Hey! We’ve been linked on HuffPo! On an article…called…ramen…is…racist??

Those of you in the know have probably heard the terms shina soba, which predates “ramen.” “Shina” came to be regarded as a slur against China.

“…to eat shina soba in those years was to symbolically gobble up China itself. As China represented the empire’s biggest prize, a bowl of shina soba represented nothing less than world domination.”

So it’s a provocative title, but the article’s informative and a fun read. Check it out here.

4 thoughts on “ramen is…racist?”

  1. Hi Ed, hope you’re doing well. Dropping in my two-cents.

    So typical, the article is written and titled to create controversy and desperate sensationalism for the sake of it. This is what people get paid to do nowadays, what’s new. First, the author immediately begins with an umbrella of negating what the provocative title would suggest otherwise. “Oh I’m sorry the ramen isn’t.. Just the context.. And only if you go back far enough..” Ok.

    Yes, I’ve heard before from friends of the word “Shina” not exactly being a PC term back in the day. I personally don’t connect the reference (was before my time), but I imagine maybe it’s along the lines if someone named a meal here in the states say, the “Jap Roll,” and later the dish evolved into becoming known the ever popular California Roll. Again, I’m just making that up.

    Anyway, having said that the part in the article.. “In other words, to eat shina soba in those years was to symbolically gobble up China itself.” which is further derived from a quote from Cwiertka’s book is a theory at best, but what I’d call – far fetched and down right ridiculous. Please guys.

    First of all, shina soba, chuka soba or ramen truly became embraced and popular in Japan AFTER the war, not during. At it’s core the popularity is derived from the classic case of troops craving meals they’ve experienced in other countries. It happens after wars. Then maybe the fusioned soup noodles got a really good management agency.

    Are Hot Dogs so popular here because to Americans it subconsciously symbolizes our triumph against Germany in WW2?? No. It’s popular because it’s cheap, very accessible and yummy.

    1. @Dennis: haha, I like your insightful analysis. Yeah, I agree. I’ve heard about shinachiku being “un-PC” for a long time until I finally just decided to call it menma. Though I’m still partial to shinachiku, since that’s what they called it on Tampopo. And your point about hot dogs reminds me of high school English, where *everything* was supposedly symbolic on some level. I had a blast with one English teacher who went a bit overboard (I thought) with any characters with the initials JC supposedly being “Christ figures.” My friends and I came up with a few other “JC”s like Jim Crow (of “Jim Crow laws”) and John Chen, a classmate of ours. Some people just read too much into things, but I guess I’m getting waaaay off ramen here…

      1. Thanks Ed. I kinda rushed to my conclusion myself but I just found that HuffPo article really poorly written with shallow intentions and wanted to get that out. Who knows why ramen is so popular in Japan but one thing is for sure, the article sure doesn’t explain it.

  2. Hi Ed and Dennis,

    Good points! (And that whole “JC” thing–related to The Grapes of Wrath?)

    The idea of political correctness–bothering to be correct–is rather cultural, and I’m sure there’s something to be said about Americans exporting their culture all over the place. In Chinese, the tomato is still translated literally as “barbarian eggplant.” No, it’s not nice to call Westerners or the food they eat “barbarian,” but…oh, whatever. The oldest continuing culture in one location on the planet couldn’t care less.

    I agree with Dennis that the article sensationalizes the topic. The idea of “consuming” another culture isn’t new, either, and is fun to play with when analyzing post-colonialist cultures–consider how Americans have consumed Hawai’i (tiki) and other indigenous, first nations peoples we’ve assimilated into this country. This can also be seen in the way Americans fawn over all things Tibet (yeah, it’s not okay for other countries to do what we do/did), consuming its religion and adornments.

    This is usually how cultures grow: through interaction. Whether through war, religion, or economics–when differences come together, you get something adapted and adopted. Tempura came from the Portuguese, sesame paste (zhajiang) came from the Middle East (tahini).

    It’s fascinating, and I’m sure it wasn’t always an equal transaction, and you know what? It still tastes good. (I liked the HuffPo writer’s breakdown of comfort food criteria.)


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