The Joy of Sharing | 有饭同享

By Aileen Huang BK’17

Aileen Huang explores the Chinese way of sharing food in and how adapting to ways of eating can define cross-cultural experiences.

ORIGINAL

2015年春假,我和几位同学一起去参加了耶鲁大学Building Bridges的游学活动。我们的任务是去福建省的农村教留守儿童英文,介绍耶鲁大学以及美国文化。我们团的同学大部分都没有中国血统,并且对中国文化、传统料理与餐饮习俗没有足够的了解。而我是美籍华人,从小受到相对贴近中国文化的教育。所以,当同行的朋友们拒绝接受中国饮食习俗时,我感到十分惊讶。

上海是我们的中国之旅第一站。当我们第一次走进一家中餐馆的时候,我发现只有大概一半的同学愿意像中国人一样点几道菜一起分享,另一半却坚持要各点各的菜。我和几位同学点了外焦里嫩的松鼠鱼、新鲜的烤扇贝和香喷喷的东坡肉。然而一位女生只点了一大盘铁板牛肉。结果她发现她自己一个人根本吃不了那么多,只能十分羡慕地看着我们分享各种美食。还有一位男同学对中国的食品安全没有信心,于是在餐馆一口肉也不吃,只点了一盘炒饭。而当我们吃完饭回到旅馆后,我看到他坐在大厅里,手里攥着一个麦当劳的汉堡包。

我对这些不愿意开阔自己的眼界、不主动接受外国文化习俗的同学们感到失望。我们既然来到中国,就要入乡随俗。铁板肉配上炒空心菜和白米饭,再分到每个人的盘子里,是中国人的传统。一家人吃饭的时候,通常会聊天,相互交流感情,谈谈当天的经历,开心和烦心的事情。饭快吃完的时候,孩子们会比着看谁能够先夹得到盘子上的最后几条笋干。而分享食物不仅象征着亲情和友情,也反映着中国文化中集体主义的成分。而美国人通常习惯在餐厅各点各的菜,很少分享。这种行为代表着美国个人主义的观念。

我们在中国的那两周中,那两位同学一直没有适应中国的环境。我回到美国之后,才终于认识到他们受到文化冲击的原因。有一天,我坐在耶鲁的大食堂Commons里吃午饭时,突然发现自己不情愿地用叉子反复戳着自己盘子里的西洋孢子甘蓝和未煮过的小豆腐块。我来耶鲁之前从来没吃过孢子甘蓝,更不能想象豆腐在煮熟和调味之前可以入口。对它们的厌恶是我在耶鲁遭受的文化冲击的缩影。我来自德州的一个亚裔人口集中的城郊地区,从小到高中大多数的朋友都是亚洲人。大一时,我发现我在耶鲁属于少数族裔。由于我与众不同的肤色和价值观,我在学校里经常会被人另眼看待。我一直都觉得我似乎身处异地,而且可能永远无法摆脱心中的不安。虽然我在过去的三年一直尝试戴上一张白人的假面具,但是我意识到,我心中的不安和那两位同学在中国受到的文化冲击实际上是一模一样的。

不过,我相信饮食终会拥有一种建立友谊和促进文化交流的作用。在上海的第一天,我跟朋友们分享新鲜扇贝和东坡肉的时候,我和朋友们都在陌生的环境中倍感亲切。我们有说有笑,不停地讲着自己在飞机上做了什么。快吃完的时候,大家就开始比赛,将筷子对准桌上最后几个小笼包,争作一团,乐在其中。

TRANSLATION

In the spring of 2015, I traveled to Shanghai as a part of Yale’s Building Bridges program, a small detour on our way to the Chinese countryside to teach English to disadvantaged children. Most Yalies in the group had never been to China before, much less seen Chinese food — real Chinese food, not the great sham that is orange chicken and chop suey. The real problem for our group, however, was not Chinese food itself, but how to share the dishes. Being of Chinese ethnicity, I found myself struggling to understand why some my friends weren’t receptive to Chinese dining customs.

When we sat down in a restaurant to our first hot meal in China, I was surprised to find that only half of my group was open-minded enough to share Chinese food family-style — the way it’s meant to be consumed. The other half insisted on ordering one dish per person. The sharing group ordered a beautiful plate of luxurious squirrel-style fish — a dish in which the fish is deep-fried and a sweet and sour sauce is poured over it. In contrast, one of the girls who decided to order individually decided that she only craved a plate of beef. She gestured at a picture of sizzling beef on the menu, portioned for at least three people, to a bemusedChinese waiter. When the plate of beef was served to her, she picked at it incessantly while staring enviously at our group that shared dishes the Chinese way.

Another guy balked at the sight of any meat on the dinner table, regardless of what it was. He claimed that he couldn’t trust the meat in China, and ordered a plate of stir-fried rice instead. While the group that decided to share was gorging on fresh, sweet braised clams, soup dumplings, and red-cooked pork belly, he prodded at his own stir-fried rice. Sometime after the meal, when we had returned to our hotel, I saw him clutching a greasy burger from McDonald’s.

I, of course, felt disappointed by those who weren’t willing to open themselves up to a different dining experience. Chinese food was not created to be eaten individually, but rather to be shared with friends and family. A protein like sizzling beef is intended to be counterbalanced masterfully with a plate of stir-fried water spinach and a hot bowl of rice. And all of these things must be shared, with the same love with which Chinese mothers cook these dishes.

Dining customs are an indicator of the values native to a particular culture. Sharing food family-style is an embodiment of communalism. A typical meal begins with a conversation around the table about each family member’s day, and ends with competing with one’s siblings for the last shreds of julienned bamboo shoots. On the other hand, eating food in individual portions naturally places emphasis on the individual. Our two friends who refused to participate in sharing food never acclimated to Chinese customs in the brief two weeks that we were there.

Only after the trip did I finally understand the culture shock that they must have experienced. I was sitting in Commons one day a few weeks after the trip, picking at a plate of Brussels sprouts and cold, uncooked tofu — two things that I had never eaten before coming to Yale — when I suddenly recalled my own culture shock that I experienced when I first stepped foot on campus in freshman year. Coming from a mostly Asian suburb in Texas, as a freshman I quickly realized that I had become a minority, an inconsequential droplet in a sea of diverse experiences. I felt shunned and stereotyped by other Yalies due to the color of my skin and how I conducted myself in habit and custom. This culture shock manifested itself in the Brussels sprouts that I struggled with putting in my body, the cold tofu in the salad bar (Chinese people never eat tofu cold), and the Americanized soy milk that populated dining hall fridges. It reared its head when I would dine out with a group of friends: I would think that it was courteous to put food in my friends’ plates, but my friends would feel that this was condescending. It was a creeping, pervasive uneasiness that I could never rid myself of, even years after carefully forging a mask of mainstream whiteness and acclimating to the ivory towers of Yale. What I felt — and continually feel — must have been the same culture shock and alienation that the two Yalies who refused to share food in Shanghai experienced.

Still, I believe that food can be a powerful force for encouraging cross-cultural contact and forging bonds. That day, when I shared those sweet clams, those soup dumplings, and that braised pork belly with my friends, I felt at home, despite being surrounded by strangers in a foreign country. Later, back at Yale, they told me that they had felt the same way. After all, our meal in Shanghai began with a conversation about our days, and ended with a competition over who could snatch the last dumpling.

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