Tag Archives: context


“Hey, I like your braids,” the Navajo man—sitting adjacent and behind me—comments as I await my food order.

Watching the front counter, I sit sideways on the firm seat of a canary-yellow Formica booth, immediately behind this man and his dining partner.

The man and his dining companion started their meal by splitting a burrito, purchased by another customer. When my initial order came up, I handed my plate of food to them as well, so that they would have enough food to eat between the two of them.


My sense is that the proprietor was neither overly pleased with the first burrito handoff, nor did he seem exceptionally happy with me for relinquishing my initial order to these two diners. Both of them appear to be quite tipsy. Yet, they are also both very hungry.

Soon, my own (second) order is up. Walking to the counter to retrieve my plate, I stop at the salsa bar to select a few extra condiments, then, return to my seat to eat quietly.

Everything on my plate is a hot, melting, mounded delicious blend of flavors. Letting the warmth from the food move into that empty space in the middle of my hungry being, I forget about our restaurant host’s potential consternation, hoping he can be happy with the opportunity to have sold two additional meals. I understand his perspective, as well as that of the hungry people behind me.

“Braids,” I muse silently, considering the twin issues of identity and heritage. In my mind, I think—braids, Heidi, blondes, Switzerland and the Alps or, alternately, braids, Inga, redheads, Scandinavia and fjords. But, why not consider braids, Morning Star, raven-colored hair, Pawnee and The Great Plains? Sometimes our minds and individual I’s settle into self-referential ruts. I had been stuck.

Shifting into a state of gratitude for this man’s indirect thank you ,which may be what the comment regarding my braids was about, and without uttering a word, I nod to this man in my mind’s eye, answering him spiritually, “You are most welcome.” We are part of the brotherhood of braids.

Slurp, Culture & Context

“Those men do not have any manners,” staring wide-eyed at a large, round table of men lifting their bowls to finish slurping the last of their soup course, I comment to my mother in my overly loud, four-year-old and most self-assured voice.

In response to my comment, a long finger comes to rest perpendicular to my lips, telling me to hold my tongue in this very public context. My extended family and I have been on the road for days. We are stopping briefly at a large, family-style restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Our road trip includes touring the Redwood forest, a snow-covered visit to the Painted Desert, a stop at the Petrified Forest, as well as a careful viewing of the expansive vistas of the Grand Canyon from the canyon’s south rim.

I grow up eating soup and avoiding slurping, even after one of my first experiences of manners, culture and context invite me to do otherwise.

Years after my first trip to San Francisco’s Chinatown for dinner and days before one of my birthdays, a package from two dear friends arrives in the mail. The note inside says, “We wanted to take you to the movies for your birthday, so we sent you this film. XOXO”

Unwrapping the package, a Japanese film, Tampopo, reveals itself—a self-styled “Japanese Noodle Western.” From among the film’s many plot turns and twists, my favorite scene involves the “re-education” of a group of young Japanese women who are relearning the art of eating noodles in the context of an Italian restaurant in Tokyo—without slurping. (In traditional Japanese culture, it is considered a compliment to the food  when a person eats her soup or noodles with an appropriate food-relishing slurp.)


The cultural instructor in the film is preparing her students to follow the non-slurping, noodle- and soup-eating etiquette the students will encounter overseas. As the older Japanese woman is modeling the silent, eating etiquette that her students will need to follow and the students themselves are doing their very best at eating their own dishes quietly, a mischievous foreigner begins drawing noodles up from his own full plate of pasta with grand, relishing, smacking and slurping sounds, thoroughly disrupting the cultural instructor’s lesson.

Yet, even after watching Tampopo, I do not even attempt the practice of slurping, but I continue the practice of spooning liquids into my mouth and twirling my noodles on my fork with great care, just as I was taught. I also continue “growing up.”

Then, many years later and by complete chance, on one fall day when I am facing a particularly deep, hot bowl of soup after working in the yard all afternoon—in my hunger—I draw the steaming liquid through my parted lips in an understated slurp, hoping to cool the soup (politely) on its way through my mouth and into my gullet.

Cool the soup I do. But, more important than cooling the soup is what happens as the flavorful vapors from the hot, fresh soup pass over my tongue to travel through to my pharynx and on up into my nasal passages until my unsuspecting olfactory lobes become involved. Finally, I understand.

We, the non-slurping soup-eaters of the West, have this soup and noodle etiquette thing all wrong.  If we were really committed to embracing the whole gift of having sacred food on our tables at each meal, we would need to learn how to bask in foods’ full flavors and be willing to relish subtle taste experiences by taking some social cues from the cultures who know best how to embrace their brothy dishes—with just a little more noise allowed at the dinner table.