I’m pretty particular about who I let post on this blog. So when my brother Michael asked me if he could use this forum to whine a little bit, I was a bit hesitant. But after reading his narrative describing his shocking realization about himself, I’m fully convinced that he is Huangswhinings worthy. After all, he is a Huang—still Chinese but ever so slightly tainted by the ways of the West. Just remember, the following piece was written by a guy who wouldn’t think twice about donning a Chairman Mao costume for Halloween and who cheers for China when they play the United States in basketball. Oh Brother!
Although I was born and raised in Kentucky, I’ve always embraced my Chinese culinary heritage. My mother was a fabulous cook, and before the age of the internet our meal time was our most treasured family time. Growing up we ate rice using chopsticks almost every meal, and as I’ve grown older I’ve often longed for the good old days of eating pig’s ears, chicken feet and fish heads with my family. I was not allowed to leave the table until I cleaned my plate, but with my mother’s cooking, that was rarely a problem.
In the past 10 years, I’ve made my first two trips to the Motherland. Going to China has surprisingly reminded me of my childhood in Kentucky. The food simply reminds me of home, and what my mother used to cook. I’ve developed an even greater appreciation of my heritage through these journeys. I’ve enjoyed nearly all the food I tried, from grilled squid sold by street vendors to fermented tofu, shark’s fin soup and beef tongue, I’ve loved it all. My thought was that my Chinese DNA was strong, and I was a “real” Chinese person despite my American education and never stepping foot in China until I was 40. You know what they say, “You can take the boy out of China, but you can’t take the China out of the boy.” Or something like that.
At least that’s what I thought until this morning.
This week, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting my sister in Vancouver, one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a cosmopolitan gastronomical destination where you can go to many mom and pop hole-in-the wall Chinese establishments, close your eyes and really imagine that you are in China. My cousin Linda also joined us here, and she truly qualifies as a real Chinese person who immigrated from Taiwan in her 20s.
This morning Linda and I decided to venture out to a Chinese food court for breakfast. We had a traditional Taiwanese breakfast of delicious baked flatbread called Shao Bing, fried pastry sticks known as You Tiao and soy milk. Once again, I felt like a real Chinese person as I enjoyed the heck out of it.
We had taken the train to the food court, so we decided that since we went so far to get some authentic food, we might as well try some other food while we were there. After all, everything smelled and looked so delicious. We came upon a place that specialized in soups for breakfast. And their specialty was a Tofu and Pork Viscera Soup that had been cooking for over 24 hours to draw out all the flavors. My cousin Linda asked if I liked pig intestines and thinking back to my childhood, I remembered my mom fixing them (they are the equivalent of chitlins), and I actually really liked them. So we decided to try the soup. After all, here we are, two real Chinese people wanting to taste some real Chinese food.
The broth was delicious. Slightly spicy, slightly sweet, very savory, and loaded with meat. My first taste of a piece of intestine was good. Nothing I hadn’t tasted before, and I liked it pretty well. I fished out some other pieces of meat from the bowl. I immediately recognized a piece of lung from my medical school gross anatomy days. Then a piece of stomach. And congealed blood. And fat with skin. And more intestine. I thought about eating all the innards of a pig which had been boiling together for 24 hours. Suddenly I didn’t really feel like eating any more and I didn’t feel like a true Chinese person. I let Linda enjoy the rest of it , and she loved it like the true Chinese person that she is. Where can I find the McDonald’s?