Thursday, July 19, 2012


Spicy dim sum with the
Din Tai Fung Dumpling Head.
Today I had dim sum lunch with a group of new friends. I was falling hard and fast in love with a spicy dish, which most of the group declared to be a bit too warm for their taste. We got on the topic of various Chinese restaurants around town, and I mentioned how I've been too busy trying out (and returning to) all the Mexican restaurants in Shanghai to explore much Chinese, good as it may be. A lady from the great State of Texas declared Shanghai to be the worst place to eat Mexican food. I wholeheartedly disagreed, but the conversation stayed with me all day.

Our "home" in America is in the Greater Los Angeles Area, which makes room for hundreds of Mexican restaurants. 80% of the meals I prepare at home have some basis in Mexican cooking. My Dad makes his famous tacos from scratch every year on my birthday at my request, and has been doing it since I was celebrating in single digits. One of Nathan's first "solid" foods was salsa, quite by accident, which I thought would make him cry. His tears only came when I took away the chip he was using to shovel the salsa into his mouth. And we just spent a year living in a place with one Mexican restaurant.

Macau's sole Mexican joint, Mexicana got plenty of visits from our family this past year. There is another place in Macau called Tacos, which would lead you to believe you might find Mexican food there, but the owners are Portuguese and it never satisfied my cravings. I'd call it Portuguese food with Mexican undertones. But back to Mexicana... Like I said, we ate there a lot. Probably every other week, if not every week. The Filipino waitresses knew our order and brought our drinks when they saw us walk in. It's a huge expat hangout, and it's common to table hop when a new party arrives and you know half the group. It's a tiny place, about the size of a large living room. Very cozy. But I've got to say, if I compare it to the Mexican food in Los Angeles, it is sadly, pathetically lacking. My biggest complaint is that everything tastes the same and it's all quite bland.

Sad, sorry, yellow guacamole at Macau's Mexicana.
At lunch today, while licking my chopsticks to consume every drop of the spicy sauce, I told the group how Mexicana's salsa is just diced tomatoes with a little onions and some cilantro. It's possible that putting ketchup on your chips might be spicier! So coming to Shanghai where a place like Cantina Agave has a salsa bar with a dozen different fresh-made salsas (Fiery Mango black bean? Come to mama! Spicy salsa verde? Get in my belly!) is like dying and walking into the pearly gates of heaven!

I admit that after about nine months in Macau, I grew to despise the food at Mexicana. I still went frequently for the excellent company and because it's always nice to have a place where everyone knows your name. But it certainly wasn't the food that brought me back. So I wonder if my Texan friend who has been in Shanghai for two years has also grown weary of the choices here, coupled with the fact that Tex-Mex is different than So Cal Mex, while I'm like a traveller who got lost in the desert of bland and is crawling my way into the oasis of barbacoa burritos straight ahead. Would the Mexican food here in Shanghai really be as good if I'd just moved here direct from Southern California?

I guess that's why the noontime conversation stuck with me all day. We all have so many experiences in our backgrounds that help us form opinions and inform our decision making process. And frequently we tend to surround ourselves with people who have similar experiences in their backgrounds, to the point where we may begin to think everyone is just like us. And when you do meet someone different from you, they may be very different. And sometimes those differences lead to substantial conflict.

One of the things that excites me most about living abroad, and particularly about moving somewhat frequently while living abroad, is the exposure to a vast array of backgrounds. Sometimes the only thing you have in common is that you both speak passable English and you're both living in [fill in the blank with your current country]. However, sometimes the relatively small number of people who happen to speak English in your new hometown means you can't be picky! Or I suppose you can be picky, but you'll be lonely and miserable. Though this life of ours has been difficult, I've especially loved getting to know and become very close with people who are incredibly different than me. And like putting Silly Putty onto the funny pages and coming away with an imprint that eventually gets folded into the putty, forever changing the color just a little bit, the experience of doing life with these diverse people has changed me. I want to say changed me for the better, but that's hard to judge from the middle of your life. I've got a lot of living left to do, many more new people left to meet.

We're having our first houseguest in our new home beginning a week from today. A young man we've known since he was about ten is coming to stay for several weeks before heading off to university. He's flying in from our old hometown in L.A. We'll take him to plenty of Chinese restaurants, but you better believe we'll be dragging him off to our favorite Shanghai Mexican food places so we can get his perspective. Here's hoping our deprived taste buds haven't been lying to us!

1 comment:

  1. Ooooo.. Din Tai Fung is in LA too. We try to go there when we are down south. When we were in Shanghai we wanted to go to get dumplings but it was too far to go from our hotel. Yes my friend in Xian loves Mexican too but can't get it there so I send packages of salsa, guacamole, and taco seasoning to her. They sell tomatoes but once a year they may have avocados at the import store. She's learned how to make her own homemade spicy salsa.


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