Chinese Vegetables and the Dude

Vegetable Stir FryFor lunch I had a bowl of authentic Asian Stir-Fry with authentic Asian Vegetables. Delicious … but …  when did broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots become the indigenous vegetables of Asia? What’s next: lima beans and black-eyed peas?

When I was young I enjoyed Asian food from the local Chinese Restaurant in the strip mall down the road, or a secret Asian eatery in an obscure town where my family was the only non-Asians in the room … eating family-style out of one huge bowl in the center of a large round table, or even elegant dining high above San Francisco with enameled chargers beneath fine china plates and artistic koi doing spirals and loops in a large aquatic garden forming the wall behind my head. Never once do I remember an Asia dish which consisted of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots in a light brown sauce.

Where are the bean sprouts, the water chestnuts, the bamboo shoots, the tiny corn, the pea pods, the squishy mushrooms … in fact, several varieties of mushrooms, big and small, brown and white, firm and squishy. What else was there?

Of course back in the fifties we were mysteriously ethnic if we heated up a can of Chung-King for dinner. Post-war America discovered Chinese Food, Pizza, and pomme frites … and serious bowling before all this automation and neon wussified the sport.

bowlingI remember my older aunt taking me to a roadside general store and eatery in Arizona to have me try the newest culinary treat. It seems that the proprietor of the store had gone back east and experienced an entirely new type of food. Naturally, when he returned, he recreated this delicacy from memory and both he and my aunt stood and watched me eat a piece of flat Indian bread with tomato sauce, cheese, and sliced hot dogs … yes, Arizona roadside pizza from the 1950s. Unfortunately, there was an excellent Italian restaurant in San Diego where I grew up called Pernicano’s and I new what real pizza tasted like … pizza with bubbling crust, three kinds cheese with a spicy tomato sauce, and thick slices of pepperoni dotting the entire surface. Every year back then my folks took us out for a birthday dinner at the restaurant of our choice and more often than not, it was Pernicanos for me.

Pernicanos is still there, along with a few branch restaurants around the county, but I suspect I may never go back there again … will the pizza taste as good as it did sixty years ago?

And what ever happened to One from Column A and Two from Column B? I know if you hear Buddy Hackett’s comedy routine today it is almost scary how politically incorrect it sounds so it might not seem as funny as it did back in the fifties. Still, the cafeteria approach to eating Chinese food allowed a moderate sized family to enjoy and even experiment with new dishes and new tastes. Add to that the Asia antipasto, known generally as the Pu-Pu Platter, and family night out at the local Chinese restaurant was really an experience. (Note that in the fifties, we almost exclusively had Chinese restaurants; it took a few more years before the Japanese or Philippine or Thai or Vietnamese restaurants started to be popular making a general term like Asian food much more accurate).

I must admit that growing up in San Diego with a father that loved new kinds of food introduced me to many types of ethnic food from around the world (not just, as you would expect in San Diego, Mexican food).

Come to think of it: did you know that fajitas are not real Mexican food and were invented by a man in Minnesota in 1972? Okay, that story is a little inaccurate … it was a man in Texas (look it up, his name was Sonny Falcon).

2 responses

  1. Do you think that Sonny Falcon was back east and enjoyed a sausage and peppers sandwich on the boardwalk before he went back to Texas and invented fajitas? I remember at least one sandwich shop that sliced open large round flat loafs and stuffed the hollow insides with sausage and peppers (and onions, of course), or with hot dogs and peppers, or with scrambled eggs and peppers. How hard is it to envision the same sandwich wrapped in a tortilla? And then there is the gyro sandwich to consider.

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    • I used to love pepper & eggs from the local sub-shop when I lived in the New York area. But being from the Southwest, scooping a warm tortilla into a plate of chorizo con huevos or machaca con huevos was a breakfast standard long, long ago.

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