From the heart to the stomach and back: A brief reflection of Food and Culture

A lot of people share the love for food. There’s even tags such as “foodie” or “food lover” to describe our cravings. 

We all enjoy different plates. Eating a variety of servings, even though we don’t know their true origin, is a pleasure we all share. However, most of the times there is in fact some particular dishes that you, and all the people around you, well know are proper of your hometown.

Cultural identity has many branches. One in particular is how, not only the finished plate is part of a nation’s culture but their ingredients as well. In addition, methods of cooking are also a key aspect of the cultural identity. From Mexican food to Japanese etiquette; the special seasonings, the servings and even the ways of eating can be part of a tradition. In the case we are the ones displaying it, we tend not to notice our own ways.

What ideas come to mind when we wonder about customs in other countries? Maybe when we think of Italian food we may think of pizza or pasta immediately. Japanese food? Sushi is our first thought. If we think of Mexican food we may imagine some spicy Tacos. If someone mentions the famous Shawarma, many of us cannot identify where it is from exactly but we think of something in the Middle East, isn’t it? That association seems inevitable!

It is pretty normal for us to cut our meat with knife and fork. In Asian countries such as China, South Korea or Japan, handling those can be a little bit difficult. However, children are practically born with chopsticks in their hands (which are not the same type of chopsticks for those three different nationalities). A lot of countries in the Middle East can eat with only your hands but be careful with those lefties! They are not that well seen around there since the left hand is filthy in their eyes.

Spanish people, especially in Madrid, need some tapas along their drinks, is a must-do for them and restaurants there know it. Dutch are fond of enjoying their breakfast and lunch as a snack size dishes and have the big meal at dinnertime.

Food identity can be so important for people in such cases. We can see Venezuelan and Colombian people may debate where the “real” arepa is from but that battle is not as big as Peruvian and Chilean one to figure out the “real” pisco and the “real” ceviche.

Religion is another important aspect in defining a person’s food identity. Is common for Muslims to fast during the month of Ramadan and have a list of “Haram” (prohibited) and “Halal” (permitted) foods. Hinduism followers may be vegetarian or vegan, mainly because the cow is a sacred animal. The Kashrut for the Jews is the set of all rules regarding food: dairy products and meat is not to be mixed, food must be prepared in the right way (Kosher) and one of the most interesting customs might be eating bitter herbs to remember the suffering their ancestors lived through the Egyptian rule. Christians are not behind.

Hometown dishes become without our knowledge in something intrinsic of us. A familiarity so deep within as meeting an old friend and realizing in a second that even though you’ve been a part for years you know each other just as well.

Lately is been a trend to protect so much our cultural identity such our clothes, traditions and even food, that we forget the very meaning of any cultural aspect: To share! Food, as well as many things, is an opportunity of growing, know each other and enjoy yourself. Be kind and patient to know new ways and politely admit when you are completely lost; is the only way to find yourself!

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