Understanding Implications of Cultural Relations through Food

After moving into a more residential sect of College Park, I became unhealthily attached to the lethargic lifestyle of food delivery. One of my favorite places to order meals from was a quaint Japanese restaurant called Hanami as it was located just a few blocks from my house and had one of the lowest minimum charges for delivery in College Park. I had always appreciated how tidy the packaging was with the orders placed in small black boxes with gold Japanese characters decorating the container. Soon after this assignment was tasked, I had come to realize that for all the times I have ordered food for delivery from Hanami, I have never once stepped foot inside the restaurant.

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I decided to treat myself and drove to Hanami for dinner one night. Despite having rarely seen the front of the restaurant, I couldn’t miss it. In addition to a bright red-lit sign that read “Hanami Japanese Restaurant,” there were other restaurant signs in the window that read “Sushi” and “Kirin,” which is a Japanese brewing company. As I walked in, I was greeted by a corridor lined with pink walls, furnished with framed paper art, that led me to the front counter. The paper cut-outs depicted various birds and insects and were evocative of origami. I was taken to a small table for two in the back corner of the restaurant facing the bar, which is where two sushi chefs were preparing a variety of orders. Dressed in black and red collared long sleeves, the chefs also donned traditional “sushi skull hats” as they prepared the food behind a lengthy glass container that lined the bar and showcased the different fish, vegetables, and other ingredients they used in the sushi dishes.

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Once I received a menu and a glass of water, I immediately located my three favorite items, the asparagus roll, sweet potato roll and “yasai gyoza,” which are pan fried vegetable dumplings. Upon further inspection of the menu, I realized that many of the sushi and hand rolls were given American names, that served as symbolic words suggestive of its Asian association. For example, many rolls had the name “dragon” in it, which often is associated with East Asian countries. Despite the Americanized names of select rolls, Hanami also placed Japanese translations under many of the “A La Carte” section of the menu, which featured a variety of seafood. Similar to the concept that Ming Tsai adopted for this food show “East Meets West,” Hanami developed a number of fusion sushi rolls demonstrated by their ingredients and name. The California roll is a good example of this fusion as it was originally created for the Western palate.

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The waitress, who was dressed in a red and black kimono-style, thigh-length shirt, abruptly took my order and placed down a napkin with a pair of chopsticks. The chopsticks also were labeled “Hanami” and also had a pink flower design on the packaging. Upon further research, I realized that “hanami” in Japanese translates to the tradition of viewing the beauty of flowers, specifically “sakura,” which are cherry blossoms. While Hanami could have named their restaurant arbitrarily, the name is also symbolic of the fusion beyond the food. Over a century ago, cherry blossom trees were gifted to the US from Japan as a symbol of friendship and international relations. The celebrated Cherry Blossom Festival in DC is one that is appreciated by many US citizens and is representative of the global and diverse community we all participate in.

Despite the restaurant’s cultural origins, Hanami, like many other ethnic restaurants, organize and display their culture and food through an American and practical lens. Many people unfamiliar with the Japanese culture or language may struggle reading a menu that presented items by their original name in Japanese. Many of the menu items were a result of fusion cooking so there are no Japanese names for those items. Additionally, due to their large number of different sushi rolls, the American names are easier for customers to remember and distinguish as many of the rolls were named for a particular ingredient, like the “sweet potato roll” I ordered. Many people talk about the lack of authenticity in many ethnic restaurants, hoping for a “true” cultural experience when they dine in, however, much of those restaurants, hoping for profit in America, still want to operate as a successful business and one way to achieve and maintain that is through depicting a different culture’s food through an American lens. While it may not be as authentic, it is a way in which restaurants can present cultural foods while still remaining appealing to an American crowd.


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