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reminders of the far east

Chinatown in San Francisco

Watching these Olympics has rejuvenated my love for all things Chinese. Growing up, I was obsessed with learning about the culture. My mom, who was born in Indonesia but was Chinese, didn’t really talk about the cultural traditions or beliefs that she was taught as a kid, which now, looking back, is a little sad because I would’ve enjoyed learning about all those little tidbits you pass on to the next generation. I was the only little kid in class who got so excited whenever the teacher would motion the the “far east” on the globe, hoping that the teacher would instill some history about this place that seemed so close to my heart, but was still so very far away.

As I got older, and time lapsed in between trips to Indonesia, I basically forgot about my heritage. To me, I was as American as you could get. I wore the same clothes, had the same hair, drove the same car, and  in the same house. Nothing made me different. I even look more like my dad, which has always been a sticking point to me. Every time my mom would introduce me to one of her friends or co-workers, they’d look at me, then glance at my mom, then look back in disbelief. “Wow, she doesn’t look a thing like you!” they’d scream. Little did they know, every time I heard this, my little heart broke bit by by. Like most little girls, my goal was to be EXACTLY like mom, who looked lush and strong, with her jet black hair, strong cheekbones, and exotic eyes. Instead, I had this brown-auburn wavy hair, a round fair, long limbs, and a goofy smile. 

The greatest thing about getting older is that you have the ability to define who you are and who you want to be. Instead of relying on your parents for all kinds of information, you can hit the books, researching about your ancestors, learning more about the people who made history in a place that you’ve obsessed about for years. Spending nights scouring through articles and stories online can almost be fun, if you are dedicated enough and have enough coffee. I guess what I am trying to say is that rediscovering parts of your self you never knew existed is something that everyone should do. I think now, after taking classes and reading up on Chinese history, I have a greater appreciation for my ancestors and the Chinese culture. I stopped being so ethnocentric and really took off that “my-land-is-better-than-your-land” hat. 

I won’t like, the opening ceremonies of the Olympics made me tear up. Al that dedication and passion… It made me proud to be tied to that country. Forgetting about bad politics and social grievances, I was proud to be Chinese, no matter how bad of a wrap it gets for its disturbing behavior. After watching that show, I immediately decided that a trip to the world famous Chinese part of Sacramento was needed. Thankfully, this area is only 5 minutes away from my work. 

ABC bakery is one of those mom and pop bakeries where the minute you walk in to the store, you can hear the family talking in the background. The smells of fresh yeast and coconut fly through the air and your mouth starts to water. I remember visiting this exact bakery 10-15 years ago. Everyday, my mom would hold my hand as we walked in, and she’d let me pick my favorite treat. We’d walk out, with bags of Egg Custard Tarts and Chicken Baos, hungrily anticipating the minute we got to sink our teeth in to these delicacies. 

After al this time, my order didn’t change. I got a Chicken Bao, an Egg Custard Tart (fresh out of the oven), and a Cocktail Bao which has coconut and pineapple. I had enough food to feed a family and the best part was that each item only cost 1 dollar! Awesome! It was like winning the culinary lottery. 

Man oh man, ABC bakery didn’t let me down. The Chicken Bao was really good. The soft, slightly sweet bread dough had a thin buttery crust on the outside, but the minute I cracked that baby open, little clouds of steam emerged. The filling was cooked and seasoned perfectly. I easily could’ve downed two more of these bad boys.

The Egg Custard Tart was just as good as I remembered. A buttery crust that crunches when you cut in to it and melts when it hits your tongue, it was safe to say I was in heaven eating this one. The filling was flavored slightly with vanilla, and warm to the touch, thanks to me waiting for it to get out of the oven. What I liked the most about this tart was that all the individual components worked together and didn’t overpower each other. I don’t like unintentional competition, thank you very much.

The Cocktail Bao was not as good as the others, all though I didn’t eat this Bao until later in the afternoon, whereas the others that were eaten in the morning. The Bao lost some of it’s softness and flavor and the filling slightly hardened. The filling was still good, but I imagine it would be ten times better when eaten fresh.

My little adventure in to Sacramento’s Chinatown reinstilled my desire to develop my Chinese heritage, especially in kitchen territory. Most of the Chinese meals my mom makes are made without the use of a recipe so if I can make that woman go through each step slowly, I think I would have a wealth of traditional recipes at my finergtips… And as for the Beijing Olympics, can I just say I have never been so wowed by an event before? China has never looked better… If only the political party could clean up its act though… In any case, my chinese treats caused quite stir at my office, and as I dived in to each treat, all my coworkers groaned in envy. Haha! 

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August 31, 2008 - 7:51 am

Robin - Heh! Isn’t it fun to have food that’s the envy of all your co-workers! ;)

Looks like you had fun.

January 12, 2009 - 3:25 am

strawberry - found your lovely site from tastespotting and i as i was going through your archives this post caught my attention. i wouldn’t have guessed you have chinese roots, i’m living in shanghai right now and some how your photography has made chinese food look way more appetizing than it does here (though i must admit those egg custard things never disappoint)

September 10, 2009 - 12:50 pm

sandrar - Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

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