My Big Fat Chinese Family

I never really had large family gatherings. Other people had loads of cousins. All of mine were older than me. Most of them, probably all, are now married and with children. I’m still on the last year of being a teenager and no where close to even thinking about marriage and children.

Other people also had huge family reunions. But that’s probably my impression from watching family reunions on the cartoon Arthur. I guess Arthur built a lot of my impression of other typical American families, as ones that don’t have a Chinese immigrant background.

Sure, I’ve had family gatherings. There are pictures to prove it, but I don’t remember much, except when I learned that a girl who was a month older than me was considered to be my niece since I was from the generation above her, and was therefore her aunt. Funny how family relations work. But it’s not like we gather every year for so-and-so (Chinese) holiday. It was just that one time some years ago.

Coming to China this fall for Dartmouth College’s study abroad, I was looking forward to seeing family. I have my grandparents from my mother’s side, but the “uncles” and “aunts” are all very good family friends. There are also a lot of people who are my mother’s classmates. It’s really insane how they look after me and my sister when we visited China without my mother. They took us out to hike a mountain and then slide down from the top on a metal slide. We went to museums while riding in cars with dangerous amounts of children in them. I remember my younger sister sitting on someone’s lap and when we saw a police car come, she’d duck. Then there were the countless dinners and the many times they assumed I only like sweet-and-sour (insert meat name).

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, it was no different. Uncle, Jiu Jiu (舅舅), and Aunt, Jiu Ma (舅妈), invited me to come with them to the countryside, an area called Ping Gu (平谷). They were going to live at Nong Jia Yuan (农家院). I’m still improving my Chinese and from what we did today and what they said, it appears that city people (we left from Beijing) like to spend time away from the city in the countryside. There, they eat food cooked by people there and enjoy the scenery. Of course, this meant foodie paradise. 

Every Friday, my teachers at Beijing Normal University orders our dishes, but I always felt that they were selected because they were suitable for the American palate. Of course, that sweet-and-sour (insert meat name) appeared on the Lazy Susan, along with a platter of fried chicken wings. Sure, it tasted great, but I wanted something more authentic, or di dao (地道) as we had learned in class.

Wednesday evening, I left for their home and we took the look car ride there, which I slept through. My tastes buds ventured through many dishes, from a ginormous fish to tiny fried shrimps. I usually avoid fish because at home, it has a rather, well, fishy taste. But during these meals, it was baked and had a lot of cumin. Shrimp with the head and beady black eyes attached scare me, but on tiny shrimps, they looked so cute. Plus, so crunchy, like a potato chip!

Of course, I met a lot of new people, who had their own perceptions of Chinese-Americans. I sat next to a certain lady for dinner and lunch. When we first met at the table, she asked if I could use chopsticks. Woman, I use chopsticks for every meal at home and would prefer to use it at every meal at Dartmouth! Forks and knives are strangers to me. Then she asked if I was used to eating the dishes there. Heck, I live in Flushing, the mother load of Chinese restaurants and my mother cooks Chinese dishes at home. Then at dinner, she said I probably never had scallions before. Excuse me, but I love scallions. I then proceeded to show her my cellphone pictures of my homemade scallion pancakes. So that’s how people view me in China… I’ve often heard the assumption that I eat hamburgers and milk every morning. 

Even though I was irked by these assumptions, they all come from good intentions. There were so many times she stood up and reached over the dishes to get me the best piece of fish or meat. She wanted me to enjoy the Chinese food she loved. The Chinese lesson I had just learned the day before talked about the differences between China and America. One of the ones listed was that in China, the host often leaves the best food for the guests and actually uses chopsticks to give them pieces of food. The lesson said that Americans may see this as invading their independence but if you understand someone’s culture, you can see what is truly behind their actions. This is the type of things I looked forward to learning when I come to China.

Enjoy the pictures of the dishes. Please avoid drooling.

Dinner (Wednesday night)

Seating arrangement. Chinese dining tables often have a Lazy Susan, which is a large plate that turns in the middle so dishes can be shared by everyone.

Seating arrangement. Chinese dining tables often have a Lazy Susan, which is a large plate that turns in the middle so dishes can be shared by everyone.

Dishes wrapped in plastic to show they are clean, but people still wiped it.

Dishes wrapped in plastic to show they are clean, but people still wiped it.

DSC_0046

That is an ENTIRE fish. The part to the right is the tail. My friends who saw the pictures afterwards were terrified. Chinese restaurants often serve fish with the head attached.

That is an ENTIRE fish. The part to the right is the tail. My friends who saw the pictures afterwards were terrified. Chinese restaurants often serve fish with the head attached.

For some reason, the taste reminded me of calzones with spinach and cheese.

For some reason, the taste reminded me of calzones with spinach and cheese.

Foodie Paradise.

Foodie Paradise.

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Breakfast (Thursday morning)

Rise and shine.

Rise and shine.

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xian cai 咸菜 - salty (pickled?) vegetables

xian cai 咸菜 – salty (pickled?) vegetables

Put the xian cai 咸菜 in this pancake. We ordered 3 plates of this. Everyone loved it.

Put the xian cai 咸菜 in this pancake. We ordered 3 plates of this. Everyone loved it.

Jiang Dou Fu 酱豆腐 - also salty. Spread this on the pancake.

Jiang Dou Fu 酱豆腐 – also salty. Spread this on the pancake.

Congee (zhou) 粥 Huge spoon!

Congee (zhou) 粥 Huge spoon!

Lunch (Thursday noon)

I think this is the sign for the restaurant we went. Kept on hearing about the Sheng Yu Pian (生鱼片), raw fish

I think this is the sign for the restaurant we went. Kept on hearing about the Sheng Yu Pian (生鱼片), raw fish

Countryside so it's not that clean. A lot of garbage piled around.

Countryside so it’s not that clean. A lot of garbage piled around.

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Tons of fish.

Tons of fish.

Communist leaders.

Communist leaders.

Tiny kitchen for everyone. I know if some people were to see this they'd freak out about it being dirty.

Tiny kitchen for everyone. I know if some people were to see this they’d freak out about it being dirty.

And also freak out about the packaging and cleanliness of these vegetables.

And also freak out about the packaging and cleanliness of these vegetables.

Raw onions.

Raw onions.

Potato.

Potato.

Not sure...

Not sure…

Celery with tofu? I didn't try because I HATE, DESPISE, DETEST celery.

Celery with tofu? I didn’t try because I HATE, DESPISE, DETEST celery.

My favorite fried tiny shrimps.

My favorite fried tiny shrimps.

Them raw fish pieces with a soy sauce & wasabi sauce. Tasted like... sushi!

Them raw fish pieces with a soy sauce & wasabi sauce. Tasted like… sushi!

They kept it cool with a frozen water bottle that was covered by plastic wrap.

They kept it cool with a frozen water bottle that was covered by plastic wrap.

Look at that steam.

Look at that steam.

Baked fish with cumin. Delish. Butterfly cut.

Baked fish with cumin. Delish. Butterfly cut.

Potato.

Potato.

They had trouble explaining which part of the body this was in English. All I know was that it was part of the digestive tract.

They had trouble explaining which part of the body this was in English. All I know was that it was part of the digestive tract.

3 thoughts on “My Big Fat Chinese Family

  1. Pingback: CHENGDU 成都: Food Struggles | Hunger Is the Best Chef

  2. Pingback: Gutter Oil or Chinese Crepe (Jian Bing 煎饼) | Hunger Is the Best Chef

  3. Pingback: Shandong(山东): Food | Hunger Is the Best Chef

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