The summary for the rest of my U.S. trip is coming soon, but I just wanted to interrupt with a post related to my time in Chicago. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts.
Those of us who grew up in the U.S. with Chinese immigrant parents are all too familiar with dinners involving sitting around large round tables at Chinese restaurants, having nothing to contribute to the loud conversations our parents had with people we likely had never met—and thus feeling incredibly bored and begging to go home as early as possible—and, above all, feeling forever out of place, trapped in one Chinese restaurant after another.
“Don’t forget to order fried rice for the kids,” they would say, figuring we would never be satisfied with what they ordered. No, no. That “adult” food would never be to our liking.
It’s no surprise that this feeling of utter annoyance at our parents’ attempts to attend to our somehow superior Americanized needs remains so poignant today.
“They won’t like any of what we ordered. Just order some fried noodles and sweet and sour chicken,” they would say dismissively.
Having eaten every meal in Chicago in Chinatown with my parents now as a so-called adult, I realized my annoyance had less to do with the fact that it was true and more to do with the fact that we had been raised to be only satisfied with the fried rice and fried noodles. The Patented Safe Foods. By the very people who could have tried harder to introduce to our palates what theirs apparently knew how to appreciate.
Fast forward to 2016, when I find myself traveling to Chicago with my parents, who seem to have completely let go of needing to cater to my tastes. Especially after having less-than-ideal meals in L.A. (i.e., no authentic Chinese food in Hollywood), they were ravenous for a “real” meal, going directly to Chinatown when we landed—luggage in tow.
Little did I know we would be returning to Chinatown literally for the next three meals we had in Chicago. The only three meals.
And it felt weird. To me, it seemed desperate. Excessive. Weirder still, no fried rice just for me. I’d like to believe it didn’t matter. After all, I had lived in the heart of China’s food capital for almost a year. But this time took me back to when I took my dad out to eat in Guangzhou back in February, and he ordered for us two—but really for him.
When I eat out at Chinese restaurants with my parents now, I am acutely aware of just how vastly different our tastes are and how consistent theirs have remained despite having lived in America for more than two decades.
My sister mentioned it when we were in L.A. We still prefer fried rice and noodles. Because is there ever a point at which we rid ourselves of that desire for fried rice? If that’s what we grew up on, would we really expect anything else when going to Chinese restaurants now? We will shamelessly always prefer Americanized Chinese food, in part because our parents kept reinforcing the avoidance of dishes they couldn’t (or more likely wouldn’t dare to) translate into English. How large a part they had is debatable. Nonetheless, you can imagine how weird it felt to know how weird it felt to eat with my parents.
Even though I’m supposed to have grown out of this kid phase, does it really come as a surprise that I still don’t love what they order? What has changed is that I don’t bother caring about whether I get my fried rice or not. I don’t have to ask what has been ordered, and nor do I mind. I’ll eat whatever they order, but I’ll mainly stick to the vegetables to fill me up.
Of course, the one delicious exception is dim sum. Sign me up for everything, please 😛