Why do asians always take photos of food?

It’s a topic that makes me giggle. Partly cos it’s true and partly cos I’m a little embarrassed it’s true.

To be fair though, I didn’t even know it was an asian phenomenon until clients kept commenting on my facebook updates. They would see me and say “I’ve never seen anyone post so much about food before” … or … “Food is definitely high on your values” … I would get a little bit embarrassed by it and found it rather odd they didn’t believe me when I said I don’t post nearly as many food photos as my friends.

And then Daniel who clearly isn’t asian (except for when he smiles because he squints and closes his eyes when he smiles) blurted out once “Why do asians always take photos of food? … It’s such an asian thing to do!… I remember being in my living room and bursting out laughing because it’s so true.

So over the last few weeks I’ve been reflecting on this phenomenon and to be honest I’m not any where closer to the truth (if you know the answer to this please make a comment and help me out here!).

Maybe we’re ‘special’
Perhaps there is a sacred gene inside us that is programmed to a) search the globe for the yummiest food (because we will seriously travel far and wide to find the best noodle house, the best crispy pork, the best roast duck etc-.) … and b) we are so forgetful we can’t remember what we ate.

Our perception of food
For us there is nothing more dignified or rewarding as finding the ‘best restaurant for xyz’ and then sharing it with the people we love. And for the super fortunate ones amongst us who have the special gene and talent for cooking (clearly I’m not one of them) … the art of perfecting the perfect dish is something that is well respected amongst us. For us cooking is an art form and finding the perfect combination of sweetness, saltiness and spices is something to be celebrated.

All that aside though.

Upon reflecting on this topic I discovered a little ‘thaoski phenomenon’ of my own (which again I’m a little embarrassed about).

I discovered that in my little head I actually categorise my memories of people based on food.

Some people categorise the people in their life based on how they met them, what job they’re in, who they’re dating etc-. For me … I categorise and remember people by what we ate together. It’s how they’re stored in my memory. So food does not just represent eating to fill my tummy … it’s the centre piece of how people are remembered.

My comfort cushion
Yes I know that’s odd and a little strange. I think it’s a subconscious coping mechanism. Whenever I miss someone, all I need to do is eat what reminds me of them and them and then I’m anchored back into that special memory. But eating without them is never the same so when I see them, we often go back to the same places and eat the same things.

Old habits die hard
The first thing my dad did when I landed in Sydney was take me to eat at Pho An (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) because a) I love the food there and b) because he’s been taking me there for the last 10 years.

The first thing my mum asked me when I saw her was “what do you want to eat while you’re here?” … and I listed the usual 3-4 places we always eat at. Those restaurants, the food we eat when we are together (cos my mum and I usually eat at these places alone) are like a sacred ritual for us. It’s our bonding time. We’ve been doing it since I was about 12. The food is special to me because it represents time with her (for those that know me it represents my love language of QT time).

And I do with this everyone in my world. If I had to choose between categorising people based on how I met them or the times I shared with them … I would definitely choose the later. And most of the time I’m catching up with people over food … so it’s just too too easy to remember people this way.

Anyway, I can’t write a post like this without sharing some of the categories. Here are some food associations I have made about the people in my world. In no random order and by no means are each person remembered by just one dish : )

My sister Kathy: chicken wings. My mum: Banh Hoi & bun cha. My dad: pho & lamp chops. Marcus my 2 year old nephew: drumsticks. Garry: steamed eggs & flat white (preferably not together). Van: Otteleignni. Mikey-poo: fried eggs with spinach and toast. Alma: toasted sesame seed oil. Kristin: raw zucchini linguine. Melina: deep fried chicken. Cuong: eating duck with his hands. Angela: steamed eggs with garlic (rivals Garry’s steamed eggs). Anna (DJ): really bad egg congee JoJo: crispy duck. Penny: chicken and rice. Viv: lentil soup. Steve: Viv’s lentil soup : ) Saj & Nuwan: vegetarian nachos in Banff. Marcel: food envy (steak from High Timber). Phungus: Koya. Hannah: lasagna, soy chai lattes & sticky date pudding. Ky: banana anzac biscuits. Helen (Hannah’s mum): creamy delicious gnocchi & lots of tea. Harmony: baked soy chicken & asparagus. Will from Sydney: roast lamb with sweet potato mash. Karon: kim chi jige. Melanie: coffee (since she’s the one that converted me 5 years ago). My sister Helen: Habibs chicken. Khevitha: fried corn fritters to die for. Daniel KPI: vegetarian udon. Marcus: vegetarian dumplings Daniel W: spring rolls (lots of them!) Kriste W: early morning moments at Tinto. Maria Kieu: fried rice with spam. Glen: horrific tea you made me when I was sick … hot water with ginger, garlic, chili, lemon and honey (clearly not enough honey!). Larry: risotto Alan: hand made noodles David the photographer: really bland food LOL. MiniBear: polo mints. Cindy: spring rolls. Michelle from Manchester: chinese in Soho. Janet (Michelle’s mum): home baked lasagna. MV: peeled persimmons & anchovies. Wendy (this will be the big one): anchovies & jarmon in Spain … crispy fried chicken, dumplings & a ‘hot dog within a hot dog’ in Taiwan … pho, Vietnamese pork rolls, fish finger sandwiches, gourmet detox food, salt beef bagels and many many more!!!


Below are some mobile facebook food updates from (clockwise) Garry, Sofia, Wendy x2, Marcel, Van (but her fb was probably hijacked :)), Kathy & Garry.

ps. Seriously, if you think you know the answer to why asians always take photos, please post a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this : )

mobile iphone updates of food

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15 Responses to “Why do asians always take photos of food?”
  1. Kristie West says:

    Hilarious! I have no idea why but it is so true. When I lived in Japan my students were forever returning from holidays and showing me their pics which were FILLED with food photos. Any time they were at a restaurant or someone cooked for them (even breakfast) they’d have a photo of them with their food.
    I never understood it!

  2. Di Lee says:

    I don’t have the answer. But like you, my work friends think I take sooooooooooooo many pics of food.

    I make myself feel better by saying and thinking “if only you knew my friend, Wendy”. I know I have nothing on her! hahahhaha.

  3. Roger says:

    Hey Mary, stumbled across your blogs. Took notice of this one because i’m guilty of taking a few foodie fotos myself. Hahaha

    Think it stems back to our culture and family values. Evertime our families gather on big occasions, you know there going to be alot of food around. Wedding banquets; bbq spits; big pots of pho; even funerals ive been too are catered with mass pork rolls haha so we cant help but love food. The fotos are a good way to build an appetite when your waiting for your next meal…. Hmm getting hungry now.!!

    • thaoski says:

      Great to hear from you Roger : ) Love your thoughts and strangely enough I’ve only been to one funeral and they catered with mass pork rolls there too! hehe … perhaps a new tradition is being formed : )

  4. thaoski says:

    I was chatting to a friend about this today and it incurred me that i also take photos to torment people. eg. I know my friend Daniel loves the spring rolls at this one particular restaurant in Sydney, so when I ate there with my mum I took photos and then emailed it to him to torment him. It’s my way of showing affection : ) LOL

  5. Teresa says:

    I think because for most of us live to eat not eat to live! most people i know remember the exact details of their holidays through that special dish that they tried from each destination that they’ve been to.

  6. Ricardo says:

    Hey Mary, I think the reason why ‘Orientals’ take pictures of the food we eat is associated and based around a close family culture. Food is associated about family time, we grow up critique’ing the food we eat, it often becomes a family debate. We are obsessed with food! We would travel many miles to try food. We take pictures of food as a visual explanation of how good or bad the food was. It is said we eat with our eyes. If the food looks good then it will taste good, but more often or not this is not always true!

  7. Joanna Eden says:

    I will always remember our ingenious & mischievous shoot day for the rather imaginative carved ciabatta ice cream cone followed by a strawberry ice cream sandwich!! Xx

  8. Erique says:

    Firstly, what a great description! I love how you categorize people based on memories of food relating to them! That’s so sweet and touching!!

    I think the fact that Asians like to take pictures of food is highly influenced by the Japanese media. The Japanese media through their books, coffee-table books, travel guides, brochures, etc etc put so much emphasis on food photography. So subconsciously, many Asian media outlets are influenced by this practice, and subsequently this trait is passed down to us common Asian folks.

    I personally feel that the reason why I as an Asian love to take pictures of food because I appreciate food presentation, and I’m an amateur cook. Due to the strong trend on food culture and analysis in the past decade, it’s hard not to analyze food from every aspect (presentation, material, cultural significance) and therefore food of any kind and form can become a hot topic among my friends.

    Plus, I’m also interested in food history. A few years ago, I ran into my mother’s friend who own a lot of cookbooks from the 1970s and I find it interesting that food, like clothes, goes in and out of fashion. Some food like the classic Bavarian cream cake or simple bundt cake was really popular in the 70s, but does anyone eat them anymore today, really? I don’t think so. So I guess the second most important reason why I love to take picture of food is because I want to document them for (maybe) my grandchildren to see, LOL.

    PS: I love Pho An!!

  9. john says:

    Great article.

    I think it’s because the food is often so pretty. My mom’s from Japan and she’s been taking photos of food since at least the 1970s. We have photos of meals and food from our trip to Japan in 1974. Yeah, it was pretty nice looking! At home, it’s rarely ever so pretty, except at New Years, when, sometimes, it’s amazingly pretty. And you only get to see it like that for a few minutes, because once the eating starts, it’s all destroyed. Sometimes, you just come across a photos, and you can remember the food, how it tasted, the texture, all that. Some of the homemade foods are photographed, too, and you can remember the flowers you used to grow, or what vegetables you grew, along with the main dishes.

    This was man years before digital cameras, so we didn’t take a picture unless it was really good.

  10. pikachu says:

    Same reason why I take pictures of Asians before eating them.

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