The Importance of Food in Asian Culture5 Jan 2023
Moving abroad to a completely different country, especially a different continent, can be the start of an incredibly exciting new adventure for your life. However, there may be a lot of different things you’ll need to adjust to in order to ensure a smooth transition. Whether it’s learning a new language to make more friends, understanding the work culture of your new company, or adjusting to a new cuisine, we’re here to help you.
Regardless of your background, country, culture, or religion, food is a vital part of our lives. Food unites people of different backgrounds, strengthens existing bonds within a community, and plays a significant role in how we express ourselves. Since food has such a big part of our lives, eating a new cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner can be a really big challenge for a lot of people.
In this article, we’ll go through the importance of food and what role it plays in our different cultures, as well as how you can overcome any “food fears” or culture shocks you may have
The Function of Food in Culture
1. Represents social status
Food can play a huge role in representing one’s social status. When you think about “luxury food” there are definitely a few luxury ingredients that may come into your mind, such as caviar, truffles, lobsters, and more. Eating or serving luxurious or expensive food is a way for people to show their wealth and social status in many countries, both in the Western world and the East.
2. Celebrate important events
People use special food to celebrate different important events or festivals, such as a lavish Thanksgiving dinner with Turkey for Americans, giving chocolate for Valentine’s Day, or carving jack-o-lanterns for Halloween. In Asian countries, food is also used to commemorate important events such as weddings, religious events and more.
3. Symbolic significance
Both Western and Asian cultures place a significance on the different nutritional characteristics of certain foods. However, in Asian cultures different foods hold symbolic significance that go beyond just nutrition. The symbolism of food in China actually dates back at least 2,000 years and has been a huge part of their culture.
For example, dumplings are eaten during the New Year to signify wealth because they resemble ancient silver and gold ingots. In Asian culture, roundness symbolises completeness and togetherness. Round mooncakes are often eaten during family reunions at Mid-Autumn Festival. Pomelos represent abundance, and noodles mean longevity of life.
The Differences between Eastern & Western Eating Habits
Here are a few essential differences you’ll find between Eastern and Western cultures when it comes to preparing, serving and eating food in Asia:
1. Eating Utensils
In Western culture, eating with a knife and a fork – and sometimes spoon – is considered the norm. However, in Eastern countries you may find that it is more common to use chopsticks or even your bare hand, for example, in Muslim countries it is the norm for people to eat with their right hand as it is in line with their faith.
2. Cooking Techniques
Western cuisine is mainly prepared by stewing, frying or baking. For example, food like fries, pizza, roast poultry, and pies. The main course is mostly served either warm or hot with very few raw or cold main dishes – especially if the dish is savoury.
In Asian countries, rather than frying or baking, people prefer different cooking techniques such as steaming and braising, as well as stir frying. You will also find “cold” savoury dishes such as sushi, cold noodles, and more.
3. Table & Seating Configuration
If you have ever visited an Asian household, you may have noticed that they prefer circular dining tables instead of rectangular ones. Dining around a round table is very common in Asian cultures as it encourages inclusivity, and conversations, and it is also easier to make sure the food can be easily shared.
In Western cultures, the dining table is usually rectangular in shape, with the eldest or most senior person taking the seat at the end of the table. For example, your mother and father would usually be on either end of the table, leaving room for you and your siblings to sit between them at the side.
4. Sharing & Individual Dishes
This may be one of the biggest differences you will come across when it comes to eating habits of the East versus the West. In Asian culture, most of dishes are designed to be shared and eaten accompanied by either rice or noodles. Thus, when food is being prepared or served, usually everyone will have a plate of rice or a bowl of noodles and will take turns trying different dishes.
Whereas in Western countries, it is more common for people to order or prepare food individually. Everyone has their own plate they eat on, and it is not as common to share a variety of dishes as in the East.
5. Balance & Variety
When you go to a Western restaurant, you’ll generally choose a meal for yourself, which may include a starter, a main course, and then a dessert to finish the meal off. In Asian countries, people will order a variety of food that can be shared by everyone eating at the same table instead. For example, instead of choosing individual starters, main courses, and desserts, they’ll make sure they have a variety of food which may include a soup, a base of rice or noodles, a vegetable dish, and then a meat dish.
6. Serving Size
It is no secret that portion sizes tend to be bigger in Western countries than in Asian countries. The United States is notorious for having “supersize” options in various fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s, whereas, in Asian countries, dishes are much smaller. Asians use chopsticks instead of a knife and fork, which requires dishes to be prepared in more bite-size portions. As Asians like to share a variety of dishes, portion sizes in Asia tend to be smaller than in the West to allow for more choices.
Understanding & Working through Culture Shocks
1. Do your research
If you think that eating something new or doing something new in general tends to make you nervous, then our advice is to research and learn as much as you can about the new type of food you are planning to try, or learn about the something new you will be doing, before you go with your new colleagues.
Doing your own research means there will be less chance of “surprises” for you, in addition to this, knowing what ingredients are in a certain dish can minimise your feelings of anxiety as there will be less of an element of the “unknown.”
2. Stay open-minded
Keeping an open mind can be difficult; however, it opens you up to be more receptive to new experiences, new flavours, and more understanding in every aspect of your life. Keeping an open-mind means you are less likely to be driven by prejudice, which can cause unnecessary stress and tension between you and your colleagues when you go out and try something new with them.
Embracing open-mindedness can also help you resolve conflicts positively, which is an essential skill in the workplace – especially if you’re transitioning from working in the West to the East. Learn more about etiquette and Asian work culture in our other blog here.
3. Be respectful
While cultural differences may seem daunting or even scary due to our individual fear of the unknown, you have much more to gain when you learn to embrace and respect the culture and differences among countries.
Variety makes life so interesting, so try to balance being cautious and appreciating new experiences. You don’t have to like everything new, but being respectful is an essential skill to learn.
4. Ask for food recommendations
As you get to know your new friends or coworkers working in the same place as you, we encourage you to ask them for food recommendations. In every country, and especially in Asian countries, there are various choices in terms of food, so asking for someone else’s food recommendations can be an easy way to dip your toes into new experiences.
5. Don’t overwhelm yourself straight away
Moving to an entirely different country is enough of an overwhelming experience in itself, so cut yourself some slack and don’t try to overwhelm yourself straight away with trying every new dish.
It is okay to take your time to try new food. It is very important to learn, grow and adjust at your own pace because when we feel overwhelmed, we tend to completely give up and drop whatever we are doing, which can lead to missing out on great new experiences.
6. Allow your body time to get used to the cuisine
It is completely normal for your body to need time to acclimate to different cuisines, so try not to panic if you feel some discomfort. The more you start incorporating these new tastes and textures into your diet, the easier it will be for your body to adapt.
The Importance of Understanding & Respecting Different Cultures
Cultures vary from country to country, if we could all learn and understand more about other cultures, and respect their values and beliefs, we would be able to build a relationship and have a better understanding of one another. The most important thing is to treat everyone with respect, and accept that other people may define “respect” differently.
If you are looking to relocate domestically, internationally, or even relocate your business, Asian Tigers has end-to-end services to support every aspect of your move to make this huge step more efficiently and easier for you. Whether you’re looking for experienced staff to handle your prized possessions, security and protection for your items and more, we’ve got you covered.
Simply contact us and tell us about your move and receive free moving quotes to help you compare, select, and save money in the process.