November 8, 2018

Food for Thought

Every cuisine has something that smells bad, like cheese, garlic, natto, stinky tofu, surströmming, kimchi, and durian. Looks is easy to control or even hide, but odor is not. The smell of cheese and garlic are so common in the US that people don’t feel the need to suppress it while cooking or eating, but many people, particularly immigrants, feel embarrassed or even ashamed of the smell of their uncommon ingredients.

hen my parents were living in the Upper West Side, they used to cook fish in the bathroom because it had a ventilation system and the door can be closed shut. They were worried about what their neighbors would think of them.

At the Malaysian food festival pictured above, durians were everywhere. They made it a central theme of the festival. There was a sense that it’s a political statement, as if to tell Americans, “We love durians and we want you to accept us for who we are.” Oder causing embarrassment is particularly painful for the kids of immigrant parents because they feel they can’t invite their friends over for dinner. Since typical American kids can only eat pizza, almost any Asian food can smell, look, and taste weird and nasty. Since teenagers are still trying to negotiate the fine line between being just like everyone else and expressing their uniqueness, they can’t handle anything too different.

This is why many immigrants look happy when they see you eat their food. They are not just amused; your acceptance of their food has much deeper political implications. You eating their food means they moved a step closer towards the day when they can openly be themselves.

#durian #immigrants #ethnicfood #smellyfood #stinkyfood #smell #nycfood #nycfoodie #malaysianfood