Eating as a Traditional Custom

Food. Everybody needs it. Food is the one thing in life that will CONSISTENTLY make me happy. I love food. More importantly, I love different types of food. I think my willingness to try new foods stems from living in two contrastingly different countries with highly distinctive cuisine.

Forgive me if I overgeneralize my own culture, but what's the first word that pops into your mind when I say Asian food? I bet you that 90% of the people will answer either 'chopsticks' or 'rice'. Yes, a majority of Asians use chopsticks to eat. And yes, many countries' staple food is rice. So similar, yet we can trace characteristics that are unique to our specific cultures. There're simple comparisons I can easily conclude for each country's cuisine: most popular dish, types of spices used, or most popular alcohol. What about the actual culture of the food?

I think you can tell a lot about a person's life by watching the way they eat. Depending on the occasion and dish, Korean food can be the most simple or most complex to prepare. I find food to be a symbolic importance at various events; in other words, sometimes we prepare and eat food, not because we're hungry, but for the sake of custom and cultural respect. Okay, food at weddings, parties, and ceremonies all make sense. But food served similar to that of at a wedding...also at a funeral?

A continuation of tradition and heritage, if you will. I can't say I know much about Korean life centuries ago, but it's very obvious that food wasn't as convenient as it is now. To keep food fresh, everything must be cut, prepared, and cooked hours before it was to be served. In other words, cooks (most often women, that's a story I'll delve into another day) would spend the earliest hours of the day cooking breakfast, then clean-up after breakfast, then immediately begin preparing lunch, then another clean-up session, and then right back into preparing dinner. Through spending hours on end cooking, cooks (women) took this time to socialize and pass time with one another.

Yes, food brings people together; it is a time for us to gather as families and share time together. This custom is so inherently engraved into my body that it was only a year ago when I realized
why I always met and hung-out with friends over a meal or a cup of coffee. A friend and I were making plans to meet up one afternoon when she asked, "could we find something to do that doesn't involve us eating and spending money?" Of course I agreed, but that was the moment I realized that when making plans with friends and family, I have always centered them around sharing a meal or drink.

Something else that's interesting...when I first pick up the phone to say hello to a family member or friend, the next thing I say is..."did you eat?" Bizarre, because this is synonymous to "what's up?" or "how are you?"

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