Archive for ‘Asian?’

December 25th, 2011

Christmas food

As my brother and I got older, we graduated from KFC to sushi for Christmas.  Nothing traditional about that.  Japanese people in general, like to eat something special on Christmas; it could be paella, it could be tandoori chicken.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this survey I saw in a Japanese magazine!

Like I mentioned yesterday, the number one food Japanese people want to eat on Christmas day is fried chicken, followed by: #2 Roast beef, #3 Pizza, #4 Fried potatoes, #5 Sushi, #6 Tandoori chicken, and finally, #20. Garlic toast.  Pretty random, isn’t it?  As a Japanese person who has been living in America most of my adult life, I don’t understand this list either.  By the same token, as a foreigner living in America for over 20 years, I don’t understand why people eat the same food on Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are both within a month of each other.

My husband is Jewish, so this year, we decided to go for a traditional Jewish Christmas dinner, Chinese food.  This year, we were in New York City on Christmas day, so we hopped in a taxi to my favorite Chinese joint, Congee Village restaurant.  Turns out our plans weren’t all that unique.  When we arrived, we were told the wait would be 45 minutes, but after converting ‘hostess’ time to real time, our wait turned out to be an hour and a half.

I asked my husband what I thought was an obvious question: Did you grow up eating Chinese on Christmas? Surprisingly, his reply was a simple “no”. While he knows the stereotype, Jewish people eating Chinese food on Christmas was something he never experienced first hand; only on tv. But then again, he doesn’t like spicy mustard, so maybe he’s not completely in line with all the Jewish customs.  It must be a tradition as there’s even a 1992 study of Jewish people and Chinese food by sociologists!  Plus, the Chinese Restaurant Association officially thanked Jewish people for their patronage on that special day of the year!  It must be true…I saw it on Facebook!
Maybe my husband’s Christmas tradition is tainted by the fact that he prefers anything to Asian food. As for me, I hope this Chinese food on Christmas tradition will continue because I love those ultra-rare occasions when my husband enjoys Asian food with me.  At least I can eat well ONE day out of the year!  Happy holidays!

August 23rd, 2011

Chinese take out 2

Is it me, or do you agree that the perfect, white Chinese take out container is a classic piece of pop art?From pop art to pop culture, Chinese food has become a big part of American life. Don’t believe me? Just turn on your TV.  What, it’s already on? Good.  Then you’ve probably noticed, as I have, that every American TV show has at least one scene where the characters are eating, ordering or running-over-the-bringer of Chinese food. From the drama around the dinner table at Tony Soprano’s house, to the nothing-ness across the river at Jerry Seinfeld’s place, Chinese food is everywhere and I want to join them for every meal.

Ready for the educational part of the show? The classic container I was raving about was actually invented for carrying oysters. Somehow this odd device was given the name, the Oyster Pail. Once the take out food became popular, Chinese restaurants adopted them and the oysters were replaced by orange chicken.

This should make you want a Chinese tonight!

August 22nd, 2011

Chinese take out 1


Ready for a Geography pop quiz? Which country is closer to China, Japan or America?  Nice work! Japan is much closer to China than America.  So logically, you’d expect Chinese food to be as popular in Japan as Mexican food is in America, right?  Not quite.  Believe it or not, America has more Chinese restaurants than Japan does.  As a matter of fact, the number of Chinese restaurant in America exceeds the number of McDonald.  Need proof?  Look to my husband’s joke: He says that if you want to name a Chinese restaurant, just combine any of following words in any order: China, panda, bamboo, wok, happy, dragon, garden, golden, and cave.  See if it works in your town.  I’m sure it does.  To further prove my point, I’m willing to bet there are at least 3 different Chinese take out menus in your menu drawer, right now.  Go check, I’ll wait.

While yes, we do have Chinese food in Japan, it lacks THE most fun element its American cousin provides.  The take out experience.  How can Chinese food be enjoyed without those white containers and stale fortune cookies?  I can read your mind right now.  You’re thinking, why don’t I start a Panda Express franchise in Tokyo?  Well, nice idea, but don’t invest your life savings.  Why?  The overly-sweet sauces drenched upon overly fried food which we love, would definitely turn off the Japanese palate.

In Japan, Chinese restaurants are not for quick take out meals, but rather, are for dining.  Patrons usually enjoy a dozen dishes per table, with lower sugar but higher prices than in the U.S.

When I was a kid growing up in Tokyo, the closest we came to Chinese take out was our ramen delivery.  While ramen is as popular as burgers with American hipsters, delivery ramen hasn’t quite made the scene on these shores.  In Japan, having the convenience of door-to-door ramen has always been the go-to solution for busy mothers with hungry kids.  While they do deliver, Japanese ramen places don’t do “to go orders”.  Come to think of it, many restaurants in Japan don’t offer the “to go” option.  Besides the obvious fact that ramen needs to be consumed right away before the noodles absorb the soup and lose al dente, I think there’s a bigger reason.  For the most part, we eat on real plates, not paper or plastic containers.   When we call a restaurant for delivery, the delivery includes ramen, but it’s brought on real bowls, in plates etc.  After we eat, we wash everything and leave the dishes outside for the delivery person who makes a second trip, later in the evening, to pick them all up.  Could you imagine picking up your to-go order served in fine china?  Half of the dishes would spill and the rest would break.
I got used to the idea of take out Chinese food while I was in college, here in the States.  I was so excited to get affordable Chinese food that came in ample portions! I was even more excited to not have to wash dishes!   Even though most of dishes have the same, oily, heavy and sweet taste, I was hooked.  When I got married, my frequency for ordering take out Chinese food dropped significantly.  Although my husband loves every Chinese restaurant reference on Seinfeld, he rarely craves Chinese food like I do.  I shudder knowing that he’d actually prefer a bowl of cereal with a banana.  Of course, when he does want Chinese, he wants the most Americanized Chinese dish there is: Orange Chicken.  Believe it or not, I actually never had orange chicken before we met, because all I ever want is lo mein and fried rice, whose color should be white, not browned by seasoning.  I still prefer Chinese for my carb indulgence, and to be fair, orange chicken is not that bad when it’s hot, which is a good thing…considering I can’t tell the difference between it,  general tso’s chicken, and sesame chicken, I’ve tripled my menu options.

More on my Chinese obsession tomorrow.

July 21st, 2011

What makes “Asian” dish Asian?

Happy National Junk Food Day!  To celebrate this joyous occasion, let’s talk about McDonald’s.  The other day, on the way back from the gym, my husband lifted up his tired arm and pointed at a huge billboard ahead of us for McDonald’s new Asian salad.  His question, “What do you have to put in there before you can call it Asian?”My husband always jokes that he doesn’t like ‘Asian seasonings’.  He’s usually laughing when he says it, but we both know he’s serious.  He says there’s something in there that he can’t quite identify, but can always taste.  There are a few ingredients that I know for sure that he won’t like it.  The prime suspect is Japanese dashi, fish stock.  Add soy sauce, salt, and sugar to the fish stock, and it’ll make a great soup for udon and soba.  It’s also the base for miso soup.  I guess growing up with it, I never thought miso soup smelled, but apparently, according to my selective husband, it does.  Luckily, these dashi based dishes are mostly Japanese, and not that conventionally ‘Asian’, so it’s unlikely that the McDonald’s “Asian Salad” will contain dashi.  Of course we’d still have to buy the salad to find out, but before that, our fun guessing game began.

My husband guessed the Asian salad would contain edamame, a food he first tried at my grandmother’s house in Japan.  (Looking back, maybe we should have told him that you’re only supposed to eat the inside?)  When it was my turn to guess what McDonald’s thinks is ‘Asian’,  I chose canned Mandarin orange.  Why?  Just think back to every Chinese chicken salad you’ve ever eaten.  Aren’t Mandarin oranges always in there?

Were we right?  Well, I went to McDonald’s and placed my order.   I was impressed with the wide variety of Asian culture on display as the cashier presented me with two options: “grilled” or “crispy” chicken.  ‘Crispy’ being the code word for fried.

Being a fan of Asian culture, I ordered both.  Just like they served in ancient Tokyo, my salad came with a packet of Newman’s Own Low Fat Sesame dressing.  To add even more Asian-ness to the mix, a packet of sliced almonds was included.  The salad was much better than I expected, but basically it’s just orange or sesame chicken on a bed of green salad.

But to answer the big question: were our guesses right?  Yes! There were both edamame and mandarin orange slices in it.  Add ginger dressing and you may have that ‘Asian seasoning’ my husband is always complaining about.  I suspect these two items plus ginger dressing are the answer to my husband’s question.

With the mystery solved, only one question remains: would I order this again?  Actually…yes.  It was a pretty good deal for 270 calories. Tasty and filling (Crispy: 420 cal).  I guess my husband will just have to stick with his Happy Meal!