Culinary Memoir: The Mixed Identity

It's interesting, the way one learns the complexities of identity as they grow and develop as a unique person. For me, a biracial individual, it somehow becomes even more complicated. I barely reached the question of “Who am I?” I’m still asking an equally large question. What am I? Often times I struggle to find a sense of identity because, at the end of the day, I don’t really know what I am.  But there is one thing I do know. I know the food I ate as a child, and the memories associated with those flavors.

Today I’m touching upon the topic of food and identity, mostly because I want to open up a train of thought as you read. More often than not, food plays a major role in our identities, particularly the groups you associate and align with. By sharing my story, maybe you’ll realize something about yourself. 

While I am only half Chinese, I identify closest to Asian Americans, because of similar experiences growing up in the US. A large reason for this might be that I ate mostly Chinese food in my younger years, as I often visited my grandparent’s home and I attended a Chinese daycare. I clearly remember my favorite dishes, along with my least favorite. 

When I attended the Chinese daycare, I recall being overly excited to eat fried rice, in addition to paò fàn (pre-cooked white rice with boiling water added to it) and braised beef. The lady who ran the daycare, Ding laoshi, knew they were my favorites as well. The smell of savory fried rice, with ingredients that certainly weren’t the healthiest, unlocked memories of eating meals when I was a child. When I was younger, we would all line up and get a bowl of food, and if we were well behaved, we would eat it on our own. I remember eating the fried rice in a very specific way, so I could have more meat at the end. 

But I also remember my least favorite dish with equal clarity. At 5 years old, I simply wasn’t a fan of overly acidic foods, a preference I still hold today. The dish I dreaded most was tomatoes and egg, a traditional Chinese dish. To this day, I still refuse to eat tomatoes. On those days, I would be force-fed till I finished the last bite. Brutal? Maybe. But that was how they taught us not to waste food. Eat it even if you don’t like it. Looking back now, that was when I was first socialized and exposed to Asian culture. It probably shaped my identity to match who I am today.

I grew up in an environment surrounded by Chinese culture despite being in a mixed household. In my own experience, food played a large role in identity-making. I view Chinese food as evidence of my lineage, despite being biracial. As a final note, I affirm that all identities are valid. You are valid. By claiming the food of your ethnicity, it connects you to your identity and shapes who you are.