Sample Essay on Traditional Gastronomic Behavior in a Particular Culture

Individual Essay

The traditional gastronomic behavior in a particular culture can change either form internally or externally generated changes. There are some cultures that lose major portions of their food customs through such changes while others resist this change. Diaspora migration, which is the movement of people from their country of origin to a different country, leads to introduction of new cultures to those countries, among these cultures being gastronomy concepts and themes from other countries (Kirkendall, 2010). This essay seeks to find out the gastronomic concepts and themes as well as the cultures of Chinese immigrants to the United States and their influences on the people they encountered and interacted with. It finds out the manner in which the Chinese immigrants to United States introduced their cuisines and other cultural values that relate to the type of meals they prepared. It also determines whether the western cultures also had an influence on the Chinese gastronomy and whether there were some similarities. It examines some of the significant changes introduced to the Americans which include the types of foods adapted, methods of food preparation, reasons that could have led to their adaptation and the various food customs among the Chinese.

The Chinese cuisines are rich in cultural heritage and there are a wide range of gastronomic concepts and themes that are observed in their meals. The ancient and traditional cuisines from the Chinese are characterized by culinary techniques that are so rich and are known to possess diversity in food, variety of dishes as well as use of spices. Their food is cooked, selected and treated according to Yin and Yang balance where internal harmony is a major determinant of what is eaten (Chen, 2014). The Chinese cultural meals consists of two general components; the starch which is a source of carbohydrates mainly being rice, noodles or mantou also referred to as steamed buns. The other component is the accompanying dishes mainly vegetables, fish, and meat (Chen, 2014). From the ancient time the Chinese people had a philosophy behind their cuisines that was rooted in the I Ching and Chinese traditional medicines, color texture, aroma and taste were used to judge food. For a meal to be considered good it had to balance the four natures which are hot, warm, cool and cold and the five tastes which are pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty (Kirkendall, 2010). The main theme in the Chinese cuisines is a properly balanced meal in nutritional value, prepared using healthy ingredients that are organically connected to the concept of medical wellness and ensures low amount of calories. Chinese people take cooking as a form of artifice with a certain criteria of excellence (Chen, 2014).

The first immigrants to the United States settled in San Francisco in 1847 and were followed by another huge number of Chinese people who helped to build the transcontinental railway (Chen, 2014). Hundreds of California families in middle class homes employed Chinese people as housemen and they influenced their cooking with the Chinese cuisines. They were rarely allowed to prepare oriental meals but they ensured they maintained their art of serving vegetables which still possessed their crispness or color (Kirkendall, 2010). Other Chinese cooks worked for the Chinese restaurants. It took time for the local people to adopt Chinese foods and proprietors served them with only what they thought the diners wanted. When the Chinese introduced their cuisines to the Americans they first blended their gastronomy concepts and themes with those they found in United States to make the Chinese American cuisines. Soon   Americans developed taste for genuine Chinese food resulting to even home deliveries of easily portable meals such as egg rolls and chicken chow mein that were packed in paper buckets. The American meals were unhealthy unlike those of the Chinese since meat and animal proteins were largely taken as the main dish.  The introduction of the Chinese food to American first became popular among the young cosmopolitans American since they considered it exotic (Kirkendall, 2010).

A group of Chinese established chow chow eateries that were identified by triangular yellow flags where the cookery mainly consisted stir fired, rice based Cantonese utilizing every part of the animal efficiently. Americans were not used to this type of food and they were dismayed by what they found in their rice bowls, this prompted the Chinese to develop other Chinese American Cuisines where they modified their food to suit the Americans more (Chen, 2014). With time they adapted some southern Chinese dishes like Chop Suey and egg foo yong which became part of the American culture dishes (Kirkendall, 2010).  They made dishes that were also inexpensive, fast and tasty that became irresistible to many groups of Americans such as the young and laborers. This ensured that the Chinese cuisines increased in popularity and Chinese restaurants flourished among the Americans. By the end of the Second World War Americans started attending classes to learn Chinese cooking so that they could augment their Oriental kitchen repertoires, they also sampled other tastes introduced in restaurants that specialized in Mandarin, Fukien, Hunan and Szechwan dishes as well as those from Canton (Kirkendall, 2010).

The Chinese immigrants to the United States brought with them a wide range of specific cultures, social customs and beliefs including culinary traditions, cultural food choices which had predominant influence on the American culture. The Chinese cuisine is largely seen to provide a representation one of the most diverge and richest culinary heritage in the world (Chen, 2014). The available visual information combined with early Chinese literally references provide an emphasis that Chinese gastronomic traditions have been persistent and prevail wherever Chinese people live (Kirkendall, 2010).  One of these traditions is their altitude towards food as the basis of ensuring bodily health. They believe that when the physical body is in harmony the societal harmony is also influenced as well as the universe and this achieves the goal of stability and balance (Chen, 2014). This until today is an influence to many individuals and especially the Americans who interacted with the Chinese immigrants and visited their restaurants for their tasty and healthy meals. To keep fit and avoid certain lifestyle diseases individuals adopt healthier eating habits and are a bit selective and considerate about the nutritional value of the foods they consume (Tsu, 2010). As the Chinese emphasized on taking on consuming more vegetables, it caused a big influence on Americans who consumed less of vegetables in their meals.

There are more than fifty cooking methods used by Chinese, the most common being bamboo baskets or a quick Wok sauté (Chen, 2014). The manner in which ingredients are cut is very significant in terms of sizes and shapes so as they can achieve different textures even when being cooked all at the same time. The Chinese used salt as a preservative from the early ages and instead of using it at the table they added it to food in cooking as a soy sauce (Chen, 2014). Other methods of preservation used included drying meat into jerky and cooking, roasting and drying grain.  They preferred to use chopsticks as the primary eating utensils for solid foods which required them to prepare food in bite sized pieces (Kirkendall, 2010). Flat bottomed spoons that were made of ceramic were used to take soups and other liquids. This culture of using chop sticks has also been adopted by the American until today to take solid foods. Chinese culture has also been influenced by Americans since they traditionally served soup after a meal to satiate ones appetite, however they started serving the soup in the beginning of meals as it is the norm with Americans (Chen, 2014).  The Chinese used their ingredients and most of their cultural methods to come up with the Chinese American cuisines. Among the many regional Chinese cuisines, the Cantonese cuisine was the most influential in the growth of Chinese food in United States (Frankling, 2010).

They also tried to adapt to the local tastes of the Americans so as to suit their needs in a number of ways for instance while the Chinese traditional cuisines emphasize on vegetables while the Chinese American  cuisines treat vegetables as garnish or side dish.  The cooking methods commonly involved were stir frying, pan frying and deep frying using a Chinese frying pan with bowl like features known as wok (Kirkendall, 2010). It is therefore evident that Chinese cuisine easily influenced the Americans due to the reason that it was able to include a wide range of their ingredients, had achieved a degree of inventiveness, demonstrated the extensiveness of its interrelationship with other cultural practices like social organization, medical theory and religious observance or being an integral part of the ethos of the culture as has been with Chinese (Kirkendall, 2010).

The reason why cultural symbolism, ritual, protocol within the Chinese culture is important in their gastronomy, is because it portray the kind of people the Chinese were and the positive lessons that can be gained from their culture. They are portrayed as inventors, wise, hardworking, and peace loving among others (Yue & Tang, 2013). For instance the invention the chopstick which though it may appear simple it can nip, pick, rip and stir food reflected the wisdom of the ancient Chinese people (Frankling, 2010). The chopsticks are also considered as a lucky gift for marriages or other significant ceremonies hence it is a cultural symbol that assist in passing on this culture from generation to generation and to other cultures (Yue and Tang, 2013). In Chinese culture certain foods are used for certain celebrations and rituals and they have a close relation with each one of them. There are those foods and dishes that are associated with certain old age and specific observations (Yue & Tang, 2013). Since the Chinese practiced these rituals and celebrations together with the American, festivals and rituals using food components are still being observed in United States by some Americans today.

The cultural practices of the Chinese cuisine have been passed on from generation to generation over many years since the ancient period among the Chinese. They also have an influence to the people who interact with them because the values gained from them influence them positively (Yue & Tang, 2013). Adoption of this culture demonstrated to the Americans how easy it was to for their culture to be influenced by other strong cultural practices like that of the Chinese. It also highlights the positive aspects that were learned from Chinese gastronomy to benefit Americans diet (Parasecoli, 2014). The strong influence of Chinese cuisines to Americans enlightens the world the importance of different groups of people and to preserve their cultural heritage and pass it from generation to generation even in the advancement in technology and integration of people from diversified cultural backgrounds (Yue & Tang, 2013).

Chinese dining culture, dining etiquette and the influence of domestic as well as the commercial dining within the culture concerns the manner in which food is served and the hospitality of the Chinese people. Chinese people are known to pay a lot of attention to courtesy and most of their cuisines are rooted deep in to the history of china (Padgett, Kim, Goh & Huffman, 2013). In Chinese restaurants table manners are very essential and there are various courtesies that are displayed that increase the enjoyment of the meal and keep the dinners in high spirits. The custom is that, all those at the dining table should be accorded appropriate respect that include the aged, teachers and guests and at the same time handling children with care (Tsu, 2010). They present the best foods first to the most senior members in a table which is a practice that has been practiced for countless generations in the Chinese culture (Padgett et al., 2013). This has ensured that even if common people lead a needy life they still support their elderly parents to the best of their ability and respect their elders. Chinese hosts are also very friendly and hospitable which promotes respect and peace between them and the guests (Parasecoli, 2014). Before dinner they offer some words of greetings and the guests are not required to start eating until the host says words such as “please enjoy yourself are” (Serafica, 2014). The dishes in a table are arranged with the main courses at the centre and the other dishes placed evenly around them. The main dishes are prepared in a decorative form and are placed facing the major or elder people at the table, these acts embodies virtues (Padgett et al., 2013). Other table manners are similar to what the Americans already practiced like considering other members of the table by picking food from the plates in front of an individual rather than those in the middle of the table or in front of others. Concentration during meal times is only on the meals and other table members and such things as phone, television should be avoided (Ma, Qu, Njite and Chen, 2011). Elegance is also emphasized during dining times such that food is chewed with the mouth closed, using tissue and napkin to wipe food around the mouth instead of licking it with the tongue and avoiding noises when chewing food. The dining and etiquette manners has influenced the American culture and ensured they also have learnt additional and appropriate table manners. It also encouraged more Americans to visit Chinese restaurants and take their cuisines (Ma et al., 2011).

The gastronomic communications relate to the way different meals are used as a form of communication since it is directly linked to both ritual and culture of a group of people (Liu and Jones, 2014). There were certain message that were passed on by Chinese after eating some types of food in important occasions such as birthdays, weddings, holidays and funerals (Liu and Jones, 2014). There are also certain festivities that were solely focused on specific food items. For example to celebrate birthday occasions for young ones, they eat long noodles to communicate the longevity of the period he or she will live , during middle ages birthdays, peaches will also be added to communicate longevity, immortality as well as delightful couplets and candles (Liu and Jones, 2014). During wedding, couples are served with dates, peanuts; longan together with chestnuts to wish the couple will have a child soon in accord with the Chinese proclamation.  In case a person was returning home after a long absence from home, the return home is greeted with noodles while off home farewell is offered with dumplings (Patel, 2014). During New Year the fish has always been used by Chinese to suggest the accumulation of prosperity and wealth with meals (Frankling, 2010). Food plays an important part in the celebrations and important occasions in the Chinese culture, the meals ensures these events are characterized with special and tasty dishes making celebrations more colorful and more enjoyable (Ma et al., 2011).  The immigrants to the United States enhanced this culture to the Americans who also use different types of cuisines to celebrate different types of occasions like New Year, thanks giving and Christmas day where some of the foods introduced by Chinese are also taken (Frankling, 2010).

Chinese gastronomy from the Chinese immigrants has had a significant and lasting influence on the American cuisines since it is adaptive and persistent. This is due to the reason that after the introduction of these cuisines by Chinese to the American through their restaurants, they loved the food and led to adoption of some of the Chinese cuisines and varying methods of food preparation from the Chinese by the Americans as well development of others with have adopted art of the American and Chinese cuisines such as the Chop Suey (Chen, 2014). The Americans have also adopted some culinary and table etiquettes from the Chinese like the use of chop sticks. Other cultural customs that relate to the Chinese food have also been part of the American from the time they learnt them from the Chinese and they practice them until today (Padgett et al., 2013).  Gastronomy concepts and themes can therefore be passed from one generation to another from the ancient periods and also influence the cultural heritage of a different group of people (Chen, 2014). Cuisines are an important part of any group of people where different types of meals are used for communication and during celebrations to make them more meaningful. Different inventions values and wisdom can also arise from gastronomy of a particular culture

References

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Chen, Y. (2014). Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America. Columbia University Press.

Frankling, N. G., (2010). Food and Culture. Chinese America: History & Perspective, 113 -112

Kirkendall, J. M. (2010). Eating History. Chinese America: History & Perspectives, 123-132.

Liu, X., & Jones, M. K. (2014). Food globalisation in prehistory: top down or bottom up?. Antiquity88(341), 956-963.

Ma, J., Qu, H., Njite, D., & Chen, S. (2011). Western and Asian customers’ perception towards Chinese restaurants in the United States. Journal of Quality Assurance in Hospitality & Tourism12(2), 121-139.

Padgett, B. C., Kim, H., Goh, B. K., & Huffman, L. (2013). The Usefulness of the Theory of Planned Behavior: Understanding US Fast Food Consumption of Generation Y Chinese Consumers. Journal of Foodservice Business Research,16(5), 486-505.

Parasecoli, F. (2014). Food, Identity, and Cultural Reproduction in Immigrant Communities. Social Research: An International Quarterly81(2), 415-439.

Patel, S. S. (2014). America’s Chinatowns. Archaeology, 67(3), 38-43.

Serafica, R. C. (2014). Dietary Acculturation In Asian Americans.Journal Of Cultural Diversity21(4).

Tsu, T. Y. H. (2010). Fat, spices, culture and more: Chinese food in postwar japanese gastronomic writings. Asian Studies Review34(1), 63-81.

Yue, I., & Tang, S. (2013). Scribes of Gastronomy: Representations of Food and Drink in Imperial Chinese Literature (Vol. 1). Hong Kong University Press.