Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dish 5: Fried Pregnant Fish

I see a scantly clad waitress pass by with a dish that caught my interest. It is serendipity really. The Taiwanese have very odd beer food. Tendons, stinky tofu, chicken livers. Sure offal is the rage in haute cuisine, but the Asians have been frying the unmentionables for decades. But there is one item, just one, that has lodged itself in the shriveled olive that is my heart and that is “Fried Pregnant Fish.”

I am not exactly sure what is the name of this dish; in fact, I am not sure what type of fish I am writing about. It is akin to a sardine and fried - head to tail. You eat it in two to three bites. People have rituals when eating certain foods. I recently went out on a date with someone who had to cut an apple into matchsticks before consumption. I have a ritual too. The first bite, and always the first bite, I decapitate the sardine. With its head perfectly removed, you can peer inside, and you will discover the roe; hence, pregnant fish. With my culinary endeavor I have become an abortionist.

I don’t know why I like this dish so much. Sure it is delicious, but I actively seek it out in all Chinese restaurants (provided I am with company that can stomach my feats of gastronomic genocide). I think it is just romantic to talk about this dish. In one singular bite you get life and birth. Add to the fact that it is the season of Lent, and fish and Christ run together, and you will get any symbologist to shoot his wad.

So what am I doing for Lent? My brother asked me this question over – fish tacos. According to my church instead of giving up something, I should do something positive. Like, learn to say “good morning” to a stranger for 40 days. I never follow the positive route in the past. I don’t know why. Maybe it is emblematic of why I am damaged. Lately I have been a very angry person. For some reason a confluence of events have funneled into my life and I have been swept up, leaving me very bitter and angry:

I am mad that my Ex dumped me and has found two relationships, while I still floating in flotsam and jetsam of loneliness.
I am mad that S never thanked me for dinner.
I am mad that S invited him and never said “sorry.”
I am mad that P only has 10 mins to talk.
I am mad that $300 got deducted without a thank you.
I am mad that my solar stocks are not going up.
I am mad at fuel prices.
I am mad at C for calling me out.
I am mad that Season 3 of True Blood sucked.
I am mad about Chinatown.

Now, Dear Reader, I am not being facetious. I am really mad about these things. If you talk to me about Season 3, I will go into an uncontrollable frenzy. But it is about the people that really get to me. A friend not thanking me for dinner has taken up 2 months of angst and frustration. There were nights were I went to sleep with clenched fists. Angry, and really, why? I mean my life is not too difficult or taxing. I could be in the northern corner of Japan, or Libya. I could be born in the wrong side of the California/Mexico border. I make more money than I did last; how many people can say that. If I wanted to go to business school tomorrow, I can. In three years I could be in Rome living in a villa and learning a beautiful language. I can.

So why be so angry about protocol or feelings. I got dumped. But really, I am petty and mean, of course I will get dumped. He is not petty.

S doesn’t understand protocol. So what? We don’t live in the Han Dynasty.

Eat the fish, and let go. Not just for 40 days.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dish 4: Stinky Tofu

I love tofu. It is velvety, smooth and protein rich; just like an ideal boyfriend. Tofu is excellent in a stir fry, grilled for a salad, or just fried; thus, destroying all its nutritional value. But there is a special type of tofu, one that only lurks in the palates of psychopaths and the culinary deranged – the stinky tofu. According to Wikipedia, the fount of all information, the tofu is fermented in some unholy elixir for months. When it is brought out from the kitchen, it makes you want to vomit. To explain the odor to Western readers is near impossible, just think of rotten cheese and mix it in with a lot of Asian yelling.

Jason and Wendy were popping the tofu into their mouths like candy. Here is to something new. As I grasped the tofu with chopsticks and trepidation, my hand started to shake. Has the land of cheeseburgers and pizza made me forget my forefathers? Before moving to Chicago eating such items would never give me pause, but now, if it is not covered in a bright rich pesto it is not going down my gullet. I took one bite. It was ok. It tasted like … tofu. But then came the aftertaste. Again my gag reflex kicked in. I tasted ricotta, socks and kitty litter. I stopped at “half tofu.” Dear Reader, note, your car will smell like stinky tofu afterwards.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dish 3: Fried Chicken Cartilage

Wendy said it was "good."
Surely she can't be wrong. She wields chopsticks like a samurai. Jason was popping it into his mouth like it was popcorn. Even my brother, nodded in approval.

Here it goes. Here is to new experiences. It was disgusting. It actually snapped in my mouth. For some reason, my gag reflex started to undulate. Now, I want to describe the sensation. When you eat fresh green beans, it has a similar snap. But for some reason, and it may be culturally derived; when I eat meat, I do not want it to bounce back.

Now Dear Reader, you may ask, "why did you eat it?" Well I am going to reveal something that only my family and two close friends know, I am going through a midlife crisis. I am 31, and I need to do something new in my life - I need something more. Dear Reader, in two years I will be debt free. And in two years I have no idea what I am going to do. A very good friend told me recently that I needed a change. The other told me, to do something that will make me happy - life is short. Was it not Christ who died when he was 33? So here is to new experiences. Even chicken cartilage.

Here is a semi-bucket list. Things I want to do before I am 33:
1. Learn to read Chinese.
2. Learn to write 750 Chinese characters.
3. Relearn Geometry - Calculus II. (I did really bad in high school).
4. Let bygones be bygones. I have three enemies. I need to let them know that they have been downgraded.
5. Write that book. I have found a 100 reasons to not start. Its time to close the door, and open the Word document.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dish 2: Pho

I was going through my Pokemon collection of boyfriends, paramours, and tricks and I noticed that whenever they wanted comfort food they would always ask for meatloaf, chicken noodle soup, lasagna … White people stuff. When Asians want comfort food, it requires the pillaging of rice fields and the sacrifice of many animals. When I am sick, I want congee or pho. I am not going to describe congee, a white, unctuous mixture of water and rice, but it really is quite disgusting. In the grand scheme of things, pho, if you are a reader: of Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Los Angeles County Food Inspector Reports, is equally heinous. What is chicken noodle soup to my ex boyfriend, is pho to the Vietnamese. Pho comprises of thin clear noodles in a beef stock. But this is no traditional beef stock. The base is not one of bullion cubes, rather, what we are talking about is a stock with all the parts of the cow. Under a slick of fat, you will find tendons, tripe, and various other unmentionables. The soup is greasy, fatty and - beefy. So vile is this bovine elixer, you are encouraged to dump handfuls of bean sprouts, mint, and all other types of vegetation to cut through the grease. And guess what, when my white blood cells are fighting the good fight, I will be slurping my noodles and smacking my lips with remnants of tendon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dish 1: Vietnamese Eggrolls

When one thinks about eggrolls, the image of greasy yet tasty finger food often comes to mind. The evocative image of +$1 for a combo meal dances in the head, and well, that’s it. Eggrolls are a mainstay of Chinese Restaurants, but they are not important. A throwaway, like the first female child of a traditional Chinese couple. But whereas the Chinese equivalent has failed us, the Vietnamese has excelled. Crispy, fat and plump. The Vietnamese eggroll is reminiscent of a cigar, with the girth and length that would make any homosexual blush with anticipation. But the one major characteristic about the Vietnamese eggrolls that are universal, at least in Vietnamese restaurants in California, are the fact that they are all delicious (this is not the case in Chicago where they are reminiscent of the Chinese ones). I pondered this with my brother. Why, regardless of restaurant, locale or zip code in California, are they all delicious? His answer, “Because they are fresh.”

It is interesting to discuss the nuances of “farm to table cuisine” versus, produce purchased at a farmer’s market. But when it all comes down to it, the differences are in degrees and likely intangible. The difference is premised on sentiment and goodwill towards our animal kin and not so much on the quality of the loin. But Dear Reader, the leap between frozen and fresh are leaps and bounds. This is entirely the case with eggrolls. The ones you see riding on a dim sum cart or tacked on as a +1 are likely to be frozen. Manufactured at City of Industry, California and the epicenter of the mortgage meltdown, these infernal fingers are trekked over to your local Chinese restaurant ready for your consumption while accompanied with that sugary plum sauce. Vietnamese eggrolls are different, they are made at the restaurant. You see the Vietnamese ladies hunched over with the egg wrappers spooning the mixture of pork and reconstiuted woodear mushrooms before the flick of their wrists transforming meat paste into Asian burrito. The Vietnamese Eggroll will always taste like pork, and mushrooms, not fried skin -not something frozen 1,300 miles away.

This is ultimately a tale of globalization. The Chinese are victims to it. We have lost the eggroll to refrigeration and interstate commerce. The only thing satisfying about Chinese eggrolls are the qualities that make fried foods so appealing. But the Vietnamese eggroll, they were made at the very table you are sitting, and that’s why they taste so much better.

Compare the first picture (Vietnamese) to the sad Chinese one:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

31 Dishes

So this begins the first post in a series about my trip back to California. Dear Reader, I am going to be honest, this is not a trip I wanted to make. Things have been cold and empty since my coming out. My mother never addressed the issue and I definitely do not expect an apology.

Since October, my father has strongly suggested that I should visit. First he recommended an unholy odyessy for Christmas but I knew what that would comprise of; a bunch of Asian meals with very Asian people. For the uninitiated, the Visigoths have better table manners. There is a particular “aunt” of ours that remove the flesh from chicken feet with the precision of a surgeon; and then spits the remnants back onto the table. Oh yes, I come from bourgeoise stock.

Then I had to deftly avoid purchasing a plane ticket for Chinese New Year. Dear Reader, the stereotypes about Chinese drivers are true, but think about the annual rodeo when they all converge into a 20 mile radius.

But then my father caught me with the Siren’s call, “Come back for your birthday, we want to take you to Vegas. You won’t bring any of our friends”. I couldn’t really resist, I don’t think there are many Asians driving around Vegas (instead of taking to the road they stay in the casinos and gamble), plus, the people I try to avoid, mainly my parents’ friends will not be there.

Two days before coming to California, I learned that my mother will be going to a Texas Hold’em tournament, and that through a slip of my brother’s tongue, I will not be going to Vegas. I would stay in California as they go out and scratch that proverbial Asian itch that is gambling.

Since I will be in California and hanging out with my brother, I plan to write about 31 dishes I have consumed during my trip to California. Of particular note, he was present at every meal. Some people say we resemble Frasier and Niles. That is probably true. I am Niles.

There will be some other cast-members. My cousins will make cameos - and much to my joy, so does Wendy, Jon's girlfriend.