Monday, November 17, 2008

Eating Food Across the Borders

Perhaps the crossing of cultural borders is no better symbolized than in the realm of eating food.

For me it starts when I leave my local airport where I often have my last ‘real’ coffee, ground with beans. I often find coffee in countries that I visit to be usually of the instant variety so I go on a ‘coffee fast’ and keep to tea. That being said it is amazing how the real stuff can turn up in the backblocks.

I have noticed going as a teacher to other countries that often those responsible for preparing and serving foreigners can get quite uptight. They are often not used to cooking western food and they are often under the impression that this is what they need to prepare for westerners. When I inform them that I am very happy eating what the locals eat they appear greatly relieved. I am thankful that I love different sorts of food, especially spicy food and curries so eating times provide some of the highlights of my international experiences.

Nepali Food
I loved the Nepali food that I was served on a visit earlier this year.

Breakfast often involved a bowl of curried lentils (chana), sometimes some noodles, sometimes some slices of French toast, an omelet and always a cup of Nepali tea (it comes with milk and sugar).

Lunch and Dinner usually involved rice and plenty of it with a curry (one of bean, egg, potato or chicken). On a couple of occasions I had ‘buff’—buffalo meat which was tasty.

I was given a bowl of bananas and apples for my room.

I was invited out to dine in people’s homes and these were always wonderful experiences meeting people and see how the locals lived.

Eating Food and Acceptance
Eating the food of your guests is a big part of building affinity and rapport. It is taking part of their culture into yourself and is thus a practical sign of accepting them and all that they represent.

Testing Cultural Adaptability
In Malaysia one of the standard practices of the locals is to take foreign guests to the market and to buy them one of their fruits called durian (it is native to Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia). Even with the husk on the durian has a distinctive and strong smell. The flesh is an unusual mix of sweet and sour. The locals love to watch foreigners taste the fruit, make faces and go red because it heats up the body. It is not my preferred food but I enjoyed the experience.

If you are interested, check out the Wikipedia article on Durian and read the graphic descriptions by westerners (many of which are best not posted on this site!)

Delights of Cross-Cultural Experiences
Trying different food is one of the delights of cross-cultural travel and ministry. It can stretch your comfort level and reinforce your recognition that you are in another country.

So much culture is wrapped up and unwrapped in the presentation and acceptance of food and drink.

Eating and drinking gets lots of space in the Scriptures and many of the references point to the sacramental nature of this enjoyable pastime.

One of my favorite verses is on this theme:

“They ate and drank and they did see God.” (Ex. 24:11)

Doesn’t that thought start moving you toward the refrigerator?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Some of the delicious food I had one night with a family in Kathmandu.