My topic for Digital Asia has been a constant spiral of self-questioning and confusion as
to whether I’m truly heading in the right direction, a case I’m sure is very common but one that’s frustrating none-the-less. One thing I really like to do is go out and find food that’s interesting and delicious. I can often be found at a food market over an hours drive from my house on the search for new spices, fruits, pastries and meats. This has led to an acceptance of foods from regions all over the world and has significantly helped me in eating everything to offer when travelling to unfamiliar countries. However there has always been one cuisine which I have had trouble trying some of the more peculiar dishes; Asian. While I have no problems with trying new textures and interesting flavours, there are some dishes such as semi-fertilised egg (Laos), bugs (Thailand) and various body parts which are normally discarded (all of Asia) that my Western sensibilities had problems accepting. So, when the opportunity came up to immerse myself in something I was not accustomed to I decided to push myself and finally go out of my way to test some of these dishes which have made me nervous in so many adventures.
However “Asian” is an extremely broad context so I decided to go with a style of cuisine which has permeated Australian cultures for decades, Chinese food. For a long time, and my friends can vouch, I have complained about how annoying it is that theirs is no traditional Chinese food near where I live. However, as much as I complained, I am aware that my knowledge of traditional Chinese cuisine is lacking. From this I decided to investigate the differences between traditional Chinese cuisine and the “Australasian” version which is located in nearly every suburb in Australia. I want to know what is different to the traditional dishes and what is the same, I want to know why Chinese food is so common in Australia and I want to know if I, someone who’s accustomed to avoiding many of the ingredients used in this cuisine, really can embrace the traditional dishes. There is one major problem daunting me though, food is not the most digital of topics to choose. So began my adventure of trying to somehow make food digital.
Right from the start of choosing this topic I knew I would be leaning far more towards the autoethnography side of the subject far more than the digital so I decided to embrace that. While I will be attempting to convert all my research into a digital form, much of my focus (at least initially) will be focused on truly trying to understand and immerse myself into the cuisine and really wrap my head around what the cuisine really is and what it means to particular communities. Research for this kind of topic is multi-facetted. I will need to find secondary research online, do personal research into the food itself and conduct interviews (in person or email) with people either knowledgeable on the topic or with people with a Chinese background who’ve experienced both traditional and Australasian cuisines.
When thinking of how to present my ideas multiple ideas came to mind. A website? A vlog? A written essay? Why not all of them?
I have decided (for the moment at least) to construct my findings in a blog, in which I can continually update my experiences and findings and include written research I have done as well as videos, photos and interviews I have conducted. This way I will have a collation of all of my research and will give a more eclectic mix of sources to view, instead of a written essay which is the same source and could become tedious to read. I believe that when I am finished the blogs, read consecutively, should give the responder a good insight into my ethnographic experiences through both visual and written sources.
To start my research I decided to dive in head first. I drove up to Hurstville, Sydney, (an area heavily populated by people of Chinese heritage and rich in Chinese culture) and browsed through multiple menus to find similarities. Eventually I ended up trying two small dishes, Chinese spiced duck necks (see above image) and chilli oil pig’s ears. It took a bit of will power (and google translate) to test taste each dish but I’m proud to say I tasted them both and semi-enjoyed them. The desserts such as sago and egg tarts were much easier to enjoy, even with the peculiar textures.
I have no doubt that I will try many weird and bizarre dishes in my research and will gain a much greater appreciation of the cuisine, its heritage and how it has been adapted for a typically Anglo audience.