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I Am Hungry Oakland Asian Cultural Center’s 3rd Zine January 2016

OAKLAND ASIAN CULTURAL CENTER’S THIRD ZINE


Artistic Statement Dear Reader, For our third zine, we chose the theme “I Am Hungry” to explore how food expresses histories, cultures, and tensions within the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. It was incredibly exciting to see what kind of work came in, and we are very grateful to all the artists who submitted their work. While we could not include everyone due to space constraints, we found all of the submissions thoughtful . . . and delicious! Collectively, the works revealed how history and individual identity intersect. Perhaps more importantly, they showed that food is not merely an “ethnic” symbol. Food, as you will see, is an expression of love, a carrier of tradition, and a vessel of memory. When you read this collection of works, we hope these images and written words inspire you. We hope that they make you laugh, cry, and most importantly, reflect upon the diversity and vibrancy of our communities. Sincerely, The Oakland Asian Cultural Center Staff, Fellows, and Interns Pam Mei Graybeal Jiayi Huang Aleta Lee Holly Lim Kristen Lostica Emily Ma Stacey Nguyen Gerald Reese Sylada Roeurth Camille Totah Tamiko Wong Cabee Yang Christina Young


Table of Contendsntents

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Lynn Huang Tenzin Chomphel Christiana Johnston Narinda Heng Arianne Aquino Melba Abela James Sobredo Kevin Do Hung Do Sruti Bharat Nisha Balaram Christine Wu Linda Shiue Shizue Seigel Ilaf Esuf Emily Ma Lauren Lola Shirley Huey Uyen Hoang tk lĂŞ Andrew Kodama Diana Lin

Back page Mission Statement Support the OACC Thank Yous Cover Artwork: The Hungry Prince by Stacey Nguyen Curator and Design Layout: Stacey Nguyen Design Template: Ha Duong


My secret eatings If it weren’t for oatmeal, I don’t know if I would have discovered sweetened condensed milk. Grandmother always poured the contents of a newly opened tin of Longevity Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk into a round glass jar that sat in the fridge. It lived in its corner against the back wall of the middle shelf, next to carefully arranged bottles filled with dried goji berries, sweet soy sauce pickled cucumbers, and fermented cubes of tofu. Sometimes, she let me lick that neat tin circle that comprised the top of the can where a thick layer of condensed milk obscured the dull silver beneath. She made oatmeal every morning, scooping flat flakes out of the cardboard Quaker Oats tub. When it was done, bubbling, slightly toasty, she ladled it into two shallow brown melamime bowls. I laid out spoons on the table and made sure the little globe-shaped jar of sweet milk made its way next to our bowls, slightly frosty after leaving the cold fridge. I didn’t really like oatmeal, but I ate it so I could have sweetened condensed milk. I loved its warm golden color and its viscosity, which allowed me to suspend my spoon over the oatmeal—an unappetizing pasty that was white flecked with brown—and drizzle patterns onto the hot surface. I stirred it slowly, feeling it dissolve to give the watery oatmeal a richer, denser mouthfeel. On certain afternoons after school, I craved it straight up. Seeing that grandmother was in her room, I discreetly opened the fridge to be met with a chilly puff of air. With a silver teaspoon clutched in my hand, I spied that round jar tucked into its corner. I pulled it out, unscrewed the top, inadvertently releasing a tinny grating noise. No one would hear it besides me, since the TV was on in the living room. I dipped my spoon into the jar, cutting through its smooth silken surface. Pulling it out, I swirled the spoon, covering it in an even layer of that perfect richness before it disappeared into my mouth. Its intense cold sweetness coated my tongue. I replaced the lid on the jar, depositing it back into its designated spot in the fridge. I rinsed the spoon, placed it back into the dishrack utensil holder, and plopped back onto the blue cloth couch as grandmother stepped out of her room. To this day, I’ve never been discovered. Lynn Huang

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Oakland Asian Cultural Center


You and Banh Mi Tenzin Chomphel

I Am Hungry

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A Red Fruit I pull stories from deep within Lolo’s heart. “Lolo, what kinds of fruits were your favorite?” I want to see the Philippines through his memory. There is a fruit he remembers. It grew from a big tree. He stood under that tree, a little boy. Staring up at that sweet, red fruit soon to fit lightly in his palm. He remembers the flavor, texture—the magic. But not the name. His memory becomes mine. The Red Fruit finds a place in my dreams. Christiana Johnston

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Oakland Asian Cultural Center


mangos Ten years old, playing hide-and-go-seek, I ran into my grandmother’s closet. I stepped into the darkness breathless and giggling, baffled when my feet sank into soft, smooth somethings. More intent on hiding, I ignored the sticky juice between my toes, tucked myself behind the itchy woolen sweaters, and waited. The closet door slid open and I was found out. The light revealed a box of mangos, many of them crushed. I was petulantly unapologetic about the destruction—why were they in the closet anyway? I think of those mangos and my grandmother, her hunched, arthritic back, and the plates of freshly sliced mango she would place in front of me. They were my favorite and everyone knows fruit ripens faster in the dark. Narinda Heng

I Am Hungry

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All The Hype for Now, None for Then All the hype About “Spanish influence, Chinese flavors, American execution…” So on and so forth None of it told me what I really wanted to know Buried underneath all the layers What really related to my blood, skin and soul All the hype None of the respect Why are we rare to highlight indigenous ingredients? Flavors? Cores? Aromatics? Dishes? I don’t wanna know about now I wanna to know about then. Why do we silence them? How can we celebrate them? I want to know about the dishes that nourished, Fed, pleased, and consoled my ancestors Before colonization killed them. Wrap me in a blanket made of banana leaves and tell me the core of our vinegar obsession, the natural zest that gets me excited. Tell me how the rain, soil, sun, and wind… all the terror it took to make the perfect Lanzones. Calamansi Juice, Bibingka, Hot Balut, Fresh Sisig… I want to be amazed by an ageless fruit. I want to be amazed by cooking styles distinct to a region. I want to be amazed by indigenous vegetables that still get harvested today. It’s easier to read about our food now constantly being reworked Remade, redone. I want to know what can be reborn. Tell me what I need to know so I can keep the past alive and thrive.

Arianne Aquino

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Oakland Asian Cultural Center


My Pinas Breakfast NOW AND THEN THEN: My all brown preska Pinas breakfast Pan de sal bread of sweat brown crusty outside fluffy airy inside brown earth tsa made of fresh ginger root sweetened with rough crystal kalamay brown shelled native chicken egg fried translucent in Purico oil boiled carabao’s milk laced with coconut milk and one half of a purple green kaimito sticky pulpy gooey so sarap sarap so plainly irrevocably good natural elemental.

NOW: My outsourced breakfast Amerikano candy festooned Krispy Kreme doughnut buttered croissant and blissed out super aromatic Starbucks latté distinctly classic all steeped in high impact corporate addictive mixicology bursting of hi-lo yuphip saturation forever disappearing my preska islands’ tongue now gone processed franchised globalized and o so trendy civilized. Melba Abela

I Am Hungry

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FILIPINO/Philippines

Fishermen in the Philippines

Freshly harvested clams

Planting rice in the Philippines

Noodles, fried fish, sliced ham, cheese James Sobredo

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Oakland Asian Cultural Center


RAW Kevin Do

Boba Date Hung Do I Am Hungry

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Brown Person’s Dinner, White Person’s Dog Food I remember the tantrums I threw in second grade because some kid made fun of my smelly food (“that looks like dog cr*p”) and I couldn’t even tell my mom because I felt like it would hurt her feelings so instead I did the unforgivable and pretended that I preferred sandwiches but please put fake soy lunch meat in that so it looks like pink-disgusting-plastic-baloney and my friends (all white, not a person of color in sight) wouldn’t target me for being vegetarian; to college, when my white roommates informed me that they were scared of mustard seeds popping and also it made them cough a little and didn’t it look kind of questionably yellow (they didn’t know that turmeric has antiseptic and anti-Alzheimer’s qualities built in with the Anti-Americanness); to last year, when my (white) coworker informed me it made him uncomfortable to see me eating the curry (that I cooked for him) by using my hands and getting them “messy.” It all comes back to the American Dream, sold and packaged in the form of Lunchables. I used to beg (absolutely BEG) for those. My poor mom just gave up and said “at least don’t touch the meat” and resigned to me coming home hungry, cranky, and yet socially victorious because Lunchables were the coolest lunches any American kid could have and honestly, fitting in was worth a lot. It still is. Well-meaning poster children of the American Dream today will tell me, “Those people were just mean, but I personally love Indian food!” They’ll suggest, “If I had Indian food every day I would have counted myself lucky.” As though I was weak to give into the social pressures. As though I was just too immature to appreciate my culture (they could teach me a thing or two about that). As though the haters were just jerks, not a product of our society. Food is the most basic imperialist project, a way of “othering,” a way of making foreigners and immigrants seem “dirty” and “smelly” and “colorful” and all those other culturally appropriative terms used when visiting another country, a method of exotification (now it’s hip, mainstream, urban), and it’s almost like the white blank-slate color of my friends’ skin means that they are entitled to absorb my colors. And in the meantime I am told that my brown skin, my yellow food, my spices, which I’ve been apologizing for and white-washed until I reached the age where I wanted to reclaim that, are now a form of cultural capital, a tasty little masala appetizer to feed the carnivorous market forces that absorb “the other” and sh*t out homogeneity. For the record, my favorite Indian food is rasam, hot peppery tomato lentil deliciousness that isn’t sold anywhere like my mom makes it, and never will be. Sruti Bharat

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Oakland Asian Cultural Center


Naanconformist Once, half a world away, my Ajji revealed a trick, the human body is my vessel, and at times when I feel sick, I provide ushna, tangy yogurt, to cool fevers down, like water, or use shita fire of hot chilis, to warm bouts of restless slumber, Now, I hold a sandwich, crust firm and so familiar, grip easy, no aftertaste, and quickly fades away, my breath not lingering with coconut—peculiar, I panic on cubicle Mondays. And as I rush back, with panic, I drown in a confused jumble of lentils, dreaming, of how strongly this hunger has pulsed, manic, curry, betel leaf, jaggery, chili, kheema. Rasam, mango, brine, kohlrabi, all scents loiter under my skin, and whenever I feel homesick, they bring me back again Nisha Balaram

I Am Hungry

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Coco Crazy Not really a nut Quite hard to cut Gluten-free Naturally With crunchy old meat When young, it’s sweet Its milk is creamy The taste is dreamy Traditional in Asia In my mouth, a fantasia It’s chock full of potassium A true health food axiom! And, like bamboo It’s renewable too! Good for your hair Your heart and everywhere Rub it all over For skin like clover A warm aroma For my artist persona Not allergy-inducing Good for infusing Kosher and delicious To boot, nutritious An ubiquitous staple Fit for any table Millions of recipes This one’s a breeze! Can you guess it? Why millions love it? Christine Wu

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Oakland Asian Cultural Center


What I Ate My best friend’s mother asked me what my family had eaten for dinner the night before. “Corn on the cob,” I fibbed. “Mashed potatoes,” I continued, while suppressing the delicious memory of what we had actually eaten, thinking it was too weird to tell other people. “That’s too much starch,” said Mona, the ex-hippie, Jewish comfort food regular and current Weight Watchers evangelist. She would have been more approving of our actual meal, which was more along the lines of thinly sliced pork stir-fried with mushrooms and bok choy, or perhaps tomatoes scrambled with eggs and scallions, with just a small portion of rice (“starch”). But I was embarrassed—my Asian dinner never looked like what I ate at Emily’s, which was, in truth, just as exotic, including kasha knishes and other Jewish comfort foods that my parents had never heard of. Occasionally, my piano teacher would stay for dinner, and when he did, my mother would make a special effort to make versions of things she expected him to like: chicken nuggets (thankfully more like Japanese karaage than McNuggets), spaghetti, and American Chinese food like egg foo yung, which is something that my parents first tasted in America. Perhaps my mother, too, was embarrassed of her excellent Taiwanese home cooking. How could she not be? My father had been told not to bring fish in his bento to work anymore because his boss told him that it was too stinky. Fast forward to college, and I find myself at a special pre-orientation for entering freshmen of color, and here I find myself once again feeling shame, this time for not being able to voice instances in my youth where I had felt victimized by racial discrimination. My small group facilitator would go on to become a prominent voice in Asian American politics on the national level, but not before she would once again criticize me, this second time on my inability to chop scallions thinly enough. What I heard was, “You’re not Asian enough.” Now I teach cooking, and when people ask what kind of food I cook, I answer, honestly, “Everything.” They ask, “Do you have a favorite kind of cuisine?” I know they are thinking that I’ll answer “Chinese,” but my answer is more likely to be Mediterranean or Indian. Of course, Chinese-style cooking is what I know by heart, hands, feel, and taste, not by recipes or measurement. I have long reversed my initial deep-seated shame about Asian food to a sense of pride and superiority. The truth is, I judge Asian food by a higher standard than other cuisines, and I am reluctant to teach my own Asian cooking because I know others cook it better, or at least the right way. The class I took from a dim sum master in Hong Kong proved the clumsiness of my fingers in pleating xiaolongbao; my teacher seemed genuinely flummoxed by my incompetence, which didn’t match the Chineseness of my face. As for when I go out, what do I order? Whatever’s good. And I don’t lie about the menu anymore.

Linda Shiue

I Am Hungry

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My Mother and Betty Crocker Shizue Seigel

Assemblage, 11’’ W x 12’’H x 12’’D. Found objects with original prose. The art looks like an affectionate, nostalgic view at classic 1950s “American” food: hamburgers, hotdogs, cookies and milk. Look closer, and you see Chinese take-out and sushi. The text is about a Japanese American girl trying to become “normal” by reading the “Betty Crocker Cookbook” in the days when “American” automatically meant white. Today, most Americans don’t even have time for cake mix. They are addicted to unhealthy fast food and additive-heavy processed food. The longevity of Japanese and Japanese Americans is often attributed to traditional foods in their diet, but take-out sushi and instant ramen may not confer the same magic powers.

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Oakland Asian Cultural Center


Untitled Ilaf Esuf

The ring my mother wore on her wedding day fits a little too loosely on my finger, but that never matters. I always stare at it as I’m sitting in a random aunty’s house sipping chai after gorging myself with biriyani and fried chicken. That ring, like my family, and like me, is from Sri Lanka. I may have to substitute our food for Indian food and order salwar kameezes from other countries, but that’s the one part of home I’ll never give up on Eid.

A family favorite, steamed rice cakes, or “poot jai gou.” Emily Ma

I Am Hungry

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First Bite “So, did you try the chicken adobo yet?” My friend disappeared for a minute to buy a bottle of water. Meanwhile, I remained at a picnic table, sampling the popular Filipino dish. The savory, semi-salty taste still lingered in my mouth, and a part of me hoped for it to remain for eternity. My friend returned in the midst of my mind elevating to whatever is considered the foodie equivalent of cloud nine. His question brought me down to earth. “Yeah,” I answered as casually as possible. “This is really good.” “Did you eat it with the rice?” “I did indeed. They go well together for sure.” We were at the annual adobo festival, and to my convenience, that was my first time eating chicken adobo. Never mind the fact that I’m part Filipino, for this was part of a cuisine I did not grow up with, and my friend knew that. That was why he got a fairly large amount of both chicken adobo and rice, so we could share the plate as we proceeded to dig in. “I can’t believe that was your first time having chicken adobo,” he said. “Can you tell me again why you didn’t grow up with Filipino food? Didn’t it have to do with family issues or something?” I nodded. This wasn’t a conversation I felt uncomfortable about getting into. In fact, I’ve always been willing to talk about it since I found it to be important. I explained in between bites how my dad grew up in the shadow of my grandfather, who immigrated here from the Philippines, and how he treated my dad horribly as he grew up. I explained the many trips to the Philippines his family made and how rundown the conditions were there, how dated the technology was, and how my dad was almost kidnapped from the airport several times. Really, the only thing he liked about visiting the Philippines was to see his relatives, but they have all passed away since he was last there. “That’s why I understand his reasoning, but I also don’t find it fair to be denied knowledge about part of my heritage,” I said. “I don’t want to feel ashamed of being Filipino. That’s why I’ve been learning about my heritage as much as possible since high school. Eating the food unique to the culture is one way of doing so.” My friend’s eyes widened with admiration. He didn’t say anything as he patted me on the shoulder in support. Suddenly, a mischievous look crossed his face. “Did you see that adobo ice cream booth over there?” he teased. I coughed a laugh. “Oh I ain’t ready for that jelly, but I’d kill for a halo-halo right about now!”

Lauren Lola 15

Oakland Asian Cultural Center


Paying Respects Our annual vacation to Disneyland went hand in hand with the visit to my grandfather’s grave. I remember the long drive down the interstate—Highway 5, reeking of cattle manure, and the flat, dry landscape punctuated by undulating oil rigs. My book in hand, I was happy in my own little world for much of the drive. I looked forward to rest areas, where we occupied hot asphalt parking lots with other families with kids and truck drivers in their big rigs. Our trunk was full of food—for the trip and for our destination. Daddy always packed an extra chicken in a cooler just for us to eat on the way down. A chicken poached in salt water, skin glistening yellow, hacked with a cleaver into small, rectangular skin-on, bone-in pieces. The flesh a pale pink, rosier towards the bone, had a silky-succulent texture and a delicious salty tang. You could see the brick red marrow where the bone was cut through. I loved eating that chicken in the back of our used car du jour. When we finally rolled into SoCal, after what seemed like hours and hours of driving, we stopped for the night at a motel in a little town called Camarillo. I was always too excited to sleep very much. Not only were we in a strange room with musty smelling polyester covers, but you could put a quarter in this machine by the side of the bed, and the whole thing would shake and rock, as if in the throes of an earthquake. I always wanted another quarter from my parents to do it again. The next day we got in the car to drive into LA proper, where my dad would invariably get lost, even with the 3-foot-wide map right in front of him. My parents bickered about directions, and somehow, miraculously we’d find ourselves in LA’s Chinatown, where we would always stop to get several boxes of rich, buttery almond cookies, the tops glistening with a crinkly orange egg wash and bejeweled with half an almond in the center. I loved almond cookies. Later that day, we finally rolled into the cemetery. We found the grave site, and set up the food as an offering to my grandfather. We filled little porcelain teacups with the brandy that he liked and then poured their contents into the ground. Then we’d offer the second chicken—cooked and cut like the first we ate on the way down—before ripping into that chicken ourselves. (No waste!) We lit candles and incense, stuck them into the ground, and burned shiny metallic and colored papers— symbolizing clothing—and fake money as further offerings. When this was done, we each bowed three times facing the headstone. I remember thinking ahead to the moment that we could leave the cemetery and head to Disneyland. Years later, my father rests at Colma’s Cypress Lawn cemetery in a grave situated on a low hill in the shadow of a large tree. I cook, but I have never made the salt-water poached chicken. I bring flowers these days when I visit. Perhaps it’s time that I learned how to make that chicken. Shirley Huey

I Am Hungry

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No /soul/ food Today was the first day I hadn’t looked forward to lunch in a long time. I’m outside Little Saigon, close to the flavorful explosions of Santa Ana and Westminster, but here I am, slouched, mindlessly scrolling through a menu of a nearby place that I love. Today, there is no melting of the taste buds, no salivating from my tongue, and no desire in my heart. What I want isn’t on this menu, or the next place’s menu, or the next place or the next place or the next place. It’s my mom’s cooking I want. I’m craving her thịt kho trứng—with the tender pork, boiled egg, and melty fat piece I know I shouldn’t eat, but slip it in my bowl anyway. fluffy white rice—not mushy like mine, but a perfect white cloud that belongs with every meal, the forgotten but necessary. rau muống—the long greens that often get stuck in my throat because I forget to chew in my eagerness cá kho tộ—braised fish softer than velvet, with a caramel sauce so rich, it’s near sinful đậu sốt cà chua—tofu, tomato, and fish sauce all in a soppy, sloppy dance slipping over each other. But I don’t have it. Now, I live at my family’s house so it’s not like it’s physically far. But spiritually, it’s never been farther. Being candid, my mom is giận at me and I’m ashamed at me when I’m resentful at her because she’s giận at me. It’s nothing new, having different tastes in life preferences. So when we have a huge giận storm, my mom doesn’t include me in her cooking and I feel too ashamed to cook or eat in her domain, her castle, her hood, her kitchen. So she carefully ignores the grumbling of my heart while I ignore the rumbling of my stomach, or fill it with food that doesn’t do sh*t for my soul. I’m in an unmarked and indeterminate famine. No soul food here. We don’t communicate well and we never really have. How can you expect us to be good at talking when we never practiced it? It’s darkly hilarious that I live with my family and have all that potential access, but can’t get what I need. It’s the closeness that kills me. But I figure it eats at her too. Everyday, I open the fridge and everything’s the same. There’s no meals for me. Everyday, I go back to my house and everything’s the same. And I end up wondering, is there love for me? How would I know? If we never ever learned to talk that well, how do we communicate? By food. My lunch is good, but. It’s my mom’s cooking I want.

Uyen Hoang 17

Oakland Asian Cultural Center


Scavenger Hunt My father treats forgetting as an active verb. Hunger is an acquired taste, he says. You Americans wouldn’t know the flavor. I am a scavenger for details that are not fed to me: Slow drips of coffee in condensed milk, over and over again. The clink of Cognac against clear glass. Thin orange stripes on square Lotto tickets. The cherry sizzle of breath and fire and toxic clouds of 555s or Marlboro Golds. Soft sobs in the middle of the night. Static on the other line. The uneven cadence of footsteps dragging themselves in from work. The refrain before the door. The urgent ting of chopsticks scraping the bottom of small white bowls. The cold, smooth curve of Buddha’s protruding belly. Embossed gold letters on little red envelopes. The intoxicating scent of magnolia blossoms, freshly picked. I asked him what his favorite meal was when he was a child. I didn’t have the luxury of favorites, he snapped. Once, he let me know that the village he came from was known for its cinnamon. Rumor has it that cinnamon settles the pain you get at the pit of your stomach, like the one you get when you are starving. tk lê

I Am Hungry

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Scarcity

Andrew Kodama

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Oakland Asian Cultural Center


Bitter Melon My grandmother started cooking bitter melon for me when I was nine. Even now, I refuse to order it at restaurants, even on the very rare occasion when I see it on the menu. It’s like tuna casserole, or eggs cooked over hard: it’s only meant to be cooked and eaten at home. Grandma often paired it with little strips of beef, tossed with just enough spicy black bean sauce to leave an even sheen of the pungent dark stuff over every sliver of melon and protein. The best part was sandwiching a piece of meat between two slices of bitter melon: crispy-chewy, sharp-savory, an always-interesting mouthful clamped in a tidy little package at the end of my chopsticks. While other cooked vegetables that crossed the family dinner table were of the limp, milder variety—bok choy and Chinese watercress and napa cabbage—bitter melon asserted itself. It bit back. When I left for college—and said goodbye to home-cooked Chinese food indefinitely—I found that I yearned for that strange veggie, because the only place I’d ever eaten it was at home. Home: the place that left a familiar yet bitter taste in my mouth, just like the melon itself. Bitter melon was my first taste of ambivalence, which I’ve since discovered is the constant state of affairs in the lived reality of adulthood. My mother once taught me a technique for cooking it that made it less bitter, but I’ve let it slip from my mind because to me, cooking bitter melon is reserved for the matriarch of the household, and I’m not quite there yet. I visited a friend last week. The last thing I expected was for my friend to translate this question for her Punjabi-speaking mother: “Do you want some bitter melon for dinner?” My friend’s Indian mother suddenly felt as familiar to me as my Chinese grandmother and Taiwanese mother. The magic was in the melon. It was stir-fried, and it was spicy. Sliced into little green strips. Actually, not so different from the kind I ate at my plastic-covered dining table when I was nine. And of course, it was cooked by the household matriarch, who sat down and ate with me for the first time. Up until this point, I was just a friend of her daughter’s who would drop by the house once in a while and drink all her chai tea. But now, we were finally acknowledging each other in fragmented English. The melon flooded our mouths with bold flavor, even as the words were spoken self-consciously. It simply tasted like its own biting self, politeness and tact be d*mned. Perhaps this is what the importance of food is to me: that it can taste so sexy and punchy and unapologetic, a welcome respite from the restraint that I’ve encountered all too often around the family dinner table. Diana Lin

I Am Hungry

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"I Am Hungry" Zine  

Oakland Asian Cultural Center's third zine about how food intersects with culture, history, and identity.

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