The dish not made
"No No No, this is a Chinese store," He said in perfect English "You need to go where white people shop." This from the butcher at the Chinese produce/butcher shop on Stockton street. I was stunned. "But I'm looking for fresh bamboo sticks" I persisted, "I don't want shoots, I want sticks, to stuff rice into, (Here I start to use my hands to gesticulate) with some mushrooms, meat goes in it, (this must be making sense to him by now, right?) and you steam it. I was served this dish in Taiwan." I explain "I've seen it in Guangzhou. It's a Chinese dish." He's going to get it any minute now, I can feel it. "I don't know, I think only white people eat that," he said waiving his cleaver in front of him, "We don't have that here." And he brought the knife down and chopped the rack of ribs he was preparing. I sighed. "M Goi Lei. (Thanks)"
.........I took my Chinese language teacher to lunch for her birthday today. We were talking about the tea dinner we'll be hosting next week. I told her about my adventure in Chinatown yesterday and the butcher and explained what I was looking for. "Yes! This is a Chinese dish, very traditional and they serve it all over China, of course, and it's delicious!" "You know," she continued, "my country changes so fast, from one year to the next. We don't have the underground metro, then one day, all of a sudden, we do! And food changes too. Steamed Bamaboo is a common dish, but the Chinese here, if they were born in China, have been "out"- they have not been back in 10, 20, 30 years, they don't remember their country's cuisine. Many were born here. They only know what they learn and eat here, even if they speak Chinese. It doesn't surprise me you can't find bamboo, most people don't know about it."
I sipped my tea and reflected on this. It re-defined Chinese American life for me all over again. I imagined American born Chinese learning about their cultural roots from a distance and how one stays connected to that from across an ocean. Well, I surmised, you do the best you can with what you've got.
"Anyhow," she finished "It's out of season. Try the spring next year." And with a start, I realized, so they DO have bamboo sticks! It's just the wrong season! Haha!
Steamed bamboo will not be one of the dishes served at the Moon Harvest Festival Dinner in September, but maybe next year I'll host a Spring tea dinner and see if I can't find some bamboo sticks for us by then. If you want to attend this year's Tea Dinner, tickets are available for purchase for a limited time here: