[Media prompt] The struggles of writing about Chinese food as a Chinese person. … “I wanted to find the data to show that structural oppression exists…”
The Perils of Chinese Food
When Clara rang, I was in the kitchen up to my armpits in flour and dough. The oven was turned up, and I wiped sweat from my face on a damp towel before picking up.
“You’ve got a problem,” she said, without a word of greeting. “I’m coming around.”
Before I could answer she rung off. I put the phone down, catching a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror. I looked like a mime who’d been caught in a tornado. I tugged at my shirt, which clung to my torso, and flapped it back and forth to cool down. Back in the kitchen, I looked at the battalion of Chinese dumplings lined up in rows on the counter top.
“Fuck the Chinese,” I said, ripping a plastic bag from the roll. “Fuck them all.”
When Clara arrived, I had disposed of the dumplings and filling, cleaned up the kitchen, and was going through the pantry looking for anything that could be identified as Chinese.
“What about that?” asked Clara, pointing a small bottle of pure sesame oil from Japan.
I threw it into a box on the floor. On top of it, I threw a bag of sesame seeds, an old packet of goji berries, and a bottle of ground ginger. I tried to argue the point with Clara that ginger was not Chinese, but she grabbed it from my hand and hurled it into the box.
“They don’t give a flying you know what about what you think,” she said. “If they use it, then it’s Chinese.”
From the fridge she pulled out bags of kai-lan, freshly peeled water chestnuts, and some oyster mushrooms. She threw out a carton of soy milk, and a bottle of fish sauce with a label in Thai. I didn’t have the energy to quibble. Besides, there was a niggling thought in the back of my mind that Thailand was part of China these days. It was hard to keep up.
By the time two women from the Organisation for Authentic Chinese Cuisine arrived at the door, I was cooking a lamb roast to disguise the aroma of Shaoxing wine and soy sauce. I had a bottle of Worcestershire sauce on the counter, and was rubbing black pepper and olive oil over some baby potatoes. The two women checked the pantry and fridge, opened the oven and took some photos and a sample for testing back in the lab.
The short, chubby one, her eyes narrowing when she spoke, said, “We get report of Chinese smells from your kitchen. You can explain?”
I shrugged. “Perhaps it was the marinade.” I looked at the bottle of Worcestershire sauce. The taller one flipped open the lid and sniffed it. She passed it the chubby one. She shook a drop onto her finger and licked it.
“Possible,” she said, putting the bottle back with a hard clang.