Humor Turning the Tables on American Cuisine
By Wayne Chan
Last week my wife Maya and I went to a neighbor's house for "Yappy Hour". Yappy hour is a twice a month neighborhood get together where everyone brings their dog over as well as some drinks and treats (for the people, not the dogs) and socializes. We used to have "Kiddy Hours" where we'd bring our kids instead of dogs but we found it's a lot easier to ignore barks than screams.
Anyways, for our treat we decided to bring green onion cakes, or "Cong You Bing". For those of you who aren't in the know, Cong You Bing are little flour pancakes with sliced green onions that are then pan fried to a crisp perfection. Sometimes, I'll add a bit of egg to coat it just for a little change of pace.
As I set the plate of Cong You Bing down and had a seat next to one of my neighbors, she asked me what it was that I brought and I explained it to her. She seemed intrigued, picked one up, bit into one and said, "Yum! These are great! So unusual!"
I knew she meant it as a compliment, but it surprised me a little since I've lived in the U.S. all my life and grew up eating these at home and in many Chinese restaurants, usually on a Sunday morning, when they're often served. I probably should have known better, since we were one of the few Asian (or minority) families in our neighborhood.
Still, I thought it might be fun to turn the tables a bit.
"Well Mary, I'm glad you liked 'em. But you know, even though I grew up in the U.S., there's a few things you guys eat that if you really think about it, is a little strange."
I don't know why I've always been a little uncomfortable saying someone is white or Caucasian. I guess it's just easier for me to call them "guys". Come on - they know what they are.
Intrigued, Mary smiled and said, "Really? Like what?"
"Well, let's see...", I said. "Let's start with meat loaf. What is the purpose of that? It's not a roast meat and it's not a loaf of bread, but a loaf of meat that you bake/roast in the oven, and then serve it in slices like it's a piece of bread. What's the point of combining them? I mean, if you serve me steak with garlic bread, I suppose it ends up being meat loaf by the time it hits my stomach, but what's the point of combining the two before you've eaten it? Was this designed for lazy chewers? Isn't it basically a predigested meal?"
I was on a roll now. "Another thing - what's up with roast turkey?", I said. "I mean, I actually like roast turkey and gravy...but what about that cranberry sauce? What's the point of eating roast turkey with what is basically jam? If it's perfectly normal eating turkey with cranberry sauce, then why don't you see that kind of combination anywhere else? Why don't you ever see anyone eating a hot dog and smothering orange marmalade on it?"
"And while we're on the topic, what is the deal with hot dogs? First, it's a misnomer - thankfully, it has nothing to do with its namesake. My golden retriever is breathing a sigh of relief. But beyond that, who on earth came up with the idea of taking the lining of a cow's stomach, then filling it with ground up pieces of various parts from said cow, and then making it in a way where the meat stays red no matter how long you cook it? I've never eaten meat that stays completely red inside even when the outside is burnt to a crisp. What is that all about?"
We all had a good laugh at my little diatribe. And truth be told, I actually like meat loaf, turkey and hot dogs.
In the end, it's really the blessing and curse of being Asian American. We can adapt to both sides while being repulsed at the same time. I'm an equal opportunity culture critic.
I think the key is to always look for the commonalities that link us together.
At the end of my conversation with Mary, I had one last example.
"When I go over to some of my friends, in the morning, a lot of them will have scrambled eggs and add ketchup to it. That seems so odd - why would you add ketchup to scrambled eggs?"
Mary looked at me and said, "Remember last month you invited us to your home and you made this special dish - it was basically scrambled eggs with sautéed tomatoes and chunks of chicken served over rice. It was delicious! You said your dad made this dish when you were growing up. It was tomato and eggs, Wayne!"
What can I say? When you're right, you're right, Mary.
Still, at least you didn't see me stuff all of it into little tubing and make them into little sausage links.Reproduced with permission of the author.