Food as an Expression of Culture

Sanny Yang
October 13, 2021
Paella Marisco

Eating to live or living to eat? The difference can get blurred in today’s time of foodies and social media.

I think we can all agree that food is an integral part of human survival; however, it’s not only about the nutrition it provides. In fact, food and eating habits reveal so much about culture and identity. "Food as an Expression of Culture" is a course I am taking through IES Abroad in Barcelona. As a class, we’ve learned how culture and identity are relevant to food because they influence every choice and decision we make and discussed how our food preferences are shaped by our culture, life experiences, and those around us. As I took note of what and how I ate during my last 5 weeks in Spain for a paper, I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I’ve learned about the culture from eating their delicious foods!

Since a big part of studying abroad for me was to immerse myself into a different culture, I made a serious effort to step out of my comfort zone and try new foods. So far, I’ve tried patatas bravas, ensaladilla rusa, gambas al ajillo, calamari, bikini, bocadillo de queso manchego, and paella marisco. I enjoyed all the new flavors. The paella especially had me coming back for more as all the flavors from the vegetables, seafood, and spices came together over an open fire (words cannot do it justice). Aside from the paella, the other dishes listed are tapas. They’re smaller-portioned dishes that you and I would think of as appetizers. While visiting different restaurants, I noticed that most tables would order a couple tapas to share amongst the table.

Gambas al Ajillo - tapa
Different types of cheese in Spain

At restaurants, you would also notice the stark different in the pace of service. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and the waiters aren’t hovering over you asking if everything is good every five minutes. Contrary to how we tend to order, eat, and leave in a span of half an hour, the Spanish practice what is referred to as a sobremesa. This is the Spanish tradition of relaxing at the table after a meal that can last for half an hour or even over an hour. They are not in a rush to leave, and the waiters aren’t in a rush to hurry them along either. The sharing of tapas and sobremesa both promote sociability during mealtimes. Contrary to how we tend to eat on the go or leave the restaurant as soon as we are done, the Spanish view meals as time set aside to spend with family and friends.

As I have been taking it all in (literally, into my tummy), I have come to appreciate the Spanish view on meals and mealtimes especially with my Korean background. Food plays a big role in the Korean culture and society. Koreans greet each other by asking “Have you eaten?” When someone is sick, you ask, “Have you eaten?” Food is a love language in Korea. It’s how you show those around you that you care about them. I had almost forgotten about my own cultural lens that shapes my perspective on food, but being in Spain seems to have reawakened this part of my identity.

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Sanny Yang

<p>Hi, my name is Sanny Yang. I am a senior at Hope College (Holland, MI) studying Political Science and Global Studies. I was born in South Korea but mostly grew up in Lilongwe, Malawi. I am excited to study abroad in Barcelona, Spain and to share this journey with you!</p>

Home University:
Hope College
Lilongwe, Malawi
Global Studies
Political Science
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