As a child of immigrants growing up in suburban New Jersey, I wanted to be the pigtailed redhead, the eponymous icon of fast food fame, Wendy. In direct opposition to jasmine rice and the traditional Chinese dishes of my ancestors, I gravitated towards burgers, fries, and frosties. Embarrassed by my mother's more exotic prepared school lunches, Wendy's served as a beacon of what it meant to be American.
Today, with age, knowledge, and curiosity, the food that speaks the loudest to me directly links back to my heritage as a Taiwanese American. Dishes like rice congee with rousong, xiao long bao soup dumplings, and oxtail soup are what feeds my soul and my pride. These everyday dishes are not only familiar, they provide context to who I am today.
This is the truism of food, no matter its origins. Ingredients perceived as exotic, foreign, and unknown, in generous hands, have the ability to tell a story that can educate and transport diners. Every bite is a love letter, every slurp, a history lesson.
While the food of David Kuo (Little Fatty
) is an anthem to my Taiwanese background—bringing spices and sauces relegated to the ethnic aisle into the public domain—there are many other amazing Asian chefs like Shirley Chung (Ms. Chi Cafe
), Shota Nakajima (Taku
), Wilson Tang (Nom Wah Tea Parlour
), and Chintan Pandya (Unapologetic Foods Hospitality
) that are sharing their culture and broadening the American palate in the process. These chefs, their stories, and their influence can and should speak as loudly as the fast food establishments and Americanized cuisine that surround us.