Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Taste (07/15/10)
TITLE: 100 Year Old Eggs
By Phee Paradise
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Thirteen children and grandchildren of John and Margaret Bickford sat at the table with a few other family members. It was our fourth day in Beijing and the food had already become familiar. The meal started with cold dishes, including pickles and peanuts. The peanuts had divided us into the skilled and the unskilled. The four missionary children could still easily pick up a tiny nut with chopsticks, but many of the next generation unashamedly used spoons.
Chinese banquets aren’t much like American Chinese food; there are lots of dishes, and they all taste like sesame. Well, maybe not the large fish, cooked whole with eyes intact. I couldn’t say because the cold eyes kept me from trying it. Somehow, watching my cousins break pieces off the body with chopsticks didn’t tempt me. The crab fritters and octopus didn’t look good either. But the spicy chicken was delicious and the cabbage always overcame the sesame taste.
Even though all our meals during the trip were banquets, the Peking Duck was special. It was served in an elegant restaurant with four foot ceramic vases standing in corners and red silk hangings on wood paneled walls. Instead of the usual lazy susan on the tables, the dishes were brought in one at a time. The duck was tender and mild, and the skin was crispy. We rolled it up in small pancakes and ate it with bean sauce.
John and Margaret didn’t eat this way. Like all proper missionary wives, she taught their Chinese cook to make American meat and potatoes that her children remember fondly. When he traveled to the villages where he planted and encouraged churches, he and his Chinese companion cooked meat and vegetables on a portable grill.
I wonder if they ate 100 year old eggs. I didn’t. I watched my cousin and uncle as the eggs were placed in front of them. They looked like black jello molded into an egg shape, but my relatives bravely cut into them to reveal the gray yolks. My uncle commented on the rubbery texture of the “white” and buttery flavor of the yolk as he chewed. But when my cousin took a bite, it was her scrunched face and horrified eyes that told me I had made the right decision.
Perhaps 100 year old eggs were not the best way to commemorate my grandparents’ missionary years. They loved China, and gave her their best; but they never stopped being American. I think the meat and potatoes prepared by a Chinese cook better defines their legacy.
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