Saturday, January 31, 2009
Chow Mein Trauma
I just had real chicken chow mein for the first time in my life. I bet you're wondering how a foodie like myself, at 40 years old could ever have gotten away with that. Well, it starts with the trauma I endured as a child. Yes; trauma. Everyone's mom did it, so I know I'm not alone here and I hope that we can share our traumatic memories and help one another through this.
Mom was wonderful in the 70's, wasn't she? Making sure we were clothed, shoed, well-fed and educated. The caring didn't end there - oh, no - there was the spotless house (brought to us by Heloise), the car pooling to little league games, the plastic covered furniture, Sunday School and family dinners. Ah, yes, family dinners provided by the other Mrs. ; Mrs. Paul, Mrs. Butterworth, Mrs. Smith and so on.
Not that mom didn't cook, she did - at least my mom did - but with so many shortcuts available of the canned/frozen/packaged variety, who could blame dear old mum for making use of them? One thing that my own mother served fairly frequently was canned chow mein. Now, I'm not sure about the rest of you, but that particular foodstuff doesn't conjure up any fond memories for me. No, that's where the trauma starts.
The can says chicken, beef, shrimp - but you know darn well that there was only about half an ounce of that per can - the rest was a gelatinous goo covered mass of celery, onion and carrot chunks interspersed with the occasional red pepper sliver. Mom would dutifully separate the cans; gelatinous goo on the bottom and chow mein noodles on the top - and then heat up the goo in one pan, make Minute Rice in another, and there was dinner. The only part of the meal that I even found remotely edible was the rice. The noodles were edible, but the aftertaste was a bit like a cardboard toilet paper roll. Not pleasant.
So, who can blame me for not ever ordering chow mein when we got Chinese takeout? I envisioned the kitchen prep crew separating cans, tossing the chow mein noodles into the garbage and emptying the contents of the goo into large vats, ready to be heated up and passed off as food.
And now? Well, now I know better. It only took me 30 or so years to realize that there's no possible way that chow mein from Tasty Garden would ever be the same as it is from La Choy, but I did figure it out.
The only question that remains is whether or not what I had is considered 'authentic' or not. I mean, American Chinese food is NOT authentic Chinese food at all - if you don't believe me, just check out The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (next up on my bedside reading table) for verification.
I know this for sure - the two-canned wonder sitting on my grocer's shelf isn't the real deal. I may still shudder and shield my eyes as I pass by it at the market, but I'm no longer gagging at the sight of the printed word on my favorite take-out menu.