Friday, September 5, 2008

The evolution of ethnic food

A long time ago...and no, this isn't one of "those" stories...I moved from Hawaii to VA, and went from an Asian-based culture to something totally different. Don't get me wrong. I love the South. People move around all the time, and my granddaddy was from Louisiana. What I didn't like about the South was the teeny-weeny Asian section in the supermarket.

La Choy and Top Ramen, lol.

It was the first place (I was sheltered) where I talked to people--and they didn't always understand me. In Hawaii most people of Asian descent are fifth or sixth generation. On the mainland, sometimes Asians are first generation, and while they speak English--there's this "lag". And things in Hawaii--over the course of more than a hundred years--have changed. The roots are there, but the names and food are different.

Back in the days of Territory and early Statehood, there were these guys who drove around the neighborhoods. Like the Good Humor man, only instead of ice cream, they sold dim sum. "The manapua man, the manapua man!" Manapua means heavenly pork in Hawaiian. In Chinese, it's char siu bao. Or pork bun.

They still drive around. Back when I was in high school, a couple manapua trucks would park outside the school during lunch. Not much of a choice. USDA mandated five food groups or greasy dim sum. I bought so much pork hash (siu mai) I'd walk home because I didn't have money for the bus.

I had to try new things in VA because I couldn't figure out the Chinese names for what I wanted. There are so many dialects and Mandarin isn't the same as Cantonese and--yeah, well. I got hooked into moon cakes, which taste like a short crust chestnut tart with an egg (not all the time and you can scoop it out. I do) in the middle.

Moon cakes happen during the moon festival which is sort of a cross between the Harvest Festival and the Fall Equinox celebrations. People give moon cakes as presents, all red-papered and spiffy. can tell they're popular. And at thirty nine dollars a box (it's because of the paper, the paper is spiffy?) they're definitely gift material.

The ones in the bakery are a dollar a piece. I'm not giving anybody forty dollars worth of short crust tart. Not even myself.


Alice Audrey said...

Moon cakes! I love moon cakes!

Kaige said...

They look tasty. I've never had them before. Is the egg in the middle easy to avoid?