***These theories are mine, written for fun and do not apply to all Asian ethnicities. Just my fellow Chinese people really, haha. If you're offended, just go to cuteoverload.com and blow some steam.***
A few of my friends who have been recently sucked into LA's food blog world have brought up a particular question many times to me.
Why are there so many food bloggers of Asian descent in LA? In the world, even?
Because we love food. No shit. That's obvious, but why? Hmm. Good question – could this be a coincidence? I don't think so. Out of the 33 links on my blogroll, 28 are authored by people of Asian descent. Whoa! I wish Confucius was here. But then again, this miniscule debate wouldn't exactly be on the top of his list. But we care about this small-minded issue because we love food, so I'll have to undergo a Ghost moment with Confucius. Not in a creepy way - I have a girlfriend.
Theory #1: Dinner Time is Family Time
The dynamics of an Asian Family work like this. The all-too-expressive Dad will be in the living room reading the newspaper or watching some Chinese soap opera with some young girl crying and the guy walking off. Repeat five times in an hour. Mom will be peeling some vegetables she got on sale at 99 Ranch Market with her apron that has random Engrish cartoons on them. Something like.... "Happy Happy Cook Love" with bunnies and shit all over. Little Sister is in her room practicing for the One Man Band competition. She's playing the violin, piano, flute, cello and studying for her Calculus 19A quiz – all at the same time. Big brother is filling out his Ivy League college applications, with UC Berkeley as 'backup' and counting down the minutes till he gets to release his stress on online video games. 98-year old Grandma, mother of the father of course, is taking care of the baby sister singing her the Chinese alphabet song like a broken record. Everyone is dispersed in this activity center we call home, but when it's dinner time, everyone is at the table - hungry or not. You see, this is where the congressional hearings take place. Dad's got the gavel ready, maybe even a feather duster, and he's ready to hear the children's daily reports. There's also the occasional wedding banquet at the Chinese restaurant which is mandatory. You don't know everyone there, but you have no choice but to sit there and watch your drunk uncles get smashed off Hennessy and XO. Then there's the one of many relatives that visits from Asia, Canada and Australia. Bottom line, food brought generations of family together. Everything sounds so forced and strict, but you know what, the day I left for college... I missed my parent's home cooking. I didn't miss the lectures... I missed the food that brought us together. It's something I took for granted because now we hardly eat together as a family. It wasn't anything special, but it was good because it was made with TLC. Asian families are very close-knit and it's no wonder you see a herds of Asians. At clubs, it's not a surprise to see a group of 40. At dinner parties, restaurant servers are rushed to put tables together for the birthday dinner for 30. Yes, we stick together because that's how we grew up... being together.
Theory #2 All Asian Food Has A Common Origin
Rice, don't like rice, so I'll pick noodles for instance. The Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Mongolians, Malaysians, Indonesians, Burmese and Filipinos - they all eat noodles. We all eat rice and beans and have evolved different methods of preparing them. When I grew up, I was exposed to Chinese noodles because my dad is the true noodle whore. He passed that whoring gene down to me and my sister. Here are a few cultural favorites:
Hong Kong: wonton noodles, fish ball noodles, beef ball noodles - brought over by the Chiu Chow people. Traditionally, Hong Kong and Macau love to eat beef brisket egg noodle soup and wonton noodles.
Chiu Chow/Chao Zhou/Trieu Chau/Teo Chew: this seafood city is the land of delicious beef ball/pork ball/fish ball noodles. Vietnamese refer to their soup noodles as 'hu tieu'... which is the same as chinese (guo tiao) and thai (kway tiao). They love to eat fat rice noodles and yellow egg noodles. The Chiu Chow people brought this to Vietnam, Cambodian, Taiwan and Thailand. You'll know you're in a Chiu Chow restaurant when you see the menu in four different languages: chinese, vietnamese, cambodian and sometimes thai. Go to Chinatown, there are at least 5 Chiu Chow restaurants, with Mien Nghia being my LA favorite and Trieu Chau Restaurant being my OC favorite (Santa Ana).
Taiwan: beef noodle soup, beef ball noodles, pork ball noodles, vermicelli (fun sih/mi fun) Taiwanese are originally from the Fujian area, which is the province next to Chiu Chow. They fled to Taiwan because of the Qing dynasty, and at that time, was initially occupied by Malaysian, Polynesian aborigines and then later colonized by Portuguese, Dutch and Japanese. The original beef noodle soup came from Muslim Chinese and in China alone, there are probably hundreds of variations just like Japanese ramen. Some words in Chiu Chow dialect and Taiwanese sound VERY similar.
Vietnam: pho beef noodle soup. Pho is a variation of Chinese beef brisket noodle soup with lighter colored, aromatic soup. In southeast Asia, fish sauce is used more commonly than soy sauce. Mongolians brought with them to Vietnam the spices used in the soup, such as anise, coriander and cinnamon. There is a saying in Chinese... "where there is land, there are Chinese." So true. Chinese are all over Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos... they fled for work and war refuge. And with them, they brought their food. In any vietnamese restaurant, besides pho, you'll see something called 'hu tieu' which as mentioned before is the Vietnamese name for 'gwo tiao', which means soup noodles with thick rice noodles or yellow egg noodles. The soup base consists of boiling pork bones, chicken bones, dried fish, fish sauce and shallots. The result is a sweet, yellow broth.
Thailand: ever have Thai Boat Noodle Soup? The name for soup noodles is 'kway tiao'... which is the same as Chinese 'guo tiao', Vietnamese and Cambodian 'hu tieu'. Same thing, soy sauce based soup with herbs and beef parts.
Cambodia: Cambodia is heavily influenced by French, Chinese and Thai cuisine. You'll see fried rice, fried noodles and of course, hu tieu. In Cambodian restaurants, it is very likely that they can speak Chinese, Chiu Chow dialect, Vietnamese and sometimes Thai.
Japan: cha-shu ramen. everybody loves ramen. At Shin Sen Gumi, my fave ramen shop, the noodles used are similar to Chinese noodles which are called 'la-mian' (mandarin) and 'lai-mein' (cantonese). But cha-shu style pork is their main ingredient, not beef. Like Chiu Chow noodle soup, the broth is made by boiling pork bones... but for 10+ hours. This causes the collagen and marrow in the pot to form a rich, white broth.
Korea: neng myeon ('liang mian' in chinese which means cold noodles), jaampong and jja jiang myeon. Jaampong is a spicy, seafood noodle soup which is similar to China's 'chao ma mian'. That shit will send you to the toilet in no time. Jja jiang myeon is a variation of Chinese 'ja jiang mian' which is a pork/black bean paste noodle served with cucumbers. I love both the Chinese and Korean versions.
The Philippines: again, where there's land, there's Chinese... and with that, they bring their food. 'Pancit canton' dish is similar to the Chinese 'chow mein'... only with a different type of noodle. Some variations include Chinese sausage, shrimp, pork, carrots and celery.
Hawaii: not noodles typically, but a big clusterfuck of delicious foods. The lunch plates you usually see at Shakas, L&L and Ono Hawaiian bbq are massive boxes filled with some kind of Asian meat, rice and macaroni salad. During the sugar plantation era, there was a large influx of Chinese, Japanese and Korean immigrants. After work, they would set up little night markets and sell their culture's food for extra money. That's why you have fried rice, tonkatsu cutlets and korean bbq. Gravy and macaroni salad are not from Asia if you haven't figured out.
What's my point? Noodles pretty much have a common background. And because I love noodles, it's very likely that I'll try another culture's dish. I'm sure those that love pho will probably like Chinese beef noodle soup. And those that love Chinese beef noodle soup usually end up liking Thai Boat noodles. Each culture's variation is different enough to distinguish it as its own type of noodle soup. I'll eat pho one day, and the following week, eat Chiu Chow noodles. Same dish essentially, different taste. In essence, if you combine all the Asian cultures soup noodles, that's A LOT of different things to try.
Theory #3: Asians Eat Everything
Yes, and so do, the French, Mexicans and Spanish. So don't call PETA just yet. There's another saying... "Chinese will eat anything on the ground with legs, except for tables and chairs. Chinese will eat anything in the air except airplanes." haha. And it's the truth. Chinese are thrifty and will not let anything go to waste. In some countries, it is a sin to kill an animal and not use all of it - an unworthy kill. When you are living in a poor country, you do what it takes to see the next day. Even if it means eating an animals feet. And if that's all your given to eat, you're gonna make sure that its edible. For example, Filipino food consists of a lot of offals and entrails. During Spanish colonization in the Phillipines, the Spanish gave Filipinos leftovers and 'non-edible' parts. What'd they do with them? 'Dinuguan' is a popular dish consisting of pork blood cubes, pork stomach, snout, ears in blood stew. Those parts you don't see very often on TGIFriday's menu.
Introducing, the Southeast Asian sampler platter! Jack Daniel's, beer-battered blood cubes! Mesquite-BBQ pig ears! Beef organ Nachos with Salsa Verde!
Theory #4: Asian Food Is Cheap
I'm sometimes amazed by how affordable Asian food is. And I wonder how these restaurateurs actually keep a roof over their head. Places like PF Chang's will make my parents faint. A bowl of pho is $4.25... what would wou rather have a piping hot bowl of cholestorol or McDonald's $4.25 fatty cholestorol-laden fried food? #4 Special please. To eat 'family' style means to order a few dishes and share with the table. So you can imagine the bill being divided up will amount to a low cost per person. My friends and I had a large dim sum get together not too long ago... twenty people, a smorgasbord of food.... $10 each. $10 at a non-asian place will barely get you an appetizer and soup. You know those delicious soupy dumplings - 10 pieces for $4.50. For some Chinese people, that is a rip because in Shanghai, you can get 10 of those for like $1. Crazy. Anyway, because the food is affordable and tasty, you can eat out more often and not damage the wallet. I don't know too many people that can afford to eat at Mozza, Doughboy's, Malo and Lucques all in one week. Not to mention how rich that food is. But I can afford to eat at Saap Coffee Shop, Golden Deli and all-you-can-eat korean bbq at Gui Rim 2. That's about $40 there. Thanks to Christine D for bringing up this point.
Theory #5: Asians Love Computers
Oh yes we do. I do. If you don't believe me, go to Fry's Electronics - half the staff is Asian. Wait a minute, there's a place that allows me to be around computers AND make money at the same time? Nice - application please! The computer and internet allows us to voice opinions with anonymity. You can do everything on the computer nowadays - even find @$$!
In essence, I think that the combination of closeknit families, wide variety of Asian cuisine as a whole, relentless devouring of the whole animal, affordable costs and love for computer technology... is the reasoning behind the high amount of foodblogging done by people of Asian ethnicity. Everyone wants to find a niche and with the thousands of food blogs out there, we know that the topic of food is very much a cozy, comfy nest for us to rest in. Eating at a restaurant is the best way to kill two birds with one stone... you want to stay in touch with family and friends but you also want to feed your face. Not many people I know will get together with their families and go and get loaded at a dive bar or bikini waxing salon. It's also the best way to not have to clean up your house and have guests sit on your furniture, which is already wrapped in thick plastic to ensure centuries of usage. True story, I knew of an Asian family that even had their Oldsmobile interior wrapped in plastic. Might as well have added bubble wrap outside of the car.
Ok, so now the real question is... what am I eating for dinner?
Thanks for reading.