Food Culture of International Students at The University.

Food Culture of International Students at The University.

Growing up I was fortunate enough to have a couple friends who had either moved to the United States when they were younger, or had parents who were immigrants, and raised their kids with some of their cultures customs. Because of this, I’ve grown up seeing first hand how families who move from other countries use food as a way to identify with their native cultures while living in the United States. So with The University of Arizona having such a diverse student body, I wanted to explore if students who were raised with another countries customs continued to use food as a way to identify with their culture while going to school here. Again while at U of A I’ve found friends who have both moved to the U.S. from other countries and friends who were raised with customs of other countries. I asked to observe three of my friends preparing their favorite meal that was typical in their household growing up. The three people I observed are all from different countries and were raised with different customs. ______, moved to the United States from South Korea with his family when he was 6 years old. __________, with his mom and dad, left Iran in 2000 when was only 3 years old, eventually ending up in the Berkeley California where he was raised. His dad went on to open a Persian restaurant in San Francisco before closing it this past year. Lastly my friend ____________, was the only person who I observed make food who was born and has lived in the United States their entire life. His parents moved here together from India three years before he was born. Although he never lived in India, he’s traveled there more than 5 times and still has a lot of family currently living there. My observations took place over three days, having a different person make their meal each day. While they were preparing the meals I simply tried to have a conversation with them about what situations they would have had this meal, and just tried to get them to talk about their experiences with food growing up. I recorded our conversations on a computer and made notes of the time when I thought he said something interesting.
Although as I said before that I had friends growing up who were from different countries, I hadn’t had any first hand experience with Indian, South Korean, or Iranian cultures. So while I knew all the participants I was observing, I was an outsider to this group in the sense that I had no real previous knowledge of the customs and heritage of their countries.
The first night I did observations I went to ____’s apartment to watch him prepare his meal. I was a participant observer in this study because not only did I observe him make the food I also ate the meal. The reason I started with ____was because he more often engages with culinary traditions of his culture than ______ and ______. “I usually spend one night a month making a ton of food of one dish. I’ll save whatever I don’t eat that night and usually have enough extras for 3 or 4 meals after that. So I’d say I eat Korean food probably five times a month or so.” ________ responded when I asked him if he kept track of how often he ate Korean food. He went on to explain how he was making his favorite Korean food, a meet based dish called “Bulgogi”. “I know how to cook two other Korean meals pretty decently, I’ll cook those occasionally but most of the time this is what I eat.” While he was preparing and cooking the food I was trying to steer the conversation towards why he still made Korean food so frequently. I was reluctant to ask super specific questions because I didn’t want to walk him into an answer he’d thought I’d want to hear. So I started asking him about any Korean customs or traditions his family practiced when they lived in America, whether it had to do with food or not. He took a minute to think about it and replied, “Honestly besides speaking Korean, and not being allowed to wear shoes in the house, I cant think of too many that don’t involve some aspect of food.” He went on to say how even the Korean holidays they celebrate usually have some sort Korean food that goes with it. This isn’t too surprising to me. I can only imagine that it’s difficult to incorporate many of the customs and traditions they would practice in Korea here in the United States. But food is unique, making Korean meals is a simple way a family who moved here from another country can identify with their culture and incorporate it into their everyday life. In total, the meal took about an hour and a half to prepare and cook. The finished product was thin sliced beef on top of white rice with soy sauce, grilled onions, garlic and some peppers. This was my first time trying Korean food and _______ told me that Bulgogi was probably the most popular Korean dish amongst Americans, and for good reason, it was delicious. A couple minutes into eating I pointed out that making multiple meals of Bulgogi couldn’t be cheap seeing the amount of meat and ingredients used each time he cooked. He laughed a little and responded, “It’s funny, I told my mom I started doing this each month and now she always checks to make sure I have enough money to buy what I need to make the meals.” Maybe its just a mom being a good mom but after learning how much ______families Korean identity growing up revolved around the meals they typically ate, it seems as if his mom goes out of her way to make sure that her son can always have some part of Korean culture in his life. I think it’s also important to note that __________ admits he doesn’t normally cook any other food like this. “I’ll either eat out or make something small for dinner, but nothing like this.” I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that the only big meals he cooks himself are Korean. Although he never said it, it seemed to me by the end of the meal, that his parents emphasized eating Korean food when they first moved to America as a way to keep Korean culture apart of their lives. And since moving out, ______has continued to make Korean food pretty regularly. Maybe its simply because it taste good, but it seems that food has always been a major influence of ________ and his families cultural identity.
The next night I met with ______ to try some Iranian/Persian food. His meal of choice was Kebabs and rice. I decided to change my approach with _______ and be a little more specific with the questions I asked him. My reasoning was that I knew his father owned a Persian restaurant at one point, so I figured his experience with his cultures food would be more evident than ______’s. So early on when I asked _______ about what his cultures food meant to him and his family, his response was quick, “It was everything honestly. It was how my parents made a living when they first moved to the United States.” Aside from eating at the restaurant, Persian meals were a common occurrence in __________’s house. He admitted he doesn’t eat or prepare Persian food as often as he’d like, “I wouldn’t say that I eat Persian food a certain amount of times a month or anything. I mostly just make it when I’m in the mood for it. Sometimes its twice a week, other times ill go months without eating it.” He added. Later in the night he told me he’d be more inclined to make Persian dishes it if he was a better cook. He mentioned multiple times how lucky he thought he was that his dad opened his restaurant. “You don’t run into a lot of other people from Iran or the Middle East in your everyday life, my dads restaurant really exposed me to the Persian community in the Bay Area as a whole” he told me one of the times he mentioned it. Once ________ had finished cooking the meat it was just a matter of adding peppers and mushrooms to the skew. He also mentioned that he used beef as his meat but the most popular meat amongst Middle Eastern people is lamb. I didn’t spend as much time observing _________, mostly because the Kebab’s didn’t take long to prepare. But although ________doesn’t prepare or eat Persian food as often anymore, he still does on occasion. And similar to __________, it seems to be his upbringing and attempt to identify with his culture through food that are the biggest reasons he still remains to do so.
Lastly I visited _______, while he was born in America both of his parents are from India, and raised him using many of their traditional customs. __________decided to make chicken tikka masala. Before he started cooking he warned me that he’d only made this dish once and that it was over 5 years ago with the help of his mom. I thought that was a good place to start the conversation. “We had a bunch of family over to our house to celebrate something, I don’t even remember what it was for, all I remember was how determined my mom was to make me help her cook it.” He explained to me when I asked him more about the first time he had made it. While he acknowledged that his mom had been making Indian cuisine for as long as he remembered, he admitted early on its not his favorite type of food, “I’d have to say it’d be Italian (food).” He added. ___________says he thinks of himself as an American first, but recognized how his appreciation for Indian culture has grown as he’s gotten older. “The first two times I visited India I hated it, I was really young so I don’t remember a lot about the trips but my parents told me I complained the entire time.” He told me while laughing, but said that the past couple trips he’s enjoyed himself a lot more. I decided to be straight up with him and ask if he thought Indian food helped him identify with his heritage, because I didn’t think I’d get a clear picture just from talking to them like I did ____ and ________. He paused for a second and said, “…I guess in some sense I do, like I said I’ve come to appreciate Indian food as I’ve grown older, and I’ve felt more and more comfortable when I visit India ever since I started to enjoy the food.” __________ becoming more comfortable in India after beginning to enjoy there food is a great example of how food helps people relate to their native origins.
All three people I observed had different upbringings, and each had their own unique connection to their cultures food in some way. Through this experience I learned how much different cultures food have on the citizens and families in those cultures. To continue this study on a large scale the biggest thing necessary would to continue talking with immigrants of different cultures about their experiences with their heritages food. With a larger group to observe you would likely notice larger trends and themes that I was unable to notice with such a small number of participants.
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