Our Chinatown Adventure–Libby Trobitz

Posted on January 17, 2012


Stepping off the BART onto the streets of San Francisco and looking up at the sky high labyrinth of buildings is something that a small town country girl such as myself might not ever get used to. I love the adventure that a day in the city has the potential for — it makes me feel like I should be humming my own “Amazing Race” theme music as I’m navigating myself around the busy streets. Culture is what I live for as a student of anthropology, and the charismatic alleys and open markets of Chinatown is exactly what I need to get my culture fix.

Chinatown is an ideal location for my culture fix because I am first and foremost in my educational pursuits a history major, specifically one that specializes in Modern Chinese history. I recognize the flags that I see walking the streets of Chinatown. I can tell you that the Chinese flag is very much a symbol of the People’s Republic of China, or the communist government which was established in 1949 under Mao Tse Tung, and I can tell you that the red, white and blue flag that was also flying above some of the buildings was the flag of Taiwan, or the Republic of China, established by the Nationalists and Chiang Kai Shek, post 1949 when they were ousted from China.

Taiwan’s association with “democracy” or how our tour guide made the distinction between the two flags as “sort of like Republican and Democrat” comes from the fact that the Democratic Progressive Party, established in 1985 in Taiwan was the first party established in opposition to the majority regime, and actually held office in the early 2000′s. In the modern day, there is a huge conflict about Taiwan’s relationship to China and if they will ever reunite. Alas, today was not about a history lesson, as much as I might have lusted after it. Today, was about indulging our palates in the exotic and unique cuisine of Chinatown.

Our tour guide was fantastic, his personal accounts electrified our sensory images of sight and smell as we navigated the busystreets. After visiting a tea shop, and the fortune cookie factory (always an Americanized fan favorite), we sat down to a delicious dim sum lunch. The dining room was quiet, the sunlight pouring in, stimulating my desire to fill my stomach with Chinese cuisine.

While sipping on the delicate blends of tea given to us by the aforementioned tea shop (that which I could have easily spent a paycheck in ) in porcelain cups that retain the heat so well I must set it down to let it cool before it singes my fingertips, I spot the first of many plates brought by the waitress on its way to grace our table. The first dish was vegetable spring rolls. The spring rolls were golden brown, flaky deep fried, and when you bit into them, the spicy vegetable filling was too hot in temperature, but so fresh and inviting that I risked the pain of burning my tongue for the sheer pleasure of indulging in hot fresh vegetables in their finest form — wrapped in crunchy flaky crust.

The second dish was a vegetable and shrimp potsticker, the most recognizable form of dim sum. The hot juice from the potsticker seeped out of the doughy dumpling exterior, leaving on my lips the pleasant marriage of succulent seafood and vegetable. The third dish was a dumpling soup, which was vibrantly bursting with healthy bok choy, among other vegetables and the familiar dumpling which, marinating in the broth, took on an even moister tender role in complimenting the vegetables in the soup.The dishes kept coming to our table by the magic of the gracious and attentive waitresses. With joy we spun the lazy susan on the table around like a merry go round sharing the wealth with our fellow classmates. Toasting with tea and iced water, we were humbled by the hospitality of a place that had seemed so foreign to us just hours ago.

The best part of the meal, as I feel with every meal, is dessert. For dessert, we were presented with a sesame ball. Perfectly spherical, emitting a need to know the mystery of its contents, I bit into the firm outside of the sesame ball, only to be met with a soft inside. The inside was fluffy like my favorite comfort food of homemade mashed potatoes, but it had a sweet exotic surprise at its core — lotus. The lotus had a hue of the richest chocolate, and was sweet and creamy on my lips. Within minutes, the sesame ball was meticulously and greedily devoured. I sat back at the table, sipping my water contently, breathing slowly taking in the scene, and also wondering if I should have worn my “fat jeans” as the ones I was currently wearing seemed a bit tight for this overindulgent occasion.

Upon leaving the restaurant, and looking back at the table full of white dishes that once contained exotic delicacies not familiar to a college students’ palate or budget, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming feeling of hospitality and appreciation for that fact that an entire culture of people whom we as a nation once instituted legislation to exclude welcomed us with open arms and showed us one of the most intimate expressions of their culture — their cuisine.

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