In Bryan, Texas, there’s a Chinese/Thai restaurant called Chef Cao’s. I used to order the Mongolian beef and as many fortune cookies as they’d give me. Sometimes I’d try to be worldly and eat with chopsticks, but the ultimate way to shovel food into your mouth is with a fork, so that’s the route I’d usually take.
(I pronounce “Cao” like “cow”. I should ask the chef how he says his name, though, because the word “cow” in Taiwan is a major fire starter. Apparently it’s a very harsh way to tell someone they’re a crybaby. This is why, here, the Old MacDonald song excludes the whole bovine bit; kids think you’re cussing them out.)
Beijing is the closest I’ve ever traveled to Mongolia, and while I was there I found a restaurant serving (authentic?) Mongolian beef, but the food didn’t taste like anything I’d eaten in the States. It was delicious, and I ate every morsel. Comparing Americanized Asian food to what’s served in the Far East is like Pizza Hut versus authentic Italian pizza. Both options make hungry men drool, but they’re made completely differently and thus the dishes are incomparable.
My chopstick skills have improved drastically. I have the dexterity of a heart surgeon and could handle an ice cream cone with one hand tied behind my back. Forks are still awesome for their stabbing capabilities, but I’ve conquered the ‘sticks.
There’s a general consensus among foreigners that if you’re not careful, you’re going to gain a lot of weight living here. Between the heat keeping people indoors, the typhoons drowning the streets, and the extremely cheap alcohol, it’s easy to expand your waistline.
In central Texas, the afternoon temperatures easily hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in the summer. The temperature and humidity are not unlike Taiwan. Moreover, give me a baseball cap and some old running shoes and I actually enjoy rain runs. And it’s no secret that I’m not a big drinker; in fact, I’m known for going to a bar with a giant bottle of water and only ordering a glass of ice.
No, those aren’t my excuses. My booty booster is thanks to all the delicious food I’m chopsticking into my mouth. I can’t blame my weight gain on temperatures, rain or alcoholism; my problem is food. It tastes good, it’s cheap, and it’s everywhere.
Freshly-pulled noodles, broth-soaked hardboiled eggs, dumplings, miso soup, sushi, caught-today-fresh seafood, beef stir-fry: these are options within walking distance from my apartment.
It’s obviously not all healthy, but Chef Cao’s wasn’t exactly known for its weight-friendly dishes, either.
I do go through phases when I cook a lot, eggs and chicken being my go-to protein options. Sometimes I hit a home run, and I’ve discovered a real love for a full spice rack and cooking to music.
That said, sometimes, no matter how valiant the effort, it just doesn’t work. That’s why we keep cheese in the fridge.
As my friend Mikey once told me, “You could put cheese on a steel bumper and it would be delicious.” My caveat: not so for duck blood soup. Nothing can remedy that. However, I suppose if Americans can deep fry butter, the Taiwanese can base a soup off duck blood.