By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“Grandma, please don‘t make bitter melons for dinner,” I begged my grandmother as a child. “It tastes so bitter, I can’t swallow it.”
“Bitter melon is good for you,“ said grandma. “You will cherish them when you get older.”
“How do you know?” I wanted to say, but never had the courage to challenge her. It would be seen as a sign of disrespect. That’s the problem with many Chinese elderly.
They always say this and that food is beneficial to you, just because their parents or grandparents told them, from generation to generation, without ever giving proof and a logical explanation.
The irony is, grandma was right. Foods I resisted or feel indifferent about when I was a kid, I now appreciate. Bitter melon is known as half-life melon, according to grandma.
You like that stuff either in the first or second half of your life. If you eat it and like it when you are little, you probably can’t stand it when you get old. My logic is that people’s taste buds change over time. Now, I welcome them, especially learning that bitter melon has properties which can cleanse your system. A little bitterness is like adding certain spices, enhancing flavors of the whole dish.
In fact, many Chinatown restaurants cook bitter melon with huge success. My favorite is scrambled eggs with bitter melon. Or you can order the popular entree, stir-fried bitter melon with beef.
Have you wondered why Chinese restaurants can serve bitter melon without the bitter taste?
They boil the melon in hot water for several minutes to get rid of it. That‘s why I don‘t want to cook it myself. Too much work.
The Chinese have known for centuries that goji berries have high nutritional value. However, the West has just begun to appreciate goji for the past decade.
I didn’t care for goji berries when I was a kid because my mom never educated us on why they were essential. She just told us to eat it. Sometimes, our rebellious streak sank deep in our body and we wouldn’t eat it, no matter what. Why I resisted it when I was little, was mom normally mixed them with other ingredients in the soup. By the time the soup was cooked, goji became tasteless.
Yet, as I age, I was seeking foods that are good for my eyes, as I have overextended them by reading too much on the computer — a hazard for my profession. Only when I went back to visit mom, did she tell me about the benefits of goji.
“You wonder why my eyesight is great even when I am old,” mom said many years ago.
“It’s goji. I would use them in every soup I make.”
Chinese culture has immense wisdom on foods. The sweet goji consists of amazing elements. From improving eyesight to boosting energy, it strengthens your internal organs, too. Also, it is an antioxidant and can help your insomnia.
Creativity is what I apply with goji, much different from mom. They taste fantastic with stir-fried vegetables, seafoods, and salads.
The bright red color of goji can make any dish look appealing. Sprinkle a few goji on top, it will beautify your whole entree.
How do you cook goji? Easy. You can buy goji in Asian grocery stores. They come in dried packages. Wash them first. Then, soak them in a small bowl of water. I save that water for my dish. After my stir-fried veggies are almost done, I pour the goji on top and cover the pan for 2 minutes. If you want to steam fish, just put the goji on top of the fish and steam it together. If you are making a salad, just mix the goji after you have drained the water from the soaked berries. I now eat goji three times a week.
When I was a 12-year-old in Hong Kong, my step dad brought home a durian from Vietnam. I thought the smell was like an unwashed toilet and rotten fruit. I quickly ran away, and covered myself with a quilt on the bed from head to toe. What is funny is that my staff members love that smell.
Family members laughed at me. They loved the fruit as if they had received a magic fruit from heaven. They urged me to partake. “Try it, you will like it,“ they urged. I declined every offer when I was in Hong Kong.
Today, I enjoy durian ice cream and cakes, too. Durian does taste great if you cover your nose — just kidding. Once you taste it, you forget about the horrible odor. You can buy frozen and fresh (when they are in season) durian at Lam’s Seafood.
Formosa pork fu
Many of my relatives are from Taiwan. Whenever they visited us in Hong Kong, they usually brought Formosa dried shredded pork, a Taiwanese specialty. I was not fond of it.
Now, it’s one of my favorite snacks. You can eat it with bread or congee. The pork is not greasy and its flavor is delicious. You can buy this pork in Seattle’s Asian grocery stores.
Those of you who live in North America take milk for granted because it is available everywhere. In many foreign countries, milk doesn’t taste fresh and it’s expensive. I didn’t have the luxury of drinking milk as a child. Currently, I pay for the consequences of suffering from osteoporosis due to inadequate calcium in my body. My bones are fragile. Now, I make up for it by consuming a glass of milk every day to give me nutrients including several vitamins. I consider myself fortunate as many Asians who are not used to drinking milk are lactose (a sugar found in milk) intolerant. It’s a blessing my body can digest milk.
Fresh milk wasn’t something my family in Hong Kong could afford, so we bought cheap condensed milk (less than 50 cents at the time) for a family of five. It’s unhealthy with highly-concentrated sugar. A can of condensed milk would last the whole family a week.
Whereas one small bottle of fresh milk, slightly bigger than a glass, just enough for one person, would cost $1 US or more.
As a kid, I would drink condensed milk every day as an after-school snack. Simply add hot water with one tablespoon of condensed milk, its sweetness satisfied me as a child.
In our fridge, we have two kinds of milk, skim as well as whole milk. I drink them interchangeably for cereal, milk tea, and with nuts, and I never get tired of it. Studies have now found that whole milk is better than skim, especially for preventing obesity.
My wish is to build strong bones, so that one day my doctor would say, “Hey, what happened to your osteoporosis, it’s gone!”
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.