of life. I was fortunate enough to visit cultural events and centers along Duluth and especially Buford Highway (I actually inhabit Buford more often than my own dorm room). The means through which I was able to better understand and explore these places were the restaurants and the food. As I sit around tables with friends and professors, laughing and conversing as we savor heavenly hot pots, Korean rice cakes, or even boba tea, I am reminded of the power of food to bring people together, to establish or strengthen our relationships with one another, to create experiences and memories. In the end, “we are what we eat” — and who would we be without our memories, experiences, and connections?

I hope the Noodle class will help us to further create such connections with the food topics, the cultures, and especially with each other. As for me, I will continue midnight restaurant-hopping my way down Buford (phở tastes especially exquisite at 2 a.m.), and with people I cherish. After all, there’s still so much left of Atlanta to discover — and I cannot wait to take yet another one step, two steps, and stumble across something wonderful.