Thought for food

July 26th, 2021

I recently bought a wok and started doing a lot of stir-fries. One part to connect with my ethnic roots and the other to cut down on the amount I eat out. With this, also comes the knowledge that it is not particularly expensive to keep me alive.

If I had more of a predilection for spreadsheets, I’d have more objective numbers, but I do tag my grocery/restaurant purchases in a month to keep track of the amount that I spend on food alone. And I’ve been able to bring it down as low as about $10 a day on average. I’ve stabilized at dining out about once a week (and not for more than about $20 a person after tip). Since I’m still in the process of finding employment, I have time to head to grocery stores (frequently on bicycle!) and cook, or should I say, learn to cook.

I’ve come to appreciate how stir-frying (with or without a wok) is one of those methods that’s easy to learn, hard to really master, but you’re not going to go hungry trying. It’s hard to eff up a dish once you get the fundamentals down. You don’t need a specific type of cookware or specialized food type. Stir-frying is a process borne of practicality more than pretentiousness, thank god. (Maybe that’s why I never took to haute cuisine?)

You can do in a $12 nonstick saucepan or a fancy $50 titanium ceramic. You can go traditional with a seasoned $15 wok or a fancy $90 hand-hammered “traditional wok”. Gas (best results!) or Electric (meeeehhhh results but edible). Whatever. Just use enough oil to not burn it. And no, you don’t get the same results but it’s close enough for a novice like myself. It’s a huge savings over buying (Americanized) Chinese food, which I now have a health appreciation for the margin of.

Add in the knowledge that you can pad (thai?) out dishes with plenty of vegetables, of which you have many options. Also, add in thai chili oil.

I’ll probably go more into the details of wok cooking in a future post.

It helps that I’m near a large ethnic grocery store. I say “ethnic” because I notice a mix of cultures. The name is Vietnamese, but there’s a pan-Asian bent with a good deal of Mexican leanings. And one of the aisle even is marked “Jamaican” so yeah. And I can buy cactus leaves, haha.

But the vegetables I’ve gone home with lately have included “chinese broccoli” AKA Gai Lan (Don’t ask me to pronounce that), carrots, onions, garlic and scallions. It’s STUPID cheap, who knew? It almost feels like arcane knowledge that I can make any green vegetable (cabbage, broccoli, bell peppers) tasty enough with some fish sauce and minced garlic. Pair with rice (also stupid cheap when you get it in 10kg bags from aforementioned ethnic grocery store). I make a big stir fry, package it in tupperware, and between that and egg sandwiches and cereal, I can get by on like $300 a month. Rent is the biggest expenditure at about $550 a month for my share. Insurance after that and it comes out to like $200 between them all.

I’m waiting on some job interviewers to get back to me though. Some disposable income would be nice to invest and or sample some of the local restaurants. I’ve never seen this many African places before. Also, travel. Probably the biggest portion of recreational expenditure in a year. (2020 excepted of course.) I’m good on survival for now though. Just have to avoid letting my meat prison get dilapidated enough to have to use the health care system because that’s always so much fun.

Assimilation

May 31st, 2021

There’s an interaction with someone I had just met freshman year at Purdue that I still think about.

Her: What’s your nationality?
Me: American
Her: No, what’s your background?
Me: Middle-class suburbanite
Her: No, where were you born?
Me: Chicago.
Her: No, where did your parents come from?
Me: California.
Her: No, I mean, where were your parents born?
Me: Oh, Vietnam

So in this introductory meeting with a first year engineering student, which was purportedly to get to know each other, her questions veered from being about me to quickly being about my parents despite the fact that I had told her a wealth of info about me. Indeed, my first three responses had a great impact on who I was.

I don’t think she was acting in bad faith or malice. But I wonder if she looks back and realizes she was moving the topic from being about me to being about why my face looks different than hers.

Would I have gotten the same treatment if I were black? If I were white with red hair? If I were white with a mustache?

Anyway, Happy Asian American Heritage Month.