Featured Artwork: Yulong Lli
Roshini and I can bond in ways we can’t bond with our other friends sometimes. With her being Indian and me being Chinese, it’s like there’s an unspoken sisterhood of Asian-ness between us. Despite our countries of origin having the occasional border dispute and economic competition, they’re still neighbors. More importantly, thousands of miles away, Roshini and I managed to serendipitously meet on a 70% white campus in tiny, southwest, rural Pennsylvania.
Our friendship is especially apparent at times through food. After all, they say the closest way to somebody’s heart is through their stomach. Yet, when my mother would say this to me as I sat in the kitchen in awe of her culinary abilities, she would usually be referring to how to gain a man’s affection, which isn’t very progressive, but I digress.
Unfortunately for my wallet, my friends at college love finding any excuse to eat out.
It took a while to come to terms with the fact that growing up in a white family has “white-washed” me. It often makes me uncomfortable that others of my heritage may consider my American experience as less, but if there’s one benefit of this, it’s that I am a connoisseur of Americanized Chinese food. Truly. Those brightly colored photos printed on menus? That sticky rice made in bulk? Servers who click their tongues when they learn I only speak one language yet still give me extra portions? It’s a mosaic of how Asian culture carved out a place for itself in America, an experience I am so very familiar with.
So, when someone said they’re craving fried rice on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, it only made sense that we would find ourselves packed and crammed around tables that had to be pushed together to host us and our appetites.
Our favorite Chinese eatery is one of those Chinese restaurants that you’ve never actually been to before yet it still feels like you’ve been eating out there forever. Every Chinese restaurant I’ve dined in has had those green high back chairs and grand guóhuà murals of native flowers and Asian mountain ranges on the walls.
Like clockwork, I was handed a sticky menu full of Americanized Chinese food and authentic Chinese food alike. Flipping through the laminated pages, I tried to not think about all the MSG my body was about to ingest.
Most of my friends picked the classic Chinese takeout dishes. Talk of shrimp fried rice, Lo Mein noodles, and General Tso’s chicken floated through the air. Roshini and I ventured to try new foods with names that were hard to pronounce. You know if the average person struggles to say it, it’s going to taste amazing. Roshini and I tried to hide our giggles as five out of our eight decided on a familiar General Tso’s chicken.
Our waitress wasn’t surprised by this. She told us that it was of their most popular dishes, even listed under “Chef’s Specialties” with words like “memorable” and “exotic” describing it. Our waitress also warned that it wasn’t your usual General Tso’s. Their chef prepared it authentically, like when it originated from the Ching dynasty.
It’s funny when people aren’t used to the way you grew up. When someone exclaimed that there was a mysterious pepper in their General Tso’s chicken, Roshini and I laughed. Full-on laughed out loud.
Isn’t that how you’re supposed to cook? Herbs, spices, peppers all thrown together with abandon and served as is. Of course, our company was determined to eat said peppers after hearing that I thought it’d be too spicy for them. Roshini and I exchanged knowing grins as our friends turned red in the face and asked for refills on their ice-waters. We both agreed that thanks to our mothers, we’d had way worse before.
Sometimes, connecting with someone isn’t totally a race thing or a gender thing or a class thing. I think, that at times like this one, it’s just an understanding thing. An understanding that in the vastness of space we can still find connection with one another.