I was born in the 626, which is the area code of the largest population of Chinese immigrants in the US back in the 80s. In those days, you didn’t have to wear seatbelts, you could smoke in the local Denny’s, movies were $4.25, you could play outside without supervision and restaurants were not publicly graded. I went to Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights, CA where 30% of the population there were Asians and we used to say that we never wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant that received an “A” because it meant they were too clean and the food probably didn’t taste as good lol. This of course is the only time you didn’t want an “A” being Asian.
Growing up Asian American was interesting, especially in the 80s. In the states, we weren’t quite treated like Americans because we look different and our last names were unusual. Food was especially complicated because we enjoyed eating pork & leek dumplings, braised pork belly, beef noodles & scallion pancakes at home. But each of us will NEVER FORGET the first day we went to school with our dumplings for lunch. The moment we opened that sucker, the entire class made of mature self-aware 6-year-olds would all scream “Ewww” at the smell of the leeks which were allowed to ferment in the container all day. I guarantee for all of you who experienced this, the next day you brought PB&J for lunch.
Going back to the motherland(Taiwan for me) was also a confusing experience as a kid. This time, even though you look JUST like everyone else, you weren’t quite treated like everyone else because you spoke differently, dressed differently and your hair was most definitely styled differently. I would always be called an “ABC” or American Born Chinese. And if you thought the dumplings smelled bad, you can’t even imagine what Stinky Tofu smells like even to us ABCs.
As first-generation Asian Americans are now entering our 40s with our proper jobs & families still listening to Tupac, Britney, Nsync & Linkin Park; we learned to stop caring about how others view us and created our own lane for future Asian Americans to model after. We fully embrace the Orange Chicken from Panda Express but we know there’s not much that can top the Xiao Long Bao at Ding Tai Fung. We love our boba milk teas but will gladly go for an Orange Mocha Frappuccino!
At our restaurant Tea Haus | 101, we proudly serve up Chinese & Korean American Food because we understand its history and authenticity, it’s in our DNA and our childhood. We take the OG recipes of the Taiwanese Basil Fried Chicken and make it into a Chick FIl A style sandwich. We take the savory-sweet Korean BBQ ribeye and slather it on tater tots with cheese like Chili Cheese Fries. Because in the end we just want a way where our kids can safely bring it to school without the fear of being chastised by their peers. And instead of saying “Ewww,” they will say, “Can I have some.”