It took a very, very long time for me to appreciate Chinese food. At least to the point where I can go into a Chinese restaurant and order something without worry.
That initial distrust of Chinese food came thanks to my stepfather.
I shall explain.
At one point in time, mostly between 1971 and 1973, lived in the Adirondacks with my mother and stepfather in a double-deep, double-wide mobile home. First it was at a mobile home park in Greenfield Center, then in a mobile home park in Corinth on Howe Road.
One day, we all piled into the car and my stepfather drove us to downtown Saratoga Springs, where he wanted us to try some food at a Chinese restaurant called the House of Gee.
Now here’s the thing. I’m maybe 7 years old, and my previous experiences with Chinese food came out of cans with the names La Choy and Chun King. That being said, I was very interested in trying this out.
My stepfather ordered for us. I don’t remember what he ordered for me, but upon my first bite, my mouth felt like it was on screaming fire. That food was super-hot, and I don’t mean by temperature. My mouth burned, and I felt nauseous and sick.
“Come on, finish your food,” he said to me, “I paid good money for this.”
I gamely finished my food, but drank every glass of water I could.
And that night, my stomach churned and spun like a fiery tornado inside. I barely made it to the bathroom, before I completely vomited every ounce of whatever that was from the House of Gee. Ugh.
And for a long time after that, my stepfather would use the threat of ordering dinner from the House of Gee as some sort of a taunt to get me to clean my room, or to pick up my toys, or anything else. “Don’t give me any shit today,” he’s snarl in a voice that was half-coated with Schlitz, “or I’ll take you to the House of Gee.”
“No, no,” I cried, “Not that.”
The son of a bitch knew what he was doing. He used the threat of food that I wasn’t totally prepared to consume, as a punishment or as a consequence for anything. Or, he’d just use it to tease me and make me cry.
Now, today, I can eat most Chinese-based foods, although I usually stick to things like General Tso’s Chicken or Singapore Mei Fun. I can even go into an Asian supermarket and purchase food – mostly things like flavored ramen or authentic soy sauce, stuff like that. Foods I’m comfortable consuming. Foods that won’t give me that nasty flashback to an uncomfortable situation at a long-closed eatery.
And the thing is, we all do this at one point or another. If we have a bad meal in our youth, we will avoid eating that food – or anything that came from that restaurant – for a very long time. You’ve done it as well, just admit it.
But then again, why do parents do this? I mean, if you’ve never experienced authentic Chinese food before, complete with spices and tastes you’ve never tried, why not start with something simple? Why put the most complicated item on a plate and hand it to a child?
I suppose I’ll never know.
But one thing I do know. What parents teach you when you are a child will determine how you grow. Such is how people learn.
And for me, all I really learned was that when it came to Chinese food, my 7-year-old palate was better off eating cans of Chun King and La Choy before trying anything I couldn’t properly pronounce on a Chinese restaurant menu.