Food + Drink » Pan-Asian Palate

How we eat our food is just as important as the food itself

The way white folks eat is not the standard.

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Getting together for meals has always been a special part of life for most Asian cultures. It’s a time where we can come together, forget all our worries and share one of life’s biggest joys. How we eat our food is just as important as the food itself. It can help create an experience that makes eating more enjoyable, and even be a peek into our culture’s history.

To switch between different mannerisms depending on what food you’re eating and who you’re eating with shows great respect and I really wish more people did this. The way white folks eat is not the standard and not everyone should be expected to follow Western rules, especially when we’re eating our own food!

I remember being a teenager going over to my non-Asian friends’ houses and having the most anxiety using a fork and knife at the dinner table. Even to this day, I get a little nervous when I go out to eat and have to remember which fork to use (why are there so many fucking utensils????). My family has always used chopsticks, even when eating salads. It’s not like we didn’t have forks and knives at the house, it’s just that we find chopsticks so much more useful and versatile. And what’s even more useful are your hands.

Asian food has been so bastardized by Western culture and it’s time to take that back. No more phorritos, no more ramen burgers. Eat our food the way it was intended. You’ll have a much better experience and make us cringe less.

Korean table BBQ has blown up within the last couple of years. I’m super-happy that more and more people are starting to try it out. This style of eating has been the center of some of my best memories. There is absolutely no better way to say “I love you” than to grill up pieces of pork belly, or some veg, for others.

Since I was the youngest in my family, it was my responsibility to do the grilling for everyone. It sounds like a lot, but this duty came with its benefits. The elders would wrap up meat, rice and samjjang (a type of sauce) in crisp lettuce and feed me while I worked. It’s awkward when you get a wrap that’s too big for your mouth, but it’s all in the name of fun and good times.

If you drink, Korean table BBQ is one of the best gateways into some Korean drinking games. Look them up and try some out, they’re really a blast. The rules around drinking are more strict when you’re with elders, but when you’re around your friends you can relax a bit more—though the youngest still has to pour shots. The youngest in the group must pour with two hands, one on the bottle and the other hand just lightly touching your wrist or elbow. It’s the same when someone is pouring you a drink.

You must never pour for yourself, youngest or not. This keeps the whole table engaged with the meal and shows the people you are with that you care about them.

There are so many more eating etiquettes around sharing a Korean meal, like:
• Always keep your bowl of rice on the table, do not lift your bowl
• Don’t stab food with chopsticks or dig around in the banchan (side dishes) for that perfect piece. If the person you’re eating with really loves you, if they see that perfect piece, they’ll give it to you.
• Don’t stick your chopsticks straight up in your bowl of rice
• Before you eat, say “I will eat well” (chal moe-gae sum nida) and after you’re done eating you say “I ate well” (chal moe-go sum nida)
• Keep pace with everyone else! Don’t wolf your food down

It may be a lot to remember while you’re hungry, but all of these things are to show respect to the people you’re eating with and to the food you are eating. So next time you’re eating food from another culture, why not educate yourself on that culture’s etiquette?

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