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Guest Post: Food Building Cultural Bridges

Today’s guest post comes from Olivia of Trying to Conceive.   Olivia stays at home with her two children and blogs about female health and fertility at Trying To Conceive. If you are hoping for a visit from the stork, her free ovulation calendar helps you determine your most fertile days. This post is a great look into the world of international relationships and the role food plays in them! 

I will never forget how my Korean boyfriend tried to eat spaghetti with only a spoon, and looked puzzled and embarrassed when he was unable to successfully lift them to his mouth. We were on holiday in London, England together and our friendly hotel receptionist managed to get us into a fancy, full-till-the-end-of-the-year, Italian restaurant. It was one of these places with a few, carefully selected, dishes on the menu. I chose a beautiful vegetarian risotto and my boyfriend, accepting the waiter’s recommendation, ordered this spaghetti which he had no idea how to eat!

We laughed together as I showed him how Italians eat spaghetti, using a spoon to wrap the pasta around their fork. Then, I showed him that it is also possible to cut the spaghetti into smaller pieces and then eat them with knife and fork. As a committed foodie, bonding over expensive, beautiful food certainly was nothing new to me. And a year before the spaghetti incident, I was the embarrassed one as my boyfriend introduced me to Korean food and how to eat it. Unlike Chinese people, Koreans use a spoon to eat rice. And their chop sticks are made of metal, making it very hard for a western newcomer like myself to use them.

They say for a reason that the bedroom is the best way to learn a language. It was certainly an effective way for me to learn Korean! But if a relationship with a native speaker is the best way to acquire a new tongue, food is the easiest way to get an introduction to a new culture. Now, more than a decade later (and after graduating from a Korean university!), I am married to a Serb. We also bonded over dinners, but Serbian food, like the cuisine of my own country of origin (the Netherlands), is nowhere near as exciting as Korean food. I still regularly cook Korean dishes, which are more friendly to vegetarians like us, for my husband and my two children.

When I was suffering from the most pleasing of pregnancy signs – food cravings – it was kimchi and bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables, fried in a boiling hot stone bowl) that I craved. I remembered how my Korean boyfriend’s mother taught me how to make kimchi, and because Korean spices and ingredients are not available where we live now, I ordered them off the internet. I made most dishes completely from scratch, and I am convinced that it is because of my pregnancy eating habits that my five year-old daughter “steals” gochujang, an authentically Korean hot chilly sauce, from the fridge and eats it straight out of the red plastic box when she gets a chance!

Food, indeed, builds cultural bridges and brings us closer together. Foods from all over the globe help us get to know new cultures, and makes us global citizens. It is because of the food that I cook, and not because of the language I speak or the degree I got, that I still consider myself somewhat of a Korean even now. It is because of the food I cook that my European, blond-haired and blue-eyed children know all about Korea, that far-away country where their mother once bonded to a wonderful culture with a rich history over kimchi and kimbap (Korean sushi).

I’d love to know your stories – have you experienced something similar?  What role has food played in your relationship(s)?

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