Clearly, I am Asian and very Asian at that because as soon as I have one day (sort of) to myself during maternity leave and decide to leave the neighborhood, I immediately make a beeline to Chinatown. Well, what can I say? I am true to my roots, and when I crave most foods, it is most often Asian food, and more specifically, when I think about food that I crave for comfort, it is usually Cantonese Chinese food.
It’s funny, though, to think about this because my story about how I have looked at my culture’s food is very similar to pretty much every other immigrant child. Growing up, food was mostly Cantonese Chinese on the table. And of course, being like any other child, I was not particularly grateful for that food. Instead, I was envious of my friends who got to eat more of a variety of different types of food, particularly when their families dined out. When our family ate out, it was always Cantonese food or Vietnamese food. When my extended family would get together, it was always, always Cantonese Chinese food, and it got so redundant. We would always order the exact same dishes at the exact same restaurants that my grandma or my aunt deemed authentic and good enough. It was tiring as a young person always eating the same food with family. I always asked my parents if we could eat something different, and the answer was always no. “You should be grateful that our family has enough to even eat out!” My parents would say to my brother and me in various ways.
Well, when I went off to college, I had to deal with eating really boring and bland dining hall food. The dining hall’s version of Asian food was pretty disgusting, but no surprise there. And when I dined out, I had no idea that there were weird variations of Chinese American food like crab Rangoon. And… I found out that people actually ate white rice topped with soy sauce and thought that was Chinese?? I ended up craving Cantonese food and wanting it when I went out with my friends. We obviously went out and ate many other things, but Cantonese food was always something that was just so comforting and made me feel at home. And now, whenever I get food cravings, the dishes that I always ate with my family growing up, whether they were made by my grandma or dishes that we ordered while at restaurants, those are the things that I always want.
During maternity leave, I have not had easy access to Cantonese food. And so when I made that beeline to Chinatown today, I made sure to get a pound of cha siu from my favorite restaurant that makes it, plus beef chow fun. Those are the comfort foods that remind me of home. I also stopped by my favorite place for wontons and had wonton mein. And of course, I also made sure to get some bubble tea, some black sesame moon cake because I love all things black sesame, grass jelly and sweet soy milk from a family run place that I like that makes it well, as well as endless produce that Chris had to help me carry home… Even though he was not going straight home and was going to lunch with his colleagues. I probably strained my elbows and wrists carrying all of this home, even if it was only half the haul, but it was worth it in the end to get my Asian fruit and vegetable fix, as well as my Chinese food fix.
While down in Chinatown though, I thought about how not stroller friendly Chinatown was. Most restaurants are too small to accommodate a stroller to be pushed through easily. Most stores do not have aisles that are conducive to a stroller. And when it comes to the subway, I do not even know where the elevators are to be able to take the stroller up and down easily, which means that we will likely need to have one person carry the baby and the other person carry the stroller up and down the stairs. That is going to be particularly challenging when it comes to the huge grocery hauls that I always get whenever I come down here. Plus, I have wrist and elbow pain, so none of this sounds particularly fun or attractive to me. People tend to use the bottom of the stroller to carry things like groceries. But then, if you do that, you don’t actually plan to carry the stroller with all the groceries in your arms… So these are things that I am thinking about now that we have a baby.
I want to make sure that my baby is immersed in my culture, as well as Chris’s. I want to make sure that she is familiar with and embraces neighborhoods like Chinatown, which have all of the delicious foods that her mother grew up with and craves. I want to teach her an appreciation for her cultures. And the only way to do that is to make sure that she has regular exposure to neighborhoods like this and to travel to these countries.