Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kitchen Tales: An Asian in an American Kitchen

I am an Asian who cooks more American food than Asian food (6 out of 7 nights). Is that contradicting?

As you may have noticed from food posts on this blog, there are not a whole lot of Asian food here. Thanks to: 

 1) Asian Grocery store for locating out of radius. I simply go once a month. While most Asian produces and sauces are more available in American grocery stores these days, I still cant get specific things like Thai chilli pepper or specific brands. Preferably Thai brand for familiar taste).

 2) A Caucasian American born husband who is not thrilled with the idea of rice 7 days/week (what's wrong with eating rice 3 times/day????).

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Hence this lady from a faraway land has to surrender and learn to cook Western/American food. 

 The very first time I was introduced to an American grocery store (Kroger to be exact), I had no clue what the hell I got myself into while in the spices/seasonings aisle. 

Gotta be kidding me. Do you SERIOUSLY need these many spices????????...haha. It was such an overwhelming experience and my husband couldn't help much since the man did not know how to cook!!! Just imagine the confusing look on me who knew nothing about cooking except mozzarella cheese on a pizza. I picked up a few basic, most commonly used spices (based on a recommendation of a husband who tried to help but once again did NOT know how to cook AT ALL). 

 A second wave of shock and confusion hit me not too long after my first grocery store trip. My wedding in the States had been planned. Hence I had to register a Bridal Registry (we don't have such thing in my country, guests usually gift the groom and the bride with money). 

So now my new adventure began at the Department store where I had to pick mostly cooking utensils to add to my list (since the husband didn't cook, what could you expect in a single guy's empty kitchen?) I was in awe as how many pots/pans/silverware/glassware one would need in an American household!?!? You can call it "culture shock" I suppose. Just give me a rice cooker, one pot, one pan and a spatula and I was good to go!! With the help and guidance of a kind mother in law a task was neatly done in no time. Pheeeeew! 

 I have to tell you that prior to moving to the US, my cooking knowledge and ability was 1 out of 10. I only knew how to

 1) cook rice 
2) fry egg 
3) make an instant noodle. 

"Seriously, that's it."

My parents were so concerned because i had absolutely no interest in cooking whatsoever. Then you talked about making REAL and EDIBLE meals not just for myself but also for a man who made a lifetime commitment to spend the rest of his life with me? Wow! Pressure much?? Would I survive a new life in this country?  That was a big question for my parents. 

During the first few months of my life in the USA, I made several long distance phone calls to my parents in Thailand asking how to cook. I cooked lots of Thai food and experimented with American recipes. Sometimes they were okay, sometimes they were too creative and very strange (not edible) but my husband was so kind he ate them. My mother in law LOVES to cook and she is great at cooking. I learned a lot of how-to and tips from her in the beginning.

What really helped speeding my learning process was when my in-laws started up a food prep business (not a restaurant). They thought it might be something that could keep me busy while waiting for all my legal paperwork instead of doing nothing at home. It was a fairly new and convenient concept almost a decade ago that the store cut and prep meats/veggies/spices and other ingredients then provide recipes. Customers come in to put stuff together in containers and freeze at home. Good concept for busy family so they can just pull that out, thaw and cook. Basically what the store did was to prepare the ingredients for the customers.  In order to work there I had to attend a food safety course.  

I quickly gained knowledge through working with several recipes and ingredients. All of sudden my cooking knowledge went from 1 to 7. I worked there about 6 months then landed a real office job so I quit chopping veggies. That really was a good learning foundation as it helped me understand the basic of American cooking.

 (I can't say my passion is cooking because it is not. I would say it is more of a survival mode)

Do you have your own kitchen tales?


  1. I started to learn how to cook some real food just few months ago when I got married and moved from Italy to Qatar. Before that moment I was as you..rice, noodles and everything that don't need to be cooked!
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  2. I wasn't that interested in cooking before I moved on my own (my mother would actually nag me for not caring and not helping with cooking at all). Then I started to try some things and I learnt the basics. But it wasn't until I moved in with my boyfriend that I really became interested in cooking and realised that it was actually something fun to do! Now I really enjoy browsing through cookbooks and trying new things but I wouldn't say I have a deep knowledge about cooking. I just follow the recipes and hope that everything will go smoothly :)

  3. OMG, I was the same way. It's not my favorite thing to do; I cook out of necessity. Most of my cooking knowledge came from the Food Channel, lol!

  4. Nelah, you are too funny! I love the part, where you say your husband didn't know how to cook at all. HaHaHa It's amazing he doesn't, because his mother loves doing so. You would think he would've picked up some things. Oh well! I cook, but I don't love it. HaHaHa I've learned some dishes over the years. I need to learn more. One gets tired of eating the same things over and over. HaHaHa I can imagine buying authentic brands would be challenging for you. Hey, maybe like International makeup brands, they'll start opening up to more Asian products/brands. Excellent post.

  5. I'm lucky to live in Toronto. There's such diversity here that I can find any type of grocery store; be in Canadian, Chinese, European, African, South American, etc.

    I've dabbled in all sorts of recipes thanks to my high school cooking class. Of course, I still have my go to dishes like lasagna, japchae, and chilli :)

  6. This is so funny. I found while living in England that my daily food slowly went from 100% Asian to more like 70:30 English-side. It's incredible how being in a country changes you. I agree with you - it definitely is what you would call a "culture shock" - and is something you have to gradually adapt to, without being completely bowled over and sucked in to 'the other side'. You want a healthy mix of both cultures - whether that be in cooking, work, lifestyle… I'm sure you're doing well with your cooking now. Don't ever be too disheartened! x


  7. i was never good in the kitchen! lately i've been cooking more and i've been enjoying it! and we have an asian grocery nearby so we can go weekly. we like to switch off our dishes because eating too much korean food can get a little overwhelming!

  8. It sounds like you've come really far from your early days and you're really lucky that you were able to learn from your MIL. I'm okay w/o rice but I need my Asian dishes. My husband will literally miss rice if he doesn't have it for 2 - 3 days. I find Asian food alot simpler to make than American but I do like to switch it up so we don't get bored. My husband doesn't cook but thankfully he also isn't a picky eater and will usually eat whatever I put in front of him. I learned to cook fairly young since I was raised by a single mom and it was something I could do to help out. I don't love it but I enjoy making certain dishes and I am really lucky to live right by Chinatown where the food is so much cheaper and fresher.

    Rowena @ rolala loves


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