Noodles and Pasta: Different Yet the Same
By Kathryn Gioiosa
I wrote this piece to reflect on my favorite tradition every year–my family’s Christmas Eve dinners, which demonstrates my multi-cultural background through the food that we eat.
On Christmas Eve, for as long as I can remember, I open the door to my aunt’s house and get attacked. She owns five huskies and runs a dog-sitting business, so as soon as I arrive at her home with my parents for our holiday celebration, about twenty dogs of various sizes jump on me and tackle me to the ground.
As a child, I would recoil and try to run away. My parents, who stood behind me, were seemingly the more desirable targets since they held plates of food—but they were left untouched.
Now that I’m a teenager, and much taller, I enjoy the dogs’ rowdy greeting. After they jump on me and lick my face, I enter my aunt’s dining room, away from the dogs’ smell, and inhale the sweet odor of scented candles and freshly baked chocolate cake, along with the spices in dishes still being prepared. I’m with the Italian side of my family, so our holiday meal includes a lot of pasta and the traditional seven dishes of seafood. We usually have lobster, crab, calamari, salmon, and my and the dogs’ favorite– shrimp.
But there is always one outlier.
My Taiwanese mother brings homemade noodles to dinner, which everyone enjoys. Her light brown noodles, smelling of sesame oil and vinegar, stand out on the dining room table next to the bright red baked ziti.
To me, these dishes are the same. Although noodles and pasta represent cultures from opposite sides of the world, they’re both composed of flour, eggs, and water.
Since my mother immigrated from Taiwan to New York on her own in her twenties and her mother, siblings, and their children all live in Taiwan, my Italian relatives who live near my family in New York are my closest extended family. Whenever I’m with them, I feel accepted. My aunts and uncles try to teach me Italian and share stories about relatives who died before I was born. In turn, I share updates from my relatives in Taiwan, if I’ve recently visited them.
When Taiwanese relatives do visit, they’re always fascinated and delighted by the intricate Italian dishes they’re served and the loud backgammon and poker games happening in the background. Shouts of “come on, give me doubles” are a staple as my paternal uncles bet on games of backgammon while others present a crowd around them to see who will win.
Still, I’ve struggled to come to terms with my dual identity. I’m often seen as just Taiwanese or not Taiwanese enough. My Chinese is mixed with an American accent, and I only know a few words of Italian. I have a gold fortune cat necklace, rosaries that have been passed down for generations, and other items and symbols from each of my cultures, but I’ve had difficulty finding ways to connect them.
Food, however, is one of the few things in the world that has the unique ability to bring people together—especially food that overlaps different cultures. On Christmas Eve, when I watch my aunt eat my mother’s noodles and my mother devour my aunt’s ravioli, while I consume portions of both dishes, I feel complete—and at home. And I’m reminded to embrace not only my dual identity but many different cultures around the world, and to appreciate their similarities.
In the process of writing this essay, I recalled past experiences with relatives in order to provide details about traditions and foods. And also to learn more about my dual identities. My inspiration came from not being able to see my family this year due to the pandemic. I wanted to reminisce on these past dinners through writing. I also wanted to explore more of my personal story and cultures, each of which is so different, but vastly influential in my life.
Kathryn Gioiosa is a climate justice activist and organizer from Forest Hills, Queens. She is an Our Climate Fellow who advocates for equitable climate policies in New York. She enjoys writing journalistic pieces and essays but has been exploring personal essays while incorporating themes from her social justice activism. In her free time, Kathryn enjoys biking and playing the piano.