An ABC’s unique experience with Cantonese food
Ever since I was small, I’ve never really liked Chinese food. Until I moved to northern China, “Chinese food” for me was Hong Kong and Guangdong Province cuisine. I suspect my indifference for Cantonese food grew from the annual overdose I would be subjected to each summer when my extended family would gather in Vancouver. Without fail, breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 3 weeks straight would be Chinese food; and because it was always someone “qing”-ing someone else, it would be rich, heavy food. In the next few posts, I will describe the likes, dislikes, and sometimes just outright odd eating habits of my Chinese-American family.
To Eat or Not to Eat
Some of the dishes regularly ordered when my extended family is together include ingredients that are on many “do not eat” conservation lists. In fact, as my mother watched a PBS special about the ocean’s creatures, my father frequently commented, “that’s good to eat.”
According to the World Wildlife Fund, an international NGO working on issues regarding the conservation, research, and restoration of the environment, an estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year, primarily for their fins. However, since it’s my grandmother’s favorite dish, sharks’ fin soup is often ordered whenever I visit. Major milestones (e.g. 60th anniversary or 90th birthday celebrations) have been marked with elaborate banquets with menus that could easily be mistaken for the local aquarium’s “do not eat” list. In order to walk the fine line of being a responsible citizen of the world and being a dutiful granddaughter, I silently protest by leaving my bowl untouched. Although family members take notice, Mah-Mah will continue to order her favorite soup.
Far less controversial is the consumption of “body part” delicacies, such as duck brain, fish eyes, or that yellow stuff in crabs. Squeamish at the thought of sucking on bone marrow, I never took part in eating these so-called delicacies. However, when presented with the opportunity, my usually health-conscious father feasts on these cholesterol-rich foods as if he’s been given a food hall pass.
My mother rationalizes, “for your grandmother’s generation and the generation below, being hungry is associated with hard times in China. When food is available, they are used to eating it…every part of it.” In my experience, older generations are usually the ones eating unusual Chinese delicacies. Do younger generations leave these delicacies untouched out of respect for their elders? Or rather is it because we have no desire to eat them in the first place? Regardless of whichever it is, I am thankful tradition doesn’t dictate that I eat everything that ends up on my plate.
Robin’s post got me curious and I did a little online research about the Great Chinese Famine, a sensitive subject which was briefly mentioned in the very last lesson of my Modern History of China class. I went to Baidu and ran an image search on the Chinese term. They weren’t many images on the search results, and the few that were led to broken links or unavailable pages. That’s probably because the impact they have on China’s face is that of a mugshot.
One image in particular caught my attention:
Sadly I could not find a better quality file, but I think what it says above the image is more important:
This isn’t not a graveyard, not is it a cinematic special effect, and most definitely not a Nazi concentration camp. This is a village during the time of the great famine. Let us not forget this unfortunate and tragic period of time.