Learning by dining: The charm of Southeast Asian Food = the meaningful perspectives of culture

Over past decades, we have already heard the term “Leaning by Doing,” which is the new era of learning method. However, today I would like to introduce you guys to my newly invented method of cultural learning, called “Learning by Dining”. Yeah, I am going to bring your guys to the Southeast Asian kitchens to dine and learn about its cultures… ready? Go!

In Southeast Asia, dining is the most important part of life. The key reason is that more than 3 of 4 of the Southeast Asia population is agriculture-based. The staple food throughout the region is rice, which has been cultivated for thousands of years. In Thailand, when the guests come over to the house, the house owners always greet them that “Welcome…welcome… let’s eat some rice!”

Simple daily meals and elaborate feasts characterized all Southeast Asian culinary culture. In general, meat and veggies are typically chopped into small pieces prior to cooking, meaning that the food can be cooked quickly and economically. Most food is cooked by quick blanching or stir-frying and steaming. Simple life and sufficiency economy influenced Southeast Asian cuisine culture- Southeast Asians are concerned with nutrition, economy, and ease of preparation as it relates to their food.

Most of the region has a strong influence of Chinese and Indian foods. Even though the ingredients are mostly similar throughout most of the region, they are nonetheless adapted by each culture to suit their palate and taste. For example, the Thai spicy food is significantly different from the Malaysian or Indonesian ones.

Traditionally, food is consumed in Southeast Asian on a mat raised off the ground. In the past, people eat food with their hands. The warm temperature from body could help keep the food in the preferable temperature. Moreover, it is a very direct way to experience the food texture, and people usually wash their hands before and after the meals. Only the right hand is used as it is concerned as the cleaner hand. However, the western culture has impacted the modern homes to use a table, chairs, and utensils nowadays. Knives are still unnecessary, anyway. The exception is Vietnam, where the influence of China was much stronger than anywhere else in the region. In Vietnam, each person uses chopsticks to eat meals. Generally, food is eaten at room temperature as the climate is quite warm throughout the year. Compare to Western food, most of Southeast Asian food is relatively warm.

The food consumed in Southeast Asia varies not only by country, but by religious and ethnic tradition. The diversity makes Southeast Asian food an amazing adventure to people who try to master such cooking. From my experience, after I had some amazing wings at Pok-Pok restaurant in Southeast Portland, I tried to search for the recipe guide in Google. I found that many dudes tried to create the recipe for those wings. However, the ingredients seem so weird for Southeast Asian foods- some of them are maple syrup, ketchup, or butter! No way, those things are never or rarely the part of Southeast Asian dish! Instead, fish sauce, soy sauce, palm sugar, and some traditional herbs are the key of making Southeast Asian dish!

Popular meals in Southeast Asia consist of rice, fish, vegetables, fruits, and spices. Flavorings that are common include ginger, pepper, chili peppers, onions, garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, turmeric, lemon grass, cloves, tamarind, and lime. Coconut milk is often used to bind sharp flavors, while palm sugar is used to balance the spices.

The most important thing about dining culture is that it is an insult to refuse to eat food that is offered. Even you come over to the very poor house, please eat if they offered you a meal. Southeast Asians are income-limited but all gourmets, and the range of food choices are generally embraced rather than resented.

Yeah, and right now we all know some important things about Southeast Asian cuisine and its culture. The next mission is taking off from wherever you are to the nearby Southeast Asian restaurant, and enjoying the taste of Southeast Asian dishes!

Good luck!


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Filed under Common Questions, Food, Mao's Entries

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