I have a love-hate relationship with Chinese food
I love dim sum. I love whole fish with the head still on braised with ginger and garlic. I love dumplings of any kind. I love oriental markets full of mysterious ingredients I can’t name. I grew up eating stir-fries and tons of rice. In college, I even taught myself how to make cha siu bao (Chinese pork buns) from scratch.
Every year, my family tries to go on at least one big trip abroad. So, in 2014 my mom and I booked a two-week long trip to China. We’d both never been. The trip covered Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Fuzhou, and Hanzhou. Being the tour that it was, we ate a lot of ‘touristy’ Chinese food, foods our tour guide said were deemed ‘appropriate’ for Americans. Our guide blatantly told us that each restaurant had a list of foods Americans ‘liked’ including things like kung pao chicken, sweet and sour pork, and fried rice. Our guide even warned us that our stomachs were unfit to each the local Chinese food, that we shouldn’t risk it.
About a week into the trip, each day at midday, I started feeling sluggish and nauseous. I would feel sick until I ate something. It almost seemed like I was addicted to the food.
When I returned from that trip, my skin broke out like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was high school level teenage acne stage 5. I assume it was from the amount of oil in the food, but who knows.
After that I couldn’t eat Chinese food for six months.
Which brings be to month two…you guessed it… Chinese! Here’s some back-story:
Growing up I always thought I was half German and half Filipino. It wasn’t until I was sixteen, when I made a family tree for school that I found out I was Chinese. I swear to this day that whenever someone asked, my mom would say she was Filipino. She was born in the Philippines, she speaks Tagalog, some even say she looks Filipino, so it only made sense to me that she would be Filipino. My mom denies ever saying these things, she claims she said she was “from the Philippines,” but as a kid, what are you supposed to think? If no one blatantly tells you you’re ‘X’ ethnicity, do you know that’s what you are? I didn’t.
At that point, at the totally mature age of sixteen, I felt like my life was a lie. It didn’t really change anything, I was the same person, with the same family, doing what we always did. Still, I felt lied to, or as if I was lying, because I also had said I was Filipino. What I identified as was no longer valid, I somehow could no longer relate to being Filipino or being Chinese, I felt like an outsider.
The trouble with growing up multi-racial in the southern United States is that I never quite felt like I fit in anywhere. I’m Chinese, but I don’t speak Chinese, so I didn’t fit in with the Chinese kids (which there were few of). I’m German, but I don’t look white, so I didn’t fit in with the white kids.
You start to realize this first-generation culture clash where the traditions your parents bring with them don’t translate to the culture of the country you were born and raised in.
Children are quick to spot differences, and if they’re not open to them, or have not been exposed to other cultures they’re not sure how to react. I quickly learned as a kid what I should and shouldn’t bring for lunch in fear that it would be deemed ‘weird’ or ‘gross’ by the all-American kids. Sandwiches, A-OK. Dumplings, questionable.
So, why Chinese food?
My mom was born in the Philippines, so she cooks both Chinese and Filipino food, but I want to go back a generation or two. I want to learn about where my family originated from, so I can then understand how those traditions have been past down and translated to my family in the Philippines.
My mom’s side of the family is originally from Amoy (now Xiamen) in the Fukien (now Fujian) province in China. It sits on the southeast edge of China along the Taiwan Straight (yay, seafood!). My family left China because there was no food and they couldn’t find work. At eighteen, my great grandmother and her family took a small boat to the Philippines and arrived there with nothing. Once there they changed their names and started a new life.
This month i’ll be doing some dishes specific to Fujian, but will likely focus on southeastern Chinese food, possibly leaning towards Cantonese. There’s quite a bit of overlap in the regions. I don’t want to limit myself too much.