Tribulations of a Timid Taiwanese Trainee-Chef – Episode 5
4 min read

Tribulations of a Timid Taiwanese Trainee-Chef – Episode 5

I have to admit I had my doubts about the recipe that I used for this month’s cooking attempt – hot and sour soup. Why, you might ask? Well, take a look at the author… she is most definitely not Asian. I tried to dig into her blog a little and see if she had previously lived in Asia or dated someone Asian, but could not find anything. She does live a pretty amazing life though, currently in Barcelona, Spain with her husband and dogs. (Lucky!)

There are some other food blogs that I generally turn to when I’m trying to create these Asian dishes and don’t trust my cooking instincts enough to follow my mom’s very loose recipes – namely The Woks of Life, which is written by a family that is very much Chinese. (They also have really great resources on their site about different sauces and oils and vegetables and their English names, which comes in handy a lot.) So, why did I not follow their recipe for hot and sour soup, which should be more “authentic”? Well, mostly because I’m lazy and I still haven’t gone to Ranch 99 (I will never be able to call it 99 Ranch) so I didn’t have a lot of the ingredients that they asked for. I also still don’t own cornstarch.

Anyways, all this to say that I went ahead and followed a white person’s recipe for an Asian dish (albeit one that is pretty common and often associated with takeout Chinese food which maybe isn’t “authentic” Chinese food anyway), and it turned out fine and I enjoyed it so whatever. It’s interesting that I am writing this up and revisiting my thoughts about this at the end of May, since in the beginning of May (or maybe end of April?) “cultural appropriation” versus “cultural appreciation” was more in my mind after that one high school student who wore a qi pao to her prom went viral. A Facebook friend made a good comment afterwards, about how there is a double standard in these sorts of situations since there are a lot of other celebrities and stars who also take certain parts of Asian culture and insert themselves into that space, who don’t get as blasted as that one high school girl did. And it’s a double standard for Asians themselves since there’s so much that we take from other cultures as well (aka, the entire Asian hip hop community at Berkeley, myself included). Maybe there is a difference between enjoying another culture and profiting off of it. For example, I never doubted my white Asian Art professor’s love and enthusiasm for Japanese art, but I’m leery of white chefs who open up Asian restaurants. Then again, I am also a little weirded out by white boys who really love anime so maybe there are no lines to draw and instead there’s just one big squiggly line of distinction that loops around certain exceptions and completely excludes other cases (like, please, never say “konichiwa” to me uninvited).

And now, onto the food!

I’ve now learned that making soup is one of the easiest things to make because each recipe is basically the same – prep ingredients, put in pot, add stock or water, flavor, and wait – and then maybe add in a few ingredients at the end. For this soup I used more shiitake mushrooms and tofu instead of pork – I didn’t add in bamboo shoots or the green onions (because I didn’t have any) and used flour instead of cornstarch (which wasn’t as great of a substitute as I though it’d be).

I was cutting it very close because I didn’t know how big my dutch oven was before I started.. which is maybe something I should have checked, haha. Now I know. I only have a 2 quart dutch oven. I thought I could get away with just carefully stirring everything in the smaller pot but things started to boil over so I just decided to split it into two containers. I had better success with making the egg drop swirl in the non-dutch oven – I wonder if there is something about the way the dutch oven heats up that makes the egg cook more instantly when it hits the soup…

Note to self: halve recipes that call for 8 cups of any liquid!!