Asian Girl Problem #123: 6 Products That Shouldn’t Count as Food

I think I’m going to be on a diet until I have kids. But my diet doesn’t have rules, and doesn’t feel like deprivation, so does it still count? I say yes, because I strongly consider everything I eat, and I will possibly never feel thin enough. But I have accepted this lifestyle.

A few years ago, I had a huge appetite and little understanding of moderation, which led to some weird weight-loss habits. This is a farewell to the shitty “food products” I binged on whenever I felt out of control.

Popcorn

Like most diet foods, this is mostly air and sawdust. It might taste like food when you douse it with nutritional yeast, soy sauce or sriracha, which makes it very alluring. Like an ex-smoker who needs to carry a pack around for security, I always have a bag of kernels in the pantry.

100 Calorie Snack Packs

I’ve never bought these bags of sweet air, but a former office I worked in used to have these in the kitchen. They taste like communion wafers, but you’re better off saying a prayer than eating them.

Sugar-free Light Ice Cream

Mostly air and chemicals–but not the good trippy stuff. My mom, queen of fake desserts, keeps this in her freezer. Which unnecessary because it never melts.

Sugar-Free Light Yogurt

This double-whammy does a number on my digestive system while leaving a regrettable aftertaste.

Low-Calorie Noodles

Smells like fish, and tastes like rubber bands. I bought these a couple times when they first came to the U.S. market from Asia, where they’re a very popular weight loss food.

Rice Cakes

In grad school, I used to buy ast least three bags of these at a time and eat them for dinner. If you start with a savory flavor like cheddar or ranch, and end with caramel or chocolate, you can pretend you’ve eaten a three-course meal.

And because I’m now hungry, this is the end.

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Asian Girl Problem #111: The Elusive American Sleepover

I call myself an adventurous eater. I’ll enjoy a fish eyeball, shrimp head, chicken feet, lizard or fried grasshopper anytime. Though not as tasty as the aforementioned, I’ll even eat pork blood, slimy sea cucumber, bitter melon or durian if it’s offered. But there are plenty of American food experiences I’ve never had, but crave, such as getting a pizza delivered. Never ordered food delivery, period. The way it’s engrained into American life and has more apps dedicated to it than any other service is literally hard for me to swallow.

When I was young, journeying to a restaurant and eating there was half the fun–my parents made a freakin field trip out of McDonald’s. Eating in-store meant wedidn’t have to dirty dishes, could enjoy free water, and stuff a bag with napkins and ketchup to use for the rest of the week. The common reasons for food delivery were lost on us. No car? Walk your ass there. Too late at night to walk? You shouldn’t be eating anyway–go to bed. And obviously, we weren’t aware of the culture which gave rise to “late night munchies” and “wake and bake.”

Most of all, my parents couldn’t fathom the concept of paying a delivery fee or tip to receive an asinine service, although more than once, my dad considered getting a second job as a pizza deliverer. While my mouth watered every time we saw a Papa John’s car roll through our street, he dreamed about cashing in on the suburban laziness surrounding us.

The one place I did wrap my mouth around some delivery pizza would be at sleepovers, although I spent more time watching them on TGIF than attending real ones. Because there is nothing as terrifying to the Asian mother (or just mine?) as The American Sleepover.

American kids can go from zero to spending the night in the time it takes to make a short phone call, because their sleepovers are dependent on just two factors:

1. Is it okay with Suzie’s parents?
2. Is it a weekend?

For Asian parents intent on defending their daughter’s chastity and pathetic social standing, more need answering:

1. Has it been at least six months since your last sleepover?
2. Will any sentient being with a penis be at Suzie’s house?
3. Does Suzie’s mother have a good job, and know the harmful effects of artificial ingredients?
4. Have you finished all your studies for the next week?
5. Are you working on a group project with Suzie, and can you incorporate piano practice into the sleepover agenda?
6. Does Suzie get better grades than you?
7. What do you do at a sleepover that you can’t do during the day?
8. Why are you not as obedient as _________’s daughter?
9. We need to find you more extracurriculars if you have an extra 12 hours to spend at someone else’s house.
10. Why can’t Suzie stay at our house?

Suzie can’t stay at our house because we don’t have a dog or video games and we can’t mention any boy names. But mostly because we eat fish heads instead of pizza.

Asian Girl Problem #103: The Cake That Wasn’t

Up until a few decades ago, Chinese people didn’t bake. The British had some influence on Hong Kong desserts during their reign, but up in the mainland, people didn’t eat sweets. If you could afford dessert, it would consist of something like steamed mochi or red bean soup, which, to those of us raised on Good Humor and Little Debbie, aren’t worth the coal it takes to cook them. By the way, this is also the number one reason they remained svelte–expending lots of energy dodging gross desserts.

When China finally opened up to foreign economy and trade in the 80s, they discovered French and Cantonese style desserts and evolved them according to their own tastes, which is how you end up with the modern-day fruit cakes that are fluffy, mildly sweet and covered in whipped cream. The kind of cake that if sat on, would emit the sound of a whoopee cushion and flatten into nothing Because it is 90% air, all style and little substance. Which is exactly what my mother loves about them.

Despite being a health freak, her former sweet tooth comes back to bite every few weeks. Always looking for healthy desserts, she asks me to bring home an Asian bakery cake whenever there’s a special occasion.

“Tell them to make it with less sugar, less fat, no artificial ingredients, no colors.” She reminds me every time. And again when I bring it home for her. “Did they make it with less sugar, less fat, no artificial ingredients, no colors?”

No, I don’t tell the Dalai Lama how to meditate, and I don’t tell impatient Chinatown bakers to tweak their recipes to taste more like this “Yep!” I tell her. The lie is good for both our souls.

“It could still be a little less sweet. Tell them that next time,” she says as she returns for a second slice.

Asian Girl Problem #90: A List of Things I Shouldn’t Have Eaten

6pm last night: Whiskey and soda on an empty stomach. Did not bother with the pre-drinking Pepcid AC I’m sometimes known to pop to prevent Asian glow. Didn’t think one drink would be a big deal, but boy was I wrong.

8pm: Half a several-day-old blondie that was sitting on a bar. I gave the other half to a stranger because I am a generous drunk. A bite of duck bacon pizza from a sick friend.

9am this morning: Big cup of coffee on an empty stomach, after waking up with a slightly scratchy throat and running 5k (thought it’d bring some life back to me). Queasy and hyper.

Noon: Some weird sour broth the restaurant next door claims is Minestrone. Feeling worse, I then had the bread that came with it. And my coworker’s.

1pm: Tummy majorly pissed off now. Took the Asian approach and got some ginger candy, and immediately felt better. GINGER CURES ALL.

Asian Girl Problem #84: Chinese People Will Eat Anything

Even though my parents will never own another pet, they’ve amassed a remarkable amount of pet food. In the depths of their garage, amidst salvaged furniture, packs of Depends and a broken drumset (my dad is a borderline hoarder) is a box full of bags of fancy pet kibble. Every time Costco hands out samples of the stuff, my parents’ Asian sensibilities compels them to accept.

“I’ll give them to your grandma’s dog,” my dad has said for years. But next time his trip to China rolls around, his bags are too heavy to accommodate expired pet snacks. They just sit there in a box, waiting for me to discover them each time I’m looking for my books or crafts something actually useful.

I’m reminded of the time my parents brought home a dented can with a picture of a hearty bowl of chili and “Natural Beef Tips” on it. They’d found it in one of those shopping carts of nearly expired or damaged goods in the back corner of the grocery store.

“You love soup,” they said.

“Let me see that…” Something about the color of the can, the fifty cent price tag and the words “Quality Check’d” had me sniffing around. I read through the label, which was rather meager of any evidence pointing to human or animal consumption. Finally, I found it–“dog”.

“There!” I pointed. Not to mention, my teeth and nails were already healthy, and the luster to my coat was just fine, thank you.

“We just wanted to see what it was,” said my mom, nonplussed. “That’s why we needed you to check.”

“Well you can’t eat this. You cannot.”

Of course, my dad insisted on opening it to “take just a look.” He popped off the lid and we peered over the top as if into an active volcano. It didn’t look that bad, actually. No worse than Campbell’s. He took a long whiff of it, and I suppose that’s where the comparison ended. The smell finally convinced him to throw it away. I should’ve expected him to trust no one else’s word as much as his own nose. But hey, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Asian Girl Problem #64: Big in China

I was working on this post a couple days ago–before my car got trashed and laptop got stolen. Left me in a daze, but things are swiftly getting back to normal. Fix the car, dust off the glass from my things, get some sleep, and no one would know the difference. I might not have a laptop for a while, but I’ll be posting from various other computers. And making a huge dent in my reading list!

Here are a couple trends I spotted everywhere in China when I went back to visit early this year. Holiday shopping guides and lists are in full swing right now, and I just want to say, if you’re feeling generous–please don’t get me any of these things.

With more money comes more eating, and with more eating comes more dieting. The juice and smoothie trend has hit China hard, and I’ve seen it in all sorts of infomercials and cooking shows. I’ve enjoyed many a juice and smoothie in my day, but the Chinese have adapted them in some quirky ways to fit their culture, like chunky smoothies made from pre-boiled fruits. I don’t know how they get those down.

For those more realistic and unwilling to give up their fried foods, air fryers are another must-have appliance. Riding on the coattails of KFC’s popularity, their main use is in making air-fried wings and making informercial supermodels really happy.

Wine is huge. Anyone who has class or wants to appear as such has diehard opinions on their favorite kind. Those with money have gone out to France and Napa to invest in their own vineyards. It’s a little like the emperor’s new clothes, but maybe that’s just because I don’t like wine.

When it comes to the trendiest cuisine, Thai seems to be the surprising winner. Hip young people like my cousin are in love with the spices and freshness. Japanese and Korean restaurants are usually higher end and reserved for special occasions, but Thai-inspired dishes and recipes are all over the place, and less daunting for home chefs.

My food trend predictions for the next year: veganism, cocktails, popcorn.

Asian Girl Problem #59: Thanksgiving Thoughts

As an only child with no (sane) extended relatives stateside, the last thing I want to do on holidays is sit down to eat a smelly turkey with my parents. That’s why this and every other national holiday is an opportunity for us to get together with other Chinese families and share the joy. Sometimes we take it outdoors to a park and grill, sometimes we go to someone’s house, and sometimes we hit up a restaurant. The best parts: at least a couple different gatherings and no family drama.

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This year, I had about three Thanksgiving dinners. The other awesome thing about having Chinese Thanksgivings is that we make dishes from both cultures, so we get almost double the amount of food–because the only traditional food that I look forward to are the stuffing and desserts.

This year, notable dishes were curry puffs, Peking turkey, sushi and crab. Sorry, Norman Rockwell.

Having the rest of my family in China just makes me more thankful that I have such supportive parents nearby. Hearing many of my Chinese friends who are alone in the States talk about having the “American Dream” of relocating their parents here makes me even more aware of this privilege. Add in our health and friends, and the rest is gravy.