Jun 19, 2008

Food, Pho, Bun

How and what a people eat says a lot about who they are. I'm used to western traditions of eating out where everyone has their own plate and sharing is rare except when it comes to dessert. Although you're all gathered together around the table, your meal is separate, your experience more individual.

Here, as in much of Asia, sharing is common, and not just sharing dishes "family style" as in the southern US, but a communal eating experience where everyone shares all the dishes and serves themselves using the same utensils they eat with. Yes, it's unsanitary but it's very human and I like it...so long as your dinner guests don't have hepatitis. (Realize this is coming from a man who wraps his clothes in plastic and sterilizes his dishes when he washes them.)

It's difficult to get a lot of insight into a culture when you don't speak the language, but based on the time I've spent with locals so far, the Vietnamese people are as sharing of assistance and money as they are of food. The curmudgeon's view is that's the communism talking, the more enlightened view is that when life is hard people are more willing to help one another. Counterintuitive at first, but if you're rich you can afford to be independent; if you're poor you and your neighbor need one other.

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