i think when people find out that i love to cook, the first question i usually hear is, "what kind of food do you like to make? chinese?" i'm never offended by the assumption. after all, i did grow up in a very traditional chinese family and ate my share of native fare. however, i think because i grew up mostly eating chinese food, i found everything non-chinese to be the exotic. as an adolescent, all you want is to "fit in." you don't want to be that weird kid who gets fed worm juice instead of cherry-flavored robitussin when you have a cough (yes, this is a true story - my grandmother is quite the human eastern apothecary). for us eating out meant going for a bowl of pho (vietnamese beef noodle soup), dim sum or a noodle joint. for my parents, the thought of going out for a western meal was just too foreign for them to handle. a meal without jasmine white rice on the side was not a meal at all in their eyes. i remember asking my mom if she could make some spaghetti for me, just like all my friends got to have for dinner. her response to my request was spaghetti noodles stir-fried in ketchup. you have to give the woman credit for trying to please her brat of a daughter. yes, for years i thought spaghetti with tomato sauce was spaghetti with ketchup.
i think the first western restaurant (not counting my many trips to mc donalds and popeyes chicken) i got my parents to take me to was a t.g.i.fridays when i was about eleven. to me, this little trip to a national chain restaurant was the treat of my life. in my head, i was going to three-star michelin dining (not that i knew what michelin was at this point in my life aside from the tires). my parents delegated the duty of ordering to me, something my dad always got to do when we went out. i felt like the responsibility of introducing my parents to the world of western food was on my shoulders. yes, this was my chance to convert them from chicken's feet (which i happened to love anyway) to chicken tenders. i felt completely lost perusing friday's classic red, white and black menu. after all, my breadth of exposure to western food consisted of what my friends' parents fed me at their homes and school lunches of tater tots and grilled cheese. i can't remember what i chose for myself, but i decided on nachos for my parents. as most of you know, dairy is not a big part of the chinese diet. my mom and dad didn't know quite what to do with this platter of tortilla chips with this blob of orange goo on top of it and this sour curdled milk? - what was this big mass of "stuff"? yes, my desire to turn my parents onto american food didn't go over too well. their tastes for food has definitely broadened since then (most probably forced by me). and well i have since learned that spaghetti with tomato sauce doesn't involve america's favorite condiment.
so, the answer, "yes, of course i love to make chinese food." but i also love to try out the exotic, which to me is what most americans consider the traditional. this past sunday dinner, i entered the exotic world of southern cooking. i decided on something new and something i knew was going to be good: chicken & dumplings and mac 'n cheese. the chicken & dumplings came from one of my new favorite cookbooks called all about braising mostly because it's provided me many excuses to use my dutch oven. the dumplings (made by my roommate michelle) were dropped and they really were fantastic. different of course than chinese dumplings which are filled with meats and vegetables, the south defines their dumplings as light nuggets of bread. these involved a mix of flour, parsley and nutmeg and then were simmered in the braising liquid of the chicken which infused them with rich flavor.
liz, an experienced southern dumpling maker, found the petite pig through a blog written by a future literary magnate friend of mine who has set out to rescue the aspiring writer. i found out through her that southern dumplings are rolled and not dropped and she was kind enough to pass along her grandmother's recipe to me. hope she doesn't mind me sharing it with you all.
thanks liz. if any of you southerners have some of your exotic recipes to share, please pass them along. i always look forward to something new in my kitchen, chinese or not.