I was told from a young age the easiest way to get in touch with your cultural heritage is through food. Many good memories and cultural traditions are passed down via food. Food is a way of connecting people to each other, bringing up good memories from the past. Food has a way of healing old wounds and making people happier. You have a sense of pride knowing you are connected to your culture through the use of food. However there are times when you question your cultural food choices, particularly if you haven’t grown up on certain dishes.
Reading Catfish and Mandala reminded me of my cultural closeness through food. Due to being bi-ethnic I learned how to cook food from both my ethnicities, however there were times when I found myself acting like a foreigner towards certain dishes. A prime example was when I had Chitlins or pig intestines. I had eaten menudo, thanks to my Hispanic mother and this was the first time I had Chitlins, an African American dish via my paternal grandmother. Unlike Menudo, which to me has an appetizing smell and taste, Chitlins were a gray stringy putrid smelling dish. Remembering the utter dislike I obtained from that African American dish, reminded me of Pham’s experience with Vietnamese food. While there are some dishes people can’t stand, most usually embrace a dish from their culture and that helps ease some of the pain or discomfort.
Pham’s trip however has the opposite effect. He shows us the Vietnamese culture through the eyes of an assimilated Vietnamese American trying to get back in touch with his roots. He hopes to get in touch with his roots mostly through interaction via food. In Pham’s case that’s exactly what he does, with disastrous results bringing to light his inability to accept his cultural heritage. This is strengthened by his experiences in regards to his American assimilation that is seen during the trip through Vietnam.
Many people find food as therapeutic, either through eating it or through the preparation of it. Having a bad experience with a certain food can instantly ruin your view about a culture. Not to mention food is seen as a very stimulating sensual gateway. Memories god and bad can arise from certain foods. It makes sense why Pham is upset with his inability to stomach Vietnamese food.
At the beginning of the book, Pham is seen as an outsider eager to get back in touch with the culture he was forced to leave behind due to the Vietnam War. Throughout the beginning of the book, he discusses various aspects of his trip, detailing the food trying many things with his male family members. One scene that shows just how desperate he is, to get in touch with his roots is the scene of him drinking a cobra heart mixed with rice wine. He reluctantly complies in a bar full of fellow Vietnamese patrons.
“You said you want to be Vietnamese. You want to try everything we do. It doesn’t get more Vietnamese than this”’ (Pham 84). By mimicking his male family members, Andrew tried to...