By Wayne Chan, AsAmNews Humorist
If you ever want to get a real sense of how diverse various cultures can be, don’t bother going to New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle or Los Angeles. To truly get an education, go to Belmont, Mississippi.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the sights and sounds of the big city. I love that in most big cities you can go from a Japanese tea garden one moment, and walk a couple blocks away to have a Chicago-style hot dog from a cart or visit a Turkish Hookah cafe across the street. By the way, if a tourist from Indiana named Henry Henderson regularly visited a Turkish Hookah café in Texas, would it be proper to say that Hoosier Henry Henderson was hooked on a Houston Hookah?
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Anyways, back to my point.
The point is, what the big city provides in the way of variety and well, downright fun, can sometimes lack in the way of perspective. Contrary to what you see in the big city, that kind of variety is the exception, not the rule.
Which brings me back to Belmont, Mississippi. A while ago I traveled to Belmont to visit with a client of mine who does a lot of business in Asia. Upon meeting Rusty (I’m going to call him “Rusty”, just in case this column gets into the hands of a local Belmontian), I was surprised to discover that despite doing a lot of business in Asia, Rusty had never traveled there. In fact, the furthest point east that Rusty had traveled was Atlanta.
The meeting was very productive, so much so that Rusty invited me to his favorite (and as far as I could tell, the only) Chinese restaurant in Belmont. Without mentioning any names, I’m just going to call it Rusty’s Chinese Restaurant. Seeing as how I wanted to keep my client happy, I put my best game face on and readily accepted his invitation.
Upon arriving at Rusty’s Chinese Restaurant, I discovered that it was an all-you-can-eat establishment, which is not unlike many Chinese restaurants in the U.S. not located in a Chinatown or Asian business district.
I’ve always wondered why so many Chinese restaurants serve all-you-can-eat buffets. Obviously, there’s a market for it. But, why only Chinese restaurants? Why don’t you ever see all-you-can-eat Kabob restaurants, or a French-themed buffet serving big troughs of escargot, truffles and pate?
Despite Rusty’s encouragement to try the buffet, I opted for their daily special. Now, I would be happy to tell you what the daily special was that day, but the description wasn’t very descriptive and it still wasn’t too clear to me even after my entrée arrived.
“Excuse me,” I asked. “I was wondering, what is this?” (Spoken with an emphasis on the word “is”)“That’s our daily special, darlin’” she said.
“Oh, I see…and what was the daily special again?” I asked, hoping for some additional clarification. “Chicken Egg Foo Young” she said.
Finally, I pointed at a plastic container of thick, brown, somewhat lumpy liquid, and asked, “…and how should I use this?”
“Well sweetie, whatcha got there is your sausage gravy for your chicken egg foo young.”
Now, I have had the good fortune of being able to travel to Asia for business quite often, and my culinary experiences have run the gamut. I’ve eaten braised pigeon, deep-fried rattlesnake, quail meatballs, and some seafood I’ve never even seen in aquariums. Yet in all my travels, I have never had chicken egg foo young with brown sausage gravy on it.
But you know what? I liked it. It was warm, filling, and seemed home- made. In the end, you can’t ask for anything more than that.
Despite all my travels, it was in Belmont Mississippi where I discovered that culture inevitably adapts to its environment. When facing a new environment, that would probably be a good idea for all of us as well.
Of course, the unanswered question: What did my chicken egg foo young taste like?
Yes, yes – it tasted like chicken.
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