*APAC Heritage Month* The Asian American Experience: Culinary Cultures
Food is Love, Food is Family, Food is Culture. Let's chat about our family's cuisines, how it was shaped by migrations, immigration, and ingredient availability, and our relationship to our food when straddling the divide between cultures.
And we are live. All right. I'm glad to be talking about food. Welcome everyone to Cloudflare TV.
Today we are amplifying Asian American voices and we're celebrating APAC Heritage Month and today we're going to be talking about culinary experiences.
Before we get started, people who have questions, we will be taking them via phone call or by email and this information is also down below.
So just a quick round of introductions, what teams and cities we're in and what our food and cultural backgrounds are.
I'm Jade Wang. I live in Austin and I lead the Cloudflare for Startups program.
Cultural background, Chinese, primarily Shanghainese, but I like all sorts of food from everywhere in the world.
So my name is Jessica and I work in the customer success team at Cloudflare, so from the London office and my background is mostly Indian.
So my parents are from two different parts of India. So my mom is from the West, so Mumbai, and my dad is from Chennai, which is the South.
And I kind of grew up half in India, half in Sweden.
So it's very mixed and now I'm in London.
So it's been a quite journey for me. Yeah. Yeah. Hi everyone. My name is Michelle.
I'm also in Austin and I'm on the business intelligence team. And in my cultural background, I'm Taiwanese, but I grew up in the UK and then I moved to the States later on in my life.
So I have a good mix of just European, Asian, and I guess currently American cuisine.
Cool. So that segues nicely into the first question, which is about migrations and availability.
Can you tell us a little bit about your family's food habits and what you ate growing up and how that changed as you moved from country to country and the ingredients that were available in the local supermarkets are different from place to place?
Yeah. I mean, I grew up in India for when I was little in the teenage years is when I moved.
So in India, we lived with, we lived mostly with my parents, with my grandparents on my dad's side.
So whenever we cooked food, it was almost like for the whole family.
And, and we had to, you know, keep that into account every time we were eating and shopping and buying food.
And then when we moved to Sweden, initially it was with my grandparents, but then we ended up living like more of a nuclear family.
And that was when we really started kind of cooking what we really, really enjoy and like ourselves.
And that was when we had to start making adjustments to, to things like, you know, tamarind or, or some of the tomatoes or produce, which was not the exact same as what we were used to.
So a lot of different variations in that sense.
Yeah, for sure. Yeah, for me, I think the biggest change was how much meat was available.
And I think in the Western world, I think like, even though like culturally Taiwanese people aren't very like down religiously vegetarian, I think there is just a lack of meat.
It's just not as, it's just a lot more expensive than it is here in America and the UK.
And so we eat a lot of vegetables.
So growing up, I remember it was mainly just a lot of rice with like stir-fried vegetables of some sort with like a lot of different like root vegetables and a lot of different like radishes, like taro, just like fresh greens.
And then there would always be some kind of like, because Taiwan is an island, so we eat a lot of fish.
So it's always like the meat. I think we do, we eat meat as in we had protein, but it was mostly from like fish and tofu.
And it wasn't really like, like chicken, beef, or pork. I think what's really interesting is, so like my grandparents, they don't eat beef, because culturally, beef works out on the farm.
And then so we were forming a family. And then so the cows were on the farm, you don't want to eat the cow, you know, because they're out working and then providing the food that we're eating.
And then so like, my grandparents didn't really eat beef.
And then I didn't really eat beef till I moved to the UK and the States.
So I think it was just the biggest change was definitely like, adding a lot more various proteins to my diet.
And then it's also just the vegetables are different.
Like, growing up, the vegetables were all very like, we call them san cai.
So those are like, mountain vegetables.
They weren't like, they're like wild almost. Yeah, they're like wild. And you just like, they're just there.
And they're like, kind of like weeds. I think maybe like, if you look at the type, they're probably like some form of weed.
It's like you're foraging as opposed to farming.
Yeah, yeah, they're just kind of naturally occurring.
And then you can eat what's available. And I think it's that kind of philosophy.
I think that's a lot more culturally aligned. It just where you kind of use what's around you.
And you're not really, I feel like even like when I'm in America, you're shopping, you're like shopping for something, you know, you're like, I'm trying to make a recipe.
And you're like looking for the ingredients that like AGP, like Central Market and stuff like that.
It's not just like, you're trying to just make do with what's available.
I think it's just that's a different mentality.
I definitely feel. I definitely agree. I think the the ingredients are so different that you almost have to make do with what you have.
And like Michelle mentioned, there's almost a sense of shopping with a recipe, whereas you go out looking for certain ingredients and certain things, whereas, you know, back in Asia, it's just whatever is available, whatever's in season, whatever, you know, you have your eye on, you just make and it's a lot more fresh.
I remember my parents cooking like three times a day for the three different meals instead of, you know, a lot of meal prepping culture that we have here.
So that's also that's also, you know, different because of the availability of ingredients and how big the produce is.
I'm not sure if you've noticed the difference, but like a cauliflower is huge here, whereas, you know, back in Asia, it's like portion size.
So, you know, you would just need to use one for one meal, whereas if you cooked with one cauliflower here, it's like the last two, three meals.
So yeah, it's also like how different the produce is, which really shapes the kind of food that you're eating.
And especially in Sweden, I think the food was just so much like produce was just so much sweeter.
And we're vegetarian, our whole family heritage is vegetarian.
So we don't eat meat. So we were, you know, produce is what we rely on.
And it was just sweet, like everything was sweet. And being Indian cooking Indian food, you're using a lot of spices and ingredients.
And you're usually used to be like the vegetables being neutral.
And everything was just sweet.
So there was no way we could like get around that. So that was, you know, a little getting used to how we manage the ingredients as well.
Yeah, I remember when we were like prepping prior to this session, you talked about how tomatoes were different, right?
Like that, you know, you have to recalibrate for how sour a tomato is.
And you can't just follow a recipe one to one, like a, like the size of an onion being this big versus this big.
If the recipe says two onions, it doesn't mean two of these.
What are some of the other things that are miscalibrated?
If you like if you just blindly follow a recipe? Yeah, exactly. I think just how potent and flavorful each ingredient is.
And it's a lot more neutralized when it's a lot bigger.
Because if you think about like a clove of garlic, they're this tiny, but they probably have more flavor than one of the huge cloves that we have.
So everything from, you know, just how just how the ingredients are and how potent they are.
Because in recipes in India or Asia, you use like two to three cloves of garlic, and that's like a lot, whereas you could use like 10 here, and that would still not be enough.
Because it's not as concentrated, not as concentrated, it's not as potent.
And also, talking about availability, a lot of South Indian cuisine, which is what my dad makes, it uses a lot of tamarind.
And the tamarind that we find in India is very, it's a lot more fruity and a lot more fresh.
Whereas the tamarind that we find here is from the, you know, Asian supermarkets, which is a lot, it's a concentrate, it's like very thick and pasty, and you put that in stir fries.
Whereas our family uses tamarind in soups and a lot more lentil dishes, where you need it to be a little bit more fruity and a little bit more mild.
So things like that, I think, I remember when we first moved to Sweden, we used to go back to India every year and literally bring a bag full of ingredients or food.
That was kind of mostly what it consisted of.
Yeah, I remember also, like my parents, bring bags of dried shellfish, dried mushrooms, dried seaweed, dried plums, dried every type of fruit you can imagine, any type of thing that can be dried, and you can ram-wrap and put it in a whole bunch of those black plastic bags and just throw it away, and then go and do TSA, and they'll be like, what is that?
Just hoping it doesn't get confiscated on the way over.
Yeah, you're just hoping it makes it through. But I really think it's such a big difference.
And I think what you guys are saying, it's like, the vegetables are smaller, but the flavors are so much more intense.
And it's not me thinking, I think that then afforded the larger variety of food that you eat in one meal.
I realize, when you go to a restaurant, it comes in plates, and you get a steak, and you get side of potato, and then you get broccoli, right?
But I feel like a lot of Asian cuisines, there's a lot of different side dishes, there's a lot of different main dishes, and there's just so much variety.
And they're not like big portions, they're all like, regular portions, but you share as a family or as a group.
I think that is that kind of like different approach where it's like, not just a set meal, you're kind of like, it's it's, it's like a sharing event, it becomes, I think that's why Asian people are so attached to food because it's, it's an experience.
It's not just, you're not just eating for nutrition. It's not like such an individualistic type of activity.
It's something that is, you know, you bond together as a family as well.
Yeah, I, that reminds me, my mother's side of family is such my mom has six siblings.
And when they grew up together, they basically all ate from like two or three different plates.
So like three or four people eating from the same plate, and that like everybody was sharing their food, sharing their meals.
And like you said, like, there's a lot of different side dishes, and you kind of mix and match everything together.
And that's also just how Asian restaurants are now becoming, they're kind of doing smaller portions, like where you, you know, have to share.
And when when I first moved to Sweden, and you know, I'm used to going out with people and ordering different things.
So at least I could get a taste of what the other person's ordered.
But that doesn't happen in Sweden.
So everybody just orders their own plate and eats their own food. There's no sharing, there's no like, bites from one of one of the other plates.
So yeah, that's that's super different.
Because, you know, growing up eating in the same plates as siblings, in my mom's generation, and then, you know, not at all sharing your food and ordering completely different portions for yourself.
It's, you change, definitely.
Yeah, that's one of the things I love doing, like, because I have friends I kind of introduced you because to this type of like method, they will go to restaurants, and we'll literally just order like I'll order pasta, someone order a pizza.
And then someone will get like some other like a risotto or something.
And we just put in the middle and then we'll just get like a little plate.
And then you just like, because then it gives you the opportunity to try different things.
I think then it becomes more of like an experience was just like at a restaurant and kind of just talk.
I feel like there's so much that goes on with sharing food and being like, hey, like you should try this by like, also the culinary experience.
Like your first bite and your last bite tastes exactly the same is pretty boring compared to having every bite being a different dish.
So we talked a little bit about different places that that we've been and the kind of the food cultures that are a little bit different.
Can you tell us like, let's talk a little bit about your review of your own cultures, foods and the availability in the different places that you've been.
Like I so like, in my example, I like I've lived in Chicago and in California and now in Texas and I feel like I've been kind of pretty lucky in that a lot of the Asian groceries in Chicago and California and also in Texas are very well stocked.
Though the variety of Asian restaurants in in the Austin area is like, basically can't quite hold a candle to the variety in the Bay Area.
How about you two? Like, can you talk a little bit about your your kind of like personal review of the availability in the places that you've been?
Yeah, so when we first moved to Stockholm, we were like one of the fewer families there.
So it was still very new. So any ethnic ingredients we could find were basically, you know, catered to the Middle Eastern groups and to the Asian community.
There was very little Indian food and availability of ingredients.
So that's why we were basically carrying a bag load of ingredients every time we flew in.
But now it's actually been a huge influx of a lot of Indian population in Stockholm and overall in Sweden.
So there's pretty good availability, I would say now when it comes to ingredients and food.
Produces are still a little bit hit or miss.
Sometimes you find it, sometimes you don't.
It really depends on, you know, what flies into the country at what time. But this summer, I was actually surprised my mom was telling me that they're getting Alphonso mangoes in Stockholm, which is super, it's like a super unique variety of mangoes that you can only find in western India.
And they only come around April, May season.
And like they're all the way in Sweden. So that's like, that's like a huge win for us.
Because I remember, even when we lived in Delhi, which is where I grew up in India, we had to get them from Bombay, like we had to get somebody to ship them to us.
Whereas now it's available in Sweden. Although she said the quality is not that great.
But I mean, it's, it's a small wins, right? It's a small win.
And even things like paneer, which is super popular for most Western Indian cuisines as well.
It's pretty hard to get hold of in the normal grocery stores, you could only find it in the specialized Asian grocery stores.
But now it's become like almost a trend where you can find it next to the feta and you can find it next to the you know, the mozzarella because everybody is you know, trying their hands on on this cheese that doesn't melt, you know, so it's becoming more of a more of a cultural thing where people are also, you know, getting their hands on turmeric lattes, which you know, the Indian community has had for generations.
And that's kind of been something that we use to build our immunity.
And just over COVID, especially I feel like there's so many household Indian remedies that have now come to the forefront as like this new fab, Western drink that boosts your immunity, which you know, we've been using for generations.
You know, that kind of reminds me of the time I, I was introducing my mother to kombucha.
And I was trying to explain to her what it was as I was handing her a bottle.
And she was like, oh, you mean hongcaji? Yeah, like every family growing up, we had this, we just made our own.
I was like, wait, what? She was like, yeah, like, you know, like, I'm like, okay, so and so when people are starting it, that, you know, yeah, you get you get a culture from your neighbors, kombucha.
And you know, you just like, you add some tea, and it's fine.
It works. And here I was like, but you never told me about this when I was growing up here.
Well, yeah, because, you know, who has time for that?
There's so much stuff that, you know, in India, you just make at home, like yogurt was never bought from outside.
We always just made our own yogurt at home.
Whereas like, I don't remember making yogurt in Sweden, you know, it's just so much easier to buy it that it's just the convenience thing.
So yeah, there was just like, everything was so fresh that we just had more time to make everything ourselves.
Whereas now it's all about convenience and just getting your hands on on the foods that we're familiar with.
And it's also just as I've been just having availability, it's also like a different cut, like pork belly.
When I lived in the UK, you couldn't find pork belly anywhere. Like it wasn't a very common cut, like in the UK.
And then now it's like a thing like short ribs, wasn't a very common like cut of meat.
And now it's like a thing. I think that that's also what's really interesting is a lot of the things like growing up that were, people will make fun of you for being like foreign or whatnot is like now the thing that's like trending, which is, it's always kind of fun to like laugh back on you like, aha.
That also reminds me, India is such a junction of like street food.
And every city, every state has its own street food, which is very different from each other as well.
And it was just so easy to just like go out have some street food.
We never thought about how it was made or how much time it took or how much how many different ingredients it had.
But now in Sweden, like we didn't have that we didn't have access to that.
So when I started cooking, I started I think I started learning cooking around like 1213.
That's when I used to miss all these foods from India that I used to eat, you know, almost weekly or biweekly.
And like now I just start learning how to make them.
And there are so many different components to it.
You don't think about it because you just get it in like, two seconds, you know, it's like the fastest fast food you could think of.
But when you actually start making it takes so much time to like get together make like put the different components together.
And you're eating it in like two seconds, like it's all gone and doesn't even fill you up most of the time you need so much to fill you up.
So yeah. Oh, yeah, street food is definitely one of the things I miss the most about Shanghai.
And I've been like I've been looking up so many recipes to make the jimping, which is his giant crepe.
And it is by far my favorite breakfast in the world.
But it's so much work. And you need especially like mung bean flour.
Otherwise, it like the crepe won't work correctly or have the right consistency.
And you know, and there's like a fried crispy thing that goes in there and like doubanjiang.
But like, you know, in the mornings, you just go out there, it's like 25 cents, here you go, right?
Like, or the equivalent of like 25 cents in US dollars, it's like 2 yuan.
And, you know, and it's hot and it's fresh.
And I like I could eat that three meals a day and like not get tired of it. Like, Michelle, is there any street food that you particularly miss from traveling?
I miss the sandwiches.
I mean, it's like a different sandwich. I love the sandwiches. But now it's like coming back.
Okay, you're gonna need to like describe the sandwich.
It's not like a comment. It's like it's white bread, but the white bread is like sweeter.
And it's like super white and like square. And then there's like an egg.
And then there's usually like bacon, ham, and there's like pickled cucumbers. And then they put like sugar or like, I don't know, whatever.
And then it's like this, that they do this.
Okay, the pickled cucumbers are not like what Westerners are thinking of like dill.
Yeah, it's not like a dill cucumber. It's really just like, I would make it at home.
I just take cucumbers, and I put sugar and then some vinegar, and then maybe garlic, maybe chili flakes, I want to fancy up but it's it's just a very sweet, like a fast pickle.
And you just let it sit for like 10 minutes for the water to come out of the cucumbers.
And like, that's it. And it's, it's great.
And I just I love putting on sandwiches. But the secret is mayo.
I don't know if it's even mayo. Like to this day. I don't know what it is. It just is clear looking.
It looks exactly like Vaseline. Like it has the same consistency.
It's not because it's like transparent. Like it looks like straight up Vaseline.
It's spreading on toast. And it's delicious. I don't know what it is. Next time I go back to Taiwan, I'm gonna like hunt down all these sandwich shops and be like, what is it?
But you know what the funny thing is, it turns out they will just hand you a bottle, right?
Yeah. I wouldn't know. And they're like, well, we get in a bottle.
And here's the bottle. No, but what's funny is so there's also like a type, but it's like kind of Western Asian food where it's like a piece of like, imagine this is like toast.
It's my load. Oh, I guess you can't see the background.
But it's like a little piece of toast. And you put an egg on it. And then you put a hot dog diagonally.
And then so it becomes like a taco, right? It sounds weird.
And you put ketchup on it. And it's good. But it's like it's so but I will bring like my mom will make it and she'll wrap it up and it'll look like a little like hot dog egg toast taco thing.
And then my friends will make fun of me like, Oh, that looks so weird.
But it's like the ingredients of themselves are very Western.
You know, like it's stuff you can find. Yeah, it's like a reinterpretation of Yeah, food.
Asian fried it and then and then people make fun of you because it looks different, even though it's literally like the most American thing ever.
It's hot dog egg and a piece of white bread. You know, this reminds me of so like, you know, on the on the one hand, we there's a lot of sort of westernized Asian food that we that that's like vaguely fusion because of, you know, immigrants bringing their methods to the West.
And then there's Western food that has been modified for an Asian audience.
And like examples I can think of are which are like, they were originally Portuguese egg tarts, right?
Or, or, or steak that is, you know, like this steak that's kind of like seared very quickly and cut into cubes and then you dip it in soy sauce.
Like that's not like a, you know, that's considered Western food in some parts of in parts of in parts of China.
And it's it's, you know, it, you know, there, there's an entire genre of like Western restaurants that have things like this on the menu that are that, you know, you don't find in restaurants actually in the West.
But can you talk about some like, maybe the highlights your favorites that are sort of in between places?
Your favorite dishes from one context or the other?
I mean, this reminds me of the cookbook that Priya Krishna wrote about Indian American food.
So when she moved, or she, I think she was born there.
But when she grew up in in Texas, the availability of ingredients was so scarce that they had to almost make substitutions.
So things like paneer, it was so hard to find that she had to make substitutions for it with feta, which was the only other cheese that she could find, which didn't melt.
So things like that, that, you know, you you kind of have to adapt to and grow up with and kind of become a fusion of, you know, we know saag paneer, we know with every, every single Indian restaurant has it.
But saag with feta, that's like a new concept, which is more widely accessible and available for you to make at home because paneer is sometimes still I think hard to get hold of sometimes.
So things like that, really, I think it's small substitutions like that go a long way.
Yeah, I think for me, I was that asshole kid that was trying to get my parents to cook like American food.
I'm like, can you just make like tuna salad or something?
Growing up, like my parents, they would try really hard because it's really hard just to make like Taiwanese food in the UK, like it was just not happening.
Like there just wasn't the just wasn't available. So she would just like try and attempt like regular Western food, but it just becomes kind of Asian because she doesn't she didn't grow up eating it.
So she's like, my mom would like follow these recipes and they just don't like really match.
And then you're just like, OK, but I think like some some of the stuff it's like there's this thing I used to eat a lot.
It's really just like pasta, tuna and then like corn. My mom would put like some random like Asian, like sesame dressing or whatever onto it because there was like no sauce.
It's normal. I guess normally you just put like olive oil or whatever, like it's just like a pasta salad.
Right. But she would like pull these like random like Asian stuff that she had in like the cabinets that we like dragged back from Taiwan.
You probably saw sauces, but like using like, I guess British ingredients and just like make some kind of weird hodgepodge.
Also, did it come out good?
Did you like it? I guess. Yeah. That also reminds me of the culture of Asia is like we just make so much with leftovers.
And my parents have just like grown up like that. So they put the weirdest leftovers with the weirdest like fresh food.
So there's like leftover potato curry.
They just put it in the next pasta dish they'll make or, you know, they'll just do random things like that.
And there's no culture wasting food like that seen as very, very disrespectful.
So just put whatever in whatever and just like make do with it.
And that's how you come up with new recipes, I guess, as well.
I feel like that is definitely part of my food culture. Also, growing up is zero waste and everything finding and kind of like planning meals out in a sequence so that the leftovers of one food become the ingredients of the next one.
Like you might have like some kind of roast chicken and then all the bones go into a broth the very next day.
And then, you know, like just kind of everything kind of chains into the next thing.
Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So in our last two minutes, let's talk, share anything that you that was kind of on your mind, maybe like a response to something earlier that you didn't have a chance to say.
I mean, I think what I was going to say was how the food also varies between regions.
Then we talked about this also is as Indian food as we know it is only really North Indian westernized food.
There's so many variations to it within India and a lot of foods that we haven't ever even tried or gotten our hands on.
And, you know, northern India is a lot more bread friendly and southern India is a lot more rice friendly.
And I think that's also in different parts of China is noodles versus rice.
And it's really what grows and what harvests there.
And in the Western society, almost we've kind of grown used to importing ingredients from everywhere and making the most of that.
But over there, it's all just like what grows around you, what fresh parties you have and then you cook accordingly.
Yeah, I think I just want to point out like a lot of the Asian food you get here, they try to reattempt but then like Asian food, they come from all over the place.
Right. So everyone's trying to recreate whatever taste it is from their homeland.
But it's never the same as you just going back and just eating it from that shop I grew up eating it from, you know, because it's they're all using local produce and local like methodologies have been passed on from like generation to generation, you know, and it's just a different taste and flavor.
I think what's makes a lot of Asian cuisine so unique is how local it is.
You know, it's like you can kind of get close to it and like cities like San Fran or like the bigger like cities, but it just it's never going to be the same than just going back and just getting there's so much breadth, right?
We're talking about more than half the world just, you know, from the backgrounds of the people in this call.
All right, and awesome. We basically we're in the last 30 seconds.
So thank you so much for for being part of this episode. And, you know, happy APEC Heritage Month, everybody.